Finding Her Voice

Eureka-based singer songwriter Michelle Rivers is recording her second album, "Chasing Somewhere," this fall while performing a full slate of local shows and connecting with audiences throughout Northwest Montana

By Maggie Dresser
Michelle Rivers, an Americana and folk singer and songwriter, plays her guitar along the Flathead River. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On any given summer night, the odds are pretty good that Michelle Rivers is playing music at a brewery, winery or any venue between the Tobacco and Flathead valleys. 

Living in Eureka for more than a decade, the musician has been writing songs and playing in full bands along with trios, duos and solo shows across Northwest Montana. She released her first album, “Breathing on Embers,” in 2016.

Rivers, whose married name is Tribble, planned to record her second album, “Chasing Somewhere,” in 2019, but scheduling conflicts postponed the project until 2020 when it was once again sidelined, this time by the pandemic. Between uncertain times and an inopportune time for fundraising, Rivers hunkered down in Eureka with her husband, Sean, also a musician. 

Now that live music has made a full rebound in Montana, Rivers has been playing every Monday night at Jerry’s Saloon near Eureka while making weekly trips to play in the Flathead. She performed at Under The Big Sky in July, singing harmony and playing guitar with local fiddle player and singer-songwriter Hannah King. 

“It was a really great experience to be part of a big festival like that,” Rivers said. “It was really fun to see Hannah play all of her original songs … For us as songwriters, that’s really where the magic is. We can really play our own songs and people can connect with it.” 

Connecting with an audience through original songs became more of a priority after Rivers released her first album, which prompted her to play more live shows. Her passion for songwriting began to shift, now driven not only by a personal outlet but also as a way to relate to each individual in the crowd. 

“They understand and they feel what I’m feeling and I can give them words I’m feeling through the songs I’m singing,” Rivers, 33, said. “That connection piece has definitely been huge for me as I’ve grown as an artist.”

Rivers and her father David Piland on Piland’s property along the Flathead River. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Growing up in the small town of Leipers Fork, Tennessee, about an hour outside of Nashville, Rivers started writing songs at a young age, mostly as a form of self-expression that her shy personality couldn’t otherwise portray. 

Writing her first song, “Running Horses,” at age 4, with the words, “Running horses coming my way, black and white and brown and gray,” Rivers has always been drawn to lyrics and melodies. As her passion for songwriting evolved, she continued writing into adulthood, but she didn’t always share her music, despite her natural talent as a singer and her close connection with the music industry. 

As the daughter of a songwriter and music producer, Rivers spent much of her childhood surrounded by talented musicians and watching her father, David Piland, play just about every string instrument imaginable. 

“My dad has definitely been one of my biggest influences,” Rivers said. “He’s the guy who had all the songwriters over when I was a kid and taught me how to do everything. I’m just incredibly grateful that I got to grow up in a home where there was so much good music.” 

While Rivers’ father guided her into the music world, her mother, Camille Piland, inspired her songwriting and passed down her passion for human connectivity, allowing her to build a deep bond with both her audiences and grow relationships in her personal life. 

Rivers started playing the guitar more seriously in high school so she could write and sing on her own. But by the time she started college at Belmont University in Nashville, she was intimidated to share her songs, feeling like a small fish in large sea of aspiring songwriters and musicians. 

“I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to be part of the rat race of the music industry,” Rivers said. “It’s very competitive and, at 19, I just did not have what it took to jump in wholeheartedly.”

After her freshman year, Rivers transferred to Baylor University in Texas where she finished college, leaving the cutthroat environment in Nashville. 

“That was my moment to be a big fish in a little sea,” Rivers said. 

After college, Rivers moved to Eureka on a whim to work at Chrysalis School, a therapeutic boarding school for girls, where she’s lived ever since.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Rivers said. “But I knew I wanted to make music and live in the mountains.” 

Moving to the quiet, rural border town helped Rivers find her voice after growing up so close to the songwriting center of the country, and she says it was the turning point in her growth as a songwriter and artist. 

“When you’re first starting out as a musician or a songwriter, it’s helpful if you start in an area where you can shine and improve,” Piland, her father, said. “But if you start out in a place like Nashville, that’s where the best songwriters in the world are … Everybody goes to Nashville because it’s the songwriting mecca.” 

Nature and a quiet pace in Eureka, free of distractions, inspire Rivers and allow her to organically flow into a creative mindset. Since moving to Montana, Rivers has continued writing songs while singing and teaching music at Chrysalis and most recently for the Lincoln County School District, where she spends the school year teaching and developing relationships with her students.

Building on her passion for connectivity, Rivers spent the difficult 2020-2021 school year bonding with her students during the pandemic. Choir was limited in the beginning of the school year, followed by a mask requirement, which made singing a challenge. 

“It was weird, but the kids were super resilient and they made the best of it,” Rivers said. “Going through that experience together, there’s something about it that bonds you.” 

Once school was over, Rivers refocused her energy on making her own music, with plans to record a new album.

Since Rivers has waited five years to launch a second album, she now has dozens of songs to choose from and is able to cherry-pick the ones that relate to her listeners and weave them together to create a cohesive album theme for “Chasing Somewhere.” 

“The title track is called ‘Chasing Somewhere,’ and for me the song is about the unrest that is in all of us that keeps us moving forward, which sometimes can be a good thing, but sometimes it can keep us from landing in one place and being content with where you’re at,” Rivers said. 

Michelle Rivers. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Her dad produced her first album with artists such as Jimmy Mattingly and Bruce Bouton, who have both played with Garth Brooks, and each musician dubbed their own tracks remotely. While Rivers says it was a fun way to record an album, she plans to head south to Georgia this time to record her new album live in a studio. 

“There’s something really special about everyone being all together and just hearing them put life to your songs,” Rivers said. “I’ve got a vision for these songs, and being able to communicate and watch them do it, that sounds magical for a songwriter. It’s a dream.”

Once “Chasing Somewhere” is recorded this fall, Rivers plans to release it next year and book a slew of shows and festivals next summer on a northwest tour and potentially a southern tour. 

Aside from playing more live shows and promoting her new album, Rivers dreams of having a country artist record one of her songs someday. 

“That’s a desire I’ve always had,” River said. “To hear somebody else sing my songs on the radio so I can have my peaceful life in Montana without anyone bothering me.” 

For more information or to order “Chasing Somewhere,” visit www.michelleriversmusic.com or visit her Facebook page. Sign up for the email list on her website to be notified when the album is released.

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