Interview conducted November 16 2019
Interview published January 12 2020
"When I was young I always wanted to be a footballer."
Metal Covenant was talking with The Raven Age's
guitarist George Harris and vocalist Matt
"MJ" James as the band made a stop in
Stockholm on their European tour.
Tobbe: The Raven Age is out on tour now,
obviously, with Alter Bridge and Shinedown at the moment, and it seems
like you guys always support bands from an older generation than yourselves,
and why don't you guys go out more with bands of your own generation?
George: These guys are both from the same booking
agency as us, so this is how we, you know, got introduced. Originally
back in 2015 we got a chance to support Tremonti and then we did the
same again in 2018. So we kind of know Mark really well and he has most
of the same crew guys.
also we did a one-off show with Shinedown in the summer of 2018 in Hamburg.
So we've met those guys. It kind of makes sense really, for us to go
out with them and to support them. They know how we work and we kind
of know how they work pretty much. And we get on really well. Yeah,
it just totally makes sense.
(MJ:) We genuinely seem to musically make sense
as well. Us, Alter Bridge and Shinedown. Just after the first few shows
it really seems to work on a bill, which is nice to know. When promoters
and our agency are putting together tours they think of "What will
these guys work with?" and it just coincidently seems to work.
I mean, there are very few bands, especially
young bands, that are on this kind of scale, if you know what I mean?
Especially in the rock and metal industry. You know, this is the scale
that we wanna be on, so we need to take that also, I think, to consideration.
There's not many young bands that are at this kind of arena kind of
level yet. So, we're hoping that we'll be there soon [Laughs], so we
can start taking out some younger bands.
Tobbe: But still, those two bands are more
like rock bands or maybe hard rock bands with some metal influences and
you're more of a modern kind of metal band. So, musically, to go out in
front of their audience, what was your first expectation, before you entered
George: Well, I kind of thought maybe we'd be
slightly on the heavy side, but through touring with other bands I've
kind of noticed that we seem to go down, you know, well, or whatever.
We can support bands from different genres. We've played with Mastodon,
Killswitch Engage, and Gojira, who obviously is super heavy.
(MJ:) But we've also played with bands like Shinedown,
and [Iron] Maiden, who are, well I mean, heavy, but you can't put them
in the same league of heaviness as Gojira. You know, once upon a time
you could say "Well, they're a metal band.", but a lot of
people say "Well, that's a rock band." nowadays.
It all seems to cross over. Since we have melody and we're heavy, it
kind of crosses over. It's all under the umbrella of rock and metal
and it just works. (MJ:) And I personally
don't like doing the whole subgenre thing. You know, as you said, Alter
Bridge and Shinedown are, like, rock bands with some metal influences,
and we're kind of like a metal band with some rock influences, so the
crossover actually works really nicely.
I think, to open up the shows
not a bad thing to blow some fucking smoke up the audience's ass. Yeah,
it kind of wakes them up a little bit and gets them ready for the night.
Tobbe: Your latest album Conspiracy was
out in March and do you look at it now in a different way then what you
did when you had finished the recordings, perhaps about a year ago?
George: As it was released, yeah definitely.
You know, MJ joined the band and then we were working on songs and we
didn't have much time to think about "How do we want this record
to be, or come across?". We just wrote a bunch of songs, we tracked
them, in between being on tour, sort of re-kickstarting the band again.
Yeah, we didn't have time to think about it and sort of appreciate what
the album was.
(MJ:) It was more about the reaction, I think.
It's like we thought that we'd done a really good album. I mean, for
me personally being on my first record with the band I was apprehensive
and I wanted to make sure that I did the best job that I could. We went
into it with that attitude. You know, "Let's just go out to create
one of the best albums we physically can.". It was sort of a tight
time frame as well, which was hard, but we did it.
And then when it was out, to be honest, the reaction
kind of blew us away, because we thought "Yes, it's a good album.",
but we didn't really expect it to have the feedback that it has been
getting. It has been amazing. This kind of recipe that we've got at
the moment, going forward, we hope that that will stand us in a good
state for album number 3.
Obviously, the main thing we wanted was our fans to like it, and obviously
gain new fans, which is what you need to do as a band, obviously. But
then again, when album reviews come in and stuff like that, not that
you rely on them at all, but it was just nice. And that's what I've
noticed massively, from our previous album [Darkness Will Rise, 2017],
reviews were just really, really stepped up. We just really sort of
seemed to turn a page of a lot of press as well, which is a different
angle, I guess. So it was just positive around really.
Tobbe: A question to George. Do you see
yourself still making progress in your guitar playing, or has it kind
of slowed down now as you're starting to get more experienced?
George: I definitely noticed from album one to
album two that I wanted to sort of better myself lead playing-wise.
I mean, Tony [Maue] on guitars is a real shredder. He loves to play
as fast as he can and he's really good at it. He's brilliant, so we've
got that in our locker. I've never really aspired to wanna play real
fast shred solos. All the solos I enjoy are, like, really memorable,
bendy/singy solos, so it has kind of been my style.
But on Conspiracy I definitely wanted to up the
game a little bit from Darkness Will Rise and just sort of test myself.
Not necessarily just to do that. Often, when writing lead lines and
stuff, I kind of write them in my head before writing them on the guitar,
if you know what I mean? So I think to myself "I wanna do something
like that.", so then I have to figure it out.
Tobbe: And what about singing style-wise,
MJ? Have you already learned stuff in this year after you finished the
recordings and how you will approach the songs differently on another
MJ: Before I joined there was, like, stuff there
kind of written and obviously I was singing some of the old stuff as
well, which obviously is different. But I've always kind of sung like
me. I haven't tried to sound any different for Raven Age, you know.
The few things that we have kind of accommodated
for, which is really good, is
I've got quite a higher register
than the previous singer [Michael Burrough], so we kind of adjust the
tunings and play around with tunings a lot more, which has been really
fun, because George, like, had never really done that before.
played around with different tunings and things like that and just opened
a few doors in terms of, you know, how the songs sound. I think we're
just kind of following along that similar vein for the next record.
It's just kind of like a natural evolution of what we already did before,
which is cool.
Tobbe: Would you rather be the world's greatest
singer, or guitar player, than the world's greatest songwriter?
George: I would rather be the world's greatest
songwriter than guitar player. (MJ:) Yeah,
'cause technical ability, I think, doesn't really come into play a lot.
A great song is a great song.
You know, like The Beatles for example. You wouldn't
say that they're the best singers in the world, but they were unbelievable
songwriters and they lent their voices to what the songs need, rather
than technical ability, I think. So definitely songwriter. (George:)
You could be the fastest guitar player in the world, but if you don't
have any cool songs to play no one is gonna come and watch you.
Tobbe: What are you guys up to besides working
with music? You can't say nothing.
MJ: Recently we haven't had much time to do anything.
It has been a really busy year. (George:) Sports
really. It's, like, the main sort of pastime for me. I've just been
for a run today actually. Trying to keep active, keep self-fit. We try
to play football [soccer] at home. I guess that's kind of what I do
really in between playing music. You know, I play for a local team with
my mates, like Sunday league stuff. Nothing special, but it's more like
a social thing these days. I play five-a-side on Mondays. Trying to
play tennis as much as I can, although I usually play in the summer
and then I'm terrible 'cause I haven't played all year. Yeah, any kind
of sports. I play squash a fair bit as well. What else? I don't know.
Not a lot really.
(MJ:) I'm not a heavy football player like George,
but I love my football. And, you know, I live by the coast back in England,
so it's quite a beautiful place to run and things like that. We're all
into our football, which is good.
George, you supposedly had kind of a career in football, but chose music
instead. Is that correct? How good were you?
George: Not really. I mean, I played a lot as
a young kid. I got picked up by quite a few teams when I was, like,
14, 15. I went on a bunch of different trials and kind of got scouted
by a few teams in the UK. When I was young I always wanted to be a footballer.
When I got to that age I kind of like "I'm still really into it,
but not as dedicated as you would need to be if you see a career in
I actually went and played for a couple of teams
in Norway, on trial basically. That was when I was a bit older as well.
I was about 16, 17, and I kind of knew by then it wasn't really gonna
happen. But I went anyway, like "I don't wanna be kicking myself
if I don't go.". I mean, what if? It's funny, 'cause people think
", but I definitely didn't turn football down.
I mean, it turned me down.
But yeah, that kind of kickstarted my music thing
anyway, 'cause when I was into it I had a guitar and I had so much time
on my hands in between training sessions and all that that I ended up
writing. And that was kind of the first stuff I really wrote, as a guitarist.
I went back and I went to an audio engineering school in London and
sort of got into that a little bit, although that's not really my main
I'm not the techiest guy, but I know just about
enough to get myself by. The songwriting is the main concentration for
me, or the main enjoyment to get out of it anyway. I kind of discovered
that by our football, so it wasn't a waste of time.
Tobbe: You've been doing this for a while
now, and maybe touring gets more extensive, but you're kind of in the
age where regular people start a family with kids and stuff. So where
do you find yourselves in that situation right now, or where do you see
yourselves in that situation being a touring musician and a family father?
George: I mean, that is always the golden question
really. It's a tough one. I'm in a relationship. I'm engaged and I've
been with my girlfriend for, like, 11 years. We've got a place now.
I guess, you know, that's kind of next on the cards. I'm getting married
in the end of 2020 and then I guess kids come after that sometime.
I don't know. I guess I'm fortunate. It does kind of depend on how we're
doing. Because we do it full-time we can't afford to not commit to it.
And I don't wanna do it, like, half-hearted, and then look back and
"You know what? Imagine if we'd just put in an extra 20 percent.".
Like opportunities getting missed. That kind of thing.
So I don't know. I really don't know at the moment.
It's a really tough question to answer. I mean, we're in it for the
long haul. When kids come along I think we'll just gonna have to try.
We have to see how it goes, basically. You know, the bus is gonna get
really annoying. [Laughs] (MJ:) Your bus,
Tobbe: Well, some bands travel in separate
buses and when you get bigger you could stay in London or somewhere, near
Heathrow or wherever, and fly to all the shows.
George: Well, hopefully by then we'll be a step
or two above where we are now. The bigger you get and the more crew
you have, the more time you have. You know, we might actually, potentially
be able to afford to fly home and see our family every now and then.
At the moment, you know, we happily just cram shows together, 'cause
days off is money and that sort of thing.
(MJ:) The closest person of thinking about that
is probably George at the moment. So everyone else
I'm not even bothering to think about that. Even though I'm the oldest
I'm not gonna even think about that right now.