You may have just heard of The Revivalists in 2017, but the alt-rock band is no rookie to the business: The seven-piece group celebrate 10 years together this year.
It all started in 2007, when frontman David Shaw moved to New Orleans in pursuit of forming a band. So where did the NOLA newbie begin the hunt? Craigslist, of course.
“I had some really interesting Craigslist interactions where you don’t know what you’re getting into,” Shaw says with a laugh. With rather bleak results coming from the Internet, Shaw took to his front porch to work on some music -- and as Zack Feinberg (now the group's guitarist) biked by, he couldn’t help making a pit stop.
Feinberg’s bike ride turned into an unexpected and rather serendipitous moment: As he helped finish up the song Shaw was working on, Feinberg proceeded to show off a little bit on guitar – and suddenly a quick stop-by turned into an audition. “It wasn’t, like, a normal pick-it-up and play it like some cowboy chords. It was like, ‘This dude knows what he’s doing,’” Shaw recalls. “This is no Craigslist guy!”
Their impromptu jam session was the beginning of a music-centric friendship (“I think there was a sense that it could be the beginning of a really cool thing,” Feinberg says), which involved countless open mic nights at a local joint called Checkpoint Charlies. Subsequent jam sessions led to meeting drummer Andrew Campanelli -- who led the guys to bassist George Gekes -- and keyboardist Michael Girardot; Zack recruited his buddy saxophonist Rob Ingraham, and Shaw thought to wrangle former bandmate Ed Williams to play pedal steel guitar.
Suddenly, Shaw and Feinberg’s porch jam turned into a real music project. Their group came together amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the state of their city inspired the name The Revivalists, to “invoke life” back into the city of New Orleans: “When we formed, the city was getting back on its feet again,” Feinberg explains. “We’re coming from that time and place in New Orleans and we’re playing music that’s a bunch of guys in a room playing instruments… It’s part of what the band was founded on, just playing real music and believing what we’re doing.”
While they’ve built a solid fan base in their own right, 2017 has brought the septet into the mainstream thanks to their poignantly jazzy hit “Wish I Knew You,” which Shaw actually wrote on that fateful front porch. Since the track was officially released as a single in February 2016, the heartfelt honesty in the song’s lyrics, combined with the catchy horn-laced hook, sent it to the top of the Adult Alternative Chart in September 2016 -- and the hype has only continued from there.
The song began getting spins on alternative radio, which eventually led it to the top spot of the Alternative Songs chart in May. Once Top 40 stations added the rock song into the mainstream mix, The Revivalists even saw a stint on the Billboard Hot 100 -- and shortly after that, the song officially earned the group their first Gold record. “You always dream about stuff like that, you know?” Shaw gushes.
After playing various festivals as a full band all summer -- including a “magical” recent set at Austin City Limits, according to Feinberg, which was a career highlight for the group -- Shaw and Feinberg are headed to Napa Valley this weekend for Live in the Vineyard to play a stripped down version of their typically rowdy set. Billboard caught up with the pair ahead of their performance to discuss the power of “Wish I Knew You” and how the song has changed the course of their 10-year long career.
What are you looking forward to with Live In The Vineyard? What do you feel your acoustic set brings to the audience to take in your music?
Feinberg: We really enjoy doing stripped-down-duo acoustic shows. It’s a very warm, intimate vibe and it leaves space for spontaneous improvisation. Also, you can’t go wrong with Napa.
Playing acoustically shows the strengths of the songs on their own without all the dressing. It’s fun to carry a show naked with just vocals and acoustic guitars. It’s a very pure musical experience.
How has the success of “Wish I Knew You” impacted your live shows?
Shaw: Everybody knows the words now, so every time we play it, it's just one big sing along! It's one of those tunes that just feels good. We extend it and jam on it quite a bit live -- the record version, the one that pop stations play is like four minutes; the version that we do live is eight minutes long -- so that's been really fun to explore over the past year.
The song was technically part of your 2015 album Men Against Mountains and officially became single more than a year and a half ago. What is it like to watch a song that you made two years ago do so well two years after you put it out?
Feinberg: We were and [still] are really proud of Men Against Mountains. We anticipated it to be our biggest release to date. We had high hopes it would do good things for our career, but this has exceeded expectations for sure.
Shaw: I think it’s a true testament to the song and the feeling that it creates. Also, honestly, I have to hand it to our managing team. They really went out there and busted their ass. It’s kind of like you deliver the right thing at the right time with the right people and something’s going to happen. We just saw what can happen when all the stars align.
Well, what do you think made the stars align now?
Shaw: I think that what people are gravitating towards is that feeling of nostalgia or... We got plenty of emails, or I got personal messages on my Instagram and Facebook and whatever saying, “This is a good song. You know, I never knew my father growing up” or “My boyfriend had to leave for service at a certain time so we didn’t really get to know each other” or “I never knew my mother growing up until later and I wish we had more time to really get to know each other throughout these formative years.”
Feinberg: Yeah, we get a lot of emails and stuff of people saying, “I didn’t know somebody when I was younger, I wish this person was in my life then.” I think a lot of people relate to that and the expression “youth is wasted on the young.” That kind of thing. Or the “I wish I knew what I know now when I was younger,” like, that’s a pretty relatable sentiment or a common thought that crosses people’s minds.
Shaw: I think it’s a tune that’s broad enough so that people can attribute their own meaning and I think that’s what art is about. I know exactly what the inspiration was and I think that when you have an idea and a piece that that speaks in a broader sense and you can have all of these different avenues, I think that’s when something really, really connects. We are all different people; we have come from all different walks of life and have different experiences. But, when you can hone in on this one thing that everyone can have a unique experience and connection to, that’s where the fire is.
Has there been any response that has been surprising to you?
Shaw: When it first started happening, yes. I was just locked into my own feeling about it and I really had to realize that it could transcend to other things. I hadn’t thought about it that way, really.
But I knew that it was special. I mean, it was special to me in the sense that it was a true feeling and the song didn’t come from any place other than love. It didn’t come from a need to write a hit and further a career. It came from the need to create this feeling to make this art. I will tell you -- the song almost didn’t even make the record.
No way! Why is that?
Shaw: Because it was a slight departure from what we had been doing in the past. It was more of an evolution and I think sometimes people are slightly resistant to change. Not in a bad way, but more like in an unfamiliar way, and so now we play it and we play it every night. At the time that it was being created, it was like, “Oh wow, this is a huge departure, if we keep going this direction, is this who we are?” There were some thoughts about that.
Well, now that it’s two years later and you’ve been performing it, does it feel more like you guys?
Shaw: Absolutely. It’s one of those things where it’s like you have to know who you are as an artist and be in there heavy-handed in your art. You really got to say, “This is my bass line, this is what I’m willing to go do, this sounds like me, this does not sound like me, is this a weird departure? Is this my art?”
Feinberg: It’s part of what the band was founded on, just playing real music and believing what we’re doing. It’s part of our identity to play live, put on great live shows. We’re proud rockers. That’s the other thing -- I feel like “Wish I Knew You,” we’re not a rock band [in the sense that] everything we do is going to be Sabbath or something. But that’s kind of who we are at our core. We’re very proud of that. It’s part of our identity.
And people clearly dig it. Speaking of revival, do you think “Wish I Knew You” is a sign that rock is making its way back into the mainstream?
Shaw: I think there’s a slight change in the tides. I feel like that could be going on. I think people are wanting something that’s real, because all this overproduced stuff, it all really sounds the same because guess what, it comes from the same songwriters! I understand that, I’m a songwriter.
I think people are wanting something new and when they hear that song... I think the song also works not like a quintessential rock song, it’s kind of got a disco beat on it. It’s kind of got that beat that pop loves. Dare I say we might be headed towards more of a rock ‘n’ roll resurgence? Maybe! I don’t know.
Feinberg: It’ll come back. We’re going to be a part of it, too. That’s for sure. Rock and roll is not dead. It just smells funny. [Laughs.]
Do you think the response to this song will impact the way you guys approach the music you’re creating now?
Shaw: If you’ve listened to our catalog, you’ve probably noticed that one song sounds like it could be a Rage Against the Machine one and another song on another album sounds like it could be a Wallflowers, spooky country-sounding tune. That’s the thing with our band. I want to set it up in a way that we just let the song be the song and we’re not afraid to play any style.
I think in terms of getting played on Top 40, if they want to play us and we can stay who we are as artists and musicians, we’re going to stay in our lane. If we can create our own lane in the pop world and it’s accepted by the masses, great. At the end of the day we’ve all got to be happy with what we’re doing.
Our philosophy as artists and as songwriters has always been that, and if it feels right in the way that it’s being presented, then just let that be. I was [recently] writing this song that had a real heavy riff, a funky soul kind of beat and it’s not anything like “Wish I Knew You,” but it still has that catchy pop sensibility, you could say. We’re just going to be ourselves and write the music that we write. It’s going to be all over the map. I really think that’s what people have come to like about us, honestly. You never know what you’re going to get.