Interview by Adrian Hextall
Photos (C) Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
With ‘Even Up The Score’, Wayward Sons 3rd album now on the shelves, a headlining set at Stonedead Festival putting the band where they should be given the collective experience of its members, we caught up with founder, front man, vocalist and guitarist, Toby Jepson.
“Yes, that’s right, I think we need security barriers… can we get those sorted then…. sorry hello who’s this?”
“It’s Adrian Toby, how are you?”
“Fine pal, hang on… yes, speak to the venue, get the barriers sorted.. right.. other phone, Adrian, what can I do for you?”
“Well I’m kind of hoping you’re expecting me for an interview Toby”
“I… hmmm.. interview… oh heck yes, Adrian, hello son, how are you…”
And we’re off. The life of a musician these days is very much less about the party lifestyle that we all dream of when we first start up a band and more about the realities of ‘will we need a security barrier at the gig we’re playing next week when we go out on tour?’
As the dust settles on what has been a wonderfully successful album launch of the band’s latest release, ‘Even Up The Score’, something I’m sure, many of us have wanted to do at some point in our life, the band are gearing up for an Autumn \ Winter tour and, having dipped a toe or two in the water with some shows at Steelhouse Festival, Rock & Blues Custom Show, HRH Sleaze and the one that really resonated with me (because I was there, front and centre) a superb headlining set at Stonedead Festival at Newark Showground on August 27th. Given the level of energy on stage, it’s assumed that the band had an absolute blast on stage….
TJ: I think it’s kind of very hard to underestimate the difficulties that a lot of musicians had been dealing with over the last 18 months. As we know, it’s not over yet. I think the first one was such a shock. We were all stood there thinking “What are we going to do now? Carry on, what’s the future hold? Nobody knew how long it was going to go on for. Nobody knew what the implications were going to be. We could only guess but the thing that we did know is that we weren’t able to play.
So to get back on the stage this summer was a mixture of, I’ve got to be honest, it’s one of the very first times in my entire 30-year career as a musician, where I’ve actually been genuinely nervous. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a kind of mental and psychological block that occurred in lots of ways. I’d not been playing a lot of acoustic shows down my phone, you know, during the lockdown period but I did a few. That was really weird to do those, but then I got used to that. And then, of course we start to get the idea that live rock and roll can happen again, and we’re all going to be alright.
I think when we played Steelhouse, the first show, were all a little bit like the rabbit in the headlights. Fortunately as soon as we got out on stage and soon as we got two or three songs in, it started to feel like it was all returning. Then there was the Stonedead gig. That’s amongst one of the best live events I think I’ve ever played for a mixture of reasons. I could see the joy on people’s faces just for the fact that they could be in that field again, and that the weather was with us. It’s definitely the biggest outdoor headline show I think I’ve ever done. Every time I’ve done big festivals, I’ve always been in the bill somewhere during the daytime. So it was extraordinary to play a headline event like that in front of that many people. I think we all went away from that show thinking. Okay, we’re back, yeah, we’re going to be okay.
MGM: That position and feeling must give you something to build on as well. You must be looking to what comes next?
TJ: You’ve just got to keep marching forward and keep taking, the optimistic route. That’s the way I’ve always been in my life. I don’t want to be feeling a sense of dread about being creative. That’s not the right way to do it, it certainly isn’t for me. I think that the lesson here and I hope a lot of people have learnt it is that there are no absolutes. No one has a right to be anywhere or be anything. Look what’s just happened with had all those rights removed by a virus. None of us are completely invincible. It was been a big wake-up call for a lot of people. Life is very short, look at what can happen to people. A lot of people lost their lives through this period as a direct result of this terrible pandemic and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So I think what we should be doing celebrating life and doing the best we can to improve it.
MGM: I think that viewpoint comes through on the tracks on the new album. The tracks themselves burst out of the speakers with many many strong messages. When you release your debut album and you’ve had so many ideas that have been building up for years, they all explode onto that debut release. And it’s because you’re angry, you’ve got issues you want to talk about, you’ve got things you want to deal with. It feels like you’ve captured that approach out for this particular album. You only have to look at the song titles to see that you’ve got lots to say.
TJ: Yeah, I always have done. I’m a lover of life, but I’m a hater of prejudice and fear-mongering and hate and more. I take a very philosophical view about life in lots of ways. I believe that everyone should have the same opportunities. Everyone deserves a chance. Everyone and everything should be discussed. No one should be discriminated against. It’s not someone’s right for them else to say that someone else is wrong, when it’s with regards to things like, you know, skin colour or belief systems. It’s always been about live and let live and learn from those who are different from you.
You know, what I would say is, that within that bracket, I am just like anyone else. We all should have that right to be able to talk about topics to raise an opinion. I’ve talked about this a lot before. The focus of that narrative was more about the kind of how truth is represented in the modern world and how it has shifted the emphasis. We have responsibilities to each other and to ourselves and actions speak louder than words, We don’t just scream at a Facebook page about how you love and hate something. Would you say that someone in the pub? You probably wouldn’t. And so I am angry. I am angry about discrimination and about prejudice that happens for seemingly no reason.
What the hell has it got to do with anybody else, what someone’s sexuality is? I do not understand why anyone would want to care. It’s a personal choice. Most of the time they’re not insisting that therefore, their position is a greater level of need than someone else’s. We’re all as far as I’m concerned people that have a right to be who they want to be and do what they want to do within reason, so that’s what this record is dealing with.
And so I am angry about that. The older I get the more I feel there’s a need, as an older person with a bit more experience, to discuss things. My wife and I, we’ve got three children that are grown up. I’ve got grown-up girls, young women. I fear for their future because of all this stuff. Where we are going with social media. It’s not okay to bully people online. It’s not okay to think that you’ve got entitlement to wealth when you haven’t worked for it. There seems to be this crazy idea that everything is allowed. I think that’s the truth of it. That’s what this record is about. Ask yourself some hard questions here, are you behaving correctly? And I think an unfortunately an awful lot of people aren’t at the moment.
TJ: We’re all experiencing this. I just feel, as an artist, I’ve got responsibilities to report on it. You know what I feel and what I see and certainly how I see it. And I’ve never wanted to be a finger pointer ever. What I want to say is, “I might be right, but I might be wrong” but that’s why we then have that conversation. And why don’t we do it in a civil manner? Where we can actually physically, try and find some proper answers to this stuff.
The fact of the matter is, has there ever been a time in history, ever specifically, in this country, where the country is being so equally divided on party lines. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Every single day, everything every decision has some kind of political effect, but none of us really know what it is. The people shouting the loudest are often the ones that don’t vote. I wish people would take more time and more care in trying to physically understand the things that they supposedly disagree or agree with.
You can’t just do your research on Facebook with 3 or 4 memes and think there’s the answer. I just wish that people would take a little bit more care. So yeah, all of those things have been dealt with on this record and I’m trying to do it in a way so that it doesn’t beat people up. I want it to be like a question. But I also want people to enjoy listening to the music. I want people to listen to the track and go. “Yeah, that’s cool. I like that.” Then if they read the lyrics and perhaps get something more out of it. I am an entertainer, always have been and I have to maintain that. I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician. I’m just like you and me. I’m like anyone in the street. I’m tying to make as much sense out if this life as anybody else.
MGM: Being a musician and an entertainer, if that’s your primary focus, that’s the thing that hooks in the listener before you get into the subject matter. Otherwise you become, for argument’s sake, someone like Billy Bragg, where the statement is the important piece and the music, at times, is almost secondary to it.
TJ: Yeah, that’s true. With Billy, that’s his intention. He is absolutely politically charged. That’s his whole focus. He wants to make a political statement. That’s his motivation. My motivation is far more humanist. I want us to start to have conversations as humans rather than of these automatons that just listen to the words of somebody else’s rhetoric and then react and spew it out whether we understand it or not. I genuinely hope the Covid period will help people to make some better decisions by the facts. The simple fact that we’re all in this together, the cliché. We are in all this because we’re all the same species.
MGM: As far as the entertainment side is concerned, the new album seems to really showcase Nick [Wastell]’s bass playing, compared to say the previous two albums? I don’t know if he’s trying to do something different or whether you’ve changed the way you’ve got him in the mix. But his bass runs are so much more noticeable.
TJ: Whenever I go to make records, the whole intention is to make sure that the whole thing as a sound works, as a mesh thing. Audio delights for everyone and getting everything in its right place. But, on Even Up The Score, you know, I think also that is partially due to his composition. Whenever I get asked this sort of question, what do you think the most important thing about a track or the album, I say, well, it’s three things. Really the songs, the songs and it’s the songs. Is there is anything else that matters?
And so it all comes down to composition and I do think on this record. I’ve simplified a lot of things in terms of the songs I’ve written. And I think that freed up some of the aspects of the actual the way that the songs are perceived. Also, throw into the mix that we’ve all be playing with each other for a long, long time. I love the way that Nick plays. He’s a tremendously underrated bass player. He’s got that, fluid but a solid, approach to playing. One of his favourite players, and we talk a lot about the fluidity of his playing, is Paul McCartney. We’re both massive Beatles fans, so we talked a lot about that. I think say for instance something like Faith In Fools is very kind of Beatles-like. Take the chord progressions for instance, I can’t help but being influenced by The Beatles every day. When I was talking to Nick, I was talking to him about the way that McCartney used to bond the tracks together with the bass. McCartney, often wouldn’t even know what it was going to play, until he got got to the studio. That was always something that intrigued me. And I think Nick is a very ingenious player and he’s got this sort of sense of rock and roll combined with real pure melody.
We also talked a lot about the Beach Boys, again we are both fans. I think for instance in something like ‘Fake’, that special the middle section, it’s there to basically celebrate the Beach Boys. I think the beauty of those melodic compositions and the way that they recorded them back in the day, was cutting edge then. Now, with all our technology, we’re all trying to recreate how that very early version of recording was done. Often the bass was very loud. It was one of those moment so I do think you’re probably right there.
MGM: I’ve seen a few other comments from you on various outlets and don’t take this the wrong way, because it makes me smile. Every time you read the quotes, and so many artists do it, they say it’s the strongest album, some of the best material I’ve ever written, blah, blah, blah. Now, for you to have said that, it’s got to be good. You’ve already pointed out, you’ve got a 30-year career behind you, so for you to be that confident with the new material, after all this time, that’s quite a statement.
TJ: You know as you get older and the more records you make the more technically focused you become. You realise where your weak spots are and you know, the whole concept of being an artist is to try and overcome those weaknesses and try to keep pushing your best side. You can understand yourself more and more that’s the principle that you try and go into each new album with. What did I think I got wrong last time? I notice more about the mistakes…. mistakes in the wrong word. We don’t think there are any mistakes in music. It’s just the interpretation really of an idea but you can make mistakes and recording. You can go about recording a track in an entirely wrong way. With all the best of intentions, sometimes you have to go back to that process to start again. It was either too quick or it was too slow or we’ve got it in the wrong key or you know, we’d approach to guitar parts incorrectly and it just wasn’t working.
I do feel that my song writing skills have sharpened as I’ve gotten older. It’s a different thing for me. I have relinquished this kind of browbeating hair-pulling anxiety about whether it’s good enough. I just think “you know what, this is something I want to say. I’m going to do the best I can with it and if people like it, then great”. If you don’t, then I can’t do anything about that. It’s like a sort of release for myself from that anxiety to a degree. I do think Covid and having to struggle with the pandemic and find a way of working on this record has really helped us in a crazy sort of way. We weren’t able to get into rehearsal rooms, all we had was email and me sending ideas for songs and them sending their thoughts back. I think that’s allowed lot more space between us to focus on it and it felt more relaxed.
MGM: One last thing to cover. The album artwork. We definitely have a theme and style with each subsequent release and the covers are an absolute dream for those of us that like the entire product not just the music because it gives us something to pour over for absolutely ages while we’re listening to the songs. You’ve done the same again this time. I really hope you will continue going forward?
TJ: It’s never been more important, in my opinion, in this world of instant gratification, that we need to present something to hold the attention. I want to be able to lose myself in something and see new things every time I look at it. Because that’s where I came from. I don’t care if that makes me sound like an old fart. It’s nothing to do with being an old fart, it has to do with quality, with depth and intrigue and mystery and all those wonderful things. My dream for me, used to be, on a Saturday morning when I was a kid was to go and search the second and record stores in Scarborough where I lived. I would spend hours thumbing through these records, you know, trying to find something that looked great. Sometimes I didn’t even know who the band were, but I’d look at the sleeve and sometimes I’d buy the record because of the sleeves, because of the cover. “It’s got to be good because look how much effort they put into the sleeve”, was my thought. I’ve discovered some amazing records as a result of that.
Let’s be honest, the access to actually understanding who people or bands were when you’re about 12 years old, only was impossible. Almost there wasn’t the internet. It was just Kerrang! magazine and Sounds and a couple of other things. Molly Hatchet had a sleeve where there was a muscle-bound warrior on the front (which does sum up most Molly Hatchet album covers!) And I bought it without knowing who Molly Hatchet were at all, but I bought it because I loved Conan the Destroyer.
It’s no different to releasing a new movie. I’m a big film fan. It’s not just the story. The film starts with a great story, a great script, same thing with a with an album and a song . How do we then frame it where people can really get involved and really love it. And it goes right through to how the movie poster or trailer can sell it. Our movie poster is the album sleeve. That’s how we are attracting people to want to listen to our music. Back in the past with Polydor, with Little Angels for instance, they just refused to do illustrated sleeves. What got me about that was that the most successful sleeve we ever did with the Big Bad EP which had the devil’s face on it, you know. Hands-down, the single most successful piece of media we ever released in terms of the image and the number of people that wanted it on a shirt. But they just didn’t seem to understand it at all and they would refuse to let us do illustrated covers. This time around I’m in control of this. So I’m going to do exactly what I want. And there you go, you know, it’s part of the statement!
Wayward Sons are about to take that ‘statement’ out on tour. Their initial run takes them to the following venues:
6 – Buckley, UK – Tivoli
7 – Stoke, UK – Sugarmill
9 – Manchester, UK – Academy 3
10 – Glasgow, UK – Cathouse
11 – Newcastle, UK – Riverside
13 – Leeds, UK – Wardrobe
14 – Nottingham, UK – Rescue Rooms
15 – Bristol, UK – Thekla
17 – London, UK – Islington Academy
18 – Wolverhampton, UK – KK Steel Mill