Okkervil River (front to back): Will Sheff, Zachary Thomas, Jonathan Meiburg. Actual Okkervil River in Russia (not pictured).
Okkervil River performs at Hailey's on May 28, with Shearwater and Quintron.
When Okkervil River songwriter Will Sheff read in Austin's daily rag that only the worst bands write songs with their own names in them (i.e., Bad Company's "Bad Company," Backstreet Boys' "Backstreet's Back"), it was practically a dare. Soon after, Sheff penned "Okkervil River Song," a ballad of violence and beauty laid atop a shuffle of pump organ and mandolin. The song marks the end of 2002's stellar Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See, which garnered the Austin indie-folk band favorable reviews from Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times, all remarking on the album's ambitious instrumentation and Sheff's aching delivery. Comparisons to Will Oldham and Bright Eyes followed. Eventually, Sheff started writing songs that didn't fit into that vein--a little smaller, more hushed--so he began Shearwater with band member Jonathan Meiburg (Wurlitzer, accordion, banjo, bass). The band's album, Winged Life (produced by local dynamo Matt Pence), is a delicate, lo-fi gem that showcases the same grad-school literary sensibilities and unique instrumentation on which Okkervil River built its name. About that funny name, by the way: It's taken from a Russian short story by Tatyana Tolstoya. Dare you to write that name into a song, Sheff.