» George/Matt - The Raven Age
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Interview conducted June 6 2023
Interview published July 29 2023

The British rockers The Raven Age put of their 3rd record Blood Omen on July 7th. Metal Covenant met the band's guitarist George Harris and vocalist Matt "MJ" James at Sweden Rock in June to hear about their points of view on this new creation.

Tobbe: An important question to begin with: What has happened to your hair, MJ?

MJ: Well, I must tell the truth about that one, huh? So, our label basically did think… It was a bit of an 80s kind of hairstyle and I think, you know, a few people agreed that maybe we should go for something a bit more current, so we went for my natural color. The thing is, because of the style it was; it was, like, long, and I had half-shaved, in order to change it I had to cut the whole thing to start over, you know what I mean? So yeah, that's kind of how it went.

Tobbe: Yeah, now you all have short hair, in comparison to other metal bands.

George: Yeah, yeah. There's no agreement or anything. We just naturally… , yeah. (MJ:) Yeah. I think I'm gonna grow it back. I mean, Tommy (Gentry, guitar) has quite long hair. Tommy has almost got my hairstyle, that I had before.

Tobbe: I would say that, especially for a frontman, it's kind of important to me that he has long hair actually. I mean, for the visual stuff.

MJ: It's one of those things. The other thing is, like, the industry is forever evolving. There are quite a few people that see the long hair kind of thing as an old-fashioned way of doing it. I mean, that is not my opinion, but other people would say that there's an old-fashioned kind of notion to that. But, you know what? In the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter. It grows back. If I wanna grow it and change the hairstyle I'll do it, you know. But I'm cool to have it as it is at the moment.

Tobbe: Okay, let's start getting serious. There is a new album coming out in July. Tell me about that one.

George: Yeah, the album is called Blood Omen, and it comes out on the 7th of July. We got 3 singles out from the album already, which seem to be going down really well with our fans. Basically we're just excited to get it out there.

We've been, obviously, working on it and sitting on it for quite a long time 'cause we were waiting to sign a new record deal, and we did that in December with Music For Nations, who are a part of Sony. Yeah, it has just been pretty manic since then. It's just like go, go, go! We signed a deal with them, and then we did, like, music video, music video, music video, get everything sorted, going on tour. Yeah, it has been mad, but in a good way.

Tobbe: What can Music For Nations via Sony Music do for a band like The Raven Age now?

MJ: It's a good question, 'cause, you know, we haven't always seen eye to eye with our previous representatives, in terms of record labels. And we knew that with this 3rd album, this is a big step for us with the 3rd album, we wanted to make sure that we signed with the right partner, and I mean that, like, as true to the word as possible, like a good partnership where both band and label can work together and kind of grow something together.

So we knew that was the main aim, you know. And our manager, Dan (Wright), kind of shopped us around. There were some really good offers, but when we found that Music For Nations were interested, and Julie Weir, who kind of heads it, it was a no-brainer.

She's so respected in the industry, and most importantly she gets the band, she gets the image, she gets the style of what we're trying to do. We were all on the same page. We said, "I think this is the one we should go for.", and that's what we did.

Tobbe: As you said, you guys have put out a couple of videos. Can you tell me about those ones and also what input you as a band had on those creations?

George: Everything. (Laughs) Well, I mean, to begin with, it's pretty much me and MJ. We do everything for the videos, 'cause we enjoy it. You know, we're really proud of the album, the music, and we like to really make as much emphasis on every single part of the band as possible, like with the band name, and the artwork, and the imagery, the story, the music. It's all part of it.

I mean, we need our music videos to be on par. So we needed to up our game from previous ones. We did Parasite and we kind of wanted this, like, satanic ritual kind of thing, and also it was the first time we wanted to reveal our, like, Raven King character. So we knew we had to do something pretty special. MJ found a great location called The Hellfire Caves, not too far from us, and it's just a perfect location.

But yeah, we kind of set the bar with that one. I think that one in particular, probably because it was the first one, really took it out of us. It's very hands-on. Our director, Rich (Oakes) works with Dark Fable, and he's been fucking amazing. He makes movies, but also some stuff with us. He very much lets us kind of get what we want out of it.

(MJ:) He believes in the process and in the vision, you know. (George:) Then after Parasite we had Serpents Tongue, and we were like, "How the hell are we gonna top that?". Then the ideas just got crazier and crazier.

(MJ:) Yeah, it did. I'll be honest. We knew we wanted to play around with this, like, Medusa character because of the name Serpents Tongue. We thought, "How the hell are we gonna do that?". So I gave the idea of this kind of Hammer Horror idea. A little bit tongue-in-cheek. You know, a lighthearted nature to it.

I was telling the director... I was like, "So we're gonna have to CGI this. We'll do that. - Oh, we can do this. Rich can do that imposed; that's fine." and I could just see him, like, growing old in his head the more and more I would say those things, and he was like, "Do you really know how much work this is?".

Anyway, we found this amazing location in Lincolnshire in the UK. This old kind of derelict mansion and it gave this kind of haunted house kind of vibe. This kind of meeting, lovely, crazy dinner party thing that we did. That came out so good, and we were like, "Well, we're gonna try to top it again.". (The 3rd video is Forgive & Forget) I remember George phoning me, saying, "Look, I know this seems weird, but I just had a tip-off about this amazing place.". It was like an old cowboy town, and I was like, "Are you telling me you wanna try to do a Western music video?", and he was like, "It just looks so cool. I think we have to try to figure out an angle to make it work.".

At first we told the label that we wanted to try to do, like, a Western music video, and she was like, "How does that fit into your image, at all?", which of course it didn't. I expected everyone to just like, head in hands, "That's not gonna work.". I said, "What if we do, no joke, cowboys and zombies?", and luckily everyone kind of decided, "Yeah, let's do it. If we can make it work.", and that's what we did, and we're really happy with how it came out.

Tobbe: And those 3 songs, how well do they reflect the album as a whole?

George: I think they're pretty representative. The first one, Parasite, we knew that was gonna be single number one, even though it's not, like, your typical catchy, upbeat single. But we hadn't put anything out in such a long time, especially not a heavy song. You know, I guess it's a bit more of a blender of your typical Raven Age song. Serpents Tongue, the second one, and Forgive & Forget, the latest one, are more kind of upbeat, feel good, catchy songs.

Especially Serpents Tongue; we knew right from the off that that was gonna be a single, 'cause the chorus is just a great hook. I don't know if I'm allowed to say this, but we are putting out another single. The label wants us to keep doing that, being creative and getting the songs out and do more videos. It just means more creativeness for us, which, you know, is what we enjoy.

Tobbe: Tell me about the album title, Blood Omen.

George: It's kind of all intertwined with the band's name. So, a lot of people seem to think this is a concept album, which it isn't, because every song is kind of different, you know. Have different subjects, lyrically.

But it ties you with the title and the story behind that, so we've kind of created this character called The Raven King. We hinted it, right from the off, in Conspiracy, and even in some of the artwork from Darkness Will Rise. It's just like a hooded figure. We were keeping him kind of in the shadows and we knew we were gonna unveil it, you know, step by step.

(MJ:) Actually, if you look on the Conspiracy album cover, you can see the outline of the beak. (George:) Exactly, yeah. And then, this one, we kind of thought, "You know what? Let's reveal it.". Blood Omen is like a foreshadow of what's to come and our Raven King character is there to claim back his raven, which is kept in the Tower of London, and then just take the throne.

Tobbe: And all those signs on the artwork. What do they stand for?

George: That's another thing we just decided to really go deep into in the kind of story. Our hard-core fans pick up this stuff. They like this sort of things, so. Actually our bass player Matty (Cox) and our artwork guy sat down. It was like, "You know what? How would ravens talk to each other?" - "They would scratch signs into things, which mean different things.". It's like runes and they kind of created, like, a language with these symbols.

So they all mean different things. I mean, I actually got one tattooed on my arm there. Matty told me it's a heavy tattoo. That's the king. People will start noticing it probably later. We haven't even said what these things mean yet, but there's also a queen rune.

(MJ:) Yeah, so that was on the head of the girl in Parasite, and then on Serpents Tongue she's got the same on her head. If you see the runes in the Parasite video, in the obelisks there, it's literally carved into them. (George:) It's subtle, but it's all part of the thing and the kind of story that we're hitting at.

Tobbe: A lot of bands have mascots and logos and stuff who define the band. Not musically of course, but...

MJ: I love the idea of the band image, and the band as a whole is more important than the individual members, when it takes on a life of itself. There are bands that do that very well. You know, I hate using the word gimmick, because we never wanna be gimmicky. It's not something we wanna do.

But the band from the off has had this storyline, but it's only until now, 3rd album, we're kind of just going more gung-ho with it and explaining it. It's like, you know, bands like Ghost, it's so important to who they are. You take that away and it's a completely different entity, I think. And I think in genres like metal music and rock you can really explore with that kind of thing, whereas you can't do that, I think, in other genres.

(George:) It seems to me that a lot of the Raven Age fans are getting tattoos again. You know, symbols and raven's gold, and it's actually really quite surprising.

Tobbe: That must be kind of weird, that people are actually tattooing your stuff.

George: It is. I found it weird the first time I saw it. A girl got just our logo in big block black on her forearm. That's quite a few years ago, and I was just like, "Wow! That's a big commitment.". But the one who shocked me the most was last year. A guy in Germany got the band logo, again, in big block black, across his chest, as big as you can possibly go. On his chest, there's 'The Raven Age' in black. "Wow!" You can't even cover that up.

(MJ:) So, I mean, it's just such a massive compliment, but you don't know how to react when someone got my face tattooed on their forearm. I have spoken to him, you know, a few times. He asked me for a picture, ahead of time, 'cause he told me what he wanted to do. I was just kind of like, "Are you sure?". I mean, I don't know why anybody would want my face, you know. (Laughs)

But yeah, it's just a massive compliment and it kind of goes to show that we got this amazing, like, core fanbase, that we love and is the reason we carry on doing what we do.

Tobbe: A little bit to touring activities. You're out with Maiden at the moment and also playing festivals this summer. Tell me about this trek.

George: It has been great so far. So we're essentially on tour with Maiden, but we're sort of jumping off and doing festivals. It obviously goes without saying, it's such a privilege to be out to play those shows. It's probably one of the, if not the biggest metal show on tour at the moment. It's amazing to open up those shows.

I mean, you have a job to do. Maiden fans are a tough audience. They just wanna hear Maiden. But we have that in our mind. We've done this quite a few times now and I think we kind of slowly begin to win them over. I think we're pretty lucky to have… Put it this way: I've seen some of my favorite bands, growing up as a kid, go down terribly, and we've never had that, so I guess they accepted us, or whatever it is.

(MJ:) Tolerated it maybe. (Laughs) (George:) Now we've picked up loads of fans by touring with Maiden, so I guess it's maybe musical things, you know.

(MJ:) Because there's, like, similarities to what we do, I think. I've said this quite a few times in interviews: We try to merge the traditional sides of metal with the more modern sides of metal, and I think a lot of Maiden fans pick up on the fact that we're not screaming our heads off when we go. We're not one of those bands. It's still melodic. And I think Maiden is about the same thing. It's all about melody and essentially that's our mantra as well, so I think they pick up on that.

Tobbe: In October and November you're out on a headlining tour in Europe. What might we see on that tour, in comparison to these festivals and supporting slots?

George: Well, I mean, the one thing that will be very different is our album will be out by then, so we're gonna be playing a lot of new songs and stuff which people haven't heard yet. We did a small headline tour in 2021. It was in the heart of Covid. Basically people wouldn't come out to shows and catch Covid 'cause you're shut down for, like, a few weeks and you can miss Christmas.

(MJ:) It was great to get out, but it was a weird tour. All our crew had to do tests every day. It was great, but we didn't class that as a proper tour.

(George:) We didn't even want our families to come and see us. But anyway, it has been a long time since a proper headline tour for us. You know, playing festivals is amazing, especially with crowds like today when they're all singing back to us, but there's nothing more special than playing to people who know your music. They're into it and they're singing back, you know. I'm very much looking forward to it.

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