Matt Heafy talks What the Dead Men Say, streaming and his extensive guitar collection

Trivium’s axe-man also reveals some details about his upcoming signature models.

Matt Heafy

Gina Wetzler / Getty

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Trivium guitarist and singer Matt Heafy was only 17 when the band recorded their debut studio LP, From Ember To Inferno. Since then, he’s been busy evolving Trivium’s sound whilst staying true to their roots in metalcore, melodeath and thrash – as well as building up an impressive collection of gear.

He’s been especially busy recently, writing and recording Trivium’s latest LP, What The Dead Men Say. This has been a closely kept secret, even from fans who watch Matt daily on Twitch, where he takes song requests and streams video games. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s seen many musicians take a similar approach to fan interaction.

Where live shows have been cancelled, they’ve been replaced by live streams. In our interview we talk to Matt about Trivium’s isolated writing process for their new record, streaming as a musician and his collection of guitars and gear.

What felt new about writing this record?

I feel like with this record, we took the same ethos that we did on some of our favourite records, like Ascendency, In Waves or The Sin And The Sentence, and allowed anything to happen that made us feel right when creating the music. We didn’t step into this record and write the songs while thinking, “Are people gonna like this?”

When we were going into The Sin And The Sentence, we were looking at what we did in the beginning, that made things feel more “Trivium” than “Not Trivium”. And that thing is just making what we believe in first and not thinking about “are people going to like this?”, and allowing the music to be created with have the four of us in a room together: making, playing, singing, streaming the kind of music that makes us feel right, and makes us feel like Trivium.

We also pieced it together completely silently, because no one knew we’re making a record. And we felt that it was important to present this record in the opposite way that we feel everyone else is presenting things. There are so many better ways to create anticipation, and how would we want to see a record presented to us if we were fans of a record, and that’s why we made this one quietly.

No one knew even while I was streaming five days a week, six hours a day – I’d go to the studio at night on those days that’d be streaming in the morning, streaming to Trivium fans on Twitch, still allowing that mystique to be there for selective things, so it can still be exciting when it comes out.

Can you talk about the gear you used on What the Dead Men Say?

This record, Sin, Silence and Vengeance were done with my MKH Epiphones. This album I swapped in Fishman Fluence modern pickups into them – so I used three of my MKH Epiphones, because we had three tunings on this record: drop flat seven-string tuning, standard flat seven-string tuning and drop flat six-string tuning.

There were Fishman Fluence Moderns and Evertune bridges in everything, Dunlop 10 to 53 strings, my MKH signature Jazz 3 pick, and the Gruv Gear fret-wrap. That’s basically the entire structure of every rhythm guitar track.

In terms of amplifiers, the head we use on this record for the rhythm tracks, surprisingly, was a Peavey Triple X II, which is one you don’t hear talked about much. That had an Ibanez TS9 in front of it, with an ISP Decimator for the noise gate. The only other time we ever used a Triple X was actually on From Ember To Inferno, we used a Triple X I.

Matt Heafy’s Richter Dual Strap balances the weight of a guitar across both shoulders. Image: Gina Wetzler / Getty

And also, if you want to be super into super nitty-gritty details, my Richter Dual Strap which I’m in love with. I love the fact that strap made guitar players freak out and they got really mad at it, but they probably bought one anyway. Because the guitar strap has always been 100 per cent of the weight on one shoulder. And I think that 60/40 difference really helps. I feel like every guitar player’s left shoulder is pretty shot.

It seems you’re fond of the classic combination of a TubeScreamer into a 5150 – do you have a favourite TS-style overdrive right now?

In terms of the front runners – the Airis TS preamp is one of the greatest things I’ve ever used. It’s essentially a clean boost. The main setting I see a Tube Screamer used at is volume at 100, gain at zero and tone to taste. That’s just a preamp, so Airis’ TS Preamp has a low, a high and a volume – no gain whatsoever. So it’s that mid boost clean thing. That thing has been insane in front of my Block Letter 5150, alongside the MXR EQ with a few cuts to make it sound like something specific.

The Horizon Devices Precision Drive is also incredible. That one I’ve been using the EQ in front of as well. And Horizon just sent me one of their preamps, which I’m really excited to test out because that one has low, mid, high, gain and volume.

The other front runners… Maxon is obviously one of the best, I’m kind of reestablishing my Maxon collection. I just had an OD-9 in the house and Corey let me borrow his OD 808 X, which is freaking fantastic. But again, we’re usually setting the gain at zero anyway. So it’s using that clean boost preamp style. The 5150 Block Letter I think is the greatest head in the world, that thing without a boost or overdrive in front of it doesn’t sound right. But as soon as you put that in, it’s the best thing.

What gear do you use at home?

At home my current rig is the Peavey Block Letter 5150 into a Box of Doom with a redback 150 watt. The box of doom’s pretty sick, it’s a road-case/iso-box combo. I’ve been alternating between an MXR EQ into the Horizon Precision Drive or an Aeris Preamp. Preamp.

I’ve been super into gear lately, super into bringing back true cabs and microphones to my streaming setup. I’m currently collecting every version of the Peavey 5150, right now I have two on the way. My Block Letter, I bought it used from an amp shop that had just re-tuned it. And that amp is the best amp I’ve ever used in my entire life.

There’s now a renewed interest in live-streamed music – which you’ve been doing for a long time. Can you talk about the streaming you’ve done on Twitch, and how musicians might get into that?

Twitch is one that is community driven. It’s one that is consistency driven. So it’s a matter of you building the schedule that’s right for you. So that way your community can come over there. And any band guy coming over there is gonna have a one-up on Twitch which is that they already have a fanbase. And that’s one of the hardest things when starting on Twitch is creating a fanbase out of nowhere when you’re a gamer jumping in for the first time, or your musician who doesn’t have a band, jumping in for the first time. So consistency is key.

If you’re going to gradually build your rig up, that’s fine – I’ve been helping Jared Dines build his rig, Alex, my drummer, build his rig. And they’re building pretty awesome stream rigs. Mine is very intensive, yours doesn’t have to be as intensive. If it’s you streaming your band at practice – awesome. Do it. It’s very important that bands do that. Because while we can’t have shows, we need to be able to entertain people. And while you can never really simulate being in the crowd, you can absolutely do the next best thing which is bringing a live show to the comfort of your own home, especially while cut off from many things we like to do. So I encourage everyone to try.

Starting a Twitch channel and having it be successful is as difficult as being a band that’s able to draw people to shows, but it is possible. You just have to put the work in, and want to build a community, and want to be connected and engage. And that’s why like my home streams do so well, because it’s me taking requests from subscribers and having a good time with it, talking and chatting them, getting to know the fans. And I love that so much. That next layer in, of getting to know the people that have been supporting my band for anywhere from a day to 21 years. It’s really cool to be able to do that.

Is there anything exciting happening with your signature models?

We just discontinued all my Epiphones, and we’re working on new prototypes now that we’re going to launch hopefully by the end of the year for new black series and called the Origin Series, and it’s going to look at the original Les Paul’s that I used that when people first ever saw us on the Ascendency tour.

For the seven-strings we’ve actually increased the scale-length a little bit to 25 and a half inches, with the six-strings being 24 and three quarters. I’m also releasing an S-type at Kramer and eventually down the line an eight-string Steinberger.

Can you talk about your collection of guitars?

I’ve got all my Les Paul Customs that I’ve had my whole life. I’ve got a signed Kirk Hammett guitar that was given to me by a Trivium fan – I had Metallica sign the whole thing. I’ve got my John Petrucci seven-string which I recorded all of Crusade, I’ve got an Ibanez Apex given to me by Korn, because I gave Monkey, Head and Jonathan one of my guitars each.

Aristides is one of my favourite brands on the planet, I have three 080s, an 070s, an 060s, an 070 and an 060. Fantastic guitars made in Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I own one Kiesel headless multiscale eight-string Vader that Jack Kiesel built for me. I’ve been talking for years about wanting a headless eoight-string. I’ve got a Petrucci 6-string that Petrucci gave to me when we toured with Dream Theater, a Gibson SJ-300, SJ-200 and an SJ-100 and a Yamaha classical.

I’ve also got a TWSmith Explorer 7, from a small guitar builder out of Jersey who built me a guitar that I called “The Axe of Mordor” – it looks like Hetfield’s Ken Lawrence, but way cooler in my opinion.

So I’ve got quite a bit… I think it’s about 20. Corey however has about 80 guitars, so I don’t know how he ever re-strings them.

What the Dead Men Say is out on 24 April.

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