Rival Sons’ guitar man on the perils of touring Europe in a van nicknamed ‘Castle Grayskull’…
What was your very first gig and how did it go?
“I think one of my first proper gigs was at my high school. Junior year, junior sophomore year, maybe?
"I was in a band and all the other guys were out of school, except for the other guitar player, so all these guys were college guys, which amazed everybody I went to school with. It went down really, really well.
"We were playing my high school at lunch and that was probably my first real gig.”
Describe your current stage rig…
“‘Amazing’, is how I’d describe it! I’m using Orange amps, predominantly. I have three racked up, but I use two – one is very heavy and the other is a little bit lighter for clean stuff.
"They both go into a Radial Tonebone box called the Headbone that allows me to switch both heads into one 4x12 cabinet.
"We’re playing with Black Sabbath quite often and our stages are quite big, so instead of showing one cabinet, I have something like eight cabinets on deck and most of them are loaded, but I’m really only using one. If I plugged into all of them it would just ruin our front of house’s job, because there’d be too much guitar coming from the deck.
"I have my pedalboards that I built with my buddies over at Salvage Audio. I have three ’boards – six albums’ worth of pedals and whatnot, and I think I’m taking about nine guitars out.
"There are my custom Kauers, a really beautiful guitar made by Meloduende from France, then there’s the blue Gibson ’99 Custom Historic [Firebird VII] and a ’65 Non-Reverse Firebird and a ’62 Fender Jazzmaster.”
What non-musical item could you not do without on tour?
“Japa beads for meditation are essential and, as clichéd and horrible as it sounds, I think our mobile devices – that would be the computer for me – and the iPhone, because it connects me to my family and the rest of the world, as it kinda does everything.
"It’s kind of a lame, technological answer, I know, but I’d be in trouble if I didn’t have the phone that I’m speaking to you on!”
What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?
“Oh, man… that’s like a weekly thing, for sure! The other day we were trying to get to the stage and it was so far away, it was classic Spinal Tap.
"We’re driving and it’s, like, miles; our tour bus is parked in a field about five miles away and we’re trying to get to a radio station interview that’s timed and we’re going back and forth between the venue and then being told, ‘No, you’ve got to go back out, beyond that tree line and you’ve got to make a left…’
"These things are a daily occurrence where you’re driving in circles, looking around for things and barely making the schedule. It’s just non-stop.”
What’s on your rider?
“My rider’s pretty simple, it’s just vegetables, berries, bread, cereal, water… Just the basic necessities.
"Our rider doesn’t only facilitate us, so there’s cheese, cereal bars, some booze. It’s for everybody and there’s a whole group of people who will attack it every day.”
What’s the best venue you’ve played in, from a musician’s point of view, and why?
“It’s hard to call one best venue. There are so many that have different attributes: there are small venues that are really, really amazing sounding and feel great and have a really great ambience, and then there are venues that are such beautiful places.
"Like the Waldbühne in Berlin – it’s just outside of an Albert Speer-built arena and it’s a beautiful, tree-lined outdoor amphitheatre and it was quite large and it just felt great and super-duper nice.
“But even Madison Square Garden is so memorable for us, because it’s just the place you’ve always dreamed of playing. We did two nights with Sabbath there just recently.”
What’s the worst journey you’ve had to or from a gig?
“I would say that was my entire first European tour! I wouldn’t change it, but we barely lived.
"We were in an older Sprinter van going through Europe and it was a really gnarly journey – long drives – and this van had no windows. It had bench seats, like 90-degree bench seats, facing each other. No air conditioning and it was mid-summer… the band had to strip down to our underwear so we didn’t overheat and die, and the only thing we had to drink was warm vodka and Red Bull.
"We were playing these festivals with huge bands like PJ Harvey, Portishead and Coldplay and we’d be rolling up in our beat-up Sprinter van that we called ‘Castle Grayskull’ – we’d pull up by these huge, beautiful tour buses and roll out of our van in our underwear, smelling of Red Bull and just barely alive.
"The whole journey was like that…”
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?
“We recently played a show and became really well acquainted with Billy Bob Thornton and ended up hanging out all night with him.
"That was kinda weird, but in the best of ways. We heard some fantastic stories from him.”
What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?
“Play well. That’s by far the best way that you do it, I think: perform well. For us, as an opener band, giving the headliner a little bit of love and showing some respect, but I think that the only way you win over an audience in any art form is to perform well.”