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By Cait Rohan Kelly | August 7, 2017 | People
It’s a rainy, cold Sunday as we join The Revivalists frontman David Shaw in the basement of the historic Capitol Theatre for a quick interview after sound check and before he really starts preparing for the evening’s show. With the amount of unarguable music gods that have graced the stage and its subsequent back rooms—from The Grateful Dead to the Rolling Stones to David Bowie—the theater has a storied air; fitting since Shaw and all seven members of the New Orleans-based band The Revivalists are poised to catapult themselves into legendary status with their memorable melodies and often sold-out shows. (In fact, their name is actually inspired by one such musical great… but more on that later.)
Off-stage, Shaw is both laid-back and quick-witted, someone who makes you feel instantly at ease but still possesses the presence of a real rock star. Yet, with the array of sounds The Revivalists’ music brings to mind—all at once a mix of Southern blues, amped-up jazz, groovy funk, and catchy, almost poppy lyrics—it seems wrong to classify them. The genre-bending blend is working, as The Revivalists new song "Wish I Knew You" has reached number one at Alernative and Adult Alternative radio, has set the Mediabase record for most single-week spins at the Alternative format, and is a hit across radio charts with big Top 40 adds like KIIS FM in LA. They have also secured appearances on the likes of Ellen, Kimmel, and Conan, and have a summer tour that includes a stop at New York City’s iconic SummerStage on August 10.
Below, Shaw lets us in on everything from New York favorites and encounters with The Mickey Mouse Club to playing live on Ellen and splitting his head open during a recent performance.
You guys have a very unique sound. Could you describe it in three words?
DAVID SHAW: Beautiful, happy, chaos.
What’s your favorite track off your album, Men Amongst Mountains?
DS: As far as playing live… man, it really differs from night to night. I really love doing “All in the Family” live. That’s always a fun one. Let’s see here…. “It Was a Sin” is a good one. Yeah, those are probably the most fun live.
What was it like to hear that you’d been asked to perform on Ellen, Conan, and Hollywood Today Live, and named one of Rolling Stones’ 10 Artists to Know? Is there any accolade that excited you the most or made you the most nervous?
DS: Well, the Ellen thing was pretty crazy because I don’t even know that it was a thing that we set out to really get. I mean, we would’ve loved to do it. But it was more that she just hopped in her Porsche one day, turned on the spectrum, heard our song, and immediately—she told us this story—called her people and said, “I want them on the show.” So that was pretty cool. And then she found out that we’re from New Orleans and she’s from New Orleans, too, so that was really cool. That was good to have that connection there. I think we’ve got a lifelong friend in Ellen.
Always good to have Ellen DeGeneres as a friend. So what’s been your favorite venue or city on tour so far?
DS: Honestly, this place is pretty magical, The Capitol Theatre. That’s a really tough question, because there’s so many spots, like The Fillmore out in San Francisco is kind of the same vibe as far as history goes. I’d have to narrow it down to The Fillmore and The Capitol Theatre.
You guys perform in a lot of festivals. What do you love about doing festivals?
DS: I love the connection with the people in the daylight, as opposed to being in an enclosed environment under the lights. I think it’s just a different kind of connection. People’s energies are different. It brings our music to a different space. Not necessarily like a higher-level energy. Just a different energy at that same level.
Do you have any rituals before you go on stage?
DS: I like to meditate for 10 minutes. I actually have a meditation app that I use, it works really well for me, somebody with a very soothing voice. I just put my earbuds in and then I go to my place of zen. I mean, just like anybody, you’ve got a whole lot of thoughts running through your mind. And any kind of anxiety that may arise is always just fear of the outcome, so if you can rid yourself of anything like that before the show happens, it’s always a good thing.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on stage? I think something happened with you bashing your head recently?
DS: Yeah, that’s probably at the forefront right now. We were playing Okeechobee Fest down in Florida. I was out in the crowd and we’ve got the barricade that basically houses the entire general admission crowd, and then we’ve got the VIP crowd. So I’m in between in that little, I guess I’ll just call it a little hallway, passageway. And I’m hanging out with the people and singing a song; “It was a Sin,” I think. And as I’m running back to the stage, I’m like, giving people high fives. And there was this little two-by-four sticking out that’s like nailed to one of the things—just as an extra brace to hold things up, I guess it was really blending in with the dirt. I didn’t see it and I just clipped it and took a spill right into a piece of metal that was just hanging out. It’s completely healed now, but yeah, I did not even know I was cut until I was up on stage and I started tasting the blood. And I look at my shirt and it was just like covered. And then it’s leaking like a sieve.
Were people reacting? Were people like, “Oh, my god?”
DS: People were like, “Oh, my god!” And I mean this whole time I’m still singing the song, I didn’t stop singing the song. I don’t know what was going through my head at the time. I think I was just like I’m not going to freak out because it doesn’t hurt; yeah, I’m bleeding a lot but my mom’s a nurse and I understand that head wounds tend to bleed a lot even if it’s just a nick. So I didn’t realize how bad it was until after the show.
Talk to us about how the band was formed. I think there’s some story with you and the guitarist, Zack…?
DS: Yeah, there’s definitely an inception story. I had moved to New Orleans like two weeks prior. I was out on my front porch and I was singing and playing a song. I was still kind of working it out—a song called “Purple Heart” that actually ended up being on our Vital Signs album. He just stopped, and I stopped. And he’s like, “No man, I stopped for a reason, just finish the song.” So I was like, “All right, cool. I’ll finish the song, I’ll play one for you, brother, for sure.” So I finished, then he picked up the guitar and played a song called “Candy Man Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt. It’s one of those alternating bass pick patterns things that’s not easy to play. It sounds like two guitar players are playing basically, so it’s really cool. I was like, “Damn, all right, this isn’t normal” [laughs]. This isn’t just somebody who’s like playing some cowboy chords.
Where does the band’s name come from?
DS: We didn’t have a name, and we had a gig, so we needed a name. Zack had seen something on 60 Minutes, and they were talking about Bruce Springsteen and how he does his shows with like a revivalist fervor, where it’s just like this part sermon, part rock show. I think that was something that resonated with him, and he just said, “Hey, what about this,” and I was just like, “Yeah, all right that sounds good, good name.” Yeah, so the rest is history. We just stuck to that and kept going.
Going back—how did you first get started in music ever?
DS: Well, I’ll just tell you that I tried out for The Mickey Mouse Club when I was six. I didn’t make it, I’m really glad I didn’t make it, actually [laughs], now, going back. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Some of the parents really had their kids like… oh man. They were freaking in it. I always wanted to be a performer, entertainer. That was just always my thing. I was… I wouldn’t say class clown, but I just always had that running through me.
I got a guitar when I was 12. I learned “Come as You Are,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” and “Heart-Shaped Box.” I was really into Nirvana at the time… Nirvana, Tool, and the Grateful Dead. [My sisters] got me into some music, and I kind of found some things on my own, like Chuck Berry. I just found a CD somewhere in our house—instantly loved that. Then I started playing in bands when I was like 15. Punk bands, then hardcore. This is probably the seventh or eighth band I’ve been in.
Who’s your favorite musician right now—someone contemporary who’s out there right now?
DS: Childish Gambino. I think he’s an amazing writer. I haven’t seen him perform much so I can’t really speak to that, but as far as writing goes and what he does to songs—I mean he’s certainly not just a rapper. Not even close, way more than that. He can sing his ass off. He’s got a good way with words. I’m impressed with that, and that resonates with me. I also love Citizen Cope. He hasn’t put out much lately but I don’t really care, I still love him.
You guys are performing at SummerStage in Central Park. Talk to us about that.
DS: Oh man, we are super excited about that. That’s like one of those landmark shows that bands always do that you hear about. So we’re super, super happy about that because so many bands would just die to be up on that stage. It took us a long time to get there, but yeah, very happy.
Any favorites in New York? Anywhere you go to eat or anything like that?
DS: I’m a sucker for Sadelle’s, Mr. Chow, and DiFara. I mean… DiFara pizza. Do you know about DiFara? It’s in Brooklyn. Go on any of the pizza things and it’s number one, like everywhere. And it really is. It’s still this old 85-year-old man, he makes the pizzas by hand. It’s the real deal. You go in there and you watch him. There’s always a line out of the door. You can’t get a slice in under an hour and a half. But it’s just him in the shop, kneading this bread, you just watch him put the basil on it… he’s got these old hands, and he’s just kneading the bread. It’s just beautiful to see.
What’s next for you guys? Are you working on anything else?
DS: We’re going in to record a bunch of demos for the the new album. I think we’ll probably be putting out a new album in the near future. I don’t know exactly when it’s going to be, but I can tell you it’s going to be in the near future.
Photography by Brantley Gutierrez (The Revivalists)