Interview: Rival Sons
As far as Ozzy Osbourne impressions go, Scott Holiday’s is borderline indistinguishable from the legendary, doddering Brummie. But then he has had the distinct advantage of spending the last thirteen months navigating the planet with Black Sabbath in support of the heavy metal overlords on their colossal ‘The End’ tour. Having released their stunning fifth album in the form of Hollow Bones back in July, Rival Sons have hardly struggled to make a sizeable dent in both the American and European markets, but the extraordinary – and thoroughly deserved – endorsement of being handpicked to open for Sabbath on their farewell tour has since seen their reputation skyrocket.
After taking the Californians across the US, Canada, Australasia, Europe, Latin America and now Europe again for a second leg – ever the workaholics – the Sons have generously decided to play a handful of headline shows on their off days, with Sheffield fortunate enough to find itself on the band’s hit list. Sporting a glorious handlebar moustache and a dapper three-piece pinstripe suit, with a sort of purple cravat, Scott Holiday is without doubt one of the most recognisable guitarists in rock today; and that’s before you hear the phenomenal, other-worldly sounds the man summons from his trusty Orange amps on a daily basis.
Tucked away in a chilly production office in the heart of The Leadmill, I sat down with the Sons’ connoisseur of cool to talk Hollow Bones, rock ‘n’ roll, and the magnitude of their world tour with Black Sabbath.
Is Hollow Bones a metaphor for death?
No, it’s not. I will only answer very briefly because this idea came from a medicine man who spoke with Jay, and gave him some advice. He mentioned this idea of hollow bones, and to make it simplified, I think it’s about staying clean and humble inside. Being clear and being the servant, it’s more a thing of humility than death. That’s how I understand it.
There’s a real sense of depth throughout the new record. Would you say it’s your most ambitious work?
Maybe, but even from the first record, Before The Fire, it’s free and it’s fun, but there’s a lot of very deep subject matter on there. Musically there’s depth, too, it’s not just like ‘fuck, this sounds like a shitty rock record from 1985’. You hear stuff like that coming out now, and the way people are rocking an image, and how they’re writing and presenting their art, it seems really lowbrow and shitty. This is why it won’t revitalise, you’ve got too many musicians honing in on the shittiest eras. It’s already watered-down, and you can hear people watering down the watered-down sounds [laughs]. Look to the other stuff and get away from rock ‘n’ roll.
Considering how progressive the new material is, do you still consider yourselves a traditional rock ‘n’ roll band?
It’s a funny question, because in one sense, absolutely! And in another sense, we never have. We say what we are is rock ‘n’ roll music, but if you think rock ‘n’ roll you’re gonna think Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and we don’t sound anything like those guys. If you’re somebody who’s listened to us, you know most of our music has been rock ‘n’ roll that hasn’t forgotten to boogie and dance, and remembered the blues and country, and all these kinds of things that seem to be the embodiment of what built rock ‘n’ roll. So we call ourselves rock ‘n’ roll, but we are probably in reality much more of an alternative band, as every record has its own identity that wouldn’t be exactly rock ‘n’ roll; certainly when you hear Sacred Tongue or our ballads. Maybe even Hollow Bones or Pretty Face off the new record, you’re certainly not thinking ‘that’s rock ‘n’ roll’. You’re thinking ‘that’s alternative music’, or something more contemporary, which is great.
How much did Dave Cobb [the band’s producer] influence the new record?
He always has. Not even more recently, from the beginning. It’s probably less now, more then, because it was like a new way we were doing records with this automatic writing, moving quickly. There’d be times where we’d kinda hit the wall, not sure if we wanna sign off on something, and he’d go ‘oh, come on! All you needed was a little extra thing to connect the parts!’ Nowadays it’s less him playing, but he’s just a tremendous influence on the band as a producer, a friend, a co-writer and all that stuff.
There’s a clip on YouTube in which Todd [Ögren Brooks, keyboardist] meets Ozzy and Sharon for the first time backstage at a festival. They were both blown away by your performance. After that initial meeting, how long was it before the offer to join the tour materialised?
I didn’t even really see Todd do that, I just heard he’d spoken with Ozzy. He came to me and said Ozzy wants to meet us all to say hi with Sharon and the kids. So we were all backstage at the Classic Rock Awards, just hanging out, and they asked to come back. We said yeah, of course. And it was exactly the same as Todd’s thing, Ozzy approached me and he went [impersonates Ozzy] ‘honestly, honestly, look lad, greatest fuckin’ band I’ve seen in years! I’m not fuckin’ kidding’, which was incredible! I’m a big Sabbath fan, love Ozzy and his solo career. And Sharon was with him in the back, and she goes [impersonates Sharon] ‘honestly, we love you guys, you’re great! You should do the tour!’ We’re like ‘what tour?’, so she explained it, and I said ‘Sharon, the answer is yes, absolutely’. I pointed to our manager and said she could speak with him right now! So it started happening pretty quickly right after that, believe it or not; and I think maybe a month and a half later the ball was rolling. Then it probably took another six months to iron shit out, but it was even bigger than we thought, because they just straight up gave us the entire world tour. So we were very humbled, very honoured. And we’re almost at the end.
Would you ever miss the intimate shows like this evening?
Yeah, I think so. We’re certainly not gonna leave Sabbath and start doing two nights in a row or whatever, it’ll get smaller. So I’ll miss these big venues.
The O2 Arena gig tomorrow, that’s probably the biggest indoor show you’ve ever done? Gotta be up there.
It’s up there for sure, but we’ve done the O2 two more times. We did it with Deep Purple, and I got to play onstage with them on Smoke On The Water. Then we did it with Lenny Kravitz too, so it’ll be our third time. It’s exciting. We just did South America, so they were outdoor gigs, and they were unbelievable. 60,000 people, it’s crazy. We had people chanting our name, and it was our first time there.
Are there any bands this side of the Atlantic you’d tip for greatness?
There’s a plethora of acts that I’m completely unprepared for. Maybe I’ll have to cycle back around. I’m constantly digging up new stuff, and new old stuff, as well. The new Childish Gambino is really good, I like a lot of hip-hop and R&B. Rock bands, I’m not sure, it’s harder to really think about it.
If you could record a live album in any venue in the world where would it be?
Well, since I’m in the UK right now, one that’s here for sure would be the Royal Albert, just because it’s so famous, and I think it’s the right size. Intimate enough, but huge enough. As for home, the Wiltern’s kinda fun, and the Hollywood Bowl would be interesting.
What does the next twelve months look like for the band?
I think by the time the next record hits and sees the light of day it’ll be 2018, because we’re touring already, and booked out until the end of August. I think we’re gonna try to assess what’s happening. We’re doing a new label, and everyone’s writing right now. We’re getting ready to shift a whole bunch of things, and we’ll see. Who knows? We’re just gonna work hard to get ready to get in the studio and make that record after the summer. I don’t think we wanna make a thirty-day record this time, I think we might wanna take a minute longer.