INTERVJU: Matt Heafy i Trivium

Trivium är aktuella med sitt åttonde album “The sin and the sentence” och för en tid sedan tog vi oss ett litet snack med sångaren Matt för att diskutera just det nya albumet, men även psykisk ohälsa, hans röstproblem, att rocken inte är död och det faktum att han först och främst är ett fan av musik som alla andra:

Mikael (Stanne) from Dark Tranquillity was at our last Gothenburg show and I was freaking out and I had to tell him ”Dude, I want you to know that I would´t be here without you!” and I will always do that, even if it makes band guys uncomfortable. I remember telling Björn (Gelotte) that and I could tell I made him uncomfortable, but I had to tell him. I had to. 


What´s the meaning behind the title ”The sin and the sentence”?

Well, what´s new about this record and going into this record, we said to ourselves ”We don´t care who in our band comes up with what. It´s all about having the greatest songs possible.” We shifted things a little bit on this record and what wound up happening when we decided all this, was that Paolo (Gregoletto) stepped up and ended up presenting most of the lyrics and most of the vocal melodies on this record. And the stuff he wrote was really incredible and really thought provoking things and really catchy melodies. I mean, I did a couple here and there, but hitsorically in Trivium I´ve always done about 95% of it and singers usually do it in metal bands, but I wanted to see how else this thing could evolve, because we´re a team and everyone in this band is worth the same amount as everyone else. All for one, one for all. With these songs, it was a very interesting process for me, because I felt that this thing was more like a… the best metaphore I can come up with is like a movie. Paolo was the writer, Josh (Wilbur, producer) was the director and I was the actor and I was able to get into some these songs in a different headspace than something that would´ve come from me and it was pretty interesting. The idea with the title ”The sin and the sentence” and the lyrics for that songs is about condemnation and it´s about a metaphorical witch hunt or an actual witch hunt or the witch hunts from the past or now. If you think of how we in this modern age have this great tool to be so connected with each other on the internet, but we also have times where people are dogpiled on top of each other, like someone will decide to villainize someone and just to see how people can rain down upon that, like the ancient witch trials, and that´s roughly the idea of ”The sin and the sentence” and one of the lines that I really love, which Paolo came up with is, ”I know that real monsters lie between the light and the shade” The bad guys are always obvious in the movie and you know which one´s the good guy, but what´s scary in life and what´s the majority of the time, it´s the things in the middle, you don´t recognize the bad guy and you don´t see who this is and it´s maybe someone that just lies between black and white and you don´t know. That´s a really interesting lyric that he wrote.

How much of the tensions in the US and Donald Trump and so on, ended up on the album in some way?

For us as a band I think it´s the situation even as a world platform. We always listen to how the world makes us feel and I feel that sonically this record shows the climate of the world. That´s what´s always been great about being in a metal band, is that metal isn´t afraid to address the ugly things in life and I think that old punk was the same way, with bands like Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion… Descendents, but more in a tongue in cheek way, but with us, we´ve never been afraid to show what we feel and to directly adress the fact that there is darkness in this world and the way we get that out of our systems is by making songs. I think when people go across these songs and and look at them on a song by song basis, some of the meanings will be very apparent to what it is and some will aquire a little more digging. A song like ”Betrayer” is a song that I wrote and you can apply it in multiple different times in your life and people can use it in relationships they´ve had, wife, ex-wife, friend, best friend… for me it was a relationship that obviously went bad with someone I considered a very close friend and it´s about being able to get things out, so some will be a little bit more obvious like that and there will be songs like ”The Revanchist”, where people are gonna have to dig a little bit further.

I picked three songs that stand out for me and ”Betrayer” is one of them…

That´s also right now, everyone in Trivium´s favorite song.

The other two are ”The heart from your hate” and ”Beauty in the sorrow” Could you say something about those two songs?

Of course. ”Heart from your hate” is a song about trying to see how you can get rid of the villainy within something, to take away the lifeforce of someone´s hate . To try to make someone understand that their hatred or their illwill or thoughts towards something or someone else… how can you get rid of that?

The lyric goes ”What will it take to rip the heart from your hate”…

That was really amazing when Paolo first came with that line. I came up with most of the music and the music initially was very different, like the verse, which is the same verse as that clean guitar thing, the drums were more like Dimmu Borgir´s ”Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” (2001), incredibly fast double bass and black metal chords over it, but it was that slower tempo. The middle section was this weird tech death metal part, so I showed everyone this song and they said ”Alright Matt, this is pretty nuts, but we hear a really big song in this.” Paolo heard this chorus and he sang the melody to it and we sort of restructured it and when he showed me the lyrics to the verse and the chorus, literally the first words out of my mouth were what happens in that pre chorus ”Maybe you were right, maybe I was wrong” It was crazy how that came out of nowhere and it worked with it really well. That´s definitely a really poignant song and I thought the lyrics were really great and deep. I still think about that a lot when I think about that chorus. Beauty in the sorrow” is a set of lyrics that Paolo did as well. It´s about how people try to rationalize something in times of bad. I know that he looked to WW I, like an example to what inspired him when he was writing the song, so he´ll probably have better words towards that, but when I looked at the song it was definitely about how people try to add justification to something bad and I´m not specifically talking about WW I right now, but when people have times of bad and they try to find the good things in something and they try to convince themselves that there was something good for this and maybe at times there weren´t. That´s one of the tracks that we didn´t have vocal melodies or finished lyrics until five minutes before going in. I remember Paolo sitting there and he was writing it for a while, but he was singing me the lyrics right in the studio and it connected with me so much, that going in it was like an immediate thing. I was able to connect so well and employ a different vocal range. I feel like singing low has always been so easy for me. If we were a Johnny Cash cover band, it would be the easiest thing in the world for me. The fact that Josh wanted to explore that and were like ”Let´s go for this lower range thing here!” and I thought it was really fun to be able to do that and show off because at the same time I was rebuilding the screaming and the singing has grown into this really wide birthed thing. That song came out great and I love the middle section and it kinda reminds me of the ”A gunshot to the head of trepidation” (2005) middle section, it´s such a heavy riff, but still has that nod to the 80´s metal classics.

You had some really serious voice issues. Does a thing like that make you paranoid of it happening again? Do you take extra good care of your voice now? I read that you said that blowing your voice was the best thing that ever happened.

It was. I hope people can understand some of the stresses of it, but I think about it every single day and every single tour I think about it pretty much every hour of the day. Even on the press trips, I´ll kinda click back and go ”Oh fuck, my voice feels beat! Oh right, I´m on a press trip, I´m ok.” When I go to the bathroom I´ll do like vocal excercises, so i think about it a lot. That was a really crappy thing to happen, but I knew when we did that show that my voice was gonna give out. I did the show and I gave it everything I have and it was gone. We had to send the crew home, ”Sorry guys, you´re not getting paid.” and to the fans ”The shows are done.”, but it was great for me because what ended up happening was that I kept accepting ”Oh, I´m a low singer and I´ll never have this high range.” and we kept tuning our music down so I could sing and not really doing proper techniques, but when I started training for Ron Anderson, thanks to Matt (Sanders) in Avenged Sevenfold who got me in touch with him, we realized I was screaming wrong for 15 years and singing wrong for 15 years, so I had to completely relearn how to do the two things. The screaming I didn´t even relearn that while we were doing ”Sounds of the snow”, so on that album I couldn´t even scream yet. It was good because it made us have to rely on building up this tool that´s always been around but I´ve never fully realized it and I felt that I was starting to become a much better singer than I ever been. Ron was teaching me how to scream properly… it sounds really weird and not metal or not rock and roll, but there is a way you can do it, where live it sounds as well and now I finally have that again. It took me years to get that back, but the only way you can do that is hours upon hours of practise. When I´m home off tour, it´s five days a week and two to four hours of singing and screaming, no matter what. Even if I don´t want to, I just do it. Even when I get home from this press tour, I´ll probably take a day or two off and go right back into training again. . You just have to do that. I had another singer of another band say to me ”Isn´t that not rock and roll?” and I said ”No, it´s actually the most rock and roll thing ever, because when I´m at home I put in the works, so when I´m on tour I don´t have to think about it. I find that the best shows are the ones when you´re not thinking about it and the only way to make that happen is by putting in the proper work hours, individual and band. You just Have to do it. With this record I did all the vocals in a couple of days and Josh told me ”I hate to tell you this, but you got better towards the end, so let´s do it again.” So we did it all again and he said ”Dude, it happened again.” We did it a third time and then I flew down and actually did an endless night for a fourth time, so some of these songs were done three entire times. After the first full time through we kept all of the harmonies, but we kept redoing the main vocals and one of the things he wanted me to do was sing it wrong. When you sing it wrong you can hear that intensity because it´s your vocal chords ripping and hurting. I swore to myself that I would never scream incorrectly again, but all the screaming on this record is 100% incorrect technique and it sounds amazing, because you can feel it. And the singing too, some of it I figured out how to do a proper rasp and with some of it I just had to hurt myself because it sounds good. There are techniques to make it work live and within the last two weeks of this tour even, I feel like I really figured it out. We always wanna get better and we´re always working to be better. It´s exhausting but I wouldn´t want it any other way. I always wanna be the best.

The world recently lost Chris Cornell (1964-2017) and Chester Bennington (1976-2017). Have those two been important to you in any way?

I mean, they weren´t like the all time biggest influences for me, but they were definitely bands that I´m a big fan of. I´ve got their whole catalogs and I grew up listening to both those bands. I´ve always been a fan of Soundgarden, I mean, who doesn´t love Soundgarden and who doesn´t love Chris Cornell? We also share the same vocal teacher, Ron Anderson. I´ve never been able to meet Chris and I never met Chester, but I did tributes to both because in times like that, words are difficult. I don´t wanna seem like I knew them because I didn´t know them, I only knew then through their music and their music did something for me, it was like a light for me. I did the tributes the best way I know, no words and I just played the songs.

There seem to be a lot of troubled souls among musicians and I guess that sometimes you need that troubled soul to be creative and get stuff out there.

Absolutely and maybe this field attracts that because, whether subconsciously or consciously, people know that they´re able to get those emotions out through pen and paper and playing shows and being connected with people that feel the same. That´s why I always push with our fans, that we have these dark songs, these topically dark songs to be cathartic, to be the punching bag or the shoulder to cry on. There´s been nothing better for me in this band than when I meet people who are able to find solace through our songs. I´m sure someone who doesn´t understand metal doesn´t understand Trivium, they see that we have a song like ”Gunshot to the head of trepidation”, a song about child abuse, ”Why would you do this?” Well, I do this because of the fans that I meet who say that ”You saved my life with this song.” and even though there isn´t like a positive outcome in the song itself, they´re able to say ”I thought I was the only one that went through this.” and it´s amazing that they can connect with that. Maybe the music field draws that, where people know that they can get it out, maybe musicians kinda lose track, but it is a human thing too and definitely in America, we push the fact that mental health is just something you need to tough through. I don´t know if Sweden has the same thing? Probably not.

It´s an ongoing discussion and I think it´s getting more and more acceptable that people need help and need to see psychiatrists.

I always push with our fans that there is nothing wrong with that. I see a therapist when I´m home and that doesn´t mean that you´re crazy. I always look towards Sweden and I always say ”I wish I lived here.” You guys do things correctly and you have the best healthcare system I´ve ever heard of and it´s like ”This shit makes sense!” I feel like we run our band like a mini Sweden. (laughs) I really do, because everyone in the band… we´re all equal, we all take care of one another and we listen to each other´s voices and no one is above anyone. But yeah, mental health is a real thing and I feel like… just like people take care of their bodies, you have to do that for your mind too and if not more for your mind. I know it seems like we´re balanced and I don´t wanna play up like we´re not balanced or that I´m upset or anything, but I have so many outlets and it´s having these outlets that make me feel like a functioning member of society.

The music you guys make in the band has to have some kinda therapeutic…

Absolutely, because these songs are real emotions and I can see at times, like if I´m being really scrutiny of myself and saying ”Hey, how am I doing?” and I´m looking through some of the same themes throughout the records, like these things are real, like I´ve always been an anxious person, but there are things that get better. I used to have social anxiety, like I could not meet fans because it would freak me out or being a kid I didn´t wanna go to the videostore to rent a video because I was afraid I was gonna run into a classmate and I had really bad acne when I first started touring and I didn´t want people to see me, but I had to get through that with trial by fire. I just had to get over it and I had to kinda tough through it and it made things better. That doesn´t always work for everyone and what we always talk about is that when people have these feelings, is that then you adress them, recognize that they´re real and talk to people. Talk to your friends and if you don´t have close friends you can talk about it with, hopefully find a therapist and talk about these things. They´re real and you should be in contact with real people. I know I´m very connected on social media… yes that´s being in touch with people remotely, but there´s nothing that will ever top being with real people and sharing a conversation like this. Being at a meal with friends or family, so I encourage that and I encourage people to find outlets of, like something they can work at, like a hobby. For me it happens to be juijitsu and it´s also a physical outlet. People need a physical outlet and something fun they can work at and also trying to find something that is creative, like drawing, painting, photography, cooking… anything. People need an outlet and people need to find that and they can´t just sit and sulk, because that´s how things get bad. Sometimes people´s depression is beyond that and when I heard about the Chester thing I was like ”Man, what if I was friends with him?” Could I have said ”Hey dude, let´s play some games, let´s go out to eat!” You think about things like that, but it´s difficult. I always encourage fans and friends, ”If you´re feeling these things they are real and there´s nothing wrong with you. Sometimes it´s a chemical imbalance in your brain and you need holistic treatment, prescription treatment and these things exist because they´re real.

How long have you been doing jiujitsu?

About four and a half years now. I love it! It´s one of my favorite things in the world. I do Brazilian jiujitsu and I love it so much. When I´m at home I have just as strict of a practise regimen on jiujitsu as I do with singing. It´s five days a week when I´m home. It used to be six, but it´s five now. On tour it´s two to five days and our head of security is a retired MMA fighter so I have a constant partner on all times, to kick my ass. It´s awesome! There´s no striking in Brazilian jiujitsu, but in Japanese there is. For Brazilian jiujitsu it´s all joint locks and chokes and I like leg attacks. Those are my favorites. Anything that blows people´s knees or ankles out, those are the ones I like. (laughs)

A final thing. Gene Simmons keeps saying that rock and roll is dead. How do you feel about that?

I think from his high up tower in his whatever the hell he lives in, he can say whatever he wants, but that´s not true. Look at us, we´re fans first and we´re so excited… I mean, today we´re doing a fan Q&A and I was telleing everyone about how much of an In Flames fan I`ve always been my whole life. I bought all the live bootlegs off eBay when I was a kid and I would buy their posters from Sweden, because I was such a big fan and they wouldn´t play Florida. We met Metallica and I was like stuttering the whole time. We love music and we love what we do. Rock is not dead. I mean, maybe as far as rock goes we definitely are unimpressed by a lot of rock bands coming out, but metal is alive and well and it´s alive and well in different shapes and forms. I mean, a lot of the modern metal and metalcore bands are freaking fantastic. There are so many good bands doing so many good things. I can´t wait to hear the new Arch Enemy. The one before that I thought was the best one one they´ve ever done. The new Dark Tranquillity is the best Dark Tranquillity they´ve ever done. The new Metallica is the best one since the ”Black album” Good shit is happening. He can say that and I completely disagree with him. How can he say that too when they´re selling out stadiums? It´s like ”Dude, you´re selling out stadiums. I´ll take that. Gimme your stadiums!”

When was the last time you got starstruck from meeting someone?

The fact that Kirk Hammett wanted to take time to say hi to us when we came to the Orlando show and it´s not like I´m losing my shit, but still it´s like ”Fuck, this is so cool that this dude just wants to say hi.” Actually the other day we were playing ELB-riot and I´ve since become a really big Architects fan. I love their new record so much, so I just dropped my bags and walked into the dressing room going ”Hey, I´m Matt from Trivium and I just wanna say I´m a big fan and I love your new record!” and I was just fan boying out to these guys and I hope I didn´t make an ass of myself, I might have, but I´m a fan first and I wanna tell bands I love their stuff. We had Buried Tomorrow supporting us and I love the band and I wanted to tell them ”Guys, I´m a big freaking fan!” and we had Obituary playing with us and I wore an Obituary shirt on stage and I´m telling the crowd ”Man, Obituary is one of the best death metal bands ever!” We´re fans first and that´ll never get old and I know that sometimes that probablyfreaks out some bands, but I don´t care. I want them to know that I love their music and I think it´s important and I think that when you start losing that, it´s not fun. Mikael (Stanne) from Dark Tranquillity was at our last Gothenburg show and I was freaking out and I had to tell him ”Dude, I want you to know that I wouldn´t be here without you!” and I will always do that, even if it makes band guys uncomfortable. I remember telling Björn (Gelotte) that and I could tell I made him uncomfortable, but I had to tell him. I had to. (laughs)

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk