Rival Sons' Jay Buchanan Never Wanted to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Frontman

Rival Sons
Rival Sons
Rival Sons

Nowadays, the revival of bluesy psychedelic rock and soul from the 1960s and '70s has found a strong following -- maybe it's the fuzzy twang of the guitar, the vocals that just drip with angst and passion. Either way, Rival Sons, founded in 2009, introduced its brand in the right place at the right time.

Then again, you may have not heard of the Long Beach act -- even though they've released three albums within three years and played shows with such legends as Judas Priest, KISS, and AC/DC. Fans of the genre always seem to have endless new music to keep up with, whether it's relentless releases by The Black Keys or Jack White, or the countless new bands that emerge each year channeling that Jim Morrison-esque persona.

Currently promoting their fourth album Great Western Valkyrie, Rival Sons' sound has evolved in an impressive way, tighter and smarter, offering an album full of call and response mechanics, catchy verses, roadhouse stylings, prominent guitar solos, and Doors-type keyboards. Frontman Jay Buchanan's straightforward lyrics range from happy-go-lucky jams to storytelling, like "Belle Starr," where outlaws are being judged by a Nordic goddess.

Up on the Sun talked with lead vocalist Jay Buchanan about the band's surprising appeal to heavy metal fans,

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So what was your initial skepticism about joining a rock 'n' roll band five years ago?

It's about tastes. I was correct in my assessment in some ways that when it comes to rock and roll everyone's just like, "Oh yeah, it's all in the '60s and '70s.' I just felt like, who wants to get into that? I could care less about all that stuff. But what I didn't understand was what a void this band would fill for people. I didn't realize that there was such a huge demand to hear straight up rock 'n' roll. I had no idea! You turn on the radio and I'm not sure what the station is in Phoenix; I'm sure they've got their classic rock station where you know any time of day you can turn it to this station and hear "Free Bird" or "Smoke on the Water." I just figured that's where all that stuff was living. If we were to try that it's like re-living the good ol' days and why should you do that? But once we got together I realized that there was an energy there. There was a unique thing going on; it was an honest creation.

I feel like the band has played with some acts that could be considered quite heavy, like AC/DC and Alice Cooper, and at festivals like Rock on the Range. Do you think your music appeals to a heavier crowd because of the hard rock psychedelic aspect?

I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I'm not sure that we really appeal to the heavier crowd. What happened for us with that is that ... we signed to a death metal label in Nottingham out of the UK. And because of that all the resources and outlets were heavy metal. So we were in the death metal world. Laughter. So we were making friends with death metal bands. I'm not convinced that we really connect with the metal audience, but it's really trippy to me because I would've never thought that. Building relationships and understanding where they are coming from is a real education from me. And from heavy metal music that's hard-edged, you would think that they are angry people, but it's quite the opposite. They are the nicest people!

Well as a fan of heavy metal, Rival Sons appealed to me from the get go because it's a stripped down version of what heavy metal is rooted in: blues, classic rock and roll, and fuzzy psychedelics.

The records company said they looked at the lineage of heavy metal music and that we play the kind of music that they think is a direct lineage to heavy metal. They said we directly predate the music of heavy metal with our brand of rock 'n' roll.

How do you feel about the reception of Great Western Valkyrie?

It has been positive feedback for the most part. Any time you put out a record you're going to be met with both ends of the stick. I think for the most part on this record we've had good reviews. ... I think it's our best statement so far. I think the band is right on the cusp of becoming ourselves you know? I think we're reaching the potential we've have as a band. I feel like it's an honest statement  

How do you think Great Western Valkyrie has shown musical progression of Rival Sons compared to 2012's Head Down? I mean, you can see how much tighter the band has become from a track like "Angel" to a track like "Open My Eyes."

Exactly. That's how I feel about it too. We did have a personnel change. Our original bass player was just over it in general; the business of it and the traveling and all the bullshit that comes along with the music. It's a great chaos, you know? God knows the money isn't so good anymore, and the music has to really carry it through. So he had to go, and then we brought in my long time really good friend Dave [Beste]. So that was a new shot in the arm for us on a lot of fronts.

What's your proudest moment on the new album?

Proudest...moment. That's a good question. Proudest moment. It's so difficult, Lauren, because you're working so quickly, so quickly. And around the clock. It really is a frantic affair. For now my proudest moment I would say is "Open My Eyes." Because I wasn't feeling well. I had to go in and do arrangements and the other guys had the day off. I had to write the lyric and do an arrangement and I wasn't really pleased with how the song was sounding. So I rearranged it, and looking at it and turning it on its ear a little bit. I was feeling so terrible then; I had like the 24-hour flu or something. And a cold. And out of that struggle I ended up piecing it together for "Open My Eyes."

I didn't want to change the guitar riff because it was so strong, just reworked other aspects and the guys were like wow! That's really different. And you always want the other guys in the band to feel good about what is going on too. And second would be a song called "Good Things." I wrote it on a Wurlitzer piano. I like the narrative in that song and how the story is told; it's put together in three acts. The tension in the lyrics progresses in that same way.

What of some of your personal influences, whether it's cultural issues or a specific musician?

Influentially for me, I don't think I'm one of those people that really hones in on one or two galvanizing moments or bands. I'm more of a everything in the kitchen sink type of guy; like all the experiences end up shaping you and forming your outlook on music. You know? All of the worst music you've ever heard ends up influencing you just as much as the best music you've ever heard. When it comes to rock 'n' roll I think that the passion from early rock and roll and listening to Little Richard; he owns it. When he's singing it's scary; there's a little bit of terror to it, that's never been matched ever by soul or anything....Once the UK got a hold of rock and roll though, it changed. When it was young there was a danger to it, as well as a familiarity that was refreshing.

Rival Sons is playing at The Pressroom in Phoenix on Sunday, September 21.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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