The Grammy-nominated band have witnessed the high’s and lows of the music industry with multiple line-up changes, almost bi-polar treatment, especially from UK music media and today are a much more resilient and thick-skinned outfit that has the potential to rise further than they have ever been when looking at their already impressive legacy.
Speaking from his home in Orlando, Florida, singer/guitarist, Matt Heafy is in high spirits considering he and his family have been in isolation for weeks and is determined to keep a positive mental attitude during what has now become a historical moment in our lifetimes.
OD – Let’s jump right in with the new album. Tell us about the title and it’s meaning?
MATT – The original derivation of the album – ‘What the Dead Men Say” – Paolo (Gregoletto, Bass) was inspired by a novella from the writer, Philip K. Dick [first published in June 1964]. He [Paolo] really liked the story and the title and created a song that was not really a direct re-tell or reinterpretation of the piece, but he felt that he could create something new off of that.
For us, we wanted everyone to feel very imaginative and creative with the record in terms of the visual, lyrical and aural aspects of the album, so there was no right or wrong answer when it comes to how each of us interprets the album and maybe in a year or so, we’ll start to tell people exactly what things meant.
OD – There is a real feeling that since ‘The Sin and the Sentence’ to this new album, the bands sound has really matured, but also has become much more complex, aggressive and visceral, would you agree with that?
MATT – Yes, 100%. You have to remember, Trivium has eight very different-sounding albums. I think that is awesome but also very risky. I don’t think there are many bands that could have survived this. Especially if you look at the UK, where our history with the media was being adopted around the release of ‘Ascendancy‘ (2005) and that was the very first time that we became a “press band”.
We were on every single heavy music magazine cover, we were getting perfect markings/reviews for all of our gigs and being hailed as the “next big thing“. And then those very same magazines in that same territory started saying that Trivium was the “worst band in the world” and tried to bury us [Laughing]. That was just crazy to witness.
So, somehow we managed to survive that and thankfully now, we’re bigger in the UK than we’ve ever been and the same story for the rest of the world.
With eight different-sounding albums in our legacy, it was great that ‘The Sin…“, did capture, the best album we’ve done from 1 through 7, but that was never the plan! When it came down to writing and recording ‘The Sin...” and ‘What The Dead Men Say‘, we put ourselves mentally back to when we wrote ‘Ember to Inferno‘ (2003), ‘Ascendency‘ (2005), ‘Shogun‘ (2008) and ‘In Waves‘ (2011) and then ‘The Sin...” and now this new album.
When writing and recording those six albums we just agreed to make the music that WE liked. We didn’t care about pleasing other people and were not afraid to work with no rules, no boundaries and just focus on the true essence of what WE wanted to do. We didn’t think; “Are people even gonna like this?” This was all about what WE want.
OD – And what of the other albums that you have not mentioned?
MATT – Yes, obviously there are three records emitted from that list: ‘The Crusade‘ (2006), ‘Vengeance Falls‘ (2013) and ‘Silence in the Snow‘ (2015). While I’m super-proud of those records, they are LP’s that we decided to stay in a particular lane and stay away from what was ‘expected’ of us.
It was my decision to rebel against ‘Acendeancy‘ and that was the catalyst behind ‘The Crusade‘. There are zero ingredients from ‘Acendeancy‘ on that record. With “Vengeance…‘ and ‘Silence…‘ they were times that we worked with producers that had an idea of how they wanted to collaborate with Trivium.
With the other six albums, they were times where the four of us would make the music together as a band and we would take it to a point where they were almost complete and then we would bring in a producer to work with us as a unit for the final phase in the process. We never allowed anyone to come in as a ‘leader‘ per-say and to start making big decisions regarding our overall sound.
OD – Paolo (Gregoletto, Bass) commented in a previous interview that; “We wanted to build on the foundation that we established with the last album.” Was that the plan from the outset or did it just come naturally?
MATT – I think what he [Paolo] was referring to and I would also agree with, is that we all went into this new album creatively with the same mindset that we had on the previous one. The blueprint was kind of like; “Let’s just bring each of the songs to the highest point that we can before someone else is required for producer duties“.
OD – It has been widely reported that Trivium has had a colourful past with drummers but Alex (Bent, Drums) seems to be a very positive fit and it definitely shows, would you say that the band is firing on all cylinders and working as a unit like never before?
MATT – Yes, 100%. Alex helped to really open things up creatively. Now we finally have four band members that are capable of playing anything and everything across our catalogue. We’ve had four studio drummers including Alex and while we’ve had four vastly different drummers, some have been more technically proficient than others and vice versa. Finally, Alex is the guy that has mastered both the organic and ‘from the heart‘ style performance to the technically complex demands that we require.
Now, bearing that in mind, I really feel that you can hear a level of excitement in the music. You can hear that free-form creativity and it just feels so very right. I feel that this new album truly captures every nuance from albums one through eight.
We’re all noticing the difference in the bands sound. Every time we have had to switch out drummers, people would ask us: “Why?” and we switched to Alex, it wasn’t a question of ‘Why?, it was more: “Okay, now I see what you were looking for.” Alex is what we’ve been looking for the whole time and we finally got him.
It’s crazy when I think that Trivium has been around for 21 years and as of next week, we’ll have 9 studio albums in our legacy. We are so excited about being in this band right now and that’s because we are finally making the music that WE really want to make and don’t care otherwise. We’re not trying to fit anywhere, we’re not trying to write a single that can get us onto something, we’re not trying to rebel against something, or be super-different, we’re just making what we want to hear and with all of us having such vast influences, the end result is what you hear on the album.
OD – The ‘click’ that you refer to with Alex, is not a million miles away from Sepultura’s, Eloy Casagrande whose involvement with the band has had a profound impact on the songwriting. Would you agree with that statement?
MATT – Absolutely! Eloy is an unbelievable drummer and in fact, before we started the process for ‘The Silence and the Snow” cycle, we were looking at Eloy and saying: “What about this guy?“, but obviously Sepultura had scooped him up by then. [Laughing]
With Alex, I’ve played with so many drummers in my career and I’m very confident in saying that I think he is one of the best metal drummers out there, and the fact that he’s behind that kit doing what he does for Trivium…it just feels so good to finally say that! [Laughing]
OD – I’ve heard the album and it’s just packed with a glorious succession of riffs that just keep coming and coming. With regards to the writing process, were most of the song structures created by yourself and Corey (Beaulieu, Guitars) or was it a group effort?
MATT – Our process for this record and the last one is based primarily with myself, Corey and Paolo will start something, whether it’s just riffs, guitar melodies, vocal melodies with programmed drums or without the programmed drums.
The ideas are presented via MP3 files so we can all get a feel for the idea. When the four of us finally get into a room together, that’s when the real sculpting comes into play. Original ideas can be totally flipped upside down and inside out until we bash out something that just clicks with us all.
For the three records that I mentioned earlier (‘Crusade‘, ‘Vengence…’ and ‘Silence…‘) we didn’t do any vocal pre-production. That is basically me singing and playing the tracks before we get into the studio. It seems like that should be a given with every band but the truth of the matter only about 10% of bands actually do that.
With ‘Crusade..’ I was like; “No, I don’t wanna do that, I know what I’m doing, I have my lyrics written and I’m just gonna do them in the studio“. With ‘Vengence...’ and ‘Silence…‘ each producer said; “Let’s not worry about vocals until it’s time to worry about vocals“.
For us, those other six albums are the albums where we had everything super-finalised way before we got to the studio. So, we get everything really set up between the four of us and whether there is gonna be 1% changes or 100% change, that’s just something that we are prepared for.
Then we bring in Josh (Wilbur – producer) who is almost like the 5th member of the band at this point in time and prepare ourselves for about 1% to 99% of possible changes for each step of the way. So, you can see there is a three-step process to the writing. First, it starts with one idea, second, the four of us jam out the songs and prepare them as best we can and finally, the third stage, Josh comes in and we work as a five-piece to bring the music to the point that is heard on the finished album.
Overall, the whole process is very natural and just comes from within us all. It’s pretty crazy that we can just harness ideas, flesh them out and bring our inner imagination and creativity to the surface like that.
OD – What was the most difficult track to write/record on the new album?
MATT – That would be ‘Bleed Into Me‘, which ironically is the easiest song on the whole record [Laughing]. The structure just kept changing until we finally brought Josh in. The other tracks on the album, the ones with the super-complex arrangements and key changes, they came together so seamlessly and performing them today, is almost like the back of our hands. [Laughing]
Just looking back to the previous album (The Sin and the Sentence), the first track on that album, which is the title track, Alex went into the studio and just sat down and ripped out the drum track for that song in one take! What you hear on that album is the very first take!
We’ve had drums that can take up to two weeks on previous recordings! Alex comes in and he just sits down and bashes out his drum tracks in two days.
OD – How long were you in the studio this time around?
MATT – We were in the studio for a total of sixteen days for the recording of ‘What The Dead Men Say‘. We just put in so much work beforehand and were completely focused; from start to finish.
OD – Regarding the global pandemic that has affected just about everybody around the world, do you think that the aftermath will have a profound effect on live entertainment and the music industry at large?
MATT – Well, firstly I don’t think it’s the end of the world, but there is no question that there will be a profound side effect from all of this. I’ve been preaching to my ‘Twitch‘ followers and on my other socials basically saying; “Let’s do this right. Let’s physically distance ourselves from people. Let’s do this correctly.”
I don’t know what is going to happen with the future of the entertainment/live music side of things when we come out the other side of this Pandemic, but I know that from our perspective [Trivium], we are a band that can survive this.
We are not a globally huge band, I don’t live in a mansion and have fancy cars or anything like that. Bands below our size, I worry for those bands as they can’t play live, they can’t promote their albums and connect with the numbers they normally would.
Bands of our size and upwards I think will be relatively fine. I think it’s gonna be a case of adapting to the aftermath of this whole situation. All of the studies that I’ve read, it looks like the effects of Covid-19 are going to linger on a little more than most people think and it might change some things and if that happens, there is no other way but to just adapt to the changes. That is something that Trivium has always done and we’re ready to do it again if needed.
We have seen that across the board, music streaming is down, podcasts are down in numbers, however, things with visuals is up. We’ve noticed that our videos are reaching a lot more people in half the amount of time than our previous online releases. Its’ a strange time and to be honest, it’s very hard to quantify as things are changing on a weekly basis.
OD – Naturally, the scheduled tour with Lamb of God, In Flames and Megadeth will most likely not be taking place due to the coronavirus, and the uncertainty of the situation makes it very hard to speculate as to when things will be back to normal.
In light of the new album coming out amidst this pandemic, was there any hesitation in going ahead with the release and was there any discussion about the impact of not being able to tour for a long time to promote the album?
MATT – We were presented with the question of postponing the release of the album and were given the option to which we all collectively decided to go ahead with the originally planned release date of April 24th.
I look at it as an opportunity for creatively-minded people to give something to the people who are in isolation, waiting for things to become safe again. That’s actually why I do a lot of live-streaming on Twitch. It’s a free service, people don’t have to pay anything to subscribe and can just hit the follow button and get access to loads of new information, entertainment etc.
Our decision to go ahead with the album is to give some people something to look forward to during this crappy time. So many people have lost their jobs, are in financial darkness worried about their families and their own security, the very least we can do is give them a little bit of light in the only way we can which is through our music.
A lot of bands have decided to postpone their album release due to record sales. Screw that! When everything goes back to some semblance of what that used to be, release your physical album then! But for now, release the LP for streaming and give people something to look forward to.
OD – Since the band’s global popularity, have you any particular memories that you are most proud of when looking back?
MATT – That Download Festival 2005 show! I still can’t believe that actually happened! I remember that morning so vividly. We weren’t warmed up, I woke up just 45 mins before the show, my voice sounded like crap, my guitar wasn’t in tune and I was cold. [Laughing]
For some reason, all of those hours that I spent playing the guitar paid off [Laughing]. From when I joined Trivium to the moment I got on that stage, just seemed like the full-circle at that time. From the moment I picked up the guitar on that stage, I sort of blacked out, not from substances or anything like that, but just from the adrenaline. Thankfully, all the muscle memory kicked in and it worked.
Another memory that comes to mind is having to leave our biggest North American tour ever to go straight to the hospital where my twins were being born. I watched the show live-streaming from the hospital seeing Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage) and Johannes (Eckerström) from Avatar sing our songs with Corey and Paulo filling in for me also. That was insane!
OD – What’s the worst show for you personally and the best and the reasons for both?
MATT – I’ve had a lot of ‘worst’ shows [Laughing]. But one comes to mind and it was just a bizarre line-up. It was us [Trivium] opening the show with The Dillinger Escape Plan, The End (direct support) and Read Yellow. So, it was like three ‘mathcore/art/tech‘ bands and us.
On the Canada leg of that tour, Canadian fans across the country hated us and I remember this one show in a venue that I can’t remember right now. It had a sort of a dance floor dip-down and the entire audience refused to go down there and just stood there with their backs to us! [Laughing].
Another one of the worst shows was Children of Bodom headlining, Trivium as direct support and Amon Amarth opening in San Francisco at Slims and the whole crowd was booing us and spitting on us for our entire set [Laughing]. So, they were definitely two of the worst shows I can remember.
With regards to one of the ‘best‘ shows… I would have to say Lisbon, Portugal which we just played recently. I happened to be live streaming on Twitch that day and loads of Portuguese gamers were all asking for us to play ‘Toy” and I was like; “What the hell is ‘TOY’?”
So, I looked it up and ‘TOY‘ is Portugal’s biggest POP sensation and we decided to cover one of his songs. The next day, I found out that we made Portugal’s National radio and National newspaper!
So after that, we decided to do a formal cover, but before we did that we were playing in Lisbon and all these kids were hearing rumours that TOY was going to be at our show (which we did actually arrange) and when I started playing his song and signing in Portuguese to the capacity which was about 25k punters and we were a couple of bands before Slipknot on that bill, and then when we played that song, the place erupted! [Laughing]. It was crazy!!!
Then TOY came out and performed ‘Until The Wolrd Goes Cold‘ with us and the place just took off! I’ve never seen anything like that ever before. This POP sensation collaborating with our Metal sound, it was just insane and packed so much energy.
Trivium’s new album ‘What The Dead Men Say‘ is released on April 24th via Roadrunner.