I had the privilege of interviewing Matt Baird of Spoken before they opened for Danko Jones & Volbeat at the Showbox Market on March 22nd, 2013. I arrived at the venue around 6:15, running late as usual, so I started texting Matt to meet me for the interview. Turns out he’s stuck out in the alley behind the venue babysitting the van because there was nowhere to park it until 7. I thought to myself “Alright I can do my 1st ever interview in an alley! Yay! Let’s do this!” So I walked around back, introduced myself and there with squawking seagulls and wailing sirens in the background I conducted my 1st interview. Matt was great and other than having frozen hands by the end of our chat the whole experience was amazing!
I was going to summarize for the sake of shortening the interview, but it was so much fun and so interesting I couldn’t even fathom capturing all of it in a summary. So here it is the full version for your reading pleasure!
Q.) So tell me a brief history of your band?
A.) We started in 1996 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We kind of just got together in our living room and started hammering out some ideas and learning a couple of covers here and there. We started playing people’s backyards, parties, back decks and living rooms and whatever. We were like “what are we doing?” We just felt like let’s do this! Let’s actually do it as a career. It all kind of started because I was taking community college classes and working full time for my uncle and I was really not happy with my station in life. I kept being like “God seriously what am I doing with my life? What am I doing?” Then one day it changed and I’m like I’m asking the wrong questions so I was like “God what do you want me to do for you?” And that’s when I’m like “Ah! Dude a band! Cool.” I felt like it was just ok to start a band and do it. So that’s what we’ve done now for last 17 years. We signed a record deal about 10 months after we started playing, so our 1st record came out in 1997. We did 3 albums on a small label called Metro One records, then 3 albums on Tooth & Nail records our last album on Tooth & Nail came out in 2007 and that fulfilled our obligations to Tooth & Nail. So we spent 2 ½ years replacing a couple band members here and there and touring non-stop. Finally we were like “Wow our fans are going to forget about us if we don’t do a record.” So we started talking to some labels. 2 ½ years into it we started writing and recording songs with Jason Rauch. He used to be a guitar player in the band Red. He was like” dude let’s write some songs together!” So we started that whole process of writing and recording just demos. Anyway management got involved with trying to find a record label situation, we continued to tour non-stop. Then about 6 or 7 months ago we started talking to E1 music and everything just lined up. The record was almost done; E1 was interested in what we’ve done as a band and what we were doing now. It was a perfect fit. We wrote and recorded the album in 2 ½ years and it came out 3 weeks ago. So here we are at this point 17yrs later and on tour with Volbeat, the biggest tour we’ve ever done. It’s really strange. It’s strange to be able to still be a band but be happier with the whole situation than you have ever been.
Q.) Who are some of your musical influences?
A.) My favorite artist is Keith Urban, country artist. I grew up listening to Metallica, I love Metallica still; but bands like Linkin Park, The Used, Sevendust, Deftones are a huge influence. I’m a channel surfer; if I’m driving I’m surfing channels. I love the Killers. The Killers are probably top 3 bands. I would say it’s probably Keith Urban, U2 & the Killers would be top 3. I love metal, whatever I love all of it.
Q.) Where do you see yourself in 2yrs?
A.) I hope that I’m the road with spoken still, but my wife and 2 boys are with me. That would be the perfect scenario, we’d never go home. I just want it to be where I can still do what I feel I’m supposed to do with Spoken but my family be with me all the time. That’s the hardest part, I adore my family I think they’re great, being away from them is the thing, and it’s kind of the only bummer about this.
Q.) What was your best tour experience?
A.) Best tour experience up to this point in our life has been with Volbeat. The past 2 weeks have been incredible, their fans have been amazing, they’ve been super nice and cool to be around.
Q.) Worst tour experience?
A.) There’s plenty of worst. There’s just too many to count. It has to do with vehicle break downs, promoters ripping us off, or you’re on tour with a band you can’t stand. They feel like their god’s gift to anything and they’re a brand new band. With us having so much tour history, you have these young bands who come out on the road thinking they’ve got it all figured out, it’s like no, it’s unpredictable it doesn’t matter what band you are, how big of a band you are how long you’ve been doing it, you can have nights where it’s like, did that really just happen? And that’s just how it goes. No one is immune to it; let me put it that way.
Q.) What inspires you to write?
A.) Life! All of us go through things in life, whether a person has faith or not, they don’t enjoy going through those things. With this record, with Illusion, the first songs on the record deal with bitterness and confusion. A lot of that is with life, just dealing with people. Luckily the record went from bitterness and confusion to grace and redemption, so the record is much more uplifting with the last pieces of the record. There are songs about love, songs about just enjoying playing rock n’ roll, there are songs about people being sick and getting past it, there are songs about loss and everyone can relate to those songs because we all go through it. So we absolutely write songs about life and our experiences as people.
Q.) What is your writing & recording process?
A.) On this record we all wrote. Our Producer Jason Rauch was like a band member. I even asked him to join the band, but he’s got his own thing going. We all were able to write on this record and we all learned so much about writing. Jason is just a genius, we bring song ideas to him and in his mind, you can see it, he already hears It finished. In his mind it’s already mapped out, but he’s like yeah keep working on it, yeah that’s cool but it doesn’t quite work how about this? Lyrically as far as what I’m writing about, I write about what I’m experiencing. Jason has a way of helping figure out what to say & how to say it with less words. We all wrote guitar riffs and did beat box noises with our mouths like dude what if it was like this? Or sitting down with an acoustic guitar and trying to show an idea. Unfortunately I’m not that good of a guitar player so when I have an idea I’m like play something that kind of sounds like this, but make it good! Everyone was involved and Jason Rauch was a big part of it. He taught us so much about our band and about song writing.
Q.) What has been your best show so far?
A.) Our band was going through a bunch of turmoil about 11yrs ago. We were just having a really tough time, we had band members leaving, there were several shows that just bombed, and we didn’t get paid. It was during a transition phase with management, record label stuff and booking agents. Everything was just like what is going on? We lost a drummer in the middle of a tour; we got a fill in drummer who was just slaughtering our songs. So we’re driving through Oregon. I hear a loud pop and I look in the rearview mirror there’s black smoke everywhere, I’m like WHAT? And I see this piece of metal bouncing down the interstate. I jump out real quick and look underneath the van and the transmission fluid that’s pouring out is black, and it’s supposed to be an off red color. Anyway we get towed 21 miles to a repair shop; we catch them 10 minutes before they close. They do their thing, they put more transmission fluid in it, change the filter, put the cap back on, they drive it around and are like alright you guys are good to go. I’m like “no, I saw the transmission fluid.” They’re like “no you’re good we just test drove it.” “I’m like we’ve burned through transmissions before.” He’s like “this is what we do for a living, you’re good.” We take off driving and I’m just contemplating, what is going on? Is god just trying to get to me? Am I too stubborn to hear this? Are we supposed to be done? Everything right now is just downhill, what’s going? We get to Tacoma, WA and we play Club Impact. That night the show went really well, great turn out, the drummer was on top of things, the crowd totally into it and there was just this peace that came across. There was like a warm breeze that just blew through and it was calming you’re like “this feels right.” That night after the show we met Ryan Jordan, who’s from Tacoma. We met Ryan and his friend Brandon, who were in a band together but on a hiatus. Ryan was living in Japan with his family but here visiting, just happened to be here. I was like hey man we’re looking for a drummer, if you know anybody. I’d never met him before. He was like “well that’s crazy I’m looking for a gig.” He ended up being our drummer for 8 years. That night, Tacoma, WA it was a turning point in my heart. It’s so crazy the shows that stick out aren’t the biggest; they’re not the ones that it’s like “what is going on?” but the ones that change your life. It’s not only about the crowd having their life changed but the band members as well.
Q.) Worst show?
A.) Yeah, McAllister OK, everything went wrong. It’s pointless to even write them down because EVERYTHING went wrong. From the moment we left Arkansas to get there, to road construction, high winds, this, that whatever. To when we get there the sound system’s not figured out, it’s hooked up wrong, to sound check that took over an hour when it should have only taken 20 minutes tops. To where we went to eat and then they’re like “hey they got to get back here, they’re on in 10 minutes!” “ We’re like what there are 6 bands?” “ Oh this band didn’t have this cable so they can’t play; this band didn’t show up, this band whatever.” The on the 1st song our guitarist steps on a monitor, it flips out from under him he lands on his tail bone on his peddle board and thinks he broke his hip. 2nd song I fall off the front of the stage, 3rd song I put my foot on a monitor it bounces up and hits a girl in the throat. 4th or 5th song all the monitors quit working, then the next song our bass player does this big battle axe right across the forearm of our guitar player, he just walks off the stage, a guitar player that was filling in slaughtered every song! Funny part of it, which was probably the best part, one of the guitarists from one of the opening bands was trying to get our bass player’s attention. Bass player was like “dude you sounded good I’ll talk to ya later”, because we’re still trying to play. Anyway he was trying to say “Dude you ripped your pants!” Turns out from the inside of one knee to the inside of the other it was all ripped. Everything about that show was the worst thing possible, and then we drove 12hrs over night to a show in southern Texas. That was the worst show I can think of off the top of my head but there awful, awful things that have happened over the years, but that would be the one that sticks out at this moment.
Q.) What do you think sets you apart from other bands?
A.) I think we go above and beyond to show people how thankful we are that they’re at our show. I don’t care if there’s 5 people there they could have easily sat at home. Same thing on this tour with Volbeat, it means a lot that people are showing up early, it means a lot that people are actually watching us play, it means a lot that when we play 5 songs and before the 6th song I say “we put our hope in Jesus Christ”, and they’re like “dude, cool, got it”, instead of like “wait what the crap is going on?” It’s been so awesome because we know that we wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t… you know, I can’t just put it as we’ve worked really hard for 17 years, that’s not enough, there’s people that worked hard their entire lives and never get ahead. We’re thankful, we don’t take it for granted; I think that’s what makes us stand out from other bands. We understand that it’s hard to come up with money to pay for shows; it’s hard to pay for parking in downtown Seattle. We’re just lucky be able to be a band and be on a tour that is so beneficial to us for our career.
Q.) What would you consider the biggest challenges for bands these days?
A.) Being able to afford to stay on the road; gas is not cheap, maintenance on vehicles isn’t cheap, maintaining band members is kind of hard because people don’t want to go on the road and be broke their whole lives. I understand that I get it. Just being able to afford to stay on the road, It’s not even about “oh buy our records, buy our whatever”, no it’s the whole thing. Bands’ being able to be supported by their fans is so important. It all kind of trickles down, whether It be for buying a t-shirt at a show, buying a ticket to get into a show, buying the record instead of just downloading it’s a bunch of things that just add up. When you look at an average, a band in a van will spend about $200 a day on fuel if they’re pulling a trailer, it gets expensive. So I’d say finances it’s the hardest part.
Q.) What advice would you offer new bands?
A.) Don’t be lazy; don’t assume that you know how it’s going to go. Don’t assume that because you have good gear and your parents bought you a van, that you’re going to go out and you’re going to be able to tour and there’s going to be people at your shows, and you’re never going to break down, you’re never going to get homesick, you’re never going to play crappy shows because that’s part of it. Never take your fans for granted. Never take your support system at home for granted. Don’t assume that in 2 years you’re going to be on a bus. I think that a lot of bands think that they’re going to sign a record deal, and get a ton of marketing they’re going to be playing for hundreds of people a night, every night. And that’s just not the world we live in.
Q.) You have a new album out, want to say anything to promote it?
A.) Check it out. Check it out and see if it’s something your into. If people like aggressive music with lots of melody, and lots of pop influence I think it’s a record they would be interested. Of course we’d love for them to pick it up, but we’d also love to meet them, come to our shows come hang out!