Exclusive Interview: Jay Buchanan from Rival Sons

By on November 13, 2012

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Timeless. Here. And now.

Soulful, maximum-blues-infused hard rock band Rival Sons have just released Head Down, their second album for Earache Records.

With their blues bravado, raw riffing and unmatched mystique, the Long Beach, CA quartet have received critical acclaim both in the U.S. and in Europe, where they recently wrapped a massive tour, playing festivals and headlining their own shows. They’ve already played to massive crowds in Europe at festivals such as Rock Am Ring and Download, and they’ve supported legendary acts like Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC.

In order to record the follow-up to their 2011 breakout effort, Pressure & Time, the Los Angeles quartet – Jay Buchanan, vocals; Scott Holiday, guitar; Robin Everhart, bass; and Michael Miley, drums – retreated to Nashville, TN after a four–week stint on the road and holed up in a studio with Grammy Award-nominated producer Dave Cobb (Jamie Johnson, Shooter Jennings) and Grammy Award-winning engineer Vance Powell (Jack White, The White Stripes, Kings of Leon).

The band wrote, recorded, and mixed the album in just 20 days, and the band conjured the same energy that made their last album a fan and critical favorite, while time treading new territory altogether. The rawness and immediacy – textured with a myriad of light and shade – produced powerful results. Explains Buchanan: “In the code of the Samurai, any decision must be made between three and five breaths. Writing by that code forces us to act, go with our instincts and really, truly listen to each other. Creatively, you’re bringing your most immediate instincts.”

We caught up with frontman Jay Buchanan just days after he returned home from a long run of European dates. While finding peace doing everyday chores at home, Buchanan thinks overblown, overhyped “rock stars” are a thing of the past. What matters is the music – and we discussed the motivation and inspiration behind their new album, Head Down.

Jay, I appreciate you taking time out for this. We were talking about Nashville before the interview started. Let’s just pick up there. What was it like working on the new record in Music City?

I’ll tell you what, man. Nashville is so cool. It’s a great place to do anything. It’s a great place to eat a sandwich! (laughs) It’s a cool town, especially if you’re a musician.

Nashville is just so inspiring. The atmosphere is really cool. It’s the same thing you feel in LA.

Coming from Los Angeles, it definitely has that same kind of thing. There’s so much going on, so much happening. So many dreams coming true. So many dreams being shattered. There’s a certain energy about it. When you get to Nashville there’s a tinge of that same thing, but it’s different. It’s all centered around music. We love going there…going over to Grimey’s and picking up records. The bars are great. You can go out on any given night and stop in on some little bar and catch a round robin bluegrass jam somewhere and see a 10 year old kid pickin’ way better than he has any right to. It’s really inspiring.

When we went to make this record we were staying at Leiper’s Fork, south of Nashville. It’s like an old battle ground. We stayed in a little cottage. We only gave ourselves three weeks to write and record the whole record. We went in with no material. We had to make it up on the spot and get going. We would only give ourselves one or two takes. Every one and a while we would do three takes and feel bad about it. We were working so hard and under the gun on this record that the only thing we saw of Nashville on that trip was our cottage and the road between our cottage to the studio. My buddy that plays for Jack White kept hitting me up to go out for a drink but – nope. It never happened. We just didn’t have time. But I’ve spent enough time in Nashville and have some good friends there so I definitely have a feel for the city.

People ask about the scene in LA and what it’s like now. It’s as strong as it’s ever been, really. It’s grown. It’s changed because there are so many different kinds of music going on right now. You’ve got hip-hop, indie, hipster, folk, singer/songwriters, electronica – hell, country artists are coming out. Nashville’s got a little bit of that, too. Nashville has definitely got more and more diverse.

There just aren’t as many fake boobs in Nashville as there are in LA.

No, but I’ll tell you what – I will take the Nashville titties any day!

You guys just got home a few days ago, right?

I’ve still got jet lag. We flew in from London. We were out for six weeks. We played 36 dates in 41 days. 18 different countries. It was nutso. I’m really glad to be back and really looking forward to getting back to being normal. I’m glad to do things like take out the trash and pick up dog shit. It’s regular stuff you would never imagine you would miss. But when you’ve not been able to and you just wanna be home – I like all of that stuff, man.

I’ve wondered what it’s like to be on stage in front of thousands of people and then come home to things like trash and dog shit. Does it take some time to get adjusted?

Oh yeah, it takes some time. For the first five days that you’re home, you body’s here but you’re not. When I get home it doesn’t matter how many people I’ve played to or how many magazines we’re on the cover of – my lady doesn’t care! Take that trash out! The kids don’t care. My dog don’t care. I come home and my gal has a “honey do” list for me. That’s the way you’ve gotta go about it. When you come off tour you’re so exhausted, fatigued emotionally and physically. If you do that thing where you come off the road and spend a couple of days in bed – that’s cool but it really makes you more lethargic. Everybody gets post tour depression. The only way to combat it is to not give yourself a break. I asked my girl to have a list of shit for me to do. I need to stay busy when I get back home.

When I hear Rival Sons I don’t have to question your sincerity. There’s no antics, no bullshit. It seems completely honest.

That’s what we’re doing. We’re ourselves. It doesn’t matter. People can say, Oh man, you’re just like X, Y, and Z. You sound like Jim Morrison. You guys sound like Zeppelin. Somebody said we’re trying to be like Aerosmith. Really? (laughs) Everybody’s got a different opinion and it’s all good. When it comes to our identity we really are just being ourselves. Rock n’ roll has gotten a bad gig the past 15 years or so but there’s people out there that are doing it right – but most aren’t. Talking about honesty – we’re not actors. You’re never going to see me put my foot up on the monitor and point at the girl in the front row. That kind of bullshit has never been my thing. I’m not an entertainer. I’m a vocalist and a songwriter. If this is gonna be you’re job you’ve gotta get on stage. I’m like an accidental exhibitionist. We just want to make the best music we can and we’re really thankful people have picked up on it and given us so much support. That means we get to keep doing it.

There are so many bands out there than can’t even work together in the same studio – and it’s obvious when you hear the music.

We’re four guys and a tight-knit group of guys. That doesn’t mean we don’t wanna choke each other out and lose our shit on each other all the time. We’re under a lot of stress. We’re chained at the ankle. We spend more time within three feet of each other than anybody should ever spend together. I feel like reaching over and just shaking some of these guys sometimes. The difference is that they’re family. We’re in it together. Everybody’s got to give each other room to be themselves. It’s not always hugs and hi-fives. Usually it’s work and being critical of each other. We make it work because when we’re out there – that’s all we’ve got.

Those bands that you’re talking about that fly in their tracks, those dumbasses just need to hang it up. Period. I don’t care how they make their music – it’s bad. You can hear it. Man, the production is incredible because they really polished that turd! The formulaic rock song in these huge rock bands. Diane Warren is writing their songs? What are you doing? If it makes people happy – cool.

We’re here to make great music. We’re not here to screw around. Nobody in the band learned to play their instrument so they could get blowjobs. That’s not who we are. We love music. People make a big deal because we’re a “rock band” that we tour with a juicer and have eight pounds of fresh vegetables on our tour rider. That’s not very rock n’ roll. You mean you’re just gonna hop on the bus after signing autographs after a show and not go out drinking? That’s not very rock n’ roll. Listen, motherfucker. I’m the guy with the job. I’m making rock n’ roll. I’m not here to live out your unrequited rock n’ roll fantasies. I’m here to make music! (laughs) People think I should always have my dick in something or always be high. You’ve gotta stay healthy. The road is a tough place.

In this culture, everybody is a rock star. What the fuck is a rock star? What is rock music? Somebody said we play “blues rock.” Blues rock? What the fuck are you talking about? It’s called rock n’ roll! They took the blues out of rock n’ roll because the blues is honest. Honesty is too hard to come by and you can’t fake the truth. Now somebody wants to be a rock star but they can’t handle the “truth” part because they don’t have the skills to do it. So let’s take the blues out of rock n’ roll and we’ll just have “rock.” I’m gonna wear the right clothes and get all the right tattoos and do all the planned moves and then I’m gonna get the chicks and the attention! We’re not image guys. We’re just here to play. We’re not revivalists. We just want to keep it alive.

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