Ri­val Sons

Af­ter years of hard graft and stay­ing true to their retro mu­si­cal vi­sion, has Ri­val Sons’ time fi­nally come with their ma­jor-la­bel de­but?

Classic Rock - - Contents -

Af­ter years of hard graft and stay­ing true to their retro mu­si­cal vi­sion, has their time fi­nally come?

Ri­val Sons’ ‘piss or get off the pot’ mo­ment came early in their ca­reer. Scott Hol­i­day isn’t sure pre­cisely when, but he can re­mem­ber where. “The lovely city of Cleve­land, Ohio,” the gui­tarist says with­out any dis­cernible ran­cour.

Ri­val Sons had been booked into a venue that could hold a cou­ple of thou­sand peo­ple, but the com­bi­na­tion of a group with zero pro­file in the US and a sup­port act that bailed at the eleventh hour meant the au­di­ence barely reached dou­ble fig­ures. The band had al­ready spent months driv­ing around in split­ter vans, liv­ing be­low the bread­line, con­vinc­ing them­selves that they were do­ing the right thing. But this was an almighty kick in the nuts.

“We had to face up what was go­ing on,” says Hol­i­day. “We had a long talk with each other. Like, ‘Why the fuck are we do­ing this? Is this what we re­ally want?’ And we went out and played this show and it was just ex­cep­tional. Peo­ple were rolling on the ground, freak­ing the fuck out, los­ing their minds. We were the best we could be. It was, like, [glee­fully] ‘Oh, shit!’”

As the band pulled away af­ter the show, they knew what their fu­ture held. “Some­thing hap­pened that night. It was cathar­tic. It reaf­firmed why we wanted to do this. Ev­ery­one be­lieved in the group and in each other and in the mis­sion of play­ing rock’n’roll.”

How­ever many years down the line, Ri­val Sons have stayed true to that mis­sion, res­o­lute to the point of fun­da­men­tal­ism in the power and au­then­tic­ity of their mu­sic.

That de­ter­mi­na­tion has paid off. The band’s new al­bum, Feral Roots, is si­mul­ta­ne­ously their most di­rect, most nu­anced and most ur­gent yet – the kind of record that bands 10 years into their ca­reer shouldn’t make.

There’s an­other rea­son why it’s sig­nif­i­cant. Af­ter al­most a decade in the trenches with Bri­tish in­die la­bel Earache, Feral Roots marks Ri­val Sons’ ma­jor­la­bel de­but. The band signed to At­lantic Records last year. This record might of­fi­cially be on long-time pro­ducer Dave Cobb’s Low Coun­try Sound im­print, but it’s the la­bel that launched Led Zep­pelin that’s pro­vid­ing the mus­cle.

It’s an im­pres­sive re­ver­sal of the down­ward, ma­jor-to-in­die arc that most bands this far into their ca­reer fol­low. And that’s not even fac­tor­ing in Greta Van Fleet, 2018’s big­gest suc­cess story and a band who are min­ing a seam of rock’n’roll gold that Hol­i­day and his band­mates un­cov­ered years ago. It’s start­ing to look like the world is fi­nally catch­ing up with Ri­val Sons. And Ri­val Sons know it.

“We’re watch­ing a tidal wave about to un­leash,” says singer Jay Buchanan. “Peo­ple have been pre­dict­ing this im­mi­nent re­turn to form for the last cou­ple of years. These things come in cy­cles, and it’s ab­so­lutely nat­u­ral that it’s go­ing to hap­pen. I see it hap­pen­ing now. And I ab­so­lutely feel part of it.”

Some­where within the vast ex­panse of a sub­ur­ban Orange County, 40 miles from down­town Los An­ge­les and 10 min­utes’ drive from the Pa­cific Ocean, is the face­less re­hearsal stu­dio where Ri­val Sons are pre­par­ing for the most im­por­tant chap­ter of their ca­reer so far.

Right now, Jay Buchanan is re­clin­ing on a low sofa in the stu­dio’s kitchen-come-green room as the stop-start thump of the rest of the band reac­quaint­ing them­selves with songs they last played in a stu­dio sev­eral months ago drifts in from down the cor­ri­dor. The singer apol­o­gises for not let­ting me sit in while they prac­tice. “This is only our sec­ond day here,” he says. “We’re still try­ing to get these songs un­der our hands.”

Buchanan car­ries him­self ex­actly like you want a rock star to carry

him­self. He looks the part: at least 75 per cent leather, fake fur and Na­tive Amer­i­can jew­ellery (he’s of Creek In­dian her­itage). He cer­tainly talks the part: in­tense and charis­matic, some­times el­lip­ti­cal, oc­ca­sion­ally blunt.

It’s ironic, given that Buchanan never wanted to be a rock star. He’s talked in the past about find­ing rock’n’roll “ado­les­cent… pre­dictable”. When he spoke to Clas­sic Rock in 2014, he freely ad­mit­ted that there were as­pects of Ri­val Sons that were “com­plete bull­shit – I look around and a lot of it is about life­style. So lit­tle of it is about mu­sic.”

To­day he seems more com­fort­able with the idea of be­ing the singer in a rock’n’roll band – and in Ri­val Sons specif­i­cally. “It’s just like any other sit­u­a­tion, like a mar­riage or what­ever,” he says. “You have to fer­tilise it and nour­ish it. And it ends up tak­ing its own shape. Does it al­ways re­tain my in­ter­est? Not al­ways. It’s like any­thing else: some­times you get bored, or you fall out of love. So you have to con­tin­u­ally seek out new stim­uli.”

In the case of Feral Roots, that new stim­uli came right at the start of the process. The singer moved to Nashville al­most three years ago, while Hol­i­day re­mained in California. Rather than ex­change ideas long-dis­tance, the pair opted to hole up in a re­mote shack owned by a friend on a spit of land be­tween two man-made lakes near the small town of Ho­hen­wald in North­ern Ten­nessee.

“It’s pretty thread­bare in terms of ameni­ties,” Buchanan says. “But when you in­duce a se­vere lack of dis­trac­tions it al­lows you to be present. It was the spirit of nu­tri­tion we needed.”

The two of them stayed in the shack for a week, “talk­ing, light­ning can­dles and com­ing up with some far-out ideas.” In a decade of be­ing in a band to­gether, they had never worked this closely.

“We were re­ally try­ing to graft our in­di­vid­ual en­er­gies to­gether, as op­posed to it be­ing two sep­a­rate peo­ple do­ing things in tan­dem,” he ex­plains. “It was re­ally the pair­ing of the preacher and the gun­slinger.”

Asked who’s who, he laughs. “Scott’s ob­vi­ously the gun­slinger,” he says, “I’m the one who’s given to long lec­tures and mono­logues.”

This much is true. One of Feral Roots’ stand-out tracks is Look Away, a song that Buchanan de­scribes as “a dis­course on the in­her­ent con­fu­sion with the body politic and the rapidly chang­ing so­cial norms and the en­ti­tle­ment through the anonymity that comes with so­cial me­dia and ev­ery­thing. I see these as very ex­cit­ing times, but it’s easy to re­treat and be­come com­pla­cent. Mak­ing the de­ci­sion not to look away is im­por­tant.”

“There’s no Zep­pelin with­out Robert Plant. There’s no Rolling Stones with­out Mick. With­out Jay we don’t have this band.”

Michael Mi­ley

There’s an equally lay­ered mean­ing be­hind the al­bum ti­tle. Buchanan equates the term ‘feral roots’ to “a re­turn to form” – not get­ting back on top, he says, but a re­turn to who you are.

“We live in a tech­no­log­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated global com­mu­nity, ev­ery­one clam­our­ing for your at­ten­tion. And the fur­ther you get into this Lo­gan’s Run world, the more at­trac­tive the jun­gle is go­ing to seem to you. ‘Feral roots’ is re­ally about keep­ing one hand in the mystic. About keep­ing a link to the past as you move into the fu­ture.”

The grounded out­look has shaped his view of the ma­jor-la­bel ma­chine. He’s had his own un­favourable ex­pe­ri­ences of the mu­sic in­dus­try min­cer as a young solo artist, when a big record com­pany tried (un­suc­cess­fully) to mould him into some­thing he wasn’t. He says he went into this deal with his eyes open.

“I was very much: ‘This is who you’re deal­ing with, this is the way I look at things, don’t ex­pect me to be some­thing I don’t want to be,’” he says. “But then it’s just too clichéd to have an ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship with them: [surly teenager voice] ‘Yeah, what­ever, you’re not my real dad.’ They’re a busi­ness, there are fi­nan­cial and com­mer­cial ex­pec­ta­tions. Their bot­tom line is to make money out of our in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. And I un­der­stand that. And I hope that they make as much money as pos­si­ble, be­cause it means we’re do­ing some­thing right. But we’re never go­ing to let that dam­age our cred­i­bil­ity, be­cause that cred­i­bil­ity has been earned.”

Scott Hol­i­day drives like you ex­pect a rock’n’roll gui­tarist to drive: fast, loops and with only cur­sory re­gard for any­one else in his or­bit. We’re sit­ting in his black sports car, driv­ing the 20 miles to Long Beach for a photo ses­sion.

As he drives, jump­ing from lane to lane, we talk. He points out the street he lives on in Hunt­ing­ton Beach, a cou­ple of blocks from the ocean. Is he ever tempted to move up to Los An­ge­les.

“Move to LA? Why?” he asks, laugh­ing. “LA sucks. It’s the Kiss of cities. Nah, I love it here. I live at the beach. I like to look at the ocean. I get in that flow. Why would I move?”

The week-long wood­shed­ding ses­sion in the wilds of Ten­nessee wasn’t just a cre­ative es­cape for Hol­i­day, it was prac­ti­cal ne­ces­sity too. “I’m a sin­gle dad with two kids,” he says. “I don’t get a lot of help be­cause I’m re­ally buried when I’m home. We needed to leave and get our heads to­tally cleared out. So that’s what we did.”

The process of mak­ing Feral Roots took the best part of a year. It wasn’t one long solid chunk, although it’s still the long­est Ri­val Sons have ever spent mak­ing an al­bum, by sev­eral months, which is a lux­ury that ma­jor-la­bel money brings.

“We’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion to that,” says Hol­i­day, sharply and a touch de­fen­sively. “That’s just busi­ness. They’re the peo­ple who are go­ing to work the record and give us fi­nan­cial sup­port and the rest, but it’s not like they’re dic­tat­ing what we’re do­ing. We did it like this be­cause we had the chance to take our time.”

Like Buchanan, he’s been burned by a ma­jor la­bel be­fore. In the late 90s he was a mem­ber of a band named Hu­manLab, who recorded an al­bum for – in­com­ing irony grenade! – At­lantic, only for it be shelved be­fore it could get re­leased.

“Ah, I got over that a long time ago,” he says, as we dart be­tween cars. “I’m not bit­ter. Things hap­pen. The cli­mate has changed dras­ti­cally, it’s like we’re in a dif­fer­ent world. And we’re dif­fer­ent peo­ple too. It’s less likely to get fum­bled, be­cause of who were are now and the work we’ve all put in.”

Any­way, he says, he’s in­vested too much in Ri­vals Sons over the years to let some­one else screw things up. That show in Cleve­land might have been a tip­ping point for Ri­val Sons, but it wasn’t a one-off. The band’s early years were spent slog­ging around North Amer­ica and Europe with lit­tle to show for it.

“I was mar­ried, we’d just had two kids, I’d moved in with the in-laws cos we were mak­ing no money, play­ing to big empty rooms,” he says. They fre­quently ques­tioned why they were do­ing it: “‘Are we do­ing this to be fa­mous? Are we do­ing this to be rich?’ And the an­swer to both was, and is, whole­heart­edly ‘No.’” A laugh. “Def­i­nitely not to be rich.”

So why are you do­ing it?

“Be­cause I’m this an­i­mal. I play mu­sic, it’s what I do. It makes me feel good, it com­pletes me as a hu­man be­ing, it’s why I am. And I can look at the guys I’m part­nered up with and go: ‘I know that’s why they’re here too.’”

Hol­i­day isn’t obliv­i­ous to Greta Van Fleet’s suc­cess, and he gen­uinely doesn’t seem bit­ter that it’s hap­pened in a tenth of the time his own band have spent slog­ging around the gig cir­cuit and get­ting a frac­tion of the at­ten­tion.

“Me and Jay met them. They seem like the nicest guys and I’m re­ally happy for them,” he says. “I think it’s gonna be tough, be­cause they’ve got to pa­rade

around in their un­der­wear a lit­tle bit with ev­ery­one watch­ing. But they’re han­dling it well.”

Does it feel like they’ve stolen your thun­der? “Nah,” he says, tak­ing his eyes off the road for a mo­ment and swivel­ing his head. “We all need to make good records right now. You can’t half-ass that shit, man.” He pauses. “I don’t think some peo­ple have put out their best work. Peo­ple are still find­ing their feet. Peo­ple, find your fuck­ing feet right now. It’s time for ev­ery­one to step up.”

“We all need to make good records. It’s time to step up.”

Scott Hol­i­day

Does that in­clude Ri­val Sons?

“Dude,” he says. “We stepped up a long time ago.”

Ri­val Sons’ big­gest fan is two beers and sev­eral mouth­fuls of deep-fried cau­li­flower into a con­ver­sa­tion about his favourite group. “I al­ways say I have the best seat in the house,” says their drum­mer Michael Mi­ley,

“be­cause I sit be­hind ev­ery­body and I get to see up-close how great this band is.”

We’re sit­ting in a bar some­where in Long Beach. The late af­ter­noon strag­glers are drift­ing out, driven out by the loud mu­sic that forces Mi­ley to lean into the record­ing de­vice on the ta­ble in front of him to make him­self heard.

Hol­i­day, Buchanan and bas­sist Dave Beste have gone their sep­a­rate ways af­ter the photo ses­sion. Mi­ley is stay­ing in a ho­tel close by be­cause it’s too far to drive home (he splits his time be­tween Ven­tura County, north of Los An­ge­les, and Es­to­nia, where he lives with his Es­to­nian wife).

If Buchanan is the preacher and Hol­i­day the gun­slinger, then Mi­ley is the sher­iff with the tin star and right­eous at­ti­tude. He’s as good a pitch man for his band as he is a drum­mer – and he’s a tremen­dous drum­mer.

“This was the first time we let Scott and Jay prop­erly ex­change ideas all the way through,” he says of Feral Roots. “It’s the peanut but­ter and jelly sand­wich; they’re both bril­liant in their own right.”

We’re a stone’s throw from the bar where Mi­ley first saw Jay Buchanan sing back in the 00s, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of friends. “It was just Jay and a gui­tar and a microphone,“he says. “There were, like, five peo­ple there watch­ing this guy sing his fuck­ing ass off.” Mi­ley was blown away. At the end of the set, he walked up to Buchanan and handed him his card. “I said: ‘Dude, if your drum­mer ever calls in sick I’d love to play with you.’”

Mi­ley did end up play­ing in one incarnation of the singer’s solo band, and was the one who rec­om­mended him when Ri­val Sons were get­ting off the ground. He’s watched Buchanan wres­tle with the idea of be­ing a ‘rock’n’roll’ singer and all the baggage that comes with it. Is he sur­prised Buchanan is still in the band?

“Yeah, some­times, be­cause I think he’s still ret­i­cent. When I hear him sing, I hear zero ret­i­cence. But when it comes to busi­ness stuff and photo-shoots and things like that, he doesn’t want to fully em­brace it. He doesn’t want to be a cliché. But he’s never go­ing to be a cliché. When Jay walks on stage he’s a fuck­ing alien. He’s su­per­hu­man. As great as Scott is – or as great as any one of us is – you need a front­man who rep­re­sents the voice of the band. There’s no Zep­pelin with­out Robert Plant. There’s no

Rolling Stones with­out Mick Jagger. With­out Jay we don’t have this band.”

Feral Roots feels like as much of a tip­ping point for Ri­val Sons as that show in Cleve­land where no one showed up. It’s not the sound of a band find­ing their place in the big­ger scheme of things so much as the point where the big­ger scheme of things might come around to what’s been hap­pen­ing un­der its nose for the last few years.

“Right!” Mi­ley ex­claims. “The old guard are lay­ing down their swords. Black Sab­bath have done their farewell tour, we’ll never see Led Zep­pelin again. There’s gonna be a big hole open­ing up in the mar­ket, and we’re in the per­fect place to step in. We’ve worked our asses off, we’ve played with a lot of those guys – the Sab­baths, the Deep Pur­ples. It’s al­most like they’re en­dors­ing us.”

Mi­ley says he heard that At­lantic wanted to sign an hon­est-to-God rock band af­ter see­ing a string of fringe artists win Best Rock Act-type awards at the Gram­mys. “They signed us be­cause they wanted to bring rock’n’roll back. And they think that we’re the ones to wave that flag.”

There are still fac­tors that can con­spire against them, not least the main­stream’s re­luc­tance to em­brace hard rock. If it does, Ri­val Sons are in prime po­si­tion to reap the fruit of their long, some­times lonely labours. And if for some rea­son it doesn’t? The mis­sion of play­ing rock’n’roll goes on all the same.

“Scott’s ob­vi­ously the gun­slinger. I’m the one who’s given

to long lec­tures and mono­logues.”

Jay Buchanan

Giv­ing it ev­ery­thing: Jay Buchanan singshis heart out.

Look­ing at a bright fu­ture: (l-r) Jay Buchanan, Scott Hol­i­day, Dave Beste, Michael Mi­ley.

Feral Roots is out on Jan­uary 25 via Low Coun­try Sound/At­lantic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.