Jenn Whiteman and Samantha Howard were fast friends when they met in Paris. After they worked together on Whiteman’s EP, Latimer Road, in 2016, they left the door open for future collaborations. They now have a release out under the name RYVOLI. Warm harmonies underscore stirring folklore about experiences with anxiety and the Apollo 11 mission on their debut Theories EP. It represents a specific time in their lives which has left them more at ease with themselves, and they hope it can shed light for anyone else that may feel lost.

Read more about the circumstances surrounding RYVOLI’s new EP in the interview below. Listen to Theories EP here (or below). Follow RYVOLI on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How did you meet and reunite?

JENN: My husband and I and our then-one kid, moved to Paris in 2012 and we were there for four and a half years. My husband was a video producer for a non-profit organization and in our last six months that we were there, Sam came to do an internship for the same non-profit. She worked for a different arm of it, so we were doing different things but we went to the same church and hung out in the same groups and had a lot of the same friends.

SAM: Jenn and I had gotten really close when we were there and it was really hard when Jenn and her family moved back to Lexington—I felt super alone. So I actually ended up coming back two months later, rather than staying for two years like I had originally agreed with the non-profit. I’m from Pennsylvania, so I went back there for like two weeks initially. I had no idea what my next steps were in life so I decided to visit friends in different cities and then just pick one of those places to live. Jenn was the first stop. I think I was here for about three days before settling in. She opened up her guest room in her house and I’ve been living there for almost two years. I think we came up with our band name like two weeks or something after I’d moved here.

About your band name—what is the significance of the Rue de Rivoli to you both and the music?

JENN: We knew Paris was an important part of the story—without it, we wouldn’t have met and this wouldn’t be happening, so it was just a tribute to that. Rue de Rivoli is the main road that runs east-west through the heart of Paris and it’s very close to where we initially met. We both spent quite a lot of time walking on that road and as soon as we said the name aloud we knew that was it. But there was a mariachi band on Facebook already that had the name first. We knew that would be social media suicide so we changed the spelling. Phonetically, y is pronounced the same way as i in French, so RYVOLI worked.

Can you explain the title of your new EP, Theories?

SAM: We never intended for this to be an EP. We recorded three songs first, because that’s all we had money for at the time. Then we got advice from some wise people who recommended that we make it a five-song EP. We didn’t sit down to try to write the other two songs with a theme necessarily, it just happened. The past two years since moving back from France, and even while we were there, catalyzed this season in our lives of questioning literally everything. For the first year of being a band, we spent a lot of time sitting at Jenn’s kitchen table in the morning, asking basic, fundamental questions about life. And then 'Ulysses', the first track on the EP, has a line in it that says to “never fall and maybe never fly, get stuck in a theory,” and that’s where we got the idea for the name of the whole album. For me, it just made more sense to say that it’s okay to theorize about the things that I believe. We can accept that we have a lot of theories about things but not a lot of concrete answers and also encourage anyone who listens to feel comfortable with having firm beliefs while holding them loosely.

JENN: Sam helped me throw away half of my apartment, but I didn’t want to throw away everything that I had learned and the people I had met and experiences I’d had and the music we had started making—I didn’t want to lose it all.

SAM: And we threw out a lot spiritually. A whole, whole lot. But then at the end of the day, we knew that we couldn’t just throw it all away because I think, even though we don’t necessarily hold the same beliefs that we were raised with, or just that they’d changed, there’s still truth to be found I think in some of that.

You mentioned that these songs weren’t intended to be a five-song EP, and you have also said to Vents Magazine: “We had no clue (& still don’t) how people normally go about trying to write and record music.” So, I’d love to hear about your songwriting process.

SAM: I think the first song we worked on together as a band was 'Roots', and Jenn started that the day that she moved back from France. She was doing most of the songwriting initially, so we’ve actually kinda flip-flopped. I think we just assumed those were the roles because...I don’t know. Because I had never done it.

JENN: Sam’s really the lyrical genius behind the band. A lot of times she’ll say, ‘what do you think or feel about this idea?’ and I’ll verbal vomit everywhere and she’ll take it and make it into something poetic and beautiful. All this is to say, there’s no formula for us.

And you plan on continuing to write together, I presume.

BOTH: Yeah.

SAM: And that’s been an interesting thing, because those first five songs—we were writing them for fun, not really thinking that any of it would really go anywhere. And now that we’ve released them, there’s talk of recording more. It’s a little bit more pressure. There are expectations that we’re songwriters and I don’t really feel that way but I guess that’s all art really. We’re all just trying.

Often on the album, you use a second person point-of-view to refer to “you,” and I was wondering if you were speaking to anyone or anything in particular.

SAM: 'Sleep Talking' was a little more conceptual and intentional when we wrote it. Jenn and I both struggled with anxiety and it was intensified for me when I moved to France for a lot of different reasons. And it would always come at night. I think I saw Jenn after a month after I had moved there and I hadn’t slept in I don’t know, four days or so. [laughs] So in the song, “you” is speaking to anxiety.

JENN: For 'Roots', I’d just moved back, everything had kinda been ripped out of my hands and heart. I had just said goodbye to Sam, and she’s wrapped up in [the song] a little bit, even though I wasn’t speaking directly to her. I felt like I was just waiting for something to happen next. So “you” is whatever that’s gonna be, whatever the next opportunity is, but also asking it to please hurry up. [laughs]

Do either or both of you feel wanderlust?

SAM: We like to travel for sure—I’ve been to maybe like fifteen countries. Until moving to Lexington, I always had a restless spirit. I moved out when I was 17, went to college, but then I left college twice, went to India, and just ran all over the place. When I got to Lexington, I didn’t know if it would stick, but I’ve been here for two years now. I still love to get out and see new places but I don’t feel the same need to re-establish myself and re-plant myself every year anymore. I don’t know if that’s a maturity thing or what. [laughs]

JENN: No [wanderlust] for me. I was born and raised in Lexington. I left when I was 22, just moved back two years ago, and in that span of twelve years I travelled to over 30 countries and I’ve seen a lot. It’s just really good to be home. Lexington is such a great town. And I feel the same, I’m so content and happy to be here in the community that we have and around family again.

Can you talk a little bit more about how the community of Lexington has impacted the band?

SAM: We love the music community here. But they’re not just the music community—I feel like that’s a very stale, generic term, because they really all have become really good friends. The music scene here is definitely up-and-coming, and all the bands have been feeding off of each other and that’s been really exciting. Everyone is so supportive and honestly I don’t know how far we would have come without people like our friends in Lexington encouraging us to keep going. I look back on videos of some of our first shows—and they were terrible—but people were so kind and told us to keep doing it! A lot of people have asked us, ‘are you gonna move to Nashville?’ and I’m pretty sure that’s the last thing we wanna do.

It’s gotta be nice to have a community to keep you going.

SAM: Sometimes I forget a lot of our friends are really talented musicians and we’ll go to their shows and it’s like, ‘oh yeah!’

JENN: I feel like here we take our music seriously and we take each other’s music seriously but it’s not the only thing that we’re serious about so then we can kick back and do life together too. That’s been really great, to work on music and then just chill out and be a family.

Can you tell me about the EP’s album art?

SAM: Our friend Cheng-Ying Zoe Wang is an incredible artist. She is Taiwanese and we met her in Paris. I don’t feel that I’m generally someone who is very contemplative when it comes to art, but the first time I saw one of her pieces of art, I actually had tears in my eyes because of how beautiful and meaningful it was. We asked her to create an image based on our song 'Roots', then when we were thinking about album artwork, we looked at some pieces that she had already done. We loved the image of the two birds and she was more than willing to let us use it.

JENN: And I love that it’s unsettling. My kids actually don’t like to look at it. They think it’s weird, but I love that. And that’s actually something we want to keep doing with our music. If it’s a little bit unsettling, that’s great.

SAM: I love that, I love making people feel unsettled.

Do you know the inspiration behind it?

SAM: She [Wang] doesn’t even remember what inspired it. I see it as this little bird with a book and Mom is scolding him or just talking to him. That image embodies what has been handed down to Jenn and I, and really to everyone, by our parents. I think we inherit things as children and eventually you have to grow up and decide [what to take with you].

JENN: Not out of disrespect though. I wouldn’t trade my young adulthood and growing up for anything but it’s just so good to–

BOTH: Be your own person.