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Front Porch Jams to Top 40 Radio: The Revivalists Discuss How 'Wish I Knew You' Propelled Their Career, 10 Years in the Making
You may have just heard of The Revivalists in 2017, but the alt-rock band is no rookie to the business: The seven-piece group celebrate 10 years together this year.
It all started in 2007, when frontman David Shaw moved to New Orleans in pursuit of forming a band. So where did the NOLA newbie begin the hunt? Craigslist, of course.
“I had some really interesting Craigslist interactions where you don’t know what you’re getting into,” Shaw says with a laugh. With rather bleak results coming from the Internet, Shaw took to his front porch to work on some music -- and as Zack Feinberg (now the group's guitarist) biked by, he couldn’t help making a pit stop.
Feinberg’s bike ride turned into an unexpected and rather serendipitous moment: As he helped finish up the song Shaw was working on, Feinberg proceeded to show off a little bit on guitar – and suddenly a quick stop-by turned into an audition. “It wasn’t, like, a normal pick-it-up and play it like some cowboy chords. It was like, ‘This dude knows what he’s doing,’” Shaw recalls. “This is no Craigslist guy!”
Their impromptu jam session was the beginning of a music-centric friendship (“I think there was a sense that it could be the beginning of a really cool thing,” Feinberg says), which involved countless open mic nights at a local joint called Checkpoint Charlies. Subsequent jam sessions led to meeting drummer Andrew Campanelli -- who led the guys to bassist George Gekes -- and keyboardist Michael Girardot; Zack recruited his buddy saxophonist Rob Ingraham, and Shaw thought to wrangle former bandmate Ed Williams to play pedal steel guitar.
Suddenly, Shaw and Feinberg’s porch jam turned into a real music project. Their group came together amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the state of their city inspired the name The Revivalists, to “invoke life” back into the city of New Orleans: “When we formed, the city was getting back on its feet again,” Feinberg explains. “We’re coming from that time and place in New Orleans and we’re playing music that’s a bunch of guys in a room playing instruments… It’s part of what the band was founded on, just playing real music and believing what we’re doing.”
While they’ve built a solid fan base in their own right, 2017 has brought the septet into the mainstream thanks to their poignantly jazzy hit “Wish I Knew You,” which Shaw actually wrote on that fateful front porch. Since the track was officially released as a single in February 2016, the heartfelt honesty in the song’s lyrics, combined with the catchy horn-laced hook, sent it to the top of the Adult Alternative Chart in September 2016 -- and the hype has only continued from there.
The song began getting spins on alternative radio, which eventually led it to the top spot of the Alternative Songs chart in May. Once Top 40 stations added the rock song into the mainstream mix, The Revivalists even saw a stint on the Billboard Hot 100 -- and shortly after that, the song officially earned the group their first Gold record. “You always dream about stuff like that, you know?” Shaw gushes.
After playing various festivals as a full band all summer -- including a “magical” recent set at Austin City Limits, according to Feinberg, which was a career highlight for the group -- Shaw and Feinberg are headed to Napa Valley this weekend for Live in the Vineyard to play a stripped down version of their typically rowdy set. Billboard caught up with the pair ahead of their performance to discuss the power of “Wish I Knew You” and how the song has changed the course of their 10-year long career.
What are you looking forward to with Live In The Vineyard? What do you feel your acoustic set brings to the audience to take in your music?
Feinberg: We really enjoy doing stripped-down-duo acoustic shows. It’s a very warm, intimate vibe and it leaves space for spontaneous improvisation. Also, you can’t go wrong with Napa.
Playing acoustically shows the strengths of the songs on their own without all the dressing. It’s fun to carry a show naked with just vocals and acoustic guitars. It’s a very pure musical experience.
How has the success of “Wish I Knew You” impacted your live shows?
Shaw: Everybody knows the words now, so every time we play it, it's just one big sing along! It's one of those tunes that just feels good. We extend it and jam on it quite a bit live -- the record version, the one that pop stations play is like four minutes; the version that we do live is eight minutes long -- so that's been really fun to explore over the past year.
The song was technically part of your 2015 album Men Against Mountains and officially became single more than a year and a half ago. What is it like to watch a song that you made two years ago do so well two years after you put it out?
Feinberg: We were and [still] are really proud of Men Against Mountains. We anticipated it to be our biggest release to date. We had high hopes it would do good things for our career, but this has exceeded expectations for sure.
Shaw: I think it’s a true testament to the song and the feeling that it creates. Also, honestly, I have to hand it to our managing team. They really went out there and busted their ass. It’s kind of like you deliver the right thing at the right time with the right people and something’s going to happen. We just saw what can happen when all the stars align.