Over the last seventeen years, Spoken has worked their way to fan-favorite status. Despite a heavy touring schedule, the last five years has been something of a drought for Spoken fans… a drought that is at its end. With the release of Illusion looming, I chatted with Matt Baird about the concept behind their powerhouse return to the spotlight.
Lee: First off, let’s talk about the new album. The title of the album is Illusion. Do you want to talk about the concept behind this one?
Matt: Our record ended up being sort of a concept album without it being planned that way. We wrote songs about life, about situations that some people deal with, whether we’ve dealt with them or some of the fans around us or family members… anyway, at the beginning of the writing process… There were some people who drug my wife and I into some stuff that was going on in their lives. You know, marital stuff. They wanted advice and counsel and we gave many many hours of our lives in giving advice to them. Whether it was Biblical advice or just common sense advice or things that we might have learned how to deal with in our own marriage, or whatever. Then, they went in the exact opposite direction. The marriages that we were dealing with both ended and things were just really crazy. So we were like, wait a second, why do you ask for advice and then go the complete opposite direction? I don’t understand that.
Anyway, the first songs written for the record were from that. They’re songs dealing with bitterness and how to get past that confusion. “Illusion” was one of those tunes. One of the phrases is, “What happened to you?” Basically, it was this person I knew pretty well and then they ended up being someone that I didn’t know anymore. That’s where that song spawned from. “Illusion” is basically like, in those situations in life some things are not what they seemed. You know, it’s an illusion how we think, “Oh, this is how it’s going to be.”
We could even look at it, in many situations, in how bands view touring. They’re like, “Oh, I’m going to start a band. I’m going to go on the road. I’m going to be successful.” But, you know what, straight up, none of us know how things are going to go. We’re all just lucky to be able to play music. Don’t set a timeline on things and be like, “Oh, once we’ve toured for four years we’ll be on a bus. Or, once we’ve toured for this long we’ll be making this much money.” To me, that’s an illusion too, because it’s just not that way.
Anyway, the record spawned songs of confusion and bitterness and then came on through to songs that now deal with grace and redemption. I mean it’s been a journey for myself from the lyrical standpoint, on the whole thing. Where I was emotionally, mentally, in my heart two years ago when we started writing to where we are now. Because in the end, I’ve never thought I had control, but I’ve been proven time and time again that I don’t have control. It’s all about what God has planned in our lives. So, if we’re trying to be obedient to Him, grace covers everything. So that’s where we went from bitterness and confusion to grace and redemption. That’s the record right there.
Lee: I was actually going to ask you about that. When writing the review, I picked up on the theme of marriage and/or relationships and then the relationship with God…
Matt: Yeah. When you’re writing down all your thoughts and emotions and whatever… it’s just cool to see that journey. But, I’m glad that our songs ended up dealing with grace instead of our whole record being just about confusion. Being confused by human beings. And, that’s the thing, any time you’re dealing with people things are going to be a little difficult. Things are going to be a little hard to understand. They’re going to end differently than you think they should. So, again, it’s like we just roll through life and we deal with it. We face circumstances and we just do whatever it takes to make it thought it. It’s the same thing with Spoken, with us being a band for seventeen years. We’ve had plenty of reasons to quit over the years, other than, God isn’t done yet. He hasn’t said, “Hey, you know what guys, seriously, quit beating your head against the wall and just be done.” You know? Someday, He’ll be like, “Thank you for what you’ve done but put it to rest.” And, cool. When that happens, I’ll do something else for Him. I’ll do something else dealing with music.
Lee: So, our readers are always asking about the messages behind the songs. I don’t want to take the whole interview going track by track so I selected just a few to highlight. So, in the context of what you’ve already talked about, if you want to address the tracks “Shadow Over Me,” “Accuser,” and “Remember the Day.”
Matt: Yeah. I’ll probably start with “Shadow Over Me.” You know, it’s kind of crazy. Some people have asked me about that song before and I’ve talked about the deep meaning behind it and stuff, but… I feel like, there’s something following us around all the time. Even if you don’t look into it as some deep spiritual situation or are like, “are you talking about demons?” I’m talking about darkness. I’m talking about evil. There’s something that is lurking behind us at all times. In my specific situation, my wife and I were at Cornerstone Festival one year and we walked up on this tent where someone… they were saying that someone was possessed. They had been demon possessed or something… and we were like, “Wait. What’s going on?”
Anyway, that stuck with us. We really had a hard time shaking that. For whatever reason we were able to walk right up to the tent and right into the tent… one of the big tents where bands play… and we noticed that everyone was lined on the outside of this tent. We walked up and were like, “What is going on?” Because, we were looking for someone that was supposed to ride with us back to the hotel. And they were late, so we were thinking that maybe they got hurt or… anyway, we walk up and there’s this woman lying on the ground and there are people around her that are trying to comfort her. People were saying, “Someone is possessed” We hadn’t ever had that much experience with that. We dealt with some pretty heavy spiritual warfare for a year after that. Dealing with stuff from me being gone all the time and my wife being home alone. There was this one night where I was in this parking lot in Ohio. The show was over and it was like 2 A.M. and I was standing in this dark parking lot and I felt like something was standing over me. I felt like something was behind me. And I turned and looked really fast. My heart was racing and I was like, “what is going on?”
My wife and I were having a conversation about that night, a year ago, at Cornerstone Festival and wondering whatever happened to that person. She just happened to be having a tough night at home dealing with fear and that night I was really frustrated. I was frustrated with God. I was frustrated with the devil. I was frustrated with the situation. I stood there in that parking lot, and I said out loud, “God, if you’re not going to do something about this, I am. I don’t understand.” And so I said out loud, “satan, if you’re there., show yourself. Be a man. Quit being a coward. Show up, right now. Mess with me, don’t mess with my family.” And, nothing happened. Which, I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened, but we haven’t dealt with that since. That’s probably been, realistically three maybe four years ago, and there hasn’t been any kind of issues since. So, “Shadow Over Me,” is a song of frustration, but it is a real situation that I dealt with. A lot of people that I talk with have no clue that that has gone on in our lives, but it drew my wife and I so much closer together. And, it brought a new dependence on God that we hadn’t experienced before, together.
“Accuser…” I actually recorded the vocals of that song while I had The Passion of the Christ playing on my laptop. Some of the lyrics, “moving through the crowd so slowly, out to devour the world,” is just when satan was moving through the back of the crowd while Jesus was carrying the cross. It struck me. The first time I saw that movie, it struck me that he’s always there. He’s always right there just lurking and creeping. How unfair to so many people that aren’t strong enough to deal with certain situations. But, that’s “Accuser,” straight up. It all came from… the lyrics are loosely based on even those scenes in “Passion of the Christ.” That movie blew my mind.
“Remember the Day” is just another where, you know, wanting people to realize… What was the point?… Do they remember the day when they gave their life away? When did they turn? Where they turned away from the light, good, God, their spouse, or their calling. That’s just what that song is. It’s like, do you remember when it was? Well, what are you going to do about it now? Can you fix it? Can you move forward? That’s another song that’s looking ahead to the future and not so much dwelling on the past. That’s the great thing about this record. We’ve been on a journey as a band during this writing process. My wife and I have been on a journey. My wife and my children and I have been on a journey. My wife and I have been married over ten years, we have a six year old son named Jackson and a year-and-a-half old son named Hudson. People don’t get it. People don’t know what it’s like to have a family and yet tour eight months out of the year. I can’t expect them to understand it, but it is a whole… I don’t know… God wouldn’t have this in our hands if we weren’t able to make it through it. It’s a daily time to say, “Alright God, how do we do this? What are we doing? Let’s make it happen?” Because, that’s the whole thing. I want to be obedient to God with my life, not just my band.
My band isn’t my ministry. My whole life is my ministry. I think that’s another thing where a lot of us get confused. It’s like; “My ministry is in the Church. My ministry is in the band. My ministry is when I play in the worship band. My ministry is prison ministry.” No. Anything that is involved around your life that you’re involved in, that’s your ministry. That’s been a whole new thing that I’ve learned even more in the past few years. Everything that I do… walking into a gas station has an opportunity, or working a job, or talking to some random person I’ve never talked to on the phone before… It’s an opportunity. And I don’t want to waste those.
Lee: With the long hiatus between albums, are there any particular songs that you’re most excited for your fans to finally get to hear?
Matt: You know what, we’ve been playing some of the songs live for almost the past year. So, a lot of the songs people have heard. A lot of people have the digital download of the record already that backed us on Kickstarter… Truly, people have asked us “what’s your favorite,” and I don’t know. I don’t know what my favorite is. I know that “Calm the Storm” is one of those songs. It’s about calming the heart. Giving us peace. It’s another tune where it’s just really… I don’t know the bridge of that song just moves me. But, then I love the aggression behind “Stand Alone.” And I love how aggressive “Beneath the Surface” is. I love how melodic “More than You Know,” or “Tonight,” or “Take Everything…” There’s just a lot of elements to each song that I’m excited about people hearing. Some of it is just the heaviest stuff we’ve ever done, and yet, some of them are probably more radio accessible than we’ve ever had. I don’t know. It’s been really cool to make the record and try to make a cohesive record where you’ve got songs like “Stand Alone” and a song like “Calm the Storm” on the same record. It’s like, “Uh, those are polar opposites.” I guess I’m just excited for a person to sit down with it and listen all the way through and form their opinion on how they feel about it. And, hopefully people are like, “sweet, it was worth the wait.”
Lee: Hey, that’s actually the final line of my review. “It was worth the wait.”
Matt: Dude, that’s awesome. It’s just been one of those things. We’ve had member changes. We’ve had to figure out what we were doing as far as the label goes. We were like, “alright we’re going to do a KickStarter, but then are we going to release it on our own? Are we going to do this indie? What are we doing?” In our case, we got lucky and E-One came alongside. Management tracked them down and we see eye to eye on everything that we’re doing. And, it’s been amazing to have everything set up properly. It’s been amazing to do so many radio interviews and e-mail interviews… even in this last week, in preparation for the record. We’ve easily done six times more interviews on this record so far than we have all of our other records. The fact that people want to do interviews and want to know what’s going on…
Lee: Over the years, say from On Your Feet to now, how would you say your writing style has evolved and grown through the years?
Matt: I think that we’ve actually learned how to write songs, instead of being a bunch of teenagers who wanted to play music and loved certain bands and wanted to write songs like certain bands. Now it’s like, we have to have our own sound, because we have been a band for so long. People have an expectation of a band growing and becoming better song writers, better performers, better at their instruments, better at dealing with people. That’s stuff that needs to happen and should happen. This record, truly, we’ve learned so much about song writing and song structure and why people write songs the way they do. Using less words to say more. It’s the same thing as when we worked on records with Travis Wyrick with Last Chance to Breathe and the self-titled. We learned a ton. What are we doing? How do we do this? Why do we do structures the way we do? It was the same jump as when we worked with Garth Richardson on A Moment of Imperfect Clarity. We had never been produced before. We’d never had someone say, “Yeah, this part doesn’t work. This part isn’t good.” We were like, “What?”
All the other times, it’s been like just push record and go because of the timeframe. We just didn’t have timeframe. We were really pushed and really stretched on Illusion. Jason Rausch is a gift to music, man. He’s one of our best friends. He just has a grasp on songwriting. He knows what he’s doing. You can show him a vocal idea and in his mind, he can already hear the song completed. He just doesn’t let you know until you struggle through and you actually write the song. He’s a freak show. The dude is just so talented it’s crazy. He was like a band member on this record. That’s what I love about it. He had more invested in it than being like, “yeah, this is cool.” He’d be like, “What about that? What about this?” And we were just like, “Yes!” Working with Jason Rausch was the best thing possible.
Lee: So you started to cover two things I was going to mention in a minute. We polled our readership and the two main things that kept coming back were; “What happened to Tooth and Nail?” and “What brought about working with different members in the band itself?”
Matt: With Tooth and Nail, we fulfilled our contract. We did three albums on Tooth and Nail. We were done with our deal. We looked at it as… we did three albums with Metro One Records, which was the first label we signed to. So, On Your Feet, What Remains, and Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell. We left that deal early, which was another great thing. We almost signed to Gotee at that point. But, then we felt that Tooth and Nail was probably the better home. We talked to Gotee and Tooth and Nail for about a year. Then we were like, “Tooth and Nail is the one.” That was the one that made the most sense with where we were in our career.
So we did our three albums there and got to the end and they pointed out that this was our last record and asked us if we wanted to renegotiate or what, and I was like, “You know, let’s just see what happens next… Let’s do three albums on T&N and see what comes along next.” We didn’t expect that it would be five years before we got into another deal. But that’s when everything with the record industry just took a nose dive and nobody was signing bands. They wanted the next new thing and the next ground-breaking thing… labels weren’t really looking at bands that had history. They were thinking that “they already had their time, let’s just find something new.” And with us, we still felt like we had something to offer. For one, we were riding on the best batch of songs we’d ever written, just because we were learning what we were doing.
So, let’s do this, no matter what. Even if we’re on our own, let’s just do this. So, anyway, Aaron Manes over at E-one started hearing some of our new stuff and loved it. He said, “I love what your band has done. I love what you’ve done without label support. How you’ve continued to tour non-stop, and just work. You have history. You have potential.” One of the things our manager has always told us is that he doesn’t work with us because of the band that we’ve been, but what we could become. We weren’t sure how to take that, but right now we know exactly what he’s talking about. It makes so much more sense to us now. He stuck with us for the past few years when we haven’t really had a lot going for us as far as a record being done or promotion behind us, but he knew how hard we were willing to work. It’s really cool now that he has an album to be able to do stuff with. It’s great that E-One is super-stoked on what we’re doing and what we’ve done, and that we have a fan base that is the most loyal fan-base out of any band.
I don’t care what any other band says, our fan base is the most loyal. They’ve proven time and time and time again. That’s the whole thing with the timeframe in-between. When it comes to the member situation, it’s just… you know, band members have their own reasons for leaving a lot of times that are never heard about. Sometimes there’s just not a big reason it’s just, “you know, I don’t want to tour anymore.” Sometimes someone gets married and has a kid and it’s like, “Hey, I need to do this.” And of course, they need to do that. Sometimes it’s stuff where it’s just time. It’s time for them to do something else. And those aren’t easy conversations, but we made the decision when we first started the band when we first started the band to do it right. We will do this with integrity. We will do this to the best of our ability. Sometimes band members decide to leave, sometimes they’re asked to leave.
Either way, I’m stoked on the dudes who are in the band right now. Oliver, our drummer, has been with us for six years. Pei, our bass player, has been with us for three years. And, right now we’re kind of in between permanent guitar players, but we’ve got a guy who’s great. He’s been with us for ten months and who knows. We’ll see what’s next for his involvement in the band. Either way, he’s a great dude.
Lee: We’ve got a few reader questions if you’ve still got time for them?
Matt: Yeah, dude.
Lee: One of the questions was on the song “Dagger.” Of course, you released the song earlier, but it didn’t make it into the album. Was there any thoughts about including or not including that track?
Matt: In the first place, with that being the first song that was released and that being so long ago, we just thought, you know what, it’s had it’s time. It’s been out over a year and a half. We felt like we had one-up’d that song. It was one of the first songs we had completed and we felt like we were getting songs together that were getting a better point across or we felt better about. It might end up on something later on. It was kind of obvious to us that… let’s just not worry about putting it on there. We’ve got these other twelve tracks, let’s just stick with these.
Lee: You’ve also recently worked with Brian “Head” Welch from Love and Death. Any chance we’ll see more collaborations on other people’s albums or on your own albums in the future with more guys like that?
Matt: I hope so. It was cool. When our producer said that Brian wanted me to record some screams on this cover song he’s doing… he was like, “Are you interested?” And… Yeah of course, but are you serious? I just didn’t think he was serious. But, he was like, “No, Brian asked about it.” I kind of put it off, but then I ran into Brian at a show we were doing in Nashville and he asked, “Hey, are you going to do vocals on that song?” And, I was like, “You were serious.” He said, “yeah, it would be great.” So, I recorded some screaming stuff at like eight in the morning before we took off on an all day drive and it ended up being on the record. I guess I’m still shocked that it actually happened. He was in a band that I’d listened to for years and so, it was cool. It was one of those honored situations that I was shocked by.
Lee: Are there any particular bands that are out there that, given the chance, you’d love to guest for or have guest on a Spoken album?
Matt: I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. I guess if bands were to ask me to do it and it made sense, and I wasn’t going to get in trouble I’d do it. But, I haven’t really thought about who it would be cool to have sing on a record. I guess I’ll be thinking about that now, but…
Lee: What happened to the early Metro One recordings? Do you still own the rights? Any chance for re-releases?
Matt: You know what’s crazy, my wife and I bought those masters a few years ago. So we have On Your Feet, What Remains, and Echoes… in a shoebox in a closet at home. But, there is no plans to do anything with them in the immediate future. Let me put it that way.
Lee: Sad. I actually came in on …What Remains, so anything after that is my heyday with Spoken, but On Your Feet is a great album.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, for people who are fans of Rage Against the Machine and 311, you know.
Lee: You were once nominated for a Dove Award for your song “I Won’t Lie Down,” which was actually a cover of the Face to Face song of the same title, but somehow that nomination disappeared. What was the reason for the Dove Award Nomination (back then) and were people/academy members really that clueless as to the Face to Face connection?
Matt: You know, I have no clue. We like that song. We liked the band Face to Face, so we thought, “Why don’t we do a cover song?” Let’s do one that’s sort of a punk/melodic rock. I don’t think anyone who nominated that… I don’t think that they knew that it was a cover. The guys at Metro One knew, but I don’t think that anyone else did. But, it just got lost in the shuffle and I don’t think that anyone did anything with it.
Lee: Any chance you’ll be playing some classics from Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell, A Moment of Imperfect Clarity, Last Chance to Breathe, and Self Titled, live in concert?
You know, we try to do some older songs when we go to Europe. For a little while we’ll be playing all new stuff for promotion of the record. I mean, I do acoustic versions of some songs off Last Chance to Breathe and …Clarity occasionally with a really rough, just not good version of something off Echoes… at acoustic shows and stuff.
Lee: Is there any chance you’ll release acoustic versions to the public?
Matt: I mean, maybe. I think that could be cool if it were done right. But, right now everyone can find stuff all over YouTube of me doing acoustic songs. With it taking us five years to get a Spoken record done, I don’t foresee us having time to get an acoustic record done and done well.
Lee: Any chance for a reunion with your former guitarist/songwriter, Jeff Cunningham?
Matt: No. I don’t think so. I mean we talk, we text, we e-mail. I see him anytime we go to Nashville, but he’s got plenty of stuff going now and we have people lined up to play from now until whenever. I haven’t even thought of that. I know that Disciple did something recently where they did a full-band reunion show in Europe, but I think… I can’t imagine how maybe potentially awkward that may be with it being so long and having new band members and such. I’m not going to do that to the band members I have now.
Lee: Any chance to see Cory Brandan back to do guest vocals again?
Matt: Maybe. I mean, I don’t know. I think it would be cool to do a run with them at some point. He’s only done it live with us one time. I think it’s something cool when bands work with other bands and you have a guest appearance… and so, I think it would be cool to work with him or anybody that their fans might like what they did on one of our songs and therefore made them listen to our stuff. That’d be cool.
Lee: What tours do you have planned for this year and with what bands (if you can share)?
We’re doing a week-long CD release tour the week the album comes out and we’re going to take a brand new band called Rest out with us. We are Rest is their website. Wearerest.com
. It’s a new band, so I don’t think anybody is going to know them, but they sound good. They seem like nice guys, so we’re excited about that. In March we’re going out with a band called Volbeat from Europe and a band called Danko Jones from Canada. So we’ll be out with them all of March. We’re looking at options for the summer.
Lee: I always end with a silly question, who’s better, Batman or Superman?
Matt: Let me ask my son that one. Jackson, who’s better, Batman or Superman?
Jackson: Probably Batman, because he has more gadgets and stuff. (Talks more, but I can’t distinguish)
Matt: Can you hear him?
Lee: Only a little bit.
Matt: Batman, because he has more gadgets.
You can check out our review of Spoken’s album Illusion here. Be sure to check back over the next several days as we prepare for “Spoken week.”