Quick—when you think of Southern rock, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Lynyrd Skynyrd? Sweet Home Alabama? How about Bournmouth, England?
Say what?? Bournmouth, England? As in the UK?
Yup! From the name (Western Sand) to the logo (two ram’s skulls emerging from a bonfire) to the music…there’s a young British band with a very American-type feel to it that plays the most kick-ass Southern rock you’ll ever hope to hear.
Of course, British bands being influenced by American music are nothing new. Famously, the roots of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones grew from many hours spent listening to American blues artists. Speaking to Western Sand’s lead vocalist/guitarist Tyler Hains, he explains his upbringing. “When I was growing up, my dad would be cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning, listening to Skynyrd, Aerosmith, any of those kinds of American bands on the record player. I think possibly the sexiest sound alive is having a Les Paul through a Marshall cab. In the five years or so that Western Sand have been in existence, we’ve only come across another couple of Southern rock bands as such. It gives us a unique edge within the UK. Obviously, bands like Skynyrd and Black Label Society and Black Stone Cherry have come over here and had a huge influence.”
When listening to the band’s self-titled, four-song EP, the level of musicianship is unbelievable. Killer rhythm section, and two lead guitarists who burn hot and hotter. Even more impressive is when you consider how young they are: Hains and fellow guitarist Jimmy Bradshaw are 22 years old, as is drummer Nathan Kay. Bassist Findlay Hotchkiss is all of 18.
“I’d been teaching guitar for a company, and then Jimmy started teaching, and it wasn’t too long until we realized that we were the only guitar teachers who shared the same classic rock, Southern rock influences. So we immediately hit it off, and were chatting about bands and he’d just broken up with his band and I’d just broken up with mine, and we were both a little bit worried because we were both lead guitarists. But within about a month of meeting each other, we had the bare framework of Western Sand up and running. We spend a lot of time over the first year-and-a-half writing and getting the band to gel as brothers. More than a band, we like to think of ourselves as a big family.”
“Having someone to play against…we’ve kind of pushed each other. It’s a healthy competition, really, to see who can lay down the best guitar solo. We have the utmost respect for each other. We try and use that dual lead guitar sound, because there’s not a lot of bands that really do that anymore. Skynryd, Thin Lizzie…I think it adds another dimension to your sound. A lot of the great songs of all time are based on guitar solos. Sweet Child O’ Mine, Freebird, those kind of songs, definitely the guitar solos are sometimes what makes the song.”
As for the rhythm section, Kay’s powerhouse drumming brings to mind a certain player by the name of John Bonham. Yes, that’s a mighty tall comparison, but again, listen to the EP. Hain says “As far as Nathan goes, I’ve never seen another unsigned band with a drummer as strong as Nathan—and I’m not just saying that because he’s my drummer. He’s completely self-taught, never went for lessons, he’s just got that natural feel and creativity in his playing. A lot of drummers like to keep it straight, 4/4 power drumming, where Nathan almost riffs along with the guitars, which does have that John Bonham feel to it. I’ve been playing in bands with Nathan since I was 14, and when Jimmy and I started Western Sand, Nathan was our first choice as drummer. Findlay is very young, but he knows exactly how to compliment Nathan on drums without making things too complicated. He knows what’s best for the song as far as his parts go, and he’s only going to get better with experience.”
When a band releases an EP with only four songs, they have to pack a lot into each song to make the best possible impression. With four songs, there’s no room for filler. Western Sand’s EP, however, delivers to the hilt. “We’re very much a live band, our energy gets unleashed live, and that’s where we thrive,” says Hains. “We pride ourselves in that we gigged and gigged and gigged, and gone about it the old-school way. These days with social media, you can access anything online, but we’ve felt that the best way to get people to listen to our music is by getting out there and doing it ourselves. Every recording we’d done before this one, it never really captured that live energy that you want to capture, especially for a rock band. Luckily, we got put in touch with a guy named Paul O’Neill, who runs Incentiv Studios here in the UK. He took some time, got to know the band, and realized that he needed to capture this raw, live sound, but in a studio version. We ran through the songs a few times, recorded that live, and then went back and recorded all the parts separately again. So you have this live feel, but since we re-recorded all the parts separately, we were able to really nail down the guitar solos, the rhythm section, get everything as tight as it could be, but still having that same energy as playing live. Hopefully that’s what comes across on the EP.”
“The reaction has been fantastic, a lot of great reviews. A lot of people comparing us to legendary bands, which is a massive compliment.”
When asked if handling lead vocals came as naturally as playing lead guitar, Hains laughs softly—and through the phone, you can almost see him shaking his head. “Singing was hard, and it still is. There’s a hell of a lot that I can learn. Vocally, where I’ve come over the last five years, if I sent you the previous EP’s, you’d be able to hear the difference. It didn’t really come naturally, but I took on the role because I got fed up with lead singers who were…you know what lead singers can be like! I figured that if I was going to write my own songs, I’m gonna sing ‘em that way I want them to be sung. If you can write true, honest songs, then somewhere, someone will connect with them, and that’s all you can ask for. Yeah, I definitely have to practice vocally, and I’m learning all the time. I’m getting to the stage where I’m quite happy with where it’s sounding, but I know there’s a long way to go.”
While Western Sand has been making quite a buzz for themselves at home, one thing they crave is to do a tour of the U.S. “We can’t express how much we want to come over to the States. I remember two years ago emailing over 200 venues across the U.S., and we thought that if we could get around 30 gigs we could fly over, but it didn’t pan out. We’d love to come over to the States, and we get people telling us ‘if you come over, you’d be well-received.’ I don’t know…it’s would be amazing to be close to the influences we’ve picked up over the years, to come out and play Southern rock where it was born! See how well we go down—that would be the true test.”
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