Interview with Trivium drummer Travis Smith

- Jan 09, 2007 at 11:30PM
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Straight out of the Orlando, Florida heat comes the fast-rising Metal band Trivium. In their six years of life as a band, these guys have seriously begun to make a mark within both the underground and mainstream metal scenes. This exposure has not only resulted in rapidly growing popularity for the band, but Trivium are now even playing with the likes of Iron Maiden on major international tours. Trivium’s latest record titled The Crusade was just released this past October and charted extremely well on U.S. and international sales charts. Luckily for us, we caught up with Trivium’s calm and well-spoken drummer Travis Smith for an in-depth chat about all things Trivium.

First of all, how’s the tour with Cellador, Protest The Hero, and The Sword been going so far?
Travis: This whole tour’s been excellent, I mean it’s our first headlining run of North American and Canadian dates and uh, it’s been really good, every night’s been awesome, the fans have been killer and all the other bands have been kicking ass and you know, we really enjoy watching them before we go on and we’re just having a really good time out here, just having fun.

This is your first headlining tour through North America. Now that you’re a main act, is it any different coming back from previous tours?
Travis: Yeah you know, because you roll in and your fans are here, you know what I mean, you’re not with another band’s fans which is not a bad thing because I mean, you can get out there and gain more fans. We like, we don’t mind doing opening shows, we really like to headline because we do get to call the shots, we do get to bring the production that we want to do and all that thing, but it’s all about having a good time and we have a good time as long as we’re playing and people are enjoying it. You know, it’s always fun for us, we just like to get up there and play.

It was rumored that last time you guys came through North America with Children of Bodom and Amon Amarth, the fans gave you a less than perfect welcome just because it was Children of Bodom’s headlining tour. Is that true and how are the fans reacting this time around?
Travis: Um, there was a few nights where there was some heckling going on, but you know that comes with the territory of opening up for a band you know, you’re going to get fans of whatever band you’re opening up for who may not like you. So that just comes with it and we’ve just learned how to deal with those fucking guys and you know, the art of heckling has never made sense to me whatsoever, because you know, um, I guess people feel like they have to say something just because they’re jackasses or something, but I never understood it because dude, we'll go outside have a smoke or go to the bar and get a couple of shots and fuck it man, if you don’t like a band cool, go do something else. But yeah, the whole heckling thing, whatever, people do it, I’ll never understand it, but we’ve learned how to deal with it.

I guess that’s not the case this time around.
Travis: No not at all man, everyone, it’s all good spirits. I think we have some of the coolest fans in the world that are very accepting to the bands that we bring out and tour with and, you know, very supportive of us, so our fans are fucking cool as shit.

The word trivium is a Latin word which stands for the intersection of three schools or learning, grammar, rhetoric and knowledge. Why did you choose this name? Do you see your music as an interaction of three different styles?
Travis: Yeah that’s what it all boils down to is being you know, different influences that we have from all four of us, but the name came about from our original singer, he had the name and we gave him the boot and we liked the name so we just kept it and we rode with it. We just liked it, so we just went with it and it does relate to the different styles we have, between you know, thrash metal and some rock stuff and just all over the place, we get influences from a lot of different styles of music, not just metal. And I think you know as a musician, you should and not limit yourself to one genre of music because you can get really cool ideas from different styles of music and it really opens up your mind as a songwriter and a musician.

And there’s no bad blood from the former lead singer because of the fact that he created the name?
Travis: You know what, I don’t think so, I honestly don’t really know because we gave him the boot and I haven’t seen him since. I mean, I was already going to college and doing something like that I don’t know, I don’t know what he’s up to.

The band has been around for about six years now and the lineup has gone through many changes. How did you and the current lineup end up meeting? Was it individually? All at once?
Travis: It was definitely individually. Me and the original singer started this thing in my house and we needed another guitar player, we had drums, guitar, vocals and a bass player and it was like, if this is going to be a real metal band we need another guitar player. So the original singer knew Matt, and Matt came over and auditioned for the band and I liked him a a lot so he joined the band and then I think it was only a few weeks that the original singer was in the band before we were like “you gotta go.” And so, we let him go and then it was like, ok now we got a guitar player, bass player, drummer and no vocals and then I put Matt on vocals. And he took it pretty far, he’s dedicated to trying to learn, he was a little scared about it at first because he was like “I’m not a singer” and I was like “well you will be.” So then it was like, ok we’re back in the boat with guitar, singer, bass and drums and now we gotta find a new guitar player. I got this friend of mine that I’ve grown up with and we brought him into the band and he was actually a rhythm guitar player before he went to bass guitar and we got rid of our bass guitarist because he just didn’t work out. We got along with him and all that, but it was like, when it came down to going out and playing live, he would never learn the parts of the songs, he would like literally turn his amp all the way down and fake it and think that we wouldn’t notice but we noticed and we were like what the fuck is going on, you gotta go. So now we got two guitar players and a drummer and Brent was like, fuck it, I’ll go to bass so we stayed a three piece for a long time because it just wasn’t working out, the whole four piece thing just wasn’t working out. And then Cory was going to school down in Florida and he was like a fan of us and we did some stuff at his school a couple of times, live recording stuff and he would come out and check it out. And uh, then we’re like, we need to get another fucking guitar player. We recorded among the three of us and had all these harmonies and all this guitar stuff going on, but we thought we needed another guitar player to be able to pull this off so Cory came into the picture. And then Brent ended up parting his ways with us because, just personal life and that’s when Paul came in, but we met Paul previously, we did some shows with the band that he was in, we did a couple of shows together and then he heard we were looking for a bass player and then, yeah there you go.

In your earlier days, you guys sold originally with the German label Lifeforce Records and eventually produced Ember To Inferno with them. How did you end up getting picked up by Roadrunner and what was this switch like for you musically?
Travis: Well I think our music happened to land in their lap one day and they gave us a ring, we were all at Matt’s house because that was like the hang out place, play video games, drink beer, whatever you know, we’d just chill. So we were all there and we get this phone call and it was Roadrunner and we were like holy fuck, what’s going on. And we were up in New York, the “Like Light To The Flies” video we went up there and did it ourselves to save some money and they caught wind of that and knew we were up there so they invited us to the offices and we went and had a meeting with them. And they were kind of like, yeah “we’ll see what happens, we’re interested but we’re going to give you guys some time” and we were like alright that’s cool, you know, we were hoping something would come of it, but it kind of didn’t sound like it, it kind of did but it was like what is this whole waiting thing going on? And then the next week they’re like well “we really want to do a deal” so it was like yes!!! So it was like, yeah we just moved on and musically it didn’t really change us much, Trivium does what Trivium wants to do musically, there’s no one that tells us what to write or how to write or what we need, if we need a radio hit or whatever. I mean, we write what we feel, the music just comes from us so musically it didn’t really affect us besides getting us out to the masses you know, Lifeforce just didn’t have the capability of pushing us the way we thought we needed to be pushed and so, that was the big change, gaining exposure world wide, that was a real big change.

You guys did a cover of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” for the recent Kerrang! Metallica tribute. Having sighted Metallica as one of your biggest influences, how did that whole opportunity make you feel and why did you choose the song that you did?
Travis: Well um, we didn’t do “Master of Puppets” for a long time; that was one of those songs that we learned basically to try to learn how to write good music. That’s how... we would do a bunch of covers when we first started out, Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Slayer, whatever. And we’d do these covers and just to try to get the vibe for how to write good music or what we thought was good music at least. And so we were doing that song for a while and then the opportunity came up and we’re like, well holy crap you know, this is going to be cool, we get to do a tribute to Metallica, that’d be awesome. We didn’t really know how big it was going to be. And so, we got the call at the last minute, we got the call when we were suppose to be flying over to Europe in like two days to go do all the summer tours over there. And we were like, well we gotta do this because it’s a huge honour for us to do it and you know, we love them so much. So we just jumped in the studio real quick, we’d have the album playing in the control room because we tried to make it exactly like the album. It’s already good, there’s nothing you can really do to make it better, it’s already bad ass, so we thought let’s try to do it some justice by doing it like the album version. We all knew the song so it wasn’t like we had to learn the song, we just went in there and jammed it out in the studio and just tried to make it like the album version. And then the next thing you know, we go to Europe and we’re doing shows with Metallica and they’re coming into our dressing room to tell us they heard it and how they thought we did a really good job of the song, it was just a huge, huge honour for us to be able to do it and now how far it’s gone, it’s huge, it went pretty big. It was weird because we knew Kerrang! sells a shit load of magazines every week and it’s like, you know, we know it’s going to be big but not as big as it turned out to be.

Yeah, big enough to the point where you guys are, I believe, re-releasing Ascendancy with “Master of Puppets” on it as a bonus?
Travis: Yeah, I mean and the album went gold, so once I heard that I was like wow man. Metallica’s heard it and so has a shit load of other people, good thing that we put the time in that we had even though it was little time to try to, you know make it the best that we could. We thought it sounded really cool, a lot of friends back home, we’d play it for them and it was kind of cool seeing their reaction because like, at first they didn’t even realize it was us, they thought that I put in the Master of Puppets album and that’s when I was like, yes, we did what we were trying to do.

The brand new album The Crusade has just recently come out. Now that it has come out after months of working on it, how do you personally feel about this record, how it stands up to your past work?
Travis: Well it was like we did Ascendancy and you know, going around and doing the press for Ascendancy, a lot of people were like well how are you going to top this album and I always told them, don’t worry we will, because for one, we’re growing as players and songwriters together and I think that’s the benefit that we have of being younger, that we have room to grow and expand. And so, I always knew we’d be able to do something better, and I personally, well speaking for the band right now, we feel that it is better than Ascendancy. And it’s us where we are now, Ascendancy was two and a half years ago; here we are now and this is where we’re at and I feel that it’s better. I feel the songwriting is better, I feel the playing is better, it’s just more advanced Trivium, that’s what we said we were going to do and I think we’ve achieved it and we’re sticking to our words and what we say in the press or wherever else. We write stuff that we would want to hear and that’s it, that’s the bottom line and I think that’s what makes good records.

Being a younger band and the fact that you’re going to evolve over time, do you think you’re going to have a more noticeable evolution with each disc that comes out? You just said that this new album is you now; the next album will be you in two years. Other bands will pop out a disc and it will be similar or the same as what they’ve done before....
Travis: Trivium I doubt will do that because it’s very boring. I think bands should evolve; it’s what keeps you on your toes, keeps it interesting. Who wants to put out the same disc every time, that’s boring, you already did that, you know, try something new. So you know, it’s not like we’re going to go from The Crusade to a hip hop album, nothing like that, nothing that crazy or drastic, but yeah we’re going to evolve. Of course, it’s going to have differences in between albums and they should, that’s just too boring.

What about all the naysayers who might be disappointed by the fact that the album sounds too different?
Travis: Sorry, see you later... [laughs]

What was the writing and recording process like for The Crusade? Was it drastically different from the last time you guys did it since you are evolving as a band?
Travis: Way different, way, way different. You know on Ascendancy, we got to be like in a jam room and sit there and jam. The Crusade was basically written on the road, in tour buses and backstage before concerts and stuff like that and you know us passing demos back and forth between us. So it was a new experience for all of us, we had never written a record like that and it was interesting, I mean it was a little stressful at first because it being a new way of writing music that we had never experienced before and not knowing how well it was going to work out, and time crunching and shows, just trying to do all this shit at one time. It was a little nerve racking, but once we had a week before we actually started tracking, you know, all of us were familiar with all the music through passing the demos back and forth so we had this week right before where we got together in a room and basically jammed it out. We worked out the kinks between stuff that we didn’t like between the songs and all that stuff so it worked out really well and it saved a lot of time. Instead of us going home and sitting on our asses for a month or two trying to write a record, we got it done on the road and we got to go home, straight to the studio and have a little bit of down time then right back out on the road, this is where we belong, I like to tour, I like to play shows. So I mean, writing records is fun and it’s cool, but I like the benefits of getting out and playing it live.

Did you guys self-produce The Crusade or did you use someone for production? If so who and how did it go?
Travis: Um, we used Jason Sukov, he co-produced it with the four of us. We really got in on this one, we were really picky about how we wanted this one, we wanted this one to be us, we had a lot of say in what we were going to do. From the sounds on the album to whatever, we were all in it and all about it. Um, it was a good experience, I mean every record we’ve done has been a good experience, it’s fun to do, I really like it, you know you’re living in a house and you start out and you’re not too sure about how it’s going to come out. You have this thing in your head and everyone has kind of their own vision of it, I don’t know, I like the whole process of it, seeing the whole process of building the songs and it’s really cool.

I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this question, but I noticed the vocals on The Crusade are much different from Ascendancy, they are almost less harsh. Is there a reason why this decision was made to change up the style of the vocals?
Travis: Yeah, well for one, we’re sick of screaming, for two, everyone else in the world was doing it.... You know, it’s just, the whole screaming thing came about because of you know me getting thrown out on vocals, not really being a singer, it takes some time to develop that. It’s not like it happens over night, people don’t just wake up and sing. So basically it was a way for him to be a vocalist and for it to work, I mean, singing is way more difficult than getting up there and screaming. So it just took that time, you know like I said, we’re all evolving and that’s what we like, that’s what we enjoy. It’s what we’ve always wanted to do, but the vocals just weren’t there yet, they just weren’t developed fully enough. Now that they are, you don’t want to put that on the back burner, you want to use this new tool that you have. We really like it a lot better and we’ve gotten some really good reactions from the fans, you know we got some of that you’re selling out bullshit or whatever. Cool, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions but for everyone who doesn’t like it, for one guy who doesn’t like it, there’s twenty that do, you know, do the math.

Like you said before, it’s all part of the change and maturing as musicians…
Travis: Exactly and like I said, we got this new tool and we want to use it. I personally think it makes everything sound a bit heavier because it gives everything a better dynamic instead of just like, this thing brutally pounding all the time. We get better dynamics out of it now and we like that a lot better, it just makes other parts of the music pop out more.

So I guess on future Trivium albums we can assume that there will be more singing?
Travis: Yeah, totally, for sure.

You guys are going to be opening for Iron Maiden in Europe. It must be a crazy privilege for you, what does it feel like?
Travis: It’s pretty cool man, I’m still keeping that one kind of like, tucked down inside of me because you know, I get really excited by that kind of shit, I start kind of freaking out. I take life day by day, I don’t really try to look too far ahead and I definitely don’t ever look back. So it’s like, I know it’s coming, it’s building up and it’s building up and it’s going to be amazing and they’re a huge influence on us as well, I think you can hear the Maiden influence in our music. It’s an honour to be asked to go out and do two months with Maiden I mean, shit, I don’t know anybody that’s been asked that. It’s really cool and we’re really fortunate to get the respect from the older bands like we do. We’re getting respect from our influences and what else can you ask for. That’s killer besides you know the killer fans we have. To grow up listening to Metallica, Maiden and Pantera and all these people and next thing you know you’re on the road with them and becoming friends with them. It’s really strange when you really start to think about it, because you know, you’re still fans at the end of the day, you know, and it’s kind of like, some of our fans with us, they meet us and they’re kind of like holy shit, you’re real, you’re not just on TV, you’re not just in this stereo, you’re actually real. It’s the same for us, because we’re fans as well so it’s going to be a hell of an experience.

Picking up many new fans too I’m betting?
Travis: Dude, we’re going to be in front of so many new people as well as our old fans, it’s going to be really cool to get a chance to get more fans and to be able to learn, I mean Maiden’s live performances are off the hook, they’re full of energy, it’s exciting. That’s how we try to do it as well, keep the show really exciting and full of energy and keep the fans’ energy going. And it’s going to be cool being on the road and learning new tricks from them and maybe stuff that we haven’t thought about. So it’s going to be a really cool experience all around.

You guys in your six years have toured with so many bands, many of which are world renowned. If you had no limits on money, resources, etc, what would your ideal tour be and who would play with you?
Travis: It would be a full stadium tour because bigger is better. And it would be all of our bands that we like; it would be a fucking full blown bad-ass metal show with Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Slayer.... All the people that we grew up listening to, it would be this massive, massive thing, almost a festival, just like with the gods of metal. Probably stadiums wouldn’t even be able to hold it, it would have to be something like some thousand acre lot or something and just pile everyone on it and go to town.
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