Interview: Matt Baird of Spoken

Spoken is a band that has been bringing their brand of hard rock for almost two decades. Their latest album, Breathe Again recently released on Artery Recordings.

I recently had a conversation with Spoken vocalist Matt Baird. We chatted about how God was instrumental in the writing and relationships behind the new album, balancing family life with a music career, and we even get a look at the history behind Spoken and another long running hard rock band in the market.

Spoken is:  Matt Baird – vocals, Scoop Roberts – guitar, Isaiah Perez- drums

 

Considering the evolution of Spoken’s sound over the years, how would describe Breathe Again and in comparison to the older material?

 The easiest way to look at it is: it’s new band members from the last record (Illusion), but it’s different guys in the band. I’m the only original member, so Spoken fans are kind of stuck with the same voice, the same guy singing. It’s great to move into a new season of the band with new musicians with different takes on song writing. Our drummer’s really crazy into progressive metal type stuff. He’s an incredible drummer; he’s way too good to be in our band. He brings a different take to music all across the board. Scoop, our guitar player, writes differently as well than anybody in the past. I’ve enjoyed every record, every process of writing a record. This one was a little different; it really kind of came up quick on us. The process was really cool.

Let’s take a minute to dive into that then. What did the writing process look like for this album? Also, since you were going at it independently, without a label at that point.

 When I contacted Scoop, which at this point was about a year and a half ago, I’m like “Hey, it’s just me, why don’t you come, and let’s do this. Let’s do a new chapter of the band, let’s write a record.” So we set up these certain goals: let’s get new management, a new booking agency, let’s figure out who’s going to be in the band, let’s write a new record. We had all these things that we were going to check off our list, and we were able to accomplish all of those things. That was really cool, but some of it happened in the process of actually recording the record.

The whole situation with Artery, we had kind of started the process of talking about it before we hit the studio, but it was not a done deal that we were going to be on Artery. We were just kind of plowing ahead like we were going to release it on our own. But then with the process of talking to Artery it seemed like the perfect fit.

Our last few records we had to kind of write over e-mail. W would email songs, email ideas back and forth to get a good direction because we don’t live in the same state even. I live in Des Moines, Iowa and the other two guys live in Nashville, Tennessee. So that’s already kind of a challenge when it comes to being a band, let alone being able to set up in a room and jam like a normal band gets to do. We haven’t been able to do that, honestly, in 14 years. It wasn’t too weird writing back and forth over the internet, but when it came to actually getting the record done, we hit the studio a month earlier than we had planned. We planned on going in in May, but it actually got moved up. So I was actually  finishing the vocals to songs in the morning and then recording them that evening. So it was a pretty quick process, but I think having to be spontaneous but at the same time the pressure of getting the record done in the time frame we had, I think probably brought out some pretty good ideas.

Do you mostly handle the lyrics and leave the rest of the writing up to the other guys?

 On this record, Scoop was sending in music beds. He would send in some programmed drums with some guitar riffs over it, like in complete songs, which was really cool, and I would just start writing to it. In the beginning I was trying to write three versions to every song just so we could pick and choose but then when our time frame got moved a bit and it was like “Okay, let’s see what happens.” Honestly, for me, I felt the most pressure when it came to a new record because it was all new guys. The feedback from our fans was crazy about our Illusion record, and we had wrote and recorded that over the course of two or two and a half years so we had plenty of time to really dig through and sort through those songs and throw songs away if we didn’t like it or to change things.

So this was a situation where I made an agreement with God. I was like, “I know I can screw this up, I can write twelve kind of okay songs all day long, but these need to be good songs. So I’m out of the way, I’ll write about whatever you put on my heart, and whatever melodies are on this record. You bring them, whatever cadence of the melodies, that’s up to you.” That’s straight up, that’s just real. Our eighth record was not written by me that’s for sure. I literally just tried to listen when it came to writing lyrics and melodies. I tried to listen to my heart and to what God was doing in my life. That’s truly how it came about.

That sounds amazing! One thing I really wanted to ask about was how your personal faith came through in this album.

 My wife and I help out at our church, like a ton, we’re normally there about four nights out of the week. This past year, with being able to be home quite a bit, with Spoken not touring as much, just because we’re in a different season of trying to figure out and rebuild, my wife and I have had many conversations with a lot of teenagers just dealing with stuff. You know kids are just dealing with darkness every day. Human beings are tough to deal with anyway, and then you add the teenager element it, that’s even harder. But then when you add parents that have no right really being a parent to a teenager because they don’t care – that adds a whole other element to it. So you have these teenagers who have zero guidance coming from home, and just kind of winging their way through life, there’s some pretty dark times in there.

A lot of the draw from those songs is about life. It’s about real life. I talk to a lot of people that… sometimes there’s people that I wish I didn’t meet. You know, because they’re just not nice people. So it’s like what in the world would bring a person to that point in their life to speak that way to other people? There’s a lot of grace that has to be poured out when it comes to dealing with human beings. The great thing is, the Grace that God shows each of us each day, luckily we have an example of what grace really is, and so that’s what it is.

One of the songs, “Beyond the Stars,” it’s literally; “a day will come when all will be right/ the pain will disappear and we’ll lift our eyes.” I think that’s something that whether you’re a believer or not, that’s something that you have to hold onto. You have to hold on to the fact that someday all of this will make sense. I don’t know when, I don’t know how long it will take. But we have to have hope in something. So that’s where “Beyond the Stars” comes in.

With “Breathe Again,” the title track of the record, it’s literally about brokenness and dealing with brokenness and to be able to empathize with people, and be like “Hey, I understand what you’re saying” and maybe in some situations, “I’ve been there before.” I think the thing that we need to hear more often is “I understand why you feel the way you do, I’m not saying you’re wrong for feeling that way,” and can you imagine that? Someone who’s like, “I don’t believe in the God that you say you serve,” and then saying “Okay, that’s cool, fine. You don’t have the same relationship that I do, where I’ve experienced God, that’s why I believe in God.” You know, that’s a real conversation we’ve had with real people multiple times, where people are all ready to defend why they don’t believe in God, where sometimes they just need to be able to voice why they don’t and be like “Hey, I understand. It’s not wrong for you to feel that way.” And they’re like “What just happened?” Because you let them feel the way they feel – obviously people feel the way they feel for a reason. It doesn’t mean they’re correct in what it is they’re feeling. So to be able to say, “I hear ya, let’s figure it out, let’s walk together, let’s get you back on a path of some sort,” that’s truly what the whole record is about.

I noticed on the Kickstarter page that you said  not every song is about Jesus or is a “Christian” song, but it’s cool to see that it’s offering hope and reflecting the Gospel.

I think anything in our lives that if we truly cling to Jesus the way we say, or the way we probably should, I think it should pour over into everything; every aspect of life. It is something when people truly wear their faith in their life, people see it. They’re watching all the time anyway, whether you even have a conversation with them ever, they’re watching. Pastor Carl Lenz from HillsongChurch in NYC, he says, “I can’t have an off day.” And I understand it, especially someone like him. He’s being watched through a microscope every second. Not only by normal human beings but by the media as well. We as Christians can’t afford to have an off day where we treated someone awful and then the next day we’re talking about “Don’t treat people awful.” Then it’s like “What? But yesterday I saw you…” So I think it’s really crazy when we’re able to truly apply grace to our own life and to know that we don’t deserve a single thing. I know that I don’t deserve to be in a band or be on a platform or to be able to write music at all. But God allows me to do it, and I’ll embrace it.

Is music something you see yourself wanting to continue long term?

I’ve been in Spoken since I was 19 years old and coming up on Feb 10th, it’ll be twenty years that Spoken has been a band. I just want to be obedient to Jesus. That’s straight up it. With my whole life. I would love to do music until I’m dead. Literally, until they put me in the ground, I would love to be able to do music because I feel like it’s something that God uses and he speaks through it not only to the listener but to me as well. So I truly want to do music in Spoken as long as that can happen but I will do music in some way, shape, or form until either God takes any ability that I might have away or until I’m gone.

You’ve played a variety of church shows and Christian festivals, to bars, and tours with bands like Volbeat. Do you have a preference of type of show or do you still have those cool conversations wherever you play?

I’m up for playing anything, anywhere, anytime. I’ve played the worst shows on Earth when it’s just me and a guitar and no one is really there and no one cares, all the way to playing with Volbeat and playing for six thousand people in Canada. The awesome thing about the Volbeat tour is that there were so many different breeds of human beings coming to those shows because they love Volbeat. They did not care about Spoken. It was one of those things where we’re asking “What do we do, how do we make it that people do care about the music that we’re playing, but even more so that the words that we’re saying whether it be from stage or off stage, that it will actually mean something?”

The Volbeat tour was a lot of work because those people didn’t know who we were. So as soon as our set time starts, we’ve got 30 minutes to try our best to prove, “Hey, we at least deserve to play one song up here, and here’s why.” We tried to kill ourselves with performance and walking the barricade five of the six songs that we played and trying to make eye contact with every person or trying to touch every hand or whatever. Then it was at the merch table afterward just hanging out and being there and talking and hearing people’s stories. It was just really cool. I hope there are more opportunities to do more tours exactly like that. In fact that was the tour where we thought Volbeat was enormous then, but you fast forward six months down the road and it’s insane. Here we are two years later and that band is enormous. I’m so happy for them. They love their fans, their fans love them and I think they deserve each other.

That’s a great attitude. So as Spoken’s career has progressed there have been a few style changes. Have you seen any shift in your fan base?

 I think there’s some people that they miss a lot of the really aggressive screaming or whatever. But at the same time, with the Breathe Again record, it was intentional to pick our moments of what was aggressive because the music is so different. The guitar and the drums are the most aggressive ever. Especially the drums. I don’t listen a lot, but anytime I hear one of the songs off of the new record, I’m just amazed by the drums. I think Isaiah thinks so weird and so different than most drummers and I think a lot of it’s because of the style of music he prefers like the progressive stuff like The Contortionist and Periphery: stuff where it’s like “What in the world?” it’s work to listen to. But I don’t know, I think God uses all of those human beings and it shows how creative He is, because there’s songs that I’ve heard from those bands where I’m like “What just happened! Whatever it was, was awesome, but I don’t think they could play that twice if they had to.” But that’s me, I’m more simple minded when it comes to technical music. I love it, I’m grateful that I get to do it, that I get to be a part of it, but I think with every record, a band should be encouraged and inspired to do something different . With this record, that’s what it was, we were not going to do the same record we had already done. I don’t think we did, I think it’s totally different.

I’m glad you say that, I feel the same way. There’s been a few bands where I love the debut but then the second, third, fourth album all sound the same and I’ve totally lost interest.

Yeah. Scoop, Isaiah, and myself, we all listen to pretty much different music than what we play. I love country music. Keith Urban is my favorite artist. I love U2. I love Hillsong. Anything that is good, really. When it comes to bands like Slipknot, man, I respect what they do. I think some of their guitar riffs are so awesome. I think Corey Taylor has one of the most unique voices of any heavy band on earth, but yet you look at him in Stone Sour as well, the dude can sing! He’s a great songwriter. I don’t have to agree with everything they say to respect their music. I think that’s one of the things too, where on the Volbeat tour they didn’t expect us at all, any of those fans

It’s pretty rad that you signed to Artery this year. How did that come about?

 Our guitar player, Scoop knew some of those people for a while and he was doing some guitar tech stuff for Memphis May Fire at South By So What? Festival last year and Mike Milford, who was at Artery, came up and he’s like “Hey man, I want to put out the new Spoken record.” It was awesome that they approached us because at that point the record wasn’t recorded yet, we’d only released one song. It all kind of came together because of relationships that were already there.  I feel like it all kind of aligned because the same thing came about with Matty Mullins being involved. Scoop grew up with Matty in Spokane, WA. And then recording the song “Breathe Again” with Cameron Mizell (Cameron  has done the past couple Memphis may fire records). It’s like, “Why don’t we see about doing a song with Cameron, maybe it will be a good fit.” So we did a song with Cameron, and Matty was in town because he lives in Nashville. Then he was in the video the next day. Then you fast forward to Shayne Garcia who’s done a lot of promo pictures for them and so Shayne did our promo pictures and stuff for the record. And then with Sam Link, who had shot some video stuff for them, he shot our two videos. So, literally, God brought all these incredible artists together and I don’t know, he somehow threw them into the Spoken camp and so it’s been insane.

So once you found out you could get Matty on board, how did you know he’d be a good fit for the song “Breathe Again”?

 We were already huge fans of MMF, and then the fact that Cameron was already going to be in Nashville working with Memphis on the re-release on Unconditional, I believe is what it was, and we’re like, “Dude, let’s try to do this.” Matty recorded vocals on that song and I’m like, “Seriously, man, thank you so much for being on this track” and he said “Are you kidding me, I started listening to Spoken at a very influential time in my life” and I’m like “This is so surreal.” It’s just weird. The fact that anybody who’s in a band now that’s doing really well has ever listened to Spoken is awesome. It’s humbling.

You’re coming up on twenty years in the band. How do you face the challenges of still being on the road and balancing family and personal life with a musical career?

 It’s a miracle of Jesus. There’s no way around it. I do a lot of acoustic tours between Spoken tours. I try to do guest worship at churches as much as possible. On those tours I normally take my wife and my kids with me. It’s just awesome to have them out with me. Plus my kids see where I’m at all the time, why their father leaves for weeks at a time and what he’s doing. Plus, everyone has pretty much watched my kids grow up on Facebook and Instagram anyway, so when they get a chance to meet them they’re like “aw, man, I feel like I already know you guys!” So it’s really cool and then they get to meet my wife who I mean, literally, a bulk of the songs of Spoken are about her.

I put one song on the record about her: “Take my Breath Away” is about her. Luckily she was okay with me writing one tune about her on the new record. It is a juggle. It’s something where, I think having a family already is a lot of work, just to make sure your family is healthy, to nurture that family and help them grow and to teach your children, to be there for your wife. And vice versa, your wife being there for you, it’s hard when a husband is gone a lot, for both of their needs to be met when it comes to emotional needs or whatever. It is work and it is something that God definitely knew the challenges, and so He gave me the perfect person to do life with. It’s great to be married to the best person you’ve ever met. I think that’s how it should be but I know it’s true with me. She’s far too good for me and I’m fine with that – I just want to make sure she’s happy!

Man, I super respect how you’re able to be on the road and still be a Godly husband and father as well.

 It’s not easy, but I will never stop trying. Hopefully it’s something where God continues to work on my heart. My wife said something to me years ago, she said “In a relationship, if you’re not nurturing it, it’s dying.” It’s true. It’s that way with your friends, it’s that way with your co-workers, and it’s especially that way with your wife and your kids. If you’re not trying to make the relationship better, it’s going backwards. So that’s a daily, daily, daily reminder.

What would you like to see Spoken accomplish in 2016? Any set goals for this year?

 You know what, I think it would be incredible to be able to tour with Thrice. The fact that they’re doing a new record, they’re one of my favorite bands on Earth, and I think our fans would love each other. I want to tour with Thrice. I’m going to set my hopes high.

That would be an amazing combination!
It would rule.

Could you tell us a little about the upcoming tour [City Rock Fest]?

 We’re going out with Disciple, Seventh Day Slumber, Decyfer Down, and Children 18:3. It’s February, March, and April. I think it’s a really cool line up. It’s going to be a blast. We’ve been talking about doing a long tour with Disciple for probably the past 13 years. So the fact that we’re able to do that, and then everyone else, some of them I think are some of the funniest people I’ve met, I’m talking about people on the whole tour, not just one band. And the guys, maybe some of the ones I don’t know that well, I’m looking forward to getting to know them. I think it will make an impact for sure because there’s not only different styles of music in there, but you have so many different personalities. Some really quirky people, some really… I think there’s some stubborn, I know I fall under the stubborn category, I’m sure Kevin falls into the stubborn. So I’m looking forward to that, it’s going to be really cool.

That sounds like a killer line up.

 I’m going to have to send Kevin a text after we’re done here and say “Hey, I just have to let you know, I told people you and I are both really stubborn. Just FYI.”

A few years ago I saw Disciple on tour with Fireflight and Kevin had one of the coolest ways of presenting the Gospel, and even found a way to bring the Atlanta Falcons into that.

Of course he did. It’s crazy. The first time I ever met him he was a Falcons fan. That was eighteen years ago, probably. The cool thing with Disciple is that we had just started touring, it was 1998, our first record that just come out, and we’re in Evansville, IN playing at a place called The Rev. Disciple played and we’re like “What is going on, this band is amazing!” Afterwards we’re just talking, and they’re like “So what’re you guys doing this week?” I said “Well, we’ve got like a week off, so we’re just going to try to figure it out.” So they’re said, “Well, cool, you should go to Pennsylvania with us and play some shows.” So we took off on an overnight drive, we played four shows with Disciple. I think three were in Pennsylvania, one was in Waldorf, MA at a place called My Brother’s Place and that started it for us. We’re thinking, “This is awesome!” because this band who had no clue who we were who had already been a band at that point for four or five years, they took us out. It was so cool, and made a huge impact in our lives. So that was one of the reasons why we have taken so many young nobody bands on tour, because someone gave us a shot so we might as well give some other bands a shot. I respect that band a ton, and I really like the new lineup, I think they’re great.

I figured you guys had probably crossed paths, but I had no idea it would be such a cool history like that.

 Yeah, they’ve been a part of the Spoken history almost the whole time.

spoken album cover

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