Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ John Waugh

John Waugh
recently had the honor of chatting with one of the most talented saxophone players of the time, John Waugh. He is currently prepping for the release of his debut solo EP ‘Flight’ on October 2nd, which you will find detailed below. Enjoy the introduction from John himself;

I spent just over a year touring internationally with The 1975, starting in January 2014. Prior to that I was playing and writing music with bands based in Leeds and Newcastle. As much as those projects provided a wealth of experience, enjoyment and steep learning curves, it was touring with the The 1975 that gave me a break that changed my career in a major way. With that in mind it inspired me to write and record my first EP, ‘Flight’.

It’s hard not to talk in generalizations, though stylistically my aim was to write music that would draw an influence from Jazz, whilst appealing to a Pop and rock demographic. The choice in musicians to appear on the EP was paramount in achieving this sound, the majority of whom are members of bands that I currently play in, or have done in the past. The decision was a ‘no brainer’, and a very natural step in making the EP. I think it’s fair to say we all share similar influences, and love amazing Pop music as well as Jazz.  


AMBY: Describe your saxophone (brand, any modifications, reed brand/number, etc.)

John: I play a Yanagisawa 991 Tenor Saxophone, with a metal Dukoff D8 mouthpiece, and D’Addario Jazz Select reeds (2Hard). The only slight modification is that I have a bronze crook, against the gold lacquer body.

AMBY: What saxophone player out of history do you look up to the most?

John: I’d say that Michael Brecker is my favorite saxophonist of all time.

AMBY: Who was your mentor and how did you find them?

John: I’ve been very fortunate to take lessons from many saxophonists and musicians. Though for 8 years leading up to me leaving home for Music College my saxophone teacher was a guy called Gary Cowey. He taught at my school, and was immeasurably inspiring.

AMBY: How did you pick up playing saxophone (how long have you played)?

John: I started playing the saxophone when I was 10 (16 years ago).

A close family friend of mine, George Irving, introduced me to really great music at a young age. He showed me a tune by Steely Dan called ‘FM’. There’s a saxophone solo featured on that recording that still gives me shivers when a hear it. Alongside my own curiosity, George is very responsible for me becoming a musician.

AMBY: If you can play with one band which band would it be and why (orchestral or otherwise)?

John: It would be amazing to play in James Taylor’s band. He always has a band of greats! To be one of those guys would be unreal.

AMBY: What is your favorite piece of music to play, be it yours or another’s?

John: ‘A Map of The World’ by Pat Metheny is a totally beautiful piece of music. I’ve only ever played it in a studio, though to perform it live in an intimate setting would feel amazing.

AMBY: What do you enjoy most about playing?

John: I love performing live. Working in a studio is great, however, be it in a small intimate venue or a stadium, I absolutely love performing live music in front of people. It’s a great feeling being a part of something like a band, and to be recognized for the thing that you love. I couldn’t wish for a better livelihood.

AMBY: You offer playing lessons to those who are learning to play, do you think this helps you hone your craft and better understand the creative process?

John: Absolutely! I’ve found that by trying to articulate things in a lesson can be surprisingly difficult. Even if the subject is something that you think you know well and capable of playing repetitively without any flaws it’s often tricky to word. Overcoming that naturally opens up your own understanding of the topic/method.

AMBY: What is your aim/focus with this EP?

John: Ultimately I’d love to introduce instrumental music to a younger audience. Having toured with The 1975 I’ve been gifted with a wonderful following of young music fans. If even a small percent of those fans discover my EP I’d have fulfilled part of my aim. On top of that, I simply wanted to write music exclusively. Up until this project I had only released music with bands, the writing process of which was a collective effort. This EP is a step away from that, where I’ve had complete control and independence with creating the music. Stylistically the aim was to blend influences from Jazz, R&B and Rock.

AMBY: Describe your writing process.

John: The majority of the material was written whilst I was on tour, utilizing free time in hotel rooms, on planes etc. Though it was only when I returned home in February (2015) that I was able to get into a studio to refine the ideas.

AMBY: How does playing/recording with other bands differ from playing/recording your own material?

John: I’ve found that with a band you collectively have a pack mentality and a brotherhood that can relieve certain pressures of writing music. Though if you’re writing and releasing music of your own then you’re the only face of the music, so you naturally feel the pressure and attention a little more. At least I have anyway.

Also, if the majority of the music is written by one person there are fewer opinions flying around, although I should definitely mention that a handful of the session musicians who performed on my EP introduced ideas that I simply couldn’t hear in my head before their influence.

AMBY: Has playing to both smaller and festival sized crowds changed your perspective on the performance aspect of music?

John: I don’t think so, though by saying that I wouldn’t want people to think I’m overlooking the spectacle of the bigger gigs I’ve played. Regardless of how big a crowd is you can still create a connection between the band and the crowd. If that remains then that is the main thing. Though I think you naturally go into a different headspace when put in front of 60,000 people, so of course that’s going to influence how you play and hold yourself. For me, I think anything to do with perspective comes with hindsight, I’ve found I’m often acting subconsciously during those bigger performs. It’s absolutely bananas.

AMBY: Do you believe that the music industry is starting to move away from ‘traditional’ instruments?

John: Music is a huge, expansive industry, the majority of which I don’t really understand. Though based on what I do know and listen to, 2015 is an amazing time to be a musician regardless of the instrument you play. If you regard ‘chart pop music’ as the be all and end all of modern music then instrumental music will stand a slim chance of breaking into pop culture. Though you’re also limiting yourself. However, if you spend 10 seconds on YouTube you’ll find insanely gifted artists and bands who boast followings big enough to tour internationally, play in front of huge crowds though release music that hugely differs from current pop music. It’s all out there, and available for anyone. There’s absolutely nothing exclusive about it, you just have to look ever so slightly further afield to find it.


Thank you, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Ashton Warren

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