“We’ve Come A Long Way”: Why Bullet For My Valentine Refuse To Rest On Their Legacy
"We're not interested in reliving the past, or even thinking about the future - we're focusing on the present."
Of all the bands to survive the wave of metalcore in the 2000s, you probably wouldn’t have picked the band that formed in high-school and came from a tiny town in Wales.
That being said, here we are. And after 15 years, Bullet for My Valentine still go as hard as they’ve ever gone. They’ve accumulated 10 top-10 UK Rock singles and three million record sales, and yet the band has never rested on its laurels or settled into complacency.
The band has thrived on its own terms, and even though members have come and gone it’s a testament to their staying power that they can still dominate festival stages globally in the same manner they did a decade prior.
This December sees Bullet return to Australia with their sixth album, Gravity, in tow.
Ahead of their run of dates at the inaugural Good Things Festival, we spoke with founding member and frontman Matt Tuck — who openly and honestly shared experiences from the highs and lows of where Bullet for My Valentine has taken him.
Twenty years ago this year, you formed Jeff Killed John in high school. That band would turn into Bullet for My Valentine in 2003, so 2018 is either the 15th or 20th anniversary of the band depending on how you measure it.
You were teenagers when the band started out — did you ever sense there was any sort of longevity to what you were doing?
Nah. It was never really something that was of concern to us. The whole point of starting the band was creating an opportunity for us to all do whatever we wanted to do. Even when it moved into being more serious — getting a record deal, recording an EP, recording an album — longevity was the farthest thing from our minds.
It was more about taking it one day at a time, and making sure that we didn’t mess this opportunity up. As time has gone on and the band has progressed, the fact that we’ve stuck around has become more of a relevant thing. The longevity of the band is incredible. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of.
A lot of bands have come and gone in those 15 years. To still be here doing it, with six albums, still touring the world…it kicks arse. It’s an amazing thing.
2018 also marks ten years since the release of the band’s second album, Scream Aim Fire. It remains one of your most successful records, having hit the top five in six countries and going gold in the UK. How do you reflect on that album and its success with a decade of hindsight and retrospect?
There’s a big difference between the outside perspective on that record and what it was like for me, personally. Obviously, everything it did for the band was great. As for me, though, it was a very different story.
I was going through a really hard time with my health when we made that record. I was in speech therapy after I got a tonsillectomy. I was 27 at the time, which was quite old to be getting that sort of operation. I messed myself up on the tour cycle for [debut album, 2006’s] The Poison, so mentally and physically I wasn’t in a good space.
“Those were songs written 10, 15 years ago now. We’re completely different people now. We’re completely different musicians with completely different goals.”
I can’t really listen to that album anymore. I wasn’t ready to be doing what we were doing again. The reality is that the Bullet machine was rolling, and we needed a follow-up. I had to work with what I had at the time — which, looking back, was a ludicrous decision.
We should have just waited a few more months and tracked the album then. We were trying to take advantage of the wave of success the band was having at the time. It did great, and it’s a lot of people’s favourite album of ours — but that was a troubled time for me.
Do you feel as though you’ve been able to reclaim that album in a sense through live performances? Obviously, there are a few of those songs that have been mainstays of the setlist since the album came out. Now that you’re out of the woods with regards to your voice and your health, do you feel like you’re playing the songs now in a way you’d originally intended?
Yeah, I think everything is fine with the way that they sound now. I knew when I was putting down the vocals for that album that it wasn’t my best, and I had to just deal with that. I got vocal coaching after the album came out, and thankfully it hasn’t been a problem since.
It’s a shame that there’s things I can’t change about the record itself, but you can’t go back. It is what it is, y’know?
The last few years have proven to be quite the transitional period for the band insofar as its personnel is concerned. Gravity is the first album to feature Jamie Mathias on bass and Jason Bowld on drums.
This leaves you and guitarist Michael Paget as the founding members remaining in the band. How has the process been of bringing in new people and trusting them with the band the two of you have been a part of for so many years?
You’ve just got to take things as it comes. I’ve always been the creative force of the band, but everyone has always contributed opinions and ideas to the table when we’re making music. With these new guys, it’s actually been great — I’ve found that they’ve been super creative from the get-go of being in the band.
Having them around has honestly been super helpful. With the band changing…I dunno, man. It’s not something that I stress myself out about. I see it as a positive. Both these guys have come in with their own ideas and their own thoughts, rather than just sitting there and having to be told what to do.
It wasn’t like they were brand-new people to me and Michael, either — we’ve known them for a few years now, so bringing them in was honestly fine.
You’ve been touring Gravity pretty consistently since it came out earlier in the year. How have your feelings towards the record shifted as you’ve been out playing the songs from it?
We’re honestly just as happy with it now as we were when it came out, man. It’s one of my favourite Bullet records — the sound, the content, what it means to me personally.
“We’re not resting on our laurels or taking advantage of the band’s history — we’re trying to live in the now.”
I think of it as a brave record in a lot of ways. To me, it paints the band in an entirely new light. We’re not resting on our laurels or taking advantage of the band’s history — we’re trying to live in the now. We’ve already been playing a lot of these songs for months now, all over the world. It’s been great — they’ve been super well-received every night. They feel just like part of the repertoire now.
For me, with every album I make, there’s always that moment where you look back and think maybe this could have changed or maybe that could have changed. With this one, I honestly don’t see how we could have improved it in anyway. That can only be a good thing.
You mentioned not resting on your laurels and trying something different — what was the driving force behind writing this record?
I don’t know if it was anything specific, to be honest with you. I think it was more about trying to go over the same old shit. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of going through the motions as a band.
We could have used our old formula and just made another metal record, but we just didn’t feel like that would have been creative or challenging enough. I wanted to push myself to write a record unlike anything we’d done in the past.
I think it’s a standalone moment in the history of our band. It gives us scope to grow and do something else next time, too. I think having diversity between our albums at this stage is essential for the band to evolve and progress. We’ve come a long way.
That’s never going to sit well with people hoping you’ll do a return-to-roots sort of album.
People will say, “We want to hear stuff like The Poison” or “We want to hear stuff like Scream, Aim, Fire.” Those were songs written 10, 15 years ago now. We’re completely different people now. We’re completely different musicians with completely different goals.
We’re not interested in reliving the past, or even thinking about the future — we’re focusing on the present.
To quickly touch on both, however, we’ll have Bullet back in Australia next month for Good Things. Obviously, it’s not your first rodeo — do you remember the first time the band came out here?
I kinda do, I kinda don’t. It was a long time ago. I know it was for Big Day Out, when that was still a thing. We’ve always had a fantastic relationship with Australian fans — our first and only number-one record was with Venom in Australia.
It’s a place we hold dear, and we have such a good time there. There’s always so much cool shit to do. It’s always a good place to be — especially when the sun is shining.
Lastly, there’s one thing we have to ask…
Do you have any recollection of performing at a festival, lining up a wall of death and telling everyone to move on the count of three — while holding up four fingers?
[laughs] No, I do not. I got nothing.
This was at Graspop in 2006. It’s immortalised in a video called “Stupid singer from Bullet For My Valentine cant [sic] count,” which was a very early instance of a video going viral when I was in high school.
Oh my God. [laughs] That was a lifetime ago! Just for the record, I know how to count now.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster that was so dedicated to metalcore in the mid-2000s he spent several lunch breaks trying to learn the intro drum-fill to ‘Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr’. He tweets at @DJYwrites.
Bullet For My Valentine will appear at next month’s Good Things Festival. For all dates and details, hit up the website.