Whilst spending less time courting the spotlight than their rock star contemporaries, the swathe of singer/songwriters building up across the world are very much a force to be reckoned with. Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin, Willy Mason, Josh Ritter, Pete Yorn, Teddy Thompson, Ray LaMontagne to name but a few – these artists have built up ardent fan bases (Ryan Adam’s Koko show sold out in a matter of minutes), with their heartfelt, honest and genuine artistry and writing.
Artists like Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional are straddling the line between mainstream and low key, whilst maintaining the ‘confessional‘ and earnest style that hits a nerve with so many listeners. Along with these mainstays, new artists are emerging, amongst them Waz, longtime band mate of Pete Yorn, who’s struck out on his own with his emotion driven, beautifully crafted tracks. Having supported Jesse Malin at ULU last week, Waz showcased his new EP Home at Bar Academy, and took time out for a chat with Dee Massey.
Right I guess we should start right at the very beginning. How did you get into music?
Well I grew up in Cleveland Ohio in the states, which is like the Mid West, and my parents had ELO, The Pretenders and Neil Young albums around the house – oh and Kiss! – and I used to just crank ’em up! And when I was about 8 my brother started taking drums lessons and I started guitar lessons, and after that I just never stopped playing.
And how did you and Pete Yorn get together?
[At] Syracuse..New York. He’s from Jersey, I was from Ohio, so going to college was like a big big trip for us. We started a band…. But it took about 4 years before anything happened and then he got signed [to Columbia] and then we went on tour for a number of years.
And when did you actually decide to go it alone? When did you start writing your own solo material?
While I was out of the road really. I first started writing and recording with the guy who recorded Pete’s first album [R Walt Vincent], as he was playing with us at the time, he had played most of the bass on that first album. So I recorded with him on my off-time, a few days here, a week there, and started playing it to people, and their response was pretty overwhelming.
And I guess I wanted a change, I think I’d done everything I could do in that band, I’d supported [Pete].. for a long time – and it’s his name you know, it was never about anyone but him – not in a bad way, it’s just his name. So I decided to split..
I was looking on Wikipedia and you’re down as an ‘eternal band member‘
Yeah [laughs]..that’s pretty cool.
Listening to your EP, it’s very honest, very stripped down, it seems very personal – where do you take your influences from?
I don’t really know, I mean…it just flows you know? Some people speak in metaphors and stuff like that, I just kinda let it come out…. these songs just seem to have a similar feel to them.
I think over here in the UK people seem to react well to singer songwriters who wear their heart on their sleeve, almost confessional writers…like Dashboard, Ryan Adams and people.
Well that’s good!
And what can people expect when if they listen to Home?
Well more of what you just said, very confessional sing songwriter type stuff, very heartfelt. Somebody said once, it’s not going to change the world, it’s not revolutionary music, it’s not like when The Strokes came out or anything, and I agree…it’s not. But I think its music that’s gonna last, and I think that what people should expect is more of the same. The EP is only 4 tracks, but I’ve recorded 14 songs, so there’s more to come.
And where did you record it?
Hollywood. In an old house with these two guys [Will Golden & Al Sgro] that I’d known for a couple of years, they started producing and opened a little studio.
And how involved did you get in the production side?
Very much so, I produced with them. It was one of their first [productions], but they’d worked with Gary Jules as well, Joe Purdy, Ian Ball from Gomez and people . I was as much a producer as they were, but they are amazing engineers though, that’s one thing I can’t do, and they also play a lot of the piano on the album.
So without sounding geeky…did you record it digitally or use tape?
We recorded it all onto 2″ tape first, and then we dumped it into pro-tools. It probably lost a little bit [of character] but at least it was initially recorded onto tape.
And did you prefer being on tour like now, or being creative in the studio?
I’d say being on the road. But being in a studio is when things happen….you can’t have one thing without the other, so I like being in the studio half the time….but also love being on the road.
And how’ve you found the English..and Irish..audiences?
They’ve been very receptive and warm [laughs] I hope they were moved by the genuine emotion and heartfelt songs. Jesse’s [Malin] people were really cool, it was more of a rock n roll crowd than I expected. The irish crowd were great, they responded more to different songs. So far it’s been really great!
So what’s the plan now? Are you going back to tour in the US?
I think we’re off to New York for some shows and we’ve got a load of new songs to record, and there’s some stuff going on with labels right now so we’re just trying to work it all out. I just signed a publishing deal.. and so they’re bringing people [labels] to the table, and it’s just one of those things [laughs]. I think we’re coming back to Europe in July or August, maybe a tour of Ireland. It’s cool over there.
Of all your touring, with either act, what’s been your most memorable time?
Well this group’s just getting going – but I did open for Pete, about 6 or 8 months after I left the band, in some big 2000 seater venues, and that was great. People saw me , they knew me from his band and could see I’d left on good terms, but they could see what I had to offer now.
Now for some quickfire questions…I’ve been asking bands I interview what 3 essentials items they take on tour…now Finch said spandex jump suits…and Ok Go are keen on socks, what are your three?
[laughs] Ok..pain reliever! ..Socks….lots of socks. And….well I haven’t been out for a while, so I’m finding out what I need!
What is the most shameful CD that you own?
Probably Justin Timberlake…that’s terrible right?
Yes, you should be ashamed.
[laughs] I know!
What kind of stuff do you listen to anyway..that you’re not ashamed of?
I love Neil Young, Tommy Petty, Strokes, Echo and the Bunnymen, basically anything rock n roll. There’s a lot of great new bands out there, The Caesars. I mean I love singer/songwriter driven music but I love rock n roll.
What’s your poison?
Oh I’ve been drinking a lot of red wine lately! I have a tendency to drink a lot, it got to the point where I was thinking ‘man..I need to drink something a little less heavy’. [laughs] But..I’m breaking it up, I go through a month or two of drinking red wine, right now I’m on the beer and Guinness. I don’t think it’d be safe to order red wine here anyway [some dodgy pub in Islington]
And so what’s your best hangover cure?
Writing. I’ve written some of my favourite songs hungover. I think you’re a little outside of your head, you don’t have those mental blocks or apprehension, and it’s different to when you’re drunk though.
What’s the best and worst thing about being in a band?
The best thing is being able to sharing your music, and seeing how people respond, the touring and the travelling. ..that moment when you’re writing with someone and you get that moment when you both look at each other and you know you’ve written something pretty fucking cool.
And the worst?
You almost forget to appreciate the people around you I think ‘cos you’re with them so much. Oh and doing a video in the ocean [in Ireland] and being so cold!
What was the first gig you ever went to as a child?
Eddie Money – an American singer, it was New Years, and I was no older than 11 or 12. I was supposed to going to Kiss, but at the last moment but Dad said no, he thought we’d get into trouble…but I think I was only about ten!
What’s your worst personality trait?
Well..probably snapping..! Being a little short tempered sometimes. I’m working on it [laughs] It’s usually with people I’m closest with though.
Why should people buy your EP?
Although there are other singer/songwriters out there, I don’t think there are very few who are delivering these songs as honestly as I am….or maybe I should say that the songs I am delivering are honest and genuine. And like I said, it’s not going to change your world….but I think when you hear it, you’re going to feel it, and I think it’ll emotionally evoke a lot of feelings.
Where would you most like to tour, and who with?
I’d live to tour around Europe, and I think the crowds definitely appreciate what I do, and this kind of music, and to open for Ryan Adams would be amazing. Playing with Jesse [Malin] has been great..
What do you miss most when you’re on tour?
I haven’t been gone long enough yet. When I was out of the road with Pete it used to be my girlfriend, but now she’s in the band!
And lastly..any words of wisdom for those aspiring songwriters on Crossfire?
Listen to good music!
For further information on Waz check out www.wazmusic.com