The Gloucester Guildhall is an old stomping ground of mine as I grew up in a suburb of the city and used to frequent this venue often. I’m quite familiar with the great live rig and PA system as I was lucky enough to play a few gigs with some not so lucky band names when I was much younger… So it’s familiar territory as I enter the main live room and greet Emre, the band’s tour manager, who takes me downstairs to the dressing room to meet Gustav Wood – vocalist in Young Guns.
It’s late November and winter’s sting and chill is in the air. However the dressing room is warm and well lit with Just Gustav perched in the corner. The soundcheck is under way but it would seem Gus has stolen an opportunity while all are busy for some quiet time, though he seems pretty alert and even a little anxious. The buzz of the band and tour no doubt…
He is very welcoming and accommodating and has no reservations about sitting down for a chat so we get underway.
Oh and did I mention it’s Movember? The band are all doing their part to raise awareness for prostate cancer by growing almost identical neat moustaches. Gus says they all look ridiculous. I must say I kind of agree with him…
As we get into it, Gus apologies for the mess of the dressing room – littered with their luggage and personal affects…
“We have literally just come off our European tour which was great of course because it’s always what you wanted to be doing, but it’s not ’til you start that you realise it’s full on – we have been on the road and out of the country for a while so it’s lovely to be back.”
From that we started to talk about this current UK tour and highlights that Gus is looking forward to.
“Diplomatically and truthfully we are excited to be doing this tour of the UK – Gloucester is one of the smaller venues but it’s still massive for us. However I’m really excited to be doing the Electric Ballroom in London which has just sold out. I was born and raised in London and saw my first gig there which was Therapy?. To make this transition from watching to playing in a place I know so well means a lot. Even better perhaps than Reading, Leeds and Bon Jovi!”
Speaking of Bon Jovi – “How was it”? I asked.
“Bon Jovi? – It was great because, like, Bon Jovi are beyond that level of just being a band! It was a great experience but a little surreal though. Looking out into that sea of people that you can’t even make out properly – It felt like I wasn’t even there or it wasn’t even me?!”
Young Guns’ debut album “All Our Kings Are Dead” is the band’s second release since their 2009 ‘Mirrors’ EP, and has seen immediate success peaking in the UK album charts at #43, and #3 in both the UK Rock and Indie charts. No doubt the catalyst for the music industry spotlighting them as the one to watch and has put them on some great headliners around the country.
However what I am learning about Young Guns and Gustav’s is their careful and calculated approach to the industry which culminated in them in deciding to release this album under their own label “Live Forever”.
“We wanted to keep control,” Gus elaborates. “We had been playing for nearly a decade together (albeit a few line-up changes) but the group as it exists now really started in early 2008 when Simon (Mitchell, Bass) joined and we wrote Daughter Of The Sea for the first EP. We played this record to a friend who helped to get a management team and booking agent together. At this time we were doing well making our own way, selling merch and making money. We got to a point where we had a fully functioning group of people working with us that were our age and passionate about music and we thought, “We don’t need a record deal, just distribution.”
“So we signed a distribution deal and ourselves to Live Forever, and took control of our career. From day one we knew what we wanted and the direction to take. We want to take things at our own pace – we don’t need lots of money and would prefer to not have too many people involved as it could all go tits up! We are self-sufficient and I think our ethos enamours people.. We find people are keen to get involved because they respect us and they understand we are, at least, trying to do things our own way.”
What’s your favourite track on the album?
“Favourite track on the album is ‘Stiches’ as it’s our most interesting song. It’s probably strongest lyrically and employs a slightly unusual chord progression. It doesn’t have a conventional structure but is more keyboards driven. It’s the most mature song on record.” ”In Feb 2008 we wrote the material for the first EP and toured for year and a half. Eventually the industry starting asking where the album was so we took off Nov and the first half of Dec in 2009 to write. In Jan 2010 we did the Kerrang! tour and the night we finished went straight into the studio to record the album.”
Impressed, I noted that 6 weeks to write and album is pretty good going!
… Gus reminisces…”When I look back that was 6 weeks of stress!! It was a different way of working for us but was liberating to work so fast! We had opportunities coming up the following year and so just had to apply ourselves to it – we would practise from the morning till 10 at night (in our own studio) then John and I would demo stuff to the early hours.”
“It was scary but when it was all finished we were like, ‘Where did all that come from?!’ But what we had was a very cohesive and solid body of work.”
‘Weight of the World’ was released a couple weeks ago. How do you choose the singles?
“We knew which songs would be singles from the album when we put it together but wanted to present ‘Weight of the World’ again as we feel it should be presented as we now have more momentum and steam and wanted to reach more people. So we planned to re-record it from the initial EP version. However we ran out of time when putting together the album so ended up doing a new session for the single. We put it out with radio in mind and it’s done really well ending up on Radio One’s B list. In fact it was sandwiched between N-Dubz and Cheryl Cole! It’s an interesting sandwich but I’ll take it!”
What do you think of current British music?
“It’s in a strong place. Ten years ago or at the turn of the century it was all euro dance shit. Now we have more rock based bands and real musicals and instrumentalists even in pop music.”
Two bands that Gus highlights are The Computers from Exeter and Circa Survive. “They are fucking awesome live! It’s healthy right now and great to be in a British band,” he says.
So what do you love about playing live?
“I love the energy. At times it’s almost like an out of body experience. It consumes you and you end up on auto pilot. At times I have a moment of clarity and think, “This is my life! How the fuck did this happen?!” I never had any passion for anything else to speak of when I was younger. I came into music late and feel blessed to meet the people I did and very lucky to have this success. It’s the people at our shows that love the songs that makes it real – it’s just so satisfying and humbling.”
And finally I asked Gus “Where do you see yourself in a year”?
He said he doesn’t necessarily like the other version of the question “Where would you like to be?” so I assist further by asking…
Where would you NOT like to be?
“Feeling like we are going backwards” he answers.
“It’s a fickle industry and things can change in a heartbeat so you need to stay focused. We need to keep moving forward – planning is essential!”
“Ultimately I hope we can keep touring and have a chance to deliver a strong second album. Things are stacking up nicely at present but I never want to look too far ahead. I try to ensure that I don’t become preoccupied with what’s over there rather than what’s here now. We have been a band for two and half years and achieved a lot. However it all moves so fast that I don’t want to let it slip by and miss it! The aim is stay focused on the here and now, and of course enjoy it!”
Gus impressed me with his mature and professional approach to the bands flourishing career. The groups ‘feet on the ground’ ethos is testament to their foresight and planning and will surely serve them well. The crowds are gathering outside and tensions rise as the night moves forward to ‘doors open’. The impression I am left with is that Gus wants to absorb every drop of these moments because so much can change and is outside their control. I guess that’s why they have strived to maintain as much as they can…
Interview by Joe Singh
All photos © Joe Singh