Last Tuesday, March 19, we got in touch with Trivium frontman Matt Heafy as he was installing new monitor speakers in his house, the better to listen to mixes of the band's upcoming sixth album (fifth for Roadrunner). The as-yet untitled disc was produced by Disturbed/Device frontman David Draiman in Austin, Texas, a move that provoked strong reactions among Trivium's fan base - all of them positive. We talked to Matt about that, about the band's touring plans, and much more. Enjoy!
How was the decision made to have David Draiman produce the new record?
I’ll backtrack and I’ll give you the whole story. When Disturbed did their first tour ever, I was like 16 or 17 years old. It was Danzig headlining, Six Feet Under direct support and Disturbed opening. That was the first time I ever saw Disturbed. Throughout the years…in 2005, we finished our show in Chicago – we were supporting Danzig, we were second out of five for the Danzig/Kataklysm tour, and David Draiman just happened to be at the show. He came up and was like, “Hey, you guys are awesome, I’ve been a fan of you guys for a while,” and we were really blown away that the guy from Disturbed liked our band. So that was it – it was kind of this quick little meeting. But we’d meet every other year or so at a random show, and we’d kind of keep in touch.
One day I remember online I saw a picture of one of our fans, wearing a Trivium shirt, posing with David Draiman, and Draiman was wearing a Trivium hoodie. I was like, this is fucking awesome! He’s an actual fan. So we became friends and started bumping into each other every once in a while, and he brought us and As I Lay Dying out on their headlining tour of Australia and New Zealand. From there we were able to hang a little bit more, and then we did Mayhem together. On Mayhem, I passed him a copy of In Waves, saying “Hey man, thanks for all the support over the years, I hope you dig our new record.”
Last date of the tour, he pops in and wants to talk to me, and he tells me that never before has he felt we were ready to make the jump, before now. And when he heard In Waves, he knew that Trivium was ready to make the leap. That he’s always been a big fan, but when he heard the songs and the songwriting power that was In Waves, he wanted to work with us. And he said, If you want to work with me, I would love to work with you. And naturally we were like, Yeah, we’d love to.
We knew he worked with Disturbed production-wise from seeing it in the liner notes, but we never really knew what he did, until one day he had us at the studio and we checked out the Device stuff. And as soon as I heard it, I was like, All right, now I know who’s been doing this – not to take anything away from Disturbed, because I know it takes those four dudes to make it what it is, but when I heard the ingredients that I really loved as a singer and a songwriter and a melody writer in the stuff that David was doing with Device, I was like OK, I see that the ingredients are in this that I loved from Disturbed, so David is definitely a producer.
After we heard that, we were like, Yeah, we’ve gotta work together. So we passed demos to each other – it might have been over a year. We started writing the demos before In Waves even came out, which we always seem to do, not because we have to but just because we feel inspired. So we’d pass him batches of demos, he’d pass us notes back, and we’d keep a bible. And we’d keep doing that throughout the touring cycle. And not doing it in a regimented way or anything, just when we felt like it was a good time to work, we’d work and send it to him, and he would give us great critiques, and the songs kept getting better and better from a distance. Finally we built up a schedule and moved in with him for about two months. And the record was made, and now we’re back home.
What kind of producer was he?
He was the most hands-on producer we’ve ever worked with. And we’ve worked with some amazing people. I mean, Jason Suecof and Trivium got their start working together. We’ve done so many records together that I think we can’t do any more; we’ve learned everything we could possibly learn from each other. We were able to work with Nick Raskulinecz on Shogun, who we learned a lot from; we were able to work with one of our heroes of metal production and engineering, Colin Richardson, on In Waves, which went great. And everyone’s always been fairly hands-on with us, saying, Hey, we want to do this together. But David was even more hands-on, in a great way.
We looked at it as a partnership, as all of us working together to make the best songs possible. And with David, he had input on everything. What was amazing was, he never wanted to cross the line – he never wanted to change who we were. That was a big thing he said early on, “I want this to still very much be Trivium, but we’re gonna take it to the next level.” He had things from – not lyrical changes, but lyrical suggestions – ways to help further the point of what the song was. That was something I’d never had before; I’d never had a producer say, “What are you saying in this song?” And when he first asked me that, I gave him the same answer I was giving for interviews for all of In Waves, which is “Well, this is interpretable,” and he was like “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine,” but he felt like it should go this way or that way, and I’ve never had that before, someone who was able to help me look at what the point of the song was and help me narrow down the message I was trying to convey.
We worked on vocals – he helped me gain another four to six notes in my upper vocal range, which is something I never thought was possible. He was telling me that he really wants me to get further vocal training, which is something I want to do when I get up to New York – I’m gonna get some vocal lessons with his vocal coach, Melissa Cross. He was really pushing it, saying “You have no idea what you’re really capable of.” It was really cool to hear that this late in my career. I mean, this is record six. I thought I was born with a vocal range and that’s all it was, but he said no, that’s not true. He taught me how to stand, how to breathe right, how to sing, just so much. He helped me break down everything I’ve learned and rebuild it back up during the pre-production sessions.
The pre-production was something we’ve never seen before. Last record, our pre-production was one day because we were so prepared when we came in, because we’d been demoing our songs for about eight months. This time, when we were going in to work with David, he said, “I don’t want you guys to know the material too well.” We actually didn’t rehearse at all as a band for any of our new stuff; we wrote it all on our computers, had everyone learn the riffs, and he said the point was he wanted us malleable, so that when he worked with us as a band, we weren’t suffering from demo-itis. That’s a very real term that we’ve all had to deal with before where we become attached to something in the demo form, because we got so used to it. He didn’t want that to happen, so he didn’t allow it to happen by helping us not to know the stuff too well.
This pre-production was two weeks, six days a week, 12 hours a day, which is the most brutal pre-production I’ve ever done in my life. We could have gone into it incredibly prepared like we did with In Waves, but with that malleable thing, he broke down each song – we’d work maybe a song a day, once we got into the groove of things. We worked on everything, from drums – so Nick [Augusto] would have a pattern where he’s playing at 10, playing all straight double bass with all of his power and all of his ability, David would say, “No, no, pull out these notes here, these notes here off this instrument, don’t do this on this instrument,” and all of a sudden we had this incredible groove part, unlike anything we’d ever had before.
He helped make the guitar parts better, because we had stuff we were repeating four to eight or even 16 times, and he’d say, “Why does it keep repeating?” We’d say well, that’s what we’re doing, but he’d change it so every time the riff happens, it progresses a little further, and that was something we’ve never done before – we’ve never had something where a riff only plays for four bars or only plays one time and then keeps progressing. He helped with every instrument, every song, helping create melodies – his ability to create melody is one of the most staggering things I’ve ever seen.
If someone can picture in their head a virtuoso guitar player stepping up to play a song and improvising right on the spot, something really technical and really flashy, well, David can hear a song or a chord progression or a bass melody one time, and after hearing it once, he can come up with amazing melodies to go on top of it, and each time he works with it, within two minutes of hearing it for the first time, he can create incredible hooks on top of it. I’ve never seen that before. It was mind-blowing to see his ability for melody construction on the spot.
Were you recording in his house? How did the atmosphere compare to previous sessions?
Ember to Inferno, Ascendancy and Crusade were recorded at Jason Suecof’s, which at the time was a shed that he’d turned into a home studio, so we were really used to that home studio/DIY kind of feel, where everyone would drive home and live at their parents’ house or wherever they were living at that time. With Shogun, we lived in Franklin, Tennessee, and we all lived in one apartment, so we’d drive to the studio in the morning, which was like five or 10 minutes away. On In Waves, I lived at home, drove to the studio every day – Paint It Black, which is owned by Elvis Baskette, who’s a fantastic engineer and producer. But with this, yeah, we were in David’s house, and in one of the wings of his house, above one of his garages, is a full studio. Now, it’s not a studio in the traditional sense, where it’s got rooms and booths and all that stuff. It’s basically a bedroom that he’s converted to have a desk and a really great computer and really great monitor speakers. And that’s really all you need these days to pull off an amazing record, for tracking purposes. We recorded everything but the drums in this room. Vocals, guitars, everything was in there. We rented a drum studio across the street – one of his neighbors owns a small home studio that we did the drums in. It was great to be able to walk down from our room, eat in the house and be in the same building as the studio, so we were really living and breathing the record at all times, six days a week. We were taking Sundays off just so we could decompress. It was really fantastic – anywhere from six- to 12-hour days, six days a week.
Have you made any breakthroughs as a guitarist on this album?
I think so. I think that a big thing on this one was finding our identities, who we are. I feel like our rhythm guitar playing – and that’s something David said early on, he was like, I know you guys know who you are with rhythm guitars. I know you guys can play. I know you guys are capable of all these amazing things, but it’s about playing in a pocket at times where it focuses more on melody and on groove than on showing what we can do. With Shogun, we showed everyone what we’re capable of, and we’ve all progressed as technical players, but on In Waves we thought, hey, let’s embrace some simplicity, and on this one I think it was the perfect marriage of where we’re most comfortable playing. Where no one is really ever playing beyond their capabilities, where if we were to play this live we couldn’t do it.
Lead guitar playing is a really big thing that David helped me hone in on, ’cause I heard some of the solos Corey [Beaulieu] was tracking, and they’re the most technical things he’s ever done, ever. And it was so beyond my capabilities as a player that I said to David, I don’t know if I should be shredding, since Corey’s shredding so damn hard that I’m gonna look like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And he was like, listen, embrace melody. So with my lead guitar playing, through his encouragement, I was able to find – not really a new style of lead guitar playing, but embracing something that’s always been there across all five Trivium records, or even the solos I was doing on the Roadrunner United record, or any time I play a solo that’s kind of going in that melodic blues pattern direction…I really embraced that on this record. ’Cause like I said, Corey is doing some insane shit on this record that made me feel like I really need to be identifiably different in comparison to him, so… [David] helped each dude. I think the biggest things that needed the most help from a producer on this record were vocals and drums, and he’s really delivered on helping Nick and me progress.
Did you use any new gear on this album?
Every single record we do, we’re always looking for the original 5150, the original Peavey 5150 block letter [head]. For guitar players, there’s two different versions of the 5150, one with Eddie Van Halen’s signature on the right side and one with just block letters, EVH. That’s the first edition, and that’s what I consider the greatest metal amp in the world. It’s what At the Gates used on Slaughter of the Soul, and what I believe all the Gothenburg bands used to use, and all the modern bands used as well.
We were able to find one through our buddy Chris Kelly, who’s one of the head guys at Peavey. Now this head actually belonged to Eddie Van Halen, and then it was given to Slash, and then I believe Slash gave it to Sammy Hagar, and then somehow it got back to Chris Kelly, and now he has it, so we were like, listen, we have to use it. So we used that with one of the Maxon overdrive pedals, which we always like using – it’s a big, fat Maxon light green one and a non-oversized, traditional Mesa Boogie 30” cabinet with a 421 and an SM57 mic on it. Pretty straightforward modern metal formula for amp recording. I used my original Les Paul Custom that I got when I was 12. On my solos, I haven’t done too much of this, I’ve done a little bit here and there, I used a wah and a phaser. I remember when I was a kid, I used to not want to learn any guitar parts that had pedals, because I considered them not real guitar parts for some odd reason – I don’t know what that was. But on most of my solos, there’s a lot of texturing going on.
In Waves was kind of a breakthrough for Trivium, in terms of abandoning typical metal imagery. Are you continuing down that path on this record?
I feel like it was a risk for our band before, in terms of breaking with what we were supposed to do, what we were supposed to look like, and I feel like we completely succeeded. The only part I regret is not being able to get through the multi-part videos I wanted to do – I had a total, awesome storyline written out. But with this one, everything’s kind of obvious to us; we’ve learned how we work as a band, and there are still things we have to do. We still have to do promo photos and that kind of stuff, but I feel like the image of this band after In Waves reset everything…this record will be more us than ever. But since we haven’t announced the album title, we haven’t announced anything that’s going on with the record other than that it’s finished, I think it’s gonna give us room to play around with everything. But I think it’s all more awesome than it’s ever been.
Are you working with any of the same visual artists this time as last time?
No, we’re actually using all new people on everything. The only constant is Ramon Boutviseth, who did our videos. Everyone else is different. We’re using a different photographer, different album artist…I want a whole new style since we made such a radical departure with the producer. I wanted to really build from the ground up.
The Mayhem Fest lineup was announced last week, and you’re not on it. Will Trivium be touring this summer?
We’re not going to be touring till the end of July, and the first thing we’ll be doing is all the European festivals. We’ll play Wacken again, and a bunch of festivals we’ve never played before. That’s the only thing that’s built into our schedule right now, is playing a bunch of European festivals.
When you tour, do you think about the audience when putting together a set list? For example, when you were out with Asking Alexandria, I was surprised you didn’t play “Anthem,” from The Crusade – those fans probably would have loved that song.
That probably would have been a good idea. Yeah, we did so many different things last year – in North America alone we did support for In Flames, support for Dream Theater, support for Asking Alexandria, support for Five Finger Death Punch. Four completely opposite bands where I feel like you couldn’t really put any of those four bands on the same bill together, but somehow we went out and did direct support for every one of them except Five Finger. And originally we had some encouragement from the label and from management to tailor the sets a bit for each tour, and we were thinking, maybe we should go more progressive and heavy for Dream Theater, and throw in stuff that the kids who like Asking Alexandria will think are breakdowns or have an ’80s tinge to it, but then we said, let’s just play what the Trivium fans would want to hear. If we were going out, headlining to just Trivium fans, what would they want to hear? And that’s what we did. And I feel like either approach would have had its advantages, but by doing it this way, we really established ourselves as who we are, and we’re gonna play the same thing regardless of who we’re out with. So when we did the Dream Theater tour, yeah, maybe we should have opened up with something like “Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis,” something that’s very guitar flashy, but instead we opened up with a song that had pretty much everything on the low D string. And it was good. I think it was just like a blunt statement of, this is who we are and this is what we’re gonna play.
Ultimately, what’s the goal for you with this album?
It’s weird, because I don’t know if I thought about that too much going into this. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. In my head, as most people have goals in their lives of what they want to do, or what they want to become...it’s not like I want to imitate them, but Iron Maiden are huge heroes to me because they’ve always played exactly what they wanted to play, made it look exactly how they wanted it to look, and done things their way without ever tailoring it to anyone or anything, and they’ve just established this legacy where they’re able to play anywhere in the world to people who are unified with them through this love of the same kind of thing. And that still is absolutely inspiring to me that a lot of our hero bands do that. They don’t craft themselves into having to be something, and that’s what I work for. Something like that, where I keep making the music that I want to make for the fans that we love and who have helped bring us where we are. But it’s in my head that I can always do better and we can always be better. Not that I’m not content, but I know I can be a much better singer, a better screamer, a better guitar player, a better songwriter, and all this stuff, and I want to keep working toward that, keep working toward being a better live band, so we can play better shows, in better venues, in front of larger amounts of people. Those kinds of things – just constantly working to make it all better.