If bands have life cycles, Lobo Marino has transitioned from youth to adulthood.
The experimental folk duo of Jameson Price and Laney Sullivan were dubbed Lobo Marino while on a trip through South America at the end of 2009. Staying in a small fishing village in Chile, they were captivated by the enormous Pacific sea lions, known as lobo marino, that swam upriver to beg for fish scraps throughout the town.
In between watching the animals, they wrote most of their first album there, so when it came time to choose a band name, Lobo Marino made sense. But the trip did more than provide inspiration for a moniker. Traveling from town to town proved that music could be the vehicle for their wanderlust.
“We’re addicted to travel,” Price says with a smile. “And music became our preferred method of travel.” Lobo Marino has consistently traveled nationally and internationally ever since, recording nine albums along the way.
But before the 10th is released, Lobo Marino underwent a name change, choosing Høly River to replace it. They insist they’re fine with people referring to them as ‘the band formerly known as Lobo Marino’ and stress that their Lobo Marino Spotify and Bandcamp pages will remain as is to make it easier for fans to locate their music.
The timing was crucial as well. With the kickoff of 2020, the duo made an association with the concept of 20/20 vision. “I don’t know if we could have changed the band name except for 2020 feels like a change of vision,” Price explains.
Sullivan is clear that they’re not a new band, but that the name change represents an evolution. Their 2014 song “Holy River” took on a life of its own over the years as fans used it as the soundtrack to their lives: to deliver babies — one woman told them it was the first song her newborn ever heard — get married and even die.
Many people have asked if they can cover it and they were told that it was sung in a song circle at a Standing Rock protest when they weren’t in attendance. The duo feels honored at the song’s long reach into so many communities.
“That one song can be an inspiration for so many rites of passage in life,” Sullivan says. “It’s about being connected to the earth because our bodies are mostly water and we are the water we drink.” That point was driven home when Sullivan organized her first rally protesting the leaking of coal ash into the James River. The sign she carried read, “The James River is my holy river. I drink it every day. It runs through my veins.”
Both musicians see water protection at the core of the environmental activism with which they’ve been involved for years. Still, changing their band’s name after a decade was a tough decision that required much discussion given all the technical issues — their URL, website and bank account, for starters.
“But we work in a world of sonic resonance and words are powerful and important,” Price says. “We realized we needed to be more intentional about the lyrical quality of our music.”
The band welcomes the conversation they’ll inevitably have with fans at shows as they continue to tour, and not just in traditional bars and venues, but at galleries, farms, collective houses and festivals.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be famous but we have a sustainable career that supports our lifestyle,” Sullivan says. “The artists, communities and families we’re interacting with, they’re changing our lives. That’s where we want to be.”
The use of the Danish ø in Høly River is intentional, a way of making the word less fraught with uncomfortable meaning for those who wish to steer clear of any reference to holiness or religion. “Though we love Lobo Marino, that name represents our childhood as a band, so we’ll always have and cherish that,” Sullivan says of the arc of their first decade. “But a Pacific Ocean animal is not relevant to the holistic scope of our work anymore.”
Clearly, the name change doesn’t affect the work the band is doing, but for two people who regularly meditate at the James River, watershed awareness takes precedence.
“We could sing just any songs or we could envision what kind of world we wanted to create and be the kind of people we wanted to be,” Price says of its 2020 mission. “We can do that by using our music as a tool to stay focused and call that into our lives.”
Sullivan adds that the group is working on a new full-length album, “Spirit Riot,” out sometime this year. It just released a 7-inch vinyl single featuring the classic 2015 version of “Holy River” as well as a new, dreamlike, reimagined version called “River Holy.”
After a show Jan. 24, the band leaves for a two-month tour of the Southeast and won’t be back home until the spring.
Høly River will play an “Environment at Risk” art exhibit by the Sierra Club on Jan. 24 from 6-9 p.m. at Plant Zero, 7 E. Third St.