Alysse Gafkjen

Releasing a New Album & Making an Instrument Sing – Interviewing The Revivalists

As the pedal steel guitarist for a band of this size and caliber, Ed Williams truly does play an exceptional role, offering up bluesy and folksy sounds, as well as a whole lot of heart.

The Revivalists are enjoying living in the moment – and you can hear it when listening to Pour It Out Into The Night, the band’s latest album released in June. There’s an exuberance that permeates the album on tracks like “How We Move,” “Good Old Days,” “Don’t Look Back,” and “Kid.” The Revivalists are simply refreshed and making the best music of their career; the energy is palpable.

Pour It Out Into The Night benefits from insightful lyrics, but, as always, the stellar musicianship of the eight-piece band. The New Orleans-based group has remarkable chemistry considering the number of musicians on the roster. Again, this is a testament to the band members’ superb talent and selflessness. 

The Revivalists consist of David Shaw (lead vocals and guitar), Zack Feinberg (guitar), Ed Williams (pedal steel guitar), Rob Ingraham (saxophone), George Gekas (bass), Andrew Campanelli (drums), Michael Girardot (keyboards and trumpet), and PJ Howard (drums and percussion). Shaw and Feinberg founded The Revivalists in 2007. They have gone on to release five albums that have garnered high praise from fans and critics alike. Pour It Out Into The Night is a standout effort in their varied catalog, so don’t be surprised at all to see it land on many ‘Best of 2023’ lists at year’s end.

The Revivalists are going to entertain the faithful fans of Brooklyn, New York and beyond on Thursday, August 10 at Prospect Park. We recently spoke with Ed Williams to set the stage.   

Your music is very diverse, from song to song and within songs. Would you attribute that to being an eight-piece band?

There are a lot of us and we kind of pride ourselves on that. We’ve always tried to make a wall of sound, even at the live shows. It’s not about overplaying – it’s about picking your moment and coming in over each other and creating waves of music. The soundscapes, we don’t try to pigeonhole ourselves in one kind of song. That’s another reason why maybe it varies so much: we have a lot of different songwriters and we have a lot of members, so songs will vary by who wrote it and who is doing what on it. It’s been really great working with all these guys. We have a lot of weapons in the toolshed. Everybody elevates everybody else’s game.

Were The Revivalists created with the intention of being an expansive band?

The band started with Dave and Zack. They were in a college band. I was in a college band. We were all in college. Our different college bands broke up as people graduated. There wasn’t like, “Hey, we need a pedal steel player or a sax player,” but they were like, “Hey, these guys can play.” That was really the requirement I think as we went on. We weren’t like, “We need this.” We were like, “Can you play?” If you could, that was step one. Step two was, “Can we also tolerate you on a daily basis all the time?” [Laughs]

If something just kind of feels right, we do it, but I think we might be capped out at eight [members]. Nine might be too many. 

Many songs on Pour It Out Into The Night are exuberant. There is a lot of joy in this record. 

It’s interesting. This album was very different for us because we’ve been a touring band. That’s what we like to do. We like to be in front of audiences. We like playing in their face and sweating. That’s what we like to do and what we’ve been doing that non-stop. For basically 15 years, I think I took a month off when my child was born – that was about it. Everybody else is the same. We’ve been doing this straight for 15 years, and, also during that time, we’ve been developing our personal lives while recording and touring. It’s just non-stop and non-stop; you’re writing on the road, you’re recording when you can. Then the world pauses and all of the sudden you’ve got all the time in the world. You get to kind of reflect. We were like, “Ok, let’s really get into this.” We were really prepared for this record. To be honest, if the world didn’t pause, we would have put a record out a year or two ago, but we weren’t allowed to be in a room together. Everybody just kind of buckled down and wrote, so then we finally got into the studio with Rich Costey, who is just an incredible producer. He got into the system of who we are and what each person provides so well. He understood us so well. We had all this material and we really honed it. I think that helped us put out what I think is our best material so far. We really took the time.

What were your feelings about your career and the uncertainty of everything during the pandemic?

I’m not going to speak for other people, for what they wrote, or what it means to them. I’ll tell you what it felt like to me. When it paused, I had all this fear. “What’s happening? I’ve devoted my life to this; it’s all I know. What am I going to do?” Then you kind of start to think about it. You’re like, “Hey, I’m doing this thing. This is my life.” I got to live my dream, so it turns into hope and thankfulness. The song “Good Old Days” is kind of like that. The song is like, “Hey, man! The good old days are right now. This is it!”

What led you to pick up the pedal steel guitar? As a pedal steel player, how do you approach the songs? 

I can play all the classic country stuff, but really the reason I heard it is because of gospel music – players like Roosevelt Collier, Chuck Campbell, Aubrey Ghent, all of those guys. I got into it because I like to make it sing. It really depends from song to song. Sometimes I’m making landscapes and sometimes I’m playing vocal lines and sometimes I’m doing lead guitar stuff. Like on When I Got You,” which is more like a lead guitar situation.

It depends on the song. Then you’ve got your classic, when it’s like, “Alright, I’m going to do country stuff on this,” because it’s just screaming for it. I think you really just have to listen to the song. I think that’s what everybody does. What’s the song need? What can I add to the song to make it better?

Regarding The Revivalists live sets, how many new songs do you tend to play? 

We never want to play a whole set of fully new material. Fans, they want to hear some of the classics. I think we’re about half and half, but there are some songs that we haven’t played live yet, so maybe you’ll hear that. Or things are going to be different; we like to take a three minute song and turn it into a 10 minute song. We like to think that the live show is different than the album. Those are two separate things that build off of each other. I don’t like going to see a show where a band plays exactly like the record and the show is like pressing play on an album. It’s great that you’re seeing it live, but I want to feel something connected and I feel disconnected because it’s exactly what I heard at home. We build a lot off of the new stuff, but we’re also going to play classics. 

You’re performing at Prospect Park in Brooklyn on August 10. The Revivalists are a band that seems suited for playing outdoors. 

I actually grew up in New York City. I grew up on the Upper East Side, over on 96th. We’ve played New York a lot. We’re used to playing outside in the summer and the heat. No joke, I’ve played some festivals down in the south where our tour manager and our stage manager are throwing ice towels on our backs the whole set. Plus, we live in the swamp down here in New Orleans, so it doesn’t get much muggier and hotter than it is here. 

Summer is always great and the festival circuit is great. You see all your friends. I never see my friends in December. I see them during the summer. All your buddies who you haven’t seen since last summer because they’re all touring musicians – and so much has changed, even in a year. You hang and you’re like, “Your kid is walking now? That’s great!” It’s like a moving camp.