Young Gun Silver Fox – AM Waves

Only a few albums have made such an impact on music lovers and West Coast aficionados in recent years as the critically acclaimed debut album “West End Coast” by Young Gun Silver Fox in 2015. With “AM Waves” the duo releases its long-awaited second album this May, and refines its sophisticated blend of modern aesthetic and well crafted ’70s West Coast melodies once again. I spoke with Shawn Lee aka Silver Fox and Andy Platts aka Young Gun about their new album, the search for perfect harmonies and the influence of ’70s radio.

Shawn, Young Gun Silver Fox was born as a studio project. With “West End Coast” Andy and you created 2015 an authentic homage to the golden age of California pop. Were you surprised that the debut album was experiencing such a worldwide resonance?

A resounding YES! I was pleasantly surprised and very very pleased. It was probably the most understood album I’ve ever worked on and I’m so happy that there are people out there who truly LOVE the album. It means a lot to me on a personal level.

Shawn, the title of your new album is “AM Waves”. The AM/ FM airwaves enabled the triumph of smooth West Coast AOR in the ’70s. How much did the radio program of your youth influence your development as a musician?

70’s radio had a HUGE influence on me. I listened intensely and soaked it all up. There was so much great music on the air waves back then. As a decade, the 70’s musically really had it all – from Funk to Punk to Hard Rock to Disco and every point between. It stands as the very apex of recorded music. I have always loved the 70’s and always will. A very special time…

Andy, from the title “AM Waves” to your Hawaiian shirt, which you wear on the cover picture, everything seems to say “Yacht Rock”. But the album is far away from an ironic persiflage. Your music seems to be more a love letter to the smooth West Coast/ blue-eyed Soul tunes of the late ’70s. When did you discover the love for this music? And what characterizes a perfect West Coast song for you?

I think we happily enjoy and celebrate all the associated visual aspects of West Coast Music. Palm trees, yachts, top-down convertibles, the pacific coast highway, sunshine etc. They’re all great metaphors and sensory touchstones for the music itself. But the music we make has never been or will ever be persiflage or pastiche. We have too much respect for the genre, too much interest in the record making process, and we’re too entrenched in the notion of making something personal and meaningful to ever treat it as a whimsical exercise. The perfect West Coast song for me is sophisticated in its harmony, stone cold in its groove, articulate and literate in its songwriting and wordplay, and slickly balanced and produced in a way that only elevates all these elements even more.

Shawn, for your debut you and Andy collected and recorded songs over a long period. “AM Waves” was recorded in London and the English countryside last year. It sounds more homogeneous than its predecessor, even more like a band record. What were the differences between working on both albums from your point of view?

After having one album under our belt and taking it out on the road, I feel like we were really inside of YGSF. There is a collective understanding of what we are doing now. Let’s be honest, Andy is one bad ass singing and songwriting mofo so it really makes my job easy when it comes to being The Silver Fox!

Andy, your new album is far more than a duplicate of “West End Coast”. What do you see the further development compared to the debut?

I feel like there is more of a unity between myself and Shawn now in the music that we’re making, that whatever we’re doing in our musical lives when it comes to working on YGSF there is a certain feeling of freedom and liberty which allows us to be ourselves more. The music is more concise. The songs are more potent. The lyrics and storytelling is more vivid. Most importantly to me it feels like Young Gun Silver Fox is really evolving its own unique sound and signature, independent of whether you attach it to the West Coast scene or not.

Shawn, let us talk about the horns. On “Underdog” you introduce a five-piece horn section. Responsible for the sublime horn arrangements was the renowned trombonist Nichol Thomson, who played among others for Incognito and Tom Jones. How did the cooperation come about? And how did the horn section get its name: The Seaweed Horns?

I’ve known Nichol for years. He played on some Ping Pong Orchestra records back in the day and we both played together with Kelis. I’m a big fan of his band Talc & I knew he would do some amazing horn arrangements for YGSF. During the first horn session, I joked “you guys are like a semi pro Seawind horns! Y’all are The Seaweed Horns!” We all laughed and the name just stuck. Great players and really funny guys. Nichol killed it. By the way, Andy Ross on Sax, Dom Glover, Tom Walsh and Dan Carpenter all on trumpet. Seaweed Horns for the win!!!

Shawn, with the veritable disco groove of “Kingston Boogie” you make a detour to the dance floor. How did the song come about?

I was simply thinking it would be nice to do a Midnight Disco track. We hadn’t done anything like that yet and I knew it would be a great avenue to explore. It was really fun to do & the music really wrote itself! The horns really do the business and Andy did a great job writing a song over what is a pretty involved instrumental track. It’s one of my fav tracks on the album.

Andy, please tell us the story what Lenny Kravitz has to do with your second single “Lenny”?

Haha! Basically I watched the famous video clip of Lenny’s pants splitting halfway during a guitar solo one day. That same night I dreamed that Lenny owned a bar in Kingston, Jamaica and that I was one of his customers, down and out, drinking my sorrows into the bottom of a bottle. That’s really the essence of it…

Andy, your first single “Midnight in Richmond”, released in September 2017, seems to be the anchor of the new album. With its strong America vibe, it could be a blueprint for your interpretation of breezy West Coast music. How did the song come about?

I’ve always loved that side of the West Coast vibe – the acoustic guitar element really adds an organic, slightly more primitive edge to it. This was one of those tracks where Shawn had completely composed and recorded everything and sent it to me as a finished instrumental. I added rhodes and piano before sitting down to write the song. It always had a slightly melancholic time-worn feeling about it, and it just so happened that driving through Richmond upon Thames in London whilst listening to the instrumental over and over, that an idea slowly bubbled to the surface.

Andy, even “AM Waves” has a strong American West Coast influence, the British soul always shines through your work. A good example is “Caroline”, which sounds like an exquisite mix of Paul McCartney and Electric Light Orchestra. Is this American/ British contrast deliberately intended or rather a natural progression when you write the songs?

I don’t try to crowbar the British thing into the songs or melodies (even though I dearly dearly love ELO and Paul McCartney). In that particular song, I’m singing about Radio Caroline, the famous British pirate radio station based on a ship which was stationed in the North Sea and eluded the authorities for many years. So a very British story maybe influencing the music to be slightly quirkier than the average West Coast Tune. But Shawn definitely put a load of that quirk into the music too!

Shawn, you spoke about West Coast music as a “real high caliber music”. What do you mean by this? And what characterizes a perfect West Coast song for you?

Good question… It’s high caliber because is it very sophisticated music. You have to be multi skilled to do this music properly. The late 70’s records featured the best session musicians of the time. The best studios and engineers. Great singers and songwriters. The best of the best man! Very rich chords-totally hip. It’s proper grown up Pop music!

The perfect Westcoast song would be a mid-tempo bouncy groove with straight but funky drums. Phased Fender Rhodes laying down some soulful Jazzy Chords. Some funky Rhythm guitar, tight horns, tasty guitar solo and soulful vocals. Easy right?

Andy, “AM Waves” ends with the beginning. Even before there was Young Gun Silver Fox, there was “Lolita”, the first song you wrote together. Does that close a circle for you?

Yeah I think it does, in a way. Or at least provides the perfect link between LP1 and LP 2. The brightness of ‘Lolita’ sits well within AM Waves in a way that didn’t work with West End Coast, and was maybe prophetic in where we would develop our sound.

Shawn, as a solo artist you released at last the spacey concept album “TECHSTAR”, produced among others the new Saint Etienne album and played with stars like Robbie Williams and Jonathan Jeremiah. In light of your many projects, what role does YGSF play for you?

I gotta be honest, this project is a very special love thing for me. I dig making, playing and listening to this music. It is really challenging to do and I love how the music makes you feel good. YGSF is a real game changer for me. And it means so much to me that there is passionate audience out there for us. I’m very thankful.

Andy, besides “AM Waves” will also be released the new Mamas Guns album “Golden Days” – a flawless soul album – this May. As a wanderer between music styles: Is versatility a requirement for a good songwriter? And what distinguishes a strong soul song from a great West Coast song?

Absolutely! Versatility can only enrich and help you to make your work stronger and hopefully more timeless. Songwriting is 5% inspiration and 95% craft. But I’ve never thought of myself as a songwriter or a singer or whatever. Honestly I think of myself simply as a musician. Depending on what I am working on, I’ll just try to call on the skills which will help me the most in that scenario. Different song styles have different emotional biases and the ‘soul’ side of things is usually more upfront and in your face whereas the ‘West Coast’ side of things is a little more dialled in and considered, especially in its aesthetic.

Andy, after sold out shows in the Netherlands and Belgium earlier this year, can we expect more concerts in 2018?

Yes sir! We are looking to really branch out in to more of Europe but we also have Japan and the USA in our sights. 2018 is going to be an amazing year for YGSF no doubt. You might even see us popping up with a horn section here and there 🙂

Photo: Légère Recordings

This interview was first published on June 14, 2018.

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