All of us at Epiphone are pleased to welcome Trivium's Matt Heafy to the distinguished group of artists who have been honored with exclusive limited edition signature models including Slash, Frank Iero, Joe Bonamassa, Robb Flynn, Zakk Wylde, Dwight Yoakam, John Lennon, and B.B. King.
Trivium's records have sold over a million copies worldwide. Check out a Trivium performance and you'll see why. When Heafy plugs in, exciting things happen. And they've been happening since high school, when he met the other members of Trivium for the first time.
Epiphone spoke with Matt about his new signature Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Matt Heafy Les Paul Custom and the Ltd. Ed. Matt Heafy Les Paul Custom-7 seven-string, as well as playing tips, how to prepare for the studio, and some surprise inspirations.
Thanks so much for speaking with us Matt and congratulations on your signature guitars. Take us through the phone call when you first learned that you were getting your signature model. What went through your head when you started to design your own guitar?
It was the first or second appearance for me at the Frankfurt Musik Messe in Germany where I was able to meet (Epiphone President) Jim Rosenberg at Epiphone guitars. Jim had been aware of my life-long love for Gibson and Epiphone guitars when we were first introduced, and throughout the course of the day, I was eventually told that Epiphone wanted to make a signature Matthew Heafy guitar.
Needless to say, I was blown away. An important goal of mine when I used to brainstorm a signature guitar was to create an instrument that would be able to not only meet my demands on stage and in studio, but, very importantly, be affordable for people who appreciate the music I make. The fact that Epiphone was completely keen on this difficult duality of a task made this monumental occasion all the better. Together, Epiphone and I have been honing the perfect instrument, and I feel we finally have it!
You've mentioned in interviews that saxophone was your first instrument. How did you get to guitar?
Initially, I picked up guitar at around 11 years old. For all boys, picking up guitar--I think--is a right-of-passage into an attempt of "becoming cool." My dad always played guitar, and he was certainly one I wanted to emulate in the ability to be a well-versed guitarist. I got what little chops I had together and tried out for my first band, a pop-punk band.
Living in Orlando, Florida and not having been introduced to metal yet, pop-punk and ska was all I knew of music. My abilities were hardly able to be considered abilities. Trying out for my first band, I wasn't let into the band. Discouraged and wanting to find something new, a classmate lent me The Black Album by Metallica. Metallica's self-titled album was my very first introduction to metal, and from that initial experience, I knew that that was the style of music for me. Practice regimens would last anywhere from 1 to 6-8 hours a day. I'd lock myself up in my room and practice and learn as much music as I could. Performing "No Leaf Clover" at my eight-grade talent show with a drummer-classmate of mine landed me a tryout gig for a local high school band, which was Trivium. The rest is history.
For players who aren't familiar with using a 7-string, how did you get started on a 7-string?
With guitarists, we're always looking for other sources of inspiration to potentially tap into a new sound or vibe or feeling; sometimes that source can be a piece or gear, a new technique, and sometimes it's an extra string. Through being a very big fan of John Petrucci's playing in Dream Theater and Ihsahn's playing on the final Emperor album Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise, I became inspired to try out this guitar "with an extra string." Immediately upon jamming on it, I found myself writing music unlike anything I would have previously thought to explore. I hadn't completely exhausted every option of playability on a six string - but in my head I did. It was time for a change.
With Trivium's third album, The Crusade, one could instantly see that the seventh string had opened up a whole new vocabulary of instrumentation unseen with previous albums. When time came for Shogun, the members of Trivium had all made themselves entirely acquainted with the seven-string. It isn't for everyone, but it is for those who want to attempt to find new dimensions of sound in their playing.
What tips do you have for players just starting out?
Anything you've ever heard or seen another instrumentalist do on another instrument (in this case, the guitar), you can do. Anything that's been done can be done again with practice and a good work ethic. I find it of the utmost importance to have a set practice rig in a location that won't disturb what you're trying to further.
Obviously, if you're just jamming to have fun and not really furthering your abilities, you can play anywhere--on the couch while watching TV or whatever. But it you want to step up your playing and begin to take everything a little more seriously, it's all about discipline. Have a practice rig that allows you to really hear every note you're playing, be away from distractions, have proper seating or standing posture, and take everything slowly and with a metronome.
I learned early on from John Petrucci's Rock Discipline instructional VHS that a metronome is one of the most important things in an instrumentalist's practicing. Decide what you're trying to better. Imagine all your strengths and weaknesses and find exercises or create exercises that can help strengthen your weaknesses. And take those exercises, riffs, or songs, slowly on the metronome. Perfect the music at a slow tempo and work your way higher and gradually higher until you have it at the speed you are targeting. Guitar is like playing a sport or like body-building: you have to target aspects you plan on bettering, and gradually strengthen the separate, numerous aspects of your playing.
What informs your choice between using a 6-string or 7-string? Whim--gut feeling--or is it more scientific?
I feel it maybe used to be more scientific: vocal range, key, wider range of musical notes' availabilities. Nowadays, I find it best to be completely on whim or gut feeling. When sitting with either 6 or 7-string, I will create entirely different riffs and feelings than I would on the opposite guitar. With Trivium's upcoming album, I knew it would be 6-string; with my side project Mrityu, I knew it would rely heavily on 7-strings for the ability to craft far more technical riffs. I find when one plays a 7-string and is up-to-speed with speed, the 7-string typically makes them play more technical riffs. Once you know your way around either string selection for a guitar, you know inherently what would sound better on what kind of guitar.
I imagine you'll be taking your new Custom guitars into the studio. How do you get ready for your recording sessions?
Having just completed about 8 months with the second round of MKH Prototype Epiphone Les Paul Customs (6 and 7 string) on the road (out of a 16-month long album cycle world tour), I know these bad-boys can stand up to the test of what I'll demand out of them. I will be bringing both versions into the studio with me in Austin, TX where we will be tracking the 6th Trivium album.
For these sessions, we have been writing roughly for a year, cycling and revising through 25-30 songs and whittling them down to the strongest 15-18 or so songs. I've been rehearsing with our impeccably produced demos (engineered by our bassist, mastermind of Apple Logic, Paolo Gregoletto) both on guitars and vocals. I also find myself intentionally listening to the songs non-stop while at the gym or driving to properly ingrain the music into my head. Outside of rehearsing with the material, I am making sure I keep my chops up on rhythm, lead, songwriting, and improvisation for the guitar, and trying to sing as much as I can to ensure my vocals are nice and strong for the recording.
How prepared is Trivium with arrangements before going in for a session? How much arranging do you do as a group?
When we crafted the 25-30 songs into the 15-18 best tracks for this upcoming album, there was constant work going into the music. We are very hard on each other for demanding the greatest possible songs for all our records, and that means at some points constant re-writing and revising until it just feels right.
Typically nowadays, 1 of the 3 guitarists (bassist Paolo plays guitar and writes on guitar as well) will come up with most of, or an entirely completed song in Apple Logic demo-form for presentation to the group. From here, if the non-specific-song-writing guitarists hear changes that need to happen, we will begin working that demo to what we all agree upon as perfect. The arranging process as a group varies from song to song, but we certainly spend our time writing. We have been working this material (anywhere from a day to seven days a week) on the road for the last year while on tour.
How has the dynamic in the studio changed over the years? For instance, some bands get more deliberate in the studio with lots of overdubs. Others get loose. What seems to work with you? Do you all manage to stay in-sync most of the time?
With each album, I feel our songwriting gets better. I think of songwriting like I do with guitar-practice: the more songs you write, the better you get at it. Not everyone is a songwriter who is a guitarist, and not everyone who is classically trained or who is a shredder can write a song.
I've learned with songwriting, the worst time to write is when you have the goal to write a song. My best material for this album (and quite possibly all the past albums) has always been when I'm rehearsing or practicing, and then randomly a riff or a series of riffs presents itself. At times I'll even get a vocal hook randomly in my head (the chorus to "Throes Of Perdition" randomly came to me while waiting for my bags at the Orlando International Airport) and I'll quickly jot it down or bust out my Voice Memo Recorder on my iPhone and record myself humming or singing it to revisit it later (and be sure I don't forget it).
With us, we make an entirely conscious effort nowadays to only write what we know we can play and sing live. We use no click tracks, backing tracks, backing musicians, or any other aids in our live show; so anything we do on a record (even when stacking and over-dubbing and thickening), we want to be sure that when playing with just the four musicians of Trivium that it would stand up on it's own.
For younger players who record in their homes, basements, living rooms etc., could you please give a few tips about finding your tone and making sure that what you’re hearing in a room gets recorded that way? Is there any particular kind of mic (dynamic, ribbon, condenser, direct) that you like to use?
For younger players, I always want to instill the fact that when playing at home and when demoing: you do not need a full stack and a blinking refrigerator of processors! If you're working up your chops to play like your favorites, get the kind of practice rig that allows you to really hear what you're playing, not mask it.
My practice rig on tour and at home is the same; a Roland Micro Cube, a classical guitar footstool, a guitar stand (so I'm not fumbling around setting my axe against a wall), a drum throne (to allow me to sit with good posture), and a metronome. I play everything on low-gain to really focus in on what I'm doing. Live, in-studio, and in-rehearsal, I have very little gain. You want to hear what the player is playing, not what your distortion sounds like.
For demoing, in Trivium we use Apple Logic with the Line 6 amp modelers active. For Mrityu demos, I use the built-in Logic guitar tones and I run into my computer using an Apogee Duet. I craft the tone to taste. If you're to be in a legit studio situation for a demo that could be getting you signed, or for a record and you're in a signed band, I say try as much gear as possible. We try to get our hands on as many original Peavey 5150's and 5150 variations as possible with as many cab and guitar variations as possible to really narrow in on what you're looking for. I say make subtle changes in tone and EQ and gain to find what you're looking for. Maybe set everything 50% or 0 and work in small increments and combinations till you find what's right. And for everyone's sake: don't just turn everything to ten (or eleven).
Live, Trivium uses Fractal Ultra I's plugged directly into the P.A. I find that the less between my hands and the listeners' ears, the better. With the studio however, we'd never use digital amps for a real record; but for demoing, I find it better to not be fumbling around with gear and go minimal.
Are there any surprising turns in this upcoming album we can look forward to?
It is very difficult to say without showing the music, but I can say that this upcoming album contains everything great we've ever done across all five previous albums in one.
Earlier this year you performed solo acoustic for the first time. How was that and do you see performing that way in the future?
Amazingly, I was bone-shatteringly nervous for the first and before the second acoustic performance. I never get nervous for Trivium shows, having done so many, but having done so few of the acoustic performances, I think I just found myself back to square-one on the confidence level for performing live in that situation. Thankfully, everything went as great as it should have (mess ups included (charming mess-ups thankfully)) and in retrospect, I truly enjoyed and enjoy the medium of solo acoustic performing. Both acoustic performances were done entirely for charities, the NYC Moscot Eyewear show was for Moscot Mobileyes Foundation, and the Gothenburg 2112 Restaurant performance was for Cancer Fonden Sweden.
I will be doing as many of these as possible, and for the time-being, these will be completely either for charity, creating awareness for a cause close to me, or creating public notice for local businesses that I support.