RIVAL SONS – The Rock and Roll shakedown

RIVAL SONS – The Rock and Roll shakedown

(…this article is in English…)

Sometimes I have this fear that my old ass is starting to get cynical. That I one day will wake up and hate every new band on the planet. I’ve heard all the promises of rock and roll heaven and the orgy afterwards. I have been through the grinder of the hype machine too many times and when it flushes me out like a turd on the other side I always feel cheated. Luck will have it that I always find new cool bands to listen to and I’m never bored.

I don’t know if you’re stupid or crazy to start a rock band these days. The bands that do almost always get the odd look and get heavily scrutinized. If your sound can be traced to a certain decade or some legendary bands then that’s the kind of questions you are going to be faced with come interview time. I mean it’s fair to ask the question, but to make it the basis of your entire interview is another thing altogether. Sometimes music journalism can be a great, interesting and fun. Other times it’s just a stupid clique of adolescents and old fat dudes. A little bit like rock ‘n’ roll I guess.

I must admit that I was a little bit sceptical the first time I got the promo disc from Earache with the band Rival Sons. A friend of mine took me to a concert in 2011 and the venue was packed. It wasn’t just filled with rockers, but people from every walk of life and that’s usually a good indicator that the band in question is really good or totally teenybopper. Rival Sons took to the stage and blew the roof of the place. The thing that really spoke to me was the groove. They had the groove of soul and rock and it seemed like every band member fit their place perfectly. Robin Everhart and Mike Miley held the beat and the groove. Scott Holiday was on top of that and Jay Buchanan’s voice flew gently over the entire song.

Now I was watching them sound check at Hulen in Bergen a year later. For me this is always interesting. You get to see the dynamics of the band play out. The band was playful and in good spirits while they played their way through the songs. Robin and Mike were doing some jazz licks and Jay was standing there flanked by Scott trying to get the sound just perfect. With the sound check over I was approached by the band’s manager who wanted to know who I wanted to interview – Anyone will do, – Was my quick answer and out from the backstage area walked Jay Buchanan, dressed in jeans and wearing boots all covered with a poncho. He certainly fit the mold of a rock ‘n’ roll frontman. Rival Sons might not fill Wembley, but their popularity has sored since the release of the record Pressure and Time in 2011. So how has the time been since then?

How has it been for us. Jay says this with sigh – Well I’m sitting here, so far from home and I’m talking to you, talking to these journalists that want to know about us and what we’re doing. How we feel about certain things. Jay stops for a moment while stagehands are carrying equipment behind us – It’s a very interesting lifestyle. Anytime you’re gonna get accolades and a fanbase is gonna appear for you that way. Of course it’s very gratifying. It’s gratifying and very surprising. Not so much that I didn’t think we were gonna be successful. I just didn’t expect people to go so crazy as they have been for it. Jay collects his thoughts once again before he continues in his calm pace – I just figured we’re a pretty good band, we’ll get out there and play some shows. That’s not the case, people are going nuts for it, so it’s strange.

Rival Sons @ Hulen, Bergen 18. October 2012
(Photo: Stig Pallesen)

Touring is in some respects a way of life. A lot of strange things can happen to you and a lot of material has been written about it. You have the book The Hammer of The Gods that chronicles Led Zepplin’s trials and tribulations loosely based on facts and the punk rock bible of Get In The Van, penned by Henry Rollins. Either one is a great read, but it also sobers you up enough to look in the mirror and ask yourself – Could I do that? For me the answer is no. I’m comfortable with looking in from the sideline. Rival Sons has also been tested in these respects. How has the road treated them?

The same as it treats any band. You ask any band that tours on end and they will tell you. It tears you up. The road is a coffee grinder. Jay stops to make grinding motions with his hands and he also makes grinding noises to make his point clear – You have to find ways to keep your head on straight. The best thing about the road is making friends all the time and getting to meet new people every day. Just when you think people are really shitty and I’m sure you know, you’ve gone through this. People can really be assholes and then you meet somebody that is just so cool and is so on the level. You just go – Bam! You know what! I think I was becoming one of those assholes. I’m glad I met that person that’s gonna snap me back to reality.

I’m not expecting them to find some metaphysical entity on the road or having a personal Guru, but what are Jay’s methods of keeping his head on straight to use his words.

– You do the typical things to center yourself. A lot of reading and a lot of prayer. Meditation and try to do some yoga. Whatever and try to get some exercise, but man everything you need, you don’t have time for that stuff. It’s go here and do this and that. We don’t have your typical rider backstage. We have like fresh fruits and lots of vegetables, because we juice. Jay looks at me quickly and clarifies the possible misunderstanding – You know, fresh juices every day. Keep your immune system up and keep your awareness. Put good things in and maybe good things come out. Jay nurtures a beer in his hand and says with a smirk. – I say this as I’m just about to sip on my first beer of the day.

With his calm demeanour and the fact that he doesn’t spew out his answers suggests that he’s got a little bit more between the ears than the average bloke. My experience of interviewing musicians the past five years also suggests that he isn’t alone. He writes the lyrics for the songs. Does he do a lot of writing while on the road?

– Yeah and for me I’m a compulsive writer and writing can be everything from a nervous tick like – I need to write right now. It can also be a meditation with focus. Do some writing and then sometimes you have an inspiration  where it’s like – Where’s my pen and paper? I need to! For our records I don’t write until we get in the studio. Cause everybody else has to come up with their parts on the spot. So I make sure that I come up with all the lyrics on the spot to.

Rival Sons @ Hulen, Bergen 18. October 2012
(Photo: Stig Pallesen)

A couple of years back I saw this youtube clip of some author giving a writers seminar for college kids. The questions were thrown to him, but the usual suspects were present – What does it take to become an author? The answer was – You have to be well read. Does the same paradigm apply to writing lyrics?

– Well I don’t know. Jay shifts in his chair before he continues – You see there’s a difference. I don’t think I would agree with that statement. I don’t know, maybe I do agree with that statement. But if you look at it this way. The best writing is not about the writing. It’s about the storytelling, you know even if it’s poetry. It comes from a good storyteller. That’s what’s make great writing to me. I know that back in college and everything you run into everybody in the litterature programs and the professors and by God they’ve read every book. If they want to sit down and write a paragraph or a thesis on something,- Jay snaps his fingers with a calm motion – Oh man they can do it, but that doesn’t mean that they’re great writers. That doesn’t mean that they’re writers you would like to read. A good writer just tells you a good story. Writing every day, I would say that it’s keeping your sword sharp for when you have to duel with someone. For when you have to go in for the fight. Keep it sharp cause you never know.

The one thing that I love about Rival Sons is the groove. You can’t help it. The songs make you want to jump up and down and just dance and trash the room with your wild Rhinoceros moves while the neighbours are screaming bloody murder. Where does the groove come from?

– Soul! I’m a soulguy and Robin is a soulguy. Miley plays everything, but he loves jazz. So we have all of these different influences and everything. The groove, I believe in it like a pocket. Your melody and phrasing has to be pocketed, but the backbone of our groove is Robin and Mike period. Without those guys we wouldn’t be very groovy. I’d be singing and grooving, but it wouldn’t sound groovy, but it wouldn’t be Rival Sons either.

I don’t want to leave the groove country quite yet. Like many of the great bands that they’ve been compared to, but it seems like every band member fit their position perfectly.

– It’s also like a balanced meal on your plate. You know when you get up from a good meal. Sometimes it’s just right. You go – Everything I need for this meal is right here. My vegetables, my protein and a little dessert. I think that likening this band to the seventies bands, I definently get it. Jay collects his thoughts again as equipment is being hauled by the bar area that we are currently occupying – We play a hybrid of rock and roll. There’s a lot of soul in what we’re doing and a little bit of funk, but that’s kept on a lowburner because Robin can get really funky, but for the most part we play rock ‘n’ roll. Even though we get comparisons to all these bands, which I absolutely understand and it’s an honor. For a moment the interview stops. Jay looks at me with smirk – I don’t like a lot of those bands. I never listen to Deep Purple or any of those. It’s not that I don’t like them. I have listened to Led Zeppelin. Everybody that likes rock’n roll likes them, but to get compared to these bands. Those guys are ways up there.

Everything from the Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz and bands of today like Sweden’s Graveyard have been compared to the latter day saints of the seventies, so Rival Sons are in good company. Does it feel weird to be compared to these bands?

– Of course it gets tiring, but I mean think about it. Jay looks me dead in the eye and then comes the question – Do you have an older brother? I had to admit that I have a older sister and all she listened to was Paula Abdul and Mariah Carey. Jay quickly gets back on track – I didn’t have an older brother either. I had an older sister though, but imagine growing up and working hard to establish yourself as a child. Somebody is telling you – You’re just like your older brother. Just like him. You go – Oh cool! My older brother is really cool. I really look up to him, but then at the same time I want them to say – I’m my own man. It’s natural for anyone to want that, but we have to see where this band goes. We try to experiment and stretch out. Ultimately it’s up to us. Either we’re gonna preway our own sound or we’ll never transcend the classic rock genre, but we’ll see where this goes.

Rival Sons @ Hulen, Bergen 18. October 2012
(Photo: Stig Pallesen)

One thing I did pick up was an early interview with Jay Buchanan. It was in 2009 and one of the quotes from him was that rock isn’t dangerous anymore and I was wondering if he still feels this way? Jay goes quite before he answers the question with a serious voice.

– Rock in itself has a very sour taste to me. ROCK. That word rock. That word used to be paired. That word used to have a partner that was very important. That word rock. ROLL. The roll was taken away and it became very calculated. People just want to be rock stars and image and everything. I can’t really fault anyone for that, everybody should make the music that they feel like making, but for me and what I listen to rock and roll never died. It never went away. All we do is carrying the fire and after this band has played it’s last gig, who knows when that might be. Could be next year or it could be six months from now, could be ten years from now, could be in twenty. I don’t know, but after that other people will be carrying the fire as well. It’s about maintaining rythme and blues. Rock and Roll! Keeping the soul in there, keeping the blues in there and making that the centerpiece of your creation.

The debacle around us takes a new pace and a new sound. The stagehands are not content with simply carrying equipment in and out. Moving tables and such. Now the sound of the movements are that of crashing and stomping. Jay isn’t content either with his answer on rock and roll.

– Rock became a hybrid and it split off. Once they lost the blues they lost everything. All of these bands, the motley crües, whatever you know. From the late seventies and off through the eighties and everything. So much bad music was being made. I say bad music. I don’t appreciate the music. It’s very sugary and not gratifying. We’re just trying to play rock and roll. Cause rock and roll should be honest. It should be and you should never know exactly what you’re doing. You should be like the actor that gets up on stage that doesn’t quite know all of his lines, so he has to improvise a little bit. He has to go on instinct.

We sit and talk about music journalism and news in general for a couple of minutes while Jay smokes a cigarette. He shakes my hand leaves to get ready for the show a couple of hours later. When I get back to catch the show the venue is packed with people. The room shudders and I’m packed in the back motionless. I’m surrounded by people who are twice my size and I only catch short glimpses of the band. I don’t know if the crowd wants to move and dance, but even if they wanted to it would be physically impossible. After the show I stumble towards the bar and I’m covered in stale beer. I don’t know if this is the smell of success, but if Rival Sons can maintain this following over the next years it’s hard to see them fading away anytime soon. All hail to the band for making rock ‘n’ roll great and exciting.