Two decades on from forming Jeff Killed John while studying music at Bridgend College and eventually spreading their wings as Bullet For My Valentine, Matt Tuck and Michael ‘Padge’ Paget have become one of the greatest forces in British heavy metal today.
They’ve toured with the likes of Metallica and Iron Maiden, reaching the very pinnacle of rock stardom beyond a glass ceiling few bands have ever managed to break – long established as arena headliners in their own right.
This year the Welsh quartet return with their sixth full-length Gravity, which sees revered drummer and BIMM tutor Jason Bowld – who made his name playing with Pitchshifter before stints with Bill Bailey, Killing Joke and more – bring his electronic wisdom to the metallic fires of Mid Glamorgan’s finest.
Ahead of their summer festival dates, autumn US tour and European arenas at the end of the year, Matt and Padge talk MusicRadar through the new directions explored on their latest opus…
The guitar sounds on Gravity feel razor-sharp and incredibly tight. Can you tell us more about what we're hearing?
Matt Tuck: “The main tones were all from a Kemper. There was a profile we made from the 5150 that was actually used for recording [2005 debut] The Poison… so there’s a bit of extra relevance there for us!
“It was owned by [Judas Priest guitarist] Andy Sneap and [BFMV producer] Carl Brown managed to profile it well for us. We’ve used it on [2015 album] Venom and Gravity - we kept it simple and tweaked it to the perfect settings for our sound.
“The two main guitars were a BC Rich Warlock and a Les Paul Custom with EMG 81/85 pickups in there… very metal industry standard tones but with our own little customisations and tweaks. There’s a Valhalla digital delay/reverb unit on the clean stuff, plus a basic chorus we got from Pro Tools. We don’t bother using pedals any more; it’s easier not to print the guitar with anything on. It’s better to play the guitar clean and add anything we want later on - it makes life a lot easier for whoever is going to mix it.”
Padge: “I used exactly the same equipment; it was all really simple… completely different to before.”
That sense of streamlining rings very true in the music itself too…
Matt: “I think it’s because this album is a lot more simple and foundation-based rather than the crazy riffs and solos and technical stuff, which we’ve done to death. It ended up being an enjoyable process tracking the guitars, rather than a stressful one.
“Being a guitar nerd you really want to get into nuances and put your own identity into it all. But that brings stresses, so this time round a lot of it was more straightforward chords and riffs and clean patterns. It was much more relaxed way of recording guitars.”
How many layers are stacked on top of each other for the majority of the record?
Matt: “There’s one on the left and one on the right, that’s it! We didn’t double-track anything. I think Fever was the last time we quadded the guitars up, with two on two one side and then the same on the other.
“On [2013 album] Temper Temper we decided to put less in, which in a weird way – depending on the song – makes it actually sound bigger. Plus the process is twice as quick; it’s only half the work!”
You’re the last remaining original members of BFMV. What’s the secret to that chemistry?
Padge: “It probably comes from the time we’ve spent together. I’m a keen watcher! All the years we’ve been together means we know each other well. We filmed a playthrough video in New York the other day, just the two of us without the band, and it blew me away when I heard how fuckin’ tight we were. Without nothing else going on around, we were both just hearing guitars – it’s quite magical whenever it sinks in.”
Matt: “It’s the time and effort we’ve put into this career and this band. We kinda have the same job technically – that only adds to the yin and yang thing. We’ve both progressed massively over the years; we both want what’s best for the song rather than the individual.”
There are definitely fewer guitar solos on this record…
Matt: “What you’re hearing is always an integral part of the song’s DNA, not moments to show off. The way we look at it now, if the song doesn’t need it, it doesn’t go on there. The guitars are part of the formula of the song, nothing else.
“I know what Padge is capable of, I know what I’m capable of… but why do that? I know it’s massive anthemic songs that will take this band into the future, not dwelling on the past. It was a difficult decision to make because we always want to explore our strengths… but right now I believe more than ever that our strengths are in songwriting, not just guitar playing.”
But what you have added in is more electronica, almost industrial-inspired noise. What’s the trick behind balancing guitars against more synthetic instrumentation?
Padge: “It all comes from messing around with sounds, samples and plugins. You need to get involved with the digital age and understand what it’s capable of. We’d never tried anything like this before, using brand-new sounds and electronics to see where these songs could go.
“We’d never done it like this before; normally it’s riff-based – we take our heaviest riffs and put the shouting, screaming and solos over it. This was totally different, we lent ourselves more to where the digital technology could take us.”
Matt: “For me, the biggest thing is to have fun and not have any boundaries. As soon as I achieve that, it’s almost easy. It might take a while – you might have to go through a thousand sounds to find something that sparks of something.
“Other times you might have it in one, like the song Piece Of Me – that weird noise in the intro is us going through the different sounds on a digital program called Exhale. I found that sound really quickly, started playing the keyboards and the song was born. It was weird… I’d never done anything like that before. That song was born out of that stupid turkey bubble you hear at the beginning!”
Having Jason on board must have been really helpful for new inspiration, too…
Matt: “He’s a multi-instrumentalist, which always helps! He’s super-creative and writes his own songs, doing stuff for music library and television. Having him be in there for the writing process was amazing – he really helped with our transition into incorporating more electronic sounds because that’s just part of his history.
“Jason was very much up for doing that, changing the band’s dynamic and taking it forward. He’s hands-down one of the best and most diverse drummers on the planet, and how we’ve exploited that shows exactly where we are trying to go this time round. It’s all about the collective and the songwriting.”
Padge: “I’ve never seen or heard anyone like him, which made this recording process very interesting. He would want to add things in rather than just sit there being told what to do. He was really passionate and motivated, always wanting to try different sounds. We let our hair down and started enjoying being in a band.”
Did it ever feel like you went too far with experimenting and had to rein it back in?
Matt: “We’ve been guilty over the last few years and albums of taking it all too seriously, not experimenting and putting in boundaries of what we should and should not sound like. This time we thought we’d write songs and get weird; if it’s too weird we don’t have to stay there.
“If you heard the first version of Letting You Go, you’d shit your pants! I showed it to the rest of the band and I think they fuckin’ shit themselves. It’s basically drum ’n’ bass and RnB… future bass?! Haha! Obviously it evolved into the album version.
“Recently in New York we did this stripped-back, Ed Sheeran style version of it – which goes to show what we’re trying to do on Gravity. These are great fucking songs no matter how you dress them!”
There’s also an acoustic ballad to round things off at the end – which feels like something quite different for a band like BFMV…
Matt: “I used a Martin acoustic on Breathe Underwater and that guitar wasn’t even that much of a big deal, it was a fairly low-range model that I picked up in Canada a couple of years ago. But it sounds incredible – I played it three times the whole way through and went with the two best ones.
“I had a magic moment tracking that one; it’s usually really hard tracking acoustics well because you hear all the squeals and scratches. But I did it three times virtually flawless! I’ve never played guitar that well before… it felt incredible.
“We’ve used acoustic as touches before, but this is our first acoustic song. It felt like an amazing way to end the album in an organic, stripped-back way to spin people out. This record is a journey and I love how it puts a big full stop at the end.”
What advice do you offer the younger bands that approach you, looking for tips from the top?
Matt: “I personally don’t see anything lacking in today’s music scene. Whenever I get the opportunity to speak to a young band, I will try to have a minute with them. I won’t force myself on them, but if they want to talk, quite often what they’ll ask is ‘What else can we do?’ I always tell them to keep on loving the music and being passionate about it. You have to dedicate yourself and be whatever you want; there’s nothing lacking.
“There were a lot of people trying to change who we were, giving their opinions when they weren’t even qualified to do so. If we had listened to them, we probably wouldn’t be sat here today! If you want to play fuckin’ death-metal, stay true to that and play it! If you love RnB, dedicate yourself 100% balls-to-the-wall to that end goal. Go full-blown!
“If you dilute it based on what other people might want to hear or listen to their input when they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, all of a sudden you will have this watered-down version of nothing that no-one wants to listen to. It won’t mean anything.
“Stick to your guns and make sure you love it. If it happens, good on you… if it doesn’t, you haven’t wasted any time. But you will waste your time if you listen to other people.”
Padge: “Play from the heart, give it all you’ve got and be prepared to sacrifice a lot. That’s what we’ve done… it’s been a hell of a ride and an amazing journey, but we’ve also sacrificed so much for the band and the success. It’s not just all after-show parties; be prepared to work fuckin’ hard. And have good vibrato!”
Finally, what guitar tone do you feel could be the most iconic of all time?
Matt: “The most iconic guitar tone of all-time for me is on Pantera’s Vulgar Display Of Power. It’s just crushing… though not a regular sounding tone, it’s very honky and scooped. The lead tones that Dimebag had on that album were beautiful and so individual. No-one else sounded like that, which made him very rare.
“Players don’t usually have that much identity. You could give someone else his guitar through his amp and it would sound like dogshit – a lot of it was in the hands. That’s the holy grail of guitar playing… identity over anything else.”
Padge: “I’ve always felt Prong’s guitar tones were always pretty fucking slamming – overdriven to fuck! If you want safe guitars, I always felt As I Lay Dying had great tones – which may have been partly down to [producer] Colin Richardson. And even later on one of their last albums, The Powerless Rise, the guitars are just so squeaky-sounding. People try… but they can’t get close!
“Honestly, I could pick Venom or Gravity – our stuff sounds pretty good I’d say. We’ve evolved over the years. Even on stage, we get a lot of comments from the other bands and techs – they’re always sniffing around to see what profiles we’re on and it’s like, ‘Fuck off, get out of here!’ haha.”
Gravity is out on 29 June via Search and Destroy/Spinefarm Records, and available to preorder now.