Here we bring you part 2 of our Gear Nerd interview with Matt Heafy of Trivium. In this section of the interview, Heafy talks about his playing style, how he writes solos, his various endorsements and his ultimate set-up.
If you missed part 1, where Matt clued us in on his musical influences and when he first picked up a guitar, you can check that out HERE.
Roadrunner UK: So how would you describe your playing style? What would you say is the Matt Heafy playing style?
Matt Heafy: That’s something that we’re finding out more and more now, you know what really is each of us in the band, so when we do this next record it’s gonna be more accurate of what we are. I think a huge thing with my guitar playing is I guess that fusion between melodic death metal and metal and utilizing thrash picking- thrash right hand but not thrash left hand. I’m not really a thrash left hand person where it would be chromatic power chords thrown all over the fret board but more calculated about good melodies happening with the left hand with an approach of like thrash metal on the right hand, I guess. So, the left hand that’s death metal that’s inspired by bands like ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘Judas Priest’ with the right hand inspired by bands like ‘Slayer’ and ‘Pantera’. I guess with more recent bands being like ‘Death’, like the right hand approach of ‘Death’ with the left hand approach of old school ‘In Flames’ or ‘At the Gates’ or something. I guess that melodic and catchy and to be able to sound like a song with one guitar player- that’s how I try to write rhythms and my leads? I definitely recognize I’m a better melodic solo player than a shreddy dude. I leave all that shit to Corey [Bealieu]. Even though I can do some of it, so I do some of it sometimes.
So you guys are known for having great solos in your songs and you obviously have guitar duals and stuff going on. How do you guys put those together and write your solos?
Each album is different. With ‘Ascendency’, we pretty much planned out every single solo, ‘Crusade’ I think they were all improv’d and memorized from there. ‘Shogun’ was half and half. Moving forward I think I’m gonna do it more like I did with ‘Shattering...’ where I do plan it out and I think planning is the best way to go for me. To actually make the solo into a song and make it something special.
When you are putting it together are there key elements that you look for in a solo that you try and insert into them?
Yeah, to have to be able to be identifiable by itself. There are so many dudes that can play six billion notes a second but it’s very hard to pick out who that is, who that guitar player is. I mean if you want to think modern guys like Mike Amott (of ‘Arch Enemy’) you always know it’s him. With me, if I hear a solo from Mike Amott of ‘Arch Enemy’ I always know it’s his playing- little things like the subtle phaser on his solo and the occasional wah and really big open melodies. I feel like I’m finding more and more what my solo style is, it’s that kind of incorporation of I guess blues / old school heavy metal based soloing but with the occasional like [John] Petrucci-esque [of ‘Dream Theater’] sextuplet type run type thing.
So tell us about your endorsers, you’ve had a few over the years. Who have you been endorsed by?
I am full on now 100% representing Gibson guitars for the Les Paul Customs, Explorers, their 7-string Explorers and SG300 acoustics, which I don’t do live obviously. Marshall, I use JVM210H through a 1960 BB cab. So Gibson, Marshall, Dunlop for strings, picks, accessories, straps, strap locks and EMG pick ups…and I believe that’s it. And my rig nowadays is just my guitar into a head that goes straight into the PA so I don’t actually use a cab or mic or anything, I use no pedals, no channel switching, nothing- just a guitar and one channel.
Who have you been endorsed by in the past and what inspired the change?
When I first started touring I was playing Gibson and Peavey, Peavey because I was using Peavey heads through Marshall cabs, Marshall Cabs because I already owned them as a kid. The first amp I bought I think was a Marshall valve-state, so I bought a Marshall half-stack first, but for touring, Peavey because Jason [Suecof] used a lot of Peavey in the studio and it was a great tone that was easy to find for our sound. We were kind of a small band at the time so Gibson weren’t ready or willing to work with us yet and we were approached by Rita Hainey and Dean Zelinsky to join Dean [Guitars]. We joined Dean for a while and we were treated really well at that time. Dean [Zelinsky] then let go of Dean [Guitars] and he was the guy that partially brought us in and he was the dude who was creating our guitars and we didn’t have our dude anymore so we took off. At that time Gibson got in touch with us miraculously and they were like ‘we’d like to work with you’ and so it was my dream to be with them. So, the only other ex-company, we had Peavey and Dean, I think that’s it but Corey still plays Peavey heads, Marshall cabs and Jackson guitars.
So what makes Gibson special for you? What is it you love about those guitars?
For me, it’s always been the best guitar company. It was the first guitar company I ever loved. I’ve been able to see the Gibson plant and watch the amount of hand made work that goes into it. I mean the white binding that goes around the guitar is actually hand carved out by a human being, which is insane because most guitar companies, their hand-built is they take their hand and shove this piece of wood through a machine and guitar comes out the other side. I’ve seen that in many different companies. It’s all down to the quality and that Les Paul that I’ve had since I was 13, 14 I’m still using now. We used to use it when I didn’t really have a good guitar case, we’d thrown it in the back of the trailer and it got beat up and smashed up and it’s still the best sounding and playing one I have. So I guess in the end it’s all about personal preference, but for me it’s personal preference and quality and their shit is definitely high quality.
So what’s your practice regime like when you’re on the road and off the road?
On the road, at least always warming up for 5-15 minutes a day and I always use- I memorized- the John Petrucci ‘Rock Discipline Warmups’. I actually got to tell him that in person for the first time at Download which I was really stoked about. I’ve been using that since I was about 16. I’m not as good as he is but I still warm up with it, try to at least. If I go more to that I just play for an hour or two hours or whenever or how long. At home, I do play a lot but it’s more so jamming and writing, it’s not really practicing to learn something new exactly but if I feel that I need to, I’ll do it and I’ll sit there with a metronome and a classical guitar stool, foot pedal, all that and go for it. But it’s just about jamming and writing and trying to come up with the best riffs for the next record.
So when you were a kid, how often did you practice? Did you drive your folks mad?
Oh no not mad at all, but I practices a lot. Some days not at all, some days the 5-6 hours a day, if there was like a weekend or no school or something I’d just play throughout the day, yeah, a lot.
So what tips would you give a budding guitarist?
If you’re just a guitar player, ya know anything’s possible, all this crazy shit that humans are doing is possible, it just takes time to learn it, and then you work your way up. But if you’re in a band and making music, it’s all about the song first, the heavy brutal shit comes last, the technical flashy shit comes last, it’s all about coming up with really cool songs that you like that you’re audience can enjoy as well.
The band's current album Shogun is available now. Order online AT THIS LOCATION.