Interview with Jason James of Bullet For My Valentine - May 31st, 2010
As I drove past the venue in Detroit… I saw this massive line-up of kids wrapped around the block thick enough to deter me from trying to navigate the adjacent underground parking I wanted. I drove up to the next street entrance and parked. It wound up being a two-block long line-up of fans waiting to enter the Fillmore an hour before the doors opened. More than anything I saw this evening, I think that sight alone made me think that Bullet For My Valentine have finally ‘arrived’ in North America.
As I sat down with Jason James in the basement of the Fillmore, I mentioned the lengthy line-up of people outside. Jay piped up with “Only Two blocks long???” before chuckling and admitting that it was pretty humbling.
This was the last night of Bullet For My Valentines current tour with Airbourne and Chiodos before they flew over to Europe for the summer. Judging from the crowd outside, the band were heading home on a high note.
Interview and photos by Mike Bax
Conducted in person – May 31st in Detroit Michigan at the Fillmore
Mike: What’s bus call for you guys like right now?
Jay: What, tonight?
Mike: No, just in general.
Jay: Generally it’s around 1:00 to 2:00am. It can be hard to sleep on tour. I find if the bus moves around a lot, you’ll wake up at around four in the morning or whatever. If I wake up, I often can’t get back to sleep for hours… I’m usually just waiting to get to the venue so I can finally sleep once the bus has stopped moving, you know?
Mike: So tonight’s your last night of this tour, correct?
Jay: Yes, that’s correct.
Mike: and you are en route to Europe to start off your summer of festivals from here.
Jay: We fly tomorrow to London, which is where we are all from, and we… we have a three hour layover and then fly to Germany. We don’t even have time to go home. It’s like we aaaaalmost got back home, but then – sorry (mimes a rug being pulled out from under legs) – good bye (laughs).
Mike: You have a wife / girlfriend I’m assuming?
Jay: Yeah, I was just on the phone with my girlfriend telling her that we’ll only be in London for three hours and then have to head out again. She couldn’t believe it.
Mike: I guess her coming out to the airport to see you would be a bit much for three hours. You’d have to try and get past security…
Jay: It’s actually a three hour drive to get to that particular airport from where we live. She’s eight months pregnant right now too. So I don’t really want her to drive three hours just to see me for an hour. It would just be retarded for me to check out; see her; and then check back in. I’d do it… but it seems a bit much considering…
Mike: What’s your contingency plan for the summer Jay? If you are expecting a baby – and you are doing festivals all summer, do you have a plan for when your baby is born?
Jay: This whole tour ends on the 15th of July. And my son is due on the 26th of July, so I’ll be home ten days before the due date. I’m home until the 20th of August, and then we’ll start up with the rest of the tour. So I’ll be able to stay in Europe and tour for a few weeks at a time and still fly home and see my boy.
Mike: Is this your first baby?
Mike: Wow. Congratulations Jay. That’s very cool. Let’s talk a little bit about Fever, your new album, ok? If I’m getting my timing right, you flew over to North America to do this tour around the release of the album. You haven’t really toured this new material anywhere but on this US run of dates.
Jay: Yes, that’s right. This is the first time we’ve played these songs on stage. For the first two weeks we were still getting used to them ourselves. They were like newborn songs to us all. We’ve had a decent time on this run of dates to really learn them live, and getting to enjoy them together. The crowds know the songs. That was really crazy for us. The first week we were backstage deciding as a band which songs to play live – and every song we played the kids already knew every single word to the track. It was insane.
Mike: Like, pre-release? Did Fever leak?
Jay: No, this was the week of release. So the album was out. The day of release we did a small show in London, and then we came to the US. It was insane to us, that they’d already gotten the lyrics down, and were singing along.
Mike: I don’t really follow sales numbers or anything, but my understanding is that Fever placed well on the US charts, correct?
Jay: Number three. Number three on Billboard. It was insane. It sold over 100,000 units in the first two weeks. That is just ridiculous to us. We couldn’t believe it.
Mike: What do Bullet get for radio support over here. Do you follow that? Do you know if stations over here are actually playing the single?
Jay: Yeah yeah, ‘Your Betrayal’ is getting played over here. It’s a requested song – in the top ten of requested songs anyway, and it’s on the television. It’s getting some airplay over here for sure.
Mike: Cool, that’s good to hear. I’m a fan – I saw Bullet on your first album and tour. I liked The Poison immediately. It was really nice as a fan to see Fever come out and actually chart. And it STAYED on the charts. It didn’t hit number three and then fall off the next week. Fever is holding well in subsequent weeks. That’s good to see.
Jay: I think we’ve managed to grow a fan-base here. We did it old-school, underground, and did lots of touring and we slowly built a fan-base up. Only now are we getting radio-play and whatnot. It’s not like it’s overnight. It’s been seven years of hard work, really. That’s why it’s working now.
Mike: I didn't see any Canadian dates on this tour, and I wanted to come down here and see you. It looks like you’ll be busy for most of the year – and may not get back here until 2011.
Jay: Cool man. Thanks for coming down.
Mike: My pleasure. I’m not really hearing the song on the air in Canada though. Are we a tougher market for Bullet? I’m not really an avid radio listener – so I could be blowing smoke out my ass… but…
Jay: You know, I have no idea. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between Canada and the US for our fan base.
Mike: I know the album charted similarly to the US. When it came out – people were buying it. I’d sold well.
Jay: Yeah, yeah. I dunno mate. I’ll look into that though.
Mike: What I notice the most about Fever is that it sounds a little more progressive than The Poison and Scream, Aim Fire. It sounds a little bit more like a rock album. Was that intentional when you wrote and recorded it?
Jay: Yes, I'd say so. For the first album, we had so long with that one. We’d basically been writing that for most of our lives, right? So when we’d perfected the songs, we pretty much had a (record) deal. The second album we had a real pressure to write. People were calling us ‘emo’. We’d had deaths in the band, some births in the band. Matt nearly lost his voice…
Mike: Yeah, I remember that.
Jay: We were touring The Poison heavily, and writing in the back of the tour bus. It was hectic times, you know? I’m not making excuses for the album – I quite like it. But it was put together under duress. We wanted to prove to people we weren’t ‘emo’. That we could do metal. We wanted to play 100 miles and hour and do some technical stuff. And it did well. Some of the songs on that album – we wouldn’t be where we are now without it. But on this round, we took things we learned from the first two. This was going to be our third album. We wanted to look at what we hadn’t done that maybe we should be doing. We’ve done good so far, right? We wanted to try and get back to what we’d done on The Poison. We went back to some of the studios that we’d done the Poison in. To re-kindle some of those energies or whatever. We thought that we would mix it up with a new producer as well. ‘Cause we’d recorded with Colin Richardson since the EP, right? We’ve known him forever. Don Gilmore actually approached us. He said he knew our music, and that he loved out band. He told us what he thought we hadn’t been doing on our previous albums. He suggested what he thought our music could use. He just said all the right things. He didn’t want to do the album for a big paycheck or anything, he just wanted to do it. So we all thought that was a cool place to start.
Mike: That’s pretty flattering.
Jay: Yeah. So we flew to Malibu to do the record with him. And we were definitely out of our comfort zone. We were used to working with Colin – who works more sonically. He just gets everything perfect in his own way. Don Gilmore gets the same finished product – but he gets there in a different way, y’know? He gets IN there and really works with aspects of the songs. So he’d suggest things about songs to us in a way that was very different for us. Matt would raise his hands and be like “Hold on a minute…” We’d never had anyone say that to us before. There wound up being a conflict of attitude for the four weeks we were in Malibu between Gilmore and Matt. We pulled the plug on the whole session. It had been a month. We all missed our families. We were all getting a bit nostalgic, you know? It was time to go home.
Mike: Right, right. But you finished it together…
Jay: Yeah, coming back home boosted our morale a bit. We were back in Wales, where we’d recorded The Poison and everything. Don came over and worked with us in Wales. It was about three weeks of bumping knuckles.. the same thing going on, and then all of a sudden Matt and Don just gelled. We knew exactly how we wanted to do it, and from that point onwards Fever just came out. It was pretty amazing.
Mike: I’m not really a musician – but I could see how a producer could be visualized as a guy on the sidelines – you know, behind the glass, tinkering with your art. Messing with your craft. But a good producer can really get into the music on a level the artists might not even hear or understand – and turn some aspects of your songs into things you’d not expect. Almost like a band member. But to do so, they need a level of control, right?
Jay: Yes. Don Gilmore… he’s a good guy. He really had a lot of influence on this album, to be honest with you. Lyrically as well, it used to just be me and the boys would sit down with Matt and talk lyrics, y’know? Matt will revel some of his lyrics and ask us what we think, and if a song needs anything, we’d discuss it, y’know? As a band. So we’d all be in the control room listening – and Matt would sing a song. We’d all be in agreement that the vocals were fine – and Don would be in the room with us going “No, he can do better than that”…
(we both laugh)
So Don winds up saying “Boys, look… give me two weeks alone with Matt in the studio here. We’ll lay down some stuff. We’ll have you back, and if you’re happy, you’re happy. If not, we’ll carry on as we are now”. So, we all agreed and went home to our families. We had a phone call two weeks later, and we all came back. They’d done eight tracks… we sat down and listened to them together. I was just blown away but what they’d done. He’d dragged some amazing stuff out of Matt. In the end, it was what we needed. But Matt was coming around after sessions saying “I hate him. I hate this man”…
And I’d have to get him cooled down. We’d have a coffee, and talk a bit and he’d head back into the studio. For me, hearing those songs… it was like the first time I heard Appetite For Destruction – I was just blown away but everything on that album. Hearing these mixes for the first time just blew me away. So they carried on just like that and finished up the vocal parts.
Mike: You mentioned earlier that you were trying to get away from being attached to ‘emo’. How did that emo thing even happen? I don’t hear it – and quite frankly, I’ve never heard it from Bullet.
Jay: Well, we didn’t really try to get away from anything I guess…
Mike: It’s accurate though. You did get lumped in with the emo genre with The Poison somehow. That was around the time emo was tail-spinning. And the artwork on The Poison is kind of distressed and cartoonish – which was a style being used on many emo releases, I guess…
Jay: Yeah, everybody calls us what they want to call us. We don’t really care what people call us. We write a song. It’s a good song. People think it’s a good song. People want to classify you because of that song. At the end of the day, at least they are talking about us. That‘s the way I feel about it anyway. If they hate us, they hate us. It’s not like we don’t try with every song to deliver something we love. On this album, we wanted to get a strong hard album. And Don was all about ‘less is more’. He was taking parts out that we didn’t need. Moose would be like “but look, I can do this over this part of the song” (mimes playing drums quickly) and Don would say “but it doesn’t need it”. And ultimately, that’s all Fever is: basic, really hard hitting, strong material.
Mike: Not that your sound has changed drastically, because it hasn’t. But Fever is a little different, a bit more stripped down in places… were you concerned at all about how fans would perceive the new album?
Jay: No, I don’t think so. Not at all. They way I thought about it was that we already had a big fan base from the first two albums. And those fan are really loyal, y’know? They were most likely going to come with us on Fever. To be honest, we always judged s song by our reactions. If we all listen to a song and a part comes on and we all gasp at it and think it sounds good – THAT’S the litmus test for us. We’ve always done that. So when we were writing this album, and we got it sequenced and finished and we played it back for ourselves… we all we blown away by it. That’s all that matters as far as we are concerned. No matter what it sounds like to anybody else out there – I think it sounds amazing.
Mike: I asked that question because ‘Begging For Mercy’ was the advance song from the album released to whet everyone’s appetites. It was released through Twitter and Facebook as an advance single if you were willing to submit your email address to the bands website. When I listened to “Begging For Mercy’ for the first time… to me, it sounded like it bridged the albums - it sounded like it was very close to what Scream, Aim Fire sounded like. Almost like it was helping to steer fans into the new sound?
Jay: I lose my mind on that song. I love the heavy stuff, and I just love doing that song. I do the screaming parts on that song, and I just love playing it live. That was the first song that we trickled out in the UK as well. And BBC1 got a hold of it. Zane Lowe wanted something new off the album, and that’s what we gave them. So, he played it on the air. And then he said “Let’s hear that again”. And Zane played the song a second time on the air right afterwards. That hasn’t happened in ages from what I understand. And he wound up playing it all the time afterwards… we’ve been on iChat with him since. He’s had us down in the Radio One studios to do a jam session with us. They’ve been diggin’ us lately. We’ve been overwhelmed by it, really. He’s been very supportive…
Mike: It’s a solid album. I’m looking forward to seeing where you guys are this time next year – once you’ve had a few singles from it and really had an opportunity to do the tour cycle for Fever some justice.
Jay: We hope to be in arenas by the time the album’s cycle has played out.
Mike: I buy a lot of UK magazines – Kerrang! When I can find it… and I have your Ozzy cover (thanks to Kerrang!) and your Metallica covers (Kerrang! again)… The Rocky 4 cover that was on Scream Aim Fire…
Did you record anything around Fever? A cool cover version that might be coming out in the next few months?
Jay: No. Not this time. We didn’t do any covers around Fever at all. But we did scrap a bunch of material. Seven to ten complete songs, that we still have. We’d steal a bunch of parts from those songs and work them into material that wound up on Fever. One of the songs that didn’t come out on this album… it could have been huge. Huge. It was like full-on Bon Jovi style rock song. But we didn’t think it was time for that, so we parked it. What happened with that one was the middle of it was from a song we wrote two years ago. And that middle bit was just ready for the song – just two years later. SO we do have this big catalog of riffs and songs that we keep on hand. Things that nobody has seen or heard before. We can go back to them as we need to. Sometimes we’ll be writing and we’ll go “’ang on a minute. That song we did a few years back.. that riff… it would fit in here perfectly!” And we can re-visit it and work it in. That does happen a lot.
Mike: Tonight will be my fourth time seeing Bullet perform live. I don’t believe I have ever seen you perform a cover song live. I don’t know if you just like to adhere to your own material when you play live or maybe I’m just seeing shows where you don’t play them…
Jay: No, we do play them from time to time. The only one we tend to play live is the Metallica one… ‘ Creeping Death’ is it?
Mike: Either that or ‘Welcome Home ‘Sanitarium’.
Jay: No it’s ‘Creeping Death’. We’d end the set with it in the UK – but we’d walk out with mullet wigs on, and Moose (Mike, Bullet’s drummer) would put on the spandex, and we’d walk out and have some fun with the cover to finish off our live set. We haven’t done that for a few years now. These covers are from when magazines would be trying to get compilations together, and they’d ask us for material to contribute to these things. They were fun to do, and top of mind for us at the time. So we’d play them a bit.
Mike: I almost feel like that era is dying. The printed magazine’s are really tightening up on what they do. I don’t see these compilations coming out anymore – and I used to love getting them. The Metallica one and the Maiden ones Kerrang! Did? They are so amazing.
Jay: Yeah, Kerrang! is one the last and best ones in the UK.
Mike: Kerrang! Is hard to get over here Jay. I have to drive around looking for it a lot of the time. If I see it, I just pick it up. It seems like there is no rhyme or reason as to which issue will make it into Canada. And they are always so much later than the UK release. Sometimes a whole month behind.
When I look at how you guys tend to do all over the world, I’d say that North America is likely your toughest market to crack. And yet you came here to play your first live shows around Fever. I’m impressed by that. You could have stayed in the UK, and played to a more appreciative crowd of fans. Maybe that’s not fair… BIGGER crowds of fans…
Jay: That’s what it’s all about though. We really want to continue to grow our fan-base. We aren’t afraid to work. We’ll play anywhere we can, really – and keep growing our fan base.
Mike: I have one more Jay. When you stepped in for Nick Crandle in 2003 just before The Poison came out, how did that come about for you? Did you know the band members prior to joining them?
Jay: Yes. I’ve known Moose since I was three. Matt since I was seven and Padge (Michael Paget) since I was eleven or twelve years old. Same with Nick. I’ve known him since I was eleven or twelve. All from school. There was a whole gang of us who were into music and we'd form bands and play covers. I had my own band back then. I was the lead screamer – doing what I do now, really, but more of the lead. My band and Jeff Killed John were kind of the two biggest bands in our village at the time. Something happened between one of the singers in my band and their bass player… they got really friendly. And I think Matt and that bass player fell out over something. So he left, and he was doing something with the guy in my band. So Matt asked me if I’d do a show with them. My band get jealous… kicked me out… of my own band… (laughs).
‘Cause I’d reorganized the show I was supposed to do with them around the gig I was doing with Matt. I was in four different bands at the time playing bass. So I went to London after re-organizing that show and played the Jeff Killed John show. I came back for our show, and Nick was playing bass instead of me. So I walked out of that gig with my guitar in hand. Matt asked me if I wanted to join Jeff Killed John full time, and I said yes. And then we went to the rehearsal rooms. ‘Four Words’ took shape quick. ‘Hand of Blood’ came out of that session really quickly as well – there were three of us who could sing, and we found the material was shaping up really quickly together. We went down to London to play a gig, and there were four different record labels there for that show and we wound up getting signed.