'Even Up The Score', the third album from Wayward Sons, is the follow-up to 2019's 'The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be', and - like the band's debut, 2017's 'Ghosts Of Yet To Come' - it's an album that examines where humanity is headed and doesn't like much about what it finds.
If that makes 'Even Up The Score' sound a little po-faced, fear not. It's an album that fizzes with energy and excitement, with riffs that punch above their weight and choruses that soar skywards, and it's not an album that browbeats the listener.
"I write to inform, question and provoke," says frontman Toby Jepson (formerly of Little Angels, Fastway and Gun) "and these things are ultimately why I am a writer."
'Even Up The Score' is out now, and the band tour the UK in November. Dates below.
Even Up The Score
The process of making Even Up The Score as an album really started when we were recording the second Wayward Sons album, The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be. After the success of our debut album Ghosts Of Yet To Come it was a struggle to get the writing going again - the first album had flowed so readily.
When the ideas did eventually start to flow they came in a rush and I actually had one of the most fertile periods as a writer I've ever experienced, so as we began working on the Truth record I had over 50 songs, obviously way too many, and versions of several of them have ended up on this album.
This song was one of the first songs I took to the band for the Truth sessions and one we rehearsed in the early stages, and the arrangement has hardly changed since, it has survived intact right up until now!
I'd been messing around with the riffs, chord progression and time signature for ages at home, it felt jarring and odd and as such added an urgency to the idea. I know it's been done a thousand times, but it just seemed to fit the central theme - it was an echo of the vocal rhythms, a kind of 'spit and snarl' questioning thing that I felt demanded the listener answer (in their own head obviously).
I'm not a 'passive' songwriter, I want the listener to take part in the experience, so a big part of my approach is to construct a 'feeling' that translates and communicates the central idea - this is what is most important to me; above everything else the way it makes the listener feel is what matters. In this case, I wanted the furious nature of the opening riff to 'off foot' what came next - it begins with a slightly predictable hard rock riff which gives way to what I felt was something unpredictable.
The story is clear and I need the listener to understand it - I write to inform, question and provoke and these things are ultimately why I am a writer.
The sentiment is pretty obvious; seek balance, learn to understand yourself, get informed, don't judge others or knee jerk react to situations based on someone else's opinion, spurious reasoning or propaganda hoist upon us via social media, or any other form of media, be bigger than that, don't be a sheep, read between the lines and make informed decisions based on facts and not fictionalised versions of the truth. Not all that shines is gold, the biggest rosiest apple can be rotten to the core.
Once the second album was complete we had lots of backing tracks that we'd recorded but not finished. During the first lockdown I went back to the files and listened through what there was, and there were some great tracks in there. Big Day was one of the last songs we had worked on at that session, and the recording had bags of promise. Nic had suggested we bring a Status Quo approach to the riff, and that really worked. Sam developed the idea bringing real detail, and a great solo into the mix.
I felt it was essential on this record to 'brighten' the overall palette as the second album had been quite dark. Big Day was a reaction to that, and despite it being written around the Truth sessions, I was able to get a long view on it because of the lockdown and I rewrote the lyrics, installing a slightly lighter tone which was less 'finger pointing' and more of an observation.
I have three daughters who have grown up in the ‘I want it all and I want it now' generation, where their lives are lived through screens and expectation is high, but more often than not the reality is less than is expected - disappointment goes hand in hand with this entitled feeling of being deserving of 'stuff'. It really fascinates me how the the 'first' world now appears to believe all dreams have to come true or it's not fair.
Sign Of The Times
Despite having all those songs from the second album session I still felt that there were gaps, and we needed brand new material for this record. This is one of the songs that we wrote specially in the new album sessions. I have an unashamed love of the bombastic, hence my adoration of David Bowie, T. Rex, Mott and Queen, to name a few - but I wouldn't count myself a die hard glam rock fan, it always been about the song writing skill first and foremost and there was a fluid knowing irreverence tinged with the surreal to all of those bands that has always appealed to me, so I guess this track is me channelling that approach.
My influences come from a variety of places though, including books, movies, overheard conversations, the news etc, and this track has shades of Monty Python, Rocky Horror, Grease and Beetlejuice about it that was unplanned but clear enough to me; it's something in the bravado of the performance of the band - a sort of swagger that wants to entertain you with sequins and glitter whilst poking your eye out.
The sentiment is again pretty obvious, an examination of the state were in as a globe (as I see it) but again, I tried to make the tone fun and not too 'deep', it's actually quite satirical - sort of like a rock'n'roll Spitting Image sketch, and I wanted the imagery to depict the subject matter without confusion - "So when they hold up the villain, give him sceptre and crown, whilst they beat up the wrong guy, coz he's not dumbing down..." it don't take much to understand.
This song has been around in different forms for some time. It was originally written for James Toseland a few years ago, but we couldn’t make it work, and we then looked at it for the first Wayward Sons record but again it didn’t feel that we were ready for it.
I was struggling to get the verse right until Sam suggested a different approach which completely changed the way I looked at it lyrically. Its taken a long time but now in its finished form I believe it's one of the most accomplished songs I've written or recorded. I see it as dwelling in a fantasy world where the British new wave meets the US pop punk movement of the 90s.
The narrative deals again with expectation, but this time I put the first person narrative front and centre so I guess it really is me. I, like most, have had to deal with disappointment, often at the hands of others, but I've learnt that you only have yourself to blame if you examine the causes. I wanted this to be fun though, and so hung the whole idea around that phrase in an attempt to bring some light relief to the tension.
Faith In Fools
This is possibly one of the most effective songs I've ever written. There, I said it. Why? Well, because it precisely captures exactly what I want to say without histrionics. My intention was to be as matter of fact as I could whilst maintaining a sense of sorrow because that how I feel, I'm not gloating about the subject matter, quite the contrary, it is deeply troubling to me that so many of our so called leaders are clearly charlatans and entirely ill equipped to navigate the choppy waters of our world.
I know I have no right to finger wag, but I do also feel a responsibility as an artist to report on what and how I see things. I'm really just observing. My view isn't and shouldn't ever be misconstrued as a 'holier than thou' attitude - I really have no desire to force my opinion on anyone, it's much more about the sadness I feel watching the world being governed by idiots, and feeling powerless to stop it - perhaps the title 'cautionary tale' is most appropriate.
Across the board, I stand up for the underdog, I'm on the side of the small guy always, because I am one and suffer the same consequences of my own bad decision making as anyone else, including standing up for those who eventually prove themselves to be on the wrong side of the line or indeed history.
In terms of the origins of the song, it was part of that glut of songs that I had written for the second record, but by the time we came to work on it in the Truth sessions, we were almost blinded by the weight of material, and I don't think anyone - including me - could see its strengths. It was a revelation to rediscover it alongside many others that eventually made it onto this album. It is unlike anything I've ever recorded but also has glimpses of everything I've ever recorded.
Part of my evolution as a recording artist has been recognising when my heroes are too present in my work and that's a battle that is constant as all creators cannot avoid it, but there is a moment when your own voice emerges and you then spend the rest of your life perfecting it and making it as clear as possible. This song is the best example of that.
This song came out so naturally that I felt I had no control over it. One minute I was messing around with some chords, the next the song was there. In many ways I see it as my tribute to the Beach Boys! I love the guitar sounds we got on the recording.
Again, the sentiment is pretty clear, the subject matter deals with accepting that we all have elements of fakery in our lives - it is part of the human experience to talk ourselves up, pretend were something more than we are, tell lies to better our situations etc., and anyone who says otherwise is proving the point.
No one is perfect and actually maybe a bit of fakeness is OK in small doses, as it's often a coping mechanism. This story centres on that character trait and is portrayed as a third person character, but really I'm saying 'look at yourself'.
As a piece of music and certainly as a recording, it is in my top three faves on the album because even if you don't give a toss about the narrative, it's just great fun to listen to and that's OK too!
Another of the three songs that I wrote to 'fill the gaps' and it was inspired by my experiences of being bullied at school and consequently how I then gravitated towards similar situations and people that perpetuated that feeling of being out of control and abused. Sounds dramatic, I know, but it's essential to me that my life is in my art, so I cannot and will not write superficial lyrics ever again (coz I have in the past) I need to talk about the real world as I see it, and as an older guy, I can now see clearly how deeply those experiences affected me and formed many of the reasons why I do what I do and behave the way I do.
Being a songwriter has allowed me an outlet to explore and soul search, albeit in the glare of the public eye, which is perhaps the point: I'm not alone and I genuinely hope others that have gone through the terror and trauma of being systematically taunted and attacked can take solace in the fact that others have survived because that's what it is. It is enormously cathartic to rid myself of these experiences, or at the very least, vocalise to confront.
So much is about regaining power, to say 'you don’t get away with this, and I'm serving notice' - yeah it's painful, but nevertheless, it comes from a place of honesty and truth. The lyric in this song doesn't talk directly to one person, instead I'm expressing a general sense of the feeling and causality and warning those that perpetrate such awful behaviour that they will, in the end, fall because the strength we gain going through this pain, is infinitely more powerful than anything they have.
As a song, I was keen to lean into a bruisingly simple riff and keep its focus. The vocal rhythms are once again key to its success as an idea; they go against the grain of the foundation pulse, so the focus is on the story.
I was channelling 70's cop shows like Starsky & Hutch and The Professionals and had to resist the urge to employ a wah-wah pedal in the verses (Sam uses one beautifully in the solo which is utterly brilliant). It is perhaps the most 'meat and potatoes' song on the album, but I think it helps balance out the pop tones a little, and I'm a sucker for those Judas Priest/Lizzy riff-based power tracks with a tough lyric.
Tip Of My Tongue
This was a difficult song to get right. I always knew there was a great song in there, and at one point it went through a huge change. Phil had faith in it too so we kept going and going until we got it right, and we are all so glad we did. I love the dark edge that it has to it. Its about that clawing feeling of knowing something is wrong, but being unable to pinpoint exactly what it is. Its really quite unnerving.
There are hints of The Cure here, I've always enjoyed Robert Smith's writing style and wanted to stick my toe in that pond. I loved that era in the 1980s where it was so much easier for a rock band to appeal across the spectrum, from the pop markets to hard rock fans, and with this song I am channelling that love. The solo from Sam is exceptional. I told him to do something different and he really delivered.
Looking For A Reason
This is one of my faves, and is so simple! That is probably why I like it so much. Built off the back of a pounding bass and drums refrain, I love the instant nature of the idea - it was always intended to be nothing more than one idea that repeats and keeps gaining in complexity and depth as the lyric rolls out. It has a danceability thing that I also love and it filled me with joy recording it.
A slow burn track that creeps under the skin - I hope! In terms of the narrative, it explores the answers we're all trying to find for our lives, and how those answers aren't always what we want. Whenever life throws us a curveball, the immediate reaction is to look for a reason why? This is complex as often we are asking the wrong questions - especially when it comes to personal relationships, we blame first and self examine later which doesn’t often address the core problems etc.
The tracking is killer on the recording, the rhythm track is a doozy, with Phil and Nic in top form grinding the energy to full effect with its unrelenting energy. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the brilliant work Dave Kemp did on this album and never a better example of his genius than here; clever, minimal by highly effective parts that tickle the corners of the sound in such a wonderful way. I think this is a future live classic for us.
Land Of The Blind
Another track that was born out of the very beginnings of the Truth recording sessions. As with Bloody Typical I originally wrote it with James Toseland in mind as we were talking about working together again, but it quickly evolved into a song that suited us much more. It was a track that initially met with some resistance from Sam and Dave, I think because it was reminiscent of the first album and as most of the other songs sounded like a huge progression.
I could see their point, it's not unlike Until The End in its approach but that is part of my writing style and I couldn't escape the feeling that it was important for the record. We recorded several versions of it at Vale before we settled on the version on the album and it has a freeform feel to the performance that is unique to the record. Phil plays without any click and lets the track develop at its own creeping pace which I feel benefits it massively.
There is something simplistic that once again helps to communicate the uncluttered idea which puts me in mind of Neil Young or Creedence Clearwater Revival - two bands/artists that have left lasting effects on me, mainly to do with the barefaced honesty.
It's my grown up version of Young Gods perhaps - it certainly feels like the same kind of narrative, only this time channelled through the prism of my fifty-something’s world view. The narrative explores the hopeless nature of leadership and megalomania, and how the right suit and soundbite can convince nations that you hold the keys to paradise despite clear evidence to the contrary.
In recent years, I've had no other choice but reach the conclusion that we’re all scared - of what most can't explain, but so much of it is engineered by politicians hell bent on gaining our support through greed, fear mongering and basic lies - anything to hold onto power and feather their own nests. The title comes from famous Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus who lived in the 15th century. How little has changed.
Back to the pop! It may seem like a treacle drenched trip down a 70's highway and to a degree I guess it is, but I'm also making a point - we're being watched! Yeah, of course we know we are, it's long been a cliche par excellence to quote Orwell and the 'Big Brother' nightmare, but here we are in the 21st century with cameras, not just on every street corner, but in our actual hands!
We are being watched so closely now that we hardly notice it. How many times have you said something out loud and the next thing you know, advertisements or memes or quotes to do with that subject are popping up on your social media feeds? I know it happens to me! What do we do about it? Absolutely nothing... or am I paranoid? This is the whole theme of the track!
It's an interesting discussion for me; acceptance of the inevitable, that many find a kind of comfort in the grinding realisation that not one iota of our individual lives and liberties (really?) isn't being examined, scrutinised, discussed, put up for sale and manipulated - mainly and boringly - to flog us stuff!
Narrative aside, it's one of my favourite recordings on the album and has an immensely complex set of layers - especially over the end section where I recorded over 80 tracks of backing vocals alongside Sam's licks and lead themes. The backing vocals in general on the album are the most elaborate I've ever done, but I hope they don’t feel or sound like that! It's quite an art, believe me! Me paranoid? Nah…
The recording again went through a few trials and tribulations, I remember tempo being a head scratcher, and also where certain aspects of the minor/major changes occurred - it could have gone either way in places and it was surprising to me, even after all these years, what that subtle change can make. The drum track on this is awesome - all of them are, but I love the playful nature of Phil here, it's a seamless and effortless clever arrangement.
This Party's Over
So it ends with what we all thought was the clear 'closer' - right from the very start, we were almost willing this.
OK, so the title gives the game away a tad, but it much more than that. Certain songs have a feeling of finality, of permanence, of 'ending'. It's an emotional story of loss and acceptance driven by my own feelings of defeat specifically around the Brexit disaster (as I see it). I was desperate to write something that pinpointed my sense of sorrow about the loss of that connection, the writing off of the bigger picture in favour of isolation and all for the benefit of a small group of wealthy pariahs who couldn't give a shit about the rest of us - again as I see it.
But what I didn't want to do was bitch and moan or to shout and stamp my feet; the moment was gone, they had won and the course was set. So instead, this song depicts those triumphant bar room brawlers in Saville Row suits as they celebrate their victory and relax into the warm embrace of their hollow triumph. It's me watching from a distance and mourning the loss of progression and cooperation, it's me wondering what could have gone so wrong, it's me still believing in the people and not the self serving crooks that perpetrated this lunacy.
As a recording, it's as basic as it possibly could be, I wanted it to feel like a swing, like a sea shanty where all the instruments all pull together and support the collective sound - one riff played by all. It's all about the words, the music merely brings support to the narrative, allowing for it to be heard without complication. It brings a lump to my throat every time we hit the drop verse towards the end, a moment of rare calm on a record filled with riffs galore and meaty, petulant songs of bold design with sharp teeth.
Wayward Sons UK tour dates
Nov 06: Buckley Tivoli, UK
Nov 07: Stoke Sugarmill, UK
Nov 09: Manchester Academy 3, UK
Nov 10: Glasgow Cathouse, UK
Nov 11: Newcastle Riverside, UK
Nov 13: Leeds Wardrobe, UK
Nov 14: Nottingham Rescue Rooms, UK
Nov 15: Bristol Thekla, UK
Nov 17: London Islington Academy, UK
Nov 18: Wolverhampton KK's Steel Mill, UK