You can tell a band is doing something right when the interview is set up at a very posh photographic studio in one of the more refined and restricted areas of London.
Coming in from the pouring English summer the photographers and I pool at the end of a polished table casually littered with fine wine bottles. It seems an auspiciously rock and roll way to start an interview with Aerosmith or even Deep Purple. So it was that Trebuchet spoke to Robin and Miley, the loquacious rhythm section of the ascendant Rock and Roll band Rival Sons.
A band to whom, as their bombastic bio attests, success has not been a stranger
“Rival Sons is a raucous, maximum-blues-infused, hard rock band, who explode with the rhythm and roughness of some of the greatest rock acts of all time. From a self-released full-length album (Before the Fire) and EP (self-titled), to the strength of their live performances, the band gains major attention everywhere they play.
Recent accolades include a stint opening up for legends like AC/DC and Alice Cooper, several USO shows with Kid Rock, and a televised performance, center track, in the pit, at The Indianapolis 500, the world’s largest sporting event.
The Huffington Post even dubbed Rival Sons as “one of the top 5 bands to watch” during 2010’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.”
Today they’re in a merry mood. In fact it becomes clear that they are probably always in a merry mood. They’re living the big kid dream and have been around long enough to know not to screw it up.
Beers are produced. We toast as friends and get to work.
Trebuchet: I’ve listened to your new record Head Down. It’s got a real psychedelic soul feeling and is less raucous than the others. It seems that you’re focusing more heavily on groove with this one?
Robin: You reminded me of one of my favorite compilations by The Temptations called ‘Psychedelic Soul’…
Trebuchet: Was that an influence on this record…
(There is silence here as the guys look at each other)
I guess you’ve answered that before, do you have a rehearsed answer for this?
Miley: Actually we don’t do interviews. Ever. So this will be the first time, you definitely did not walk in on us doing an interview. (laughs) We haven’t talked about this before.
So… we have now completed four albums with Dave Cobb. The first three were in L.A. but then Dave Cobb moved to Nashville with his wife and family. So when we were deciding who we wanted for our fourth album and we ended up staying with Dave Cobb… it was like ok if we do that we have to go to Nashville.
Robin: Well I wanted to try something in town.
Miley: Well at this point we had been on the road for almost a year and so everyone was like, ‘(What do) you mean leave home for a month to make a record? Why don’t we make a record in L.A. where we all live and that way we can at least all sleep with our wives…
Robin: …or eight bazillion Girlfriends.
Miley: And kids. Those dudes have kids… but anyway we decided to make a record in Nashville, Tennessee which is in its own right nostalgic you know and has ‘the vibe’, it’s Music City USA.
Robin: It really is. It was because we believe in Dave Cobb, all joking aside, we’ve loved what we’ve done and we’ve loved the way it’s gone down every time.
Miley: Dave Cobb is literally a silent fifth member. He’s our George Martin of the Beatles, he’s our… without him you wouldn’t have these four Rivals straight up.
you need a producer who’s decisive, especially with us, because we ARE ‘Rival Sons’
What we do together is pretty fun but you need a producer who’s decisive, especially with us, because we ARE ‘Rival Sons’. We are like; he’s seeing it this way, I’m seeing that way, Scott is seeing it this way, James is definitely seeing it his way.
You need a fifth guy that everybody respects to go, ‘No it’s in the key of E’ and Robin goes ‘alright’.
Trebuchet: How is it that even though it’s the same producer the albums are quite different, even though in some sense it has the same cast of characters?
Robin: If funny you should say same cast of characters because there is a bit of that in Rival Sons, a little bit of the kind of monkey personality on stage at least, you know.
Miley: *toasting glass* Today I am four glasses of wine
I’m waiting for us to get famous, only so we can have like a yellow submarine movie, cartoon movie because I already see like caricature cartoon figures.
Trebuchet: Right, action figures?
Miley: Nah, bobble heads. Because Robin has one…
Trebuchet: We interviewed Jay last time and he mentioned that other members of the band had views on why the classic rock ‘n’ roll sound is important. perhaps even a statement.
Robin: Nowadays I feel this IS an art music. Not that it’s a lost art necessarily, but it’s an art music. It’s not pop music anymore. It used to be pop, that’s where the classic rock comes from but now we’re like calling on a lot of old influences and doing it today in a landscape where not a lot of people are doing things the way we are doing it (which is the way things used to be done). That seems like an artistic statement to me, or that’s what I tell myself.
Trebuchet: Is it a process?
Robin: It’s almost all process, like thefact that we give ourselves zero time to come up with songs.
Miley: Yeah, a song a day
Before the Fire was made in about three weeks as well. We never end up talking about that in interviews but the pressure was to come up with the goods in 21 days, 20 days or something. This one (Head Down) was 22 days. Before the Fire was 27 days and that included the mixing and mastering, the EP was 8 days.
And then it’s like ‘there, but they’re done’
We never come back to anything. There are (other songs that didn’t make it) there but they’re done, it didn’t make it, moving on.
Robin: Moving on.
Trebuchet: Material comes pretty easy to you guys then?
Robin: Inspiration comes from necessity because we are on the road so much that when we get off the road we’re straight into the studio. So we have this (limited) time to be in the studio and to write songs and to make a new record so that’s where our inspiration is going to come from. We draw on a lot of our old experiences to be able to do it. For instance Miley’s been a drummer for three years now? *laughs*
Robin: We’ve all been in so many bands and we’re calling on all our live experiences. But what really makes us create is having the time and the studio space to do it. What was the question?
Trebuchet: The process?
Robin: Five of us going to studio that day and someone like ‘who’s got an idea?’ and someone will play something and someone will go ‘I like that’ and three people will say ‘I hate that’, then I guess we are not working on that. ‘Who else has an idea?’ and then someone will do something, yeah, yeah, no, no, let’s work on it. That’s close enough.
Trebuchet: How about ideas on bass parts that don’t come from you (Robin)? Are the instruments sectioned off from this process a bit?
Robin: Yes, but generally that’s only when someone isn’t feeling it themselves, notably you mentioned bass parts so that makes me think of our song ‘Face of Life’ which is I guess our most recent single on our last record.
the producer was like, ‘just do like bummmm bummm’
I didn’t like it going down and I was like ‘I don’t know what to play’ and so the producer was like, ‘just do like bummmm bummm’ I’m like ‘alright, I’ll do that if that is what you hearing, I trust you, I’m going to play that’. Actually, on the record I hated that song going down the entire time.
Miley: On that same topic, some of things I was doing at times were a joke for me drum-wise. Scott was like ‘Do ‘Out on the tiles’ by Zeppelin, you know and I was calling it out like as I played this overly bombastic bit. I was trying to out-caricature the drum caricature you know.
I mean I was banging on the bell of the cymbal like I was Van Halen or something and then Cobb comes running out of the room and he goes ‘that’s the groove, that’s the beat, play that the whole song, don’t go to the high (hat) don’t ever go to the high’ and I’m like… just playing that beat. It’s not a choice I would have made but hey we are definitely interactive. I’ll look at him ‘dude should I really play that?’
Trebuchet: You serve the song by the sounds of it.
Miley: You have to…
Robin: and you serve your brothers. At the same time if he’s like in it, and I’m like oh no man, thinking something, I’ll grab my phone and I’ll put it on video camera and I’ll point it at him, I’ll be like go, here we go, roll it, so we can look at himself when he’s playing. I’m like ‘where’s your camera? You can’t have three people here and no camera’. A lot of good stuff.
Trebuchet: I thought the Rival Sons stuff is kind of set, do you improvise a lot?
Robin: Well it’s like our shows have a road map. Our concert’s are very improvisational, we might have the same set every night but we have these little road marks, land marks saying ‘this is an open area’, there’s like a bridge section of pressure time and I might really slow down right there.
Miley: Or we might do an introduction to one of the songs where we jam on the beginning.
We try not to go for ten minutes on one key stuff like you know like Phish, though I used to be a huge fan of Phish
Trebuchet: Yeah. Billy Breathes was a great album.
Miley: It’s an amazing album. The Grateful Dead, I saw 31 shows, I know the OG jam band, they have these newer bands just because you have a beard and you play guitar doesn’t mean you are in a jam band. Shave the beard and see what you can do. That was kind of mean. Damn you jam bands!
Robin: I’m into jam bands, but with us it’s more like is Jay going to sing the verse slower or Scott had Red Bull and vodka before we played. There’s elements and its very organic, you know? Was it a rainy season? Was it a sunny day? Was it a cloudy day? Are we pressed for time? Are we playing a 30 minute set? Are we playing an hour and 30 minute set, is it sold out show that has our name on the marquee or are we opening for Evanescence?
Trebuchet: How did that work?
Miley: Really well, really well.
Robin: Strangely, completely strangely. We never would have thought it, we actually did two tours with them now we’re BFFs. Amy Lee wore our shirt on stage tweeted it.
Miley: Before we played the first of three shows with Evanescence I didn’t totally get it but then when we were right in front of it I was like ‘I completely get it’. In the end you should offer the crowd something to experience. I think that’s all you can ask for.
And with that we’re done. Officially. But hanging out and not entirely off the record I asked how they came to be in the band. Miley and Robin have apparently known each for quite a while and meet at a Isaac Hayes / Scientology related gig where Danny Masterson (Hyde from that 70s show) was DJing some serious soul records.
Does that sum up the Rival Sons thing? It might. They aren’t necessarily a band of random guys from the suburbs, they’ve never mentioned it but you get a sense that there is some serious musical education ticking over in the background. Are they professional? Hell yes, the music works so they don’t have to.
Rival Sons are a classic rock band in the same vein that The Black Crowes were decades earlier, and they are unashamed that they’re building on foundations of music making that has been tried and tested, for an audience that is seeking functional feelgood music. It works. Every gig’s a party and every party is part of the plan.
You get the sense that the Rival Sons don’t leave much to chance and don’t have time to be random. If they can be said to have a motto it’d probably be the question; ‘Does it work?’
Interview by Kailas Elmer
Photos by Carl Byron Batson.