It’s a beautiful day in Long Beach, California, and Rival Sons singer Jay Buchanan is feeling good. During a break in the band’s heavy touring schedule, he’s relaxing at the home he shares with his wife, two children and a couple of German shepherd dogs. “Drinking coffee out of my favourite mug,” he says. “That’s a real pleasure.”
Buchanan doesn’t have much downtime ahead. Instead, there’s more touring, then the recording of the band’s sixth album. But on this rare quiet day, there’s time to reflect on his life and some of the bigger questions in it. And to discuss his love of hot sauce…
Growing up in southern California, did you have a happy childhood?
I remember a sense of freedom. I’m not a city kid. Where I grew up, it was in the mountains. Our house was on a dirt road in the woods. It wasn’t necessarily wild out there, but as a kid you had the freedom to walk out your front door and just go off and explore. You wouldn’t see another person – just wild animals.
Sounds like your family were hillbillies.
Ha! I think ‘hillbilly’ is much more of an Appalachian term. But there’s a certain individualism that comes with growing up with nature all around you. You’re far away from stores of any kind, so you learn to make do with whatever you have. If something breaks, you learn how to fix it.
So you’re a handy man to have around?
Definitely. Fixing things is a great compulsion of mine.
If Rival Sons’ tour bus got a flat tyre, you could fix that?
I wouldn’t touch it. No way! The bus driver can do that. But if my life depended on it, sure, I could do it.
What personality traits did you inherit from your parents?
From my father I got a strong sense of problem solving and being analytical. From my mother I got my rascally nature and wiliness. My constant pranking and clowning off, that definitely comes from my mom. When I was young, I’d be walking down the hallway and she’d jump out and attack me, yelling: “Let’s wrestle!”
Do you believe in God?
I believe that the word ‘God’ is shorthand for what we don’t understand. There are energies and powers far beyond our knowledge. The best explanation for me is when people refer to God as the Creator. I believe in the mystic.
Where do you stand politically?
Politics is a very toxic arena; humanitarianism is not. With the bipartisan system that we have in America, there are ethics from either side that make sense to me. But people are so consumed with whose side you’re on rather than really trying to work things out.
What can Jay Buchanan do that nobody else can?
I can be myself. That’s about the only thing I can do that nobody else can. I realise how bad that answer will look on paper. But I’m not a snowflake – there’s nothing completely original about me.
You don’t have any kind of talent outside music?
I can make hot sauce. I bottle them and give them to friends. People say, ‘Man, you should sell this stuff online.’ I don’t have time for that.
What makes a great hot sauce?
I’ve had hot sauces that were so hot they got me high. You’re high for twenty minutes and it’s quite a rush. But a great sauce is not just about heat – it’s about flavour.
What are the best and worst drugs you’ve ever taken?
I think that ingesting anything, whether it’s psychedelics or ibuprofen, can be horrible for you if your emotional junk drawer is too cluttered. If you hide things from yourself, it’s definitely going to come to the surface when you’re doing drugs. In terms of all that horseplay, there’s not one particular drug that has served me well; no drug that I would campaign for. And I’m no chemist.
What is the meaning of life?
There is no meaning of life. Only the meaning you give to it. Life is a very heavy and mystical thing, and if you don’t open your eyes, you’re not going to get the most out of it.
When death does come, how do you want to go?
Life is a struggle, and going out fighting is probably one of the most honourable ways to exit.
Fighting what, exactly?
Well, you don’t want to have to face a grizzly bear at ninety years old! But I would rather be part of the food chain than be buried in a cemetery. So maybe when I’m dead I’ll have my body thrown out into the wilderness and wild animals can eat me.
Not a proper grave or a tombstone?
If I had to be buried, I’d choose somewhere secret, out in the woods. If I did have a tombstone, it would say something very simple.
“Here lies Jay Bartholomew Buchanan. The dude really loved to sing.”
Rival Sons’ UK tour starts on March 26 at UEA, Norwich.