"We’ve reinvented Bullet For My Valentine and we’re taking it into the future" - Matt Tuck talks new album Gravity and opening himself up
Last time Welsh metallers Bullet For My Valentine were back with a new album, it was something of a blast from the past. Venom, their fifth LP, saw the band returning to the raw aggression and pure power of their 2005 LP The Poison. This served them well enough and took the band on a world tour for over two years, but now, with new album Gravity, it’s time for something to change.
Things are quite different this time around. First, in a literal sense, the band have changed drummers with Jason Bowld, once of tech-metallers Pitchshifter and Tuck’s colleague in his side project AxeWound, replacing long-time drummer Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas.
Second, in a practical sense, they’ve left Sony imprint RCA, their home since 2004, and are now signed up with Universal’s metal imprint Spinefarm.
Third, and most strikingly, the band’s sound has changed radically, with electronica and samples now high in the mix, adding a haunting quality to Bullet’s colossal riffery and powerhouse melodies. Lyrically, the album is the band’s darkest and most personal to date, with frontman Matt Tuck channelling the pain from the disintegration of his marriage into the songs.
As the album comes to shelves, we spoke to Tuck about embracing new sounds, the band’s new line-up and opening himself up…
How did you want Gravity to move on from what you did on Venom?
“We wanted to write music that we’d never done before. Venom pushed the limits of what we were capable of as musicians, it’s a very technical record and worked us hard as guitar players. That album is full of speed and aggression and we thought that doing another album like that was pointless. It felt like the time was right to be experimental and try something different. We stripped everything back and we focused on songwriting, we wanted to get the lyrics and the vocals melodies as strong as they could be and incorporate new sonic elements. It’s a bit of a departure from the band’s history, but we’ve fallen in love with it.”
Did that change how you approached the songwriting for the album?
“It took us a long time to get going, but eventually we found a couple of songs that set us on our way. Finding a flow for the record is always tough, you just have to keep writing and writing until you find a thread, something you can believe and focus in. How we wrote was the same, we just had to change our approach, not always be thinking about the technicality of the guitar parts, thinking more about the song as a whole, getting across the simplicity of a song.”
Did you come up with anything that you thought was too out there?
“A few of the songs we really pushed right to the limits. You never know what your comfort zone is until you take things too far. It’s fun though, pushing it, making yourselves uncomfortable. Once you know that feeling then you can move forward. We knew we still needed things to be dark and heavy and to make a massive sounding record, it still needed to sound like Bullet For My Valentine.”
Electronica and metal have come together a lot over the last decade or so, bands like Korn, Enter Shikari, Bring Me The Horizon have used it an awful lot, did you look to anyone for inspiration when it came into bringing in those sounds?
“Honestly? Not really. We just focused on our songs and our songwriting. We knew when it’s done right, bringing those things together, it can be a beautiful combination, but we also wanted it to sound like us. We wanted to add to the band’s sound, not provide a distraction.”
The last time you had a new album out you had a new bass player with Jamie Mathias replacing Jay James, this time you’ve got a new drummer with Jason Bowld taking over from Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas’, can you talk us through the decision to make the changes?
“Jamie came in after we finished writing and recording Venom, so he’s been with us since 2015. We went on the road after that and our drummer Moose had a daughter and he took time out to be with his family. As time progresses and we continued to tour and write and it became apparent that the best thing for the band was to continue with the line-up we had so Jason became a full-time member at the end of last year.”
What has Jason brought to the band?
“A massive amount. He’s brought a unique, positive energy to the band, something we haven’t had for a long time. His ability as a drummer and a songwriter is incredible, he’s a multi-instrumentalist. If you look at his history, especially with Pitchshifter, he knows how to incorporate electronics into really aggressive metal. They took it a lot further than we have, that was their thing, but he’s really helped with us. We’ve reinvented Bullet For My Valentine and we’re taking it into the future. He’s given us a new lease of life.”
Is the line-up feeling settled again? You had the same line-up for 12 years and then two quick changes?
“It’s fine, there’s no drama. You always worry a bit about any transition, you don’t want to let your fans down, but these things do happen. We’d been together a long time and to go over 10 years without having a member change was something to be really proud of, but life changes and people move on. The line-up we have at the moment is the strongest this band has ever been. There’s been no drama behind the scenes and there’s been no s**t flinging behind the scenes. I’m proud of how we’ve handled it.”
You did the record with Carl Bown, who was the engineer on Venom, why did you decide to have him step up?
“It was an energy thing and how much he loves the band. I sat down with him and told him where I wanted to take us and I knew how much his expertise would help us, he’s also an absolute whizz with production and we needed him for this new sound. He’s been with us from day one of writing, back in April of 2017 and he stayed until the last day of mastering in February. He was absolutely integral to the process.”
You’ve worked with some experienced producers in the past, Don Gilmore and Colin Richardson for example, were you keen to get someone younger for this record?
“We wanted someone who was on board with what the band wanted to do, not what they wanted to do with the band, that’s the mindset a lot of producers have. We wanted someone who was our age, understood us and the way we wanted to go, to take the band in more contemporary direction.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to the album?
“There’s definitely a theme. It’s a very personal record. All of the songs are about what I’ve been through in the last couple of years. I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression and the album is all that. It was quite a difficult one to write, but one I can look back on with pride. All that personal turmoil has resulted in an absolutely killer record. The harder times you go through as a songwriter, the best the music seems to be.”
Were you hesitant about putting yourself out there to such an extent?
“I have held back in the past, I didn’t want to put my personal life out there for people to speculate on and read about. At the same time, I’d never had such a time in my life where I’d felt so heavy that I needed to sing about it. It is more personal and I do feel more vulnerable. I didn’t want to do it, but the more I wrote about it and the more of myself I put down on paper and into the demos, the stronger the music became. I think it’ll be a big talking point when people read the lyrics and hopefully, it’ll make the songs more relatable. As an artist, you’re always looking to connect with your fanbase and I think this one will do that.”
Are you worried about reliving anything when you tour? Singing the songs night after night?
“No, I actually think it’ll be really positive for me. Writing about personal things can be difficult, but when you’re up onstage, playing to 10,000 people and they’re singing it back to your with your arms in the air, you feel like you’re having a positive impact on people. For me, that’ll be a healing process. I’m actually looking forward to having these songs give me a buzz.”
When did you settle on Gravity for the title and were any other in contention?
“It was always the title. It’s a really strong and massively profound word. It was the first song we finished and it really opened the door for the rest of the album and will the experiment. It goes with the cover really nicely, having the wings and this colourful cover scheme, but such a heavy word. It was an early decision.”
This album is your first for Spinefarm, having spent your whole career on Sony, how’s the change working out?
“Great. It hasn’t really felt like a transition. We’ve just been writing, touring and recording, what we always do. I know Spinefarm fought hard to get us and we’re their Number One priority. They’re working their arses and making sure it gets the platform it deserves. We’ve never had this much love and energy behind us, even going back to our early days on Sony, it’s a new lease of life. We feel like we’ve got our strongest album ever and a burst of new energy from the label, hopefully, we can go big.”
You’ve got six records now, how’s your live set going to come together?
“I think we’re going to start doing longer sets. Gravity will be at the forefront of the setlist, that’ll be the focus, but we know what our back catalogue means to people and we’ll do our best to strike a balance.”
How are you going to recreate the songs from the album? Are you bringing in extra musicians?
“No, it’s easy to do, we’re going to use a playback system and anything we can’t reproduce with our guitars and drums will come from that. We play to a click track anyway. I’d say about 80% of bands and artists do that now, there are very few pure live bands, especially when you get to a big level. Anything we can’t produce, choirs, string sections, that’ll all go through the playback. It gives the live experience more size and grandeur.”
New songs, bigger production, you must be excited to get out and play the songs?
“I can’t wait. We’re building a huge set, all new gear and new pyro, we can’t wait to get out and show off these songs.”