Bullet For My Valentine's Matt Tuck: My Life Story
The Bullet For My Valentine frontman revisits his former life as a Welsh sports prodigy
Tell us about your family.
"I have two older sisters that are twins. I don’t think I got spoiled but maybe I got a bit more attention than my sisters when I was growing up because there was only one of me and I was a bit more into things. I was into karate and rugby and basketball and football and music. My dad was very much part of that. My dad is a regional manager of a food company and was doing the same kind of job back then, my mum did different things, from working in a factory to a supermarket. We were a very happy family."
Tell us about growing up in Bridgend.
"A typical Welsh town... kind of small, everyone kind of knows each others’ business. But overall kind of a cool place to grow up, especially as a teenager. There was a buzzing music scene and it was a big part in us doing what we do today, really."
You were allowed a lot of freedom as a kid...
"Basically, I was left to do as I pleased, in a good way. Anything I wanted to do, my parents were like, ‘Okay, we’ll roll with it, if you enjoy it’. They helped me along the way. Like, when I started to play guitar, again they stuck by me and helped me buy stuff. My dad would spoil me now and again and come back home with a new guitar, and he got really into it with me."
How old were you when you started to learn the guitar?
"It was my 14th birthday. My first instrument was drums. My dad bought me a drumkit when I was five, a full-size Premier drumkit. I had that until I was 15 then I sold it to upgrade my guitar equipment. I was pretty bad-ass [on the drums]. I didn’t start to really learn them until I was in my early teens and started getting into Metallica. I played [drums] in a couple of little bands locally before I started wanting to play the guitar."
The story goes that the big moment for you was seeing Metallica's Enter Sandman video on TV...
“That’s spot on, yeah. I hadn’t heard anything like that before. I was brought up on singer-songwriters and dad-rock. [Enter Sandman] was literally a jaw-dropping moment. From then on I was focused on what I wanted to do with my life, though it took 14 years to get there. I was a huge sports fanatic up until the age of 18, really. I played rugby for a local team, did pretty well and got to play for the county at 16. And with basketball I played for Wales when I was 15. I’ve got a tendency to geek-out on whatever I get into. I always put everything I have into it to become decent at it, you know? I’m still super-passionate about rugby; that was my favourite. I haven’t played it for years but a part of me wants to start again. [With basketball] I was the same height I am now when I was 14. I’d shot up to nearly six foot, one of those lanky kids. And very agile, very quick, very light, I could jump. Then music took over my life. Everything else fell away and the guitar took over. I'd lock myself away in my room. I went from almost like a semi-professional athlete at a young age and being very focused academically, to being a proper muso pisshead by the time I was 16. Ha ha ha!"
How did you also become a singer?
"I didn't really think about singing. It just so happened that when I met all the boys and we started getting the music together I was the only kid that could really play Metallica riffs and sing at the same time. It was just something that I found easy. The other guys could play but couldn’t do two things at once. I was always the kid that could do both."
So you sang, you played, you wrote songs... did the group gather around you or were you a joiner?
Just me being me, I’ve always been a leader figure, so I think it was a bit of both. They were my friends before we got into music together and they were the only people that I really kind of jammed with. I just kind of have a bit more... not more ambition, just a very direct kind of focused attitude on where I can see us going and what we should do. Fortunately everyone just kind of goes with it. I'm fortunate they don't turn around and tell me to fuck off, ha ha!"
There was a long period where the band wasn't really going anywhere...
"It was seven long years, we’ve had the band a hell of a long time now. Seven years of being in a band together, that’s dress rehearsals beyond belief. It was seven years before we even got a record deal! And we’d known each other for 10 years before that, so we’ve been together forever."
Does that give the band a special strength that other bands don't have?
"I don’t think it would have worked any other way and I can’t imagine it being any other way. It’s the reason why we’re so focused. We have disagreements and tantrums sometimes on tour but there’s never any moment where it feels like it’s breaking apart. It’s a huge part of us becoming as successful as we have and keeping our shit together. No one worked harder than us and no one was ever more determined than us. We were given so much shit for seven years... when we were given an opportunity we snapped it up."
During those years you worked in a record store.
“It was called XS and it was torture working there sometimes. Once, a regional manager came down and he was like, ‘I hear you’re in band’ and asked about it. So I told him and he was just a total dick. Like, ‘I’d just give it up now. What do you do? Metal? You’re never gonna get signed...’ He just took the piss so much. Shit like that, for me, that’s like ammunition to prove myself even more. Now he fucking sells my CDs, so fuck you, you know?”
So in 2004, finally, you had a choice to make between signing to Roadrunner – which a lot of bands like you would have been over the moon about – and Sony BMG, a much bigger label but not recognised as having the specialist knowledge of Roadrunner. You chose Sony BMG. Why?
“We had huge discussions and sleepless nights about what to do. The easy choice would be to go with Roadrunner but we looked at the bands on their roster and the shelf life that they had and there was just too much going on there. We didn’t want to be part of a crowd, we wanted to stand out from the rest. Financially [Sony BMG] was a better deal; artistically it was a better deal. So we went for what we felt was the best for longevity, not just money. Our A&R guy who signed us was like, ‘I don’t see you becoming huge on your first or even second or third record.’ It was like the Metallica Black _Album_. We thought, ‘If it takes five albums to get where this label thinks we can get then let’s do that. Let’s have ambition, let’s have drive. Let’s step out of the metal comfort zone and stand head and shoulders above everyone else that we come across.’ And with a couple of exceptions that’s kind of the case.”
So how did it feel the first time one of your records got in the album charts?
"It was great but it was not really something we paid a great deal of attention to. We released a few singles and had a couple of Top 20 hits in the UK. But we were solely focused on the albums sales and the touring and playing venues. At that stage it was ‘Let’s just build and build and build the fanbase’. It didn’t really matter about singles, and it doesn’t to this day. We still don’t give a shit. The way that we gauge our success and to see that we’re still growing is by looking at the ticket sales – and that’s going great, so far."
Originally published in Metal Hammer issue 216.