The Georgia progressive/power metal band Theocracy recently released their latest album Ghost Ship. Frontman Matt Smith gets us up to speed on the album, tour plans, the importance of videos and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: What led to the five year span between studio albums?
Matt Smith: It was a combination of factors. We remixed and re-released the debut album, and between recording the drums for that and finding and preparing all the files, that ended up being almost as much work as doing a full record from scratch. Plus we all have day jobs and a few of us travel a lot, so scheduling is a nightmare. Add to that the fact that I’m a slower composer than I’d like to be, and suddenly it’s five years later!
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Ghost Ship compared to your previous albums?
This one was a little more of a solo effort in terms of the writing, like the early days. I mean, I always do 95 percent of the writing, but with As the World Bleeds we had more time in the room together working on songs and arrangements, and I expected that to continue with Ghost Ship. But it just didn’t work out that way this time because of everyone’s schedules. We weren’t able to get together in a room as much as I’d hoped, and then once the deadline was set, we had to start recording right away. Maybe that’s why some people have said this album reminds them a bit of the Theocracy debut album in spots; who knows?
What are the pros and cons of producing the album yourself?
The pro is the sonics. I think the sound of this album speaks for itself, and almost every review has gushed about the production. I mix and record for other bands here and there as well, so it’s a bit of a day job and something I’ve dedicated thousands and thousands of hours to, and I’m very picky about what I like to hear sonically. I love the sound of this record.
The biggest con is the massive workload of wearing all the hats, and just being able to keep perspective. I demo things really extensively though, so I’m able to live with songs for awhile and come back to them with fresh ears. That makes it easier to get outside of it, and hear things like, “Oh, this feels too long so we need to lose that part” or “These two sections flow well together.” I’m a fan first and foremost, and that lets me keep a fan’s perspective.
What inspired your lyrics for this album?
I was greatly inspired by experiences on tour: meeting so many kids after shows who were looking for direction and for a place to fit in, and who were desperate for their lives to have real meaning. Some people call them the “justice generation” because they want so badly to make a difference somehow, and I think it’s sometimes hard for them to feel like their lives matter with all the noise out there these days. I had this “Ghost Ship” idea, about a place for the invisible people, the ghosts in the eyes of the world.
I was thinking about how Jesus had a tendency to use the unpopular or unremarkable ones to do great things. If there was any grand plan, it was just that I wanted to write a positive and encouraging album. I love As the World Bleeds and I think it was a timely and needed message (albeit hard to hear), and I wanted to follow that up with something a little more uplifting.
How has the band’s sound evolved/progressed this time around?
Everyone is more comfortable in his role, and we all know what we bring to the table and how we can make the songs better. I think Ghost Ship is perhaps more of a streamlined and focused album, maybe slightly less progressive, and more muscular and razor-sharp. That wasn’t an intentional thing, it’s just kinda the way things went this time. There’s only one song over 10 minutes, which is unusual for us. We still have our progressive and unorthodox arrangement moments, particularly in “Easter,” but in general the songs are distilled down to their strongest ideas. I’m glad it went that way this time. With all the long songs we have by now, it’s already hard enough to decide what to play live! (laughs)
What are your expectations for the album?
Well, I know it’s a cliché, but all we can ever do is create the absolute best album we can—something we love, feel proud of, and love to listen to. Then, hopefully other people will like it as well. But we have to try to tune out expectations when we’re in the middle of it. Thankfully, we still really love Ghost Ship and are thrilled with the way it came out. I have to be honest—I still listen to it all the time. Even after spending the last couple years working on it nonstop. So that’s a good sign. And so far, the reactions from others have been unbelievable. Fantastic reviews, great word of mouth from fans, and we even hit the Billboard hard rock charts here in the States. So it has really been above and beyond our wildest dreams so far!
How was the video shoot for “Ghost Ship?”
It was good! I forgot how exhausting video shoots are, because you have to overexaggerate energy for the camera. So you have to be as “on” as you would be for a concert, but even more so and for much longer. Physically, it’s like a sixteen-hour gig on your body, with little breaks here and there. But I think the video came out great, especially considering the time crunch we were under. We had to reschedule several times, but our director Chance White really came through in getting it done in a timely manner anyway. The video has really taken on a life of its own; it has brought us a lot of new fans, and it keeps going!
How important are music videos these days?
That’s debatable, but personally I feel they’ve sort of gone back to being important. Obviously it’s a different world than it was in the ’80s when videos were everything, and it doesn’t have that kind of power, but there was a time after MTV fell off and before YouTube came around that videos seemed like a total waste of money, especially metal videos. But now they’ve gone back to being a great creative tool, and if used correctly they can really spread around and introduce new people to your music. We’ve seen it firsthand with this “Ghost Ship” video. Lots of comments like “Wow, I had never heard these guys before, but this is great!”
What are your upcoming tour plans?
We actually just got back from our fourth European tour, which was the best one yet. We took another young Ulterium Records band called Within Silence out with us, and it was a great pairing. It was a short tour, but the shows were great and the fans were unbelievable. Up next, we have a CD release show here in Atlanta December 3, so we’re looking forward to that since we don’t play in the U.S. that much.
What has been your most memorable Theocracy live show or tour?
Oh man, there have been so many, but two come to mind immediately. The first is the Make-A-Wish show we played in Colorado for a young boy with a brain tumor. I don’t have to tell you what an amazing honor it was to have him choose a Theocracy concert, out of all the things in the entire world he could have chosen. We put on a private show for him and his family, and it was something I’ll never forget. The other one that springs to mind is our first ever European show, at the Elements of Rock festival in Switzerland in 2009. That was the first show we ever played where people actually knew our songs and were singing every word. It was a key moment, after so many years of hard work.
Will you be releasing a Christmas single this year?
We’re really not sure yet. It just depends on time and inspiration. We’d like to do something, but we’ll have to see.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
This is pretty random, but lately I’ve been spinning a lot of ’70s Priest. Unleashed In the East is hard to beat. The new Fates Warning, Theories of Flight, has stayed in constant rotation. And I can’t wait to hear the new Neal Morse Band album.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I just want to thank everyone for checking out Ghost Ship. We hope you continue to enjoy it, and thanks so much for the support. Thanks for the questions!