Matt Blakout (HangFire, Tigertailz, Soft Ground, Dressed to Kill)

Matt Blakout - Hangfire at the Patriot

My first taste of HangFire came them watching them open the second day of the 2012 Steelhouse Festival. They impressed with a set of powerful yet accessible classic rock, delivered with both passion and endearing South Walian humour. (For more on the Steelhouse Festival and HangFire’s performance there, see The Highest Rock Festival in Europe.)

In a way the quality of their performance took me by surprise. But, on reflection, how far wrong can you go with a singer who, according to their website, “could be the bastard lovechild of Coverdale and Grohl”, a guitar maestro apparently Hangfire's Shoot the Crow - album of the year 2012 schooled in both 80s metal and southern-tinged blues rock, and a rhythm section with considerable glam metal pedigree. Intrigued? Then check out the recently released video for  ‘Faith In Me’ and read on.

I caught up with drummer Matt Blakout to find out a little more about HangFire and to talk in Words and Music fashion about Matt’s experience of rock and roll.

Hi Matt! Some questions about HangFire first. For those who don’t know, tell us about the band …
OK, on lead vocals we have Max Rhead, guitars and vocals Lizzy Evans, Bob Goo on bass and myself on drums. I’ve played with Tigertailz in the past but I also play with Verden Allen of Mott The Hoople. Bob was in a band called October Country who released an album some time ago and Max and Lizzy have played in several bands together over the years. Lizzy has also toured with Desecration.

Hangfire

HangFire! Left to right: Matt Blakout, Max Rhead, Lizzy Evans, Bobby Goo

Describe the kind of music you play
Rock music with great melody and hooks.

Tell us about your influences as a band
Obviously there are loads of influences that happen to your playing on a subconscious level. Everyone has their own influences which come out in the song writing process. I don’t dare name bands that influence us as they are varied and not necessarily music I personally listen to. If you listen to our music I’m sure people will pick up on sounds that pay homage to some great bands.

Your most notable gig/s to date as a band?
This is an easy question to answer and would be the Steelhouse Festival last year (2012), a great gig which really proved we can perform with the best of ’em given a chance. Another notable gig for HangFire for many reasons was Hard Rock Hell.

Hangfire rock the Steelhouse Festival 2012

HangFire rock the Steelhouse Festival 2012

I saw and enjoyed your performance at The Steelhouse Festival. Can you explain the connection between HangFire and The Steelhouse?
Yep, our singer Max is one of the promoters who created the festival. Having said that, we still had to prove our place on the festival bill to the others involved, so it wasn’t just a given. We won’t be appearing this year as they have a no returning bands policy.

Where do you see yourselves in five years time?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. We really take it one step at a time. We achieved some great things last year and we hope to achieve great things this year. Having said that, circumstances are ever evolving and everyone has outside pressures. For my part I hope to release a great CD and do some great gigs. My playing is better than ever, so I’d like the chance to get out there and show everyone what we can do.

What next for HangFire in 2013?
We have a new album that will come out when we’re happy with it. We were hoping for early in 2013 but unfortunately time is running away with us once again, so the most important thing is that it’s a great quality release to follow on from the Shoot The Crow album. Our record label, Ripple Music, have been incredibly supportive so we are looking forward to getting it released. We have some great festival appearances booked for 2013 and we hope to do a support somewhere along the line in 2013.

Can I ask some questions specifically about your views and experiences? Is it possible to say what does rock music mean to you?
Matt Blakout -TigertailzI’ve always had a close connection to music as my older brother was always listening to music and playing in bands as far back as I can ever remember. There’s a song for every part of my life and when I listen to certain albums or songs it can take me right back to that moment in time. I’ve been blessed to play some fantastic festivals throughout my career and have met pretty much all those people who had inspired me in my youth. I’ve played festivals with the likes of Kiss, Mötley Crüe, Journey, Whitesnake, Velvet Revolver, pretty much every major band you can name, and I have some fantastic memories. Music really is my life!

What do you want from rock music?
Nothing. I want nothing from it as such but I love it, of course. I love the camaraderie of events like The Steelhouse and Hard Rock Hell, it equalises how people feel about fellow rock fans and it really is like a religion. I will always love rock music and will always enjoy those moments of escapism it affords me.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
For some it’s a mantra and others a reality, I’m sure, though never really a part of it for me. I always had steady girlfriends and was always faithful to them. I always tried to avoid those kind of complications! Drugs? No, never. I don’t even like to take paracetamol, and to be honest I was never exposed to it so never pressured into that scene. I’m sure it did and does happen, but I’ve never really seen it. I think drugs in music these days is more commonplace in rave culture or the club scene. All of my focus and energy certainly went into the R’n’R part!

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
My opinion is that there are far darker things on earth that could be tagged as the devil’s work. Just as the word of God is interpreted by man and man seems to feel the need to kill people to protect his faith, it’s all about interpretation. So maybe religion in itself is the work of the devil. Actually I don’t believe in any such nonsense. It’s a funny thing really as rock fans these days seem to be older, like myself, or have families and are pretty much settled into solid relationships, so I don’t think anyone wants to be confrontational at our age.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Matt Blakout as Eric Carr - Dressed To KillMy brother had a mixtape of music which was my first introduction to rock music as I claimed it for my own. I had no idea who the bands on it were, and only years later got to know who these songs belonged to. Songs like ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ by Priest and ‘This Planet’s On Fire’ by Sammy Hagar. I remember also a friend of mine buying Axe Attack which I think was 1980. I loved all of those songs and the fact the guy on the cover had a bit of Kiss makeup on also added to the mystique. I soon became a huge Kiss fan despite the ridicule of my rock chic sister, her boyfriend and my brother. I can remember making a special trip into the local Woolworths on a Saturday just to look at the cover of the new Kiss album, which was Unmasked at the time. From then and when I started to play the drums I just practised to Kiss albums. Dressed To Kill is one of my favourites to this day. Eric Carr was probably the biggest influence on me, until I got sight of Tommy Lee of course.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Oh wow, that’s such a wide open question. I’m actually a real romantic at heart and I love soppy songs. With that in mind I’ve always loved the Journey ballads, how about these for lyrics:

Everytime is like the first time, tenderly,
Loving you’s like breathing Spring,
Seasons change but your heart beats constantly,
Count my blessings everyday that you love me

Some of the best lyrics come from Jonathan Cain of Journey and that particular songs means a great deal to me. There are loads of others really, to name a few: Tall Stories ‘Crawling Back’; Crüe ‘ Home Sweet Home’, as it was the soundtrack to that particular summer and some great times; Slaughter ‘Up All Night’, a rallying anthem to any night out; and Thunder ‘Love Walked In’. Loads of others, of course.

An artist who’s stayed with you over time?
Has to be Kiss and, of course, I relive the life of Eric Carr in Dressed To Kill, the longest running Kiss tribute band in the world: www.dressedtokill.org.uk

What makes a rock gig special?
It has to be the crowd. The size of it can be a factor, though we’ve done great gigs to a very few people. It’s all about the people who come along to support you and hopefully have a great night in the process.

The best gig you’ve been to as a fan?
Seeing Journey at Sweden Rock in 2006 was a very special moment. The whole event was fantastic and set in a beautiful place. Kiss at Kobetasonik in Spain: we watched the show from the tower, incredible! Mötley Crüe at the Dominion Theatre in London and also their show at the Monsters of Rock in 1984. Oh, and Van Halen and Ratt in 1984 was also incredible.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
Meeting Gene Simmons, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer backstage at the Kobetasonik festival in Spain. Just chatting to them and actually getting to see the legendary Superman curtain of Kiss’ inner sanctum was amazing.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as a musician?
Matt Blakout - on DTK dutyNothing so strange to report. Anyone who appreciates what you do is always great. I think the strangest things happen when I’m dressed as Eric Carr. The lines of reality seem to become a little blurred sometimes and people start to think you actually are in Kiss and you are Eric. People can be really enthusiastic about Kiss stuff and that includes myself of course.

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
That’s a really interesting question but whoever you meet is a person and I guess you need to remember everyone has moods and boundaries and everyone is entitled to their personal space. I think the best approach is be respectful and not to push yourself on people. If they are happy to talk then don’t overstep the line. It’s a difficult question as people are all different. For me personally I’d rather talk to someone than be ignored or stood on my own.

Dylan or Morrison?
Jim for me. I loved the Doors; they left us some great work.

Rock music – music for all or a tribal affair?
One would like to think music for all but it seems it’s a small circle of people getting smaller.
I really wish that rock would stop being ignored by the mainstream press and radio stations, and that this would maybe encourage a wider audience.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
It’s certainly not dead. The music industry as a whole needs to reinvent itself and we are in strange times. The bigger artists are still doing well but it’s getting harder from the ground up. From pub level to academy venue level there is little in between. Young bands are struggling to get any recognition and it seems to be a very closed doors situation. Rock music in the UK is controlled by a handful of people and if they don’t like you, you’re out in the cold. We get exposed to bands and told to like them as if there’s no alternative.

Matt Blakout

CHEERS MATT!

Visit the official HangFire website

Verden Allen’s Soft Ground

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