INTERVIEW: Matt Tuck of Bullet For My Valentine

Bullet For My Valentine’s Fever is one of the biggest metal albums of the year. Brutal riffs, intense leads, inescapably catchy melodies propelled it to a #3 debut on the Billboard charts, and # on the Rock and Alternative charts. More than that though, it’s connecting with audiences in a way that seems to have surpassed the band’s previous work, luring in newbies as well as satisfying the die-hards. Leading the charge is vocalist/guitarist Matt Tuck.

The response to the album has been insane. How are you finding the reaction out there?

“Well 95% of the things I’ve heard off the press across the planet has been extremely positive, which is great. And we love it, we think it’s a great record – which is all we’re really ultimately concerned about – but for it to be received so well after having mixed reviews on the last record, it’s a really good sign. People are freaking out! So it’s like, okay, we’ve done something pretty cool here, by the looks of it. So we’re very proud. It’s been very well received around the planet. Not very many people can pick holes in it this time around. I’m the biggest critic of myself – I know when something’s not right and could have been better, and I just can’t pick a flaw in it right now. People are freaking out. We’ve had really great reviews – we’re happy boys.

How do you balance being your toughest critic with those 95% positive reviews? Do you pay much attention to that other 5%?

Not really. The only opportunity we do get to peruse reviews is usually for the UK press. When an album drops we’re usually at home, about to go on tour somewhere, so we don’t really get to see actual physical reviews from anywhere else on the planet. We just hear about them from our management and the record labels who obviously actively pay attention and collection them and catalog it all. It does matter. It’s nice to hear something positive and it sucks to hear something that’s not. But at the end of the day we’ve got to a stage in our career now where we’re very comfortable with our abilities and who we are, and as long as we’re happy nothing else really happens.

Your songwriting is heavy yet accessible. Is that something you work to achieve, or does it just happen?

That’s just how it is, that’s just what we do. People really struggled to deal with that when we first started. They were like ‘You can’t do that!’ and we were like, ‘Well, we are!’ We’re not trying to be a big-selling global rock outfit. That was never the point. We’re just four friends writing music, and this is how it comes out. So to make that into a formula, I don’t know. It’s just something we’ve done very naturally.

In a time when you can hear metal riffs on ads for breakfast cereal, it seems like metal’s just become part of the fabric of the global consciousness

Yeah! I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve opened a lot of doors for the world of metal, you know what I mean? There are some people that like the band or whatever, and there are some people that fucking totally hate us because of what we do, but at the same time, what we’re doing for the genre as a whole is a good thing. We’re bringing it to a whole mass of people who wouldn’t have given a shit before we came along, and that sounds maybe a little bit arrogant, I know, but it’s a fact! We’ve opened the door for this genre to become more of a mainstream, everyday life music. And that’s cool as fuck. We could be as heavy as we want, but we want to be more than that. We want to write songs that will stand the test of time.

Judging by the credits in the CD booklet, it looks like the recording process moved around quite a bit?

Yeah! It was a demanding process from a working point of view, working with Don [Gilmore]. We’d never really worked with any other record producer apart from Colin Richardson before, and he’s not technically a record producer, he’s a really good engineer who knows what you do good and just records it, basically. Don will tear your shit up and he won’t care! He’s brutal! But it was a great insight into how to work a little bit differently and experiment, and not be afraid to try different things. The hardest part of the recording process was letting go of the reigns for five minutes for someone who’s sold a shitload more records than me to try and help us, you know what I mean, and not fight with us. As soon as we got over that ego thing we worked as a team, and it really paid off, you know what I mean? It’s something I’ll definitely take into our next project, to not be such a fucking control freak.

It must be weird to have that down-time between recording an album and waiting to see how it’s received.

Yeah, going into something like that you’re just doing what you’re doing and you’re happy with it at the time. That’s the way we look at it. As long as we’re happy, even if it fucks up, it fucked up when we were doing it our way. That’s the attitude we have. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but we do, we created it and it’s our baby. As long as we love it that’s all that matters.

I read that you wrote lyrics while you were writing the music this time around, which is different to how you usually work. How did the two influence each other?

Initially that was the plan just because I didn’t want 15 instrumental songs backlogged and then have to write lyrics, which sucks, so I did make a conscious effort. Even if I wasn’t writing lyrics, I was writing melodies in my head and putting down little ideas and stuff as we were going along, which made the whole process a lot easier and a lot less demanding for myself. I didn’t want to be sat down with 15 instrumental songs going ‘Holy shit, I have to write 15 songs now,’ because you get to song four or five and you’re spent, you’ve got nothing to write about! So it was more or less getting ideas and everything along the way as we were going. Because we write songs and music all day – that comes easy to us – but I’m quite a lazy songwriter. I don’t like writing lyrics. I never wanted to be a songwriter, I just have to make a conscious effort to do both at the same time.

Where do your lyrics come from?

Just things that happen, really. Most of the songs are based around something that’s happened, or I’ve seen or heard or know of, and as soon as I get to the second verse, I’m bored. It’s just not entertaining enough, so I’ll take it off onto a more extreme level, use my imagination and make the lyrics very visual. That’s what I try to do every time, really.

Man, your signature Jackson (above) is so cool. it’s one of those guitars where even people who aren’t into your band are gonna see that and think ‘I want that one.’

“It’s a guitar that I designed on the back of Jackson’s Randy Rhoads signature guitar,” Tuck says. “I’ve used Jacksons for many years, even before we got signed. I was a fan of the brand and the shape and the style of the guitar. It just oozed attitude, and it sounds weird but I found it a very sexy-looking guitar, you know what I mean? I’m a guitar player and love guitars – the way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell. They’re very organic to me, y’know? So I just took the guitar I used and tried to make it my own. I was lucky enough to be picked up by Jackson pretty early in our career. I used one of their guitars in our first video, and eventually we got around to a signature series. It’s based on a Randy Rhoads guitar and I’ve put my own stamp on it with pickups and inlays …nothing major, just little identity things.

And how do you set up your guitars?

Medium to high action with a 56 to 12 gauge strings. I like to dig hard. Our songs are tuned down a whole step, so you need that extra gauge anyway so the strings don’t flap around like a rope, y’know? But I don’t like a really low action. I hate that. I like to dig in really hard and feel it. That’s kinda my style.

What amps did you use on the CD?

We just used my live rig, basically. We’ve always used that from Day 1. It’s a Peavey 6505 head on the red channel going through a Mesa Boogie 4X12 cabinet. It’s very, very simple, with a guitar and an Ibanez Tube Screamer. That’s literally what you hear. There are no tricks, no digital processing going on. It’s just a good amp, a good cabinet and a good guitar, and you just play.

How would you say your playing style has changed over the years?

I learned guitar by putting on Metallica records. It was as simple as that. I didn’t get any coaching, any books. It was just something that was hugely influential for me. As soon as I heard that band I thought, ‘fuck, I want to be that.’ So I bought the albums, I saved up enough money for a guitar, found out about tuning and power chords and stuff, and just sat down for a couple of years and literally played for hours in my bedroom until I could play every Metallica song. Then I moved on to other bands like Machine Head, Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth, Testament – all these cool guitar-based metal bands.

And you’re touring Australia soon?

We’re coming over pretty soon with a couple of good support bands: a British band called Bring Me The Horizon and a Canadian band called Cancer Bats, and we’re playing pretty big venues. And we can’t wait to come back. Every time we come to Australia we have a really fantastic time. It’s always good to hang out with the fans over there. I’m looking forward to it.

LINKS: Bullet For My ValentineSoundwave TouringJackson