The Life of… a Rock Guitarist

By Sam Wood


Interview with Sam Wood an integral member of Wayward Sons. His work with the group has led to performances at well-known rock festivals including Download and Ramblin' Man and iconic venues such as the Hammersmith Odeon.

Briefly explain the areas of music you work in.

I am a guitarist and graduated from Leeds Conservatoire in 2010. Since then I have been working, gigging and recording in various bands, and was asked to help form my current band Wayward Sons in 2016.

You have played in a number of bands since graduating from university?

I’ve been in several bands, but always with a ‘focus’ on original music which takes up most of your time and effort! I think it’s good to have at least a couple of different projects going at one time, just as long as you’re not spreading yourself too thin. I’ve played and am currently playing in tribute bands here and there as well, which is something that does tend to split opinions among musicians, but I enjoy it, and it’s a very different challenge to playing in an originals band. Again, as long as you’re not spreading yourself too thin to be able to concentrate on your main focus, I think it can be very enjoyable and refreshing having a few different musical ‘heads’ to wear.

Your current band Wayward Sons features a few rock veterans. How did you end up joining? How has it been working with musicians that have been around the block a few times?

To be completely honest, it’s been a real departure from what I’m used to. My old band Treason Kings ended up having a couple of EPs produced by Toby Jepson, the singer of Wayward Sons. A little while later, when he was putting the band together, he gave me a call out of the blue and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. It was originally intended to be a solo album for him, but it quickly grew legs when we started playing together, and it felt like the right thing to do to create a band in its own right. The real benefit of being in a band with ‘veterans’ is that they have been there before and have made all the mistakes that most young bands make, whether it’s to do with bad management decisions, bad touring decisions, how best to divide song writing credits (and countless other things!). With my previous bands, we’d been trying to find our own way through things, which very often means that you end up doing the wrong things! This way, it means that the band is streetwise from the word go, which saves a lot of time and frustration in the long run. The other obvious advantage is that many of the contacts have already been made in terms of agents and promoters, and of course the fact that our singer has a wonderfully loyal fanbase already meant that the band could hit the ground running. It was an incredibly fortunate situation to be in, and one that I’m very grateful for.

Wayward Sons have recently been supporting Black Star Riders (featuring Thin Lizzy members) and Steel Panther. How is it performing alongside these legendary acts? What are the audiences like?

It’s always a joy to be given the opportunity to share such big stages with big bands. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get yourself out there to a bigger audience who haven’t heard of you before. That’s never been truer than playing with Steel Panther; as a band who are essentially a comedy act they attract a far wider audience than just rock fans, so it’s fantastic to be able to play to people who would never come across you in their own musical world. It’s fantastic feeling like you’re winning over an unknown crowd too, which we found on our tour last year with Living Colour and Jared James Nicols. We had three bands on the bill that were very different in the kind of music they play, but somehow it really worked!

How has touring life been? You have played some amazing venues in the UK and Europe. Any stand out shows/venues?

I love being on tour, and having the chance to see and play in some fabulous venues and cities is a real joy. The last tour we did with Steel Panther took us all over Europe, including Scandinavia and Estonia. It was six weeks in a van, and it was absolutely great fun! Quite aside from the gigs, you get so much time to see these wonderful cities for just long enough to get a bit of a feel for them before you’re heading off to the next one. As for standout venues, we’ve been fortunate to play a lot on my ‘bucket list’; Hammersmith Odeon, Brixton Academy and Barrowlands in Glasgow are some particular favourites, and are places that I’d never dream I’d actually get the opportunity to play at. We played the Apollo in Manchester on our first tour with SP, and just as we were sound checking one of their techs ran on and showed me a picture of The Beatles on that same stage – to find yourself stood in the same spot as John Lennon was quite a spooky experience!

Your most recent album has received glowing reviews. What was the recording process like?

It was a very organic process for the second album, even more-so than the first one, as by now we all knew how we worked together, and also we knew how the band sounded, which we didn’t really when we first started! The songs will generally start as a skeleton idea brought in that we then
build up together. I love doing it that way as it really gives the songs a chance to breathe and to develop naturally. We had a couple of sessions booked, so we were able to record the songs and then go away and listen to them, which was a big help. I’m sure most musicians are familiar with the feeling of hearing something back that they’ve recorded and not being totally happy with it, (or even completely hating it!) so it was great to be able to iron out those creases after sitting and living with the songs for a while.

You have a love of vintage equipment. What is it that appeals to you about older musical instruments? How many guitars do you currently own, and do you have a favourite or a go to?

Vintage gear is another thing that does tend to split opinion among musicians. I’ve always loved guitars as objects, and as pieces of craftsmanship and design from another era.

There’s a whole experience involved with playing an old guitar that for me is more than just how they sound, it’s about how they make you feel when you’re playing them. That’s not to say that an old guitar is inherently better than a new one (in fact, that is absolutely not true), it’s just often a different playing experience. I own around 20-25 guitars of all ages, but mostly older Gibsons from the fifties to the seventies. None of them are all-original, mint examples, I’ve not really got much interest in those, instead they’re all nicely used and often abused examples that are wonderful guitars in their own rights, but without the huge price tag that normally comes with vintage gear.
That said, the guitar I use most is my mid-nineties Les Paul Custom, which I saved up for when I was 15, and I love it to bits. It’s not even a particularly great sounding Les Paul, but I’m so used to how it feels and how it sounds that it can feel wrong using anything else when I’m playing live.

Streaming stats suggest pop and dance music are the most consumed music genres, and this is largely reflected in mainstream radio programming. Where do you think this leaves rock music?

I think one thing that the digital music revolution has shown us is that it’s now far easier for us to find new music that we enjoy than it ever has been. There will always be mainstream radio, but I don’t think musical trends will ever be as allconsuming as they once were. We’ve now got limitless music at our fingertips that we can discover for ourselves, without the need to have to be pointed in the right direction, which is fantastic when you think about it. There’s still a very healthy audience for rock music, and particularly now that musicians have had to turn back to touring to make a living rather than relying on record sales, it’s great to see that people are still coming out to gigs, possibly more than they ever have done.

Have you noticed a difference with how other countries engage with rock music in comparison to the UK?

Make sure you are the very best musician that you can be The UK has always been a great place for rock music, and there’s a good market for it over here, but in territories like Germany, Holland and Scandinavia, they take it to a whole new level! A lot of European countries have the arts subsidised by the government far more than we do here, and so the general appreciation of music does tend to be higher.

One of the real downsides about music becoming digital is that it has ceased to have the same monetary value as a commodity that it once had. We expect to be able to listen to music instantly and for free, rather than having to go out and buy it. Luckily though, people seem happier than ever to go out and see gigs, (well, pre-Covid at least!), it’s just a different way of having to earn a living by being a musician.

Do you have any advice for those about to graduate from university?

The first bit of advice I would give is to have belief in what it is that YOU do that makes you stand out from the crowd. As musicians, we often spend so much time second guessing ourselves, or seeing what other people are doing and wondering whether we ought to be more like that. At the end of the day, if you’ve been passionate enough to study music at university level and to graduate, chances are that you’re going to have something about your playing, your voice, or your musical outlook that is profoundly unique and should be celebrated and nurtured. Having confidence is the key, and that’s not to say that you shouldn’t strive to better yourself and explore new avenues, of course, but believe that you can do what you do better than anyone else can, because it’s true!

The other thing is that you’ve got to do as much as you can to put yourself in a position where opportunities may come your way, and if they do come your way, SAY YES! Joining Wayward Sons was the result of one chance meeting that led to my previous band being produced by Toby. When we were in the studio, I’d mentioned to him to keep me in mind if ever he had any session work or similar that he needed a guitarist for, and it was that that meant he thought of me when he was putting Wayward Sons together. If that first meeting hadn’t happened, or if I hadn’t leant on Toby so much to keep me in mind, or if I’d decided not to go for it (I was teaching full time at the time, and was quite busy with other musical projects, so in some ways it would’ve been quite easy to say no), I wouldn’t have had any of the fantastic opportunities and experiences I’ve had over the past few years with WS. You’ve got to get out there and make connections happen. There’s an old adage that says ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’, and whilst nothing can ever be guaranteed, I do think there’s a lot of truth in it!

Sam Wood

Guitarist with Wayward Sons

By Sam Wood

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