'The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be', the second album from Wayward Sons, is a concept album. The follow-up to 2017's 'Ghosts Of Yet To Come' tells a story, but the real theme to the album is fury: fury at the state of the world, and fury at our leaders.
Singer Toby Jepson – formerly of Little Angels, Fastway and Gun – calls it a protest album, but it's not a preachy collection. It's more of a reflection of his take on where humanity is, and where it's headed. So we asked him to tell us all about it.
Any Other Way
With Wayward Sons' first album - Ghosts Of Yet To Come - I had rekindled my love for recording and touring to the point where it felt like it did when I first started. And, I have to be honest, I never thought I'd feel that again.
It's everything to do with finding the right people to work with, people who share the same desire and energy to make music that can help inspire others as well as themselves.
Returning to writing for this album, my first instinct was to celebrate that feeling. I wanted to send out a message of joy and try to explain a little about why, at 51 years old, I was embarking on a new band project when I probably should know better! But somehow I couldn't help myself. It was a compulsion.
This track contains many of my favourite approaches to great live songs - the guitar opening, the vocal narrative beginning the track, the band energy holding onto the anticipation, before the track hits the chorus in celebration of the idea and demonstration of the joy of creating and playing music.
It's a simple yet honest message of, "I'm so lucky to be here, and I can't help myself, despite the ups and downs and difficulties of this life, it's part of me, of us".
It's the most unbridled track on the record in many ways and certainly is the calm before the storm in terms of narrative. I wanted it to draw the listener in and get them comfortable before I unleashed the rest! Ha!
As Black As Sin
I'm angry. About a lot of things. Most specifically, about the way the world is shaping up at the moment. This song is the first of almost all of the songs on the album to protest and resist against the rising tide of what I can only describe as dumb stupidity manifest as hate speak, prejudice and common or garden ignorance.
When I began writing the record it was around the time that the Brexit debate was reaching hitherto never seen before levels of grotesque language and behaviour in the UK which was, in turn, being closely echoed around the world. This horrified and terrified me but mainly made me angry.
It just seems that we've learned nothing. We are, in fact, taking steps backwards, and those leading this race to the bottom are "As black as sin"; without conscience or any coherent plan. It's all self interest and wealth that's driving it.
The weirdest thing to me is that it's not difficult to work it out, and I don't know whether it's desperation and fear or just plain meanness conjured by modernity that has drawn so many into this awful lie.
This song discusses these themes and asks the question, "how do you want to contribute to the world? Do you want to give in to fear and hate, to become part of the problem? Or can you stand up and say 'I won't be that person, I can and will be better'?"
It also seeks to discuss the futile notion about what is "truth" - the central theme of this album - and how far are you willing to ignore it to support your agenda? This to me, is one of the biggest issue we face today.
On an optimistic note, I still believe that music and great art can change the world and there has never, in my life time, been a greater need, and I hold that need deeply and want to do my bit, no matter how small.
Joke's On You
This was amongst the first of the new songs I presented to the band. It was inspired by a toxic relationship I endured some years ago, where a person I started out trusting almost unreservedly spent most of our relationship presenting themselves as the answer to everything despite leaning heavily on me to come up with the work.
I spent years believing their bollocks and suffering accordingly. It was divide and conquer wrapped up in a narcissist's view of the world, and it was so insidious that I didn't see the damage until I was out of it and the fog cleared - I was still defending this person to others despite the mess I'd been left in, such was the effect of the control.
I think we all, to varying degrees, experience things like this. Humans are complex and driven by the need to survive at any cost, and this basic instinct can lead some to feel nothing for others, to be focussed on their own agenda irrespective of how much damage is left in their wake.
Sadly this occurs frequently, and as a survivor of this experience I felt a need - quite frankly - to raise a middle finger to that person and other control freaks and say "Who's got the last laugh, motherfucker?"
Petty? Perhaps. Cathartic? Definitely. But It's not a "success" thing, it's a survival thing. I also found that because the theme was so personal, it also gave rise to a general discussion about the wider implications of making bad decisions based on poor information, and so it fitted right into the narrative trail throughout the record, namely: Who do we believe? What constitutes the truth? If you say something enough, does it make it true? That sort of thing.
I love the end cycle - a piece that Dave Kemp instigated, where we chant "looks like the joke's on you" - it has a melancholy feel which jars against the earlier celebratory tone of the lyric and so isn't triumphant. It's more reflective, and it suggests a sadness about accepting your own failures. None of us are perfect, etc.
Little White Lies
This song is where I wanted to broaden the pallet of the band, to stretch our legs and develop the sound.
It continues the theme of who's got the right to determine what is the truth and how it's interpreted. I wrote this song in a fevered period of about three weeks, where I wrote 56 songs. I'm not joking. I couldn't stop myself. I had gotten hold of the principle concept for the album and it was flowing. I'd tapped the vein, so to speak.
This song came easily and took about 15 minutes to finish, words and all. It talks about growing up and being able to see between the cracks, to make informed decisions and be safe in the knowledge that you've done so.
But it's also about taking responsibility for those decisions and accepting the consequences, about standing up for your beliefs, being aware of exactly who you're up against and having the courage to fight for those beliefs - 'I'll save the best of me for my enemies, leave the rest of me for your sympathy...'
I think we've all become far too passive these days. We let things go, we allow stuff to happen to us and just put up with it, almost like sleepwalking. It's a weird consequence of the 'I want it now' society, because nothing seems to have much substance anymore.
Musically it's a challenge in many ways, as I wanted it to be sweet and accessible yet talk about a tough theme without giving into saccharine sentiment - it's quite the opposite.
I love the solo Sam came up with. I said to him, "throw off the shackles, let your imagination run wild" and he didn't let me down! He embraced all the things he loves and it came out great.
Feel Good Hit
I'm determined to keep challenging our approach to song writing and interpretation, but I'm also a sucker for simple dynamic songs that are hung around one straightforward theme.
This idea popped out in my fever period and just stuck. It all hinges around that simple refrain, but far from being a simple obvious lyric it's actually quite a personal story about my school days and going out with a girl that came from a different area and subsequently caused me a lot of problems: threats and intimidation in a parochial town filled with bored kids with the backdrop of Thatchers Britain and a hot summer providing the context.
The lyric is questioning my generation and their attitudes as the violence that was inherently connected to a fervent nationalism surrounding the Falklands conflict spilled over into everyday life. Because I was seen as the enemy - my only crime being an inhabitant from a different village - I was fair game and, just as I can still hear the chant of "KILL THE ARGIES" echoing across the school field, I remember that summer being anything but hopeful or 'feel-good', hence the approach to the song of 'if this is as good as it gets, we're all fucked'.
Again, it feeds into my need to try and understand where the hate comes from, and how easy it is for people to lose all as-semblance of civility and common sense in the face of struggle and fear. It's a kind of collective madness. I put this track in the sequence as it precedes the next and offers a connection via the lyric 'If this is the Feel-good hit of the summer, I warn ya, we're fading away...'
As described, this track is the yin to "feel good's" yang and is a companion piece really in so much as it continues the discussion. What have we become? Where are we going? What have we learnt?
I wrote this song over 20 years ago whilst living in Scarborough and facing an uncertain future as a musician, so my attitude was somewhat melancholy although I had every intention of returning despite the titanic struggle that it seemed to be.
This attitude certainly fed my imagination. I wanted to create something that talked about who we are and how that view is illustrated specifically through the enduring influence of religious teaching and spiritual awakening.
I am an Atheist, and have been for most of my life, despite being brought up in a Christian household. I discovered quite early on that I was shackled to the ideology of Christianity without knowing why; did I believe in the teaching of the bible? Did I believe in the existence of a supreme creator? And the answer to both these questions was no.
I have, consequently, always found the discussion about spirituality and belief to be confused and based in tribalism. I feel deeply that I am connected to my life force and my humanity, and I don't believe that has to be allied to any organised religion or belief system. I simply 'am' and I don't need it explaining.
It actually brings me great comfort that I'm simply part of naturally occurring universal randomness, so this song talks about these subjects. I'm trying to say, "What if the religions of the world are wrong?' What if there really is nothing? What's so bad about fading away into oblivion as long as our time here was positive, added stuff to the ongoing story of humanity and we gave and received love?" Sounds about right to me.
The recording of the track was something of a journey. We tried it in quite a few ways, but it wasn't until Nic and Sam suggested we have a listen to Career (No Such Thing As Rock 'N' Roll) by Mott as a point of reference that it began to take shape.
For me, there is always a worry with songs like this, that they'll end up in "ballad hell", chasing the same tropes and beats as every other, but I think it's all in the telling and the words, so once we'd got our heads around the idea, it flowed beautifully and I think it's the heart and soul of the album. It cuts to the quick and brings home the concept of the whole record.
Again, Sam's guitar work is wonderful, the solo is reminiscent of all the stuff we love and he brings it with real skill and inventiveness. Wonderful.
Have It Your Own Way
This was a riff offered by Sam early on in the writing process, and what a doozy it is. Because Sam comes from a different generation he brings a contrasting take and approach to mine, and I was hugely inspired by what he'd written.
It came together quickly in rehearsal, where I added the pay-off line at the end and then went away to retro write the song over the progression. It was a different way of working for me, but I really enjoyed it, and quickly found the subject matter and crucially a melody that I could wind around Sam's riffs.
The song, again, continues the search for 'why' and talks about how we all believe we're right most of the time. Belligerence is a key component of human interaction in many ways, and compromise doesn't really come naturally to us. Look at the way the UK is now! It's become less about what's right and wrong and more about picking a side irrespective of the details and what will actually really benefit us.
But this isn't the first time and won't be the last. It's a defence mechanism. I think deep down we're all a bit scared of change and progress as we easily become accustomed to our situations and don't like it when it's set to change, and it's hard to overcome those fears.
The title is a simple way of saying "no matter how much evidence can be shown, if don't believe it then that's on you! Have it your own way, be like that! See what happens".
I hope I'm wrong, I hope this song will cause listeners to say, "hang on, I'm not like that!" Or at least give pause for thought.
Long Line Of Pretenders
As you can tell from the explanations so far, this record has a connective thread that runs through it. It's not really a concept record, it's more a protest album, and it's principally aimed at us all, mankind, the human condition.
But I do blame the leaders. Right now, I think the world has some of the worst in recent living memory, and has been personified by this noxious 'man of the people' bollocks, and once again I find it staggering that folk can be hoodwinked into believing the utter nonsense that they spew, given that most of them come from monied privilege. Go figure!
But it's not the whole story, now is it? We have to facilitate their positions – certainly in the developed world – and the Internet has, as we know, blown the doors off of the concealed charlatans. Now they don't event try to hide! But how do we tackle the future?
Well, this song is a reaction to this phenomenon. It's me saying, "I see you" and "you don't fool me", and I feel it sends out a message of hope that this has happened many times before, as the smarmy "I've got all the answers", posh, suit-wearing charlatans have been here before and have ultimately failed as they can't help themselves. This is just another one (or two) of them.
It's a really simple tune, and was inspired by those great new wave acts like Elvis Costello. It's a hard-hitting direct message wrapped up in an easily palatable melody.
I love Phil's playing on this track. It's so spirited, and was a one-take blessing! The same goes for Dave's piano playing. In fact, Dave has excelled and really brought something special to the overall sound. Keyboards can be tough to integrate into rock, but Dave's approach is seamless, I think, and is now completed integrated into what we are.
(If only) God Was Real
No concealing this one! Ha! I've written quite a few songs over the years that challenge the accepted proposition of the existence of a God or Gods as it is so intrinsically linked to our lives - as discussed earlier - but this one proffers a slightly different take.
It seeks the answers to the questions of "If God really does exist, why does he/she not intervene more? Disease, war, famine etc etc?" And "What does he/she think about what we've done to this planet?"
If the answer from believers is the cliché, "God moves in mysterious ways", it's not enough for me. It's not an answer, it's insubstantial, and cannot be used as a way of explaining the horror of something like cancer, for instance. What 'caring God' would allow that to happen? It makes no sense what-so-ever, and leads me to assume that IF God does exist, he/she must be a maniac.
It's an angry song and easily the heaviest track on the album, and I make no apology for the sentiment. I've seen precious little to convince me of the existence of any God or deity and it continues to appal me that institutions that hold themselves up as the 'one true religion' - as they all do - seem to me to be nothing more than huge businesses intent on holding onto wealth.
In the case of say Vatican City and the Catholic Church, it's vast wealth that could easily feed and clothe the very poorest in society across the globe. Those they claim to be protecting. It's a racket.
So how does this hypocrisy sit with the teachings and doctrines? And will any of them relinquish this wealth? Not a chance! And this is the joke, because that's what it is: an awful joke.
I'm unlikely to make any friends or fans out of the devout believers, but I'm genuinely not trying to offend. I'm just offering a different perspective and opening a conversation. After all, why can't we challenge these age old ideas? It should be able to take criticism and scrutiny.
The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be
The title track, and where this whole journey has been leading. It's an odd song and it arrived kicking and screaming one evening as I was trying to complete the words on another work in progress.
It just kind of hit me as a great title: a cool, fun play on words along the lines of 'this town ain't big enough for the both of us'. It plays perfectly into the central conceit of the album, namely the crazy assumption that somehow we no longer believe the facts, that the Truth as we have known it is invalid, or at best suspicious. That as long as you tell a lie long and hard enough it can be accepted as 'alternative fact'.
These are clearly the ravings of madmen but also, more insidiously, a very convenient smokescreen for others to cover up their barefaced lies. We don't have too look far for examples these days, do we?
It's supposed to be a pitch-black humorous lyric, and contains my favourite line of the whole album that sums up the idea: 'I used to know about my onion, my story slowly revealed, but now I'm not so sure if it's an onion or an apple I've peeled.'
Because where are we? How do we get back to critical thought and common sense in the face of people in authority saying things like "people are tired of experts". I mean, really! With all the problems we face as a civilisation, as a planet, we need to start to face the challenges head on as a world, not like school kids in the yard playing, "my Dad's bigger than your Dad".
I do love this track, and it's certainly one of my personal favourites as it reminds me of those album tracks that were on great albums that were never released as singles but were the very backbone of those records. I love the solo section again, it was Dave's idea to displace the time signature and it gives the central movement some real heft and ingenuity.
This was written as a companion piece to the title track, as it kind of finishes off the story. It again, offers a semi-comedic approach to the subject matter, but it's more out of desperation that anything else.
I think it's my absolute favourite track, and I love playing it. It's so edgy and quick it leaves me breathless playing it, and it is possessed of many of the things that I loved about the punk and new wave scene: spiky chords, a fast-moving arrangement, and lyrics that have a tongue forced right into the cheek but make a solid point.
I'm channeling The Stranglers in many ways, as they were supreme at that kind of songwriting. I've tried to say, hey, I'm part of this stupidity, I'm not immune to the situation, and I'm as guilty as the next man. I don't have all the answers, but I'm aware that it's not right and needs to change.
It currently feels like the world is a big bad, terrifying Joke, a TV show that I'm hoping will end: I'll wake up to find it's not true! Thats maybe an extreme reaction, I admit, but I can't help it. It's a crazy period in history, so this idea and lyric seemed to make a huge amount of sense. And it's fun to play!
Us Against The World
It was important to me to end the record on an epic, sobering moment. The previous two songs had brought the comic, clown-like situation to its zenith and given a crazy, lyric heavy word play identity to the end of the album. But there is a serious point to make here, and I needed it to cut to the quick and proffer, not a solution, but a "summing up" of the themes I'd been discussing throughout.
This was the very first idea that I presented to the band, and it wasn't what I expected to write at the time. It started off as a technical exercise of descending the fret board in semitones and trying to make a song out of the movements, and it evolved from there.
Part of my search for new song ideas is to try unusual tunings or chord shapes just to see where they might take me, this is a good example of that process. Once I had established the progression, the melody visited itself on me quickly and the whole thing opened up in a wholly unexpected fashion.
I was reluctant to play it to the guys at first as it was such a departure from our first album, but it immediately sparked and remained on the 'A' list right through the evolutionary period of the writing.
It's a dense song with quite a bleak outlook, but again I'm not concerned with how it will represent me, more about how the idea comes across. It simply says that the human race has become a parasite, and has indulged itself with no thought of the consequences, in an entitled manner that is bound to be our undoing unless we can begin to recognise our home for what it is; the only one we've got.
I know this kind of subject is often met with derision and scoffing as it can come across as a bit hippy, but I care not. Take a look out the window: look at all the plastic waste that litters every corner of our neighbourhoods. We're living in mess and waste of our own creation, and this was was never considered as a problem. It was all about the profit, before any need to dispose and deal with the aftermath. Look at the destruction of our natural world, the poisons that are emptied In to our rivers and our oceans, and tell me you don't see a problem. It's all of our problem.
It's certainly heavy subject matter, but it's also one of the best things I've ever written, I think, purely because it gets to the heart of the subject in a way that was better than I could have hoped.
Totally Screwed (Secret Track)
There was a debate within the ranks of the band as to whether this was in the same universe as the rest of the album.
We re-recorded it twice before settling on the right way to pull it off. It started life as my tribute to Tom Robinson and the Power In The Darkness album period, which had a huge influence on me whilst writing the album. But it evolved into a post-punk-new wave, 70s single kind of thing that we all began to love and couldn't put away!
Sometimes you just have to take a chance and say, "fuck it, we love it", and so that's what we did. It became the secret track as a way of bringing some light relief to proceedings, and finishing the album on a light note despite its serious subject matter (which is pretty obvious and easy to understand!).
It takes the form of an autobiographical chapter of my life as a teenager growing up in a crappy secondary school in North Yorkshire. It definitely echoes and is perhaps a companion piece to Feel Good Hit, as it talks about the exact same period - growing up through the dark years of Thatcher's reign and the feelings of oppression I felt. It's a common subject matter for me having touched upon it with Small Talk on the first album. I think it will be a cracker live!