For such a relatively short existence, few bands have excited such extreme reactions in the heavy music world as the Orlando-based quartet Trivium. Formed in the earlier part of this decade while the members were still teenagers, the band’s 2003 full-length debut, Ember to Inferno, messed with the metal heterodoxy in a big way. There were elements that planted the band in the lineage of Florida death metal, but then there was that pesky melody. There was screaming, for the post-hardcore kids who were into that, but then there was all that pesky technical extreme stuff.
And while this Jekyll-and-Hyde business continued on 2004's Ascendancy, fans and critics were again thrown for a loop with The Crusade, in 2006. Gone was the screaming, and in, in a big way, were epic melodies and, gasp, singing. But there were also tempo changes; dirty, nasty, distorted sections; even confusingly clean sections.
Now, the band’s latest album, Shogun, shows yet another about-face. First, the foursome parted business ways with longtime producer Jason Suecof (who – six degrees of metal separation – also produced local guys Black Tide’s Light From Above). Looking for a tabula rasa, they enlisted Grammy winner Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Coheed and Cambria, Shadows Fall, Velvet Revolver, etc.), and further threw caution to the wind. The result, as evidenced by the band’s current digital singles, is the most articulate synthesis yet of Trivium’s everything-but-the-metal-kitchen-sink approach.
Last night at Revolution in Ft. Lauderdale, the band kicked off its current co-headlining tour with Massachusetts metalcore act All That Remains. With the two bands flip-flopping in the final slot each night, Trivium was the penultimate act at a club show whose audience was notably thinned by hurricane fears. Still, they played as though they were headlining a sold-out arena, complete with coordinated headbanging, cranium-flattening volume, and a crazy, pulsing light show that epileptics should approach with caution – no joke. However one feels about the band, few would ever dare to call them boring.
I caught up with singer Matt Heafy before the show as he lounged on his tour bus, in the midst of creating his nest of personal belongings. A yoga mat lay on one bench amid a pile of duffel and plastic grocery bags, and Heafy looked ever the part of someone who takes his craft and his health seriously. He sat carefully thanks to a disc injured while exercising, and pounded bottled water while expounding, rapid-fire, on the making of Shogun. The album comes out September 30 on Roadrunner Records. – Arielle Castillo
New Times:Why are you kicking the tour off from here?
Matt Heafy: I don’t know. I guess it’s convenient for us, although I don’t know about the other three bands.
Do you guys all still live in Orlando?
Yeah, I just drove down today.
Oh, okay, so how much time did you have off before this?
Between this and the press tour, less than two weeks. We did a press tour that spanned 10 days in Europe, three days in Japan, three days in Australia, a bunch of phoners.... I’d say probably 300 to 400 interviews within a month or two.
So you did a tour just to talk to reporters?
For real. Last year I didn’t even know press tours were real. It was two days in Amsterdam, three days in Cologne, two days in Stockholm, a bunch of phoners for all the countries around there, and then we did 60 interviews alone in Japan in two days. And three shows.
Did you get to have any fun at all during all that?
Uh, we tried. It was really busy.
Are you a yoga guy?
I need to start, uh, strengthening my core, because I have a slipped disk in my lower spine from ... being a jock. No, I’m not a jock, but I was doing leg presses and popped something, and it’s been two-and-a-half months and it’s still pretty fucked up. That’s why I sit kind of weird.
Uh, I didn’t really notice....
And all the flying’s getting to me. I think we had a 36-hour travel day on the way back from Australia. But it’s all part of the thing, we don’t mind.
Is the record still coming out on the 30th?
Yes, as far as I know. You never know, I always say.
Why, what might hold it up this time?
I don’t think anything’s going to, but that’s what I always say like, a month ahead of time, you never know.
Well you released that YouTube video that said September 30, so it seems kind of set.
Yes, we’ve got three digital singles out – one that you can download for free, two that are on iTunes. And we’ve got a fourth coming out soon.
We haven’t decided yet. We’re deciding between something really techincal and heavy, or something really epic and more melodic.
How are you going to decide which direction to go in?
I think it’ll just be the four band guys and the two managers will talk it out, and whichever side has more votes will win.
When are you planning to get that out?
A week? A couple days? Something. I’m in tour mode. Whenever I’m out of band-set-up-album mode, I’m in tour mode.
What’s the difference for you, mentally?
All this shit [motioning to stuff around him] is just mine. There’s like two whole suitcases underneath.
How much do you really change clothes on tour?
I have this very intricate system. Obviously you’ve got a pair of socks and a pair of underwear for every single day on the tour. A shirt can generally go one, two days. A pair of shorts or pants can generally go about six days. So I’ll take the number of days I’m gonna be out, add an extra two days to be safe, then divide everything according to those rules.
So no laundry on the road.
Um, I try not to. I can do it, but I prefer not to, because it’s a headache. You can see I’m very particular.
What’s the significance of the album’s title, Shogun?
I’ve always known of that word, and on our second Japanese tour, I was on a bus tour, like a tourist tour. They were talking about ancient shogun, who were the highest-ranking military people in ancient Japanese times. And I was like, Holy shit, that’s a really epic title, I want to use that for something. But I think The Crusade was just about to come out, so there was no need for a title like that.
We started writing the music for this record, and we saw how epic, how captivating the music was for the four of us, and we knew we needed a title that represented the music appropriately. So I brought up the title that I’ve always had in the back of my mind, and was like, Hey guys, how about this word? It’s perfect. It’s a word that summed up this album perfectly.
Did Japanese history and folklore influence anything else with this record? I see you’ve got these traditional Japanese tattoos going on....
Definitely on this record there are some Japanese historically influenced song titles, there’s also some Greek stuff, Judeo-Christian stuff. None of these are really retellings of specifically what the title is, or maybe what the song seems to be about, but they’re using these things as tools to further the lyrics even more.
Like, the first song on the album is called “Kirisute Gomen,” which was an ancient samurai term which was basically, if you pissed off a samurai, he could chop off your head by law. Like, Sorry, but I have to take your head. I thought it was very pertinent. I liked it.
So would you say this is in any way a concept kind of album?
Conceptually, it’s got the same concepts going on, but it’s not a concept record. So there’s three “concepts” in the same sentence. It does have some similar conceptual ideas.
Why did you choose not to work with Jason Suecof on this album?
Including Trivium, and Capharnaum, and Roadrunner United, and every demo Trivium’s ever done, and the Sims 2 game, and all this other shit, Jason and I have worked together about 15 times. It was time for both of us to spread our wings and listen to each other’s work as fans as opposed to having to think of each other always in a work manner.
That sounds like a really polished answer.
It’s totally true. There are so many things we’ve done together – death metal, black metal, joke emo, Roadrunner United, Trivium.
So you just said, Thanks, but no thanks?
No, no, he didn’t even – Both of us knew that after the last record, it was time to start doing things differently. I’m gonna work with him on a Capharnaum record, so this way we can just be in a band together and not be work partners. We’ll have more fun in that relationship.
Well, All That Remains just did their record with him –
– And I can’t wait to hear that!
You haven’t heard it?
We don’t get advance copies! We have to wait until it comes out in the store!
Is is through that connection that you met All That Remains?
No, no, no, holy shit, this goes way back. The first tour that Trivium did ever was in April 2004, and we were opening up for God Forbid. And Trivium and All That Remains were flip-flopping on the opening slots. So now, a couple years later, we’re flip-flopping the headlining spots on a different tour.
So do you guys just alternate from night to night?
Yeah, yeah. I guess this tour has 40 dates, so it’ll be 20/20.
How did you pick Nick Raskulinecz to work with on the new album?
We’ve always been a big fan of his. One of my favorite records that he’s ever done is One By One by Foo Fighters. I think it’s an incredible record – not just the songs, but the energy that’s captured on the CD. So when we heard he was interested in what we were doing as a band, we were like, Holy shit, we should get in touch with this guy. So we made a phone call, and one phone call and we were like, That guy is the coolest guy in the world. So we flew him out to see us – we were doing a co-headlining arena tour with Machinehead in the UK. We flew Nick out to see us for two of the dates in London, and from there we got to hang out with him and get at ease with each other.
How did you hear he was interested in your band?
It’s just one of those things. I guess when a band is about to do their new record, somehow it just gets out there, and then producers get in touch.
I read some quotes from you saying there was more of a thrash influence on the record.
No, I think that was – I think this record draws from everything.... There’s so much stuff that is this record. I’d say that the last record had more of a traditional thrash influence. With this record, it doesn’t just draw from music anymore. It draws from everything we’ve experienced as people, culturally – like you mentioned the Japanese stuff – and Greek mythology. I think with this record we’re finally coming into our own, discovering our own sound, and it’s not traceable to just one specific genre or similarity to another band or couple bands.
For some bands, that takes a long time, for some bands, it takes a couple records. I think that Shogun ties everything we’ve ever done right as Trivium, the four of us in the past, to what’s going on in the future.
So what are some of the new future elements on this record?
I guess that’s hard to exactly know. I guess the broad spectrum of the record, if you take a moment, like, in the clean section of the song “Shogun,” it’s the most minimal, simplified, melodic thing we’ve ever done. It’s got no drums, one guitar, one vocal track. But then we also have some of the heaviest, fastest, borderline extreme metal stuff we’ve ever done, and everything in between. I think we’ve never been as broad before. We’ve always had heaviness and melody, but now we’re taking everything to further extremes.
When you talk, you sound very erudite, and I was wondering –
I don’t know that word.
Oh, you know, you come off as intellectual. So I was wondering, are there any writers who influence you?
With this record, there’s obviously some influence of The Odyssey, by Homer, but I don’t really know him, so.... [laughs]. There’s the song “Torn Between Scilla and Charybdis.” Let me think.... “Prometheus” isn’t referenced in The Odyssey.... I’m into really geeky things like video games, anime, really epic movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and all that stuff stems from ancient mythology, and that’s why I brought all that stuff up.
Because everything, including religion, is influenced by ancient mythology. And it’s so amazing to see how mythology – it was known that these were stories, but they were stories to help people better their own lives. Whereas specific other things in the world have stories that say, This is exactly what happened, and you have to live exactly like this. Whereas mythology was like, These gods weren’t perfect.
It sounds like when you said, “these other stories,” you were kind of dancing around the word religion.
Yeah, that’s the thing, because it’s not all of them. Some really do come from their own spots, but some have really taken really specific deities or icons or imagery from other ancient mythologies and spun them into their own thing. But I’m very not anti-religious, I’m anti-extremists, religions that say, If you don’t believe in this, you’re going to die and burn in hell forever. But for me, I believe that religion is a very good thing for the people who use it as a way to better their own lives, and the things around them, instead of, If you don’t like exactly what I say, then I want you dead.
So how do you feel about religion’s increasing influence in the heavy music world?
I think it’s really cool; when it’s a positive thing, it’s a great thing. But if it’s ever, Hey, if you’re not into this, kick that kid’s ass. If it’s ever that, it’s bullshit. But if it’s a great thing that’s helping people clean their act up, or unify, then it’s fantastic.
Back to the actual music, you’ve also said that you’ve brought more screaming back. But around the last record, you seemed kind of anti-screaming, and against other bands that were doing screaming at the time.
Yep. With the last record, with all the good and bads that came out of Ascendancy – Like, we really feel that Ascendancy was ahead of its time, and Ember to Inferno. Because those records were done before all the countless other bands were doing that same sing-scream, sing-scream formula. Whereas us, we were heavily influenced by the metal bands that did it, and our screaming didn’t come from anything other than melodic death metal, or bands like Testament, Pantera, or Death, out of Florida. So when it came time for the next record, with all the goods and bads that came out of Ascendancy, we wanted to make a record that was still Trivium, but the exact opposite of that....
What do you mean by “the bads?”
When that first record came out, with the first string of press, they were like, What the fuck is this? A bunch of 16-, 17-year-olds saying they want to conquer the world? But for us, it’s fantastic that we came out like that, we came out showing the world that we were not afraid, and not going to do it the way everyone else does it.
And that leads up to The Crusade, and we wanted to do something completely different. If we had done the same record, our fans and our band would have gotten bored, and I don’t think we’d be around any more. I think with The Crusade we showed that, hey, we’re gonna do exactly what we want all the time.
Did a lot of your fans get pissed off with that first shift in direction?
Some did, but the people who were like, I’m never gonna listen to you again because of this record, then how much of a fan were you in the first place? We still play the old shit, we play it true to the original. People love it or they hate it, awesome. As long as there’s no in-between.
Right. I don’t think there’s a lot of in-between in metal.
For our band, we’ve never really seen the in-between. It’s always been love it or hate it, and we like that.
Well with the screaming returning, why now?
With this record, there’s just as much singing as on The Crusade, and just as much screaming as The Ascendancy –
Wait, how can you have just as much of both?
The songs are long! More words!
So we’re talking about counts of actual minutes?
Could be. Maybe somebody will count the words and prove me wrong. I’m sure one of our true elite fans will find out that I’m wrong. So let’s just say there’s just as much as The Crusade, and just as much as The Ascendancy. And when we were writing and playing, some of the riffs were so heavy, I tried singing over it, and it just didn’t do it. And I think it was Trav [Smith, drummer] who said, Why don’t you just scream over it? So I tried it and it worked; the music just called for it.
Touring and working with Nick, and having a real monitor guy, I don’t hurt myself like I used to. Screaming, I used to fuck myself because we had no monitor guy, no monitors, I had no technique, I didn’t warm up. So I’m sure it’ll blow out every once in a while still.
Did you take any screaming lessons or anything like that?
No, I took some singing lessons for The Crusade. On this record, I think the only thing I had was one opera lesson, as a joke, from the guy who owns the company that runs our fan club.
Did it help at all?
It was actually one of the most helpful lessons I’ve ever had as far as singing.
What do you do to preserve your voice on the road, now that you’re doing more screaming?
You just have to take care of yourself. Like, I try to stay away from cigarette smoke as much as I can. Secondhand really fucks me up. Our bus is completely nonsmoking, and our dressing rooms. The venues, it’s not up to us... It’s all about moderation. We still party and go nuts, but for me, it’s better to do it when we don’t have a show on the day after. That stuff will just dry you up. Some people can do it every night, but I can’t.
How much of the new material have you been playing?
Three songs, the three that are on the Internet.
Have you gotten to play them out to a big crowd yet?
We played it to 30,000 people two nights in Japan, in Osaka and Tokyo. Then we had a small show in Tokyo for about 1000 people. Then we had a show in Australia for like 2000 people. And at all four shows, everyone knew those three songs, purely from the Internet. Our fans are rabid Internet people, just like we pride ourselves in being a technologically – as far as the Internet – advanced band. Our sites are updated probably five times a day, like YouTube, MySpace, our official site, our fan club site.
Have you had a problem with any of the new material getting leaked yet?
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No, none of it’s been leaked yet. It’s three weeks till it comes out, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been leaked. The Crusade was leaked like a month and a half before it came out.
Does that bother you?
It sucks, but there’s really no way of fighting it any more, I guess. Movies get leaked, shit gets stolen, stuff happens. Our true fans are still going to buy the record. We’re never going to live off record sales. We live off touring and merchandise, which you can’t really – Sure, you can stream a show, but it’ll never be the same. You can’t go to school and say, Hey, I just saw this show on the Internet, isn’t that awesome? You have to go to the show, get a bloody nose, and go to school the next day with a shitty, smoke-smelling T-shirt.