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| 8 August 2016 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Rival Sons - Mikey Miley 01

SHANE PINNEGAR caught up with Rival Sons drummer Mikey Miley while the Long Beach, California band were in Australia as support act for Black Sabbath’s final tour. With their fifth album Hollow Bones just released, we had much to discuss.

Before I even get a question in, Miley is raving about what a great time the four piece are having in Australia.

“Loving it, loving it here,” he enthuses, “yeah, [we’re] definitely feeling love all around. Just like, going to cafes and, I don’t know… Australian people are just really cool.”

We can only agree, of course, as the drummer continues: “I toured here before. I toured here with Veruca Salt in 2005, and toured here with a jazz band in the late nineties when I was in college. I’ve been here a bunch but I think maybe I’m a little more seasoned now – I don’t know, I’m feeling it way more than all the other times. Loving the people, loving the food and the culture. We’re lucky because we go to the big cities and we get treated well by the promoters, so we’re not just like normal tourists. You know? It’s privileged.”

Rival Sons 01

Getting down to business, Miley considers how they approach playing to someone else’s crowd, especially on a megatour like Black Sabbath’s.

“It’s kind of the story of our lives, really,” he admits. “We’ve been up against the world, so to speak, since we’ve been a band just because we’re not really making concessions to modern rock radio. We’re trying to play rock the way I think it was originally intended. Maybe we’re failing, maybe we’re not, but that’s kind of our intent. That original gusto that Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin had. There was more of, like, a black American blues roots to it all. My point is we’ve kind of always felt like we’re up against the enemy, so to speak.

“When we got the call to do this, or opening for AC/DC or Lenny Kravitz or whoever, it’s been… Judas Priest was our first tour in the UK: that went amazingly well. We’ve actually been up against these odds before and overcome and won. So I think we’ve got a little bit of swagger as well. None of us are nervous before we walk on stage, and if there’s haters out there… I’ve been there, where I’m out and seeing a band and you have to kind of stomach the opener. We’ve all been there. I have empathy for those people. I just believe in what we do so much that I know that there’s going to be more people who like it or love it than people that are going to hate it. If you follow our Twitter feed, it’s ninety-nine to one of lovers versus haters.

“I kind of gauge it on that, and I’ve been playing drums my whole life, so I’m not worried about my abilities or anything. It definitely just comes down to an opinion thing – and nobody’s throwing pints of piss at us either! Maybe if I had pints of piss being thrown at me, I’d be answering the question a little different.”

Rival Sons have nothing to worry about if their Perth show was the norm: they came onstage like a hurricane firebrand and the crowd swelled from a quarter full to three quarters full – mostly right up as close to the stage as they could get – before the end of their set, as punters flocked to hear what was going on.

“We just did the North American tour with Sabbath,” Miley recalls, “and I think we won over those people quicker, maybe by the third or fourth song. I think the Australian crowd we’ve had to work – not that we’re working harder, but it’s taking a little bit longer to get the warmth. Usually there’s like… by the end of the set, I’m tossing my sticks out and waving to the people as I’m walking off and people are going, ‘fuck yeah, yeah!’ and giving us really good love. No-one’s going, ‘Sabbath! Sabbath!’”

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The story goes that Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne were at the Classic Rock Awards and saw the band perform two songs, whereupon they offered Rival Sons the worldwide Sabbath tour support, right then and there.

“Yep, yep,” Miley confirms. “We met Ozzy and Sharon afterwards and the rest is history, literally. They called our manager, they put everything in place, and you know, we thought we would get, like, two weeks on the North American tour. We were pretty confident we were going to get a few dates, and then our manager came in and he’s like, ‘okay, are you guys sitting down? Let’s everybody sit down. We just got offered the entire world tour. A hundred dates. Worldwide. Over the course of, like, a year.’ We’re just like, ‘holy shit, man!’

“They treated us well and we met Sharon and we’ve hung out with the guys in Sabbath and taken a bunch of photos with them. It’s kind of like… I feel like Beavis or Butthead! Like, imagine if Beavis and Butthead got the gig! I feel like… I just want to sit side stage and just go, ‘wow!’ It’s nostalgic and such an honour and humbling and all of the above. Everything you’d imagine.”

We’re constantly hearing about bands being forced to ‘buy on’ to big tours, or pay to play gigs. Miley assures us that that’s certainly not the case in this instance – after all, a year paying to be on tour wouldn’t make financial sense for any band.

“Yeah, everything’s working out,” he says. “It’s like… this is a once in a lifetime thing, so we definitely know what we have and we’re not squandering it by any means.”

When Rival Sons supported Black Sabbath in Perth the band had a keyboard player who was going sick, rocking his machine like it was his girlfriend on prom night. Miley laughs and fills us in.

“That is our friend Todd [Ögren-Brooks]. We brought him in after [fourth album] Great Western Valkyrie. We recorded that with Ikey Owens [on keyboards] who, God rest his soul, he played with Mars Volta and Jack White and bunch of other people… insane keyboard player… and he passed away two years ago – right after he recorded our album. We put, like, seven songs with keyboards on that album and so when we started [touring] we decided we’re going to add a keyboard player, like a ‘hired gun’ touring musician.

“[Todd] sings great back up harmonies and he’s a great keyboardist and he’s a long-time friend of mine. Todd’s been with us and he actually recorded Hollow Bones [with us]. He’s on, like, seven of the tracks.”

Miley goes on to agree that Ögren-Brooks goes off on stage – and even jokes about the provenance of his stage presence.

“You know, I think he saw Wolfmother a few years back and got inspired by that dude who plays bass and keyboards!” he laughs. “That guy’s a fucking maniac – we love Wolfmother. We did a festival with them in South Africa and we’ve been trying to tour together for, like, five years. I think there’s mutual respect – I hope there is, otherwise they’re bullshitters, which I really didn’t get that [laughs]. We had a love fest in a dressing room in South Africa. We’re all trying to tour together. It’s hard to match the schedules. I think Todd got inspired by that dude.”

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As much as Rival Sons sound mighty on record, live they are a whole ‘nother beast. When I broach the subject, Miley happily expands from the band’s perspective.

“Yeah, I think there’s an essence in the studio… we’ll get a song down and our producer takes the first or second take of it. We write in the studio. We don’t do any preproduction. It’s like a really live, off the cuff, off the floor, vibe. There’s an element of danger to that, you know… there’s a visceral quality to that – an off-the-cuffness to that, that we have on our albums.

“We don’t play to a click track. It’s all just us playing together and so live. We’ve been touring for seven years together and so I think we’re blessed to know how to play together. I personally think the drums aren’t loud enough on the albums – maybe the thunder of the kick drum is punching you in the gut and people are feeling it live. We don’t really change our approach though – we’re playing live in the studio together in the same room. It’s… I don’t know. I can’t really [explain it]… I guess that’s more of a subjective kind of answer…”

Because the songs are written in the studio, and recorded live, do they grow and evolve when the band start playing them live on tour?

“Yeah, yeah, I honestly think our albums are like seeds,” Miley opines. “Having this conversation, I’ve never really thought about that… the album is like seeds and then we water them and put them in soil on tour. [chuckles]

“Certain little transitions, like, there’ll be a drum fill that I did on the record, or a thing Scott [Holiday – guitar] does – even some of the solos Scott does on the record, he’ll do the same live, but there’s a flavour to it… Maybe we up the tempo a couple of clicks, or back off the tempo a couple clicks and let it breathe a little more. We open up sections in the middle and Jay can kind of improvise.

“There’s all sorts of little open moments that we leave for the unexpected,” he expands enthusiastically, “which you won’t get on the album. We have a few songs on our albums that have an improvisational section – we’re very improvisational… I’m born and raised playing jazz and improvising since I learned to play drums. I love everything from jazz to Frank Zappa to the Grateful Dead to Phish: you know, jam band stuff. Everyone’s got a tremendously different background and we never want to play the same show twice. I think that’s kind of what makes us Rival Sons…”

Does that also make the band a bit dangerous?

“It makes it dangerous on a business level, on a physical level, on a spiritual and emotional and creative artist level!” Miley laughs. “It’s, you know, we don’t make concessions. I’m a fan of a lot of bands but I think there’s a lack of danger with a lot of new music and everyone’s starting to sound like the same thing. Band names with five words in the band name… a lot of shit just starts sounding the same to me.

“Our critics will say we just sound like a bad Zeppelin rip-off, you know, or whatever. I take that as a compliment because Zeppelin was drawing from the well of the Delta Blues and the Chicago Blues. Again, it’s like that Black American roots music. That’s what we’re influenced by. As different as all the guys in Rival Sons are, we meet in the middle with Soul music. We all love Otis Redding, we all love Motown, we all love Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Fats Domino and Sam Cook, Van Morrison.”

Rival Sons - Mikey Miley 03

The foundations of it all, I suggest.

“Yeah, exactly,” Miley agrees. “Going back to the roots. Duke Ellington, even – shit! You can call me a bad Zeppelin rip-off, I’m kind of like, ‘well, okay, you didn’t like my band but I appreciate where you’re coming from.’ Even though they probably don’t think that. They’re just like, ‘I hate these fucking guys that sound like Zeppelin.’”

Having been on punishing tour schedules for years now, do Rival Sons have actual, real homes – and do they ever get to spend any time there?

“Yeah, I mean, we’re out, if you add up all the days, we’re usually averaging six and a half months [a year],” he explains. “That’s five months to spend [at home]. We’re all married, we all have kids, it’s really hard. Maybe we should make concessions and sell out and try and make an album that might get played on pop radio? It’s just not in our… it’s… none of us are interested in writing songs like that. We write whatever we’re feeling and we try to make them mean something. I think what we’re doing is creating a niche and there is a resurgence of neo-classic rock – people wanting to go back to the roots and play blues-oriented rock and roll music. You take the blues out of rock and roll and it just becomes hard rock. You know what I mean?

“AC/DC, they’ve still got the blues in there. You listen to Angus solo and you’re like, ‘that shit is like Pentatonics blues 101!’ It’s super rad. [When] you get into hard rock and heavy metal and stuff, there’s really no blues licks anymore. I think we’re going to be in more of a niche thing and we’re cool with that.”

With Rival Sons making such a positive impression in Australia on the Black Sabbath tour, have people started talking about them coming back down for a headline tour yet?

“Yeah, we actually rehearsed at a studio here the last couple days,” Miley explains, “and at rehearsal yesterday, I heard talk of our agent and the promoters down here already trying to work something out. I think probably it would be like this time next year. I’m hoping. We’re crossing our fingers.”

Category: Interviews

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