Matt Heafy Talks Overcoming Negativity and the New Trivium Album 'In the Court of the Dragon'
Trivium are one of those bands that truly earned their place because they had to. The Orlando metalheads have proven themselves over the years not just in the way they combine nearly every possible flavor of metal - from metalcore to thrash metal to power metal to progressive metal to death and black metal and back again - to create their unique sound, or the way their staggering work ethic and creative output has resulted in ten full-length albums and countless tours in less than two decades, but in the way they’ve overcome adversity and outright animosity to become one of the most essential groups in the business.
Formed at the end of the 90s, Trivium kicked off their career with their 2003 debut album Ember to Inferno. The combination of fast and vicious beats combined with soaring guitars and singer / guitarist Matthew Heafy’s intense screams got early buzz underground and the attention of Roadrunner Records, who were quick to add the band to the label and begin work on a followup record. It's no surprise; songs like 'Pillars of Serpents' showcased early on how Trivium could shred and get mosh pits moving but also had an ear for strong melody and more interesting technical prowess than other upcoming bands of the time.
Their major label debut, Ascendancy, the first with longtime guitarist Corey Beaulieu and bassist Paolo Gregoletto, was a tight and precise combo of classic thrash and modern metalcore that exploded onto the scene and gained Trivium slots on Ozzfest, the main stage of Download Festival 2005, and tours with bands like Fear Factory and Machine Head. The ensuing years saw the group weave in and out of both more melodic and more brutal work, dropping screaming entirely for some records and then bringing them back with even greater force more than once. They traveled the globe with the likes of Slipknot, Slayer, Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and more.
After a frustrating revolving door of drummers, 2017 finally solidified Trivium's lineup with the arrival of Alex Bent from Battlecross. The first record for the quartet, The Sin and the Sentence, freshly defined the sound of the band's metal cocktail, earning them their first Grammy nomination for the song 'Betrayer', acclaim from critics and longtime fans alike, and silencing any naysayers left standing. A new fire was alight, and with a powerful legacy behind them and a brighter future ahead of them - a considerable portion of which was rapidly growing online thanks to the band's embrace of platforms like Twitch - Trivium were poised to conquer the world anew.
But right when the band had plans to release their even better followup, What The Dead Men Say, and hit the road with Megadeth, Lamb of God and In Flames on The Metal Tour of the Year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With no tours and no way to perform live for crowds, Trivium was forced into the rather unique position of having to promote and perform an entire album cycle exclusively online. While live streams steadily became the norm for musicians with no other options, Trivium were already way ahead of most. Consistent interaction with their fans on the internet helped make their wildly impressive streaming event, A Light Or a Distant Mirror, a major success, selling over 12,000 tickets and being viewed by over a hundred different countries.
While every member of the band has their own followings on social media and Twitch, it's Matt Heafy who's become one of the live streaming platform's strongest stars. Heafy streams almost everything - exercises, eating, guitar lessons, vocal warmups, entire album playthroughs, video games, you name it. While Heafy's onstage presence has the appropriate amount of tough metal bravado, his talks with viewers and fans are often not simply wholesome, but genuinely uplifting. The frontman seemingly took the brunt of the cruelty that was inexplicably aimed at the band in their earlier days and went through a difficult period of vocal issues, recovery and transformation that undoubtedly grew him a thicker skin and stronger heart.
With live music carefully returning to the world, Trivium are now in the thick of the rescheduled Metal Tour of the Year (with Hatebreed replacing In Flames due to international travel issues) and are live streaming every show straight from the stage in addition to the regular schedule of warmups and exercises. In addition to playing songs from What The Dead Man Say for the first time in front of audiences, they're also debuting brand new tracks off of their upcoming October release, In the Court of the Dragon. The tenth album for the band just may be their greatest yet. It's a heavy metal symphony (without the symphony) that feels massive in scale and perfectly encapsulates the taut fusion of extreme and melodic metal that the band has been striving for their entire career. As Heafy often says at their shows, "Heads are banging, fists are pumping, bodies are moving."
Knotfest caught up with the candid and enlightening frontman on the band's stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico to talk about how the new album came to be, their adjustment to the new normal, and cultivating their online following. He also discussed how Trivium are building their own their mythology, what his current dream tour would be, and shared his experiences with bullying as the band began to make a name for themselves.
How's it feel to be back out on tour?
Heafy - It's amazing. I don't think we played a show for almost two years, somewhere between 18 months and two years, which is unheard of for our band. I joined Trivium when I was 13 and we played at least a few shows a year all the way until 2004 when we started touring. So it's definitely a strange feeling. It's great that this tour is running really good protocols and measures, we're basically only unmasked when we're in our dressing room, on stage, or on our bus. We grab our food from catering and eat it in the dressing room or the bus. It's good to do all that stuff because the show's got to carry on, we gotta continue. We need to save the live music industry.
I'm sure the whole world is looking at the tours that keep canceling dates, or canceling weeks or pulling whole things. Those are also the giant bands too, that can afford to reschedule their stadium tour because everyone's gonna show up again. A band like us, we can't do that. That's why we're doing this thing very right. Ever since the beginning we've always taken it very seriously. Before there were vaccines we talked about masking and tests, when those vaccines were available we got vaccines, and when people said we need to remask we made sure we do that as well. Because we want this to come back. And you know, I haven't grown a third eye nor have I lost a limb since getting the vaccine. We've been playing the shows, sounding better than ever and the crowds are happy and I'm happy to be part of a team bringing live music back.
Do you have any new toys or gear that you've brought on?
Heafy - Yeah, we actually started using live heads again. We were one of the first bands to start using amp modelers back on the In Waves run for squeezing Fractal Axe-Fx and using the Kempers. Kempers rule, we still use Kempers for fly dates and for things where we have to do that, but we found that for me, using real pedals into real heads into the Torpedo Captor X, which is this thing that simulates the cab...It sounds unbelievable. Our guitar tone sounds better than ever. It's one of the best live guitar tones I've ever heard. I've got two streaming backpacks out here with me. They're stressful as hell because it's got like 25 different pieces inside of it just to stream our shows. I've got my crazy gaming rig, so I've got three stream rigs with me on this run streaming one to three times a day, seven days a week. Keeping it going.
So you guys were actually the first proper metal band I ever saw live. I saw you with Slipknot and Coheed and Cambria in 2009. I was 15 years old, by myself because none of my friends liked Slipknot the way I did, and I was on the barricade. Life changing, life affirming.
Heafy - Holy cow, that's amazing. That's awesome. That tour was fantastic. And now you're writing and working for Knotfest.com, that's freaking amazing, man. I love to hear stuff like that, that's so cool.
You guys were also one of the big transition bands for me to get into heavier stuff.
Heafy - I feel like we've been a great gateway band just like your story right there. I feel like so many people who have been on the fence or haven't understood metal have looked at our band and gotten into it, then they'll look at the T-shirts we're wearing and hear about the bands we talk about, the bands we love and it'll spiral from there, which I love. That's why we've always been so vocal about the bands we love and been championing the bands we love. I think that's one of the reasons why Ascendancy took off the way it did because it was extremely heavy, technical, interesting, unique music, but we didn't look like the typical metal band. So people looked at us and went "These guys don't look like what you're supposed to when you sound like this - I want to check it out." And I thought that was one of the reasons why it picked up for us.
It seems like you guys really went out on a high note in 2019 with the touring cycle for The Sin and the Sentence and having Alex Bent join the band. What was it like to have this new momentum in the band and then have that come to a halt?
Heafy - I mean, it is very apparent that with the addition of Alex, we've finally become Trivium. This is the first time in our history where people have finally stopped asking the question, "why did you get rid of ABC?" We've been looking for him our whole lives and we've not been the kind of unit that we are until now. We've always been a close band, like one of the running jokes of other bands, or even on this tour, one of the Live Nation people was like "You know what, every time I look around, it's the four of you sitting together and eating together, that's awesome." We're just a very tight knit unit. A lot of other bands maybe don't have that or maybe don't need it. I feel like we do need it. If I need to be away from my family and be away from my kids and my wife, I need to love the people I'm with. So I'm very fortunate that I'm with guys that I really want to be around and that speaks through to our live show. Once we got Alex, we really rounded out our live band. We were no longer three incredibly tight people and someone that was- I'm not knocking the drummers, maybe they were better off with something else. But the fact that we have four people that are all in the same brain length and the brainwaves, it's very apparent.
When everything came grinding to a halt it was business as usual for us in the sense that we would have kept practicing, and business as usual for me in the fact that the stream was still going. And I've been streaming now almost for four and a half years, so the schedule just stayed the same. People were home and finally able to check out what we're talking about. And still there a lot of countries locked up, a lot of friends and families and people all over the world that can't go to shows yet. That's why we're streaming every single show. The channel may say Matthew K Heafy but when all four of us are on that channel at the same time, it's a Trivium channel. And that's why we keep that going. So that first show was like 9,000 people and there was another 3,000 people in my stream. So we played to 12,000 people that show and I love that.
Did incorporating all of those online elements on Twitch and elsewhere come naturally or was it born out of a sudden need to step it up there?
Heafy - Thankfully, with us being one of the first bands - you know, there were other music streamers on Twitch before me - but I feel like we're one of the first bands to really embrace the whole thing four and a half years ago. Our audience was already used to and already understood what it is to tune into something online. So when we put on our pay-for event A Light Or A Distant Mirror, our fans already knew what it was and already knew what to do when it came down to watching us live on a stream. It's something we've always loved to do. I feel like you have to love it. I feel like we saw a lot of people jump into streaming, but I don't know if they'll carry on with it. Some people truly love it and if you love it, you should stick with it. If you don't love it, it's going to show through your content. It was Ihsahn from Emperor who said it to me, he said, "What's amazing about your personas Matt, is that with Trivium it's serious, with Ibaraki, it's even more serious. However, you can go online and look at your social medias and it's hilarious and it's you making jokes and memes and it still all authentically fits in the same thing that is you, which is great." It's not something that I calculated or created, they're not characters I created. It's all just what came about naturally. So you have to just love what you do.
Do you feel that platforms like Twitch have given you and the rest of the band a little more control? Maybe even if that's strictly in terms of just like, revenue? More control and more power to the artists than the business of the regular music industry?
Heafy - I think it all needs to come together. It all helps benefit the whole. I've toyed with it in my mind hypothetically, not saying I'd ever do that, but was like, "Well, what if I was just a Twitch streamer or what if I retired from this and just did that?" The truth of the matter is the channel needs Trivium, the channel is big because of Trivium fans and we are also getting more thanks to the channel. So it's all symbiotic, it all works together. I think one of the best things to control, revenue and all that stuff aside, is being able to control your own message. Before we used to have to rely on getting our message into something official to push it through to something, but now if we've got something to say, I could just say it on my socials and I don't have to like, wait for it to get into a magazine. Or you know, for those publications that don't cover us or don't feel like covering us or don't want to cover us, we can still get our message out and we can still get the right message out and it's completely direct from the source, which is great.
You're very active and consistent not just on Twitch but on all your different social media platforms. Does that make you feel like you're busier than ever before, especially now that you're back on tour and have a new album to promote along with everything else?
Heafy - I've had so many people and other bands or even other creators that tell me that like, "If I even think about what you do in a day it stresses me out." I just like it. I've got Trivium, I've got the Matthew K Heafy thing that's also a side thing, I've done a song with Mike Shinoda, a song with Richard Marx, a song with Livia Zita, I've got Ibaraki that I finished up...and yeah, I do have every social now I think from Discord through Tik Tok through YouTube. I've got like a YouTube members thing now where I've got guitar lessons on there, I've got this new thing called Close Friends on Instagram, I've got Cameo, I've got it all but I like it, I like having it all. But if I'm ever taking on extra or something I don't enjoy is when I start to freak out a bit. But I like to have a lot of things, I do enjoy streaming. Today at two I'll stream my whole warm up, I'll stream whatever I'm doing for exercise. Like yesterday, I was working out with mace, couple days ago I was doing kickboxing. I'm surprised people want to watch that but they do, we streamed my jiu-jitsu training the other day - It's just, I enjoy it. I really truly do. And I think if I didn't, I wouldn't do it.
I think all that also helps cultivate what I see in the Trivium fan base, which is so much positivity. It's very, very wholesome. You guys seem to really adhere to the concept of if you treat the fans well they in turn will be kind of you.
Matt Heafy - Definitely, yeah. One of the most amazing things I've heard from every merch person we've ever had, they've always said Trivium fans are the most polite fans you've ever met. The merch guy has to interact with basically the entire crowd and the fact that they say that is great, and I do feel that the fans are an extension of the band. So like the example that the band portrays is inevitably what the fans sort of - not all of them - but they take about themselves. That's something I've always pushed through our music and through our lyrics since since album one, since day one, is that we need to accept all that don't wish ill will or hurt anyone else. Our band has always been very accepting and it's not something you always necessarily see in metal. Yes, metal has always been for the underdog, but it's also been exclusive at times and that's why from early on we had songs fighting against homophobia and sexism and racism and xenophobia and all this stuff. I'm not of a religion, I'm not of a political affiliation, I'm not of an anything - I'm about accepting everyone as long as they, like I said, don't wish ill will towards someone else or hurt someone else or that they're a bad person. And if you're about that and you're about celebrating the unity and celebrating about what makes us all feel good together then you're welcome to join.
I've gotta praise the new album, In the Court of the Dragon. The title track that kicks the whole thing off is probably my favorite Trivium song ever now. It's the perfect combination of all the different genres and styles that you guys have weaved in and out of throughout your whole career packaged into one tight song.
Heafy - That's awesome to hear you say that, especially you know, you've been with us for a long time. That's what we've been hearing and we love hearing that people are saying, "Hey, this new song may very well be the best song you've ever done." That's not something you hear often. It's always, oh, yeah, it's the record ten records ago or the one we did twenty years ago. But the fact that it's right now and people love something that's brand new? That's huge. This record came about very effortlessly with just four people in a room together making the kind of music we want to hear. We didn't think "Are people gonna like this?" We didn't think "Are people gonna hate this?" It was just "What do we want to play? What makes us feel good?" And that's it. That's how we make our best stuff. We set no rules. We said no holds barred.
Is it weird coming back out playing live shows with two full albums worth of new material?
Heafy - We've been used to always having so many records and too many long songs to create a setlist, so it was just adding more to it. We're just used to that feeling.
How is it touring on The Metal Tour of the Year?
Heafy - We love this tour, this is the most comfortable U.S. tour I've ever done. The food's good, restrooms are good, there's toilets and showers, and the people. Hopefully in a couple of years, it's us headlining this size and it's selling this out because this is what I like to do. I like to play big places - of course we'll play small places - but this is what the dream is. This is the reminder of what the dream is, to have this kind of legacy like Megadeth and Lamb of God have and hopefully take it even further and keep it going. This is a reminder of what we're working towards.
You guys have always had this kind of grandiose vision for your albums that are inspired by legends and myths and the like. What in particular helped inspire In the Court of the Dragon?
Heafy - There's a lot of things. The title comes from the short story, The Yellow King, which was something that H.P. Lovecraft took a lot of inspiration from. It's about a play that people would read and they would go mad. It's not what the record is about but it's like kind of adding fuel to the fire. When I was writing 'In the Court of the Dragon' the first set of lyrics I wrote about Thor and Ragnarok, ancient Norse mythologies. But this story's been told through a lot of other songs, a lot of other bands. Why don't we create our own mythology? So this record has been about not being inspired or retelling or using other stories as metaphor, but instead creating our own mythologies, our own worlds. It's our own storytelling. We want everyone to feel very inspired to interpret these songs in any way they want. There is no right or wrong answer in how someone sees the video or how someone sees the painting or someone hears the music. We want people to feel inspired to create their own depictions of what everything means.
Are there any kind of inspirations you guys take from movies, visually or sound wise?
Heafy - It was on the In Waves record that I befriended Jonpaul Douglass, who's done so much of our visual stuff, and he got me into being inspired by film directors, people like Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan. That's when I started going, "Wow, I want visual stuff to inspire me even further." My wife is the one that got me into being inspired by modern art and classical art. We wanted this painting for In the Court of the Dragon so we found someone who is making paintings like Caravaggio used to and we had this thing completely created. It took months and months and it was really the focal piece of this album. So we're very much still inspired by visual art and visual artists. It's direct lineage from that. It all adds fuel to the fire.
You were on The Jasta Show recently and mentioned that a dream lineup for you is Atreyu, Trivium and A Day to Remember. Are you trying to kill people? That sounds like way too much fun.
Heafy - I've said it to A Day to Remember multiple times because one thing you can say about Trivium is we can tour with so many different bands and it makes sense. Whereas not everyone can do that. Like on the In Waves cycle we toured with Asking Alexandria, Dream Theater, In Flames and Five Finger Death Punch. Four different tours. There was no other band that could have done all four of those tours in the world as far as I'm concerned. We can go play festivals with black metal bands, we can play with power metal bands, we can play with radio rock bands, and it all makes sense. So I do feel like A Day to Remember, Trivium and Atreyu is a tour that could do very well. And it's one that, sure, we're leaning pretty heavily into the extreme side, but we also do lean into their worlds as well. Whereas maybe A Day to Remember has heavy stuff on one end, but leans into a more punk world on the other end. I'm all about trying everything and think that as far as like, even the four bands on this bill being so different, our reach kind of spans the influences that would have inspired all three of these bands. Things that Megadeth would have been inspired by maybe aren't things that Hatebreed were inspired by, but we're inspired by the things that inspire both of them. I think that's the thing that's interesting about us.
Is it frustrating when people can still be weirdly hostile towards other subgenres and other bands? For me it's weird when people don't just listen to like, everything.
Heafy - I feel like that mentality has really died down but we were one of the last bands to get hit with it very hard. When we did Lamb of God, Trivium, Machine Head and Gojira in 2008-2009, I remember one of the shows someone was waiting by the bus to like, fight me because they didn't like our music. I remember when we co-headlined with Slayer, we came out in Manchester and half the crowd cheered and half the crowd booed. I said, "Everyone that loves us make some noise, everyone that hates us make some noise." And I said "Ha! I even got you to make some noise for us." And by the end I converted them into being Trivium fans. So we were used to it. I mean, we were bullied by some of our favorite bands, bands I grew up listening to, bands that now I get along with, but they bullied the hell out of us when we were coming up. We were one of the bands that had a kind of crappy 80s-90s bring up that you hear about that hasn't existed for many bands. I've told that to bands that are our peers and they're like, "We've never experienced anything like that." Like they just kind of have stupid band beef. To have some of your favorite bands in the world bully you because the way you look and the way you sound...It was crazy. And that wasn't that long ago. That was 10-15 years ago. But our skin is so incredibly thick. Nothing bothers us, absolutely nothing. I mean, yesterday, there was a dude, one guy out of 8,000 standing there just looking like he hated the set the whole time. I just kept looking at him and smiling and singing at him and he just looked like he's hating life. It just doesn't bother us. Even if he was flipping us off, I wouldn't have cared. 15 years ago I probably would have made some funny jokes at him and made the crowd laugh at him. But especially now like with all the stuff I do online, I mean, that's the stuff that breaks most band people. I hear so many band people that don't want to do more things on social media because of the bad comments or because of bad press. I would say don't worry about it, it doesn't matter. Especially if you have your own platform, you can block, ban, delete. When people make fun of you, embrace it and turn it into something your own. I remember the story No One Eats 'Til Matt Heafy Eats. We had a tour manager tell an opening band when they walked into our camp, "Whoa, nobody eats 'til Matt Heafy eats.". That spread across all my favorite bands and all my favorite bands were telling that, saying what a jerk I am, everyone would laugh about it and say it to me when I'm in the room. I turned that into merch and I made a lot of money off that merch. You've got to just make it your own. It doesn't matter. As long as you're doing what you love, the negative stuff doesn't matter.
Matt also talked to us about the legacy of Slipknot's 2001 masterpiece Iowa and its influence on Trivium, read his full thoughts - HERE.
'In the Court of the Dragon', the tenth album from heavy metal heroes Trivium, is out October 8th via Roadrunner Records. Pre-order the album - HERE.
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