Matt Smith - Theocracy

Interview with Matt Smith from Theocracy (October 20, 2003)

Hi Matt, first off I would like to congratulate you on your great debut album - really a cool release. I really like your music, but to people unfamiliar with your music how would you describe it yourself?
- I'm not the best at trying to label my own music, but I would probably call it something like Epic Metal with occasional progressive tendencies. I think that pretty much nails it.

What kind of music has inspired you, I hear some Fates Warning (old), Iron Maiden, Helloween, Symphony X even some folk music mixed in there?
 - Well, I must admit that folk hasn't been an influence at all, so it's interesting that you mentioned it...but I have definitely had a whole lot of influences, including lots of the bands you listed. I'm also influenced by film scores, etc., but most of my major influences have been various heavy bands; everything from classic Metal to prog, power, thrash, etc. I've learned different things from different bands, and incorporated these things into my own writing style. I certainly didn't try to invent some new style or go out of my way to be shockingly original or anything, but at the same time, I don't think I sound just like any one particular band.

Theocracy ended up being a one-man project – howcome?
 - It actually started out with me playing guitar and singing, and a friend of mine playing bass. We would jam with various drummers, etc., and we played a couple of little shows here and there. But the bass player eventually went to college in a different town, and other people moved or didn't have the time to devote to it anymore. I guess that's bound to happen when you're at that age, and soon I found myself on my own. So I just started concentrating on writing and recording more (and better) songs, and did one or two little demos. Deron Blevins from MetalAges Records heard some of the stuff and contacted me while I was working on the debut album, and he said he wanted to release it. And here we are!

Do you plan to put together a band or will Theocracy continue as a one-man project?

 - I would love to put a real band together and go on tour; that's certainly a dream of mine. I have no intent for Theocracy to remain a one-man project; we'll see what the future holds, I guess. Besides, I don't think I could handle doing the second album completely by myself again... I don't think I'd survive through it a second time!

Your album has been recorded using programmed drums in your own studio, was that due to lack of funds or because you couldn't find a suitable drummer?

 - Hmm....that's just kind of how it happened, I guess. This album was originally going to be a demo that I was going to shop to various labels, and I had just been using the drum machine as I went along. By the time Deron contacted me a lot of the album was done, so I just basically finished what I'd started. Of course, if I'd had access to a drummer of that caliber and a nice studio to track drums in, I would have tried to go that route, but it just never happened. Hopefully next time.

I can see that you start your thank you list by thanking God; do you consider you a Christian metal band or a musician with a Christian backgound? And why?

 - Both. Theocracy is definitely a Christian project, and will always be. I'm very proud of that fact. It's what I believe, and it's the message I choose to deliver in my songs. I don't understand some of these bands that kind of act like they're Christian, but then deny it, but then flirt with it again to keep people guessing. That's not me. I am a Christian, and I consider Theocracy to be a Christian project. At the same time, I chose to operate outside of the Christian "scene" if you will, because my brief interaction with some of those labels, etc. left a bad taste in my mouth. So instead of trying to work inside some sort of marketing framework, I chose to step outside any of it and present my music at face value. "Here's my album, here's what I believe and what I stand for. Take it or leave it." It's not exclusively aimed at a Christian market or a secular market or any market. It's there for anyone who may be interested, which is the way it should be. Deron is also a Christian, so we're on the same page with everything, and it has worked out great so far. I certainly don't think you have to be a Christian to enjoy the record; I've gotten many great comments from people who aren't Christians who still love the music. I don't think it comes across as preachy or accusatory or anything at all; that is absolutely not my intent. At the same time, I don't back down or shy away from what I believe in. It's just approached in a personal manner most of the time.

What has inspired you in your lyrics besides the Bible? Is there a hidden message in a track like "New Jerusalem"?  A perhaps bold wish for a happy solution in Israel?

 - Not at all, but that's an interesting take. The Bible refers to heaven as the new Jerusalem sometimes, which is basically what that particular track is about; sort of describing dreamlike visions of paradise, if you will. As for other lyrical inspirations, it can really be anything. Some may be inspired by historical accounts, and some by things I've thought heavily about or situations I've been in. Some are also inspired by situations that various friends of mine have gone through. There are lyrics on there that have completely different meanings to certain people, outside of the surface meanings of the tracks. So it's really just about whatever inspires me enough to think it will make a cool song, and that could be anything.

The album cover is done by acclaimed metal cover artist Mattias Norén - how did that connection come about?

 - Well, it was kind of funny, actually. I was a big fan of the layout of Evergrey's "In Search of Truth." I just loved the look of it, and kind of had that in mind when thinking about a cover/booklet design. Of course I didn't want to rip it off or anything, but I just wanted a cover with that kind of vibe. One day I saw something Mattias posted on a message board or something, and this was before I realized it was the same guy. I went to his site and was like, "WHOA!  This guy could totally pull off something in the vein I'm looking for!". Then I kept looking through his online portfolio, and discovered that it was actually the same guy. No  wonder I thought he'd be able to nail that style, heh heh!!! So I sent him an e-mail, and he agreed to do it. Mattias is the nicest guy in the world, and he was invaluable in helping me with ideas for the cover. This album ended up being somewhat unorganized because of the way it happened, whereas I normally would know everything in advance: "This is the way the cover will look. These are the songs. This is the order," and so forth. I like to visualize the big picture, because to me an album is an ALBUM, not just a random collection of songs. But since this album was originally going to be a demo, that was all thrown for a loop a little bit and it wasn't quite so organized. This translated to the cover; I had some random ideas, but I wasn't sure how to fit it all together. For instance, the serpent/earth sketch was something I knew I wanted to do, and my friend Renee' Perro (a wonderful artist in her own right) did that for me. At the same time, I didn't want that to be the only thing on the cover, because I had some other ideas as well. I told Mattias what I was thinking, and he immediately knew how to make it all work together. The end result is literally one of the best album covers I've ever seen; it's just beautiful. He took my fragmented ideas and created something with a very natural unity. I really hope we can work together again in the future.

Matt I know you are on various metal mailing lists;  how important is the internet for spreading the word on Theocracy?

 - I owe almost every bit of success I've had to the Internet. It's especially important in this kind of music, which is not "cool" enough to be on MTV or the radio or whatever. That's one thing I love, because the fans are real. They're here because they love the music, not because they want to follow some stupid trend. Because of that, it ends up being a pretty close-knit community of fans, and the Internet is the easiest way to find other fans, other bands, etc. And word spreads like wildfire. It's really a very exciting time to be a budding musician, because I think we have it a lot easier in some ways than people used to. Word of mouth spreads so much faster and so much farther. I mean, most Theocracy fans seem to be from Europe, and I've never even been out of the US!  That's an awesome thing. 

Could you pls. make a Top 5 all-time list or the 5 most important albums in your opinion?

 - Oh my goodness. I love lists, but that's a hard one! I had to expand it to 8 instead of 5, and aside from the #1 slot, this is not necessarily in order. Plus, I stuck to one album per band, whereas if this were my real top 10, there probably would have been a few bands with more than one album listed (and some of the others would have been bumped down a little bit). Instead, I wanted to list different bands/albums that I love or that have influenced my songwriting in some way.

1) Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime
 - What can you say? Many of us doing this kind of music wouldn't be doing so if it wasn't for this album.Or at the very least, there wouldn't be the audience for this style that there is. Musically, this album literally changed my life; it made me realize there was so much out there beyond the garbage played on the radio. A timeless masterpiece.

2) Iron Maiden - Powerslave
 - I could have chosen from several of the classic albums, but I chose this one because "Aces High" in particular made me fall in love with that sound. It's not hard to hear Steve's influence on my writing, especially concerning the soaring vocal melodies and harmonized guitars. "Somewhere in Time" is probably a more consistent album, and maybe my favorite. But I'll stick with "Powerslave" for the sake of influence.

3) Edguy - Mandrake
 - Another big influence on my writing, especially concerning the choirs and the speed. I think Tobias Sammet is one of the best songwriters the world (or at least this kind of music) has ever seen. I am constantly in awe of his work and looking forward to his next move. This is probably my favorite album of theirs.

4) Dream Theater - Awake
 - One of my all-time favorite bands, and to me this is their best album. I was hooked immediately. It's another classic for the ages; nice and heavy. Also one of the most well-produced and best-sounding albums of all time, in my opinion. It's pretty much sonically flawless.

5) Metallica - Master of Puppets
 - Of course this album is going to be in any list; its influence can't be denied. Hetfield was my "teacher" when it came to rhythm guitar playing and lyric writing. I developed much of my style as a guitar player from him, and also learned how to best phrase my lyrics for maximum power and effect.

6) Skid Row - Slave to the Grind
 - The most underrated band of all time. It's such a shame that they were dismissed by some because they came out during the glam period of the 80s; they were the real deal. An incredibly energetic offering from a great band. This was the album for me and my friends back in high school.

7) Savatage - The Wake of Magellan
 - Many would argue (or even take offense), but for me this was easily their peak period. These guys were another huge influence on my writing, especially in terms of the counterpoint vocals (at the end of "Twist of Fate," for example). I love that stuff. I love the whole epic, powerful, theatrical feel of it all.

8) Symphony X - The Odyssey
 - This actually is not my favorite Symphony X album (I love it, but I think "V" is probably the most consistent, while "Twilight in Olympus" probably has most of my favorite songs), but I had to put it on here because of the title track. "The Odyssey" is, hands-down, my favorite song of all time. It is a true work of art, and it encompasses everything that is great about this kind of music in 24 minutes. This track has it all. Romeo's orchestration is mindblowing, and Russ is the best vocalist out there, in my book.

So there you have it! I could add so many more, but those 8 have influenced me in some way, so I think that's a pretty good list.

Thank you for your support, Kenn, and thanks to the Theocracy fans who have bought the album and are helping to spread the word! God bless you all!


Thank you, Matt for taking the time to do this interview for my site, and the best of luck to you! Also a kind thought to Deron for setting up this interview.

Theocracy - Theocracy

Debut album out on MetalAges Records

Click on the album cover to see more info on Theocracy