Interview with Michael Miley of Rival Sons

Sitting on the bus parked outside of the Asylum, I chatted with Rival Sons drummer Michael Miley. He was just waking up from a nap, drinking coffee, and clearing his tired mind of the three glasses of wine he had with lunch. Michael was a great interview and was not short on words. Some of these answers fell a bit off topic, but hey, it’s nice to talk with a performer as if we are two buddies hanging out and shooting the breeze.

Maine Music News: For those who might not know what Rival Sons are about tell us a bit about the band.

Michael Miley: We’re a rock n roll band from Long Beach California, that’s our basic moniker, but we’re four extremely different individuals with different backgrounds. Where we meet in the middle is R&B, gospel and soul music, Motown, you know that kind of music, and you know when you turn that up really loud, you get rock n roll. If you listen to the Who, The Who refer to themselves as maximum R&B – they were ripping off Motown, Beatles were ripping off Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, Rolling Stones were ripping off the Chicago blues. I mean you look at the British invasion, and they were literally playing black American music turned up really loud. That’s rock n roll, in my opinion. That’s Rival Sons in a nut shell. We’re a maximum soul, R&B rock band. I mean there’s no metal, we don’t do drop-C tuning or anything. I mean a lot of people compare us to all those classic rock bands, so it’s like modern classic rock.

Maine Music News: Very cool. So how long have you guys been a band?

Michael Miley: Well, I met Scott (Scott Holiday – guitar) in 2005. We got Jay (Jay Buchanan – vocals) in 2009. So we’re like 6 years in, going on year 7, and about to release our 6th album in June. We’ve been around, we’ve just never been to Portland. I mean touring America’s been a bitch because we have no tour support in America. Our label’s based in the UK so we’ve been touring Europe like mad, three times a year for like five years, but to tour America you need tens of thousands of dollars just to put gas in the tank. It aint like it used to be. The music industry used to support bands when they’d go out on their first couple of tours.

Maine Music News: But then you’d owe them like everything forever.

Michael Miley: Yeah but even if you did owe them, you still get all that marketing and publicity, and then you’d have fans in Portland, Maine, for life, and that would pay off in dividends over the course of time. Yeah, maybe your first couple of album cycles, you’d be owing a shit ton of money, but everybody owes money, you know. I’d rather hit multiple markets in the U.S. and owe money and have a fan base, but you know the record business is not the way it used to be so it’s an entrepreneurial endeavor at this point, so.

Maine Music News: So this tour with Sabbath, how’s that going?

Michael Miley: Insane! Like you couldn’t even ask for a better – I don’t know Beatles reunion? Like Cream reunited? I don’t know. Sabbath. Sabbath is one of the bands that you can count on one hand that is like the most legendary acts of all time. It’s surreal to be going from like the shower room to the dressing room and hearing (hums the opening riff to “Ironman”). I’m like in my towel, getting showered after the show, and they’re playing “War Pigs” or “Ironman” or “Sweat Leaf” or something. I mean those guys are legendary. When you stand side stage by Tony Iommi and watch him for as long as you want, and you’re just like, that riff, and that riff, and that riff, or that solo, I mean the material is so influential to whole family tree of metal music, you know? You look at everybody that they influenced, you know? We’re not a metal band, so it’s a weird pairing in a way, but Ozzy and Sharon saw us and at the Classic Rock Awards and Ozzy’s like, “Best fucking band I’ve seen in 30 years!” and it’s on Youtube, you can quote me.

Maine Music News: So this latest album you’re touring on?

Michael Miley: We’re at the eighteenth month mark on the album Great Western Valkyrie on Earache Records which is pretty much known as the Death Metal, Grind Core, Black Metal, whatever label, and they signed us four albums ago. We’re going into our fourth with them. We’re getting near the end of the cycle on that album tour. We’ve had two singles, “Electric Man” and “Open My Eyes,” and I don’t know if you noticed the bus is wrapped by Guitar Hero. They took from our last album a song called “Keep on Swinging,” and I think “Electric Man” as well from Great Western Valkyrie, but “Keep On Swinging” is like the main song they used in their commercial. Lenny Kravitz and James Franco are in the commercial, and they are sitting there riffing on each other in a very comic way, and there’s our song – they are playing our song. So we’re in the commercial, we’re in all the publicity for the new Guitar Hero 4.0 or whatever the latest version is, I’m not a gamer so don’t quote me as a gamer. I don’t even know what War Craft is, I mean War Craft to me is like something you build to make war with I mean I’m definitely not a gamer.

It’s been a great run on Great Western Valkyrie and then to have the Sabbath World Fucking Tour, the whole tour – I mean they haven’t even announced all the dates so I don’t even know what my schedule’s going to be, but as of now we’re announced until the end of September. We come back to the United States in August and September with Sabbath, and we’re definitely hitting the Northeast. I’m not sure off the top of my head what the dates are but it’s pretty great, it’s nostalgic, it’s beyond surreal.

Maine Music News: Are you guys writing on the road?

Michael Miley: We write in the studio. We don’t go into the studio with any pre-written songs. We riff off each other and our producer hits record and it’s really raw. That’s our sound. I mean listen to the Small Faces or The Animals and even Zeppelin, Beatles or The Who, and it sounds like a first take or a second take, and you’re like “wow, Keith Moon just fucked up and they left it, because the energy was so great.” There’s this crazy moment that peaks into this thing and everybody was nailing it, and there’s this weird kind of cymbal hit and then he hits the rim of the tom and they left it. Or you’re Ringo and you’re killing it and the guitars are kinda out of tune and you’re like dude, the harmonies are sick, George Harrison is sick but there’s some like tonal thing happening that George Martin was like, “We got the take, and yeah that guitar might be a little out of tune, but it still sounds amazing.” So the way that people used to make records has very much inspired how we make ours.

We’ve done every record with Dave Cobb, who is a Grammy award winning producer now. So Dave’s like our fifth secret member, and he gets what we’re going for, he knows when to press record, he knows when to come in and just riff off Scott, he’s a great guitar player. He comes in when I don’t even know what to do and plays this simple dumb ass rock beat, and I’m like, yeah that is exactly what this song needed – it didn’t need Neal Peart it just needed you know Dave Ghrol. He’s been an integral part of all six of our records, and June 10th, I believe is the new release date now for our new record.

I hope we can come back to Portland. We just had lobsters at Jay’s Oysters and crushed it. I took my drum tech for an end of the tour dinner – we end the tour in a couple days at Madison Square Garden. I have so many bucket lists on this tour. I played Chicago, and I took pictures by Jordan’s (Michael Jordan) statue. You know I’m a super sports fan, so like when we played Edmonton I took pictures by Gretsky’s (Wayne Gretsky) statue. I mean we’re like playing the LA Forum, I went to Laker games when I was a kid so Magic Johnson, like Fastbreak Lakers, so this tour has been nothing but epic with bucket list checks and blessings from heaven above the whole way.

So as for bucket list checks what comes higher? – playing Madison Square Garden or your hometown and the LA Forum? Umm I gotta say the LA Forum, I mean I grew up in LA, saw the Laker’s there a bunch of times, shit I saw INXS there, Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Fabulous Forum we used to call it. That’s gotta be my swan song. Madison Square Garden I think is on everybody’s bucket list, I mean it’s huge, but rather than it being even, I got to give it to the Forum cause that’s where I’m from, and I hate the Nicks too, so screw the Nicks, I’m a Laker fan…but I mean Madison Square Garden, some of my favorite bands have live albums that were recorded at Madison Square Garden, that’s going to be nostalgic.

Maine Music News: So how does your show transition from the big stages with Sabbath to the smaller off date club shows?

Michael Miley: We are more seasoned in the clubs and theatres, and we do anywhere between 500 seats to 3500 seats in Europe. I mean we’ll sell out a London 3500 and then the next night we’ll play Swansea, Wales at like a 750 seat room. Our sound man, give it up to him, I mean we are constantly switching rooms. I feel sorrier for him and our crew for having to adapt – we just walk out and play our songs. Of course last night in Montreal, I hit my kick and (makes a shushing noise) and like the kick drum has this like five second thing from the sound bouncing off the wall, but in this club tonight it’ll be instant. So sonically, auditorily, it’s different, but the Rival Sons MO is whether its 40,000 or 400 go out and play it like it’s the last show of your life and we’ve never settled for less – we’ve never phoned it in. That’s what’s hard on tour sometimes – pulling it out of your ass, like if the singer’s sick or I’m sick or if anybody gets sick on the road it just wears everybody down. You just gotta pick that guy up and get it done. Earlier this tour James was on antibiotics, he had full blown bronchitis or a sinus infection or something. Ozzy had a sinus infection, and they and to cancel three dates in Canada. I mean the road has its thorns. I mean every road has its thorns. (We both laugh.)

Maine Music News: You should write a song

Michael Miley: sings his lyric to the Poison classic.

Maine Music News: How are your families, wives, girlfriends, handling the distance when you guys are on the road so much and overseas?

Michael Miley: I mean it’s rough to be away from home, but I think we all have girls who understand what we are doing. I mean we are not out here for coke and whores, we’re out here for music and to promote our records. We’ve all been signed to record deals before, and I mean every single one of us in Rival Sons has been signed and have been screwed. So when we formed Rival Sons we were all like we are going to own all our shit – we’re going to keep our merch, keep our publishing, be our own masters, we are going to own everything. We’re business men, and we found people who will work with us so maybe our trajectory is a little slower than other bands, but we’re not going to be a one hit wonder, we’re going to be someone who cultivated that soil long enough where you reap the fruits from it. I mean we could rest on our laurels and tour Europe twice a year and make enough money to support our families and say fuck America but this is where we are from – we love our country, are proud to be Americans. This is where rock n roll came from, this is where, like I was saying earlier about the British invasion ripping off black American music turned up. People are afraid to say that kinda thing in this day and age but without BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, Little Richard, Fat’s Domino, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Robert Johnson, I could go on and on and on… but without any of these guys you do not have one lick of white boy American rock n roll – British invasion rock n roll music does not exist. And I could take that even further back, back to New Orleans, back to the islands, and back to Africa where rhythm start. I mean seriously without Africa you don’t have anything – like Samba, Bossa nova. (Mike goes on to name a list of musicians I can not begin to try to spell, but Harry Belafonte was in the mix.) I mean you don’t have “I shot the Sherriff” by Eric Clapton if you don’t have Bob Marley. Bob Marley is the greatest singer/songwriter of all time, in my opinion. He kills Bob Dylan, kills Michael Jackson, kills Celine Dion, whatever. Bob Marley encompasses the greatest frontman, singer/songwriter, musician, performer, I mean he had everything and you can’t deny that talent. Sorry that was a tanget. (laughs) but you can’t deny black American music and post slavery music was all gospel and blues and then you get R&B, Tinpan Alley, Memphis soul, Stax, Motown, and on and on.

Maine Music News: I’m going to have to use a whole lotta comas when writing this interview out.

Michael Miley: (laughs) Fine man, hey man, I’m givin’ it up.

Maine Music News: Lastly I just wanted to say I am looking forward to the show. I am a Rival Sons virgin – never seen you cats before, just heard a couple songs through friends and on Youtube – but everywhere I turn people are telling me, how great you guys are, be it on Facebook or some drunk friends who will be in the front row here tonight – they drove six hours to get here and are taking the train to see you guys in New York tomorrow night. Everybody is raving about how good you guys are so I just want you to know the word is getting out there.

Micheal Miley: (Big grin) Hey man, that’s great, I mean that’s what we are trying to do.

Maine Music News: Is there anything I haven’t hit on that you would like to add?

Michael Miley: No man, I mean I think I’ve expounded on about every point possible. (laughs) I would like to say we are really happy to be here, I had the best meal, fresh lobster right out of the ocean, but I hope we can plant a seed here and come back.

Maine Music News: Well you guys are welcome here anytime and we are happy to have you.

* (Two things happened after this interview that round out the topics of our conversation: Mike came down with a bad bout of food poisoning shortly after the show began making it a short set. So much for that fresh lobster. And singer Jay would go on to say how much he missed his family and notably his son, to whom he dedicated the song “Face Of Light.” One of my favorites of the evening. I’m sure his family misses him just as much.)

About the author

James Pappaconstantine

James has been shooting concerts since 1977, He started out with his Kodak Instamatic, before moving up to a real camera (a Pentex K1000) in 1981, he has since moved through the ranks of Minolta, Sony and Cannon before landing on his Nikon D800. When not shooting a show Jim can be found singing with his own band Reverse Cowgirl or spending time with his two wonderful kids.