For New Orleans-based soul-jammers the Revivalists, it was their third full-length, Men Amongst Mountains, that finally broke through. The funk-infused set, which dropped in 2015, ended up in the top 5 on the Heatseekers Albums Chart, and this past May even yielded the group their first Billboard Alternative Songs No. 1 hit with “Wish I Knew You.”
EW caught up with two members of the septet — frontman David Shaw and guitarist Zack Feinberg — to discuss the group’s wide-ranging influences. From Citizen Cope’s emotional crooning to Warren Haynes’ instant ability to relate, check out what has shaped the outfit below.
Citizen Cope, “Sideways”
David Shaw: I actually met him a couple of weeks ago and I was pretty starstruck. He was one of the reasons that I really started to delve more into songwriting. It was cool. I just feel like his way of writing lyrics is just, it’s a piece of his soul, literally, that he’s putting down on paper. You can really feel it.
Zack Feinberg: He’s also one of the artists that everybody in the band has a deep personal connection to. Our steel player, at his wedding, “Sideways” was the first dance. We all really admire the man’s music. It means a lot to us.
Taj Mahal, “Lovin in My Baby’s Eyes”
Feinberg: This is one of my favorite songs and one of our drummer Andrew’s favorites. It’s what it’s about: the simple things in life, seeing love in the eyes of somebody’s eyes and doing right by that. I remember playing that song when I was very lonely and single and knowing that there were going to be moments like he’s singing about ahead and feeling good about it, even when I didn’t have it at the time.
Bill Withers, “Better Off Dead”
Shaw: I knew I was going to choose one of [Bill Withers’] songs. So many of his are classics. But at the end of the song, in the studio version, there’s like a gunshot at the end. And to me, that was just, like, wow! What a statement: “In case the song wasn’t enough, here’s a gunshot at the end.” He’s an artist whose art is going to make you feel something — whether it’s good or bad. I love the groove in it, I love the beat, and I wouldn’t call it one of the more obscure Bill Withers tunes, but it’s a little off the beaten path.
David Gray, “Fugitive”
Feinberg: This is one of [pedal steel player] Ed [Williams’] favorite David Gray songs. Like, when his alarm goes off, it’s this song — and he’s the kind of guy that has to set, like, nine alarms for himself in the morning. When I’d be rooming with him on tour, in those days, it would annoy me so much. [Laughs] But back to the pertinent matter of the song, I think the lyrics are amazing. The man is a poet. He’s unbelievable. I think he got the imagery from when they found Saddam [Hussein]; just like hiding out in a little hole, looking for these answers to life. It’s beautiful imagery and I celebrate the man’s whole catalog.
Dr. John, “Quitters Never Win”
Shaw: So, you know, Dr. John’s got his roots in New Orleans, and all I can really say about this tune is that that hook there is super clever and super simple. That’s what I love about songwriting, you can have this — it’s a real pedestrian way, a human way, of putting it all out there. It’s tongue-in-cheek, I guess.
Gov’t Mule, “Soulshine”
Feinberg: It’s a modern classic, let’s call it that. I think its Warren Haynes’ masterpiece. It was originally recorded with the Allman Brothers in the early ’90s, and I love the Gov’t Mule version. It’s just a beautiful song — and it’s a beautiful thing. It goes back to that thing that I related to in “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes.” It’s about letting your goodness shower the people you love with love; it’s just a celebration of life and a really positive, human song of human expression.
Shaw: What a classic. It speaks to everyone. I feel like the mark of a great song is like, you listen to it, and you feel like, “Damn, that’s about me.” This song speaks to a lot of people, in that way.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “By The Way”
Shaw: Anthony Kiedis has this way of wordplay that’s almost nonsensical but in the way it’s delivered, and with the music, it still counts when it counts. I also like that his song is like Jekyll and Hyde. That’s something that I think our band strives to do as well. We try to make the verse as one thing and then, all of the sudden, veer into this other place — take you somewhere else. And it’s not a complete departure. And it’s funny, Zack, I got a “Let It All Out”-vibe from this tune.
Feinberg: Oh yeah, totally. That’s a song of ours that we never released. There’s one very melodic, sing-song-y part and then one part like rock, funk.
Shaw: It’s kind of like salt and pepper, you know. They go together pretty damn well.
Audioslave, “Shadow on the Sun”
Feinberg: Obviously Chris Cornell has been on the forefront of our minds in the last couple weeks. George [Gekas], our bass player, introduced me to this Audioslave record and I remember thinking, “This is amazing.” Tom Morello is one of the most innovative guitar players of all time. And, I don’t know if I’m searching, but he seems to hint at, in this song, a man who has struggled with severe, severe, perhaps suicidal depression throughout his life. It seems like he’s just talking about how this state that can happen and how you have to be careful about stuff that can take you into these places. But searching for a reason for what he did or not, it’s a beautiful song. I’ll love it forever.
Leonard Cohen, “In My Secret Life”
Shaw: The first time I actually listened to this song, it was really late at night, probably 3 a.m. I was searching through some Leonard Cohen stuff and I had my headphones on. I’m kind of just vibing out, I’ve got the candle going and the incense going, and honestly, I just started crying. It cut me down. There’s not a single bit of filler in the tune: Every word, every stanza, every melody has its place. Any songwriter strives to speak the truth of their life or if they’re writing some kind of fictional tune, they hide a little bit of themselves in there, in a way that’s poetic and also creates this drama and creates this feeling of whatever you’re trying to make them feel. This song was just, like, “Damn!”
Feinberg: Yeah, I appreciate you turning me onto that song.
Shaw: Yeah, I usually don’t even care about like, if the production is — like if I listen to something and it’s a drum machine…I’m usually like, “Gosh, I don’t know…” but honestly, it didn’t matter [here] at all. I gave two s—s about that in that moment.
Feinberg: Yeah, Leonard Cohen is about the only guy I can forgive for using keyboard horns.
Gillian Welch, “Look at Miss Ohio”
Feinberg: Gillian is a phenomenal writer. And I do remember, the first time I heard this, it was on one of the late-night shows when I was in middle school or high school. I was at my dad’s house and I remember being turned off by it at first — but it was so catchy that I never forgot it. A couple years later, I heard it again and was like, “I really like that song,” and then Dave, coming from Ohio, he has a connection with the song and just the dreams of people and the certain kind of sadness….
Shaw: Yeah, I love the sentiment. Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, you either stayed and were a lifer, or all you could talk about was getting out and seeing the rest of the world. That really rang true to me [here]. I love my hometown, I go back there regularly to see my family, and that sentiment was really cool. And every time I go back, this the song that everybody is screaming for me to play.
The Revivalists are currently on tour. All future dates are listed here, including their stop at City Park’s SummerStage in New York City’s Central Park. The group’s catalog of music can be found here.