Rival Sons are an extraordinary, talented band of musicians. With their blues-infused brand of ROCK N' ROLL, they are unstoppable. When a band like this hits you, the way that Rival Sons do, they ignite a fire within. They fill me with an undeniable passion.
Mike, Scott, Robin and Jay have an immense talent. Each of them are individually amazing. Rival Sons are a band that you can completely immerse yourself in, feel every note, every chord, every lyric and beat. Music like this is an incredibly beautiful and touching occurrence, one that I hope continues for many years to come.
So when I was asked to interview Jay Buchanan, of course I had to. As the early evening approached in London, I was standing with Jay outside, in the car park behind the Forum; we did aim to sit on some kegs of beer, but ended up standing and it was still warm and sunny, a perfect way to spend an evening.
Tonight is the last night of the tour with Black Stone Cherry; after this, the guys head off to Germany to start a European headlining tour. I asked Jay what he thought the highlights were so far:
"It's been a great tour. They've all been highlights really. It's very much been a tour of meeting a lot of new people, sharing the bill with Black Stone Cherry, and getting to know their fans, and hopefully making new fans from them. We've been hitting some cities that we haven't hit before and it's all been fantastic."
Just before leaving the States, the guys finished recording their fourth record. Looking forward to the album, I wanted to find out how it went:
"Yeah, we kinda just finished it, and we did it in a few weeks. Three weeks, actually, it all kinda went by like a car crash. Right now, Vance Powell is mixing, so we haven't even really heard the tracks, we just went in, laid them down, and once again it was definitely a record full of first and second takes, just go - move onto the next song, make somethin' new."
Rival Sons constantly evolve with time. The difference between 'Before The Fire' and 'Pressure And Time' is obvious but you can hear differences between the ways each record was written and recorded. Being curious, I asked Jay what evolution we can expect between 'P&T' and the new record:
"I don't know, we're growing, in some way, I don't know exactly in which way that is, you know, every time you go in to make a record all it is is a snap shot of exactly where you are at that specific moment creatively. In another month, we'll be a different band, and that keeps happening. We could go in and make another record next week, and it would be different than what we did a couple of weeks back and so as far as this next record, I'd have to let you know once I hear it."
I asked if he would be happy once they get the album back and can listen to it:
"Yeah, on one hand, on the other hand I'm mortified, because I don't really listen to our music very much, you know, we play it every night, it's really like, well we'll see, we'll see how this next collection of songs goes. I think that maybe we stretched out definitely a lot more on this next record, beyond that, I really don't know."
Since both the new record and 'P&T' were turned around quite quickly, I asked Jay if they find it tough to write within that time frame; maybe it would be better to have more time, or if they write on the road to prepare.
"For me, I'm always writing, I probably have the bulk of our song writing responsibility, lyrics, melody and arrangement, and I also bring in complete songs for the band and so that makes my job a little bit different from everyone else's but, aside from that, we write very collaboratively, even when we are putting riffs together. Scott will bring in riffs, or Robin will, we'll have these different ideas, as far as difficulty, we specifically set out to make a record and put ourselves under those circumstances, so that we wouldn't have the luxury of second guessing ourselves, so that every time you hear the next track, you get hear it for the first time, and, you're hearing us hear it for the first time as well, so just to try and keep that energy going."
If you're familiar with Rival Sons you would know that their records have nothing but energy, through every track. I told Jay that I thought they had a great energy, definitely one that I feel drawn to:
"Thanks, we do what we can and I think that our big MO really for this band is to just try and produce the best music that we are capable of at this point, and this ethic of recording very quickly and writing very quickly and putting ourselves under the gun, is where we are at right now, that could change, you know. The world needs Radioheads and needs Pink Floyds and needs those long big thought-out records. I just think for us, we're still stretching our legs and finding out who we really are, so to attempt to make a big statement, or something along those lines, we're just not really keen on doing that yet."
One of the things that I adore about the guys is their insatiable hunger for music, the knowledge that they all have, between Robin, Scott, Mike and Jay, their range of influences is humongous, from Howlin' Wolf through rhythm n' blues, jazz to Pink Floyd and the prog side of things. Jay tells me of his influences on a vocal scale:
"There's too many to count, because it changes from week to week, you know, everyone from the Staple Singers, a big influence on me, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, I mean, so many, Eric Burden, Blind Willie Johnson, they each possess something different and so, I think that growing up, as far as like the tone of my voice or what I can do, I think you spend a lot time trying to shape who you are and shape your identity, somewhere along the line, you know a couple of years back, something just clicked and I stopped listening to myself, and stopped worrying about it and I just sing now."
Jay as a vocalist has such a huge range, not to mention an undeniable velvet tone to his voice. It can go from guiding you into an almost lullaby-like state, into a rock-induced frenzy on more uptempo tracks. I asked him if he'd had any vocal coaching:
"No, I am 100% self-taught vocally. I can't read music; I don't even know the circle of fifths. I've been playing guitar since I was nine years old and I don't know the names of any but three or four chords."
Just goes to show you don't always need to be trained or endure lessons. Passion for music is all it takes.
Rival Sons have really only stepped into the limelight over the past year or two that they have been signed with Earache Records. Earlier in the mix there was a possibility of a contract with EMI. Would they have been as successful if they would have signed with EMI?
"Well", Jay says, "Where EMI comes in - that part of the story was really before I got with these guys, you know they were slugging it out, trying to make things happen, and they kind of got turned away from EMI, and you know I came in and I sung the vocals on that first record, without even writing."
This was 'Before The Fire'? Jay replies: "Yeah 'Before The Fire', I just went in and sang, I've never done that in my life. I've always been a writer, that has always been my thing, but I knew - I listened to what they had and I thought 'wow'. So I'm gonna get in there and I'm not really gonna write?
"The record seemed like it was too good to just let it die, and so for me it took humility to go in there and go 'look, it's not just about me, this is a band, this is our band and we're going to try to make this work', so I set the ego aside and just said 'OK, let's get in there and let's do this'.
"But EMI had already fallen off with the band by then. So then, for a while we were on our own, and you know, you talk about things picking up over here the past couple of years, you realise it has really only been, one, year, it's been amazing, the response, and support that we have gotten from the UK audience is really amazing."
Although the band are chameleon-like, and constantly transforming and growing, I wondered if they still had a vision of where they might see themselves over the next few years.
"I don't know, I really don't, I wanna make a lot more records, I couldn't sit here and tell you how many records the band will end up making, or how long it will last, or what our sound is gonna be like, I know that right now, we're really hot on the heels of trying to do something with a sense of urgency and immediacy, and maybe we will take a different approach, a different recording approach in the future, you have four guys, with very, very different opinions, with very different, um, very different vibes and how they approach music, and I think that visceral nature is what, maybe sets us apart a little, you know."
I think collectively as a band and individually, the guys definitely stand out, and I would expect that in the coming years, more and more people will, hopefully, realise how special this band is. Not all will, you can't please everybody, but those of you out there who do, hold on, because this is going to be one hell of a journey, and personally, I am really looking forward to where Rival Sons will lead us in the future.
I said something to Jay about how much bigger I think they will become on a mass scale in time, and Jay laughed: "Well we're working towards somethin' you know, but like I said we have a huge opportunity right now, because of all the support we are receiving, and people have been so supportive."
People are stepping out in force at the moment, the band have their own street team, the 'Sleepwalkers' who are working really hard:
"Yeah, yeah, the street team is building, and the shows are getting bigger and bigger, and more and more crowded and the fan base gets, more into a fever pitch, and it's been fantastic. Where we go from here? We'll be releasing this next record probably in late August early September, I'd like to get back into the studio in December and record another record.
"When we set out, we wanted to record, like, two records a year. But when you're with a label, you know, they set things up in a certain time, you have to tour the record and for us, when you're not growing creatively and constantly producing, you get really, you get very bored, it becomes monotonous."
Playing live every night must help with the exploration of the music, having a jam on stage; you must discover new methods, melodies.
"I think that with the experimentation of the music, touring, of course because you're on stage every night; and we never do things exactly the same way every time, and that's not to say that we get up there and its free form and 'hey, whatever', there is always something a little bit different. We have a very energetic and frenetic drummer. Your drummer, he steers the ship, and so when he's gonna switch things up... and Robin, he has such a catalogue of his knowledge, he's really our secret weapon, our bass player, because he is so educated he can do anything! You know, he can improvise on anything, on a dime!" says Jay enthusiastically.
I think the reason why the band is so electric and exciting is due to the knowledge of music, talent and experience that RS have collectively:
"Yeah, it's good to hear that from you, with our live show we're definitely gonna get up on stage and fuck around for 45 minutes, and that is what people are going to watch. We're a train that could go off the rails at any moment, and, you know we poke and prod each other (makes prodding gesture) to maybe do something a little bit different, we're always throwing out kicks and throwing sand in each other's faces and there is that, and at the same time, we understand that we have to support each other, whip the horse and see how fast it will go."
It's refreshing to hear of a band that just constantly push the barriers and with Rival Sons the future is bright. The new record should be released (fingers crossed) in August/September 2012. I am filled with excitement at the prospect of the unknown, I'm looking forward to being educated, and hearing an album that I am sure will be refreshing and a pleasure to indulge in.
This has been a fantastic experience, and one that I won't soon forget. I think Rival Sons are a treasure to behold and I look forward to watching them grow in every aspect of the word over the coming years, for it will surely be, like tonight has been, very special.
All articles are © Michelle Nevill