Determination. Dedication. Honor. They are virtues a band must possess in some measure if they want to endure. Yet, these virtues are seldom found today, with the endless turnover of bands in the music industry. If you ask Spoken, however, these words are not just virtues, but mantras. And it is not a coincidence that this band has found a new pinnacle with their new album, ‘Illusion’. After parting ways with previous label home Tooth and Nail shortly after 2007’s self-titled LP, the band has been storing up emotion, building momentum for re-emergence. Now, with a brand new partnership with entertainment conglomerate eOne Entertainment, a new producer, a fresh sound, and a new lineup, Spoken is prepared to eclipse anything they have accomplished previously. ‘Illusion’ is an exercise in aggression and calculated fragility. Laced with testosterone, the album throws down with the elite of metal and hardcore in calculated moments of heaviness. But what makes this record distinctive is not its speedy riffage or it’s pounding beats, but it’s emotional candor. Several of the standout tracks, including the undeniable singles “Through it All” and “Take everything,” dabble more in modern rock than they do in direct assault. Produced by Jasen Rauch (Red), ‘Illusion’ is a concept with which most can relate, as it references disappointment, disappointment, and bitterness. Spoken is confident in this is the hour of their vindication. One must just listen to their new effort to come to similar conclusions. But despite the potential for new plateaus, Baird and his cohorts remain resolved to put motive above stats, honor above potential accolades. Frontman Matt Baird recently sat down with Icon Vs. Icon to discuss the creation of the band’s powerful new album, the hard work that went into it and the struggles they encountered along the way.
I want to go back to your formative years. What are your first memories of music?
Music has been in my life since a way early age. My mom and dad were always listening to music. They would listen to The Bee Gees and The Mommas and The Pappas. My dad loved The Beach Boys, Elvis, Three Dog Night and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They both were always listening to the radio. Occasionally, you could catch my mom singing and she has a really great voice. It is weird she didn’t do anything with it, she never sang. My grandma would pick around on the guitar and play old southern Baptist hymns all the time. It didn’t really sink in, how cool that was, at the time. Now I look back and think “Man, that is the coolest thing ever! My grandmom played guitar!” My dad would always tinker around on stuff and I remember the day he brought home a 1967 Gibson acoustic guitar. He bought it at a yard sale for 20 bucks. He said, “Hey, look what I found at the yard sale today!” I said, “That is awesome!” He showed me the chords to “House of The Rising Sun” and that was what got me playing guitar. I only play enough guitar riffs to be dangerous! [laughs] Through junior high and high school, I was way into Metallica, Testament, Slayer, Megadeth and all of those bands but I wasn’t really playing in bands or anything. I never thought I would be singing in a band! Ever! Stage fright is pretty common for me. Now that this is what I do, I just do it. I can’t let it get in the way of the show. It becomes a situation where I think, “This is what you’ve got to do. Ok. Do it! Done!” Music has always been there for me but I didn’t really do anything with it for a while. As far as Spoken goes, I was 19 years old when I started the band. It was way down the line.
What was it about music that made you pursue it as a career as opposed to following different path?
At first I didn’t even know it was something that could be a career. I always loved music, loved playing guitar and hanging out with friends who played music but I was in community college and working full-time for my uncle doing slave labor, basically. I said, “Man, this is not what I want to do with my life.” I had asked God repeatedly about what I was supposed to be doing with my life. One day, there was something which made me change my tune a little bit and say, “God, what can I do for you?” It was just an awesomely overwhelming feeling. I felt like he wanted me to start a band and tell people he has a plan for their life and there is hope. It was really cool because we were just beating around and playing these songs we had written. We just happened to be at someones party, which they were throwing behind their house, and we just brought our gear. It was crappy gear, too! I sang through a guitar amp! We just had our stuff in the car and said, “Let’s play!” We played the three songs we knew and people had a great reaction! That was the moment when we thought, “Let’s actually do this!”
You had your share of ups and downs through the years. What kept you inspired throughout the years as well as fueled your creative fire?
You know, a lot of it is meeting new bands. Bands that are much younger, amazing musicians and songwriters. It is great when you are at a festival or a show somewhere and you have bands like those on the bill. You stand there and watch them and think, “How did they get so good? I have never heard of this band. Who are they? This is incredible!” There is that but honestly I think it is the combination of many things. For one, the desire is there, the desire to do it. Another thing is I don’t feel like God has said, “Hey, idiot. It’s time to hang it up!” I don’t know, maybe he said that a long time ago! [laughs] We kept going. I know my wife is super supportive. My family is all about it and think it is cool. The band members we have had throughout the years, everyone has been onboard and said, “Let’s do this!” Unfortunately, there are times when people leave the band and move on with their lives but it opens up a new door for that new blood, that fire to continue to be lit and fanned. It has been really cool having the fans who know our music tell us stories about how the music has affected them or that they love our band. That support system is great and makes us think about who else we can be in front of to play a show or hear our music and maybe we can influence their lives too.
Spoken’s latest album is titled “Illusion.” What can you tell us about the concept behind it, how you chose the title and what it means to you?
We worked on this record over the course of two-and-a-half years. A lot of bands, as you know, go into the studio and come out a month later with a record. That is awesome if they can do that! With us, we live in three different states, tour eight months out of the year and we have had some member changes along the way. We have had two-and-a-half years of life to live during the writing process. The first songs we wrote for the record, lyrically, deal with bitterness and confusion. It deals with people who drug us into their lives, their drama and spiderweb of “what is going on with you” type of situation, ya know? When people take up hours upon hours of your time over the course of a year, it gets a little draining. You are confused and think, “Why am I dealing with this?” Hopefully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and all this time spent has been medicinal for these people. Unfortunately, you give people advice because they asked you for it and they don’t like the advice and go in the opposite direction. Those beginning songs are songs about bitterness and being really confused and annoyed.
“Illusion” was one of those first songs, where people think things are going to go a lot differently. I’m not saying it’s the grass is greener on the other side mindset but they have ideas of “this is what is going to happen if I do this. It will work out this way and be great.” I think that is an illusion and things don’t always work out like you have it planned. It is not always better to abandon this relationship to pursue this relationship or to burn bridges, whether it is with a record label, management, booking agents or whoever. It is not always the best thing to burn that bridge completely and walk away and pursue this other thing because that other thing could possibly not work out. Also, there are a lot of bands who come on the scene and think that because they have been a band a year, that within a year they will be extremely successful, have plenty of money and not have to worry about paying their bills. They think that they are a band and some people like their stuff and that they will blow up huge. I think that is also an illusion. People don’t realize how much work it is to be in a band. It is a lot of work! That is where a lot of bands go on their first tour ever and they realize, “I hate this! I can’t do this!” I think it ties into that as well. Luckily, the record went from some of the bitterness and confusion to grace and redemption. It has been a really cool journey over the past two-and-a-half years. A lot of the situations we definitely wish we didn’t have to deal with but we did and I feel like we are a stronger band, stronger individuals and stronger songwriters too.
That leads to my next question. Are you doing anything differently these days when it comes to songwriting?
Yeah, absolutely. When we started working with Jasen Rauch, he is the guy who produced our record, he also helped to breathe new life into our band. He was literally a band member in the this recording process. He got everything that we got. He was like, “I understand what you are trying to do. Here is how we get there. I understand why you want to do this and here is how we get there.” He is just a brilliant songwriter and when it came to, “How do we write a song, why would we do this, how do we do this,” he had a ton of advice on how to do that. He taught us! He taught us so much about songwriting. We had never really looked at things like, “Let’s check out this band and this song and understand why they did what they did.” For example, why they put a certain kind of bridge in a song and why they did it. We referenced Slipknot so much, whether it be their songs that were more radio friendly or the heaviest songs they have. We referenced As I Lay Dying, Underoath and a lot of bands who are great songwriters and we found out why they do certain things. I feel like over the past two-and-a-half years we have learned a lot about ourselves and why bands write the way they do. It is not just, “Oh, that is a cool riff, that is a cool chorus! Let’s use it!” It isn’t a case of just throwing something together. That was a really cool process, not just going to the studio and having the producer trim the fat off of some songs but being able to do that as we wrote the songs. It helped us so much!
What were your expectations for this album when you headed into the studio?
We wanted to do something we hadn’t done before. I was encouraged to do some different vocals that I had never done before, which was a more guttural screaming type thing. I mixed my normal screaming in with it and sorta back-and-forth’d it to make it more diverse. It even sounds heavier. In the same way, we experimented with tunings a little bit more than we had in the past, just to make things beefier. Not so much like, “Hey, let’s make things darker.” But, at the same time, it did make things darker and cooler. We started out writing just to see how it went and released a song called “Daggers” to radio almost two years ago. We really wanted to get something out there because at that point it had been almost four years since we had put out a record. We felt like we had to let people know we were still alive! Not just because of touring, we always tour! We needed to get a new record out because it was important to us and our fans. It was even important for me and my family. I need to get a record out to help myself provide for my family better. Working off the momentum of a record which has been out for four years makes it hard to book shows! [laughs] We had to get things going. There were a lot of different things we did. We went into it consciously trying to write better songs and experiment with things we hadn’t already done. With it being so long since the last release, we couldn’t release another record like we already had. It had to be something ridiculous. When we released “Daggers,” we thought, “This is our best song, we might as well release our best song and put our best foot forward.” In the end, that song isn’t even on the record! That is because we felt like we really outdid it. We worked really, really hard on this album and had a lot of incredible people involved. We co-wrote a couple of songs with a guy named Mark Holman whose brain just goes to Top 40 radio. He is brilliant! This record was also the first time for us dealing with any sort of co-writes. It was great to bounce ideas off someone who was not in the band. It was really cool.
As you mentioned, there were plenty of elements at play while making this record. What do you consider your biggest challenge?
Actually, I think getting the record finished was the biggest challenge just because we would route time in the studio into our tours. We would try to get down to Nashville as often as possible and try to spend a couple of days in the studio to write and record a song to have it to sit on and think about. We could mull it over in our minds over the next couple of weeks before we got back to the studio. I think in the end, I think the finances were also a challenge. We would have to have days off in the middle of the tour and make special trips to Nashville where we weren’t playing shows on the way there or back. We would go to Nashville to work on the album for a few days and then take off on tour. Finances for sure were challenging. There was also the challenge of finding a time when we weren’t busy with how busy we are!
On a personal level, how have you evolved as a musician since you started? Do you ever take time to reflect on your journey so far?
I don’t really think back about the journey of life. There are a lot of things I wish didn’t happen, whether it be a label experience, management experience, booking agents, promoters, band member experiences and even some fans I met over the years I wish I didn’t meet. In all those situations, they have built the character I have now. If I hadn’t gone through those things or dealt with those hard times, I wouldn’t be who I am now. I guess in the end, who I am as a person has far exceeded anything to do with me as a musician. I am in a totally different mindset now. If someone tells you they are going to do this or do that, believe it when you see it. That is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned over the years. Did I have to deal with a bunch of stuff to get to that realization? Absolutely! But it has been the best thing. When it comes to a musicianship standpoint, I have experienced so much with all the different band members we have had. I feel like the players are just getting better. The people who join the band are getting better and better, so it makes it a better band. That puts me in a position where I have to step up my game! I am the oldest member of the band and I am the only original member. I am the only one with a family. It is a fight for me to try and stay relevant. Luckily, I am surrounded by cool people all of the time, so it works out! [laughs]
It sounds like you are in a great place creatively. Should we be surprised to see do another record sooner rather than later?
Absolutely! I actually sent our producer a text message this morning. I was on my way to help someone remodel a house and I was driving. Every time I drive by a certain hospital on the interstate, I pray for everyone in there. It is just something that I started doing six months ago and felt like it was really important. Anyway, I shot our producer a text and said, “Hey, man! I am praying for you and your family.” He responded with, “Hey! What’s going on?!” We chatted back and forth and I told him I was ready to work on a new record and he said, “I am too! For real!” We are definitely going to do it. It is really cool to know that we are all stoked and still in writing mode. It wasn’t that long ago that we finished “Illusion.” We are still in writing mode and are definitely going to be on the ball. I would say by the end of this year, realistically, I think we can have half of a new record written and demo-ed out. We can’t wait as long as we did last time. All of our fans would just abandon us. [laughs]
That leads me to my next question. Seeing as your fans have been patiently waiting for this record, is there anything you want to say to them?
In the end it is simple. Thanks so much for sticking with us. We get several Facebook messages that say, “Hey, glad to see you guys are back!” It is kinda weird to read that because you wonder if they think that we broke up for the past five years or on hiatus. We are always on tour. You try to not look too much into that, ” … glad you guys are back,” because we didn’t go anywhere. We have been there. For those who have followed us and kept up with everything we have been up to, thank you so much for even caring about what we are doing. We don’t take it lightly that people listen to our band, purchase our stuff and come to our shows. We never will take it lightly! If we ever take it for granted, we need to quit. Thanks so much to everyone who supports us! Thank you for doing this interview. We never take anything for granted. We are very fortunate to be a band after almost 17 years and to be involved with a new record label and having management on board like they are and the record that we have, it is awesome! So great!
I definitely find you very inspiring and dedicated. I really appreciate your time and we look forward to spreading the word!
Thanks so much! I really appreciate and I will talk to you soon!
Spoken’s new album, ‘Illusion’, is now available online and in stores. Get all the latest updates on the band at www.spokenmusic.com.