Before they took to the stage to open for Savage Messiah in Glasgow, The Raven Age’s Matt James and George Harris took time to chat to our own Bones. A chance to find out how they’d been getting on since we last talked to them when they were supporting the mighty Anthrax. Can I also, as editor, give Bones a shout out for transcribing this entire interview (and the Savage Messiah one) on her phone because her laptop broke? There’s dedication to the cause!
George: Okay, so me and Dan Wright who was our guitar player and has now morphed into our manager met in about 2009 via our girlfriends, and it turned out that we both played guitar and we were both into metal music and stuff like that. We got on really well, we started to have jamming like once a week just for a laugh and we just got a bit more serious, we started writing some songs. We tried to get a band together and found the rest of the guys and went from there. So that’s how we met. And Matt who is sitting next to me here is our brand new singer, it’s his third gig with us. We knew Matt from his previous band, Wild Lies.
Matt: No it was the Calm Before The Storm gig, just before Sonisphere. We were all playing Sonisphere, and I met you probably before then.
G: Yeah, we knew you before then.
M: But we had never properly met. But the band as a whole, we were all doing a warm up gig which we organized just to get ourselves ready for Sonisphere Festival which was like, the next day or two days later and I did a few gigs with you since then and I ended up joining in, what, January?
G: January, yeah.
M: More or less.
What’s the metal scene like in your area?
M: We’re scattered in and around London. We kind of use London as a hub. People ask and we usually say London which is not technically right but it’s more or less. People probably haven’t even heard of where I’m from, anyway. You know what? I kinda grew up on the pub circuit playing with young rock bands and there’s a lot of great talent out there at the moment. I don’t get out to gigs as much as I used to, I don’t get to see what the new bands are saying in all the different places. But there’s a lot of great bands that I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years on small or big scales. A lot of people complain about the London scene, sometimes.
G: It’s still thriving though.
M: But I’ve never had a bad experience with it.
G: There’s always plenty of gigs to go and see because there’s so many venues in places like Camden.
M: Yeah, Camden is great. Camden is awesome for it.
G: Loads of venues are obviously closing down which doesn’t help, like local ones.
M: The smaller ones, yeah.
G: My local one, The Square in Harlow, closed down which is where I got to at my first ever show so that’s crap, but in general bands are still playing away.
M: The first big venue, literally the same, the first big venue I played (well, it was big to me when I was thirteen or fourteen) was a place called The Nag’s Head. That was a really cool rock bar/pub and loads of big bands have played there like, erm…I think The Sex Pistols played there, and the rumour was that whatshisname…the bass player from The Beatles…Paul McCartney played a gig there. I can’t believe I forgot there. So it’s really historic. It’s a dive, but in a good way. It’s a really cool place with so much history and it just got boarded up and closed down. I think we were one of the last bands to do anything there. We ended up shooting a music video and all the fire alarms went off!
What is the most difficult part of the creative process for you and why?
G: The most difficult part, I find, is coming up with the actual concept for the lyrics, you know. We’re always throwing music together and jamming. We have plenty of ideas and that seems to just flow quite naturally. And it’s the same with vocal melodies, that seems to come quite naturally. It’s just finding the lyrics, which I find the most difficult part in general. Once you get a good solid concept, then you’re kind of away but that’s the most difficult thing sometimes. I’ve done it with songs before where I’m kind of like, “I want to try this out with these lyrics”, write them down and its just like not working. I thought they would sound better.
M: We were talking about this earlier, weren’t we? On the drive down to the venue, we talked about it. I’ve always been like, melody first, get that right and worry about the lyrics and the subject matter later. But when I come round to it sometimes I’m like, oh great. I think I have got better with it over the years but I think the main thing is, what me and George discovered, it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other because if one person has got a great concept and the other person has got a great melody or riff or something, you know, then it kind of alleviates the stress to a degree.
G: I think to have that that spark you have with someone else is great.
M: Yeah exactly, and the whole thing just starts steamrolling.
G: Well it’s pretty easy actually so far. We’ll just see how it goes. We’ll carry on that way.
What do you do to stay inspired and creative during difficult times?
M: Right. I think the main thing with any creative thing is, you know, I play a bit of guitar when I’m writing and stuff like that as well just to come up with ideas and sometimes just taking a break from it, just walking away and doing something completely different, like we all have our little hobbies that we all do. I’m really into my football. So just things that will take your mind off of music for a while and just shut that bit down. Go for a run. Go play some football. Do something like that just so you can take your mind off it and then, when you come back to it you feel fresh. Sometimes that kind of resets the creative juices.
G: I definitely agree with that. Sometimes if you’re fixing yourself to do something creatively, it doesn’t really work. Like sometimes it does but a lot of the time it like I’m just trying to force this out and it doesn’t work so sometimes taking a step back is a good thing.
M: It’s hard sometimes as well because you want it to be right so you think I might as well carry on, but sometimes you’ve just got to take a break.
G: Exactly, yeah.
Most inspiring story from a fan you’ve heard?
G: Inspiring story from a fan?
M: I’ve got a good story from a fan. This was with a previous incarnation of the band. She would love that I mentioned her as well. We had a fan from Brazil, and obviously going out to Brazil and playing is not something we could have regularly done because it’s quite a lot to go to South America. She was desperate to see the band and she was working, I think, as a nurse in a hospital. She saved up for six to eight months to buy a plane ticket to come over to the UK to watch the shows. We were doing some shows and she was there at every gig and she was amazing. We’ve been speaking to her online through messages for years and to actually see her in the flesh, she has done a lot for the band, she created fan pages, it’s really nice to see someone like what you do and who has been supportive over the years and she is really supportive of The Raven Age now and everything the band are doing. It was lovely to see her and meet her. That was nice. That’s dedication.
G: One that kind of shocked me actually, when I saw it, I actually thought it was a fake…it was a fan of ours and she’d actually got a tattoo of our logo. It was our first ever tattoo she got in block writing on her forearm and posted it on Instagram and tagged us in it. I saw it and I thought it was a henna thing, but it said it was her first tattoo and I couldn’t believe it. It was quite a while ago as well. We only just started, early doors with the band and I thought that was real commitment. I was really thrown aback by that.
G: That is a great question. I’m trying to think of who actually inspired me to pick up the guitar. Maybe Slash actually. I just really liked his style of playing.
M: He’s cool.
G: He is cool. He does all these sing along solos.
M: Yeah, me too. You can sing along to his solos, can’t you?
G: What about you? Have you got anything in particular?
M: Yeah. I mean for me, I became really into Aerosmith. From an early age I loved metal music. I was really into it when Slipknot first came out and Linkin Park and all those kind of things. I was never interested in being a singer, with a rock band anyway. It was a thing that made me go, “Wow, I wish I could do that!” Listening to Steven Tyler from Aerosmith with his range of vocals which was absolutely unreal and still, for me, those kind of singers like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, David Coverdale and their kind of range but also that bluesy quality to their voice, that resonated with me more than any other instrument. I was always a singer from an early age in choirs and stuff but that was as far as it went. I never really put two and two together. But when I heard those guys I just thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could sound like these singers?” So I tried for years and years and the first band I was ever in, I played bass as well, funnily enough. I played bass and sang and over the years I felt more confident about my vocal ability and I started going towards the singer/frontman thing.
Guilty pleasure band?
G: Hmm…maybe someone like, some pop artist like Taylor Swift. She just churns out pop hits. I actually quite like the songs. You know what, our drummer is always playing stuff like that. He’s always playing Taylor Swift, so I quite like her now.
M: I really like Lionel Richie. I think Lionel Richie is brilliant and I’m not afraid to admit that.
Do you have any advice for younger musicians who are just starting out, especially for those who don’t have supportive families and friends around them?
M: I think having an outlet for music or for anything creative in general if you are a creative person is almost a form of therapy in a way. I think it can change your life in different ways. You don’t have to be idiots like us and try to make a career out of it, you could just have it for yourself. I think that’s the great thing about music and being an artist in general. I think it’s for you first and foremost, so if you write for you then that’s all you really need. Just working with that and perfect your art and you know, practice makes perfect and everything. Work at it and practice it and if it’s what you really want to do then you’ll get better at it and the sky is the limit after that.