interview

Bullet For My Valentine: ‘Everyone’s been led down the garden path and left for dead’

The Welsh band are one of the UK’s biggest and most divisive metal bands, with beefs and bad press along the road to success. As they return with album seven, frontman Matt Tuck gets personal with Roisin O’Connor about marriage, Brexit and how the pandemic has shaped their most ‘intense’ music yet

Saturday 06 November 2021 06:30
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<p>Matt Tuck: ‘It sounds weird but I’ve never been a spotlight hunter'</p>

Matt Tuck: ‘It sounds weird but I’ve never been a spotlight hunter'

Matt Tuck might be the world’s most unassuming frontman in metal. Onstage with his band Bullet for My Valentine, he’s a maelstrom of flailing limbs and hair. But in person, the singer is so reserved that the bartender mistakes our conversation for a job interview. After more than 20 years in music, he remains something of an enigma. Tuck’s social media accounts are dedicated to band updates, offering virtually no clues as to the goings-on in his personal life or, say, what he likes to eat for lunch. He’s hardly an Ozzy or a Lemmy. But he likes it that way. “It sounds weird but I’ve never been a spotlight hunter,” he says. “I’m a quiet person, I really am.”

Before our interview, which takes place in a west London pub near the home he shares with his wife and 11-year-old son, I was warned about Tuck’s supposed reticence, that he might be reluctant to talk about anything besides the music. There’s a perception of him as “tricky”, even, a reputation forged over 20 years with a Welsh group who have managed to make waves in the US, including a million albums sold and a Top 10 on the Billboard 200. For thousands of young fans they were a gateway into the world of metal, even if they did annoy legions of diehards with outlandish statements. “We’re the first British metal band to play arenas for a very long time,” Tuck declared in 2010. But he’s an engaging and frank interviewee, albeit a little jaded, perhaps, by a couple of decades’ worth of media vitriol.

We’re here to talk about Bullet’s forthcoming seventh album, a self-titled effort that was written and recorded during lockdown. It’s without a doubt the band’s heaviest record to date: an onslaught of hammerhead drumming and chainsaw guitars that hack 10 tracks into a fearsome landscape. There’s a heightened sense of artistry around the whole project, as self-titled albums midway through a career always seem to suggest. Photographer and director Fiona Garden was enlisted for their “Knives” music video, a visual hurricane that melds Matrix-style futurism with Hammer Horror flourishes. It matches the visceral lyrics somewhat: “Breaking apart, torn at the seams, sanity fails,” Tuck roars. “Tread by the edge, pushed into hell, never again.”

Over the years, Tuck has gradually written more of his personal life into his music. Their last album, 2018’s Gravity, responded to the despair he felt in the middle of a temporary split from his wife, Charlotte. They’ve since reconciled, and things are “perfect” now. “It feels great," he says. "Life throws you curveballs but even after a long time apart we managed to bring it together. I’m so proud of us – we’ve never been happier.” Not everyone embraced the emotion. Gravity was also criticised for what critics derided as a “bastard hybrid of Linkin Park-style radio rock”, a 2000s sound incorporating synths and as many catchy hooks as humanly possible. But Tuck didn’t read the reviews. “I just don’t care,” he says. “We knew, writing that record, that it was gonna be divisive.”

BFMV’s divisiveness goes back further than a few years. The band have frequently drawn the ire of purists who loathed their ambition – metal isn’t supposed to go mainstream though with bands like Bring Me the Horizon, it is increasingly crossing over to pop. Last year, Bullet’s former drummer and founding member, Michael “Moose” Thomas, claimed that the band’s music had become “too safe” before his departure in 2017. Tuck shrugs, declining, as he has in the past, to explain why Thomas left. “If something gets on the radio, that’s great,” he says. “But we’ve never written for radio – hand-on-heart, never will. Our band was not built [that way].” Particularly for Bullet, reactions can be brutal when they attempt a new sound. “People talk s***,” Tuck says. “But just because something doesn’t meet your expectations doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

Perhaps understandably given the past year cooped up inside, Bullet for My Valentine finds Tuck in a more reflective state of mind. “At the time, I was aware that something was not right, but not to a full extent until I came out the other side of it,” he says of the tumult his marriage went through. “Now I’ve lived with it, I understand. And I’m not [in that place] anymore, which is great.”

Many of the album’s lyrics were written through the pandemic and songs explore feelings of being “lost and hopeless,” says Tuck. “It’s quite an intense lyrical record, but then it was made through intense times.”

“Rainbow Veins” places him in a drug-induced state, unwilling to face reality, while the juggernaut “Shatter” has him stomping around with a dark cloud overhead: “It’s gonna break me, but that doesn’t matter/ Another crack, watch me shatter.” Despite sounding like he was about to knock his living room wall down, he says that being at home provided a sense of calm, away from the chaos of touring: “It was forced, but I kind of loved it,” he admits.

Tuck performing with Bullet for My Valentine at the Nova Rock 2016 Festival

He is concerned about what will happen when the band go on tour next year, post-Brexit. New rules mean tour managers and their teams face mountains of paperwork and costly permits in order to get their acts over EU borders. “Everything is so uncertain, it’s a mess,” he says. “We’ll obviously deal with any bumps along the way [but] this can’t go on, it’s impossible.” He predicts a “sharp U-turn” taking place at some point in the future: “I think everyone’s just busy licking their wounds over the negative effects of [Brexit]. Farmers, fishermen… everyone’s been led down the garden path and left for dead.”

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He’s seen with his own eyes what happens when small towns get neglected. Bridgend in Wales, where he grew up, was once the proud home to a thriving live music scene, where Tuck and his bandmates muscled up against other local acts. Bullet were part of a scene in the early 2000s that included fellow Bridgenders Funeral For a Friend, who have recently regrouped. But that’s all changed in the intervening years. “It’s a ghost town now,” says Tuck.

Tuck: ‘We’ve never written for radio – hand-on-heart, never will. Our band was not built [that way]’

Who’s the parasite on the opening track of the album? He smiles. “Multiple… we all have them. I write about what’s in my head – sometimes it’s really personal, sometimes it’s savage aggression.” That aggression is encapsulated by Tuck’s vocal delivery – raw, snarling, ferocious. It’s got him into trouble in the past. “It was f***ing ripping me to pieces,” he says. Every few weeks he’d come down with severe tonsillitis: “I was going to doctors and getting anything I could to get me onstage, but in the end it did nothing.” He underwent a tonsillectomy in 2007 and has barely been ill since. It was a lesson for the bad habits he’d picked up over the years, having had no professional vocal training when he started his band.

He’s glad that his voice recovered in time for this record. “The vocals needed that intensity,” he says, clearly very proud of what the band has achieved. “I’ve lived with it for a while now, listening to the lyrics, how brave that aggression is.” I wonder if that supposed reticence is actually just him finding it easier to communicate his feelings through music. Because when it comes to the band, he says: “There’s no trepidation about being honest.”

‘Bullet For My Valentine’ is out now via Spinefarm Records

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