You’d think you’d just dropped your shorts and shat on the coffee table. Bullet For My Valentine are in the dressing room at New York’s historic Hammerstein Ballroom.
It’s the first leg of their North American tour and they’re looking somewhat… icy.
Hey guys, how’s it going?
Moose steps into the loo, bassist Jay is currently captivated by email and doesn’t look up. Padge lets out a long, skyward exhale of a Winston cigarette as Matt – reclined on a sofa – studies the tiny holes in the ceiling. The toilet flushes.
“Hey,” says Matt.
The toilet tank slowly refills
“Good,” he finishes.
You’re practically veterans of this place – does it bring back and memories of your four-night stint supporting Guns N’ Roses a couple of years ago?
A gust of Arctic wind blows tumbleweed through the room.
“Yeah, I guess,” says Matt. “It was a good time, we always have a good time.”
Okay, let’s cut the shit: there’s a reason for this. Back in January Hammer ran a review of Bullet’s Scream Aim Fire. It was an album groaning under the weight of expectation, straddled by the curse of the difficult second album, and not quite the magnum opus Hammer hoped for. You guys angry?
Matt perks up and leans forward, engaging for the first time.
“Of course I was angry – who wouldn’t be? I was heartbroken. We’ve been reading Hammer forever and it was hard to take it as just a review because we went through hell to finish that album. I was angry for about a week after I saw that. I don’t want anyone writing something false because they want to be friends with us, but there’s another side to this whole story of our album. If you hate us, cool. I don’t want to sound like I can’t take criticism…”
“Especially with everything that happened with Matt’s voice,” adds Jay, joining us. “For a while there we were thinking that it was all over.”
Matt’s looking tense – clearly this is something that’s cut close to the bone with him, and, as they explain it, it’s easy to understand why. Scream Aim Fire was riddled with a far more serious problem than the massive anticipation surrounding it. Sure, there’s Bullet’s stratospheric rise from their humble beginnings in South Wales to world-beating chart-busters. From their The Poison debut in 2005 to selling over an extremely impressive 100,000 copies of their latest, they’ve taken their share of knocks, but none so mighty as when Matt, owing to 10 years of throat-ripping vocals, woke up one day in the middle of the recording sessions for Scream… to discover he could no longer sing.
“Look, I’m totally fine with opinions,” he says, at last smiling with a glacier-melting laugh. “It’s like my life was over when I realised I’d lost my voice. I could see the end of my life in this band. Who wouldn’t be sensitive about it?”
As they explain, what seemed like a simple problem soon revealed itself to be a band-busting catastrophe. Experts were consulted, a voice coach – ‘the Queen of Scream’ Melissa Cross – was enlisted. The album was delayed for six months while Matt re-learned how to do something once as natural to him as breathing.
“We were all really supportive, but Matt just could not sing,” says Moose, conveying all the distress of a situation that could have seen them losing it.
“We really pulled together closer than ever to support Matt, but none of us knew whether or not this was going to work. It was totally fucked up because at first it wasn’t getting better. We were having talks about whether we could go on without him, or maybe just have Matt playing guitar and bringing someone else in [to sing]. I didn’t want that, none of us did. If Matt wasn’t going to be there I was going to quit. It’s his instrument. His voice just wasn’t working. We’d talked about just having him on as a guitarist, but it wouldn’t have been the same. Everything we wanted to do seemed like it was over. You get angry when you’re helpless to change a shitty situation like that.”
“I did,” says Matt, flatly. “I was being realistic. I didn’t want to drag the guys down and I was getting really depressed about it. I’d gone for years without any training or technique and it just fucked it for me. I’ve been doing this for years, it was like learning how to walk again. The first show was New Year’s Eve, the album was done and I was getting ready to sing and it was the first time it felt like it was coming back, it was like the first time I felt like myself.”
What if it hadn’t worked out? Did you think about where you’d be now?
“Yeah, I did,” he says. “Look, I love what I do. People don’t see it, but this is a tough job – from the moment you wake up in the morning you are in this band, and I’m not complaining but I felt like it was too soon to be ‘that guy who used to be…’, you know? I want to be doing this always, but I’m realistic; it was just too soon because we thought we’d actually made it.”
They say you can’t go home…
“I wouldn’t!” says Padge with a laugh that seems to mask a genuine concern. “People from back home, they imagine we’re some kind of big shots or something. They think we’re too good to be around, but it isn’t like that – we’ve got a lot on. Everyone sees us differently somehow…”
“It’s when you take a step back and you realise you have to be grateful for every day you’re doing this that you realise how lucky you are. We’ve worked for this but there’s a lot of luck in it too, and it’s a really hard thing to give up. I was faced with that and I never do want to give it up.”
And with that it’s time to get out of the stuffy confines of the Ballroom and see a bit of the city. We walk through Manhattan – within minutes Matt locates a wig shop. Naturally, the allure of sampling the cultural wares of one of the most gargantuan cities on earth is eclipsed by the prospect of comedy hair. A few fans – on their way to a queue that’s been coiling around the venue since this morning – spot the band in disbelief and ask for photos. The band – now wearing an assortment of hair-metal castoffs – happily oblige. Others fire off texts to friends and snap pictures of their own. They seem unconcerned by the prospect of being swarmed by fans or bemused stares from passers-by trying to make sense of their fashion statement. In fact, they seem quite proud of their new wigs.
It isn’t long, though, before it’s time to return to the venue for what, given their story, seems a triumphant declaration of intent. It’s an utterly riotous crowd – and incredible to think of these Welshmen’s humble beginnings just under 10 years ago. But it’s later on, when the band are on their tour bus – still in wigs and dancing to an assortment of Michael Jackson hits fuelled by an endless supply of Crown Royal – that just how close they are and how much they’ve been through is apparent.
“Here, take these as a sign of peace,” says Moose, handing over a couple of stuffed dogs from an apparent supply in his bunk.
What’s that for?
“Because we’re nice guys. We are nice people. Put that in your magazine. Or we’ll come find you!”
This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer #185.
For more on BFMV, their change of personnel and getting past Temper Temper, then click on the link below.