Interview with THEOCRACY (Christian melodic-/ power metal/ USA. Members: Matt Smith/ Vocals, Val Allen Wood/ Lead Guitar, Jonathan Hinds/ Guitar, Vocals, Jared Oldham/ Bass, Ernie Topran/ Drums)
by Petra M. Jansen
Hello Matt! Nice to talk to you today, I am very pleased. Tell me a bit about the existence of the band and the band’s history. How did you find together and did you have any lineup changes since your beginning in 2002?
Yes, thank you for talking to me. THEOCRACY started out as a solo project with just me. The first album was just me and then we became a three piece, for the second album we had John and Jean and now we´re finally five piece which is what I always wanted. I took a while to become a four piece band but finally we´re there.
Your new album “Ghost Ship” is out now. You entered the Billboard hard rock charts in top 19, wow, that´s amazing!
Thank you! I am surprised.
So, I don´t have to ask whether you are satisfied… I saw the actual placement between Rob Zombie and Meshuggah… that´s fantastic! You certainly did not expect that success, I suppose?
Did not, no. It was a great surprise. You know… the label has been advertising and pushing the album very well and I think our music video for “Ghost ship” helped, too. I think people were finding out of us that way. So, when they called and told us the news we were very pleased. I can´t believe it.
It´s fantastic and it is a great album.
Thank you! I never even considered that kind of things so we are very surprised and happy.
You are on European Tour with WITHIN SILENCE. What were and will be the next locations? I´ve noticed that you have confirmed shows in the States afterwards, right?
Yes, we have two more shows on this tour- one tonight and tomorrow in Apeldoorn at the Brainstorm-Festival. Back in the States, in Atlanta – where we are from – we have a show on December 3rd and January 21st, 2017. We don´t play at home very often, because it´s much better here. People seem to like us more here and I think melodic metal in general is more popular in Europe. So we play more here than we do in the States.
Your new album “Ghost Ship” can be mentioned/ described as one of the tops and (for me) it´s a milestone in music history. That´s an excellent stuff, really great, and it already appeals extremely well here in Germany. THEOCRACY is a Christian band. Well, tell me something about the contents of the lyrics and a bit about your intention please. You said “every song has a unique signature.”
Oh, thank you! Wow! Well, it´s a few different things but the main thing is that I wanted to be very encouraging, to be very positive. We always try to be positive although the previous album also had some negative and was about some harsh topics. This time we wanted to be a little bit more encouraging and the “Ghost Ship” idea was kind of inspired by people I talked to, especially here in Europe after shows. A lot of younger kids, teenagers… I think, a lot of this generation is really looking for a way to make a difference and sometimes they feel like “life is so challenging that it´s easy to be overlooked.”
They are looking for sense?
Yeah, they´re looking for a deeper sense. I was thinking about “the Ghost of Society” through our history… the people who don´t seem very important, but they are doing great things. They might not be rich or they might not be popular or whatever but a lot of times those kinds of people can make the biggest differences and that´s kind if what “Ghost Ship” is about. It´s not a concept album but the idea comes out of that. Soul touches on the same topics.
I’m interested in whether you are of the opinion that the social and current difficult political situations should find expression in music and if so, why? There are also pure fun bands that just want to make music for the people. Does this make sense or do you think people are increasingly looking for deeper the meaning of life?
Hum, that´s a good question. I guess it would be boring if everyone approached it the same way. I don´t know…I mean, music can be escapism for people, it can be a way to close your eyes and forget about politics for example or whatever is going on. It depends on what you want to do. You have to do it in a careful way that makes sense and that it doesn´t come across as “we know everything”. I decided not to kill myself and I am glad with. All the feedback that we get in hearing from people after shows is amazing and so it makes it worthwhile. I mean it´s not always easy to be in a band but when you get that kind of feedback it´s for me personally kind of “keeps me going”.
Who writes the lyrics and composes your songs?
Which bands inspired you in your musical career?
Ah, so many…the first band for me was Queensryche. I loved how they were kind of more intelligent, you know… and still melodic. And all the classics like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeath, Dream Theater. So I like progressive things, I like thrash, melodic things and also the European power metal bands like Sonata Arctica, Edguy and bands like that. All these things together were kind of the early influences. I always looked for great songwriters because that was all I ever wanted to do. I became a singer because somebody has to sing … a lot of people dream of being on stage and to be a singer…now it was never me, I just wanted to write the right songs.
How many albums or releases did you have in all these years?
“Ghost Ship” is the forth. Since the first album came out as a solo project and also it was a day-job by the studio engineering and audio stuff and so … back then…when the first album came out, I knew nothing about demos, drum machine and so on. The label was a small metal label in den US and they went out of business. You can get the first album, people are asking for it and we recorded real drums, remixed it again and released it 2013. But “Ghost Ship” is the most successful so far, it´s doing great.
Which ups and downs have you experienced in these long years and what is the most difficult to assert themselves over many years in the rock music business?
I would say band line ups, band members and schedules. If you find good people that you get along with and are in for the same reasons and pushing for the same directions, there´s not a lot about fighting, it´s more scheduling because we all have day jobs, nobody is rich and nobody can do this fulltime. People are travelling for work all the time and we live within 2 hours of each other but even so, just speak of schedules… it´s so hard to get everyone together even for rehearsal, that´s exhausting… even you find time for rehearsals, emails back and for, you know? To me that´s really the hardest part of it.
What tips do you give newcomer bands, if they want to be prosperous in this tough market and what is indispensable in your opinion to achieve a lasting, international success?
Well, people ask me that kind of questions sometimes and I always say “it comes down to the songs”, the songwriting. I think there are a lot of bands that plan out a career and concentrate on doing this to make it at this level and this level and this level but if you do have the songs… I have never made one decision based on trying to get to a different level, I always just wanted to be the best songwriter in the world, that´s all I cared about and eventually people started and listen and then they started to appreciate. I think people – we say in English – “put the car before the horse”, the career goes before concentration upon the important stuff which is the songs.
Is the music business different to act in the USA than in Europe and if so, what are the essential differences?
For us it´s totally different… the reaction. It´s getting better in the States starting with the last album “As The World Believes” and I think people started to pay more attention a little bit more and the billboard is a big surprise. So, we talked about maybe trying a small tour in the States. It´s hard, it´s so spread out and we have to be careful. I´ve toured here four times and I don´t live here, so I can´t say how it is in Europe for sure but it seems to be less trendy than it is in the States. The audience seems in Europe like … endure and they stay with you.
How do the development and the sales look in general? Do you see any serious problems after streaming and the new media provider like Spotify, ITunes, CD Baby and others using this sector in their own way? We all know that the album sales stagnate. Does the Heavy Metal- or Hard Rock-business really suffer from the current market conditions or is this nonsense in your opinion?
Right. I don´t follow that closely, but I do think, a lot of metal fans still like to have physical media, they like booklets and they like to read the lyrics… I´ve always loved doing that. It´s different from person to person and it seems that there´s still a group of people that like ownership and they like to buy the albums. That´s really cool and it´s got to be that way otherwise a little band like us can never hit the billboard hard rock or whatever. That gives me faith because we do a lot of work into the whole presentation package. I still like to go into a room with headphones, read the booklet and listen to an album. I mean that´s the best way. I miss the days of the 70´s and the time of vinyls. I don´t know if we suffer…to me metal fans seem to be faithful … but obviously the whole music business in general is difficult.
Which are your dream festivals and where would you like to play?
Oh well, WACKEN would be nice. The ProgPower USA, it´s actually in Atlanta and only an hour from my house. Graspop for sure, absolutely. Sweden Rock of course.
What is the most beautiful thing for you when you go on tour?
I would say probably the feedback from people and meeting people afterwards. Honestly…. touring for me is not that fun because for a singer it´s stressful. You can get sick and if you get sick, everybody else can get sick and you still have to play… so it´s a lot of stress, it´s not a lot of sleep and so one. Obviously the show is fun when everything goes ok.
What plans does the band have actual, in the near future, and what are your next goals?
Well, there´s not. If everything was so rushed, the finishing of the album and do the video and go on this tour that it´s all we planned till we are back in Atlanta for the US-video-release-show on December 3rd and we have a new confirmed show in Atlanta on January 21st, 2017. We got a few things hopefully in Europe that we want to do again and next year hopefully a small US-tour and we try to do more videos as well.
Which message has THEOCRACY for the people out there? Your main message in a short statement please.
Hum, good question. I would say there´s a place for you here and your life matters.
Thank you for this interesting interview. We wish you and the band continued success. All the best for you, guys and rock on!
Thank you so much, rock on. God bless you, guys. Thank you for talking, too.
© Petra M. Jansen
You can listen to this interview in full length and in the original language (English) in a “THEOCRACY” special with our partner RLR RockLiveRadio and Quomaniac on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017, 20.00 – 22.00 o´clock p.m.
Link website: http://theocracymusic.com/
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Link YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9fpNQ67SaE