Interview by Mark Dean || Live photos by Thomas Woroniak
From their debut release Ember to Inferno way back in 2003, Trivium have been evolving and developing their musical sound. Never staying in one place in terms of classification and genre, their latest release Silence in the Snow has managed to continue in that vein. Well, time seems to pass quickly and 2016 now marks 13 years since that debut release. Record company, Cooking Vinyl, have marked the anniversary by repackaging that classic debut release along with the band’s early collection of demos. Lead singer, Matt Heafy, looked back on the band’s musical legacy to date, and gave me his views on the latest Metallica musical offerings. We also discussed all manner of subjects from cooking to collecting vinyl. Our illuminating chat touched on many aspects of the band’s early development right up to how the band was operating in 2016.
Cooking Vinyl are about to release your debut album. I just wonder what prompted that decision? Was it a record label decision, or something that the band was actively involved in?
Yeah, it was whatever first came out on Lifeforce Records, ever. I remember we were all excited about the release date, I went out to my local record store to go buy every copy I could. I remember we bought ads in guitar magazines about the record coming out and the release date. As soon as we got to the record store, the record wasn’t there. Called a couple other shops, no one had it in stock. So, for the very first time it was kind of cursed when it came out. The label didn’t have proper distribution so it almost was completely unavailable in America entirely.
Shortly after, I believe it was about a year or so later, Lifeforce had done a distribution deal with a company called Red Distribution. And then the distribution was correct. Then a re-release, added some bonus tracks. Shortly after that, the contractor was fired. The original thing we signed was only to last for X amount of years. Once that was up, I received all the rights back and I was the only member of Trivium at the time to ever receive all the rights back, and I was kind of sitting on it waiting for the right time and waiting for the right opportunity, and waiting for the right way to release it.
I knew I didn’t want to release it the same traditional way. I mean, I absolutely love Murderdoll Records, they’ve been an amazing teammate for the whole time, but I wanted to do it differently. When I heard about Cooking Vinyl, I heard about the possibility of me being the record label for Ember to Inferno. I said, “I want to do this, but let’s make this happen, let’s release this properly.” And, if I’m ever going to be able to get it right when it comes out, it’s going to be available on all digital platforms and everything.
What about then the decision to pair that with all the demo tracks?
With the title, Ab Initio, that means in Latin, “from the beginning.” And the reason why I wanted to pick a Latin term was, Trivium is also Latin. You know, 3-way intersection. With this I wanted to catch everybody up to speed with the beginning of Trivium up until moments for Ascendancy. So I was able to find- I picked through all of our demos from when we were young because we recorded countless demos as a local band, and a couple stood out to me.
The one that I hailed is the Red album, the Blue album, the Yellow album. Those were 3 quote “demos,” although the Blue demo I don’t really consider a demo even though it’s called a demo, because I think that that sounds just as good if not better than Ember sometimes. I wanted to find 3 bodies of work that I felt like really showed the steps of Trivium. And with the Red demo it was one that we recorded in like a converted bedroom studio that actually sounded fantastic. So those 3 songs I felt were a good representation where we started. Then the Blue record, then Ember, then the Yellow album. So I felt like each step was appropriate to showing where we were.
And there was never any intention or thought to maybe re-record or re-mix the original? I know a lot of bands have done that with earlier releases.
I thought of that, I thought of it, and I thought to myself it’s not outside of Trivium, and how I like releases. I have been let down by a lot of my favorite bands, remixes and remasters. I’ve seen some remixes and remasters when they changed things and that initial memory, that initial recalling of the event of the first time I heard that record was drastically changed. They took out things that I liked; took out, whether imperfections, signature sounds – or I remember when one of the remix remasters one of my favorite bands, they lost the vocal tracks for one of my favorite songs and re-recorded them. Those kinds of things really bummed me out.
The final straw for me was into Star Wars. When I think of Star Wars I think of Star Wars 4, 5 and 6. I don’t ever want to see the ones with the added CGI where they brought characters in that weren’t meant to be in, and they kept doing different versions. I wanted to see the original, preserved, 1970’s version of the originals, you know, 70’s-made version. And that’s the way I want to present Ember. I want it to have that exact moment in time, the exact way it was, for Ember and the other 3 records to come with it. That they are untouched, unaltered and exactly the way that we felt like they should have been when they first came out.
What about this track, “The Storm,” then that’s apparently an unearthed rare demo?
“The Storm” is off the blue record. And the Blue demo, like I said, it was considered a demo, but that was like when we were a local band. We didn’t have a record label so we just made what we could and I feel like a Blue album sounds just as good if not better than Ember at some point. I think the 4 songs that are on Ember and the Blue record- I think the Blue record versions were better than the Ember to Inferno versions, just at a personal preference and taste.
“The Storm” is the song that’s on there, and I think “The Storm” is a great song that foreshadow what we become as a band, the songs that you see prevalent on the Shogun record. Things that are… have a lot of different changes in feel and time and piece, and just more progressive metal than where we would go.
That’s what’s been really cool at looking at the forward releases that are included in Ab Initio. They all really appropriately show where we’d be going as a band. I don’t feel like we’re a drastically different band from those earlier songs. I feel like it’s just the very, very early age of us as that band.
How did it feel going back and listening to those old tracks again?
It was really fun. It was amazing being able to get the actual box set in my hands and read through the liner notes, read through the lyrics. All these demo records that I recorded… The Red demo was recorded when I was 15-years-old. To see that on the actual printed color Red vinyl with its own artwork. Something I never thought I’d be able to do. I never thought I’d be able to listen to Ember to Inferno on vinyl and read through the liner notes.
What’s fun about the liner notes, it has the stories from Paolo, Cory, our manager Justin, all the stories from each of them about the first time they heard about, or heard of Trivium. For me, reading that while listening to the music was something really… It was really special for me, it was really cool to be able to see and put my mind in the mindset of their perspectives when they first heard the band. I think people are going to be very happy to be able to be brought up to speed from where we came from in the very beginning of the band. That’s what the proper final from the beginning is all about.
You would be an old-school vinyl collector yourself still?
Yeah, I mean I have a massive vinyl collection these days, and I think that anyone that is a collector, whether you have a player or not… people are definitely going to want this record. The color records are so amazing. I mean each one has the corresponding Red, Blue and Yellow, and then Ember has that marble color that I think people are going to love.
What about your own collecting? Do you collect specific bands or labels? How do you go about building up your own collection?
I have a massive Black Metal collection that’s really, really big. They’re mostly reprints, a couple rare ones, a couple ones from like obscure bands that don’t really have distribution everywhere which is pretty rad. What’s really cool – the best part of our collection is my mother-in-law gave us her entire vinyl collection from when she was a kid. Whole, amazing, original prints of 60’s, 70’s, 80’s classic rock records, classic pop records, so I’ve got like original KISS records, original Fleetwood Mac records. It’s an amazing collection that I have.
Basically, any classic records, or classic rock records that you should have had- or that someone should want to have nowadays- I have the very, very original print of like KISS and Boston and Bob Seger. Very, very blessed to have that.
And then from my father-in-law, he gave me his entire collection of classical music. I’m a big classical music fan, so I have original presses of… Classical and folk and country records from maybe the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and on.
I just want to know with the re-release of these early albums, on the forthcoming UK Tour will you be digging up any of those old cuts that maybe you haven’t played in a while?
Yeah, absolutely. On the last US one we were playing material from all seven, actually. I don’t really… the Red album… but there is stuff that’s across the Blue and Ember to Inferno, and of course, Yellow that we play. So of those records, 3 out of 4 of them are covered. We can keep “Pillars [of Serpents]” a lot, we’ve played “Ember to Inferno,” “Requiem,” we played “My Hatred” live a couple times over the years. So people will definitely be able to expect material from all 7 records.
It’s been quite a journey since the band first started out. The band still seems to be in an upward curve. I just wondered if you have any explanation for the longevity and enduring appeal of Trivium?
That’s a good question. I mean if I could bottle that up and pass that on to other bands, that’d be a good product to sell. Ever since I got into this band when I was 12-years-old my goal was to be in the kind of band that could make a mark on history, and the kind of band that could stick around and we’d be still playing in our 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Luckily we started so early that now we’re only … I mean we’re only in our early 30’s, I’m not even 31 yet and we’ve already been in the band long enough to have 7 records and multiple, sold-out tours.
So, it’s… we’ve got a great brick foundation set up and it’s established. Especially when we talk about in UK, that was our first home. I feel we’re a British band more than an American band because that’s where we got our start. That’s where we got our original fan base, our vendors, our original everything. And we had a quite interesting history in the UK. Our debut blew up, but The Crusade wasn’t as widely received in the UK where it was widely received in Europe, and kind of jumping back-and-forth and having these fans gravitate towards certain records.
It’s great now that we’re able to bring everybody together with all 7 records. So, if someone loves Trivium just for a couple of records, when they see it live we’re covering that. And I think it’s been quite an amazing process.
Because, to be fair, you haven’t stuck to the same style, the same music. All your albums have sort of experimented and changed. For example, the latest one, there’s no growly vocals that people would associate with Trivium. All your albums have changed elements slightly each time.
I think that’s the big part of our signature sound, that you don’t know what you’re getting into with each record. I think there are plenty of bands that release the same record every single time, and for us we’ve always wanted to be the kind of band that could explore as many avenues of what we could possibly be as possible. So, The Crusade would show… I mean that record has 99% singing and then Silence in the Snow has 100% singing. We show that we’ll take chances and I think The Crusade itself was so a vastly different record. I think the 2 of them are both so different from each other whereas also Shogun is just different again with additional Japanese influences. I think that that’s something that I know can be jarring for people that love a specific thing and I know that people are afraid of change. We will always be the kind of band that will unapologetically take risks and take chances and see what we can do as a band.
Do you think that changing, particularly in vocals, was something that was part of your natural progression as a band? Or is it something that was sort of forced on you following your vocal problems a couple of years ago?
For me, with Silence in the Snow – because I rehabbed it after that vocal issue. What we determined was that I’ve been screaming wrong since I was 12, singing mostly wrong since I was 12, and we patched it up with proper singing, proper technique. I rehearsed 5 to 6 days a week every single day, on and off tour, no matter what to make sure I keep my chops up. In the silence we said to ourselves, “If this record requires screaming we will absolutely do it.” When we finished all the clean vocals we said to ourselves, “It doesn’t need it, do something different.”
With The Crusade I was still screaming at that time and the way we decided it was, we said “Ascendancy was such a success, let’s show everyone what else we can do as a band.” Basically, anything that happened with Ascendancy we did not want to do on The Crusade. So, we said, “Let’s be Trivium, but let’s do the exact opposite of what we just did.” And that was entirely up to us. We wanted to do something different. We rebelled against ourselves to see what else we can do as a band.
And then it came time for Shogun. We did something different again, and In Waves, something different again. I feel now we’ve totally, properly explored all the avenues of what we can do, that we know what the best of the best is of us. We know what we sound best doing as Trivium. So, now it’s just keeping the best and doing it how we feel like doing it.
With Trivium, you’ve experimented in different styles, different songs right throughout your career. I just wondered, if you personally had an opportunity to work with a musician, maybe from another musical genre, who would you choose?
I know it’s still Metal, but it’s Black Metal which is very much an influence – Ihsahn from Emporer, and he will be producing my solo project called Mrityu. He’ll be producing that and we’ll be able to work together which is going to be fun.
Outside of that, for Trivium … One of the people that… I mean, one of the bands I’ve been a huge fan of for years is Rodrigo y Gabriela. I Tweet about them often because I love to cook. One of my favorite foods to cook in the world is traditional Mexican food. I also like to listen to the same kind of music of the food that I’m making. So with me, I like Rodrigo y Gabriela while I’m cooking. So I Tweeted about that and then the band Tweeted me back. We got in touch a little bit and we talked about maybe someday being able to do something together. That would be really cool. Hopefully someday in the future when we do another record, maybe we can get them on a song or we can do something together, something different, something fun.
You’re not going to believe me, but my actual next question was about other artistic passions that you enjoy outside of music itself. Do you still have the website where you do songs and topics listed under the different human senses – cooking, photography, etc.?
I haven’t done anything on it. It seemed to have gravitated more just to Instagram. So, I’m still keeping up through that. I’m still leaving the site up so people can go and visit it and have fun with it.
My other passion outside of music… I have a couple, not fun but the biggest one outside of music would be Brazilian Jiu-Jujitsu. It has become a massive part of my life. I’m at my Jiu-Jujitsu school 5 to 6 days a week every single week when I’m home, when I’m on tour. Our head of security, he’s a professional fighter, so we train 5 times a week. The thing that I feel has helped me learn more about myself – basically Jiu-Jujitsu – I’ve become a better singer, guitar player, performer. It has taught me what it is to relearn something from the ground up and I applied that. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. Brazilian Jiu-Jujitsu… Ashtanga Yoga is something I’ve been practicing since In Waves.
And you mentioned, obviously, the cooking as well?
Yeah, cooking is a huge part of my life. I love food, I love learning about the world and the world’s cultures through their cuisines and cooking is something I love to do. It’s something that I try to do all the time at home with my wife. It’s something that when I’m somewhere amazing for the first time and I don’t get to have my family meals made, I try to recreate that at home so I can bring the experience to them.
I’ve always said there’s no better way to learn about a culture and people than through their food. That’s my favorite thing to do in the world while touring, find good food, and then hopefully try to recreate it back at home.
If I could take you back… obviously, you were in Trivium at a very young age. I just wondered if you could recall your first introduction to music?
My dad always had music playing. He was a hobby guitar player when I was a kid. His favorite bands were Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Boston, Van Halen. I remember he always had Boston and Van Halen playing in the car. The first Metal record I ever heard was the Black Album by Metallica, as people know. The first Metal band I ever saw live was Machine Head at the House of Blues in Orlando.
The first CD or cassette I ever bought personally as a kid – I had my mom take me in the record store as a kid – was The Presidents of the United States of America. The CD was Lump and Kittie. That was like the first tape I ever bought. My first favorite Metal bands.
What’s your view on Metallica – The new material that’s been out, the first couple of songs off the new record?
New stuff’s amazing. I love it, I love it. It’s my favorite that’s been released since- I mean as far as original material goes, since Load and Reload. I loved Load and Reload. I love the original pieces off S&M as well.
The thing that’s true about Metallica as well, I mean there’s albums that people don’t like. Trying something different, whether it was S&M, the covers albums, the orchestral stuff. They were always trying to do something different.
Exactly, and I think that’s the responsibility as a great band, to take chances and do things that maybe push the boundaries a bit. I remember when we toured with Iron Maiden in 2006, they played Matter of Life and Death from start to finish and that’s a ballsy move. I remember people were bummed out that they weren’t just playing their greatest hits then. The band wanted to do something different after all these years. I think the new Maiden record takes chances and does something new and does something amazing and I think that that’s… My favorite bands have always pushed the envelope and have been unafraid to try new things. But with the new Metallica stuff – it’s awesome, it reminds me of somewhere along the line it’s like, Kill ‘Em All and Justice and The Black Album. That’s what the 3 songs kind of remind me of. Like if you combine those 2 records a little bit.
Looking back at the long musical legacy, how do you view it? Is it something that you feel very proud of or do you look back on those early albums and say, “Oh, we should have done this, we could have done that a bit differently”?
I mean, you can always do that, but the fact is I wanted to release the earliest stuff I could possibly find about our band and leave it untouched. I think that shows that I’ve always been proud of what we’ve done. And of course, there are moments in time where I could look back and say, “I would do this differently.” Or, any missteps in our career, or missteps that I’ve done, or bad decisions that I’ve made.
With all that, I think it’s all integral to who you are today. You have to make mistakes in life to do well, you have to have failure to recognize your successes, and I’m so happy for every misstep I’ve ever done. For every bad thing that’s ever happened in the band, it’s a good thing. We are as strong as we are thanks to all the things that we had to go through, good and bad.
I think as far as our career, we went from nothing and then, thanks to the UK, blew up to something. On the next record in the UK went downwards where all the rest of the world blew up, and then I feel like we’ve just been… it’s been a steady pace for Trivium.
I’m sure you’ve done many interviews over the years, going right back to when the band first started. Just a final question. Who would you most like to interview?
Good question. I would love to personally interview Anthony Bourdain. Anthony Bourdain is… he is my Metallica of food and wanting to learn about food through him, through being a fan of him, through being a fan of his books and his TV shows. I love the fact that he’s so into Punk and Metal, and he’s also a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. It seems like it’s everything I love in life, he loves as well, so I imagine it would be a good time hanging out.
That’s great, thank you very much. Look forward to seeing you… you’re actually coming through Manchester where I’m living at the moment, so I’m looking forward to seeing you. Thanks for chatting, it’s been a pleasure.
Thanks very much man, have a great day. I’ll see you in Manchester.