“I’m looking at an old photo album,” Revivalists singer Dave Shaw says with a laugh when I ask him how he was spending his day. While the band were taking a very brief break from their ceaseless touring, Shaw headed home to Ohio to hang out – and rejuvenate – with family before playing Hangout Fest yesterday in Gulf Shores, Alabama. If their set at the recent Jazz Fest in New Orleans was any indication, their time in the sand and sun will be a hot one in more ways than one, because the Revivalists, the band that Shaw and guitar player Zach Feinberg formed in 2007, are indeed a sizzling septet.
A year ago last spring, the Revivalists released their strongest album to date: City Of Sound. With more attention to the actual sound of the music, they have grown by leaps and bounds into a solid hornet’s nest buzzing with funk, horns and rock & roll while retaining their kicking foal spirit. Shaw, not one to stand behind a microphone and emote, herks and jerks with a spasmodic, almost Iggy Pop versatility that attracts the youth gone wild members of their audience to jump up and down with him, singing along, like the band has been around a lot longer than they actually have. It takes a certain vivaciousness to be the next big thing – and the Revivalists are certainly on their way.
Last week, I had a chance to talk with Shaw about his band, his music and why New Orleans is the best city to marinate in as a new band.
So where are you at today, Dave?
I’m actually in Hamilton, Ohio, my hometown, right now. I’ve got a couple solo gigs that I’m going to do.
Why are you doing solo gigs?
Just something different. We’re off this weekend until Sunday when we play Hangout Fest and everybody is just kind of hanging out at Hangout Fest and I hadn’t been home in a while so I wanted to take this opportunity to come home and play a few shows and see fam and do that whole thing.
Well, it’s been a year since City Of Sound came out. What are you guys up to right now?
We are in the midst of talking to a record label and we’re, obviously, always making new music. That’s just the kind of band that we are. We got a ton of new songs, enough material for a new album, and we’re touring all over the United States. I think we’re the band that’s playing the most festivals here, honestly, by sheer number. Not that that’s a great thing or a bad thing, it’s just how it’s worked out. Like if you look at all the festival line-ups, we’re on more than any other band, which is cool. We’re happy about that.
Are you going to start recording soon or are you going to wait now that you’re talking to labels?
No, I think we’re probably going to start the process, cause it can never hurt to go into a deal with some already recorded stuff. It can always sweeten the deal or give you a little more leverage to work with. Say you got a really good song that they really want, you know what I’m saying, then you have a little more leverage, basically. So we’re not going to stop our process. We’re just going to keep going.
You guys are pretty hot right now. The crowd was really reacting to you at your recent Jazz Fest set.
Yeah, you know, we’ve just been touring a lot, playing a lot together, practicing a lot and I just think that anytime you do all those things, you can’t help but to translate that into our live show.
City Of Sound is a really good CD and it’s really strong. Did you do anything different when you went into make this one as opposed to your last release, Vital Signs?
Yeah, we had a producer on this album, Ben Ellman from Galatic. Basically, Vital Signs was recorded live, mixed and put out. There really wasn’t much post-production. It was pretty much – here’s the song, here’s how it sounds and here you go. City Of Sound we wanted to make ourselves better studio musicians so we kind of delved into a little bit more of what the studio could offer as far as tweaking and making things sound bigger or smaller or whatever it is. So we heightened the production a little bit on that one. Now, everything was still recorded live. We just were a little more heavy-handed on the post-production this time with City Of Sound. I think the next go-around we’ll kind of have more of an in-between. I think we were just finding our own, you know, so this next album will be more of like a mix of that, basically, which I think is ultimately who we are.
So how do you create as a band?
You know, it just depends. A lot of times I will come in with a song written or we’ll just be jamming in practice and somebody will have a riff and then I’ll write the lyrics to the song that the band just kind of came up with. Our drummer does write some and our guitar player does write a little bit as well. They contribute to the writing process lyrically, just not as heavy. It’s a very collaborative band.
And it’s not a small band
Yeah, we’ve got six core members and we’ve added a seventh guy, Michael Girardot on keys and trumpet.
And all of you can work well together?
That’s a lot of people creating at one time.
Yeah, sometimes that can be good and sometimes that can be bad. You just got to realize like, ok, way too many cooks in the kitchen. Let’s break this song down to the true heart of it and then we’re going to start adding up. So everybody just be quiet and let the music breathe and that’s usually when we start getting everybody talking, “Oh, let’s do this or let’s do that,” and that’s usually when we realize, ok, let’s just break it down to it’s smallest elements and then build it back up.
What amazes you the most about your band?
How far we’ve come. There’s a YouTube video of us at our first show and we played a song “Concrete” and to listen to the recording of that song at Jazz Fest – I actually did this the other day, it was crazy (laughs) and it was like, holy God, this is crazy. 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.
Do you see that you have come out more as a performer as well?
Absolutely. I’ve always been out there but I’m better at singing now, Zach is better at playing guitar, Andrew is way better at playing the drums, our bass player is better. Well, actually, we had a different bass player then.
You jump around a lot on stage. Were you like that as a kid too?
Oh absolutely (laughs) One of the first things that comes to mind is me and my mom and sisters were at this carpet place and I was just like running around, jumping from carpet mound to carpet mound, like six or seven feet up in the air, and I fell off one and bit through my entire top lip. Just being a crazy kid.
What music were you listening to?
In the earlier years, I was definitely listening to what my sisters were listening to. Then I got a CD from my aunt by Gov’t Mule and I started listening to that. And it’s crazy cause we just got off tour with them. So that was a little weird, to go on tour with them and just to know that they kind of shaped my musical tastes. That was cool.
Did Warren Haynes give you any advice about being on this long road as a professional musician?
One thing that he said, which is really cool and I didn’t even really get this at all until I heard him say it. You know it sometimes takes someone else saying it to make you realize it as well. But we were at the Christmas Jam and he introduced us to somebody who was big in the music business and he introduced us, “Hey, this is David and this is Zach and they’re from the Revivalists and they’re a real band.” That kind of resonated with me, kind of like, oh man, in this day and age there aren’t a lot of REAL bands that come up from nothing and make it as far as we have. It’s pretty cool. You’ve got a lot of put-together bands and you’ve got a lot of artists that are like solo and they just put together some really good musicians and make it pretty far and that’s cool. But we were just friends that got together and kind of made something bigger. Do you want to hear the story of how we came together? You probably already know this but my aunt’s over here going, “You need to tell her your story.” (laughs)
Absolutely, go ahead and tell us.
I was sitting on my front porch and Zach rode by on his bicycle. I was singing a song called “Purple Heart.” I had just moved down to New Orleans and I was playing guitar and Zach rode by on his bicycle and he stopped, listened to the song, and came up and said, “Alright man, that sounds pretty good.” Then he picked up the guitar and he played something and I was blown away because he’s great, a great guitar player. Then we just kind of hung out that whole rest of the day and struck up a friendship, a musical friendship, and the rest is history, you know. We kind of added everybody and we had some members that left that were with us in the beginning that aren’t with us today. But that’s how we came to be.
Why did you decide to move to New Orleans?
Well, I was thinking about places I wanted to move. I was living in Columbus and my girlfriend had just graduated college and I had just graduated college and we were at this crossroads and I was going to move somewhere. It would probably be like New York or LA, maybe Nashville, maybe Colorado, but it was going to be somewhere. And she came home one day and was like, “Hey, I have a friend that lives in New Orleans and she wanted to know if we wanted to move down there.” New Orleans didn’t even cross my mind at first as a place to move.
Honestly, for music, I didn’t really know anything about the city. And then I started looking into it a little bit and we came down to visit and checked it out and lo and behold it was this cool little mecca of amazing musicians. It’s a great city for a band to be incubating in. It’s really easy to get a gig, it’s really easy to get your start. It’s not necessarily easy to break out of New Orleans because it’s really easy to get sucked up into the revolving door of New Orleans. There is so much music going on, it’s really easy to become one-track-minded, you know what I’m saying. You’ve got to realize that there’s a whole other world out there. But yeah, it was a great city to kind of hone our skills and see what we really wanted to do. I always had this vision of writing folk songs that you could dance to and that was perfect to do in New Orleans because New Orleans is a city where it’s all about the funk, you know. We like to call our music folnk (laughs). It’s kind of a term that we coined, I guess you could say. Folnk for your heart and folnk for your bootie.
When did you first start singing?
I first started singing when I was twenty-two
Really? You weren’t running around singing when you were a kid?
I wasn’t really singing when I was a kid. Maybe I sang a little bit. I tried out for the Mickey Mouse Club when I was like five and didn’t make it. I was always wanting to do some kind of entertainment thing, you know. But I didn’t really start singing and stuff until I was about twenty-two. I always played guitar in bands. I started off as a guitar player in bands and I’ve played in bands since I was like fourteen.
When did the singing come about? Did they just throw you up there in front of the microphone one night?
No, no, I started writing, started wanting to write songs. That’s one of those things that was a process; but it’s just like anything else, you practice it enough … and I realized if other people were doing it, it couldn’t be impossible. It definitely felt weird at first but after a while it just became like anything else.
What was the most unique thing that inspired you to write a song?
My life experiences, things that were going on in my life. I don’t know if that’s necessarily unique but I don’t really write from any other place than that. So that’s really what happens. I actually recently had the opportunity to write a song for my friend who is getting married. I wrote this song that he is going to dance to with his sweetheart at their wedding and that was kind of the first time where I got to write a song, like a love song, that wasn’t from my own head. I mean, it was from my head but it was not about me. So that was cool. It was a breath of fresh air to kind of get outside the box.
Are you going to record it so your fans can hear it too?
Yeah, you know, it’s something that I would think is CD-worthy (laughs). Absolutely.
A great song from City Of Sound is “Chase’s House.”
That’s a me and Zach combo song. Zach wrote some of the chorus and I wrote most of the lyrics and some of the chorus. That song came from a jam session that we had at our friend’s house, his name was Chase and that’s why we called it “Chase’s House.” The verse lyrics are some lyrics I pulled out of my lyric book, basically. Obviously, you can probably tell what’s going on, so it’s kind of like a dichotic song – I don’t even know if that’s a word (laughs) – but it’s kind of got like, “You pick me up, you put me down, although you never made a sound.” It’s slightly mopey in the verses. It’s like, nobody’s any fun when you’re moping like the pope, you know. And that’s a Zach line right there, Zach wrote that line.
What’s the story with “Up In The Air?”
I wrote “Up In The Air” about an ex-girlfriend, straight up. Basically, it’s kind of like a story song, like a lot of times you kind of get sick of writing about your own life a lot of times so you can just slightly embellish certain things, but it’s got a little you and it’s got a little bit of something else in it as well.
And fans can order City Of Sound from where?
Directly off our website, www.therevivalists.com, which is what we prefer, cause we make 100% of that money as opposed to 60% on iTunes.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We’re going to go out on tour for pretty much the whole summer, play like every festival there is known to man (laughs) and then come back out of the black hole, the touring, and try to find time to make a new record.