Pretty much ever since there has been rock and roll, there has
been the need in some people’s minds to save rock and roll. Save it from becoming
too safe, losing its edge, or turning into something that just doesn’t rock. The bands
that have what it takes to be rock saviors all value attitude over perfection, and guts
and spontaneity over careful planning. In recent memory, Van Halen, the Sex Pistols,
Metallica, Nirvana, and Guns ’N Roses have all been the right band at the right time
to give the music biz the kick in the ass that it needed. These days, many guitar fans
have looked to Rival Sons to bring back the big riff rock that they desperately crave.
It’s easy to see why. Guitarist Scott Holiday has the meaty tones, the massive hooks,
and the dangerous swagger that naturally appeal to followers of Led Zeppelin, Deep
Purple, and a bunch of other awesome, hard-rocking bands.
Those similarities to classic groups have been something of a two-edged sword
for Holiday and his mates, however, with some critics and some listeners questioning
loudly where a tribute ends and where a ripoff begins. The criticism is not totally
unfounded. Some of the tunes on Rival Sons’ latest, Head Down [Earache], bear more
than a passing resemblance to ’70s-era classics that we know and love. A closer listen,
though, reveals that Holiday simply has the same great records in his collection that
all rock fans do, and he cut his teeth on those tunes and loves them so much that they
are now etched in his brain and stamped on his DNA. And because he’s a complete
gear freak, he knows what guitars, amps, and pedals created the amazing sounds on
those albums. So, if he bashes an A chord on a Tele through a Supro amp, of course
it sounds like Jimmy Page. How could it not?
The fact is, Holiday and his band are a great testimonial to the power of rock, and
they do what they do with conviction, bravado, and killer tone. “We’re not reinventing
the wheel here,” he says. “We’re trying to
make something that connects with people
at their core.”
How is Head Down different from your last
record, Pressure & Time?
Pressure & Time was purposefully very concise,
with a mentality of economy regarding
much of my guitar work. I distinctly remember
going in there and saying all the wankery
had to chill out on that record. I wanted
to be very minimalist and make all the little
guitar moments count, rather than be flamboyant.
Although that ethos never really
left me, Head Down breathes more, and is
more spread out and open. There are longer
arrangements and more improvised sections,
which is how we typically play live.
Both of those records were produced
by Dave Cobb. What does he bring to the
He’s massive, man. We work very closely
on the tracks. He’s a guitar player, and he’s
a total guitar dork like me, so we’re always
breaking out old guitars, weird little amps,
and effects. He’s got a stellar guitar collection.
I’ll use his 1960 ES-335 as well as his
Gretsch White Penguin, along with all my
stuff. In the beginning, we find the guitar/
amp setup that is the general sound of the
record and we’ll go from there. We work
with that setup until we feel something
needs to be changed. It’s really easy, actually.
I can pretty much stumble and fall on
a great guitar.
What kind of input does he give you on
parts or arrangements?
Dave’s pretty involved. We write our
records on the spot as we’re recording them,
and if we’re struggling with a section, he’ll
walk in with his old Tele and say, “What
about this?” and play a part, and we’ll say,
“Oh man, that’s it! That’s exactly what we
So you write your records right there in
Yeah. I started working that way with
Dave on our first record, Before the Fire. We
wanted to work very quickly and immediately
to try to find something new. I discovered
a lot of new things about myself as a
musician. I broke out of a lot of boxes that
are easy to get trapped in as a songwriter and
a guitarist by doing this immediate writing.
Why the hell do some bands spend a year
making a rock record? Jesus. If you spend
too much time, it’s going to sound like all
the other sh*t that’s on the radio right now,
which is over-produced, over-written, overworked,
and sounds withered and dead. And
all the stuff that we cut our teeth on that we
love—you can hear that those records were
cut live. We decided to back ourselves into
that corner and make a live record, something
that hopefully has some energy and life.
What other gear did you use on this
I’m terrible at recalling which gear goes
with which tune, but I think I used my ’62
Fender Jazzmaster with Lollar P-90s for most
of “Keep On Swinging.” I plugged that into
either my Basic Audio Gnarly Fuzz or original
Vox Tone Bender, into this little Supro
amp. It’s a real early model—it doesn’t even
have a badge on it. It’s literally just a 6-inch
speaker, one knob, crappy cable, and if we left
it plugged in for too long it would catch on
fire. That was probably my favorite amp on
the whole record—hitting it with a Rangemaster
Treble Booster or a good fuzz pedal.
I also played an old Harmony Rocket—Dave
Davies used one with the Kinks—with the
DeArmond screen pickups. It’s a great, coolsounding
335-style guitar, but totally hollow.
The intro tones on the tune “Until the
Sun Comes” sound like you have different
tones on each side. Do you remember how
that intro came together?
That’s an interesting one, because I didn’t
really use that combination of tones anywhere
else on the record. The first track you hear is
a ’66 Telecaster into a mid-’60s Vox Berkeley,
which is a solid-state Vox with reverb.
It’s a weird-sounding amp, but of course it
can’t be all bad because the Beatles used it.
The sound of that amp, that guitar, and the
weird reverb was really dark and strange.
The other tone was the 1960 ES-335 with
the Supro. So the main barky tone that you
hear right out of the gate was the Vox/Tele
combo and we wanted something brighter
and more obvious for the return tone.
You take an epic solo in “Manifest Destiny.”
I know it was your intention to let things
breathe a little bit more on Head Down but
not many people can let a solo breathe for
that long. Talk about that song.
I played the main tremolo riff to that
song and David came through the talkback
and said, “That’s great. We’re using that for
sure.” I’d been listening to Spooky Tooth. I
just got the vinyl called Spooky Two and I was
really inspired by it. So we pieced the song
together and after the first chorus, I wanted
to do a conversational piece—not like a guitar
solo, but more like painting a picture, creating
a landscape. Obviously I was going to be
soloing technically, but it wouldn’t be based
on licks or anything like that. I wanted it to
be more sonic, and tell a story more than be
a guitar solo. I said that we should all talk
musically to each other and pay attention.
We shouldn’t decide how long or how short
it should be. We should just go with it. It
will come to us, and we’ll come out of this
section and we’ll finish the song. And that’s
what we did. What you hear on the record
is us playing the song live. I was plugged
into my board so I could use all my little
live effects, and I just kicked them in on the
fly. I used the Uni-Vibe, my wah, different
delays, expression pedals, and all that, just
kind of doing my little tap dance. We could
all see each other and really make eye contact
when we were moving in and out of sections.
More importantly, we could hear each
other really well and feel it out.
You guys are not shy about referencing
your influences. Does a part ever get too
close to some classic riff where you say,
“Uh oh … we better change that up a little
Ah, this is the part of the interview where
you slap me on the wrist [laughs]. I know,
I know. We are terrible at policing each
other. There are things that we’ve let slip
by and we’ve been called out for those
things. Here’s the deal: Sometimes I’ll
bring in a riff that might be reminiscent of
something that’s come before, but it’ll be
in a different tempo, in a different groove,
and I’m feeling it this whole other way.
Well, through the process of recording
and getting things tuned in, it might get
molded into sounding way more like that
other thing, and that sucks. But it’s totally
inadvertent. It’s actually very innocent.
Having said that, I will absolutely quote
all the greats. I think every musician
and certainly everyone in this band has
fun paying homage. Writers, painters,
sculptors—you can look at their work and
find references where they’re doing exactly
that, like a tip of the hat. For instance, at the
end of our song “Wild Animal” I do a lick
that’s very close to “Over Under Sideways
Down,” and I did that on purpose. It’s me
saying, “These are my boys. I love them.
They trained me and I want to give them a
What advice do you have for young
players who want to make a record that
Please don’t play to a click! My goodness.
Music needs to live; it needs to breathe. It
slows down, it speeds up. Expressive music—
rock and roll, jazz, blues, soul—is a very human
expression. It’s our voice, and if we spoke
in perfect tempo and rhythm constantly it
would seem very weird and robotic. Don’t be
afraid to leave a little wiggle room in it.