Interview With Gustav Wood of Young Guns

(Interview done on behalf of Altsounds- 2015)

A week before their headline UK tour, I had a chat with singer Gustav Wood of Young Guns. Check out the interview below. As well as discussing the band’s upcomoming album Ones & Zeros, we talk about top tips while being in the music industry, first impressions, influences within music and much more. It was a pleasure being able to speak to Gus as he always has pretty intersting/ insightful things too say, whether it’s related to Young Guns and/or just a general overview of what’s been going on.

They’re just appreciative of everything that comes their way. Whether it’s playing in a small venue in Guilford or overseas in the states, Young Guns are always up for learning something new which can be applied to them as a band or life in general. With a discography ranging from Mirrors (EP) in 2009 through to Bones in 2012, this year sees the release of Young Guns’ new album Ones & Zeros.

Currently on their headline UK tour, with playing venues they haven’t played since 2012, this time around a lot has changed. Most importantly, this is in support of their forthcoming album Ones & Zeros, out June 8th. Gus tell us what he is looking forward to this time around.

Gustav: First and foremost it’s going to the first tour in support of our forthcoming album, with a change of playing new material, which is always really exciting. I think for any band you know playing the same song for a couple of years is great but you begin to get the itch for playing new songs and refreshing the whole process and excites you again. So I’m really looking forward to that. This run in the UK is much smaller, intimate venues that we haven’t played in a couple of years and it’s a really great chance for us to be able to get out and reconnect with our core audience. I love playing bigger shows and of course that’ll never get old and I hope that continues, but at the same time you can’t really beat the energy and atmosphere in a club room with people facing the back of you. It’s always the magical thing.

We’re playing a bunch of shows in venues that we really wouldn’t have played before really. The venues we’re playing would have been venues that we were playing when we first kind of started this band, like the Boilerroom in Guilford- small, sweaty and crazy and I can’t wait for that. It’s an experience we haven’t had in a while. The London show is always on any tour probably my favourite because that’s where I grew up and all the venues in the city are all the venues I grew up going to shows, to see bands playing. So for me, probably the Scala which is our London date on June 8th, which is also the day of release of the record so that’s going to be a good day for us and I absolutely adore it, so I’m really excited for that one in particular.

Joining them on tour are Blitz Kids for the first leg of the tour, with Nothing but Thieves on the second half. This is what YG can expect while having them on the road.

Gustav: They’re friends of our and we’ve shared some great times with them- countless times, playing shows and going out drinking. They’re good people and will be a really great band to have on before us because they’ll really get the energy levels up.

But on the second leg, we have a band called Nothing but Thieves coming out with us who are a really great new band, doing something really interesting and cool. I just think it is a privilege to take out bands you enjoy hanging out with. I think Blitz Kids are definitely going to add a fun element. You tend to find most guys in bands a pretty similar bunch of idiots who like to have a good time!

From their release of Bones in 2012 to now, we’re all definitely in for a treat in terms of their live performance. I, amongst many others look forward to seeing their progression and achievements over the past few years.

Gus on the amount of dates people have mentioned that they are attending on their current UK tour.

Gustav: Yeah it’s mad! Honestly I’ve spoken to some people who are doing 16 dates of this tour and I just find it unbelievable. Whether you’re coming to one show or all the shows, I can’t tell you how happy we are to have, I hate using the word fan base but the fact that people out there want to see us play is just an amazing feeling.

With having played in countries such as Thailand, Australia and America to name a few, there are undoubtedly a number of new things Young Guns pick up along the way in terms of bettering themselves in the live performance aspect. Not only do they learn from their own experiences, but from bands as well.

Gustav: We’ve always approach each tour in the same way, which is to go out and make every show like it is important and special- each show is important and should be special. To be able to get in a room with someone and connect which is really great, kind of life affirming moments. I can’t wait to have a whole series of them. I think in the past couple of years, we’ve become a better band, by playing more and playing further away, meeting new people and meeting new bands and learning from them. I just think we are at a point now in our career where we just a better band then we have been before. We play better and our songs are better. You know, it never stops being fun applying those things to playing shows again.

I think it’s just like everything else! You experience something, more information you gather and the more you learn. Communicating with audiences, performance, how you play live. We’ve been lucky enough to play with lots of different bands of different genres. You know, it’s always really interesting to see how different bands work, what people do on and off stage. We always try to be better than we were before. We’ve been lucky enough to do some arena shows in the states, watch a band that we’ve become friends with. Bullet for my Valentine for example to see how they treat each show as a spectacle and significant event and we try and apply that to playing a small bar or club or whether we play to a couple thousand people, that’s really important.

Been there. Done that. When it comes to crazy antics on stage, Young Guns know all too well. Just ask anyone, it’s always a fun aspect of a live show but that isn’t the ‘all or nothing’ factor. Just head down to a show of theirs and you’ll see why.

Gustav: (laughs) we’ve kind of already done that stuff when we first started out. You know energy will always be an important part of our show. I think for all rock shows, it has to feel energetic and alive which is really important. We grew up going to punk rock shows, metal shows and hard-core shows and I loved that atmosphere and the energy but I want it to be more than that. Hopefully the strength of the songs will carry it.

Being a band for just over 5 years now, there are bound to be questions that are asked all the time that people should already know the answer to.

Gustav: That’s a good question. I think probably the questions we get asked a lot is ‘what should people expect from Young Guns’ show?’ and I suppose the answer is always going to be primarily a good time, a good show and hopefully something that feels real. You know, we’re not a progressive 8 minute jam band but I think we do what we do well, we apply ourselves hard and we try and give each show everything we’ve got and hopefully that is something people already know at this point. If not, come to the show and see it first-hand.

First impression are key, especially when it means having to spend a large portion of your time with them. When it comes to looking back on how they all met, it brings back a amount of memories that adds up and leads them to where they are today.

Gustav: Well, I met these guys probably 10 years ago now after a mutual friend and they grew up in a different part of England than me. I grew up right in the centre of London, in a place called Buckinghamshire. I lead a really different lifestyle. I grew up playing in a local venue outside of London, in a punk band and that was a completely new thing for me. For me, this was something I sort of discovered on my own, it wasn’t part of the community or the scene which I stumbled upon in my brother’s albums and things like that. These guys had kind of lived the teenage life I had wanted.

Growing up playing music together in little shows and learning about music that way and that was a really exciting thing for me. We just met through a friend and they asked me to join the band and I was playing bass at the time and I’d never played that before and that was great. You know, I came across a number of people who were totally likeminded and that was totally a really great feeling and even then I kind of feel like we were supposed to do something together. I’m just lucky I’m in a band with really great people.

We’ve all gotten older and we’ve changed and grown. Our taste has developed and evolved. We’ve kind of grown up together really. We’ve also been lucky enough in the past 5 years to travel to places that none of us ever thought we’d get to see. We’ve been to japan, Australia, America, Thailand. Those experiences will never change you of course but we’re really close. We’ve all changed but that will stay the same.

Being 80s kids, musicians like blink-182, Michael Jackson to fear factory was music they listened to growing up. When we are younger, we are certain the music/genre we are into at the time is what we will stick to as we get older, but that is hardly the case. As you get older, you’re more open minded about music really.

Gustav: I was born in the 80s of course. But my earliest music experience was through my mom and my older brother so I did grow up surrounded by music like Michael Jackson and The Clash. Just stuff from the 80s really and that stayed with me but I also listen to a broader cross section of music. You know when I was a teenager it was punk rock or metal or whatever. I wasn’t interested in anything else. Nowadays, I enjoy listening to Taylor Swift as much as I enjoy listening to Metallica. I think I’ve learnt as I’ve gotten older to appreciate music for what it is and not to be concerned with genres I suppose.

I also think that the world we live in today genre breads into each other. You can look into the charts now and there is a greater variety of music which is doing well than ever. You can be a rock band and be on the radio, a pop band. Whatever you want! I find that really inspiring personally.

It seems like influences/musicians from the 80s are making a reappearance in the music we listen to today. As well as music, we ask ‘What TV shows do you feel kids these days are missing out on?’

That’s a tough question. I think that the main thing is in the 80s/90s it was still a time in which new emerging forms of music. You’ve got punk in the 70s and 80s which was such a big thing, new wave and all that sort of stuff. Nowadays, it feels like music tends to be much more retrospective, modern music. Look at the moment, pop and the more 80s influence that is occurring in mainstream music and that is a cool thing. These days it tends to be a lot of music that looks back at influences. The 80s coming into the 90s, grunge and all that sort of stuff. It’s probably not as exploratory as it was back then but I think that’s ok. So I don’t think anyone is missing out on anything. You don’t want to fall into the trap of being an older person saying ‘it was better back then’. That’s dangerous and not always entirely true.

When I was really little, it was the transformers and all these new really exciting things. I don’t really keep up to speed with kids TV.

Since the release of their music video for the track ‘In the Night’ back in 2009, a lot has changed with the band in terms of their progression and the concepts for their music videos. Gus discusses the idea of the music video for ‘Speaking In Tongues’.

Gustav: Primarily what we wanted to do was something different/unique and quite dark. The whole point of the song ‘Speaking In Tongues’ was that on the surface in terms of the rhythm it almost did have the influence of the 80s from the music we grew up listening to but lyrically they were a little darker in its tone and the subject matter and metaphors used to talk about the breakdown of communication. We just wanted something that was a little eerie and dark and wasn’t your generic rock video.

The production company, Favourite Colour Black had a trippy and slightly disturbing idea for the music video and that’s what we wanted- a little out of the box and that’s something we always want to do. We did the first video for ‘In the Night’ and I think it cost us around £50. We just got really drunk and snuck onto an abandoned railway and filmed until we weren’t allowed to anymore haha but things have changed in that respect. I think fundamentally we want to do something new and interesting. That’s what we managed to do with ‘Speaking In Tongues’.

During their trip to the states, the track ‘Bones’ and ‘Dearly Departed’ were the songs that were performed acoustically the most when it came to radio sessions. ‘I want out’ was soon to follow, prior to the album’s release. We wonder what songs off ‘Ones & Zeros’ will be performed acoustically the most.

Gustav: Acoustically? That’s an interesting one. Well I think the strength of the song or hopefully the sign of t a good song is when you can strip everything away with the volume and all the dynamics. If you can take all that away and still have the song sounding good with the core elements I think that is the sign of a good song. I think we’ve been able to do that with a lot of our music. With the new record, I think strongly we have the best collection of songs that we have written, the strongest melodically and I hope and think that they’re all going to work. On the last tour we did in the states, we did a lot of performances with ‘I want out’, which was really nice to do. I’m looking forward to being able to do that again. It’s harder when you have a song that is based on the feel of a riff. We have a song that’s going out to America on radio called ‘Rising Up’ which is a big riff song and would be interesting to see how we will do this one acoustically but I think that’s a fun challenge I look forward to!

Wind up records studio- was where Young Guns demoed new material for their upcoming album. Fact: This was where Tupac was shot, in the lift below. There are a bunch of things that Gus has found out being a band that he may not have known otherwise.

Gustav: The most important thing that I have found while being in a band is working with other people. You know, five people are doing one thing, painting one picture and that’s a really difficult thing from a human perspective. You’ve got to balance your ego and your desire for things to be how you want it with what other people think and what I’ve really learnt is that there is something that happens when five people make something together that cannot happen when you make something one your own. A song will end up completely different from the way you imagined it, until it’s a kind of song you never dreamt of writing if it wasn’t for having everyone else in there and that’s a really amazing thing which we have learnt every time when we try and write a song together.

The Boilerroom in Guilford is the first show that we ever sold out a show when we were a band and we are really looking forward to going back there. It’s going to be crazy, really small and it’ll feel like a nice little cycle. We started out there 5/6 years ago and we’re going back there with our third record released with having toured the world and done these amazing things and to come back again is really nice.

With their last album, the idea for writing the songs was wanting to write music where the listener felt something. Memories lead to a form of inspiration; this being a track from their upcoming album. What songs off the album would connect to people the most?

Gustav: Hopefully all of them! There’s a song on there which we are really proud of which started out because I was just sitting on my own one day on the piano in new York and I wanted to write something that felt like a lullaby and I think that’s just a basic, fundamental form of music and something that connects with everyone no matter where they’re from and who they are and I wanted to write about something that was simple. We ended up writing a song with the idea of a lullaby. The melody really reminded me of a lullaby that parents sang to a young child and that was the song, to me that we really managed to bring some emotion out. It’s one of the smaller, more introverted songs on the album and I’m really pleased with that and I hope people connect with it.

Pretty much everyone is influenced by someone in whatever career they want to go into. So on that note, apart from musicians, Gus tell us other forms of media that has influenced him when it comes to creativity.

Gustav: I grew up reading a lot. My mom taught me to read really early on before I started school. Literature was always a big part of my life, I’ve also always really enjoyed being creative. I write a lot and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s really important for people to be able to express themselves which is actually quite difficult in this day and age. Being creative in some way, writing, drawing, art whether is it. I think it’s really important for people to be able to express themselves and I always really struggled with that and this has given me an outlet and a way to satisfy myself in the way of being good for the soul really.

Imagine having one of your favourite movies turned into a real life event.

Gustav: Definitely Jurassic park! As a kid, I was obsessed with dinosaurs and I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little and when I saw that film in the cinemas, it just blew my mind and changed my life. All I ever wanted was to go there. Maybe without all the death, violence and gore but that definitely would be my number one choice.

There’s always going to be advice given to you in whatever you choose to do which can be used as a form of guidance for life in general or specific to the career of your choice.

Gustav: When we were first starting out we were lucky enough to play some shows with at the time were a big deal for any person, not a band people will talk about moving forwards but Lostprophets were a band, that when we were younger were a real example in that point in time at least with what you could do, not matter where you’re from, there wasn’t anything to say you could work hard to write great music and tour the world.

When we played some shows with them in 2009, the keyboardist Jamie was saying how he felt like he should say something to the other bands coming up and the only thing I will say is do not waste your time looking so far ahead of where you are as a band but just to look where you are and to enjoy what you are doing because it is a difficult industry where the goal posts are always moving, and if you don’t stop and just enjoy what you’re doing at that point in time, to be thankful of where you are and what you’re doing then you’re going to miss out on everything because you’re going to start looking ahead and lose sight on where you’re at at the moment and it’ll by in the blink of an eye. So just enjoy it, have fun and remember why you do it.

That’s something that we’ve really taken to heart and wherever we are, we always try and appreciate the fact that we’re out here as a band and doing the thing that we all dreamt about doing as a kid. It’s important to try and not be too focused on being “successful or so driven” and just enjoy what you’re doing. I think that’s really important. I think it is really important to take stock and just enjoy who you are, where you are and what you’re doing because things move very quickly. All of life goes by in the blink of an eye and it’s one of those things you’ll never know until it’s too late. It’s hard.

The pre-order of the album allowed fans to purchase a number of bundles, with items such as a signed deluxe album, T-shirt, Vinyl, Dog Tag and more. Growing up, were there any bands that took a similar approach when it came to music?

Gustav: For me, I don’t know if it’s quite relevant today but a really big thing was I’d see one of my favourite bands is coming into London from America or wherever it was and I’d buy my ticket much in advance. I’d save up, if I could afford it. I’d go there when the doors open and go and look at all of the merch and that for me was really something important- wearing my favourite bands t-shirt was a bit of a badge of pride and something that was so important to me and I get a kick out of people wearing our merch and getting excited to buy a t-shirt. Obviously, it really helps us financially but more than that it but it’s one of those touch stones that takes me back to being a fan of a band. For me, it was always really about getting my favourite band’s shirt that was a big deal for me. Nothing really as fancy as that.

Top 3 top tips to get you through a challenging yet rewarding industry as of music.

Gustav: The most important thing that really goes back to what I was saying what Jamie told me was that it is super important to not lose track of what you are doing. Being in a band is really tough and if you desperately want to headline arenas and sell millions of records, I think you’re going in with a bad/loaded expectation that is very unlikely but if you just start a band with your friends and try and enjoy it, I would say that is the best thing you can do and focus on a couple of simple things, which is one.

Make each song better than the one before it, make sure you get on with the people you’re around and talk freely and can give each other opinions and criticisms and it not be a problem.

And three, just try and play shows. You’ve got to play show! Play shows to one person, two people and then hopefully to five people. You’re not going to make any money. It’s not going to be immediately beneficial but you’ve got to learn fast, like everything you do- take time, learn and get better at it. Just always be open, be a sponge, try and learn everything. Just put your head down and work hard because it is a difficult thing to do and there’s no easy way around it so you’ve got to be ready for it to be a bit painful as well. “You spend a lot of time focused on things like always performing well and tours being great, selling tickets and all these things. In reality, you’re doing something you love and that’s not something everyone can be able to say that they do so I feel very fortunate that I can say that and I just want to enjoy it and not take it for granted”


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