Multi-talented producer and singer, Toby Jepson, of Wayward Sons caught up with Mark Bestford at Download to discuss his musical career spanning over thirty years, the secret of being in a successful band, and whether or not you should push the button on “the box”.
Little Angels was around at the peak of the British rock scene, the 80’s and 90’s. What was it like being part of that scene at that time?
“It’s kind of hard to sum it up because we were young lads, you know. We were in the prime of our lives with wide eyes and wanting to take on the world and we came from Scarborough, and Scarborough’s a tiny little seaside town so we had no real understanding of what the world of music was about at all, actually, so we kind of brazenly and naively forged our way into it. We went down to London and played a load of shows, and we opened for Guns and Roses, and Tesla and all this at the Marquee club and these were all bands that weren’t bands at the time, they were just tiny little bands playing clubs. And so, we took part in this emerging scene, almost without really knowing it was happening, because when you in it you don’t spot it. Looking back on it, it was an extraordinary privilege, we ended up with a record deal with Polydor Records, and then we made three studio albums over the period of time we were signed to them, and we built a momentum from literally playing in front of two or three people, in a little town anywhere in the country, to end up headlining the Royal Albert Hall at the very end. So we went through a huge learning curve as young men. It gives me an enormous sense of pleasure thinking about it because I don’t think we spotted it at the time and I think I wish I’d spent more time enjoying it, if you know what I mean. But it’s wonderful memories and I wouldn’t be stood here talking to you today if that hadn’t happened to me, so it was a privilege.”
After the reunion 2012 you moved into production, are there any bands that you’ve worked with that we should be keeping an eye out for going forward?
“Well I’m working with bands all the time, and as this crazy business of ours evolves it’s structurally very difficult for bands to get their head above the parapet. I specialise in trying to work with new young bands. I mean one of my biggest finds in a way was the Virgin Marys which were a band from Macclesfield who I produced their first album, who are still touring and doing their stuff, and they’re an amazing band to see. I did an album with the Answer, you know, and stuff like that. But I’ve worked with a lot of bands that sadly have had to split up because they couldn’t carry on. I worked with an amazing band called Illustr8tors from Bristol who got stuck in the system, they made a record and then couldn’t find a way forward. So it’s not easy you know. I’ll tell you what I am loving, outside of my production stuff that I’m doing, I’m loving seeing a load of these bands like Stone Broken, and Massive Wagons, and Bigfoot, and Them Damn Crows, coming through the system and finding their own way, because ultimately that what it’s about. You can’t become a potential success without doing the groundwork, you’ve got to do those three to five years of fighting your way. Falling down, picking yourselves up, being skint, sleeping on the back of a four by twelve in the back of a transit van. Getting despondent, picking yourselves up again. Doing some more recording, learning your craft, learning to write songs. Songs are what it’s all about, if you don’t recognise that, if you can’t focus yourselves on the songs, it’s all over anyway. So the bands that break through are the bands that understand the fundamental needs, which is to write amazing music.”
Your now back behind the mic again with Wayward Sons, what prompted you to start anew?
“I’d spent a lot of years being a singer for hire, I was in Gun for a while, I worked with Fast Eddie Clarke in Fastway, and then I ended up in Dio’s Disciples touring the world with Dio’s band. All of those experiences were an extraordinary privilege, and I’ve got nothing but great memories but what I was really doing was singing other people’s material. So I kind of came to the end of the Dio thing and I thought to myself, you know what? I don’t really want to do this anymore because I feel I’m not doing myself justice. My voice isn’t being heard, if you like. And it hadn’t been for quite some time. I’m okay, I toured as a solo artist for a while, through 2002 up to 2007, but it was a means to an end that was. I didn’t have any recording budget, I was scratching recording together, I had no record deal, I had no support so it was just a way for me to go out and play gigs really. So when I came to the end of Dio I thought, you know what, I’m going to concentrate my efforts on production, I’m going to find some great bands to work with and I’m not going to think about being a performer until the right situation arrives. And then indeed I got a call from Frontiers, from Serafino, and Mario from Frontiers Music SRL, and they said we love what you’ve done in the past, we want to get back involved with you, we’d love to be your label, we’d love to give you that opportunity to make music again, will you do it? And I sort of thought about it a little while, I didn’t jump straight in but I thought well okay well if I can do it on my own terms then yes, I’ll do it. So they gave me that, they gave me a recording budget, they didn’t interfere. They just said go away, make your record and play it to us when you finish. And how amazing is that? I mean I’ve had a few record deals and believe me no one’s ever said that to me. So that was extraordinary, so to be given that opportunity, it’s almost like the planets aligned. I found some great musicians, I’ve been working with Nick Wostall, the bass player for years, on and off in various projects, and we’ve been mates for a long time. He was in Chrome Molly, one of the first bands Little Angels ever opened for. I mean Dave Kemp, everyone knows that Deave’s my foil really, we write songs for other people. And Phil Martini, I saw him play for Joe Elliot at the High Voltage Festival and thought god that guy’s a great drummer. So when I was putting the band together it literally took me about twenty four hours to ring everyone. I just thought I’m going to ring him and ring him. And it all worked, so with the record deal in place, with the band in place, and then we started writing and then we started rehearsing and it started feeling good from the first moment. I mean I’ll tell you a little bit of an anecdote. We rehearsed for the very first time, and you’ve got to remember that this is the first time that we’ve all been in the same room together ever, and I mean ever. We rehearsed for three days at Real World Studios, this is Peter Gabriel’s studio near Bath where I live, and we put together seven ideas in that three day period. All of those songs made the album. So that tells you something about what the vibe was in the room. There was no baggage, we were fresh to each other, there was no expectation, we were just having a great time. We were enjoying each other’s company and the music just flowed. So that to me was the final piece in the jigsaw.”
The album has been out now since September and it’s had a great response, how does that feel?
“I have to pinch myself every day mate, I mean. I have no sense of entitlement, I don’t believe I’ve got a right to be here. I believe I’ve got to prove my right, it’s got to be about merit, it’s got to be about the art. It’s got to be about the songs, it’s got to be about people believing it, it’s got to be about authenticity, it’s got to be integrity. And so that’s what I did, I spent my time writing this music with the guys with all these thing in mind, I just wanted to make the best record I possibly could and hope for the best, because you haven’t got anything else. You can’t presume anything, you’ve got no right to. So, when we put the album out, and we immediately started getting reactions to the first song we put out, Until The End, it was extraordinary. I haven’t felt that feeling since the days of the Little Angels when we were putting out singles that were supported by a major label and we were on Radio 1. It’s been absolutely extraordinary, it really has.”
You’re no stranger to Download, you’ve been here with Little Angels. What was it like to play in that small tent?
“It was incredible. I mean, I don’t think you could have got anybody else in it, it was absolutely heaving. There were people queuing out the sides of the tent five, ten deep. And we can’t blame the rain for that, it was so hot. And the heat in the tent was extraordinary, I could feel a wave of heat coming off the audience. But the vibe on stage and the vibe in the room was fantastic. There was a real anticipation for us and I don’t know why, I can’t work it out. But I’m glad it’s there, and I don’t want to work it out, I just want the feeling to remain. If I could have designed it any way, the reaction and the way today could have gone, I couldn’t have designed it any better than what actually happened.”
What can we expect from Wayward Sons over the next few years then?
“We’re just going to carry on making records and carry on touring. I mean, you know my feeling is that if we can continue the quality and we can continue making the music that we are doing, which I know we will because we’ve already started writing new songs. You know what, I just want it to be real. I just want it to have an authenticity that comes off of it being, it’s a terrible word because people use it too often, but it does feel very organic. We haven’t tried too hard. What we’ve done is we’ve just believed in it and we’ve believed in ourselves and if we can continue that gentle curve, and let it just do its thing and be real and be honest then I think we’ll hopefully be here for another ten years.”
With the wealth of experience you now have, but playing and producing, is there any message you would give to up and coming bands today?
“The message is concentrate every single ounce of effort on writing the songs. Nothing else matters. The three most important things, the three lessons, the three rules in making music that can become successful, is the songs, the songs, and the songs. Forget everything else, and I mean it. I’m thirty years into a career, and I’ve had major record deals, and independent record deals, and the only constant is the quality of the songs you write. That is it, forget about what trousers you’re wearing, and what your website looks like, or what manager’s going to manage you, or who’s going to be your agent. Forget all that nonsense, think about the music. That’s it.”
What would be your favourite Twilight Zone episode and why?
“Wow! That’s a hard question because I’ve seen so many of them. I like the one, they made it funnily enough, they made it into a movie, I forget who made it. There was a brilliant Twilight one where there was a knock on the door from the postman and somebody brought a box in. And it was like you either opened this box and I can’t remember, it was something like, I know the box had a button on top of it and if your pressed the button one person died in the world, but saved millions of others, or you could take a million pounds, something of that nature and it was a moral dilemma tale about whether you would press the button or not. I always remember that one, that was a very cool one. God man, there’s too many. A brilliant series as well, brilliant.”
Interview and photo by Mark Bestford