Head Down: Rival Sons Guitarist Scott Holiday Talks New Album and His Encounter with Jimmy Page
In an age when most new albums begin with the tracking of instruments in home studios and emailing files back and forth cross-country, it’s refreshing when a band comes along that likes to do things the old-fashioned way.
It's a method similar to what early '70s blues/rock pioneers did when recording: They get in a studio and let the creative process take control.
Formed in 2008, Rival Sons consists of Scott Holiday (guitar), Jay Buchanan (vocals), Robin Everhart (bass) and Michael Miley (drums). The band’s new album, Head Down, evokes the same kind of emotion heard in early Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith releases.
Written and recorded over a span of 20 days, the band’s creative, riff-oriented approach is real and raw. The result is an album that’s not only bluesy and instinctive, but also insanely good.
I recently spoke with Holiday about the album, his live setup as well as his recent encounter with Jimmy Page.
GUITAR WORLD: How did the band approach songwriting for Head Down?
The thing that’s most surprising to everyone is that we don’t write anything until we’re actually in the studio. Everyone in this group is such a great contributor that there’s no need to premeditate. Sometimes, I’ll come in with a few ideas and then we’ll all talk and write-through an arrangement. We’re actually writing while we record.
Is there a reason you prefer to do it this way?
So much rock and roll these days seems like it’s been so overworked. You listen and you can actually hear the labor that’s gone into making it. You’ve got to go back to the early sessions of Elvis, the Beatles and the Stones to find music that wasn’t as laborious. When you listen to those records, you know they didn’t labor over it. They just whipped it and cracked it out. We have the right people and confidence in each other to work off of that we’re able to go in and do that same thing.
For example, the song “Manifest Destiny, PT 1″ was a first take. It was the first time we had all ever played that song together. Then there’s the last song on the record, “True." Jay [Buchanan] and I literally had just talked about the song right before we recorded it.
Tell me a little about the song “Keep on Swinging”
That started out as an idea I had for the main riff. I played it for Jay, who thought it was terrific. He then sat down, picked up the bass and came up with an idea for the verse. From there, we connected the dots and in about 15 minutes called the guys in and said, “Here we go!”
What did you use to get the tone for "Until The Sun Comes”?
We had just gotten an old 1960s Vox Berkley in the studio. It’s a solid-state amp just like one the Beatles would’ve used, and it had this weird reverb effect. We plugged it in and the riff just sounded so cool that we decided to keep it.
What’s your live setup like?
I have a ’99 Gibson Custom Firebird VII and ’65 Gibson Non-reverse Firebird I, both rewired with Tom Short pickups. I also have a ’62 Fender Jazzmaster that’s been rewired with Lollar P90s. For amps, I use two Orange OR50's with Orange 4X12 and 2X12 cabs. My effects include a Basic Audio GnarlyFuzz, a WayHuge AquaPuss and Line 6 DL 4.
Tell me about your encounter with Jimmy Page.
The show he came out to was a sold-out one in Camden at the Electric Ballroom. For us, it was already monumental because we had sold out this legendary theater. Then someone told me shortly after sound check that Jimmy was coming to the show and wanted to meet me and hang out. He’s such a hero of mine. We had a very casual conversation. It was surreal. I knew he collected vinyl and since all of our stuff’s on vinyl, I gave him a package with all of our music. Sometimes all the hard work pays off and you get to have this really amazing moment. That was one of them.
Who were some of your influences growing up?
I was around 12 when I really started getting serious about playing, and it was the music that was presented directly in front of me that I gravitated toward: Led Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, early ZZ Top and Johnny Winter. Then, as many people do, I started picking apart the lineage. I traced them back and started getting into artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Earl Hooker.
Now that you’ve touched the hand of the great Jimmy Page, do you have advice to share with aspiring players?
"Keep it fun" is the biggest piece of advice. People tend to get caught up in chasing things around and eventually lose their fire. There’s so much great music out there. If you can keep it interesting and fun, you’ll never hit the bottom of the hole.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.