By Eleni Austin
(Full disclosure: I’ve been a passionate fan of the Rival Sons since my pal Tom insisted that I get their second full-length album, “Pressure And Time” in 2011. We were lucky enough to have lengthy conversations with both the vocalist, Jay Buchanan and guitarist Scott Holiday, before and after our very first Sons show at Fingerprints Records in Long Beach. A friendship of sorts blossomed from there. Since then, I rarely miss an opportunity to proselytize about this Long Beach four-piece.)
Guitarist Scott Holiday, drummer Michael Miley, original bassist Robin Everhart (who amicably left the band in 2013 and was replaced by Dave Beste) and vocalist Jay Buchanan came together in 2009 and hit the ground running. They quickly made a name for themselves, touring nonstop throughout Europe and America. In between, they recorded and released six albums: Before The Fire, an eponymous EP, Pressure And Time, Head Down, Great Western Valkyrie and Hollow Bones. All but the first two were released through the British label, Earache. Their sound, a potent combo-platter of Blues, Folk, Garage, Psyche, Soul and good ol’ Rock N’ Roll, was amplified by their incendiary live shows.
Pretty soon, Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, was name-checking Rival Sons as his new favorite band and Ozzy Osbourne handpicked them as the only opening act for Black Sabbath’s final world tour. Sharing the stage with Sabbath definitely raised their profile here at home. Once their Earache contract expired, the Sons were offered a deal with the legendary Atlantic Records label. Their first Atlantic offering, Feral Roots arrived in early 2019 and America finally embraced the band with open arms. Not only did the album garner rave reviews, it also shot to #22 on the Billboard Top 100. The music industry finally began paying attention, and in early 2020, Rival Sons were nominated for two Grammy Awards. Naturally, the pandemic slowed the Sons’ momentum. But now that everything is beginning to reopen, and live music poised to return, it seemed like an opportune time to check in with Scott and see what the band has been up to.
EPA/CVW: You guys have been on the road constantly since the inception of the band in 2009. How did you react to this enforced, pandemic “vacation,” and how have you spent your time away from touring? I know at some point during 2020 we talked about you producing an up-and-coming new band…
SH: “I’ve done some producing…wrote (well, still writing final touches on) our next album as well as recorded it. We started our new record label, Sacred Tongue Recordings. I bought some new old guitars, collaborated with some folks, new new guitars, etc.
But mostly, even with all of that….I really just got comfortable in being home for my family. Moved into a bigger house with my kids and girlfriend. I got a puppy, my girl brought her cat. I really needed time with my kids. Couldn’t be happier to have gotten all this time with ‘em.”
EPA: Recently, you guys returned to the studio with longtime producer Dave Cobb in Nashville. How did that go? How many songs have been recorded and do you have a release date in mind?
SH: “Well….you know how quickly we normally make records….but this time, we just decided to really take our time. It’s our eighth album and I think it’s important to change how you do things to yield a different result, and it feels right to give this one extra time. We have nearly everything done, nearly 11-12 tracks. One or two may not make the cut. There’s another three or four we want to get down before calling it complete.
We’re very happy with what we have thus far, it feels like a proper evolution, like something we haven’t made, meaning, we’re exploring new territory, and yet, it feels every bit as much a Rival Sons record as there’s ever been. Maybe more than ever. In the end, one of the most important things to us has always been to create an honest and uninhibited snapshot of where we are musically. To not reach back, but to move forward and not repeat ourselves. To push ourselves, even if it’s a little discomforting. I think this album does all of this.”
EPA: Rival Sons famously wrote and recorded entire albums in the studio in less than a month’s time. Records like “Pressure And Time” (2011), “Head Down” (2012), and “Great Western Valkyrie” (2014) had a real spontaneity and immediacy that bled through the grooves. These days, with everyone in separate cities, (Jay in Nashville, Miley pivoting between California and Estonia and you and Dave here in Southern California), along with limiting in-person contact because of Covid, how have you been able to create songs together?
SH: “Actually, Dave (Beste) is the only one left in Nashville. Well, Todd (Ogren-Brooks, who tours with and records with the band on keys) is in Philly too. The songs are mostly written by Jay and I…almost exclusively. So, he and I just pass music back and forth. We’ve had Miley involved as well, when we want to go a little further with an idea before actually recording it with Dave Cobb.
So, we have a method of home recording and passing things around. We’re all working in the new UA Luna (recording software), so it’s easy moving stuff around. Even though we are taking all the extra time in writing this album, Jay and I will actually keep things pretty close until it’s time to get it down with Cobb. We’ll introduce the new songs when everyone’s together, and almost immediately start recording it off the floor. This helps retain that immediacy that you are speaking of. You’ll still hear things going down- first or second takes off the floor-all playing together. I absolutely think that’s an important element of capturing the band and song.”
EPA: So, for instance, when everyone met up with Dave Cobb in Nashville, did anyone show up with riffs and melody ideas, or were they fully formed songs? Which method is preferable?
SH: “It’s a mix. There’s finished songs, almost finished songs, just riffs I’m bringing in. A riff with another section. Plus, we’re still creating stuff on the fly, off the cuff. My preference generally, is bringing in songs fully formed. Songs that Jay and I have created from inspiration and feel good about. But we have gotten some of our best stuff via the other scenarios…so I have to stay fluid in the process.”
EPA: Rival Sons have been resurrecting, what some characterize as “the decaying corpse of Rock N’ Roll.” Do you take that as a compliment, or does it feel like a burden?
SH: “It’s absolute compliment. I certainly do not wear it like a burden. I actually don’t wear it at all. Anyone who walks around thinking “I’m responsible for this or that….thank goodness we’re here to resurrect the dying corpse called Rock N’ Roll…” I mean….it’s ridiculous. There’s plenty of great Rock N’ Roll bands. We’re just making our contribution and trying to put something forth with our individual and collective flavors. Something honest and real, like our own favorite artists have done.”
EPA: Giants like Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne have sung your praises. Also, everyone from AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses, Lenny Kravitz and The Rolling Stones have tapped you guys as an opener for select shows and world tours. Do you ever “fan-boy” out, or do you tend to reel it all in?
SH: “We most definitely reel it all in. I’m a fan of these artists, and definitely was a crazy fan as a kid. These artists’ posters were plastered all over my walls…and in my life daily. But when you get older, make albums, tour albums…lather, rinse, repeat. There’s slightly less “hero worship.” I won’t lie though…it’s incredibly exciting to meet and hang out with Jimmy Page, the Stones, Sabbath, etc. It’s incredible! I’m not so desensitized or reeled in that I don’t feel honored or absolutely excited to meet these legends! But somehow, in a crazy way, I’ve met these folks, and when you’re in front of them hanging backstage…and they like your band and want to hang out and want to talk about it…and tell their stories and hear mine…I dunno, in the flesh, they just become a little more real and normal. Which of course, they ARE just normal people…they’ve just lived these extraordinary lives and made great accomplishments with their art.”
EPA: Not unlike Led Zeppelin, you guys draw from a huge well of disparate influences. Jay’s background hews closely to Blues and Folk, Miley made his bones in Jazz combos. I know from our record trades throughout the years that you are inspired by everything from ‘60s Psych and Garage, Country, Jazz and Hip-Hop. What have you been digging into lately, and has it influenced (even peripherally) any new songs?
SH: “I’ve been all over the place. Been back on a Toots & The Maytals kick recently… then my son turned me on to Ebo Taylor (a Ghanaian Afrobeat/Highlife artist), really good. Before that I was on a Motown thing as I almost picked up a guitar owned and used exclusively by Eddie “Chank” Willis (one of the guitarists in the Funk Brothers). I didn’t get the guitar, but I listened to a lot of Motown. Earlier in the pandemic I was working with an artist named GVLLOW, and there’s some strong ‘80s Synth-Pop influence in what we did. That launched me down that rabbit hole…into artists like Killing Joke and Soft Cell. Lots of Jazz…got some out of this world (John) Coltrane records and (Thelonious) Monk, Bola Sete, Charlie Christian, etc. And you know I’ve always been into Garage Rock stuff. Been hitting stuff by The Liter, Spirit, July, Quicksilver Messenger Service…and the Youngbloods. I can’t say anything has influenced my songs too directly…knowingly. But everything seeps in there eventually.”
EPA: You guys are known for your fashion-sense. You are all rather sartorially splendid. That’s especially true of your bespoke suits and Jay’s whimsical shaman aesthetic. Your styles have definitely evolved over the years. I remember the first time I saw you at Fingerprints, Jay had his hair in pigtails and his feet encased in spats. Do you consult stylists, or are you just expressing yourselves as individuals?
SH: “Well, thank you for that rather kind opinion, ‘sartorially splendid,’ …nice. We definitely do not consult anyone. We just search out what we like. We often don’t even speak to each other about it…and that can lead to visual train-wrecks on stage! But generally, things work out. You’re definitely just seeing us express ourselves as individuals. I dunno… maybe the other guys have their own stylists/consultants, I don’t. Lol.”
EPA: Jay recently added his stentorian vocals to Barry Gibb’s new duets album. Have you, Miley or Dave recently played with other musicians, either on record or just for fun?
SH: “There’s a few people I’ve collaborated with… artists I’ve produced or co-wrote with while home. GVLLOW, who I mentioned. I produced a couple artists that are just getting started. I’ll generally play a little something with artists I’m producing, percussion or keys or guitar. Right before the pandemic I sat in with my buddy Dean Delray’s tribute to Bon Scott, with a really fantastic all-star band!”
SH: “I’ve thought about creating a couple of different groups to scratch a couple different itches, per se. But I have been too busy with Rival Sons and catching up on domestic life with my kids. But yes, I could definitely see branching out in the future.”
EPA: Let’s talk about your new Sacred Tongue imprint. Rival Sons recently launched your own label. Is that self-distributed, or is Atlantic Records involved?
SH: “We’re very happy about this! It’s been a long time coming…and part of the plan all along. Atlantic is not involved, at all. We made a private deal with the Nashville label, Thirty Tigers. They will handle distribution, otherwise it’s all us.”
EPA: What was the impetus to create your own label? You have already re-released two hard-to-find albums in the RS catalogue, your 2009 debut, Before The Fire and the 2010, self-titled EP. Over the years both have fetched high prices on the interwebs, so longtime fans have been ecstatic to be able to purchase them directly from the band. Is Sacred Tongue similar to Swansong, the boutique imprint Led Zeppelin started in the mid ‘70s? They released their own albums, as well as signed bands like Bad Company and Detective. Or was it established to only release Rival Sons product? Can we look forward to any live releases in the future?
SH: “It’s all of the above. First and foremost, we need a home for our own catalogue. We own all the records preceding Feral Roots. We’ve recouped on all of them, and the licenses that former label, Earache, have, are almost expired. So, we needed a place to make our music available. Next, we most definitely want a place to release other material, special editions and live stuff. Just whatever we want to do with Rival Sons. We’re just getting things up and running. But ultimately, we would absolutely like to sign other artists and help them. Be it via production, writing, tour-wise…maybe a bit of all of it. After years of saying “the Rock N’ Roll scene could do much better,” we want to be able to contribute to what we would consider “doing better.” There are so many great artists that haven’t been heard or seen. We want to help expose and promote these kinds of artists. Instead of complaining about a lackluster scene…contribute and help build a better one.”
EPA: Following your monster 2019 album, Feral Roots, the band was nominated for two Grammy Awards, “Best Rock Album” and “Best Rock Performance” for the song “Too Bad.” Unfortunately, someone else (I’ve forgotten who), won those categories. But how did it feel to walk that red carpet at the ceremony and be acknowledged by the music industry?
SH: “I grew up watching the Grammy Awards, so it was exciting and a little surreal. What made it even more far-out is, Rival Sons kind of gave up on that pathway…thinking our records would get recognized on that level, with that club. I mean, we’d made six records previously and never gotten a glance. So, we figured we may not ever get a look…and that was just fine. So, all of a sudden, not only to get a glance, but also two nominations…that was cool. It was nice to be invited to that party.”
EPA: You guys are all big vinyl collectors. In the past you have created special releases for Record Store Day (which due to the pandemic was postponed from the usual mid-April date until later in the summer). Will Rival Sons be curating something for the first time since 2016?
SH: “We haven’t concentrated on RSD, as much as just having something fresh and new and fun ALWAYS coming out. That’s what Sacred Tongue Recordings is all about. We just started with the reissue and limited colored vinyl of Before The Fire and the EP. Plus, we have some stuff on deck! That said…I’d still love to participate with something for that day as well, Yes!”
EPA: With things starting to open up, have you booked tour dates here or in Europe? Will there be make-up dates for the cancelled 2020 shows?
SH: “There should definitely be make-up dates. This stuff is a lot to organize and control…I know there’s a gaggle of disgruntled fans. We’re doing the best we can with what we’re given. We have Telluride fest dates, which look like a lot of fun. That should be a great experience. We also have an October US tour on the books-pending everything keeps going in the right direction. I’m really hoping it does. This has been a healthy, needed break…but damn…c’mon now!”
EPA: Finally, since we met back in 2011, I’ve been trying to get you guys to play a show somewhere (anywhere) here in the desert. I know you have another desert connection with your pal, Pete Stahl, so is there any possibility Rival Sons will satisfy your loyal and passionate desert fans?
SH: “I promise, it’s something we very much want and WILL put together!! Pete’s been scoping out some pretty good ideas. We’ve been thinking about it for years!! We have all sorts of pals in the High Desert like Dave (Catching) and the Rancho folks. So many people are flocking to the desert. It’s cool on the hand, and really terrible on the other, right?”
EPA: For sure. It’s in danger of becoming a hipsters’ paradise.
SH: “As a person who lived a long time in the desert (Scott spent time in the Hesperia area) and absolutely loved it. Please…new people….take your trash with you. Be classy and respectful…it’s beautiful out there. Don’t make it less beautiful. Preserve and take care of it. We’ll see you up there soon.”
(Just as we concluded this interview, Rival Sons announced a special pair of shows at Catalina Island that will also be live-streamed. I checked back in Scott to get all the details)
SH: “We just wanted to do a streamed show somewhere significant, somewhere that meant something to the band. It had to be somewhere representative of us in some way. We knew we didn’t want to just shoot in a warehouse anywhere, or a “showcase” rehearsal room. These ideas that are commonly done just sounded bland and really not for us. We looked into several Long Beach spots; the Queen Mary, Fingerprints, Terrace Theatre, etc. But they all fell through for one reason or another. Then Jay came up with the idea of Catalina. I’d always thought of doing a show in the Casino since first going there years ago. It was high on my list, so we looked into it. Amazingly, it was available within the budget. So, we quickly reserved it and began planning.
To get tickets, there are links all over our socials. All the regular spots; IG, FB, Twitter and of course the home web page. We’ll do some limited VIP tix…where you can chat with us via a zoom chat…and we even created some special shirts and goodies to go along with the event. Including something you’ll really dig…considering our long friendship of sharing vinyl! Limited color vinyl for each new show?? Oh yeah! I’m sure they’ll go reeeaall quick. I wanna make sure we have “less limited/always available just regular black vinyl through Sacred Tongue Recordings as well though too.”
EPA: Thanks for your time, Sweets!
SH: “Thanks my friend, Hope to see you soon!”
Rival Sons just announced “Pair Of Aces,” a very special two-part global streaming event from the historic Casino on Santa Catalina Island, airing on June 19th and June 26th. Tickets are available at https://veeps.events.RivalSons_FB.