Indie duo Rhineland just released their first single of 2023. Members Troy Bittner and Joseph Stevenson have been making music together since 2018 when they released their first single “We Go Down.”
Rhineland formed as a four-piece indie pop group five years ago with majority upbeat songs comparable to bands like Colony House and Hippo Campus. Their first album, Heard It in a Dream, Love., was released in 2021 and is a combination of 80s-inspired pop and folk-influenced acoustic tracks.
Their style and apparent influences have shifted with recent releases along with their shift from four-piece band to a duo. As they take on a more folk perspective with “Last Year” and their other recent release “Halifax.”
“Last Year” was produced by Cole Young, mixed by Matthew Neighbour, and mastered by Robin Schmidt. The song features rakey, an artist not new to Rhineland songs. She actually contributed to the backing vocals of their song “Mary,” released back in early 2020. Her voice — soft and reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers — adds a dreaminess and nostalgia to the track.
I got to ask Bittner a few questions about “Last Year” and what we can expect from them over the next year. Read on to meet Rhineland, your new favorite indie duo.
Looking back through your past releases, your most recent singles take on an acoustic/folk sound compared to many of the more upbeat songs of your last album, Heard it in a Dream, Love. Is “Last Year” indicative of a new direction stylistically?
I think as Joseph and I both get older, we want our music to reflect that (hopefully) maturing process. We both still love HIIADL and listen to it often, but want to continue to make music that feels like two 24 year olds in Virginia. HIIADL and our past releases feel youthful and capture a point in time for us but yeah I think we want to let our own lifestyles decide what the songs sound like whether that’s shoegazey indie rock or the folky stuff we’ve been writing.
What does your writing process look like? Has it evolved as you’ve explored different genres?
I generally record the demos of our songs in ProTools in my apartment just to get the idea down. Sometimes that starts with a guitar or piano chord progression when other times it starts with a melody for a guitar part or the lead vocal. Then I send it to Joseph and Benja, our manager, and see if they like the direction. If one of them isn’t super in to it, then it usually gets dumped into a Google Drive folder with a lot of my other ideas and has a good chance of never seeing any more production, but if they both like an idea I usually continue to work on it and send them newer renditions until we all agree to get it going in the studio.
Can you tell me the story you’re telling with this song?
Honestly, I hope that the song means totally different things to everyone who listens to it. In the vaguest way possible, to me the song reminisces time spent with friends and loved ones over the past year or two that I haven’t gotten to see as much as I would’ve liked to. If you infer the song differently then don’t listen to me; I don’t know what I’m talking about.
What was it like working with rakey (Rachel), the artist featured on this song?
Rachel is a super sweet gal. She’s actually married to our manager, but before that she was a friend who lived in our city. She sang on our song “Mary” a few years ago and sounded so lovely and we’re very grateful she decided to jump on this one with us. Originally, I was going to take the second verse myself and Rachel was going to just sing the choruses with me but she sounded too good to not take a part of the song and make it her own.
Who else was involved in making “Last Year” the song that it is?
We produced “Last Year” with our friend Cole Young who runs a studio here in our town. He did an incredible job at giving direction for the different parts and dynamics of the song. It definitely changed a lot as we put tracks down and he adapted really well. The song started from a cover of a Taylor Swift song I was messing around with, so to have a producer who can take that idea and turn it into a big rock song is something really special. The song was mixed by Matthew Neighbour and mastered by Robin Schmidt, who have both worked on some of our favorite albums.
Is this single part of a bigger project? Will there be another album or EP in the future?
I wish I had a better answer, but in short, maybe. We’re gonna put a few more songs out before July and then take a break for the summer because between Joseph, Cole, Benja, and me, we all have a lot of weddings to attend and family to see. Once that winds down and we can get back in the studio come August/ September, I think we’ll try to get an EP going with some ideas we have cooking and new stuff that I write over the summer. I could see “Last Year” and “Halifax” just being their own things because of how different they are from each other, but maybe they’ll fit magically into whatever kind of project we work on next. In that case, they could definitely be a part of a bigger piece.