October 19, 2011
By Vinny Cecolini
Saviors of American Hard Rock?
JAM Magazines Speaks Candidly with Drummer Mike Miley
Promo Photo Courtesy of Rival Sons website
Mike Miley is excited. The Rival Sons drummer is taking advantage of a rare free day by heading to the ballpark to watch his beloved Anaheim Angels battle the Chicago White Sox. After celebrating his birthday with his girlfriend, he plans on visiting with his parents and using their new big screen television and state-of-the-art sound system to watch his band's performance on Lopez Tonight ("The kick drum sound was amazing," he beams). Then it's back to work. Although his band just returned from a successful debut tour of Japan, it's almost time to begin a cross-country trek opening for Evanescence.
Toss in shows with AC/DC, Judas Priest and Queensryche, an upcoming headlining tour of Europe, and the recent release of the critically acclaimed Pressure & Time and you'll understand why the Rival Son is savoring every second of his short break. Yes, the last few months has been whirlwind of activity for the band, but after years of toiling away on the Los Angeles music scene, Miley is taking everything in stride.
"When we were starting out in L.A. a few of years ago," laughed the musician, "we had to call 150 friends and hope that 20 would actually come to our show. It certainly was different in Japan. We'd arrive at some of the venues to play there for the first time and discover they were sold out."
Admittedly, music critics are a lazy, fickle bunch. They enjoy nothing better than summing up a band's sound as a mix of a, b and c. In keeping with that tradition, even critics who laud Rival Sons' nod to '70s hard rock refer to its music as a blend of Free, Foghat and Led Zeppelin. There is no denying that the band's members were weaned on classic rock, and that singer Jay Buchanan has worshipped at the altars of Robert Plant and Jim Morrison.
Rival Sons is no mere cookie cutter rendition of Led Zeppelin. The band, which also includes guitarist Scott Holiday and bassist Robin Everhart, has more in common with The Rolling Stones, who studied the R&B and Blues greats before coming into their own; with Muse and Coldplay, who emulated the best parts of Radiohead before heading off in their own original directions; and with Radiohead itself, who borrowed from U2 before becoming masters of their own alternative universe.
The members of Rival Sons certainly paid homage to their musical heroes on their 2009 self-released full length debut, 2009's Before the Fire. They repeated the process on the EP Pressure & Time that came out in January 2011. Pressure & Time was the group's first release through Earache Records, and it finds the hard rock revivalist developing a signature sound and style. Despite what has been recently written, Miley says he and his band mates "could not be more proud and humbled" by the comparisons to '70s rock legends.
"Let's set the record straight," he said sternly. "We've been misquoted. It originally happened in Classic Rock Magazine and then a bunch of journalists just ran with it. The article's headline reads 'Stop comparing us to Led Zeppelin.' We're good friends with its author Malcolm Dome, and we share pints with him whenever we're in England, but it was something he was trying to get Jay to say. Jay actually said something to the affect, 'I can see where you could think that.'
"The evolution of all types of music includes borrowing and recreating. Duke Ellington used to say, 'Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.' Ironically, it's a quote he took from avant-garde composer Igor Stravinsky. Beethoven stole from Mozart and Mozart stole from Bach. Jimmy Page stole from Blues greats like Willie Dixon."
Rival Sons may be a throwback to pure '70s hard rock, but the band benefits from also fitting in comfortably among the artists currently populating modern rock radio. But is the band, as Britain's Classic Rock Magazine declared, "The Savior of American Hard Rock"? And if so, will the key to the band's success be its ability to bring generations of rock fans together, instead of musically polarizing them?
"It's our dream to bridge the gap between generations," confided the drummer. "We've seen 12-year-old kids at our shows and talked with 40 to 50-year olds who I've thanked us for bringing back this brand of music."
Pressure & Time was written, recorded and mixed in just 20 days. It also came after what Miley describes as a "grueling four-week tour." In this age of sterile, over-polished and over-baked albums, the result was not only one of the best albums of 2011, (or 1975), but an inevitable classic.
"We don't want to over-think things," concedes the artist. "A lot of what you hear on the record is either first or second takes, so we're able to capture a real live feel on a two-inch tape."
The greatest unknown band will remain unknown if no one hears its music. Rival Sons believes it has avoided becoming a proverbial tree in the woods, however, by not signing with one of the major labels that courted them, but with Earache Records, the independent label best known for its extreme metal roster.
"Earache signing a hard rocking blues band," confessed Miley, "made headlines throughout the music community. It was a risky move, but it was a smart move on everyone's part. Sure, they can be a pain to deal with, but they've worked their butts off to put the band on the map."
Although Rival Sons has been together a little more than three years, the drummer admits things have happened fast for the group. He's also quick to add that the band's members have all paid their dues in and around the Los Angeles music scene. Miley, Holiday and Everhart remain highly regarded session musicians. The drummer and the bassist, who met during a jazz gig, were members of Last Call with Carson Daly's Los Angeles-based house band for nearly five years. When not fronting Rival Sons, Buchanan is a popular singer-songwriter, who, not surprisingly, was at first hesitant about joining a hard rock band.
"When Scott first heard Jay sing," recalled the musician, "he said 'That's our singer.' I knew Jay would be reluctant, so I said, 'Okay, here's his number. You call him'."
Miley did, however, first reach out to the singer with a preemptive phone call and explained that the then-fledgling band had already licensed music for film and television commercials. "Jay said he would have to 'really, really, really, really like the music' to consider joining. He actually said 'really' four times."
Fortunately, the singer and the guitarist immediately hit it off and agreed to meet for a jam session. Buchanan officially became Rival Sons' singer. That was June 2008. Because of prior commitments, however, the singer was unable to perform with the band until that December. In retrospect, the frustrating wait was worth it. After a handful of shows, the band met its current manager and signed licensing deals with NASCAR as well as Izod.
"When Jay was finally able to perform with us, we stormed out of the gates with our guns blazing," declared Miley. "We also got a one-off gig opening for AC / DC."
Actually, the band was offered a week of shows with the Australian rock legends after The Answer was forced to drop off the tour. Without tour support from Earache, however, the band simply could not afford to continue with AC / DC. Fortunately, a more feasible tour offers from Judas Priest and Queensryche quickly followed.
Rival Sons arrive on the music scene at a unique time. The industry remains in flux and albums sales are a fraction of what they once were. Perhaps there will never be another The Dark Side of the Moon, Back in Black, Thriller or Bat Out of Hell. But each bland pop movement of the last five decades has been followed by a brash explosion of musical creativity. During the '60s, it was the British Invasion; during the '70s, it was both Punk and Metal; during the '80s, it was New Wave; and during the '90s, it was Alternative. What's next? Will Rival Sons herald a new "back to the future" musical movement that unseats the Justin Bieber's of the world?
"We are the Rival Sons," declared Miley. "We don't always agree, but we are best of friends. We're brothers. We love each other. We hate each other. We argue. We fight. And we're an amalgamation of 50 years of great music."
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