Waking the Angels Greg Dean Talks Debut Album, Genre-Defying Music, and the Challenges of the Music Industry

Greg Dean of Waking the Angels: Navigating the Music Industry, From Debut Album Success to Shaping the Future of Rock ...

Interview by: Mark Lacey

 

“Being in the music industry is a multi-job job. If you want to make a career of it, you probably have to be in a few bands and it has to be a mix of originals and tribute stuff. You can’t just go, I’m a guitarist in an originals band because there’s not enough money in it to sustain your life”.

Musician. Band manager. Festival organiser. Greg Dean may well be one of the industry’s busiest characters. Certainly, he’s doing his bit to keep the spirit of rock alive and well across the Midlands, as well as championing emerging talent across the UK. In the last year, his own band, Waking the Angels have built a strong reputation on the live circuit, and now release their much-anticipated debut album “We Are”.

MGM: Your band name ‘Waking the Angels’ suggests a mixture of Judas Priest and death metal, but it’s neither of those. How would you describe your music?

Greg: It’s a weird one, isn’t it? As soon as you put yourself in a box, some people just turn off, ‘Oh, I don’t like that genre’. So, I really don’t want to put us in a box. Some people have said it’s classic rock. Some people have said some of the songs are power rock. Some people have said it’s melodic rock. We’ve also had one reviewer say that there was a hint of goth in there. We didn’t set out to try to fit into a genre. We just wrote some songs and this is how they turned out.

MGM: This may be your debut album, but the four members of the band have been together for a few years.

Greg: Yeah. Our drummer, Greg ‘Rozzy’ Ison, played for a band called New Device, and I was their manager, so I knew of him. The other two guys are my mates. They live locally to me and we’ve knocked around for ages. At the start of COVID we thought, how are we going to survive this? Should we write an album? And who’s going to play what? We haven’t got a singer, we haven’t got a drummer, we haven’t got this, that and the other. Mike came round for a meal and he was singing a little bit drunk, and I thought, he’s actually got quite a nice tone. Yeah, you’re the singer. He was like, what? He hadn’t sung in a band for, 30 years and what he’d done before hadn’t had massive exposure. But he’s got good tone, so basically, he’s just grown into that role. Paul’s really a rhythm guitarist, but we only needed one guitar, so he’s played bass. I’ve done guitar and the keyboards. I thought; we need a good drummer; old Rozzy will do it for us. So, he stepped in.

MGM: What was the mission when you initially got together? And what did you want the project to be?

Greg: We all like different types of music, so we thought it was quite interesting to bring it all together and just see what came out, really as a project. But as it grew and we wrote some more songs, we thought, this is going to work. We did ‘Can you see me now?’ first, and did that as a project song. I quite liked that, so we carried on. There wasn’t any big plan or anything behind it.

MGM: You put an EP out a couple of years ago, including your cover of Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’. That was a brave choice given his iconic status. You’ve also included the songs from that EP on the new album too.

Greg: They’re different versions though. They’re early versions on the EP. I think all of the vocals have been redone, all of the guitars have been redone, and the Chris Cornell song’s got some extra orchestration on it. So, they are better versions on the album.

MGM: One of the trademark approaches that you adopt, and with the bands you manage as well, is to embrace the visual element. You’ve put out some high-quality videos alongside your singles and released them sequentially to build momentum.

Greg: It was a deliberate strategy. If you start a new band and just dump an album out, you’ve got no fans, so you’re releasing it to nobody, aren’t you? I thought, well, if we release our single, then we’ll grow a few fans. Then we release another one. You get a few more. You have to educate the fans to know you exist, before you give them an album product. That was the logic behind it and seems to be working.

MGM: Whilst the launch show is at the end of January, the album actually landed on 15th December. What does the title ‘We are’ signify?

Greg: It’s two things, really. Waking the Angels was just a band name that I came up with ages ago. I thought, if ever I do another band, I’m going to use that. So that stuck. And getting people to remember your band name is quite hard, so we’ve been called Walking the Angels, and you can guess what else. You can see how hard it is. Once fans have got your band name, trying to get them to remember the name of any songs is then another task, so if we can write something that’s catchy and tells them who the hell they’re listening to at the same time, it’ll stick in their head so they can’t forget.

MGM: ‘Moment in time’ is one of the fans favourites from this album. What sparked that song?

Greg: I was lying on a beach in Thailand, and I just thought, everybody has such busy lives. It’s really hard now for people to just grab a moment and just stop and go, I’m going to give you, my attention. I’m not going to be on my phone or checking my watch. I’m going to give you, my attention. That’s something I really need to think about going forward, to be able to manage my mental health and give people a better experience of me. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

MGM: Is Gypsy Queen about someone you know?

Greg: No, it’s not. Normally I write the music and Mike tends to write the lyrics. Around Covid time, I was living in Shropshire and there were a lot of Romany caravans parked on the side of the roads, just north of Bridge North. There were a lot and they all cleaned up after themselves. It was lovely. It was part of the culture of being in Shropshire. And I just got the idea driving around in my car; of people sitting on the side of the road, and it just evolved. I gave Mike the story and he went away and eloquently wrote the lyrics.

MGM: Talk to me a bit about ‘Blue tattoo’ as well. That’s an interesting topic for a song.

Greg: We go out a lot, and it just seems that every time I’ve had an altercation or seen an altercation, it’s been with a lady who’s got blue tattoos. Just weirdly, I just started singing the chorus and I thought, why am I singing that? Ah, that was that time when … ah OK! So, it was a subliminal thing. That’s quite a cheeky funny little song.

MGM: In the last couple of years, the music scene seems to have shifted. Before COVID it seemed that London was at the centre of everything, and a lot of the emerging bands aspired to play there to court the promoters, record labels, and journalists based there. In the last couple of years that’s really shifted, and much of the interesting music is now coming out of places like Wolverhampton, the Midlands, Manchester, and South Wales. As a manager of emerging talent, does that feel familiar?

Greg: Because I live in the Midlands, it always feels like it’s been Midland centric. Our view from where we sit, down to London, is there’s just too much on. So, whenever any bands I know tried to play in London there was always something else on too close, which meant the crowd was split. It didn’t feel like the promoters worked together very well down there, and they were more in competition than collaboration. It was easy to get a gig in London but really hard to get a crowd. It’s something that as a band you have to do, but it’s really hard to get somewhere where you’re going to get a good crowd.

MGM: The Midlands has really embraced these mini-festivals. You’re involved in Mayor’s Fest, but there are many others; Savfest, Call of the Wild, Stonedead …. and they seem to be doing really good business.

Greg: There’s a demand for it and there are some really high-quality bands around. Waking the Angels are playing Call of the Wild in 2024 too.

MGM: You’ve played a number of shows this year including Trillians and Bannermans alongside The Hot One, Two, and you’ve got a couple of shows already announced for next year, including an album launch show in your hometown of Cannock, and then you’ll be at HRH in March, and Call of the Wild. What are your ambitions beyond those shows?

Greg: Because we’re Midlands based, we’ve got a bit of a crowd here. We’ve got to grow out from there. I think if we went down to London now, we might not be able to get a crowd. We have to build out geography-wise and make our way down there over a few months. We’ll be playing all year. We’ll play anywhere. If anybody wants us and can cover our costs, we’ll turn up and play. We’ll be targeting different geographies; we want to play in Nottingham too because that’s a good hub for rock fans.

MGM: As a manager and promoter, you’re representing a whole range of artists including White Tyger, Quiver, White Skies, etc. What is your message to those new bands, now that making money is no longer an option. It seems that at best, being in a band has become a hobby that pays for itself. What’s your view?

Greg: I think being in the music industry is a multi-job job. If you want to make a career of it, you can’t be in a band. You probably have to be in a few bands and it has to be a mix of originals and tribute stuff. Tribute stuff still pays really well. Original bands pays bugger all. So, you do one for fun, one for money, and then you might have to do something else as well, being an electrician or accountant or something. But you’re going to have to do multi jobs. You can’t just go, I’m a guitarist in an originals band because there’s not enough money in it to sustain your life.

MGM: What are your plans for Waking the Angels for 2024? The album is out and you’re playing this launch show, but what would success look like for you?

Greg: It would be great to get onto some more festivals over the summer and to be able to bounce around England and have a decent crowd in each one. When you’re a musician, you want to know that you’re relevant, and people like what you’ve done. So, before you write your second album, you need convincing that that’s the case. If you can play a few festivals and then play around, and the crowds continue to grow, then you have that magic thing called trajectory. As long as you’ve got an upward trajectory, then you’re in the game. I think as soon as you start levelling off or coming down, you’re thinking, why am I doing this? So, success would look like an upward trajectory all year.

 

For more information: www.facebook.com/wakingtheangels/

Waking the Angels will be performing in 2024:

 

27th January:     Album launch show @ The Station, Cannock (supported by White Tyger & Mick White)

9th March:         HRH AOR, Great Yarmouth

26th May:           Call of the Wild festival, Lincolnshire Showground

 

 

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