Rival Sons' Jay Buchanan: the soundtrack of my life

Jay Buchanan headshot
(Image credit: Rob Blackham / Outlaw Magazine)

For Jay Buchanan – born into a musical family, and a solo artist before joining Rival Sons in 2009 – singing isn’t just a thing he does. The pandemic, he tells us, has confirmed that. “Being able to sing and scream on a primal level, and that emotional bloodletting that comes with being able to create these different frequencies with my body, having that taken away was a big wake-up call. I realised that I do need to sing. I do need to do this. It’s part of who I am.” 

Since we last heard from Rival Sons he’s had another child, moved from Nashville back to California, and worked on the band’s next album.

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The first music I remember hearing

My mother singing Joni Mitchell in the house, probably something from Blue, and my pop playing guitar. In those early years, before religion got a hold of my parents, there were a lot of parties, jam sessions, a lot of laughter and fun. All their friends were musicians, and they all had kids around our age. So the children would be in one bedroom playing, parents saying “you guys need to go to sleep”, but we could hear that live music coming through the wall. That was just the sound of living. I thought everybody was a musician.


The first music I performed live (as a guitarist)

When I was about thirteen I found myself in a punk band. I didn’t love punk, necessarily, but if I wanted to play music live, all everybody wanted to do was punk and power chords and fast pace, all of that youthful energy. So I found myself in this band called Loud House. Everybody else was at least five, six years older than me. I probably grew up quicker than I should have, but that was just what was going on.


The first thing I sang live

The next thing I knew I was fronting another punk band, and our first show was a big outdoor house party thing. I think we did You Really Got Me from The Kinks.


The greatest album of all time

Kind Of Blue from Miles Davis. It’s such an accessible, exquisite and minimalist album, especially for him. It was like fine dining, where a lot of ingredients aren’t necessary. And what it did for jazz music, it brought it into people’s homes. You’re entertaining guests? Put on Kind Of Blue. You want to smoke a joint alone, just chill out and take a bath or whatever? Kind Of Blue. Kind Of Blue makes everything seem a little less chaotic.


The singer

For the sweet and the sugar, Ray Charles. But probably the greatest rock vocalist of all time would be Little Richard. There’s just nobody who even comes close for me; his voice is terrifying. It sounds like bones breaking. It sounds like someone screaming for their life, or screaming out of desire.


The songwriter

I don’t think anyone can surpass Leonard Cohen. He would turn over a few lines and then deliver a finishing move that would just be so beautiful. Like in Famous Blue Raincoat, talking to his friend who slept with his wife, he says: ‘Thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes/I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.’ But there are many more.


The guitar hero

Jimi Hendrix. I never had a thing for gunslinger guitar gods – I played guitar from a young age but I always saw it as a good instrument for ensemble. What I loved about Jimi Hendrix was his writing and the place that he came from, in creating these landscapes not just with guitar but this production, and the band was so great. I remember hearing Axis: Bold As Love and going: “This is just a different universe.”


The best record I've made

Probably a solo album that I made back in like 2007. It never got released. It’s called Locusts And Wild Honey. Next to that I would put the band’s Feral Roots album. I think that that’s our greatest artistic achievement. We took our time, and I think it shows.


My guilty pleasure

Abba. The economy of hooks and the production and the writing. It’s insane. Super Trouper is mind-boggling. It’s goofy but it’s so good.


The best cover version

Joe Cocker did With A Little Help From My Friends and it’s so much better than the original. It’s a no-brainer.


My Saturday night part song

To put me in the vibe it’s probably I Want To Take You Higher from Sly & The Family Stone. That song is pure adrenaline in the best way.


The song that makes me cry

The title track from All The Roadrunning by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris. There was a point in my life, probably my late twenties, I’d come back from doing a solo tour across the US and Australia, opening for, like, super pop acts. I broke that band up, returned to California, started working in construction, and at night working in my studio, completely reinventing my style of songwriting. 

I played music in the car on the way to the job site, and this song came on and just crushed me: ‘If it’s all for nothing, all the road running’s been in vain.’ Knowing I’d come so far and put in so much work, thinking am I ever going to be where I need to be? But it was like: “I gotta keep going forward.”


The song I'd like played at my funeral

Someone like Merle Travis. Dark As A Dungeon. The message is ‘don’t waste your life chasing or acquiring’. Spend your life experiencing, you know?

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine (opens in new tab) and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.