Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hatebreed interview with drummer: Matt Byrne. September 10th. 2011.

Vista: Hey Matt. I figured I'd start this off by asking you about the most recent shows you have done with Hatebreed on the Mayhem Fest. How were these shows? You guys only played a limited amount of them, right? Did you guys headline these dates & give us some overall highlights.

Matt: We just did 3 shows on this year's mayhem fest.  Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis.  Consequently, these were also the 3 best selling shows of this year's mayhem tour which is pretty awesome!!!  We headlined the Jagermeister stage which is what we've done on past Mayhem dates.  The shows were sick.  We haven't done many shows in the US since last summer so to see all the diehard HB fans representing was a nice breath of fresh air.  Pretty sure we'll be rolling through those cities again in the fall.  As I write this interview, we are on a two week run throughout parts of Europe.  Spain mostly.  Great time. 

Vista: You've been in Hatebreed for a really long time now. Over 10 years, correct? How were you intentionally brought into the band? What year was that & do you have any memories of your first show with Hatebreed? If you do remember, where was this show & who was it with?

Matt: I've been playing with Hatebreed for a total of 11/12 yrs now. I originally joined in 1998 after a mutual acquaintance of ours made the introduction. They needed a drummer and I needed a band…plain and simple. I auditioned, got the gig and we jumped in the van and hit the road. My first show was at Toad's Place in New Haven opening for Gwar and The Misfits.  Sold out show. We were a four-piece at the time. Jamey, Chris, Boulder and myself.  We never even had an official rehearsal, aside from my audition.  We just got up on stage and Jamey started calling out songs.  Thankfully, I was well enough rehearsed and beat the entire HB catalog into my head so there weren't any issues. The show was actually really tight.  If I remember correctly, we just blasted through "Satisfaction…." and even a couple song off of "Under The Knife." It was crazy, man.  Completely unorganized. That's just how we did things back then. Basically like- "Hey, you're in the band. Now let's get up onstage.  We have a 35 minute set to do." Haha. Of course, there were a lot of fights. Wouldn't be a HB show without that. I was in the band about a year and then quit. It was very dysfunctional and unpredictable. It started to not be fun. I returned to the band in 2001 and we've been going strong since. 

Vista: You have played drums on every Hatebreed album {with the exception of "Under The Knife" & the "Satisfaction"}....Hatebreed were a pretty big band when you first joined but would actually go on to be an even bigger band as years went on. My question is, did you feel any pressure coming into the band in the beginning? Did  you have any expectations, long term with Hatebreed or did you view it as a chance to tour & record, etc.?

Matt: I never felt any pressure. If anything, I was just trying to get my bearings and figure out how the whole machine worked. Being a touring musician was always something I wanted to do, whether it be in a station-wagon, van or tour bus. I had been in local bands and stuff but never a band that was touring full-time. The drumming position in HB was constantly changing. The band had maybe 3/4 guys that were actually considered "the drummer" at one time or another and then a shitload of guys who were fill-ins for shows, tours etc. at other times. I was stepping into a highly unstable position right off the bat so I didn't know or really care how long it was going to last. I didn't have any real "we're going to be HUGE" expectations. I just wanted to play music for a living. If I could get by playing drums, that would be great. At the time, I was going to school to be a teacher. That was always my "plan B" if I couldn't make anything out of this music thing. School will always be there.  The opportunity to tour around the country/world playing music will not. I saw my opportunity and I went for it. 

Vista: What is your background in music & theory? How old were you when you first started playing drums? Did you take formal lessons and/or play in school at all? Also, how many family members did you drive insane over the years with endless hours of practice!? Ha. Thinking back in memory early on is there a certain family member you credit as being supportive and encouraging you to stick with it?

Matt: I started playing drums when I was 13/14 yrs old. I tried guitar first but completely sucked at it so I moved over to drums. My uncle Russell was a drummer and I used to watch him play all the time. He had an extra drumkit laying around and was willing to pass it my way, so long as I agreed to take lessons and learn what I was doing.  Not just beat on them and make noise. I took lessons at Sal's Music which used to be on Main St in Wappingers Falls. I think it's a karate dojo now. My teacher was great. Lessons were only a half hour so it was divided into two parts- "formal book-work/reading/writing music" and then learning/playing a song of my choice. I loved this method of teaching because not only was I getting what all the nerds in music class in school were getting but I could also learn the loud, headbanger stuff that I was actually there for!!! I never wanted to take music lessons in school. Music was a hobby for me. Putting an academic spin on it would have killed it for me. 
I credit my Uncle for getting me into drums early on and for giving me the equipment to get me started. Also, my parents for allowing me to practice in their basement/garage for all those years. It couldn't have been easy putting up with all that senseless noise.

Vista: Growing up...What drummers and/or bands inspired you to want to play drums?

Matt: Dave Lombardo- Slayer.
Charlie Benante- Anthrax.
Igor Cavalera- Sepultura.
Gar Samuelson- Megadeth.
David Garibaldi- Tower of Power.
Alex Van Halen- Van Halen.
Tommy Lee- Motley Crue. 

Vista: What was your first exposure to hardcore/punk? How old were you & what bands really grabbed your attention? Also, what was your first "core" show {year, bands played & where was it}?

Matt: I was into 80's metal and thrash before I ever got into hardcore. The music was loud, fast and aggressive. The bands were seemingly volatile. It was all about jean jacket vests w/patches all over, sneakers held together by duct tape, ripped jeans, cigarettes and beer. I don't really recall how/where I came across hardcore or punk but it was easy to recognize where the heavy metal that I was into got it's style from. All the good stuff is derived from early hardcore and punk. The first bands I got into were Agnostic Front, Cro-mags and The Ramones. I don't recall the first show I went to. The first concert I ever attended was Paul McCartney at Giant's Stadium. I was 12 or 13 yrs old.  My family are big Beatles fans so makes sense….

Vista: Some kids out there might know but maybe they don't even realize that you played drum in All Out War for a period of time. How long were you with them? You played on a few original songs that ended up being recorded but not with you on drums. You did play on the "NYC Takeover' album with All Out War. Thinking back to that time era, how was it with them? You toured Japan with them & how many tours in America did you do drumming for All Out War? Did you do any tours of Europe with them?

Matt: I was in All Out War for 2 or 3 yrs. They are another band that has had numerous line up changes. I'm not really sure what you would call the version of AOW that I was in. It was definitely not the original. It was a good time though, while it lasted. We did full US tours w/Buried Alive and Reach The Sky, as well as with the Cro-mags. I never went to Europe with them but we did do a Japan tour. I was a fan of the band before I ever played with them so it was a cool experience. At the time, I think everyone had different ideas of how a band functions and what we each wanted to get out of it. When everyone is not on the same page, it's a recipe for disaster and you can't expect to get very far. We called it quits. They've since put out a couple of records and have gotten back together/broken up several times. I speak with Mike, Erik and Brad. It's always great getting together with them somewhere and trading old stories about those times over a couple of beers. There's a lot of shit to laugh about. 

Vista: I know that you are finishing a formal degree to become a teacher. How close were you to saying "fuck this hardcore scene crap" back in the day & just finishing school? I mean, was there a time before you joined Hatebreed or All Out War where you thought to yourself that, "hey I am just gonna put my drums in the attic and concentrate on schooling"? Also, has it been a struggle to actually go back & finish up school?

Matt: Eh, I've never really thought about stopping playing drums altogether. There's no need for that. I love it too much. Even if I was going to stop touring, I would still play drums. It's a great hobby and a fun, creative outlet.  There was definitely a time in my life when I thought- "OK, this is just not happening. May as well go back to school."  But it never crossed my mind to stop playing completely. 
It's been 12 yrs since I've been touring and out of school. Recently I've decided to return and finish up my teaching degree. Being out of school for that long has caused a lot of my credits to expire and I'm finding that it's going to take a lot more time to complete the degree than I originally intended. I wouldn't trade my music/touring experiences for the world and I don't regret bailing on school to do this for a living. However, back in the day I didn't have that much schooling to finish up and I wish I made the time throughout the years to just go and get it all done. Now it's kind've like starting over.  It's a big pain in the ass. I can say this- going to school the second time around now that I'm a little older and more serious about it is a lot more fun. Yes….I said fun. Whereas before it was just a "plan B," now it's like I'm working toward opening a new chapter in my life.  It's fresh and new.  I have a different respect for it. I'll get it all done sooner or later….

Vista: One thing that I want to ask about is a picture that I have seen of your drum set. I know that you use to play a double-bass pedal but I have seen live pictures of you playing drums with two double bass cannons! Why did you ditch the double bass pedals & is there a difference in actual or your playing this way? What are the pros & cons of this, if any?

Matt: Ask any drummer and he/she will give you a different answer. I've always used a double pedal. It's what I started on and it's what I'm most used to and comfortable with. I always wanted two bass drums but didn't have the space or the $$ to have a kit that big. All my drum hero's had big double bass kits but I didn't really have a choice. I had to go with what space and $$ permitted me to have. When I finally had the chance to get a double bass kit, I did. It was a change in playing style but I like changing things up every now and again so I welcomed it. Nowadays, I go back and forth between setting up two kick drums or just using the pedal. In a live setting, sometimes I'll set up both kick drums but still use a double pedal. A lot of guys are doing that now. Guess it's more pleasing to look at from a "live show" perspective. Sometimes, it's looked at as "faking it" or "cheating." I don't really give a shit, either way. 

Vista: While not on tour do you have a routine of still practicing? If so, do you have a set time that you always practice or does your drum set collect dust on off time?

Matt: I don't really have a set practice routine, although I probably should. I'd probably be a lot farther along with all the techniques and different musical styles that I keep telling myself I want to get into and try. I keep an electric kit in my house, as well as an acoustic kit in the basement. That way I have some options whenever I feel like jamming. Also, I keep a set of sticks and a practice pad in front of the TV so when I'm just sitting around being a lazy ass and watching TV, I can at least pick up the sticks and work on some chops. 

Vista: Give us your top 10 bands/albums of all-time. Doesn't matter if it rock, rap, metal or disco.

Matt: In no particular order-
Slayer- Any.
Cro-mags- "Age Of Quarrel".
Maceo Parker- "Life On Planet Groove".
KISS- "Destroyer".
Led Zeppelin- "II".
Metallica- "Master Of Puppets".
Black Sabbath- "Paranoid".
Van Halen- "1984".
Motley Crue- "Shout At The Devil".
Megadeth- "Peace Sells…."

Vista: As far as being in Hatebreed over all these years, what is the biggest misconception of a band at your level? Obviously you guys play to huge crowds & many times a whole different crowd of kids. I would call these "different crowds" as mall-core or Hot Topic-core. Hatebreed has always seemed to balance it out by always returning to straight-up hardcore tours. But I guess I am also asking, have you guys changed or is it just the people around you {older kids from the old days} that have changed? Or both?

Matt: I think the biggest misconception is that we are rich from doing this. Unfortunately….Nope. 

Vista: What is the most insane thing you have ever seen while playing a show? Any prosthetic limbs thrown onto the stage? Any Guns n' Roses style riots? Kids jumping over a huge bonfire in the middle of an open-air festival?

Matt: Hmmm….that's a tough one. People do all sorts of crazy/stupid shit all of the time. I think we've had about seven lawsuits filed against us over the years although nothing was ever directly our fault. A couple random things stand out: 
I remember doing a Stillborn Fest show in PA around 2003/2004. I can't really recall if it was Pittsburgh or somewhere around Allentown but it was a pretty good size club and there was a great crowd there that night. There was a balcony (kind of resembling the Chance balcony but more modern) and some drunk kid decided to leap off about mid-way through the set. I guess he was aiming for the pit area but he overshot and landed in between the barricade and the stage. He landed like a pretzel. Immediate show stopper!!! Another kid tried the same thing at a club in VA.  Idiots. Not really sure what the final outcome was with either situation. Hopefully both guys turned out OK.
We did our first tour of South America in 2005 with Agnostic Front. The crowds were INSANE!!!  We played a huge venue in Santiago, Chile and about 1500 people were turned away because the show was already at capacity. They rioted and tore these huge, steel front doors off the building. The show went on and it was great but we were stuck in the building until they could clear everything up. We had armed body guards, vans with bullet proof glass….not very typical for a hardcore band. It was pretty intense. 
Speaking of bonfires, we had the opportunity to play the main stage on Ozzfest 2006.  It was pretty incredible to play a stage/venue of that size. On the flipside, it sucked because everyone was in seats. It wasn't the club-vibe that we are accustomed to. There was no "pit."  There was no general admission area in front of the stage where everyone could go crazy. That type of area was waaaaay back, behind the seats, up on the lawn.  That's where all the maniacs were. I lost count on how many fires were set up on the lawn during our set. People were raging around them, diving through them, throwing stuff into them, etc. People are crazy, man.  

Vista: What country haven't you performed in that you would like to? Also, Hatebreed have done a tiny bit of traveling...What countries do you enjoy the most while on tour? On that note, favorite spots in America?

Matt: I'd like to play in China and South Africa. More and more bands are starting to make their way to these areas and hopefully we can get over there too. I think we've talked with some promotors from these spots over the years but nothing has ever panned out. Hopefully soon. 
I like going to Australia. The climate is summery, the people are polite and you can get some pretty good food there too. New Zealand is the same. I like Japan, as well. The respect that the people have for each other and their culture is pretty astounding when compared to America. There are a lot of great historical things to see there too.
Favorite spots in America…..hmmm…..being home. Being able to see everywhere else is a blessing but it makes coming home that much more great. 

Vista: What are your favorite songs to perform in a live setting with Hatebreed? Also, on the covers-album you guys did {"For The Lions"}, what songs did you really enjoy the most & was there room to add any drum parts in them to put a different spin on the cover-songs?

Matt: I like performing a lot of the faster songs we have. I like playing fast and it's cool to watch the crowd mosh around to the hardcore/speed parts and then lose their minds when the breakdown crashes in. As the drummer, I set the "pulse" that the audience reacts to. It's interesting to watch, from my perch up on the drum riser, the different reactions the crowd has to the various tempo changes.
On the "For The Lions" album, we all chose songs that we wanted to do. My choices were Slayer- Ghosts of War, Obituary- I'm In Pain and one or two that didn't make it onto the album. For the most part, I tried to do the songs justice by staying to their original format.  Especially on "Ghosts of War."  I was really just trying to pay my own tribute to Dave Lombardo and his amazing hand-speed and dexterity around the drum set. The song is super drum busy the way it is. There is nothing that I could have added to it that would have made it any better than it is already. "I'm In Pain" is sort of the same thing. Don Tardy did some really cool stuff on that tune and his style really stands out. I was just trying to nail it. I was trying to hit how he hits and roll into fills like he does. The only liberties I really took were with the big drum solo fill in the middle of the song. I didn't do what he did at all and I went ahead and extended it a bit. Just because. Fuck it.  :)

Vista: In a dating situation would you be able to take a girl seriously if she admitted to you on the first date that she bought a pair of Hatebreed panties at the merch table on your last tour? Or would this just be a green-light to "sealing the deal" at the end of the night!? Ha!

Matt: I'm definitely the farthest thing from a "groupie-hunter" type of guy but that wouldn't turn me off in any way…..just as long as she doesn't end up proving herself to be a dirty slut. Guess that goes for any type of girl though….not just ones at shows. 

Vista: Best metal band to ever walk the earth? Just one?

Matt: Slayer. period. 

Vista: As far as your time with Hatebreed & getting to not only perform with legends of metal and hardcore...Who have you met that just blew your mind? Any bands, people stick out as your fondest meetings/interactions?

Matt: One guy has nothing to do with metal or hardcore. Last year on the Mayhem tour, I became friendly with Randy Johnson. That was pretty surreal. If you're a sports fan, you know who he is.  "The Big Unit!!!" He was at the LA mayhem show shooting some photos. My understanding is that photography is his new hobby since retiring from baseball. He was hanging around the 2nd stage area while other bands were playing but he wasn't really taking any pictures. A friend of mine told me that he was waiting for us to go on. He was specifically there to shoot us!!! Long story short, I approached him and just started shooting the shit. We sat on my road case for about 2 hrs, him asking me questions about music and me firing off questions about baseball. Turns out he had been a fan of ours for a while, even listening to our music when getting psyched up for games. That blew my mind. I invited him up on stage to take some live shots.  Someone, somewhere has a great picture of Randy Johnson crouching down next to me taking a picture of me playing. Would love to get a copy of that….

Vista: I know that Hatebreed has done many in-store appearances with the band & with your drum endorsements. Is it ever over whelming or surreal for you? I am sure it is a great feeling to be admired by kids but are there ever situations where it is like..."Fuck, this is just insane and a pain in the ass" or is it more-so like..."Fuck yeah, this is a damn dream come true"!?!

Matt: It's mostly "this is a dream come true" and definitely surreal. I've been to my share of signings and clinics of people I'm a fan of so to now be on the other side of things, I'm like- what the F?  Haha. I don't take anything for granted though and definitely don't carry some dickhead, holier-than-thou attitude. Our fans our loyal to us and, in turn, we are very loyal to them. 

Vista: For any kid out there just starting out in a band & just trying to get their sound down...What advice would you give them?

Matt: Network. A music scene just doesn't exist. You have to make one and be a part of one. It's important to network out to as many bands/friends/players as possible and get something going amongst yourselves. 
Have a "Plan B." You can't bet on "making it" so just have fun doing it. If it doesn't work out, you should have another life plan to fall back on. 

Vista: There are not many times when I have asked this question in an interview but I am curious...How is it doing a music video? Is it a pain in the ass or is it just another experience that is interesting and a good time? Is there a lot of down-time on a video shoot? I know Hatebreed have done a few videos, which one would be your favorite and most memorable?

Matt: We've done 8 or 9 videos over the years. It's always been an interesting experience. The set up/breakdown, the effects, the acting, finally seeing a finished product come out of a long day's work, seeing yourself on MTV, etc. Very cool.
On the flip side, it can be a big pain in the ass. There is a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on and it makes for a very long, boring 15 hour day.  Sooo much down time. Ever have one of those days where your body was just sore all over but you didn't really do anything so you really can't make sense of why you're feeling that way? Yea, that's a video shoot day. 

Vista: While on tour are there any essential items that you just HAVE to have with you? Also, what do you do to pass the time while on tour? Books, movies, video games, sleep? If any of these, what movies, books, video games are you into?

Matt: Earplugs/Tylenol PM for sleeping.
On a tour bus, it seems that everyone is on different schedules. Some guys are early risers, other guys sleep all day. I guess I'm kind of in between.  I hate being woken up by doors slamming, talking, partying, etc.  These things kind've help cut that down a bit. 
I bring books that I've been neglecting to read for the longest time. Being on tour is the perfect time to read them because there is nothing but down time. I bring movies/TV shows I've been meaning to watch. Everyone on tour always has some stuff on their computers so there is always trading going on. That keeps it fresh.

Vista: If Hatebreed ended today what would be your fondest memories of your time doing this?

Matt: There are waaaaay too many to think about and write out. This whole music experience has been something I never even thought could happen so as long as we, the band, could collectively walk away being friends then I think I would be pretty happy. 

Vista: Thanks for your time Matt. Any final thoughts?

Matt: John- I've known you for years and you have been doing this fanzine for a long time.  Thanks for allowing me to be part of it and do this interview.  I've got nothing but love for the Vman….

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