Who are Rival Sons? Fair question. Well…who are they? This article aims to inform you of just that curiosity and more. Follow the story of this band and grab yourself an insight into the world of a quartet who are fast rising through the rock music fraternity by being nothing more than who they are.
With their current album Great Western Valkyrie greeted by the music media with such warmth and praise, and a glowing review in last month’s issue of this very magazine, the band are accommodating in promotional activities between tour dates. This new album sounds like a band which are settled and confident in what they express, yet simultaneously pushing themselves further than what has been achieved with previous releases.
Many comparisons have been made with the hard rocking four-piece, with the most notable being Led Zeppelin. But to lean on this specific band for any insight or understanding of what Rival Sons sound like or represent would be an injustice to the band. There are many more elements to their style that get overlooked which may suggest other influences or sounds that run parallel with theirs.
Pressure & Time Official Video:
Their story goes back to a line-up that consisted of Michael Miley on drums, bassist Robin Everhart, lead vocalist Thomas Flowers and founding member and guitarist Scott Holiday. These guys went by the name of Black Summer Crush and they crafted some exciting rock n’roll with real potential when an album came together called Before the Fire. When Jay Buchanan replaced Flowers on lead vocals, the band became Rival Sons and the rest as they say is history.
Re-recording Before the Fire and giving space for Buchanan to stretch himself as lead vocalist within the confines of these songs lead to the unveiling of their 2009 debut self-released album. “Initially that album was just gonna die. I wasn’t about to go and sing on somebody’s record and just sing you know. That’s just something I’ve never done before, and for me I looked at it and I thought that I’m not going to lower myself to the standard of just doing voice-over work“ informed Jay Buchanan as he revisited thoughts of their debut, and how he took ownership of the role of frontman.
Buchanan was sitting at his computer drinking coffee and sounded relaxed as he continued his thoughts regarding those early days. “We were gonna be a band, we were gonna get together but then listening to it; these guys had worked hard on this record and I just thought like, I think this is a decent record. I think there’s a couple of songs on there that are pretty damn good.”
The lead vocalist elaborates, “It would be a shame – like records get shelved and killed every day you know. Something happens and records will never see the light of day and I just felt bad like, I think we should all get in there and I’ll reinterpret all of the vocals and put my mark on these songs. I knew it meant a lot to these guys and I just thought like yeah, that would give us a record right there, be really good. All of the songs were written by Scott and Dave Cobb and Miley”
“Looking back it’s interesting. That album isn’t really Rival Sons; it’s not really a Rival Sons record. It feels like I’m guest starring with the Black Summer Crush to me because we hadn’t become the Rival Sons yet. We had just changed the name, once we started writing Rival Sons material I think is when we really began to be a more realised band.”
Face of Light Official Video:
The result on Before the Fire is remarkable. It is the sound of a band announcing their arrival and tapping the world on the shoulder. Opening track Tell Me Something slithers to a strut and swagger only previously witnessed by the groove of many musical leviathans like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones at their best or perhaps The Black Crowes.
Capturing a vibrant and raucous essence, the band had stamped their style and sound in the studio with an urgency and focus to achieve the aim of producing material enabling them to tour and let the many know they existed. Angel complete with a Southern vibe and the beating heart of the blues tumbles along like a wild plant that is uprooted by a strong breeze while Pleasant Return rides a 60’s vibe; bouncing along a rugged road with an underlying hint of psychedelia.
Providing a valuable stepping stone to their next album Pressure & Time which was released in 2011, it is interesting hearing Buchanan reflect on the band’s impressive back catalog. “When I look back on the records that we’ve made, even the efforts that were put forth on Pressure & Time, you have to go through a lot as a collective unit in order to find what your true essence is. So much is involved with the self-discovery; so much is involved with the act of something being born and letting this group be what it is supposed to be.”
“When you have these identities it takes a lot of compromise from everyone to really start working together. The way you achieve that when you go in to the studio with the blank canvas, you’re essentially putting everyone in crisis mode. So you put everyone in crisis mode – either everyone’s going to work together or people are going to have bad attitudes or people are going to be selfish or whatever. Then it’s going to impede the entire process you know, just like in everyday life – a crisis happens people have to work together in order to restore order to things.”
“With Head Down I really feel like that was the album that we began to take chances and be more of ourselves. Not that we weren’t ourselves before, but you know it’s a funny thing. It takes time to refine the process. When it happens in the natural way you have to improve your effort at not caring. You have to become less and less afraid of fucking up artistically. I think that Head Down was a pretty big departure from Pressure & Time. Pressure & Time was very concise; it was a short record, it was filled with quick and easy to digest, well, relatively easy to digest songs with a good and sweeping ballad at the end of the record.”
The songwriter/vocalist of Rival Sons goes with the flow and includes “But Head Down was just a different thing. Like I said, we began to give less and less of a fuck about adhering to anything. That was the sound of us occupying ourselves and trying to impress ourselves and each other, as opposed to a notion of an audience.”
This line of explanation set Buchanan on another angle on his insight. “I think that’s important artistically for growth for anyone, for anyone who has any hope at somehow purveying their own style in any way. I think it’s everyone’s hope artistically to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I have original thoughts, I have an original idea.’ There’s only one of us, there’s only one artist like me or like this band, when in reality that’s a very, very difficult thing to achieve. It’s almost impossible because you’re always going to be informed by what has come before you; no matter what. I think that Head Down was our first journey in to that unknown and without Head Down there’s no way we could have an album like Great Western Valkyrie.”
Until the Sun Comes Official Video:
Recognised understandably as being an integral cog within the fundamental workings of Rival Sons, and is often referred to as the 5th member of the band is producer Dave Cobb; his involvement goes back to the beginning. “It’s very interesting when I think about that” begins Buchanan regarding this topic.
“A band that I had for many years called Buchanan, my drummer in that band was a guy I grew up with; you know we played together since we were teenagers. He began doing session work with this country producer and he kept telling me –’ Jay you know, you really got to get hooked up with Dave Cobb, you guys would be two peas in a pod, I’m telling you.’” He then talks in the way he responded almost incorporating a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders with dismissal to these thoughts from his drummer.
“Then about five years later or four years later, when I meet up with Miley, Scott and at the time Robin was playing bass in the band, and we get together and jammed to see if we were going to be able to start this band because things hadn’t been going very well for them, and so I said if we’re going to put a band together we’ve got to change the name of the band and everything. They said of course, totally. So I was talking to them about recording and they said they’d worked with Dave Cobb in the past so that’s when I met Dave.”
Keep on Swinging Official Video:
Pressure & Time certainly captured a series of songs that were compact and bijou as tracks like All Over the Road, the title track and Only One flirted with the listener leaving them wanting more. In contrast to the smooth execution and accessible twists and turns caged within the arrangements from the 2011 full length album, Head down loomed on the city streets writhing wildly with raw nerves exposed to the air of the Earth. Opening track Keep on Swinging suggesting more than a baptism of fire and a rebirth with equal measures of energy and intent; the emotive cries from the deepest and most longing parts of the soul on Jordan and the clear quirky communication expressed throughout All the Way provided the listener with definitive proof the band had reached an inner-zenith.
Open My Eyes Official Video:
With all this talk about their back catalog, it must be time to talk about Great Western Valkyrie. “There are a couple of songs on the record that I wrote flat out on my own, but that’s you know, more often than not all of our songs are collaborative. Lyrically it’s always me. I write the lyrics and melodies and all that stuff but it’s going to be one of two things, either it’ll be that or I’ll write a complete song – a finished product for them to put their spin on.”
At this point, Buchanan then explains something different that took place for Great Western Valkyrie. “But on this record Scott had this old song of his that he asked us to mess around with – and that was Destination on Course.” For those who have heard this mammoth track and believe they heard dogs barking towards the big finale, the lead vocalist confirms there are indeed dogs contributing.
Discussing the merits of keeping a blank canvas before entering the studio and seeing what works and what doesn’t, Buchanan explains in detail his thoughts about this process. “That’s the way that I prefer making a record and the rest of the band as well. It suits us in a lot of different angles. Recording in this way and going in with nothing and starting with a blank canvas, allows the songs to be born in a way that are going to allow each person in the band to be able to bring their character to it. With this band each person has to put their identity into each song and when no one is familiar with the song that we’re working on, and no one is because its being born at the same time, you get a certain surge of spontaneity and creative energy in, the listener is able to be a voyeur in to this nexus, this creative flash point.”
The approach they cherish which was applied to Great Western Valkyrie is explained further by Buchanan. “I really think that this approach suits us in so much that we’re able to capture that energy because it’s new to us and at the same time it’s new to the listener.”
Apart from the main four band members of Buchanan, Holiday, Miley and new bassist Dave Beste, there were other talents that made contributions on the new studio album. “He was in the studio and playing on the road with Jack White all the time now, he belongs to Jack’s family but before that Ikey was part of my family, from Long Beach.” He’s speaking about Ikey Owens who tackles keys on a couple of songs on Great Western Valkyrie. Buchanan also reveals how Owens was in mind for the Head Down album too, but their schedules didn’t match up.
The conversation then moves on to the backing vocalist who gets credited on the new album, Kristen Rogers. “Well in town Kristen is quickly becoming one of the go-to girls for backing vocals. She is so talented and she had worked with Dave Cobb many times. So Dave brought her in for me to meet her and kind of vet her out a little bit. She’s kind of like a Disney character, like Snow White – that makes friends with all the forest animals. She wanted to make us cookies and you know, sweet, sweet young girl who can sing like nobody’s business. Having her in there when we were singing those parts I put together for Destination on Course, you know the semi-operatic part, she and I are singing there together and having the best time.” He adds, “For me, I’m an instinctual vocalist and artist but she’s not, Kristen is phenomenal.”
With Dave Beste stepping in to the role of bass player on this latest studio album, it would only be natural to make enquiries about how this worked. “When Robin decided to make his departure, immediately you’re looking for someone to fill the role. There’s no replacing Robin Everhart, Robin Everhart is a very unique presence as a bass player, especially in a rock n’roll band. His hands and you know his mind they are from just a certain personality, so when he made his departure, this goes for all of us, we weren’t looking to replace him.”
“We were looking to bring in a new energy. What is a new energy that’s going to help the band get even closer together and help us reach the next level creatively and inter-personally? – and I don’t think for us we were ever left adrift in terms of what are we going to do. Within four or five minutes of getting the news from Robin the words Dave Beste, were the first words to come out of my mouth.”
“I’ve got to call Dave Beste because I was so close with Dave Beste for so many years, we’re very, very good friends and it’s for a very long time. It was a no-brainer! It wasn’t so much that we were ever left in a position of – wow, we’re a band on the rise now and we’ve got to make a record this year and we don’t have a bass player, what are we going to do? That never happened! It never happened. Right away we called Dave Beste.”
Great Western Valkyrie album preview…
Knowing how hard the band works and since 2009 have released four studio albums and a six track E.P./mini-album already, would Rival Sons want to release more than one album per year if they could, and would this be something that captures the spirit of the 70’s when bands would release more than one album each year? “I’ve no interest in capturing the 70’s essence, I probably least out of anyone in the band I couldn’t give a shit about the 70’s. That’s not a magical time for me. When I look at what people are capable of, the creativity has been shelved in the name of squeezing more money out of each record.”
Buchanan states his confidence in the creative process and the chemistry between the band members and also notes how a friend of his is out on the road touring and promoting an album that is getting on for four years old, and how that is something he couldn’t do.
Talking of the chemistry between the four band members, what is the magic that Buchanan feels exists amongst them? “Simply – communication and compromise. You know, with all of us, I think especially between Scott and I; its communication and compromise because we approach music from very different angles. I would even go so far to say we make music for different reasons and we’re coming at it from two very different angles. I think it takes compromise and respect that has only grown with every record the band has made.”
“With Miley, Miley and I have been friends for so long, very close friends. I think the same goes for Miley, with Scott or I approaching Miley about things. Miley is quickly growing his skill-set and keeps becoming a better and better drummer. He’s always been fantastic, I don’t know what’s going on with him, but he is, it seems to me after watching him all of these years, he’s coming into his own approaches his prime.”
“My respect for both of them has grown tremendously over these last two records and another one is Dave Beste. For bass on this record we put a lot of faith in this guy and boy did he deliver. He fit right in.”
There are no excuses now when it comes to who are Rival Sons, and why do they belong on the cover of Screamer magazine in this issue. Rival Sons are an honest band who have worked so hard since 2009 releasing some beautifully crafted and performed rock music where their emotions and attributes are visible for all to witness. If you want to wallow in ballads, listen to Sacred Tongue from their self-titled six track release, or perhaps from the new album Great Western Valkyrie there is Where I’ve Been. If you want something that hints at The Doors, listen to Good Things or Rich and the Poor from the new album. Maybe you are partial to overblown and bombastic strides in the foray of rock music; well look no further than Destination on Course.
Their profile continues to grow to a backdrop of critical acclaim for their studio releases, while simultaneously their live shows are something to behold as their reputation continues to reach the dizzy heights of the sky above. It would seem the secret to their increasing success simply lays at the feet of their united ability, integrity and sincerity. They are fast becoming many people’s new favorite rock band, and if you’re a little late to the party there’s plenty of room for you to join; after all, their destination is on course.