I first met Scott Holiday, guitarist for next-big-thing blues-rock group Rival Sons at the bar at Magazzini Generali in Milan. He was exactly as you’d expect, laid back, effortlessly cool and dressed with the swagger that very few people have been able to pull off since the seventies. Although he had to leave to phone his wife (“or she’s gonna kill me”) and eat some pizza, a little later we wandered into a nearby car park to get some peace and quiet and have a chat.
GiantMan: So how did you guys get together?
Scott: I was working with another singer, and our mutual musician friend on Long Beach introduced me to Miley [Mike Miley, drums], and Miley found Robin [Everhart, bass] at a jazz gig, so he brought Robin in. We went on with the other singer, signed a deal to EMI, but that record ended up being held up, at which time, I was like, ‘we need a new singer, I think’, at which time I came across Jay [Buchanan, vocals] on Myspace, believe it or not. Someone directed me to his Myspace website, and it ended being that Miley ended up knowing Jay already. I told the guys, ‘Hey, I found this guy – he’s the guy who’s gonna sing in our band’, and Miley laughed and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s one of my best old mates’. So he put us in touch, and we talked about the blues, and what we thought was really great about rock’n’roll, through all the different eras, and what exactly wasn’t so great about it right now, and what we would like to contribute.
GM: So have you always wanted to play this kind of music?
Scott: No, I play different types of music – this would be what I call my bread and butter, definitely. I mean, I started out playing blues, rock’n’roll, then went on into a more atmospheric kind of rock, then I got onto doing like… space rock. Very, ambient, with electronics and stuff like that, even doing some more rhythm and blues type stuff before returning to what’s really in my heart: dirty, fuzzy rock.
GM: So if there was one musician, past or present, who you could jam with, who would it be?
Scott: You know, we get asked this a lot. I don’t know, if it was just me and him, I quite like to play with jeff Beck, because I could probably, y’know, steal a bunch of ideas from him. I’m quite fond of Billy Gibbons… On a more esoteric level, probably someone like Django Reinhart, someone like that.
GM: So blues-rock is your bread and butter. Do you think it’s ever going to come back into the mainstream, become ‘Pop’ again, like it was in the ‘70s? [This Question is actually from my friend, Kevin of 3ChordDorks.]
Scott: I think it has its place in pop right now, with so many bands like… The Black Keys and Jack White are bringing guitar-based, blues-based rock to the forefront. I think we’re just living in a time where there’s so much music that nothing is ever as it once was. It’s all evolving and changing, so I think it’s making its way back to the front, but the business has changed more than anything, and that’s never going to go back to any old-school way. But it’s good when rock’n’roll is at the front, yeah, people have fun. It enlivens people; there’s a good spirit in it.
GM: So what’s changed about the industry, is it better or worse in your opinion?
Scott: It… depends which angle you look from. Financially, for a musician, it’s much worse. Because people are buying, like, a quarter of the records, because they’re taking them off the ‘net, they’re burning and trading, y’know. On another level, the internet creates such visibility for people who never have had any visibility, great, great musicians, and you can access music immediately. Tons of music. So I’m kind of on both sides of that. I wish it was the old-school way, because I’d probably be wealthy right now, but I embrace the technology too. I mean, we all take iPods and stuff on the road.
GM: Well, I guess you’re a crossroads. The way music is distributed on the internet is actually quite good for small bands, because it gives them more airtime, but you’re at the point where you’re getting into the big game now, so it matters more.
Scott: Sure.We’re at the stage now where we have the opportunity to sell a lot more records, but it’s what it is, y’know. Luckily, we’re a touring band, we’re a rock’n’roll band that’s gonna make our money on the road, and I think it’s been like that for a lot of bands for a long time now. It kinda suits us.
GM: So, new record, Head Down. It took, what, 22 days to record?
Scott: That’s it, yeah. The way we do it, is we come off the road, and we just go right into the studio, without any material written, and just started throwing things out into the room. So when we get a good thing, we just move with it very quickly, and we usually finish a song in a day.
GM: So do you usually end up with a lot more material than you put on the album?
Scott: No, we finish a song a day, but then Jay has to come back through and do some singing, then we mix and master and there are other things involved. For the last couple of records, we have used just about everything we record. Since we’re giving ourselves such a confined space, we have to get rid of stuff that we don’t think is going to be worthy.
GM: So this album has quite a different sound to some of your previous work, was that a conscious decision?
Scott: For us, it’s always a conscious decision to spread out and try new things. If you listen to ‘Before the Fire’, there’s some stuff there that we’ve never even come back to. We have a decent musical vocabulary, everybody’s really into lots of different music. This is actually quite confining, just doing a rock’n’roll band – sometimes you want to go so far outside, and on this record we wanted to spread out a little more, do what we were doing live a little more, and open up some of the arrangements, write longer songs. The songs were… poppier on ‘Pressure and Time’, and we wanted to make even more sugary songs.
GM: What’s it been like working with the same producer, Dave Cobb, for the band’s whole career?
Scott: It’s great. I work with lots of producers, it’s hard to find guys these days who wanna make a record like this. And then even if they wanted to, if they could do it the right way. With Dave, we have someone who’s very much… a soundsmith. A great engineer, great writer and a great everything. He understands how to get the sounds we want, he understands how to move quickly. And not only settle, but find the jams in a moment – to hear three takes, then go ‘nope, that last take was the one. You guys nailed it. We’re done.’ He becomes something like a fifth band member.
GM: So you guys are getting quite big now, working towards that title of ‘Rock Stars’ – do you ever hear yourselves on the radio, or take a moment when you’re playing a big gig and think, ‘holy shit, this is us!’?
Scott: Yeah, sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t, because it’s day in and day out, and we’re working very hard. It’s like building a home, you know what I mean. Sometimes you work really hard and you step away and go, ‘yep, I built that. That’s my house.’ Other times you step away and you go, ‘Man, that is so cool. What a nice house.’ This tour has done a lot for us, and this record has really started to put the traction on the band. The things people say – I haven’t really gotten used to it – people telling me it was the show of their life, that it was the best show they’d ever seen, or that we’re better than their heroes, the people they used to love. When they say this, you just kinda feel like, ‘Do they really think that? What a cool thing…’ Sometime I just have to … to keep myself real. But other times, I put myself back in my kid shoes – remember being really young, and seeing these new artists and remembered how excited I was to watch them. Then I think, ‘Gosh, maybe we’re starting to become that for people,’ and that’s really nice.
GM: So what’s next after the tour – back to the studio?
Scott: No, no. this record has just come out. It comes out in January in the States, actually, so it’s brand new. We’re gonna put out the second single, we’re shooting another video, we’ll be back in London mid-November for a couple different press things, a couple of things I don’t even know if I’m allowed to mention – Some really big, cool things, some television, award shows and stuff like that. Then, gosh, I think we’re gonna start focusing on North America, do a US and Canadian tour. Then we’ll be back in the springtime to play in the UK and Europe.
GM: OK, one last question. You guys all have pretty impressive facial hair, is that the source of all your power?
Scott: Haha, well, I definitely get slagged for my facial hair – I just started to grow the moustache back in again. Just barely, I haven’t worn it for a while – I’ve caught so much flak for it, I had this Dalì-esque… Dartagnan-like thing. We might be like Sampson, I don’t know. I shaved, and it went fine though, so I’m gonna go with no.
GM: Well, thanks for hanging out, it’s been great talking to you. Have a great gig!
Scott: No problem, man, hope you enjoy the show.
For the record, I did. The gig was outstanding. Rival Sons kicked serious ass. If you get the opportunity to see them play a show, take it without a second’s hesitation.