Youngstown's Fifth & Aurora Arise From The Crossroads


About two years ago I was visiting my family back home in Youngstown when my sister asked me if I wanted to go downtown to catch her friend’s set at a local bar. The friend was singer-songwriter Lou Rivera who with only his voice and some accompanying chords put on a performance that assured anyone who was listening that he meant the words he was saying. His carefully constructed lyrics and minimalist approach created an intimate ambiance you could feel throughout the room. Fast forward to now and you’ll still find Lou creating music that’s true to himself, but with a full band to back it. The band I speak of is Youngstown born Fifth & Aurora.

After being directed to their breezy new single “Somewhere,” I was drawn to their fresh sound, intimate feel, and crisp sonic texture. On my last visit home I was able to catch their set at Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts, one of downtown Youngstown’s musical gems (yeah, one of Youngstown’s coolest small venues is also a hot dog shop). I was perplexed. In terms of energy, the show was a complete 180 from the first time I had seen Rivera perform, but the same intimate quality was retained. I couldn’t, and still can’t, really describe their overall musical style without generically saying something like “It sounds like alternative rock, dude.” Rivera, serenading the crowd on one song proceeds to rap on the next. Atmospheric synths give rise to swelling jam sessions and bring it all back before songs end. You’re sweating one moment and shivering the next. It didn’t make sense, but I loved it. Intrigued by the high energy amorphous performance, I felt that a chat with Rivera was in order so I could better understand Fifth & Aurora’s unique sound and how they came to be.

Rivera, who has been performing mostly solo for the past five years, explained to me his desire to form a band and how a jam session with a high school drum line buddy set into motion the formation of a band that wouldn’t become fully realized until over a year later. It all began when Lou was introduced to bassist Daniel Anderson who was recruited by previously mentioned drum line buddy, Paul Oder, to join in on their jam sessions. With the addition of sax player Kyle Houston the four began playing shows around town until Paul went Californee-way for grad school and the group suspended their efforts. River went on hiatus for the following year until Daniel invited him to join in on a jam session with himself and fellow church band members Ben Greenawalt (drums) and James Greenawalt (lead guitar). The connection between the four was promising. Then with the addition of Dan (Dahnji) Hobel, who Rivera discovered on campus with a ukulele in hand and no shoes on his feet, their line up was set in stone. That was just over a year ago and the five have been hard at work ever since.

As a musician, finding a few other people who share the same creative vision and level of determination as you can be more difficult than one would think. You can get some lousy results from five talented musicians if they’re all chasing different butterflies. Compelling music needs to be oozing with passion, and for music to be authentically oozing with passion, everyone involved needs to be feeling it deep down within themselves. Technical skill can be impressive, but it’s the heartfelt shit that people really want. Rivera and the rest of the gang believe themselves to be on the same page, potentiating each others energy as they work towards their shared vision; and they’re having fun in the process. “I believe we’ve found that serious and solid band that we all could ever dream of. We connect so well and have the best time when we’re together, on stage and off stage.” Rivera says of the group. I can attest that the chemistry they feel translates to their on-stage performance which is compelling, precise, and damn impressive even without consideration of their short existence.

It was apparent only a song into their set that all of them are talented musicians. Each one of them displayed impressive technical skill throughout the tight and crispy performance which beheld some serious jamtastic moments. It was after about the fourth song of the set though that I began to realize the extent of their diversity (it was also about that time that I noticed Hobel was on stage without shoes which I later learned is standard procedure for him). The balance of their ebb and flow as they pumped out an amalgamation of sounds from a vast array of influences fluctuated from one song to the next. No song sounded alike yet some underlying quality maintained cohesion between them all. You could sense the flavor of each style of music they incorporated but none were too strong that its taste overpowered the others. A carefully crafted recipe done just right.

When I spoke with Lou, he was able to enlighten me a bit on what’s under their influential hood and shed some light on what music means to them. Some of his favorite artists and personal influences are Ben Rector, John Mayer, and Jack Johnson which stem from his earliest desires as a musician to be singer/songwriter. These influences were more apparent back when he was strapped with only an acoustic guitar and some keys, but his singer/songwriter spirit still persists with Fifth & Aurora. Lou tells a story, in one way or another, with his lyrics. He’s emotionally invested in his writing, and you can hear the truthfulness in his revealing words. When I asked Lou about what motivates him to write music and the purpose behind his music, he went on to explain to me the therapeutic effect he gains from expressing himself through music and using it as a means of connecting with people. He went on to say “I’m not the greatest musician out there, but there’s something about playing and creating it that takes me to a higher place. A spiritual place.”

Rivera says that as a band they have a lot of shared influences with artists such as John Mayer, The 1975, Tame Impala, Death Cab, Relient K, Silverstein, The Internet, Ed Sheeran, Third Eye Blind, The Killers, Twenty One Pilots being some that were specifically mentioned. If I’m being honest though, they sound like none of these. Maybe just a little sliver of some of them and some sprinkles of the others, but certainly not identifiable as being significantly touched by them. Individually they all bring their own personal pizazz too. “Daniel, our bassist, has a rap/blues vibe. James, our lead guitarist, has a blues/rock vibe. Dahnji, our synth/uke player, has a groovy/psychedelic vibe. And Ben, our drummer, grew up on a metal/alternative rock vibe. I know, you’re probably thinking how the f**k are they even a band? I don’t know, it just works.” Lou explained. Looking back, these individual influences make sense. Ben’s drumming, equipped with a double kick, is thunderously aggressive. Hobel’s silky synths had a cerebral quality to them as he created sonic landscapes within which the others played, attributing to his psychedelic tastes.

Lou says now that they’ve found their sound they’ve been hard at work recording their upcoming yet to be named first album which they expect to be out sometime early next year. “Our first album will be released sometime next year. Maybe a few singles here and there to promote the album. We will be letting people know closer to the date. But for now, I just want people to know we are working very very hard on this. We believe our music can touch people and we are confident in that aspect. We love our music, we’re our favorite band. Now we just wanna track these songs and share it with the world. We aren’t focused on ‘getting famous’. Our focus is just having fun and enjoying each other and everyone around us listening.” is what Lou had to say about the forthcoming album. He also explained to me the difficulty they’ve been having with capturing their live performance energy when recording track by track which has ultimately led to the decision to record live for the album. They’ve been recording at JAW Studios in Niles, Ohio with the help of producer Josh Walls, who Rivera regards as a “whiz”.

The quintet has been playing shows in the Youngstown area for the past year and they’ve built a reputation for themselves in the process. Lou assured me though that they have every intention of leaving the nest in the near future to gig in support of their first album. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Columbus were a few of the mentioned stops they have in their scopes. Until then check out their single “Somewhere” on Spotify or head over to their website to see what they're all about.