Jay Buchanan (Rival Sons)

Rival Sons

My introduction to Rival Sons came via Classic Rock’s 2011 ‘Ones to Watch’ covermount CD and magazine feature, and the subsequent six track Rival Sons ‘Prime Cuts’ release. Initially, I was intrigued as much by the references to vegetarianism, Buddhism and meditation as I was by the music – these are not things that usually come up when people talk about LA rock bands! I picked up the Pressure and Time album in the week of its release (in June 2011), and caught them live at the High Voltage Festival, where, in addition to playing their advertised slot, they headlined the Metal Hammer stage at short notice when flight problems prevented Electric Wizard from turning up.

Rival Sons - Head Down coverIt was clear that Rival Sons had something special, and the release of the Head Down album in 2012 fulfilled all the early potential and more. Put simply it was my favourite release of the year, in a year that delivered some corkers. If you’re not dancing around your bedroom naked after three tracks I’ll eat my proverbial hat (you can leave yours on).

It is true that their music draws respectfully on the past, referencing the great rock bands of the 70s and incorporating eastern, folky, psychedelic and even Motown influences. But it also strides confidently and purposefully into the future. Rival Sons play fresh, exciting, meaningful rock ‘n’ roll – just as God, or maybe the Buddha, intended.

Live, as on record, Rival Sons display a kind of timeless rock ‘n’ roll charm. It’s as easy to imagine them playing huge festivals in the late 1960s as it is to think that they might be headlining huge festivals in the 2020s!  Singer Jay Buchanan has all the swagger and charisma you need in a front man and has the rock god look and moves off pat. Yet as he told journalist Grant Moon recently (Classic Rock, Issue 179) “I didn’t get into this for blowjobs”.

Rival Sons line-up

Rival Sons L-R: Michael Miley, Jay Buchanan, Scott Holiday and Robin Everhart

Fascinating chap, Jay Buchanan! We were delighted, therefore, when he agreed to take the Words and Music Q&A.

Hello Jay, can you tell us what rock music means to you, and what you want from it?
I’m not sure I know how to answer that one. What does it mean to me? I don’t know that it means anything to me at all. It’s there just like any other tangible thing. The term ‘rock music’ is so broad in scope that it covers both shit noise and heartbreaking honesty, but usually the former. What do I want from Rock music? I want it to clean up its act and give Roll a call.

How is your music most often labelled? And do you think labels are helpful or limiting?
I think most often our music is labelled as ‘blues rock’ which seems strange; just call it rock’n’roll. Labels are a fact of life, they’re helpful at the grocery but if you’re the item being sold it can be restrictive. If you don’t like the label you’re given then you’ve got to work hard enough to prove another label is more fitting.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
I try not to view it, really. It seems like you always feel better until you walk past a mirror and become self aware. I’m just thankful to have a life that is and will always be tethered to music.

Is there a particular song, lyric or performance of which you’re particularly proud?
Nothing comes to mind right now. When I’m old and grey I’ll probably look back and have a more romantic perspective.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
As a kid, there was always so much music going on in our house that it becomes hard to pinpoint. My mother and grandmothers singing to me, gospel music in church. There was a Levi’s commercial on the television when I was super young that had Bo Diddley doing ‘Who do you Love?’ while a bunch of perfect looking white kids in white shirts and 501s stood around trying to look cool but I never forgot the way that song made me feel. Bob Dylan hooked me pretty damn early too.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
L. Shankar recorded a version of the Carnatic Raga Aberi with Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram and it levels me every time. Because of this special 10 string double violin Shankar had designed, he was allowed the voice of double bass, cello, viola and violin and it absolutely knocks me out with how vocal and emotive his fingers are. Sitting and listening to this piece feels like reading a book Alex Grey would have painted. It’s all growth, experience and decay. I met Shankar once when I was a kid and he was the picture of kindness. I later discovered that he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and a Doctorate in Ethnomusicology. This is easily in my top three records.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Hermann Hesse, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Charles Bukowski and on and on…

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I had a fake ID as a teenager and I got into a Morphine show in San Diego. They were and are one of my favourite bands of all time and I had a very illegal beer with Mark Sandman. We talked about all kinds of things but that is one of the only people I’ve ever felt starstruck around. A man with his own unique sound and way of writing, I was enamoured. He was very cool. He died of a heart attack on stage in Rome a year later. A number of years later I had the opportunity to tour with Dana Colley and Billy Conway who played sax and drums in the band and I felt the same way meeting and playing with them.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
One time a woman brought me a voodoo doll of her ex because she said she was ready to let it go and that I was the one to release her. I wouldn’t even touch it. Dark stuff, no thanks.

What makes a rock gig special?
What makes a gig special? It starts with how keyed in we (the band) are to each other. If we have a clear line of telepathy then everything is going to lift. After that, it’s about the energy coming from the mass of people in front of us and how we can use it to together transcend the normal.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
I would probably pick Traverse City Opera House in Michigan. Solo acoustic, February 13, 2010.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
I saw Andrew Bird a few years back at Cafe Largo in Los Angeles. He’s a singer/songwriter/violinist and he is out of control. Just a man with a violin, his voice, and what I’d guess is a Roland RC-20 phrase sampler pedal. Andrew is so emotive and such a great lyricist, it was terrifying.

I like something you said in Classic Rock magazine recently: “Hero worship and accolades are dangerous for the psyche.” That very much chimes with one of the themes of Words and Music. How do you deal with those dangers?
Don’t take yourself very seriously and do your best to treat everyone with kindness even when you don’t think they deserve it. That’s it.

So, what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I don’t believe in rock stars.

Dylan or Morrison?
Dylan by a landslide. Even though he was very unique, I can’t see Morrison’s ability past the Doors. They did both put out really bad poetry books even though they were great songwriters. Funny how great talents don’t always translate through different mediums but you’ve got to respect the ambition.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Neither. I see people out on the road trying to live up to the washed-out hedonistic rocker image and it saddens me. Damaged bodies, family wreckage and death of spirit line the roadside out here and it’s a drag to see. Personally, I have no interest in living out someone’s unrequited fantasies. You want to get high? No problem, just never let your heart take second place to your vices. I’m here to make music, that’s it.

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
I don’t believe in the devil.

Rock music – music for all or a tribal affair?
What? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Everything is for everyone, it all depends on appetite and availability.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Rock’n’roll is far from dead. The old era of rock’n’roll has definitely passed but the genre endures as I think it always will.

And finally, what are you up to at the moment?
At the moment we’re touring through Canada and fortunately the dates are selling out but damn it is COLD. With the recent release of Head Down, we’ll be touring through the end of the year with maybe a short break in there to make the next record. We have a European tour that starts in late March and brings us through the UK in the middle of April. I look forward to watching the band grow into itself more and more each time we hit the road.


Catch Rival Sons on their UK tour this April

Rival Sons - UK tour dates Spring 2013

Rival Sons official site

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