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The Gypsy Heart of Rival Sons


Mike Miley talks muscle cars, blues, kush, politics and love.

Since forming in 2008, Rival Sons has busted through the gate, blasting their fresh take on blues to audiences across the globe. They have the fever of a strong, young band of this contemporary era, with the soul and gritty depth of Muddy Waters.

More than any other genre or classification of music, blues-heavy rock has maintained its sound through the generations. While you could trace its origins as far back as you want (even cavemen sang the blues), since Muddy Waters helped pioneer the modern sound of the blues in the '60s most successful blues acts have kept the same basic format...and it's held up over time.

The good modern blues acts play it well, and keep the tonic feeling like new every time they pass it around. The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival made blues even cooler; Clutch pioneered a harder edge to the blues; now we have Black Keys and Jack White bringing a New Millennium sensibility to the arena.

This is where Rival Sons have stepped in, to take the reigns with the best blues record of the year, "Pressure & Time." Indeed, Rival Sons sounds a lot like the hard, rockin' blues of old, but with a modern flavor. The SOUL of their music resonates powerfully through the 10 tracks, and while on the surface you could imagine this being played live in some Chicago bar in 1963, the spirit of the music is sheer 2011.

We caught up recently with drummer Mike Miley, to talk all thing blues, love, and muscle cars.

In the Jeremiah Weed short documentary, you talked about eventually wanting to buy muscle cars. Would you be more into the old-school hot rods, or are you going to get a Bugati?

Mike Miley: [Laughs] Oh, no, we're all into old-school, '50's and '60s muscle cars.

OK, so you'd have a souped-out Nova or a GTO?

MM: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, I definitely want a modern car, like an Astin Martin, Alfa Romeo, Maseratis and shit, but there's nothing like a 1980 Trans Am Firebird.

You guys are from California, right?

MM: Yeah. We're based in Long Beach. I personally was born and raised in California, as were Jay and Scott. Robin grew up in Toronto.

Where does a single guy go to find the legendary California Girl? You know, that hot woman who's strong and independent, yet totally chill and down-to-earth, who doesn't expect me to buy her some fancy-ass ring and make her my trophy?

MM: Nowhere! [Laughs]. To get everything you just asked for, I think is a tall order. But I'm bitter, I just got broken up with. Man...Spain, haha. To get the down-to-earth ones, I'd say the beach is a great place to meet girls in California.

I met some really great women in Hollywood, actually. I've been living there for the last 10 years, and a lot of people in Hollywood you'll meet are from Michigan, Texas, Chicago. You get a lot of that Midwest and Southern down-to-earthness, but then you get the hotness because they're trying to be actresses.

I guess I would say, stay away from actresses!

Does having big sideburns and playing guitar help you chances to meet women?

MM: Oh yeah, that definitely helps your chances to get laid. [Laughs]

Aside from lyrical content, how has the sound of blues-heavy rock changed from the days of Muddy Waters, going through The Who and the Rolling Stones, through Clutch and the Black Keys, to Rival Sons?

MM: Wow...that's a heavy question. I think what remains the same is the blues; the sounds change by the people who play the instruments, and what amps they're playing through. The Black Keys are playing through old gear, Jack White is playing through old gear. It's those tones from the '50s and '60s that are the best, you know?

I'm sitting with the guys right now, by the way. One of them said, "It gets consistently shittier." 

We are all Clutch fans...

Are you gonna play with Clutch anytime soon?

MM: We played at the same festival with them in Azkena [Spain]. They played right after we left; we had to leave to make it to Italy, and we were all pissed because we wanted to see them. They went on at like 2:40 in the morning.

So, tell me about the recording of "Pressure & Time." You guys locked yourself in a studio for a while, right?

MM: Um, 20 days, we wrote, recorded, mixed, mastered it in 20 days. We wrote a song a day, recorded it...we really didn't really coop ourselves up. We went in fresh. 

We wanted it to be visceral; we intentionally went into the studio without any put-together songs, to keep that kind of fresh, alive, visceral quality to it. To us, that's kind of the backbone to rock 'n' roll: it's loose and from the gut.


How much weed was involved in the creation of this record?

MM: I'd say every night probably was night-capped with a joint or five.

What are your feelings about the movement as it is, as far as legalizing?

MM: Well, it's a conundrum, because the "legalization" of it, so to speak- if you want to call it that- the advent of the dispensary, has made the black market prices drop considerably. So, it's good for weed smokers, and it's bad for people who have been in the business for a long time. Because, you know, a pound of Kush two years ago was $5,600, for some good Master OG...and now it's like $3,200 or whatever, for a really nice pound of Kush.

So, the market has completely deflated. I mean, I'm all for it. I did a senior project on the legalization of it...I mean, there's 200-something biological compounds, we could make aspirin out of it, it's the strongest fiber on the planet, we can make paper (and end deforestation). There's so much we can do with weed, so I'm all for legalization.

So the black market guys are going to suffer a little bit to make the world a better place. That's just kind of what they have to deal with, I guess.

How does marijuana impact your creative flow?

MM: It opened up my entire brain to a whole new world. My first year in college, I had a roommate in college, one of my best friends, who turned me on to Yes, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, all these psychedelic bands that I had heard before, but never with the ears I had after I started smoking weed. Music comes alive on weed, man! It's just different, you know?

People just have to admit it: music sounds a lot better, from a piano concerto to Grateful Dead live at Hampton Theater in 1979, to "Topographic Oceans" by Yes. They all come alive when you've smoked a bowl.

Have you guys been able to maintain your marijuana use as you travel Europe?

MM: Hell yeah! [Laughs] There's somebody in every town, every city, every place, every festival or whatever, somebody’s got weed. It's funny to see the different kinds of weed. You meet connoisseurs, and then you meet some dude who just has shake in a bag and wants to roll a joint for you. We'll be in the Netherlands on Friday...but so far, in Europe, I haven't seen really great, great weed. 

I don't think I've ever seen anything better than California, what comes from Northern California in particular. I'm a soil guy, I like really good, outdoor weed, by connoisseur growers. I like the earth and I like the sun; I don't like hydroponic weed, it hits your forehead too hard. It's like an arrow; I don't like the high, it gives you a headache. I mean, there's good hydros, but for the most part, in general, I like a good soil and sun weed.

What are some of your favorite strains right now? When you come back to L.A. and go to your dispensary, what kind are you going to get?

MM: First, I'm going to get a New York Sour Diesel and a Master Kush, so that I have a daytime and a nighttime. Maybe some Blue Dream, New York Sour Diesel has never done me wrong, and it's a great, creative..I want to write poetry, I want to practice my drums, I want to vacuum the house. 

The Master/OG Kush are great for when you're winding down your day. But I can't talk when I'm on indicas, my speech goes out the window pretty much, so I reserve that for nighttime. Or after a show, a good indica gives a good body high after a show, it kind of helps the body unwind. With my arms- being the drummer- I'm really wound up after playing.

You always gotta have some good Kush in your stash.

Why do you feel that it's not fully legalized and regulated like tobacco, alcohol, and coffee?

MM: Initially it was propaganda, and it was pounded into the American psyche, and it was even named "marijuana" by the government and the whole propaganda machine that got behind it, leading up to the illegalization in 1937. With William Randolph Hearst, all the Chicago banks and those people that were lobbying for it...that was the main thing. And it just got ingrained into the American psyche, kind of like the Russians, we're all still kind of afraid of the Russians, even after the Cold War's over for like 20 years.

Right, the Russians and Communism are still the Devil.

MM: Yeah! Propaganda is a really powerful tool. And if you're a part of NORML or any of these organizations that are for the legalization, you're just some dumb hippie. There are some really smart people that are behind the marijuana legalization movement, but they don't get the voice because of the propaganda machine, FOX News, Republicans, all of them.

What's funny, though, is I know so many people that are Republican, and they smoke weed. But the Republicans that are in office, are really against it. And even the Democrats too, they're a bunch of pussies, they can't get behind it.

I think Dennis Kucinich is like one of the only politicians that's cool with it. He's rad: he's vegan, he's got a hot model wife, he's a rad dude, man. I love Kucinich; every time he's in the primaries, I vote for him.

Weed- or intoxication in general- has been attached to music since the inception of western music, which was around in the 15th Century. I know Beethoven and Mozart and all those guys were taking something. The idea of being high and listening, writing, composing, playing music high, is a godsend. It's definitely a gift from nature.



A version of this article originally appeared in Kush Magazine.

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