SoCal rock 'n' roll crew Rival Sons have been kicking out the jams ever since they formed in 2009. So how, after six albums and a decade-plus in existence, did the four-piece find themselves entering 2021 as one of the forerunners of a new, surging musical movement dubbed the “New Wave of Classic Rock”?
“This type of sound is finding popularity as a kind of backlash to what we’ve been fed over the last 10 years,” says Rival Sons guitarist Scott Holiday. “Things move in cycles, and new rock ‘n’ roll – not alternative or metal, like a real rock ‘n’ roll sound – has been very hard to find over the last decade.”
Befitting the NWOCR (New Wave of Classic Rock) moniker, Rival Sons – along with other bands included in this bud-ding genre like Greta Van Fleet, the Struts, Dirty Honey, Dorothy and more – perform music that harkens back to the seminal work of icons like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Cream and others.
Like the masters, this new class of per-formers are creating hard-hitting, swaggering, riff-driven rock ‘n’ roll built around a core vocal-guitar-bass-drum configuration. Unlike these originals, as Holiday points out, the musical and cultural landscape the up-and-comers are entering hasn’t exactly been welcoming.
But the fickle nature of music trends – and rock’s shifting position in pop culture – is nothing new. Since rock ‘n’ roll first reared its dangerous, distorted grooves in the '50s, the genre’s stature has risen and fallen repeatedly. And “Rock Is Dead” has been proclaimed by many critics, many times over the decades.
But, generation after generation, there’s always a fresh class of kids picking up electric guitars and making an exciting racket – and new rock acts continue to fill clubs (in normal times), rise up the ranks and push the form forward.
What makes this current renaissance particularly interesting is that these bands are starting to experience mainstream crossover success and taking over prime cultural real estate that – for the better part of the last decade or two – has been largely occupied by hip-hop and radio pop.
NWOCR bands are inking major-label deals, soundtracking superhero TV shows and Levi’s campaigns, performing at fashion shows and playing Coachella, topping the Billboard charts, receiving Grammy nods, earning millions of digital streams, attracting legions of world-wide fans and galvanizing a strong grass-roots online community (many of whom congregate on the popular New Wave of Classic Rock Facebook group).
The bands that make up the NWOCR scene are also a diverse bunch, both musically and philosophically. They’re exploring a range of styles – from bluesy and rootsy to glam, progressive and straight-up speaker-rattling rock – and tackling distinctly personal lyrical themes unique to their own experiences and world views. But one unify-ing thread unites them: their sound is built on a firm foundation of guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll that’s full of big riffs, intoxicating grooves, spine-tingling vocals and stadium-sized ambitions.
“Much like the '90s when bands were penned ‘grunge,’ you had a group of bands that honestly didn’t sound very similar or maybe didn’t even really share the same ethos, but they all were under that umbrella,” Holiday says. “It was probably frustrating and weird for all of them to be labeled under this one thing together, but they were better off for it in the end. It became a movement.”
“We embrace it,” says the Struts’ guitarist Adam Slack of the New Wave of Classic Rock label. “We do, however, stand by that we want to push the production of our music into the 21st century, not be carbon copies of the past.”
“Honestly, I don’t know where we fit in or don’t fit in!” says Dirty Honey’s John Notto. “But I do hope we’re carrying the torch of the rock ‘n’ roll that was fun, catchy, soulful, but still grimy and uncompromising. We don’t pressure ourselves to sound like any genre; we just want to add something to the conversation that our heroes started.”
In that spirit, we present 15 rising New Wave of Classic Rock acts that aspire to the great guitar heights of their forebears – bands that are offering up fresh takes on tried-and-true formulas, carrying the classic flame and illuminating the path forward for rock ‘n’ roll.
Since emerging out of Long Beach, California, in 2009, Rival Sons have become one of the frontrunners of the classic-rock-revival scene.
Led by guitarist Scott Holiday’s searing riffs and singer/guitarist Jay Buchanan’s bluesy vocals, Rival Sons have cultivated a growing international fanbase and the respect of some top-tier classic acts: Deep Purple, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath have all tapped them as openers.
Their sixth and latest full-length, 2019’s dynamic Feral Roots, was a level-up moment for the crew. The Grammy-nominated album was their first for Atlantic Records imprint Low Country Sound and featured the banging single Do Your Worst — which secured the Number One spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart.
“Plenty of folks the world over… definitely are aching for new rock ‘n’ roll: not active rock, not metal, not alternative rock… rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve been here to give them just that,” Holiday says. “Don’t get me wrong – I love all those offshoots, and at any moment we may give you some of that in this band. But at the heart of Rival Sons is that soul- and blues-based dirty garage-y rock ‘n’ roll. And we’re really good at delivering it.”
This Canadian duo, featuring singer/drummer Cody Bowles and guitarist Kevin Comeau, exude '70s hard-rock energy: from vintage clothes and shaggy hair to speaker-shaking blues riffs, Zep-esque loud/soft dynamics and a healthy dose of psychedelic vibes.
They’ve released just one full-length, 2020’s Crown Lands, but the band has already gained some high-profile fans: Jack White and Primus have enlisted the young musicians as openers. Crown Lands are also using their platform for change. Bowles is half Mi’kmaq, an indigenous tribe from Nova Scotia, and the duo is committed to raising awareness about the marginalization of First Nations peoples, as heard on songs like End of the Road.
“We want to be a bit more fluid with the way we express our music,” Comeau says. “We have dynamics. We have a softer side we’re not afraid to embrace, and we have a weirder side.”
In 2019, Los Angeles four-piece Dirty Honey made history with the release of their self-titled, self-released EP. When its anthemic, riff-filled single When I’m Gone hit Number One on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart, it marked the first time that pinnacle had been reached by an unsigned band.
That achievement was the culmination of a whirlwind few years for the band that also saw Dirty Honey opening for Slash, The Who and Guns N’ Roses. But as far as Les Paul–wielding guitarist John Notto is concerned, the fun is just getting started. The band is readying a new record for 2021 that amplifies the statement they put forth on the debut EP and sees the crew “venturing [into] some new, exciting areas.”
“I think our combination of blues-based riffs, mixed with big choruses, and an overall atmosphere of a party going off the rails gives us a unique sound in today’s music,” Notto says. “There just aren’t many bands out there playing and writing the way we do. A lot of rock now is tight, heavily produced and dark in its mood. We are cavalier, fun, uplifting and unapologetic about it.”
Nashville-based outfit Larkin Poe, founded by multi-instrumentalist sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, have refined their rootsy Southern musical style since first bursting onto the scene with 2014’s Kin.
The pair might be best known in blues circles (2018’s Venom & Faith received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album), but they’ve also got some classic-rock-worthy chops (aptly, CSNY, Queen and the Allman Brothers Band are among their formative influences).
One listen to the huge riffs, burning slide licks and gospel-tinged harmonies of 2020’s hit single She’s a Self Made Man and you’ll get the picture.
“The guitar has been a journey of its own. It’s fascinating as a musician to approach the different ranges of an instrument,” says singer/guitarist Rebecca Lovell. “I find it fascinating to listen to Megan play slide and the way she expresses its vocal qualities. That’s something I’ve been really moved by on the guitar – it has such an extensive range...”
Hailing from Australia, Stonefield is the psychedelic, stoner-rock vehicle for the Findlay sisters: Amy (vocals/drums), Hannah (guitar), Holly (bass) and Sarah (keyboards/vocals). The group’s haunting, heady jams – like Sleep from 2019’s Bent – recall the Sabbath-y, Deep Purple end of the classic-rock spectrum: full of deep fuzz, lush keys and riffs for days.
Stonefield aren’t just conjuring intense musical moments; they’re also confronting some heavy subject matter drawn from the Findlay sisters’ own lives.
“[Bent] is about our own experiences …” Amy says. “Songs about the fear of walking home alone at night, stories of what it’s like being an all-female band and the power of supporting one another. With that being the lyrical subject, the music that came out is definitely our heaviest.”
Nick Perri & the Underground Thieves
Nick Perri is no stranger to the music game. After getting his start in Philadelphia rockers Silvertide, the guitarist moved to Los Angeles, where he became an in-demand support player (for Perry Farrell, Shinedown and many others) and successful composer for commercials, soundtracks and more. (He also launched his own guitar company – Perri Ink Custom Guitars, makers of the Gypsy – along the way).
But the guitarist/singer, who Guitar World last covered in our November 2019 issue, is poised to make his biggest move yet with new band the Underground Thieves, whose 2020 debut, Sun Via, showcased Perri flexing his well-honed skills on everything from funky blues rock (Feeling Good) to emotional, Pink Floyd–esque psychedelia (Fall) and more.
“Most of what you’re hearing me play through these days is a Les Paul, a Marshall JTM45 with Celestion Greenbacks, and a Dunlop Fuzz Face Distortion pedal,” says Perri of his simple, classic setup. “With that combo, I’m more satisfied with my tone than ever before.”
Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown
Texas-born, Nashville-based guitarist Tyler Bryant has been shaking up the guitar world since his teens – when his preternatural blues skills earned him spots opening for icons including Jeff Beck, B.B. King and AC/DC. And Bryant’s hard-charging grooves, big riffs and bigger solos keep getting better with age – as heard on his group’s latest album, 2020’s Pressure.
Fun facts: Bryant’s co-guitarist Graham Whitford is the son of Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford, and Pressure features a guest spot from Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell – who also happens to be Bryant’s wife.
“Real rock ‘n’ roll, and roots music has always been there, but I think we’re moving back toward the mainstream with it,” says Bryant, last covered in the Slipknot-fronted September 2019 Guitar World. “We’re not changing anything we’re doing. We’ve been doing this since we started the band and we’ve been doing it regardless of what anybody tells us to do. The truth is, we just love real rock ‘n’ roll.”
Singed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Dorothy are a Los Angeles rock act built around singer/namesake Dorothy Martin. Dorothy’s 2016 debut ROCKISDEAD most definitely made the case that it wasn’t (see gritty, catchy foot stompers Raise Hell and Wicked Ones) and its follow-up, 2018’s 28 Days in the Valley, showcased the band adding even more classic-rock theatrics to the proceedings.
Martin has collaborated with a number of guitarists over the years (including Nick Perri) and got a songwriting assist on 28 Days from ex–4 Non Blondes singer/hitmaker Linda Perry (Cheap Trick, Dolly Parton). The Martin-Perry pairing resulted in a more diverse sound a la Jefferson Air-plane and the Doors – filled with rich textures, howling guitars and Martin’s undeniable, soaring vocals. Dorothy’s third record, Gifts From the Holy Ghost, is due out later this year.
“We’re not trying to fit into a box,” Martin says. “We’re not trying to write songs we think should be on the radio. We just want to write good music. For me, the challenge is to be as honest as possible.”
Since forming in 2012, England’s the Struts have gained worldwide notoriety from their raucous live shows, hip-shaking grooves, propulsive riffs and catchy-as-hell glam-worthy choruses.
Guitarist Adam Slack comes by the style honestly, as his formative six-string years were spent studying '90s chart-toppers like Green Day and Oasis before getting “hooked” on the '70s sounds of Slade, T. Rex and Mott the Hoople.
The Struts’ stadium-ready songs have already earned them prime spots opening for the Rolling Stones, the Who and Guns N’ Roses. But the crew upped the ante with their third and latest album, 2020’s Strange Days – a bombastic mix of rockers that pays homage to the hard-partying '80s scene of their adopted home of L.A. and features all-star assists from guest guitarists Phil Collen of Def Leppard and Tom Morello.
“I think music is cyclical and I think it’s about time people just went back to basics,” Slack says. “I think music has been pushed to its boundaries of late and sometimes it’s just good to come back to a few guys or gals in a garage turning amps on and making noise.”
Orange County, California's Joyous Wolf have come a long way since 2014, when vocalist Nick Reese first met guitar-ist Blake Allard in the acoustic room at Guitar Center (where they would jam CCR’s Born on the Bayou).
In four short years, the group, rounded out by bassist Greg Braccio and drummer Robert Sodaro, dialed in their high-energy, hard-rocking sound (dig their killer 2018 cover of Mississippi Queen) enough to ink a deal with Roadrun-ner Records.
The Warner Music subsidiary promptly released 2019’s Place in Time – a grunge-infused guitar workout featuring the indisputable jam Mother Rebel – and got them enviable bookings opening for Slash and Deep Purple.
“I’m definitely not reinventing the wheel plugging a Gibson into a Marshall,” Allard says with a laugh. “But I will say the number one thing that I work toward and try to get better at every day is creating music that might give people a different feeling from a rock-influenced band … or at the very least give them a great, fresh listening experience!”
Founded by ex-Deerhunter guitarist Whitney Petty, Thunderpussy are a Seattle-based four-piece – also featuring vocalist Molly Sides, bassist Leah Julius and drummer Ruby Dunphy – with a classic-rock spirit… and an unapologetic wild streak.
Appropriately, their music recalls some OG rabble-rousers, from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin (Never Know and Speed Queen from their 2018 self-titled debut) to Jefferson Airplane (behold their pitch-perfect 2019 cover of Somebody to Love).
Thunderpussy also boast one legit rock legend in their corner: not only did Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready produce and play on debut single, Velvet Noose, he also gave Petty her main axe: a Gibson McCready edition 1959 Les Paul.
“Rock ‘n’ roll is 100 percent in my bloodstream,” Petty says, “and I have loved and digested so much classic rock over the years, there’s just no way that my writing and sound are not influenced by it. I think we have tried to bring back some of that feel and style for sure. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. We are proud to keep the tradition alive.”
Watching Slash's performance in Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction music videos may have first inspired a young Alan Rimmer to take up lead guitar, but it was late, great AC/DC rhythm ace Malcolm Young that led him to choose his current go-to axe: a Gretsch G5230T Electromatic Jet.
Rimmer channels both of his heroes in Revival Black – the raucous English five-piece in which he shares six-string duties with Adam Kerbache. The crew are currently sequestered at Liverpool’s esteemed Motor Museum Studio (Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, the 1975) track-ing the follow-up to their 2019 debut Step in Line, which Rimmer says is shaping up to be a “hard-hitting,” “grown-up” update to their already high-impact sound.
“We are a live band through and through,” Rimmer says, “so playing live is what we do best. We track all our songs live in the studio, which gives them life and the raw energy that we are after and I think that comes across in our studio albums.”
Founded by guitarist Chris Lane and vocalist Patrick Kearney, Station are a New York City outfit that channel the winning formula of melodic riffs, earworm vocal hooks and soaring solos of '80s hitmakers: from Kiss and Van Halen to Whitesnake and Winger.
Fittingly, guitarist Chris Lane’s axe of choice is a Jackson SL1 shred machine, which allows him to “go from driving rock to power ballad pretty quick”. Since forming in 2011, Station have released two full-lengths – 2018’s More Than the Moon and 2019’s Stained Glass – and landed spots at big-draw events like Rocklahoma and warming up crowds for Y&T, Pat Benatar, Lynch Mob and more. The band is on track to release their third “spectrum-expanding” record this summer.
“We are very influenced by a lot of bands from the '60s, '70s and '80s, and I think that comes out in our taste in both production and songwriting,” Lane says. “We are always looking to try something new and expand upon the ‘classic sounds,’ but our roots come from a big power chord and a stack of amplifiers behind us.”
Guitarist Jonny Fox caught the classic-rock bug early when he discovered his brother’s Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin collections. The “power and groove” of those bands sent him down a musical path that he still explores to this day with drummer/singer Renee Couture in the Standstills.
The Canadian duo’s fiery riffs and thundering drums may also evoke modern-day heavies like the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, but Fox isn’t shy about the Standstills’ deep desire to pay tribute to the “really fucking good and timeless” classics of his youth – which is apparent in the “guitar driven, outlaw rock ‘n’ roll” of their latest effort, 2019’s Badlands.
The Standstills are currently recording their fourth album, which Fox describes as “next level on all fronts.”
“We spend a lot of time jamming on grooves with explosive hooks,” Fox says. “That is most of the foundation in which we built our sound off. What also sets us apart from the pack is that Renee and I are a duo – our creative energy is uniquely shared, and we feel that tells a different story onstage and in the studio.”
Black Pistol Fire
Guitarist/vocalist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen seem to have a preternatural musical connection – which makes sense when you learn the two have been friends since kindergarten.
Since forming Black Pistol Fire in 2011, the Austin-via-Toronto duo has refined its sound through rigorous touring and multiple full-lengths – resulting in a particularly fervent blend of dynamic rock ‘n’ roll, epitomized on infectious cuts like the Black Sabbath-meets-White Stripes burner Suffocation Blues and the garage-y surf guitar of Queens of the Stone Age–esque Lost Cause.
In January, Black Pistol Fire dropped their new and sixth record, Look Alive, the debut single for which, Hope in Hell, has already surpassed a million streams on Spotify.
“Every time we hit the stage to play, no matter if it’s a sold-out show or not, we remember why we started doing this,” McKeown says. “And our live show is where we cut our teeth and where we honed our craft. It’s a rollercoaster ride, and the stage is where we come alive.”