Rival Sons, from Long Beach, is the opening act on the current, and purportedly last, Black Sabbath tour, including this Monday's date at the Pepsi Center. Since 2009, the four-piece hard-rock band has been honing its sound and making a name for itself, including catching the ear of the people at Classic Rock magazine early in its career. The publication nominated Rival Sons' 2014 Great Western Valkyrie for album of the year and invited the group to perform two songs at the awards ceremony, which proved to be a fortuitous opportunity for the band.
“The crowd [was] the cream of the crop — all your heroes sitting in the audience,” recalls guitarist Scott Holiday. “We only played two songs and got a standing ovation. We left the stage, and Sharon and Ozzy happened to be in the front row, and they came back and told us how much they loved the band. Sharon said they were doing this tour, and she said we should open the whole tour for them. It's nice because it doesn't always go down like that. It's usually a lot of politics. As a kid, you wonder how you open for [a famous band like] Black Sabbath, and I found out later that it isn't always that a band liked a band. It was a lot of back-room chitchat, but I'm happy to say [this] was a genuine thing.”
Rival Sons' particular rock-and-roll flavor seems to be rooted in the same Southern California musical world that inspires an eclectic yet coherent style among bands. The Mars Volta, Wild Pack of Canaries and Sublime all reflect a certain something about Long Beach that can be heard as a unifying element in the music. A warmth, fluidity and willingness to explore beyond standard musical formats is also present in Rival Sons' music, and Holiday attributes that quality to the band's native geography.
“Artists everywhere soak up the territor,y and it shows in the music a bit,” offers Holiday. “I live across the beach and write out of my studio with that view of the ocean and seeing people walk the water carrying surf boards and wearing bikinis. It was that feeling of summer [that inspired me] to get into the studio, after looking at that, and lay down something that felt like a soundtrack.”
But Rival Sons isn't music made entirely for the listener to sit back, daydream and mellow out. It has a physical and intensely energetic quality shared by the band's local rock peers. This shared perspective is one reason the band wanted to bring Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, a friend of singer Jay Buchanan's, on board for a recording. Owens, a Long Beach resident, was best known for his iconic keyboard work in The Mars Volta and with Jack White's band, as well as serving as a mentor to Denver's Rubedo and Holophrase.
“We had wanted to get Ikey on a record for a while and kept it in the back of our head,” reveals Holiday. “It just happened he was in Nashville working when we were there making the record [Great Western Valkyrie]. We called him up and said, 'Hey, we have some stuff for you.' We had a bunch of ideas, and he brought some stuff, and we knocked everything out in a day. Ikey was definitely a wild card and a really warm person and a great player. As a musician, he was a really fun guy, and I thought he was off the wall with some of the stuff he was doing.”
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With a new album, the title of which has yet to be announced, due out in May 2016, Rival Sons is clearly looking beyond its tour with Black Sabbath. Like any band worth your time, Rival Sons didn't aspire merely to be an opening act its entire career.
“We're a band the media didn't take to immediately, and we dealt with that,” notes Holiday. “Every band that does well is an overnight success to people that don't know them. But we've plugged away for the last seven years, own our records and funded our tours, and earned our fans one at a time. These fans are discovering us on their own, and that's a fan for life. That's how I am. If I discover a band that wasn't shoved down my throat and no one paid fifteen million dollars for a campaign, it feels like it's mine, and I'm loyal to it. The fans we're making are like that. They're part of our family.”
Rivals Sons performs at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Monday, February 15, with Black Sabbath.