Keeping the band honest - an interview with Trivium's Matt Heafy

Keeping the band honest - an interview with Trivium's Matt Heafy

Atom Splitter PR

It's a given that any fledgling band has visions of grandeur, fortune and fame. Be it when playing air guitar in their bedrooms, while banging out cover tunes with their first band in a garage, or at the local bar with a stage the size of a matchbox—at some point eyes will close and that musician will be transported to center stage of an arena before thousands of screaming fans. It's only natural to have the goal of making music that will allow their band to conquer the world, however very few bands actually accomplish such a fete but Trivium did. 

With a history that began when the members of Trivium were young teens, their collective vision and drive combined with good old fashioned talent got their music on track rather quickly. Skip ahead 17 years with seven successful full-length albums under their belts, millions of records sold, and a myriad of world tours—Trivium has indeed conquered the world and they made it look easy. 

Having toured almost relentlessly since the release of their seventh studio album, Silence in the Snow, last year, Trivium is nowhere near ready to begin working on new material but they're about to unleash something just as good. Scheduled for a Dec. 2 release, Trivium will be re-issuing their currently unavailable first album. Attainable in four different configurations, one of which being a visually stunning 5-LP box set including 13 previously unreleased tracks, Ember to Inferno: Ab Initio is a must-have for hardcore Trivium fans and audiophiles alike. 

AXS recently had the opportunity to talk with Trivium's Matt Heafy during some rare time-off for the band about the forthcoming re-issue, the sources of creative inspiration, and how Brazilian jiu-jitsu made him a better musician. 

AXS: I always thought that Ember To Inferno was a great title, by the way...I'd imagine that in the process of getting this ready for release you're probably re-examining that time in the career.

Matt Heafy: Absolutely, and I think it's really cool that you mentioned the title because with every title we've had for every Trivium record it's been my goal for that to be the synopses for where the band was at that point in time. Every since I was 12 years old and I joined Trivium and I first heard the “Black Album” and I first saw [Live Sh*t:] Binge & Purge '89 in Seattle by Metallica, I knew that I wanted to be in the kind of band that could tour everywhere around the world and hopefully make a dent in music. And that's what Ember To Inferno is reflective of, it meant the spark of an idea to grow into something great, that was the goal we set with the very first record. It has been very reflective releasing this, and it's cool for me as well that Ember... has been actually gone. Once the Lifeforce [record label] contract was done it's been absent for a couple of years off the shelves, off streaming, off everything, and that leads to a lot of the reason why I didn't want to change it at all. This seems like a funny parallel, but when I think of Star Wars 4, 5, and 6, I don't want to see them with added CGI, I don't want to see added scenes – I want to see the original. I want to see the original the way it was meant to come out in the 70s, and that's something that's so difficult to find. 

AXS: And you've included several demo recordings in the re-issue as well which is really cool because not all bands or artists are always willing to let their fans hear the raw versions of their songs.

MH: Absolutely. I like to keep this band very honest and that's why on my Instagram page I'll have videos of me warming up. There was one I posted of myself singing while I was sick, and I explain to people that I'm training to make sure that if I'm sick on tour again I can figure out how to get through it. So I'm actually singing and screaming kind of badly through the illness, but I still decide to post it because I want people to see that we're human, and we're not the kind of band that relies on patching things up. But like with 'The Blue Demo,' Caeruleus, that has four songs that are on Ember... that are also on The Blue Demo. The quality though for those four songs I think actually sound better on The Blue Demo than they do on the final record for Ember... So it shows that we really put care into everything. The Yellow Demo - it's raw but it sounds like Ascendancy. It sounds – like production wise – close to Ascendancy but a little grittier. And with the red one [The Red Demo] – I mean, it's a pretty legitimate sounding demo for something that we recorded when I was like 15. 

AXS: One of the things that's really interesting about the history of Trivium is that you were only 17 years old when this album came out. You guys were just kids but there was a seriousness about you guys at a time when most people your age were just playing video games.

MH: And I think that's what the shock was when Ascendancy came out and people started seeing this band of 18 and 19 year-olds saying that their dream in life was world domination as a band, and people didn't know how to handle that. The reason why we had those goals established and that confidence in ourselves is because we started so early. I mean, I was playing shows in this band when I was 12, 13 years old, so already by the time we hit Ascendancy we'd been around for 5, 6 years, playing shows, making records, doing everything. So yeah, it could definitely be misconstrued as cockiness, but I think confidence comes in place when a band has put in the work and that's a thing we've always done.

AXS: Since Trivium first released Ember To Inferno you guys have obviously evolved as music writers and performers, so what's it like looking back at this release now but as the man and musician you are today?

MH: It's been really fun. I was doing another interview about this project a couple weeks ago and they said that since this stuff was so early it must be really far removed from what we are now, but I really think it isn't. I think even on the Red album you can hear the blueprint for where we'd be going. How a song like “Lake of Fire” has like a fast brutal section, screaming, guitar solos, screaming/singing melodicism, aggression – it has everything that we were later on. And a song like “The Storm” off the Blue record, is a really great interpretation of where we'd be going on songs like “Shogun.” A song like "If I Could Collapse The Masses" shows the archetype of what became a lot of the stuff on Ascendancy. And the last songs that were written for Ember To Inferno were actually “When All Light Dies” and “Pillars Of Serpents,” which were a big foreshadowing for where we were going to go with more of our heavy parts like what you hear on Ascendancy and In Waves. So it all stems forward and backward and I'm really happy to see that.

AXS: So going forward do you think you'll be doing similar re-issues for any of your other albums?

MH: I think this is probably it realistically because the only other things we have are the pre-production demos before doing a record where the songs just sound maybe a little bit different. But with this I picked the best of the best. I felt like these sounded the best of what we did and the subtitle, Ab Initio means 'from the beginning,' so I wanted to stem back Trivium from as far as possible where it sounded good. And I felt that that Red demo was the first thing, and I wanted to show each sequential step it took from the earlier Trivium possible to get us up to speed where Ascendancy is.

AXS: In the new year you'll be heading over to Europe for a pretty extensive tour. Will you play more material from Ember To Inferno due to the release of the re-issue?

MH: Yeah, on the last U.S. run we were actually playing material from records one through seven - which is really cool that we can play stuff from every single record we do, it gives Trivium fans something special. We have so many factions of fans – fans that just love the first record or the third record, or the sixth record, and I like that - so live we can give them a little bit of everything. And it's fun playing the Ember... stuff live, it's really good to see how it sounds now.

AXS: Silence in the Snow is still pretty new so I'm sure you're not thinking much about the next album yet, but how does the writing process work for Trivium?

MH: We don't really have a set pattern and I think that's what's good about the way we write. If something comes out on tour we'll allow it to happen on tour, if it doesn't we won't force it. Because we have forced writing on tour before and while it did warrant good results it is stressful and I don't think it's good to force creativity into a spot – that's usually when I make something bad. But if I'm sitting there without the plan of writing and something great comes up —like I remember I was sitting on a park bench in Copenhagen with my guitar, which I don't really do, it looks kind of cheesy... [laughs] But I was doing that and I came up with the intro to "Into the Mouth of Hell We March" just sitting there. So that shows that sometimes sparks of creation can come out of nowhere. I remember waiting for my bag at the Orlando airport and I heard the chorus for "Throes of Perdition" in my head. In a dream I heard the chorus to "Breathe in the Flames" in this weird gibberish language that sounded like fake-Japanese and I woke up and recorded it. So it happens randomly I'll take note of it but there are no plans for anything collective yet.

AXS: What would you say is the most important lesson you've learned thus far in life?

MH: Maybe it was about three and three-quarters of a year ago when I first got into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, that showed me what it was to relearn and rebuild something completely from the ground up. Because I've always been in Trivium, I've been playing guitar and singing since I was 12, I've never had another job. I've always been humble but it retaught me humility and what it is to be humbled, and to be terrible at something. [laughs] And it's still it's a learning process, it's something that's going to take me my entire life. But it's showed me again how I learn, who I am as a learner, who I am as a person, and how I react to things. I applied all the learning mechanisms techniques of jiu-jitsu back to what I do in Trivium, and I've become a far better guitar player, singer, songwriter, performer, everything. I saw that I was able to go from not knowing what jiu-jitsu is, and building up to being ok at it, to competing, to getting better at it, to making it a big part of my life. 

Pre-orders are available for Ember To Inferno: Ab Initio in an array for formats - click here to reserve yours now.