They’ve been chastised by arena rockers and backstabbed by bands they wanted to help. For some reason, everyone seems to have an agenda with BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, and all they want to do is to rock your head off. Story: Andrew Kelham Photos: James Sharrock
Bullet For My Valentine have been at work since 9 in the morning in the K West in West London, a venue that imagines itself as a boutique hotel, yet bears closer resemblance to a hastily redecorated Days Inn. This particular hotel has pre-arranged, preferable corporate rates with most record labels, so there’s always a band in residence. Or more specifically, there’s always a band in residence complaining loudly about their predictable choice of accommodation. The K West’s attempted luxury fools nobody, and its pretension hangs silently and desperately in the dark corridors that lead us to the basement conference suite where the band are trapped for the day.
Bullet For My Valentine-singer/guitarist Matt Tuck, drummer Michael “Moose” Thomas, bassist Jason “Jay” James and guitarist Michael “Padge” Paget-have been fielding phone interviews from Australia, then Japan; interviewed by an English cable channel and had their pictures taken by a few European magazines. All before lunch. Yesterday, they were so busy doing press, they didn’t eat; there was simply no time. Tomorrow they’ll fly to Germany to greet the European media over a two-day, two-city sprint barely lasting 36 hours.
But the band aren’t complaining about the schedule, they understand their position and the benefits that come from an ambitious work ethic. The pace is just unsettling them-slightly. It’s the kind of pace that led to the chronic laryngitis and tonsillectomy in mid-2007 that nearly took Tuck’s voice forever; the kind of pace that sapped the joy from the success of their debut record. It’s also the kind of pace that has forced the band to assert themselves.
“We had to go in to our management’s office yesterday and tell them that we were not doing another full week of press before we head out to tour,” remarks Thomas. “They haven’t given us any time to rehearse, as they were too busy scheduling interviews for us to do. They expect us to play shows without actually rehearsing, but we’re not having it.” That’s part of Bullet’s beauty: As quickly as the thought is formed, it’s voiced, and that voice brings change.
In the past however, the band haven’t always been as interested in intervening with other aspects of their career, despite the potentially damaging effects of decisions made on their behalf. Once upon a time, bands were upstreamed to major labels from their homes on indie imprints after years of toiling in the van and gathering fans. But credibility is such a drag when labels need the Next Big ThingTM for their end-of-quarter profits. So the multi-national labels unleashed the Mr. Hyde to the Dr. Jekyll of career progression; downstreaming. This entails a band being signed by a major, then placed on an independent label with a record already paid for (and a promotional budget in place). This is exactly what happened to Bullet for the Trustkill Records release of their debut EP, Hand Of Blood and requisite album The Poison. Surely, it was far more dangerous for the band to walk that line without questioning their management company’s motivations?
“It’s just more record-company tactics really,” admits Tuck, half unrepentant and half bored. “I guess they thought we could work our way up a bit, rather than arrive and be in people’s faces from the get-go. I guess we gained a bit more credibility from it.”
Whatever the ethics of the tactic, it appears to have worked. The success of The Poison has positioned them for the follow-up, Scream Aim Fire, a record that comes off with the best attributes of classic and contemporary metal. (Think Brian McTernan remixing Judas Priest’s Painkiller. Yes, that’s a compliment.) Scream’s streamlined energy and attitude will surely see Bullet continue to dramatically move up metal’s pecking order. It’s further proof that the band can hold their influences close while creating a document that sounds original enough to be classed as distinctly theirs and theirs alone. The title track has a refrain that’s begging to be chanted back by an arena full of beer-chugging, denim-clad metalheads. “Waking The Demon” sees the band mixing thundering riffs and synth-processed vocals without a care in the world, while “Last To Know” possesses furiously clipped guitar work that could bend the ear of a Nuclear Assault fan wearing a Gang Green shirt. Somehow Bullet make old-school metal sound new again. Whether or not Scream will become the band’s Ride The Lightning is anyone’s guess: Thankfully, it’s already clear it will not be their St.Anger.
But despite their artistic successes, Bullet’s path for world domination to this point hasn’t been easy. As they head out on this year’s Rockstar Taste Of Chaos (with a prime slot right before Atreyu and Avenged Sevenfold), the band still remember their 2006 North American jaunt supporting Rob Zombie, where the same position caused them endless problems. “At the start of the tour with Rob Zombie, we were hit with these rules we had to follow,” remembers James. “Those rules always meant it was going to be hard for us to stay on the tour. The worst rule was no drinking backstage.”
“Him and his missus [actress Sheri Moon] were trying to get off the booze,” adds Tuck. “So no one could have any alcohol anywhere in the venue. We did drink, though.”
“We were also not allowed to talk to his missus or even look at her,” continues James. “Also you couldn’t drink near her, but she would come and talk to us. It fucking freaked us out, as we didn’t know what to do.”
There were more setbacks. According to the band, they had no dressing room, no soundchecks and were only allowed to display two merchandise items matched to the headliner’s pricing. The band nearly took it all on the chin, until Tuck finally lost it.
“There was definitely a straw that broke the camel’s back,” recalls the vocalist. “I sat on the floor of the venue-as we had no dressing room-and I was on my laptop. I had the cable plugged in, charging my Mac and a guy came in carrying something and flipped out that the cord was going across the floor where crew members would be walking. He started giving me shit and barking that I had to get out of the fucking way. So I started typing that entry.”
The entry he refers to was a post on his band’s message board detailing some of the issues the band were facing, peppered with phrases such as “greedy money-grabbing fucks” for good measure. Two days later, he posted an apology on the same board. A day later, his band left the tour.
“I meant what I said,” remarks Tuck, briskly. “I would not have said it if I didn’t-I’m a man of my word. I thought I should apologize, and I did because I was out of order. But I still meant what I said. I apologized for airing publicly what should have gone on behind closed doors, but the issues still stood. I did not lie, although I admit I could have worded it better. People were slagging us off on our website asking why the fuck we would charge $50 for a T-shirt and asking us who we thought we were. So I told them this is what is going on and this is how we are being treated. Next thing I know, the phone started [ringing].”
Their first American arena-rock experience may have been a hard-learned lesson, but the quartet aren’t afraid of the kind of education a new band inevitably gets on the hard way up. Bullet’s roots lead back to Bridgend, a Welsh town where the nü-metal outfit Jeff Killed John were desperately trying to make things work, playing shows for five years to stagnating crowds while fellow countrymen Lostprophets and Funeral For A Friend were touring internationally and winning awards. When the band’s bassist turned in his resignation on the eve of a trip to the studio, Jay James arrived, ushering in both a name change and a departure from their original sound. Once Bullet started touring, the British press started hyping them and things moved rapidly. The band, excited and encouraged by the attention, started to run their mouths about their peers as they amassed both fans and foes with swift aplomb.
Not surprisingly, the universe threw a karmic boomerang back at them. Remembering their experience on the Zombie trek, when Bullet headlined larger venues in the U.K., they tried to make all their support bands feel welcome. But not everyone was so receptive. “As soon as Gallows came out with us, we went into their dressing room and said ‘Hello’ and welcomed them to the tour,” remembers James of their tour with the Watford punks in early 2007. “We gave them a bottle of Jägermeister, treated them good and now they have this problem with us. In interviews, they say they don’t like our [music] and put us down, even though we took them out on their first big tour.”
“We put them in front of a minimum of 2,000 people a night,” adds Tuck. “Most nights more. At the end of the day, they were a new band. Then, they are excitable young men and Frank [Carter, Gallows singer] has got a fucking mouth on him. I had one, too, when we were starting.”
The band are neither bitter nor looking to start another feud. They’ve risen to questions from journalists too many times before, only to see the damage done when the magazines hit the stands. In their early days, Bullet’s music had, at times, been overshadowed by pull quotes of the insults they hurled at their contemporaries. With Scream Aim Fire, Bullet For My Valentine want to be known more for their music than their ability to start fires.
“We did not have a pre-meeting about what our new record would sound like,” resigns Tuck. “We just wrote songs and they came out a bit harder and edgier. It’s cool for us, as we did not want to go down the more predictable route of being a bit more commercial or accessible. We have just made the dynamics of what we do more extreme.”
Having overcome their obstacles and feeling highly confident in their new music, Bullet For My Valentine are content to sit back and let the music talk for them. Except they can’t-there are more interviews to do. alt