Trivium front man Matt Heafy grew up in a Marine Corps household. His father, Brian, a sergeant who served from 1982 to 1989, was stationed with Marine Aircraft Group 15 in Iwakuni, Japan, when he met Matt’s mother, a native of Hiroshima.
Born in Iwakuni, a young Matt relocated often with his family, a lifestyle familiar to any associated with life in the armed forces. After wrapping up his enlistment at Camp Pendleton, Brian eventually settled his family in Orlando, Florida, where Matt’s budding love of music began to flourish.
Heafy took some time to chat with Military Times about his upbringing with a Marine father, the impact it had with his approach to music, aggressive music’s place in the military and a lot more.
Trivium kicks off a new North America tour Oct. 3 in Tampa, Florida.
First off — just to get this out of the way — your Twitter location is set to Middle Earth. Is that a “Lord of the Rings” plug?
It is. I am a mega dork, huge Lord of the Rings, huge Harry Potter fan. I can’t wait for the “Lord of the Rings” Amazon series. I think they’re sinking like a billion dollars into it. Every year my wife and I watch all the Harry Potter movies. Loads of nerddom.
Outstanding. OK, back on track. You grew up in a Marine Corps household. How did that impact who you are today?
Massively. When people ask, “What’s your background? What’s your ethnic heritage?” I always say I’m half Marine, half Japanese. My dad raised me with that military discipline and my mom raised me with Japanese discipline. I’m one of the first non-military or non-first responder males from my dad’s side, but no one was ever upset that I didn’t do it. When I fell in love with music, my dad encouraged me to go for it. Looking back, he had such an impact on me with a regimentation of practicing guitar.
In high school I took a job training class, and my dad agreed that I should play the guitar as the assignment, but he would make sure I did the work. I’d have to go home and log my hours of guitar and make my own exercises. And he’d even tell me, “Make sure you stand, too. Don’t just sit. You have to stand and play because it’s a different animal. That way you’re ready to perform live.”
So, I’m sure the instructional stuff he gave me was what he learned from the Marines. And nowadays, I keep a set schedule to my day, which I really like. I love waking up at the same time every day, doing the same things every day. And that absolutely has to be a military thing ingrained from him into my DNA.
You joined Trivium when you were just in eighth grade. What was your life like as a military brat before the band?
I was born in Iwakuni, Japan, lived there for a year, then moved to San Diego for a few years, then Coral Springs, Florida, Arlington Heights, Illinois, and to Orlando, Florida, when I was about 10 or 11.
Before Trivium, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and with moving around a lot, I don’t remember having super close friends. I mean, you would expect me to be a loner because I became one of the only metal kids. I had super long hair, I’d wear Pantera T-shirts and cut-off camo shorts with boots, but no one bullied me or looked at me weird. Thankfully, maybe people gave me a pass once I was in a band.
I picked up guitar around 11 or 12 just because I thought it was the cool thing to do. I tried out for a pop punk band and didn’t make it, because I wasn’t good. I didn’t practice. I didn’t even know what it meant to practice. It was really when I got into Metallica through the “Black Album” that I realized I wanted to play metal. Once my dad saw that I was taking an interest, he started coaching me. He actually managed the band when I joined, and he continued to manage until I was about 25, when he decided to just step back and enjoy it, versus having to be so invested.
Do you think moving around a lot helped prepare you for a life of touring?
Absolutely. Even after the Marine Corps, my dad still had to move us around. He was traveling a lot when I was younger, but I just remember him being around and being supportive. His traveling and our moving, in a way, got me ready for that type of life. My wife and I are actually expecting twins, and you know, I have to get used to that lifestyle on the road, also.
The military obviously has a much more intensive away schedule than I do, but I think ours is sort of second-in-line to that lifestyle, in terms of professions. Having to be away a lot, having to travel. Musicians have it way easier than dudes in the military, but I wish more band guys had the military’s discipline. I’ll meet so many guys from younger bands who just don’t have the focus, who don’t want to practice or try as hard. Fifty percent of bands are wanting to work hard to be the best and the other half are sort of there to party and in the mindset of, “We already made it.”
If we had to go through some kind of boot camp or something (laughs) before we start touring — instilling that discipline would be great.
The military seems to have a strong connection to metal and aggressive music. What is it that makes metal so appealing to that culture?
I’ve always felt like metal is the right fit for service members. It’s similar to when I go to martial arts gyms — or really anyone who goes to a gym experiences this — and there’s almost always really bad pop music playing. It should be metal or hardcore or punk or something aggressive that pumps you up and gets you going.
Luckily, the military seems to get it. I always meet service members who say, “We listened to you guys in Iraq" or "we listened to you guys in Afghanistan.” Maybe the average person who doesn’t understand metal would think, “Why are they listening to aggressive music while they’re doing aggressive things?” But it’s to connect with it. When people can hear something aggressive, that has anger, they can recognize that they’re not the only ones feeling that, and they can find comfort in it. It’s almost like a therapy, like a punching bag. And that’s what our music is for — to make people feel right, whatever they may be going through.
And I may be speaking incorrectly, but I think in both the metal community and in the military, when we first set foot into it, maybe we have our guard up, maybe we’re a little afraid, thinking, “Is anybody else of the same mindset?” And then you start to find people, link together and find your friends and your band of brothers.
Is there a band or record that amps you up right now?
The record that does it for me the most right now is “The Great Collapse” by Fit for an Autopsy. I put that record on every day before I go to Brazilian jiu-jitsu because it makes me so pumped up, like I can take on the world. And what better time and place to do that when you’re going to go grapple and try to choke each other out or break each other’s arms and legs? I’m obviously not going in there and going crazy (laughs). I keep it respectful. But that record gives me chills when I listen to it.
Music can definitely be therapeutic, and it’s hard to find a better example of a song discussing coping with trauma, yet developing the closest bonds you’ll ever form through those meaningful events, than “Endless Night.”
That’s exactly what the song was about and I’m so happy you felt that, because when we were coming up with the song — I actually wrote the music for that song and Paolo [Gregoletto] wrote the lyrics — I was really connected to it and I felt that same thing.
And that’s exactly what that’s there for. It’s experiencing something bad or difficult with family, friends, troops, whatever it may be, and going on with trying to live a normal life while looking back and missing that sense of brotherhood, that tribal connectivity.
I’m so happy that you saw that because we were definitely hoping that servicemen and women could connect to that song in particular.
Are there any bands that have that therapeutic effect on you?
As a kid, hearing Metallica for the first time, getting into Queen, Depeche Mode, Roy Orbison, the Beatles. Those are bands that I just feel it. I love when I can feel the music, that sort of inexplicable thing in your bones and your mind and your skin, when your hairs raise and you get chills. That kind of emotion is so important.
I get that with classical music. We were talking about Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies, and with Harry Potter, when the music pairs just right with what’s happening on screen, that symphonic music gives me that feeling like, “I can’t breathe.” That’s what I love. Even some of my favorite video games have done that. Like in Final Fantasy VII, those dramatic scenes when you’re invested or attached to a character and there’s the perfect score to go along with it. It just makes everything right.
That’s what lets me know that music is for me. I know that our music does that for some people too, and that’s ultimately what we want. At our shows, we have people of all religions, political views, professions and walks of life, but for that entire set, we’re all one. It doesn’t matter what kind of day we had, what we believe in. At that moment, we’re all together. We’re all different, we all love and think different things, but deep down, we all want to be loved and to be happy.
My grandfather, who was also a veteran, always said, “A third of the world is going to love you, a third of the world is going to hate you, and a third of the world’s not gonna give a shit” (laughs). So you just have to find your third. My stance has always been about finding that third that unites us. So, even though we all come from different backgrounds or have different beliefs, let’s enjoy the thing we have together in that moment. Let’s enjoy metal.
To a non-metal fan, hard music can carry a negative stigma. How do you best break through that to make it more appealing to the masses?
It comes down to showing people what it is first. If they’re not a metal or rock fan, show them something that makes sense first. You can’t show them a Cannibal Corpse song first. That’s too much (laughs).
You have to show them something like Metallica or Iron Maiden. If I were to show someone who’s not a metal fan our music, I would show them a song like “Endless Night,” something they can find commonalities with things they enjoy, like melody, beat, lyrics, then give them a little bit more. To use a derogatory term, you sort of have to approach it like finding a gateway drug (laughs).
Being massively into food, I can compare it to that. You have to bring others in with dishes that make sense to them first. If someone has never had Mexican food before, I can’t be like, “Here, try this cow head taco.” You have to take baby steps, like, “Here’s al pastor. Here’s a cut of the shoulder or butt.” And if they like that, you start progressing into something more extreme.
It also comes down to who the person in the band was before the band. There are people in all genres — doesn’t matter if they’re metal, rock, hip hop, pop, punk — who are just bad people. And then there are genuinely good people, and that perception of them can be magnified because of being a musician. So, hopefully, I can always be a good example and be more about what unites us.
You play a ton of covers — songs by Sia, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, etc. Did you grow up listening to that wide of a variety of music? And how did metal eventually take hold?
I think my dad wanted me to discover music on my own. He didn’t really ever push anything on me. As I was getting into metal, he would play me Zeppelin, Boston, Sabbath, Van Halen, the Beatles. Then he took me to my first ever metal show to see Machine Head. He got the VIP loge boxes so I could watch and that really changed my life. It’s the first time you get to feel that dread, like, “Oh man, what’s happening? What’s going on?” And you almost feel scared. To see a band and feel all these different emotions just leaves you feeling awesome afterward.
When I got into Metallica, I thought that was the heaviest thing in the world. And I eventually kept hearing heavier and heavier things, and what I loved was how metal was looked at as extreme by the general population, so I wanted to find out how extreme it could go, so I kept digging. I remember when Napster was around and someone sent me Cannibal Corpse and Cradle of Filth for the first time. That’s when I started understanding classifications and genres — “Here’s black metal, here’s death metal.”
Someone eventually sent me “Jotun” by In Flames, and when I heard that, I thought, “Alright this is melodic and catchy and reminds me of video games but it’s also super heavy and screamy and dark. This is the stuff that I really love." So I started falling in love with melodic death metal, which is a huge component of Trivium. We’re made out of the old metal and old thrash but it’s the Swedish metal scene — bands like In Flames, At the Gates, Dark Tranquility — that really crafted what we are.
Would Trivium ever want to perform on a military installation in the future?
I would love to. I’ve always wanted to be able to play some bases. We’ve always said we want to. We’ve done meet and greets or put people on the guest list anytime we know people who are stationed nearby.
One of my really good friends who just retired from the service would always come out with his buddies to shows in Germany and places like that. We would love to play shows on base, though. We’re 100% in.
Alright, have to let you run so the regimented schedule doesn’t get too disrupted, but thanks so much for taking time to chat (and nerd out).
Alright dude. Semper fi. Thank you very much.