To say the past decade has been a wild ride for Californian rockers Rival Sons would be an understatement. In between extensive touring supporting the likes of Black Sabbath, KISS, Aerosmith and Deep Purple, the prolific group have simultaneously cemented their reputation as a juggernaut in the studio, with last year seeing the release of their anticipated sixth album, Feral Roots. The LP marks the band’s debut on the Low Country Sound/Atlantic Records label, and was recorded alongside long-time collaborator and producer Dave Cobb in the famed RCA Studio A and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
Known for their gritty, blues-infused flavour of rock and roll, the latest addition to the band’s discography sees them putting forth a refined, mature version of the sound we’ve come to know over the last ten years. Bringing together elements of psych-folk, gospel, blues and classic rock and roll, Feral Roots is a nuanced record that offers something different in every track while staying true to its overarching theme — in the words of vocalist Jay Buchanan, a “return to form” and an embracing of one’s history and heritage. We chatted to the musician in a rare moment of downtime about the process behind writing and recording the album, and how getting back to his own roots brought about the creation of the latest work.
Music Feeds: First of all, congratulations on the new album. I had a listen and really loved what I heard. From what I understand, the creative process for your previous albums has been to get in the studio and take more of a live approach to recording, rather than spending weeks making an overly polished product. Was the process for Feral Roots similar?
Jay Buchanan: Feral Roots was very much the same. On previous records [we’d] get in there and writ[e] on the spot and then record [a song] as soon as it’s written, which becomes a shared experience for our audience because when they’re hearing it for the first time, they’re hearing us play it for the first or second time.
The only thing that was different about Feral Roots was we went into the studio for three segments. Each one of those segments was about five days long and we spent a couple of months in between each of those sessions. So that gave us the time to write the songs. And because we were afforded that time, Scott [Holiday, guitarist] and I were a lot more scrutinising when it came to the types of songs that were going to survive on this record. A lot of songs were written, but if a song wasn’t really coming together and we were working on it for a while, we would just trash it.
But the actual recording of it went very much the same — we’d just get in there, record it quickly and get onto the next song. Not that there’s anything wrong with bands that make concept records where they want everything to be perfect. I think there’s a time and a place for all of those things. Rival Sons is not that type of band. Not right now, at least. In the future if we want to get very intricate with things, then we will. But it just doesn’t suit us for now.
MF: So you mentioned you and Scott do most of the writing?
JB: Scott’s out in Huntington Beach, Surf City USA. And I’m in the south in Tennessee, in Nashville. So we would collaborate [online] — he would take what I was doing and throw some riffs in there. And vice versa. He would send me what he was working on, and I would turn them into songs, lyrics and melodies and write parts. We were able to do that remotely fairly quickly, and I can’t really say there was a lot of technology involved. I would use Pro Tools on my computer but that’s just stereo tracks and [it was] very crude… For the most part I was just recording on my phone. I’d take a video and send him what I was working on and we would parlay things back and forth that way.
MF: It’s pretty amazing what you can do with the power of the internet, hey?
JB: Yeah, I mean, if you’re driven, on a mission and tenacious enough, all of the tools to make just about anything you want are all there. We live in a very great time.
MF: So this album sees you exploring a more folksier type of rock and roll that reminded me of Zeppelin at times, particularly in the title track. What inspired you to explore this sound?
JB: The sounds come in tandem with the arcing thesis of the record. I grew up in the mountains in Southern California. I lived two miles back on a dirt road, so a lot of isolation. But of course, getting out of high school, I had to leave my hometown because you’ll never make a career in music in a sleepy little mountain town. Having grown up that way, it stayed with me and for my entire adult life I’ve longed to return to the roots, to nature, to where I grew up.
So finally, [in] this last year I was able to move my family to Tennessee out into the woods and so I’m back in nature, surrounded by trees and wild animals. It’s much quieter and I think that return to form was prevalent on the record as well: refining through simplification and reduction, and naturally going back to a little bit more of the acoustic roots.
MF: The last track, ‘Shooting Stars’, is an incredibly powerful closer to the record. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind this song?
JB: That song is a very special song. It isn’t in vogue for rock and roll bands to make those type of songs right now, and you know how I was telling you that we live in a very special time? This is a great time to be alive for the creative minds, it’s a boundless buffet of get[ting] anything done and collaborat[ing] with anyone anywhere. It’s such a special set of circumstances creatively and otherwise, on a humanitarian level. The information age is catapulting the global culture forward, so even [though] you might have nationalists or people that want things to stay the same, well, we’re a global culture now and it’s only going to become more and more diluted. That’s just the way it’s gonna go.
But with that, there’s a lot of fear and friction. And look at all the fear-mongering — especially here in the United States. Things are very polarising right now. [I wanted] to write and record a song that makes you feel good when you hear it, and makes me feel good when I sing it.
I’ve learned after all of these years with Rival Sons, if you write a song that is depicting something negative [or] something you don’t completely identify with, you have to be careful because you have to sing that song every night if it’s a hit. And if you have to sing it every night, it doesn’t matter what’s in your mind or how you really feel: you’re literally repeating this negative message. It becomes a mantra in people’s ears. And what are you really doing about that? I [wanted] to make something that was going to make people feel a little bit better hopefully, and for me, I get to say something I believe in with every cell of my body.
There are other songs on the record, like ‘End of Forever’, that comes just before ‘Shooting Stars’. That song is specifically about the fracture of a relationship, about one thing being split in two. Two guys in our band went through divorces over these last two years. And you know, those families are my families as well, so when you have that happening in your extended family, you feel it too. Wanting to write about that was important to me. But even though it seems negative, it’s one of those things that just happens. Balancing things out, I think Feral Roots goes through a large palate of emotions.
MF: What’s coming up for Rival Sons in the future?
JB: I’m home right now. I’m running errands, I’m driving around. Got my family in the car. Tomorrow I’m flying out to the UK and we start a long tour through the UK and Europe. We don’t have any Australian plans as of now, and I would love for that to be rectified because I love Australia. I just brought my family down there back in November, we stayed for a little bit. It was fantastic.
‘Feral Roots’ is out now. You can listen to it here.