Monday, June 20, 2016

Lyrical Therapy and Creature Comforts: An Interview With Gustav Wood of Young Guns

The band Young Guns have been very busy the last six years, with three very well received albums since 2010 and one upcoming release in August.  Lead singer Gustav Wood was gracious enough to speak with me by phone from London last week, right before the band comes to America for the Vans Warped Tour, which runs through mid-August.

Stephanie:  I didn't know which of you guys I'd be interviewing.  I'm pleased to speak with you this morning.

Gustav Wood of Young Guns:  You got me.

That's fine with me. Any of you would be fun. How many interviews have you done so far today?

I've only done two. No, one, in fact. You'll be my second. It's not a taxing day.

Where are you at right now taking this call?

I'm currently in London. I was just about to tell you how nice the weather was, but it's just started raining, so I won't tell you. I'm in London and we leave for Texas on Sunday.

I'm a Texas native. I don't live there right now but I was born and raised there.

Where are you now?

I'm in Alabama right now.

Oh, amazing. I've had the good fortune to do a number of tours in the States, and I've been to both Alabama and Texas. I'm very excited.  I can hear it in your accent.

My friend, Fran, who runs the blog thinks it's hilarious that I'm doing interviews with you guys from London.  I interviewed Ally of The Virginmarys last month and Fran said he'd give anything to hear the tapes from that - my Southern twang and your proper English accents.

I'm a big fan of the Texas accent, actually. It's lovely.

Thank you. I'm a big fan of yours, too.

Thank you very much. I always feel like I sound like an idiot when I go to America.

No, it's a lovely accent. It makes everything you say sound so much classier. You could say virtually anything and it would sound so classy.

I'll tell you, we cling on to that, because we're actually all a bunch of fucking idiots, so it gives this false impression of being smart.

No, you aren't!  I've watched the video of the vodka trivia from Carolina Rebellion, where you guys had to shoot vodka for every wrong answer given.  You seem like you have a lot of fun together. 

I remember that well. That's actually a trick because we usually drink it even if we get it right.

Speaking of touring the U.S., what's your favorite thing about performing over here?  I know there are differences performing for your home crowd but what's your favorite thing about coming over here?

I think one thing that is always really immediately apparent to us is that we've always found American crowds to be very welcoming, very hospitable. That includes giving us the time of day when we're playing. Everyone always gives us a shot, even if they don't know who we are.  Perhaps on certain tours we're not the kind of music that they would listen to typically but they always give us a fair go and that's really great.

I think there's a real appetite for rock music in the States. You have such a large population and that inherently means that there is a larger audience for rock music. Over in the UK it's a little more niche rock music. There's still a great appetite for it but it's not on the same level.

After the show, because we're sociable guys, we like to meet people who have watched us.  We always like to go out and communicate with people, connect with people. I think that's important. Everyone is always interested, everyone always wants to talk to us, everyone is always, like I say, very hospitable. That's a really nice thing. Wherever we are in the country, if we're on the coast, if we're in the Midwest, wherever, everyone is always really cool to us. That's something I really enjoy.

Good. I know the Vans Warped Tour is about to make your life crazy.  As a band on tour, whether it be small shows or huge festivals like Warped, do you hang out at your merch table to connect with fans?

Precisely. That's what we're going to be doing every day. I think we have signing sessions and stuff like that. We don't hover elusively backstage. What we're always trying to do, wherever we are, we're actually just trying to soak up the atmosphere of the place, get out into the crowd, have a drink, meet people, watch the other bands, enjoy being there as not just people who are performing but people who are lucky enough to be able to go to these things, these shows and these festivals.

Great attitude, I like it.

Yeah, it's great fun. We love the smaller shows because we all grew up going to punk rock shows and metal shows, small club shows. I love the sweat and the intimacy that occurs in those things. However, I think the songs that we write, I've always felt they do tend to work in the larger places, in theaters. I really do enjoy playing those shows, too. It is true that you can't beat that kind of connection and energy that comes from playing in a small room.  I don't know what Warped Tour is going to be like but I know that we're going to be out there every day trying to enjoy every moment of it.

Your third album, "Ones and Zeros", just came out last year, and the new album will be out in August.  Your history is to get new material out to your fans pretty quickly but that's really quick for a rock band these days.  Some fans are waiting years and years for a new album from their favorite bands yet you guys are really good at getting new material out to your fans.

For better or worse, we live in an age where people's attention spans are shorter. I think that especially with music.  It's a very competitive field. There's almost this need to be consistently in people's minds. Up until the last record we had released music really quickly. We always had done that because I think we're allergic to sitting still.

We come home off tours and we're like, "What the fuck are we going to do?" Being in a band is a charmed life because you get to absolve yourself of almost all adult responsibilities. Life is pretty simple. You're in a van or a bus with your friends, playing shows. When I come off tour, I realize that I've forgotten how to be an adult. I'm like, "Shit, I've got to do the washing, I've got to do grocery shopping." That is not the reason, however, just to reiterate. We did not make an album simply so that we don't have to be at home.

The truth of the matter is, that three-year gap was really painful for us. We released "Bones" in 2012, and we were very fortunate in that we had a small degree of success in the United States. Our first single did really well on the radio which meant we kept getting asked to come back.  We were only too happy to do that. Before we knew it, it had been two years since the last release and we still had to tour because America is such a big place and requires so much work.

Really, we got ourselves in the position where by the time we released "Ones and Zeros", we'd written most of that music like two and a half years before.  We were in a difficult place because it's hard to balance your touring commitments in America with the UK and Europe. All that time we spent in America promoting "Bones" was time that we were away from England and we were releasing no new material.

When it came to the end of the touring cycle last October, we thought to ourselves, "Yes, we have only just released a new album. However, we have actually been on the road for two, three years at this point.  Even this new music that we've released, is not that new to us".  The single "I Want Out" was written in early 2012 or mid 2012.  Just as we were releasing "Bones", we'd already started to write the next record. By the time we put it out, the music wasn't fresh to us and wasn't exciting.

I think we've been very fortunate in the career that we've had so far. We just got off tour and thought we just want to get back out there. We're ready to write new music. We're in the state of mind where we want to do it.

And you may as well do it while you're inspired.

Right. We actually wrote the album in eight weeks. We wrote the whole thing really quickly. It was done by January, and then we went into the studio at the beginning of February, recorded it all in secret. We did it in New Jersey with David Bendeth.  Before we knew it, the album was done. We'd just got the finished mix and master back.  Nobody even knew that we were doing an album, so to be able to come back and say, "Hey, here's a new single. We're going on Warped Tour. We're going to have a new record in two months," that felt really interesting and exciting to us.

That would be very exciting for the fans to hear that!  Do we have a title for the new album?

We have a title but I can't tell you yet.

Can you give me a hint? One word?

No. It is one word. It's a one word title but I can't tell you what it is.

Maybe you can tell me the answer to this. I loved the lyric video to the new single "Bulletproof".  Has the band already filmed a full video for the single?

We've already done it. It's worked on at the moment. We should get a cut of that back in the next week or so.  We're going to be playing that song on the tour.

I love the lyrics to "Bulletproof".  I'm a real lyric person.  Does the new album seem to deal with that kind of theme, moving on and taking care of yourself and all that goes with that?

You're precisely right. That's very intuitive of you. I think sonically that song isn't necessarily indicative of the overall sound of the album. That song for us is a bit more of a riffy rock 'n roll song. That's actually why we liked it. We were like, "Let's come back with something that's a little fresh and a little different." There's definitely elements on the album that are more traditionally our band but it is a real guitar driven album. It's in your face, loud, quick, and for the most part kind of fast.

In terms of the lyrical content, that song is a little more direct and on the nose in terms of what I'm saying, but the whole album is very much a reflection on what's happened to us in the past year or two. The last year of our life has been a real state of flux. I finished a six-year relationship. We also changed drummers.  We changed record labels. The whole album really is about this idea of not living in the past, letting go of those times, moving forward, and looking ahead to the future. The whole album really is about that idea.

Hard times suck for everyone involved but as a band and as a song writer, it's got to be pretty fertile ground for getting material out.  If there's a bright side to the heartache, I'd think the creativity it inspires balances it out just a little?

Exactly.  Some songs are about the inability to get out of your own head, to stop looming and going over these memories of the past.  Other songs are about looking ahead to the future. There's different elements of it on display. Facing up to the reality that there's sometimes situations that are not necessarily the best situations for you to be in. It's one thing to acknowledge that but it's another thing to act on it.

I think it's quite a human record. It's a very honest album. Some of the music in the past has been a little more, in terms of the lyrical content, it's been a little more lofty and poetic. This album, I wanted it to actually be a little more direct. I wanted there to be no confusion about what I was saying and what I was singing about. I only ever write songs for myself and hopefully other people connect with them. I realized that this whole album became kind of almost like an exorcise of demons from the past two years - putting things to bed and facing up to things. It was a really cathartic process.

The first thing I do with any song is to look up the lyrics because I'm a huge lyric person. I'm a lyric whore, I joke.  If I don't like the lyrics, I can't relate to it, even if the tune is catchy.

I'm the same.  I understand.  What my job basically is, it's the art of communication. That's what it is.

It's poetry to me, set to music.

Yeah. I know people that aren't lyric people at all, that just listen to music and they enjoy it and that's where it stops. If I love a song it's because it makes me feel something. It makes me feel a certain way.  I have an emotional response to it. I really want to believe that that's what people get from our music. I certainly hope so.

Are there some songs that are so personal it feels like a kick to the crotch every single time you sing them?  Do you get immune to the pain you felt when you wrote those songs the longer you perform them?  As fans, we don't even listen to songs that hurt us, we avoid them.  You can't really do that.

Certainly on our first album, everything I wrote was so intensely personal.  I felt that I had to tell the truth.  If I wasn't telling the truth, it wasn't honest. I think people can smell music that isn't honest. Our first album was kind of confessional almost, very diary-like. I was speaking about things that were a big deal to me growing up. Growing up without a father or the loss of family members. They were really personal subjects to me.

I found that when I was playing a song sometimes, I felt like I'd given away a little too much of myself. There is this temptation to think that when you're really mining those deepest most personal things, to wonder, "Is it weird that I've written this and put it out there in a song, almost like I'm using these things to further my career?" That was an interesting conversation I had to have with myself. I do believe that fundamentally you have to be honest.

Some of the earlier material I do actually find difficult sometimes. It makes me uncomfortable. I've learnt as I've gotten older that there is that element of therapy involved. When I'm playing live, to be perfectly honest with you, the feeling I get is one of loving being able to be on the stage.  It's a really amazing human experience.  I'm not necessarily thinking entirely about where I was emotionally when I wrote that song. I'm more looking at people who are singing with me. I'm thinking about what it means to them. I'm trying to grasp how good it feels to be in this moment, how lucky I am.

Actually, I kind of tend to take a very positive thing away from when we play live, because honestly, there are very few things in life that I've experienced that are as good as playing to a room full of people who are singing songs that you wrote in your bedroom or on a train somewhere, on your laptop or whatever. It is a real amazing feeling of seeing how songs grow and how they become these different things than they were when you wrote them.

You're sharing that burden with your fans, in a way.


I know you've already referred to Ben recently departing the band as drummer.  It was reported that the split was amicable.  You've got an exhaustive Vans Warped Tour coming up. Who's doing the drumming duties now?

It was totally amicable. We agreed that it was the best thing for both us and him, and this was in October. We've actually known about it for half a year, but we didn't want to announce it until we'd had the new record ready to go and the touring plans were in place.  We didn't feel the need to. We're all very comfortable. I spoke to him earlier on. We're still super good friends. We'll be seeing him. He'll be coming out to watch us play. It's a totally positive thing. He just wanted to move to America.  He had his own life going on. He said, "I need to do this."  We said, "Okay, that's fine, we support you but we need someone that's here 100%."

We got this new guy, he played on the record, on the new album. His name is Chris Kamrada. He's a Warped Tour veteran. He's been playing in bands since he was a kid. He was in a band called There for Tomorrow, he's played with bands like The Dangerous Summer, kind of more Warped Tour world kind of bands. He did an amazing job on the album. We said, "Look, dude, we've loved writing and playing with you. You've got to come out with us," and he was totally up for it. He's going to be playing drums for us all summer, and then we're going to see where we're at.

I have a few fun (hopefully) questions.  I'm a huge beer fan, and not just chick beer, not light beer or anything like that. What's the band's favorite beer while on tour?  Or liquor, if you prefer that?

We try not to drink too much beer on tour because, I have to say, and it's not very cool, but when you're in a band and you're on tour a lot of the time, inevitably you do end up drinking quite a lot. It becomes quite a big part of your lifestyle. We try and stick to vodka. That's the drink we drink the most. We do love beer.

So you really do like vodka?.

We do, we really do. If we're going to drink beer, we like American beers. We actually quite like Yuengling, think that's pretty decent. That's a beer that we're fond of. We're not into the light beers that you guys rock.  We call it piss, just so you know.

What's a good beer from back home?  Just in case any of our readers might visit there someday and want an insider beer recommendation? 

A beer I really like is from the Czech Republic, it's called Budvar. It's a really good Czech beer.

Don't think I can get that in Alabama, I'm pretty sure.

No, I don't think so!  Because we're a part of Europe, there's a lot of good beers to drink.  Stay away from the kind of shitty ones. We have a beer called Stella Artois, which we see in America sometimes. In America I think it's seen as this quite good beer but to us it's terrible.

The weirdest thing that's ever been thrown at you onstage?

Good question!  I had a phone thrown at me once, which I thought was quite ridiculous. I was like, "All right, iPhone." We had a prosthetic limb thrown at us once. That was pretty funny. It's because the person actually wanted us to sign it. We didn't know at the time. Then there's the normal stuff, all the obvious things that get thrown on stage every now and again. It's all in good fun.

It's happened to you.  Good!  I've interviewed bands before and they couldn't recall anything ever being thrown onstage. I think that's kind of sad.  You have to have some of that, the rock star treatment.

You know what's really sad? We used to get CDs and stuff like that thrown at us. That doesn't happen anymore because no one fucking uses CDs. I think that's kind of a shame that people aren't throwing their demos up there. That's the way it goes.

We're big on Top 5 lists here at the blog. Can you name a few of the bands you've been listening to on the tour bus or when you put on your headphones just to get away from everything?

There's a band called Thrice that I really love. They've got a new record out that's really, really good.

Their single "Black Honey", it's really good.

Yeah, they're great, they're fucking awesome. They started off as a kind of post punky, kind of heavy band, years ago.  They've evolved into this cool, interesting, slightly alternative rock band.  He's an amazing lyricist. There's that. There's a band called The War on Drugs, which is more of an indie/alternative kind of band. Arcade Fire mixed with a bit of Bruce Springsteen. I loved their last record.

I love that description.

Yeah, they're really good. I'm a big fan of that. We listened to a real broad spectrum of stuff. Personally, I've been listening to Chance The Rapper a lot.  Honestly, we listen to a lot of really bad music as well. I've been listening to a lot of really terrible pop country music lately.  Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, all that kind of shit.

I might have some of those on my playlist also.  Possibly.

It's just pop music but it's just great melodies, great choruses.  I would consider it perhaps a guilty pleasure. I don't believe in that but if I did I would say it's a guilty pleasure. Number five would be ... there's a British band, a metal band called Architects. They've just put a new album out. They're friends of ours. The album is fantastic. It's a ferocious album, really angry.  It's a really brilliant modern metal record.  Architects they're called. I think the album is called "All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us". Very, very good. Very intense, but very good.

A friend of mine wants to know:  Being a rock star - perception versus reality. Can you sum that up? When you were a kid playing air guitar in your bedroom in your underwear and envisioned being a rock star, does that vision match what you live today?

I'd like to pretend I didn't do that but I did do it, of course. The truth of the matter is that there is literally nothing in common with the idea I had when I was a kid about being in a band and the reality of it. It's very rewarding and it's great in a whole set of different ways but it's nothing like I thought it would be. Truth of the matter is, of course, that it's very demanding emotionally and physically. You're never at home. It puts an awful strain on your family relationships or any other relationships you have. There's no money in it. You're always tired.

Those are the negatives but a positive is I get to travel the world. I grew up in a family where traveling wasn't really an option. We never had money for it. Now I'm thankful that I've been able to see all these different parts of the world - North America, Asia, Europe, all over the place. All the incredible things I've seen, all these people I've met. Fundamentally, music for me is the only thing that I ever really cared about. My entire life revolves around it now.  I'm very fortunate because I wouldn't know what the fuck to do with my life if it wasn't for music. It's different in every single way. It's not a Motley Crue video, by any stretch of the imagination.

I know there are ups and downs of any job.

There are some benefits from being in this business.  Back to when we come home off tour, you really appreciate stuff, like being able to go grocery shopping. Those are things that you don't get, the creature comforts - sitting at home in your bedroom playing Play Station or reading a book. Those things become so valuable. I'm very fortunate. I would never complain.

One more question. Seriously, there's not a bad-looking one of you in the whole band. I don't know what they're doing over in London. All of you have a lot of hair, or at least you all did in the latest picture I saw. Who in the band spends the most time on their hair? Truth.

It's a close contest. I would say probably Simon or John. I'm not going to say me. I would say Simon or John. John styles his hair. He spends a lot of time on it. Simon, throughout the day, if there's any reflective surface, Simon will be looking at his hair.

I appreciate your honesty, thank you.


It was a pleasure talking to you. Good luck on the Vans Warped Tour and with the new album. I can't wait to hear the whole entire thing and to know the name. Thanks, Gustav.

Thank you very much. Real soon, okay?

I have since been given access to the new album (I also now know the name of the album but I'll go to my grave with that information).  The album is absolutely fantastic and I can't wait for the rest of you to be able to hear it.  I already predict this album will make my end of year favorite album list.  Yes, it's that good.

In the meantime, you can feast on the lyric video for Young Guns' new single, "Bulletproof".  I've also posted my favorite "old" video from the band so you can become more familiar with them if you're a new listener.  Stay tuned for my review of the album closer to the August release date!  Thanks again to Gustav for his time and graciousness.  It was a true pleasure to talk with him!

'Till Next Time, Y'all!


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