David Shaw laughs into the camera, and points to his New York Yankees ski hat. “Yeah, see, we’re in Connecticut now. We’re going to play Brooklyn tonight and I didn’t bring anything. I got this for three bucks at a gas station. I’m going be strutting my New York beanie tonight for sure, representin’.”
This was early December and the Revivalists were on tour, ramping up the momentum towards their upcoming release, City of Sound, for which they’ll play a CD release party on March 10 at the Blue Nile. Though Shaw’s in Connecticut and I’m in Colorado, we have a face-to- face, via Skype—almost. While I’ve mastered the science of recording across the Internet, my production computer doesn’t have a webcam. I can see him, but he can’t see me.
“Not fair!” he exclaims, laughing. “Well, we’re about to make a music video, so this’ll be good for me.”
As we tackle the hard questions, Shaw tries not to peer into the one-way camera. We talk about the new album, cosmic activity, and, as I share the nature of my first Revivalists encounter, we ponder the merits of performing half-naked while impressionable tourists are in town.
It was French Quarter Fest 2011, and all six of the Revivalists were jumping up and down, shirts off, stage shaking. There was an almost religious fervor in the air, as the crowd jumped up and down in rhythmic solidarity.
Guitarist Zack Feinberg sticks his head into the webcam: “Wait, it wasn’t all of us. Just Dave!”
Facts are facts, and I assure him that the whole band was topless.
“Nah, man, she’s right,” says Shaw. “Even Rob, our sax player.”
Talk turns to another natural phenomenon, namely, the morning’s lunar eclipse.
“Oh man, I missed it,” Shaw laments. “Wait—this is kind of a lame question but refresh me on exactly what that is again?”
I try and realize I’m no science professor, either.
“Hey, speaking of the galaxy,” he says, “have you seen that video of the UFO right around Mercury? There’s this thing moving at right angles. It comes into view, then shoots off, comes back. They don’t know what it is. They’ve really looked into it and there’s no logical explanation.
“Really, I think it’d probably be pretty crazy of us to think that with this humongous universe that we have, that we’re the only ones. I think there’s got to be something else going on, somewhere far off, you know?”
Five years ago, his backyard hosted another cosmic occurrence when Zack Feinberg rode his bike down Dave Shaw’s street. While their chance meeting is by now suburban legend, Shaw fills in some pertinent details. He went to Ohio State when a Columbus radio station started an Acoustic Idol contest to coincide with the popularity of American Idol. “Over 300 people from Ohio and surrounding states competed in random bars and venues all over town,” he says. “I ended up winning, and it gave me the affirmation that maybe I should do something with music.”
Armed with new-found musical conviction, in 2007 he relocated to New Orleans. “One afternoon, I was just sitting on my front porch playing “Purple Heart” off of Vital Signs, and Zach came down the street. It was weird. He later told me he never ever goes that way. He was just making a random beeline for some reason that day. He stopped and said, ‘Hey man, you’re pretty good.’ Actually, I saw him and then I stopped. He said, ‘No, finish the song.’” Dave laughs.
“I finished the song, then Zack picked up the guitar and played some alternating bass pattern stuff that I couldn’t even try to play, and I thought, ‘Okay, this guy’s pretty legit.’ Later that day, he burned me, like, 680 songs, 90 percent of them I’d never heard before. He plopped this stuff in my lap, which I’m forever grateful for.”
The rest of the band came together through the same loose connections and associations that spawn most bands. Drummer Andrew Campanelli knew bassist George Gekas, and Feinberg knew sax player Rob Ingraham. “Zack and Rob had an anatomy class together,” says Shaw. “They were partners and they really bonded over sticking thermometers up rats’ butts.
“Everyone had side projects going on, but after about a year of working on tunes, we thought, ‘Hey, let’s make this the All-Star Team.’
“I was never a front man of a band. For me, music’s always been kind of a way to—I don’t want to sound sappy, but just get some emotions out. Music is like an open diary. You can really get a lot of stuff out that you might not tell your significant other. You can tell them in song form, and they might get it somewhere down the road.”
“We’re traveling a lot, seeing a lot, always inundated with new, new, new,” Shaw says. “As a songwriter, I get a lot of inspiration from this. We all do, and we try not to let any of those ideas pass us by.
“I heard an interview with Ray LaMontagne,” he says. “What he said about songwriting is very true. Songs are like little fireflies out in the ether, and you’re trying to grab some of them, you know? Just put them in a jar, look at them for a little bit. Hopefully you let them go.”
“Hey, you just revealed the inspiration behind ‘Catching Fireflies’,” Feinberg says, jumping in playfully. “That’s an inside scoop!”
Zack reveals another scoop: How the Revivalists got their name. “I was watching 60 Minutes, and they were doing a piece on Bruce Springsteen. They used the term ‘revival meeting’ to describe the fervor of his concerts. I thought that was kind of cool; also, when we really got together, around 2007, we were all feeling excited about New Orleans being on the mend and getting reborn.”
While the band’s live shows are indeed full of fervor, the strong, lyric-intensive melodies appeal to a more thoughtful music listener. The new City of Sound showcases this versatility.
“We enlisted Ben Ellman from Galactic to produce City…, and Ben was definitely a determining factor on where we wanted to go. A lot of people said that Vital Signs didn’t do the band justice, that when you see us live it’s a completely different thing. We took that into consideration on this one. At one point, Ben asked, ‘So do you guys want to go live with this album, or use the opportunity to take advantage of what the studio can do?’ I think City of Sound is a good representation of our band and what we do. We captured a lot of what we do live and in the studio, in a really good way. I think we’re all proud of what we put together, and how much work we’ve put into it.”
Shaw smiles at the camera and widens his eyes for my amusement. Since I’ve seen them live, but I haven’t seen them in the studio, I have to ask.
Do they take their shirts off when they record?
He looks down at his lap, shakes his head, and then looks directly into the webcam.
“Umm, I think it happened once.”