Matt Heafy Of Trivium Talks Touring, Twitch Streaming, Guitars, Gaming, BJJ & What ‘Will Keep Metal Alive’

trivium, matt heafy
Justin Borucki / Courtesy Photo

As part of my work, I am sometimes given the task — and the great honor — of interviewing various industry icons. Last week, I was afforded the chance to speak for a few moments with Matt Heafy, the frontman for heavy metal band Trivium.

Our conversation was casual, easy, and sometimes diverged into territory I don’t think either of us expected to initially cover. We talked about our favorite video games, what is so essential about heavy metal music and the brotherhood that surrounds the genre and the subculture, and of course, their killer new album.

With Heafy moving heavily into Twitch streaming, another personal interest of mine, we managed to talk a little bit about the strange and unique synergy between the heavy metal and video game subcultures — how they intersect and how they diverge.

One thing that struck me throughout our talk was Heafy’s commitment to the concept of authenticity, particularly where Trivium’s body of work was concerned, in addition to the philosophy underpinning heavy metal — especially extreme metal — as a whole. He takes his art seriously, and it shows — both in the performances put on by the band and the songwriting that is the foundational strength of the Trivium sound.

Trivium has sold over one million albums worldwide, and their most recent album – The Sin and the Sentence – has been praised by fans and critics alike.

Trivium is: Matt Heafy, Corey Beaulieu, Paolo Gregoletto, and Alex Bent.

Trivium, matt heafy
  Jon Paul Douglass / Courtesy Photo

Nick Morine: So we’ll get right down to it I guess! I noticed you guys just came off the Summer Breeze Tour in Germany. How was that? And what was it like playing for so many of your European fans?

Matt Heafy: It was amazing! We’ve done fly-ins before like when we were on Mayhem, we flew out to open for Iron Maiden in the UK and then we flew to Wakken and played there… then flew back and joined Mayhem again!

So we’ve done things where it was like two things within one, we’ve never been basically invited to fly out and play one show where they cover the airfare and hotels and all of that good stuff. And then still got show pay, which was nice, so they flew us out for the one show. It was amazing to headline Summer Breeze.

Actually the last time we played Summer Breeze, we headlined it as well – it’s a co-headline festival – Arch Enemy and us had the two headline slots. So we played the later spot last time, and then played the earlier spot this time, so it was cool to be back again. Really fun show, really good time. I was able to stream ‘Fortnite’ on the show day – you see I have a problem with that game, a definite addiction – and I was invited to this tournament this Friday and Saturday so that’s what I’ve been practicing for.

NM: Fantastic. I’ve signed up for your notifications [on Twitch] anyway, so I see you’re streaming it frequently.

MH: Oh, I do. Definitely frequently.

NM: So what’s it like playing with Arch Enemy?

MH: Amazing! We’ve been playing and touring with them since 2005 actually, so, we’ve been touring with them a lot. We’ve toured with them during Ozzfest ’05, they brought us to our first Japanese tours, we brought them out on this big tour we did with Machine Head called Black Crusade… it was like 5,000 to 10,000 people a night in the UK. We did a co-headline in the U.S., that was the best North American tour we’ve ever had.

NM: I was looking through some snapshots of the event itself [Summer Breeze] and saw you were playing your Epiphone Limited Edition ‘Sn0fall.’ Tell us a little bit more about that guitar and what served as the inspiration behind it.

MH: I was a big fan of Les Paul Customs. It was my dad’s dream – before he had a son – that he would have a son that played Les Paul Customs. So it was kind of like… destiny for me to play it. I knew I wanted a signature guitar, and when we talked about it with Epiphone and Gibson, I said that I didn’t want to be one of those guys that had all these different models and signatures. I didn’t want to be playing the $10,000 model where kids had to buy the $500 model – or multiple tiers of it. I wanted just one. I wanted just one guitar, the same thing, the same as everyone. So we went through a couple years of prototypes, and finally wound up with this one.

It was the attention to detail on both sides that made the guitar so good. It’s the same weight as the Gibson Les Paul Custom – I basically said ‘Here’s the price point that I feel like it should be at, and get this thing as close as possible to a Gibson Les Paul Custom.’

Which is a difficult thing! Because a Gibson Les Paul Custom is like a $3,500 to $5,000 guitar, and then my Epiphone is $800 to $1,200. So, I said ‘Get it as close to that as humanly possible.’

NM: Finally, with regards to the touring theme, over the years who do you figure has been the most fun to tour with?

MH: Hmm. We’ve toured with In Flames a lot over the years, we’re pretty good buddies with them. As Lions and SHVPES are really fun to tour with, those are Bruce Dickinson’s sons bands. We’ve all become very close to Austin [Dickinson] and Griffin [Dickinson] so it’s always great to tour with those guys.

I mean we’ve toured with so many great bands – the Iron Maiden support tour was definitely one of the best tours we’ve ever done, that was super fun. Yeah, I’d say that those are probably some of our closest friends out there.

Fit for an Autopsy is definitely one of my favorite bands to tour with – we’ve brought them out two times now – they’re one of my favorite bands in the world. So it’s always good to tour with them.

NM: It’s the brotherhood of musicians really. It’s one of those things, you get in with people, you get to make friends, make connections. You know, it’s great to be able to get up on the stage with those people, I suppose.

MH: Yeah, it’s really good to support what you love, and I think that’s what will keep metal alive. Because there’s a lot of manufactured music out there – not even on the pop scale – but in the rock scene as well. And so it’s important for us to keep bringing out really good bands – bands that we believe in – bands that make their own music, bands that make something interesting… that aren’t making things to meet a quota but are making something that they love and they believe in.

I’d rather bring out bands that we back and bands that we love and show our fans what those are, versus, you know, the alternative.

NM: I couldn’t agree more, that’s why I’ve been a metalhead since I was 12!

MH: That’s awesome.

NM: Right there with you brother. Is there anyone you haven’t yet toured with that you’d absolutely love to tour with?

MH: I think we’ve toured with everyone! We’ve toured with all of our favorite Swedish metal bands, we’ve toured with all the classics, we’ve toured with Sabbath and Maiden. Maybe we haven’t toured with [Judas] Priest yet – Priest would be cool! I’d love to keep touring with Fit for an Autopsy. I’d love to tour with In Flames again… that would be awesome. Really anybody, anybody that makes good music, I’m down for.

NM: Switching gears up a bit… I want to talk a bit about the most recent album, ‘The Sin and the Sentence.’ As you know, the album has been widely acclaimed by critics and the fanbase. What went into the songwriting and production of that album that made it stand out to you and the other members of the band, personally?

MH: Well we went into the structure and said we wanted to get back to the roots of making music in the same room together. We wanted to be back to that ‘band’ thing. And I know that sounds like a blatantly obvious thing to a lot of people, but it’s really not.

The way recording and writing has gone for a lot of bands, a lot of bands we see they write on their laptops – which is difficult and sometimes out of necessity. There are also bands that have other people write their songs for them – which I think is fine in pop music, and is called for in pop music – but in metal, ah… it’s really weird.

Metal and rock, it should be written by the band that it’s played by, and you know, some guest people here and there helping is fine. What we want to do is really steer the ship ourselves, and take the control back, and take it all back to being ourselves. Just the four of us in a room together making the kind of music we wanted to hear as metal fans, the kind of music we felt was, either missing, or that we just wanted to listen to on our own.

So, doing that and making sure we had everything down together before getting a producer I think is what really captured that energy. And what you hear on the record, and what’s kind of obvious about what we love and what our fans love, is when we have everything. There have been records where we’ve kind-of homed in – they’re still great records and I’m very proud of them – ‘Silence in the Snow,’ ‘Vengeance Falls,’ ‘The Crusade’ – we kind of homed in on a specific thing, and said ‘let’s not do these things’ outside of the realm of what the song is.

It’s weird that we just prefer to have everything – singing and screaming, soft songs and heavy songs, complexity and simplicity – and it seems that that’s what our fans love. And that was the absolute best way to do it, just to have everything. And that’s when we’re happiest… that’s when our fans are happiest.

NM: And do you have a personal favorite song from the album? I have to let you know, mine is absolutely ‘Betrayer’ – I love the opening, almost black metal, really quick picking, very hooky.

MH: Thanks man. It’s always between ‘Betrayer and ‘Sever the Hand.’ And I think the reason why people like them, and why you and I like them… if I really dissect ‘why do I like those songs?’… it’s because they have everything. ‘Betrayer’ has tremolo picking like black metal – that’s kind of like a melodic death metal melody – with a sung verse with hold-out chords that are kind of punk. But then it goes into this very thrash metal prechorus, and back into a punkish chorus, and then a black metal middle. So it has everything.

And then ‘Sever [the Hand]’ is a little bit hardcore, a little bit metalcore, kind of a rock-ish chorus, and a thrash metal middle part. So it’s cool, and that’s what we all like about Trivium, when it has everything and there aren’t boundaries.

NM: I guess that sort of precludes my next question, which was – what do you think defines the signature Trivium sound?

MH: It’s having everything. After all these years of looking, it comes down to an instinct. It’s not saying ‘we shouldn’t have this,’ or ‘we shouldn’t have that.’ I mean there have been songs in the past, or specific records, where we said ‘there shouldn’t be double bass on the chorus,’ or ‘there shouldn’t be screaming on this song or this record.’

Just going in, and making what feels right, and letting what happens naturally happen is the best way to make a Trivium song for us. And that’s the way we need to stick to it, and never deviate from that. Because we have deviated from that.

Again, I love the records, but Silence [in the Snow], Vengeance [Falls], [The] Crusade – they stick to one specific thing, where we set very specific rules. Which is good! You should do things like that. You should say, on this record there are things that shouldn’t happen. But, I think you just have to let what happens… happen. And that’s the way Trivium has always been at their best.

When we wrote Ascendancy, a couple of guys would come up with a couple of riffs, they’d come in and practice together, we’d start playing as a band, I’d make up gibberish vocals that became real lyrics, that became melodies to the songs. We did something similar to that on In Waves, Shogun, and [The] Sin [and the Sentence]. And those are my personal favorite records. My personal favorite records would be Sin, and then Ascendancy, and then In Waves, and then Shogun – probably in that order. And those were the ones that we just allowed to take place.

Today – I don’t know if you were on the stream during the karaoke thing – but it’s kind of that process. Just playing things randomly and letting things happen and then in the end the best result happens. We did that La Bouche song, this weird club dance song, so then I made it kind of metal, then added some screaming on it. Someone just dropped the idea, ‘Hey, why don’t you play cool, weird, clean chords?’

And I did and ended up making this amazing version. The end version was the best. Just allowing things to happen, and its free form.

NM: Yeah, organic growth, right?

MH: Absolutely.

NM: One more question about ‘Sin.’ A lot of people have commented on the killer drum track on ‘The Sin and the Sentence.’ Do you feel like Alex Bent has brought some new or different energy to the band dynamic?

MH: Definitely. When we were first writing the music for ‘Sin,’ it was still great, it was still a lot like the end result, but… when we first brought Alex into the band, and we heard what he was capable of, it really inspired us and it made the music get a lot more extreme because we knew what we were able to do.

It’s so cool this time too because people aren’t asking, ‘Oh, you have another drummer change – why is that?,’ now it’s more of ‘Oh, now I understand what you were looking for all along.’ And Alex is the kind of guy we’ve been looking for all along, the kind of guy who can do everything.

Whereas with our previous drummers, they’ve all had their strengths, but they’ve had their weaknesses. And it’s because our band is difficult, we have things that are very simple that we’ve had some of our drummers crush – and then they can’t play the tech stuff. And we’ve had guys that can play the tech stuff that have a difficult time being simplistic. So, Alex is what we were looking for all along.

NM: Thank you. So switching gears once again. One thing that’s becoming very popular on social media – YouTube or Facebook – are reacts or reaction videos. One prominent producer of these videos, HipHopHead, has produced a lot of Trivium on his channel, and they tend to be some of his more popular videos. Do you think social media has a big role to play in your ongoing popularity as a band and as musicians?

MH: Massively, yeah. Definitely. I think the cross-over thing is really big. I’ve been playing with one of the biggest streamers, dakotaz, quite a bit. And I’ve seen a certain theme of cross-over, like people who’ve never heard of Trivium before, who aren’t metal people, that enjoyed seeing us play together and checked out the band later on.

When we heard about HipHopHead, we gave him passes to the show, so we could meet him and say hey – and he did a video of him meeting us which I thought was really cool. Yeah, there’s a great place for it.

I had a huge boost in my Instagram following thanks to Jared Dines’ supporters. He has a very interactive fanbase, and we did the ‘Shred Wars’… he invited me to do that with him. And after that I saw a big spike in my Instagram thanks to his followers and his supporters.

NM: It’s funny because one of his videos – for HipHopHead – is maybe he should rename himself metalhead after showing so many of your guys’ videos.

MH: Haha! Definitely! Definitely! I should send him some stuff to check out.

NM: Sort of on the same tack of the social media theme. How has the partnership with Twitch treated you, and how much love do you get from fans in the chat?

MH: It’s going great. It’s been a really interesting thing for me because the most popular thing on my channel is when I do music, obviously. The very difficult part has been bringing Trivium fans into this new platform. Because our fans know what Instagram and Twitter and Facebook are – and Youtube. But they haven’t really been too much into Twitch. So it’s a matter of bringing Trivium fans into using this new platform. Then, they really want to watch the music stuff like the warm-ups and the performances and the karaokes – but when I game, they sort of tune out sometimes, because they’re there for the music.

And in order for me to get the gaming fans on Twitch, I’m not at that level yet – I’m not at that crazy talented gamer level yet – so it’s all about finding a balance. So today I did my warm-ups first thing in the morning, and then did some ‘Fortnite’ after that, then back to music, then back to ‘Fortnite’ again. I make sure I post on my social so that people know when things are switching over, so that people who are there for the music come in, and people who are there for the games come in.

It’s been really great, it’s awesome, I’m getting a lot of love from Twitch. I’m definitely very fortunate; they gave me one of their backpacks so I can stream all of our shows, all of my warm-ups when I’m on tour, streaming festivals.

I recently just switched the channel name to matthewkheafy, I switched all my socials to that just so it would be easier. I was doing some interviews, someone would say ‘Well, what’s your Twitch channel?’ and I said ‘kiichiichaosreigns,’ and they would say ‘what’s that?’ – and no one could seem to remember how to spell it. So I just made it easy.

It’s been going really good. I really enjoy. When I’m off tour, I keep a schedule of Monday through Friday, 9 ’til 11 and 3 to 6, every day. I try to keep it consistent. I hope to grow it. I hope to be one of those streamers that has 20,000 to 50,000 people every time I play. That’s my goal. I like to set high goals for myself. I’m very far from that right now, but I’m working on it.

NM: It’s definitely achievable, look at the success you’ve achieved in the music industry.

MH: Thanks man.

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Moments before taking the stage at @summerbreezeopenair.

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NM: Not just that… There’s an organic connection, I think, between heavy metal and video games. It seems like there’s a lot of the fandom that has a lot of synergy there. Have you been a gamer for a long time? Have you got a history with video games?

MH: Yeah, I mean I beat ‘Mario 1’ when it came out when I was like 4-years-old, so I was pretty much playing console games since then.

I was always a Nintendo kid, played all the Mario games. Then the SNES, with ‘Donkey Kong,’ then into ‘Final Fantasy,’ then of course ‘Super Mario World.’ Into ‘GoldenEye,’ and then that’s when I started getting into shooters, thanks to ‘GoldenEye.’ Then I started to transition into the Playstation, and all the ‘Final Fantasy’ games on that – obviously like [Final Fantasy] VII, it’s still my favorite game ever. Then I started getting into ‘Call of Duty’ games – I always preferred the Infinity Ward games, I always preferred the ‘Modern Warfare’ games – not even for story mode, but I loved the online competition stuff, so I think that’s kind of what planted the seed as to why I would like the battle royale.

But games have always been there, and I’ve been doing a lot more interviews about gaming and music. It made me realize that… my favorite games were always the ‘Final Fantasy’ games, and their music is very metal – there are metal elements in there, rock elements, classical music elements, electronic elements. Those are all things that I would later grow to love.

And I think that’s what instilled into me liking all the things that I like. Music with everything. You know. Having electronic and classical and rock elements – very cinematic music. So it’s all about that grand element of drama. And I think that comes from games.

I’ve just recently switched to PC. I started streaming on Twitch March of 2017 but it wasn’t very serious. 15 to 30 minutes here and there on console. Streaming kind of whatever; nobody was really watching. It was in January when I got really serious and set a schedule for guitar and vocal practice on there. ASUS took a chance on me, and endorsed me – the first and only musician they’ve ever endorsed. They hooked me up with a rig, and they keep hooking me up with new rigs. I just try to keep it consistent… I’ve probably been PC gaming 9 or 10 months, I think? So not that long. And Fortnite, only for a couple of months now, since the end of last year. So it’s been a difficult mountain to climb for me, learning how to play these games. But I love it!

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NYC adventures // winter 2017.

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NM: On your Twitch channel you sometimes take some time out to do some BJJ. What attracted you to the martial arts?

MH: Being Japanese, I did karate as a kid. So it was always kind of in my life. It fell out when I started with games and music, but it was in the back of my head that I always wanted to get back into martial arts. My dad would always take me to UFC pay-per-view parties when I was a kid. I started watching more UFC when we were doing Vengeance Falls so it sort of sparked that interest again, and I knew I wanted to get into something.

We toured over in Brazil, and I loved the country so much that I said to myself – ‘I want to do what the Brazilians do. And that’s either soccer or jiu-jitsu.’ I said, ‘I want to pick the harder one. I want to try jiu-jitsu.’

For the first couple years, I stuck with it, and it was really difficult. I loved it, and I hated it, because I was so terrible at it. And eventually it just sort of started clicking. I think around 3 or 4 years in it started making more sense. And around that fourth year I started really falling in love with leg locks. My game has really developed totally into the heel-hook and leg-lock game. Which I love that it’s kind of looked at as the ‘dark jiu-jitsu world,’ and people kind of look down upon it in traditional Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I’d love to someday be able to train with John Danaher or Eddie Cummings… John Danaher is the guy that really – he didn’t invent it – but he put a curriculum to it, a system to it, and made it something that people can study and get into. My school, they’re cool with me doing it, but they don’t really have a leg-lock curriculum. It’s really looked at as like… if BJJ is kind of a blanket statement of metal and rock and hardcore and punk – if that’s what BJJ is – heel-hooks is ‘black metal.’

NM: Haha. Gotcha.

MH: It’s the most extreme end of the spectrum in jiu-jitsu.

NM: Right. So some of the traditionalists may or may not agree with that, but it’s very effective.

MH: Yes, very effective.

NM: Do you think there is any relationship between the study of the martial arts and the study of music, both in terms of the composition and of the performance?

MH: Massively. I blew my voice out, and had to fly home and cancel a tour on Vengeance Falls, and I started retraining with Ron Anderson thanks to Matt [Shadows] from Avenged [Sevenfold], he put me in touch with a singing teacher. That was around the time that I was getting into jiu-jitsu again. Getting into jiu-jitsu was interesting for me because I’ve always played guitar and I’ve always sang in the band. So it’s not like I was consciously learning something new, I didn’t even realize I was practicing something. I mean I knew that I was drilling it, but it had been there for so long that it wasn’t like learning something new.

But jiu-jitsu was so difficult – I was getting my ass handed to me all the time.

Just like Fortnite – just like getting into PC. And… I have difficult time getting into new things, like, I’m a slow learner. It takes me quite a bit of time. But what was great with jiu-jitsu is that it showed me what it is to incorporate new regimens back into old things. So that’s why I started making sure I did the same kind of drilling that I would do for jiu-jitsu, but for guitar and vocals as well. And that’s why I have a very regimented schedule, and Twitch falls really nicely into that as well. It makes sure I keep that schedule of Monday through Friday, singing and screaming and guitar playing every single day for two to four hours a day to keep that up – like you would do for martial arts.

Thanks to Twitch, BJJ, and Trivium… those three things are all kind of mixed in to this schedule. Habit, life, curriculum.

NM: Right. So it’s all about discipline?

MH: Absolutely.

NM: One last question Matt. Any word on a new album? I know you just released Sin last year, so it’s asking a lot. But just throwing it out there to see if you guys had been working on any ideas, or anything we hadn’t heard of yet.

MH: I mean… we’re always kind of playing around with ideas, but there’s nothing too concrete just yet. But we’re always being productive. There’s never really an off time, even when we’re just getting off tour. We’re all getting back into everything, so, we’re always doing something. I can’t get too in-depth with it.

But as far as my side-project stuff, Mrityu, the record is basically written. It’s just a matter of tracking it, and finding time for that. So that will be great. Hopefully Ihsahn is still producing and engineering that and co-writing that with me. So that’s gonna be nice.

Jared Dines and I have been talking about making some music together – not a formal touring band or anything – but just to do it for fun. So yeah, there’s always a lot of stuff that I’m slowly working on at the same time, it’s kind of nuts. But, I enjoy having too much going on.

NM: Right on! Thank you very much for your time Matt. Really appreciate you speaking to me today.

MH: Of course man. Thank you so much! I’ll see you in the stream dude!