Since forming in 2008, Rival Sons has busted through the gate, blasting their fresh take on blues to audiences across the globe. They have the fever of a strong, young band of this contemporary era, with the soul and gritty depth of Muddy Waters.
More than any other genre or classification of music, blues-heavy rock has maintained its sound through the generations. While you could trace its origins as far back as you want (even cavemen sang the blues), once Muddy Waters helped pioneer the modern sound of the blues in the 60s, those most successful blues acts have typically kept the same basic format...one that has held up over time.
The good modern blues acts play it well, and keep the tonic feeling like new every time they pass it around. Rolling Stones and Credence Clearwater Revival made blues even cooler; Clutch pioneered a harder edge to the blues; now we have Black Keys and Jack White bringing a New Millennium sensibility to the arena.
This is where Rival Sons have stepped in, to take the reigns with the best blues record of the year, Pressure & Time. Indeed, Rival Sons sounds a lot like the hard, rockin’ blues of old, but with a modern flavor. The SOUL of their music resonates powerfully through the 10 tracks, and while on the surface you could imagine this being played live in some Chicago bar in 1963, the spirit of the music is sheer 2011.
“I think what remains the same is the blues,” says drummer Mike Miley. “The sounds change by the people who play the instruments, and what amps they're playing through. The Black Keys are playing through old gear; Jack White is playing through old gear. It's those tones from the 50s and 60s that are the best.”
To maintain the raw, urgent feel necessary for a good blues record, Rival Sons recorded Pressure & Time in 20 days, from scratch. “We wrote, recorded, mixed, mastered it in 20 days,” Miley tells us. “We wrote a song a day, recorded it.”
However, unlike similar experiments in the past - like when Neil Young and Crazy Horse went into the studio in 1973 to record Tonight's The Night, with no practice and tons of booze and weed - Rival Sons took a more calculated approach to this record.
As Miley puts it, “We really didn't really coop ourselves up. We went in fresh. We wanted it to be visceral; we intentionally went into the studio without any put-together songs, to keep that kind of fresh, alive quality to it. To us, that's kind of the backbone to rock & roll, it's loose and from the gut.”
Of course, this is not to say they didn't party a little bit while making the record. They're rockstars! Of COURSE there was that delicate balance! Miley laughs in agreement, “I'd say every night, probably was night-capped with a joint or five.”
Miley points out the realities and joys marijuana brings to music. Marijuana “opened up my entire brain a whole new world. My first year in college, I had a roommate in college, one of my best friends, who turned me on to Yes, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, all these psychedelic bands that I had heard before, but never with the ears I had after I started smoking weed. Music comes alive on weed, man!
“People just have to admit it: music sounds a lot better, from a piano concerto to Grateful Dead live at Hampton Theater in 1979, to Topographic Oceans by Yes. They all come alive when you've smoked a bowl.
“Weed - or intoxication in general - has been attached to music since the inception of western music, which was around in the 15th Century. I know Beethoven and Mozart and all those guys were taking something. The idea of being high and listening, writing, composing, playing music high, is a godsend. It's definitely a gift from nature…I mean, I'm all for it. We could make aspirin out of it, it's the strongest fiber on the planet, we can make paper (and end deforestation). There's so much we can do with weed, so I'm all for legalization.”
Miley adds that it's the propaganda that has kept cannabis illegal for so long. “Initially it was propaganda, and it was pounded into the American psyche, leading up to the illegalization in 1937. With William Randolph Hearst, all the Chicago banks and those people that were lobbying for it...that was the main thing. And it just got ingrained into the American psyche, kind of like the Russians, we're all still kind of afraid of the Russians, even after the Cold War's over for like 20 years.
“Propaganda is a really powerful tool. If you're a part of NORML or any of these organizations that are for the legalization, you're just some dumb hippie. There are some really smart people that are behind the marijuana legalization movement, but they don't get the voice because of the propaganda machine, FOX News, Republicans, all of them.
“What's funny, though, is I know so many people that are Republican, and they smoke weed. But the Republicans that are in office are really against it. And even the Democrats too, they're a bunch of pu***s, they can't get behind it.
“I think Dennis Kucinich is like one of the only politicians that's cool with it. He's rad: he's vegan, he's got a hot model wife, he's a rad dude, man. I love Kucinich; every time he's in the primaries, I vote for him.”
As the band is currently touring Europe, Miley's access to marijuana is somewhat limited...but not devastated. “There's somebody in every town, every city, every place, every festival or whatever, somebody’s got weed. It's funny to see the different kinds of weed. You meet connoisseurs, and then you meet some dude who just has shake in a bag and wants to roll a joint for you. We'll be in the Netherlands on Friday...but so far, in Europe, I haven't seen really great, great weed.”
While they're enjoying playing gigs on the other side of the pond, Miley already has plans for his return to Southern California. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything better than California…first, I'm going to get a New York Sour Diesel and a Master Kush, so that I have a daytime and a nighttime. Maybe some Blue Dream, but New York Sour Diesel has never done me wrong, and it's a great, creative high. I want to write poetry, I want to practice my drums, I want to vacuum the house.
“The Master/OG Kush are great for when you're winding down your day. But I can't talk when I'm on indicas, my speech goes out the window pretty much, so I reserve that for nighttime. Or after a show, a good indica gives a good body high after a show, it kind of helps the body unwind. With my arms- being the drummer - I'm really wound up after playing.”
Then he nods, “You always gotta have some good Kush in your stash.”