Matt Heafy: Trivium Would Not Exist Without In Flames
Trivium's Matt Heafy was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The band just released their ninth album, What the Dead Men Say, which the frontman said he gave no consideration to delaying due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the interview, Heafy explained the immense amount of preparation the band does before hitting the studio and touches upon Trivium's summer tour alongside Megadeth, Lamb of God and In Flames, detailing the influence of each group on his own music.
When he's not in the studio or onstage, Trivium's frontman can be found streaming live on his Twitch channel, where he covers non-metal songs and does vocal exercises, among other things. As his following on Twitch grows, it's opened up new avenues for Heafy, who is still a bit blown back by the whole ordeal.
Read the full interview below.
Matt, the coronavirus has upended the lives of everyone. How does music — either listening to it or creating it — factor in your ability to stay positive during this pandemic?
I've always loved metal because metal is unafraid to address what's bad in the world or in one's life. It's the genre I've always looked at as the punching bag or the therapist's couch as whatever it needs to be to get those feelings out.
I've always been a huge advocate that everyone should absolutely be putting in their beliefs of all things they love or all things they are against in their music. We see too much these days of people saying that band guys should just stick to what they do best — just play your instruments, stick to the music, don't say what you think about things. It is the exact opposite.
Music and art need to absolutely always be the place where people can say exactly what they're feeling and they can [use a] metaphor and be blatant and direct or whatever it needs to be. they can portray it as artwork and that's the way we always used our music.
Trivium, "What the Dead Men Say"
Our lyrics are as important as the music to us. In these weird times, it is so important that we keep giving people content. That's why still on Monday through Friday I do two streams a day and for three to six hours a day I'm still streaming for free. My Twitch channel has been growing over the past two-and-a-half to three years, so I'm still doing that.
Our record still came out on the same release date — we didn't pushing anything. I see a lot of bands talking about pushing because of their "album sales." Who cares about album sales right now? People need something to listen to. People need something to enjoy. People don't really buy CDs now anyway because everyone is streaming everything. So bands should absolutely still be having the stuff come out right now. We need to give the world everything they can to enjoy in these weird times.
The band was so prepared for getting this record done. It took just a little over 2 weeks to record the entire album. In what ways is spontaneity able to coincide with that level of preparedness?
For us, we like to have everything completely dialed in ready before ever setting foot in the studio. We've been writing some of this material since The Sin and the Sentence came out so we've been writing collections of riffs or pieces of music that have been around for as long as since that last record came out. So as of nine to 12 months before ever setting foot in the studio, I had already been rehearsing all of the songs vocally. As we finished mores songs, I'd bring them into my vocal warmup regiment which anyone that follows our band knows it's pretty expensive at home.
It's five days a week of three to six hours of singing and then on tour, it's five to six days a week of the same thing. So, that entire time all those months that people didn't see — even though I'm as connected as anybody and I am so readily accessible at all times... No one knew we were writing or preparing a record.
With our band, we like to make sure that everything is completely ironed out before ever setting foot in the studio, before ever meeting with a producer. We make sure the four of us know every part to play as if we were going on tour with this material, so that way when we went to the studio we were so prepared that anything that needed to happen to advance the stuff and evolve the music we would allow to happen.
Because of how regimented the four of us in the band are for our instruments we had all the blueprints down. All the songs were ready to go and it took 16 days. That's the right way for us. Some bands finish their stuff in the studio, some bands write their own stuff, some bands don't write their own stuff, whatever their process may be, for us we always like to make sure that we have everything ironed out 99 to 100 percent completed before ever going into the studio and then we allow it to get better from there.
Matt, current events notwithstanding, you're eventually supposed to do a tour with Megadeth, Lamb of God and In Flames. What makes this group of bands such a great overall representation of the timeline of metal history?
Megadeth was one of the very first metal bands I ever got into. Countdown to Extinction was my first Megadeth record, and then Rust in Peace was my second Megadeth record. They were right alongside Metallica, Pantera, Slayer — the very first bands to show me what metal was.
If it weren't for In Flames, Trivium would not exist and I know that is a very bold thing. It always blows my mind when people have just gotten into In Flames or only know In Flames from the last couple of records. In Flames' albums — The Jester Race, Whoracle, Colony, Clayman, Reroute to Remain — if I didn't get into those records, Trivium would have never started sounding the way it did. It wouldn't have ever brought in that Gothenburg sound. I would have never have found other bands like At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork, Arch Enemy, Opeth — all these bands crafting incredible Swedish music. It wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here.
Lamb of God was a favorite band of mine. Around like the time of 16 or 17 years old, I got into them through the Ashes of the Wake record and the record before that, and then the very first record as well and the Burn the Priest material.
They’re a band that I’ve always been a big fan of and always really loved what they did and how they fused the vibe and the aggression and the intensity of like old school hardcore, but also metal and thrash. They had all that stuff going on and they’re just a perfect example of a great modern metal band.
All three of those bands were massively instrumental in inspiring us and allowing us to become you know the band that we are now. So it’s really great to have that, it’s really great to be on tour with three bands that are some of our favorite bands in the world.
Twitch has allowed you to establish a pretty intimate connection with your audience. What was the biggest learning curve about using that type of platform to connect with people?
There was no structure and no rules for musicians coming on. For gamers, you look at some of the biggest people and you can understand what to do. For music, I didn’t know what the right way to set something up was. When I decided to recently switch to the gear that I’ve got now, which is essentially like a studio CD rig — amp heads, cabinets — I had to learn how to mic and I had to learn how to mix. It's stuff I should have probably learned for these last nine records because I’ve never really done that aspect — I’ve always been more into the songwriting and performing on the records versus engineering, mixing, and mastering. So I had to teach myself that entire thing.
I had to discover how to make this rig work. What’s been really awesome is that from all this time, it took two and a half years of intensive five days a week off tour, seven days a week on tour since I started, that now people are really starting to realize [what I'm doing] and people are really starting to jump over.
It’s not that I started streaming on a platform and then the gen pop of Twitch came over and started watching me because they were already on Twitch — that’s not what it is. What it is is I went to a new platform and showed our Trivium fans, hey, you can come over here and we can have that other layer where you can see what it takes for me to stay in shape for what I do. It’s amazing.
Matt Heafy - Best of Twitch Streams #1
That was weird for me because I like structure. I like knowing how something is supposed to be done, but I had to make my own formula and my own structure of how to be done, how that should all be done.
But since then, Twitch has actually had me partner with them, I’m doing the entire help guide on help.twitch.tv for everything of learning how to stream music on Twitch. So when any signed musicians want to start streaming on Twitch, they go to the help page, it’ll be 12 videos of me explaining everything from the ethos of what Twitch is to how to run a microphone, from built-in microphone to USB microphone to studio microphone with outboard mixing gear into it.
It’s been nuts to be interviewed by — not because of the wealth I’ve generated, but just because of the streaming platform — Forbes magazine and Bloomberg and TechCrunch and Kotaku and my face to be on the front of the Streamlabs blog. And Streamlab is a platform that you need to use to broadcast to Twitch, it’s the OBS system.
It’s just nuts that after all this time, working on Twitch, it’s really turned into this. But it’s not just from that two-and-a-half years, it’s from the 21 years of Trivium. It’s because there are Trivium fans that support me in this new endeavor.
You performed on the new Me And That Man album — Nergal from Behemoth's country blues band. How does stepping outside the box like that open creative doors for Trivium?
I loved it so much. I mean, from the livestreaming like we were talking about earlier, we have an aspect of it called "Kiichichaos Karaoke." It’s a five-minute bidding system that starts at a dollar and our subscribers can recommend songs that I learn. So far I think we’ve done somewhere between 450-500 songs of everything from me turning Cannibal Corpse songs into a happy ballad. I turned a The Black Dahlia Murder song into a beautiful love song. I learned a Logic one too, that hotline song ["1-800-273-8255"] and had to learn how to rap for the first time.
I thought it’d be terrible and cringy, but it actually was incredible. So learning all these different things, like Justin Bieber to Britney Spears to Backstreet Boys to Vengaboys to Lazy Town, all these other things.. it’s really helped me with being able to step outside the box.
Matt Heafy, "Hit Me Baby One More Time" (Britney Spears Cover)
I’ve always loved all genres and I feel like that’s why Trivium sounds the way it sounds, we’ve allowed everything to inspire us and we’ve set no boundaries on what is right and wrong in Trivium, we want everything to be there.
So when Nergal was showing me the new Me and that Man — I've been friends with Nergal for years and he’s one of my heroes and one of my favorite bands, I think The Satanist is one of the greatest black metal records of all time and he showed me a song with Ihsahn, who’s both of our collective favorite musicians in the world, both of our mentors...
Ihsahn is producing my black metal record and Nergal showed me this song with Ihsahn ["By the River"], I was like, "This is unbelievable. I’ve never heard Ihsahn sound like this in my life, but for some reason if there’s ever another song that you can think of that you need me, or even a vocal line, let me know." And he said, "Actually Matt, I think this song would be perfect for you."
Me and That Man, "You Will Be Mine" Feat. Matt Heafy
He played me the demo, the original version of the song I was to sing on and I told Nergal exactly what I heard. I imagined this old, dusty, weird saloon in the west of all these these dead bar patrons kind of skeletal laying around and singing the background parts of this musician sitting in the corner stage playing to all these dead westerners.
He said, "That’s amazing, let’s do it." I went home after that tour and I tracked the first version of it. I made it a little too maniacal, kinda like Oogie-Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas. Nergal said, "Matt, it’s a little too theatrical." He mentioned a couple of keywords to just make it sad, make it sound like you’re just emotional and quiet. I sent him back this next take which was on the record. He’s like, "That’s perfect, that’s the one, let’s go."
It is always great to catch up with you. Stay safe.
I do believe that the world will get back to normal as long as everyone keeps exercising physical distancing while maintaining social connectivity. Don’t allow yourself to feel mentally isolated. Be in places — Facetime with your friends, do group chats, visit my Twitch channel, whatever it is.
Stay connected with humans while staying physically disconnected from them. Let’s get this thing done. This is not the end of the world, nor is it something to be brushed off, it’s serious, but it’s not the end of the world. So let’s find that middle ground, let’s get through this.
Thanks to Matt Heafy for the interview. Get your copy of Trivium's 'What the Dead Men Say' here. Follow Trivium on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and follow Heafy on Twitch. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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