On a Thursday afternoon, the halls of the Universal Studios office in central London had been completely overrun, but only in the best of rock ‘n’ roll ways. Scott Holiday and Rival Sons, the two-time Grammy-nominated band, are over in the UK in between the much-anticipated release of their not one but two album drops this year.
Rival Sons – Lightbringer
Release Date: 20 October 2023
Words: Monty Sewell
Darkfighter and Lightbringer take us further down the rabbit hole of a band who have earned nothing but respect and admiration for their dedicated vivacity and depth within their music. Guitarist and songwriter Scott Holiday sat down with MetalTalk to delve into the impending Rival Sons excitement.
With the flick of a ‘tasche and the effortless cool aura, Holiday greets us with one huge smile and some serious sunglass-wearing suave. Straight in there with an insatiably boundless energy, Holiday’s description of the band’s current, hectic press tour is evident.
“You know, you have three days worth of interviews in one day and then a six-song kind of show kind of out of nowhere. Back at the hotel at 4:30 am, then up again at 5:15 am to head to the airport. Just constant jet lag but that kind of jet lag where you forget how to, like, breathe.” Holiday takes a moment to sigh before leaning back in his chair and regaining that – already seemingly trademark – big, welcoming grin.
Rival Sons have always played to their strengths. With a diverse but definitive sound, I was curious to hear how their continuous success had moulded their creative process.
“Normally, we will make a record in like twenty-three days. Write, record, and then head back out on tour. With Feral Roots, we spent a couple of months doing it and then before we started to record, Jay (Buchanan) and I got together privately and focussed for a week on the writing.
“But with these records (Darkfighter, Lightbringer), it really doesn’t compare because we spent the best part of two years putting it together during the pandemic.”
Still fresh in the minds of an industry still feeling the hangover of that time, it came as no surprise this was turned into a productive area at Rival Sons HQ.
“When a second tour got cancelled for us, we realised nothing was opening up, and we were not going to be hitting the road. I hit everybody up and just said, ‘We need to make a record’. So we immediately switched gears and started writing.”
Though the sudden halt must have come as a shock to the usual fast-paced life of a musician always on the go. “Oh yeah. I mean, with the first records, we were dropping almost one every year. Then we got to Feral Roots, and then after that, it is four years since we had an album out, and it is tough for guys like us who like to move quickly and change things up. It feels terrible not using new material, not exasperating creativity, you know.”
One thing that has stayed a golden consistency for the band has been their longtime producer, Dave Cobb. However, he does come with one issue, which made recording these two most recent records a slight scheduling struggle.
“Now that Dave has a whole set of Grammy-holding superstar artists he makes records with, he has only gotten more famous, which means when the studio was finally back open, everybody wanted to get in with him too. Everyone spent the last two years writing, so everyone has an album to record. We all just wanted to work, and it was really inspiring.
“So we would go to the studio for a week and then work on the tracks at home and back and forth. Before we knew it, not only did we finish the first ones, but we actually added a whole new batch of tracks. But I love the spontaneous creation and the idea that the tracks within a record are like chapters in a book. You start to write a story and experience it unfold in real-time.
“Once we laid it all out in front of us, we realised we had what seemed like two smaller books that went together: Darkfighter and Lightbringer.”
With the two albums now confirmed as parts of the same saga, Scott further enlightened us on their duality and the way the energies within the carefully constructed compositions shifted.
“With Darkfighter, it was very much the idea that one is navigating through this fog that’s landed on all of us, this really negative air. Then, of course, with Lightbringer, it is the trajectory. I mean, there is light and shade on both the records musically and also thematically.
“You have songs like Rapture, Guillotine Horses Bread, and Dark Side, which have a looming feel to them. But our records always end on a bright note. For these ones, we are really excited. There is some stuff that you’ve never heard from us before and a whole lot we’re just really proud of.”
Both the records have such a cinematic feel to them, with a constant guess as to where each song is going for the first-time listener. Time signature swap-arounds and neatly placed five-second acoustic breaks make for one heck of a musically. A Rival Sons induced rocking journey.
“We played a lot with light and shade. The sound is less reliant on our influences, I think, than any record we’ve made. It is more reliant on musical creativity, such as the chordal movements, adding texture, and different flavour palettes. I made other guitars work with different tunings and used different pedals. I try to have a mind eraser when I start a new record. I don’t want to use any of the stuff I used before.
“This is a real problem because I have to build these extraordinary guitar rigs just to create all the records. But it sure that it doesn’t sound like our last records. So I certainly did that on this record in a big way. I even had guitars made for the occasion.”
A musician by trade and guitarist by name and love, Holiday is pretty consistent with his set of onstage six-string friends. Known to be seen sporting a Firebird or Jazz Master, as any decent guitarist knows, there’s no such thing as having too many.
“I have all the guitars. I have too many. Thank goodness my kids have started to play because I’m starting to move them into their room. I feel weird because these are their first guitars; my son’s playing my old Esquire. As a kid, I had this impossible thing to play on, which was so hard on my fingers.
“Sometimes I feel like maybe I need to put them in with the shittiest guitar that I have. You know what I mean? You don’t buy a kid an Aston Martin on his sixteenth.”
So, amongst the throngs of instruments, is there a particular few he likes to use in the studio? “Honestly, I like to switch it up,” he says. “I have a custom Falcon that I used all over this record, and it’s just a really beautiful, brilliant, super personal guitar to me. I also have a Flying V Korina and an Explorer made by my friend Matt Hughes. I used a few Telecasters on this record, too. I love what I have, but I’m also always looking for new stuff.”
Scott’s obsession with his instrument of choice was prevalent from a young age, with his knack for self-made custom designs, something he was able to take to Japan not too long ago.
“Yeah, that was fun. Yamaha made me a beautiful guitar, and I used it on the Hollow Bones record because it’s so good. Working on it felt very Japanese, very technical, and excellent. They even had guitar blueprints with 3D computer imagery. There was a time that I sat down with five guys technicians, and they were like, ‘tell us what kind of frets you want; let’s talk about the neck width now and then the neck joint. They went over every single detail.
“Every measurement of the guitar, the width and diameter. The precision was insane. But I love the guitar. They took care of me, and at the end of it, I now have this instrument that I created with them. I don’t think they put it in production, so there are just three in the world, making it special. Refined exclusivity; tippy top kind of shit right there.”
Brilliant. So, he is going to be bringing that one out on the road?
“I’m using that one right now.”
With a knowing smile, Scott Holiday wraps up our interview with true class. This double bill of Rival Sons albums seems cut from an exclusively well-woven and newly worn fabric. Though brilliantly chatty, it felt as though there were still bounds of Rival Sons details to be shared, with Holiday proving them once more to be one of the most arduous and interestingly working bands out there.
Lightbringer is available to pre-order from here.
The European Tour kicks off this Friday at The Roundhouse in Camden, London. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that you can expect to hear songs played from both new albums. “Darkfighter is a new Rival Sons,” Jay Buchanan says, “and Lightbringer is the clear definition of what we are now. We broke ground on Darkfighter, but Lightbringer is a step beyond personal innovation and exploration.
“It goes a little further. We took everything into our own hands and pushed to see how far we could go. It was a self-exploration to see who we were and who we’ll be now. We had more friction and compromise than ever because we isolated the bare essence of where we needed to go—and then we went there.”
Support is from L.A. Edwards, who released their third studio album, Out Of The Heart Of Darkness, in January 2023. Limited tickets remain available from here.