Michael Thomas Of Bullet For My Valentine
Michael "Moose" Thomas: Anger Manager
Considering that he thrashes skins for Bullet For My Valentine, we were expecting Michael “Moose” Thomas – the double-bass bruiser seen on the stages of Download, Rockstar-Mayhem, and other mega festivals – to be extroverted. Possibly even dangerous. But the soft-spoken Welshman couldn’t have been more approachable.
At the moment, Thomas is at Sphere Studios in London writing the last few songs for the new record, Temper, Temper. The deceptively docile personality profile fits a guy who early last year went to Thailand – Karma Studios in Bang Saray, to be exact – for refuge from the rock and roll circus. “I think we just needed to get away from the U.K. and concentrate where we couldn’t be disturbed,” he says. “So we took six weeks and just focused on writing the album.”
The hellish 36-hour plane ride from Wales to Southeast Asia was enough to inspire first single “Breaking Point,” a kick-fueled onslaught tracked appropriately (or eerily) enough on Valentine’s Day. “We got all screwed up from jetlag, so we just went straight to the studio and recorded it,” he says. “It was ready to come out by then.”
With producer Don Gilmore at the helm once again, Temper Temper sees Bullet For My Valentine burnish its NWOBHM-influenced sound into a big chorus—sporting slab of devils-horn—throwing anthems. It’s quite a feat when you consider the band showed up in the studio with nothing but their toothbrushes. “On Fever I knew the songs so I went into the studio and I’d done them all within four to five days,” he says. “With this album I was running blind. Except for the odd song, we’d never done an album like that before.”
What seems like an impulsive, even reckless way to go about making an album – no demos, no fully formed ideas – ended up pushing the band into an unexpected direction. “I think this album’s a lot darker and heavier than Fever but a lot slower in tempo.”
While other drummers might take advantage of the extra space, the self-effacing Thomas felt no such temptation. “I wanted to get straight to the point,” he says. “There’s no point in putting crazy drum fills where they don’t belong. And I was also going for a more classic, natural drum sound rather than it being all triggered and sounding like a drum machine. I’ve been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin the last 18 months so …”
Thomas also got an ugly surprise after the band flew back home. “I lived with the songs for like a week or two, and then I felt like I didn’t play as confident as I should have.” Once he had a better an idea of what he wanted, he rerecorded every single track.
Temper Temper still sounds like Bullet For My Valentine: Sudden, explosive fills; click-tracked precision (“I basically won’t play without a click”); even finesse, such as “Breaking Point”’s hat sixteenths in the verses. “One of my favorite drummers is Stewart Copeland. We were listening back and Matt said, ’There’s a little gap there,’ so I just stuck the little hi-hat flicks in, but just more basic [than Copeland’s].” But it’s the big-picture stuff – like the textural contrast he creates on the title track’s loping pace in the verses against the notey-fiffing of Paget – that makes Thomas such an essential part of BFMV’s catchy-thrash sound.
Slick as Temper Temper is, no amount of EQ could mute the single-stroke salvo that kicks off “Leech.” “I’ve been always wanting to do that fill, but I never had time [with the frantic tempos]” he says. “It was originally later on in the song, but we went back and put it at the front. So I finally got it in there.” [laughs]
Playing open handed like a lot of natural lefties has enabled Thomas to get between the snare and hats quickly, like on the verses in power ballad “Dead To The World.” It never occurred to the southpaw to put the hi-hat stand on the right, and then roll to the left. “I was punk rock: I just sat behind my friend’s drum kit and picked up the sticks. I didn’t know which way it was supposed to go, so that’s how I learned. Now I wish I had just swapped the kit around because sometimes there’s stuff I want to do and I can’t because of my stupid left hand.”
In addition to recording without bass drum triggers (he still uses them live), Thomas’s in-ear settings were kept to a minimum with just a bit of Matt Tuck and Michael Padget’s guitars but none of Jason James’ bass. The bass drums are in there, too, but not the toms (“I’m close to my toms. They don’t need a boost from my in-ears.”).
When performing, most bands take liberties with the material but the crowd-pleasing Bullet For My Valentine hew to the album – especially as far as the tempo is concerned. “Basically what we do is, after we finish the album sections we get all the clicks and then just take them with us and cycle them all in my in-ears so I can just have everything solid, with the tempo where it should be.”
A factor in Thomas’s ever-increasing confidence behind the kit is the garage at his home, which was recently converted into a drum room, where he was able to hone his perfectionist tendencies. “I’ve been learning quite a lot of new things, which is nice now because I can actually step out my front door and go straight into my other room and play drums, which I’ve never been able to do before.”
He would never say as much, but the drum room is also a symbol of triumph. Thomas’ hometown of Bridgen, a depressed former coalmining town in the heart of “black country,” is better known for a rash of teen suicides a few years back than its music scene. Yet the longs odds fostered a friendly competition between the band and their local metal brethren including Lost Prophets and Funeral For A Friend, who have also enjoyed success in the States. “When we were all growing up we were kind of pushing each other,” he explains. “It was kind of, If you can this, then we can do it, too. A lot of U.K. bands go to America, and there’s about four people at the show every night. I’m like, ’That’s funny. When we go, if we play at the arenas, it’s 20,000 people. If we play at the theaters it’s like 3,000. How are you only playing for four people?’”
Thomas isn’t bragging, but he has no sympathy for people who don’t go after what they want. Like the pummeling beats he doles out, it’s all business with this bloke. “I feel we’ve always worked hard in America,” he says. “We come home after tour, start working on another album, and then we just keep going back.”
Latest Release Temper Temper
Birthplace Bridgen, Wales, U.K.
Influences Dave Grohl, Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo
Drums Pearl Reference
Snare 14" x 8" Pearl; 1970 Ludwig Black Beauty (recording)
Hardware Pearl Demon Drive (two singles)
Sticks Vic Firth
Bullet For My Valentine
There’s nary a trace of drumming fluff on the 11 songs that comprise Bullet For My Valentine’s latest brutal effort. Rather, the aptly nicknamed “Moose” delivers a muscular, workmanlike performance, glomming onto his mates’ meaty riffs with the percussive force of a jackhammer. Check out the Welshman’s weighty, economic approach to the choruses of “Riot” and just try to resist the urge to headbang. The same goes for the stampeding sixteenth-note kicks and staccato snare shots that drive the album’s opening one-two punch of “Breaking Point” and “Truth Hurts.” It’s not all straight-up meat and potatoes on Temper Temper – Moose navigates the jagged title track via a nimble, angular verse pattern and offbeat snare/cymbal accents in the bridge, à la vintage Lars Ulrich. Even his more attention-grabbing moments – like the staggered snare roll launching into “Leech,” or the kit-spanning triplet fill in said song’s breakdown – are perfectly measured and musical, spacious and supportive. Who ever said playing for the song had to be boring?
Michael “Moose” Thomas’ style of metalcore drumming offers some fresh and interesting twists to the genre without sacrificing slamming drumming just for the sake of cleverness. His funky groove on title track “Temper Temper” begins with an unusual snare on count 1 followed by another offbeat snare on the (3) & with a more typical 2 and 4 heard in the second measure of this two-bar pattern. The section that follows offers a “normal” metal groove.