With The Truth Ain’t What it Used to Be landing last week and going on tour to coincide with the release to open for Black Star Riders, there’s misfortune looming around the Glasgow date of the tour. Namely since Wayward Sons weren’t meant to be here and Black Star Riders were meant to open for Saxon but Biff Byford’s recent health issues put paid to that. Black Star Riders were since moved to headlining a venue firm becoming a favourite amongst the town’s rock community and Wayward Sons coming along for the ride.
Despite being a relatively new band, Wayward Sons have quickly established a name for themselves on the rock scene and never far from the UK’s touring circuit and the band’s fearless leader, Toby Jepson, needs no introduction. Immediately, he’s all smiles, infectiously passionate and keen to chat about the band’s latest chapter and where he wants to take it beyond the present, his recent work with local favourites Anchor Lane and upcoming ventures with Lightning in a Bottle.
Welcome back to Glasgow! How’s the tour going so far?
Yeah, great! This is only the fifth show. So far, so good! We’ve all picked up a bit of a cold which seems to be the way of things with touring; I sort of always anticipate it. But, no, it’s been brilliant… it’s Ricky Warwick, it’s Black Star Riders; they’re a fantastic live act and to be part of that as our first tour on this album is brilliant. They’re generous people so we’re treated really lovely and the audiences have been brilliant. If anyone says classic rock, rock and roll is dead in this country, they haven’t a single clue what’s going on. It’s been packed houses and rabid responses. Most people seem to think it’s a bunch of old farts gathering around the front. There’s an awful lot of youngsters as well so I think our chosen genre is alive and well.
This date almost didn’t happen, right?
Yeah, because of poor old Biff [Byford]. People know he’s had a heart operation recently. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago when he was just out of hospital – he’s doing well. These things happen, what can you do? I wish Biff well obviously, as we all do, and at least we were able to come and do it at all. I know the promoters, Duncan and the guys at Triple G, worked really hard to find another venue in such a short space of time. I’ve never played this venue but what a great place! Yet another fantastic venue in Glasgow; you’re spoiled, really! [laughs]
The album’s been out for a week now, how have fans and critics taken to it?
Phenomenal, really. I don’t know… you spend a year and a half making a record, you live with it every day, you gnash your teeth, you pull your hair out trying to figure out if you’ve done it right or wrong. The only thing that matters is what the fans think about it and so far the response has been overwhelming, really. The magazines have reacted really well to it and we’re getting great radio play, I couldn’t be happier. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess but we’re only a week in, as you say. This is our fifth show on this album campaign. I’ve got a lot of expectation but I don’t feel I’ve got any entitlement about success, I feel this has to be done by merit, I want people to enjoy this record because they love songs, they love the band. We’re going to keep playing live as much as we possibly can and take the music out there and see what happens.
A bit of both. I encountered a bit of writer’s block for a while because I was absolutely terrified about making this record. The first one had been quite a critical success… and a commercial success, really, for us. I hadn’t faced the idea of having to make a follow-up record to a successful record for so many years. The last time I had to do that was Don’t Pray For Me with Little Angels, y’know? So it did take me aback a little bit because I was like “Oh, my goodness, what do I do now? Have I got anything to say?” But, of course, we’ve been in the maelstrom of Brexit and the terrible nature of Donald Trump’s presidency and all the fallout from that and that was enough inspiration, really. I’m older, and I’m a bit angrier, and also a lot more experienced so I now have the voice to say the things I want to say. So as soon as I tapped that vein and I started writing, it was quite an outpouring and I wrote fifty-six songs for this record. It sounds crazy but it’s the truth. And it took a long time to filter it down, not all of them were great, obviously. I had to take them into the band and we all discussed them and we figured it out.
But what was happening was – when you write, any artist of any denomination at all whatsoever, whether you’re a fine artist or a poet or whatever, it must be the same process – often, the glut of material you write is a filtering process in your own head. It filters down, one thing leads to another, you write something, you get a trail, you tap that vein, you figure out what that’s about, you put that aside and then something comes off of that. It’s a journey. So by the time I started figuring out which songs were really sticking, I started seeing there was absolutely a narrative trail and I started sculpting the lyrics so each song had a reason to be there and how they related to each other. It’s not a mystery how we sequenced the record either; each song has a reason to be in the position. I’m not going to reveal all those reasons – I want people to find out for themselves. There’s a lot of lyrical connections, there’s general narrative connections, there’s musical connections. It’s very borderline to a concept record but really it isn’t. It kind of happened as a natural process than an organised one. It’s more a protest record, really.
There’s been a couple of years between the albums but it gave you a lot of opportunities. You said you didn’t want the gap between this album and the third to be as long, is that still the intention?
Absolutely! The only reason we left two years is because that’s just the way the modern conceit happens for most bands because it’s just so difficult. Even though the Internet… we know what that’s all about with streaming. Actually, in a crazy way, it’s made things even more difficult because there has to be a motivation, there has to be a reason. Quite often, records disappear very quickly, you’ve got to build up a head of steam. Trying to get people to press “play” and listen to anything for more than three seconds these days is bloody hard enough. But I still maintain with a band like us and when you’ve got a concept behind it, in terms of the way the band are live… Look at our album sleeves, there’s a reason why we have these things, we’re trying to build a universe around us. We want people to take part in the universe. I don’t want people to wait for that.
I said to the label, “Let’s get the second record out but the third album I want it to follow as close to a year behind it as I can possibly manage.” Now we might not manage to make it exactly a year because we’ll probably be on the road, still touring this record [laughs]. It may well be that we have to take a little bit of time… but it isn’t going to be two years. We’ve already recorded half a dozen songs for the third record anyway so we’re halfway there.
Where’s the direction of the new material going?
It’ll be a natural progression from this one. I don’t think I’ve got an organised plan in my head ever but what I do is trust my instincts and trust the artistic endeavour of it. Like I said, because this record formed itself in many ways, I trust that again. I think the third album will be… It’s one thing writing songs, it’s another thing making a record. Obviously they’re very closely related but you have to decide to make records a certain way. This second record was very much a more complex process, a lot wider, a deeper palette, a lot longer in the recording process. We were in the studio for, all told, eight or nine weeks, which is the longest I’ve spent in a studio since the Little Angels days when budgets were decent, frankly so it took a lot longer.
I want this band to end up being a standalone rock and roll band that anyone can like. I don’t want to be part of any movement; I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in this just people liking it because the songs are fucking great and the band are fucking cool. That’s it. All of that feeds into how the next batch of songs will appear. What I do know is it will get more sophisticated.
Well, only in as much that I know what I’m doing. I’ve made so many records, I can’t count them [laughs]. I go into a studio with a strong work ethic and I drive from the front. But I do like when I’m making my own records to have someone else viewing it from a distance, that’s what a producer’s job is. That’s why I have Chris D’Adda, who is the guy I co-produce these records with, Chris is the studio owner and is a superb engineer. So I gave him the reins and said, “Look, I want you to view it and if you think I’m making a mistake, you’ve got to tell me. Don’t just allow me to get on with it.” And he did! [laughs] It’s a relationship, y’know?
I’m toying with the idea on the next album to bring a producer in, actually. So I’m not in that seat at all so I can separate myself as an artist from that production. You do tend to end up jumping on the computer and sitting on it, fucking around with outboard equipment and stuff like that and before you know it, it’s three in the morning.
You’ve also recently produced Anchor Lane’s upcoming debut album. What was it like to work with them?
They were great! I think they’ve got a great future ahead of them, mainly because they’ve got a slightly different voice. They’re inventive, the only reason I got involved with them is because of one song I heard on the demos and that was enough. There was a lot of stuff they sent me I didn’t like, I’m going to be honest. There was one particular song I thought, “Hang on a minute, there’s something else going on here…” I recognised the journey because I remember that with Little Angels. We wrote a load of guff to begin with and then I had a sparky moment where I wrote a song called “No Solution” and that was the song which got us our record deal. But amongst all the other stuff we’d written… [laughs]… it was a diamond in the rough! But that’s the process, you have to go through a process of understanding who you are, how you write, what voice you’ve got, what you’re trying to say, all these things.
When I met with them, I was chatting to them and I could see that spark of ingenuity. I think Conor’s a fantastic singer, I think Lawrence is an absolute find; they’re all great players. They’ve got everything they need to be a big band. Their process has got to be about, like it will be, because they’ve got great management with Dougie [Souness] – he’s a fantastic guy, they’ll got through that process of learning and figuring themselves out. If they can stay the distance and keep their nerve, they’ve got a really good chance. And that’s more than I would say for most bands I’ve come across in recent years.
Towards the end of the year, you’re undertaking a slightly different tour with Lightning in a Bottle. What can you tell us about that?
Yeah, that’s a search. That’s mine and Rob’s [Town] eternal search to find great bands. And also, we feel that our practical application to music is far greater in terms of its potency than sat on a computer, looking at people through a screen. We do a lot of that, we do online consultations. But I said to Rob, “We need to be in the room.” We’re at our best when we’re activating young people and their music in the moment. And believe me, the process of working with a band in a room for two or three hours when they bring a couple of songs: that’s the process. That’s what it’s going to be. We’re going to invite bands to come and take part in this whole endeavour, there’s a lot of conversation, there’s discussion, there’s a Q&A about the music business so we can dispel some of the myths about the music business. Because most people have a completely and utterly skewed view of what it’s all about in actual reality. So we’ve got a plan for that so people can get a better view. Really, it’s all about the music. I know one of my greatest strengths, as a producer, is the actual in-the-moment stuff so we will be taking songs apart and helping bands to understand where their strengths lie and helping them put an arrangement back together over two or three tunes and giving them some pointers about how they go forward with their rehearsal technique; things like that.
So it’s a crash course in “How do we get ourselves out of this rut? How do we get ourselves beyond where we are now?” Because 99% of the time with bands, they don’t have anyone like us around them to help them with that stuff. They might have their mates blowing in their ears, they might have their mums and dads adoring them and their friends. But that’s not the same as music business people who have been in it for thirty years like I have and Rob has. We feel that we want to give that out and build that relationship but I am genuinely trying to find some bands to work with on a longer-term basis. And there’s so much talent out there – I remain hopeful…
Lastly, what else does 2020 have in store for Wayward Sons?
Lots of touring! Lots and lots and lots of touring! I think this record can run and run. We feel very passionate about what we’ve been able to achieve on this album. We’re looking at festivals, we’re going out with Steel Panther in January. We will be doing headline dates, I would think in May, late May, that’s the rough plan. Festivals through the summer, more European touring in the back end of the year, lots of other stuff going on as well… It’s a process. You’ve got from point A to point B before you know what C is. I’ve been in this game for so long now, nothing fazes me. I know the feeling you get when you know something’s working and right now, it feels like it’s working. So I’m going to carry on and follow that trail.