Rival Sons released their latest album, Head Down, in September of 2012 and will soon embark on a short U.S. tour before heading north to play shows in Canada throughout the month of February. Drummer, Michael Miley, sat down with AA to talk about the album, his jazz background, and the details behind the fan favorite, “Jordan.”
In February of last year, they traveled to Nashville, TN to record Head Down with producer, Dave Cobb. Due to an upcoming European tour, the band only had three and a half weeks to write and record a full album – a task that seems unconceivable for some musicians in the business.
“In February we had a month off and we wanted to do another album and get those wheels moving again. We had about three and a half weeks off so everybody went home, kissed their families, and then we went to Nashville to record the album. We even finished it in time to have a couple days off before heading to the U.K. for our spring tour which was six weeks long. But when you only have about three and half weeks of free time, you kind of have to get it done and when the gun is to your head, you move. We all trust each other enough musically and musicianship wise that we can pull it off…and so far we feel we haven’t compromised our artistic integrity and thankfully we’ve received some nice praise for it.”
Head Down has charted well both north of the border and in the United Kingdom; the album’s lead single, “Keep On Swinging,” even peaked at #2 on the Canada Active Rock Chart. And while Miley was quite open about how the short deadline to finish the record increased tension within the group, he feels the band was still able to make a true Rival Sons album that embodies blues, jazz, and rock and roll.
“It’s kind of like (lead singer) Jay Buchanan’s answer that I’ve heard him say – that it’s a snapshot in time of who we are. We’re a growing band, we’ve been touring a lot, and we’re getting to know each other better as players. It is a very organic thing that we’re doing; we’re not going out with big production and there are no quick tracks. It’s basically what you see is what you get. I’m trained in jazz so I really feel the Rival Sons are just a loud and raucous jazz band…a lot of what you hear on our albums is really raw; like first take, second take, or even rehearsal take stuff. There’s very little editing and it’s very interesting. It’s a rock and roll or punk rock process so to speak.”
In addition to Miley, bassist, Robin Everhart, has a jazz background as well. In fact, the two musicians met in 2008 for a Katrina Benefit jazz gig at Isaac Hayes’ house. When asked how his jazz training has affected his approach to drumming, Miley had this to say –
“I think it frees me up to not be married to the same beat over and over. I’ve never been that kind of drummer. I was always into the drummers like Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience), Keith Moon (The Who), Ginger Baker (Cream), and really John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) for that matter – he wasn’t always playing the same beat every night. He was varying it up and improvising; he was playing back and interacting with Jimmy Paige and John Paul Jones…when we play live, we’ll intentionally open up a couple songs by just going real crazy. “I Want More” is kind of a signature jam song and we’ll throw other songs inside it, and then at the end come back to the original song. It’s kind of an old way of doing it. Everyone from Coltrane to The Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin used to do the same kind of thing – it’s just a big majestic musical experience.”
Though “Keep Swinging” and the newest single, “Until the Sun Comes,” are gaining the most widespread attention, it’s the bluesy ballad, “Jordan,” that has quickly become a fan favorite. The emotional track deals with the loss of a loved one and recently premiered on the hit FX series, Sons of Anarchy.
“It’s a hundred percent a truthful experience of a friend of ours whose mother actually passed away. It happened right around the time when we were recording and Jay began writing that. So it pays homage to somebody who’s passed on and I think we can all say that we can relate to that. I was a fan of Jay before he was even in the band so I feel honored and fortunate to be able to play music with him. And Jay just always has a knack for writing things you can just take a bite out of instantly and you can relate to it. I’ve never really been a lyric guy. As a drummer, I’ve always been into pitches, the guitar solos, grooves, and the tone of the drums. But since I’ve had the honor of playing with Jay, I’ve been like, ‘wow, this is a real story.’ If you read our lyrics there are a lot of really cool stories about real or seemingly real people. And I feel like ‘Jordan’ has that fully embodied.”
Rival Sons are currently scheduled to be on the road until mid-April. The band wraps up their U.S. tour on 1/29 in Seattle, WA and will then be playing shows throughout Canada and Europe over the following three months.