Rival Sons

Rock ‘n’ Roll Warriors Out To Have Guaranteed Fun
by Sal Serio
January 2016

Rival Sons

Rival Sons

When I got on the phone with Rival Sons drummer Michael Miley (he just goes by “Miley”) I mentioned that I’d “heard about” Rival Sons long before I actually heard them, since many friends knew I’d appreciate their heavy 70s influenced ballsy attitude and soulful swagger. He thought that was cool, but then started giving me a hard time about being a Green Bay Packer fan. The interview was almost over right there! Heh, just kidding. I was happy to get some insight in to the band who scored the honorable and enviable position of getting to open for Black Sabbath on their upcoming “The End” tour. Rival Sons will actually headline a free show here in Madison at The Sett in Union South, Saturday, January 23. Other regional dates, with Black Sabbath, include Chicago on January 22 and September 4, also Minneapolis on January 25. The rest of Rivals Sons are: Jay Buchanan (vocals), Scott Holiday (guitar), and Dave Beste (bass).

SAL: The Rival Sons sound is really steeped with the bombastic riff-heavy 70’s rock and soul grooves. Was that approach somewhat by design, or was it just the natural result of you four musicians coming together to create something unique to who you are?

MILEY:  From the inception we wanted to be a blues and soul infused rock band. All of [our] heroes, Cream, The Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Who… all the British bands were trying to copy Black American music. Straight up. The Beatles were ripping off Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, and Little Richard. The Who were ripping off Motown. Then you have the Rolling Stones ripping off Chicago blues, Led Zeppelin ripping off Delta blues and Robert Johnson. You can really trace these things back to these distinct blues, soul, R&B, and gospel influences. Those are all influences that are embedded in to each of us, individually. The Rival Sons soup already has all the ingredients to make that happen. But then, it was sort of premeditated when we started the band. It’s something we’ve spent our childhoods invested in. My Dad raised me on Cream and the blues, but also a lot of jazz, so I’m kind of the snobby Ginger Baker/Ian Paice guy. I consider myself a jazz drummer.

SAL:  It seems like writing, recording, and performing are all executed with a very organic kind of spontaneity. Can you turn on that sort of vibe naturally?

MILEY:  When we get in to the studio, it’s just kind of a natural thing. We’re not like, going on to YouTube and ripping off a blues lick or something. Like in “Good Luck”, track 2… when we’re writing, producers will say that’s the best one on the album, and we’re keeping it, and I’m going to turn it up! [laughing] So, there’s going to be this human sort of element to it, and that’s sort of our formula.

SAL:  Where would you rank Jay [Buchanan] and Scott [Holiday] among rock’s most legendary singers/guitarists?

MILEY:  Oh man… God, I’d rank them both up at the top. The aforementioned bands that I cited, all those bands from the 60s… The Animals… yeah, I’d put Jay right up there with them. Scott is not known to be like the Steve Vai sort of clean shredder guitar player, but Scott is the most masterful riff and tone guy I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean, Steve Morse with Deep Purple was going through Scott’s rig when we were just on tour, and was like, “this is the most beautiful rig I’ve ever played through”. And, this is Steve Morse, one of the greatest guitar players on the planet, you know, a technical virtuoso. Deep Purple actually invited Scott up for “Smoke on The Water” on the last night, and it’s like 9 minutes. On the intro they’re just like feeling each other out for like 4 or 5 minutes before the band comes in. It’s so economical and nobody is like, fully showing off. It was really respectful and cool. I was really proud of Scott when he was up there. That just goes to show the [level of] respect from our heroes! But, I’d put Scott and Jay in there, right at the top, easily.

SAL:  How did Rivals Sons get the opportunity to open for Black Sabbath’s tour? That’s kind of a big deal!

MILEY:  Classic Rock magazine from the U.K. is a TeamRock organization. They hold an awards show every year in London, but they decided to do it in L.A. We performed on the Classic Rock awards four years ago, and then they asked us to do it last November, in L.A. Everybody was there, from Brian May of Queen, Jeff Lynne, Ozzy, Eric Burdon… Scott Weiland performed there as well. It was just a “who’s who” thing, in L.A. [with] all these producers. Anyway, at the end of the night, Ozzy and Sharon were talking to a couple of our guys and Ozzy was just saying, “you’re the greatest fucking rock and roll band I’ve seen in 30 years”, and then Sharon was hitting him on the shoulder, going, “we should have them open on the World Tour”… it’s on YouTube, you can see this. Sharon kind of corners our keyboard player and asks who’s the manager, and our keyboard player gives the wrong name ‘cause he was so nervous [laughing] and then, 4 months later, we got the offer. So, long story short, our management and her have known each other for a while, so, it just began that way. We blew them away with a two song performance of “Electric Man” and the “Secret”, and then Ozzy was just an instant fan. So, that helped!

SAL:  Nice! Will these crowds be the biggest you’ve played for?

MILEY:  Ummm, yes and no, because we’ve done some big festivals where we’re on the main stage, like last year in France [at] Main Square Festival, we played in front of 35-40,000. But, like, consistently, yes. It’s going to be 10-20,000 people a night, and by the end of the tour we will have played for over a million people. I always say if we can get 10% of those people we’ll have a solid new fan base.

SAL:  Is there any anxiety about trying to win over the hardcore fans of Black Sabbath?

MILEY:  No. Most people I know like multiple genres of music. A guy I was talking to yesterday at my CrossFit class had a Black Sabbath shirt on, but he plays bass in a blues band, like Texas blues, traditional blues, and [he] went to see Steely Dan this summer. So, most people, like yourself… you can cite five different types of genres of music that you like, or bands from different genres. So, I think people are going to see that we’re committed, and we give it up. We give it everything we have. There’s no holds barred when we play. I think most people are at least going to appreciate that. But then there’s going to be the metal-heads that are super “metal”. There’s gonna be haters. I don’t know… we opened for Judas Priest for a whole summer and we won the Judas Priest fans over. I think we’re going to be fine.

SAL:  Right on. Well, they’re both bands from Birmingham, England, so if you did okay opening for Priest, you should be okay before Sabbath. But, this now makes me think about when you’re playing in Madison on January 23rd. It’s going to be a smaller, more intimate gig, packed with college students, and the night before you’re going to be in a huge shed opening for Black Sabbath. What are the pros and cons of that kind of scenario?

MILEY:  Oh, we love it, man. We’re like Navy SEALS. We’ll go in to any situation, any time, sun up, sun down, underwater, on land, [laughing] like, we’re warriors. We actually kind of love the challenge, and doing that also breaks up the monotony of the arenas. Ask any of the big bands if they could insert club dates, you know, a private show in a tiny room… people love it. Because, the sound is different. The reaction of the kick drum and the guitar riff is so much quicker. But, in an arena, it’s just so much bigger and more reverb. As musicians, we invite the challenge and the break of the monotony. So, [in Madison] we will have guaranteed fun! [laughter]

SAL:  The most recent Rival Sons album ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ broke the band open to a larger audience. Has the band thought about a strategy to follow through with continued success on the next album?

MILEY:  When we record an album, it’s a snapshot of who we are, what we’re doing, and what we’re about in that moment. We’re never trying to appeal to what we think is going to be the latest “thing”. The easiest thing is for us to just be ourselves. That’s been the slow, organic, rise, for us. This next album doesn’t have “Sex On Fire” or “Crawl”... you know, Kings Of Leon really took a hard turn with their sound. They went from a garage sound to a real pop sound. A sound like a bunch of producers got together in a room and formulaically said, here’s what you’re going to sound like, from here on out. And, yes, they ended up headlining festivals in a really quick amount of time. But, we’re not going to try to write a packaged “hit” song, for the sake of that. And, maybe we’re dumb, but we’re more true to the art form. But, having said that, I think our next album is truly amazing and full of heart and soul, and groove and tone. It’s got everything a rock and roll fan wants to hear, whether they know it or not.

SAL:  Aha! So, the new album is already done!

MILEY:  Yeah, we’re done recording and almost done mixing. It’s coming out in May.

SAL:  Excellent. Well, best of luck on the road, and hopefully see you soon.

MILEY:  Cool, man. Thank you very much.

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Rival Sons
CD: Great Western Valkyrie Record Label: Earache Records
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