We caught up with Young Guns’ Gustav Wood in Manchester on their latest UK Tour. Here’s what he had to say on new material, their Foo Fighters cover and musical evolution…
BM: So Echoes came out last year, and it’s a lot different from anything you’ve done before- for a start your first album was a lot heavier. How have you found the reception?
Gustav: Yeah it’s been good, I think one of the things about Echoes is that it’s really important to us that every album does something that the ones before it didn’t. So I think that if you look through all of our albums, from one album compared to the one before it there’s an evolution in the sound. It’s very difficult when you’ve been writing with the same people, the same band for nine or ten years. It’s really important that you are still interested in it and still excited by it. That means you have to try new things; progress, evolve that kind of stuff. That’s really important to us- it’s always a good sign, when people like your first album and they like your new ones as well… It’s difficult because we play to a crowd that in some cases have been with us for nine years, so there’ll always be an opinion of what they think is right. It’s dangerous because if you don’t write what you think you should be writing and instead you write what other people wanna hear… you’re always going to get that wrong.
BM: But on this tour we’ve noticed you’ve been playing In The Night and At The Gates, some really old songs…
Gustav: Well songs like You Are Not we’ve played on basically every tour we’ve ever done, so you think well we shouldn’t play that because there are lots of songs that we haven’t played but we should. But the problem then is that some people of course are like ‘Yeah At The Gates is great’ and others will be like ‘You Are Not is my favourite song and you didn’t even fucking play it’ and both of those arguments are valid.
BM: And it’s more interesting for you guys as well, because if you’re like ‘and this is You Are Not, again…
Gustav: Well when we did In The Night for example, we played it for like two fucking years at every show, because it was one of the only songs we had. So we thought well we probably shouldn’t play that anymore because we played it so much and we have new material and that keeps happening. I mean it’s a good problem to have, having four albums worth of material, but short of playing two and a half hour sets…BM: So how did the Foo Fighters cover come about?
Gustav: Well obviously they’re a band that we love, I’ve loved them since I was a little boy. They’re a hard band to cover because when you cover a song, you’re not going to be able to do it as well as the original artist because it’ their song. We’re not a band that really plays a lot of covers. We have a load of new material but we didn’t really think it made sense to play songs that no one has heard and won’t be coming out for a little while. 99% of these songs people are going to have heard before, so we thought how do we make things interesting and we thought a cover would be fun! That’s one of my favourite songs and its one of their most classic songs but it’s not the most obvious choice, I think the most obvious pick would be like Everlong or Best Of You. It kind of felt like a nice middle ground and the topic of the song is about Kurt Cobain, so it’s about his best friend and how he’s amazing, but really he’s just a normal person. We’ve lost a lot of people, musicians we’ve grown up adoring this year which is really sad, but that song is kind of like a positive song. I guess it’s kind of a little bit of a tribute to the bands that we loved growing up, having lost Chris Cornell Recently and Chester Bennington.
BM: And David Bowie last year
Gustav: Of course, it’s ridiculous. But for a band like us covering someone like David Bowie, as much as we would love it, it would perhaps be a little too left field for some of the people in the audience. So Foo Fighters felt in our lane but fun, and it’s just like a really fun, simple song.
BM: I’m really sorry to backtrack but I wanted to ask if your writing process has changed at all over the years, so with the change in your music have you changed the way you write things as well at all?
Gustav: The first album we wrote with one microphone in the middle of the room and we all just stood around and played. You’ll never hear those demos, they sound so bad. It would take months to do anything because it was five people painting one picture at the same time, it’s really hard. As the years have gone by, our process has definitely become more refined and focussed. Typically nowadays it’s me and John round a laptop with voice note ideas that we already have, showing each other, talking about it and building a song in the demo format on the computer. So we’ve been playing new material after little acoustic sessions; just putting stuff through the PA, and that’s just our own recordings because John is a pretty good producer. So we just record around a computer and program the drums in… It’s kind of an easier way to write these days because with the technology now something can sound great pretty quickly. When you have an idea, it’s a really delicate thing where if you work on it and it goes well, you have a whole song but if you fuck it up and it goes wrong that idea is just gone. So these days it’s me and John, a laptop, a microphone and guitars. We’re a bit obsessive so we tend to just not sleep until we’ve done it, so we can come out of our rehearsal space two days later with a song done.BM: Have your individual music interests changed and influenced the evolution of the music?
Gustav: Well it’s interesting because we’ve never said ‘we want this song or this album to sound like this band or that band’, we’ve always just tried to write stuff that were excited about. I think when we started that was good because we didn’t sound like any of our peers at the time. But it was hard because we would never fit on a tour, because we’d end up on like a hard-core tour or an 80’s rock tour or whatever. Over the years bands have kind of come into our lane and we’ve found ourselves in a nice little group. Deaf Havana, the You Me At Six guys, all these kinds of bands that have grown we’re all very close now. Our music tastes have changed because music tastes do, but really I think Young Guns have a sound and I think whatever style we do with whatever song I think there’s an anthemic quality to our choruses just naturally because of the way I write melodies. I love pop music so that’s where that comes from… I don’t really know how I would describe our sound but I think that although we’ve added elements, keyboards and things like that over the years the core style has always remained the same. That’s just because we write what we want to hear and not think about anything else.
BM: That’s really good though, definitely. It’s nice to hear when there’s a lot of people doing things nowadays that they think people want to hear.
Gustav: I think it’s more dangerous to go down that path because you can write a song and have people not like it and that happens, you’ve got to expect that. But the worst thing is when you write something and it sounds insincere, if it sounds fake or like you’re trying to be X or Y or whatever. I think people see through that.
BM: You can tell when the musicians don’t enjoy themselves.
Gustav: You really can. So we’ve always just tried to make sure that we’re pleasing ourselves and hopefully all the other pieces will fall into line after. They don’t always, but that’s the way it goes!
BM: So how have the acoustic sessions been going for you?
Gustav: Yeah really good, we’ve been playing these acoustic sets of five songs and then when we’re talking to people, taking pictures and hanging out, what we do is play full demos over the PA. So we have like four songs that just go round whilst were talking to people.
BM: Have you had a good reception for those as well?
Gustav: Yeah we have, I actually think it’s a rally strong set of songs that we have too. They’re probably heavier I would say, they’re all pretty in your face and I’m actually really excited about them. I think people are gonna be really impressed.
BM: So is that your next move, releasing new music? There was only about a year between Ones and Zeros and Echoes wasn’t there.
Gustav: Yeah, there wasn’t very long at all. But between Ones and Zeros and Bones was like three years because we ended up getting quite lucky and we had some success in America which was great because it’s such a big place, whereas were doing a UK tour here and its 6 dates long, that’s short but you can do it. In America, a short tour would be two weeks. So you do 5 tours in America, that’s a year and a half.BM: You all have interests outside of the band, do any of these influence your creativity or stage aesthetic?
Gustav: Yeah I definitely think so, me and Fraser have always been quite visual, and we mainly tend to be the ones that take care of the artwork and the photography. Fraser has really come on quickly because he hasn’t really been taking photos that long, but he’s got a really great sense of style and he’s very good. So it’s really fun sitting down planning photo shoots, like the Echoes photoshoots- we did those ourselves. We spent time on it but we did it. It’s really fun getting into that whole thing. Simon is the guy nowadays that kind of takes care of all our merchandise; we kind of partition everything and all have specific roles. I’m always the guy that’s talking to directors for videos and stuff like that (even though they never fucking come out how I want). But that’s a much more effective way to do things, back in the day it would be all five of us making every decision and it’s fucking impossible and you just argue all the time. So these days it’s kind of like this is you, this is me, lets come back together when we all have what we’ve done. That’s a much better way to go about it. We’ve been together enough time now that we know each other inside out, we can read each other. Sometimes we butt heads which is normal, but this way it kind of keeps things a little neat. Simon is also super into cooking so he also does that as well, me and John are very kind of music focussed.
BM: You’ve been playing Manchester for a number of years, mostly in this building but different rooms. Is it cool to see the same people coming back all the time?
Gustav: Yeah definitely. When I was growing up the UK scene wasn’t as prolific, there weren’t as many bands. When I was a kid my favourite bands were like Deftones, Foo Fighters, Tool all these kind of bands and you see them maybe once every three years. When I started going to shows I was the only person in my circle of friends who was into the music I was into so I would go to shows with my older brother. I never had it as kind of a social thing and that’s something I really like seeing. You meet people who have met at our shows, then you see them again and see friendships have formed and they have started to do things together outside of coming to our shows, it’s really cool to see things like that happen.
BM: So what’s next, are you planning on releasing the tracks you’ve been playing at the acoustic shows or are you planning on touring more?
Gustav: We’re probably not gonna do that much more touring right now. We’ve been writing almost this entire year, we took some time out to do to the Lower Than Atlantis tour and now were doing this and there’s some festivals that we’ve done. We’ve probably written 18 or 19 songs and we want to write just a few more, maybe five or six more and then the conversation is whether we release a single or go straight into doing an album. It’s a big thing at the moment because the music industry is a very strange place; personally I’m much more into the idea of releasing a series of singles and a campaign as you would for an album… Shoot a video for each one and then release that as like an EP and do a big tour off of that, go away for a few months and do it again as opposed to an album. Because often, what happens is you spend a year writing an album, drop one or two singles before the album comes out, then the album comes out, you do the tour and then it’s kind of over. Releasing singles after the album has been released can be kind of hard because people have heard all the music, the excitement isn’t quite the same so I would like the idea of being a singles based band where you’re always able to tour and you always have something new coming out. Then you go away for a few months to another country, come back and do it again. And no-one is buying music anymore, so the way that people listen is streaming. I don’t know if I love that, but that’s just the way it is. You don’t have a choice and you have to adapt. If you focus on writing one song as opposed to 20 or however many you’re going to choose an album out of, you can actually focus on that one song. If you’re writing and recording a whole bunch of songs at the same time, it’s very hard to keep an equal focus on every song and get it as good as it could be. Whereas say you wrote a song a month, that’s thirty days of writing one song as opposed to three months writing fourteen and you can focus on quality over quantity a little more. So some new music will be coming out next year, the format which we just haven’t decided yet!
Photo Credit: Erin Moore @ Forte Photography UK