In an interview conducted back in 2011 when Trivium‘s “In Waves” album had been released, Matt Heafy said that what he and his bandmates do is go outside the boundaries of what people might expect from metal. He said they like to bring in different influences and on “Silence in the Snow,” the group’s seventh, that is precisely what they did.
“The only things I was listening to the whole time we were writing and recording this record wasMaiden, Priest, Sabbath, Dio, Rainbowand Ozzy,” Heafy says. “That was it. The biggest record I found – Nikki Sixx actually agrees with me that people won’t talk about it – was ‘Rainbow Rising.’ It’s incredible the fact that record came out in the ’70s and you can hear its influence across things that are coming out right now. I can hear influences of ‘Rainbow Rising’ in black metal, death metal, melodic death metal and everything. Everything we do and power metal bands and Maiden. It’s amazing. I think that’s one of the most important records my bandmates got me into. It was actually Paolo [Gregoletto, bassist] and Corey [Beaulieu, guitarist] that said, ‘Matt, you should listen to this record.’ It’s really been a life changing record for me.”
Heafy, currently on the road with Trivium playing a mix of gigs including opening forSevendust, headlining shows and a selection of US festivals, talked about the new album, positivity, failure and [possibly] recording a solo album of acoustic covers.
UG: Just to catch up a bit, you brought in David Draiman to produce the “Vengeance Falls” record. Why did you want to work with David?
MH: We were on Mayhem and we just finished the “In Waves” record and we decided to give that record to a couple people and David Draiman was one of them. He was a guy we met over the years and he’d been a vocal Trivium supporter since we first met him back in 2004 and we’d been Disturbed fans. One of my first metal shows I ever saw was Disturbed opening up for Danzig and Six Feet Under.
So you actually went way back with David?
Yeah, he was a pretty vocal Trivium fan. After we gave him “In Waves,” a couple days later he came up to us and had listened to the whole record. He told us he felt like we were really stumbling upon something that he loved. He said, “The next record, I’d really love to work with you guys.”
What did you think when David said that?
We weren’t really sure what that meant. We asked him, “What do you mean work with us?” and he’s like, “I recorded the production stuff behind Disturbed.” When we found that out, we said, “It would be fantastic to work together.” Once we found out he actually does production and he was a fan, we thought it would be great to work with a producer who was excited to work with the band.
A lot of times a producer will just come in for the paycheck, right?
It’s something we always want to do. We always want to work with people that want to work with our band. I know that sounds like it’s a given but there are quite a few producers out there where the bands are fans of the producers but the producer doesn’t really know the band or isn’t really excited to work with the band. So a big thing with us is always anyone involved with something we do, everyone should be excited to do it.
One of the elements on the “Silence in the Snow” album is your use of clean vocals but if you listen to songs like “Brave This Storm” and “Strife” from “Vengeance Falls,” there is a hint of clean vocals there.
Yeah. When I first started singing in this band, my goal was to be a great singer but I wasn’t able to sing when I was 12. So the only thing I was able to do since we couldn’t find another singer was scream. At first we had more screaming singing. Originally we were just a three-piece thrash metal band with all screaming and over the years I kept adding more and more singing. It was interesting when I saw someone was mentioning our band and all the screaming. I said, “Look back at ‘The Crusade.’ We’ve done this before and we’ve shown early on at any given moment during any record, we could make a drastic turn.”
You told me when we spoke for the “In Waves” album that Trivium is a metal band but that you go outside the boundaries of what metal can be. This is exactly what you’re talking about, right?
We always like to keep the fans guessing and even keep ourselves challenged and guessing to see where we wanna go with the band. I think we even showed back on “Ember to Inferno” that with all the singing on that, it was something I’d always wanted to work on and increase and develop.
You mentioned about screaming when you were younger because you couldn’t sing. Screaming has become a focus of a lot of styles of metal and that emotion and intensity is important but if you dig deeper, aren’t singers just compensating because they can’t sing in a clean, melodic voice? Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I definitely agree with that. You think back to the way extreme metal started developing and all these extreme metal bands or let’s say melodic death metal. I’m a huge fan of melodic death metal and I do love the screaming in those bands but I look at what they’re comprised of. Let’s talk about the Swedish bands – they’re comprised of traditional Swedish folk music, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Tampa/Stockholm death metal. A lot of these bands looked up to Iron Maiden and were playing riffs that were very Iron Maiden but the issue was and is still to this day is that no one can sing like Bruce Dickinson.
“We always like to keep the fans guessing and even keep ourselves challenged and guessing to see where we wanna go with the band.”
So it was like necessity is the mother of invention – how do we approach these vocals?
I think it would have been a matter of, “Alright, what do we do? We can’t sing like Bruce so maybe let’s try what our influences are” and looking at the Stockholm and Tampa scene where it was more about screaming.
That is a cool insight.
For other singers, I can’t speak to what they find more challenging or easier. But for me I find singing much harder than screaming. Infinitely more difficult than screaming. Especially nowadays, I’ve re-taught myself how to scream thanks to my vocal teacher [Ron Anderson who coached Axl Rose, Jared Leto and others]. He’s helped find the proper way of screaming for me. It’s the exact same tone I used to do for all those years but it’s just so much easier than it used to be.
How is it easier?
What I used to do was I would just tear up my vocal cords and that’s what gave me all the vocal issues with the screaming I had developed since I was 12 years old. I was ripping my vocal cords apart. Nowadays with this new technique, it’s a piece of cake and it’s the singing that requires all the careful attention and warming up and rehearsing. When I’m off tour, it’s one to three hours a day of singing seven days a week. Even today is a day off and I’ll make sure I do at least 15 to 30 minutes of vocal exercises and vocal stretching just to keep everything in shape.
Do you devote as much time to your singing as you do to practicing guitar?
I give the singing much more attention than even the guitar playing because I feel I’ve put so much more [time into the guitar playing]. I’ve not arrived as a guitar player by no means nor will I ever be a perfect guitar player so I still make sure I keep the guitar practice up but I feel the vocal stuff requires just a little bit more. So when I’m at home and we’re not rehearsing as a full band, it’s seven days a week of one to three hours a day of vocals and seven days a week at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes of guitar.
You worked with mixer Colin Richardson [Slipknot, Machine Head] on the “Vengeance Falls” album as well as three previous records – “The Crusade,” “Shogun” and “In Waves” – and he’s obviously an important part of how Trivium albums sound.
Yeah, we’ve always what he’s done and we’ve always been big fans of the tones he’s done and that’s sort of what we grew up on. Everything that Colin and Andy Sneap [Megadeth,Opeth] had done and that’s why we always wanted to work with those two guys.
Obviously Colin Richardson and Andy Sneap are two of the greatest mixers there are.
I have to agree with you that a mixer’s such a huge part of our records. For us with this record with “Silence in the Snow,” we had Josh Wilbur [Avenged Sevenfold, Lamb of God] mix the thing. We weren’t really sure where it was going. We loved the music but we thought, “Man, the tone isn’t quite where we imagined. Who do we go to?” When Josh Wilbur’s name came up and we used him, he nailed it. Paolo and Josh flew down to Josh’s studio and those two worked every single day just making the record sound incredible.
Your fans listen to your albums and maybe don’t fully appreciate what it takes to produce a great-sounding album.
There are so many moving parts to making a record sound right as far what the band is directly involved with but also the people. Having the right producer, engineer, mixer, and the guy who masters it. Those things can easily screw your record up if you have a bad mix.
You also brought in producer Michael Baskette [Slash, Alter Bridge] for the first time. Was he brought in to work with you on the vocals?
Not just vocals but a little bit of everything. We were really into the fact that he was not only familiar with what we do and what we’ve done in the past but he’s also familiar with a lot of the modern bands and he understood what we were being influenced by. He is a fan of Ozzy, Dio and Sabbath and all these things and we knew that he knew what we wanted to be influenced by this time around, which was really important to us. He knew where we were coming from and where we wanted to go.
Were you a Deep Purple fan?
That’s something I’m getting into now as well because Corey and Paolo know Deep Purplereally, really well inside and out. That’s something they’re starting to me onto now so I’m digging back even further now.
We spoke for the “In Waves” album and you said, “We’re a metal band but we go outside of the boundaries of what metal can be.” Is that a conscious approach you take or does it come naturally to want to try and explore new and different sounds?
It’s a little bit of both and it’s not always timed out the exact same way. I wouldn’t call it a 50/50 thing. I remember when “Ascendancy” went out in the US and the UK, we were looking at the record and we saw that that same style was really being done by so many other bands. Everyone else was singing and screaming and they had breakdowns but also solos and it was the same kind of thing.
What did you do?
We said to ourselves, “We want to do the exact opposite. Now that we’ve already done something great in that style, let’s do the polar opposite of what everyone else is trying to do right now.” That’s why we made “The Crusade” because that was the reaction to everyone else doing the same thing. We went the opposite of everyone else.
How did you follow that course of thinking on “Silence in the Snow”?
We said, “What’s everyone doing? Everyone’s playing kind of modernized music and let’s look back to what our heroes were listening to. Let’s be influenced by Rainbow, Dio, Sabbath and Iron Maiden and make something that’s more Trivium being influenced by the greats. What else is the opposite? People always think black with metal for the art so we did a white cover. Let’s do no painting and let’s do photography. Let’s make our videos very different. Let’s make everything the opposite of everything we’ve ever done.” We do like to do opposites whether it’s what we’ve done or what our surroundings are doing.
You’ve joked about being the Spinal Tap of drummers. Nick Augusto left back in May 2014 and he was replaced by Mat Madiro who left before you began recording the new album with Paul Wandtke. What happened?
It’s pretty obvious if you were to look at all the changes we’ve made over the years, we’ve never really felt like we were settled on the correct drummer ever since we started. I know people would disagree being fans of certain records but what they’ve got to realize is every time we’ve made a change it’s because we’ve absolutely had to. Meaning if we didn’t make that change – not because of that person – the four of us probably wouldn’t be a band anymore.
Why did you bring in Paul Wandtke?
Finally with Paul so far, things are going great. He’s able to really keep up with us and he knows more songs than any drummer we’ve had already. So on the last UK tour, we were able to change the set every single night, which is something we’ve always wanted to do. We just haven’t been able to do it because each drummer we’ve had has come at a different time period so they didn’t know all the music. Yeah, right now it seems to feel really solid and so it’s up to Paul to keep it up to see how things to. I think the three of us would all agree that it’s really in his hands to keep it up.
The album opens with “Snøfall,” which is that short instrumental piece composed by Ihsahn [Emperor]. That connection comes for your work with him in Mrityu?
I’ve become really good friends with Ihsahn over the years and we know we wanted an intro on the album. We were thinking to ourselves, “How could we present something?”Because obviously with metal, the symphonic intro has been done to death. We said, “How can we still present something that’s like an intro that works for metal that’s different?”We said, “The best way we can do it is find a guy like Ihsahn.” So we hit him up.
He is interpreting your melodic ideas in the song?
Yeah, I sent him the song “Silence in the Snow” and I said, “We want an intro to this record. Whatever you see fit whether it’s electronic, minimalistic, bleeps and noises or anything, there is no criteria we want. We just want something you see fit.” The very first draft he came up with is what you hear on “Snøfall.”
“Silence in the Snow” was actually written during the sessions for “Shogun”?
Yeah, we were on tour with Heaven & Hell in Japan and I’d never seen them or really heard them at the time. Again, Corey and Paolo had already been into it and they said,“Matt, you need to check this out.” So we watched Heaven & Hell that night in Nagoya, Japan in 2006 or 2007 and that night absolutely changed my life for music again. That was another big Dio thing that changed it up for me.
Ronnie sang great in Heaven & Hell.
After the show, we were able to meet Dio and talk to him. He was super amazing and I was able to talk about vocals with him and pick his brain. It was so amazing. Pretty much right after that night, I started writing the song “Silence in the Snow,” which is obviously very heavily influenced by the song “Heaven and Hell.” It was as simple as that. It was just from seeing Dio live with Heaven & Hell and we wrote it back then.
“We love to show people that we’re just regular people and anybody else can do what we do. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Why didn’t you record the song on the “Shogun” album?
I felt like the song was too big for us back then. Not that it’s overly technical or anything but I think it required a bigger vocal presence than I had at that particular time. It took years to develop that.
“Blind Leading the Blind” was another great track with an hilarious video. Trivium is able and willing to make fun of themselves?
It’s so important. I guess you can’t really teach being down to earthedness or humility and being humble. It’s something we’ve had from our upbringing. I know there were times that maybe we were a little cocky like from 18 to 23 or 24 but in the reality who isn’t a cocky asshole from 18 to 24? So thankfully we grew up, which is something some people don’t do. And yeah, we love to show people that we’re just regular people and anybody else can do what we do. You just have to do it. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and I’m always posting stupid, ugly faces that I make onstage and finally being able to let our comedy kind of show through in a video a little bit. Even in our behind the scenes stuff, you’ll see that we don’t ourselves too seriously.
I think fans like seeing that.
Obviously onstage there’s a time and a place to be serious. At a headlining show, we can be more ourselves with the crowd. If it’s a festival or something quick, you don’t really get to see our personality as much.
On that halftime song “Until the World Goes Cold,” there are some acoustic guitars?
I think the only time the acoustics come in is right before the final chorus and right after the middle section solo stuff.
Is that a 12-string?
No, it’s two six-string acoustics left and right.
There was an acoustic performance on YouTube where you did this solo gig and were playing songs by Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.
Depeche Mode, yeah. I love doing that stuff. I’ve got a list of 20 or 30 songs that I’d like to do. I don’t know about a record. I don’t know. I’ve gotta figure out what I’m gonna do with that but an acoustic covers something someday I’ll record at my house and release. We have a couple cool acoustic covers coming out but I can’t talk about what they are or when they’re coming out but they’ll be out soon. They’re pretty unexpected acoustic choices that we did as a band that people will be hearing pretty soon.
You did a cover of “Yellow Submarine” during that performance on YouTube. You were obviously a Beatles fan?
Yeah. I got into the Beatles pretty late. I didn’t really start getting into the Beatles until the time we were recording “Shogun” and the same thing with Queen. Queen is one of my favorite bands in the world but I didn’t really start getting into them until we were doing “The Crusade.” So I’ve been really late with things but what’s cool about that is I’ve been able to have that same first experience people had back when it came out. Like I just heard Pink Floyd‘s “The Wall” for the first time on an original pressings ’70s vinyl from my mother-in-law on a record player.
“We have a couple cool acoustic covers coming out. They’re pretty unexpected acoustic choices that we did as a band that people will be hearing pretty soon.”
When did you hear that?
That was like three months ago and that was the first time I’d ever heard that record from start to finish. I got to experience that now in 2016 what people were experiencing in the ’70s.
Were you a fan of some of the other English bands like the Rolling Stones or any of the British Invasion music like the Animals or the Yardbirds?
That’s all stuff I’m kinda getting into now. Those are things that Paolo is really well-versed in and knows things really well in and out. What’s great about those guys is they have so many influences to check out. I’m late with things. Yeah, like I just saw “Rocky” I and II for the first time. I’m one of those people who every movie you should have seen as a kid, I haven’t seen and I’m gradually seeing them now.
Why do you think you never picked up on movies when you were younger or picked up on those other classic types of bands?
I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because my father was in the military and my mom was Japanese so I was really watching things that Japanese kids would watch. Now I’m late to the game with everything else. But it’s cool I get to get into these things so late and the fact I got into “Rainbow Rising” before recording “Silence in the Snow,” that’s what helped make that record what it is now.
You also did covers of Opeth’s “Harvest” and “Dawn of a New Day” by In Flames. Had you toured with either of those bands?
We never toured with Opeth before but I’ve been into Opeth my entire life. They’re maybe one of my favorite bands and were actually one of the first bands I heard that does the singing/screaming thing so well.
What about In Flames?
I think we toured with In Flames maybe 10 times now and they’re probably some of our closest friends. They’re a band without whom I would not exist. They’re one of my biggest influences ever and it’s thanks to them that Trivium started singing and screaming a lot more and once “Reroute to Remain” came out, that was a big influence on me. But the biggest record for me from them was “The Jester Race.” That was the first record I ever heard of theirs and before hearing that we were a thrash metal band. After hearing that record, we started writing the music you hear on “Ember to Inferno,” which was more melodic in the guitar parts and that kind of thing.
Your vocal on “Until the World Goes Cold” was really strong. What was it like recording that performance?
That was actually the first song recorded vocally for the whole record so that one I was probably more nervous than the rest. Because it was the first time recording a full song with our producer and the first time recording a song for “Silence in the Snow.” I have a pretty severe tendency to get in my head and then when I do that things start to come unwound a little bit. For some reason, that took us like a six- or eight-hour vocal day, which I’m glad I did because the end result’s really good.
That’s a long stretch to do vocals.
I’m not saying it took that because of doctoring but it took that because we just had to keep going through the song and finding out how we wanted it to be presented because we hadn’t done something that was all clean like that since “The Crusade.” Well, I guess there’s some stuff on “In Waves” that was that clean as well so it had been a little while. Yeah, it’s crazy because that’s the song we did and it ended up being the first single.
Where do your lyric ideas come from?
It’s all absolutely things I would have been through.
You’re obviously a very positive person but your lyrics can be a little dark.
It’s cool you notice that because I’ve met bands over my career and their lyrics are all uplifting and motivational and very strong and positive but I meet these people and they’re some of the most negative people I’ve ever met in my life. It doesn’t make sense to me. Life has bad things and we can never run from those things. I feel that’s what pop music does and that’s what pop country does but it’s important to embrace or to accept the fact there is negative stuff in life and to address it and to figure out the best way to handle it.
That becomes the foundation of your lyrics?
For me, that’s through the music so I use the music as the punching bag and the shoulder to cry on as therapy. I use that as the catharsis so that allows me to be the semi-functioning adult I am today. I do feel like I am a happy, positive person outside of the music thanks to the music and thanks to all the other outlets I have in life. Thanks to martial arts and yoga and weight lifting and being in Trivium and my interest in food, travel and art. It’s thanks to all those things I am able to enjoy life.
Having multiple pursuits like that is what keeps you young.
There’s quite a bit of stuff I require to be happy but I know that’s what I need so that’s why I keep that in my life. Some people might only need to listen to music to be happy and that’s important to know that and if you know that then you should embrace that and use that.
On a similar subject, you did a video online about failure that was shot at the CreativeMornings headquarters in Florida where you talked about how failure made you the person you are now.
We’ve talked about that before in the band. If things ever started downhill and we had to downsize back to a tour van and cut the crew we have and playing in front of 20 people a night in places that hold 30 people, there’s when you need to realize that it’s time that maybe you’re not on the right path anymore. I think if that were to happen to me tomorrow, I would recognize, “Alright, we had a great thing going and we’ve proven we were able to be successful and make something great but it’s time to call this quits before it becomes a mockery of itself.”
Truthfully, not many artists know how to bow out gracefully.
I would direct my energy I’ve used in the band to help get the success that it had into something else. It would just show me that it wouldn’t be worth it anymore. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like things are going that way but if they ever did, we would know it’s time to call it quits before it becomes pathetic.
Have you done any more work with Ihsahn in the Mrityu project?
It’s still unfortunately in the same place it was a year-and-a-half or two years ago. We have several songs written together and a couple he’s co-written and a couple I’ve written that he’s produced. It’s really just a matter of the two of us finding time. He’s so busy with his solo project stuff and Emperor and obviously Trivium doesn’t ever stop. We keep in regular contact and see how each other is doing and see how our lives are doing. It’s really great that the two of us have that. So we know we are gonna do it but it’s just a matter of when. It will happen but we just don’t know what.
Can you talk at all about the kind of music we might hear?
Initially it was gonna be traditional black metal that was all under an alias and no one was gonna know it was me. But after getting into his solo stuff – I’ve always been a huge Emperor fan – like “Eremita,” that showed me I didn’t know [a lot about black metal]. I mean I’ve always known a lot about black metal but when I heard “Eremita,” it showed me I don’t know anything about black metal.
What did you hear in the “Eremita” album?
What that made me recognize about not knowing black metal is that black metal can be anything. Black metal isn’t a sound – it doesn’t have to sound like it did with the first wave or the second wave bands. It can meld and evolve into anything and it’s moreso than attitude than it is a specific sound and style. There are a couple bands that have been doing the traditional thing and that works for them and I figured that’s what they are. But I think a lot of the newer bands are trying to rehash or trying to copy what happened back in the ’90s. That’s not really black metal to me and I think it’s a multi-interpreted definition. For me, black metal is more an attitude than it is a specific sound.
You’re on the road to promote “Silence in the Snow”?
Yeah, we’re currently on the road right now. We’re doing a mix of supporting dates with Sevendust, a couple headlining Trivium shows and several of the Loudest Month festivals like Rock on the Range and Welcome to Rockville, which is our favorite being from Orlando. So a bunch of the US festivals right now.
Any new guitars or anything to talk about?
I’m doing the Epiphone MK sixes and sevens live and that’s all I’m playing. Just my signatures into a Kemper. No cabs, no floor wedges, no nothing. Very, very minimal and I guess it’s modern day punk rock.
Final fantasy question: the aliens land and find the Matt Heafy and Trivium time capsule. When they look inside, they find three of your songs. Which three songs would they find?
“Shogun,” umm, that’s a good question. I haven’t been asked that one before. “Silence in the Snow” and “In Waves.”
All title tracks.
Yep. I don’t know if it’s intentional and maybe it is when we’re writing but I usually try to make the title song the statement of the record. At least I think I do that and maybe I do and maybe I don’t.