Interview – Scott Holiday of Rival Sons

It has been said many times that Rock-n-Roll will save your soul. To some lip service, or the cries of others who never want to grow up, is there really any truth to it all? Well, true Rock-n-Roll music certainly has a cathartic element to it with roots in both Blues, R&B and Soul which digs deep inside to release our emotion. Whether those feelings are dark or light, it brings them to the surface, and there is no denying the clarity it brings if you truly immerse yourself. Believing just that, Rival Sons has filled a void in the modern scene offering Rock-n-Roll that has one foot in the past with an eye toward saving the future. 

Quite bold statements, Rival Sons has been in the game for fifteen years now, releasing one powerful Rock record after another. Standing out among others, their sound is based in Blues, R&B, and Soul, while reminding us that even in a jaded time that raw Rock-n-Roll still reigns supreme. Refusing to succumb to the ways of the world, Rival Sons returned with the intense new album Darkfighter back in June, and to offset it, set to unleash the companion record Lightbringer in October. Another step in their evolution, lead guitarist/songwriter Scott Holiday recently chatted about the journey of the band, the work behind the new music, finding light in dark times, plus more.

Cryptic Rock – Rival Sons has been going strong for quite a while. Releasing a list of successful records, the band has continued to grow over the past twenty years. How would you describe this incredible musical journey?

Scott Holiday – Yea, it’s hard to sum it all up. It’s been a real adventure. It’s had its extreme number of ups and downs. I think musically it’s been a climb up the mountain constantly; our eyes were always set at the peak. We’ve done our best to push ourselves every time we make a record, go on tour, and step on stage. It’s really testing and really heavy duty.

It has also been an incredible journey to start playing a bunch of shows and making records as a sober person, then getting into a whole other world of intoxication and touring, but then come out sober again and have a lot of self-reflection on the whole situation. I have been able to reflect on the whole situation that I’m in with the audience, live shows, creativity, and my partners. It’s been an incredibly revealing life. It’s been a minute! I think we are about fifteen years or so… it’s been a long time. I feel lucky to remain inspired, and frankly, doing our best work right now.

Cryptic Rock – It certainly has been a while; you put in the hard work and took your lumps. Rival Sons is a unique band as compared to others who have emerged onto the Rock scene over the last fifteen years. What inspired the band’s initial artistic direction?

Scott Holiday – I was doing music professionally; I had signed a deal with Atlantic, had been making records, and working in studios doing session work. For the reason I wanted to make this band and find these musicians, was what I found the musical world lacked was actual Rock-n-Roll music. There was everything else; there was Indie, Metal, Nu Metal, still Grunge acts, and Pop. There was every genre working, and even the music that might have looked like Rock-n-Roll, was Alternative. For me, there was a certain type of Rock-n-Roll missing that was Soul-based, good classic songwriting, riff-based with Blues and Boogie, and everything in there. I felt like it wasn’t really around, dying out, and nowhere to be found. I don’t want that to be lost on anybody… I want to make something in that world, because that is the world that is dearest to me.

So, I found these guys who I thought would be perfect for the recipe. I started writing songs that I thought would be great for the recipe, and that is truly how it started. I think early on you can see it’s more derivative and more on purpose. It felt like what I wanted to revive, but then quickly we put it on its head, spun it a little bit, thus it became much more introspective, original, and in a direction that started to feel more and more like our own. There was a point where it started to stick through a much broader, larger soundscape and group of influences.

Cryptic Rock – Right, and you can hear the progression from album to album. You certainly did fill a void in the modern scene. That is another thing, Rival Sons fits everywhere, but fits nowhere.

Scott Holiday – I think that has been our claim to fame and our Achilles heel. That point has been a point throughout the band’s history. Even right now, when we go to radio, they put us on Active Rock. We think, “Oh, if we’re not at the top of that chart of Active Rock, who is? Five Finger Death Punch. Okay, nothing against their band, but I feel like our song next to their song feels like different worlds.”

Nowadays it’s so bizarre, you look at the Grammys, and the Rock category went to Brandi Carlile, and that is far-out. Where is Rock-n-Roll? Where do you put it? Maybe we put it at Alternative? Well, what’s at Alternative? Not many people hold a guitar… there are a lot of keyboards and drum machines over there… not that many guitars over there… unless you are from the ‘90s.

We’ve had that thing that’s very interesting where we don’t quite totally fit. At this point I’m kind of embracing it.

Rival Sons – Head Down / Earache
Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie / Earache

Cryptic Rock – Yes, and it just shows how unique Rival Sons truly are. You released your brand-new album Dark Fighter back on June 2nd. A really strong record that flows nicely, what was the writing and recording process like this time around?

Scott Holiday – It was different for us. It was stretched out in a major way. It was also a lot more focused and a lot easier to see what we were doing as we were going; because we unfolded and unpacked it over two years, instead of four weeks. I think it was really healthy for us and right on time. It’s exactly what we needed to do with the statement we wanted to make at this time. Especially with what was happening in the world, it gave us the time to make that statement properly.

Cryptic Rock – You can hear the care and effort that went into this record. Sometimes you feel pressured when you are writing, but this time you had more time. With more time, you can go back and change things a lot, etc… and you can be your own worst critic. How did that feel?

Scott Holiday – We are always our own worst critic. We don’t let anything through, we put a lot of things away. Me and Jay (Buchanan) will put things away before we even show anybody else. I will put things away before I even share it with him… and I know he does the same thing with me. That’s what you do. You only present what feels the most authentic, honest, that is going to fit/work with everybody, and you really want to push it forward. It has to mean something and has something on it then.

Having that extra time allowed us to work more and see that more clearly, I believe. There were still things that we knew were right for us right out of the gate, that we didn’t have to hem and haw over. There were things that me and Jay agreed to go over in the ‘yes’ box, but also ones where we said – we were going to beat it around a little bit, see where it goes, and work on it. Even until the end, there were things that we left off, moved around or changed.

Sound changes happened right at the end of the sessions. We did a lot of producing from home and there were things that we were editing and fixing right at the very end. You could feel it when we were going right… and there needed to be this hard left turn… so we did it. It was because we had that time that we could have that focus and clarity on the material, but the record as a whole too.

Cryptic Rock – You can hear that attention to detail. Speaking of the production, you have worked with David Cobb from the start. There is clearly a comfort level there… so what is that working relationship like?

Scott Holiday – There is comfort and discomfort, and that’s healthy. It’s necessary with a group of musicians who are good at what they do and who have very defined opinions and directions they want to move. You are trying to make one special dish, everybody is a crucial ingredient, and everybody wants their ingredient to be important, and that’s how it should be when you work with good musicians.

When you have a producer like Dave it’s very good, because he’s able to part everything out and wrangle it all in a way that makes it make a lot of sense. Frankly there are things, especially between me and Jay, that we will just disagree on. That’s really good. I will generally feel and say that those things we disagree on are important, good, and listeners are happy about those things we disagree on. What that ends up creating is a new hybrid. You get something different, it’s not just one perspective, it’s these interesting separate perspectives that end up complementing each other and come together.

Dave is very much that voice that will help us make decisions and balance things out. Dave is also a strong creative person just on his own, and just a great musician. He has played on most of the records too, just little bits here and there, but he just keeps the energy in the room moving forward.

Rival Sons – Hollow Bones / Earache
Rival Sons – Feral Roots / Atlantic

Cryptic Rock – Disagreement is good. It is the compromise that comes out of it that is something different and special.

Scott Holiday – Correct. If it’s too agreeable from one perspective, it’s probably going to start to be a little bland or maybe a little vanilla. I don’t know, I’ve never done it, I’ve always written with people I disagree with and I’m very headstrong. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – That is a good thing though. Rival Sons are busy touring through the summer. Going to Europe in the Fall, what has it been like actively touring a lot after the thin last few years?

Scott Holiday – We went over to Europe and played a 10th anniversary for Pressure & Time (2011). That was really cool and interesting, but also really bizarre in a way that we were in the middle of recording these new records. We had one foot way in the future (and something we couldn’t believe in more), and another foot way in the past back at the beginning. It was a little bit far out and strange. It was also so close to the pandemic… it was still political, hard to get people out, and there was a really weird vibe. I’m really happy to just get back and play in support of a new record as things have cleared with that pandemic blackhole over there too.

Cryptic Rock – Understandable. We can only hope that the politicization and effects of everything we experienced have subsided. Speaking of Europe, Rival Sons has excelled in the region. What is it like to see your music has translated so well, if not better, in the European region?

Scott Holiday – It’s very cool and great. Undoubtedly we’ve had more success in Europe. We are still arm wrestling the USA in comparison. We just headlined two festivals in Norway recently. You just never think when you’re starting a band – I can’t wait until we’re gigantic in Norway. (Laughs) It’s just something you don’t say or think about. I’m telling all the bands out there that don’t know, you want to play Norway and you want to be popular there… trust me, it’s really good.

We’ve had a lot more success in Europe. The US is still coming along. Thankfully every time we make a record and stay busy, they come further along with us.

Cryptic Rock – Hopefully the US will catch on more as time passes. You mentioned the forthcoming album, Lightbringer.

Scott Holiday – Correct, it comes out this October.

Cryptic Rock – Wow. Having the ability to release two records in one year is very impressive.

Scott Holiday – Yes, we’re happy with how it came about. It’s something different for us, something exciting, and Lightbringer is different. It is important to me and the band. It’s a killer opportunity to do something like this. It’s like a companion album.

Rival Sons – Darkfighter / Atlantic 
Rival Sons – Lightbringer / Atlantic

Cryptic Rock – It will be interesting to hear. It was a good decision to release these two albums individually and not as a double record. Sometimes double albums, while cool, the material within can get lost. Two separate releases is a good way to go.

Scott Holiday – I appreciate that vote of confidence, I totally agree with you, and that’s exactly my thinking! There are great double albums, but I look at some of the greatest, and even some of those which I love so much, are still a big bite. There is still a lot to swallow; especially if there is heavy subject matter. It just becomes difficult to digest and a comfortable listen. Like you said, things get lost in the shuffle. You end up having to make choices and cherry pick records… especially nowadays, attention spans are shorter than ever.

This way we are doing it will really allow people to immerse themselves in each collection. And guess what… if they want to treat it like a double album, they can listen to both, and both back-to-back forever.

Cryptic Rock – Exactly. Attention spans are certainly shorter than ever. It is all part of a larger problem and reflective of the times we are living in. It is a snowball that keeps rolling. Whether it be what we went through with the pandemic, the death of Rock-n-Roll, or the way we consume music. It has been a very strange cultural time over the past decade.

Scott Holiday – Yea. I highlighted it with the blackhole that was the pandemic, the Trump presidency, the social/racial upheaval in America, and worldwide economic upheaval. We’re in a really strange place right now. It’s really something for my generation. It’s a time to live; some shit is really going down right now. It created a real divisive, difficult time. I don’t want to say dark, like we live in some dystopian time, because that’s not how I view the world, but it feels like we really slipped into a really dark spot during the pandemic. People had too much time on their hands, people were pulling their kids out of school, people were losing their jobs, nobody could make any money, and half our country vehemently hated our president, while the other half loved him like he was Jesus and hated the people that hated him. It created such a strange moment.

That’s why we work on our art. That’s why we have records like Darkfighter and Lightbringer. It became such a moment that we wanted to say something that was really obvious and blindingly obvious to us. There is some darkness in the world. We really need to think about this on a day-to-day moment to moment idea; one where we are not just going to let it overcome us. We’re going to not fall into this dark thing where we want to divide ourselves from our friends, family, and common man. We are not going to let it divide us from someone who has different political beliefs, or in any racial way, or social way at all.

We want to block that kind of dark feeling, become more loving, compassionate, and understanding people. You have to block the darkness for that… you have to be a darkfighter. With our art, and the way we want to live, we want to bring light into people’s hearts and lives. That’s going to be a little hippy dippy for people… but that’s okay. Anyone who wants to say that’s light… it’s the truth, it’s the truth that I’m living. I think if everyone looks at what’s going on, and what’s in their own heart, that’s the truth.

Rival Sons 2023 Tour Dates:
9/23 Clarkston, MI Riff Fest
9/25 Louisville, KY Louder Than Life 2023
10/13 London, UK The Roundhouse
10/14 Newcastle, UK NX
10/16 Glasgow, UK Barrowland Ballroom
10/17 Birmingham, UK O2 Academy
10/18 Manchester, UK Manchester Academy
10/20 Cambridge, UK Cambridge Corn Exchange
10/21 O2 Academy Bristol, UK (Sold Out)
10/22 Southampton, UK O2 Guildhall
10/24 Nantes, France La Carrière
10/25 Lyon, France Le Radiant
10/27 Paris, France Olympia
10/28 Lausanne, Switzerland Les Docks
10/29 Milan, Italy Alcatraz
10/31 Vienna, Austria Gasometer
11/1 Zurich, Switzerland X-TRA
11/2 Munich, Germany Theaterfabrik
11/4 Prague, Czech Republic Lucerna Music Bar
11/5 Warsaw, Poland Klub Stodola
11/6 Poznan, Poland Music Club B17
11/8 Berlin, Germany Huxleys
11/9 Amsterdam, Netherlands Melkweg Max (Sold Out)
11/10 Cologne, Germany Kantine (Sold Out)
11/12 Brussels, Belgium Ancienne Belgique (Sold Out)
11/13 Hamburg, Germany Grosse Freiheit 36
11/14 Copenhagen, Denmark The Grey Hall
11/16 Bergen, Norway Forum Scene
11/17 Oslo, Norway Sentrum Scene (Sold Out)
11/18 Stockholm, Sweden B-K
11/20 Helsinki, Finland House of Culture
11/21 Tampere, Finland Tampere Hall

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