If you saw my byline and are wondering, I’ll answer your question: yes, we’re related. He’s my older brother, but I can promise that regardless of the relation, his voice, guitar, and harmonica skills have me scooping my jaw off the ground every time I listen to his music.
Will was born and raised in Hamilton, Ont., and his musical style has evolved a tremendous amount over the years. He’s done a bit of everything, from ska when he was involved with the Hamilton-based band The Jolly Rogers, to classic rock when he belonged to Psychedellicatessin, to his more recent soulful acoustic numbers. Will moved across the country to Squamish, where he recorded his most recent solo record, Freeloader.
His politically-charged yet very personal lyrics have earned him a rapidly growing fan base, and I can guarantee that once you give him a listen, you’ll be joining it.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): So Will, what do you hope listeners take away most from Freeloader?
Will Ross: I hope that, first and foremost, the listeners take away an enjoyable 45 minutes of music. I think dynamically speaking there are many changes within the album from track to track that keeps the whole thing moving in a very fluid direction until the end. I also hope that each person can take away at least one thing that may cause reflection in their own lives, and help them to realize that small things can accumulate to large-scale change. I named the album after the song ‘Freeloader’ because I think that, for too long, we really have been freeloading our instant gratification in the western culture. Too much time expecting, and not enough time working toward the means to a better end, or a new beginning for that matter. If I could have even one listener of the record take something from it that reflects in a positive impact toward improvement in their own life, I would say that I have more than done my job as an artist to evoke thought in our culture.
RMM: How would you describe your current songwriting process?
Will: Well, it all starts with inspiration. Something happens that invokes a thought process that ends as a song. To be honest, the best songs I have written usually come to me very fast and if I don’t get them out as quick as they come, I lose them. Don’t tell my employers, but I have been known to wake up from a dream, and call in sick because a song has to come out. To me, the most valuable asset we have as a species and a civilization isn’t money, but rather our time. The saying goes, time is money, and if a song has to come out to me that time is much more valuable than any monetary gain for a single day. Songs last a lifetime, and for the lucky ones, even more.
RMM: How has your style has evolved over the years, particularly for your current album?
Will: The album wouldn’t sound the way it does without my experiences with everything else. My love of saxophone comes from the Jolly Rogers’ days, while piano and electric organ certainly come from Psychedellicatessin and us playing with Greg Brisco (Dinner Belles, Teenage Head, Ginger St. James) often. From my last EP Over The Counter Culture to this one, I was also really able to hone in on a harmonica sound that I was after. Running the harmonica through a distorted guitar amp as well as a slow rotating Leslie Speaker really adds a unique sound to the instrument. Realistically, I took all the styles that I love and my favourite things about all my previous bands and wrapped them up into one with The Will Ross Band and Freeloader. It’s really turned into something new and I think audiences certainly won’t be bored with the music. It’ll keep you dancing.
RMM: Is there an over-arching message in Freeloader? Your song topics are fascinating, ranging from the American Civil War in ‘In the Name of the Father’ to your own personal experiences when you arrived in B.C. in ‘Eastbound and Down.’ Is there a connection between each track, or is the album more of a musical mosaic?
Will: I would have to say the connection between all of them is simply me. I hope that doesn’t sound too full of myself because that isn’t the intention. All I mean by that is that every song there is something that intrinsically fascinates me and I felt the urge to write about and share. ‘In The Name of The Father’ was written after I had a dream about that specific story. I was there, I made that journey from my burning house to Pennsylvania to the battlefield in Virginia. Much like ‘Eastbound and Down’ was written about my past experiences of love lost.
Many of the other songs on the record are an experience of how I view western culture and politics. I think that we are losing our connection to one another, and the record is about ensuring that we can get that back. I think that there are those out there who wish to keep the general public separated on a high level, and if we can collectively share knowledge [with] each other without negative [images] or stereotyping, in [that] way we can be a much more powerful force to invoke change in our society. It starts with baby steps, but I think that people are waking up and realizing that they don’t need to buy in to the whole idea of the white picket fence anymore. It’s important to me that people can let go of that idea.
RMM: Tell us a bit about the guest musicians featured on your new album.
Will: All of the musicians on the record are great. I was floored to have Rick Hopkins offer to play organ on the record. When you have someone as talented as he is with platinum records with Colin James offering to play, it gives you a great feeling that you are doing something right! Dan Walsh is another guy who helped me out with ‘Karoshi’. I actually sent that track across Canada so he could record his slide parts in his Ontario studio. He is the best slide guitar player I know personally so it meant a lot to me when he agreed to help. Garth Mosbaugh is a full member of the band now but he has a great background as a frontman of The Nylons, an a cappella group. He doubles as piano and sax live and is a great asset to have in any band. Marco Roach is one of the best bass players I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with. John and Tony Kastellic (No Mothers) as well as Nikolai Gurda were a pleasure having in to record the strings on ‘Misericorde’. I didn’t know what to expect as it was the first time I’d brought in that many strings on anything, but they did a banger job on the song.
John David is a Will Ross Band regular as well, but I put that guy through two days of hell and back in the studio recording drums. His efficiency and ability to lay down such killer drum tracks in that short time frame was really great. Jay MacNeil and I went in and did all the aux percussion in one day too. He has also joined the band and I couldn’t be happier to be playing with two percussionists. Being that I started out with drums as my first instrument I write a lot of percussive material so I really needed that in a band. Finally, we have the ridiculously talented Corrina Keeling, who backed me up on ‘Not The Predicate’, ‘Eastbound and Down’, and dueted ‘Freeloader’ with me. She was an absolute pleasure to work with and such a talented vocalist. Her ability to think of creative harmonies absolutely blew me away and I really hope to work with her more in the future. She has a real talent. The fact that I had all of these talented individuals eager to record with me was a very humbling and flattering experience. I’ll never forget that, and I hope to do it more often.
RMM: What’s next for you musically? Any tours coming up?
Will: So far this winter it’s mainly B.C. stuff. I have a small Vancouver Island tour planned for January. I am in the process of applying to a number of festivals for next spring and summer, however I do anticipate coming back across Canada in that time frame. I’d like to do West, to East, to West again and end up back here in Squamish. I’m going to save up this winter for a camper van so it’s easier to make that a reality next year!