Rival Sons, “pure knucklehead Rock ‘n’ Rollers,” as the singer/frontman Jay Buchanan puts it, are rapidly settling into the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene offering tension, live energy, spontaneity and improvisation with a tasty hint of self-awareness.
Following their successful UK tour with Black Stone Cherry, Jay offered Trebuchet his observations on Rival Sons, the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene and the music in general.
Trebuchet: Where does the name Rival Sons come from?
Jay Buchanan: When we were searching for a name for our band, we had a whole bunch of different names, nothing really had the right connotation to it. We had one name with the word ‘Rivals’ in it, and another with the word ‘Sons’ in it.
It was a cut up and we put those two words together. It’s like all the classical stories of the brothers fighting each other to usurp the throne and all that. We thought there was a tension to it and there’s a lot of tension in what we do. We are four different people and we have to battle it out sometimes even if creatively. We don’t rely on the same page very often but it tends to work out.
Trebuchet: What are your impressions on the tour so far?
Jay Buchanan: We’ve been touring with Black Stone Cherry. That’s a new crowd for us. While it’s Rock, it’s very different from the kind of Rock that we do. It’s been great getting to watch those guys every night.
Their fan base has been very good to us, and our fan base has turned out good to them. It’s been a great tour, sold out audiences everywhere. Playing so many shows in the UK all at once was great.
Trebuchet: How does the UK or Europe compare to the States in terms of Rock ‘n’ Roll music and culture? Does the audience differ in any aspects?
Jay Buchanan: Well you guys talk funny and it’s harder to find good tasty food here I think. The food in London actually is great but when you further up in the UK, it tends to get boiled. The audiences here in the UK in general seem like they care more about Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s like Rock ‘n’ Roll is still a vital part of the culture here.
It’s all some crap I’ve never even seen but it doesn’t matter I’ll still make a judgment
Whereas in the United States, it’s a little bit difficult. When it comes to the influences, people are so much into the TV culture with reality shows as it applies to music. These TV shows like Glee and all that. It’s all some crap I’ve never even seen but it doesn’t matter I’ll still make a judgment and talk shit about it.
Rock ‘n’ Roll has taken a back seat over the States. Everything that Jack White is doing and everything he continues to do, he does very well. It’s the same with The Black Keys. But the Black Keys are rapidly moving away from Rock ‘n’ Roll and they’re doing this hybrid thing, which I think is fantastic. Everything that Jack White does is still Rock ‘n’ Roll, but still, it’s a French subculture. On the whole, it seems like the UK really embraces Rock ‘n’ Roll from top to the bottom.
Trebuchet: What is it like to be a band from Los Angeles? Does its reputation contribute to getting noticed or is it a challenge to stand out in that kind of competitive scene?
Jay Buchanan: All I can tell you is what my experience is. I don’t know what it’s like to not be in a band that’s from that area. They always call us an L.A. band but the band isn’t actually from Los Angeles, we are from Longbeach, which is outside of town.
We’ve played in L.A. very few times. We didn’t have to slug it out in the club scene, because as soon as we got started, our third show was selling out at the House of Blues in the Sunset Strip and the rock scene. It happened very quickly for us so we started touring.
the band isn’t actually from Los Angeles, we are from Longbeach
The audience there is a very difficult audience, just like in New York, where people will stand their arms folded through the entire set. And they have the mentality of “Ok, you’d better light yourself on fire or do something to really impress me because I deserve to be impressed.”
Trebuchet: Pretty competitive then?
Jay Buchanan: It’s extremely competitive, and there’s such a huge deal of artistic snobbery and a hipster culture. So, returning to your original question, being a band from near L.A., if it makes it easier or harder, I don’t know. It’s like naming a child. If you give the kid a good name they say it will make things easier, or give them an odd name and some people think it will make things more difficult, but it’s the person that grows up to represent that name. And I think we have to pigeonhole a lot of the time because we’re from L.A.,
but in the broad scene, I don’t know if the experience we’ve had has anything to do with it.
Trebuchet: Rival Sons are a fresh, young band. How did it become possible for you to get recognized and successful so quickly? Do you have a recipe?
Jay Buchanan: I have no idea what that recipe is. I think there is a musical side to it – the demand for what we do and the growing fan base and the reaction from people. It blows my mind that people really dig what we’re doing. I didn’t know there was such a demand for the type of Rock ‘n’ Roll we’re trying to make. And we also have a good team. We handpicked our team, our management, booking agents, all the right people and they help to get us in touch with the right people.
But the demand we get for our records really blows my mind. I’m thinking something’s gonna happen and they’ll realize that we’re just making Rock ‘n’ Roll! There’s nothing that special about it, we’re just four guys that get up on stage and give everything we have but there’s no big show.
Trebuchet: Have you got any ideals about music, a different approach to Rock ‘n’ Roll or changing some aspects of the scene?
Jay Buchanan: There are people in this band that would like to pontificate on that sort of thing but realistically to have a grandiose scheme like that you have to rub yourself off the present activity of what’s going on creatively. What’s there to change? If people want bubblegum and ask for candy and sugar, if that’s what they’re hungry for, they’re gonna grab that. And who am I to say that you shouldn’t be eating that!
I know that Rhythm and Blues is the foundation for Rock. There’s Rock and there’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and then there’s all of this metal and everything but it started with Rhythm and Blues – all of it! No matter what, the Blues, the Rhythm and Blues and Soul music, it cuts through and it gets to people in a certain way. It gets to most people because it’s built on honesty. People listen to lots of shit music and it’s up to them, they don’t have to turn that radio on. They don’t have to go over to HMV and blow money on this top ten whatever.
There’s an endless network of fantastic vinyl, records and cassettes that people have no idea exists and it’s so nourishing to them.
Trebuchet: You prefer to make your albums over a very short period of time. Is that a sort of approach to reflect a fresh, live sound rather than a polished, over-processed sound?
Jay Buchanan: Absolutely! It’s a very deliberate approach. I made a lot of records and you spend a lot of time writing them and these things are really precious. The world needs Radiohead and Pink Floyd and those kinds of records, [but] for us, it’s just plain, straight up, boot in the ass, knucklehead Rock ‘n’ Roll. If we sit there and make what we’re doing too self-important, and if it’s too rehearsed, it’s going to be void of that energy we hope that we can capture.
We go in to make our records or go in and just write it on the spot. I have the book of our songwriting responsibilities. It’s a lot of hard work. It would be so cool to say “You know what, and it just comes together, and we writeeeeee…” It’s draining because you can chain yourself to a desk and you go (makes whipping sounds) “you’ve gotta write, you’ve gotta write, do more, more of this, more of that!” We do that just for three weeks at a time and make as many songs as we can. It’s to specifically to capture that live energy, to capture that viral animal as soon as it’s born.
Trebuchet: Any modern bands of your taste and choice?
Jay Buchanan: On the Rock n Roll scene, it’s pretty drowning and it’s pretty dry, but I like other music. I think Fleet Foxes are a great band and I have a lot of respect for their work. I think Joe Pug is an excellent songwriter. Andrew Bird has always been a favourite of mine. There’s a great band out of Bristol called Phantom Limb. They’ve just released a record called The Pines. I think that’s pretty fantastic.
None of them is Rock ‘n’ Roll because that’s where we live everyday. So when I try to chill back and have a beer, no crazy drums, no electric guitars, I just wanna zone in. We tend to do listen to mostly classic and jazz on the tour bus because your ears get exhausted.
Trebuchet: Are you an ambitious band with high hopes?
Jay Buchanan: We did a sold-out and very successful tour in the UK, through Europe and the whole thing sold out. Are you asking when we get the big time baby?! My aspirations for this band are really just to see how fast this car can go, how far and how hot this engine can run and how far we can take it. I don’t know what’s in the future for Rival Sons.
just to see how fast this car can go, how far and how hot this engine can run and how far we can take it
I don’t know how many records we’ll make. I don’t know if we will keep on playing live through the whole record, maybe we’ll totally change our minds and maybe it will take a year to make a record. This is the snapshot of who we are at this particular moment.
Trebuchet: Is it as Rock ‘n’ Roll as it gets?
Jay Buchanan: I don’t know. Maybe when I get to sign boobs and body parts and things like that, being offered drugs and whisky never being far away from me… Sometimes when you look at it, you walk out of the dressing room and hit the stage and the crowd’s gone crazy and walking out on the stage it’s like “Wow, all these people again – oh yeah, this is what we do!” So much of what we do isn’t that so when we get to get out there and actually make music, that’s when you remember, “Yeah, finally, this is all what it’s about!”
You get little road signs, though. This shit’s getting pretty cliché. I think they’re expecting you to be wasted all the time.
Trebuchet: You don’t wanna make promises then?
Jay Buchanan: I don’t know what I’m gonna want in a week. Let’s just work hard as much as we can do right now. I don’t think I have that important to say. We don’t make political songs telling people what to do because it’s not our job. You’re supposed to listen to our music and forget about your ugly wife, forget about the boss that you hate and just relax. Pump your fist and break something, you know? Just do that if there’s that vacation mentality.
Trebuchet: Hmm, ok, back down to earth….
Jay Buchanan: Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything lofty there right now. It also depends on who you interview. You could have gotten a completely different interview with a different member of the band about aspirations. I only speak for myself and I am not the spokesman of the band or anything. The only leadership would be my creative contribution and how that affects the band.
This band is run very democratically because you have four people who know how to do exactly what they’re doing and you have four very different personalities. If we didn’t run it democratically, it would all crumble. Everyone has a contribution in the band just like when we’re playing live. Everyone is throwing it, and without everybody putting in those efforts, there’s no way we would last a month.
Trebuchet: Any messages you would like to send to the people out there?
Jay Buchanan: I’m really thankful to the people who support us and the fan base that continues to grow. It really blows my mind. It’s really cathartic that they think that we’re saving. Rock ‘n’ Roll or something, that we’re bringing a certain kind of Rock ‘n’ Roll back. That’s really crazy and mind-blowing when people tell you that.
All Photos: Carl Byron Batson