A Few Minutes With Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan

Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan recently chatted with Pollstar about authenticity and how the rock band’s live show never gives “in to the straw hat, seersucker jacket and tap dancing aspect of it all.”

While some rock bands are all about “posturing and appearing cool,” Buchanan says that for Rival Sons it’s simply about making the best music it can. Along with Buchanan on vocals, the Southern California act features Scott Holiday on guitar, Michael Miley on drums and Dave Beste on bass.

The rockers released their fourth studio album, Great Western Valkyrie, last summer. The title comes from a line in the track “Belle Starr,” which tells the tale of the notorious American outlaw who was reportedly shot with her own gun. Buchanan says, “Those words together seemed to evoke enough mystery and imagery that it sounded like a good hodgepodge of words to describes this collection of songs.”  

Pollstar spoke to Buchanan on the phone a few weeks ago while he hung out in the band’s tour bus before a headline show in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Rival Sons plays Burning Bubba Festival in Fort Worth, Texas, this weekend and then joins Halestorm for a string of North American dates in June.

The band just announced it will be supporting Deep Purple in Europe between late October and early December. Plus, it has a bunch of European festival appearances lined up. While that’s great news for fans overseas, Buchanan promises that Rival Sons will give U.S. fans more attention soon.  

Photo: Steffen Rikenberg
Oya Festival, Middelalderparken, Oslo, Norway

How’s the tour going?

It’s been a great tour so far. … This tour feels like it’s a couple months long because when we came home from Europe we had four days home with our families and then it was back out on the road again. [It] just feels like one long continuation. We started in Toronto on this leg of the tour and then went through Buffalo, Uncasville, Conn., and then Boston, tonight we’re in Poughkeepsie. … I feel like the band is really on fire right now. It keeps it interesting, that’s for sure. Everybody’s really hungry and also really excited because when we finish this leg of the tour we get to go home and see our families and our kids for a good 12 days.

I bet you’re really looking forward to that, but at the same time, it sounds like it’s a really good time to be out on the road.

It is an exciting time because the band’s playing really well right now and there’s an energy that’s being kept. The audiences seem to get more and more engaged. The energy coming off of the audience keeps getting a little more frenetic. And the audiences are getting bigger and places are selling out. It’s basically exactly what you want when you hit the road.

We’ve all been in those bands before where you’re on tour and you’re playing to four people and the bartender. You never forget that. So when you’re selling a packed house and there’s a riot going on, you don’t take it for granted. You don’t forget what it took for you to get there.

Photo: RivalSons.com

Last night’s show in Boston aired live on Yahoo Screen. Was that the first time Rival Sons has been involved in something like that?

We’ve done things of this nature with other companies, other entities, but not in the U.S. So it was nice to be able to do a show, especially coming from Boston. I love Boston and the Paradise Rock Club is a great little club. It’s been there forever. But it felt good to do a show from the U.S., because there’s this misnomer, especially when we come to the States. Or even when we’re over in Europe or the U.K. In the United States when you talk to people, they give you the impression that you’re just wildly successful and just a superstar over in Europe and the U.K. and that there’s nothing going on in the United States. And then when I’m doing interviews and things in Europe and the U.K., they [say], “Wow, it’s too bad you guys can’t even get arrested in the United States.” I laugh every time because it’s totally untrue. It’s like this romantic thing. In the United States, they’re thinking, they just want to kick rocks – “Oh those idiots. Nobody cares about real rock ’n’ roll anymore. But they get it over there in the U.K..” And you get the people in Europe going like, “Yeah, those Americas. They just don’t get it. We’ve given Rival Sons a home.”

It’s actually completely untrue because our numbers are climbing and we’re doing very well in the United States. We get complains that we don’t service the United States often enough. Every year we try to give a couple of months to the United States, it’s just you can’t cover as much ground in a six-week tour … as you can say in Europe. You can hit 12 different countries in that time because the territories are so much smaller. Whereas in the United States, you can spend six weeks just trying to cross Texas. So for that reason I was very pleased that we were able to do that live feed from Boston last night. It was a good U.S. effort.

For those that didn’t get a chance to tune in or haven’t been to a Rival Sons concert before, what’s your live show like?

Well, from my perspective, it’s gut-wrenching and completely exhausting (laughs). … One thing that you’ll get is a band that’s giving everything they got. There’s no vaudeville with the band. There’s no synchronized moves. We do our best to never give in to the straw hat, seersucker jacket and tap dancing aspect of it all. We really try to keep the element of surprise there – for ourselves most of all. There’s a great deal of improvisation every night. Every night it’s just going to be a little bit different – if not a lot different – even if we play the same set. We’ll improvise in different ways. So you’ll get that. Everything we do for the most part is based on rhythm and blues. … We play straight-up rock ’n’ roll. And that’s not to say that we don’t have ballads. We’ll sometimes go into psychedelia, kind of dip our toes into various pools of influence that naturally are related to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s very loud and very passionate.

Can you talk a little bit about how the band got together?

So Scott, Miley and our last bass player Robin, they had been playing for I think about a year. They were really trying to get things going with this band they called Black Summer Crash … getting ready to make a record and everything. They had a vocalist, Thomas, and he was the guy from that band Oleander from Sacramento. … I don’t think it was really going anywhere. They had a record deal and everything but the momentum wasn’t really happening. Miley approached me about coming in … I’ve never been in a rock ’n’ roll band and I’ve never had any interest in that. But Miley called me. [He] and I had been friends for a very long time. He was like, “Hey, check out our band.” So we got together and it felt right. The energy between us felt very good. So we just started writing and playing and we finished their record that they had started and from there … I think, gosh, our third show ever was selling out the House of Blues in L.A. – and that’s crazy. I alone had a very large fanbase in the L.A., Orange County area and they had their fanbase as well, and it kind of came together, made a super sandwich fan club. We got started very early and from there we got procured management and a booking agent. We ended up signing with Earache Records out of Nottingham, in the U.K. In the death metal world they’re a highly prized label. They pursued us and we thought that was very interesting. And so we ended up signing with Earache. Their resources were very based in the U.K. and Europe. After that, once that got going we really utilized their resources and so that’s what I think really led to us spending so much time abroad. Even up to now.

At first I had no idea what would make them want to sign us. And I had no idea how we would ever fit into that world. When I asked them about it, what they had said was, “The sort of rock ‘n’ roll you play is the direct precursor to metal.” So I thought, well OK. I’ll buy that.

How long had you been performing on your own before hooking up with Rival Sons?

Oh gosh. I mean, I’ve been playing gigs since I was a kid.  And making albums. And selling homemade CDs and playing relentlessly. So for me, I had played for probably a good 10 years, since the time I was a teenager. And touring all over the United States with my solo band that was called Buchanan. So we toured like crazy … I would book myself with other singer/songwriters and we would do tours coast-to-coast in a car or in a van. … I think it’s the relentless self-promotion and creative output making records and writing new songs, those things that allowed me to have a growing fanbase. So that really helped out once this band got going.

You mentioned that initially you didn’t have a desire to be in rock band. When you were pursuing your own solo career, was that not so much rock?      

It wasn’t rock ’n’ roll, the bands that I had before. It was very singer/songwriter oriented, a little bit jazzy, more on the Joni Mitchell side of things. Good arrangements, really tight musicianship but not a whole lot of distortion going on (laughs), not a lot of distorted guitars. So the decision to join up with these guys and rename the band and make a new beginning together, it’s been very rewarding. Even though rock ‘n’ roll was never really my thing, it’s something I enjoy doing and I would have never known that if we hadn’t gotten together and committed so much to each other.

Photo: Scott Legato / RockStarProPhotography.com
Motor City Guitars, Waterford, Mich.

Did you grow up listening to rock music? Or did your bandmates get you into rock?  

I mean, as a young teenager, of course you listen to The Stones, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin, because it’s fun music. But then it was something I just kind of grew out of or it just stopped being relevant to me. As I got further into the art of songwriting and everything, rock ‘n’ roll seemed to me to be just so much about just posturing and appearing cool. And I didn’t have an interest in that. So with this band, it’s been great, just working hard to make the best music that you’re capable of and then at the same time, checking yourself consistently for authenticity. … I believe that you can be genuine and that you can also be part of this archaic art form and it doesn’t have to be about image. It can actually be about the music and if you do your best to maintain that authenticity and hopefully in some way purvey your own style, you’re going to end up getting what you’re looking for. So it’s been very gratifying to see the band’s fanbase grow, especially knowing that we’ve done it on our own terms.

Anything else you’d like readers to know about Rival Sons?

We’re trying to get back into the studio as soon as possible because we like to record one album a year. And if we had time we’d record two albums as well. But you have to tour and we gotta be on the road so much. There’s a lot of people helping behind the release of each record so you want to give them the time they need to service each album and in each territory. So we’re trying to get back in the studio and make another record. … And then also I’d like [readers] to know that we’re putting the United States in our sights. We’re looking forward to giving the United States more attention in the future. We’ve heard people’s cries of dissatisfaction that we’re denying the home team. We’re really going to make an effort this next year in getting back to the United States.

Photo: Rick Horn

Upcoming dates for Rival Sons:

May 30 – Fort Worth, Texas, Billy Bob’s Texas (Burning Bubba Festival)  
June 5 – Anaheim, Calif., City National Grove Of Anaheim (appearing with Halestorm)
June 6 – San Francisco, Calif., The Regency Ballroom (appearing with Halestorm)
June 8 – Portland, Ore., Roseland Theater (appearing with Halestorm)      
June 9 – Seattle, Wash., Showbox SoDo (appearing with Halestorm)
June 10 – Garden City, Idaho, Revolution Concert House & Event Center (appearing with Halestorm)   
June 12 – Missoula, Mont., Wilma Theatre (appearing with Halestorm)      
June 13 – Spokane, Wash., Knitting Factory Concert House (appearing with Halestorm)  
June 14 – Vancouver, British Columbia, Commodore Ballroom (appearing with Halestorm)         
June 23 – Rome, Italy, Ippodromo Delle Capannelle (Rock In Roma / appearing with Slash)       
June 24 – Assago, Italy, Mediolanum Forum (appearing with Slash)          
June 25 – Cologne, Germany, Luxor
June 26 – Odense, Denmark, Tusindarsskoven (Tinderbox)
July 3 – Nort-Sur-Erdre, France, La Nuit De L’Erdre Festival Grounds (La Nuit De L’erdre)
July 4 – Arras, France, Citadel Of Arras (Main Square Festival)

July 6 – Munich, Germany, Backstage
July 8 – Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Den Atelier     
July 9 – Nimes, France, Arenes (Festival De Nimes)
July 10 – Aix Les Bains, France, Esplanade Du Lac (Musilac Festival)   
July 11 – Morzine, France, Various Venues (Morzine Harley Davidson Festival)
July 13 – Pratteln, Switzerland, Z7  
July 16 – Dour, Belgium, Festival Grounds (Dour Festival)
July 17 – Tromso, Norway, Telegrafbukta (Bukta-Tromso Open Air Festival)

July 18 – Nordfjordeid, Norway, Malakoff Festival Grounds (Malakoff Festival)
July 19 – Salacgriva, Latvia, Festival Grounds (Positivus Festival)

July 22 – Frankfurt, Germany, Zoom
July 24 – Corsica, France, Theatre De Verdure (Les Nuits De La Guitare De Patrimonio)

July 25 – Lichtenvoorde, Netherlands, Zwarte Cross Festival Grounds (Zwarte Cross Festival)   
July 26 – Maidstone, England, Mote Park (Ramblin’ Man Fair)
Aug. 7 – Sheffield, England, The Plug        
Aug. 8 – Inverness, Scotland, Belladrum Estate (Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival)
Aug. 10 – Sunderland, England, The Point   
Aug. 12 – Hamburg, Germany, Knust           
Aug. 15 – Telemark, Norway, Farstad Gvarv Park (Kartfestivalen)
Oct. 25 – Lodz, Poland, Atlas Arena (appearing with Deep Purple)
Oct. 27 – CEZ Arena (appearing with Deep Purple) 
Oct. 28 – Ostrava Zabreh, Czech Republic, CEZ Arena (appearing with Deep Purple)      
Oct. 30 – Padova, Italy, Pala Fabris (appearing with Deep Purple) 
Oct. 31 – Assago, Italy, Mediolanum Forum (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 2 – Marseille, France, Le Dome (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 3 – Bordeaux, France, Patinoire Meriadeck (appearing with Deep Purple)    
Nov. 5 – Florence, Italy, Nelson Mandela Forum (appearing with Deep Purple)     
Nov. 6 – Rome, Italy, PalaLottomatica (appearing with Deep Purple)        
Nov. 8 – Geneva, Switzerland, Geneva Arena (appearing with Deep Purple)         
Nov. 11 – Paris, France, Zenith Paris (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 13 – Oberhausen, Germany, Konig – Pilsener Arena (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 14 – Magdeburg, Germany, Getec Arena / MVGM (appearing with Deep Purple)    
Nov. 16 – Rostock, Germany, Stadthalle Rostock (appearing with Deep Purple)   
Nov. 17 – Leipzig, Germany, Leipzig Arena (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 18 – Hannover, Germany, Swiss Life Hall (appearing with Deep Purple)      
Nov. 20 – Trier, Germany, Arena Trier (appearing with Deep Purple)         
Nov. 21 – Nuremberg, Germany, Arena Nurnberger Versicherung (appearing with Deep Purple) 
Nov. 23 – Hamburg, Germany, O2 World Hamburg (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 24 – Berlin, Germany, Max-Schmeling-Halle (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 26 – Munich, Germany, Olympic Hall (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 27 – Frankfurt, Germany, Festhalle – Messe Frankfurt (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 28 – Stuttgart, Germany, Hanns Martin Schleyer Halle (appearing with Deep Purple)
Nov. 30 – Lyon, France, Convention Centre (appearing with Deep Purple)
Dec. 1 – Strasbourg, France, Zenith (appearing with Deep Purple)
Dec. 3 – London, England, The O2 – London (appearing with Deep Purple)

Visit RivalSons.com for more information.