Blues based retro rock is making a comeback and the LA band Rival Sons is leading the charge with vintage guitar sounds and arena rock vocal stylings.
Their second full-length album titled Pressure & Time is doing amazing business satisfying old school rock fans once starved for gut level passion and ballsy 70’s swagger. Fusing old school production, John Bonham style drum sounds, and the influences of Free, Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin, Rival Sons is traveling the world and blowing audiences away.
It’s no surprise that the classic rock community is all over this record.
Guitarist Scott Holiday is the chief songwriter, handles the guitar duties, and is a notorious gear freak that knows how to dial in a fuzz pedal. Guitar Muse caught up with him to find out the story behind the band’s sound, and the secrets to their phenomenal success.
Where do you come from musically?
I started listening to early rock and roll early on and a lot of classic rock, which obviously sneaks into my playing a little bit. (Laughing)
Just a little.
When I was twelve or thirteen years old I went back because I listened to all the obvious influences, from The Jeff Beck Group, The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, obviously Led Zeppelin, The Animals, The Who, and all these kinds of influences that was being played on the radio; the royalty of British rock and roll.
I sought out their influences and from there got into a lot of early blues. So from like thirteen on I was really mesmerized and focused on Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and the more obscure guys like Earl Hooker and Bukka White. Then of course I got into the three kings. I got into Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and all the blind guys. (Laughing)
I really delved into it very deeply, but I never ever really lost touch with the rock and roll guys. I really got into the Sun Records guys like Scotty Moore. Also Chuck Berry the godfather of rock and roll.
Did you ever stray from those influences as you started working professionally?
Absolutely. I got into all sorts of new bands as well. How could you deny getting into the whole Seattle scene? That worked right into my whole thing; Pearl Jam, Sound Garden, Alice In Chains, Mudhoney, and that whole scene. All those bands I got into heavily, along with experimental guitar.
I actually left rock and roll for a period of my life. It just seemed like guitar had run its course for me. Right after the late 90’s I kind of felt like, “I don’t see its place in rock and roll right now.” I got more into electronic music and decided that it would be really fun to be a guitar player playing in electro-trance, far out shit, with weird whammy pedals, pitch shifters, and ring mods. I wanted to be like a noise guy. I did that for a while in a band called Fantastic Planet, which ended up sounding more like Sweetback meets Sade and Portishead. (Laughing)
Did you have a specific vision for Rival Sons or did the band’s sound happen naturally?
That sound for me is a natural sound. I’m somewhat of a gear nerd. I’ve researched what my heroes have used because it’s so easy now a days to find out what they’ve used sonically. The overall feel and the sonic alchemy of the whole thing is pretty natural for me. The rock and roll sound isn’t that mysterious really. The feel is pretty natural just being brought up on the influences I was brought up on.
But the songwriting is pretty dead on in terms of a specific period in time. You wrote the songs.
It’s pretty natural. We don’t really work too hard. The best rock and roll is one take. They made records in one day or a week, so we did that. For the album Pressure & Time, every day we created a song. I threw a riff out and everybody would work off of that. The producer would come in with an idea, we’d work off of that, and it was very organic and off the cuff. Whatever happened, happened immediately. That was the take and we played it live together.
The songs are very strong considering the time you had to write and record.
I’ve written for a long time and I’ve been the primary writer for all my projects. Our singer Jay Buchanan has written for a long time and he’s been the primary writer in his projects. Our producer is also a great songwriter, so we figured we’ve got three guys who are aligned in what we want. We all want the same thing out of this, and we know the sound that we’re going for. It shouldn’t be a problem and it really wasn’t a problem. We made decisions and we made them quick. We all agree on what a great song is more or less, so it was easy to go in there and make a tight statement.
How are you handling the Led Zeppelin criticisms?
I guess technically it is criticism because some people go, “That sucks! You guys are a Zeppelin rip off!” Or they say, “You guys sound like Free!” We’re definitely not trying to sound like anybody in particular. We’re trying to make music that’s true to our hearts. If somebody wants to throw these great bands on us, that’s some of the greatest rock and roll ever made.
We’re not trying to make a cheap rip-off. We never went in and said, “Let’s make a Free song!” or “Let’s make a Stones song!” We’re just going in and making the music that’s in our hearts. We’re not trying to emulate anybody. We’re just trying to make music that is as honest as we can make it. Those criticisms can be taken as compliments. Hopefully in time we can show people that there’s more there than mere imitation that they’re hearing.
The song “Pressure And Time” is very close to Led Zeppelin’s “Out On The Tiles.”
We’ve taken a reasonable slacking for that being a lift off of “Out On The Tiles.” When I made the riff it wasn’t in that beats per minute. I was playing it more erratically. It was all over the place and had a whole different thing happening. I was never thinking, “Out On The Tiles.” It was just a lick. I was just riffing on it. When it all came together in the studio, I still wasn’t really thinking “Out On The Tiles.”
Is it possible that this was one of those “My Sweet Lord”/“He’s So Fine” moments where you subconsciously plagiarized the song?
I’ll take a verbal lashing I’m sure from many people to say this, but yes it is that. (Laughing) My intent was not to rip-off the song but yeah, I hear it. I get it. I love “Out On The Tiles” but that wasn’t the intent and I’m going to stand by that riff of ours and say that was not what I was going for.
Recently Ross Halfin, the photographer who is good friends with Jimmy Page played it for him. When I was in London Ross came over to our show and said, “I’ve played your song for Jimmy Page!” It was favorable. He made a joke saying something like, “It’s almost enough to sue them.” He said it like a joke. I was laughing thinking, “Holy shit. He played my song for Jimmy Page!”
I told him the same thing, “Honestly, I was never trying to rip-off one of my heroes. That was not the intent.” He’s kind of a brash fellow and he looked at me and said, “Then why does it sound exactly like it then?!” I was like, “Whoa!” (Laughing)
It’s not an exact copy but part of the main riff and the vibe is pretty dead on.
I personally didn’t feel like it was enough of a rip to kick rocks and go, “Oh man I shouldn’t have done that!” There’s been worse on them (Led Zeppelin). I’ll say that right now. I won’t name the bands but we know who they are.
What do you think it is about Rival Sons that resonates with so many people?
There’s a certain lack of rock and roll being made with honesty and visceral energy. I think there’s a whole bunch of rock, but what is rock these days? They’re calling Metallica rock. They’re calling Foo Fighters rock. Yeah Yeah Yeahs is rock. Coldplay is rock. It seems like a blanket term for music with a guitar. If it’s got a guitar it’s rock. Loud guitar or hard to categorize music is rock.
We fashion it as rock and roll. There’s no rock without the roll. There’s a lack of that being made right now, and if it is, I think there’s a certain amount of visceral danger and honesty that’s lacking. I think we really are aware of that and we focus on it. I think people recognize it and like it. It feels good.
People miss that sound. Contemporary music has gotten so slick and auto-tuned. It’s lost its blues roots.
I agree. I love everything that Jack White has done. It’s very visceral, dangerous, exciting, fun, and creative. The Black Keys newest release is ridiculous! It’s almost a masterpiece! It’s a great record. The Black Angels is doing great stuff right now. There’s a whole bunch of good stuff going on.
Give me an idea of what kind of gear you used on Pressure & Time.
I used a good portion of my live rig in the studio but there were some specific pieces that we used on the record that I don’t use live. It was because our producer (Dave Cobb) owned it and it was great stuff. Just before we came into the studio he came in with a Gretsch Masterbuilt White Penguin. It was aged from the custom shop and I used that all over the record. It’s a wonderful guitar.
You also used your Gibson Firebird right?
I used both my Firebirds on the record. I have a ’65 non-reverse that I use. Both of my Firebirds have custom pickups by Tom Short. He’s a wonderful pickup maker who lives out here by me. He also wires pickups for Mark Ford. He really knows what he’s doing. He did a custom mini-hum for me. It’s not actually a Firebird pickup, it a mini-hum with a little more beef on it in a Firebird casing. I have a ’65 he did that on, a non-reverse, then I have a reverse that’s actually a ’99 Custom Historic that looks like it’s from 1965. It’s really beat up. It’s my number one. I’ve used it ridiculously.
I also have a ’62 Jazzmaster. I have a pair of Lollar P90s in place of the Jazzmaster pickups in there. That guitar is just wonderful. I used that all over the record, but I used the Gretsch quite a bit.
Where can we hear the Gretsch on the record?
I used it on “Pressure And Time,” and I think “Save Me.” Between the ’65 Firebird and the Gretsch, those were my two main guitars. We had a John Lennon Casino as well, and I used that on “Only One,” but I used my ’65 Firebird and the Gretsch pretty much on every track.
How about amps?
I used my Reeves Custom 30’s, I used the Vintage Orange OR120, and a lot of the time I used a Silvertone 1484. It’s the 2X12 version of the 100-watt head. It’s a great amp. I used it all over the place. Anything that sounds really aggressive I used that. I also used a very early Tweed Super Reverb, a Dumble, a Tweed Deluxe, a Carlsboro 100-watt, and a Black Face Princeton. Dave’s got a great amp collection. The Silvertone was the basis for the sound for a lot of the record.
How about effects?
My buddy John Lyons builds fuzz boxes for Basic Audio. He built me a custom box called the Gnarly Fuzz. I used that all over the record. It’s a cross between a Maestro FZ-1A, and if you turn up the knob you start getting into a Shinai. It’s kind of like an Ashbass Fuzzbrite or an Octafuzz. If you turn it up even more you get into MK 1.5, or MK II Tone Bender sounds. I used that fuzz all over the place. It’s a great pedal.
I have a KR Megavibe, an RMC5 Wizard Wah, and a vintage Crybaby that I used a lot. I also used the Fuzz Probe and a Keeley Time Machine Boost for a lot for that Rangemaster sound.
What are you using for the guitar solo to “Pressure And Time?”
That would probably be the Gretsch, the Silvertone, and all I’m running in front of it is a fuzz. I’m either using the Basic Audio Gnarly Fuzz or the Black Cat Bass Fuzz. The Bass Fuzz is insane.
Live you’re using the Reeves Custom 30’s. What’s on your pedal board?
I run into a RMC5 Wizard, the Basic Audio Gnarly Fuzz, the Fuzz Probe, Time Machine Boost, The King Of Tone version four, KR Megavibe, an original Option 5 Destination Rotation, a Demeter Tremulator, A Line 6 Delay with the Keeley Mod, and a MXR Carbon Copy for some slap stuff.
Are you using anything else besides the two Firebirds?
My ’62 Jazzmaster. I use that in open G.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re playing on The George Lopez Show then flying to Japan to do radio, TV, and a show over there, and gobs of press. We’re doing really good over there right now so that means minimal sleep, maximum rock and roll.
When we come home we’ll have a little time off just to do stuff at home. We’ll do a bunch of stuff at home in September, and we’ll leave in October. We’re playing Sammy Hagar’s birthday bash in Cabo. We’ll spend a week there, fly home, and the next day we fly out to do a tour with Evanescence for a month.
Then we fly to London and will spend all of November in Europe. The Classic Rock Awards nominated us for two awards this year, which is cool. Best New Band and Album Of the Year. It’s a huge thing over there and all the classic rock guys go there. It’s a big deal. Keith and Ronny show up every year, and Pagey and Robert show up. They all go.
When do you start working on the next record?
We plan to be in the studio in January to record our next record. This whole two-year album cycle thing that people have worked for the last ten years is ridiculous. Who can live like that? What fan wants to live with one record from their favorite band for two years? What band wants to live on a record for two years? That’s weak shit right there! We’re excited to minimally do two records a year and just go for it.