On a warm August afternoon, perched high up on a ladder, paintbrush in hand, my phone begins to ring.
I scramble, well, meander, down, as I am not great with heights or wobbly ladders. Setting my wares aside, I unplug my headphones and answer. David Shaw is in a joyful mood. Much of what you see from his stage persona is exactly how he is during conversation. He is jubilant, confident and well spoken. He proceeds to regale me with several stories and anecdotes, which reveal both the most human of sides and the clear trajectory of his and The Revivalists’ future.
Lying on his back in a boxing ring, covered in sweat and recent defeat, Shaw stares up into the eyes of an elementary school aged cheerleader in the bands video for “Criminal.” Their eyes only meet for a moment, as this in her time to shine, and she continues past him, taking his spot as the new front person of The Revivalists. The video tells an all too familiar story in the most comical of ways. “In Life, People are always trying to jockey for their position. They are told do this or do this and try to win the prize. It just seems ironic and fitting that it would be a little girl to take down the lead singer.”
The 2013 Bonnaroo was a big jump off point for the band. Over the course of the weekend, the band played three shows that only grew more and more intense. There is a point in every bands existence that they realize, this is it, and this is what we are going to do with our lives. “(Laughing) It was that first set at Bonnaroo. The sheer volume of the people screaming “one more song” at the end of the set. It hurt our ears. It was like destiny. Inside the tent, you couldn’t move. All I remember is the end result. In a setting like that, you don’t get an encore. We wouldn’t even try to do one. We ended the set and people were crazy.“
Looking at where they are now, with more shows than they can remember in the bag, they have seen the true power of the festival circuit as it stands in today’s landscape. “I think it’s extremely, extremely important for bands these days, because there are a lot of bands and a lot of festivals popping up. For me, for a band like us, it’s the true way to see what we do. It’s really the only way to see how the art was made. On a cd, some songs will come out better than others, but you really want to see the true interaction. That’s what the festivals have accomplished, to put people in front of a larger crowd. Not every band can go to a new city every night and pull 400 people a thousand miles, or two thousand miles away from their home city. Festivals have allowed a centralized group of people who really have nowhere to go, to say, “I’ve heard of this band. I’m going to go check them out.” It is a great way to get art out there in another conduit. With the start of Spotify, records are kind of going out the window. Vinyl is up, but digital sales are like shooting in the bucket right now. Festivals are surely the way of the future.”
Last season on the HBO show Treme, The Revivalists got to perform their song “Concrete” live at The Allways Lounge in New Orleans. Shaw recalled the experience with pleasure. “It was awesome. It was the first time we had ever been on a TV show. It was a smoky bar scene. You know how Treme is; they want to set it to look as close to the actual time (as possible). We had to shave and everything. (Laughing) We were supposed to be like little babies. I can’t really grow facial hair, but a couple of the guys had monster beards that had to go for the sake of the show. It was great. We were super grateful that they asked us to be a part of it. (Show Creator) David Simon is a genius. I don’t know if you’ve seen The Wire, but it takes the cake.”
Some songs come from a place so incredibly intimate to the writer that they pour out on to the page. “Soulfight” is one such song. “It was night out. I was in Oxford, Ohio. It was a homecoming kind of thing, where I was home for the weekend. You know how you always want to get wild with your friends when you haven’t seen them in a while…and I think after about fifteen shots, I was feeling pretty good. This is a point in my life when fifteen shots was not…and I’m not exaggerating…that’s just where I was at that point. I definitely needed to chill out. I drove home and I made it, but I was driving on this old country road and I remember going down into a ditch and coming back out of the ditch and then I blacked out. This was probably ten miles from my home. I came out to my car in the morning and it was completely trashed on one side. That was a big turning point in my life. To say, you have got to get ahold of yourself. I couldn’t really hide my issue or problem anymore, because it was staring my family in the face. It busted the windshield, the whole thing. That was one of those things that rocked my world. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but, you’ve got to listen to your heart. Listen to what is right, what is right for you. That was the song that…realizing that I had issues, that I had to clean up. I think a lot of times writers get out those emotions and feelings and put them into songs. I didn’t hurt myself. I didn’t hurt anyone else. That was a very important moment of reflection in my life and it spawned one of the best songs that I’ve ever written in my life. I am grateful.”
“Don’t Get Caught Up” is a wild journey into the way of life on the road. The Revivalists have been on tour almost nonstop for the last several years and have seen their share of craziness. Sometimes it takes the unexpected to bring it all home, as explained by Shaw when asked about some of his most memorable shows. “We were playing The Ride Festival. It has the most beautiful backdrop that you could ever sink into. It is on a beautiful mountain side. It has green pasture out in front. It’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever played. We were so ready to go. There are a lot of people there. Three minutes before we are supposed to go on, the entire board crashes (laughing), the board just turns off. All the amps, all gain structures have to be reset. So that happens and our sound man had to start from scratch, to build the show back up. There are a whole lot of things that have to happen before a band even shows up (laughing). He’s fighting that and we just start anyway. There’s really not much sound at all coming out of the PA. But, by the fourth or fifth song, he had somehow…I talked to the fans and said hey, they’re having some technical difficulties here, but we’re just going to roll with it. I think that us being cool about it and really embracing the situation and saying, okay, we know everything is not perfect here, but we can’t really do anything about it, but as long as we have a good time, everybody will. By the time we got to the sixth or seventh song (and we only played about ten), it sounded pretty good, but those first few were really tough. After a while it didn’t really matter, because that situation brought everybody together. It was kind of weird. Everybody is there to hear the sound, but in a time of hardship like that, everybody came together. It was almost like the crowd was way more attentive to what was going on. That was something that blew my mind. Sometimes you see bands that have issues and they’re not dealing with it in a way that exudes, “were all in this together.” It’s yelling at the sound man and the engineer and blowing the vibe. It blows the vibe for me to see a band act that way when things aren’t going right. It was a really defining moment to say, anything that you say or do or energy you put out is going to be received a certain way. And even if things aren’t going right, if the energy you put out is good and correct and everybody is feeling it and in the same situation with you, then all will be well.”
The Revivalists will be performing at Third and Lindsley in Nashville on Sunday, August 24th and BLANK and WUTK 90.3 will be presenting The International in Knoxville on Tuesday, September 23rd. For all things The Revivalists, check out www.theRevivalists.com