» Scott Holiday - Rival Sons
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Interview conducted April 18 2023
Interview published July 29 2023

American rock band Rival Sons' new album Darkfighter is just out and Metal Covenant was getting some time to chat with guitarist Scott Holiday. Darkfighter is the first one of a double set of records coming out in 2023. The second one being Lightbringer, which release date has yet to be revealed.

Tobbe: What does Rival Sons' new record Darkfighter have to offer to the fans?

Scott: Well, it offers a new chapter. New songs, new tones, and I think just a progression and a move forward if you're a fan of the band. We work really hard. We try to pride ourselves a little bit on the idea of not making the same record twice.

I think a lot of people call our records growers, which I don't think is a bad term, because they're slightly challenging. Not that they're jazz records or something, but they're challenging in the way that the previous record had an identity, and when you fall in love with that identity and that becomes, "Well, that's my band.", and then that identity changes a little bit, then it's challenging as a band, right?

But it's also really gratifying if you wanna come with us. We're making songs you love and we move in a direction you like. Or, you know what's even more fun? We move in a direction you had no idea about really, that you didn't think you would like, and then it sells to you and then it speaks to your heart. That's fun, that's fun. Like, I have artists like that, that I follow down their path and go, "Wow! This wasn't my thing.".

Not that I've given it a chance and kind of listened and opened my mind to it, my heart to it, and my ears. That's my jam, you know. Maybe a band like Vampire Weekend and even a band like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, or something. These alternative flavored bands. They're just incredible. Incredible writing, incredible guitar playing. Like, really, really fun. So, we're offering that. We're offering a new chapter that's different than the other chapters.

Tobbe: And with changing from every record, how much do you kind of look back at past achievements to make this happen? Do you listen back to your older stuff?

Scott: Absolutely not. In that way I pretty much ignore the past. The only reason I reference it in my mind at all is to not repeat, to be careful and not do the same thing. Because those inclinations are already there. I don't need to reference myself to sound like us, but I need to reference myself to make sure that I'm not like, "Eh, I've kind of done that already.", or this feel, or this riff… And that's it. I think that's the role that looking back would play; to make sure that we're making that step forward personally.

Tobbe: Feral Roots did good and I guess a lot of bands would look back and go, "Oh, our last record did good.".

Scott: Yes, to repeat that success. That is probably a recipe for disaster. Certainly artistically, possibly creatively. Worrying about repeating a record for success is… I guess the crudest way to put it is that it's a chickenshit way to do art. It's not the way you do it. And I don't feel like where I was with that record. I'm in a different headspace, completely.

I don't wanna repeat that, 'cause that's not who I am, that's not what I'm trying to say, that's not what I feel like. Not that I don't love the record, not that I'm not proud of it. It's just I've turned into a different person. I mean, that was four years ago. That's a long time. Those songs aren't even what they once were when you see us live.

They're different, they've evolved, they've taken on a new life, because when we recorded them, it's almost automatic, like we are just learning the song, and it becomes something, and then we put it down, but then we take it on the road, and it starts to live and grow, and we open sections up, and we attack certain sections in a different way. Now it's much more organic and different than what you have on the record. It's not even what it once was. I don't need to reference it. I'm looking forward to Darkfighter and how these songs grow.

Tobbe: Let's not talk so much about the next record, Lightbringer, but isn't it a little bit risky to make two records and release them in such a short span, like five or six months or whatever it will be?

Scott: Yeah, maybe. I think on a business level it's probably a little risky, but I basically have the advantage to just think like an artist. Even if I don't and it is business, and I have to do business, in this aspect I can just put on my artist hat and go, "Okay. What sounds fun? What sounds cool?" and more importantly than just for me, "What would be cool for me as a listener? What do I want?". That's fun.

And, "You guys waited four years, but then you're giving me this one record that's only eight songs? What the hell? Oh, but wait. There's another one.", you know what I mean? That's cool, that's fun, and there's a reason why those records are shorter and why there's two. There's intent there, and risk aside, it's a cool thing to do and it makes sense for us artistically.

Tobbe: I was actually gonna ask you why you guys stopped at eight songs.

Scott: Well, that was the collection that worked. That's what made sense when we had these albums. This was how the story was told, in these eight songs. And also, we don't wanna put out too much music on one record. That's why we couldn't put both on one big, long two-part thing. It's hard to digest. A full two statements.

I mean, I'm the biggest Pink Floyd fan you'll ever meet and I still to this day struggle with listening to the whole The Wall. That's a big record. It's a lot to digest. If it was The Wall part 1 and part 2, I'd probably be like, "Let me just get the first record, because it's so fucking good. Let me just digest that.". Like, all the solos, all the lyrics, and the feeling of what they're trying to say here, and then, "Let's wrap it up with part 2 and let me digest that fully.". So we've given you the opportunity to do that. Like, really get into this first one, like every section, you know.

Tobbe: I like the 40-minute format.

Scott: And I think these are, like, more in the 30s, which I love. (Darkfighter is around 39 minutes and 30 seconds long.) Most of my favorite records are like that. Anything from the 50s, 60s and even the 70s. But the 60s especially. Those are 35-minute records. Beatles records, Stones records, The Animals, Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin. These are 30-minute records. That's what fits on vinyl, that's what sounded good, and maybe for that reason they are digestible to me too, because that's what I lived with. I can take that in one bite.

Tobbe: Since your records are called Darkfighter and Lightbringer, must there always be opposites like good or evil, or in this case, dark and light?

Scott: It's a little obvious, it's a little simple in the thinking, but I think light and shade and this kind of polarity of balance is just natural. It's just natural in life for us. And as simple of an idea as it is, the naturalness of it makes it a contender for that we wanna work in light and shade, good and bad, hot and cold. (Laughs) These, like, polarizing opposites. I think it works well. I don't think there always has to be, but I think in the case that we were making something kind of weighty it was just what made sense.

Tobbe: Your music obviously has influences from kind of older music, but still, do you listen to newer music and get inspired by that music?

Scott: Tons, tons. I think this record is probably more inspired by modern music than older music, for sure. We're referencing less and less older music. Not because we have to, or we feel a responsibility, but because it's just natural. Just naturally we're starting to not rely on our influences, or to not rely on anything too kitsch, like, "They're a classic rockband. They have this 70s sound.".

We've never really prided ourselves on that at all. I think that was just something that naturally was happening for us. Certainly on Before The Fire I aimed at it. I was making essentially a 60s psychedelic rock record, 'cause it was so in my heart that it felt current to me at that moment. It felt like what I think was needed in rock 'n' roll at that time for me. But now certainly, and with Jay (Buchanan), I think the whole time we'd spend less about that. Tons of new music, tons of different types of music.

Probably the most prevalent music I listened to, the most common artists I'd listen to, were jazz throughout the record, just 'cause I was home. I had my player, my records, and when I'm home that's what I'm listening to. It's wintertime, fireplace is on, jazz is on, and I think that's a healthy thing for a guitar player that plays rock 'n' roll.

It's great to not reference other rock 'n' roll guitar players. It's great to reference other instruments. Other horns, other melodies, other genres. Stuff like that. So I did a lot of that on this record. I know you're probably thinking, "I don't hear very much John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk on your record.", but yeah, we're not making a jazz record, but melodically it was a big influence for me, and a great palette contour.

Tobbe: Some people say that rock is dead and some people say that rock thrives better than ever, so by playing the music that you do, like rock 'n' roll, in what way can you guys attract younger listeners to take this music into their hearts?

Scott: If I had the answer to that it'd be happening already. It's a big responsibility. I think nobody is going to force any group of people to do anything they don't want to. Certainly an older generation is not gonna influence a younger generation to do what they're telling them. That's just not the way the world works.

People are gonna come upon things on their own. That's what we can't do. What we can do is make the best, most honest and original music we can. We can have a strive for that. So we're making something good, we're making something we believe in, and something we put our heart into. We're making something that we feel has artistic value in rock 'n' roll. It's not just a schlocky, kitschy record.

We're making a rock 'n' roll type of genre music that has some weight and artistic value. That's the best thing we can do, 'cause eventually if there are people that are going to look at music in that kind of light they'll get those qualities from what we make. If that's not what they're looking for, then there's not much else we can do, 'cause I'm not interested in gaining them by some schtick or some bullshit.

I mean, we can only be measured by the quality of our art and the way we're approaching it. And we're doing it the most honest, best way we can in our hearts. We're trying. That's all we can do.

Tobbe: Maybe every band doesn't need younger fans. As long as there are fans, you know.

Scott: You know, the more popular we get, the younger the fan gets. With every album cycle, the more young fans we gain. And you know, we toured with new, young rock bands. Notably we did a string of shows with the guys in Greta Van Fleet, who has a very young, young female audience.

Crazy! Like no other bands we've played with, and we've played with quite a few rock bands. This band has the youngest, most female audience I've seen. It's different. And we got a lot of those fans playing with those guys. So that's something we can do. You can find artists that are playing to a younger generation and expose them to what you're doing.

Tobbe: You touched upon it a little bit, but might you explore it a little bit more and tell me how you see your growth from your first record up until these two records now?

Scott: Profound amount of growth from the first record, from Before The Fire. It's like art reflects life and it has been said classically that we're evolving every sixth years and becoming different human beings, so. It has even escalated as artists. So I look at some of my favorite older artists, and a really good, notable one is you look at, like, the end of the Beatles career.

Every record was, like, different haircuts, and facial hair, and outfits, just to say about image-wise. And where they were as human beings. Different beliefs, and talking about their beliefs. And the music was evolving. Recording was changing. They were changing the way people recorded records and wrote them, right? I grew up with that kind of thing.

So for me that's what being in a band is. It's every record is an evolution of style, and approach, and influences, and what you're turned on by. And we're fortunate to live these lives where we travel, and meet new people, and see different things, and have these experiences, and doing our best to translate what we're living in our new realities every time we make a record. So you get that.

On a practical level, I'm striving to do different things with my instrument on every record. Approach it differently, trying to be more nuanced. More aggressive, more delicate, you know. Like playing in both directions. More supportive, and jumping out more. Again, this polarity thing about, like, working both sides of the polarity of that creativity. I feel pretty proud that we've done that with each step forward.

I think the most important thing is that with every record you start to feel like, "This sounds more like the band and less like their influences.". On Before The Fire you can hear the influences. You can hear influences on the new record even, but it's less and less. The band is being more comfortable in its own skin per se, being more comfortable being the Rival Sons, referencing the influences less and making just music more.

Tobbe: What would Rival Sons sound like today if all activity related to Dave Cobb just disappeared?

Scott: We would sound a little different, and not only because of the fantastic production work he does with us. He's also very interactive in the writing and even plays on some of the records. More now than he used to. Early on he didn't play on anything, but on these last few records, and especially the last two records, I think, mostly.

Hollow Bones: Did he play at all? I don't think so. I think it was just on Feral Roots, where he plays acoustic guitar quite a bit. He's always in the room with a shaker when we're recording. We're recording in a room all together. So we're all on instruments, and he, like, still wanna be in there 'cause we're talking the arrangements.

It's so off the floor that we almost are looking at each other for the arrangement, which is really fun, and the listener gets to hear that. Like, the song kind of just sparking, which is a different sound than the song massaged out 20 or 30 times, you know what I mean? And it gives it kind of a spring and a life. But he also writes and plays, so it would sound different, to say the least. I think we would still sound like us. There would be some decisions that would be different, but yeah.

Tobbe: My final question: What will make Rival Sons to one of the greatest bands of its time?

Scott: You know, I think that's so subjective. That's the beautiful thing about art; about music. It's subjective. Everybody's greatest is different. I can see three people out here in the room next to us and then just me and you. If I ask you what the greatest thing is of all time, "What band is the greatest band of all time?", I'm pretty sure our answer is gonna be different, and if we go out there I'm positive it's gonna be different from me and you.

So, it really goes back to what we were talking about earlier. All I can do to fit in somebody's subjective 'Greatest of all time' is be honest, make something with all of my heart and all my creativity, that has rawness, and also has focus, and contains the elements of art that I love: joy, pain. That is somewhat of a mirror from their time, whether you're younger, older, whatever. There's a lot of different people in the world. It's our mirror, for what we see and what we're living.

And we're trying to do that the best we can by projecting that and putting that into this art, and being forthcoming with our talent, and with our vulnerability, or our prowess, or our musicianship. That's what we can do in the emphasis as great artists, you know. If that translates into be someone's 'Greatest of all time', cool! If anyone tells me we're the greatest of all time, it's very subjective. Believe it or not, people already told me that now, and it never will go to my head (Laughs), and I will never accept it.

That is the truth. It is a subjective comment and what I feel when I hear somebody say, "You're the greatest ever!", is great joy for them. If that's how they feel about it, that's cool! That's cool, because you're happy enough to feel that way. It makes me feel good. I don't know if that's actually true, and it could be a new band for you tomorrow, but if you're saying that to me right in this moment, I love it. That's great! At least I know I'm bringing you some kind of joy and actually making you feel something.

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