Spotlight: David Shaw

Mike Greenhaus on January 26, 2022
Spotlight: David Shaw

In September, David Shaw scored a prime vantage point for one of the most emotional shows The Rolling Stones have ever played—on the stage.

“They weren’t gonna have any openers for this tour, but then they decided they were, and things happened quickly,” The Revivalists frontman says with a laugh of his band’s last-minute support spot for the Stones in St. Louis. “It turned out to be a landmark show for them because it was their first show without Charlie Watts [since 1962]. It was a huge honor to get the nod—Mick Jagger still had to say ‘go’ himself after our name was submitted. And then, as were watching them, he said from the stage: ‘How about those Revivalists boys? They were great.’ I just about fell out my chair.”

The Revivalists’ recent gig with The Rolling Stones—the second time they have supported “The World’s Greatest Rock-and[1]Roll Band”—was a clear peak during a stretch of time filled with extreme highs and lows for Shaw and his community. Like pretty much every other touring musician on the jam-adjacent circuit, Shaw saw almost all of his commitments vanish instantaneously in March of 2020—keeping him off the road for the better part of a year, besides the stray livestream or drive-in concert. During that time, the singer/ guitarist’s longtime New Orleans home base was nearly shuttered—first by COVID and, more recently, by Hurricane Ida. And, though his house was spared, many of his neighbors and musical heroes were not as lucky. “With the coronavirus, I’m sure we lost some amazing people that were fans,” Shaw says, a sense of gravity weighing down his otherwise exuberant voice. “I’m always keeping a close eye on that.”

At the same time, Shaw admits that, though COVID is still a concern, The Revivalists’ recent homecoming show—which was originally slated to take place during a rescheduled, then canceled Jazz Fest—might have been their best show in eight years. “It felt like an old-school Revivalists show, and we were just hitting on all cylinders,” he says. “The crowd was absolutely ravenous.”

His band has experienced some milestones at home, too: Zack Feinberg, who founded The Revivalists with Shaw, recently became a father to twins. And, though Feinberg had to miss a Revivalists gig for the first time ever, Shaw beams like a proud uncle. “He’s rocking double duty right now so we’re calling him Big Daddy Feinberg,” Shaw says with a laugh. “He had a girl and a boy. He’s got his hands full, but it is really beautiful.”

And all that time at home also allowed Shaw to finally finish his long-gestating, self-titled solo album, which was released in May. “Before the pandemic, with all the touring I had planned, I don’t think this album would have come out, honestly,” Shaw says. “So that was a huge silver lining for me.”

Shaw admits that he’s always hoped to make a solo record, inspired by the prospect of starting a project in his bedroom and then following that vision all the way to the finish line. “The band is amazing in so many ways—the camaraderie, the teamwork,” he says. “I have a lot of people I can lean on in these scenarios. But I thought, ‘If I’m ever gonna get to where I can just really access my full potential, then I gotta be able to see if I can do this other thing while, obviously, still doing the band thing.’”

When he first started writing what would become his solo debut a few years ago, Shaw had recently returned from tour and wasn’t sleeping very well. Noting that he “doesn’t do so well living on a tour bus” and that he was also having a hard time readjusting to life at home, the singer started working on the tune “Shaken” as a self-care exercise. He kept writing and, in early 2020, went into the studio with a core cast of musicians, including singer/ songwriter/piano player Neal Francis, Revivalists drummer PJ Howard, bassist Mike Starr and guitarist Chris Gelbuda, who also helped compose many of the new originals. “PJ is my soulmate, as opposed to my friend,” Shaw says. “Him and Zack are my guys. And Chris needs a stand-up talk show.”

The resulting collection, which was produced by Grammy-winner Jack Splash, has a strong lyrical focus on mental wellness and embracing fear and anxiety as ever[1]present. Shaw—who has long practiced Transcendental Meditation—has been sober ever since he had a life-changing trip to the emergency room following a night of partying shortly after he moved to New Orleans in his 20s. “I haven’t had a sip of alcohol or cocaine or heroin or anything like that,” he says. “I’m doing pretty well I gotta say, and I’m very grateful for that—for my sobriety.”

As the club circuit starts springing back to life, Shaw has begun gigging out under his own name and will spend a chunk of December on the road with a band comprised of some of the players who backed him in the studio as well as a few newer collaborators. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take Neal and his boys out just because Neal has this amazing album out now. But, everyone who is joining me has such a positive vibe. Everyone’s always lifting everybody up, even in the moments that can be tense.”

Looking ahead, he also plans to start work on The Revivalists’ next studio project “at some point” in 2022. And, he’s already eying another solo LP down the line.

“It’s about finding what songs everybody’s most excited about for each project,” he admits. “That’s the main ingredient.”

As his world slowly returns to some sort of normalcy, Shaw is keeping an eye on his own mental health as well.

“I’m always keeping my wellness in check because, as we all know, you can get too far behind an eight ball,” he says. “And, as you get older, it gets harder and harder to get in front of it and climb out of that hole. I may slide back here and there. After all, I’m human. But it’s definitely something that is always on the forefront.”