Three Days Grace’s Matt Walst ‘Definitely Felt More Comfortable’ Writing ‘Outsider’ Disc With the Band
2018 is a big year for Three Days Grace, with the release of their Outsider album coming this Friday (March 9). This year also marks the 15th anniversary of their self-titled debut. We spoke with Three Days Grace singer Matt Walst about their new album, his second since taking over on vocals for the band.
Walst spoke about his comfort level with the band on his second release, offered insight into some of the album's key tracks and shared his plans for spending 2018 on the road. The singer also addressed the band's fascination with technology and the permeating of cell phones at shows, the inspirational people in his life, his love of the UFC and he reflected on the early days of the band.
The Human record before was your introduction to the band, but it was kind of a weird introduction in that there were songs released almost a full year before the disc arrived. Can you talk about your experience and mindset going into the album having one already under your belt?
Well, back in 2014, before we released 'Painkiller,' I think we released 'Painkiller' like a year and a half before the album came out, the people were anxious to hear what the new Three Days Grace sounded like and we wanted to get it out there and show people what it would sound like. With this album, I definitely felt more comfortable in the writing process and also in the vocal booth. I felt way more comfortable and way more confident after having three years of hard touring and just settling into the band. I think vocally, I definitely had more work on the road -- longer shows and higher ranges to hit. Then jumping into the vocal booth with [Outsider producer] Howard Benson. He is a genius when it comes to harmonies and call backs and all of that. I think he was a really good vocal producer so he definitely pushed me and we found a lot of vocal stuff on this record compared to Human for sure.
Speaking with Neil [Sanderson] in the past, a big part of this band and of the creative process is all about the hang time. For this album, you spent time working at Neil's farm for a while. Any stories you can share about the creative process with the band on this album and getting away from the traditional studio setting?
Well, we wrote at Neil’s house and my brother's house. Neil lives part-time out in Arwood, which is a town of 1300 people so it super small and has a very country feel. That is where we feel comfortable and we don't have to do a two-hour drive to Toronto to sit in a small little jam spot, which we did on Human. With this record, we were right out in the country and we could escape, go out into the trees and get on some four wheelers and just feel at home, instead of the hectic drive into Toronto and then the hectic drive home in rush hour. So it was a lot more chill this time.
The band has worked with the electronic side of music before but I'm kind of digging what you did here within the scope of the new album. I know there's a little assist from Rhys Fulber with the programming. Can you talk about what the relationship is there and expanding a little bit more with regards to adding in electronics?
I think nowadays it's easy to find inspiration for songwriting because there is a lot of electronic music out there. A lot of it is really awesome and then a lot of it is not. I think adding that just puts a new layer of ear candy for people to listen to. In the past couple years the album that I liked the most was the last Bring Me the Horizon record which has a lot of electronics and I believe it's their keyboardist that produces the albums. We are big fans of that band. So bringing in some electronics and also Neil is really good at programming too. He had a stint there where dubstep came out he was right in there making dubstep. I think he DJ'ed for a while but his roots are in rock so but he definitely has the capabilities to make that kind of stuff. So we all love it so we added it into our music.
It's a nice blend and a nice addition to what you guys do. With this record, there seems to be a fascination with the human condition. One track that really hit me on this one is "The New Real." It takes a look at society and how involved we've become with technology. What is your take? What do you see when you're out there on the road?
In that song, "The New Real," we say we're all a little guilty of it. We use social media, we put out pictures. But you see with kids now, it's become a thing where it's hard to get away from. And I find myself in the same situation. Like, I pick it up and I start going through social media and watching videos, crazy fight videos. It's so addictive and it's hard to put down, but after a while I find myself -- what did I just do with the past two hours of my life? I could have been doing something productive and I don’t think I did do anything productive other than watching these crazy videos. It's entertaining but after a while you find you're wasting your life away by looking at a little small screen.
You find that people don't communicate as well to each other face to face, because everyone is just messaging each other and nobody even talks to each other. Is this the new real -- where nobody really cares about each other? They only care about what they perceive off of social media. So that's what that song is about and like I said, we're not saying that we're not guilty of it too, because we are.
With technology and cell phones, we've seen this year with a couple of more bands saying maybe we don't allow cell phones into our shows and just have more of a human experience. I'm curious what your take is on how cell phones have permeated and invaded the concert experience over the years and what you get out of that?
People want to see it later on. I get it and I also post. I was there, I saw this. But after a while, for me I don't take a lot of photos on the road and I see a lot of beautiful things but I remember it and I feel the experience at the time and I feel like it's the moment that's special. It's not going to be as special looking as it was from your pictures in your phone.
What's really cool is, your phone can't pick up the sky and the moon. You can't really pick up that stuff and that's the most beautiful stuff. Anyways, aside from that, A Perfect Circle, I went and saw them a few months ago and they don't allow any cell phones or any video taking stuff and I think that's because probably Maynard doesn't want all the cell phones up in the air in front of him. I don’t think we'll ever get to that point but yeah, you should experience it in the moment instead of having a little screen in front of your face filming it.
"The Mountain" ... what a motivational track that is. What a nice little kick in the pants to get off your ass and do something. I saw your social media posts, which I thought were just perfect to go along with the quotes from Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and even the photos of the mountain. As an artist, who or what motivates you on a daily basis and who are the most inspirational figures in your life?
My parents have always been there for me. I've always had great parents. They've been always supportive. I always look up to them and see their marriage and how they survived over the years and gone through everything. Like my mom had cancer a long time ago and they overcame that. Also, my brother is a big inspiration for me. He's had to deal with having a sick kid in the past and he persevered through that. Also, James, his son has been in remission for six years or years years. He's a big inspiration too.
"The Mountain" is life and you gotta keep climbing it and not give in to sickness or depression or whatever life hands you. You gotta get through it and keep moving on and see that there's going to be better days.
With "The Mountain" video, I have to ask are you guys UFC fans as well or is that just a nice tie-in for the clip?
I'm totally a UFC fan. It's been about four years now of me tuning in, I started to actually take MMA classes about two years ago. When I'm home I go take those classes -- MMA for cardio. I'm never going to be able to fight anybody or anything like that. But yeah, we're definitely fans of UFC. We actually caught the last UFC that was in Toronto about a year ago and it was a great experience. We got to go in the ring after the fights, it was really cool to watch it.
So who is your guy or gal in the UFC?
My guy is George Saint Pierre. He just did a fight about three months ago and he was out for about four years, because he took a break then he came back and fought Michael Bisping who was the champion. Actually GSP went up a weight class after being out for four years and won the fight. But I actually just saw yesterday, they took him off the No. 1. They took his belt away because he's got some kind of stomach condition, so I don’t know why they took it away so quick. He hasn't said he's not going to fight again but yeah, it's sad to see that.
You're going to be hitting the road. Have you started thinking about what you want to do: will it be more straight-up performance? Do you think you might do production? How far ahead are you thinking?
We are planning production right now. I think we're gonna do some video stuff, we're throwing around some new ideas. I don’t think we've ever had video on the road. I think we did it maybe once or twice. We might do that and set up some cool video to go with the songs. Just another aspect of the live show.
Listening to this album, "Right Left Wrong" is a brilliant turn of phrase. "Nothing to Lose But You" is a great song. For you personally, are there certain songs or a song that you have a personal attachment to that really stands out to you?
I really like "Strange Days." I don’t know, it just connects with me. The chorus and the vibe of the song is super groovy, bass line on the verse and then the chorus just stands out and the melody. When we wrote that song, I thought that was going to be the one we would release first. Then we created more and more, "Mountain" and then that seemed like the first release. I think it's like, everyone has their favorites and I'm really looking forward to getting the album out there and seeing what the fans gravitate to because everybody's different. Everybody likes different stuff, subject matter, melodies. I'm really interested to see what people like.
It's been 15 years since the debut album for the band. I realize you weren't in the band at the time, but being his brother you have a good idea ofwhat Brad went through. What are your recollections of what you saw with your brother going through at that time, with that first album, and seeing the band take off?
Yeah, I remember they started out at EMI Publishing making demos in Toronto with Gavin Brown. I remember driving up to come see and hang out. I was writing some riffs at that point. I actually co-wrote on two songs on the first album. A song called "Let You Down" and "Scared." I wrote the guitar riff and a few parts for those songs. When that started happening and they got a record deal and started touring, it gave me inspiration to start writing music and doing it for myself because, coming from a small town, you never think that those kind of things are possible. It seems so far away and such a big dream. We're doing it out on the road, record deals, singles, No. 1 singles and that kind of made me go, 'Hmm, maybe it is possible. Maybe I can pursue this.' That's what I did. I was failing in college, [laughs] I just started writing songs and doing music for a living around 2003/2004.
Now get to sing the songs on that first album. Do you have a favorite song off it that stands out to you?
Well I always liked "Let You Down." I love the lyrics. I guess I personally like it because I wrote the chorus riff in it. So I had a big connection to it. But also, I was such a huge fan of this band before I got in it. It's kind of like that movie that Mark Wahlberg is in, he gets onstage and he's playing in the cover bands. They've been my biggest inspiration in my writing and my darkest days and stuff. Then when I got the call to do it, it was a big - it was awesome. It was scary but its still awesome.
What's on the horizon for Three Days Grace in 2018?
I'm just looking forward to getting out there and playing the songs. Getting on the road again for sure, doing some tours again. I'm really interested in getting this album out. You know, when you spend so much time on it, people have their personal favorites, I'm really interested in seeing what people gravitate to.
'Outsider' arrives in stores and online this Friday (March 9). You can pre-order yours right here. The band is also hitting the road with a handful of dates this spring before ramping up the tour schedule, playing alongside Avenged Sevenfold and Prophets of Rage this summer. See their tour schedule here.
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