INTERVIEW: Trivium’s Matt Heafy & Corey Beaulieu

We all know Trivium can play. They’ve been able to shred with the best of them ever since their first album, 2003’s Ember To Inferno, while and 2008’s Shogun veered close to progressive metal more than once, with its complex single note lines and ferocious 7-string riffage. But new album In Waves (Roadrunner) finds these Floridians exploring more restrained territory – to a point. The riffs are more direct, the tones are huge, and the songwriting is tight and purposeful. Guitarists Corey Beaulieu and Matt Heafy refined their approach without losing their edge or power, a rare feat in a world were ‘stripped back songwriting’ is usually taken to mean ‘wimpy.’ There’s still plenty of precision in the latest evolution of the Trivium sound, and there’s more than enough aggression to satisfy fans of the band’s early hardcore days, but In Waves stands out as the best sounding and most repeat-listenable Trivium album to date. I spoke with Heafy and Beaulieu about what went into the project, and what ultimately came out.

You started working on this album quite a while ago. Is that how you always work?

COREY BEAULIEU Mostly on every record, while we’re touring for the previous record, we stockpile ideas. Once we get off tour we have a lot of stuff we can start digging into and putting together. We use the tour to write and put together ideas so that when we start on the next record we’re a bit ahead. We’ve already got stuff we’ve been working on over time and that has been allowed to develop. Some of the songs go back pretty far back in the Shogun touring cycle.

What was your guitar approach on this album?

BEAULIEU It was about focusing on the songs, and writing songs that are straight to the point. It wasn’t all about technical stuff or trying to riff out a lot or show off. It was just making sure everything in the song was what needed to be there and nothing more. Taking a songwriter’s approach and not trying to be a flashy guitar player. It’s all about making the song and the riff the best it can be. It’s a lot simpler technically. We took that approach for the playing stuff, and the solos were whatever was needed for the song, whether it was a crazy solo or something more melodic. The songs dictated the lead stuff.

MATT HEAFY We were thinking about telling [producer] Colin Richardson, “We want a combination of this, this and that…” but I’m pretty sure we held all of our comments until we saw him in person. The guitar process was long. Normally, every record we’ve ever done, you get a BS scratch guitar tone and send it off to be mixed later, but Colin’s whole thing is he doesn’t want to record a second of music until he has a tone that will be the final tone of the record. I think we spent about five days on the guitar tone.

BEAULIEU For the rhythm guitars we used a block-logo Peavey 5150 with a Maxon overdrive pedal in the front end. Then we had two Mesa cabs, one oversized and one normal, and we recorded through each cab. We each did two takes apiece, and that was the main rhythm sound. For leads I used a Peavey 6535+ with the Maxon and also there’s delay and an Eventide Harmonizer on solos and melody stuff. And then a variety of different wah wah pedals for certain solos. That was pretty much it. It was pretty simple, but the tones are really, really killer. I have a whole bunch of different Dunlop wah pedals. For some songs I where used the half-cocked wah sound, where it’s on but you’re not moving it, I used the Zakk Wylde wah. For the solos that are really big, cutting tones I used the Kirk Hammett wah. It has that really throaty cut sound to it.

HEAFY The first couple of days at Audiohammer we spent the first day trying out 20 different amp heads, 20 different cabs and I think every single one of my Gibsons. And that’s in the documentary of the special edition: you’ll see all of my Gibsons all laid out, all the amps, all the cabs. We tried every single thing. Pretty much every single Marshall metal head, every Peavey head, Mesas, Bogners, everything from boutique amps to normal amps. Even multiple cabs of the exact same make and model, but we knew every single speaker would sound different, so we checked every single speaker, every single overdrive pedal. I think we finally got down to something close and we started recording amps, but the gear didn’t quite work out at the studio, amongst other things, and we had to fire Audiohammer and move to Paint It Black studios. So that’s why the guitars took even longer than they were supposed to. I think by the fifth day we were able to try a different combination of pedal, head and cab. The pedal that we used was a Maxon OD808 – the small green one, not the big green one, not the plus. I used a Gibson Les Paul Custom with EMG 81 and 85 pickups. We knew right away when we had the tone. We got close with the Peavey 6534, but when we tried the classic 5150 block letter, that was the one that one. We tried different versions of the 5150 that weren’t the block letter, and they weren’t even close. It’s crazy how much difference a year of technology will make. So we ended up going for the oldest 5150. For me, for years I was using the Marshall JVM210H, and for me it’s got a completely different sound than the 410. The 210 just smoked it. But for this record I was pretty sure that the 5150II was going to win, so seeing that the 5150 won was pretty nuts.

Shogun was pretty damn technical. Was In Waves a conscious decision to move away from that?

BEAULIEU We just thought after playing some of those songs on the tour cycle for that record that some of the stuff was so involved on guitar that it was hard to have fun during the show because we were concentrating so much on what we were playing. We just wanted to write stuff that was fun so the songs were more straight to the point and easier to get into, and not be this crazy, technical guitar album. We just didn’t feel like playing those long, elaborate songs. We wanted really energetic, fun songs that people could get a hold of and get into really easily.

This time you worked with Colin Richardson as a producer, whereas in the past he’s mixed your albums. What’s the difference?

BEAULIEU When he mixed the stuff we would give it to him and he would do what he did, then he would send us a song and we’d give him the okay or ask for changes, but we felt from the last couple of records that sonically on our record, the best way to achieve what we were looking to do was to work with somebody from start to finish who could really see our vision for the record from the start to the end instead of handing it off to someone else at the mixing stage. When he came in we’d already worked on the songs for a long time, and he didn’t really come in and say “You should change this, work this more change this part…” He helped us to capture the sounds we had in our head, because we didn’t really know the little tricks and stuff for capturing sounds properly and getting the tones to come out of the speakers at home like they do in the studio. So it was about getting the production side up to where we felt it needed to be.

The visual aspect of the album – the cover art, the “In Waves” video, the promo shots – all feel like a huge part of the album experience. At what point did the visuals come into play? 

HEAFY At about three years ago I knew we wanted to do something different and I knew that everything needed to be cohesive visually. We started actually making songs about two years prior to the recording process, and the visuals started about a year prior to the recording process as well, so that’s a really long time. One of my really good friends, Jonpaul Douglass, is the photographer and documentarian. We would just go on trips randomly and try out stuff. Whether we knew it’d work for the record or not, we’d just be trying out strange video experiments, or pitching around ideas. I lived in the same building as him so we’d see each other every day, we’d go to the gym together – I don’t go to the gym any more, I do yoga nowadays – but when we did, we’d just be constantly talking ideas while we were on the cardio machine, ideas of where this album could go visually. With all that time put into it we experimented with so much stuff that going into the record itself, we knew things like, we need custom clothing, so we found this custom clothing girl, Megan Giese, who is an old roommate of myself and my wife. She did the custom outfits for the videos, the promo photos, the live stuff. Jonpaul Douglass as I said did the photography and documentary. Wes Sumner worked with him on the documentary. A really amazing visual artist named Danny Jones who lives in Orlando did the packaging, the new Trivium T, the new website, a lot of merch. We also had Ramon Boutviseth, who is doing all the videos and the live DVD. I just sent him my ideas for the new video treatment, because we’re going to be shooting “Built To Fall” next. As far as I’m concerned, I never want to do the standard metal video again. I never want to do us playing in a black room, us playing in a strip club, us playing at a mixed martial arts match again. I want it to be creative. I want them to all feel like movies.

I love the juxtaposition of the intense music and dark but almost tranquil visuals of the In Waves video.

HEAFY Yeah! Most metal videos have plot resolutions that happen within three to five minutes. It’s always the same old cliche. But we wanted to do something that was almost the opposite. So to be the opposite it’s completely slow motion. There’s no performance, there’s no lip syncing, there’s almost nothing to do with the song. There’s no direct conclusion, which drove some people crazy. We want people to have to work for the answers.

Corey, what’s the status of your Jackson signature model? 

BEAULIEU It was almost done but we’re going back to the drawing board. I had a previous design that we ended up scrapping for certain reasons, and we’re going back to it to see if we can tweak it and come up with something really original, a new shape for Jackson. Recently I was going to do my own version of a straight-up King V but we’re going to hold off on that and instead take my old design that I came up with that was my own thing, and tweak it some and see what we can do with that. I’m not sure when that’s going to come out, but later this week I’m going to the custom shop to work with some of the designers on the new ideas to see what we can come up with. Hopefully some time soon it’ll come out, but we’re just going to take some more time and see what happens. It’s not something I want to rush.

In Waves is out now on Roadrunner.