June 18th England plays against Tunisia on the World Cup and its fans around the world are watching breathless as the scoreboard says 1-1. Matt James and Jai Patel of the Raven Age couldn’t have been an exception to the rule, so as we do the interview they are watching the game. At the same time we have the chance to talk about the band, the new album, the new singer, Steve Harris and of course the… English national team! We will catch them live at this year’s Rockwave Festival on July 20th. By the way England won by 2-1. Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Have you guys been to Greece before?
Matt: I have personally for holidays, I love Greece, I’ve been there a couple of times. My favourite Greek island is Kefalonia. So, yeah, I love Greece!
Jai: I’ve never been to Greece myself and I am really excited about coming! I really look forward to the show.
Rockpages.gr: What are the challenges when you have to change a singer, both for you guys, but also for any band?
Matt: That’s a good question! I think the hardest part is that the singer does become the focus point between the fans and the band. And the music especially is a unique thing and the vocals dictate the way it works. No two voices sound the same and not two people sound the same, so it’s always hard when a band has an identity to change it up. But, I think from what I know from the guys in the band the direction they were going with Mike, the previous singer couldn’t continue in a particular way and since I’ve been on board it feels brilliant… it feels natural. I am hugely positive on the material we are working on together. It’s challenging like any new project, but I have to be honest it felt very natural to me. nothing has been contrived so far. We work together for a short period of time, but we come together very very easily. The future of Raven Age looks very promising.
Rockpages.gr: I would ask Jai first, what do you think that Matt brings to the table that wasn’t there before?
Jai: What I like about is that he doesn’t have a similar voice to Mark’s. It’s quite different so it brings fresh air to the band. It’s just more exciting I think. We didn’t try to get someone to imitate Mike and I think his voice can take us to new levels. It already has with “Surrogate”, which came out a month or two ago and it’s been received really really well. You always have people who say that they miss the old vocalist, but I have no doubt about Matt’s ability. I think he really takes us to the top.
Rockpages.gr: And what do you think Matt that you bring to the table that wasn’t there before?
Matt: At the end of the day Raven Age is a heavy metal band. The one thing I can bring to the table is a dynamic in the music. I feel like I can do the melodic parts well, but I can also bring a certain aggression to the music, that maybe there wasn’t there before. I think it shows in the new single. I think that the fans will hear that come across in the new material as well. Because, as I said The Raven Age are a heavy metal band and there need to be aggression there need to be power behind the vocal in the music. And the other thing I can do is I’ve got a pretty good range, so since I’ve been writing with George (Harris) the quality of the song has gone up drastically. We can write in keys that maybe there weren’t a possibility before and it just makes the music as a whole a lot more exciting from my perspective and the perspective of the guys.
Jai: Your range is unbelievable!
Matt: Thanks mate!
Jai: It adds a lot more dynamic to the vocals, even playing the old songs they become even better than they used to be.
Rockpages.gr: So, do we have any news about the new album? Are you working on it, composing, recording? What are you doing?
Jai: Yeah, we are working on it. Now, we are trying to do a few bits on the road. We did some work when we left and we will work on it when we get back. There’s loads of ideas going around and again it’s exciting. Since Matt joined we have a lot more input into the songs. So we are aiming to do something by the end of this year. Which is the plan, but we are not sure how it will end up. We will see.
Matt: The plan is, all being well, we want to get something out by the end of this year. We are all working very hard to get tracks where they need to be. They are coming together brilliantly so far. We are very much hoping that we will get what we need by the end of the year.
Rockpages.gr: For many bands and artists the second album always seems to be a difficult one to make. Do you think that’s the case for you guys as well?
Jai: I don’t think so! I think because we have a new vocalist we learned a lot from the previous album, about ourselves, what are fans want… things like that. We will use this experience on our songs. I think we can tell that we are playing another new song in this tour and it goes down really well, “Surrogate” goes down brilliantly, so I don’t think it should be a challenge. I honestly think it will be better… The progression has been amazing. I am not worried at all to be honest. Are you?
Matt: Well, I wasn’t involved on the first album, so there is nothing for me to go on in that regard. So, for me it’s all about what’s happening currently, so I got nothing to compare it to. Everything is fresh for me, there is no baggage. I wouldn’t say there is no anxiety because I want to prove what I can do to the fans and to the band. Nothing has been contrived so far, everything is very, as I said before, natural. Ever since the ball started rolling with the first single it started to build momentum with the rest of the tunes. And I feel very very confident that the fans will not be disappointed by the new album.
Rockpages.gr: Every night for the last few days and the following months you will be playing with Iron Maiden and Killswitch Engage on both festivals and gigs, how do you feel about it and how is the experience so far?
Jai: It’s crazy! Obviously, Iron Maiden is one of the biggest bands on the planet. Then Killswitch Engage is one of our favourite bands, so it’s a dream tour to be playing with the band you’ve been looking up to and the legends that are Iron Maiden. The shows are huge. We’ve already done a few shows with both Killswitch Engage and Iron Maiden and they are really nice people. They’ve watched our show, we watched theirs. It’s so much fun, it’s a dream to be on this tour.
Matt: A lot of the people that we played to are Killswitch Engage or Iron Maiden fans so we bear in mind the reception has been incredible. We haven’t had a bad night since we’ve been doing this tour. Every night it’s been incredible and the energy has been amazing from every gig.
Rockpages.gr: What seems to be the “rulebook” for new metal bands nowadays? Get more gigs, play in festivals, get more record sales, more merch sales, more likes on social media…
Matt: Well, all of the above really… we live in a day and age where record sales sadly aren’t a source of revenue anymore. The industry is gone, so bands like us and bands we’ve played with rely heavily on merchandise sales and rely on the gigs we play. So, the tours have to be bigger and better. They have to give incentive to the people to come to the shows. It is important to show the world what you can do, but at the same time it’s no secret that the people don’t buy albums anymore. We are very lucky with the team that we have behind us. They are very much grounded in what age the music industry is working. For example, our manager and the team we have behind us are very much aware of the music industry is going and they are steering us to that direction in that regard. So, I think we are very fortunate in that aspect because a lot of bands don’t have that.
Rockpages.gr: Do you turn to Steve Harris for advice since George is his son? Do you have his input?
Jai: He is always going to look out for his son and his band. He always offers to help us and give us advice when we need it. But, he lets us get on and do our songs really. He is not heavily involved. Sometimes it’s hard to break the connection between the Raven Age and Iron Maiden because George and all of us want to be seen us what we can do and not in the shadow of Iron Maiden. But, I think most people get that. Iron Maiden fans are music fans and if they didn’t like the band they wouldn’t have cared. The fact is that the band is good and the music is good. So, that’s the most important thing. Sometimes, if he watches a gig from the side of the stage, or from the sound desk, he’d say “it was a great show lads” that’s great. I mean this is the words of someone who has literally done everything. You couldn’t do it more.
Rockpages.gr: So, let me get you into the typical pub conversation which I am sure you’ve done with your mates before, even before you were in bands… what would you say will happen when all the big bands are over?
Jai: The Raven Age will rise and…
Matt: conquer the world!
Jai: That is a question I’ve heard many times before and I think that it’s a big concern because what happens when Metallica retires, when Maiden retire and all those bands… but, I am an optimist, I genuinely feel at the moment those bands are still doing what they do very very well. It’s not like they are sticking around for the paycheck and not giving justice. A band like Maiden in particular. I’ve seen their show maybe 100 times and they are still world class musicians and they are still the very best at what they do, so that’s the reason why people still pay the money to go see them. It’s not a nostalgia concept. They are still a fantastic band. But, I think when they do call it a day I feel that there are many many good and great bands out there that can easily take up the title or their reign…
Jai: I mean bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Bring Me The Horizon…
Matt: …they are doing that already!
Jai: Avenged Sevenfold headlined Download twice and that’s massive. You’ve always had similar bands headlining festivals, so you’ve got younger bands doing what Iron Maiden or Metallica are doing.
Matt: And there are more… even bands like Killswitch Engage they’ve got a loyal fan base and great music. Metal and rock music is the most loyal genre. Because, it’s not about the image, it’s not about the rubbish that come alongside things like in the pop world. It’s about the music. And I still believe that there are tons of people in the world which is being proved by the thousands of people that we are playing in front every night to show that there are people out there who care about rock and metal music. So as long as these people are still there then it doesn’t matter who is taking up the seat, the throne. The fans will still be there. So, if the fans are still there we’ll be there to play for them.
Rockpages.gr: What would you say that are your influences and favourite bands and how would you say that they show up in Raven Age?
Jai: My favourite band is Avenged Sevenfold and their drummer the Rev is my all-time greatest influence on drumming. He’s passed away now, but when I was younger and I was drumming I was listening to his stuff constantly and tried to replicate what he did. It comes out on my playing according to a few people… “oh, you sound a lot like Rev”, which is pretty cool. There is another band called Old Man’s Web, they are on the heavier side, but their drummer Matt Brown is phenomenal. He plays a bit technical, but it’s a bit groovie at the same time. He’s got lots of feel and he is so powerful.
Matt: I think that the greatest thing about the Raven Age is that we’ve all got different influences that we really go back to. I mean I have an old school background. I love music that comes from the ‘60s and the ‘70s. In terms of vocal style my favorite people are Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin and David Coverdale from Whitesnake and Deep Purple and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Those kind of growly vocalists that have amazing power, amazing range. These guys are real singers for the rock genre. And I kind of extended what they’ve done in rock and brought it over in metal and that’s how it works for me. Those dynamics really really work, it works perfectly I think in the type of music the Raven Age are doing. And I can still give that aggression when it’s needed giving the backbone that all metal songs need. It’s quite unique as well, because – I don’t mean this in the wrong way- in a lot of contemporary metal bands the vocals take a little of the back seat to the instrumental side, which I think it’s wrong. I might be slightly biased, but I think that vocals should be the icing, it’s the cherry on the cake. And if that’s wrong, then the whole thing falls like apart like a house of cards. So, I think we’ve ticked every box from the instrumental side all the way up to the top.
Rockpages.gr: I guess you guys are watching the World Cup and you are watching it…
Matt: Indeed we are, as a matter of fact we are watching England against Tynisia… it’s one all at the moment.
Rockpages.gr: What team would you like Raven Age to be like?
Matt: Oh, I don’t know… that’s a difficult question. We’re like Brazil, Germany, Spain and Portugal with a bit of England!
Rockpages.gr: Who do you think is going to win?
Jai: We’d love England to win it!
Matt: It’s not gonna happen!
Jai: Hahahah! Realistically, I’d go for Brazil, or Spain (Ed, remember that the interview took place on June 18th when the 1st round wasn’t completed yet).
Matt: I think Brazil from the first game. I’ve watched Spain against Portugal and even though it was a tied game I thought that it’s Ronaldo’s world cup. I think when he is on his form, like he seems to be… I don’t know it looks like Portugal can be the dark horse in this World Cup. I don’t know that’s my opinion anyway.
Rockpages.gr: What do you think about England and its failure to achieve something in all those consecutive European and World Cups?
Matt: Well, I’ll tell you what mate, if you know the answer to that question there is a big paycheck for you! Hahaha!
Matt: Too many egos maybe?
Jai: It’s pressure and all those… the divided camp, you never know what’s going on.
Matt: I think that the worse thing is that the English media are so intense when it comes to English football. I feel like it’s such a heavy weight to be put on the players’ shoulders. I feel sometimes that the media instead of getting behind the team they go on top of them. There is so much pressure for England to do well in any football competition. And one thing that I can say, and I don’t know yet, because it’s too early you never know with England, I feel like the manager, Gareth Southgate, brought a quite young and exciting team, it’s different it isn’t standard. He didn’t bring individuals. I’ll tell you what. We’ve done the other thing in the past and it clearly hasn’t worked. So, we needed to do something different. Remember when Germany completely broke the mold and went back to the drawing board with a new team and a new manager came in and said “look, what we do isn’t working so let’s try something off the wall”, and they came back and they won the World Cup and then they won two, or three since then. I think England must do something very drastic and different. It’s a weird thing. It’s an anomaly England football. I can’t tell you what the answer is, if I did I’d be a rich man!