Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Rival Sons are the latest band dead set on bringing back the organic, immediate rock’n’roll of Led Zeppelin and the Free. Famed for their rapid fire recording sessions, the band first came to prominence when the single “Tell Me Something” was used to promote Izod Indy Car racing. Capitalizing on the momentum, the band self-released debut album Before The Fire and were quickly snapped up by Earache Records; the death metal record label famous for uncovering Dillinger Escape Plan, Pitchshifter and Lawnmower Deth.
Suffice to say the blues loving Rival Sons weren’t, and still aren’t, the label’s bread and butter, but that didn’t stop second album Pressure & Time from finding real success in the UK and Canada.
Fast-forward to 2012 and Rival Sons are set to complete a sold out stint supporting Black Stone Cherry with a date at the Forum in Kentish Town. It’s there where Guitar Planet catches up with the band’s immaculately dressed lead guitarist and founder member Scott Holliday. Relaxed, affable, and undeniably thoughtful the guitarist is happy to enthuse about The Mighty Boosh and to warn that when you’re in the rock’n’roll business you simply can’t judge a book by its cover, even if that book is Creed (they’re nice guys honestly). However, we start the interview by asking the immortal question:
How did the band get together?
I was just leaving a band that was on Atlantic. I’d written this whole record, but we didn’t put the record out. I played a whole bunch of shows, did a tour, and decided I wanted to create something different.
I wanted to be more visceral, more bluesy, and more soul based. Basically, I decided I wanted to create a band like the Rival Sons and started looking for the right dudes.
Finding a drummer:
I was introduced to Michael Miley through a great friend of mine on Long Beach. We struck it off immediately. We had a lot of old rock‘n’roll in common, but it was the attack that was most important.
We had auditioned a different drummer the night before, but I was told “this guy’s like a mix between John Bonham and Keith Moon”. He hadn’t learnt the songs I’d written for him, but he just said: “You gotta let me come out, this gig is made for me”. We struck it off immediately, just improvised the whole time we played together.
The search for a bass player:
We started looking for a bass player and it was tedious, tiring, and horrible, until we found Robin [Everhart] at a Jazz gig at Isaac Hayes’ home. He was more of a Jazz player. He went to school and he’s extremely intellectual with his instrument. I love jazz personally, but it’s a life long endeavour, it’s very different from any other commitment, so I thought it would be perfect to bring in this jazz player. He was really willing to play rock’n’roll, and to learn about bands he’d never really gotten into before. He embraced classic rock and blues.
The final piece and bringing it all together:
I found Jay [Buchanan] on the Internet. I was just looking around thinking “I wonder if there is anybody out there”, and he was literally the second person I pulled out. I was like “oh my god this guy’s the young Paul Rodgers” - Tons of Sobs, Fire and Waters era Paul Rodgers. But he’s not even doing rock’n’roll, he’s playing acoustic music, he’s a folk-soul singer.
So I’ve got this bombastic drummer, this jazz bass player, and I want this soul style folk singer. I told the guys about Jay, and Michael started to laugh: “I’ve been friends with this guy for ten years, he’s one of the best singers around”
I was like: “Great he’s our singer, go get him for me” but Michael came back “He’ll be busy he won’t be able to do it”.
I said “Just give him my phone number, tell him to call me”.
When I spoke to Jay, we immediately talked about rock’n’roll; what was missing, what was beautiful about it, and the lineage that we felt was important. We talked Sun House, Muddy Waters, Blind Willie McTell, Tampa Red…he had this incredibly deep background with the blues.
So we got together and played for an hour, without looking up, without stopping, and when we walked out of the room, we all looked at each other and Jay said, “We’ll I guess we’re gonna do this band thing”.
How did you fit together creatively, was there a dominant personality or was it a communal effort?
When we started I was the dominant personality, as I was pulling guys in and I’d written all this material. But when Jay entered the band, he was a prolific songwriter himself. So I was willing to relinquish a lot of my writing to him as a partner, so we had a good writing team.
And honestly, Michael went to school and has a great ear for rock, Rob has this great ear for music, so there’s no reason to block anybody in this band. We write together, especially on the records we’ve put out. We write them on the spot. We record them on the spot. It takes us about 20 days to complete a whole record.
Ah so is that why Pressure And Time has a real played live sound?
I hope it is a very raw and ragged record, it was very inspired and very much off the cuff. I would have a riff, the producer might be with us, and if it’s working for us, we just finish it, right there, on the spot. We record sometimes on the first take or the third take, but these are the writing takes.
It’s not like, we’ve learned the song, practiced the song, and now we’re going to go and do a one take. Our first takes are the first time we’ve ever run the song through, or the fourth time we’ve ever played the song. That’s what we have on that record, and it’s a conscious decision, because that’s what rock’n’roll needs right now.
We know you’re all from California, a state that’s been home to so many great revolutions in rock’n’roll, but when we think about the sound of the state in 2012, we tend to think of jangly indie, Best Coast and Girls, or hardcore punk.
Do you feel that Rival Sons’ sound represents your home state and do you fit in the current scene?
When I started the band I was living in Huntington Beach, with a view of the ocean, and every summer as soon as the weather turns, like this beautiful weather we’re having right now, you feel it in the town. You feel it in the city, it’s starts to bubble, and there’s an energy. And that energy isn’t jangly or indie, that energy is rock’n’roll. It’s visceral, full of bravado and tension and power and excitement.
This is what rock’n’roll feels like, this excitement, so it was easy for me to write looking out my window at the ocean, and write songs that felt that way.
As far as the scene goes, Long Beach always has a lot of great things going on, it’s a Mecca, but I think rock’n’roll is in a strange place at the moment. More bands lean towards metal or indie.
At an awards ceremony you have Metallica and Coldplay going up against one another for Best Rock Album. It’s fucking crazy. Neither one of them are rock’n’roll. One of them is clearly metal, and one of them is contemporary pop music. So I think we’ve got a handful of rock bands, Nashville and Austin are doing well, but really we’ve had to make our own way in California.
It’s interesting that you mention “rock” because you can’t read about Rival Sons without hearing the words “classic rock”, but this feels really strange to me.
When there’s an indie band influenced by The Velvet Underground you would never call them “classic indie”, so I wonder how you felt about being labelled in that way?
I’m not happy about that at all, it’s kind of ridiculous. Classic rock should be the bands that are classic, the one’s that have been around - but if we have that sound people have a hard time identifying it. Because rock’n’roll has been spread so thin, you can’t just say “This is a proper rock band”, you have to say this is a “classic rock” band, because they have blues in their rock, and fuzz guitar, and soul music.
The truth is, we’re not trying to emulate that at all - we’re just doing what’s in our hearts. Our influences go deep, probably as deep as bands from that era; we appreciate the people they appreciate. We appreciate them too, I’m not kidding you, we love the royalty of rock; The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Cream, Zeppelin, The Doors….
…People are always telling us we sound like The Doors? One of the most uncopiable bands of all time.
I didn’t see an organ player in your band last time I checked?
Ha, we don’t have a keyboard player and we’re not trying to copy or stand in anybody else’s light. We’re merely playing the music that’s in our hearts.
You mentioned how rock’n’roll has become fragmented and how everyone is being put into boxes, and I noticed that Slash today came out and said that “rock has lost its magic”.
He blamed digital downloads. Elsewhere analysts are seemingly lining up to tell us that rock is in a slump, but as an artist who has put out an album digitally and who is walking his own path with a death metal label, do you recognize this image of the industry?
I think the music scene is as vibrant as it has ever been. I think it’s more accessible than it’s ever been. We can just go and get anything we want. You might want to find a really rare Kinks track or the Burning Sunflower Band, well now you can just dial it up, and boom, there it is, and wow, there’s a video too, a live video, and a studio video. Oh and I can just buy the track for 99cents.
For young bands like us, it’s all right there; every song we’ve ever played in every country is on YouTube right now. That’s very vibrant, that’s very alive and exciting. At the same time, the old guard are pissed, and fuck them man. They’ve been guarding it for too long, they’ve been holding their place, and blocking young artists for too long.
People couldn’t even get seen if it wasn’t for what we had today. Now you can just be nothing, and become humungous off the Internet. I think the old industry has been eating away at itself for 20 years, and I can understand why he [Slash] would be pissed off. It must suck to be an artist whose music is getting ripped off.
We make a lot less money. We’ve been told, that if this was 20 years ago “you’d own mansions and boats”, we’d be rich just off we’ve done right now, but we’re struggling and poor and just out here doing it because we believe in it.
It’s interesting you mention the money, because we are always told that bands might be losing money through sales, but they’re making it back with live dates. Is that really true?
No absolutely not. Not for us, maybe for someone else who has really really really had their heels dug in.
We’ve sold out every show we’ve ever played in the UK, most of our dates in Europe sell out, and we do well in the US too, but we’re still covering our ass on this tour. It costs a lot to come out here, and we don’t get a lot of financial support because we’re on a small label. They can only work so hard. No, for us it’s not covering the loss, but we’re getting to the point where we do fine.
That’s interesting to hear, I just thought I’d throw the counter argument out there, because you hear these things said, but we don’t get to hear the artist’s reply.
I’ll tell you, no one would argue the point that it used to be blasphemous to license music and that our heroes would never do it. You’d never hear “Strange Brew” by Cream or “The Ocean” by Zeppelin on a commercial.
Nowadays, that’s how you get heard. You’re on a video game, you’re on a car commercial, or you’re part of a campaign. We were part of the Indy Race Series; that’s cool, that’s a great thing. Being on a great video game, we like that, being part of a campaign for a racing series, we love that, we’re in this movie, cool. So there’s more money to be made that way.
You must be sick of questions about this, but we've got to ask about Earache Records, how did you get on the same label as Lawnmower Deth?
They tricked us! Like a deal with the devil, we thought we were signing a food bill!
No it was strange. I thought they were taking the piss when they contacted us. I looked at their catalogue, and these were the exact type of bands that would try to take the piss out of a band like us. We thought they were all sitting around laughing and saying "lets go call this blues band and offer them a record deal".
We were happy with our management and how things were going, and disregarded the deal. But they continued to contact us, and our manager said, these guys are serious, they're a proper label, and they're good people. So we looked deeper, had a conversation with them, and we realised they'd been really successful and they came to us very sincerely and were happy to let us do it how we wanted to do it. It's been copasetic.
What was it like working with Dave Cobb on your last album, when we think of Cobb we tend to think of The Secret Sisters and Jamey Johnson?
I love the Secret Sisters and Jamey Johnson. He brought Secret Sisters to us during Pressure And Time, but we’ve been working with him for years, right back to Before The Fire. He was just getting going, he’d only done Shooter Jennings and a few things, and just meeting him; we were the same age and we had the same views on rock’n’roll. I love Dave Cobb, he’s really gets it, he was like a band member. He knows how to make a visceral rock’n’roll record that doesn’t hesitate.
He freaked himself out on recording equipment…trying to understand how all these different sounds were made in the studio. This dude spends his days looking at pictures of the old Sun recording sessions to understand how they were mixing. There’s very little that’s documented, so you can only look at pictures and figure out that “this RCA mic is hung here”, and who should stand exactly where. He’ll zoom in on old photos to find out what compressors they were using, and he’s just perfect for us.
Even his collection of gear is ridiculous. He has equipment from the original Decca, Capitol Studios, old consoles, all the original mics, and all these techniques that other guys just haven’t learnt to embrace.
We know that you record really fast, so have you got any plans for a new record?
We finished one already! Not to go too deep into it but we got home from a tour, we went out to Nashville, spent 20 days there and we wrote the songs on the spot, recorded them in the moment, and flew home.
Can you tell us a little about the sound?
It’s different. All three of our records are different. I think any band that wants to repeat the same record over and over again isn’t being musical or adventurous. We have too many influences, we have too many directions we’re interested in, and I think the goal for us is not to make the same record twice.
If you come see us, we’ll play something off Before The Fire and it’ll sound different from Time And Pressure, same with the EP. That way, if we create something different you’ll hear it, and you’ll go “That is not Pressure And Time it’s this record”. There should always be some link, but that’s the band, we sound like us, but we aim to do some new stuff.
Okay, we know how you write records, and the bands you like, but what inspires you?
We’ve done music for so long that, at this point, we get inspired by experiences. I know that sounds really esoteric and faggy, but it’s the truth.
When we were in Florida we all got the chance to jump out of a plane right before we drove and did a show. That’s inspiring. It stirs up new feelings and it inspires our music, because that’s our medium.
So just life experience and being on the road travelling, meeting new people. On this tour we went to Scotland and saw Boleskine, Loch Ness, beautiful churches, ruins, wonderful weather and it gets mixed in with the muscle cars, pretty girls, ninjas, fire and rock and roll.
Seriously though, we’ll go really deep into jazz or classical, or mod music every once in a while. We try to cleanse our palette, if we just listened to Free records all the time, it’d become bland.
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