» Toby Jepson - Wayward Sons
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Interview conducted January 22 2020
Interview published February 9 2020

"But, especially when you get a record deal, you start touring and you make records, it changes quite quickly, and dramatically, and it ceases to be a simple joy and it starts to become a business."

Metal Covenant talked with Wayward Sons' main man Toby Jepson when the band was in Stockholm supporting Steel Panther a couple of weeks ago.

Tobbe: Wayward Sons' new album [The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be] was out in October and now with some distance to it, tell me briefly about it.

Toby: Well, second record, obviously, and I think people, well, certainly in the UK there's always this discussion about "The difficult second record.". You know, how hard it's gonna be to make it and "What else have you got to say?" and all that sort of stuff. And it was quite tough, I got to be honest. But now I think we're very pleased with it. It took quite a lot of doing. I mean, I think I had to sort of find my way back into the writing process again, 'cause the first album took us by surprise. Ghosts Of Yet To Come [2017] was a success in a way that we didn't expect it. Even though it's a little label, certainly from a kind of critical point of view, it made a decent impact.

And then I had Frontiers banging on the door, "When will we have a second record?" and I was like "Oh. Okay." and I started thinking what to talk about, you know. So it took me a little while, you know. But once I kind of figured out what I wanted to say, and I tapped the vein, I couldn't stop writing. I ended up writing 56 songs for the record. Most of it probably utterly rubbish. But that's the process. You have to filter that down and eventually, you know, "Where is the heart of the record?". So that took a little while. And I did a different recording process this time. Instead of doing it in one hit, we did 4 separate sessions.

So it gave me time to reflect on the songs, go away and write some bits, or rewrite stuff, rearrange things, and go back in the studio again. So it was quite a marathon making it, so when we came to release it I was so sick of hearing it and I couldn't tell if it was good. [Laughs] You take sort of a leap of faith and you sort of go "Okay. Well, let's just see what people think.".

But fortunately it has gone down great and I think the interesting thing for me is that the reception of the album has been exactly what I hoped, which is the fact that people could see that we're expanding as a band musically. We're trying other things. And so far so good. You know, we're on this tour with the Panther guys and we've got a lot of festivals in the summer. So I'm just hoping it'll keep continue to pick up speed and people will keep continue to enjoy it and we'll see where it'll go, you know.

Tobbe: And did you put lyrics to all of these songs as well or only lyrics to songs that ended up on the album?

Toby: No, I wrote all the lyrics. I mean, the way I write is I write everything. You know, if I write a song, it's melody, words, progression and riffs. All as one. I don't ever just have a riff. Because I don't think that's the point. The heart of the song is in the words. You know, "What is it you're trying to say?". So I got to get to that. So there's a lot of songs left over.

Tobbe: The influences of your music are obviously rooted in the '70s and would it be tough for you to come out in these days writing stuff that is not based on stuff you grew up with?

Toby: I think the way I look at it is that I don't really think of it like that. I'm quite a purist. I don't sit down and go "I'm going to do that for this reason.". I have a bit of a process. This album is very much me reacting to the current global situation. You know, the words and the idea are very specifically about "What the fuck are we doing?". How we ended up in this position, you know. So that, as far as I'm concerned, is now. That's happening now. And that's what I wanna talk about. In terms of the way that the songs sound I don't write in any particular fashion.

I don't go looking to try and write anything. What I do is I react to the way I'm feeling at the time, and whether that was back in the 1980s or whether it's right now, it's the same thing for me, you know. I'm not interested in trying to be current, I'm not interested in telling those kinds of lines. I'm interested in making good music, I'm interested in recording good songs, in the best possible way I can, and I hope people like it. If they don't, then that's out of my control.

Tobbe: What do you personally listen to these days, that might influence your music, even now or in the future?

Toby: I mean, everything. 'Cause I produce records, you know. So I work with a lot of young bands. I'm not stuck in a bubble. I'm not constantly listening to Queen records, even though I am. I am taking care of listening to what's going on. I mean, I worked with a lot of youngsters and what's interesting to me is that the vast majority young bands that I work with have very, very similar influences in their music as I do.

I worked with a band from Scotland recently, called Anchor Lane, and they're a new band. They're 18, 19 and 20. That sort of age. They're favorite band is Black Sabbath. They listen to Deep Purple. They listen to Alter Bridge, but they also love Queen. So I was stunned by working with them. They hold those things dear. Now whether that's because that's their father's influence, or their grandfather's, or whether it's just they discovered it themselves, as far as I'm concerned, I don't think it matters, actually.

Tobbe: In regards to the music that you come out with: How can you attract younger listeners to listen to Wayward Sons?

Toby: That's the difficult moment. I'll tell you what. I trust in the writing, I trust in the songs, I trust in the things I'm trying to actually say. And there is no barometer with that. There is no way you can say "Oh, that will attract a young audience.". I don't know what that is. I often sort of think if you listen to, say, something like… Let me make a good example… Royal Blood, okay? Royal Blood sounds like Black Sabbath remixed to me. It does, you know. They're a fucking huge band in the UK, but you could put that next to Sabotage, you could put that next to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and the riffs are very similar and it has got a similar impression.

The only difference is that the sonic is different. But the intensity is the same. So it has all to do with generations, isn't it really? I don't know whether any band ever in the world has sat down and gone "I want your audience.". We all sit down and go "We wanna write the best music we can." and hope for the best, you know. I don't know how to answer that question, to be honest. [Laughs] I just hope people like the music.

Tobbe: So tell me about your first couple of meetings with music when you were younger?

Toby: Well, I grew up in a household of music. My dad was what would probably be regarded as a first-generation teenager. He was born in 1947, just after the Second World War. He grew up in the '50s. His world was influenced by the very early doors of rock 'n' roll. Bill Haley and all those people. Then, as he became a young man, it was The Who, The Kinks and all those bands. So when I was a kid, when I was 5-6 years old, when I can remember… We didn't have TV in our house, so every morning I woke up to fantastic music, 'cause my dad was a massive music fan.

So I would wake up to The Beatles one morning, The Who the next morning, The Mamas And The Papas the next morning. Then he was really, really into soul music, so I'd get Wilson Pickett and Joe Tex and all these fantastic artists. So I think my early learning was happening to me before I even really knew it was happening to me, do you know what I mean? So when I now think back to that period, that was probably my biggest impression really. Certainly from a melodic point of view.

And I still go back to The Beatles, David Bowie and Queen and all these great artists that he was playing. But really, when I was a teenager, when I was getting into rock 'n' roll, it was Sabbath and Saxon, and quite a lot of the obvious. But also, at the time, it was an exciting period… When I was 13-14, Def Leppard were blowing up big, and, you know, they were a huge influence on everybody, because it was an English band making it big in America, so they were a big influence

Tobbe: What do you remember from picking up your first instrument?

Toby: Well, I'm still not very good. I don't know; it's a hard one to answer. I remember my mom saying "You should go and learn to play the piano.", but I couldn't get on with it, 'cause I found it really difficult. And so she said "Well, maybe guitar then.", so I thought "I definitely wanna play the guitar.". And that was around the period I started to get into rock 'n' roll. That was when I was about 12-13. I bought my first couple of records and I got heavily into Jimi Hendrix and I had posters of Jimi on the wall and I wanted to play a Stratocaster and I wanted to be a guitar player.

But I quickly understood about myself that I was never gonna have the patience. It was never gonna be something I was gonna be able to commit to. So that's why I started singing and writing songs really. I quickly came to understand I was more interested in songs than I was in an instrument. I was more interested in the things that people were writing about and what they were trying to say. When I was, 13-14 maybe, I was kind of like "Well, I'll just learn enough to write my own songs.". [Laughs] And I've never gone on from there.

Tobbe: You've been part of many projects and bands over the years and what makes Wayward Sons different from all those projects and bands?

Toby: Because it's my own thing. I mean, I worked with Fast Eddie Clarke in Fastway, and did the Dio Disciples tour, and I was in that Scottish band Gun for a while as well. I mean, they were all great and I had great fun with them all, but the problem with them is it's other people's music. It's not my own music, you know. I mean, we had such success with Little Angels in the UK and in various parts of the world, and I just had a hankering to do that again.

But it had to be on my own terms, you know. I didn't want it to be a construct. I wanted it to be real; as authentic as possible. So working with these guys in the band… You know, once I kind of decided I was gonna do it and I accepted Frontiers' offer, the quest really was to find the right people. And I've been working with Nic [Wastell], the bass player, for a long time. He was in Chrome Molly, and Little Angels used to open for Chrome Molly when we were kids, so he was a good mate of mine. And Dave Kemp [Keyboards] was in the Little Angels. He played saxophone for us.

So by the time I kind of put the band together, it was a bunch of friends really, you know. And I think that's the difference. I think being in a band is actually about the people. It's about how you can conduct yourself. Like we were saying last night, it's a bit like a social experience being in a band really. You know what I mean? You're in a bubble. And it's hard; it's not easy. But these guys are great, and we have fun, and it's a joy. That's what makes it different.

Tobbe: You were quite young when you got some recognition there in the beginning with Little Angels and how were you able to, like, mentally handle those somewhat successful days?

Toby: It wasn't easy. It was not easy at all. Oh dear! How do you explain that? You know, when you're starting a band you have the dream, you have the aspiration, you're driven by desire to emulate your heroes. This is the truth, because you've seen all your favorite artists doing it and you wanna do that.

But, especially when you get a record deal, you start touring and you make records, it changes quite quickly, and dramatically, and it ceases to be a simple joy and it starts to become a business. All of a sudden there's a manager, there's an agent, there's press people, there's this, there's that, there's tour managers. I remember feeling, when I was about 22-23, when it started to happen, I was totally out of control of it. I had no control over my life. And that was quite difficult.

When I woke up in the morning, a lot of the times I felt quite fearful about where it was all going, 'cause I didn't know where it was going. It wasn't being guided by me. Unless they wanted me to write a song, then it was like [Changes to a sweet voice] "Oh, Toby. Will you write a song?". Then it's all about me. Then it isn't all about me. You know what I mean? So that was quite hard to navigate. And you do go through a huge emotional roller coaster and I do think the mental health aspect of being in a rock 'n' roll band or being in the music business just isn't talked about. You're most vulnerable when you're young people like that.

Especially back in that period of time, none of the managers, our manager at the time, did not give a toss about any of that. So no one talks about that. There's no discussion about whether you're mentally or emotionally handling it. They just "Get on the stage! Get in the studio!". You know, it's a bit like that. So it did affect me for a long time. When the Little Angels split up, it took me about maybe 10 years to kind of get over it really. So when I was putting this project together, the most important thing for me was that, not from a kind of arrogant point of view, but I wanted to be in control of the situation, you know.

Tobbe: I've talked to some artists about it and, well, people say it's a pressure.

Toby: It is. Because, you think about this, right: 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you are supposed to be that person that people regard you as. And they don't give a shit if I turn up to a venue, 4 weeks into a tour, I've got no voice 'cause I've been singing myself hoarse every night, and I have had no sleep and hardly anything to eat because you can't get it because the buses have to leave. You know what I mean? "Oh, do the gig. What do you mean you're not very well?" and then you get a review, "Toby wasn't in very good form last night.". They have no idea what's going on. That's the pressure. It's managing that stuff really, you know.

Tobbe: And on a financial level as well, because, like, with streaming and stuff, and income comes from touring. So how do you make ends meet financially with this band?

Toby: Well, I mean, we're fortunate that we have a record label. Not many bands do. Not that there's a lot of money in that. But we run our own business. You know, merchandise is good for us. Most of the guys have other jobs when we're at home. So what we do is we balance it. You find a way of making ends meet in other ways, you know.

Sam [Wood], the guitar player, teaches guitar, but he also deals antique cars. Nic runs a merchandising company. That's his big thing. I produce records and I write songs for other people. So it's just a question of, you know, "You either do it or you don't do it." and at the end of the day, we all wanna be here, so we make it work.

Tobbe: Do you have any dream about making music that you haven't done before and you want to do?

Toby: Funny you should say that. Me and Dave Kemp co-write quite a lot together and we're working on our first film at the moment. So we're writing some film music. It's a musical, so it's songs, but we're also gonna be composing the score. So that's something new I haven't done before. I co-write with quite a few people and often a lot of it is pop music. And I worked with Katie Melua for a little while and wrote some songs with Katie. So that's always great fun. I think every opportunity you get to make music is a good one, and however that works out, I do the best I can with it.

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