February 25, 2016 Interview – Michael Miley of Rival Sons
Formed back in 2009, Rival Sons are a band which take listeners back to the days when Rock-n-Roll had soul, raw emotion, and irresistible grooves. Born on the idea that members Jay Buchanan (vocals), Scott Holiday (guitar), and Mike Miley (drums) wanted to help be a spark plug in reviving the roots of Rock-n-Roll united with R&B and Soul, the band has seen their popularity grow exponentially. Releasing four studio records since their birth, each record has seen Rival Sons achieve higher charted positions and even larger crowds coming out to their shows. Now on the precipice of unleashing their fifth album, slated for release via Earache Records in May of 2016, Rival Sons look to up the ante yet again. Recently we caught up with Drummer Mike Miley for a look into the story behind Rival Sons, life on the road with Black Sabbath, their new music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Rival Sons began back in 2009. In that time since, the band has released four studio records and toured all over the world with an extremely positive response from people. Tell me, what has this journey been like for you being a part of the band?
Michael Miley – If I was a woman I would say it’s like giving birth, but I’m not. I can only say it has its blessings and curses. It’s been a long ride for us. I was just telling some friends of mine, you have to be thankful along the way at every stage, from beginning to the end. When you think you’re successful, when you are almost successful, it’s just always remembering to be thankful. On the physical side of things, touring a lot is hard on life, it’s hard on relationships. Everybody in the band is married with kids, it’s tough to be away from family. At the end of the day it’s worth it because we are having success around the world. All the hard work is finally starting to pay off.
CrypticRock.com – Right, exactly, completely understandable. Being away from your family, it has to be difficult. As you said, the hard work is paying off, that is a positive thing. Now, you have a vast amount of experience as a drummer, playing with a variety of different artists as a studio musician. When you joined up with Scott and Jay, did you know that Rival Sons was setting out to do something a little different with their style of Rock?
Michael Miley – Yeah, Scott kinda had the seed. I came in and sort of co-formed the band with Scott. I came in and instantly brought in a new bass player. We also had another singer actually. I was on the ground floor of the vision of what we wanted to do. We just thought Rock-n-Roll was dead and the only thing that we thought was cool was Wolfmother or anything Jack White touched. Other than that, we thought Rock was a very suffering art form. We wanted to be part of the resurrection of it, if there was gonna be one.
CrypticRock.com – You definitely have attained that goal. The band has quite a compelling sound. You unite that classic Rock with some Soul, some R&B, and a little bit of modern flair, which is really cool. It is great that the modern Rock fan has caught on to this universally, which is really nice to see. How redeeming is that for you to see that this is kind happening at this point in musical history?
Michael Miley – It’s good, I think that it just goes to show that people want real music. They don’t want programmed stuff or bands playing the backing tracks. It all served their places. Lady Gaga puts on a great show, but there’s a lot of manufactured stuff in her show as well. It goes to show that people love bass, guitar, drums, maybe some keys, and some singing. Just real, raw, organic music. Everybody is going to raw, organic diets. You can just see it all, it’s just where our civilization is going. I think people are wanting to go back to their roots; like Quentin Tarantino using 70mm film. You just feel it, there’s kind of a retro, a yearning for when things were a little more real.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, to be honest, that is a product of where we are right now, society in general. We have reached a point where everything has become sort of synthetic, in general. People want to feel something again, it is a point of wanting to actually have some real emotion and feeling again.
Michael Miley – I definitely agree with that. As far as singing, I get to play drums behind Jay, even if I wasn’t in the band, I think he’s one of the best male vocalists on planet Earth right now. I get to watch that dude emote every night and, I’ll tell you, he’s coming from the realest place there is. Nothing about his thing is phoned in.
CrypticRock.com – That can be felt, and one could imagine fans can feel it as well.
Michael Miley – A lot of people think he is on drugs. Some people compare him to Jim Morrison, going into trances and all that stuff (laughs). He just throws his whole self in and walks off stage soaking wet. He gives it everything he’s got.
CrypticRock.com – The whole band does honestly, you guys put on a phenomenal live show. That is probably one of the strongest, boldest points about the band is that you are a live band and you give it all every night. What is that like for you, seeing the fan’s reaction night in and night out?
Michael Miley – I am definitely gracious. When it feels like your hard work pays off, it always feels good. A crowd in Tacoma, WA, with Black Sabbath, Jay had them on their feet on the last song. You just walk off the stage feeling, if you play sports and you win the game, the locker room is a little more peppy than if you lost. You could feel those victories, you can feel close victories. Sometimes we blow them out. I love sports, so I always use a sports analogy.
CrypticRock.com – It makes total sense. You had just mentioned being on the road with Black Sabbath. You are still here touring in North America prior to going to Australia. That has got to be a really killer thing for the band. How has the tour been thus far?
Michael Miley – Unbelievable, Black Sabbath is literally one of the legendary bands you can count on your hand that are playing and still alive. This is a very coveted tour and we are really stoked, excited, and thankful to be asked by Ozzy and Sharon personally to be on it. It’s sort of validating, if you can imagine.
CrypticRock.com – Oh yes, that has got to be a tremendous honor, and very validating as a band. Rival Sons, on their own, has sold out clubs and mid-size venues, but now you are playing in arenas as well. That is a whole different animal. How has that been for the band, having this massive platform all of a sudden?
Michael Miley – We’ve warmed up for AC/DC and Lenny Kravitz. We did a month with Deep Purple and KISS. We’ve played in front of some big audiences. We did a month with Deep Purple in November 2015, and I think that was what kind of greased the wheels and got us ready for this. We were doing like 8,000-10,000 seat arenas and now we are doing 15,000-25,000 seat arenas. I am very thankful we got to do that Deep Purple tour because we did get to wet our whistle on the big stages. We give it the same effort if we’re playing 20,000 or 200 people. That’s the only way you can stay in integrity.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, one could completely imagine. That is awesome that you also got to play with Deep Purple and the other acts you mentioned. Looking back in hindsight, that has to be every musician’s dream growing up a Rock fan. You are playing with KISS, AC/DC, Deep Purple, and now Black Sabbath. Is that an unreal feeling?
Michael Miley – Totally surreal. The first night when I heard Tony Iommi kick into “Iron Man,” I was tripping hard (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. You have been busy touring, obviously, but you did find the time to write and record a new record. That record is set to be released this year. What can you tell us about the new record?
Michael Miley – It’s muscular, it’s huskular, and super bad-ass. I love it. I’m really proud of it. The drums sound amazing. It’s a little bit of a departure, but it still sounds like Rival Sons. If you followed all of our records, we really try not to repeat ourselves. There are not a lot of songs where I’m playing the same groove. We are kind of like, “‘Hey Keep on Swinging’ really worked for us, let’s write a song like ‘Keep on Swinging’.” We don’t do that. We just kind of write what’s in the air.
CrypticRock.com – Sounds very interesting. You worked with Dave Cobb again for this upcoming record.
Michael Miley – Yeah, he’s kind of our secret fifth member. We’ve done all our records with him. He’s super keen to what we do and our sound. All the gear he has, and his knowledge of what we are going for, his knowledge of real Rock-n-Roll, it really helps us get what we are trying to go for. He is the key ingredient in that.
CrypticRock.com – It is obvious that working with Dave has worked very well for you and the band. Like we spoke about earlier, Rival Sons has a signature sound about them, a retro sound if you will. It is really nice to hear those warm textures, especially when things are so processed now.
Michael Miley – Oh yeah, we are going through compressors and preamps from Sun Studios from like the ’50s. My overhead mic was going through a preamp that Elvis Presley sang through. Gear is really super important for tone and the sound. The gear we are using has really sacred ghosts in them (laughs). You can just feel the difference of the sound of going straight into Pro Tools or going through an actual classic piece like a German Fairchild Compressor or something from the ’40s.
Then you read the books, or you read Jimmy Page’s notes, or The Beatles notes, and you see Ringo used the same signal path. I am just doing it with bigger drums and a more heavy Rock groove than Ringo. It will have my character going through that same George Martin or Geoff Emerick, the guys who work with The Beatles, or Glyn Johns with Led Zeppelin, or Eddie Kramer with Hendrix. Dave Cobb knows all of that shit, he’s such a nerd (laughs). He knows what mic was used on the guitar for “Revolution” for The Beatles. It’s really valuable to have that in the studio with us. He is up for a Grammy, he’s gonna have his day then. He is gonna go down in history as one of the Rick Rubens or George Martins. He’s gonna have that name, and we are going to be associated with it, it’s cool.
CrypticRock.com – That attention to detail is really something special. Obviously, the average listener does not understand the work that goes into that detail. It all pays off in the end. What are some of your personal musical influences?
Michael Miley – Personally, my dad is one of my first. He’s the one who turned me on to music and the passion of music. He’s a guitar player and I grew up with him. I grew up with anything Eric Clapton touched. I was exposed to Pink Floyd. Dave Gilmore was another one of his favorite guitar players. I was exposed to Nick Mason, Ginger Baker, and Cream right off the bat, as well as studio musicians and who played on whose record. That led to an obsession with Steely Dan, so I was raised with the drummers of Steely Dan. That kind of highbrow drumming, LA studio musician from the ’70s style of drumming, was really influential on me. It’s what made me desire to go to music school. I got a music degree in Long Beach State in California, studied Orchestra, World Percussion, big Jazz band, you know, the whole thing. Then there is Jazz and Frank Zappa, the drummers of Frank Zappa. Anyone who was known to have a great drummer, I was checking it out, I’ll tell you that. Anything from John Bonham to Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Moon of course. I’m born on the same day as Keith Moon, which is pretty cool, August 23rd. All the Jazz, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Papa Jo Jones, Art Taylor, you name it. I love Jazz, I think those are my main influences. Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” was the reason I asked my dad for a drum set, hearing the super big drum fill in that song was a game changer for me.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is definitely a classic tone right there. You mentioned a really wide range of music, that is really cool that you do have such a wide taste in music. A lot of musicians honestly do.
Michael Miley – As a drummer, I would say that one of the most important ones out of that whole list is Steely Dan because the drummer gave me this sense of groove. It gave me the sense of serious pocket playing, and the importance of that. The Steve Gadd’s, the Jeff Porcaro’s, Rick Marotta’s, or Bernard Purdie’s, the guys that played with Steely Dan were so pocketed. I haven’t heard many Rock drummers that I know sight the influence of Steely Dan. I am not claiming that it’s unique, I am saying that part of the influence gives a kind of soulful R&B roots and Blues roots. I think that’s what makes us really funky.
CrypticRock.com – It all shines through in the music that you create, one way or another. One would agree with that. CrypticRock covers all forms of music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan or either the Horror or Science Fiction genre, do you have any favorites?
Michael Miley – I can speak for the whole band, we were super-crazy excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) coming out and seeing episode 7. We are all Star Wars fans. Scott, our guitar player, has Star Wars sheets in his bunk (laughs). Nobody knows that, I just unveiled it, so there’s that. I don’t know if anyone is into Horror movies too much. We all just did go see The Revenant (2015) together, that was fucking intense. We saw The Hateful Eight (2015) the other night. That’s not so much a Horror movie, it’s just a crazy movie. We are totally back into The X-files, the new Star Trek movies are fantastic. Of course Aliens (1986),Ghostbusters (1984), it is a good blend of Sci-Fi and Horror. The Shining (1980) is definitely a classic. The first Poltergeist (1982) too.