Matt Heafy of Trivium has teamed up with Remnant 2 and Gearbox Publishing to release not one but two tracks to complement the game’s The Awakened King expansion, the first of which is Wielder of the Plague, which is available to stream now. I sat down for a chat with Matt about the writing process, his work with Trivium, and his future plans to compose for multiple new games and films.
It was actually following our catch-up with Matt Heafy at Gamescom 2022 about heavy metal rhythm game Metal Hellsinger when he was approached to work with the Remnant 2 team via a mutual friend. “Luci [Verdalla – global influencer manager at Gearbox Publishing] said, ‘Hey, we want to go metal with this thing,’” he tells me, “I know the brand very well, the game is incredible. I [thought] that this would be such an amazing thing because it’s been a dream of mine to get into game scoring.”
Matt formerly dreamed of working in film scoring but thought it was “impossible,” but tells me he’s now working on not just one but two future film scores. The first of which, Deathgasm 2, has seen a hugely impressive Kickstarter campaign following the original movie gaining somewhat of a cult status.
“To be able to go from no games and no movies as of a couple of years ago to now I’ve done Martial Arts Tycoon’s full soundtrack and sound design, another game I can’t disclose yet – full soundtrack and sound design, and another one I’m working on right now,” he beams. “There are two composers both working on half the soundtrack, and obviously the Remnant 2 stuff, it’s just amazing all these one-offs and fantastic things happening. I’m very fortunate, very lucky, and having a blast doing all this stuff,” he says.
Matt was drawn to Remnant 2 in particular because he finds it’s relatable to his work within alternative music genres, first with his band, the multi-million selling Trivium, and secondly with his solo project, Ibaraki, on which he recently collaborated with none other than My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way. “Look at the visual,” he says, referring to the gorgeous environments and worlds of Remnant 2, “This looks and sounds like metal to me. That’s a big thing that I say to a lot of these game companies – that I’ve got to be a fan of what they do, and I have to be able to look at the imagery and hear it. If I don’t hear it right away I feel like I’m gonna struggle,” he continues. Thankfully, as soon as Matt was introduced to Remnant 2, that initial reaction was triggered and he was excited from the jump.
That’s not to say that the process is easy, by any means. “It’s just me doing all the music, the negotiation, everything in front of the scenes and the behind the scenes stuff. I find that it’s easier to do it that way,” he tells me. “The first song, there must have been like 40 to 50 hours on that one song,” he says, referring to Wielder of the Plague. “Not for the writing necessarily, because the writing came easy on guitar. It was trying to figure out how to make an orchestra fit and percussion fit and industrial stuff fit, and learning how to mix,” he explains. Matt, despite spending 26 years making Trivium records, never learned how to mix until a viewer on his Twitch stream, FreezingCathedral, taught him live. “While I’m mixing things on stream he’s giving me pointers and tips … it’s insane that he taught me how to mix as I’m streaming,” he laughs. For the Remnant 2 material Matt says he actually ended up turning to Josh Wilbur (Trivium, Korn, Lamb of God, Dillinger Escape Plan) to mix the two tracks, as he didn’t feel his skills had evolved to where he was happy with them. “I wasn’t there as a mixer yet,” he confesses, “But I feel like I’m really getting there and I’m learning how to do all these things.”
The reason for this late learning and applying new skills, Matt says, is because of the “incredible” management teams he works with on Trivium and Ibaraki material who arrange all of that for him. He credits his new gaming collaborations to Twitch and Trivium, though. “Trivium made way for Twitch to do well for me,” he explains, “And that started going into soundtracking and scoring for games, and then that went to movies,” he grins. “It’s been this cool ping pong effect, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.” Matt’s referring to the fact that Trivium has just toured for two years clocking in a massive 208 shows but now plans to take all of 2024 off, without even writing a new record. “Normally when we go on a break we say we’re not making a record, but we are making a record this time. That’s not true. We’re building a studio and we have no concrete plans right now,” he tells me. So Trivium fans hopeful for new music should temper their expectations, at least for now.
The writing process for gaming differs hugely from his processes for Trivium and Ibaraki. Where he cannot sit down and say he’ll write a Trivium song because “It wouldn’t go well, it needs to be lightning in a bottle,” writing for games seems to come thick and fast, strongly inspired by the visual material before him. “If I see it, I hear it in my head and I know exactly what it should sound like and exactly what to do,” he explains. “That’s so fun. I don’t know why that is, maybe it’s the amount of subliminal research like all the games I played growing up or all the movies. I watch all the anime and animated things. One of the games I’m working on right now needs this very dark version of a princess ballad,” he says, animated in his own enthusiasm. “I was like, ‘I know how to do that!’ because all I ever watch with my kids is Disney, Pixar, Ghibli”. With a daughter who’s made him watch Frozen “hundreds of times” it’s clear that this inspiration would lend itself to such a specific brief. “I got back into anime recently through Attack on Titan,” he continues. “The music blew me away. I’m such a huge fan of Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan’s composer), so to hear that marriage of rock slash metal symphony and the electronic thing I was like, this is so cool how we pair this together”.
That’s not to say that Matt had any intention of replicating someone else’s work when he set out on the Remnant 2 collaboration. “I don’t want to pair it like him. I want to find my own version. I’ve always been a huge fan of Hans Zimmer, massive fan of Danny Elfman, and it’s figuring out how to tie these things together with the things I’m known for in Trivium, but I don’t want it to sound like Trivium style,” he explains. In the end, Matt settled on using eight and nine-stringed guitars to create an intensely heavy effect. He shows me his impressive collection of traditional Japanese instruments in his room that he’s wondering how to include in his future work composing music for games.
Matt was already familiar with including traditional elements to his music and compositions through his work with Martial Arts Tycoon, which is an upcoming Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game. “It was all Brazilian music they wanted,” he explains. After being asked if he knew how to score Brazilian music he admits he said ‘yes’ first and learned how later. With the next game he worked on being Metal: Hellsinger, it was all metal, which Twin Feathers composed for Matt to perform and he had little writing input on. “This new one I’m working on that I can’t announce yet, but hopefully soon, it was very specific,” he says of his next collaboration. “It was like, here are the themes for these characters, these are the themes for these worlds, so it was a lot more honed in and specific,” he explains. “I can’t wait to start talking more about [the person I’m working with].” He tells me that this person has known Matt and his music since Trivium’s 2003 album, Ember to Inferno. Two decades of familiarity. “He knows how to write in the way a producer would,” he tells me. “I had to learn a lot more talents and investigate styles and sounds I didn’t know before.”
Matt explains that he’s often asked whether diversifying his talents and spreading his time more thinly takes energy away from Trivium, but he strongly disagrees with this notion. “There’s a saying that we have in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that there’s no shortcut to get good. Everyone progresses at different speeds, learns at different speeds, retains information at different speeds, but there’s no shortcut to mat time, or being on the mat, and that’s the same way I look at songwriting, guitar playing, and singing.” As I comment that there are more parallels to be drawn between this and gaming itself, Matt smiles. “Yeah, for sure!” He explains that when he’s touring the world with Trivium the first thing he does when he gets to his hotel room is kick back with his speaker and immerse himself in the country’s traditional music, or sample their traditional cuisine, and thinks that we should be doing the same with music, gaming, or media. “When you have an open mind to that and your willingness to try that, there’s so many interesting things. There are only 11 notes and only so many progressions that sound right to the human ear, so how can we take our tools and make them sound like something new? That’s really the fun thing,” he says.
Matt’s time ahead certainly seems filled with opportunities outside of traditional metal music, but in the immediate future he will be running a merch collab with Gearbox Publishing on his Twitch stream this week.”We’re gonna be doing some streams coming up, hopefully giving us some codes for the game and building excitement around it,” he says. “It was so easy to look at Remnant 2 and know what to make, and I was like ‘Oh man, I want to do more than that,’ but by the time we were done with the two songs it was like, that’s all we’re having for this project,” he recalls. “Hopefully they’ll have me back more in the future!”