Trivium’s Matt Heafy Talks Touring, Maturity + New Drummer
Trivium frontman Matt Heafy was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. Though promoting the 'Silence in the Snow' album, Heafy and Full Metal Jackie also spoke about the band's touring, how the creative process has changed since 'Ascendancy' and how their new drummer Paul Wandtke has affected their performances. Heafy also spoke about having his deviated septum fixed and some of his outside music passions. Check out the chat below.
How ya doing?
I'm fantastic, how are you?
Doing great. You guys have been touring nonstop, as you do. So I know you're a very busy man.
Of course. Yeah, the last run was awesome, it was just very very long. It was about an eight week run, and we were just playing cities that we'd either never played before or that typically don't get metal shows. Every single show was amazing, but the cold -- being a bunch of Florida kids it was absolutely brutal. Negative 5 to 20 degrees for maybe three weeks of the tour. I haven't been sick on tour in maybe three or four years and I actually got horribly sick twice on that run and still managed to not have to cancel any shows. There were three shows where I had to go up before we played and say, "Listen, I know you guys traveled out there. My singing is a little touchy so I'll need you guys to sing more." One of the shows I wasn't able to sing that much so I had to sing everything on octave lower, so it sounded really weird. It sounded like Peter Steele sings Trivium but the other two shows it worked out fine, the other two shows were just a little raspier.
I always wonder how hard it is when you're traveling in the winter time, around so many people, with bus recycled air or airplanes.
It's brutal. And the bus sickness never went away. A few of the guys got it early on, and what's funny, for the four of us in the band, we're fun people. We'll hang out, but I'm pretty low on the party level because of so much singing I have to do. But our crew, those guys were partying like crazy so our crew was just -- as soon as they were done, they were out until all hours of the morning and a few of them got sick early on and they stayed sick because they kept partying. The sickness never left the bus and it was inevitable to get sick, so it just happened to me twice which I was real unhappy about. I was happy the shows still worked. I didn't want to cancel because I remember earlier in that day we met a kid who had traveled 6 hours to get to the show. This was in Ft. Wayne. Some bands can pull it off, the ones that run backing tracks or that have backup bands. That kind of stuff. It doesn't matter if you're doing it, because something else is doing it anyway. But since it's the four of us, we've always been against that stuff. When we're feeling it, we have to push through or figure something out. I'm very lucky that I have Paolo and Corey as well because Paolo is a great singer, Corey is a great singer so those two can pick up a little bit of the slack for me. It got better quick, luckily we're pretty healthy guys. We bounce back quick.
You've been doing this for such a long time. I came across a video recently of early days when you had long hair and you're a kid. When you're kids, you feel like you know everything.
I was definitely a cocky little s--t from like 18 to 26/27. Or maybe even before that, maybe 14 to 26.
What do you think is the most unanticipated thing that comes with creative growth and maturity?
When you're really young and you're first walking into it, it's probably negativity. That's something that I can see that even and guys that are even older than us still have not figured out how to deal with. Anytime you do anything in life that's a public forum, there's always going to be people, and I'm paraphrasing a quote my grandfather told me, "A third of the world is going to love you, a third of the world is going to hate you and a third of world is not going to give a s--t." That's kind of what you're going to walk into no matter what. If you ever have something that you're putting out to people to be judged or appreciated or purchased, you're always going to have critics. I think a lot of guys are not ready for that and can't handle it that well. I definitely did not handle it that well at first when we first came out.
When we made Ascendancy, we didn't have fans. We were like, "OK we're making the music we want to make and everyone should love it." Then I started seeing people hate it and hating the band and was like, "Alright let's see what else I can make. Let's see if I can make things that they will like." That's why when I went into write stuff I wrote for The Crusade, I tried to write music that the people who didn't like Ascendancy would like. That's silly. When you start a band, you're making the music that you want to hear as a fan and that's the way you need to stick to it. That's probably the biggest thing that I didn't anticipate. But, we've been facing that since I joined the band and I joined the band when I was 12. So instantly you see people staring being negative about it, whether it's jealousy or genuine, they just don't like it and they can't be quiet about it. But that's something that I think a lot of band guys still can't handle, but they need to realize, it's part of it. That's just the way it is.
You touched on Ascendancy there. I wanted to talk about that record. It's been a while. What do you think has changed most about your creative spontaneity since the days of making Ascendancy?
I think nowadays we've come full circle and have come back to where we were at on the Ascendancy days. When we were writing Ascendancy, I remember it was just the four of us playing in a room, making the kind of music we wanted to hear. We didn't think too much about it, we didn't demo it, we didn't have laptops. We didn't even track on eight tracks, we just played in a room. We'd play guitar parts on top of other guitar parts and just vibe with it and see whatever we liked. Now, when it comes time for writing for the next one for record No. 8 and the way we did Silence quite a bit, same thing, let's play the music we're going to record. Let's not sit separately and record full production demos alone on our laptops, away from the band. Let's actually play this thing as a band.
When we did The Crusade, and I know I bring it up in scrutiny sometimes, but it's still a record that I love. It was just made in a real weird time. It was made during a time when our band wasn't really getting along, and there was a lot of ups and downs in our career. But the way that record was made, we had to write the whole thing on tour. We came home after a grueling tour cycle and had two weeks off, then went straight in the studio and went right back out tour. That's definitely not the right way to do a record. You need to give a record its proper due time. With every album we've tried it a little bit differently, but I definitely think nowadays it's definitely more so the way we used to do it with Ascendancy, not thinking whether people are going to like it or not. Let's just make what we want to hear and I think it becomes very contrived when you're trying to write something to please something or to please someone or prove something to someone but when you make just what you want to hear, it takes you back to the basics of where you were when you first started off with the band.
Your new drummer Paul is a Berkeley student who is recommended by Mike from Dream Theater. How does the caliber of your bandmates affect your own musicianship?
It's massive and anyone who came to see us on this last run with Paul can definitely see that, for the first time in our careers, everything we're playing sounds like the record. I'm not putting that as a fault upon any of the previous drummers, but I'm putting that as a fault of the previous three lineups. The four of us at each point in time when we had to make a drummer change, because our band either wasn't able to perform well or create good music or be functional as a unit anymore. So, thankfully with someone like Paul who comes to the table with a full set of musical pedigree, it allows us to play anything. We're playing music from records 2-7 right now. I finally retrained myself how to scream again, so everything is exactly how it was.
When we play stuff off of Ascendancy, it sounds exactly like Ascendancy. When we play stuff off of Silence, it sounds like Silence. I think that's great that we're able to do that now, with the four of us now we can play anything we've ever put out before with no issue. It's great. When we were looking for drummer No. 4, a lot of people joke Spinal Tap. It's funny, when we first announced Matt, I posted a picture of one of the Spinal Tap drummers and said this was our new drummer and I had the guys name but people didn't get the joke. When we were looking for drummer No. 4, we knew we had to find someone right. We couldn't just find someone that was in front of us because the last two had been the drum techs of the previous. It was something they had to do on a moment's notice, and something had to be done right away and we really couldn't look or train someone.
But this time we looked between 5-10 guys and I remember when we we're looking through some of them, it was Paolo's idea to ask John Petrucci. I was like, that's a great idea. I get along with John, we had a great time with Dream Theater. Emailed John, he didn't have anyone but he CC'd Mike and within about 10-15 minutes Mike's like, here's your guy. Check him out. It was that simple. Paul's first show with us was Knotfest in Mexico to about 30,000 people and we had him play a drum solo on his first show ever with us and he killed it. We did the absolute trial by fire and he did great. He's an amazing drummer. He's what we've always been missing. We've been missing someone who can keep up with us musically and creatively. Someone who already has stage presence. He comes to the table completely prepared, it's as if he's been with us the whole time.
You recently had a surgery to repair a deviated septum. How has that made singing different?
It's made singing truly easier. I had always heard that it makes it easier, because the way the head works is, all the features of your skull act as resonation. If you look at a horn or trumpet, all the openings and everything that's happening with that instrument help create the sounds. The same thing with your skull and the same thing with the anatomy of your head. I broke my nose as a kid in karate really early on. It wasn't a cool story either, it wasn't like I was sparring in a tournament or anything. We were doing wheelbarrow races and the person that they paired me up with was super strong and they weren't aware of it. So they took off and my face primed against the carpet and we kind of rolled like a ball and I hit the wall at the end. I guess I broke it then. I didn't really know that until my 20s, I was having vocal issues and a doctor in California said, "Oh when did you break your nose?" I was like, "What are you talking about?" He said, "Yeah, it's sideways." That's when I found out it was that and the surgery -- it wasn't too bad.
The thing that sucked the most was the intubation tube that they have in your throat when you're under, that really rips your throat apart a little bit. Right before they put me under I remember they said, "Ah, there's like a 1 percent chance you might not be able to sing after this. Is that OK?" [laughs] You're going to tell me this now?! Luckily there were no issues, there's a lot more space in my skull now. My nose is straight. I had to wear a ridiculous looking face mask for two months because I wanted to get back into Jiu Jitsu so I gave it a week, watched for a while and then started training again. But I wore this crazy looking shield thing for two months, protected my nose. Things are going great. It truly has gotten easier, but I think it's also functioned as well as - when I'm off the road, I practice seven days a week vocally / individually. Then when we rehearse as a band, that's an extra hour or hour and a half. So one to three hours a day, I make sure I sing. It's all from the stuff I learned from Ron Anderson. Thanks to Ron, I've become a better singer and have been able to scream again. It was my old screaming that originally destroyed my voice. It made us have to cancel the tour after playing Rock on the Range and that was pretty rough for me. To have to send all our crew home and our band home without pay for the rest of the tour. Now the screaming is back, it's easier than ever and it sounds the same as it used to which is a completely different technique.
You're a bit of a renaissance man. You're interested in things like martial arts, cooking, yoga, just to name a few. How do those pursuits directly feed the musical side of your life?
Jujitsu has been the most humbling thing i've ever done in my entire life, because I've been playing guitar and singing since I was 12 so I've never really known what it is to have to build something from the ground up because it's something I've pretty much always have done. When I got into jujitsu, it was definitely one of the hardest things I've done. I remember when I started, I started that and kickboxing at the same time. If I could put metaphors on both, kickboxing to me was like learning guitar and jujitsu was like learning to sing opera in a foreign language. It's just retracing yourself these things that don't seem right for a long time. I remember one of the first times I ever grappled, when I joined I was about 205 pounds. I dropped to 165 pounds then worked my way back up. Weight doesn't really matter, but I was a bigger guy and the first kid I ever met to spar was about 135 pounds, 17-year-old kid. I was like yeah I got this. The kid choked me out in like 15 seconds and that's when I realized, alright this martial art is something else. This isn't what I thought it was, this is something completely different. It forced me to have to learn something from the absolute ground up to absolutely sucking at something to being OK at it. I'm not great.
What I love about it is that there are no shortcuts in martial arts. Same thing with singing and guitar playing. Some people learn things faster but there are no shortcuts to get good. You can't just sit there and watch videos of it or use willpower in your head to be good, you have to actually put in the time and work in to get good at it. Jujitsu, it made me apply that same regimented drilling schedule to singing and guitar playing, every day, I time myself and make sure - hopefully a minimum of an hour of guitar drilling and an hour of vocal drilling in addition to jujitsu or yoga or weightlifting. I just find it really important. When we're doing Silence in the Snow, we had a lot of time off tour. So I said to myself, I want to make sure i'm doing everything I love in life well. So I took some cooking lessons, singing lessons with Ron Anderson, guitar lessons -- classical guitar lessons with a guitar teacher in town who is an amazing guitarist. Jiu Jitsu and yoga classes, personal training classes, make sure I'm lifting weights right. I just want to make sure I'm doing everything right, so as I keep pursuing these things that I keep getting better at it, I'm on the right path. I think it's real important that people set impossibly high goals for themselves. My goal in life as a singer is to be as good as Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio and Freddie Mercury and I know that will never happen, but I'm always going to work for it. I feel everyone should set goals that are that difficult for themselves.
Thanks for taking the time. Looks like you guys are overseas for the next few months, doing some festivals in the U.S. Is there going to be another proper U.S. tour maybe later on in the year?
The only one on the horizon right now is some dates with Sevendust which we're real excited about. I can't believe we'd never formally toured with them, we're a perfect match. That's about 10 dates with Sevendust amidst the U.S. radio festivals that are going to be awesome. That's it for now. We might have some other stuff towards the end of the year, but nothing is booked yet. If anyone missed us on the last run, they definitely missed quite a show. That was definitely one of the longest sets we've done. The last run was cool too, we decided not to bring out any other bands but instead have the best of the best of whatever bands lived in those cities. So we were able to check out some really incredible bands. I remember the band that opened the show in Madison was a band called Pangea and they were amazing. There were some really great unsigned bands we were able to see and we had 2-3 bands on every single night, which was cool to try something different. It was like bringing a local vibe to the Trivium shows.
Thanks to Trivium's Matt Heafy for the interview. The band's 'Silence in the Snow' album is available via Amazon and iTunes and you can catch the band on tour at these stops. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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