Why are you so drawn to late-’60s rock and roll?
Rock and roll was basically invented in the 1950s, right? It took a new shape when it jumped the pond in the ’60s in the form of the British Invasion. Record production was progressing with the Rolling Stones and Glyn Johns, or the Beatles with Geoff Emerick. There were amazing players, and everyone sounded inspired, not driven by monetary gain. That’s when American rock becomes twisted, different, and really interesting to me. Rival Sons isn’t trying to be a one-era band, but we hold tight to our ethos. I think that’s why people are always saying, “These guys sound like 1968.”
Your playing is focused and restrained. It never sounds like you’re trying to show off.
Well, we learned from those early bands how you do it. Less is more. Don’t crowd the space, man. Play a good part. Let everyone else play good parts. Make sure the parts go together. One good guitar part can sound more powerful than stacking eight guitars. With eight guitars, you lose the punch, and the sound gets watered down.
You sometimes include an acoustic segment mid-show, where you switch off between several Yamaha guitars.
Every record we do has some acoustic bits, so it makes sense for us to do that. Thank goodness we hooked up with Yamaha! I’m not getting paid to say this—I really, really love the LL56s that I use. They are unbelievable guitars. As soon as I played them, I went, “Oh my God, these are insane.” The LL56 is literally brilliant: It has a great top-end sparkle. We’d pass them around the tour bus, and everybody would say, “I’m keeping this one,” or “I want that one.” Now we all have them, and I swear on them. A lot of younger players don’t realize that Yamaha guitars have been great forever. For me, it goes back to Ritchie Havens at Woodstock, starting the show with his Yamaha.
You use two LL56s so you can switch quickly between tunings?
One is tuned DADDAD. That’s a very modal, drone-based tuning that I use that on things like the acoustic version of the song “White Noise” from our Pressure & Time album. I usually keep the other one in standard tuning. I use the built-in pickup systems on both guitars. They’re very, very natural sounding.
“RIVAL SONS ISN'T TRYING TO BE A ONE-ERA BAND, BUT WE HOLD TIGHT TO OUR ETHOS. I THINK THAT'S WHY PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS SAYING, 'THESE GUYS SOUND LIKE 1968.'”
Do you play acoustic with a pick or bare fingers?
I do both. I think it generally sounds better to play with your hands. I never really realized that until recently—I was always a pick player. Jay Buchanan, the other guitar player in my band, always says, “Dude, you should play with your hands. I can hear more of you.” It’s just super-duper personal, you know?
So what’s it like opening for some of the bands that inspired you?
It’s far out. The whole time, I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I dreamed of this!” Everyone has been really kind. We’ve made friends with everybody. Tony Iommi was great to us on the Sabbath tour. The Aerosmith guys were fantastic. We had drinks after the shows, and we heard all their amazing stories. At some points you realize these are just normal people. But the very next minute you’re thinking, “This is not just a normal person! How could I be thinking that?” It’s very surreal.
How about touring with Deep Purple?
That was surreal too! Their current guitarist is Steve Morse, not Ritchie Blackmore, but I’m a huge fan of Steve’s work with the Dixie Dregs, and his solo career. They invited me up to play “Smoke on the Water” on the last night of our tour, at the sold-out [20,000-seat] London 02 arena. Now, that sums up how it feels to be on tour with your heroes. I got to play the music I cut my teeth on, with one of the first songs I learned. It felt like I was 13 again!