The Revivalists Return Strong With New LP ‘Take Good Care’ – Conversation With Ed Williams (INTERVIEW)

For a bunch of guys not born and raised in New Orleans, The Revivalists have certainly nailed down the sound. Adding bits of their own homegrown cayenne pepper to the mix, they have a fun, funky, danceable rhythm that audiences go wild over. And if you haven’t seen them live yet, you better get yourself down to the closest venue, as they will be embarking on a new tour for their upcoming album, Take Good Care.

Featuring everything that makes the Revivalists unique in a world of clones, songs such as “All My Friends,” “Oh No,” “Other Side Of Paradise” and “You Said It All” are crackling with zingability that you can’t help but feel it down to the marrow. And that’s what all New Orleans music does to perfection – whether it’s a Professor Longhair piano ramble or the Sweden-born/NOLA-based Anders Osborne tearing up a six string. It either seeps in or it doesn’t.

Appearing for all it’s worth a twist of fate, guitarist Zack Feinberg took a different route home one day and heard singer Dave Shaw picking out a song on his porch. “I was singing a song called ‘Purple Heart,’” Shaw recalled during a 2013 Glide interview. “I had just moved down to New Orleans and I was playing guitar and Zack rode by on his bicycle and he stopped, listened to the song and came up.” The band formed, released a few EPs and made their full-length debut with Vital Signs in the spring of 2010.

When asked back in 2013 what amazed him the most about his band, Shaw felt it was how far they had come in a short time: “If we would have stopped within six months, we would have never known the heights that we could have come to, you know. We’re just better, better musically; everybody is better at everything.” Other band members include Ed Williams on pedal steel, Andrew Campanelli on drums, Rob Ingraham on sax, George Gekas on bass, Michael Girardot on keys and trumpet and PJ Howard on percussion.

With the release this week of both the album, Take Good Care, on November 9th, and a video for the funkilicious “All My Friends,” Glide spoke with Williams on a rare day at home in New Orleans to talk new music, his pedal steel roots and finally being #1 on the charts.

I heard you had a great set at Voodoo

Yeah, it was a lot of fun. The crowd was great. You know, there wasn’t a lot of New Orleans bands on the lineup this year so it made us feel like hometown heroes with everybody supporting us around the community here, which is a great feeling.

How does it feel having these #1 songs finally?

It feels good. I mean, we have more than one of them now so that takes us out of the one hit wonder realm, which is great (laughs). I mean, we were surprised even to get one of them. When “Wish I Knew You” happened, it was a surprise to us. We kind of were just always doing what we’ve always been doing and we’ve never really let that kind of influence affect the way we write or the way that we put out songs. So it’s a really great feeling that people have latched onto just what makes us -us, instead of us having to conform to a certain situation. We just keep being us and people still like the songs. If anything, the only thing we’ve done is we let the studio song and the live song be two different things. We can still be ourselves when we’re doing the live show and like at the end of “Wish I Knew You,” we have a big sax solo or something, we kind of change it up and we just let the song be the song on the album.

The Revivalists are such a band of rhythm, do you think it surprises some people with some of your lyrics?

You know, I feel like the lyrics are written with the truth in mind rather than anything else; it’s just how you are feeling at the time. I would say that is a compliment to the music, you know what I mean, because both are like 50/50 of the song. How does the music make me feel? How do the lyrics make me feel? If you’re concentrating on the music before the lyrics, which I do too and it’s just kind of the way I listen to music. Some people do it the opposite way. It’s just the way your brain works. They listen to the lyrics first and then they go to the music. So I don’t know, I think a lot of people respond to the lyrics and they respond to the music too. I’m just glad people are responding to something (laughs).

I understand you had a lot of songs going into this new record. What were some of the main factors in the weeding-out process? How did you get it down to fourteen?

It was tough. We tried to get it down to twelve and that just wasn’t happening. So we were like, let’s just put fourteen out. It’s tough because we have a lot of songs. We kind of all just get into a room, and first things first is what are we feeling really great about. And we got that down to about sixty, cause we have other things that just haven’t been really developed yet. And then from there, we were like, okay, what is the most complete? So that was another step. Then we started talking to producers, what do they feel strongly about, cause you want them to have a passion for the song also. It’s just a bunch of steps.

A lot of songs that are on this album didn’t make the cut for the last album. Not a lot but maybe one or two – I know of at least one – and that’s just because it wasn’t ready at that time or maybe there were two songs that sounded similar. So we just had to pick our favorite one and kind of put that one back into the stable. But it’s like we’ve had this stable of songs since even more than sixty. Everybody writes music or lyrics or both in this band so we don’t really think of it like we’re abandoning songs.

Basically what we’re going to do is, the songs that didn’t make this album, they’re still going to be there when we come to the next one. It’s just how we are feeling about it then: do we want to change anything, do we want to make it this way or that way. So I don’t think we’ve abandoned these songs, they’ve just been put on the backburner just like it always is. I mean, this is going to be an ever-evolving cycle of songs. It was difficult to get it down to that amount and I’m sure it will be next time when we have 7000 songs (laughs). But I think it was a good process and it was a creative process and it was a team process too, which was a good feeling.

What can you tell us about the creation of the song “Change”?

That was actually a song that Dave co-wrote with somebody in California, and he brought the song to the band and we all liked it. We kind of started to pick it apart a little bit, like, okay, what is everybody feeling like they want to do here? We kept the drums pretty similar to the original demo but then everybody started adding their layers on top of it. We had Andrew Dawson, who is a great producer and he mixed it, and we got his take on it too. But we all kind of got in there and put what we felt could make the song better or make it sound more like us. That one came together pretty easily once Dave brought it to us. That was one that we all really liked so there was no question that that one was going to make the album.

With “Oh No,” you let the guitar loose and go wild

Yeah, Zack and I have a double solo there at the end of it and we did that in one take. We were just kind of feeling it and that one came together really well too, very natural just the way it happened. We had the demo and we were playing the song, the ending came on and Zack and I just kind of went off and we decided after listening to it that that was the one and we used that. So that’s another one that was a real natural process the way it came together.

The track, “Shoot You Down,” is very thought-provoking. When did the seeds of this song actually start?

You know, this has been a problem in this country for a while now and I think it was a moment last year, maybe two years ago, where this was happening and happening all the time. Dave started writing the lyrics and it became very poignant in the world we’re living in right now. I mean, that is just something where I think Dave wrote it cause we were starting to get overwhelmed with just how this is what this is turning into and people are becoming numb to the situation. So I think he just wrote down his feelings about that situation.

And I understand you’re releasing a special edition vinyl with Revolutions Per Minute benefitting Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund?

Yeah, we basically teamed up with them and we’re going to contribute 100% of all the money that this makes to them. We don’t want to make anything off of this as it’s to raise awareness. It’s not an anti-gun thing, it’s about reasonable gun control to stop gun violence. It’s not an anti-second amendment or anything like that. It’s like, hey, this is a problem and guess what, when you drive, which is a big ole vehicle that can hurt people, you have to take a test to be able to do that. There are all these requirements. And there is none of that for guns and that’s a problem. We’re seeing it all the time now so I really feel like it’s about awareness and realizing that you don’t have to be anti-gun to want reasonable gun control.

What made you gravitate to the pedal steel?

Well, I grew up playing violin and piano when I was a kid and I guess I really always wanted to sing and I can really make that thing sing. You can make it sound like anything, an organ or a guitar, a voice, and you can get crazy with it and do like crazy synth sounds. It’s a fretless instrument, pretty similar to slide guitar but more complex. It opened up so many more opportunities than any other instrument that I played did. People say, “Oh, it’s difficult.” No, it’s just sometimes certain instruments just click with the way people play, way people think, and this one just clicked for me and became an obsession. I listened to it first in gospel music and became obsessed with that sound and kind of just went from there and became absolutely obsessed with it. I played it all the time when I was younger. It worked out and now here we are.

You didn’t grow up in New Orleans

No, we are all transplants. I grew up in New York City and then I moved down to New Orleans for Tulane; very similar to a lot of the other guys. Like, me, Zack and Rob, we all went to Tulane; Campy and Mike went to Loyola and George went to Loyola too; and then Dave moved down to New Orleans just after college just for the music scene. So we all kind of met there; we all kind of knew each other in college from the music scene. But we are from all over the country.

If you are from New York City, you had a big amalgam of music up there and you come down here where New Orleans has this great big boiling pot of music as well. So what about the specific New Orleans music did you fall in love with first?

New Orleans music, first of all, is a community. Everybody supports each other. Like, once you’re good enough to be in there, you always have people holding you up. Nobody is holding you down here. I hate to say it but that’s rare in a music community – to hold you up instead of push you down. I wish it wasn’t but there are a lot of cutthroat situations and I just don’t feel that here. Like, in New York, people are competing for gigs, just like anything else, and everybody is good; everywhere you go, there is always going to be good music. And I remember the first time, I think four or five days into my freshman year, I walked over to the Boot, which is this little bar across the street from Tulane and Papa Grows Funk was playing there and they blew my mind! June Yamagishi was shredding and John Gros was up there and it was incredible. You know, Zack had a very similar situation when he saw them the first time at the Maple Leaf. The music here, the city just gets into the way you play and the musical community is so uplifting here that I just couldn’t move away.

When I interviewed Dave back in 2013, I asked him what amazed him the most about the Revivalists. So I want to ask you the same question: what amazes you about your band here in 2018?

I think, first of all, I’m better because I am playing with really talented people. So the rest of my band has made me a better player. I think we all do that to each other. We kind of lift each other up and kind of force each other to get better. The other thing is, we work really hard because we love what we do so we’re never going to stop, this is what we do and our work ethic is something that I think has really helped us get here.


Group photo by Zackery Michael; live photos by Leslie Michele Derrough

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