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Matt Black (Serpentine)

posted 13 Oct 2011, 14:52 by Paul Woodward   [ updated 13 Oct 2011, 14:54 ]

Hi Matt, this is Woody from Midlands Rocks, hope your well and ready for a few questions! Earlier this year you were named as the new singer for British AOR-sters Serpentine, replacing genre legend Tony Mills.


Hi Woody, I'm great thanks, keeping busy preparing for the festival dates we have coming up! Hope all is well with yourself.


Were you a fan or have knowledge of the band prior to joining the Serp’s?


I have to be honest, I'd never come across the band with me being relatively new to this circuit.  It's only been in the past couple of years that I've managed to find all the websites that give exposure to the new rock bands!

Are you finding been the lead singer of the band at the moment frustrating, as the band have just released their second album “Living & Dying In High Definition” which features Tony on lead vocals and there is a lot of confusion of what’s going on in the Serp’s camp during this transitional phase of the band?


There is some confusion yes, it can be a little frustrating at times but I was made aware of the situation before agreeing to join the Serpentine camp.  I joined the band over Christmas and then the album came out in the summer.  It's not the end of the world, we look very different so there are no mix ups live, and rather than just replicate Tony I prefer to sing things in my own way and as the gigs go on I've gradually started adding extra touches of my own.


Tony Mills’s shoes are big ones to fill, how do you feel about replacing him and the established Serp’s fans expectations of you?

They are indeed, he's got an immense vocal range and great reputation as a song-writer, but you already know that.  I am happy to take on the challenge, not just to work with the guys and prove that we can make records as good as they could with Tony... but also maybe bring something fresh to the table that may appeal to a younger audience.  It's a big task, and even though I may not have the experience Tony has... I am now 25, and been gigging at various levels for nearly 10 years... The guys have more studio experience than myself... but as for live I'm there on the frontline leading them forward and we've rehearsed pretty hard this year to make the live performances as close to recreating the "big sound" on the albums.


What are your favourite songs from the new Serpentine album and any reasons why?


For me "Dreamer" and "Best Days Of Our Lives" are the winners.  As soon as I heard them, they instantly jumped out at me.  Very powerful, catchy tracks.  And of course on the Japanese version of the album I am featured on the bonus track singing "Lonely Nights" which is from the first album.

What have been your favourite Serpentine songs to perform live so far?


"Lonely Nights" is my favourite track by Serpentine so far.  But I enjoy performing "In My Blood".  I hope to get the chance to throw "For The Love Of It All" and "Best Days Of Our Lives" into the live show soon enough. There are some great songs on both albums to choose from... some more difficult than others... You need 3 lungs to sing Tony Mills songs. But yes I'm having a great time performing live.

How did the package tour with Houston and Crashdiet a few months back go in your opinion?


It went very well, I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw a lot of glam/sleaze fans with huge back-combed hair... I thought maybe they would see us as a little too "soft" but with us giving the tracks some "balls" live we were very well received and I think we did ourselves no harm touring with them; we gained a lot of new fans of all ages.  It was great to see the Houston guys again after playing at the Borderline in London with them early this year.  I personally have made some great friends in them... Hank & Fabes came over to visit for a party at "Castle Black" in July. I'm looking forward to performing and partying with them again at Firefest.

The Serp’s have a few festivals lined up for the autumn in Spain, Germany and of course you’re opening this year’s Firefest. Are you looking forward to these shows?


If I said I wasn't excited and itching to get on those stages, I would be lying.  I have played festivals in the past with original bands and tribute shows but nothing at this level.  I'll actually be performing alongside some of my heroes which are a dream come true to me.  And if we go out there and do it right we can give the fans what they want, and hopefully make some new friends & fans in the process!  That's what it's all about, enjoying music together.

Do you have any other gigs lined up that you could tell us about?


We have just been booked to support Mike Tramp and Crimes Of Passion at The Yardbirds in Grimsby in October.  Which will be great as I regularly perform at this venue and looking forward to seeing my friends in Crimes Of Passion again.  We will soon be announcing some exciting dates for 2012, but who with and where... I can not say at this time. 

Maybe a hush hush double secret if this gets out the world will implode warm up show for the autumn’s festival appearances? Don’t worry shhhhh we won’t tell anyone!


We'll be treating the Yardbirds Show as a night to blow off some cobwebs since the UK tour but this doesn't mean the fans there will be getting a half-assed show.  We'll be giving them 100% from the off.

Are you looking forward to adding your song writing skills to the Serp’s song writing pot? Have you guys been working on anything yet?


Of course, I've written lots of material over the years, some of which I've used in previous projects and I have been putting ideas together ready to submit for album 3.  The guys have already started putting some demo ideas together that I am looking forward to hearing and putting my stamp on.

I’ve heard outside writers may be involved with the 3rd album, most obviously from Tony Mills who will help the band retain its current sound? Do you feel pressure to write in a certain way to keep in the style of the band or even demoralised to have to sing other peoples songs?


There has been talk of me co-writing some songs with Tony to keep a similar sound which I welcome.  I have worked with people before when writing songs and the outcome was positive.  There is a certain amount of pressure to write songs which will suit the previous material, and to sing someone else’s songs how they should be sang, but if I didn't think I was capable then I wouldn't have put myself forward for this.

Given your song writing with Invisible Idols and your obvious love of the genre I’m sure you’ll do a cracking job – but from my perspective I feel there could be pressure to keep Tony as principal lyricist and vocal melody writer to keep the band’s sound in keeping with what’s gone before. I’d like to see the band push forward independently of outside writers, but obviously Tony has set very high standards. Do you see yourself as a hired gun or do you hope to add to the Serp’s mix?


I will welcome input from Tony as he is a great writer but I will be ensuring I leave my mark on the songs, there will be plenty of catchy melodies, almost "ball busting" vocal lines as Tony would say.  And still the big harmonies in the chorus'.  But we have all agreed that the sound will change slightly to welcome my writing and vocal style.

Although it’s a long way off I see the third Serpentine album as make or break. It’ll be the first without Tony, who is obviously a big selling point for the band. So to me Tony Mill’s Serpentine becoming Serpentine is going to be a very challenging time for the band? Do you and the rest of the band feel any pressure or worries that the next album needs to be even better than this one?

I see it as extremely important for this band to create a killer third album.  Yes Tony joining the band did generate a lot of exposure and contacts for the band.  But after working with them throughout this year, I can see why he chose to take a chance of a "bunch of young lads" as they are all very talented musicians and writers and I am sure that my efforts combined with theirs will produce an album with a lot of great songs.  It's important to me for Serpentine to prove they can do it without Tony, and also to prove that I was the right choice of vocalist to replace him.

Your last band Invisible Idols recently split up, why have you guys decided to call it a day?


The band have struggled with drummers, we we're Yorkshire’s very own Spinal Tap.  They would go crazy, have too many commitments, or die in strange gardening accidents.  I have always had ideas of what I want to do on a stage and after a couple of years Invisible Idols wasn't one of them, it was a great rock trio where I had the opportunity to sing lead & play lead guitar.  And we had some great fun touring and promoting an album but I was always searching for the bigger sound.  So I decided to free up some time to concentrate on Serpentine and also book shows for next year under my own name with a backing band.

I saw the band supporting H.E.A.T and really liked the bands classic rock sound – I actually remember thinking your voice would be perfect for a AOR band and came close to emailing Gaz Noon about considering you as a future vocalist for the band, as I know the band had tried but couldn’t find a vocalist of a similar age – which I personally felt was needed for the band to have any longevity! Now I think you are the last piece in the Serp’s puzzle and I think there is much more to come from the band in a very bright future! I think bands like the Serp’s and VEGA are very important in keeping the melodic rock flame alive, so no pressure!

 It's funny you say that as all through my time with Idols I would get people in the audience saying I would be suited to fronting a band that sounds like Journey, Toto, Foreigner etc.  I do believe now the line-up in Serpentine is all the same age it may generate bigger interest.  We look forward to keeping the AOR genre alive by introducing it to the kids! and Vega are doing a great job with their old school rock sound that seems to have a slight modern twist. I have enjoyed listening to their first album.


You’ve played in a few cover bands over the years and are currently fronting the popular “Six Of The Best”. Do you enjoy performing those different songs?


Yes it can be great fun singing all the songs everyone knows.  Six Of The Best go out on the tribute circuit as a "multi tribute" to Journey, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Rainbow & Toto... which are all amongst my favourite bands.  I have also performed for the duel tribute "A Foreigner's Journey" (no points for guessing what songs they sing). It's good fun but it's not something I would do forever... I would happily throw in a few of my favourite covers into my shows under my own name, I'd even welcome an obscure cover into the Serpentine set every now and then if everyone was up for it!

Obviously the extremely busy tribute circuit offers the chance to perform frequently or is it just a way of getting paid for utilising your musical talents?

 Yes it’s a great opportunity to perform live on a regular basis and I have to admit it does help to make singing my full time career.  Whilst performing with "Six Of The Best" I've learned a great deal from them... they're all older and ex/current members of Paradise Lost, Tyketto, Vaughn, Ten, Bailey's Comet and many more.  Then there's the crowds, they're amazing people and very appreciative of what we do!  I seem to have a little personal following from it which I plan to bring to the Serpentine shows when we play in those areas!


Although you are quite young in comparison to the average age of bulk of the Underground melodic rock scene’s followers, it’s clear you’re a fan of the genre, but were you aware of the underground scene that you now find yourself in with the Serp’s before?

I have to admit, I have discovered a lot of band's I was never aware of that I now cannot stop listening to! Signal and Unruly Child for example... I can not get enough of Marcie Free's voice and I'm looking forward to seeing Unruly Child live at Firefest and hopefully enjoy a beer with them over the weekend!

How do you see the state of the current scene? Many say it’s on its last legs, yet from my perspective it’s a lot healthier than it was in the mid to late 90’s. I feel if we can get a few decent younger bands going there is still plenty of petrol in the AOR tank!

I believe its healthier yes! And I also believe it may experience a bit of a comeback with the recent events of Journey hitting all the radio stations again.  There are a lot of people who enjoy this music but if it's not thrown in their face like most of the rubbish on "Capital FM" and "MTV" then they'll go through life never knowing it existed.  I have my parents to thank for getting me into 70s 80s rock because with me being born in 1986 I spent all my teen years having to put up with stuff like BeWitched!  So I spent most of it sat down with my guitar or keyboard learning songs from my dad's CD and record collection. I also have him to thank for the receding hairline! Cheers Dad!


I believe your writing and recording a solo album, is there anything you could tell us about it? Style? Potential song titles?

Yes I'm just about coming up to halfway through it. It's going to be called "Dreamcatcher".  It's been great fun so far working with a bunch of guys who will also perform in the live show.  It's very classic rock & AOR, but different to Serpentine.  Probably more influenced by a few modern artists aswell as the older.  There are a couple of tracks which I wrote and recorded with Invisible Idols but they have been completely re-vamped to suit an AOR audience. These tracks are "If You Love Me" which was always a radio friendly track and got quite a lot of airplay in 2009/2010.  And the other is "Forever With Me" which was a big ballad that has been re-recorded with just my vocals and a piano, it's a very special song to me and a lot of people have realised so from listening to the lyrics.  A couple of new tracks stand out to me at the moment, which are "Running In The Dark".. almost a metal track influenced by Queensryche, Judas Priest & Loudness! .. and the other is "Shame On You" which I co-wrote with Zal Cleminson (Sensation Alex Harvey Band/Nazareth) back in 2007 but we never got to record it so I've given it a bit of a kick up the backside and it's very alter bridge to say the least! ... also expect a few guest appearances from some very well known musicians!

Are there any musicians out there you’d like to work or collaborate with?


I don't think I could possibly name them all for you right now. I'd love to write or perform with Jeff Scott Soto.  There is a guitarist named Andy McKee who purely performs solo acoustic guitar and I would love to write over the amazing music he creates.  I know I'm going to get some stick for this but I'd never turn my nose up at singing a duet with Pink! (check out Dear Mr President live on youtube and you'll see what I mean).

What band’s or albums are you currently listening too?


I'm always coming back to albums and listen to them constantly then give them a break and then bring them back out to play again... I've been listening to a lot of Danger Danger, Harem Scarem, Myland.

What have been the highlights in your musical career so far?


It's a tough one but it's between playing at Rhodes Rock Festival to over 1000 fans or performing the last Invisible Idols show in front of 1600 people and then meeting them all afterwards as they thanked us personally for the music.

And have there been any lowlights?

Oh we've all had those... the one that sticks out to me is when I'd first started playing pubs & clubs years ago and I played a sunday night in a pub somewhere in the middle of nowhere and we played to the bar staff!  Although on the plus side, I could wander off and get pub snacks and beers as often as I wanted!

Thanks for your time, is there anything else you would like to add or say to Midlands Rocks readers?


 No problem at all, sure:


Thanks for the support at the Serpentine shows this year, looking forward to seeing you at the upcoming festivals and hopefully meeting you for a chat & a beer!


Keep your eye out for Serpentine's third album and my debut solo album "Dreamcatcher" next year.  I'm currently on facebook so there are always plenty of updates, images and videos of whats going on!


Keep rockin'