By Derek Obregon
Remember the name Rival Sons because this is one of the hottest bands out there right now. At least according to iconic Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who recently gave the upstart blues-rock band a nod in a recent NME cover story Even with growing fame and success, Rival Sons frontman Jay Buchanan remains humble and focused. The singer never dreamed of being in a rock ’n‘ roll band—but now he’s playing sold-out shows around the world and the band’s latest album, Head Down, hit the No. 1 mark on the UK rock charts. I guess Jimmy was right.
In your own words, can you describe the band’s sound?
It’s kind of a tough one. I would say we’re a modern take on rock ’n‘ roll. We call this a rock ’n‘ roll band more than anything. We’ve got bass, drums, lots of guitar solos and bluesy, soulful vocals. That just makes rock ’n‘ roll to me.
Were there any local spots in the IE that you liked to hang out at or play a show at?
The IE is really hard up for good music venues. Now I say that as a blanket statement. I’m not saying the venues that are out there are shit. I’m saying that the variety isn’t really there. Even for us, we have a great fan base and they ask why don’t you play in the Inland Empire? Everybody treats the IE like its untouchable. That’s always bothered me because all of the up-and-coming bands try and get out of the IE and go and play in LA. San Bernardino County is the largest county in the U.S. and there’s like, a couple of clubs? C’mon. Maybe we could go and play at The Barn . . . The last gig I played there was Sacred Grounds in Riverside. It was a big coffee shop . . . Over in Redlands I played Whiskey Creek—even going and playing Mentone Beach Yacht Club.
I hear you’re from San Bernardino, what part?
Well I was born in San Bernardino in a community hospital there. Then I lived in Fontana from the time I was born until the time I was 11 or 12. Then I grew up in Wrightwood. That’s what I really consider my hometown, where I grew into my own. Other than that I spent my days as a weird little kid riding my bike all over Fontana.
Is blues where you got your start? Is that where your vocals come from?
Yeah, blues and singer-songwriter acoustic music have always been my main staples. I grew up playing it in coffee shops and stuff through high school and that was my jam. But I also played with blues bands because I loved soul music.
Have you always wanted to be a singer/songwriter?
Always, always. I’ve always wanted to be a vocalist.
Who influences you as a vocalist?
As a vocalist, the list is way too long. All the guys from Otis Redding to Blind Louie Johnson and all of the blues cats, and all of the women like Aretha Franklin . . . It’s not like there’s never ever been someone I’m trying to emulate. It’s kind of like you end up making this big pot of stew from everything that’s good in your life.
Did you ever have any lessons?
No. I never took any lessons, I just started writing and playing by the time I was 9 or 10, messing around with it because I knew that that was what I wanted to do. By 10 or 11, I tried to get a little bit more serious about it. At 11 or 12, I remember sitting and jamming with [Blink-182 drummer] Travis Barker—because he’s from Fontana, too—and he and I would pal around. Even when he was a little kid, he had a big cage-of-a-mountain, 12-piece drum kit in his room. He’d have to practice every day for two hours and we’d try and jam, but he was not interested in slide guitar.
I’d be like, “Yeah, man, here’s what I’m working on, and he’d say, “I thought you said you played real guitar, that’s not real guitar.”
I said, “Totally, man. It’s blues!” He said, “You can’t even plug that thing in, Jay. Whatever, this sucks.”
Does rock and blues go hand in hand?
Yeah, of course, but see rock ‘n’ roll has been missing. [There are] a lot of these bands that are playing rock. They took out the roll because the roll is the honesty part, the truth part. And they didn’t want to be burdened. They didn’t want to have to deal with the sincerity. They wanted to be “rock stars” so they call it post-grunge and everything else.
Anyways, I had never wanted to be part of the problem. But Miley hit me up and said look man, the guys want you there. I talked to Scott [Holiday, the guitarist] on the phone and we totally hit it off. We qualified each other on old blues. We got together and as much as I’d wanted it to not work out, the energy was so good as soon as we started playing together that I immediately got out of doing my own project. I had a lot of pots on the stove and I just thought I have to make room for this. It didn’t take long before it was Rival Sons 24/7.
What was it like to have your music be No. 1 on the UK rock charts?
It’s weird, definitely, but the feeling is really, like, holy shit, awesome . . . but it doesn’t really relate. It doesn’t sink in and it’s not something you think about. Like, I’m home right now. I picked up dog shit today, you know, whatever. I went to Costco. I’m just doing regular old stuff. I did my songwriting in the morning; I’ll be doing some songwriting tonight and [I] was in the studio all day yesterday. You’re home and you’re just busy being yourself and you hear about these achievements and awards and it’s one of those constant mind blowers. To sum it all up it feels really f*@kin‘ good!
Speaking of the new album, how is it possible to write, record and mix an entire album in 20 days?
We’re musicians. It’s really stressful and everything, for sure—especially my job—but it’s doable because our entire lives are based around music. So all we do is we get into the studio and we work 24/7 for three weeks. I think most bands that are very serious about what they do could definitely do what we do. They could definitely make records with that approach and make good records. They would probably make better records. If you treat it like your life and your career depends on it—which it absolutely does—you find a f*@kin‘ way to get those songs written.
Who influences you as a performer?
As a performer I don’t know who would inform what I’m doing because I’m not a natural exhibitionist or frontman. I’m a horrible dancer, but I cut a rug a little bit and when I have the microphone I basically ignore everybody. I’m not one of those guys that points and makes eyes at the girls in the front row, 90 percent of the time I have my eyes closed. I’m just concentrating on singing because there’s a lot of shit to remember. It becomes really emotional and spiritual. You start paying attention to the crowd and it’s really easy to feel like a dance-monkey-dance.
I don’t really say much on the microphone unless I’m singing because I didn’t come here to talk to everybody and give everybody a sermon; I came to sing for you.
How was it to hear that Rival Sons is one of the bands that Jimmy Page is listening to?
Again, man, a good feeling. He came backstage to one of our shows and he wanted to meet us, and he stayed for the whole show.
Where was this show at?
It was in the Electric Ballroom in Camden, the district of London. We have celebrities and everything hanging out backstage, but then all of a sudden you look over and [struggling to speak], “Oh, what—look who’s over there! That’s Jimmy Page! What the hell is going on here!?! What is this?” But he was just a really cool guy. When you get the validation of him wanting to meet you in your dressing room, it’s, like, “Oh wow.” If you like rock ’n‘ roll, you love Led Zeppelin. There [are] a lot of rock ’n‘ roll bands that are part of the fabric of rock ’n‘ roll, and a great majority of those bands are fantastic but there [are] those that you really couldn’t give a shit about, but I think everybody that is into rock ’n‘ roll likes Led Zeppelin. To get validated by Jimmy Page . . . it’s great.
Could there be some future collabos in the works to bridge the legend with the up-and-comers?
Umm, yeah, I guess so, but I’m sure we’ll bump into him again ’cause he’s really busy right now. But there was talk of a thing, but it’s not gonna work out because of a scheduling thing. If something like that were to ever happen, it would really have to be very very organic. We don’t have any interest in trying to resurrect the dead. He’s basically just royalty, and we wouldn’t want to come off as cheeky, attaching ourselves to royalty, like, “Oh, look who we’re rubbing shoulders with and hanging out with.” You don’t want to be seen as anyone’s lapdog. But when it comes to anyone like Jimmy Page, RESPECT MUST F*@KIN‘ BE GIVEN! It’s a good idea and if it makes sense and if it isn’t going to be cheap, of course!
Is there anything else you wanted to say about the IE?
There was a teacher that really, really inspired me when I was a kid in the seventh grade; one of those guys that was a Dead Poets Society teacher relationship. This guy was invested and he was really, really inspiring. He was too far ahead of the school. It was his first year, fresh out of college, real excited, like, “I’m gonna fill people’s heads with your dreams,” you know, and “I’m just gonna teach you to love literature.” Well that guy—he might be one of the principals at Moreno Valley High—his name is Jeff Peyton, and I owe that man. I thank him on every solo record because he was one of those people that made the difference for me.
We would talk about music, and I think it kind of surprised him. I was getting a lot of encouragement from home, but it was really cool to get some encouragement from someone other than my mother and father. He was, like, “Jay, you go out and you live your dreams, man. Go rule the f*@kin‘ world. And I was, like, “Thanks, Mr. Peyton.”