“Sex, drugs, rock and roll” — it’s the battle cry of most bands, and one might believe that any group that introduces themselves via pole dancers must live up to that credo to the tenth power. But looks, and videos, can be deceiving.
Matt Walst is lead vocalist and guitarist for Canadian rock band My Darkest Days, who made their grand entry a few months back with what might be this year’s best video, accompanying their first single, “Porn Star Dancing.” The racy clip is filled with scantily clad women swinging from poles and gyrating around the band while liquor flows, beat-heavy music blasts, and scene-stealer Ludacris appears about two-thirds of the way in to add more bang to the rhythmic buck.
My Darkest Days feat. Ludacris-”Porn Star Dancing”
Walst fronts a group that includes Brendan McMillan on bass and backing vocals, Doug Oliver on drums and backing vocals, Sal Costa on guitars and backing vocals, and joining MDD on tour, Reid Henry on keyboard, guitar and backing vocals. While the nature of “Porn Star Dancing,” and its irresistible clip, screams of wild musicians and rock and roll attitude, Walst is in fact calm, soft-spoken and clearly still in disbelief at all that is happening for My Darkest Days.
By the time My Darkest Days signed with Mountain View Records, a Vancouver-based imprint co-owned by Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and producer Joey Moi, the band had original songs and knew how to work a crowd. Kroeger heard a demo, recognized the potential and a deal was negotiated. From there, he and Moi took the band into their Mountain View Studios to fine-tune the material and the musicians into what became MDD’s self-titled debut album, released September 21.
Matt Walst spoke to PlanetIll.com from the road, where My Darkest Days was touring with Hinder prior to beginning a two-month stretch of dates with Papa Roach.
Planet Ill: When did music become a part of your life?
Matt Walst: My parents were really musical and it was a big thing in the house. They weren’t musicians, but they love music. I was at a wedding when I was 4 years old and my uncle held me up to the microphone and I sang Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night.” Trying to perform came naturally to me. I was the class clown in school and I liked to perform and entertain people as a kid. I would listen to songs over and over. People will listen to a song and then move on, but I listened to every piece of the song until I knew it in and out.
I listened to everything from Buddy Holly to Peter Gabriel to Phil Collins. I listened to songwriters. I didn’t really take guitar lessons, so I had to create. I didn’t learn other people’s music. I had to make up songs on my own. There was a huge advantage to that, because a lot of people take lessons, get into playing covers and never try to do it themselves. I never did that, and it was a huge advantage for me as a songwriter.
At first I just had riffs. I didn’t know about structure or formula. When I was 18 or 19, Three Days Grace was working with [Juno Award-winning producer] Gavin Brown, and that’s where I learned about dynamics and how to write an actual song. Watching Three Days Grace play and write was a big eye-opener for me. There really is a formula to songwriting. It’s intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, outro. Gavin is a huge Beatles fan and so am I. When you listen to the early Beatles albums, you can see that they started with that. Then they did too much acid it and it all got wonky!
Planet Ill: How much recording experience did you have prior to making this record?
Matt Walst: I did a lot of demos with Gavin, but he wasn’t as hard on my vocals as Joey Moi. Joey wants you to sing it over and over until you get the take. With Gavin, I would get in the booth, sing it four times and he’d say, “That’s good.” With Joey, it was days or even weeks on the same song. It’s hard to make a record. You can go with what you felt when you first wrote a song or heard the song, but hearing it over and over when you’re in the studio — it loses its shine almost, so you have to remember what it was like when you wrote it and when you first started playing it, because you can over-think things.
Planet Ill: Were the songs already written when you began tracking?
Matt Walst: We had the main ideas. The choruses I would usually bring to the table. We’d rework 40 percent of it with Chad and Joey until it was ready. It took three years to make this album. Nickelback recorded their last album, Dark Horse, in the middle of it. We’re in Toronto, they’re in Vancouver, and there was a lot of flying out there to record for a couple of months, then coming home, and then flying back whenever they had time. They’re busy with other projects, and Nickelback, but even that was good in a way. We could come back, look at the songs and fix things. A lot of albums are just filler because the band is on the road, trying to write and tour, then they have two months to record before they go back on the road. Because we didn’t rush, we were able to put in the time and work to make a good album.
Planet Ill: What did you learn from working with Chad and Joey?
Matt Walst: Seeing the success that they have had, and how hard they worked to get there, we really learned from that. They made us work harder. We practiced more than any band should practice. We didn’t want to suck and get yelled at. Working with Chad and Joey is like working with your parents!
Planet Ill: Given your musical knowledge and experience, was it difficult to turn the reins over to not one, but two producers?
Matt Walst: Oh, no! From day one, it was always about the songs. You’ve got to try everything. A lot of people hold their songs too close and say, “I’m not changing it.” If your producer wants to try something, be open to suggestions when you work with people. A lot of writers don’t open up, they don’t want to write with others, and that’s a shame because it’s a great way of getting a better song through collaboration.
Planet Ill: What was the recording process like for your vocals?
Matt Walst: I was in an iso booth with a window out to Joey and we did takes over and over, doing main vocals and reworking harmonies. Joey is amazing; because of him I can now pick up a harmony to find the right one. He used compression on some of the vocals and I put a little reverb on it, but that’s it. We doctored it a little bit, but that’s what the studio is like with them: it’s all about perfection, all the way to the end.
Planet Ill: How closely can you reproduce the record onstage, or does it matter in a live setting?
Matt Walst: You can only do your best onstage. Having Reid on tour with us helps a lot with keyboards and some effects. Sal is a singer, so he does the harmonies and we trade back and forth. But it’s live, and people have to remember that we’re not going to sound exactly like the record. Yes, there are a lot of effects and compression on the album that aren’t going to be there onstage, but it’s a show. People come to have fun, and that’s also the reason we started playing music: because it was fun.
Planet Ill: Did you have much of a Hip-Hop background prior to Ludacris taking part in “Porn Star Dancing”?
Matt Walst: I used to write Hip-Hop with a friend when I was in high school. I learned to scratch records. We listened to Mobb Deep and underground Hip-Hop. Big L was amazing — “Ebonics” — oh, just amazing! I always liked the beat and groove of hip-hop, and we used to write stuff on an MPC and an eight-track recorder. When we started working on this album I wanted a Hip-Hop dude on one song, and I wanted to get some rhyming somewhere. “Porn Star Dancing” was the perfect song for that. I mentioned it to Chad and he said, “I’m friends with Ludacris. I’ll ask him,” and I said, Holy shit!” Ludacris dug it, he did the track and it was so cool to have him in the video. It was surreal watching it once it was done.
Planet Ill: Did you consider that you might catch some hell from your audience and his — and obviously that has happened on YouTube, where geniuses gather to leave comments — or did you see this as a way to maybe cross both audiences over?
Matt Walst: I always thought it was a good thing. I love so many types of music, and it’s great to bring them all together. It’s good to be diverse. It can be a double-edged sword, sure, but music is fun, and so is creating something new. I enjoy bringing different genres together. I’ve seen the comments on YouTube; some people just have to hate, but others give you tons of love. It’s OK; when people get jealous, it means you’re doing something right. That’s just part of doing something successful. People are either going to hate it or love it.
Planet Ill: Was releasing “Porn Star Dancing” as the first single a risk in that it might define the band a certain way on first impression?
Matt Walst: I think that people who are into the band want to hear more songs, and when they do, they realize we’re not just about “cock rock,” as it was called in the 1980s! A lot of our songs are about girls and relationships, but the rest of the record is much different.
Planet Ill: How crucial has the Internet been in building My Darkest Days?
Matt Walst: It’s been a big part. Once MySpace came out, we started using it to our advantage for our demos and for advertising gigs, but the way to get people to listen and come to the shows is still through social networking. Facebook is personal; you can talk to people and you can keep in touch with your fans. Twitter is also starting to happen for us. Overall, when I look at how things have happened, it’s crazy, all of it. For Chad to like my songs, Ludacris to be on the record, to find a management company like the one we have [Chief Music Management], to tour with Hinder and Papa Roach — things have been really good. I’m watching my dreams come true.
Elianne Halbersberg is a freelance writer whose work has been published by Guitar Edge, Mix, Premier Guitar, Gibson.com, Electronic Musician, Audio Media, Ink 19 and numerous other magazines and websites.
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