THE NEW WAVE OF CLASSIC ROCK
Guitar World|June 2021
OUR GUIDE TO 15 “NEW WAVE OF CLASSIC ROCK” ACTS THAT ASPIRE TO THE GREAT GUITAR HEIGHTS OF THEIR FOREBEARS (OR SIMPLY, 15 KICKASS GUITAR BANDS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT!)
BRAD ANGLE

SOCAL ROCK ‘N’ ROLL CREW RIVAL SONS HAVE BEEN KICKING out the jams ever since they formed in 2009. So how, after six albums and a decade-plus in existence, did the four-piece find themselves entering 2021 as one of the forerunners of a new, surging musical movement dubbed the “New Wave of Classic Rock”?

“This type of sound is finding popularity as a kind of backlash to what we’ve been fed over the last 10 years,” says Rival Sons guitarist Scott Holiday. “Things move in cycles, and new rock ‘n’ roll — not alternative or metal, like a real rock ‘n’ roll sound — has been very hard to find over the last decade.”

Befitting the NWOCR (New Wave of Classic Rock) moniker, Rival Sons — along with other bands included in this budding genre like Greta Van Fleet, the Struts, Dirty Honey, Dorothy, and more — perform music that harkens back to the seminal work of icons like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Cream and others. Like the masters, this new class of performers are creating hard-hitting, swaggering, riff-driven rock ‘n’ roll built around a core vocal-guitar-bass-drum configuration. Unlike these originals, as Holiday points out, the musical and cultural landscape the up-and-comers are entering hasn’t exactly been welcoming.

But the fickle nature of music trends — and rock’s shifting position in pop culture — is nothing new. Since rock ‘n’ roll first reared its dangerous, distorted grooves in the Fifties, the genre’s stature has risen and fallen repeatedly. And “Rock Is Dead” has been proclaimed by many critics, many times over the decades. But, generation after generation, there’s always a fresh class of kids picking up electric guitars and making an exciting racket — and new rock acts continue to fill clubs (in normal times), rise up the ranks, and push the form forward.

What makes this current renaissance particularly interesting is that these bands are starting to experience mainstream crossover success and taking over prime cultural real estate that — for the better part of the last decade or two — has been largely occupied by hip-hop and radio pop. NWOCR bands are inking major-label deals, soundtracking superhero TV shows and Levi’s campaigns, performing at fashion shows and playing Coachella, topping the Billboard charts, receiving Grammy nods, earning millions of digital streams, attracting legions of worldwide fans and galvanizing a strong grassroots online community (many of whom congregate on the popular New Wave of Classic Rock Facebook group).

The bands that make up the NWOCR scene are also a diverse bunch, both musically and philosophically. They’re exploring a range of styles — from bluesy and rootsy to glam, progressive, and straight-up speaker rattling rock — and tackling distinctly personal lyrical themes unique to their own experiences and world views. But one unifying thread unites them: Their sound is built on a firm foundation of guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll that’s full of big riffs, intoxicating grooves, spine-tingling vocals, and stadium-sized ambitions.

“Much like the Nineties when … bands were penned ‘grunge,’ you had a group of bands that honestly didn’t sound very similar or maybe didn’t even really share the same ethos, but they all were under that umbrella,” Holiday says. “It was probably frustrating and weird for all of them to be labeled under this one thing together, but they were better off for it in the end. It became a movement.”

“We embrace it,” says the Struts’ guitarist Adam Slack of the New Wave of Classic Rock label. “We do, however, stand by that we want to push the production of our music into the 21st century, not be carbon copies of the past.”

“Honestly, I don’t know where we fit in or don’t fit in!” says Dirty Honey’s John Notto. “But I do hope we’re carrying the torch of the rock ‘n’ roll that was fun, catchy, soulful, but still grimy and uncompromising. We don’t pressure ourselves to sound like any genre; we just want to add something to the conversation that our heroes started.”

In that spirit, we present 15 rising New Wave of Classic Rock acts that aspire to the great guitar heights of their forebears — bands that are offering up fresh takes on tried-and-true formulas, carrying the classic flame and illuminating the path forward for rock ‘n’ roll.

RIVAL SONS

SINCE EMERGING OUT of Long Beach, California, in 2009, Rival Sons have become one of the frontrunners of the classic-rock revival scene. Led by guitarist Scott Holiday's searing riffs and singer/guitarist Jay Buchanan’s bluesy vocals, Rival Sons have cultivated a growing international fanbase and the respect of some top-tier classic acts: Deep Purple, Aerosmith, and Black Sabbath have all tapped them as openers. Their sixth and latest full-length, 2019’s dynamic Feral Roots, was a level-up moment for the crew. The Grammy-nominated album was their first for Atlantic Records imprint Low Country Sound and featured the banging single “Do Your Worst” — which secured the Number One spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart.

“Plenty of folks the world over… definitely are aching for new rock ‘n’ roll: not active rock, not metal, not alternative rock… rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve been here to give them just that,” Holiday says. “Don’t get me wrong — I love all those offshoots, and at any moment we may give you some of that in this band. But at the heart of Rival Sons is that soul and blues-based dirty garage-y rock ‘n’ roll. And we’re really good at delivering it.”

LISTEN NOW: “Do Your Worst,” “Pressure and Time”

CROWN LANDS

THIS CANADIAN DUO, featuring singer/ drummer Cody Bowles and guitarist Kevin Comeau, exude Seventies hard-rock energy: from vintage clothes and shaggy hair to speaker-shaking blues riffs, Zep-Esque loud/ soft dynamics, and a healthy dose of psychedelic vibes. They’ve released just one full-length, 2020’s Crown Lands, but the band has already gained some high-profile fans: Jack White and Primus have enlisted the young musicians as openers. Crown Lands are also using their platform for change. Bowles is half Mi’kmaq, an indigenous tribe from Nova Scotia, and the duo is committed to raising awareness about the marginalization of First Nations peoples, as heard on songs like “End of the Road.”

“We want to be a bit more fluid with the way we express our music,” Comeau says. “We have dynamics. We have a softer side we’re not afraid to embrace, and we have a weirder side.”

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