Special Feature Interview: Trivium – Between The Light And The Shade

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Trivium 2017 Band Promo Photo

It’s a typically wet day at the end of a typical British Summer. The location is a nice hotel in West London, and Trivium bassist Paolo Gregoletto is filling us in on what some of their European press encounters have been like before we get down to business. A short time later, he is joined by guitarist and frontman Matt Heafy (who is always taller than you remember him being), and after one or two interesting tales about the European media, we get down to it; While this promotional tour is mainly about Trivium’s upcoming eighth record, The Sin And The Sentence, there have been other things going on in the band’s world that deserve attention too.

Things kick off with thoughts on their recent run of European shows, a mix of festivals and a few headline dates. It was a run of shows that Paolo in particular was pleased with, helping people to enjoy the end of Summer – “The end of the Summer festivals definitely have a different vibe. Everyone is trying to make the most of that last bit of vacation time, last bit of getting crazy before reality sets in. The last few shows were killer, the last week I felt like we were really tight” he recalls. When asked how the recently revealed title track to The Sin And The Sentence had gone down in recent live sets, the response was similarly encouraging – “I think the first show in Vienna, it had been out for about 2 days and it was one of the best songs in the set. Maybe because it has a lot of fast parts, it’s pretty intense so it translates that intensity even if you don’t know the song so it was a nice surprise for us”.

The conversation inevitably turns towards Trivium’s new album, The Sin And The Sentence, an album that it seemed at the beginning of this year might not surface until 2018, based upon an earlier interview we had conducted with Matt prior to the last Trivium UK tour at the start of the year. Upon this reminder he smiles, laughs and admits that “maybe I was being a little bit coy”. The full truth was quickly revealed – “We started writing pretty much immediately after Silence In The Snow came out, somewhere between three to six months. We may well have already had some songs…”. Songs, that Paolo explains, no-one was going to hear before the band was ready. “After we finished the tour, we told the label we were going to be ready to record in May and we didn’t send any demos to anyone. So they were like “what do you mean you’re ready to record?!” and we were like we’ve got the songs ready. We were going to do the next round of pre-production because we split it in half, six songs and six songs. So the label said “well we’re gonna have to hear something” and our response was “well you’re going to have to watch us rehearse it”.” This created a bit of a delay, with the band fully aware that holding things up for too long would mean no album release this year, but things didn’t stay still for long. “Thankfully they signed off on it and we hit the studio and it was over so quickly, but we had such a great time”.

From there, Matt talked about just how they arrived at the decision of which path to take with The Sin And The Sentence: “We looked back at our favourite Trivium records, what the ingredients were and why they were so great. A common theme was it was just the four of us together in a room with no outside influences, with no….trying to target an audience with specific songs, just us saying let’s just make the kind of music we want to make, as fans of music and as fans of metal. That’s what we did with In Waves, with Shogun and with Ascendancy.” But, what about some of their other, perhaps generally less well received albums? Matt’s thoughts were very honest: “The Crusade was a direct response to Ascendancy and everyone else playing a semi-similar style at the time. With Vengeance (Falls) and Silence (In The Snow) it was agreed upon beforehand with the producer that we would go in malleable and willing to have the songs go in any direction they may, so to have the songs 50% to 70% ready.”

It seems like both the Trivium fans and Trivium the band are the most happy when we can all have everything on one record

Before going any further, given the very mixed reaction to Trivium’s last album Silence In The Snow, I wanted to ask Matt and Paolo if they felt like Silence In The Snow is under appreciated. Matt’s response was pretty direct: “Maybe critically, but when we play the material live no”. Paolo had a collection of views, “when it came out I felt that people were kind of neutral on it, like I didn’t feel a real backlash or that the enthusiasm was over the top. It was slowly, progressively building until we released Until The World Goes Cold which is when I think it really connected. So by the end of the record cycle I felt like we had made something that people really liked but it took a minute for it to catch on.” Matt, having listened to Paolo, then chimed back in – “What’s crazy is that looking back now on Silence In The Snow is that when WE make exactly what WE want to make and we don’t listen to producers, critics, labels, fans, anyone, that’s when we make the most genuinely sounding Trivium things. I feel like Silence In The Snow is one of the best records where you could hand it to them and say this is what Trivium sounds like. And you can do that with In Waves and you can do that with Ascendancy. I think the other ones maybe have a spectrum that go out in other directions where it might be more difficult to explain what Trivium is”.

Given their earlier comments about the involvement of Roadrunner Records (or lack of), the importance of the band only getting outside help with the album this time around when they were ready was key according to both men. “I think it’s when you let someone else into the process, we knew we were gonna need someone like Josh (Wilbur, producer) to really analyse what we did but we knew we needed him to come at a certain point” said Paolo. “It was the same with the label, we love working with the people at Roadrunner because we really trust them and they’ve given us so much room to grow, but we need to let them in when we’re ready to let them in on a final product and that’s a really tough thing. I think we got the right formula of the time we needed by ourselves, when to let a producer in, when to let the label in and it seemed to work really well and we were able to thrive in the writing process.”

Having been given very special access to an early preview copy of The Sin And The Sentence a couple of days before this interview, amongst the many things that stood out was the drumming of Trivium’s latest man behind the kit, Alex Bent. Having discussed the Trivium drummer merry go round with Matt last time out, it was refreshing to be able to tackle the drummer angle from a positive slant, putting it to them that they must have been pleased with Alex’s first recorded performance as part of the band. Matt lights up at the subject: “That’s what we love. As soon as people have heard this record people know. It’s not like “why’d they get this guy”, its “THIS is why they got this guy!”. Finally people can understand and know what we’ve been looking for. We’ve had four studio drummers including Alex. We don’t enjoy doing drummer changes, the UK knows more about our drummer changes than anyone else because we always talk about it! We’ve never wanted to do it but we’ve always had to do it for the survival of the band. I think if it was Matt Heafy and a rotating cast of three “under band” guys everyone would say “alright, we know where the issue is”, it’s the singer…”

Paolo expands further – “I think our biggest problem and our fault was that we weren’t getting someone we knew was going to play the drums like Alex is right away, it was like some of the things will definitely work, some things need to be worked on, if we give it this amount of time it’ll grow into the situation. It’s like you keep repeating the same mistake, you’re gonna keep getting the same result. It’s not the fault of the dudes we played with, it’s us for thinking like they will be able to grow magically into a spot that takes time. Alex, he hit the ground running right away. We hit him up right after our last Orlando show we said, we need 15 songs for the headlining set down and we need to start writing new music”.

Matt knew how serious it was for band to be in this situation one more time; “When we were talking about switching again, we were like “we could severely blow this for real this time”. We were lucky the last several times. So I contacted Mark who is Corey’s best friend and also the guy who engineered The Crusade, he had recommended drummers to us before the last time we were looking for a live drummer. I was like, the first name that comes back, I need you to contact this guy and tell him to send his videos of Rain and Until The World Goes Cold and don’t say Trivium is asking (cue the nervous laughter). And he did it, and Alex nailed it, and we lucked out on a gamble.

Paolo finishes his earlier thoughts with his reaction to just how good Alex’s audition videos were – He sent us, literally the day after Matt sent him an email, he sent us his videos of Rain and Until The World Goes Cold, flawless. “We were like “Whoa”. If this dude can get these songs down that fast, hopefully we can at least get through the tour and fingers crossed we can write some good songs.”

When I suggest that Rain was something of a baptism of fire for any potential Trivium drummer, Matt was keen to heap more praise on Alex, before moving away from the drumming somewhat; “It looked so easy for him too, which is nice. And that’s the tricky thing with Trivium, coming in being a drummer, our catalogue is seven records (before Alex came in), we’ve had things at ten and things at one. We’ve had very simple rock groove things and very fast technical things. We’ve had drummers who can do technical but can’t do simple and some guys who can do simple but can’t do technical. To be here, you have to be able to do everything. It’s the same thing with me, I had to relearn how to scream because we had to have everything. We have to have singing and screaming and fast and slow. It’s just what Trivium is.”

Honing in on something that is key to so many of Trivium’s fans, Paolo explains they’ve realised it’s just as important to them as to everyone else; “Any time we don’t have all of the elements that make Trivium what it is, the screaming, the fast stuff, if we consciously take something away or like last time (with Silence In The Snow) we were in a limbo of “can Matt scream again?” I think Silence In The Snow is a great record but it’s weird because I want all those elements there too. I’m a fan of what we do and I need those things for myself to feel like we’ve made a record that feels like us, and with The Sin And The Sentence it feels like us because all of those things are back on the table and we can bring them into songs when we need them.”

Paolo then offers a different perspective, one relating to a band familiar not only to Trivium, but most of us in the metal community; “I read a good interview with the Metallica dudes they were talking about their new record and James was saying how they were able to feel comfortable in their skin again. Just being what they are”. This seems to be a very good analogy for where Trivium are as a band in this present moment, somewhat ironically on a parallel with their heroes and one of their biggest influences.

Matt, laughing and with good natured humour, comes to the conclusion that maybe we’re all a bit greedy, the band included, thinking aloud that “It seems like both the Trivium fans and Trivium the band are the most happy when we can all have everything on one record”. But then he gets very serious when talking about the importance of this album. “We said if we don’t make the greatest record of our career going into this record then what’s the point? How much longer should this band even be around? Trivium does it’s best when we are 99% to 100% ready and committed with the material before we set foot in the studio. So that’s what we did with The Sin And The Sentence, and we accomplished that, we made the best record of our career.”

The certainty and passion in Matt Heafy’s voice at this point is unmistakable, so I point out to him that he may have just dropped the age old cliché of bands always saying their latest album is the best to much laughter from both Matt and Paolo, but with an appreciation that you can tell that they very much believe what they are saying and it’s not merely lip service to the media. Matt quite rightly points out the traditional metal album cliché’s haven’t always fit their releases – “You definitely couldn’t say heaviest or fastest with our previous two records, those things did not go for sure”.

Trivium does its best when we are 99% to 100% ready and committed with the material before we set foot in the studio

Paolo muses collectively on their previous recorded efforts: “Every record, you go in and you do your best with the situation and I do feel that every record we’ve gone in, we’ve tried, we were at our peak of doing the best we could. A lot of it comes down to knowing what you want to do going into the record. A few times you swing and miss, but you get back up.

Returning to The Sin And The Sentence, Matt is eager to accentuate the positive forced upon them by Silence In The Snow, and the fact that although he couldn’t scream, his singing voice was in excellent shape, putting them in a much better place this time around. “With Sin, talking about this record having everything, it has the widest vocal range I’ve ever used, like in ‘Revanchist’, it has that super high Halfordesque stuff, I never thought I could sing that high or do stuff like that before. Then like the verse in ‘Beauty and the Sorrow’, that’s some of the lowest consistent vocal range I’ve done on a record, that stuff is easy but I’m happy that Josh wanted to accentuate that. I felt like that was a range that wasn’t used enough or at all”.

Getting a little more technical briefly, both men sing the praises of their producer, Josh Wilbur, beginning with Paolo: “You know that’s where Josh was actually really good, is that he knew how to take all of those things and where to focus the main vocals. I think when we talked to him, he was talking about which records that he felt Matt was in the zone on, like right in the sweet spot for his voice. Josh was all about finding that and never putting Matt into a position where it wouldn’t work live”. Matt also commented on little touches Josh would apply. “He would switch high octave to low octave on stuff that we wouldn’t have ever thought to do it on, and it’s so important to have a producer like that who can have opinions on things like switching vocal parts around to say “no this should be the main one”, that makes a big difference”.

With the imminent release of any new album comes new tours, and The Sin And The Sentence is set to be no different, with Trivium actually hitting the road in the US with Arch Enemy and While She Sleeps a few weeks before the release of the album, with the tour concluding at the end of October. With both men being good at interacting with their fans on social media, Twitter in particular, I bring up the “metalcore super tour line ups” that always seem to surface whenever Trivium tours get discussed on those platforms, with dream tours consisting of the likes of Architects, Bury Tomorrow, While She Sleeps, Atreyu and Miss May I alongside Trivium regularly being pulled together. Having taken part in a couple of “super tours” over the years already, it’s something they wouldn’t rule out again in the future. “We’re always up for stuff. We’re never the hitch in making a tour like that happen. We put together The Black Crusade with Machine Head! I look at that line up and I can’t believe we made that” Paolo reminisces with a big grin on his face. “To get five bands that all really at a peak at that moment and to put aside trying to be in the main spot, we made that happen for fans and I love doing that stuff. If there is ever a point where we could make a big super tour like that I would love to. I’m excited to bring While She Sleeps to the States, I think they’re a band that American fans of rock and metal need to hear for sure. There’s some really great stuff coming out of England at the moment”.

Helping the scene is something else it is evident Trivium take very seriously, and are very aware of their musical surroundings, as well as their adopted British roots, which Matt alludes to; “We always want to champion modern bands that are doing things that are fun and interesting. You know we joke about it but it’s kind of real, we feel like we’re more of a British band than an American band. I think most of the bands we tour with are British – Heart Of A Coward, Shvpes, As Lions, While She Sleeps, Bury Tomorrow. It’s really cool that there’s a lot of great stuff coming out of this country and we’re always trying to be on the pulse of everything”.

Bands say they don’t listen to their own records. That’s crazy! You should be making the music you want to hear and want to play and want to listen to for fun!

This attitude is in direct contrast to some rock and metal bands, particularly some of the elder statesmen around. It’s an attitude that just does not compute with Matt: “two things I see a lot of, one, bands say they don’t listen to their own records. That’s crazy! You should be making the music you want to hear and want to play and want to listen to for fun! We all listen to our new record for fun ‘cos we made what we wanted to hear. The other things I hear bands say is I don’t know what’s going on ‘cos I don’t listen to anything new just the classic stuff. You should have your pulse on and you should be pushing what’s happening now. That’s why we love supporting these new bands. We did a festival with Architects and I probably looked like a total idiot, I saw the dressing room and just dropped my bags and ran in to tell them what a big fan I am. I was like guys I love your new record so much and my name is Matt, I love your record see you guys later. I felt like a total idiot, but we’re fans first. That’s really important and I never want to lose that. I always want to tell the bands I love how much I love them. The first time we saw While She Sleeps and were able to meet them, told them we love your record, and that we love watching them and that we’ve got the shirts. It’s important to be fans too. Same thing with Metallica, same thing with In Flames, Amon Amarth, we love these bands”. Paolo chimes in with a tongue in cheek but very relevant point “And we actually listen to them, it’s not lip service. It’s not oh hey you’re the new popular thing, maybe I can latch myself onto you!”. It’s something we can all laugh about, but something Matt says he sees a lot of too.

As our time with this half of Trivium draws towards a close, there is one last topic I want to broach with them; Now releasing their eighth album, how are they finding it to put setlists together? Recent shows have even seen the absence of the legendary Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr dropped, so are there any songs Trivium still regard as “undroppable”? I soon discover that this has been a sore spot, not just with some Trivium fans, but actually with their recent European touring buddies Bury Tomorrow, who were less than impressed that Pull Harder was missing from the setlist.

Matt is the one to fill us in on what Trivium’s mandatory “must play” song is these days, and the answer won’t surprise many – “In Waves is now the must, we just cannot skip that song, ever”. Paolo acknowledges this, while admitting he wants to find a way to shake things up a little; “In my head, I’m thinking of how to do that song but not make it the last song. I feel like in a couple years it’ll get tiring to know that’ll always be the last song. I wanna figure out a way to not always have it there but it is such a perfect ending right now that it’s almost inconceivable to move it”. When I suggest they could go back to opening with it, as they did on the In Waves album tour, both admit that is an option, but are unsure (publicly at least) what would give them a finish as good as In Waves does.

“You know what I loved?” asks Paolo. “On the Maiden tour recently I went and saw them in Fort Lauderdale and they ended with Wasted Years. So we were all waiting for like what’s next, and they never came back! At first I was like “well that’s weird” but then I thought about it and when you’re a band at some point you gotta make the decision. You’re creating the environment, the setlist, the look, you have to take chances like that and I thought it was kinda ballsy. They’re a band in such a crazy position because how do you ever please anyone?”

“Maiden and Metallica” adds Matt. “People will always bitch about their setlists”. “Maybe we’ll surprise people” says Paolo. “Maybe we’ll do In Waves and then do another song straight after”. “We’ll do all eight and a half minutes of The Crusade” Matt says with a big smile on his face.

With an album at their disposal like The Sin And The Sentence, and with the respect Trivium have for the music world around them, both towards their idols such as Metallica and Maiden and their more immediate peers, Trivium will continue to be one of the flag bearers for modern metal. Will this album finally be the one that pushes them to the top of the summit? I wouldn’t bet against it.

The Sin And The Sentence is released tomorrow (20th October 2017) through Roadrunner Records. Pick up a copy here. You can also read Rock Sins’ review of the album right now.

Trivium - The Sin And The Sentence Album Cover Artwork

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