If you were to peruse the Weekly archives from the late '90s and early '00s, there's a musician whose name was covered in Costco-sized tubs of music journo slobber and repeatedly heralded as the next big thing. We had it bad for Long Beach's Jay Buchanan from the first note. It was only a matter of time before Buchanan was a huge star, we screamed, and anyone who didn't agree could just pull up a chair in Hell.
Since 2008, Buchanan's busied himself fronting the 290-horsepower Z28 of rock bands, Rival Sons. Guitarist Scott Holiday's blistering Led Zeppelin-style riffs combined with our old friend's lyrical lovelies and haunting, pitch-perfect vocal chords torqued the band to fame abroad.
Our British brethren over at Classic Rock magazine heralded Rival Sons as the “saviours” of rock. Buchanan and the boys shared stages with AC/DC, Judas Priest and too many more high school, black light pinup boys to count. But strangely, Rival Sons are not household names in America, or even Long Beach where the band has played only a handful of times.
This, even though shortly after the release of Rival Sons' 2012 release Head Down Jimmy Page declared himself a fan of the band in a Rolling Stone interview. Buchanan and Holiday, along with drummer and fellow Long Beach alum Mikey Miley (Bird3), have kept busy ever since playing sold out shows around the globe.
The stateside following is revving up, and to feed the masses they, along with new bassist Dave Beste (Wonderlove, Square) who joined the band earlier this year, will head to the studio to record a new batch of facemelters, planned for a late spring or early summer release.
In a celebratory homecoming, on New Year's Eve Rival Sons headline downtown Long Beach's festivities après fireworks upon the East Coast kaleidoscope ball drop. We checked in with Buchanan to see how he's holding up now that he's (finally!) the international sensation we knew he was along.
OC Weekly (Arrissia Owen): Rival Sons has been a big change musically for you. With your solo stuff there were rock elements, but the songs that stood out were quieter and more earnest. Was it a smooth transition for you?
Jay Buchanan: I just decided to do it. Once I decided, it wasn't difficult.
I've played guitar since I was a kid. I'm a singer-songwriter at heart. I've never had any desire to front a rock 'n roll band. Rock always seemed absurd and really juvenile and elementary to me. When I was a teenager, I fronted old school blues bands.
When I got with these guys, I figured we'd have fun playing around LA. I had no idea this would become a career and rock 'n roll would commandeer my life and artistic expression, and that I wouldn't have time for anything else.
Once we got together and started playing, it all sort of fit. The kinetic energy between us on tour, the relationships, the songwriting–the energy was so strong it felt like it had to be done.
Did that energy help you bring the swagger on stage?
I'm not a natural exhibitionist. It's always about the music internally and getting inside the song. To this day, it doesn't matter if we are at a festival in front of 30,000 people or 100 people, I don't know how to be a front man. I don't know how to dance. I don't have moves. I don't have a schtick.
My eyes are closed half the time because I'm just trying to think about the music. As far as stage presence, I feel more comfortable the more I deny the crowd, the exhibitionist aspect of it. I can't think like, 'I'm up here, or we're on TV and this many people are watching,' I'd freak out and have a panic attack.
It was that way when I was a teenager, cutting my teeth as background music in cafes and bars. The audience was there, but they didn't really care. Chances are they came to that café to chat with their friends or to the bar to cut loose. So working on that at such a young age trained me to not care, or to even have disdain for a crowd, and I guess that never left me. Everyone just disappears.
You're a confident guy though. That has to be an asset. Otherwise you'd be sitting in your room worrying about whether people like your music or not.
I don't know. Music is such an addictive fix. It's so beautiful that when you're keyed into that true expression, that harmony that happens when you're emoting and you're caught on a melody and you're really in the moment that way, it's not like anything ever.
It's such a beautiful thing and it feels so good I would go to any lengths to get it, like heroin addicts or any addictive thing. My teeth could be falling out and I could have sores all over my body and I would go to any length to taste that.
So the huge moments, like Jimmy Page backstage asking to meet you at your show, is that the euphoria?
I don't know. It comes and goes so quickly, and Jimmy Page is just a kind, old man. Any of these people, I have their phone numbers and I could call them. But you can't equate being a teenager, stoned out of your mind in the front seat of a Fiero racing through the desert while blasting “Cashmere,” you can't equate that with the sweet man you have in front of you when you meet him. It's too much. Your head will explode.
You put it in the back of your memory bank, in your mental Rolodex, like maybe I will visit that another time. When you have these incredibly cool things happen, you just keep going and wait for the next one. I've talked about it much more than I've thought about it.
I talked to Scott Devours (co-founder of The Space who is now Roger Daltrey's drummer and who went on tour with the Who this year) a while back, and he was putting your UK fame into perspective.
Scott said he was at a meet 'n greet with the Who in England, and he's sitting there with Ron Wood and of course Daltrey and Pete Townshend, and you and the other Rival Sons walked in and the attention immediately shifted to you and the band and you were practically mauled. Weird?
Yeah, stuff like that happens, but see, Scott remembers it that way. I remember walking in the room and being like, 'Oh my God, there's Scott!' I'm looking around and remembering when we were all slugging it out back at The Space, and now we're backstage at Royal Albert Hall rubbing shoulders with these giants.
When you have watched each other struggle and work so hard … I have that moment when I think about how much I love my friends and all the things we've gone through to get to where we are now. I get tears in my eyes. It's extremely romantic.
Rival Sons headline the New Year's Eve Street Party at Pine and Broadway, Long Beach; www.downtownlongbeach.org. Tuesday, Dec. 31, 8 p.m.-2 a.m. $15-$20.