Interview by Victoria Llewelyn
SCOTT HOLIDAY OF RIVAL SONS TALKS ABOUT THEIR NEW ALBUMS, THE UK TOUR AND HIS GUITAR PASSIONS
‘We really want our fans to come with us on this ride and invest in something new’.
Rival Sons come back to the UK this October to tour their new releases – two albums from the same concept that take the band in yet another different direction musically. Known for their diversity in musical styles and interest in bringing something new to the table every time, Rival Sons are keen to share their latest work with the UK fans. Guitarist Scott Holiday discusses the band up to this point, the new music and his love of his craft.
MGM: Rival Sons have been going strong since 2006 and in all those years you’ve progressed without changing the line up apart from the bass player. Born out of a previous band and now six albums and one EP in, what’s your secret to success?
SH: I was doing this on-stage interview with Jay, locally, and he reminded me of the first tour we did in the UK opening for Judas Priest. First ever tour in the UK and a weird combo – Priest are really heavy and we’re there just playing our thing! Rob Halford was really kind to us, he knew we were doing something completely different from what they were, and he had come backstage this one time to talk with us. He gave us this piece of advice which was ‘just stay together. The band sounds great, and if you can stay together, you’ll be successful’.
It’s great advice, and I guess there’s no magic recipe, but it’s a relationship, like a marriage. We share space on tour buses, we share stage time every night, just like any personal or close relationship.
You have to keep your ego in check. You have to contribute something. You have to continually remind yourself to show respect, be a regular guy, treat people the way you like to be treated – all those things we learn in grade school that we forget when we become adults sometimes. It can be hard sometimes as in this business you can’t be ego-less, because part of what we love about great musicians is the bravado. If there’s no bravado it can seem a little flaccid, you won’t have the power you want. Look at Elvis, the very human persona of bravado! It’s fun, and you swing the big hammer around, but it can get in the way. It’s one thing to have it on stage and use it as a tool that way but to let it ooze into your persona is a mistake.
We’ve been able, for the most part, to avoid these pitfalls because they’re obvious – this isn’t the first time for rock n roll going round the universe! We’ve seen how things go wrong and we pre-empt them.
MGM: How do you find putting on and taking off this rock persona you describe, and does this go for the rest of the band too? How do you make it work onstage without the dreaded ego-clash that you refer to?
SH: I don’t think it’s that difficult. It’s a job, when you’re doing it, you present a certain persona, you’re not being fake, it’s just showing a different part of your personality. We all have different personas that we can lead with at any given time. Mine has even been given a name, it’s so ridiculous, the fans called my character Fuzz Lord!
For such a silly nickname I do in fact take what I do very seriously, the name is just for fun. I can turn this personality on and off, and on stage, this bravado doesn’t step on the other guys – part of it is accepting that we’re one giant machine and we want to operate as a superpower, one arm doesn’t want to cut another arm off so we’re all supporting each other. Sounds really easy but it actually takes a lot of learning to do.
Believe it or not, in bands, people do want to metaphorically cut off their limbs. They want to step in front of each other, which makes the guy stepping in front look ridiculous, and the guy he’s stepping in front of gets really offended, everyone looks terrible. In a supportive role we all look better.
When I started the band, I needed to find guys that I would never want to step in front of. People that I respect, admire, that I feel lucky to play with and that I want to feel the same way about me. That’s the goal in a band, and it’s a high goal, you’re lucky if you can get it.
MGM: From starting out with a self-released EP to being thrown in to supporting rock royalty such as Alice Cooper and AC/DC, you guys got very big very quickly. Do you think this could be because your sound is so original, and perhaps something that had been missing from the music scene for too long?
SH: We had an EP called ‘Before The Fire’ with a different singer, this was around 2006 before Jay was in the band. We never really did much with it; when we parted company with the singer it was still relatively new and I needed to find a partner I could write with because we had this record without a singer, and I was able to relinquish that to Jay. Then, what happened was, a TV show used one of our songs and didn’t tell us, so they ended up having to pay us an exorbitant amount of money, that’s what happens when you use somebody’s song without permission! So, with that money we went back in the studio, and I got Jay to sing on the record. He just smashed it, made it his own, and there you go – we had our first record launched! Things started to roll then, we got management, an agent found us, local promoters started wanting to talk to us. We had all been in signed bands before, so we were thought of as a kind of local super-band!
I’m a borderline rock n roll historian; I collect records, I read all the books, I have too many weird collectibles and bootlegs, and I thought – this sound of rock that I love so much, this retro sound that speaks to me, it’s going to be forgotten! I had this huge collection of not the most accessible rock music, and I felt we should do something to make it loud and bring it to people. That’s what was missing. And what are we left with? Music that’s over produced, guitars that are big and loud, it was just really corny and wasn’t talking to my heart.
MGM: Where do you feel you are now, as a band, from when you started out? How do you think the band has evolved over the years and how has your sound changed and developed?
SH: Since Jay came into the band, we have a very different sound. He’s swinging a big bat vocally. ‘Pressure And Time’ I think has a very old school vibe; you can start to hear us get comfortable, finding our feet in what we are. By ‘Head Down’ we had pushed out in a direction away from that retro sound, and the jump to ‘Hollow Bones’ is tremendous – this is us no longer sounding like an old rock record, it sounds totally modern, a completely new thing.
This band likes to make albums, not singles, and I think that makes us a bit different – in the genre where we are situated, we are one of the only bands that want to make albums. It’s the old school way. Put the record on, sit down, pick up the vinyl, get on the ride. It’s too easy these days to just cherry pick songs and throw them into a playlist.
MGM: If we can talk a bit about the new releases – you have two albums coming out this year in ‘Darkfighter’ and ‘Lightbringer’ – the concept being that each record is a ‘companion’ to the other.
SH: I like the idea of companion records; I like that word. It’s a record that could have been one, but I felt that it would have been too big a bite, a bit much to digest in one sitting. I compared it to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ – it’s one of the greatest things ever made and something I admire so much, but it’s not a record I go listening to all the time and I very rarely listen to it top to bottom any more. We didn’t want to take people on a three-and-a-half-hour saga.
‘Darkfighter’ casts a shadow, it’s about all the divisiveness we went through over the last few years, it’s emotional, very personal. The second collection, ‘Lightbringer’ comes at you in a way that illuminates that shadow. They were made together but we decided to leave the six-month gap between releases for the reason I’m telling you, I think it’s too much to digest in one go. You’d miss the details, and it would become labouring. If you’re invested that way, you can sit down and put them both on if you don’t feel it’s too much.
SH: We are feeling fantastic! The last time we toured the UK was for the ten-year anniversary of ‘Pressure And Time’. It felt weird, because we had already begun recording ‘Darkfighter’ so we were in the middle of making this record we felt was really important to us, we’re really happy with it, we’re moving forward, away from ‘Pressure and Time’ and our back catalogue, and then we had to go out and play it! It was great fun, and cathartic, but we did feel awkward. Also, it was the first European tour we’d done since the pandemic, and it was rough. A lot of people still weren’t coming to shows, and when they did there were issues with masks and other stuff – it was just a lot to manage. Overwhelming.
Coming back to the UK – our home away from home – with a new record that we believe in more than anything else we’ve ever put out, it feels good! I feel that the UK audience are going to hear what we’re doing, they’re going to understand it, and we’re going to have a lot of fun together. We’re going to play our new records for you. We’re also going to play a bunch of old songs, but we really want our fans to come with us on this ride and invest in something new, that’s in our hearts, and that we want to put into your hearts.
MGM: You’re generally referred to as an A-List guitar player and it’s clear that you adore your instrument. What are your favourite guitars, and do you have a go-to for songwriting or for shows?
SH: Oh, I love guitars! I have this obsessive relationship with instruments – I have a bunch; I don’t have a particular favourite like a lot of people do, I change a lot. I change what I’m playing on every record, specifically. I put down a lot of guitars that I’ve used and pick up new ones to try new things and find the songs in them.
I’m really fortunate to be able to work with great builders like Doug Kauer and Banker Custom, I’ve worked on stuff with Yamaha, with Gretsch, that I love, and they make me these exquisite things. Being the obsessive, again, I know all the parts, all the details, all the measurements, all the materials, so I get right into it with them, so at any given time I could have a new favourite. One of my favourite guitars right now that I’ll be playing on the tour is my Gretsch Falcon, it’s very Rockabilly with a big, hollow body. Most of my guitars are generally based on the aesthetic of a Gretsch guitar.
It’s really fun. It’s literally the feeling that you’re a teenage boy and just getting into guitars. I’ve been able to keep the spark and the fun with it, and I’m not an anomaly by any means, I’ve seen friends of mine in the business and how much they collect. Look at Joe Bonamassa – how many he’s got!
I had no musicians in my family, I don’t know where this passion came from, but I remember seeing Tom Petty when I was just a teenager watching him go through ten, twelve different guitars, taking them on and off stage, and telling my Dad – I’m going to do that! That was for me, a guitar show, total guitar porn all night. Fortunately, I was a very headstrong kid, and my parents could see this was what I was going to do. By the time I was fifteen years old I started really digging a path into it, I wasn’t playing in the garage with my friends, it had already become a business for me. I have a sixteen-year-old son and if I saw him focus that hard on something I’d say – ok dude, go do it! I think that’s what my parents did, and I actually moved out at seventeen, finished high school early and moved in with my band, and they were nothing but supportive.
See Rival Sons on tour this October –
October 13th – Roundhouse, London
October 14th – NX, Newcastle
October 16th – Barrowlands Ballroom, Glasgow
October 17th – O2 Academy, Birmingham
October 18th – Academy, Manchester
October 20th – Corn Exchange, Cambridge
October 21st – O2 Academy, Bristol
October 22nd – O2 Guildhall, Southampton