Grammy-nominated Orlando metallers Trivium had a decision to make. Their new album, What the Dead Men Say – a record with strong ties to their home, recorded at Full Sail with Darren Schneider, with photos from lensman Mike Dunn; "We've been showing our Orlando love," laughs frontman Matt Heafy – was set for a late-April release date on Roadrunner Records, and much of the world was in lockdown. Promotional tours were canceled, vinyl was nowhere to be seen, but the band decided to press forward, releasing it as a way to check in on their audience. It was a gambit that paid off.
The songs on What the Dead Men Say, besides bursting with inventive riffs, soaring vocals, and a crunchy, technical aggression, are at times a prophetic listen. New meanings spring from songs like "The Catastrophist," "Sickness Unto You" and the title track when heard in the midst of a global pandemic.
But Trivium are not nihilists or voyeurs taking delight in misery. Indeed, in the world of metal, guitarist-vocalist Matt Heafy stands out for his empathy. Currently home with his family, he's going hard with a daily streaming regimen on his Twitch channel. He keeps the band active with virtual listening parties and broadcasts of old shows and new music videos – he enthuses about the interactivity between band and fans – and he's so eager to help musicians find their way with streaming that he's filming videos for the Twitch help guide and at times directly advising musicians on getting their setup going.
During his chat with Orlando Weekly, Heafy speaks gratefully and repeatedly about a mutual support system with Trivium's fanbase, in which they lift his spirits by responding to the music, and the band, hopefully, offers them support and escape with their songs. And you know what? We believe him.
"This is not angry music for the sake of angry music," emphasizes Heafy. "It's for the sake of catharsis, for getting this out and showing people that this is now their punching bag, this is their shoulder to cry on, this is their therapist's couch, this is whatever they need it to be." We could all use some catharsis right now.
This has to be a strange time to release an album.
My and the band's thoughts were that we needed to give people something that they can have right now, something to enjoy during this time. A source of escape. So, with us taking that risk and saying that we're going to put it out on the original day, our record has been No. 1 on overall iTunes for days now. It got bumped down to second place by a 2008 Mariah Carey record yesterday, but it's back up to No. 1 now. Mariah Carey tweeted about it and had our album next to hers, so I'm happy about that.
Some songs on the album take on new meanings during this pandemic ...
I think there's a time and a place for "everything is OK" music, but it is also a responsibility of music to reflect the dark things, so the creators can get that out of their system. Listeners can find solace in seeing that they're not the only ones thinking or feeling these things and, in turn, also have that relief.
Advice for fellow musicians right now?
I'm seeing a lot of band people saying, "When I build my stream," or "When I get my rig together I'll start," or when this or that happens. Don't think of it that way, just start now. Start with your phone, start with your iPhone camera and your built-in microphone and stream to your fans, let them know you're there. I think right now it's really about needing to get stuff out there for people, but also people needing to get stuff out for themselves. I need to be streaming our music and playing our music for people just as much as people need to be hearing music. And if I weren't able to do that right now, while I'm not able to play shows, I don't know ... I would lose my mind a little bit.
You're an Orlando resident. This is affecting a lot of people and places here ...
My family are huge supporters of local restaurants. We're good friends with the owners of our favorite places, places like Shin, the Strand, Osprey Tavern, Ravenous Pig, Black Bean Deli, P Is for Pie and Buttermilk Bakery. These are places that we'd go to every single week. My wife and I were talking to our friends who own the Strand the other day, and they were saying how much they miss their customers and how they miss being connected to all of us. We feel the same.
I try to do everything I can to keep the word out and support them, but we know that as people here try to support their favorite places, they're also trying to support themselves at the same time. So it is a very difficult cycle.
What's the status of your autumn tour with Megadeth and Lamb of God?
At worst, a tour this size, that Live Nation backs, it just gets lifted and moved over. So our tour will be all right, but bands with tours that are smaller than ours ...
Look, our band is a moderate size. I don't live in a mansion, I don't have fancy cars. I've been able to play the music I love and not have to worry about stuff. Our idea of success in this country has gone wrong.Success should be if you can do what you love for a living, and you don't have to worry about making rent or where your next meal is coming from. That's the best success. Our band is in a good place. But the bands below our size are the ones that I really worry for. I just don't know what's gonna happen to bands like that and their tours.