Although Head Down gets off to a raucous, in-your-face start, as the album progresses the band’s various musical personas come to the surface. By the 10th track, “Nava”—which is named after Holiday’s 4-year-old daughter—things take a more contemplative turn. Holiday explains the carefully orchestrated programming: “The record was designed for a double-vinyl presentation—the artwork, the writing, and everything—and the second record begins with ‘Nava,’ which is basically a foreshadowing of ‘True.’ We want to try to challenge our listeners and ourselves. ‘True’ was way outside for a rock band, and I think it’s an extraordinarily romantic song. It’s a different wave for a rock ’n’ roll singer to pull off. It’s beyond a Robert Plant- or a Jim Morrison-kind of thing. It could have been a turn-of-the-century folk song.”
Much like the band’s multi-generational sound, Holiday’s extensive gear collection is a mix of new and retro, spanning the gamut from a ’65 non-reverse Gibson Firebird to the recent addition of a Kauer Banshee. “Doug Kauer is a genius. I didn’t have that guitar in the studio unfortunately, but I got it soon after and I take that thing on tour and use it all over the place. I love it. My ’99 Gibson Firebird Custom is probably the guitar I use the most with this band, but I use all of them,” says Holiday. “I vary the set enough nightly that I’m using every guitar onstage—everybody’s in on the party!”
Holiday rocks “Goldie”—his new Kauer Banshee—during a grooving rendition of “Keep on Swinging,” the first single off Head Down, at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, England.
While some gear enthusiasts treat vintage gear with a holy reverence and keep things as stock as possible, Holiday experiments on all of his axes and will modify until he gets exactly what he wants. “I loved my ’62 Fender Jazzmaster but the original pickups were so small and tiny, and they weren’t playing ball with my other guitars,” he shares. “I talked to Jason Lollar and he sent me his P-90s. They were the greatest and most satisfying drop-in pickups I’ve ever had. Right when I put those in, they matched up with my other guitars really well. They’re really full, harmonic, and beautiful—and not overwound.”
Although Holiday is usually seen onstage with a wall of Orange OR50s, he used many amps, including vintage Fender Bassmans and Champs, for the Head Down sessions. Who knows if it was a conscious or subconscious nod to Jimmy Page, but the star of the bunch was producer Dave Cobb’s late-’30s Supro. “It looks like a piece of junk but it sounds killer,” says Holiday of the 1-knob box with a 6" speaker. “It gets so hot that, if you leave the thing plugged in, it will catch on fire. It ended up probably being my favorite amp of the session. I used it on most of the sweet-sounding, solo-y stuff. If you hit it with a Rangemaster or a good Tone Bender, it will just bloom in a certain way that sounds really great.”
Asked to recount the time when Page himself came to a Rival Sons show in Camden, London, Holiday admits, “I had to go off into my dressing room area and have a little tear, like a little 9-year old again. I knew he still collects and listens to vinyl, so I got all of our vinyls and put them aside for him. He was very, very affable. A very, very, nice guy. I’d just gotten a suit made, and we talked about John Varvatos and Ray Brown—who had made my suit—and we talked about different shoes. He’s obviously highly fashionable in the rock ’n’ roll world, so he was interested in my little doodads.”
After Sons lead singer Jay Buchanan sings “Happy Birthday” to Tyler Bryant (of Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown), the band breaks into “All the Way” at Vinyl in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Check out the mean slide action that starts at the two-minute mark.