“Spot the buzz band” is a favorite pastime in our scene, and right now, you could do a lot worse that put your marker next to the Revivalists, one of the best breakout New Orleans bands since Dumpstaphunk.
Theirs is a potent sound: a seven-piece horde playing plenty of the funky R&B you’d expect from the Crescent City, but also a songwriting sensibility that veers folk and even pop, along with a healthy dose of soul. Layered within that is a greasy swamp-rock streak that benefits heavily from a pedal steel — an unusual, but downright titillating context for such a rich instrument.
Word’s quickly getting out about their live show, and the Revivalists have already logged time as openers for Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, Dr. John, J.J. Grey and Trombone Shorty. (Galactic’s Ben Ellman produced their second album, 2012’s City of Sound).
They’ve done the CMJ circuit and Jazz Fest, too, and last year made friends with scene luminaries Warren Haynes and Stefani Scamardo, who brought the Revivalists into their orbit after being impressed with their full-length debut Vital Signs, helping them to get much more exposure during a run of dates opening for Gov’t Mule last fall.
As Shaw tells it, the band’s formation — guitarist Zack Feinberg, pedal steel guitarist Ed Williams, saxophonist Rob Ingraham, bassist George Gekas, drummer Andrew Campanelli and multi-instrumentalist Michael Girardot — was as organic as they come. Campanelli and Feinberg had known each other from the Sunday Music Workshops at Tipitina’s, and Gekas was a college friend of Campanelli’s. The seeds were planted, however, when Feinberg rode by Shaw’s Birch Street home and found him on his front porch.
Hidden Track caught up with Shaw at the beginning of January, just as the band was headed back on the road (including for a return New York engagement January 30 at the Mercury Lounge).
HIDDEN TRACK: So I understand you guys came together through a bit of happenstance. Take me through that.
DAVID SHAW: It all came about pretty organically back in 2007. Feinberg and I met on my front porch. I was outside playing songs, and he rode by on his bike and he listened for a while. We struck up a friendship. He knew Andrew and George from the Tips Sunday Workshops. As we got going, we had a few guys we knew come and play.
Rob sat in and played saxophone and after six months, it was like, why don’t you just be in the band, you’re sitting in practically every show. And that’s basically how Ed got added as well, and we started jamming more. There was no particular plan to become a seven-piece, but it was like, of course we could use sax, and of course we could use a pedal steel.
HT: I was going to say, you don’t necessarily think of a pedal steel when you think “New Orleans band.”
DS: It sounded good though! I had never really even heard anyone play a pedal steel, I just new the sound from old country songs and newer country bands. But it does appear in all kind of music and I think that’s part of what sets us apart from the norm.
HT: So it all sort of came together, just like that?
DS: Just like that, yeah. I’d been in New Orleans, like, two weeks when we met on my porch.
HT: Were you playing in bands before?
DS: I had moved down there to pursue a career in music, and had been in a bunch of bands before. I went to Ohio State — I grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, close to Cincinnati — and I’d been in bands since I was 13. After college, it was going to be New York or Nashville or L.A. I didn’t even think about New Orleans — I didn’t know much about New Orleans music, honestly.
My girlfriend at the time was much more knowledgable about it and kept saying I hear it’s a great scene, and soon enough I started listening more to Professor Longhair and the Meters and I heard all about Galactic. It just made sense. A lot of players hit New Orleans to cut their teeth.
HT: Did you go thinking you would form a band?
DS: I wasn’t really thinking like that, no, it was more, I’m just going to go down there and play my songs. I wanted a city that was going to have a lot of connections and people who wanted to play music. You can put funk and other sounds to folk songs no problem.
Our first EP was made up basically of four songs I’d written previous to meeting everybody, and then we had one song, Concrete, that Zack had written and that we’re actually going to be playing on Treme.
There was never…well, I don’t remember any decisions being made where it was like, OK, we want to sound like this. We’re all songwriters and a lot of the stuff we’ve all dealt with — dating girls, breaking up, going through addictions, conquering addictions — it all plays into it. It’s making music from the heart, and what goes on your life you’re going to channel into your music.
HT: So you’ll be on Treme, eh?
DS: We just found out about that this month! They’re in their fourth season, so whenever it airs it will be part of that.
HT: Very cool. Lots of breaks have gone your way lately, and I know you guys were very well-received when opening for Gov’t Mule last fall. How did you connect with the Mule crew?
DS: I spend a lot of time at a place here called La Boulangerie, and one day I’m eating my croissant and drinking my espresso, and I get a call from this lady. She says, Is this David? And I say, hey, yes. She says, Hey, this is Stefani Scamardo. And I said, oh, wow, hi…who are you? [Laughs]
She told me who she was and what she did and about her management company and obviously she’s Warren’s wife. She told me she got my contact through our lawyer and wanted to give me a call and that they heard our music and dig what we do and wanted to see if they could help us out. Warren liked it.
HT: Things never happen that easily, really?
DS: Absolutely, man! She got our Vital Signs CD from the lawyer and they all said they just liked it a lot.
HT: You guys looked like you were having a blast at those Mule shows.
DS: They were totally awesome, some of the most fun nights we’ve had.
HT: And Warren sat in with you guys when you were at Brooklyn Bowl in November if I remember correctly.
DS: I kind of couldn’t believe he sat in on the song he sat in on [Dr. Dre’s Forgot About Dre]. Definitely a highlight.
HT: Warren’s known for turning up like that, of course, but did he just come on down to Brooklyn Bowl to see you guys?
DS: Well, we work close with Stefani and [Hard Head Management’s] Adam [Kowalski]. They manage us now and they handle all of Warren’s stuff as well. He lives in New York, and we didn’t know if he’d make it but they put about an 80 percent change of him coming, and there he was.
HT: Did you have to sell him on the Dre song?
DS: [Laughs] We were backstage, and I approached him, and I said, you can shoot this down with a shotgun if you’d like, but can you sit in with us on this Dr. Dre song we cover? He was like, fuck it, yeah, let’s do it.
HT: Well, congrats on a big year. It sounds like you guys are going to be plenty busy in 2013.
DS: We’re doing some shows in Colorado and a bunch of dates and then we’ve got a lot coming up. We’re doing South by Southwest this year — we’re very happy about that. We’ll be at Wanee, we’ll be at Governor’s Ball, we’ll be at a bunch of the others. Planning a lot of movement and a lot of big things.