River James

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Editorial Review

Testing the waters again

By Moira McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 10, 2010

Vince Scheuerman will play with his new band, River James, for the first time in Washington next week, but it will be far from his first gig in the city.

For about six years, Scheuerman was frontman for Army of Me, a local band that garnered national attention in the late 2000s and had a record deal with a major label. With its heavy, rock guitar sound countering Scheuerman's sweet vocals and revealing lyrics, Army of Me should have made it big.

But after the band's 2007 album, "Citizen," was released, "a lot of stuff conspired against us," says Scheuerman, 34. He contracted mono and developed serious vocal problems. The band had to cancel shows. The label lost interest.

"Man, there's kind of a long story," he says.

Scheuerman's story begins as a troubled youth in Gaithersburg, the oldest of six boys. He was in and out of three high schools, finally graduating from the Heights School in Potomac. "Oh, my gosh, I was a disaster," he says from his home in Mount Pleasant. "I was the most insecure person you've ever met. I felt really alone and maladjusted to the world. . . . It was a really hard time in my life."

At the University of Maryland, where Scheuerman majored in mechanical engineering, things weren't much better at first. When bass player John Hutchins asked him to join his band, Scheuerman, who began playing guitar in high school, declined, saying: "I'm pretty bad at guitar. You don't want me in your band."

Hutchins insisted.

"It was then that I started to have a little more confidence in myself as a musician and I started to write a couple of songs, and I was like, 'Wait, I can actually write songs.' "

He discovered Jeff Buckley's 1994 album "Grace" and started taking jazz-guitar lessons to learn new chords. Soon he, Hutchins and drummer Dennis Manuel formed what would become Army of Me.

Music saved him, Scheuerman says, and continues to save him. "I find purpose and inspiration in it, and it gets me out of bed in the morning."

For that reason, the big shows, the tunes on the radio, the record deal that went nowhere mean a little less.

"I think about what might have been or think, 'Oh, I'm not as successful as I want to be or I think I should be, or deserve to be,' " Scheuerman says. But then, he continues, "I got an e-mail from a fan this week that said, 'I want to take this moment to congratulate you on everything you accomplished with Army of Me.'

"So instead of being frustrated or upset, I could say, well, maybe success is making beautiful music that I'm proud of and that has affected people who have heard it. In that sense I can be a little more at peace with stuff."

Scheuerman doesn't dismiss the idea of an Army of Me reunion, but for now his focus is on River James, a band born from a long canoe trip down the James River this summer. Hutchins plays bass.

"What I've been through in the last few years has made me a better artist, and I think it's given me some level of humility that has made me able to connect with people in a better way," Scheuerman says. "As a musician, I'm more mature than I've ever been, and the songs that I'm writing are more mature and more meaningful."

He calls his new music more organic and less rock. "People might even say slightly alt-country.

It's definitely something a little more intimate and raw, and hopefully honest and beautiful." He hopes to release an album next year.

Whatever Scheuerman's music becomes, and however popular he gets, he believes his music has worked in his life in a positive way.

"It's given me purpose. It's given me a voice to express myself. It built my confidence. . . . I think first and foremost, success is making good art, and as an artist, that's the only thing I can control. And so I have to be at least satisfied, on one level, with that."