“Someone goes on there every now and again to change it to ‘John’s dead.’”
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and Gus Wood, lead vocalist of the UK band Young Guns, is talking about the band’s Wikipedia page. Despite the success that Young Guns has had, Wood still seems a little surprised that the band even has a Wikipedia page, although it’s clearly not always reliable.
The John in question – John Taylor – is, in fact, very much alive. He and Fraser Taylor, Young Guns’ guitarists, are sitting on either side of Wood in a booth on the second floor of the Rivoli. The three of them, along with band-mates Simon Mitchell (bass) and Ben Jolliffe (drums), are in Canada for the first time.
Young Guns is still a relatively obscure name here in Canada; that’s not the case back home in the UK. When the band’s sophomore album, Bones, was released in February, it peaked at number 19 on the British Billboard, despite competing against such mainstream names as Adele and Coldplay. That’s quite an accomplishment for an indie rock band in the pop-dominated UK music landscape. The band’s social networking accounts are also very popular (over 100,000 followers on Facebook and 37,000 on Twitter), and have connected them with their burgeoning North American and European fan base.
“[Social media creates] a relationship between band and audience that did not exist 10 years ago,” explains Wood, taking on a serious tone for the first time during the interview.
“[Previously] the band wrote the music and the people that liked the band listened to the music and went to the show, and that was pretty much the end of it. And now there has to be this dialogue. You know, you have to keep your fan base going and you have to keep [fans] aware that you appreciate them … That’s not a bad thing… I think that it’s cool to let [fans] know … that you care about them as well, because we do.”
As the interview progresses, it becomes clear that Wood always has the answers to my questions on the tip of his tongue, and his eager way of speaking is reflective of his personality. Wood’s thin frame always seems to be teeming with barely-contained energy. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would think that I was the only one interviewing him that day. In reality, though, I am part of a long line-up of journalists coming to speak to Young Guns before they play their set at the Horseshoe Tavern this night.
The band’s Toronto gig is just one of many shows that they will be playing during their tour. Young Guns have already played a series of shows in the US, not to mention a two-week stay in Brooklyn, where they shot a music video and released Bones in North America. After playing in Toronto, Young Guns will head back to America, followed by a two-and-a-half-month round of gigs in the UK and Europe.
I ask the band how they stay sane while maintaining such a busy schedule.
“You don’t,” John Taylor quickly replies.
“You have to give up [any] idea of a normal existence,” Wood adds.
I ask how Young Guns manages to keep its performances genuine, even after playing so many different shows.
“We tend to just play every song, every show … the same pretty much,” Taylor replies. “We just put as much energy into it we can. Whether it’s a big show or a small show, [we] just enjoy it, that’s the main thing.”
“That is the main thing,” Woods says. “Crowds feed off of the energy that you put out onstage, and if you’re kind of like bummed out or tired … people will know that and they will respond in kind. We’re about trying to bring it every show and get people singing, even if they don’t know who we are.”
I’m a little skeptical. It seems implausible that Young Guns could bring the sort of energy that marked their recent performance during the Olympic Torch Relay to a small pub in Toronto.
But later on that night at the Horseshoe Tavern, my incredulity is completely dispelled. Despite a fairly modest crowd, I cannot imagine Wood giving a more devoted performance. He is in an almost trance-like state, wailing as he bends backward and shaking his sweaty hair to the side when he hits particularly intense notes. The other members of Young Guns are also clearly committed to their set, energetically singing back up vocals and generally playing as if their lives depended on it.
While Young Guns is currently flying under the radar in Canada, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time they’re in Toronto, they’re playing to a much larger audience. Their energy and enthusiasm demand it.