BFMV’s Matt Tuck: “This Was Never Given To Us. We Worked Our Arses Off”
Back in 2010, Matt Tuck had a moment of clarity about his lot in life. “I’ll be trying to convince people I’m good at what I do until the day I die,” he told Kerrang!. Bullet For My Valentine were about to release Fever, the 5K-rated album that would tear its way into U.S. and UK charts at number three and five respectively, and propel the rising Welshmen to the head of the pack of modern British metal.
Despite the momentum and the major label clout behind him, Matt asserted, “that [attitude] comes from being beaten down, mentally, when I was growing up. It comes from being told we were shit. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away.”
Present these words to Bullet’s frontman today and his outlook is more measured, but the sentiment is one that still clearly resonates deep within him. “It’s probably not something I would say today, but I think there is always a part of me that’s trying to win over a person that isn’t a fan of my band,” he concedes. “I think that’s one of the motivating factors for carrying on when times are hard. It’s that deep, inner feeling of wanting to succeed.”
Matt wanted to make something of himself from an early age. As a young man growing up in sleepy Bridgend he threw himself into sports, playing basketball for the Welsh national team until a fascination with Metallica, Nirvana and Machine Head took over. After recalibrating his adolescent nu-metal crew Jeff Killed John into the hard-riffing Bullet, the self-taught guitarist steered the band from the pub circuit of their hometown to the arena and festival-conquering heights of a world-class metal force. Over six albums, his iron will and sense of determination has been unswerving.
Yet in person, Matt shows no sign of arrogance or ego. The soft-spoken frontman is a diffident and occasionally withdrawn conversationalist, more given to emphasising his dedication to his band and family than making grandstanding statements. Despite his image as the muscle-bound, undisputed leader of one of the millennium’s most recognisable metal bands, he rejects any notion that he is an alpha male.
“I don’t like attention,” he insists. “I’ve always been the leader of the gang, but in regular life I’m not really that guy.”
What was your childhood like?
“I guess it was the same as growing up in any small town in the UK. There was a small community of people, and I grew up in a loving and happy household. My parents were good parents and I knew right from wrong. It was a really normal, humble upbringing.”
What turned you on to the dark side?
“Seeing Metallica’s Enter Sandman video was huge. I grew up around a lot of music because my dad was well into rock, but when I was 13 we had satellite TV installed with MTV – which at that point was still a dedicated music channel – and when that video came on I instantly fell in love with the band and the genre. It was a way more aggressive, gnarlier sound. From that point on, I didn’t have any dreams other than wanting to play guitar and be a musician.”
Was there anything around you to suggest that rock stardom was attainable?
“No, absolutely not. I think the closest thing we had to a Welsh rock star was probably Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey! We weren’t renowned for Welsh rock or metal at that point. In the mid ‘90s I don’t think it even existed. The Manic Street Preachers had some success around that time, but the music I was into was far less accessible to the masses than what they were writing. But I didn’t care. I fell in love with metal and that’s what I wanted to do, so I went off to try to make it happen.”
What kind of kid were you at school? Were you well behaved?
“I was quite academic and I always knuckled down, but I think we were slightly let down by everything and everyone. No-one was pushed in a positive way and there didn’t seem to be any nurturing of talent or ambition with the students. The only thing I wanted to do was music, so I picked that as one of my options when I could. I had already taught myself guitar and I was really focused on developing my musical skills, but I was apparently the only one who picked it in my whole year, so they said I had to choose something else. That made my blood boil. I had a genuine passion and talent for something and I was turned around and told, ‘You can’t do it because we can’t accommodate you.’ I thought that was a really shitty attitude to have at such an influential age.”
Did that give you a chip on your shoulder?
“Nah, I’m not like that, but it did make me more determined to go, ‘Well, I’ve done it this far without them. I’ll go all the way and I’ll show them what I can do. One day they’ll regret this.’”
Is it true you were also an accomplished athlete at school?
“Well, if I set my mind on something I always give it my best. I was playing rugby at county level at that time. I also played basketball at national level. I still like to keep fit and push myself mentally and physically. It’s a good way to keep a balance in my life.”
Where do you think that sense of discipline comes from?
“I don’t know. I think it was the fact that where I grew up no-one gives you anything. You’ve got to make it happen for yourself and I think if you’re going to do something, do it properly. It’s something I’ve always had in me. I’m very competitive and enjoy a challenge.”
Have you always been a natural leader?
“I can’t really remember that ever being a thing until the band started to gain a little bit of traction. It just felt like I was never in a position to be a leader, or had the need to be. But when it started to look like things were happening for us, I felt it was important that someone took charge of the situation and I slotted into that role somehow. I feel like I’ve been there ever since, really, which I don’t mind. I enjoy it, for the most part.”
In 1998 you formed the band that would eventually become Bullet under the name Jeff Killed John, which was more of a nu-metal outfit. How do you regard that period now?
“Well, when we were starting to be a serious band it was still in the thick of the nu-metal phenomenon, so being young and it being so influential, that was what we thought we should do if we were going to have a chance of making it. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so we put the brakes on and decided, ‘Okay, let’s do what we always wanted to do and not worry about the trends.’ So that’s what we did – we embraced the thrashier, heavier side of our musical influences. I do remember that as soon as I started writing [in that style] that it became clear it was a far more fitting and natural place for us, and everyone was enjoying it a lot more.”
At that point there was a clutch of bands coming up in Bridgend who were finding success. Was it an exciting time?
“That was a big turning point for us where we knew that it could happen, because there were a few bands popping up that were getting record deals, getting on the cover of Kerrang! and doing all these things that we were dreaming of doing ourselves someday. It was pretty frustrating and a bit disheartening at times, because we knew that we were equally capable of doing what they were doing, but it was obviously not up to us whether we would get that opportunity.”
Were there any moments where you felt it might not happen?
“Yeah, especially when I was getting into my 20s and it was like, ‘Fuck! I’ve been in a band for six years and there’s still no real reward at all.’ It was scary. I was doing everything from factory work to temping, trying to get by day-to-day. My family were supportive, but even some of them were starting to go, ‘So, is this it?’ Thankfully, by the time I was 24 we were up and running, but I would be in a very different situation now if it hadn’t happened for us. Looking back on it all, it was a bit stupid to put all my eggs in one basket, but I was pretty stubborn.”
How did it feel, then, when both 2005 debut album The Poison and its 2008 follow-up Scream Aim Fire had such an impact on album charts worldwide?
“It was life-changing. To achieve things like that was never really on the wish list. Those two albums set the tone for when [2010 album] Fever came out, which hit number three on the U.S. Billboard. It was just a crazy time, going from being massively in debt and working shitty jobs to being able to buy a decent car or put the deposit down on your first apartment. We were just doing what we wanted to do and for all the right reasons, so it felt good that we had done things our way, on our terms and we were getting success.”
It made you the biggest metal band to emerge from Britain in years. Did you feel the need to be bigger and louder than everyone else?
“No, I’ve just always been open about where I think we could go with hard work and I think we proved that a lot then, when we got to an arena level. A lot of people don’t see the blood, the sweat and the tears that go into achieving that kind of dream, and it was never given to us. We worked our arses off and tried to be the best band we could. I think it was an amazing accomplishment to get to that point, especially considering who we were and where we were from.”
Your 2013 fourth album Temper Temper received quite the critical panning, whereas up until that point Bullet had been an unmitigated success. Did it feel like a stumbling block?
“That’s just life – you can’t win ‘em all. To continue on that trajectory of always going up as we were, there was always going to be a point where it levelled out and that was our moment. There have been so many bands come and go, so to have that six or seven years of being an untouchable band? That’s a long stretch to have, and looking back on it, it was pretty amazing.”
On 2018’s Gravity you wrote much more personally about the end of your marriage and you’ve said that you experienced bouts of depression and anxiety. That was new for you, right?
“Those are just moments in life you don’t really expect. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes in life with work commitments and career paths. Things start to show cracks, especially when you have a young family. You either crumble or you pull your socks up and get on with things, and I had both of those moments. I did crumble, and I did fall into a bit of depression, and I did doubt whether I even wanted to be in a band anymore. It felt like my family was falling apart and some of it was because of the band.”
What was it like being faced with those doubts? It sounds like your faith in the band was unshakable before…
“It wasn’t nice, but it was my mental health playing tricks on me. When you get yourself into those emotional downhill moments, it’s hard to pull yourself out. But in a way, the thing that was making me feel that way has brought me back up, because I still had the band. It was a crossroads where I thought, ‘Well, I can either detach myself from this and do something different, or I can fight for what I do best and hopefully this will all be behind me.’ That’s where I’m at right now. Everything feels good and now that I have gone through all of that I can recognise the signs and deal with it better.”
Do you think that men in particular are taught to toughen up rather than be honest about how they might be struggling?
“Unfortunately, I think that is true. Even up until a couple of years ago there was a massive stigma around mental health, especially amongst men. The whole ‘man up’ thing is so unnecessary. If you’re struggling, male or female, it can feel like your whole world is crumbling, but simply feeling able to speak to somebody is the start of getting out of that shit. That’s what it was for me. I really didn’t want to talk about my problems, but thankfully I did speak to somebody, then I wrote a couple of songs and all of a sudden I had this outlet where people were listening and helping me through. I don’t think there should be any shame or embarrassment about it.”
As a father, has that changed the way you relate to your son?
“Oh, absolutely. We’ve already had these conversations where I’ve told him, ‘You can tell me anything that’s on your mind,’ and he totally understands it. I think it’s good to pitch that to him at an early age where he can come to me with any situation without fear of being embarrassed. That’s not the kind of relationship I had with my dad. My dad’s amazing and I love him to bits, but we didn’t really have that kind of openness. So I want to make sure now that when Evann grows up and he feels the need to speak to someone, I’m the guy.”
Do you still feel as competitive as ever?
“Not really. Those days are, maybe not gone, but they’re few and far between. We’ve achieved everything we ever wanted to achieve, so we’ve got nothing left to prove in that sense.”
Even on a personal level? Is there anything left in life you would like to achieve?
“Honestly, no. Everything that I’ve wanted to do has been music related and everything else has come because of that. Becoming a dad has been the most incredible thing. Playing with our idols and touring the world? These are all amazing things that we’re very fortunate to have done, so we’re going to keep it up rather than try to be anything. I think we’ve achieved that, so we just need to enjoy it now.”
Finally, what would you tell your younger self growing up in Bridgend?
“Maybe just to do it the way you want to do it, because when it does happen it’s so much more rewarding than if you had bent to someone else’s opinion just to make it a success. It’s not something Bullet have ever done, and to be here 15 years later because of that way of thinking makes me proud.”
Bullet For My Valentine’s latest album Gravity is out now via Spinefarm Records.
From Nirvana to Bruce Springsteen: Dive into the record collection of Bullet For My Valentine frontman Matt Tuck
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