Meet The Band: Wayward Sons

Wayward Sons
Frontiers Music

This week, Wayward Sons are in the Meet The Band spotlight. They were formed by Toby Jepson (Little Angels, Fastway), who stepped away from the spotlight for several years to focus on producing bands like Saxon and the Virginmarys. He introduces us to Wayward Sons, whose debut album is Ghosts Of Yet To Come.

Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Wayward Sons.
Toby Jepson: the band came into being after Frontiers approached me with the offer to make a record, so I immediately wanted it to be a band project rather than any kind of solo effort. The guys in the band had never played together, but I hand picked them because I had a feeling that it was going to work! I’ve know Nic Wastell for nearly 30 years and we had always threatened to work together and he was hugely instrumental in the project actually coming to fruition, just a great guy and a big motivator for me.

Sam is a young player I had met producing his band the year or so before and we got on great so I asked and he agreed! Phil, I had seen play with Joe Elliot and loved his style and so he was the only guy I called for the drum stool. Dave Kemp is the only member that I have worked with before and we have a great working relationship so it was an easy choice. We got together in early 2016, and from the first rehearsal it was obvious it was working! Very exciting actually, and it wasn’t long before we were heading into the studio to record what ended up as the debut album Ghosts Of Yet To Come. That brief enough? (laughs)

Why was the timing right for you to move from behind the console back in front of the mic again?
I had actually decided to call a half to my ‘artist’ days for a time around about the end of my stint in Dio’s Disciples, mainly because I had been singing with various bands over a period of about 8 or so years – Gun and Fastway included – and although those experiences were wonderful, I had grown tired of singing other people’s songs and felt I wasn’t really advancing myself as an artist, etc., so I had sort of agreed with myself to stop live work in general until I could find a situation where I could author new work and genuinely have a serious approach to it.

I then buried myself in the production and writing projects I was working on and kind of forgot about it. It was then that Serafino and Mario from Frontiers came knocking and were incredibly supportive about the idea of me making a fresh start! Couple that with Nic Wastell’s encouragement and I decided – after initially knocking it back to be honest – that the signs were there and I’d be a fool to not at least have conversations with them and to get a plan together. Thankfully, it really did reignite my passion for being in a band and the rest kind of fell into place pretty quickly. It makes a huge difference when you have people surrounding you that show real desire to help and see you succeed, and this is what I felt Frontiers were offering me, and I cannot thank those guys enough.

Describe the songwriting and recording process for Ghosts Of Yet To Come.
I knew from the moment I accepted the proposal to make this record that I wanted to write about some subjects that meant a lot to me, to explore my anger and frustration at world events as well as my own personal inner demons, so the narrative of the album became essential to get right. I didn’t want this record to be simply riff driven, or the sonics be the center of it all, it had to be about what I was saying, and how I said it. It needed to be my truth, warts and all. A very song centric album for want of better description. So I spent quite a bit of time filling the reservoir by revisiting and falling in love all over again with my favorite albums, and being as honest as I could be about my genuine touchstone artist and records, some of which surprised me!

I found that even though the usual suspects were there, I was also as much as interested in bringing my love of British punk rock – GBH, Anti Nowhere League, Pistols and also the American and European new wave of the late ’70s/early ’80s – Blondie, Elvis Costello, etc. – to the table, as in all honesty, a lot of that sound has accompanied me as an artist in equal measure as my hard rock heroes. It’s funny, but long ago, I realized I’d grown tired of the labels, and just started listening to music! It’s either good or bad to me, it just so happens I love the sound of loud guitars! It’s always about the songs, and what the artist has to say and so that has been my driving force, especially this time around.

So I began to write ideas and very quickly I had amassed around 20 or so starts that were in various forms of being created, so there were a few titles immediately that seemed right. In fact, “Until the End” and “Give It Away” were there from the very start. After that I took the ideas into the band rehearsal room where I offered the bones to the band and we all fleshed them out. Sam was brilliant at taking a half developed riff of mine and making it into something more useable and Nic the same. In fact he wrote the riff for “Alive” and I put a song around it, so it ended up being a very collaborative album with everyone contributing to the process. I did write all the lyrics and top line melodies, but with me they tend to come along at the exact same time as the chord/riff development, so some of the songs were pretty whole really when I took them in, but I wanted this to be very much a band album and so the sound of the band then became the backbone of the narrative.

How would you characterize the style/sound of the album?
It’s a hard rock album, with a strong social conscience. I think it has a fresh sound, we literally recorded the album live off the floor, so the attitude was everything in terms of the sound we made. It all goes into the DNA of making a record, so the more you lean into the feeling, the more it shows itself. It’s a very human thing for me to make music, and I don’t agree with the modern concept that every thing has to be perfectly in time and in tune, because the human experience of music is so layered and also unique to every listener that I feel compelled to offer a real experience born of real playing and real people doing real things with musical instruments! Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always believed that music is an emotional connection and not something created in a lab or for a market. If you chase that stuff, it’s over before it starts, in my opinion.

What inspired the album title?
It is the central message of the record. I believe that we, as communities all over the world, specifically in the developed wealthy first world, have become somewhat detached from reality where we view everything through a screen, make our judgments based on how many of our Facebook friends agree with our status, rather than seeking the facts and making a human judgement call. We jump to conclusions, attack from behind a keyboard, say anything, no matter how ill judged and informed, and somehow it has become acceptable to behave terribly towards often the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our societies.

We dismiss clear fact in favor of what we want to hear and sadly many find it easy to have no sympathy with others in terrible situations. This is leading to mass paranoia and hysteria. I genuinely don’t know what has happened to common sense. I guess giving everyone a platform to announce themselves has had as many negative results as positive, and so the title represents that modern phenomenon. We’re terrified of things that have not yet happened due to the overhype and desensitization. The song and ultimately, the whole record, seeks to stimulate the discussion about what I feel are some of the most important questions facing our world right now: Who are we? What have we become? Where do we want to go? And how long can we keep this up? I do it with a wry smile as well as meaning every bloody word whilst we rock hard!

What are your goals and expectations for the record?
All I can say is that I’ve made the best record I can with the best people I know and I hope the message gets through enough for us to be able to tour and play our music to as many as will listen. Beyond that my expectations are based on whether people like the music. I have not one jot of entitlement about this album, this music. This band has to be taken on merit and that will cause it’s death or its life. I have no desire to go through the motions, it too important to me, so if it connects and the band can carry on because of that connection then I’m willing to take it as far as is humanly possible.

What has the early response been like?
So far so good! We made a series of videos that tell a story across a four song release, and we have been releasing each one every month in turn and they have largely been met with a positive reaction. It’s a zombie tale, so some have hated it! (laughs) I guess due to all the Walking Dead TV series etc, but I love the allegory that it represents. In fact, my inspiration came more from George Romero more than anything modern, and he was the master!

The great thing is that radio seems to be really into it and we’ve been blown away by the pace at which it has gathered since the first track “Until the End” was released. Again, I told all the PR folk to give out the press release and the music and not to push too hard as I’ve always believed in the music doing the talking. No amount of persuasion will work if the music doesn’t do it! The fans have certainly got behind it, and it continues to grow day by day, so I’m very hopeful, but not expecting anything, again, as I said above, this has to be real!

You’ve shot several videos for the album. What is the role of music videos these days?
It’s massive again isn’t it? There was a time when without a video on heavy rotation on MTV you had no chance, and then it disappeared until the YouTube phenomenon erupted and here we are again! Everything is the visual image and it’s important to use the medium to promote the music. For me it was an opportunity to indulge my love of cinema and also have some fun. I’m tired of seeing endless cheap band videos showing a band in a studio or live on stage, etc., so I sought out a young director – Jay Hillyer – here in the UK and he helped me put together the concept. I wrote it like a zombie fan boy, and we shot it over two days in Leicester in the UK. He’s part of the new vanguard of young directors that have never known a time without music videos and he cleverly uses the technology to create amazing content for a fraction of the cost! We had a lot of fun as well as creating something quite unique, and this is something we will continue to do as we grow as a band. I love it!

You’ve only played a few, but what has been your most memorable Wayward Sons live show so far?
The first show we did EVER was in Bristol in the UK, and it was sold out! I was so nervous, but it worked great. It was a bit seat of the pants, but I think that fed into the feeling in the room, there was a genuine feeling of anticipation from the audience and from us. We all want this to work, for this to go on and we all feel the music is individual enough and a strong enough to stand up and be counted. But of course it is all dependent on the band being convincing and passionate enough to allow the audience to truly believe, and by the end of the show, I was certain that despite its ‘warts and all’ we gelled. The other shows were festivals that presented all the usual problems, including terrible weather! It rained so heavily over the weekend, but I don’t think we embarrassed ourselves, but there was no denying that we were a bit like rabbits in the headlights. (laughs) I also lost my voice on the last show in Wales which was due to illness, so we had it all. It was a bit like a baptism by fire. Can’t wait for the next shows!

What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
We are about to tour with UK band Inglorious and also a few shows with UFO over here and then it will be into Europe early next year and hopefully the festivals across the board next summer. We also have plans to begin headline touring into clubs probably in the spring. We would love to get over to the US ASAP, but that will depend on how the record is received. I have a long term serious plan for touring the U.S. I’ve played there quite a bit and absolutely love it so I cannot rest until we bring the band over!

What did you learn from producing other artists that you’ve been able to apply to your own music?
The main thing is to be honest with your music, have something to say. So many acts that I have worked with are obsessed with the recording process and don’t spend enough time examining what it is that their music means and why it is there in the first place. It’s not enough just to want to play music, you have to have a point, a reason to exist and so a lot of my work has been to help bands uncover these answers and to make the best of themselves, rather than just be a lesser version of their favorite bands. My mantra is be yourself no matter what.

The promotional process has changed a lot since you’ve started. Now the fans can be taken along for the entire process beginning in the studio. Do you like the transparency, or do you prefer the mystery of the old days when an album would be released without months of publicity?
It’s a double edged sword for me. I have chosen to embrace the whole social media world as it is a very potent place and and incredibly powerful tool to get your music heard, but I don’t give everything away. I prefer the mystery to remain enough to keep the joy there. I love the fans and they deserve my attention because they give me all theirs when they buy or entertain my music. I’m lucky to have such a loyal following and it is a genuine privilege, I don’t take any of it for granted. However, this is still and art form that needs a healthy level of fantasy and mystery surrounding it or else it loses its potency, so I’m careful.

What, if anything can be done with the industry to make it more financially viable for musicians?
More of the revenues or certainly a higher percentage of them earned from the various streaming platforms should be given back to the artists. It’s crazy for a site to offer someone’s work that then has millions of streams for the artist to earn such a tiny amount! The industry got it so wrong at the start of the Internet explosion that the horse had bolted as they shut the door! It good to see that physical sales are still holding up though and I do think that if a band can attract a following big enough to keep interested, then direct to fan merchandise/experiences can be profitable enough to support a band’s development, but it has to be very high quality and also good value for money. Beyond that, the elephant in the room, is that the major labels that remain are simply not investing in the long term development of enough young artists and bands! Where are the next headlining bands? The new Metallica? Foo Fighters? Bands like them need years of commitment and financial support, it doesn’t happen with one album.

As a former Dio Disciples member, what do you think of the Ronnie James Dio hologram, which will again be part of Dio Disciples shows during their tour later this year?
Firstly, the emotional motivation of Wendy and the guys in the band will be 100 percent correct. Ronnie’s music is part of us all and he created some of the most significant hard rock music ever, so he is missed by us all. I don’t doubt that it will be odd for the fans to see him singing again, but I think it will be done with love and great weight, and I’m sure will go down very well. The lads in the band are absolute professionals and I’m sure have every intention of making it as honorable as possible. I hope to go see it and with a bit of luck, say hello to everyone.

What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I’m re-listening to a lot of my faves again, like Elvis Costello – This Years Model and Armed Forces. I have been back into the early work of Sabbath quite a bit, the first six albums really. I love Master of Reality especially. Also, Soundgarden – Superunknown has been on the car stereo for a week or two.

Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
All I can say is that I’m really happy with the album Ghosts Of Yet To Come and hope to reach your shore as soon as we can! Rock n’ roll is alive and well and we intend to keep it that way! Cheers!

(interview published September 16, 2017)

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