Bullet For My Valentine: “Everything Was Taken Away Instantly”
For most of his life, Matt Tuck was convinced he was “invincible”. Certainly, throughout his career in Bullet For My Valentine, vulnerabilities lurking beneath the surface have been hard to spot; in interviews, Matt’s unabashed determination has shone through via grandiose statements and buzzwords, while onstage he’d play what he refers to as a “smug frontman”, appearing cool and unfazed in front of any size of crowd. But for all his self-assurance, the 38-year-old would never have predicted that his once-indestructible walls would come tumbling down.
Bullet For My Valentine – completed by guitarist Michael ‘Padge’ Paget, bassist Jamie Mathias and drummer Jason Bowld – were between tours on the cycle for 2015’s Venom when Matt suddenly became a single parent. Having just gone through a divorce with his wife of almost three years, his world was rocked as he returned from extensive periods on the road to an empty London flat. Readjusting to life beyond the cheers of thousands of fans became a different kind of challenge as Matt navigated this all-new alone time. With his friends and family some 160 miles away back home, he unexpectedly lacked focus while spiralling into a “downer”.
“I was miserable, I’m not going to lie,” remembers the singer. “It was horrible. I went from this situation where I had everything I’d ever wanted in life, and then it all seemed to be taken away instantly.”
As Kerrang! catch up with Matt in a backstage compound at one of the many huge European festivals the Welsh quartet have found themselves at this summer, you get the feeling that he’s learning to pick up the pieces of his former self. Sleepily reclining on a sofa with a video game on pause, he hasn’t quite slipped back into the braggadocious band leader role just yet (Matt talks of the “nervous energy” he felt coursing through him at a similar festival the night before), but the Bridgend native has at least found an outlet to pour his frustrations into.
While being a father has ultimately kept him sane throughout this turbulent spell, music gave Matt an end goal. He made the decision that he wanted to bare his soul for all to see, and show Bullet For My Valentine fans his most honest side yet. The final results would become the band’s sixth album, Gravity. But that wasn’t enough.
Matt also realised that a fearlessness in writing lyrics for a new record would require total musical reinvention. With two line-up changes throwing the band’s future up into the air (long-term bassist Jason ‘Jay’ James parted ways with the group in early 2015, while founding member Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas officially left Bullet at the end of last year), their leader seized the chance to start afresh.
“I’m letting people into a side of me that I’ve never shown before, and I’m putting my dirty laundry out to dry – so it had to be worth that,” he nods when asked if this newfound lyrical courage also tied into Gravity’s bolder sound. “As soon as we took that decision that I was going to go down this road and make it a more personal record, it was like, ‘Well, it has to be out there for everyone to listen to and connect with.’”
This isn’t the first time Matt has made a bid to sidestep their straightforward metalcore roots and reinvent Bullet For My Valentine – but it might just be his most crucial manoeuvre yet.
‘I get the feeling this is never getting any better,’ sings Matt Tuck on the third single released from Gravity, Letting You Go – the most experimental song of Bullet For My Valentine’s career so far. It’s a sense of hopelessness littered throughout the full-length, and these feelings of despair have been present for a “long period” of the frontman’s recent years.
“I felt like I was being shit on all the time,” he sighs. “I felt like I was doing everything for everyone else, and no-one would do anything for me. All I was trying to do was the best for me and the people around me, and I wasn’t getting any of that back from anyone else.”
In days past, Matt probably would have shrugged it off. But after developing feelings of anxiety and mild depression following his break-up, it became clear that simply picking himself up and dusting himself down was no longer feasible. It would take more strength to win this battle. And despite conversations about mental health being more prevalent now – as well as the still-devastatingly fresh deaths of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell – Matt began to grasp first-hand the profound effects poor mental health can have. And it changed his mindset completely.
“Even two years ago I would not understand if someone had [died by suicide],” he admits. “Like, ‘Oh my god, they’re in the biggest rock bands in the world, with all the cash and beautiful families.’ But it doesn’t matter – [depression] doesn’t discriminate. Especially in men, it becomes an issue because of the whole ‘man-up’ thing. I’ve been guilty of that myself, too. But not any more.”
Matt is acutely aware of how lucky he is that he could find some therapy in music. While feeling lonely, and guilt-ridden that his son would grow up with separated parents, working on the follow-up to Venom provided the motivation to turn things around. And now there’s a light ahead in sight.
“This heartache, and this shitty time of my life has made this piece of art,” Matt explains with a glass half-full sense of optimism. “That’s become an important and positive part of my life again. It’s a weird journey, but that’s what you have to do sometimes.”
The emotional aspect of the latest chapter in Matt’s life wasn’t the only thing he had to contend with; he also found himself butting heads with bandmates over the “contemporary” direction he wanted to take the music. Having met up with new producers and taken part in writing sessions outside the metal scene before working on Gravity, Matt was inspired to rewrite Bullet’s rulebook. He also drew from a UK trio famous for their more progressive tendencies: Muse.
“I heard from Matt [Bellamy, frontman] that they wrote one of their albums by flipping it,” the frontman enthuses. “Everything that they used more electronic-wise, they did on instruments, and everything they did on instruments, they turned into electronic sounds. They had this way of writing and spicing things up that I found interesting.”
Despite often sounding a little mechanical when dissecting Bullet For My Valentine’s music (terms like “crushing riffs” and “dark sonics” are two such examples today), Matt’s passion and quest for growth in his career is clear. But not everyone was as keen to make the same leap forward.
“It was a lot of banging our heads against a wall, and people getting a little tense about it – whether it was the right thing to do or not,” he admits. “The success of the band’s history is quite phenomenal, so to leave that behind, for some people, was a difficult process…”
After first trying to appease everyone and reverting back to Bullet’s old tricks, Matt then grew stubborn. His heart was set on reinvention, and he wasn’t going to alter that course. The band eventually knuckled down and collectively played around with trap beats, and elements of R&B and hip-hop, until they finished work on everything in December 2017.
“There’s a definite ‘thing’ on every Bullet record, and I think that’s good,” Matt reflects on Gravity’s stylistic standouts. “Every two or three years, life changes. You can be thrown lemons, or you can be thrown fucking amazing riches and glories. It just marks a moment in the band’s history and legacy: it marks now. 2017 and 2018 is what Gravity is, and who knows what 2019 and 2020 will bring – I don’t know.”
The ‘past’ and the ‘future’ of Bullet For My Valentine come up a lot when you talk to Matt Tuck. He understands the band’s legacy, though it occasionally makes for an awkward discussion point when it comes to how that affects their future. Matt is, however, tactful about where Gravity may take Bullet. Where once he might have let bravado take over, he’s more cautious with his words now. Whatever happens, though, Matt embarks upon this next phase knowing he’s done it for himself, not the fans.
“This has been about what makes us excited for the future – not the last 15 years,” he shrugs. “That’s always going to be there, and we’ve done that. You’re not going to please everyone – so just please yourself. If it works then you can bask in the glory. If it doesn’t, at least you did what you wanted to, and you can hold your head high.”
Now that the record is out and a weight has been lifted, Bullet For My Valentine can focus on taking Gravity on the road. And with a couple of huge UK arena shows booked in towards the end of the year, Matt is confident that things will only build back up again.
As for his personal life? Well, he’s seemingly making peace with the fact that he’s not so invincible after all. And that’s okay.
“I’ve proven to myself that I’m human,” Matt smiles. “I never thought I would experience mental health issues, and it’s taught me a lot about myself. It’s shown me how strong I am, to deal with what I’ve dealt with, on my own, and keep this band running – going through member changes, writing a fucking record, keeping everything with my family good, and coming through the other side now. It’s not perfect, and it’s not as it was, but everything has fallen back into place now.”
Gravity is out now via Spinefarm. Bullet For My Valentine headline London’s Alexandra Palace and Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena in November.
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