British rockers Serpentine have taken the AOR scene by storm over the last couple of years. Matt talks to their lead singer Matt Black about Serpentine’s upcoming tour, new album, Tony Mills and more.
Hi Matt and thanks for doing this interview.
Matt Black: Hi Matt, no problem, it’s a pleasure, great name by the way!
Firstly, the big news this week was that you had decided to leave Six of the Best. What prompted the move, and was it a hard decision?
Matt Black: Yes, well unfortunately it’s become abit of a struggle for everyone to perform on a regular basis with this project so many members have now left to make room for a new set of musicians to step in and play the show as often as it deserves.
Last year was a great year for Serpentine, a good tour and an appearance at Firefest. The reviews you received were all fantastic too. Any particular great memories from last year, or was there any particular challenges for you or the band?
Matt Black: Sure every band has challenges, I have great memories from 2011, it was a tough year for me particularly stepping into an already established band. But I feel that I’ve found my feet and really enjoying working with the guys and management, had some great times on tour already in the UK, Germany and Spain. And I’m looking forward to much more in the near future.
When you joined Serpentine, it was to replace the band’s previous singer Tony Mill’s. Tony’s something of a legend in melodic rock. Did that cause any nerves for you or did you feel fairly comfortable?
Matt Black: Yeah it was certainly on my mind that I may not be accepted as Tony Mills is a fantastic vocalist, frontman and writer. But I had alot of support from the fans, my friends and family, and Tony himself was always a phone call away to give me advice and I have to thank him and everyone else for that.
Is Tony still involved with the band?
Matt Black: I think Tony’s involvement previously has helped Serpentine quickly develop into well oiled machine, the band runs like clock-work but no Tony is no longer involved with the writing or live shows. Although, we did share the stage with Tony at private party in Birmingham last year where myself and Tony sang the Serpentine songs together. It was a great experience for me. But I have to mention that we speak to Tony regularly and he watches the progress of the band, and that’s always a nice feeling for us.
Now I know you sing, play guitar, bass, keyboard, and write – which means you’re basically a one man band! Being so versatile, do you find it difficult to stick to one role in a band, or do you feel like you want to do everything at once sometimes?
Matt Black: Well yeah I’m primarily a vocalist but I get much enjoyment performing on guitar onstage also. I do play bass and keyboards at home for my own entertainment and when I’m writing songs. But I like the freedom of running around a stage with a microphone in my hand. I have just recently put together my “Matt Black Band” and I am playing some guitar on the debut album that we’re currently recording, so I will be picking up a guitar for some songs in the live shows, and maybe jump onto keyboards every now and then too, we’ll see what happens!
I know Steve Perry was a big influence on you, and when I hear Serpentine it really sounds to me like a cross between Journey and the english AOR band Lost Weekend. Is that deliberate or is it just where the inspiration took you guys?
Matt Black: Yeah Perry is one of the many people that influence my singing. I know that the guys are very much into bands like Journey, Toto and many other AOR bands and that has shown in the songs they have written in the 2 albums they released before I came on the scene. But luckily I have the same influences so I feel that I slotted into the band in true jig-saw style. We have already began writing for the 3rd album which we plan to take the same AOR road but maybe with a slightly more modern twist.
Personally I love seeing pop and other genre’s covered by rock and metal bands. I have to ask what prompted the decision to cover Toni Braxton’s Unbreak My Heart – was it because you thought it would sound good by a rock band (which I was very surprised to find out that it did!) or because you guys are secretly Braxton fans?
Matt Black: Well as I mentioned before, that was part of the debut album before I came into the band but I believe it was Tony’s idea to do that song. And I have to say he does a fantastic job on the vocals in that song.
This year’s already looking good, you’ve got shows lined up with the Matt Black Band, and Serpentine are going to be supporting Ten on tour (along with White Widow). Have you met Gary and the guys from Ten yet? Are Serpentine psyched up and ready to get on stage?
Matt Black: Yeah it’s proving to be a busy year from April onwards with MBB & Serpentine and I have other bits and peices that I am involved with to keep me busy. Serpentine are all fired up for these live shows, we’ll be putting in some new songs into the set too. We’ve performed with White Widdow before in Germany and in the UK at Firefest so it will be great to see those guys again, they’re an excellent band and a top bunch of guys. Playing with Ten will be great I’m sure. I haven’t met the guys from Ten yet but Steve McKenna on bass actually was part of the Six Of The Best line-up so we’ve worked together for a couple of years already. I bet he thought he had finally got rid of me after the Six Of The Best split, now he’s stuck with me on a UK Tour a couple of months later, I think he’s a really lucky boy!
Can you tell us anything about an upcoming album?
Matt Black: Well we’ve already started writing for it, playing around with some new ideas and experimenting with some new sounds. There may be a live album in the pipeline before a 3rd album of new material. I’m looking forward to working with the Serpentine guys, they’re great writers and have come up with some brilliant songs so far. Album 1 & 2 are great, they could have just done with a little more cowbell.
What made you first decide to pick up an instrument, who inspired you to play guitar?
Matt Black: Well it may not be cool, but my Dad used to take me to see Status Quo as a child and I always wanted to be like Francis Rossi so I began playing Quo songs on guitar… but once it no longer became I challenge I would get bored and start to sing along to the songs I played… and to be honest, when I first started singing I was awful.. but after a while I began to hold pitch and practiced some breathing techniques and we went from there to here… sounding tone deaf in a bedroom, to sounding tone deaf to thousands of people at festivals around the world! I can’t complain!
Anything else you’d like to share with us about your plans for the future?
Matt Black: Well before the summertime I’ll be releasing my debut solo album “Dreamcatcher” and taking the road with MBB with John Hardman on guitar, Andy Scott on bass and Nigel Durham from Saxon on drums. I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun, I hear that theres been quite a few advance tickets sold for the live shows in the UK so I’m really looking forward to working with the guys and seeing everyone on tour.
Finally, anything you’d like to say to the fans?
Matt Black: Quite simply, thank you for all the support given to myself and Serpentine. We’re having the time of our lives and we look forward to seeing you when we’re out on the road!
Thanks again, and all the best for a great year.
Matt Black: Thanks Matt, if you ever find yourself in Yorkshire, I know where there “might” be a pub or two! All the best