The Revivalists: Renewable Energy
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
“Everybody was really itching to get back together after 2020 and 2021,” David Shaw says of the impetus for The Revivalists to regroup and record their fifth studio album, Pour It Out Into The Night, which Concord Records will release on June 2. “Those were two really tough years and I think one of the ways that we all processed that event was to get back together with our friends. I’m great friends with the guys in the band—we’re not one of those bands where we only see each other backstage and onstage. I was hanging out with Zack [Feinberg] and his babies and his wife yesterday at Preservation Hall.”
The New Orleans-based rock group originated through a chance encounter in 2007. That’s when Feinberg, then a Tulane University student, happened upon Ohio-transplant Shaw, who was singing and playing guitar on his front porch. This fortuitous moment yielded what is now a vibrant eight-piece collective, featuring Shaw (lead vocals, guitar), Feinberg (guitar), Andrew Campanelli (drums), George Gekas (bass), Ed Williams (pedal steel guitar), Rob Ingraham (saxophone), Michael Girardot (keyboard, trumpet), and PJ Howard (drums, percussion).
Pour It Out Into The Night is the follow-up to 2018’s critically lauded Take Good Care. “Five years between albums is certainly not unheard of but it’s on the longer side,” Shaw acknowledges. “So I think we were due. We were looking forward to seeing each once again and by that point we were just brimming with material.”
The word “brimming” is altogether apt. The singer notes that in anticipation of the Vermont recording sessions with producer Rich Costey (Muse, Death Cab for Cutie, Of Monsters and Men), the group considered 100 original songs in various states of completion.
“We started out with a hundred tunes and whittled it down to about 60,” Shaw recalls. “Then from that 60 we brought 25 to the studio and said to Rich, ‘We’re down to record any of these. What do you want to do?’ We put that piece in his hand, to sculpt the record. Now there were songs where we were like, ‘We really want to do this one,’ and there were songs where Rich was like, ‘There’s no way we’re not doing this one.’ It was a collaborative process as far as picking the songs. But it’s always tough when you’re whittling from a hundred to 25. It’s kind of crazy–there are a lot writers in the band.”
There are not only a lot of writers, there are a lot of adept, engaging writers. Take Good Care yielded two #1 Adult Alternative hits in “Change” and “All My Friends.” The first single from Pour It Out Into The Night, “Kid,” just hit the top 10 and is continuing to climb the charts.
Today, The Revivalists are releasing a new album track, “The Long Con.” Shaw notes, “This is a song for the marginalized, the underrepresented and taken advantage of. It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening in our country. I wanted to write a song that we could all sing together at our concerts, and truly feel connected and aligned. It’s a song for the people.”
The Revivalists will directly connect with the people on a sweeping summer tour. Following appearances at the Rendezvous Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Bonnaroo, the group will take to the road in earnest for a series of amphitheater dates that will extend into September, including co-bills with The Head and The Heart and Band of Horses.
As you began writing for the record was there a specific song you completed early in the process where you felt like you had opened the door to a larger theme or sonic texture that you wanted to explore on the album as a whole?
I don’t want to be too on the nose with this, but it was probably “Kid.” I hadn’t written with Zack for a little while and we always loved writing together. It’s just that with the pandemic it had been a little while. Then we started getting back together and immediately we were reminded that we have this amazing energy together.
“Kid” was the first tune that kind of popped out when we started getting back together. It was one of those moments that was really special. It felt like coming home. Zack and I met by happenstance on a porch one day and here we were writing songs together again.
Writing the type of song that we did also felt really good because “Kid” is a hopeful tune, but it’s not without the drama that is life.
You’ve mentioned that you were working on it while the events of January 6th were underway. To what extent do you think that manifested itself in “Kid?”
We were getting text messages from our family about what was going on while were writing the tune. At that point we had most of the chorus, we were writing the verses—we were deep into the meat of the tune. So while we knew that was an extremely significant event, we also felt that we had a special energy in the room that we couldn’t go away from.
I think that’s something we took stock of within the song. There are things that can steal you out of the moment and take your joy away. But you can’t let that happen. You’ve got to do all you can do to prevent it.
I think that one of the cruxes of the song—one of the main gists—is living for the spirit now. The essence of right now is not what’s going on in the phone or what happened in the past or what you’re afraid is going to happen in the future.
It’s a reminder to be present, while realizing all these other factors are also present.
You’ve written music for solo albums and also for other artists. Is there a particular ethos that you think is at the heart of a Revivalists’ song?
We’re a hopeful band. We’re all about bringing that positive energy. But I think we also want to serve the song and acknowledge that life isn’t all about rainbows. So at the end of the day we want to give the people something that’s real and raw and authentic.
I think those are the precursors for what we do best as a band. As long as it’s real, as long as it’s raw, as long as it’s authentic to us, that feels like the baseline.
As far as the message, I think there’s an underlying theme of redemption and positivity. At the end of the day, we all go through really hard things and we all have traumas that we deal with, but you’ve got to stay in the game and keep fighting the good fight. That’s kind of the ethos of our music at its core.
Will you typically write with the live show in mind or are you focusing on the song as a discrete medium of expression?
Sometimes we’ll be writing a certain part and I’ll do a little thought experiment on how this is this going to land. Are thousands of people going to want to sing this lyric with me or back to me? Is this going to resonate with them as much as it does with me? That thought will kind of creep into my brain but it’s a tricky one because you don’t necessarily want that to inform too much.
You just want to serve the song and be in the moment but that does happen. Sometimes I’ve changed things because I’ve thought it wasn’t the right way to say what I want to say in that arena.
There are ways you can say the same thing and get the same message across, but tweak it in a way where it sounds right for 5,000 people to scream the top of their lungs. So there have been instances where that’s happened.
When you begin writing a song will you know what it’s going to be about or is that a process of discovery?
I was just talking to someone about this at the coffee shop today. Sometimes we’re going through things in life and it’s like you’re in the eye of a storm. So you’re writing and then you find out later what you were feeling and how it was manifesting itself, through the filter of what was going on and how it was landing on the page or in the melody.
There’s a bit of a mystery in that. It feels like the song has a life of its own, where you’ll look back on a song that you wrote six months ago or five years ago when you were still in that period and couldn’t see it for what it was.
Then you can get some perspective on it, look back on it and say, “Okay, this is what I was doing here. I was processing something that wasn’t even the thing I thought I was dealing with. It was something that was further back.” It’s almost like these things are in line. They get processed on their own time.
Have you ever been performing live when you’ve had that moment of epiphany?
Absolutely, it’s definitely made me tear up too. One of the things that happens is I’ll see the connection between what I’ve gone through, what I’m going through and what someone in the audience is going through. It’s this really beautiful thing that occurs. It’s an unspeakable thing, but it’s a bond between you and that person.
Sometimes it’s been really powerful. I’ve locked eyes with people and it’s been like, “I see you. I see you as a soul in this weird bag that we’re all in, with all of our shit that we have to deal with all day.” But you cut straight through all that. It’s pretty beautiful.
Has that experience ever overwhelmed you to such a degree that it led to a full stop?
I haven’t been completely thrown out and just stopped the song. I’ve just kind of pushed through.
I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future, though. Maybe I should let that kind of thing take me for a sec, because I do think it would be really powerful to show that vulnerability.
Sometimes, it’s like, “Oh man, I’m doing a show for 5,000 people here right now, and I’m about to crack up.” There’s some part of me that’s like, “You’ve got to keep going” but the stronger thing to do would be to let that moment take me where it wants to go.
You’re such a dynamic performer, both yourself and the band as a whole. While you were growing up was there a show you attended that led you to envision that approach to the live setting?
I used to go to a lot of punk rock shows, so it was a very different energy. I went from the U.K. punk scene to the New York punk scene, straight to Deftones. [Laughs.] When I heard Chino Moreno’s voice, I was like, “Oh my God, this dude’s kind of got it all.” He’s got this really sexy, soft side to his voice, but then he can go there. When I saw them at this club Bogart’s in Cincinnati—I’m from Hamilton, Ohio, which is close to Cincinnati— I saw him doing that live, where he had both sides. There weren’t a lot of those artists that did that. Certainly no one sounded like him. That was a moment for me and still to this day, while I don’t necessarily emulate him, I try to put some of that energy into the music.
When you moved to New Orleans did you have a particular style of music that you wanted to explore?
Honestly, not really. I was very new even to my own artistry at the time. I was very green as far as that whole world was concerned. I didn’t even know too much about New Orleans history when I moved here. I certainly got schooled very quickly and caught up fast.
I wasn’t fed that kind of stuff growing up. I’m from a little town in Ohio with corn and cows all over the place. What I heard on the radio certainly wasn’t New Orleans jazz. I wish I’d had some WWOZ in Hamilton, Ohio.
Jumping back to Pour It Out Into The Night, when it finally came to think about recording all that new material, what drew the band to Rich Costey?
He’s worked with a lot of artists that we just love. I also think we wanted to work with someone who got us as a group. We didn’t want to work with someone where were going to put out a record and it was going to sound like this guy’s record.
We wanted somebody that was going to get in with us and kind of become another member of the band. We wanted that person to drive the ship in a way that it still sounds like us, but it sounds like elevated us.
Rich was a great leader in that respect. It’s really not easy to wrangle eight guys with strong personalities, and at the end of the day, art is subjective. So one person’s idea is not always the right way. I think he did a really great job of understanding who we are, where we want to go, then picking out people’s strengths and using that to elevate the record.
You recorded the record in Vermont. Do you think that setting is reflected in the music?
I think the experience of being there and walking to the studio through the snow-covered woods every day on a really enchanting walk, informed some of the tunes—probably more so with some of the more acoustically driven songs. There’s a lot of wood up there in Vermont and I think that those tunes got a little dose of Vermont in them, for sure.
Vermont’s a really special place. There’s an ethos to Vermont. There are strong people who live there. It was a really special energy to be in.
I’m very energy-oriented, I feel like I can pick up on the energy of a room very quickly. I was just in Stowe, Vermont and I told my wife, “I could live here.” There’s an energy to the place. It’s very different from New Orleans energy, but it’s similar in that it feels like a really kind energy.
I love Vermont and I feel like there might be a portion of my life where I live in Vermont. It was just a really positive experience being there.
With Rich Costey and Big Dave—the guy who owns the studio and the land—there was such amazing energy. That informed the art, for sure.
Pour It Out Into The Night ends with the title track. How did all of you approach the album sequencing?
I think we paced it a bit like a live show. That’s how we’ve done most of our records, where we want to come out the gate pretty strong, and then we want there to be some peaks and valleys. We don’t want it to continuously go one way.
On this one, especially with “Pour It Out into the Night,” we wanted to leave people with a palate cleanse. That song to me feels like a sonic bath for your brain in the best kind of way. It leaves me feeling really good. That’s the overall theme that we want to people to land on after listening to it.
There’s all different kinds of stuff going on in this album—it’s all over the map—but at the end of the day, we want people to feel good.