Tag Archives: Rival Sons

Interview with Jay Buchanan, Rival Sons December 2014

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON CULTNOISE.COM, 10.12.14)

It’s been a belter of a year for Californian rock and rollers Rival Sons.  With their fourth album, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ released to critical acclaim and nominated for Classic Rock Magazine’s ‘Best Album’, as well as numerous tour dates (including a triumphant performance at Download Festival), it seems as though their star is shining more brightly than ever.  We were honoured to be able to sit down with vocalist Jay Buchanan to talk about the recording process, life and the universe in general.

CultNoise: You’ve been touring Europe, now you’re on the UK leg.  How’s it been so far?

Jay Buchanan:  I’ve had terrible insomnia over the last two nights.  We flew in from Barcelona to go and do the Wembley show. Yesterday was our day off, but I had to travel to Bath to do some studio work for an artist, so I was gone all day. I got back last night and I couldn’t sleep.

CN: You mentioned Wembley – Rival Sons shared a bill with the legend that is Lenny Kravitz.  Did you enjoy it?

JB: It was great getting to finally play Wembley Arena, I’ve wanted to play there for a long time, so that was nice. You speak of Lenny Kravitz being a legend- I don’t know what it is, if it’s the colour of his skin, but the general regular rock and roll audience, they don’t talk about Lenny Kravitz when they talk about rock and roll, which seems pretty crazy to me.  That guy has fought really hard to keep rock and roll at the forefront, all the way from the late 80’s. I thought he gave a great show, but at the end of the day it’s just another show.

CN: Your latest album, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’, has been very well received. You’ve done four albums now, but suddenly Rival Sons seem to be everywhere.  What do you think it is about this album that has made that happen?

JB: I think that there are a couple of answers to that.  We’ve been touring relentlessly for almost four years now and it takes a while to really get your name out there. With our third record (second full length album – there was an EP in between), ‘Pressure and Time’, we were getting a lot of attention then and people were saying the same thing. The same happened with the record after that, ‘Head Down’, because at the same time you have the records, you have all of the touring.  The touring is going to beget its own growth, from person to person and word of mouth.  We just keep working and touring, and we make another record and people saw that. To me it makes perfect sense because it is true, we are much further along with this record than we were with the previous one.

If you’re asking about the quality of the record itself, I think that it’s our best; I think that it’s our most cohesive sounding record, thematically and sound-wise, I think it’s good.  I’ve heard people say that it’s slick production which is crazy, because we do all of our records the same way.  With GWV we gave ourselves two additional weeks, but that was just two more weeks of doing the same thing that we always did.  There was no greater benefit to being in there for an extra two weeks, other than having time to write more songs that you can decide to throw away and not put on the record.  I was really excited about the prospect of having longer to do it, but the whole process is such a hair-raising and gut-wrenching experience for me. I have to write around the clock, twenty-four-seven, so I’m always at work whenever we’re in the studio, writing and helping to arrange things that the other guys are writing – everyone is putting songs together. There’s no rest and it’s constant- you’re in the hot seat. I think it took a toll on me personally, but the record itself I think is something special.

People have worked really hard to call us a ‘classic’ rock band, not even in a pejorative sense, but dismissing us as a 70’s Led Zeppelin style.  The further that we’re able to purvey our own style, I believe that people will understand that we have no concern of that. I most of all couldn’t care less about the 70’s, or even rock and roll for that matter.  My love affair is with this band and what we’re capable of doing.

CN: Is it your favourite record?  It’s a lot more mature and tighter musically than the previous albums and it’s evidently a progression.

JB: I wouldn’t even trust myself to answer because every time, you have to go through different stages when you’re making the record, typically.  You’re scratching your head, asking “Is this going to be any good?”  Time passes and you’re able to step away from it and you appreciate it for a little bit; you listen to it again and you don’t really like it.  You listen to it a little while later and you’re like, “Man, that’s the best record.” I think they all have their own charm, I don’t know that I like this one best.

CN: How have things changed for you since GWV came out?  Do people treat you any differently?

JB: Sometimes it takes longer to get from the bus to the venue, because people want to take pictures and have you sign things. I used to go out and thank the audience after our shows, and when we were on a smaller scale it was easier, but I’ve chosen to no longer do that, just because of the viciousness that can happen out there – people just being too selfish and not remembering that you’re a person, like, giving you one compliment and following it with two critiques. I don’t really care, but people get liquored up and they’ll get that shameful sense of self-entitlement.

Overall, I don’t think it’s that big of a change.  When we’re out on the road, it’s a very insular environment, because we’re on the bus, we’re travelling, trying to get caught up on some sleep and then we’re at the venue, giving interviews and talking to people about ourselves.  Then we have sound check and a little bit of time to maybe walk around the city, but there’s no Rival Sons ‘mania’ going on.  Things at home, they stay the same – in an experiment, your home would be considered your control [environment], the constant.  We certainly haven’t gotten rich doing this, there’s not a lot of money to be made in music in general.

Rival Sons

CN: It’s not about the money though, is it?

JB: When you have a family, something has to be about money. They get hungry, they need food and shelter, you have to pay bills. As much as we musicians are supposed to be selfless martyrs that are in it for the art, whilst everyone else does a nine to five job, if we care about money we’re selling out. I think that people have a very skewed sense of what that is because we’re humans and we have families.

When you have a family and you’re gone all the time, you need to make some serious money, but I figure at some point it will come along for us and I’ll do something as crazy as owning a home!  I’ll be making music until I’m dead.

CN: Rival Sons are often categorised as a ‘Southern’ rock band, do you think the genre is over-saturated?

JB: People also say we’re ‘classic’ rock, which doesn’t make sense because we’re not ‘classic’ – we’re barely even six years old as a band, so we’re literally not classic rock – a band has to be around for a couple of decades at least. The ‘Southern’ rock thing I really don’t understand, that really throws me every time. We’ll get that more here, because here if you hear a slide guitar, it’s like “Ooh, the South”. In America, ‘Southern’ rock is like Lynyrd Skynyrd and that kind of stuff.  I definitely don’t see us as Southern rock.

CN: Maybe people say ‘classic’ rock because of comparisons you mentioned earlier and the influence of the 70’s era in your music, e.g. Led Zeppelin?

JB: We’re dominated by guitar solos and rock and roll guitar riffs, that’s the type of band we are. I understand that people would draw that because it’s uncommon for people to actually play rock and roll. I do understand when people look at us and think it’s kind of a throwback, because we’re actually making our records and playing live on the records and trying to capture that energy.  When we play live, we do it for real.

CN: What made you decide to sign with Earache Records?

JB: Earache Records pursued us and it was very surprising because, at that time, the only bands that they had on their label were metal and death metal, that’s it. There were no other rock and roll bands so we looked at the opportunity, like, I don’t know… how we fit into this world of death metal, but they want to work with us really bad and they were very persistent about courting us.

CN: I think it was quite a visionary move on their part, really?

JB: I think so, it was a great idea – how maverick can you be, we’re going to be the only rock and roll band that isn’t metal. We figured we would get good attention and good effort and that was the truth, they were very attentive. Now they’ve signed a couple of other bands that aren’t metal. I think they do a good job.

CN: Do you have any advice for new, up-and-coming bands?

JB: You had better be sure that you’re in it for the right reasons because you’re never going to be done paying your dues. You better be sure that this is what you want to do, because it’s going to be a really long, hard road. You have to do it for the art first and then once you have a family, although the art comes first, you have to make sure that you can be smart enough to not be taken advantage of. The arts used to be a great treasure, but the world is very unkind to artists in general.

For these young bands just getting started, just be sure that the calling better be wired deep inside you, because I’ve seen people that didn’t stay the course – they burn out and make very bad decisions, or when they’re not consumed with the art, they’ll turn to things like drinking too much, or drugs, and just get burned out or die. Make sure this is what you need to do and make sure that you’re good at it.

CN: That’s good advice.  If the world was to end here in one hour, how would you spend your last sixty minutes?

JB: I’d probably try to call home and say goodbye. I would probably spend it in prayer and meditation, preparing to leave my body, just being at peace with it. We’ve never been faced with anything remotely like that so I would like to prepare, have a good journey and leave under the best circumstances.

CN: Much has been made about the ‘state’ of the music industry.  Where do you see it going?

JB: People need to keep themselves occupied talking about something. If they’re not talking about how great something is, they’re talking about how bad something is; if something has been around long enough they get sentimental on how legendary and great it is and then there’s a scandal. People talk shit, period. Where are things going to go? We play rock and roll – rock music in general could fall off a cliff and die, if it were up to me. If it isn’t based on the blues, I can’t think of one good ‘rock’ band that I like – it has to be rock and roll. ‘Rock’ is just not my cup of tea at all, but at the same time, that rock music is making other people happy; if it’s going to bring joy into people’s lives, cool. Everybody likes something different.

The state of the industry… it is changing at such a rapid rate that the model is changing, it’s in flux and I don’t know when it’s going to level out. It surprises me to be in a successful band that is starting to do well – we haven’t ‘made’ it, but I feel like we’re on a trajectory, if we keep doing this then we’ll be able to make something of ourselves.

Technology is changing at such a rapid pace in the availability of music and I think this is a really interesting time, where the power is taken away from the industry and is placed in the hands of everyone. When I talk about feeling a little bit disillusioned, we work really hard to make these songs and the only time we’re going to see a penny is if people come to see us play live. At the same time, look how beautiful it is that everyone is given a greater chance and it’s no longer in the hands of a few record labels and distributors.

CN: If you could share a stage with anyone, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

JB: Probably my dad and my brother, just jamming at home. I miss my family a lot, my mom sings and my sister sings, everybody plays instruments- we get together. In the living room we pull out the amps, the drum kit and microphones and we just get down and have a good time. I can’t think of anyone out there that I would love to share the stage with more than just sitting and watching them do something.

I think about the great vocalists that I hear out there, someone like Leonard Cohen.  Do I want to collaborate with Leonard Cohen? No, he’s Leonard Cohen and I wouldn’t feel the need to sit in with him, because that’s him. I’ve got a lot of respect for the people that I have a lot of respect for.

CN: Finally, what are Rival Sons plans for 2015?

JB: It’s going to be just like this:  We’re going to tour, hopefully we can make our next record- it depends how long we have to sit on GWV, but I want to make another record. I feel like this is a good band, we have an interesting cocktail of personalities and skills sets and I want to know what we’re capable of being.

Live, this is a great band, but creatively we need to give ourselves more fuel for the stage and also we need to see if we can reach whatever potential that we’re capable of, to see if we can turn into a band that transcends or becomes more of ourselves. I really just want us to get better; I want us to write more songs. That’s more important than dominating the world – how good are we and how good can we get?  It’s so much fun.

Vikkie and Rival Sons, Pie and Vinyl

 

www.rivalsons.com

www.twitter.com/rivalsons

Review of Download Festival, 10-12 June 2016

Yet again, the rain came, the mud grew ankle deep and tents got washed away in the campsites.  The traffic queues for the day ticket holders were appalling and people moaned about the line up.  I’m not entirely sure why we still put ourselves through it every year, but it’s like some sort of addiction; Download just has to be done.  It’s one of those quintessentially British things, like having to wait in a queue (don’t mention the toilets), or stoically paying a fiver for a pint …

Download_2016_lineup_WEB_1000px_wide

Anyhow, as I have always said, it is ALL about the music.  Except … it really wasn’t.  Last year, I didn’t review the festival because we had an exceptionally good time with friends and it was all about networking and enjoying the social side.  This year, we didn’t really see any friends, we didn’t see many bands, but … well, it was still good.  The Mockney and I sunbathed, we had a really good laugh and I made some new friends.  I will tell you about the bands that we did see … but here are some numbers to ease you in gently.

Number of …

  • Miles to get there and back – 404
  • Trips between the campsite and car park – 8 in total
  • Hours that it took to put the new tent up – 2
  • Beers consumed whilst trying to put said tent up – 6
  • Bands that cancelled their performance – 3
  • Bands that I wanted to see – 32
  • Bands that we actually saw – 11
  • Pints of lager/beer/cider consumed – Somewhere between too many and not enough
  • Decent nights’ sleep – 0
  • Pounds spent on mediocre, nutritionally bad food – approx. £65
  • Times we have been to Download – 7 between us (10 if you count ‘Monsters of Rock’ back in the day)
  • Times we got rained on – oh, please – I’m still trying to dry out now. Standard.
  • Episodes of tent springing a leak – 0 (thanks, Go Outdoors!)

Phew.  Now, let’s get to the serious bit …

raven eye

RavenEye on the Zippo Encore stage, 10 June 2016 – Photo courtesy of Dirty Rock Photography

First band to be seen on Friday was RavenEye (7/10), kicking things off on the Zippo Encore stage.  This was their first time at Download and many people hadn’t seen them before, hence the singer advising, “We can pop this cherry together”.  They seemed nervy to start with, but soon got into the swing of things, with a big groove and an appreciative audience.  A swift beer stop and a trek over to the undercover Maverick stage saw us in front of Zoax (8/10), fresh from an appearance at last weekend’s Camden Rocks Fest.  I can’t remember if it was raining at this point, but even if it had been, this band still would have packed out the considerably sized tent.  Blatantly pleased to be there, they belted out quite a few bruisers but also slowed it down with new track ‘The Wave’ from the newly released, eponymously titled album.  A pleasing set, with Adam singing from the crowd, rather than in front of them.  They loved it and so did I.

zoax

Zoax on the Maverick stage, 10 June 2016 – Photo courtesy of Dirty Rock Photography

Next up were The Wildhearts (10/10).  A band that is very close to my heart, one of my earliest memories of being a rocker is playing ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts’ to death.  Having seen Ginger play a very different set in Camden last week, it was a real pleasure to hear such songs as ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’, ‘TV Tan’, and ‘Suckerpunch’, as well as the ever awesome ‘Caffeine Bomb’, which was dedicated to the late, great Lemmy.  Energetic, musically tight and humble, The Wildhearts absolutely knocked it out of the park.

the wildhearts 2

 

The Wildhearts on the Maverick stage, 10 June 2016 – Photo courtesy of Dirty Rock Photography

With a few hours to kill and the rain not letting up, we spent a couple of hours chilling out undercover in the guest area before stopping at the Lemmy stage to see Rammstein (8/10).  I don’t have too much to say about their performance; if you have seen them before, you’ll know how compelling they are on the live stage.  Although they had some technical issues, they blasted through favourites such as ‘Reise, Reise’, ‘Seemann’ and ‘Du Hast’.  If you haven’t seen them, put it on your bucket list as everybody should see them at least once.  This was my first time and I wasn’t disappointed.

Saturday dawned with bright sunshine and a balmy temperature; we were slow to get going, so the first band we caught sight of was Inglorious (6/10) on the Encore stage.  They were one of the bands that I had marked as a must-see, but to be honest, I wasn’t that enamoured with their set.  To be fair to them, we were hungover and hungry; we also bumped into a friend, so I didn’t give 100% focus.

Turbowolf

Turbowolf on the Maverick stage, 11 June 2016

A band that did manage to keep my attention was Turbowolf (8/10) back at the Maverick stage.  I couldn’t tell you any of the songs they played, only that they gave 150% in a mad, whirlwind of a performance that went down extremely well.  I’ve seen these guys before, but they’re so good live – always worth catching if you can because they rock hard.  It’s worth it just for the keyboard action!

sixx AM 2

Sixx:AM on the Lemmy stage, 11 June 2016 – Photo courtesy of Dirty Rock Photography

Band of the day for me was Sixx:AM (9/10) on the main stage; the only reason they didn’t get a 10/10 is because I fail to see the relevance of two scantily dressed backing singers whose vocals we actually couldn’t hear.  Anyway, they smashed it out of the park with tracks such as ‘Rise’ and ‘Life is Beautiful’, also showcasing new songs from the recently released album, “Prayers For The Damned”.  Loved their set, can’t wait to get the new album and I hope that I get to see them again soon – outstanding.

It’s no secret that I am a massive Rival Sons (8/10) fan – I have seen them many times and I love their music.  However, much as I really wanted to give them top marks, I just can’t.  They looked sharp and they sounded almost perfect, but it appeared to be lacking something that I can’t put my finger on.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great set, with some real crowd pleasers such as ‘Electric Man’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Pressure and Time’ but … I wasn’t feeling it as much as I normally would. Perhaps it was because I haven’t yet got the new album, “Hollow Bones”, and they played a couple of songs from it, including the title track. Maybe I’d just had too much sun at that point. I can’t wait, however, to get my paws on that album and I look forward to seeing them with Black Sabbath on their farewell tour next year.

Rival Sons

Rival Sons on the Lemmy stage, 11 June 2016

Which brings me neatly on to the Saturday headliner.  After I had just caught Megadeth’s ‘Symphony of Destruction’, the clouds were darkening ominously once more.  We experienced what can only be described as a cloudburst shortly afterwards and changing into dry clothes didn’t cheer me up.  By the time Black Sabbath (9/10) exploded onto the stage, my mood was blacker than the sky.  Quite fitting,  then, that they should kick off with ‘Black Sabbath’.  That iconic intro ratcheted up the excitement levels in the crowd and the atmosphere in the arena was intense as Ozzy did his usual manic run from one side of the stage to the other.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath on the Lemmy stage, 11 June 2016

They were clearly enjoying themselves as they cranked through a surprisingly short (only 15 songs), but nostalgic set.  The soggy crowd didn’t seem to mind the downpour, moshing along to classics such as ‘Snowblind’, ‘War Pigs’, ‘Rat Salad’ and ‘Iron Man’.  The outpouring of affection for Birmingham’s most famous rockers almost  brought a tear to my eye, as they encored with ‘Paranoid’ and the arena erupted. We left at that point, but I believe that they ended a triumphant set with the introspective “Zeitgeist”, perhaps a strange choice.  Step up and pay your money, ladies and gents – ‘The End’ farewell tour tickets go on sale on Friday 17th June at 9am from Live Nation.

By the time Sunday limped around, we were pretty broken and quite looking forward to going home; having already packed the car, by 11 o’clock it was pouring down again and we were pretty miserable.  We did manage to catch The Raven Age (8/10).  They absolutely killed their set, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although I’m baffled as to why the singer kept disappearing every five minutes.  Hard, heavy and sweaty, every single member of this band played and sang their arses off and were rewarded with a very appreciative audience.  I’ll definitely catch them again if I have the chance.

the raven age

The Raven Age on the Maverick stage, 12 June 2016

Last band of the day for us was The Temperance Movement (9/10); a band who I have followed with interest over the last couple of years.  Having grown exponentially in fanbase and confidence, TTM played a blinding set on the Lemmy stage (last time I saw them, they played the Zippo Encore stage), it’s just a shame that there weren’t as many people watching them as there should have been (let’s not mention the day ticket traffic).  My favourite song, ‘Midnight Black’ had me dancing in the mud!

mud!

That’s it!  Bands I didn’t get to see, who I heard good things about included Skillet, Savage Messiah, Santa Cruz, Reigning Days, Juliette and the Licks, Cane Hill and of course, the mighty Disturbed.  Gutted I didn’t see them.  I also hear that a little band called Iron Maiden went over extremely well on Sunday evening …

I moaned about the mud and the severe lack of straw to soak it up, but I really do have to hand it to Andy Copping; the Download organisers continue to learn from things that have gone awry in the previous years and  tried to put it right.    I do think that the whole event could be moved to later in the year to try and avoid the ‘Drownload’ syndrome, but that’s a whole other article … I’ve already booked a hotel for next year so bring it on!

Review of Rival Sons / Blues Pills / Jameson, Portsmouth Pyramids, 08.12.14

rivalsons-5358

It’s been quite a year for Californian rock and rollers, Rival Sons.  Fresh from a string of European dates, an award-nominated fourth album and a generally steady trajectory into the big leagues, tonight they were scaling the dizzy heights of … Portsmouth.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Portsmouth, in fact quite the opposite.  The newly refurbished Pyramids Live venue has a much improved sound system and a lovely new carpet – what more could a rock and roll fan ask for?

Kicking proceedings off was an earnest, solo young man from California by the name of Jameson.  Despite the unfunny comments about Irish whisky coming from the somewhat inebriated, older people I had the misfortune to stand next to, he did well.  Most of the audience were appreciative and considering it was just him and his guitar, I thought he did a fantastic job of holding everyone’s interest.  He has a new EP out, ‘Carnivore’, so I would recommend that you check him out.

Jameson live

Next up were the sensational Swedes, Blues Pills.  This was the second time I’ve had the pleasure of catching this band and I like them more each time I see them live.  Elin looked resplendent in a short red dress, long hair flying as she got into a groove, tambourine in hand.  With fantastic songs such as ‘Devil Man’, ‘Black Smoke’ and the finale of ‘Little Sun’, Blues Pills went down a storm and Elin’s voice is a treasure to behold.  It goes without saying that you should go and buy their eponymously titled debut album.

Blues Pills live

Finally, we came to the headliners.  Fresh from a record signing at the quaint and very welcoming ‘Pie and Vinyl’ in the town centre, Rival Sons took to the stage in a burst of colour, opening their set with ‘You Want To’.  Jay’s voice was sublime, Scott’s guitar playing was ethereal … I could go on, but they had me, and probably everyone else in the room, captivated from the first note. The awesome signature tune, ‘Pressure and Time’ followed and then, much to the delight of the crowd, the romping ‘Electric Man’.  Jay’s vocal did strain a little bit on ‘Secret’, but purely because he was so in the moment, I think, sinking to his knees with the microphone – nobody could ever accuse this band of not giving 110%.  Scott also gave us a sublime guitar solo during ‘Manifest Destiny, Part 1’.

Rival Sons live

One awesome track after another followed and it’s not very often that a band can hold an entire room in the palm of its hand for an hour and forty minutes – Rival Sons managed it effortlessly, almost made it look easy, even.  When they left the stage there was uproar, the crowd hungry for more and the Californian rockers obliged them with a four-song encore, starting with the insolent ‘Open My Eyes’ and ending with trademark song, ‘Keep On Swinging’.

It’s easy to be biased when you really like a band, but these guys came out looking every inch the rock and roll stars that they are and they just owned the stage from start to finish.  Today Portsmouth, tomorrow … well, who knows where Rival Sons’ epic journey will take them.  One thing is for sure, if you get the chance to see them in the next twelve months at a local venue near you, do it.  You might not get another opportunity for such an intimate gig.

Rival Sons Pie and Vinyl

With Rival Sons at the pre-gig ‘Pie and Vinyl’ signing session

Rival Sons set list: –

  1. You Want To
  2. Pressure and Time
  3. Electric Man
  4. Good Luck
  5. Secret
  6. Good Things
  7. Manifest Destiny, Part 1
  8. Torture
  9. Rich and the Poor
  10. Where I’ve Been
  11. Tell Me Something
  12. Get What’s Coming

Encore songs: –

  1. Open My Eyes
  2. Sacred Tongue
  3. Jordan
  4. Keep On Swinging.

https://www.facebook.com/rivalsons

https://www.facebook.com/BluesPills

https://www.facebook.com/jamesonmakesmusic  

Review of Download Festival 2014

Review of Download Festival, 13/14/15 June 2014

Arriving on the Thursday night at Donington Park in bright sunshine just felt … wrong, somehow.  Where was the rain?  The mud?  Why was I sitting round a BBQ with a beer instead of huddling miserably inside my tent?  I decided I would live with it, although I was strangely comforted when I was woken by the sound of rain during the night …

Download 3

FRIDAY

Expecting a sodden swamp, I stumbled out of my tent to find a few clouds but no mud, no rain and it was ridiculously warm.  Perfect weather for a beer and some live music so I wandered into the arena just as Miss May I took to the main stage.  The American five-piece band brought their brand of metalcore to a bright eyed and bushy-tailed Download crowd who seemed to enjoy the interaction and thundering music on the main stage.  I left them to it and headed to the Red Bull Studios tent, which is where I pretty much spent my whole weekend.  The first band on that stage were Goldray and I must admit when I saw the guitarist’s spangly jacket, coupled with the long red dress and headdress the vocalist was sporting, I nearly turned tail and walked out.  They weren’t bad, however, sort of a less heavy Die So Fluid and the vocalist had good ability.

I found next band, Bad Touch on twitter some months ago and I was eager to see them up close and personal.  I have to say they didn’t disappoint, however I found them to be similar to Irish rockers, The Answer.  There was a good crowd, however and singer Stevie did a great job of engaging their audience.  A short walk took me over to the Jägermeister acoustic stage for Brother and Bones.    They had drawn a very decent-sized crowd and were playing out of their skin with their funky, melodic rock.  The performance was pretty intense, with the entire band absolutely rocking out and the crowd was lapping it up, totally engaged with the fresh sound.  Their set was wrapped up after some first class musicianship and vocals and there was some pretty nice guitar sliding going on too.  One of my highlights of the weekend, for sure.

Brother and Bones

Brother and Bones

Chilling out on the grass with a beer, I managed to catch the set from Mia Klose, albeit from ground level.  Swedish Mia’s voice is somewhat of an acquired taste and whilst I can see why the band is generating a buzz, it wasn’t really my thing.  I also thought their cover of Guns ‘n’ Roses classic ‘Paradise City’ to be a bit weak.  Another band I caught by ear only was They Say Fall – a packed Red Bull tent was chanting for them and their post hardcore style went over very well with the crowd.  All I could hear from outside the tent was distorted guitars; I can only imagine how it sounded from the inside.

I headed over to the Zippo Encore stage to meet up with some friends and happened upon The Answer.  I’ve seen them before and thought they were really good performers live, however I felt that this set was a little samey, although featuring some superb guitar solos and vocals.  There was a decent size crowd to pay homage to their Irish rock roots however and they seemed to go down a storm.  The next band had my full attention and they absolutely smashed the Zippo stage.  The Temperance Movement gave a stunning performance, although I thought the crowd could have been bigger considering the buzz that the band has been generating over the last eighteen months.  The set featured a supremely funky bass guitar solo and last track ‘Midnight Black’ was sublime, ensuring that they ended with rapturous applause.

TTM 4

The Temperance Movement

I thought it couldn’t get much better, but I was proved wrong straight away by Californian groove rockers Rival Sons, who kicked off with a raunchy number and didn’t look back as they grabbed the crowd by their collective short and curlies and took us on a roller coaster of rock.  They’ve just released a new album, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ and I’ll be buying it as soon as.  Definitely ones to watch – they’re going to be huge.

Rival Sons

Rival Sons

It’s taken me 20 years to get to see Rob Zombie live on stage and although he was worth waiting for, I did feel that his set lacked a little something.  It certainly wasn’t energy; he was running around the stage like a man half his age, chancing his arm by walking along the front barrier in the crowd, collecting a blow up sex doll and taking it back to the stage.  My favourite track, ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’’ was included and an encore brought out the crowd pleasing ‘Dragula’.

At this point, the sky began to darken ominously, right on cue for Avenged Sevenfold.  With a theatrical backdrop and pyrotechnics aplenty, this was always going to be a spectacular set given how popular this band has become, with the release of ‘Hail to the King’ cementing their status as one of the decade’s most celebrted rock acts.  Kicking off the fun and games with ‘Shepherd of Fire’ from the aforementioned album, the crowd were straight into the performance, all singing along and enjoying a bit of banter from front man M Shadows.  The set featured some older material, such as ‘Burn It Down’ from the ‘City of Evil’ album and ‘Buried Alive’.  There was an emotional tribute to fallen hero Jimmy Sullivan in ‘So Far Away’, but the set ended on a massive high with yet more  pyros and some fireworks, bringing an epic first day to a close.

A7X 2

Avenged Sevenfold

Saturday

Everyone was talking about the enigmatic Iceman Thesis on Saturday morning, with rumours abounding as to who could possibly be in the band, as they were playing on two stages simultaneously.  Our group split in half and I got to the Red Bull tent to see a mannequin on stage, with a hessian sack over the head, an IT tee-shirt adorning the body.  When the band took to the stage, they sported full black face masks so it was impossible to tell who they were.  After ten minutes of brutality in a packed tent, the set ended as abruptly as it had begun, with members of the band throwing bits of mannequin and hessian head sacks into the audience.  Nobody was any the wiser.

It must have been hard for the next act to follow that, but Cytota managed admirably.  Heavy and very popular, judging by the amount of people crammed in to see them, the band had an amazing energy about them and the guitarist got up close and personal with the crowd, demanding that they start a circle.  Not a bad start to the day and I can’t wait to see what they do next.  Breathe In The Silence followed and it as frustrating that I couldn’t really hear the vocals properly.  The singer lost vocals anyway; as he swung his mic round the end flew off into the crowd and he had to wait a little bit before we could actually hear something again.  They certainly made up for any lack of substance in enthusiasm and gave a great lesson in how to carry on when things go wrong.

I headed over to the main stage again to catch a bit of Bury Tomorrow.  The lead singer was inciting people to start circles, even though technically, that wasn’t allowed this year.  I did like the fact that he told us all that the band “don’t take themselves too seriously” and then asked everyone to lie down and jump up at the count of 4.  They even had separate ‘girl’ pits and ‘dude’ pits going, which worked for about 20 seconds and was fairly amusing.  I left halfway through their set to go and catch Chasing Cadence on the Red Bull stage.  Playing to an empty tent is never a good sign, but more people gradually started to drift in as CC got  down and dirty on stage.  They were very enthusiastic performers with some eager supporters in the crowd and they belted out fan favourites such as ‘A Sight For Sore Eyes’ and latest single ‘Paper Sails’.  They also threw some free stuff out into the crowd, which always goes down well.  These guys were clearly stoked to be playing Download and that’s what it’s about; a sterling performance from them.  Japanese metalcore outfit Coldrain followed and they had the crowd bouncing from the very first scream.  I only saw three songs from them, but they were well received and I would like to catch another gig to see them properly.

Chasing Cadence 2

Chasing Cadence

Killswitch Engage are a band I’ve never really got into, although I‘ve only ever heard good things about them.  I always thought they were a bit heavy for me, but I caught most of their set and I loved it.  It was awesome the way they incited the crowd to “engage in responsible forms of dancing”, i.e., to get a pit going and look out for one another.  The crowd were well into them and very appreciative and they created a good atmosphere.

Although by now I was flagging a bit (not enough beer …), I headed back to my second home of the Red Bull tent to catch Nothing More who recently featured on the Introducing page in Kerrang! Magazine.  I thought the sparse crowd were a bit lukewarm, however it did start to fill up quite quickly once they got going.  They had a second, basic drum kit at the front of the stage and after the second or third song, the bassist clamped his guitar to a stand attached to it, whilst three of them proceeded to play it.  It was a strange set, but the crowd ended up loving them and I think we’ll see big things from these guys.  Certainly I would catch them again.

Finally, it was time for the big set of the day for me.  I had been looking forward to Bring Me The Horizon for weeks and although they were on quite early, there was still a massive crowd waiting for Oli Sykes & Co.  They kicked proceedings off with huge track ‘Shadow Moses’, from last year’s immense album ‘Sempiternal’.  The crowd went mad at the front, with sneering front man Oli inciting a wall of death.  ‘The House of Wolves’ followed with Oli imploring the crowd to jump.  More awesome power tracks from the album of last year followed, including ‘Go To Hell, For Heaven’s Sake’, ‘Empire (Let Them Sing)’ and ‘Can You Feel My Heart’.  Oli had everybody down on the floor, springing up to ‘Antivist’, finally concluding a stellar set with ‘Sleepwalking’.  This was a set that stuck a middle finger up to the haters and showed the world that BMTH should, and probably will, be headlining Download very soon.  In the meantime, we have the massive Wembley show in December to look forward to – a fact that Mr Sykes didn’t let us forget.

BMTH 3

Bring Me The Horizon

Penultimate band of the night was electro-punk rockers The Howling, back in the Red Bull tent.  Blacky, Rev and the boys were in fine form, opening up a storming set with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller’.  Considering they clashed with main stage headliners Linkin Park, they drew a considerable crowd and proceeded to rip through a killer set, with outstanding energy and enthusiasm.  I particularly liked the way they had somebody moving through the crowd handing out fake AAA passes, it was a nice touch that ensured people wouldn’t forget their set, but frankly that would have been hard to do anyway.

I couldn’t not head back to catch some of Linkin Park; ‘Hybrid Theory’ was a seminal work that I listened to non-stop when it came out and I was rewarded with just over half the album in all of its live, blistering glory.  I still know the words and I sang along quite happily with the rest of the songs.  I found the rest of their set a little bit tedious, probably only because I wasn’t familiar with the newer work, but I heard a few mutterings along the same lines as I made my way back to the camp site.  Still, it was great to see Linkin Park live as I had never seen them before, so again, I finished the night a happy bunny!

Sunday

I have to confess, I was feeling pretty hung over on the Sunday morning, so we were late getting into the arena, however operating on the ‘go hard or go home’ theory, I grabbed a beer and headed straight to the Pepsi Max tent to see screamers The Charm The Fury.  They’re a female-fronted outfit from The Netherlands and not only is the lead singer an amazing vocal talent, but the musicians around her were also first class.  They hammered through a competent set which saw a packed tent showing their whole-hearted appreciation.  I stayed in Pepsi Max to see some of The Graveltones’ set, however it wasn’t really my sort of thing so I left after about three songs, but their funky, punk-rock stylings seemed to have quite a few fans in the tent.

Buckcherry were up next on the main stage, just after the heavens opened for a legendary Download shower.  They rolled through some of their best songs, including ‘Lit Up’ and ‘All Night Long’, but to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it.  Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the thought of going home that night, but I just couldn’t get into them.  Likewise with Richie Sambora, I was watching him, but he wasn’t really holding my attention.  I found his set kind of mellow and I appreciated the Bon Jovi covers of ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ and ‘Dead Or Alive’.  I also really liked ‘Stranger In This Town’, but I’m not sure I would have chosen to see him outside of Download.  Joe Bonamassa on the other hand, had my full attention.  I’d not seen him before although of course I had heard about his legendary guitar playing.  I also thought he had an awesome voice and I thoroughly enjoyed his set, which included tracks such as ‘Slow Train’ and ‘Who Killed John Henry’.

‘Secret’ band Black Stone Cherry absolutely brought the house down at the Pepsi Max tent.  I understand they were a last minute addition to the bill, hence the placing on a small stage.  It turns out that there were around 20,000 people in and around the tent for their performance and I can well believe it – I couldn’t get anywhere near as I made the mistake of sitting down for five minutes beforehand.  I did hear them though and they completely killed it with tracks such as ‘Me and Mary Jane’, ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’.  All I could see was a sea of hands in the air as the crowd sang along to every track – absolutely awesome.

I almost didn’t head back to the Red Bull tent for the last time, however I wanted to see Canadian Reignwolf.  I almost missed them, but I’m so glad I didn’t.  I saw singer/guitarist Jordan Cook standing on a branded bass drum at the front of the stage and this seemed to be bluesy, dirty rock and roll at its finest.  By the time they were on their fourth song, the tent was well over half full and the crowd were going mad for it.  Jordan then decided to play the drums, whilst still playing his guitar – I’ve never seen anything like it.  He got short shrift from security though, when he climbed up on the amps to play; they were there like a shot to get him down.  The set finished with a track called ‘This Is The Time’ – rather appropriate for Reignwolf, I think.

Reignwolf

Reignwolf

On a bit of a high, I headed back to the main stage to see my band of the moment, Alter Bridge.  I had been waiting all weekend for this and as Myles Kennedy and Co appeared on stage and launched into the opening notes of ‘Addicted To Pain’, I remembered why I come to Download every year.  ‘White Knuckles’ and ‘Cry of Achilles’ followed and all I could do was sing along and stare helplessly up at the big screens as the band pumped out one belting track after another as the crowd revelled in singing along with Myles.  Halfway through the set he introduced the band, walking out along the barrier, singing to one lucky lady in the front row.  A stunning rendition of ‘Blackbird’ followed and I was moved to tears by ‘Watch Over You’.  Mark Tremonti did a sterling job with ‘Waters Rising’ and as they brought their set to a close, Mr Kennedy was looking suitably humbled and pleased with such a great reaction.  It was a truly awesome set and I found it hard to believe that Aerosmith would be able to top it …

Alter Bridge 3

Alter Bridge

So, we came to the headliners.  Aerosmith headlined Donington Monsters of Rock in ’94, which was the last time I saw them.  When they came out on stage, I found myself thinking that there was no way these guys could put on a good show –  after all, nobody is getting any younger right?  So. Wrong.  Aerosmith exploded on to the stage with ‘Train Kept A Rollin’; Steven Tyler resplendent in an Indian head-dress and an all-white outfit, still looking every inch the rock star.  Hit after hit followed, including ‘Eat The Rich’, the iconic ‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘Cryin’’ and ‘Living on the Edge’.  Unfortunately, we had a very long drive back home, so we had to leave at that point, but I could still hear them playing as we headed back to the car and I can only say that, from what I saw and heard, Aerosmith were pretty as much as good live now as they were all those years ago and I’m a bit gutted that we didn’t stay until the end.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend, with only a few minor band clashes.  The toilets were clean, the stewards, for the most part, were polite and helpful and there were only small queues in the beer tents.  Download just keeps improving every year and although it will be hard to top the last three years, I’ll still be buying a ticket for 2015.  Why?  Because it’s where I feel at home, standing in a crowd with thousands of other people, singing along to my favourite songs, watching my idols up there on that stage.  As the Kiss song goes “This is my music, it makes me proud, these are my people and this is my crowd …”.  So yes, I’ll be back next year for sure.  With bells on.