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RIVALS: Blurring the Line Between Dark Pop and Rock

RIVALS is an alternative band from Los Angeles that is not afraid to merge scintillating dark pop-rock with post-hardcore, resulting in their unique sound that is sure to hook you in at first listen. The band, formed in 2014, consists of thrilling vocals by Kalie Wolfe, strong guitar by Micket Woodle, steady bass by Sebastian Clarke, and rocking drums by Josh Alves.

RIVALS group photo
RIVALS - Photo by Matt Bender

The band credits their unique sound, “pop vocals that soar over rock anthems,” to the fact that vocalist Wolfe started out in the pop world, while “the guys” started in the metal realm. This results in an exciting mesh of elements from both genres that we know and love, while they also still continue to experiment and grow in their style.

Wolfe says the band takes inspiration from bands such as Bring Me the Horizon, Nothing but Thieves, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Twenty One Pilots (they even put their own spin on “Heathens” in 2016). Personally, they remind me of one of my favorite bands of all time – PVRIS. 

Their discography began with their Haunted / Hunted EP released in 2015. In 2018, they released their album Damned Soul, which features some of their biggest songs “Over It” and “Moonlit.” They then expanded upon their Alkaline EP from 2021 into their album Sad Looks Pretty on Me, released the same year, which consists of the title track and two more of their biggest tracks, “Lavenders” and “Fake Rich (feat. Elijah Witt).”

Recently, the band has taken back their throne as an independent act, with their first independent release being the monumental track “Dark Matter,” which has paved the way for their exponential growth.

Dark Matter / Nothing ever felt the way it’s supposed to / Call my dealer / If I sober up, I’ll leak my own future / I’ll be the darkest soul you’ve ever seen,” Wolfe sings passionately in the chorus with a pure rock feel. The music video takes place in a dark abandoned church, and the lead singer’s confidence is palpable as we watch her fend off attackers.

This track is catchy in all aspects, and the lyrics certainly stand out as clever and relatable: “Self-sabotage is all that I know / Dirt to my lips, another episode / Losing my grip, someone hand me the phone / ‘Cause I’m calling God, tell him that I’m not going home.

Two of their latest tracks, “Dangerous” and “Bleeding Star,” dropped earlier this year. “Dangerous,”an infectious track dripping with energetic confidence … an ode to self empowerment,” is accompanied by a lyric video that also serves as a music video in itself. The band is captivating, and their creative vision is evident in every decision they make.

“Bleeding Star” is a tasteful rock commentary on trauma and hard times: Everybody has their heroin / Trying to find their way numb their hearts / Poison dressing up like medicine / Everybody loves a bleeding star,” the chorus strikes. 

RIVALS tends to include in their music themes of darkness, addiction, death, and religion. “I’ve always seen this inner side of the beauty of death and the imagery that comes with it,” vocalist Wolfe says. She doesn’t describe herself as a religious person, but rather, she believes in the idea of making what you can out of this one life that you have.

“Be nice, be kind, and work hard for what you want in this lifetime,” she says. “I don’t believe in anything past death; death is in some ways the end of all ends. Typically, when I talk about God or the Devil, I use it in the sense of good and bad and not of a later thing – of a now type of thing.”

When it comes to the band’s songwriting process, “It can really depend,” Wolfe says. “Sometimes it all starts inside the studio with our producer or it can come from a vocal idea from me! There are times when the guys will have a random idea that we’ll put down on paper later – ‘Fake Rich’ was this way. Seb wrote the initial idea and took it to our producer John Espy and turned it into the magic that it is today,” she says. 

Their journey has been an exhilarating one, but also has come with challenges, such as standing out in a sea of artists. “It’s no longer about just the music; if anything, the music is 10% of the whole thing. There is content, the way you look, your likeability, etc.,” Wolfe says. “Anyone can make music today–it’s become very easy to do–but standing out and shining past everyone else is the tricky part!”

Wolfe says the band’s dream is to play Madison Square Garden three nights in a row, sold out. “That’s been the plan since day one, and it’ll remain our plan till the end of this band,” she shared. Wolfe says she hopes people will continue to find a sense of happiness and joy in their music, despite its dark tones that sometimes shine through. “I hope everyone sees this side of the world that I see – the beauty in life for what it is,” she shared. “I hope I instill some sense of confidence and badass-ary in a sense too … we do make some great gym songs also,” she laughed.

RIVALS vocalist Kalie Wolfe performing on tour
RIVALS vocalist Kalie Wolfe performing on tour/Photo by Kyle Bertrand

Unfortunately, RIVALS’s most recent tour was cut short due to van issues, but they have made it clear how much live shows mean to them: “Although with all the van issues, y’all have given us such joy coming to shows and screaming the words with us every single night,” the band posted in a statement on Sept. 24. “Just know next year is about to be stacked with shows, and we will see you all very soon. For now, we just need to get home and get a new van.”

The band is currently in the process of writing a new record, but wants us to have patience because of how long it takes to create something they are proud of. They’ll for sure have some new singles out soon. Make sure to keep up to speed with this powerful pop-rock quartet by visiting their website (Their Bratz-inspired merch might particularly catch your eye!). 

Find more exciting new music on our Alchemical Multigenre Mixdown playlist on Spotify and YouTube

Alchemical Records contributor Emma Page

Emma Page

Emma Page, a recent Journalism graduate of The George Washington University, possesses a passion for music journalism and storytelling in all its forms. Originally from Baltimore, MD, when she is not writing, she can be found at a local concert or making music of her own.

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