INTERVIEW: Trivium’s Matt Heafy

Trivium

Trivium’s 2003 debut Ember To Inferno is a landmark release that led to the band’s signing to Roadrunner Records and the worldwide success that followed. Out of print for several years, the band and 5B Artist Management have partnered with Cooking Vinyl to re-release the album, along with a deluxe edition titled Ember To Inferno: Ab Initium that includes 13 additional demos that have never been previously available. It’s a hugely important release for Trivium fans, filling in some gaps in the story of how they became one of the hardest-working and most self-reinventing metal bands in the world. I caught up with voclalist/guitarist Matt Heafy to chat about it.

What would the Matt Heafy of today have told the Matt Heafy of 2003 about what to expect from a career in music? 

If I could look back and talk to myself now I would say ‘be prepared. There’s going to be a lot of good, bad and ugly. You will have good things happen and you will have bad things happen, but all those things will bring you to who you are today.’

How did you grapple with the attention being so young?

Back on Ember, we didn’t have fans at that point. When that record came out, with the distribution deal it had, you couldn’t really find that record anywhere. So we were excited to get signed but when we went to our local record stores, we couldn’t find Ember. When the release first came out it was kind of cursed from the beginning. That label eventually did get their distribution sorted out, but by the time it was sorted, Ascendency was coming out. Ascendency completely eclipsed the release of Ember. And when Ascendency first came out we still didn’t have fans yet. I remember going on tour doing Ozzfest and having people not knowing who we were. The first time we went somewhere new and had fans who were waiting for us was the UK. That was the first time we really experienced ‘Oh wow, people are into our band!’ But in the Ember days, from the beginning up until the Ascendency days, we’d play a couple of local shows in Orlando once in a while, maybe play a dive bar and get five or seven people.

One of the most revealing things I’ve heard in an interview is when Metallica came to Australia in 2013 and an interviewer on the radio asked James Hetfield ‘Did you imagine in 1983 that in 30 years’ time you’d be headlining arenas in Australia?’ and James’s answer was something like ‘Yes, of course. You have to have goals like that and believe they’re going to happen.’

For Trivium the goal from the very beginning has always been to be one of the biggest metal bands in the world. To be the kind of band that makes an impact on the music scene. It’s something that takes a lot of time and it’s always been the goal. When we first came out, when people first started hearing about Trivium and reading about us in magazines, we were known as that band with the cocky ambitions of world domination. People were taken aback by that because we were 18, 19 years old and they weren’t used to people talking like that at that age, but people have got to understand that I’d already been in the band for six or seven years at that point. I’d already been living with that goal of wanting to be a massive band. It’s been that same way since day one.

Take me back to the demo days.

193530-l-hiWith the Ember reissue it has the Red, Blue and Yellow demos. At the time of Red, that was our first time recording in a decent bedroom-converted local studio. When we went to do the Blue album with Jason Seucof, that was the first time recording in something a little bigger. It was Jason’s garage converted into a little studio. And for us that was the biggest thing we’d ever been in in our entire lives. We did Blue, Yellow, Ember, Ascendency, The Crusade, I did Roadrunner United and Capharnaum, this technical death metal band I have with Jason, and it’s really like a DIY home-made studio. Jason pulled off some amazing things. So by the time we were doing the Blue album it was familiar with us to be with Jason.

At what point did you feel that you guys found your voice as a band?

That’s a good question. From the beginning we always made the kinds of music we wanted to hear as fans of metal. We made the kind of music that we felt was either missing or that we specifically wanted to hear at that point in time, and I don’t recall exactly when we were thinking ‘Oh we’ve really hit our stride now,’ but I can say that looking back now and listening to everything very intensely, I used to love Ember as being a record that was similar to Ascendency, in the same style. But looking back now, it really isn’t. It’s so different from Ascendency. Yes, there is screaming and singing but musically it’s approached very differently. And what’s so cool is it truly is seven records of Trivium that are very different to each other. Some have a little more in common with each other than others but I feel like Ember falls into that category as well. It’s great to see the scale and breadth that the band has, with so much different material that can still fit together. Like today we can play a song like ‘Until The World Goes Cold’ and go immediately into ‘Pillars of Serpents’ and it makes sense. That’s a really great thing and it’s not a contrived feeling.

You guys are in a category that I would put an artist like Devin Townsend in too, which is that you have fans who trust you with their ears, y’know? Whatever you do, they’ll find their personal way to connect with it and they don’t necessarily want it to be the same thing all the time. You’ll always get the people who latch onto one album and want you to make it over and over but they’re probably not the ones with Trivium tattoos. 

Exactly. And one of the cheeky things we always say about us not making the same record every time is, there are enough bands that do that, where it’s pretty much the same record every time. We would never be content to do that. And if you even look at Red to Blue, they’re very different to each other. Blue to Yellow, very different.

How have your gear preferences changed over the years since doing Ember?

I know the Blue album, we recorded with something weird. What was that gold BOSS rack preamp thing?

The GX-700! 

Yeah! I think we used that into an Alesis PA power amp or something really bizarre. I think that was the sound of the Blue album. I could be wrong. With Ember I want to say it was maybe some version of a Peavey 5150 or a XXX head. If I think of all the record it’s always been some form of a 5150 I, II or III into something with V30s or something similar. It’s always been that with an overdrive in front, whether it’s been Ibanez or Maxon or MXR. It’s always worked for us.

It’s so interesting that when Eddie and James Brown designed the 5150, the genres it went on to be used in didn’t exist yet but it’s such a perfect amp for really extreme metal. 

It’s crazy! Y’know, there’s actually a scene in Full House where Jesse and the Rippers were trying out new guitar players and there was a 5150 there. And there was a 5150 onstage with Jesse and the Rippers in a lot of scenes! But every record we’ve done has been some version of a 5150 head. I think with Ascendency, Sneap used maybe a Mesa Dual Rectifier for the leads.

Ember To Inferno is out now.