A short while back, we did a review of Alternative rockers Windsor Oaks Band who have released their sophomore album, “Take a Chance,” produced by Steven Haigler (Pixies, Fuel, Brand New, Clutch) at VuDu Studios in New York. The Raleigh-based band has been writing, recording and touring all over the East Coast for over three years. With the help of college radio spins and a growing online presence, Windsor Oaks Band has cemented their status as one of North Carolina’s most promising up-and-comers.
We caught up with the band recently, to grab their inner thoughts on their careers, music and the music business in general.
1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
Shane David Smith: I’ve been living since 1985. I seriously decided to play guitar when I was 14. My dad got me into rock and roll early as a listener, but my buddy Jordan was the first peer that made me want to be a musician.
Alex Shepherd: I started playing drums when I was 10 and got my first drumset for my 12th birthday. I started playing guitar when I was 13.
Brandon Scott McLean: My addiction began when I was in the second grade….
2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Brandon Scott McLean: Van Halen, POISON! (seriously it was my first CD – double disc – Swallow This LIVE…but I already had their albums on tape so I knew like every song and got fascinated with the live versions of stuff. totally changed my world), Guns ‘N Roses, Roy Orbison, Journey, and then in middle school and high school I graduated (?) to almost exclusively Saves the Day, Dave Matthews, and Phish. Weird, I know.
Shane David Smith: Jackson Browne, John Fogerty
Alex Shepherd: The Beatles, and anything Motown. Then it moved to the alternative scene with Weezer, Nirvana, STP, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Allice N Chains, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz. Then I got to the classic rock phase with Guns ‘N Roses, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream, SRV, CCR, The Who, Van Halen, The Dead, The Stones, etc.
3. Who do you consider the most influential and successful artist(s) in your genre today and why?
Alex Shepherd: Dave Grohl, he does everything. Writes, performs, produces, collaborates with legends, plays multi instruments, and he does it with class. He was in fucking NIRVANA I mean shit!
Shane David Smith: Dave Grohl. Killer musician. Great songwriter and performer. Doesn’t give a s*** what anybody thinks.
Brandon Scott McLean: Ummmm, well, I was going to say Dave Grohl but I don’t want to coy my friends….how about….Slash? Yeah, Slash. He makes guitar cool, even in 2013. As far as Dave Grohl goes though…I’ve heard a lot of older dudes say that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” “saved rock and roll for ever,” so he’s gonna have to get mentioned there, for having played drums on it. Even in Weezer’s “Heart Songs,” Rivers basically says it. Yeah, Rivers Cuomo has a pretty stellar brain inside his dome. Is that 3?
4. Describe the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased with your own money.
Brandon Scott McLean: Haha a metal guitar pick….shortly after I started playing in 1991. I’ve only used it like twice and I actually still have it. It makes twangy metallic noises when you pluck the strings, so it’s basically very noisy and useless.
Shane David Smith: Washburn acoustic guitar. Piece of crap… but got my hands all tore up and ready for more!
Alex Shepherd: My first pair of hi hats. They were decent sounding and lasted a long time too.
5. Tell us something about your instrument set-up? What brands are you currently using?
Shane David Smith: I have an electric guitar that’s from 1991. Heavy as hell but sounds and looks awesome. Sadly, it left it’s ability to stay tuned in 1991 as well. Won’t say what brand, unless they want to pay me to.
Brandon Scott McLean: hahahaha Shane. ditto. My guitars have 6 strings, most of the time. And my amp’s volume control is too sensitive. I want to feel like I’m really bumping it sometimes. Realistically I have never put the volume past 3 in any gig ever. It goes up to 12. And my acoustic guitar is totally cracked, but I still have to play gigs with it because I ain’t got no money.
Alex Shepherd: I have nice drums that are a natural finish and nice and shiny way to expensive cymbals that someone should pay me to rep. I also have 2 cheap ass guitars, one acoustic and one electric, but they get the job done. OH and a few harmonicas that work pretty well. Don’t forget the big ass djembe I just bought too!
6. Live gigging or studio work, which do you prefer and why?
Shane David Smith: Live. It’s all about the energy, excitement, and creating moments with the crowd.
Alex Shepherd: Live shows, hands down. I play way better in front of a crowd. It’s like I come alive when I’m on stage. It’s where I’m supposed to be.
Brandon Scott McLean: I think I could live off of crowd reactions and responses and applause. And coffee. Studios need more sunlight.
7. Which one of your original songs do you feel is the absolute “crowd pleaser” at live gigs?
Alex Shepherd: New stuff, I’d say “One in a City” cause it’s a sing along. Only if we are playing full band though.
Shane David Smith: “Take Me Out and Draw Me A Picture” is a fun one. We like to get people in the crowd to draw us pictures, and they often do. More often than not they are kinda dirty pics… it is what it is.
Brandon Scott McLean: Of the new stuff, “Crazy Chance” has made people scream and show their boobies. “One in a City” is the one that’s for people that are suckers for crowd sing-alongs. Like me.
8. On which one of your songs do you think you delivered your best performance so far, from a technical point of view?
Shane David Smith: ”Taking A Ride”. Song goes from a slow acoustic jam to full on Boston guitar-rock heaven. Also, great background vocals throughout.
Alex Shepherd: I’d say “Why you do what you do to me” it’s got such a tight ass groove and the guitar solo is epic. I hear that guitar solo in my head when I sleep. It reminds me of a Slash solo.
Brandon Scott McLean: The bass and drums in track 5, “Why You Do What You Do To Me,” is the tightest possible package in the field of bass and drums. I told Alex that I could play the kick drum pattern in it and he laughed at me. Then I tried and I laughed at me. Epic fail. Also, I think the guitar solo and breakdown on our brand new song “A Pick Me Up” is pretty awesome. It is by far the least busy guitar solo on the album, with far less “flurries of notes,” and every time I hear it I can envision the smile of contentment on our producer’s face when I just slowed down for a change and played with some soul.
9. Which ingredient do you think is most essential in making The Windsor Oaks Band music, sound the way it does?
Brandon Scott McLean: I think it’s the mutual respect we have earned from each other over the last 6 years. These dudes are like my brothers or something. And people keep asking us if we’re brothers. It’s getting weird. Sometimes we just say yes and go with it.
Shane David Smith: The chemistry we have acquired between us from playing together for so long. Also, while we are interested in generally the same kinds of music, each of us brings to the table a different musical upbringing and perspective.
Alex Shepherd: I think it starts with the song writing and then once its brought to the table we each add our little “pieces of flare” to it and make it our own. We have played so long together I dont really have to worry about what is going to happen on stage, I just know it will be the way its supposed to, the Windsor Oaks way. These 2 fuckers are like family its just natural with us.
10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you day after day to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion, hysteria or pride and why?
Alex Shepherd: Passion. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. I am a very passionate person, and I’m sure the other two would agree. I don’t know what else I would do if I didn’t play music…..it would probably be lame though. I just want it to be possible to completely support myself and at the same time earn respect for our music from peers, fans, family, and other musicians and people in the industry. I just wish we didn’t have to do all the behind the scenes work and could focus entirely on the music.
Shane David Smith: Desire. Personally, I have a great desire to succeed in this business. Not particularly to prove anything to anybody, but to be able to completely support myself by playing, writing, recording and producing music is the ultimate goal. A desire to become globally known and recognized as a musician who writes great songs that people want to listen to, and also that they can relate to is important. It’s extremely difficult to get to that level, but it sure would be cool!
Brandon Scott McLean: Probably Hysteria. We work harder at this “job” than anybody really sees or knows. I have literally nothing to show for it. I sleep on a god damn air mattress. That’s craziness. I know I’m a crazy person. Some of my songs are good, a lot of them are absolute rubbish, and I can’t seem to tell the difference. I like every note. And not just my music; it turns out I like all sounds created with all musical instruments. I’m drawn to it, like a moth to a lightbulb, and I can’t stop. The biggest deterrent is all this internet and computer work and crap we gotta do that distracts us from doing what we should be doing.
11. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most?
Brandon Scott McLean: The looks on people’s faces when I can tell that they like our stuff. The smiles and eye contact.
Alex Shepherd: I like writing a song, having it sound the way it does in my head, in my sleep and in my dreams, then bringing to the group and working it out and playing it, then going into a studio and taking it apart putting it back together and re-creating it. Then when it’s all done, it sounds the way I heard it in my head, which only I can hear, but somehow it came out that way perfectly, or even better. Then when I watch someone listen to it and bob their head, or dance, or even try to sing along even if they don’t know the words, that is the true pay off and excitement for me. To see it go 360. Priceless. Like Mastercard.
Shane David Smith: Limitless possibilities. I can make whatever kind of music I want. Post it anywhere, sell it anywhere, play it anywhere. That’s awesome.
12. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process discourages you most?
Shane David Smith: Recognition. It’s a big sea of talent in this business. It’s tough to be recognized when so many other people make killer music as well.
Brandon Scott McLean: I would like to interpret or elaborate on what Shane said ….Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a home studio nowadays. The amount of music being produced is at an all time high, and the amount of attention spans and available brain space is at an all time low. Because of this, most musicians will fail. Mostly because their songs are shit, but sometimes due to laziness or lack of business sense, and a lot of the time because of too much clutter in the business and on the shelves. A lot of great musicians will find jobs after a few years of poorness. Back in the day, recording on super excellent equipment was a rare very expensive privilege, and only the great ones made a real impression after they fought tooth and nail for years to make it happen and get the funding. You should hear the sounds my ten year old niece can produce on her iPod. And honestly it’s way cuter to watch than four sweaty dudes in their late twenties.
Alex Shepherd: There are too many artists and bands that are awesome out there, but also at the same time there are too many shitty bands and artists out there that somehow get recognition on a huge level. It’s mind boggling. Fuck Nicki Manaj or however you spell her fucking name. Talentless ass clown.
13. How involved are you in any of the recording, producing, mastering and marketing processes involved in the Windsor Oaks Band project.
Alex Shepherd: Pretty damn involved. I feel we all are. We all have our strengths of the business and try to play to those.
Shane David Smith: Extremely involved in the marketing side, through social media and website and email list management. We do it all. For our main releases, we like to work with a producer in a pro studio to get the best sound. However, I recorded and mixed our first album, Above the Garage, and am constantly demoing and recording songs at home.
Brandon Scott McLean: Totally involved. Some songs have me playing 4 or 5 different guitars and singing 2 different harmony lines. And I have way too much band homework every night. But my dog ate it.
14. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t, but now know for sure that you should have?
Brandon Scott McLean: “On tour, Always say YES. Whatever it is– going to a party, stopping at the store in a random town, just do it. You’ll never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re getting into.” – Ayad Al Adhamy, former keyboardist for Passion Pit / owner of Black Bell Records / purveyor of sweet sweet music. AND THEN the advice-fail: conferences. Other bands keep telling us to go out to a damn conferences like SXSW or Dewey Beach, and they always seem to be happening when it’s literally fucking impossible for us to go. Personally, I want to go out for some NACA stuff.
Shane David Smith: Followed: Get a lawyer. Didn’t follow: don’t just take any gig offered. It discredits you as an artist and your brand.
Alex Shepherd: I’d have to agree with Shane on both. Get a lawyer was the best by far. Don’t just take any gig, I hate playing for no one in some town at some bar or some club, nothing pisses me off more.
15. At this point, as independent artists, which is the one factor you desire most, and feel will undeniably benefit the band’s future (for example increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure, bigger live gigs etc…)?
Shane David Smith: Media exposure and touring with a well established act. Both are crucial.
Alex Shepherd: I’d say touring with an established band and getting a fucking publicist. Why is that so damn hard?
Brandon Scott McLean: Let us open for the Foo Fighters a few times?
16. Do you consider Internet and all the new technology, as fundamental to your band, or indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre copycat artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Alex Shepherd: The internet has changed music forever, both bad and good. I think that it has produced a lot of copy cat shitty bands but it’s also helped a lot of small passionate amazing artists emerge. I’m hoping it can do that for us.
Shane David Smith: Fundamental. It has it’s negatives, but pros outweigh the cons in my opinion.
Brandon Scott McLean: I don’t know….there’s a lot of junk. But there’s a lot of GREAT stuff that would never have seen the light of day before this internet generation revolution thing. But….I’m a banana? I’m a fucking banana? I mean, come on man.
17. How did you guys get to work with producer Steven Haigler, and what qualities do you think he brought to the album and to your performing experience in general?
Alex Shepherd: We got people, good people, that’s how, haha. He brought a lot to the table. I really learned how each part of the music compliments each other in a totally new way I had never seen or heard it before. He made us a better band forever, hands down. Put it this way, I don’t listen to music the same way anymore–that’s what he did.
Brandon Scott McLean: You meet some people, they introduce you to others, you know how it goes. He made our album way more “badass” and “booming” and “kicking” and “not so fucking lame” and not sound like “a fucking jazz band.” Working with that guy and his whole team is something I will never forget and they changed me and us for the better for the rest of our lives, in and out of the studio, with or without music.
Shane David Smith: He taught us a lot about ‘trimming the fat’ off of our songs. And emphasized the importance of the bass and drums locking in, as well as never getting in the way of the vocal melody
18. Is going Platinum or winning a Grammy important you? If you were forced to settle for only one choice, which of the two would you go for and why?
Alex Shepherd: Grammy. If we did that, well fuck that would be the single handed greatest compliment and success imaginable to me pertaining to my life’s work and career as a musician.
Brandon Scott McLean: It’s all about the Benjamins baby….no just kidding….but seriously, Platinum is an archaic and meaningless word in this world. Grammy, hands down.
Shane David Smith: Both would be awesome. I think I’d rather win a Grammy. Seems like that would yield more opportunity and benefit more in the long run. Plus… we’d get to go to the Grammys!!!
19. I gotta ask, I see four dudes in some of the pictures, but he’s not here for this interview…tell me about your latest and most visible bassist, Ryan Smith?
Brandon Scott McLean: Ryan is one of the best guys I have ever gotten the pleasure to work and hang out with. He is one of the most talented musicians I have ever met, and he makes me laugh literally nonstop. Take a Chance sounds the way it does partly because of Ryan’s unique bass approach and musical mindset. The dude is a genius. Right now it’s not in the stars for him to join us full time and balls deep, but I’m pretty confident we’ll get to work together again in the future. The Windsor Oaks Band has had a plethora of bass players and keyboardists on stage and in the studio over the last few years, but the core of the band has always been and always will be the three of us.
Shane David Smith: Couldn’t agree more with Brandon. Ryan is like family to me (not just because of the last name). He’s actually cousin’s with one of my good childhood friends and I’ve known him for 16 years. Move to NC dammnit! Fresh Pots!
Alex Shepherd: Ryan is one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. He’s a great musician too. We had the pleasure of working with him for almost 2 years, but when it comes down to it Windsor Oaks Band has always been and will always be, Me, Shane, and Brandon. Period.
20. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as indie artists, in your quest to achieve your goals and any commercial success?
Brandon Scott McLean: People raising their iPhones and taking 1000 pictures and video at every damn concert they go to. Why can’t they just relax and enjoy the show? And tribute bands. Tribute bands can suck it. If you’re reading this and you’re offended because you or your brother is in a tribute band or something, you can suck it too. I’ve been slowly chipping away at a blog post called “X Reasons Why Tribute Bands Can Suck My Nuts.”
Shane David Smith: As I mentioned before. There are SO MANY great musical acts out there, and people’s attention spans are so incredibly short these days. Getting people to become real fans is very difficult.
Alex Shepherd: I agree with both Shane and Brandon. Too many great artists, too many horrible talentless ass clown artists, and fucking cover bands and tribute bands. Tribute bands should be outlawed. That shit is ridiculous. But like Shane said, it’s just so hard to get people to pay attention for the long haul unless you are on such a big level.
21. I read this phrase somewhere: “The Windsor Oaks Band is a promoter’s dream. Not only are they a great band, they are wildly creative, passionate about their music and always go the extra mile…” So my final question is a difficult one. What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?
Brandon Scott McLean: No I will NOT make out with you.
Shane David Smith: If we were approached by a label or other big time music biz-type guy and they wanted us to be the same band, but scratch all of our original tunes and strictly perform and record covers, or songs we didn’t write. I won’t do that. I take pride in the music that we create. If it was that way, it wouldn’t be our music.
Alex Shepherd: I Agree with Shane. I’m still going to write and play and perform our music no matter what. With that being said, I’ll leave you with this quote: “It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct. It’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here (points to his head), and what goes on in here (points to his heart).” – Dave Grohl
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