Who will save rock and roll?
When hip-hop, pop and mainstream country rule the charts and dominate streams and sales, what band will come along to rescue rock for the 21st century?
The answer of late has been: Greta Van Fleet, the young Led Zeppelin knockoffs from Michigan; glam-ish Brits The Struts; and Rival Sons, the now veteran band -- who have been seen as rock’s salvation almost since they began a decade ago.
“We’ve been hearing that forever,” said bassist Dave Beste. “I joined the band in 2013 and I think even the first interview I did somebody asked me that question. We’ve been lucky. We’ve gotten to open for some of the biggest, best bands -- Sabbath, The Stones, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses in Europe -- there were 100,000 people at some of those shows, the biggest I’ve ever done in my life. That’s put us up there when people talk about that.”
In fact, Beste, a Lincoln native who graduated from Southeast and attended UNL before moving to California in 2000, said Rival Sons don’t worry much about saving rock, which isn’t all that endangered anyway.
“It’s not a mission statement — we’re not trying to save rock and roll,” Beste said from his Nashville home. “We’re just playing rock and roll. But I think there is a movement that’s bringing rock and roll back that we are part of. So if we’re saving rock and roll, that’s great.
“But it never disappeared. We did 13 months with Black Sabbath playing arenas to soccer stadiums around the planet and they were all full. It’s just not on the radio that much.”
Rival Sons, however, has been on the radio of late. “Do Your Worst,” the band’s first single from “Feral Roots,” its new album, hit No. 1 on the active rock charts in the United States and spent 16 weeks there in Canada.
That’s not bad for a band whose blues-rock sounds more ’70s than the thrashing hard rock/metal that usually dominates that chart.
“We’re a rock band and we’re a new band,” Beste said. “Pearl Jam is now a classic rock band. There really isn’t a perfect rock format for what we’re doing. The fact we had a song go to number one in the states in active rock says a lot about what people are thinking now. It’s just not rock. Maybe rock and roll is coming back.”
“Feral Roots” is the third album with producer Dave Cobb, the Nashville board whiz known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, John Prine and Sturgill Simpson.
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The first two albums were done at Cobb’s home studio. “Feral Roots,” however, was recorded at the legendary RCA Studio A, which Cobb took over in 2016 with a handful of songs done at another legendary studio -- Muscle Shoals Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and dozens of others have recorded over the years.
“It’s such a cool place,” Beste said. David Hood (the bassist in The Swampers, the Muscle Shoals house band) was coming by and saying hi. We were in the place where ‘Wild Horses’ was recorded. The original piano that was played on all those records is just sitting there. There are some ghosts there.”
So did Beste, as a kid in Lincoln, ever imagine he’d be recording at Muscle Shoals or sharing stages with Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards?
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Beste said. “I’ve had a lot of ‘wow’ moments, like taking a picture with Steven Tyler in a tunnel that Hitler built. You do that and then think, ‘How did I get here?’ As a kid, you’re dreaming of that kind of stuff. But when it happens, it’s like ‘Wow.’”
Unlike the previous two albums Beste played on, the latest album began to be put together months before the band made it to Studio A and Muscle Shoals.
“All the other records, we just kind of went in and did a shotgun session," he said. “We went in with no material and bashed everything out in four to six weeks. This one took seven or eight months. Ironically, the time we spent in the studio was still about six weeks. The writing process, we took a lot longer. I think that helped.”
“Feral Roots” was released to strong reviews at the end of January. Immediately thereafter, Rival Sons got on a plane bound for England.
“We went right over,” Beste said. “ I think the first shows were the week after the record came out. We did 5½ weeks in Europe. The whole thing was sold out. That’s where we’ve really taken off. The States have been a slower build. The States are massive and culturally, it’s different everywhere you go. It is over there (Europe), too. But you can drive from Germany to France in the same time it takes you to drive from Chicago to Detroit.”
Rival Sons is now on a U.S. tour that will bring Beste back to his hometown for a Bourbon Theatre show Saturday.
“I’ve never played that room," Beste said. “ My dad worked at that movie theater when he was going to college in the ’60s. I remember watching movies there.”
The set that night is likely to be loaded with “Feral Roots” songs -- and not just because it’s new.