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The Rival Lives of Rival Sons
These rock & roll road warriors take their balancing act back to Europe.
Images by Brian Overend
In a Long Beach, California record store, a maze of people weave through the aisles dragging cords, clearing floor space and setting up tables. Local rock legends Rival Sons are about to do an in-store performance at Fingerprint Records to promote the US release of their latest album, Head Down, and the European they leave on days after this event.
The small stage is set, sound is checked. A packed crowd is anticipated to turn up for this band of local heroes who’ve been compared to the likes of Led Zeppelin and The Doors for their bluesy classic rock that lives up to the music of their childhood idols. Even Jimmy Page is a huge fan. He recently praised them backstage at their sold-out London show as his favorite new act, praise he later repeated to Rolling Stone Magazine.
At the in-store, guitarist Scott Holiday is speaking with a middle-aged couple in matching Rival Sons t-shirts near the stage. Scott’s also pulling off sunglasses indoors (and at night) as only a rock star can. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but everybody laughs, hugs, and when they catch me watching, the couple approach me, smiling. “We’re Scott’s in-laws,” the man says, reaching out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you!” Shortly thereafter I have similar interactions with the wives, best friends, family friends, and all the folks who came out tonight. Everybody here is part of the band family, blood or not. That’s just how these guys roll.
As the record store fills, the band moves backstage. A garbage bag packed with hideous second-hand sweaters has been set out for them, and the guys are riffling through, pulling them out and trying them on. Apparently they will be posing for awkward family photos later tonight with the fans lucky enough to get into this event. Of course they’re taking family photos with their fans. Everybody here is family, fans included.
As the sweater bag empties, the topic of bad Mexican food in Lithuania comes up, amongst other things they look forward to when they return to Europe.
“It’s like cheese product. And cold. Bad tortilla chips,” says drummer Michael Miley, frowning to himself. He’s settled on a bright turquoise cardigan that is definitely too small and is definitely a woman’s sweater.
Bassist Robin Everhart shakes his head in disagreement, pulling a snowflake-laden sweater over his head. “Like curry on a Dorito. With nacho spread.”
Singer Jay Buchanan smiles, flinging more sweaters around than anyone else without actually choosing anything. “It’s like babaganush mixed with ketchup,” he says. “That’s how all their Mexican food tastes!”
Scott is standing next to me, not taking part in the melee. He’s the only one whose full attention I have at the moment. “Everything is spiced with curry,” Scott states matter-of-factly. He slowly leans in towards my recorder. “Hi Pisha,” he says. “This interview better be a…Pisha cake! Oh!” Aaaaand I’ve lost him.
At least these guys are dead serious when it comes to rocking the fuck out. Rival Sons play tight and blow minds. Just check out any of the numerous fan video postings of their performances on YouTube if you’re in doubt. Each bandmate is an expert with his respective instrument, coaxing sounds out that only can be found from years of diligence, experience, and soul. But it’s the way they come together on stage that makes Rival Sons so exciting to watch live. They seamlessly weave sounds together but can build tension between one another in a manner that only resonates as beautifully true to their moniker.
I can’t blame the guys for being a little all over the place while we talk backstage. They are trying to switch into performance mode and are notably stoked to be heading back to Europe on tour promoting the new album, Head Down, and more importantly, they are hitting the pavement hard. 21 shows in as many cities in 25 days. That’s just how they roll.
“The weird thing is, we’ll come home for a month, at the most, and at the end of that month, we’ll be feeling these anxiety attacks, all of us,” says Scott. “We’ll call each other finally after not having spoken in three and a half weeks—‘Oh my god, dude, I think I need to get back on the road, I’m having an anxiety attack. This home shit’s killing me, it’s burning me out!’”
Through laughter of agreement, Jay chimes in. “As much as we miss home, and your bunk on the bus ends up being your home while you’re away, there’s a flip side to that,” he says. “We get to come in contact with all of these great people on a daily basis, meet hundreds of people a night, and they all want to say really cool things about us!” That can’t suck.
In the last two years, Rival Sons have toured their asses off, meanwhile releasing two albums (Head Down and 2011’s aptly-titled Pressure & Time), both written, recorded, and mastered in twenty days apiece. It’s a pace that would kill most men, or at least their relationships (hiyo!), but Rival Sons thrive at this speed. And Michael just got married. “We like to set out without giving ourselves the luxury of second-guessing,” says Jay, of the album approach. “For those records, it worked.”
Yeah, it did. While us Americans are just now catching on to Rival Sons, the word is out in the rest of the world. The first single off of Head Down, “Keep On Swinging,” spent six weeks at Number One on the Canadian Rock Charts. In 2012 they won Best Breakthrough Band at the Classic Rock Awards in London. In 2011, Classic Rock Magazine named Pressure & Time as one of the best albums of the year. In March, they played on Jimmy Kimmel. Word’s out.
During the in-store performance, Jay dedicates the ballad, “Face of Light,” to his son, who’s in the audience this evening. “I’m many things in my life, but before many things, I am a father,” he says, betraying his usually stoic speaking demeanor on stage. “Every night, no matter where we’re at, I dedicate this song to my son. Because I can’t wait to get back to him.” His son is beaming.
The road is like a mistress to each man, luring them away from their families. But bringing family on stage—even when it’s just in their hearts—keeps them connected to their roots. At least tonight, this is their Long Beach, and they don’t have to settle for anything less than the real deal.
Don’t write them off as family men just yet. The mistress is calling, and Rival Sons are off to Europe, hard and fast. That’s just how they fucking roll.
For tour dates, news, and all things Rival Sons, visit their website at www.rivalsons.com.
Stay in touch with Pisha via Twitter, @macpisho.