I love heavy music and always will, but I felt the need to grow up.
All the changes called for some explanations. Plus there were questions i never asked but always wanted to have answers. - DC
D: I hate to bring this up but when I first met you, you were fronting a metal band called The Fallen Versus Fate. Some people might describe the music of John Will Sail as ‘sensitive man music.’ I guess the question is, Is the metal side of you screaming into a microphone still there, or does John Will Sail represent an evolution in you as an artist and person?
J: Hahaha good question. I still listen to heavy music, usually metal/hardcore stuff from a few years ago. I probably play American Me's beatdown album Heat once a week when I am angry and old favourites like Parkway Drive when in the gym. But I started writing as a kid, doing things like Cat Stevens and John Will Sail is a return to those roots. I like to think it’s more edgy and intense on stage than most singer/songwriters, that's why I sometimes use the title folkpunk. I think this project has helped me evolve more than any band I have been involved in; it is a real learning curve writing songs all by yourself and engaging the audience as a solo artist. It has taken three years to get to be happy where I am, which is a long time compared to a bands lifespan. I love heavy music and always will, but I felt the need to grow up.
D: In the press release I received for “Tame” your new video, you referred to “being a bit of a Dad” – what did you mean by that?
J: I notice that I do tend to be authoritative at times. In relationships, during work, probably even music. Also, I am an older brother to three younger siblings and have this inbuilt consideration for others, like I feel I can always help people for the better. Do good things, in my mind anyway. Sometimes doing the best thing is simply shutting up.
D:As an artist do you necessarily know consciously what your lyrics are about or do they flow as a stream of consciousness and then you realize what the lyrics are about. Is making the music a process of self discovery or is it simply a process of making real what already exists perfectly in your mind?
J: There is a bit of both self and the world in lyrics. I try to speak my heart in songs as this, I found, makes the performance a lot more interesting. You can relive these moments in songs, so if you just write something that sounds nice or rhymes for the hell of it then you’re not doing yourself justice. Even if you're writing for a pop audience and writing on issues that affect everyone, there should be some sense of truth in the lyrics. Otherwise it’s just like building a fancy sports car with a motorbike engine.
D: I was asking someone the other day what ‘folk punk’ meant as a genre. I think we may have touched upon this in the podcast we did months back. I think Epitaph has some folk punk on their label now.
J: Good point. The genre is hard to define. I see it as a punk feeling in an acoustic form. Punk itself has changed since day one. Think how commercial acts like Sex Pistols, Blink 182 and Green Day compare to more underground acts like Pennywise, Refused and Strike Anywhere, then to the real, harsh, dirty underground NY scenes. What I think holds true among all punk is the subversion of the mainstream (before that particular generation of punk becomes too popular and becomes what it created to hate.) My music, though softer than punk bands, still has a bit of grit and an intensity that most singer/songwriters I have seen leave out of their performance. Structurally my songs are fairly punk orientated also, usually around 2 to 3 minutes. Of course I have had to tone down parts, learning to adjust the dynamic, voice etc. That's all about the evolution I explained earlier. I guess folk punk is a sort of 'soft music for bad boys' type thing. Most of the time I just refer to myself as folk as it’s easier to digest for the greater public.
J: I love making the film clips. My first video It's My Holiday Too was shot with a team and cost quite a bit of money. I have made the video private, even though the content (beers, beaches, parties and Pattaya) made it the most popular video (6500 organic hits) the image/theme associated was too tongue in cheek. Journeyman was really interesting. I received a large pay-out from my old job, bought a camera with a 50mm lens and an air ticket to North America. I sort of just filmed different people as I went and edited it all into each person having their own story. With Tame I had more of an idea of a theme, filmed lots of South African animals and scenery while there in July. I had the musicians I toured with shoot me in lots of locations playing guitar. This last effort I paid a friend, Jesse Maddox, to edit. His skills are far better than mine and he has added that extra professional touch to the video.
D: You are often performing with your friend Beer, Soranut Masayavanich. Recently you performed at Noise Market 5 – sorry I missed the performance – and it looks like you guys have started up a little label for yourselves. I saw a comp CD on Beer’s Facebook page. What are the plans for the label?
J: Beer Soranut is an awesome performer and real fun to play with. He and I talked about Summer Sun Records a while back, but I didn't know it would actually happen. I love Beer’s enthusiasm and he called me up and said ‘hey man I want to make a label, for local indie artists like us, and I don’t want contracts, just good music and working together with good people’. I said great! But I only started taking it seriously when I left Sangsom (next question) and Beer and I have worked together on some shows, music promotion and future projects. It’s started really well, got some buzz and by running all our shows/merch through the label we have something solid. We have created a brand to strengthen the scene.
D: Recently you left The Sangsom Massacre where you have played bass and guitar for a few years. Are you all still friends? Do you still feel the brotherhood? Was it time to simply work on your solo music? And I have to ask the question: Were you trying to ‘tame’ The Sangsom Massacre?
J: Hahhaha I don’t think I ever tried to ‘tame’ The Sangsom Massacre, she's one mighty beast. But I was doing a lot of work for the band to make it great; I could see a bright future and we were a pretty big deal in the Bangkok scene. But keeping it up there takes a professional attitude and someone with knowledge of the industry. The other guys’ passion were in the right place, but they didn’t fully understand the expectations of a band in that position. I have nothing against those guys and was drinking with them last weekend actually, but I guess I will miss the fun, rock band brotherhood we shared for those years.
D: Some bands or artists stay the same for their entire career. Take a band like Slayer. Times change and the technology advances, but Slayer is still Slayer. Other artists evolve over time – Madonna comes to mind- changing their sound, style, image, etc yet somehow they retain fans. What is John Will Sail’s opinion on that?
J: Change is indeed a double edge sword. As humans, we all change and grow, so if music is an honest expression of yourself it will change too. I have changed since touring South Africa even, just being exposed to new artists, playing larger audiences, seeing the world. Some of my new tracks I have written recently are less punk, less gun-ho; I realise the importance of slower tracks and the need to change dynamic to make the live experience more of a journey.
D: If you met a music industry dude who said, “John, I like your music but you’re going to have to change the arrangements on some of the songs; we’re going to bring in ghostwriters; session musicians and producers. But you will also get a contract and some money up front to quit the day job for a few years.” What would you do? Not even getting into the publishing rights and royalties which is what record companies typically want to control… but how would you feel losing control over your music? Would it be worth the sacrifice?
J: Wow yeah that’s a difficult question. I would be tempted. Of course every musician wants some form of fame or recognition, though I don’t think the satisfaction would last if you had to play other people’s tracks over and over, every day. Honestly, I would rather write my own songs for me the way I like. Maybe I would ask this producer if they have a pop artist they need me to write songs for, then launch my career that way like Lady Gaga and Pharrel Williams.
D: Is there anything you have learned as an artist over all the years you have been doing it that you would share with anyone – some passionate little kid with an old guitar in bedroom and some songs – what would you tell a young musician?
Make the most of all opportunities. Fight for them, but don’t die for them.
See John Will Sail performing at the following events:
27th @ Jam Galleries Night (Summer Sun Records)
28th Betty Folks Bangkok II @ Bangkok Betty (Movember Special) + Craft beer from Golden Coins (Summer Sun Records)
4th of December @ Hide Hide w/ Beer Soranut (Summer Sun Records)
6th of December - YMo Fo @ Whiteline (Rhubarb and Custard)