Q&A With Bullet For My Valentine’s Matt Tuck

Vocalist/guitarist Matt Tuck talks with Pollstar about Bullet For My Valentine’s new album arriving this week. “This time around, ultimately, it’s definitely a very more focused, definitive metal record, like it was back in the day,” he said.

Venom is Bullet For My Valentine’s fifth album, dropping Aug. 14 via RCA Records.  The disc marks the first time the band has recorded music without bassist Jason James, who departed the group earlier this year.   Replacing him is Jamie Mathias, formerly of Revoker.

Bullet For My Valentine is supporting Venom with tour dates and more tour dates.  Currently on the road with Slipknot, the Welsh band plays the United Kingdom beginning in late September, followed by a run across Europe and, ultimately, a stop at Ozzfest Japan in November.

If you picture the heavy metal world filled with rock gods living lives of depravity and decadence then Tuck is not your guy.  Sure, he loves playing music and fronting Bullet For My Valentine, but he’s also a family man who lives in London with his wife and son and loves going to the grocery store. No, we’re not making that up.

Tuck feels the band has remained true to its mission during its 17 years of rocking around the world.  And he’s always looking to the future.

Photo: Sandra Sorensen
Matt Tuck in a metal moment at Camden Rocks in London, England.

Bullet For My Valentine’s original record deal with Sony was a five-album contract.  Does Venom fulfill the obligation?

As soon as the album comes out on the 14th – that’s it.  We’re actually a free band.  We’ve fulfilled the contract from start to finish … which is something we never thought we’d get to.  It’s an amazing achievement.  Our label has been great to us. We’d have no issues in going back.  We’ve never been in this position before.  It’s going to be an interesting couple of months.

So the band is a free agent for a while?

Yeah. We’re going to get the album out.  We have really heavy touring coming up.  We’re going to focus on that, for the time being.  I guess, depending on how well the record does, the more opportunities [it] gives us to get deals going forward with Sony, again, or whoever comes to the table.  It’s good.  Exciting times.

What was different about the sessions for Venom compared to Bullet For My Valentine’s first label release, The Poison?

I think it was completely different.  We were, obviously, going into a debut record.  There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of learning on the job as far as becoming a recording artist [instead of] just being in a band with your mates.  Just the whole process is very different, but ultimately the goal is the same – to make kick-ass music that people will love and show people what the band is about. It just so happens that, over the years, things have been changed.  Coming from the first one to this last one, I think, you come full-circle. We’ve experimented, we’ve dipped our toes in different styles of the metal genre. This time around, ultimately, it’s definitely a very more focused, definitive metal record, like it was back in the day.  Everything is positive.  We love the new record. … The learning experiences, even now, are still there.  That never changes as well.  It’s an interesting period in the band’s career.

What do you think will surprise fans on the new album?

I think the intensity of the record, how aggressive it is.  I think the only time it lets up is, probably, during the song “Venom” itself, and “Hell Or High Water.” Those are the songs which … [are] a lot more accessible to a non-metalhead, I guess.  I think the majority of the record from start-to-finish is pummeling. … I think that will take a lot of people by surprise, coming after our last record, which was, probably, our least heavy.  [This] is going to be more pounding.  “No Way Out” and “You Want A Battle (Here’s A War)” – those are good indications of what the album sounds like.

Does the band play live in the studio or is it a track-by-track process?

We do everything individually.  The way we’ve always done it.  We like to go through things with a fine-tooth comb and get the best out of the performance. Being the type of band we are, we don’t really like to do it as a live thing.  We separate the two things.  Obviously, we were a man down with James not in the band anymore.  We couldn’t actually [record live] anyway, even if we wanted to. … We layer things down individually on top of each other as we go along.

When recording, at what point do you begin adding vocals?

We always wait until the song is complete, musically, as an instrumental and then put the vocals down.  If there’s any overdubs that need to go on – we’ll leave those until after the vocals are done because you don’t know what might clash with the vocal melody until that’s on.  [The vocal] is the most important part of the track. 

Other bands have said they don’t begin figuring out how to play the songs live on stage until after the album is completed.  Does Bullet For My Valentine go through a similar process?

As a band? Yeah.  Everyone knows their parts, but it’s obviously coming together and sticking it together.  It’s usually not an issue.  By the time you’ve done the record … everyone knows the songs inside out, you’ve played it like a million times in the studio.  It always comes together in the first couple of rehearsals.  [Those] are usually the most exciting, really.  It’s the first time you’ll hear the song in its entirety as a live part.  It’s a very nice part of the process – when you go into a room and start smashing it out together.  That’s when you actually feel a different side of the song and how powerful it is to perform and how it feels with the amps raging and the drums resonating in the room as well.  It’s something that gets lost in the studio because everything is so isolated.

Is there a moment while the band is working on the songs that you realize that the sound that you heard in your head while writing the songs is now a reality?

Yeah.  It comes in different places when you’re recording that track.  Ultimately, because I’m writing a lot of the riffs and songs, I do have a vision in my head of where I need it to go and what I want it to sound like.  There will be a moment … usually the guitar tracking is when you’ll hear the song come to life and get that kind of feedback from the track. You’ve found what you’re looking for and it’s like, “YES!” Everyone, not just me, but everyone will feel it at the same time.  As soon as that happens, that’s when you know that you’ve done what you’ve needed to do. That’s when you can continue on making the rest of the tracks.

Photo: Chris McKay / WireImage.com
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Alpharetta, Ga.

When you and your bandmates hit that point, are you anxious for the fans to hear it?

Always.  When you get those moments, that’s kind of why we do what we do.  That’s the reward you’re looking for as a songwriter.  To get that feedback from your fans – that is the most precious part of what we do.  To hold it from them is a nightmare.  All you want to do is go, “Check this out!” And you can’t. It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the game.  It’s all good.

Is the sound you’re hearing on stage as dynamic as what the fans hear or do you hear a different mix than what goes out to the audience?

For me, personally, I’m pretty much hearing more of what the album is like.  We do a literal mix in the way we do the live shows.  It will differ slightly from what the audience is hearing but, for the best part, the mix that I have is very much like a record.  I like to feel like I’m listening back to it.  The vocals will sit up a little bit louder than the way they do on the record.  But I’ve got to hear what I’m doing.  That applies to everyone – drummer, bass player –  whatever your instrument is, that’s usually up in the mix to what the audience is going to hear.

Who decides on the final setlist each night?

I’ve always just done them.  I kind of have a more tactical way of doing it because I’m the vocalist and there are certain songs that I won’t be able to perform at the best of my ability an hour into the set. … just because I don’t have that steam.  I do have more freedom with the setlist because I have a bit more of a challenging role.

What are some of the elements you might consider other than the voice when building the setlist?

We do like to have a dynamic.  I don’t like to sound like a hippie, really, [but] we do like to go on a bit of a journey.  We like to bring the crowd up to a point where it’s like pandemonium and then bring them back down for a quiet song with clean guitars, something that’s different for the ears to grab a hold of. … We like to play heavy but we like to play soft as well.  It gives the set a nice bit of colour.  It’s what we do best.  We’re not the typical metal band that will go out for an hour and play balls to the wall for 60 minutes.  We incorporate a lot of different styles and a lot of different sounds, sonically, into the set so it gives people’s ears a chance to recover from the battering they’ve had.

You mentioned overdubs in the recording process. How far can a metal band take enhancements and studio tricks and still be true to the genre?

We’ve always been a bit more classic in the way we approach making a record.  We don’t usually intend to go over the top.  There will be a point where we could, and then we get to that discussion of “Who’s going to play it live?  Oh, nobody, so we can’t do it.”  There are songs which do have overdubs.  That’s the way music is.  A lot of bands do take it quite far, and too far, in my opinion.  As long as it’s real, as long as people are playing the parts and it’s something that you can do live, even if you have to lose a rhythm guitar. … The way we’ve always approached it is if we can’t play it live, we don’t put it down.  That’s the way we do it.

That’s probably a very good philosophy for all bands.

I think so.  That’s the way it was when music began. … The technology side of it has become very apparent in a lot of younger bands, especially. They’re using technology in their sets, which is great. There are no rules.  How we write our music, we’ll use a click track and stuff, but that’s [about] how far as it goes.  There are some effects going on, like delays in the vocal, but apart from that what you’re hearing is what we’re playing.

What inspires you?

I don’t think “inspires” is the right word for me.  I think “motivate” is something that’s more relevant to me.  I think being in a band and being given an opportunity to do this as a living, I’m always looking for more motivation rather than inspiration.

But are there moments that might inspire your songwriting?  Perhaps while you’re watching a movie, looking at a painting or just picking up on what someone might have said?

This time around … it was more stuff from the past, the history of the band and the history of me as a boy growing up in Wales, going through stuff in school, stuff in my personal life.  It’s more of taking inspiration from times when they weren’t so good in my life.  Being in this band, with the success we’ve had and being who I am – happily married and shit like that – it’s not a good recipe for … writing metal tracks.  We’ve captured stuff that’s special on this record, revisiting days when I was growing up that weren’t so good. Recapturing that and putting it back in the music to make it relevant, making it heavy and making it kind of heartfelt.  It’s difficult to do that when, like I said, life is good.

The home life of musicians might not be what fans envision for their favorite bands. When not recording, touring or just working on band matters, what’s a day like for you?

It would be getting up when the little one gets up.  I have a five-year-old boy so when I’m home I’m switching to dad-mode – getting up early, doing the school run, coming home, cleaning the house, going to the store, getting dinner ready for when he comes home for school … then hang out with the wife, watch a movie, go to sleep and repeat. … The mundane things in life – going to the store, doing the grocery shopping – I love doing that.  That’s the best part of coming home.  You’ve done your crazy tour.  You come home, your kid’s in school, wife is at work, and you have this eight-hour window to do what you want to do.  It’s just brilliant, just washing the car … being in the house … it’s something you lack and crave when you’re away for three months at a time.  Little things that make you what you are as a real person and not as a musician or rock star.  It’s those things all of us look forward to, doing the things that people do every day and would think is quite mundane.

If a stranger not knowing anything about you came into your home, how long after walking through the front door would that person know you’re a musician?

Instantly (laughs)  As soon as you open our front door, in the entrance hall there’s photography from over the years of being on stage – pyro kicking off, fire everywhere, the gold discs, the plaques and stuff.  It wouldn’t take long.

How do you and your bandmates decide on the visual aspects of the show?

It depends on the tour and how big it is, stuff like that.  The biggest tours we’ve done – in the U.K. where we’ve done big arena shows – from the crowd point of view, what would you want to see?  It’s getting a balance between visual, stage production, pyro, classic formulas that have made rock shows what they are over the years and trying to develop it into something that possibly hasn’t been done before, which is difficult.  And, obviously, not trying to overshadow the show itself and having stuff just for the sake of it. We kind of stick to the same stuff.  We have a little bit of staging where we can run around, different mic positions where the band can have a bit of fun.  Having screens so that the people in the back can see. … It’s really hard not to go over the top.  But at the end of the day, every penny you spend on that production is a penny that comes out of each band member’s pocket.  It’s just trying to find that balance between doing a fuckin’ kick-ass show, trying to be a little bit original but not spending everything so you can’t eat for the next year.

Does performing take a physical toll on you?  Are you entirely drained at the end of a gig?

It depends on the set time, the venue. … We’ve done some Florida shows, West Palm Beach, Tampa … it was blistering hot and humid.  That type of show … is quite demanding.  Most of the time everyone comes off definitely feeling like they’ve just done a show.  Doing the big headlining arena shows, where you’re playing an hour and a half – you come off and you’re done.  I think certain people in the band have harder roles than myself.  When we come off we’re ready to go to bed.

Do you follow any regimen while touring so you will be at the top of your game when the band hits the stage?

During the last five or six years I’ve gotten into keeping fit, getting the right foods, taking supplements, and looking after myself. It’s helped massively. … It does take its toll if you don’t look after yourself.  If  you’re eating the wrong food, not exercising, getting drunk, stupid shit like that – that’ just a recipe for disaster.  That’s something I’ve stayed away from for a long, long time.  It definitely helps the touring process be smooth. … It does take a lot of discipline, but it’s something I enjoy now, so it’s no problem.

Any long-range plans for Bullet For My Valentine?

I think everyone is in it for the long run.  We’ve always wanted longevity more than anything.  I think we’ve pretty much done that.  We’ve proved our point. We’ve been a band that’s delivered every record. There have been ups and downs along the way, but I think we’ve definitely achieved what we wanted to do.  But there’s still that motivation and hunger to keep on doing what we do and strive to be the best that we can be.  That’s something that’s never gone away.  I think that’s a huge factor in why we’re still here today.  So I’d like to think that five, 10 years down the road we’ll still be here, doing what we do, as long as we’re enjoying it, we’re happy and everyone still wants to do it.  I think the ball is in our court to dictate that now.  It’s not something we thought we’d have control of but that’s kind of the way it seems to be going, which is great.

It sounds like everyone in the band still enjoys what they do.

Once that goes, I think, that’s it.  There have been [tough] moments along the way … but we managed to pull ourselves out of it, put things in perspective, get on with stuff and start enjoying it again.  As soon as you start not enjoying what you do, as amazing as it is, it becomes a very dark place.  Especially because you’re away so long from your family and the people that can pull you out of that. … I think we’re all strong enough now to realize that these things are just bumps in the road and we’re mentally capable of pulling ourselves out when we need to.

Is this the best job anyone could ever have?

We’ve brought friends and even people in the industry, like agents and managers, out on tour with us, and they last about two days and go home.  You’ve got to live it and you’ve got to want it. For us, yes, it absolutely is.  We totally get it and love it. It takes a lot to do what we do but that is what we do.  For most people, I actually think it would be their worst nightmare.  I think people have to experience it to get it.  I think that’s the best way to explain it.

Photo: Sandra Sorensen
Matt Tuck reaching for the sky during Camden Rocks in London, England.

Upcoming Bullet For My Valentine shows:

Aug. 12 – Virginia Beach, Va., Farm Bureau Live At Virginia Beach
Aug. 14 – Noblesville, Ind., Klipsch Music Center
Aug. 15 – Tinley Park, Ill., Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Aug. 16 – Maryland Heights, Mo., Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Aug. 19 – Morrison, Colo., Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Aug. 21 – Salt Lake City, Utah, Usana Amphitheatre
Aug. 22 – Garden City, Idaho, Revolution Concert House & Event Center  (with  Lamb Of God)
Aug. 23 – Auburn, Wash., White River Amphitheatre  (KISW Pain In The Grass)
Aug. 24 – Vancouver, British Columbia, Rogers Arena
Aug. 26 – Concord, Calif., Concord Pavilion
Aug. 28 – Las Vegas, Nev., MGM Resorts Festival Lot
Aug. 29 – Phoenix, Ariz., Ak-Chin Pavilion
Aug. 30 – Albuquerque, N.M., Isleta Amphitheater
Aug. 31 – Socorro, Texas, Socorro Entertainment Center
Sept. 2 – Austin, Texas, Austin360 Amphitheater
Sept. 4 – The Woodlands, Texas, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Sept. 5 – Dallas, Texas, Gexa Energy Pavilion
Sept. 8 – Condesa, Mexico, El Plaza Condesa
Sept. 10 – Guadalajara, Mexico, Teatro Estudio Cavaret
Sept. 28 – Belfast, No. Ireland, Ulster Hall
Sept. 29 – Dublin, Ireland, Olympia Theatre
Oct. 1 – Bournemouth, England, O2 Academy
Oct. 2 – Reading, England, The Hexagon
Oct. 3 – Guildford, England, G Live
Oct. 5 – Aylesbury, England, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Oct. 6 – Hanley, England, Victoria Hall
Oct. 7 – Lincoln, England, Engine Shed
Oct. 9 – York, England, York Barbican
Oct. 10 – Aberdeen, Scotland, Music Hall
Oct. 11 – Dunfermline, Scotland, Alhambra Theatre
Oct. 13 – Middlesbrough, England, Middlesbrough Empire
Oct. 14 – Carlisle, England, Sands Centre Carlisle
Oct. 16 – Leicester, England, O2 Academy
Oct. 17 – East Sussex, England, De La Warr Pavilion
Oct. 18 – Folkestone, England, Leas Cliff Hall
Oct. 20 – Swansea, Wales, Brangwyn Hall 
Oct. 21 – Southampton, England, O2 Guildhall Southampton
Oct. 22 – Ipswich, England, Corn Exchange
Oct. 24 – Strasbourg, France, La Laiterie
Oct. 25 – Pratteln, Switzerland,  Z7
Oct. 27 – Lausanne, Switzerland, Les Docks
Oct. 28 – Treviso, Italy, New Age
Oct. 30 – Linz, Austria, Posthof
Oct. 31 – Nuremberg, Germany, Lowensaal Nurnberg
Nov. 1 – Hannover, Germany, Capitol Hannover
Nov. 3 – Saarbrucken, Germany, Garage
Nov. 4 – Karlsruhe, Germany, Substage
Nov. 6 – Dresden, Germany, Strasse E
Nov. 7 – Essen, Germany, Weststadthalle
Nov. 8 – Bremen, Germany, Aladin
Nov. 10 – Stockholm, Sweden, Debaser Medis
Nov. 12 – Helsinki, Finland, Helsinki Ice Arena 
Nov. 14 – Oslo, Norway, Rockefeller Music Hall
Nov. 15 – Copenhagen, Denmark, Amager Bio
Nov. 17 – Utrecht, Netherlands, TivoliVredenburg
Nov.  18 – Antwerp, Belgium  Muziekcentrum Trix 
Nov. 21 – Chiba, Japan, Makuhari Messe (Ozzfest Japan) 

Appearing with Slipknot Aug. 20-21 & Aug. 23-Sept. 5.

For more information, please visit Bullet For My Valentine’s official website, Facebook page, Twitter Feed and Instagram page.