Underneath This was pleased to interview Greg, lead singer of the indie-dance band, “Western Education.” According to the bio on their website, the band formed in the spring of 2011 after Greg plastered the UMass Lowell campus with flyers searching for kindred musicians.
Will Hunt (bass and production) and Georgio Broufas (guitar, backing vocals) replied and the demo process began. The band was complete when Mark Ragusa (drums) joined in early 2012. Around that time, Western Education released a self-titled debut EP, and another, The Weekend Sessions, later that year.The band’s full-length debut “Let Your Secrets Out” was released earlier this summer. Notably, the band was selected as one of Boston Phoenix’s Top 13 Best New Bands of 2013.
Please read below for Greg’s thoughtful responses.
Please describe your path to becoming musicians.
My mom writes country songs. I remember from an early age she encouraged me to pursue music. The big thing for me was when the music video for “Somebody Told Me” (The Killers) came out. That song got me into all of this new wave/post punk revival music. I think I was around 11 at the time. I remember sitting in front of VH1 waiting for it to come on. I was obsessed.
In what way does being based in Lowell, MA influence the music that you make?
It’s kind of the opposite. When I was younger, it was hard to find people who liked the bands that I did. It seemed like people just were not into this new wave revival thing. Being based in Lowell, where there are no bands like us, it makes you feel unique. Empowered to write the best songs, and finding that niche for yourself. We stood out from the crowd really early on- for better or worse.
How do your social identities, including gender, influence the creative process?
Tough question. I’m actually very much a homebody. I don’t like being in the big cities, even though that’s where Western Education has had to go to further the band. The personality of our songs is always: big, hugely catchy, over the top, anthem-like material. We don’t hold back. But I guess I’m kind of the opposite offstage. As for gender? I don’t know if that influenced anything. I’m not too interested in writing about clichéd love songs, or relationships. But that’s just me. Everyone contributes to the songwriting in West Ed, so that’s just my opinion.
You identify New Order, The Smiths, The Ramones, The Cure, Joy Division and Death Cab for Cutie among your creative influences. Have you covered songs by any of these artists? What is a dream cover song for you?
The first song we ever covered was actually “Last Friday Night” by Katy Perry. Covers are tricky business. I like covering girl group songs because it’s kind of ironic for a male rock band to play it. I don’t like doing covers by my favorite bands because I’m afraid that I won’t do them justice. As for dream covers? Let’s just say I really want to give “Dancing Queen” a shot, but I don’t know how everyone else in the band feels about that!
Which female musicians have been influential?
Confession. I actually really enjoy Enya. There is a little bit of her ethereal influence on some of our album tracks. Also, Florence and the Machine is great; the drum sounds are huge! Also, I own all of the Katy Perry and La Roux albums. For some reason I really enjoy early-pop era girl group songs as well.
You just released your full-length debut album, Let Your Secrets Out. I really enjoy the title. How did you devise it?
It comes from our song “Young Love”. It’s taken directly from the lyric. It’s a great title. I guess you could say that the meaning behind it is: I may sing you some very personal stories that I maybe wouldn’t tell you about in person.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Young Love.” What is the story behind that song?
That’s where the album title comes from. That song is actually one of the oldest Western Education songs. It dates back to winter of 2011, going into 2012. I remember Georgio had most of it already before he showed it to me. We worked on the chorus together, and that was it. It was the first song that got us into the Boston scene. It really kicked up dust for us in local media and radio. The demo version was originally released on our self-titled EP. It seems to be the big sing-a-long song at the live shows.
“Rivals” was the lead single. What was it like to compose that song?
That song actually took a long time. We had an original version around the winter of 2012-2013 that was way longer and had this synth interlude. That version is probably floating around the internet somewhere. I remember when we were writing it: Georgio had that awesome riff, and parts of the verses, and I wrote the “I ran through the street” part for a different song. But we ended up just mashing them together, and it worked out great. The lyrics went through several revisions over several weeks, as well. The version we released is a lot shorter. We worked with a producer named Drew Thompson Hooke to cut it down and make a version we liked. Overall, that song took like 6 months from start to release.
Your song, “Lost Art” has a different sound. What inspired this track?
That is another song that took a long time. The original version was piano based, and there was this crazy guitar section. It just never felt quite right, so I remember one day Georgio and I were like “Why don’t we try an electronic version?” and that’s the version on the record. We cut out a lot of material, and transformed it into a synth ballad. It’s the one time on the album where we slow down and give you a chance to breathe. It’s one of my favorites to listen to. In studio, Steve Aliperta, from the band The Color and Sound programmed the drum kit.
Your album has both has a soothing and energizing sound on this album. Which emotions did you wish to convey most of this song on this record?
Our songs have this contrast of being very anthem-like and danceable, but the lyrics are sad, or introspective. I wanted to make an album that would get you off your feet on every song. No filler, no boring tracks, no overly long arrangements. I guess I wanted to make you dance, but make you think about your life at the same time!
How do you know when a song feels right and ready to be on an album or performed?
There is always this moment in the songwriting process where I start laughing, and we all can’t stop smiling about the song. That’s when we know we’re on to something good. Also, I hate excess length in a song, so we actively make sure everything is as tight and trimmed as possible. Even a 2 minute song can be too long if you’re not careful. Also, the melodic content is very important. If I can’t stop singing along to it, you know it’s ready to go. We are very harsh on ourselves, and nothing slips through the cracks.
I really enjoy the wistful sentiment of your earlier song “The Weekends.” How do you feel your experiences during your youth influence the music you make presently?
I guess that song is about being a child, and everything is awesome, but then you grow up a little and find out the world is filled with problems, and sad things. Everyone has problems, or issues that have to deal with, myself included. I guess for me, I always felt like I had something to prove. I’m only 21, but from the age of 13-14, I’ve always wanted to write better songs than what’s on the radio, or better songs than what people are doing around me. Lastly: I would like to do the same thing my favorite artists did for me when I was younger: write songs that would influence someone else’s life, or make someone feel better.
How was your recent show at the Middle East?
It was honestly great. People singing along to “Young Love” louder than I was singing on stage was a great feeling. I don’t remember many details though, it all feels like a 5 minute blur, even though it was a 40 minute set. We played the whole album start to finish, minus one song, “Look Away”. People were so receptive to us, and it was such a nice night for music. It was our album release party, and Boston coming together for us was awesome.
So far, what have been some highlights of performing live?
Probably people singing the words back to “Young Love” louder and louder every show. People dancing, or calling your name out from the crowd is nice, I guess. Honestly, playing live really stresses me out, and positive audience energy always helps.
What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?
Write good songs. There are enough crappy bands filling the clubs. Study how songwriting works. Why are your favorite songs so good? Never settle for bad or even average material. Be proud of your work, and really go for it. Don’t be a half-assed musician. Also, learn the business. I have a music business degree, and it has helped me immensely.
What is next for Western Education?
Hah. It feels like the album has been out for 6 months, but it’s only been out for 3 weeks. We’re honestly going to be promoting it for a long time, and that’s the plan right now. We’re also working some new material in practice sessions but the album’s release is the big thing right now. I actually love interviews, so thanks for the questions!
Sem: You are welcome! 🙂