“We’re all transplants, so we try to be culture-bearers but it’s a delicate thing. We want to be extremely respectful.”
Like a lot of bands from NOLA, the Revivalists exhibit a hodgepodge of styles that flow into a cohesive sound. They’re not completely folk-rock, soul, r&b, Americana, alternative, or funk, but they blend each of these elements together to create truly dynamic music.
It’s also incredible that their sound comes from an octet—lead singer David Shaw, pedal steel guitarist Ed Williams, guitarist Zack Feinberg, saxophonist Rob Ingraham, bassist George Gekas, drummers Andrew Campanelli and Paulet “PJ” Howard, and multi-instrumentalist Michael Girardot.
On Nov. 11, the band will take the stage at MGM Music Hall, with Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris opening at 8pm. Shaw and I spoke ahead of their visit about an EP they made at a famous recording studio, a solo record he put out last year, honoring New Orleans culture in a respectful manner, and a new album that’s on the way.
Back in June, the Revivalists put out a live studio EP called Made In Muscle Shoals Vol. 2 which features re-imaginings of songs from their latest full-length album Take Good Care recorded at the legendary Fame Recording Studio. What made you want to come back to this studio after the completion of the first volume and what would you say contributed to the re-imagined tracks?
We just wanted to have a little more fun. We love getting into the studio and feeling the vibe with each other. Muscle Shoals and Fame are both really, really, special places and we thought those songs could really benefit from that type of treatment and that type of vibe. We love Rodney [Hall] over there so we were kind of itching to do something different. For the previous record, we did live cuts at this place in New Orleans called the Tigermen Den with live videos and we kind of wanted to do something similar while upping the ante a little bit and that was what we settled on.
We kind of did some different arrangements and we wrapped the songs in some different musical suits as you could say. Some were similar, some were radically different, and we had fun with it. We produced it ourselves and we just got creative in the studio, that’s really what it was about.
I totally get the different arrangements from listening to the EP. Last year you released your self-titled debut solo album which has more of an acoustic, stripped-down foundation. In terms of style and approach, what do you think is the major difference between your solo material and the music you make with the Revivalists?
I would say the major difference is in the process. Now that being said, I’m very collaborative by nature so the solo venture was also a very collaborative project. I think from just being a true band, as we are, I’ll write a song on acoustic and then it’ll go through the filter of each person that’s in our band. Whereas opposed to the solo project, it was very much me making every single decision saying, Let’s do this here, let’s do that here, let’s do this there. It has a little more of a Revivalists filter, for lack of a better word.
There’s eight guys in the band, so the songs can change radically and if I played you the demo to some of them you’d notice the similarities. I don’t play pedal steel so it always has that thing going on, Ed [Williams] is kind of like that ghost in the background that’s providing this mysterious glue to the whole thing. I think that sets us apart. It doesn’t show up a ton in a regular rock band and he uses it pretty unconventionally, but I’m also still kind of figuring that out because that was a very new thing for me to do a solo record with. I had never done one and I’m sure I’ll do some more in the future so I’m still kind of figuring that out as well.
When it comes to the process of creating your solo material, did you take anything from that and put it towards the Made In Muscle Shoals EP or did you keep those things as separate as possible?
We actually recorded the EP before I did the solo album, so I would say that some of the Muscle Shoals stuff and some of the things I learned during that carried over. I gotta say, the way they got their vocal chain set up in that room is really, really special so I was kind of tuned to hearing that going into that studio and then going into the sessions for the solo album. I think that was a constant thread in my mind, just remembering the sounds from that studio and going Oh, we could do this, we could do that. Let’s juice it up here, who cares if the vocal is clipping out? That happened on so many old records and I think that’s just cool so there was definitely some of that going on.
Outside of music, the Revivalists have a fund called Rev Causes that supports the essential work of organizations dedicated to reviving and investing in their communities, health, and our environment. Such organizations include the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Everytown for Gun Safety, National Alliance on Mental Safety, Songs for Kids Foundation, and Upturn Arts. What made you guys want to establish this fund and how has it progressed since the start of it in 2018?
We got to a place in our career where we were really able to begin to give back to our community through some of the causes that we truly believe in. It seemed like a natural progression and it’s very near and dear to our hearts to be philanthropic while helping causes that we feel passionate about. We’ll take a year of touring, we’ll give to these organizations that we believe in and mean so much to us, and then we’ll kind of switch it up the next year. We didn’t really know how we were going to do that part if we were just going to stick with these or if we were going to spread it around and share the love. Ultimately, we decided that it would be best to just spread the love because there’s a lot of organizations out there and we got a lot of love to give so it’s evolving as we speak. We’re excited to kind of see where it goes and we’re happy to be in a place to be able to do it.
I think it’s an awesome thing you guys are doing, it’s always good to give back. Speaking of giving back, you’re also involved in a music festival in your hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, right?
Yeah, the Big River Get Down.
How has it been putting that together? Is it a yearly thing or have you only done it once so far?
We’ve done it for seven years now, so it’s been a blast. The guy that I put the festival on with, Adam Helms, is such a mensch, man. He’s such an amazing person, I’ve learned so much about putting concerts on from him and we kind of came up together in this way. We worked with the city quite a bit on this and it’s really been amazing to see the transformation in my hometown where for years before when people would ask where you’re from you’d say, I’m from Hamilton real quiet. Now people are screaming it from the rooftops and I’m not saying that’s all because of me but I do think that music brings the community together so people have something to pride themselves upon.
Also, they’re going out, they’re congregating with one another and they’re seeing the people in their community. It’s not just them doing whatever they do and I think music has a real truthful power in the way that it can transform cities and cultures.
Absolutely, it’s a beautiful thing. New Orleans seems to have this mystical ingredient where the bands from there regardless of genre just sound a bit different. Ranging from funk, to jazz, to punk, to heavy metal, it seems like the artistic boundaries get pushed in New Orleans more than any other music scene. Either it sounds a little more groovy, there’s some abstractness to it or the structure is all over the place. Few other areas can match what New Orleans has in that regard, so when it comes to incorporating that unique element into the music of the Revivalists, how would you describe it? How would you describe including that New Orleans vibe into the band’s sound and paying tribute to where you’re coming from?
I think the culture and music scene of New Orleans is very inclusive, it’s not exclusive. It’s just a very joyous thing and also it’s the birthplace of jazz. It’s a part of being in the city, hearing these sounds and every other weekend there’s a festival or some kind of thing going on. There’s so many amazing musicians who live in the city that you can hear on a regular basis when they’re not on tour or touring with Stevie Wonder or some of these humongous acts. You can hear them on a Tuesday at the Maple Leaf, so I think it’s a fact of being in the soup, or dare I say gumbo, and we’re all kind of here together.
It’s like when I wake up and I turn WWOZ on, which is a famous New Orleans radio station, and they’re playing these deep cuts that you’re not going to hear anywhere else and I think it just gets in there. While our band is from New Orleans, none of us are actually from there. We’re all transplants, so we try to be culture-bearers but it’s a delicate thing. We want to be extremely respectful of the people who came before us and just do what we can do to move it forward in a way that we’re supposed to, in a way that the city would want it and in a way that the greats would want us to. It’s a tough one, but we’re up for the challenge.
I think that’s an outlook to be admired, you’re not looking to appropriate anything.
Yeah, exactly. We’re not trying to hold that flag up saying we’re from there, we’re just doing our thing and we want to be very respectful of that because it’s a very precious thing.
I couldn’t agree more. We’re less than two months away until the end of 2022, which is crazy to think about. This year has been going by quickly. What are the Revivalists’ plans for next year? Can we expect a new album in the near future?
Oh yeah, you’re going to get a new record next year, that’s for sure. It’s comin’ and we’re almost finished with it, we’re in the mixing process. I can’t say too much about it because I don’t exactly know what the situation is and things always take longer than you think they’re going to take. It always takes longer, but just know that there’s more music coming and we’ve been playing some new songs on this tour we’ve been on. We got a lot of good stuff on the horizon.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.