Very rarely is any one man band worth your attention. To write and play everything on an album is no easy feat as the musician is usually competent in one or maybe even two or three departments but is lacking in the rest. Matt Smith's Theocracy however, broke the rules of one man band failage and delivered, to this journalists ears, the best album of 2003.
You already read my review of Theocracy so you know what I think of the album, but what has the reaction from other people been to the cd?
It’s actually been very good, a little better than what I was expecting so I’m very happy. Pretty steady from what I’ve seen, and people are still talking about it a good bit. I’m still getting a lot of traffic from your review so that’s awesome. I really couldn’t ask for much more. I knew there were people that were waiting for the album so I knew already that a few people would appreciate it but I wasn’t expecting that people would really give it full attention because it isn’t a singles album with one or two hit tracks. The whole thing is equally strong, that’s what my whole goal was. People are really digging it and I was afraid at first that they would think it would start off strong and then kind of die. Most of the magazine review copies are about to go out so their reviews haven’t run yet and so far all the buzz has been from the internet. I got an email from Rock Hard in Germany and they really like it and want to put a track on their monthly cd sampler, that’s really cool too.
I’ve been waiting for this album for a very long time myself ever since hearing The Serpent’s Kiss on the Prog Power III sampler in 2002. What took so long for the album to be released since that song was on the sampler?
There was still a lot to be done at that point and we ended up having several delays as well. The first delay was one of the backup discs cracked in half so I had to redo a whole lot of that song. There was some other stuff here and there but that was the biggest disaster, the other situations were just things like I ended up taking longer than planned. The title track was not originally planned to be on there, there was supposed to be just one less song but I wanted that to be on there cos I like the idea of having title tracks and I like having a song on there that explains a little bit the name of the band so I don’t have to go through every interview and explain how I don’t want to force religion and all that crap, so when I decided to add that it kicked things back some more. When the album finally came out I was just very happy.
I’m glad you decided to tack on Theocracy, especially the last five seconds of the choir vocals. A lot of people that I play this album to are surprised that this is a one man band and you did everything, but in the liner notes you thank members of Theocracy in the past so I’m just wondering how this ended up being a one man band.
As far as a lineup there was never a real serious thing. It was just me and my friend Richard who was a bass player. We grew up together and went to church together so we just started jamming and writing songs at his place or wherever. We played a few shows with different drummers as a three piece and he eventually moved to go to college. At the time we had a Spinal Tap situation with the drummers they had a way of vanishing. One guy, Isaac told us that one day he was gonna find a job and he moved to Atlanta and never heard from him again. His email wasn’t working and so I called his place and his roommates had no idea where he was so that was kinda weird. I got some people to play shows here and there, a real casual kind of thing, not really a lineup. It wasn’t that much of a change mainly just Richard and that guy.
How strenuous was it to record everything by yourself, especially the choir and vocal tracks?
That part wasn’t too hard really. Well, recording everything myself was pretty hard but the actual vocals took awhile at first but I did them so much that I got to the point where I could fly through them. Also, Harmon, my webmaster, and webmaster for Edguy and Avantasia (and Taraxacum), he’s known Edguy for awhile and hooked me up with Sammet who told me how he did the choirs in the studio. It wasn’t too hard, just mainly time consuming. The other stuff though like the drum machine was totally a nightmare, and that’s one of the reasons why I never want to use one again, drum machines just aren’t cool (laughs). I haven’t caught quite as much flak as I was expecting, but it was one of those things where I had no other alternative.
Yea, there have been some people that complained about the use of a drum machine rather than a real drummer.
The funny thing is the way I did it. There’s so many easier ways to do it now that I’m just finding out like computers and midis, I knew about them but I never did anything with them. Originally this album was going to be more of a demo to get me signed and when the label thing started to happen in the middle of recording I just finished it the way I had been going at that point. Doing the guitar solos was really hard for me too, I’m not that great of a soloist, so yea, overall it was pretty difficult with the vocals being the easiest.
What are you at heart? A singer, guitarist, keyboardist, or dare I say it, bassist?
I would say a songwriter. That is the most important thing as far as I’m concerned and then a singer, then a guitar player. Instrumentally, the drums are the most fun thing to play I think. I’m not very good at them so I can’t really count that though. Bass is fine, more or less if you can play the guitar you can play bass but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good bassist and that’s the point where I am. I’m good enough to get the job done for the album but by no means am I a great bassist for sure.
Will there ever be a chance to see Theocracy live? If the offer comes up will you hire session musicians to tour with you?
I would rather take it a step beyond than just session players, we’ll have to see what the situation calls for and how it pans out. I always wanted to be in a band and tour, the whole one man band thing is how it ended up happening for now. I already have people I want to talk to for playing on the next album and I’ve gotten contacts from people who want to play whatever instrument they want to play for me. It’s kind of crazy cos I’ve had people from California who are practically ready to move to Georgia now and I’m just like, “Hey, I’m not that ready yet!” (laughs). It’s real encouraging to have people express interest in it already.
I was thinking maybe a slot at one of the Prog Powers would be perfect because that crowd is perfect for the type of music that Theocracy plays.
Yea that’s about as far as you can go in the states. If that happens someday that would just be awesome. Also if that happens, I’d be making the transition from being down in front to up on the stage and that would be incredible.
I remember that the album was slated to be released at Prog Power IV but there was an error with the artwork.
Yea that was a huge disappointment. We were really hoping to sell the cd then. I had people asking me about it and it was so frustrating but everything all worked out.
What has been some of the response to your now infamous St. Anger tribute? Have you received any hate mail from Metallica yet?
The response to that has been about 100% positive which is surprising. There are a couple of people here and there that obviously didn’t like it, but the overall response has been overwhelmingly through the roof positive. It just took off like wildfire, I would go to post it at a forum and it would already be there and everything, it beat me around the internet. I have gotten a lot of visits to the Theocracy site because of it so that’s good in the long run as well.
What did you think was more disappointing, Q2K or St Anger?
Oh man, those are some of the worst albums every and each of them are some of my favorite bands. I would say probably St Anger, because I’m one of the two people that thought there some good songs on the Load albums whereas Queensryche, Q2K wasn’t their first real bombshell, with Hear in the Now Frontier they were already teetering that way. When I look at the bands now I think that Metallica are still capable of putting out a good album, I don’t know if it will ever happen but they can actually do it. Queensryche, I don’t think they can at all. At this point they should retire, well that’s also what I think about Metallica too to be fair. I think Queensryche have just lost their passion, if they went back now and tried to do Rage for Order or Warning type music I think it would sound very forced and uninspired. I haven’t heard anything that sounded inspired from them in I don’t know how long. I think they should make music as long as they feel like making it but they seem to have lost the fire, they had their success and got rich. I don’t know what happened, but I wish they would lay it all to rest before they tarnish the name anymore because those eighties albums are still the best.
Ok here we go back to Theocracy, sorry for getting off on that little tangent there (laughs). So is Theocracy a one album project deal or will there be more albums in the future? Since it is a one man band, people have the impression that even if there is another album it’ll take five, six years to get done.
I would think that there definitely will be another album and it won’t take as long as the first album did either. Everything will be much easier this time because I am more familiar with the gear setup and the recording gear now. Also I’m going to have everything be more of one process, the demoing, the recording and the writing process won’t be so isolated, there will certainly be those steps however. I already have five songs written and actually, I’ll start laying down basic tracks around the beginning of next year.
What is your opinion on the notion in metal that while Satanic lyrics and overtones are accepted without too much questioning, yet if you have Christian lyrics thrown in there everyone accuses you of being the next Stryper?
(laughs) I think a lot of that has to do with, you said Stryper and that’s all that really comes to peoples minds now when you say the term Christian Metal, it’s kind of a shame that nobody else outside of the glam part of metal made it, well you also have bands like Tourniquet out there that are really great and are successful but not as big as Stryper were. As far as Progressive and Power Metal stuff there hasn’t been anyone that I know of yet that has done it and done it well or has been really high profile about it so that’s one of the things that I’m trying to do. I want to show it’s not all about Stryper, you can have a really solid, important album with a Christian message to it. There’s been some criticism but I expected it so that’s fine, but there are a lot of people who have been giving the album a chance and even people that don’t believe the same way that I do have told me that the cd doesn’t come across as preachy and they can really enjoy it which is great, I’m happy that everybody isn’t completely writing it off.
I honestly think that the way the lyrics come across is that someone who is a blank slate, or hasn’t really paid too much attention to religion or anything, it seems to me that someone like that, after they listen to the cd then they could really be interested in the subject matter, they could read more about it rather than bands like Stryper who literally thump you over the head with the Bible at their shows.
I’ve received emails from people and how they say that they got back into their faith and stuff and really, I don’t want to hit you over the head with it. From that perspective, lyrically we cover two different topics, my songs aren’t all happy that’s for sure.
Has anyone condemned you for mixing your message and metal? I mean from the view of a close minded church person that says, “You can’t mix metal and Christianity!”
There's a good chunk of my family that I was afraid wouldn't be very happy with it. One side of my family is real strict, conservative here down in the south. I definitely grew up with people of that mentality. The people that have heard it, even in my family that I didn’t expect to like it ended up really liking it. They can sit there all they want to and say that it doesn’t work and you can’t do this but to me it fits perfectly its like a hand and a glove because music is powerful and so is the subject matter, they work together quite well. Overall there hasn’t been that much of that type of criticism, at least to my face.
What do you personally believe in, destiny, or in the words of Lost Horizon, “No fate. Only the power of will?”
I believe in free will for sure. That God gives us all a choice about things and that determines the way things go. I do believe that ultimately He is in control of everything but at the same time I don’t believe we are all robots, we’re all different. I don’t believe in destiny. That’s actually what the song Twist of Fate is about to a degree, it’s about the concept of fate or destiny and how when a lot of bad things happen and life gets hard it might be easy to say that “fate just has it in for me” or “everything I touch turns to dust, that’s just the way it is for me” and that song is about getting beyond that mentality and trying to view everything as having a purpose. I do believe that everything has a purpose and definitely don’t think that we’re puppets.
What song on Theocracy has the most meaning to you and gives you chills every time you hear it? That is if you aren’t sick to death from hearing the same songs over and over again for the past two or so years.
I like Twist of Fate a lot, the title track a lot… I really like The Serpents Kiss, that song has special meaning to me because that’s what we got onto the first Prog Power sampler (PP III sampler, rough demo version). We got the longest song on there and really showed a lot of the different styles the album would cover. That one’s pretty special. All of them I would say make me experience that certain feeling, they wouldn’t be on the cd if I didn’t think that. All of them come from different places, Sinner and The Healing Hand are two of the first songs I wrote even before Theocracy had a name and hearing them on the first four track demos, how those came to life was a thrill. When it was all said and done it took me about a week before I could listen to the album and when I did at first I thought it was a failure and sounded terrible because I was so tired and exhausted. It took some time for me to come back and then I decided that I was happy with it. Getting the final finished product is always the best part of recording. I remember when the chorus melody to The Serpents Kiss randomly came to me at some point and that went all the way from me humming into a tape recorder to a monster twelve minute song and to hear the final version after all that is just the biggest thrill.
Are there any plans on releasing a single or maybe an EP with some unreleased songs? I can really see some songs such as Mountain, or the title track do real good as a single separate promotional push.
Yea I agree, but I don’t know right now. I don’t know how we’d even approach that. I was actually talking to a DJ friend of mine who does a metal show on local television and plays music videos and stuff, and he asked me if I had anything to play. I was wishing I had some way to make a video but yea I agree it would be nice to do something with some of the songs. The official answer however would have to be “I don’t know” because I don’t know what could actually be done at this point.
Do you have any footage of you while you were recording the album?
Yea I have a little bit, I thought about doing something like that, piecing it together.
Say if it was Mountain, maybe intersperse it with some cool scenic shots, you don’t have to be like Rhapsody and play in front of a castle with swords and fight huge floating purple blobs (Rain of a Thousand Flames).
(laughs) I have been thinking about it over the past few days. What I’ve been working on now is a Christmas track, a medley of songs done Theocracy style. I got sick and pushed it back a little bit, I hope to get it done before the holidays and let people download it from the site. That’s pretty much it that I’ve got going now while I’m thinking about the whole music video thing. I just don’t want it to be the same ol “boring studio footage video”, but hey I like that type of thing and I’m sure there’s some other people out there too.
What has been the most metal rock star moment in your life since Theocracy has been released?
The MetalReviews interview man! (laughs) There hasn’t been many for me. Some interviews and getting fanmail, things like that. The true sign that you’ve made it is when Brazilian fans mail you and ask you when you’re coming over to play, they’re really huge and crazy over there so I felt good getting a few of those. Other than that there hasn’t been really many big huge things that have happened.
Have you found your cd in stores where you live or do you have to walk around with a big bag full of them to sell to people?
Actually here in Athens, where the local popular music scene is crap more or less, there are a bunch of mom and pop stores who carry local artists and I never remember to go up to them and get them to sell my stuff! I don’t remember seeing the cd in stores yet but I have had some local radio pick up some songs. It seems I have a long way to go before I get to the “superstar” front (laughs)
Here we go, I’m almost to the end, I’m just trying to come up with some questions off the top of my head that aren’t the same eighty million ones that you’ve answered before… Ok, what about if you could get your dream lineup for the next album say, Jani Liimatainen from Sonata Arctica on second guitar, Tuomas Holopainen on keyboards, dream lineup, tour the world and play the biggest festivals, but yet you had to publicly apologize for your St. Anger tribute and you would have to be photographed in public holding the album with a thumbs up sign shaking Lars’ hand. And you can’t tell people this is a joke either everyone has to think you’re serious.
I don’t think I could (laughs). My disdain is too great for that album. I’d love to meet them though and shake their hands for sure though. I wonder if the tribute got around to them though, I’m pretty sure it did. That still wasn’t as good as that one band from Canada that did the fake story where they claimed that Metallica sued them for the use of the E and F chord, that was pretty smart it took off like wildfire and everyone though it was the real deal and they got a lot of exposure for their band. Something like that is a little too risky for me though, that’s why I didn’t use any real riffs in the St Anger tribute.
How good of friends are you with the promoter of Prog Power, Glenn Harveston?
I would say we’re acquaintances really. We would chat before Prog Power started here in Atlanta because we’d both be here in the area, I remember when we both went to see Kamelot in Tampa. I’ll email him once in a while that’s about it. I put him in the special thanks on the album though, he’s a great guy and has done an awesome thing with the festival getting all the bands he has. A lot of Europeans are so lucky because they can go out in their backyard and see three or four awesome bands play together and a couple of years later here we are with this huge festival in Atlanta every year.
Well, we have come to the sad and inevitable end of this interview, and do you have any last words for our MetalReviews readers?
Thank you guys for your interest in Theocracy and reading the interview. Thanks again to you for the awesome review, it helped me out from the buzz and a lot of people are getting into it from the review that have never heard it before. Reviews are gonna say what they’re gonna say you can’t take most too seriously but it felt nice to read someone like yours who seemed to appreciate it and it didn’t fall on deaf ears. It’s been a really good year.

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