With new album – and the first to be released internationally – Wake out on October 2nd, I managed to break For Today vocalist Mattie out of a rehearsal session for a quick chin-wag. This resulted in a very deep, open and honest discussion about more than just the band’s music. Mattie hides nothing about his past issues with depression and suicide, and offers some great words of reflection and advice.
As a band, you’ve been going for about a decade now?
Yeah. I’ve been in the band for eight years, but For Today started in 2005.
You’re fairly unheard of on these shores – as yet! How would you describe the music you play?
If people ask me, I just tend to say we’re a metal band to keep it simple. If we’re to get technical, I guess we’re a metalcore band.
And what’s the line-up these days?
We’ve got four band members. Myself on vocals, Brandon and Ryan Leitru playing guitar and Dave Pucket on Drums. We’ve got a fill-in bassist at the moment called Jim Hughes, but he’s not a permanent member as of… yet!
Do you have any plans to keep him in the band?
We don’t have any plans to ask him to leave! At this point the four of us have handled all the writing for years now, so it’s easy just to keep the four of us in the band. That way we don’t have to worry about all the legal issues of adding somebody else to the company and if if he leaves, taking him off. It’s easier to just have the four band members and another guy who just plays with us!
Where are you guys from?
We’re from all around the country. We live in separate sides of the United States.
How did you all meet? I assume the two brothers have known each other for some time…?
Brandon and Ryan have known each other most of their lives, I think! When I joined the band, they were just a local band – just getting started. They were about to start touring full time and I was in another band. Their vocalist quit because he didn’t want to tour full time. He was planning on staying at home and getting married. I’d heard about this band, my band wasn’t touring and I knew I wanted to get on the road, so I wrote to them on MySpace if that tells you how long ago it was!
Our drummer now… we toured with his band probably six or seven years ago. He was in a band called The Crimson Armada. When our then-drummer quit, we remembered David. His band had broken up and he was just hanging out, so we called him and told him we’d love to have him as part of the group.
Your first couple of albums are very obviously Christian in terms of the titles, track names and so forth. Is that focus still continued throughout Wake?
To be honest, I think when I was younger I think I was writing – in a large way – out of insecurity. I felt like I had to prove myself to everybody. LOOK HOW CHRISTIAN I AM! I was writing all these lyrics to prove to everybody that I believed what I said I believed in. In secret I felt like such a hypocrite. I was being so loud about it to try to compensate for that.
I love God today more than I ever have before. I’m not ashamed of my faith and I love any opportunity to talk about it, but I don’t feel like I need to compensate any more. It’s who I am. It does define how I do everything in my life, but this album was written less thinking “what do I want people to think about me?” and more of coming from a place where we could serve our fans. I think the thing that has inspired me the most on this album are the people who follow our band.
I go to these shows every night in a different city and we see people who are dealing with the same issues. Issues like suicide or depression or addiction, rejection and abandonment. Those are thing that I have faced in one sense or another. I remember spending years of my life planning my own suicide, about how I would do it. I remember being put onto medication to treat my depression. I remember when the people who were supposed to love me the most betrayed me and abandoned me, and feeling like… how do I express the anger that’s inside of me? The frustration and the confusion… the desperation?
So I wrote this album, less to prove that I’m spiritual or whatever and more thinking “how can I help people?”. I want to help people. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. This album was built around giving the words to express being in a difficult place to our fans, so hopefully as they sing these songs they find the courage to face some of the things that are going on in their hearts. Maybe they’ll find some hope, some peace through that.
The theme of depression and mental illness in general is becoming something that’s more openly discussed these days. What advice would you give someone suffering from something like this, speaking from your own experiences?
I would say hang on. Just keep fighting and hang on. So many people want to give such complicated advice, but there were a few times in my life where I was very close to taking my own life. I managed to hang on, or maybe it was because I was too scared to go through with it, or maybe because I thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Just the other day I was sitting on my back porch watching my wife play on the swing set with my two little boys, and I was thinking about that time in my life and feeling so grateful that I didn’t end it then because it’s gotten so much better. I’ve found my place, I’ve found my purpose and I think before anything else my message to anyone who finds themselves struggling with depression is “hang on”. Get the help that you need to make it one more day. If you can hang on until tomorrow, then you just have to hang on for one more day after that. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I promise that one day you’ll look back and you won’t even remember what it felt like to be that close to ending it all.
That’s excellent advice. Going back to the band, it was named before you joined?
Yeah. And in honesty I wasn’t crazy on the name, but there was no point in changing it by then!
I gather it was picked as a name just because it was “cool”. Have you tried to reinvent it from a Christian perspective?
Not just the Christian perspective. We’ve tried to give it a positive spin and say that tomorrow is not guaranteed so we have to live “For Today”. Make today count. Make today memorable and special. I don’t think you need to be a Christian to subscribe to that philosophy!
The band was also named when only one member was Christian and you’re now a 100% Christian act. Would it be considered a pre-requisite for joining the band now?
I wouldn’t say you have to be a Christian to be in the band, more that for any two people to work together for a common cause it really helps that they have a similar foundation or perspective for life. Whether that relationship is a marriage or a business relationship or a band relationship it really helps. If you can choose the people you do life together with, it helps if they have a similar world view. I think it’s a smart thing to do that we have a bunch of guys that value the scriptures and who take their faith very seriously so we don’t have three or four guys who are trying to live their lives one way and one who’s trying to do something completely different. I’m sure you can imagine the frustration or friction that could cause.
Do you mind if I ask a little about Mike who left the band a couple of years back?
I know it’s old ground so I don’t want to cover his departure with you [guitarist Mike Reynolds left after posting “No such thing as a gay Christian” on Twitter – Mosh] but something that you did in response to that. You posted your own phone number in a YouTube video as part of an apology from the band. Did anyone actually call you?
Oh, yeah! I got like 6000 calls and texts within the first 48 hours. It was constant. All through the night and day for about a week. All I did was answer phone calls. To be honest we had varying responses. We had Christian people calling me outraged that I apologised, and I had Christian people calling saying that it was really cool that we were stepping out in the name of love. Loving and serving this people group who often get alienated. I had gay, lesbian and transgender people calling me and telling me about the hardships they’d faced and confiding in me about that… an everything in between.
It was a really cool experience for me to get to hear the real stories behind these issues that some people try to make so black and white. It’s really easy to post a tweet about an issue, but when you’re in a conversation with a person and you hear the pain in their voice and hear their desperation for help, or to just find a place in the world where they can fit in it becomes a lot less simple. Then things like compassion, patience and love come into play in big measures. I wasn’t yelling or preaching at anybody when they called, I was just listening to people and hearing them out.
And I assume you’ve changed your phone number since then?
Yeah, I did!
Sticking roughly to this topic, what’s your take on the current story about Kim Davis – the Kentucky County Clerk who’s refusing to give out marriage licenses to same-sex couples?
I think there is some confusion in the States about what the role of government really is. Our government’s role is not to lead the people, but to serve the people – we call them “public servants”. Especially elected officials. Their job is not to do what they feel is right or best, their job is to represent the will of the people. Whether you’re the President or whether you’re the county clerk, your job is to represent the wishes of your constituents.
Now as the government has established a pretty clear rule on what public opinion is on gay marriage, public servants have to honour that. If that’s not something that someone wants to do, then that’s also fine – more power to them – but they have to understand… that’s their job description. If I was sitting down to have a conversation with her, I’d say “I love you, but while you probably like this job, your job in a political office is to represent the wishes of your constituents, to keep your opinion out of it as much as you can.”
That’s why I have no plans to run for public office. I want to be able to do what I feel is right! Even if what I feel is right is in opposition to what the masses feel is right, I want to be able to represent that instead fo putting my moral compass on a shelf to serve and represent the people. The idea of being in political office is pretty scary!
In case you missed the news with being in your rehearsal studio, she’s been jailed…
She’s been put in jail?! Holy cow! Woah. Brutal. It’s getting tense here, man.
Let’s move onto music! I’m sure people want to know about the new album. How does Wake compare to your previous albums in terms of the music?
This album is by far the most intense, darkest and aggressive album we’ve done. Both lyrically and musically, it’s very different from anything we’ve ever done before. I feel with the last couple of albums we had a formula or a system that we would stick to, perhaps a little too much, but for this album we intentionally went in with the thought to just throw that out the window. Forget the expectations about what we’re supposed to do, let’s just write what’s in our hearts. This album turned out a lot different.
Are there any plans to tour on this album, particularly in Europe now that you’re with Nuclear Blast?
We’re working on it. We’ve got stuff locked in in North America and we’re working really hard to get out in to Europe at the beginning of next year. That’s not 100% confirmed right now, but looking very possible.
You’ve toured extensively in North America and you featured on the 2012 Warped tour – the first time it reached the UK. Did you make it onto that date?
We didn’t, which was really disappointing.
Have you played in the UK at all before?
Yeah, we’ve played at The Underground in London a few times. It was a long time ago, but we’ve played in a bunch of places. We played in Wales, Nottingham… We’ve been around Europe and the UK three or four times now.
Can we hope to see you take that big step up over here now that you have Nuclear Blast on your side?
We certainly hope so! We love getting out to Europe. It’s beautiful and the people are awesome. Hopefully we’ll get a little more traction out there now.
You seem to churn out albums at an incredible rate – six albums in ten years in an era where many band do a single one every three to five years. Do you find churning material out this quickly easy or a challenge?
We just get bored playing songs so quickly! We’re already talking about what we want to do for the next album and this one’s not even out yet! Maybe it’s because Americans have short attention spans. We’ve not actually written anything, but we’ve been talking about ideas.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had at a gig or on tour so far?
About two years ago, we played a show in a city in Texas and all of our gear got stolen. We stayed in a hotel and came out to find out van, trailer, guitars, drums, merch, computers, everything had been stolen. We were in the middle of a tour. What do you do? Someone just stole $180,000 worth of gear. Sound boards, lighting gear…
Well you go on tour to play shows. So let’s play a show. We hired cars and drove over to Houston and just borrow gear from all the other bands. We played in this massive venue with a huge stage with no backdrop, no merchandise and no lights… We played on borrowed guitars with borrowed guitar picks, borrowed drums and drumsticks and everything! They took our clothes so we were playing in our regular street clothes.
But we went out and played in front of 1200 kids who’d turned up for the show and people were wonderful. Some waited around for an hour after the concert to just hug us and thank us for making it to the show. People were giving us money to buy new gear. It was a really surreal and powerful experience. To see and feel that music isn’t in the t-shirts you sell, the lighting or production you bring with you, or the backdrop. The music is what’s inside us. It’s the sound that we have and the performance that we’re able to put on. No matter what gear we’re using or how cool or lame we look while we’re using it. That was a really cool time.
One last question. Thinking back eight years to when you first joined the band and you were ready to start going out touring. If you could meet another band who are today in that same position, what advice would you give them?
That’s easy. I would say to them, “Never become in real life who you pretend to be on stage.” Everybody who gets on stage has a persona that they put on. When I’m on stage I look angry, and crazy and intense. Other guys get on stage and look artistic and emotional. Some look crazy and violent. Everybody has this thing they put on because they’re performers.
The scariest thing is when you meet somebody who has become off-stage who they pretend to be on-stage. Because of this they’re nearly socially dysfunctional. They’re unable to hold a normal conversation or engage with anyone because they’ve bought into their own hype. It’s a sad, strange thing to see but it’s easy to get into that position.
You have to be intentional about surrounding yourself with people who don’t care about how many albums you sold last week or how many headlining shows you sold out. You have to be around people who love you for you and they want to see you remain you – for real!