The Revivalists have been building momentum in recent years as the rare modern rock band able to break through to radio while also generating buzz around their live performances. While the future looks bright for this New Orleans-based eight-piece, their latest project finds the band paying tribute to music’s rich past.
Today The Revivalists are releasing a brand new EP entitled Made in Muscle Shoals, featuring recordings done live in the legendary FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The EP contains reimaginings of popular tracks from the band’s last two studio albums, a soulful new original song entitled “Bitter End,” and a gorgeous cover of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.” In addition, the band is commemorating the experience with a mini-documentary — which was directed by Jay Sansone — also released today, showing the process of making these unique recordings. (check your preferred streaming service here)
The Revivalists are comprised of David Shaw, Andrew Campanelli, Zack Feinberg, George Gekas, Ed Williams, Rob Ingraham, Michael Girardot, and PJ Howard. Shaw, the lead singer, and Campanelli, who plays drums, talked to American Songwriter about Made in Muscle Shoals and the special feeling of recording in the studio.
“When you got there, you feel it,” Campanelli says of the studio’s magic. “The people in Muscle Shoals say that it comes out of the river. It feels like that. The drums I was playing have been there since the 60s. The Wurlitzer that Mike (Girardot) was playing, Aretha played. You can’t not feel that. It lifts you up. It brought that creative spark out of us in a way that we couldn’t have planned until we were in that room.”
Shaw echoes those sentiments from his own perspective. “The spirit is thick in that room, especially in that vocal booth,” he says. “I’m thinking of Otis Redding, I’m thinking of Aretha Franklin. There’s a heaviness to the air, but not in a bad way. What it really does is it sharpens your blade. It makes you a little better, because you realize that you’re on hallowed grounds.”
When it came time to choosing a cover song to perform, The Revivalists took on “To Love Somebody,” in part because of their familiarity to it, but also because of its connection to Muscle Shoals. “That’s actually a tune that we’ve been doing for a while,” Shaw explains. “And people have been asking us, ‘When you are going to do it for real?’ We didn’t just want to go into a studio and do a regular cover. It needed to feel a little more special. It was originally written for Otis Redding and he died before he could record it. We thought what better way to honor the song and the music than to go record that song at Muscle Shoals. It was too perfect. The stars aligned and I think we got a really, really emotional cut of the tune. Cause it’s such an emotional song.”
Campanelli says that they jumped at the opportunity to play at Muscle Shoals to continue to honor the musical history they feel so strongly in New Orleans. “New Orleans shaped how we are as a band. We steep ourselves as much as we can in the traditions of this local music. And that scene was really kind of connected to the Muscle Shoals scene. We wanted to bridge the gap of the Mississippi Delta. We wanted to go up there and commune with those spirits. A lot of the project was just getting back to the basics of being a band in a room. And that seemed like the right place for it.”
The band also found that the studio had a way of imposing its will on the proceedings. Songs from the band’s catalog, like the 2016 smash “Wish I Knew You,” took on new lives. “The record version is this upbeat, dance-y thing that captures one side of that feeling,” Shaw says of “Wish I Knew You.” “But I’ve always felt that there’s a longing to the song that doesn’t necessarily get expressed in that vibe. We decided to let the spirit speak on that one and slow it down. That’s what happens in a place like that.”
The documentary displays the unique way of working together that the band has developed over its time together, one that insists that all the creative voices in the room be heard. “It was the only one that occurred to us,” Campanelli says of the band dynamic. “We’ve grown to really appreciate it over the years after being around a little longer and realizing that’s not the way it is with every band. We’re fortunate to have found the right mix of people that can not only make music together but can stay together. We’re an eight-person band that have been together for 15 years. We’ve passed most of the road blocks at this point personally. We’ve figured out how to be together.”
Along the way, the philanthropic side of the band has grown from one-off projects to a dedicated organization known as Rev Causes, which will benefit greatly from the band’s Into The Stars tour starting up in February and continuing throughout the spring. One dollar from every ticket sold gets funneled through Rev Causes to the Revivalists’ chosen charities.
Campanelli explains how that side of the band fits in with the tradition of the New Orleans music scene. “There’s a real culture in this city of music being not just entertainment. It’s not just something to appreciate. It is a living, breathing positive influence. Rev Causes is exciting because it’s been a goal of ours. We were trying to get ourselves established as a group to where we could do that. It was always something that was going to be happening in the future and now it’s here. And it’s wonderful.”
Even though Made in Muscle Shoals provides only a bite-sized helping of The Revivalists’ music for fans until the next full album release, the experience, according to Shaw and Campanelli, is something that won’t soon fade. They even hope that it can teach some of those coming up in the business a little something.
“We can’t be having these kids that are growing up starting these rock bands not knowing about all this history that came before,” Shaw says. “With the internet, it’s all out there. But I think that it’s on us to bring that into the light. It’s part of our duty as musicians. I’m not trying to toot our own horn, but we’re carrying the torch a bit here. We’ve gotta do right by music in general, its history, and the ones who came before us. It’s just a way to honor that.”