An Unrivaled Holiday: Scott Holiday & Rival Sons
This interview was done over four months ago but I sat on it because Rival Sons were on tour here in the states and in Europe and then they went on to be featured on the Late Show with David Letterman. Truthfully, I wanted to see what happened next before I delved into one of the most enjoyable interview sessions of my life.
With the holiday season here, I felt it apropos to share an in-depth look at Scott Holiday and his thoughts on music, songwriting, style and fashion as well as the inspirations he has had since age 12 and the ones he continues to collect in his world of rock and roll.
Driving to the interview downtown, the humid Colorado summer afternoon brought an onslaught of rain, thunder and lightning. Was this a foreshadow to my sit-down with guitarist and songwriter Scott Holiday of Rival Sons?
I was directed to the band’s tour bus parked right in front of Denver’s Marquis Theater a few hours before show time. Once onboard and through an initial curtain separating the driver’s area from the rest, there he sat at a table waiting for me. Holiday, donning a killer pair of shades and a meticulously groomed handlebar mustache greeted me with a smile, shook my hand and it was time to talk rock.
A southern California native, Holiday was chest-high into a lot of rock and roll by the age of 12. “Van Halen. Zeppelin. The Stones. Floyd. Of course a bunch of soul music bled into that a whole bunch…Motown and Stax music. Being a young guitar player, I immediately was listening to guys like The Yardbirds, Clapton and the Bluesbreakers and of course Jeff Beck, The Animals, and the Beatles. All of this royalty of rock. I ended up digging up a lot of that on my own…guys like Earl Hooker and his cousin John Lee, Robert Johnson. Bukka White. Elmore James. Muddy Waters. Just digging as deep as I could go at 12 or 13-years old.”
His first guitar was a classical gut string but it was his first electric guitar that received his utmost attention. “It was given to me by my uncle and it was a Hondo II Les Paul Copy,” he laughs and then continuing, “Which I quickly took completely apart. This is where the “gear nerding” begins. I’d get an extra neck or something or pick-ups or stuff. That was before pedals. That’s what started to happen. ‘What if I just took this neck off. Oh, that doesn’t fit?’ Grind that out. Bolt that thing on. Well now it doesn’t play at all. Just slowly figuring things out,” he laughs again.
“My stepdad was a machinist and we had all sorts of weird pipes and tools, cutting my own slide from watching it on TV. Using the grinder and smoothing it out. It sounds like the ‘old days.’ That’s what I was raised on.”
“I’m a dork, yeah,” he says with a laugh regarding his self-professed gearhead status. “As much as I’m digging up my heroes’ influences, I’m also digging up their tools because I have a bunch of gear and I’m thinking, ‘How come I can’t get that Jeff Beck ‘Truth‘ tone out of my solid state Fender and VOD super distortion?’ This SUCKS!! I got to go find some shit that makes this sound. It’s a deep well. You start looking it up and digging around and getting one thing at a time, finding out who’s using what and how much of a difference that makes and it becomes like a big difference at that point.”
So what was the first song Holiday learned to play really well? “It might have been ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’ It could have been that tune. It could have been ‘Wish You Were Here.’ I’m a huge (David) Gilmour guy. Absolutely love him.” He pauses briefly and then starts chuckling and gives me an unexpected “fun fact” to the history of Scott Holiday, “But if I go back to the very beginning it was ‘The Pink Panther.’ Sitting in front of TV trying to play theme songs and commercials!” We both started cracking up while I hummed my best version of the classic score.
You guys seem to dress really well.
“Well thank you!”
“I think we’ve all seen plenty of bands that we thought looked like shit and thought, ‘Man, this is totally visual. My favorite rock stars, all my favorite musicians, man…they were sharp. You know what? I appreciated it. I liked it. It was the whole thing. It was very other-worldly. You can go back as far as Django Reinhardt. Look how well it went with what he was doing. He personified that gypsy jazz sound. He looked how it sounded. It made all cohesive sense.”
“Or when you go ’71 Stones and you see Keith (Richards). That works so well…and so many others. I’m obviously a huge (David)Bowie fan and he’s pretty much at the top of the mountain of imaging and stylizing and having fun with it which is cool. We have fun with it ourselves and it’s what we like anyway. We wear what we like. We have the opportunity to wear a lot of shit that other people can’t wear.”
“It’s going to sound real ‘up my own ass’ but I have all my shit made. I have all my suits made because a couple of records back we were touring so much, talking to so many people and we’re doing so much press. We got some covers a couple years back and we’re doing videos and I’m using these suits and quickly I’m realizing, ‘Shit. I’m running out of clothes! I can’t keep wearing this. That can’t possibly go on the next record.”
Snapping his fingers Scott reveals,”I personify my bands like imaging…like the Beatles are a great example that I’m freaked out on. We know which era they’re in right when you look at them. There’s no questioning, ‘Is this Abbey Road or Sgt. Peppers?’ There’s no question. We know what they’re doing because we saw it and it felt like it was a whole movement. I think in some way we want to conjure the same fun. It feels fresh. It feels alive and we can take on almost like a new character.”
I asked him which band or musician he’s had the most fun playing and touring with. His answer was yet another sign that this guy is a man after my own heart. “The Young Brothers (Angus and Malcolm of AC/DC) are awesome. Pretty infallibly fantastic.”
Who would he most like to play or tour with who he hasn’t already?
“On a musician level, I would absolutely love to be out with somebody like Jeff Beck. Those are two of my all-time guys. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) and Jeff. Selfishly as a guitar player let me just watch those cats on a night-to-night basis.”
I asked him where the band gets their inspirations from with their songwriting, “Travel, movies, books, art. Now we are inspired by playing every night. Things happen every night. We’re experimenting. We’re improvising. We’re communicating nightly on stage. Interacting nightly with the fanbase. We find out what people are reacting to and it inspires us to move in directions and of course I’m a pretty avid vinyl junkie so I’m constantly discovering new things, new mixes, live things, new things, old things.”
So how was the proceeding show itself?
For starters, the band came on stage to the theme song from Clint Eastwood’s film, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Good night. How epic is that?
Their new album, Great Western Valkyrie, blew up the crowd by opening with Electric Man. I was already on another planet when they played another new one, Open My Eyes, and once again the boys are proving they aren’t going anywhere but up. Sprinkle in Gypsy Heart, Keep on Swinging and Pressure and Time and I had half the mind to follow them to Telluride for the next evening’s show.
Meanwhile frontman Jay Buchanan is a freak of nature. He has unbelievable command and presence on stage that would make a Marine drill sergeant blush. His voice is something so powerful that even an hour in, you still can’t believe the pipes on this guy.
Drummer Mike Miley is wailing on these heads as though they stole something from him. Then there are his hands. He’s twirling the drumsticks like they’re extensions of his fingers. Marvel Comics could transform him into an amazing superhero.
Bassist Dave Beste looks like this calm, cool and collected dude who is indispensable to all of the “everything” coming from his bandmates. If he were still alive, a slimmed down Phillip Seymour Hoffman would be my choice to play Beste in the Rival Sons movie.
I think we can agree that there’s nothing like a little Holiday music to get the season going. I lucked out because for me, Christmas showed up early in July courtesy of Jay, Scott, Mike and Dave of Rival Sons.