Rival Sons picked an ironic place to start what will be an extensive and busy last half the year on tour.
Singer Jay Buchanan was calling in early May from his hotel room in Oklahoma City, where in a few hours he and his bandmates would launch the tour – an outing that all concerned are hoping will be a considerably smoother undertaking than when Rival Sons went on tour in 2021.
That fall, the band hit the road, and all four band members — Buchanan, guitarist Scott Holiday, bassist Dave Beste and drummer Michael Miley — as well as crew members, caught COVID. But they fought their way through and completed the tour. Oklahoma City was where Miley caught the virus and passed it on to Buchanan.
“Yeah, this was ground zero for me,” Buchanan said. “I ended up contracting it just a couple of days later.”
The Long Beach and Orange County-based band have lots of incentive to avoid the issues of that tour. The band released “Darkfighter,” the first of two new albums, on June 2. The second release, “Lightbringer,” is tentatively planned for an October arrival.
After completing a bunch of headlining dates in the spring, the band is now on a summer tour opening for The Smashing Pumpkins alongside Stone Temple Pilots. The outing hits FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine on Aug. 9 and North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in Chula Vista on Aug. 10. During these shows, Rival Sons have been able to present “Darkfighter” material live, and Buchanan is enjoying letting the new songs come to life on stage.
“We’ve been waiting to let this new blood flow through the veins. So we’ve been waiting to live the statement of the ‘Darkfighter’ record,” he said. “We get to live this now. And now these songs get to be out into the world and they begin their new life of how they’re going to be translated live.”
“Darkfighter” and “Lightbringer” are products of an intense and productive period for Rival Sons, which debuted with a self-titled EP in 2010, followed in 2011 by the full-length album “Pressure & Time.” The band toured extensively as three more albums followed and they saw their audience gradually expand.
But it was album number five, 2019’s “Feral Roots,” that turned the tide. It gave the band their first No. 1 rock single in “Do Your Worst,” and a pair of Grammy nominations, considerably raising the profile of Rival Sons.
Then the aforementioned pandemic hit, and suddenly there was a tumultuous new world for Buchanan and his writing partner, Holiday, to process and write about. Buchanan said he was especially troubled by the divisions that emerged over race, culture and politics, where anything that could be, was politicized, from the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement to wearing masks to prevent COVID.
“Tensions felt very high and I really feel that it incited me, well, it incited the desire to make art as true as I can,” he said. “Not that it’s ever been any different, but it felt more like I was writing for my life, like I was writing for survival in that point.”
Desperate times called for urgent music and that’s exactly what “Darkfighter” delivers, with hard rock songs that are highly tuneful and rich with musical layers. The sound is especially brisk on “Nobody Wants To Die” (which sounds a bit like the rocking blues of Joe Bonamassa and comes with an especially hooky chorus), and goes in a more epic direction on “Rapture” and “Guillotine.” Meanwhile, “Bright Light” is more measured and poppy and “Bird In The Hand” has a lighter and folkier tone that’s also appealing. Lyrically, there are certainly references to the times in which the album was created, but that said, “Darkfighter” is not explicitly a pandemic album and actually feels quite personal.
“I don’t think that at any point in the record you hear resignation, other than with ‘Darkside,’” Buchanan said of the album’s closing song, which addresses an opioid crisis, which hit home for the singer when one of his friends died from an addiction to painkillers. “If you can hear the protagonist on the ‘Darkfighter’ record, if you can string together the arc of that collective story, you don’t hear resignation. You hear, and certainly for me writing, it’s more about perseverance and you’re going to get there. Just keep going. Don’t give up.
“And you have hopeful songs. You have ‘Bright Light,’ and you have ‘Rapture,’” he said. “‘Rapture’ is ultimately, even though it’s like a slow crawl, that’s a song of transcendence.”
As for what fans can expect from “Lightbringer,” Buchanan views it as the continuation of “Darkfighter.”
“The names of the two albums certainly indicate it, but I wouldn’t put this in a ying-yang kind of (context). I really feel that it’s just two installments to one story, two installments to one narrative,” he said. “What ‘Lightbringer’ really is, with the opening track of that record, it’s going to give context to the ‘Darkfighter’ record. As soon as you begin that record, I believe that it’s going to, there’s like a starting over point. The edges get shaken with that first track, and I think that it’s going to provide a little bit of context and release for the way that ‘Darkfighter’ ended, on that dour note with ‘Darkside.’”
The Smashing Pumpkins
With: Stone Temple Pilots and Rival Sons
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9
Where: FivePoint Amphitheatre, 14800 Chinon, Irvine
Tickets: $49.50-$179 at LiveNation.com
Also: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10 at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista. Tickets are $20-$150 at LiveNation.com.
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