Okkervil River

Okkervil River is an American rock band led by singer-songwriter Will Sheff. Formed in Austin, Texas, in 1998, the band takes its name from a short story by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya[citation needed] set on the river Okkervil in Saint Petersburg. They began as a trio made up of Sheff and friends he had met in his native state of New Hampshire but, over time, have gone through many lineups.

Okkervil River
OriginAustin, Texas, U.S.
Years active1998–present
LabelsJagjaguwar, Jound, Virgin, EMI, ATO, MapleMusic (Canada), Low Transit Industries
Associated actsShearwater, Roky Erickson
MembersWill Sheff
Cully Symington
Will Graefe
Benjamin Lazar Davis
Sarah Pedinotti
Past membersTravis Nelsen
Chris Heinrich
Scott Brackett
Howard Draper
Jonathan Meiburg
Mark Pedini
Zach Thomas
Seth Warren
Brian Cassidy
Patrick Pestorius
Justin Sherburn
Lauren Gurgiolo
Michael St.Clair

Okkervil River self-released their first album, Stars Too Small to Use, which led them to the South by Southwest music festival. After recording their first album in a garage, they signed with Jagjaguwar. They continued by releasing four more albums, including the critically lauded concept album Black Sheep Boy.[1]

After a period of touring for Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River followed up with The Stage Names. The album sold 10,000 in its opening week in the United States. The group released a free covers album, Golden Opportunities Mixtape from their live performances.[2]

The band has garnered positive critical reception.[3] They have appeared on the talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien and have performed with acts such as The Decemberists, The New Pornographers, The National, and Lou Reed.

Okkervil River released the album The Stand Ins on 9 September 2008. They promoted the release with a series of cover songs from the album on YouTube by people they've met as a band.[4] Their 2010 collaboration as a backing band with psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson yielded True Love Cast Out All Evil. On 10 May 2011, Okkervil River released their sixth full-length album, I Am Very Far, which peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard 200. The band released their seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, on 3 September 2013. The album peaked at No. 66 on the Billboard 200. This was followed by the album, Away, which was released on September 9, 2016 on ATO Records.[5] The ninth Okkervil River album 'In the Rainbow Rain' was released by ATO on April 27 2018.



Scott Brackett playing trumpet at the 2007 Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas

Okkervil River's founding members became friends at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, and after parting ways for college moved to Austin, Texas to live together and start a band. The band consisted of singer-songwriter Will Sheff, Zach Thomas on bass and mandolin, and Seth Warren on drums. Their first gig was at Steamboat in Austin on 11 January 1999.[6]

Bedroom EP and Stars Too Small to UseEdit

In 1998, the group self-released their first disc, Bedroom EP. Over the course of two weekends in the summer of 1999, they recorded a seven-song self-released album titled Stars Too Small to Use, with recording engineer Jeff Hoskins.

They met Jonathan Meiburg at a gig with his band Whu Gnu at the Waterloo Brewing Company on December 3, 1999. Meiburg subsequently joined the band on accordion and later on pianos and organs.

On the strength of Stars Too Small to Use, Okkervil River was admitted into the 2000 SXSW music festival. Their first major press was a SXSW feature article[7] in the Austin Chronicle on 3 March 2000.

Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See and Down the River of Golden DreamsEdit

Okkervil guitarist Brian Cassidy at Fun Fun Fun fest in 2007

The band met recording engineer and producer Brian Beattie at their SXSW showcase on 18 March 2000 and soon agreed to make a record together. They spent much of the rest of that year working on Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See. Warren moved to Berkeley, California in December and was replaced on drums by Mark Pedini.

By the time of that year's SXSW festival, Okkervil River had received interest in their new record from the Bloomington, Indiana-based record label Jagjaguwar. The record was released on Jagjaguwar on January 22, 2002.

One year later the band traveled to San Francisco and reunited with Warren to record their third album at Tiny Telephone with engineer Scott Solter at the console. Jagjaguwar released Down the River of Golden Dreams on 2 September 2003.

In 2003, Pedini left the band to pursue his graphic design work, leaving Okkervil River without a drummer for that year's SXSW. They invited Travis Nelsen, fresh off a tour filling in on drums for sister labelmates Secretly Canadian's Swearing at Motorists, to perform with them. He soon became the band's full-time drummer. The next year, during a long bout of touring, the band added keyboardist and lap-steel player Howard Draper as a fifth member.

Black Sheep Boy, The Stage Names and The Stand InsEdit

Lauren Gurgiolo

In August 2004, the band began recording with Beattie again, finally putting the finishing touches on their third full-length album, Black Sheep Boy in November. It was released on 5 April 2005. As a result of the album's critical success, Okkervil River followed up with an EP entitled Black Sheep Boy Appendix on 22 November 2005. This was the first recording with Draper, horn and keyboardist Scott Brackett, guitarist Brian Cassidy, and touring bassist Pat Pestorius, who eventually replaced Zach Thomas in the band. The band signed to Virgin/EMI in Europe and the label re-released Black Sheep Boy and its follow-up Black Sheep Boy Appendix as a double disc on 28 April 2006. Jagjaguwar eventually followed suit, releasing the Definitive Edition with extra songs and videos.[8]

The Stage Names, their fourth full-length studio album (produced again by Beattie), was released on 7 August 2007. The disc features the line-up that toured extensively on Black Sheep Boy and the Black Sheep Boy Appendix, with Cassidy replacing Draper who joined Shearwater. The album was met with critical acclaim[9] and debuted at number 62 on the Billboard 200 with 10,000 copies sold.[10]

Okkervil River released their fifth album The Stand Ins on 9 September 2008.[11] In its first week, the album charted at No. 42 with 11,000 copies sold, according to the Billboard 200.[12] On 12 December 2007, the band freely released a nine-song mixtape entitled Golden Opportunities Mixtape via their website.[13] These recordings, along with the upcoming appendix, are the first to feature contributions from new touring keyboardist, Justin Sherburn, who joined the band in November 2007.

In 2008 guitarist Brian Cassidy stepped down from the band as a full-time touring member and was temporarily replaced by Charles Bissell of The Wrens for their spring and summer tours.[14] Bissell was later replaced by Lauren Gurgiolo, singer and songwriter of the Austin, Texas band The Dialtones. After performing on the Late Show with David Letterman in early 2009, the "Pop Lie" single was released backed with the b-sides "Millionaire" and "Pop Lie (One Man Band Version)".

I Am Very Far & The Silver GymnasiumEdit

Will Sheff, lead singer and songwriter (2008)

Okkervil River's sixth album, I Am Very Far, was released on 10 May 2011.[15] To promote the album, the band went on tour in 2011 with Titus Andronicus, Julianna Barwick, Future Islands and NewVillager.[16] In September 2013 Okkervil River released their seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, the content of which is inspired by Sheff's childhood and hometown.[17]


Will Sheff (Okkervil river)

Away, the band's eighth album, was released on 9 September 2016. The album features a new backing band and sonic direction, including contributions from Marissa Nadler, Jonathan Meiburg and members of the classical group yMusic.[18] The content of the album is largely based on Will Sheff's life during the 2013-2015 period after the release of The Silver Gymnasium, during which many members of the band left and his grandfather died.

In The Rainbow RainEdit

In The Rainbow Rain was released on April 27, 2018, and marks the ninth album for the band. Will Sheff produced the album while Shawn Everett (Perfume Genius, Alabama Shakes, The War on Drugs) assumed mixing responsibilities. The writing process incorporated Sheff's songwriting craftsmanship with an interplay of his new bandmates, Benjamin Lazar Davis (bass), Will Graefe (guitar), Lip Talk (Sarah K. Pedinotti) (keys) and Cully Symington (percussion) – the same iteration of Okkervil River that joined Sheff on the Away tour.[19]

Sheff and the band started work on the new album shortly after the end of that tour – and the presidential election. “If December 2016 was good for anything, it was good for writing songs,” he says. Sheff took a different approach to the album, sometimes co-writing with his new band, and occasionally attending local Quaker meetings.

Other projectsEdit

Jonathan Meiburg, former Okkervil River member, at a festival in 2006

In 2001, Meiburg and Sheff founded a second band known as Shearwater. Originally an outlet for Meiburg songs and some Sheff songs that didn't fit the Okkervil mold, Shearwater has gradually evolved into a full-fledged band. The band's 2006 release, Palo Santo (sans Sheff's vocals, but including his musical input), has seen Meiburg receive great critical acclaim. The groups still share many fans, and, while on tour together in 2004, they released a limited edition split-CD entitled Sham Wedding/Hoax Funeral. In 2008, Meiburg left Okkervil River to focus exclusively on Shearwater.

On 20 April 2010, former 13th Floor Elevators singer-guitarist Roky Erickson released the album True Love Cast Out All Evil, produced by Will Sheff and backed by Okkervil River.

Okkervil River also performed "Candle on the Water" for the 2016 remake of "Pete's Dragon."[20]



List of studio albums, with selected chart positions
Title Album details Peak chart positions Sales


Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See
Down the River of Golden Dreams
  • Released: September 2, 2003
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
Black Sheep Boy
  • Released: April 5, 2005
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
The Stage Names
  • Released: August 7, 2007
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
62 5 17
The Stand Ins
  • Released: September 9, 2008
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
42 5 14 23 57
I Am Very Far
  • Released: May 10, 2011
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
32 5 10 23 51 66
The Silver Gymnasium 66 20
  • Released: September 9, 2016
  • Label: ATO Records
22 28 132
In the Rainbow Rain
  • Released: April 27, 2018
  • Label: ATO Records
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.

Split albumsEdit




  • 1999 "The Velocity of Saul at the Time of His Conversion" – Jound, CD single
  • 2000 "Kansas City Single" – Jound, CD single
  • 2002 "Satisfy You" (split 7" with South San Gabriel – Tight Spot, 7”
  • 2005 "For Real (There's Nothing Quite Like the Blinding Light)"' - Jagjaguwar, CD single
  • 2006 "The President's Dead"' - Jagjaguwar, 12”
  • 2007 "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" - Jagjaguwar 12”
  • 2007 "Unless Its For Kicks" - Jagjaguwar, 12”
  • 2008 "Lost Coastlines" - Jagjaguwar, 12”
  • 2009 "Pop Lie" b/w "Millionaire" - Jagjaguwar, CD single
  • 2011 "Mermaid" b/w "Walked Out on a Line" - Jagjaguwar, 12" vinyl/digital single
  • 2011 "Wake and Be Fine" b/w "Weave Room Blues" - Jagjaguwar, 7" vinyl/digital single
  • 2011 "Rider" b/w "I Guess We Lost," - Jagjaguwar 7" vinyl/digital single
  • 2011 "Your Past Life As a Blast" b/w "Gold Faces," - Jagjaguwar 7" vinyl/digital single
  • 2013 "It Was My Season" ATO digital single
  • 2013 "Down Down The Deep River" ATO digital single
  • 2014 "On A Balcony" ATO digital single
  • 2014 "Where The Spirit Left Us" ATO digital single
  • 2016 "Okkervill River R.I.P." ATO digital single
  • 2016 "The Industry" ATO digital single
  • 2017 "Mary On A Wave" ATO digital single
  • 2017 "Call Yourself Renee" ATO digital single
  • 2018 "Don't Move Back To LA" ATO digital single
  • 2018 "Pull Up The Ribbon" ATO digital single
  • 2018 "Love Somebody" ATO digital single
  • 2018 "Famous Tracheotomies" ATO digital single
  • 2018 "External Actor" ATO digital single

Compilation contributionsEdit

  • 1999 "Omie Wise" (Live) - Aural Fixation: Local Live Vol. 5
  • 2002 "Disfigured Cowboy" - Comes With A Smile CD
  • 2003 "Riot Act" - Glurp / Almost You: The Songs of Elvis Costello
  • 2004 "My Bad Days (Live)" - Comes With A Smile CD
  • 2005 "Nancy (Live)" - I Eat Records / Appetizers & Leftovers
  • 2005 "Your Other Man" - Summersteps Records / Down in a Mirror: A Second Tribute to Jandek
  • 2005 "Westfall (Live)" - Workplay / Workplay Live
  • 2009 "All You Little Suckers" (East River Pipe cover) - Merge Records / Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers!
  • 2012 "It'll Never Happen Again" (Tim Hardin cover) - Full Time Hobby / Reason To Believe - The Songs Of Tim Hardin
  • 2016 "Candle on the Water" (Helen Reddy cover) - Walt Disney Records / Pete's Dragon (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • 2017 "Denomination Blues" - Our First 100 Days


Drummer Travis Nelsen, who played with the band from 2003 to 2010, died in April 2020.[29]



  1. ^ "Best of 2005 List". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  2. ^ https://pitchfork.com/news/44736-okkervil-river-release-free-covers-ep/
  3. ^ Andrew Leahey. "Okkervil River | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  4. ^ "Kanaal van OkkervilRiver". YouTube. 2008-09-18. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
  5. ^ "Okkervil River Announces New Album 'Away' + Tour – Listen to "Okkervil RIP" at Pitchfork – ATO RECORDS". Atorecords.com. Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  6. ^ "Okkervil River: The New Sincerity - Music". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-08-08.
  7. ^ Messer, Kate X (2000-03-03). "Okkervil River: The New Sincerity - Music". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  8. ^ "JAG120". Jagjaguwar.com. 2007-03-06. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  9. ^ "The Stage Names". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
  10. ^ "After Five-Year Absence, UGK Scores First No. 1 Album". Billboard.com. 2007-08-15.
  11. ^ Paul Thompson (2008-05-22). "New Okkervil River Album Due in September". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on 2008-05-25. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  12. ^ "Metallica Scores Fifth Straight No. 1 Album". Billboard. 2008-09-17.
  13. ^ "New Music: Okkervil River: Golden Opportunities Mixtape [MP3]". Pitchforkmedia.com. Archived from the original on 2008-10-21.
  14. ^ "Pitchfork: The Wrens' Charles Bissell Joins Okkervil River". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on 2008-03-16. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  15. ^ "Okkervil River's Will Sheff Talks New Album I Am Very Far, Shares New Non-LP Track "Mermaid"". Pitchfork. 2011-02-08. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  16. ^ "Okkervil River Tour With Titus Andronicus | News". Pitchfork. 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2013-08-08.
  17. ^ "Sound of Silver: Will Sheff x William Schaff - Page". Interview Magazine. 2015-09-29. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  18. ^ "Okkervil River Announce New Album Away, Share New Song "Okkervil River R.I.P.": Listen | Pitchfork". Pitchfork.com. Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  19. ^ "New Okkervil River Album "In The Rainbow Rain" Out | ATO Records". atorecords.com. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  20. ^ Kate Erbland (2016-07-21). "Pete's Dragon Announces Massive Walt Disney Records Issued Soundtrack". IndieWire.com. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  21. ^ "Okkervil River - Chart history - Billboard 200". Billboard.
  22. ^ "Okkervil River - Chart history - Independent Albums Chart". Billboard.
  23. ^ "Okkervil River - Chart history - Rock Albums Chart". Billboard.
  24. ^ "Discography Okkervil River". swedishcharts.com. Hung Medien.
  25. ^ "norwegiancharts.com - Norwegian charts portal". norwegiancharts.com.
  26. ^ "Discography Okkervil River". swedishcharts.com. Hung Medien.
  27. ^ "Chart Stats - Okkervil River". Chart Stats. The Official Charts Company.
  28. ^ "Upcoming Releases". Hits Daily Double. HITS Digital Ventures. Archived from the original on August 29, 2016.
  29. ^ "Travis Nelsen, Former Okkervil River Drummer, Has Died". Pitchfork.

External linksEdit