River Soul Revival: A Band Built by Brothers

Shawn and Brett Sumrall surprise audiences with a forgotten genre

by Ian Sarmiento

Music is a universal language. It’s something that everyone hears, something that everyone experiences and it’s different everywhere in the world. However, most of all, it’s something that changes over time. River Soul Revival is a folk, western and pop band, made up of two Cedarville students. They have brought back a genre lost in history to say one thing: 

“Harmonicas bring people together.” 

River Soul Revival consists of two brothers, Shawn and Brett Sumrall. They grew up in Northern Virginia southwest of Washington, with their mom, dad, and younger brother, Ian.

Shawn, a senior English major, is the main vocalist and acoustic guitaristist. Brett, a senior athletic training major, also plays acoustic guitar, the harmonica, and sings harmonies.

Shawn began learning guitar when he was seven. He started taking lessons only to find that he wasn’t learning as well as he wanted to. So he gave up formal lessons and started learning on his own. 

“We would listen to music all the time, growing up, and it became a huge part of our lives,” Brett said. 

Brett began learning to play the guitar when he was 14. He said that after watching Shawn play at home and at church, he decided to start learning guitar as well.

They spent a lot of time on a church stage together, opening up in worship for their church congregation.

Shawn and Brett have grown up playing together in church, at school and, to the annoyance of their neighbors, late at night.

The duo did not come from a musical family. However, they did have had a few family friends that played a role in supporting them with their music. These friends were instrumental in further helping them to make music a significant part of their lives. One of these friends is Chuck Freer, the associate pastor from their church, who taught Shawn to play guitar.

Another friend they mentioned is William Keller. The brothers said Keller introduced them to a few bands that brought them into their current genre, helping to inspire them to write their own music.

The Avett Brothers, an American Folk Rock band, have inspired a lot of the Sumralls’ music. 

River Soul Revival plays a lot of covers of the Avett Brothers’ songs, which was a stepping stone toward writing their own music for their band. 

 “We play and listen to their music mainly because our voices fit best with that type of music,” Brett said. 

When working on songs, the two brothers typically sit down together to talk about the lyrics. The topics of conversation always differ based on their life circumstances.

“It could be about how we might view the world or what’s going on around us,” Shawn said.

Eventually, one or the other will start playing on the guitar and begin the process of creating a melody.

In their most recent song, they wrote about how people mess up.

“People can make mistakes a lot,” Brett said. “It’s never an overnight change to become a better person … it’s always a process.”

After a significant amount of time acting as a band, they decided they needed a name. 

“When we wrote down a couple names, we looked back at them later and realized that they were all terrible,” Brett said.  

They had trouble coming up with a name until one day, when they wrote a song about a river. To them, a river symbolizes simplicity, or the idea of bringing something back to simplicity

“The music we play not only surprises an audience with a forgotten genre, but also helps us to communicate our music in a way that brings audiences souls back to a simple and beautiful state, almost like a ‘Soul Revival,’” Brett said. 

And so, they came up with the name River Soul Revival.

However, the brother duo wasn’t always this close. Like many bands, the brothers had their differences. 

The two had some disagreements after Shawn graduated high school.

“He was a butt,” Brett said, “mainly because Shawn was going through a different period in his life than I was, and we butt heads then.”

They soon realized that their relationship had drifted. The one thing that kept them together was the times they played music together.

Nowadays, they say that it’s hard for them to see themselves doing this process alone. They rely on each other not only as brothers, but also in their journey as musicians together. 

Brett and Shawn also have a younger brother who has inspired some of their songs.

“Our relationship with Ian is weird and difficult,” said Shawn. 

Shawn said that Ian was there for a lot of their growing up and many of the major events in their lives. But when Shawn and Brett left for college, the two of them missed out on a lot of Ian’s life.

“We regret not being around a ton to watch him take the same steps we were taking at his age, when he went to Europe for three months to play soccer, driving, etc,” Brett said. 

Shawn and Brett have continued to make music together not only to strengthen their bond together as brothers, as well as with Ian, but to also to share that relationship with others through their music. 

Their goal is to share their messages through their music with everyone who will listen. Even though music might not be something that they are currently pursuing career-wise, it is something they hope to do for the rest of their lives. 

They are currently working on two new songs, inspired by Ian, and are hoping to record a small album in the future. 

As Shawn goes on to study at another school, and Brett goes on to continue studying athletic training, their paths will drift apart.

But they know that no matter where God takes them, the memories they have shared, and the music they have played, will keep them together.

River Soul Revival does not currently have a release date or any official goals. They plan to finish their new songs and are currently looking for people to help them in the recording process for a mini-album or an extended play.

Ian Sarmiento is a freshman electrical engineering major and an Arts and Entertainment reporter for Cedars. He enjoys playing the piano, watching anime, and buying swords and knives so he can pretend to be a ninja.

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