All guns blazing
The past few years haven’t been the easiest for Young Guns, but with new album ‘Echoes’ they come out swinging.
Words: Ali Shutler.
“The last album was a difficult campaign for us,” starts Gustav Wood. “There’s no use beating around the bush or trying to deny what it was.”
Following the success of 2012’s ‘Bones’, Young Guns set about doing something different for ‘Ones & Zeros’. The result was lush and spacious but frustrating to achieve. Sitting on the songs as they followed their sudden explosion in America, the bulk of the tracks were already a year or two old before the band went into a San Francisco studio with super-producer Dan The Automator. They were older still when the band returned home as the chemistry wasn’t working. Following another, more successful recording process ‘Ones & Zeros’ was then mixed twice and recorded with someone else. All of this was happening against the backdrop of the band’s first major label deal with Virgin. Talk about hard work.
It’s really no surprise then that Young Guns went into ‘Echoes’ wanting something different. Something more but in the same breath, something less. “In every way this record is the antithesis of the last one,” says Gus. From the opening of ‘Bulletproof’, you can hear that desire. There’s belief and brute-force to every moment as the band cut the horizon-dancing broad strokes that dominated ‘Ones & Zeros’ with a gnarled grit. The band still want the world, they’ve just seen its true colours.
“Being in a band is a very demanding thing to do,” explains Gus. He’s matter of fact, not deflated or jaded. “It requires so much work and so much effort and often, not a lot of return. But it depends what you measure as a return,” he offers. “It’s a very destructive thing, playing music. The pursuit of music is a very selfish thing to do. It fractures and it damages all of your relationships outside of that; your family, your girlfriends, your boyfriends or whatever.” Though he still considers Young Guns a relatively new band (their first song was released in early 2009) the band still had to ask themselves some questions ahead of ‘Echoes’ following the departure of their drummer Ben Jolliffe.
“It felt like we had a choice to make. Inevitably there was a degree of introspection and reflection. You’re asking if the fight’s still here. Are we still hungry? Do we still feel like we’ve got more to achieve?” The band found the answers quickly and simply: yes. “We still do feel like we’re just getting started. It felt like we had unfinished business. We’ve had a couple of moments in our career where we feel like we’ve proved to ourselves and to everyone else that we can achieve a lot. Some of those things are so validating but there’s a lot left for us to do here. We’ve only just scratched the surface so all of those big, grand questions didn’t take very long to answer.”
Putting those rediscoveries to tape, ‘Echoes’ is a record that sees Young Guns pick themselves back up, brush themselves down and stand tall. There’s defiance to every deliberate movement. “We wanted it to be urgent and instant. Funnily enough, for the first time, the record has an overriding theme but it was totally not designed to be that way. It wasn’t done on purpose.” Written in eight weeks, recorded in five, that intense, cohesive process led to a single-minded record.
“The whole album, in one way or another, is a reflection of where the band was at the time and where I was as a person. I had come out of a pretty substantial and serious long-term relationship and we had just parted ways with our major label, which had been a disastrous relationship. We’d also just parted ways with our drummer and that’s a significant thing because our whole band is built around the fact we’re all friends, we’ve been friends for 10-11 years and our band is a product of that.”
Inescapably, the whole album became about those things but it never wallows or courts with self pity. Instead, it champions “the idea of not being trapped in your head or in the past and instead, focuses on putting your best foot forward and looking ahead to the future. We felt, to some extent, our backs were against the wall and we wanted to come out swinging. That’s why the record has a lot of attitude and that defiance reflects our mood. That’s how we felt. We were hungry, pissed off and we had a degree of self-confidence which was empowering.”
As always with Young Guns, ‘Echoes’ is different to everything else they’ve put their name to. The band refuse to retrace their steps because “we always want each record to stand apart from the one that came before and to offer something a little different. We’ve always had maybe a naïve belief in the idea that if we write the best songs we can, all the other things will take hopefully care of themselves.” While ‘Ones & Zeros’ looked outwards (“We’re never going to be The Mars Volta but for us, we considered that a more experimental record.”), ‘Echoes’ is very personal. “In the past I felt like I’d given so much of myself away that there wasn’t that much left for myself. There’s a song on ‘Ones & Zeros’ called ‘Die On Time’ which is speaking about that and is one of the only really personal moments on the record, but I felt it was appropriate again on ‘Echoes’ to do the opposite, to talk about my life and what was going on because that was the only thing I could think about. It was all I could focus on.”
“All I can ever do is write about how I feel about something,” he continues. “You try and do anything else and you end up not doing a very good job.” The album’s title track sees Gus talking about a point in time where he was struggling to move forward. “I was spending a lot of time in my own head, thinking about the end of all these relationships and trying to find a way to not relive these moments in time I came back with this idea of those memories, feelings and conversations being echoes I was having trouble letting go of. I kept hearing them in everything I did and everything I saw.” That desire to put the past to bed and move forward is the basis for the whole record, so naming the album after that song felt appropriate.
That’s not to say Young Guns are anywhere close to being done. ‘Echoes’ gave Gus “a real and deep sense of self belief. At the end of the last album, we did feel burnt out and exhausted. Being in a band is pushing water uphill a lot of the time, it’s a difficult thing to do but it’s a thing you do because it makes you feel connected to the rest of the world. I am very grateful for this album because it’s rekindled my love for it, my passion for it and I realised how lucky I am. I’m so grateful to be sitting here, on an off day from the Warped Tour, which is a tour I fantasised about since I was 16 years old. This whole year for me has been about reconnecting with the music and the kid that I once was, I feel like this is where I belong. This recording process helped me figure out who I am. I’m excited again and it feels like we’re starting again. It feels like there’s nothing we can’t do.”
So excited by where the band now find themselves, Gus wants to go and write another record straight away. “When you feel as hungry and driven as we do, it really does feel like there are so many places you can go. You just have to work hard and believe in it. I believe in this.”
There’s an air of limitless potential surrounding Young Guns and ‘Echoes’: “I’ve managed to make a series of catastrophic mistakes and bad decisions in my life that somehow ended up with me stumbling into the only thing that makes me feel like I’m actually here for a reason. I want to continue doing that and I want to push it. I want to continue to live in this world, this life that I’ve been lucky enough to wander into. I want to work hard and I want people to pay attention because I feel like we have something to say and something to offer. It’s not about if we can play Wembley Stadium or sell this many records, it’s about feeling like I’ve got a purpose, and I do when I’m in this band with my friends.”