David Shaw of The Revivalists Opens Up About His Solo Journey (INTERVIEW)

DAVID SHAW photographed in Nashville, TN 2020

David Shaw of The Revivalists gave us a happy surprise recently: he released not one but two solo singles, “Shaken” and “Promised Land.” Both contain that beat that is so embedded into the fabric of The Revivalists, a New Orleans based band that has long been hot on the festival scene, and both revolve around subject matter that is not your stereotypical party moods that usually coincide with a groove. The Revivalists have always been about more than that. You may jump and shimmy to “Chase’s House” and “Criminal” but dig a little deeper and you can see the sadness and frustrations of the real world creeping in. “I feel like the lyrics are written with the truth in mind rather than anything else,” Revivalists pedal steel player Ed Williams told me during a 2018 interview for Glide

Forming in 2007 after Ohio transplant Shaw was heard playing & singing on his front porch in New Orleans by guitarist Zack Feinberg, it took a lot of hard work to get to where they are now: four albums and hundreds of electric shows under their belts. A beloved band in their hometown, they expanded their fanbase by expanding the miles they went away from home. “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,” continued Williams. “If anything, the only thing we’ve done is we let the studio song and the live song be two different things.”

As a frontman, Shaw is one of the best out there. He makes an instant connection, never hesitating to jump down and be amongst the fans, shaking hands, dancing with them, serenading young and old. That is something you have to have in you from the beginning, to be that kind of performer, and Shaw has always had it. “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,” Shaw admitted back in a 2013 interview with Glide. He has also been known to go airborne from the stage into the photo pit on many occasions, especially at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, where they are always a highlight of the two-weekend festival. 

But despite having a red hot 2019, the band was planning to take a little break and Shaw was ready to take a leap of intuition into some music without his bandmates. That leap will be a new solo album; although the date has not been revealed, two singles have been released and if this is what we can expect from Shaw’s upcoming venture, fans will be chomping at the bit to get the whole thing pumping through their speakers. “Shaken,” especially, goes deep for Shaw, and he brings it to life in a video that shows what being different can lead to, the good and the bad.

I spoke to Shaw last week about his new songs, working in the studio without The Revivalists, opening for the Rolling Stones, loving that beat and having fun with photographers in the photo pit.

You have two new songs out, “Shaken” and “Promised Land.” Why were they perfect for a solo record and not necessarily a Revivalists record?

Well, you know, that was something I kind of thought about and there are a few reasons for that. One, honestly, was the band, before this whole pandemic thing started, we were going to do this tour and then we were going to kind of take a bit of a break, kind of cool down a little bit. We’ve been hitting the road for the latter part of twelve years. Then I kind of realized that “Shaken” was an extremely personal song, as you can see from the video. So I just thought it’s very timely and I just needed to do this to kind of grow in a certain way that a band culture/atmosphere doesn’t necessarily foster. There are a lot of things that it does foster and there’s a lot of beautiful stuff that comes of it but for these particular songs, it just felt more like this is what I needed to do for these songs. It’s like, I got to go with my artistic intuition or whatever. Would these have been great Revivalists songs? Hell yeah, for sure! Our band is great, we work well together. But do I think I gave them the right home here? I do and I’ve got to just go with that.

So these songs were written specifically with a solo record in mind?

You know, this is the thing: I don’t really think in terms of like records per se when I’m writing. I really just want to get the songs out and then kind of pick and choose what songs would be good for this project or the band or maybe I’ll give the song to another artist, cause I also write for other artists as well. I’m just kind of really starting to get into that phase of my career where I have these dual avenues, well, not just dual but more avenues, different avenues, to kind of place these songs cause I’m writing all the time. These songs are just piling up and in order to not just let them sit on the shelf forever, I decided to let them live in the time that they were created; cause you can’t really put out an album, I mean, I guess you could put out an album every six months or something, but I feel like you kind of got to let things simmer too. You’ve got to let the people miss you as well (laughs). You’ve got to give them a reason to want to come back.

Like we all missed Jazz Fest this year

Oh my God, exactly! We got a lot of perspective on a lot of stuff now. When things kind of start opening back up, you can start getting back out there. I tell you what, if I ever took anything for granted in the past, which I would want to say I don’t, but we’re all human and certain things just happen, but there’s not a chance in hell I’m taking it for granted now! (laughs) 

Speaking of Jazz Fest, all us photographers always seem to be in your way.  

Oh no! I have so much fun with ya’ll. I like to have fun with ya’ll. I look at it as a symbiotic relationship (laughs). Were you in the pit when I jumped from the stage all the way to the pit basically, over the subs? That was crazy. I was even scared on that one. That was one of those in-the-air moments where you go, Oh fuck! (laughs) But I didn’t blow out a knee, I didn’t pull a hammy, didn’t break a leg. All good.

Were you always this super-hyper as a kid?

Yeah (laughs). But here’s the thing: I am a bit of an introvert, I will say. BUT, get me on a stage, get me in front of people, then something else kind of comes out. I really don’t know what it is, honestly, but I think I’m just a performer, you know. I do have severe ADHD so I think that plays a bit of a role for sure (laughs). My mom didn’t put me on any medication for it so this is just running wild. But it’s fine, it’s good. So to answer your question, yes and no.

Since you always have that beat in your songs, do you think some of that came out of your not being able to sit still?

I definitely think so. You know, if I wasn’t a singer and guitar player, the next thing I would have been would have been a drummer. I love playing the drums and I think it’s really cool cause the drums and that beat, you’re the cradle for the music to lay down into and so yeah, I’m all about the beat. If the beat ain’t right, you got to go back to the drawing board. The beat has got to be right.

You’re also not one to shy away from talking about important issues and very personal issues. So why is it really important to you to be vocal about these things in a song?

Music is the great communicator and it’s a universal language and I think that if you have, like with a song like “Promised Land,” that song can be a voice for change and a catalyst for change to get people to kind of wake up and to realize. With all this stuff that’s going on right now, with the Black Lives Matter movement and just all of the civil unrest around it, these things should have happened a long time ago. So I just want to shine a light. I need to be on the right side of history and do what’s in my heart to kind of push the needle for change in the right direction. And music is a way for me to do that, other than getting out there, you know, and being boots on the ground. That’s what artists have always been and done throughout history, as an outlet for these things that lay in our soul and lay on our hearts. I think that we have to be a conduit for that or how else will it have a voice.

Coronavirus has shut down so much of the live music scene but The Revivalists did play a drive-in show in New Orleans over the summer. For someone who doesn’t stick to the stage to connect with an audience, what was that like?

It was tough, I tell you. It was definitely tough. There were a few moments there where I kind of got down off the sub-woofers but not out in the audience, and I was feeling it, feeling a little more of the energy from the people. But yeah, it’s tough but I’ll take it. It’s certainly better than no show at all. I really think that the people, they really appreciated the show and we appreciated the people coming out and supporting us. You could tell it was a really special moment.

What about opening for the Rolling Stones? That must have been a dream come true.

Oh my Gosh, that was wild! It still doesn’t even feel like it was real. I’m almost like, that was us?! That was me?! (laughs)

How did you find out you were going to open for them?

It was one of those things where, they’ve got like twenty dates and bands all over the country submit to be on their tour, to get a slot, and they pick them. And the thing is, I’m almost positive that Mick picks the band, or the entire band picks the bands. It’s not like their management or booking agent does it. They are actually picking the opening acts for them. So that was kind of crazy to get the nod from the actual true OG’s of what we’re doing here.

You’ve been recording with your Revivalists bandmates for over ten years now. How different was it going into the studio without them?

It was scary and it was liberating, honestly. I’m going to go back to kind of me needing to grow in a certain kind of way, like I said before. We have a language that we’ve kind of created amongst ourselves and a work flow in the studio that works for us in a crazy, chaotic kind of way. But that’s how it needs to be in order to create cool stuff, I’ll tell you right now. But it was different, you know, and I’m not used to that. But I worked with a great producer, Jack Splash, and he really helped me bring this vision out and really make all the colors and notes pop. But it was an interesting journey for me, and still is because I’m the kind of leader that goes, “What do you hear? What do you think?” At the end of the day, it’s going to be me making decisions. It’s like, I have a vision but I also realize that it’s just my vision and I realize I’m coming from a band culture and you need to be able to be flexible with your vision in order for something beautiful to grow. 

This album is just as much about collaboration as it was doing a solo project. The guys that I assembled to be the players in the studio were great friends. I’ve got PJ Howard playing the drums, he’s actually also in the Revivalists. I had my friend Neal Francis, who is a great singer, guitar player. If you haven’t heard his record, it’s flawless and it’s called Changes. I got Mike Starr on bass and I got my good friend out of Nashville, Tennessee, Chris Gelbuda, who I actually wrote “Promised Land” with, and a few other songs on the album. So the main thing was I wanted to create a higher sense of joy and I truly wanted to believe and still believe that that sense and that feeling we all had while making the music in the studio, cutting the tracks, we’re all feeling a greater sense of joy doing it that it will get infused into the songs and into the music and you can hear that joy in the playing. That was the foundation of it all, making sure we really kept that energy afloat throughout the session. And it was amazing. 

Will this lead into more solo shows next year, if everything gets back to normal, rather than Revivalists shows?

We’re going to do Revivalists shows as well and I’m going to do some solo shows. It’s going to be kind of a flip-flop scenario, I’m guessing. We’re just going to really have to play it by ear because I don’t exactly know what touring is going to be like. But yeah, there are going to be some solo tours, for sure, as well as Revivalists tours.

I hear you have some pants at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame on display right now

Oooh! (laughs) Yeah, that’s crazy! Again, I just can’t believe it. Somebody better pinch me because I’m certainly dreaming. I never ever thought that was going to happen but yeah, we got some pants there. A funny story, my cousin gave me those pants and I told my cousin, “Hey buddy, those pants are in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame!” (laughs) He actually lives in Columbus, Ohio, so he was just tickled to death. That was cool.

On a serious note to end this interview, as we discussed earlier, you’re not afraid to write songs about what is happening in the world. What is your advice to your fans who are feeling this chaos and may be kind of worried about the future?

My advice would be to just listen to their heart, do the right thing and always think about how someone else feels. Get the information, do the work and that’s really what is going to drive change, because I think a lot of times it’s just we need some education on these various topics and people are just often going off on what they “believe” to be their truth. But it’s like no, let’s get to the truth, the real truth. So I would say just investigate it, think twice and the last thing I’ll say is be good to one another, take care of each other.

 

Portrait by Alysse Gafkjen; live photos by Leslie Michele Derrough

 

 

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