Interview: Matt Baird of Spoken

TFRR: We are just a couple weeks removed from the release of Breathe Again, it came out about 2 weeks ago now. It’s a killer album as the follow up to Illusion. Can you tell me a little bit about what Breathe Again means to you, the concept behind where everything came from for this record? Matt Baird: I think coming off of Illusion and learning a ton about you know, song writing and how to write a song, and what makes a song decent, you know, it’s one of those things that, it was really cool to grow as a songwriter and continue to try to be better. I mean, how to polish your crap and be more intentional about certain topics, and how you write it you know, and all that stringing together with lyrics and the cadence of it all, and then how it applies to the music. And the thing was, like I was the only person left from the Illusion record, so here comes Scoop, our new guitar player and then Isaiah, our new drummer, so then both of those guys bring in a totally different style of writing into the mix, which was really cool and that was inspiring in itself, musically. So there’s a lot of stuff on this record that’s a lot different than stuff in the past, so that was like a breath-of-fresh-air type situation and really cool. And then just the fact that, you know, we had to get our record written and recorded in two months because our studio time got bumped a little bit. So we were like just going, and going, kind of finishing all the vocals on a song the morning before I recorded it that afternoon. You know? And with all the conversations we had on the road about people who are broken and hurting and confused, and at the same time my wife and I help out a lot at our church, and we have a lot of conversations with teenagers who, you know, they feel alone and they feel like no one understands them, and I think in the end, people—of all ages, it doesn’t matter who you are—you would like to be able to voice why you feel the way you feel, and at the end of that conversation, the person’s like, ‘you know what? I’m really sorry you feel that way; what can I do to help? How can I journey through it with you?’ instead of trying to fix them on the spot. Because I think that a lot of people, especially in recovery situations, that’s all they’ve heard is how to fix yourself. ‘Well, if you didn’t do that, that wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘If you hadn’t done this…’ Well, you know what, I understand where you’re at, I might not have been where you are, you know, but I’m here with you; let’s walk through it together. And that’s what Breathe Again is about. I mean, it wasn’t supposed to be a concept record; it just kind of turned out that way. TFRR: You mentioned that it’s a new lineup, for Breathe Again, compared to what it was with Illusion. There have been a couple lineup changes throughout the years, I mean, it’s hard to believe… I think next year is going to be 19 years-20 years—that’s crazy. Matt Baird: Yeah, February 10 it’ll be 20 years… It’s really, it’s nuts. You know, and when people ask, ‘how many members HAVE been in the band?’ or ‘how many whatever?’, like well, if you look at it over the course of 20 years, and how most people don’t keep their jobs  if they’ve been doing it for five years, they switch it up, or they get a higher education and can take a different job or you know, a promotion became available or whatever. You have to look at it from a job standpoint, as well, you know, I mean being in a touring band, especially based on ministry, is not the easiest thing on Earth. So I always have to look at it as… and you know, if it’s a situation where someone in the band NEEDS to go, like it’s better for the well-being of the band for them to go, which it’s been a lot of years since a situation like that, and no situation… you can’t wait for them to kind of be out of the picture, but you can move on and have a new chapter, plus they can move on with their life, and figure out what it is they’re searching for. But when it’s a situation of you know, a friend in a band and they’re like, ‘hey, I just feel like I’m kind of at a different reason, you know, getting married soon, or you know, I’m buying a house, or we have this job opportunity, you know what I mean? All this stuff, then you have to be in a mindset of being more of a friend to them than a band member. Because I care more about the guys as friends than I do band members. Band members come and go; I know that, but friends, that’s where, the whole thing, to quote the great Michael W Smith, ‘friends forever,” you know? So that’s just one of those things where, you care more about them as people and trust that they’re making the best decision for themselves, and you encourage them. I think we all hear enough discouragement. Like, often we hear what we’re doing wrong, you know, and I think that’s from any standpoint in life, like people focus on what you’re doing wrong. And then, the things you’re doing right just fall to the wayside. It’s one of the things like when band members, they’re moving on for a great reason, man, I’m all about it. TFRR: And when the lineup changes, you bring new musicians to join the band for songwriting, for the lineup changes. You know, from time to time. Is it hard to adjust as a songwriter and lyricist to differing playing styles when new members come in? Matt Baird: You know, I don’t know that it’s harder, I think it might be a better situation. Because you have different musical stylings coming at you and things, and it kind of jogs the creativity in your mind. And you know, with me, straight-up, on Breathe Again, I knew it was a record that, 1.) after coming off of Illusion, there was a lot of expectation[s] on us, you know, just like the fact that like, Illusion turned out pretty good, and Jason Ralph taught us a ton about how to write songs and why to write them a certain way. And so, during that process, it was a refining process for us as songwriters. And then the fact that two of the guys that were on Illusion were gone, so it was just me. So I was the only person in Spoken, so I’m like, ‘okay, if anybody’s ever going to feel the pressure to come out with a record that matters, and is done well, it’s gotta be this one. So you know, I felt a lot of pressure early-on in the process, I was straight-up like, ‘Jesus, you have to write this record, because all I’m going to do is screw it up. I want to get out of the way; whatever lyrics, whatever melody, whatever cadences you want on this, you have to bring them, because I can write 12 okay songs, and that’s fine, but they didn’t need to just be okay.’ So I’m like, ‘I can’t do this on my own.’ And I fell right into the category of like, knowing that I’m walking into a lion’s den, especially when people start doing reviews of the album, or talking about it, it’s not good. They’re going to be like, ‘he’s the only one left, they’ve been around for 20 years, yeah Illusion is so great,’ you know, all this stuff, and so that leaves me kind of alone. Luckily, the fact that Isaiah, our drummer, grew up listening to Spoken, you know, Scoop, our guitar player listened to Spoken YEARS ago, and the fact that he’s a great player, both of the guys, they’re just, they’re both hilarious, amazing players, amazing performers, they have real relationships with Jesus; I couldn’t ask for better band members. Straight-up. I’m sure they want to kill me sometimes, and other times, I want to choke them to death too. But that’s what you get when you ride down the interstate in a closet for 8-10 hours a day for 9 months a year. That sounds amazing. People say, ‘I want to be in a band and be on the road.’ You want to literally sit in a passenger seat or driver’s seat for 8-10 hours a day? That’s like going on family vacation over and over again. I never went on any, but I’ve seen movies about it, and sometimes it’s not the best. TFRR: The collaboration with Matty Mullins on the title track, how did that come about? What was it like working with him? And I know over the last few years, Matty’s had a really big spiritual awakening recently. So what was that like on a personal level working with him as well? Matt Baird: Well, it was really cool because it all came about pretty quick, for me anyway. Scoop, our guitar player, grew up with Matty. They [were] both in Spoken, and they’ve known each other for years, Scoop was in the picture when Matty auditioned for Memphis May Fire, so he’s known all about it for all these years. With me, when we started talking about writing a record and recording a record, which at this point is like 16 months ago or something, I called Scoop up and I’m like, ‘hey, it’s just me. Let’s do this, let’s make it happen.’ And so, you know, we just kind of threw around some ideas and whatever, and we didn’t really dive into writing it until February or March, and then we recorded in April. So in January, we were, you know, doing the whole Kickstarter thing for the Spoken record, I had just recorded a worship record in January as well, and so things were kind of spinning, you know? Like, what are we doing? And how do we get all this stuff figured out? How do I do a worship record and not confuse Spoken fans, like, ‘oh yeah, he went solo, I knew that was coming.’ Because you know how people are. And so they’re easily confused when it comes to bands, especially with their favorite bands, they’re like, ‘wait! What? No! No ripples, don’t mess this up!’ You know, and so we were going to try out a song with Cameron Mizell, who did the past couple Memphis May Fire records. And I was already a very big Memphis May Fire fan; I think Matty’s voice is one of the best in any genre of music. So I’m like, ‘okay, cool.’ And I’d already been listening to them nonstop. And so we’re like, ‘let’s do this song with Cameron Mizell, just to see if we want to do a record with him, see if we want to work together.’ Anyway, we ended up recording that on like January 24th of 2015. Cameron had also kind of double-booked his trip so he could be in Nashville to work with Memphis May Fire on a rerelease of Unconditional, so that worked out really good for both of us. And so, we recorded that song, we were going to shoot a video for it the next day. Anyway, Scoop had contacted Matty and said, ‘hey, you want to sing on this song?’ and he was like, ‘uh, yeah, for sure!’ And so we went over to Matt’s home studio and he recorded vocals, I remember because Scoop was watching the Seahwaks play, and they came back with some sort of magical pitchery because Matty was recording vocals and Scoop was screaming at the top of his lungs downstairs. It was amazing, like it was so funny. I was more entertained by Scoop than anything. But that night, I told Matty, I’m like, ‘dude thanks so much for being on this song, it means so much to me.’ And he was like, ‘dude, are you kidding me? I was listening to Spoken at a very influential time in my life.’ I’m like, ‘woah, okay. Crazy.’ So you know, you kind of just look at that like, and you’re like, ‘the fact that he already listened to Spoken before, [and] I’m a huge fan of his band now, and then we’re coming together on it?’ It was really awesome. And then the fact that he showed up for the video shoot… I don’t know. All of it seemed kind of surreal, it really did. It was nuts. It was an amazing, amazing situation, working with him. TFRR: Speaking of solo stuff, even when Spoken’s not on the road, you’re playing nonstop. I follow you on social media; you’re always posting that you’re going to be in certain cities, certain towns, wanting to play an acoustic show, a church show, a house show, all of that stuff. How does all that help you with Spoken, help you as a performer on the live stage? How does it keep you fresh? Matt Baird: You know, I mean, one of the things, like I’ve started doing more and more of the acoustic stuff in between Spoken tours a few years ago. As a form of income, you know, like I’m a full-time musician, that’s what I do. I don’t have a job that I come back to and is super flexible. It’s one of those things where you have to make things work. If you’re going to surrender your life to a ministry-type situation, or being available at every moment, and then you have a family, and two kids, and you have all the bills that come with it, like mortgage, car payment, you know, all that stuff, like you have to figure out ways to be a provider for your family. It’s HARD sometimes, you know, but God is faithful; he always figures it out. So I started doing more and more acoustic stuff in between tours. And then my church started asking me to sing more for offering songs, and I’m like, ‘yeah, cool. What’s the theme for this sermon?’ So I started writing songs with themes around those sermons or whatever, and so that was really cool because it was super encouraging as far as you know, continuing to be in that writing mode. And I never got out of writing mode from the Illusion mode. Like I tried to stay in that, you know? And luckily, you know, there [are] some decent ideas that come out of the hundreds upon hundreds of that I try to capture, just, a lot of times I just look back  a week later, and I’m embarrassed by what I recorded on my phone or my garage band. I’m like, ‘I cannot believe that.’ I have these fearful thoughts like, ‘what if someone was to steal my phone and listen to all of my voice memos, and they heard how crappy of a songwriter I am?’ Like you know, all this stuff; you go through all these emotions and thoughts. Anyway, so on tour, it’s a great way to fill dates, so like if there’s this day off or whatever, I’m going to go play a coffee shop and make 20 bucks in tips if that’s possible. Or I’m going to play something that fits into a regular programming, something that’s already happening and they’re like, ‘oh dude, we would love to have a worship set, that would be so cool. Just you and a guitar? Yeah, no problem!’ So most of the time, it works out really, kind of… Not difficult, but smoothly. But also, I love to be able to do acoustic tours and take my wife and my kids with me, you know? It’s just a really cool thing. I love to play, I love the storytelling aspect of acoustic sets. I mean literally, you play different kinds of songs, anything from old Spoken songs that we don’t play anymore, which, older Spoken fans are super stoked about it, and then, you know, I do some 80’s cover jams, and some more current worship cover tunes, original worship songs, whatever. And so lots of stories, you tell them on the road for 19 years straight, you have a lot of stories; you’ve met a lot of characters, you know? And so, that’s how it all kind of keeps on going, you know? I feel like as long as God gives me opportunities, and it’s not where I just sit around and wait for him to bring them, I’m diggin’ [it]. Like you said, you follow me on social media, you see how often and annoying I am about like, ‘hey, I’m looking to play this area, if you know anybody in this area.’ The cool thing about that, when I do the acoustic stuff, is a lot of times, it gives first-time promoters a chance to actually do a show with someone other than a local artist. And they can get some type of notoriety, you know, some kind of credentials , like, ‘well, I actually brought Matt Baird from the band Spoken in, blah blah blah.’ And so then a booking agency can look at it and say, ‘okay, I know Matt will play anywhere at any time, so we’ll kind of see. But let’s just see if we can get one of our artists in there.’ And there have been a lot of people who were first-time promoters who go on to do much bigger shows because someone gave them a chance, you know? And so, with me, I’m a guinea pig in many ways, you know, for Spoken and for other agencies. And so, it’s really cool because, I don’t know, you play some small town in the middle of nowhere where they’ve never had a show before, and they’re like, ‘uh, we’ve gotta do more like this.’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, you do.’ A lot of times it kind of weeds out who Spoken can go play for or who they can’t go play for. TFRR: One thing that I love about Spoken, and yourself, is that, over the 19, 20 years Spoken has been a band, you’ve never watered down your message. A lot of Christian rock bands will kind of, when they go mainstream, they’ll kind of water down their message or even stray away from it.  But Spoken has always been very on fire and strong about what you guys believe. Even yourself, as a songwriter. How has the ministry evolved for Spoken, since the beginning to now? Has it evolved? Has it changed? And has it gotten stronger? Matt Baird: I think obviously everything changes, the format you do it, your approach to ministry, even how do you approach ministry with social media? Daily, I don’t want to post some sort of inspirational or spiritual or bible verse on my social media, I would love to do that every day, but at the same time, I feel like it loses its kind of… Steam, you know? It loses its power when it’s just over and over. They get to the point where they just flip on over your feed and don’t care. So I think being intentional and a little bit strategic when it comes to acoustic stuff, Spoken stuff, lyrical content, social media, anything. But in the end, I think the thing that makes it to where it’s a spillover is… I don’t want to talk about anything else other than Jesus, and who Jesus is, and how Jesus can affect the lives of my children, or my wife, or my marriage, or these people who are going through the darkest valleys of their lives. Jesus is the only hope that truly matters, they’ve tried everything else. People know that. ‘I did this, I did this, until I came to Jesus and found true hope in him, you know, I just didn’t have it right.’ And I’m like, ‘exactly, like that’s the whole thing.’ So lyrical content, I’m trying to write what’s in my heart, I’m trying to write about the conversations I have with people, because sometimes [they’re] really hard conversations. Like sometimes people are just really hurt, they’re beaten up, they’re bruised, but at the same time, they’re calloused when it comes to a spiritual standpoint. They don’t want to hear what you’re saying, but at the same time they ask you, ‘hey, what are your thoughts on this?’ And I’m like, ‘do you really want my thoughts on it?’ I mean, all I can do is share experience or what the bible says, you know? That’s it. I’m no bible scholar, I know some of it. But I think the only way to truly give hope to the world is to give them Jesus. TFRR: I think it’s important to always be learning, because once you get to the point where you feel like you know everything about the bible, there’s no room for growth anymore. You become stagnant and you stay where you are, and eventually it fizzles out. Matt Baird: Totally, and I think a person can say they know everything about the bible there is to know, but at the same time, if God is an omnipotent, all-knowing, unchanging God or whatever, he’s going to make it where you read the bible for the hundredth time all the way through, and you get something new from it every time. Because it’s that whole thing, if you could put God in a box, he’s not a big enough God. Or if I can understand God with my own brain, he’s not big enough. Luckily, he blows my mind every day, so I’m like, ‘okay, I’m along for the ride, let’s do this.’ TFRR: Being on the road, you encounter so many different kinds of people. You talked earlier about people who are just hurt and worn-down. And I’m sure you have encountered this situation: if you were to ever come across somebody who is a believer or was, but out of all of the pain in their life, decided it’s not real, what advice would you give them? Matt Baird: I mean, we have conversations with atheists all the time, who have reasons for believing what they believe, whether it be from loss, or hurt from the church, or whatever it may be, or sometimes they’re just like, ‘yeah, I still believe it.’ Like, ‘okay,’ because in the end, and I tell them this too, there’s nothing that I can say right now, in this moment, that’s going to make it just click in your head and your heart, and you’ll be like, ‘oh, you know what? You’re completely right! Man, that’s crazy.’ That’s a situation of your heart being open to it, and the Holy Spirit actually speaking to your heart, but you’ve got to be open to it first. If a person is completely shut off from it for whatever reason, how in the world will God work in their lives? A lot of times, people say, ‘well how do I know what God wants me to do?’ Are you talking to him? Are you in communication with him? That’s how you know. So I tell people as well, ‘hey, you’re sitting here telling me you’re an atheist; that you don’t believe what I believe, and that’s totally fine. Like, I’m not mad at you for that. I’m just thankful you’re open to having a conversation. But I can’t tell you five key words that are going to make you be like, ‘I get it now’ or whatever. And the same way, there’s nothing you can say to me about why you don’t believe or what you think is so stupid about my faith that’s going to make me be like, ‘you know what, you’re totally right.’’ And it all comes down to the point of experiencing God, needing God, knowing God, and that being a pursuit throughout their whole life, you know, always chasing after him. Because we are going to have troubles, we are going to have situations that we wish we didn’t have to go through. I feel like every day, there’s a situation [where] I’m like, ‘no way,’ and at times I feel like I’m being punk’d by God or something, like, ‘what is he doing? Sitting up there laughing at what’s going on?’ And so, I don’t really know. And it’s okay sometimes, to be like, ‘hey, I don’t know, I don’t know why these things are happening to you. I know of things that have happened in my life that I wish didn’t happen, but in every situation, you come out stronger, and you know, you’re put through the fire. You’re fighting the fire, and you’re given a new perspective on everything.’ But in the end, I don’t think any of us are going to have all the answers when it comes out to words, or verbally, but showing them unconditional love, the true love of Jesus, it’s going to be something eternal. TFRR: I think it’s good to not always know, because so many, especially believers, feel like they have to know the answer to every question they get asked and everything there is. I think it’s good to sometimes not know, because that leaves room for growth. Matt Baird: Yeah, totally. And it also helps the person who is a believer, to help the nonbeliever, [because] it helps them understand, ‘oh they’re not a robot; they don’t know everything. They’re not coming off as self-righteous.’ But I get it. There’s sometimes when people, they have some pretty good arguments when it comes to certain things. And you’re like, ‘man, wow. I don’t know.’ I think we need to realize it’s okay to say we don’t know, but let’s find out. TFRR: With the album just releasing, with it being the holidays, in 2016 I’d assume lots and lots of touring. The last time you and I caught up was about three years ago, it Fort Wayne, at Pierre’s in the Dunkin Donuts, on the Volbeat tour. Any tour plans in place for 2016? What can we look for? Matt Baird: We’re actually still kind of waiting to figure out what’s going on in January, there’s still some possibilities in January, which it awesome, I’m all about it. TFRR: I think you guys are hitting the road with Disciple soon, right? Matt Baird: Yeah, February, March, and the end of April, we’ll be out with them for forever. Which is exciting, because we’ve been talking to Disciple about doing a long tour for about 15 years probably. So here we are, and I think it’s going to be a really cool tour. I think there’s going to be some cool opportunities to play some shows that are just Spoken shows out-and-about, some acoustic stuff. We plan on hitting every radio station possible that we can along the way, just promoting the record, but at the same time, just taking advantage of every opportunity to just hang out with people. Cause so often, like, the stuff that people never hear about or see, are some of the coolest moments in the industry. Just hanging out, when you’re not live, on-air, a non-Christian deejay, and just talking about life, you know? And they’re like, ‘oh, that’s cool that that’s where you guys put your lives and your thoughts or whatever,’ and you’re like, ‘yeah, it is. It’s crazy that we have a hope. We’re thankful, we’re grateful.’ But yeah, we will be very busy in 2016. TFRR: Awesome, looking forward to it. It’s good to see you guys on the road with Disciple, because Spoken and Disciple are the longest-running Christian rock bands right now; they’ve been around for forever. So I mean, it’s going to be awesome. Matt Baird: It’s crazy! And the cool thing is, when we first started… Let’s see, the band started in ’96, the first record was released in ’97, and probably late ’97 was when we ran into Disciple in Evansville, Indiana. They were a three-piece… I can’t even remember what record they had out at the time. Maybe it was My Daddy Can Whip Your Daddy or something like that, you know. We played this show, and this band Disciple played and we were like, ‘woah, what in the world? This is incredible!’ and we had like a week off or something like that, and Disciple was like, ‘so what are you guys doing the next few days?’ and we’re like, ‘we just have some days off,’ and they’re like, ‘well why don’t you go to Pennsylvania and Maryland with us?’ and we’re like, ‘are you serious?’ So we did. We took off with them, we played some shows in Pennsylvania, and we played in Waldorf, Maryland at a place called My Brother’s Place, and I’ll never forget it. Like, literally, they were like, ‘hey, just go with us, let’s hang out.’ And so we did, and it was a very inspiring and influential time in the career of Spoken. So Kevin has played a huge part in the ministry aspect of Spoken, like, it’s just been really cool. TFRR: There are a lot of similarities between the bands, there have been numerous inceptions in both bands, you’ve both been around for 20 years each, numerous albums, the message is just as strong as when they started out, just like Spoken. It’s gonna be awesome. Hopefully, I’m able to get out to check out some of those dates. I looked them up on the Bandsintown app last night and I think I can hit one of them. Fingers crossed! Thank you so much for taking time out of your holiday season. I hope you and your family have a great Christmas, and we’ll talk again soon. Matt Baird: Awesome, I appreciate it man, thank you so much.