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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.

And 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 this tour?

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.

(George:) 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… well, it's 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.

(George:) 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 album?

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.

We've 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.

Tobbe: 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 it.".

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 "You chose…", 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 interest either.

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.

But 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, mate.

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… Me definitely, 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.

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