“I thought I must have been boring the shit out of you,” Rival Sons guitar player Scott Holiday exclaims with a hearty laugh as we are reconnected after somehow being disconnected during our recent interview. He was talking vivaciously about his band’s live shows when all of a sudden … click. It only took a few minutes to get back on track and Holiday’s enthusiasm for his band’s recent boom in popularity never wavered.
Rival Sons is a band on the borderline of a breakthrough here in the States. Yet across the pond they have already been embraced, kissed and welcomed aboard the rock & roll freight train. With the recent issue of Classic Rock magazine pondering on their cover whether they just may be the hottest band in rock, this California quartet are reveling in some big time British love. Their most recent album, Head Down, is afire with psychedelic soul based rock & roll tunes that have become all too uncommon in an industry that swears they love rock & roll yet continues to prop other unworthy genres high on their charts.
With glimmers of Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and some spooky snarly guitar riffs atop a moody celestial vocal courtesy of Jay Buchanan, it’s no wonder they are beloved by the British blues worshiping community in Europe. “Manifest Destiny,” “Three Fingers,” “Run From Revelation” and the first single “Keep On Swinging” are sure to make believers out of music fans sick of being catered processed synth-heavy pop tunes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we welcome Rival Sons. Formed when guitarist Holiday was starting a new band with drummer Mike Miley and bass player Robin Everhart that would better encapsulate their influences of and love for the more blues-based rock that sprang out of England in the late 60’s, finding Buchanan was almost an act of divine intervention … or pure luck. Together they found their groove and in September released their third amalgamation of tunes.
While on a “wonderful, beautiful, glorious break,” Scott Holiday took some time to talk with me about his band’s new album, how music was bred into him from birth and why doing everything, and I mean everything, in the studio is the most honest way to capture the true essence of a band in their most raw and honest genesis of making an album.
So you guys are in a break right now.
That’s it, yeah. We’re in a little bit of a ten second break; actually a pretty decent break for us. It’s amazing. We’ve been out for pretty much the best part of the last year and a half/two years. I think this might be the biggest break home we’ve had. We have families and I just moved into a place right before I got home so, it’s very, very much appreciated. We got to recharge the batteries (laughs)
Classic Rock magazine thinks you guys may be the hottest band in rock.
That’s awfully nice of them. They’ve been big supporters of us since we pretty much started. They’ve been on top of us so it’s nice.
You’re on one of the five covers for this month’s issue with the headline “Band Of the Year?” with Led Zeppelin and the Stones and Rush. That’s an honor.
Yeah, they done us right (laughs). Last year they gave us the number two Album Of The Year, which is a huge honor cause there was a ton of good people in the category and I think we were up for two other awards last year too. And this year we won the Breakthrough Artist, so that’s cool.
You guys are from California but you have a really, really strong British blues sound. Do you think that is why you are so popular in Europe?
I think that sound’s popular everywhere the world over, including America. I can’t really pinpoint exactly why it’s caught on more. I’d have to remove myself from the band a little bit but we get a lot of support from the media and the radio over there. I think that the fans over there, in general, they seem to go out more, there’s a bigger age group of people going out all the time and it promotes the whole live scene really, really hard.
You opened some shows for Guns N Roses in Europe? How did you like working with them?
I was torn slightly. It was great, the crowds were really, really great, the guys in the band were really, really good. We didn’t actually hang out with Axl at all but all the other guys in the band really made us feel at home. They came over and met us, came over to our dressing room and told us they’d been big fans of ours for a long time and they wanted us to do more dates than we did do. Very cool guys. And the band is great.
For me, I was a little torn because me and Michael, my drummer, may be the biggest Guns N Roses fans of the original line-up. I grew up with Appetite and Lies and was totally into it, totally into Izzy, Slash, the whole line-up, so seeing them tour under the moniker Guns N Roses and not seeing anybody in the band except Axl onstage kind of freaked me out a little bit. It’s really, really strange to me. But Frank Ferrer, the drummer, is like a good friend and we keep in touch and email each other and he calls me from random places. I talk to him when I’m all over the world and we chat. But they’re a good band. They’re doing the songs and they’re great players.
Why did you go to Nashville to record your latest album Head Down?
Well, I’d love to tell you some really romantic story but the honest truth is our producer [Dave Cobb] moved there. He’s the producer on all our records and he moved to Nashville. So we decided instead of bringing him here, he’s got all of his goodies and toys in the studio there so we went there. Plus, obviously, we’re all quite aware of the upside to Nashville. It’s such a beautiful town and probably the music hub of the United States at this point and has been for a while. So many great artists are working there and the vibe is just so good. It’s just a really great place. More music people per capita, I’m sure, than just about anywhere.
And it’s cool because I went over to Grimey’s to pick up some vinyl and bumped into Dan Auerbach while I was in there shopping. I’m like, how cool, I’m bumping into Dan of The Black Keys (laughs) and we’re talking records and rock & roll and each other’s records. And also, I was working and the other guys went off to The Third Man to go record shopping, Jack White’s place, and Jack White showed up (laughs). Pretty bizarre.
Let’s talk about a few of the songs on the new record. What can you tell us about “You Want To?”
We started out with the main riff, that fuzz riff. I’ve been on, for the last couple of years, a huge garage rock, like 60’s beat, psych rock kind of kick, and I’ve been enthusing about vinyl for the last couple of years pretty good too, so I think that song probably reflects a lot of that influence. Like all the songs on the record when we put it together it was just pretty instantaneous. We’re not writing anything until we get in the studio and we’re mic’d up so the riff comes about and all I knew was that after the riff was there, I wanted these riffs to start and stop. I also really wanted to let the song reflect stuff that we improvise live, between me and Jay, a little back and forth conversation. So that song literally came together in a few takes and what you hear is probably like the third take or something all the way through.
Do you guys get off on the stress of doing everything – the writing, recording, the creating – all in the studio?
(laughs) I think it’s just necessity. We all have this take that rock & roll these days has seen an absence of real energy and that live energy that you get from the oldest rock & roll records like Chuck Berry records, Little Richard records, Elvis Presley records and on and on. I’m just naming the most popular ones for everybody and there are a thousand beneath the surface; these records that are very clearly improvised and off the cuff. Even like a lot of the 60’s rock & roll like the Jeff Beck Group, The Yardbirds and any of these groups, you can tell they were basically shooting these songs out, you know. The Who, Zeppelin, any of these groups were very much off the cuff. Nowadays it seems we have a lot of over-produced, over-worked, Pro Tools, digitized, over-thought stuff and it just takes the raw power out of the rock & roll. With this band, that is how we kind of do it, just back ourselves into the corner and see how that works and it’s bound to come up sounding very off the cuff and alive that way. And luckily, it just seems to work for us. We have fun.
“Run From Revelation” has that kind of slinky blues undertone to it.
Yeah, that song probably is, if you hear that main riff, that main slide riff, that real slinky thing on the verses, was one of the only things that I had, predominately, while we toured before we went into the studio. I never told the guys, “We’re going to make a song with this,” but I would always mess around with either that or something very close to that at soundcheck. I knew when I came home – I had about a week or something before we went in the studio – and that was a bit I really felt like I could turn into something. So I presented that to the guys and we just built around the song. And it gave me like a real dirty, I don’t even know what I was thinking with it (laughs) but I think it’s got a real slinky Mick Taylor Stones thing to it that I really liked. It stuck with me. There’s a few that on the road that kind of sticks with you but other than that I try not to write too much. That way, if I start to premeditate too much I’ll just write the song and then I’ll go in the studio and tell the guys, “These are the parts, this is how the song goes,” and we try to refrain from that. We just try to do more of a volley: “Here is the riff I want to use. You guys like this? Ok, let’s continue that.”
One of my favorite guitar parts that you did is on “Three Fingers.” It has that funky, psychedelic soul sound.
I think that must be the first take on that. We started to mess around with something and I was really thinking, this is probably boring (laughs) and it really doesn’t have any hot sauce to it and we went through twenty bars or something and took a break and went outside and I was like, “I don’t know if we should keep on with this tune. It feels a little limp.” But the guys were like, “No, no, let’s take one more stab at it.” So we went in and I just decided to solo the entire time (laughs). It was just really fun and interesting for myself and that ended up being that take, the first take we went in and did. People ask us our influences and stuff and all I can say is this is kind of a tune that is so buried in the live moment. I guess I probably have my instinctual influences; of course I’m a huge Hendrix person, psychedelic rock guys, probably a little bit of The Small Faces and some other dirty rock & roll in there, some garage bands like the Standells and maybe the Barbarians. I don’t know, stuff like that comes out in that tune but very live, very off the cuff. I think of the whole thing as one big guitar track.
When did you discover rock & roll?
I was brought up, all my family, my mom and dad, my aunts and uncles and stuff, they’re a rock & roll family so that stuff was bred into me from birth, you know. My lullabies were probably like old Beatles tunes and Hendrix and Stones and stuff (laughs). But I picked up the guitar right around eleven or twelve years old. I don’t know what the driving force was, maybe just their enjoyment for music. My folks would have parties and everybody would come over and enjoy rock & roll so much. Nobody played music around me. Nobody in my family played or anything, but thinking about it I just remember them having so much fun. As a kid I thought, I want to bring the fun, I want to bring the fun to these people. So I started playing guitar. I was probably like twelve years old. And that’s how it went down from there on.
When did you first perform on a stage? Was it easy for you or were you nervous?
I’m sure there must have been some nerves but I was always having a lot of fun so I never really recall how nervous any of it was ever. I just remember it being fun and I think probably the first performance was maybe, I mean, I performed for my family when I was really young, thirteen/fourteen and we’d have parties and a band would play and I’d get up and play with the band and sit in. I think probably the first legitimate performance we did, I was around at fifteen or sixteen, was at my high school and all the guys in my band were out of high school (laughs) so they had to come on campus. They got the pass to come on campus and we played like at lunch so that was a pretty cool thing to do. And I wasn’t nervous. It was kind of rad, kind of fun.
Do you remember what you played?
We played originals. I was never too much into covering tunes with bands, amazingly. I know that sounds weird. I’d play songs by other artists and of course I’ve learned hundreds and hundreds of songs by my favorite guys. But when I got in a band setting, I never felt like, let’s play a bunch of songs by these guys or those guys, or let’s pick one from each band. I just never connected with it. I always looked at the guitar as more of an expression kind of thing. It’s a chance to kind of like put pen to paper per se, you know.
Do you get your song ideas from just noodling around on the guitar or do they come to you in your sleep?
Back then it was probably from just a lot of fiddling around on the guitar, just discovering different shapes and the way chords worked together and what felt really, really good; and maybe from playing other people’s songs and lifting little sections and taking your own take on it. And then throughout, generally I put different effects on it and fuzz boxes, a delay pedal, certain musical items, there will be songs inside of them. I’ll pick up a guitar and make this guitar sound a certain way, that this is the song that is in the guitar, this is the song that is in the amp or in the pedal or something, just using the tools. Sometimes nowadays I will just hear things in my sleep (laughs). Little melodies like on the new record I heard “Nava,” a little melody I was hearing in my head, and I sat down after one of the long days in Nashville and had an acoustic in my room and sat on the porch and kind of just fumbled this out and created that very quickly.
What was it about Jay’s voice that you knew he was the right singer for the new band you were putting together?
What could be more right? You know what I mean? When I heard him, I was actually looking around really quickly cause I realized the guy I was working with, well, I needed to work with someone different. And someone had come to our show, a very good friend of ours came and said, “I want to sing in your band. Instead of the singer you’re using, why don’t you use me?” So I went, “Let me go check out all your stuff.” So I went to his website to listen to what he had going on and I was thinking, Not totally right, no. And on his page he had a link to a few other artists and Jay Buchanan was one of them and I just really innocently, he was the first link I clicked and was like, I think I’ve heard of that guy but I’m not sure. And I’m hearing Jay Buchanan as I’m doing this and literally about thirteen seconds into the first song that I was listening to, I had like chills, goosebumps, and I was like, this is definitely my guy, I’m 100% sure. I don’t even think I listened to the rest of the song. I just put it down and went and got my wife and went, “Come in, come in, listen to this guy. This is the guy that is going to sing for my band. I don’t even know where he lives or who he is but he is definitely going to sing for me. (laughs) This guy is the bomb. I’ve got to get this guy with us.”
I listened to the rest of his stuff and it was all great and I loved all of it. I could immediately hear some kind of, I mean, to me, my initial reaction was, this dude sounds like the early Terry Reid stuff. But I kept hearing what he was doing with his voice in the songs but I don’t think he knows it, I don’t think he listens to those guys; I think it’s an innate quality that he just has with his voice.
He definitely has an understanding for soul music and the blues. I could tell from very, very minimal listening that he was the right guy. I called the guys and told them this is the cat and his name is Jay Buchanan and I ended up looking him up and he lived in Long Beach, where I was living at the time, and when I told Miley he laughed and said, “That guy is like one of my best friends. I grew up with that guy and we were in a band together.” So he ended up getting a hold of him and he was sure Jay would not do a band with us because he was not a rock & roll guy, he’s a singer-songwriter/folk/blues guy and he’s a solo performer guy mostly. Through many trials and tribulations of their phone calls, eventually me and Jay got on the phone and we began to qualify each other, talk about different blues acts and artists that we are really in love with and that’s really what we talked about mostly. Then got into more like Brit rock and American rock & roll and soul music and what we thought was very right and what we thought wasn’t so right these days and what we would want to contribute if anything. We struck it off really good right out of the gate and when we got together it was even better.
I really knew that he was the right click for the group and whether we achieved some larger fame or whatever at least I know I can make good records with him. I knew that like really early on and I think that still – that we make good rock & roll records.
The new single is “Until The Sun Comes.” Why pick that one over all the other great songs on the CD?
It’s difficult picking singles, you know what I mean. I have no idea, we don’t really pick the singles. It’s kind of tough. The band is probably the last people that should pick singles because we’re really close to the record in a different way. We just have to kind of throw it out there and do a little testing and see what people think, especially for a band like us. So we test it out and get feedback from people and see what they think. I think this one we all felt comfortable with because it was so friendly. I think we actually literally laughed after we created this song and recorded it and listened back. We all kind of laughed when we did it and went, that is a really sugary, friendly song, way friendlier than anything else we’ve done. It just seemed that that kind of a tune was what radio was looking for.
But if you asked me, I would have picked “Manifest Destiny” as the next single (laughs). But everybody told me an eight minute song with a five minute guitar solo, “Yeah, maybe not that one.” (laughs). It’s a bit darker. I think the song has a darkness to it. I can’t say what our influence was directly with that tune but I think people hear it kind of like Band Of Gypsies or like a “Dazed & Confused” kind of darker psychedelic feeling to it. I think it’s probably one of the darkest songs we’ve done tonally or whatever.
So what are your plans going into 2013?
Our plans for 2013 is more of the same and it should be really exciting, as boring as that answer is. But that’s what we do. We make records and then we tour those records. This coming year we have plans hopefully to release another record even sooner than our last one came. We’re trying to do one a year. People have been going through this two year album cycle that seems horrendous. We don’t want to wait that long. I can’t imagine fans want to wait that long so we try to put something out once a year. We have plans to go in the studio already. Possibly a DVD, if we’re lucky. We’re going through footage right now. I don’t know, there’s a lot of things, like a compilation CD, tribute records and stuff we might do. A lot of work, mostly a lot of touring though.
When do you go back on the road again?
Right now we have this wonderful, beautiful, glorious break (laughs) but I think it ends at the end of January. So right at the end of January we will be making our way back to Canada and then down through the States.
Do you think you’re going to hook up with a bigger band to tour with or do the clubs?
Eventually we will definitely do a big act. We’ve done big acts all over Europe and we’ve done some bigger stuff over here as well, like AC/DC. The tour that is coming up is going to be a headline tour and we have a lot of plans for the US and for Europe as well. Most likely we’ll probably headline throughout Europe and then maybe in the States jump on something bigger. Who knows, it’s whatever they offer. If somebody great offers us something, that’s great, I’m into it. I have a list of people I would love to open up for and support.
For people who are reading this who may be just discovering Rival Sons, how would you describe one of your live shows?
We keep our shows pretty loose and pretty dirty. My feeling is that I like to make sure everybody gets their own show night to night. I don’t want to recreate the previous night’s show for the next night. I don’t want to do that for the fan and I sure don’t want to do it for us, for myself, at all. So it’s loose, it’s a lot of improvisation and I really never know what those other guys are going to throw at me and I plan on throwing a bunch of weird stuff at them musically too and that keeps us on our toes. It’s fuzzy, it’s dirty and we do our best to put a bunch of soul into it.
MY ROOTS will be on holiday next week but will be back soon with more great rockers sharing their stories. Happy Holidays Everyone !!!