"This is, ‘All for one, one for all’, and everyone’s voice is equally important" - Matt Heafy
Trivium are gearing up to release their ninth album 'What The Dead Men Say' on April 24 via Roadrunner Records. A sprawling, ambitious and, at times, guttural listen, it's a record that dips its toes into so many parts of the band's illustrious and experimental career whilst also managing to sound entirely fresh and new.
We caught up with frontman Matt Heafy to find out how they went about making such a collection of songs and how staying to true to themselves has helped them become the band they are today...
When you were first gearing up for this record, how would you describe your mentality - the game-plan for this one, if you like? This album feels like a real synthesis of everything Trivium has been, and more besides.
Says Matt Heafy: “That’s really nailed it. Making [‘17’s] ‘The Sin And The Sentence’, we went through our career and looked at everything we thought we’d done right and done wrong. That record captured the best bits of all the other albums we’d done before, and ‘What The Dead Men Say’ also collects everything from ‘The Sin…’ and back. What I noticed from really scrutinising everything we’ve ever done was, I looked across all my, top, favourite Trivium records: ‘The Sin…’, ‘In Waves’, ‘Shogun’, ‘Ascendancy’, ‘From Ember To Inferno’. And with those records specifically, we created music amongst the four of us in a room, before allowing anything else to happen.
"Before sitting with a producer or going into the studio, we made sure that we could play the music from start to finish by muscle memory, that I could sing it and scream it, that we had at least 90% of the vocal melodies and lyrics written before we were ready to go into the studio. The three others that I put towards the bottom of my favourites - because they’re all my favourites I guess! - and are very tough on, are ‘Vengeance Falls’, ‘Silence In The Snow’ and ‘The Crusade’- and with those three, we made the conscious decision to stay within a lane of Trivium’s sound.”
“‘The Crusade’, in particular, was a decision by me to rebel entirely against everything that ‘Ascendancy’ had been. As great as ‘Ascendancy’ was, and everything exploding for us in the UK off of that record, I looked around and went, ‘Alright, we just did all of this. Every other band in the world is now also doing this’. I’m not saying that we created that formula, but back then I was like, ‘Everyone’s screaming and singing, doing breakdowns and solos and double bass, let’s do the opposite of that: more akin to the ‘80s influence of where we come from’. We became like a classic metal band, and saw that the UK was pretty shocked by it. But the rest of the world started picking up on it, that’s where Iron Maiden took us on tour and Europe started opening up for us. It’s always an interesting time when I’m talking to the UK press, because the time of ‘Ascendancy’ in the UK was the only time and place that our band were on every magazine cover and winning all the awards. It was ‘Ascendancy’ in the UK, and after that it’s really, truly been built off the base of our supporters.
"It was so great that the UK gave us that shot and Download worked, even though we showed up onstage not warmed up and had only woken up 30 minutes before, were rusty and not sure if we could pull it off. But somehow it all just clicked in and everything happened right. So I feel like with these past few records, especially the latest one, there have been times when we’ve been reflective over everything. But there have also been times where we haven’t been pulling from anything specific. We’ve gotten back into the mindset of ‘Ascendancy’ and ‘From Ember To Inferno’, which was that we were just making the kind of music that made us feel good and excited to play. When we made ‘Ascendancy’ we didn’t have fans or supporters, no one knew who we were, so we just made the kind of music that made us feel something. That’s where we’ve been at with this new record. Not staying in or out of a lane, just allowing anything and everything to happen.”
Do think it’s helped that you’ve remained so open to new influences and actively engaging with other bands pushing metal forward - rather than hitting a certain level, isolating yourselves and then slipping into cruise control?
“Absolutely, our attitude is that if all heavy bands do well, all heavy bands do well. We always celebrated our favourite bands and wanted to show our fans that this was what we were excited about. We carry that same thing into new bands. We believe in that communal aspect of bringing all the bands up. There’s so much amazing music out there, so many amazing bands, and a lot of them aren’t given a proper platform because other bands who are in a position to bring them out, aren’t doing it. Instead they’re bringing out the bands who are on all the other tours, who are ‘proven ticket sales’. That’s not the right way to do it. The right way is to bring the bands out that you genuinely love.
"I understand why bands don’t have that mentality: when we were coming up, it was pretty hard for us. A lot of our favourite bands were pretty rude to us on tours, other bands that were our ‘peers’, in terms of size, but not age… we were these kids being predicted to be the biggest metal band in the world, and that scared the hell out of a lot of the older guard. Bands were not cool to us, they didn’t give us a shot. I remember reading so much of bands we loved saying not good things about us in the press. And they’d never met us and knew nothing about who we were. That’s not the kind of world we want new bands to grow up in. If a band’s coming through who are 18, 19, 20, and making great music? We want people to know. We’re not a large band, but we’re a band with a voice that our fans will listen to.
"On our last European run we had Code Orange, Power Trip and Venom Prison, and those are bands that we love. On US runs we’ve been out with Arch Enemy, While She Sleeps, Avatar, Light The Torch… we just want to do tours that we’re excited by. Now we’re set to go out with Megadeth, Lamb Of God and In Flames! That’s insane! Those are three of my favourite bands in the history of bands. I’ve seen the opposite, bands guys saying that all music sucks after a certain year. And it’s like, ‘You’re into music, you should want to be finding music and helping people do well. If you encourage bands, they might make something that you like!’ If it’s a competition, look at it as a friendly competition. If bands are constantly one-upping each other, everyone’s still going up! We’re all able to move up together. A lot of people out there have their blinders up, or are trying to ignore it so that there’s no competition for them. That’s never been the Trivium ethos.”
When it comes to the lyrical side of the new record, how did you guys approach that? It does feel pretty relevant at the moment, especially stuff like ‘Catastrophist’ touching on the self-destructive elements of humanity…
“I love that with the interpretations we’ve seen, even just from that song or people seeing the album title, it’s been encouraging people to come up with their own ideas. People have been saying that ‘Catastrophist’ feels like it’s the soundtrack of what’s happening now. And I think for me, that’s what great lyric crafting is about. 70 - 80 per cent of the lyrics were written by Paolo (Gregoletto, bass and vocals). He’s been doing such an incredible job with the lyrics and vocal melodies. Before that, I would generally write most of that side of things, if not all. With Paolo being the lyricist and creating those melodies, and me being the singer, it feels like him being a writer or director and me being the actor. I can take his lyrics and internalise them, so I have my sense of what they are. Sometimes I don’t even ask him what they’re about, I have my own definition and tell him what I thought of it. We’re encouraging people, like we did with ‘In Waves’, to know that there is no right or wrong answer. We want people to come up with their own ideas of what these lyrics mean, and apply it to now, to their country, to the world as a whole, or even to themselves and their own lives.”
What made ‘Catastrophist’ the right song to put out first?
“It’s funny, because I actually wanted to put ‘What The Dead Men Say’ out first, but Josh Wilbur and the guys really grabbed onto ‘Catastrophist’. My attitude was that the title track was such a shock, and I like to do that - but everyone else showed me that ‘Catastrophist’ shows everything that this record is in one song. It’s essentially three to five songs in one! It’s usually the softest or most extreme song out first, but we decided to go right in the middle: it’s almost like a movie trailer of what you can expect. It’s cool because five days a week I’m on Twitch and every single social seven days a week, it’s all so connected now. But somehow we managed to keep this entire recording process secret, no one knew! We could build this in a way that was exciting for people, our fans. We didn’t want to just drop the record: I think it works for some genres, but not heavy music in my opinion.
"So we knew we wanted to tease it, but as artistically as possible. We’re always trying to do things differently, and a lot of bands are applying the pop and rap formula from a couple years back, now - just singles, just EPs. But when you’re doing something that other genres were doing years ago? They’re already onto the next thing. We always look at it and go, ‘What’s not been done? Let’s do it that way’. That’s the Trivium way. Before we started touring in the UK, you’d do maybe London and Manchester. When we first came over we’d do 18 -24 shows anywhere we could, and now that’s become like a norm. It’s not like we were the first to do that, but it’s more that we’ve always tried to discover our own way of doing things.”
There’s been a consistent through line over the last couple of records, with Josh Wilbur producing and Alex [Bent] on drums. Do you think that’s helped make this a smoother process in some ways?
“Absolutely. Alex can do everything across our catalogue and so much more. We’ve had previous drummers who are amazing at simplistic drumming but couldn’t really do extreme or technical things, and then extreme and technical guys who couldn’t do simple. Alex can go those two ends and everything in between. With the four of us, you have four obsessive practitioners of their craft. All we do is practice and work towards something. With everything I do in life, I work to be the best. I work towards perfection, knowing that perfection is impossible. I train to be as good a singer as Freddie Mercury, knowing that I never will be. It’s a good thing, in the end. I’m a very extreme person, I like to take everything to the highest point, but you need to if you’re going to try and hit perfection… even knowing that it won’t ever happen. We’re all super normal people too, who love what we do and want to be the best at it. No one has a larger than life personality or thinks they’re above anyone else. This is, ‘All for one, one for all’, and everyone’s voice is equally important.
"That’s the same with Josh too: he’s not a leader, he’s a fifth band member. He’s such a positive person, and when we track our most aggressive, angry music is when we’re in the best mood! When I sound the most pissed off on record? It’s when we’ve been laughing all day. This record took us 16 days to record, that’s it. Because we were so prepared and so meticulously practiced. We were open to evolution if it was needed, but it was all committed to muscle memory and ready to go.”
With the 15 year anniversary of ‘Ascendancy’ just having passed, and you going into a new album cycle - what are the biggest contrasts in the way you approach things - as a band and individual - between then and now?
“A couple things are very similar, like the big picture things: how we recorded it as the four of us in a room together, playing stuff that we believed in. ‘What The Dead Men Say’ is just us making the music we want to hear, and not worrying about what anyone else will think. We were making ourselves happy first. We were confident then and now, but now we have the tools to back it up. At the time, we weren’t ready to make the jump from ‘Ascendancy’, to make the follow-up. If we were to be an arena band after that? We weren’t ready, I didn’t have my technique down and we couldn’t have pulled it off. While we did make an incredible record, now we play it better than ever.
"I’m singing and screaming better than ever, we have the best drummer we’ve ever had. Nowadays, we are able to pull it off better, so it sounds maybe even better than the record. Back then, it was like hearing a raw, punk rock version of the record. That’s why the electricity was there. Everything we did, the experimentation of ‘The Crusade’, ‘Vengeance Falls’ and ‘Silence In The Snow’, when we decided to hone in on one part of Trivium? It taught us that we’re not meant to hone in, we’re meant to have everything. There are so many different ingredients to the new record. We have the time and experience, we’ve been through what you need to in order to really walk through that door."
It’s fascinating how differently you’re perceived now - ‘Ascendancy’ is seen as a classic, and so many bands have started after hearing that record, or seeing one of your shows…
“It’s wild, and we didn’t know about that for a long time. I don’t mean to sound salty, but… with the exception of on ‘Ascendancy’ in the UK, we’ve never been a press band, or a band’s band. We’ve been solely built up by our fans. The side of the stage at festivals? It’s never packed with other bands. We don’t win all the awards or get talked about. But I have been meeting bands that I love, over the last few records, and they’ve told me that ‘Ascendancy’ was the record that got them playing guitar. And that blows my mind! I’m so vocal about the bands I love, so we just assumed that if other people weren’t vocal about us, they weren’t listening. We felt like we were going it alone, and having to do that made the bond between us so strong. But seeing that now, it’s amazing. It’s all I could ever hope for, that what I do inspires people to be creative, to make something. I’ve always known that we’ve inspired our fans, I love when people become best friends at our gigs or travel to new countries for our shows. People have met through this band, gotten married and had kids. That’s incredible! And that’s what music does, it brings people together. But there are also bands who are crushing it, and are into our stuff. That’s the ultimate for me, because I got here by being inspired too.”
You’ve been hugely active in building a Twitch community, livestreaming shows and so on over the last couple of years. Do you think that’s something that could help bridge a gap, given the current scenario where so many bands aren’t able to tour?
“Absolutely. I think that unfortunately, we’ll never be able to capture the feeling of being at a show… but this is the next best thing. And I do encourage every band that can to try it in a way that feels right to them. This is absolutely the best thing we can get right now, and bands should definitely try it. If certain individual band people want to start doing what I’m doing? I highly recommend it. It’s an incredible way to keep in touch with your fans and grow with your fans, in a way that’s not existed before. It’s tough too. In my opinion it’s as much work as being in a band, but it helps. Build a schedule, build a community first: a place where people can have a good time together. And even if it’s one-offs and live shows? Pick a platform and try it, it’s a way of bringing music to people. Streaming has made me a better singer, screamer, guitar player, frontman, because I’m streaming three to six hours a day. It’s been an amazing way for me to get better at what I do, and get to know our fans better too. That’s why I could go into this record and track all my vocals in three days, because I was so conditioned from doing this all year round. I want to be ready for anything, anytime.”
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