Bigger toms, ruder cymbals, and a more spacious setup help the Hatebreed powerhouse achieve the sound and reach new heights of hardcore/metal glory on the band’s punishing latest release.
Since Matt Byrne joined Hatebreed for their 2002 major-label debut, Perseverance, he’s helped the band define a striking mutant heavyrock subgenre that comprises elements of hardcore, metal, and punk. Through 2003’s The Rise Of Brutality, 2006’s Supremacy, and two albums in 2009—the covers set For The Lions and the originals collection Hatebreed—Matt has played harder, faster, and stronger with each new release and propelled the group through countless tours and festival performances.
Byrne is a truly relentless player. His consistency behind the kit is remarkable, and he displays jaw-dropping deftness in supporting the histrionics of one of the best frontmen in the hardcore business, lead vocalist Jamey Jasta, and the dazzlingly damaging riffs of guitarists Frank Novinec and Wayne Lozinak and bassist Chris Beattie. We begin our discussion with the drummer by detailing the significant musical changes that mark Hatebreed’s latest opus.
MD: What’s different about your latest album in terms of the drums?
Matt: Drumming-wise, I really collaborated with our producer, Zeuss. And even before the drums were set up, we were putting our heads together to figure out the kinds of tones I was going for—basically, the things we would do differently on this album. Like, what are we going to do to have a fresh take on the drumming of Hatebreed?
First off, I used bigger drums than I would normally use. I used bigger toms and a deeper snare drum, because I wanted a bigger, warmer, more wide-open sound. I just think the sound of the drums coming from a lot of metal bands these days seems to be real compressed and real studioesque, clicky and triggery, and all the drum sounds seem to be the same with every band— nothing seems to vary. So I definitely wanted to stay away from that. I wanted to achieve a natural sound, not something that’s too clean or overproduced in the studio.
For cymbals, I used a different China on this album. I used a Paiste RUDE Novo China, which only came out a short time ago, so that was a fresh sound for me. I would typically throw a couple 2002 crashes on past albums, but for this one I went with straight RUDEs. They’re really heavy and really dark…and really loud. That’s what I was going for— capturing my live sound. They’re full volume, very washy, but they’re still dark, and that’s what I like about them.
I played a 20″ crash/ride that I’ve been using forever. It reminds me of the Alex Van Halen or Charlie Benante cymbal wash, where you can’t even tell where they’re hitting the cymbal. It’s just that straight wash, and I’ve always wanted to achieve that. That’s why I’ve been using RUDEs for years now. And I wanted to really hammer it home in the studio and try to capture what those guys were able to do back in the day.
MD: Did you change the positioning of your cymbals or your overall setup in the studio this time around?
Matt: Yeah, I set them up a little higher off the toms than I normally do. When I’m playing live, I like things tight and lower, so when you’re playing faster music it’s easier to get to the stuff, for the quicker fills and whatnot. But for the recording, so everything would have room to breathe, I set it all up, drums and cymbals, a little more spread out. The cymbals were set a little higher so we could try to avoid the bleed into the mics. My rack toms I mounted on stands above the kick drum; typically I mount them on the kick drum. Each drum was on its own.
I’m using a ride cymbal on this album, and previous Hatebreed albums never had a ride. So that’s kind of different for us. I used a huge 22″ Alpha Metal ride. That thing is super-loud, and we miked it from the bottom to really get the sound projection. I miked the China the same way, for the same purpose.
MD: You tried a few snares. What did you eventually land on?
Matt: I ended up using a 6×14 Tama Starclassic maple. Pretty standard. Usually I use a 51/2×14, so I went a little deeper with this one. I also had a 61/2×14 birch bubinga in the studio, and I messed around with that a bit. It sounded great, but there was a little more body to it than I wanted when combined with the rest of the drums. So taking that half inch and using that maple, which definitely has a little more attack, I got the snare sound I always wanted.
MD: You mentioned that you changed your tom sizes. What were the sizes of your toms and kicks?
Matt: Typically I use an 18×22 kick drum, but I played a 16×22 on this record, because I wanted more attack. I used a birch Starclassic Performer kick drum, and it has that attack from being a shallower drum, but with the warmth that birch projects in the studio. All the toms were birch as well, Performer series. I usually go for a 10″/12″/14″/16″ setup. This time I bumped everything up and kind of shifted it all to the left, so I went 12″/14″/16″/18″.
MD: That’s a decent upgrade.
Matt: Yeah, a lot of the previous sizes are still there, but by shifting everything to the left, with the natural way I was playing, the larger drums are more in an area where I hit consistently. These bigger toms are being used more, so now I’m leading a fill of a 12″ into a 14″, so it just sounds bigger overall.
MD: Did you have to change your playing style?
Matt: Not really. I was able to get everything in pretty tight to where it didn’t look or feel foreign to me. It was pretty comfortable, and the angles were all the same. It wasn’t anything that really threw a wrench in the works.
MD: How long did you spend tracking?
Matt: That’s another difference. With past albums, I’d just go and bang out the drum tracks in two or three days. But this time around we really took our time with tracking the songs. We’d do two songs a day, maybe three. And the next day we’d go back over them to see if anything stood out that needed to be changed, and then we moved on. So it took about a week and a half.
MD: What were some of the challenges with this session?
Matt: Doing an instrumental track really focuses on what the guitars are doing, and any ear candy is thrown in on top of that. So the drums don’t really stand out as far as the playing goes. I really had to lay back and just keep time and let the music breathe. I usually want to find my opportunities to shine a little bit or throw some little things out there, like a roll or a cool pattern, just something crazy to have the drums stand out a little bit, because the music’s so straightforward. But with this one I didn’t really worry about things like that. It was: What’s the interplay between me and the guitar riff? How should I lock in the kick drums here? Or maybe I let it breathe a little bit here? It was choosing when to lay back in the cut and when to add my two cents as a drummer. I definitely concentrated more on the guitars and made sure the kicks and snares were locked in with the riffs.
MD: I’ve seen you play with a single kick drum and with two kick drums. Which setup did you go for in the studio?
Matt: Single kick drum, double pedal.
MD: Why that route?
Matt: I come from the world of the double pedal. I’ve always preferred that. I learned to play double bass on it, and I’m just used to it. The two-kick-drums thing is relatively new for me. I started doing it back in ’06. I always wanted a double kick kit, but I never got one when I was a kid or when I was coming up, because it was a load of stuff to lug around, and it took up a lot more space. It was easier to start on a double pedal. So I figured, what the hell, now’s the opportunity—I’ll grab this huge kit and have some fun with it. I go back and forth. Sometimes I’ll set up double kick drums live, and other times I’ll just use the pedal. It’s whatever I’m feeling that night. They have two completely different feels, and I think it’s what you’re used to, whatever you prefer.
Studio-wise, some engineers don’t want to record two kick drums, unless you’re triggering or something like that where getting the natural tone of the drums doesn’t really matter. But if you’re using the natural body of the drums, they’ll want one kick drum. It’s all personal preference, I think.
MD: And what’s your take on triggering?
Matt: I want to mess around with it because I don’t know much about it. Maybe it’ll create new opportunities for doing some things. I may stumble upon a certain part that may come easier than without the triggers. But I’ve never used them before—it’s just in the back of my head that I’ll start experimenting a little bit here and there. See what that world’s all about. There are so many cool things going on in the drumming world.
I know a lot of guys hate on triggering, and I did too, in the past. It’s like, “That’s cheating, and it’s not a good sound; it just sounds like you’re clapping your hands together,” or whatever. I guess there’s some truth to that, but the guys who are “cheating” to get the specific tone they’re after, they’re playing at like 280 beats per minute. There’s performance in that, and you’ve got to give them credit for making their bodies do that and making the pedal do that. And if they weren’t triggered, they’d just sound muffled and muddled. I don’t see it as cheating at all—I think they’re just using technology to better what they’re doing and have it come across a little stronger, you know?
MD: Do you write your parts exclusively?
Matt: That’s yet another difference with this new record. Typically, in the past, I just did what I did. No input from anyone else—I just played the beats, and they came together however I felt the riffs. We might discuss a certain tempo, but the beats were all me. With this one, I listened a lot more to the other members’ input on what they were going for, what they were thinking in a specific song or change. I just approached everything with more of an open mind. Like, for certain riffs, they might’ve tapped out something on a table between the kick and the snares, and nine times out of ten it was great. I was more open to what other people suggested.
MD: Are any other members in the band drummers at all?
Matt: No, not really. I think I’m the only one! [laughs] They never really sit down and tinker. They just don’t play drums at all.
MD: How do they communicate with you about your drumming?
Matt: Outside of tapping things out on a table or maybe humming it, we have specific names, like the “hardcore beat” or the “punk beat.” It’s like, “Do that punk beat here.” There’s another one that’s a mix between the hardcore beat and the punk beat—it’s a little busier on the kick drums, and it’s called the “Motorhead beat” because it’s still fast and straightforward, but what the kick drums are doing is a little busier. Then there’s the straight kick/snare oldschool thrash beat; that’s the “polka beat.” With fills, if there’s something super-busy around the toms, like some crazy rolls and stuff, we just call them “Lombardo fills.” It’s like, “Yeah, just give me some Lombardo right there.” That’s pretty much it.
MD: How do Jamey Jasta’s vocals inform or influence your performance?
Matt: I’ve never heard the vocals ahead of time on any of these songs. So I kind of do my thing, and I’m not tooting my horn, but it’s cool to sit back and think, Wow, I played these things pretty spot on without busying up anything that takes away from the vocals. The vocals seem to flow right over, and where the vocals cut off is where I place my fill, and it all seems to make sense. And it all comes together naturally. I didn’t even know what was going on! I didn’t know what the vocals would be. It wasn’t planned like that. That says something about chemistry right there.
Hatebreed Perseverance, The Rise Of Brutality, Supremacy, For The Lions, Hatebreed /// All Out War NYC Takeover, Vol. 1 (tracks 1–4)
Slayer Reign In Blood, Seasons In The Abyss (Dave Lombardo) /// Tower Of Power The Very Best Of Tower Of Power: The Warner Years (David Garibaldi) /// Failure Fantastic Planet (Kelli Scott) /// Mastodon Remission (Brann Dailor) /// Dark Angel Leave Scars (Gene Hoglan) /// Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin II (John Bonham) /// Van Halen 1984 (Alex Van Halen)
MATT’S TOURING SETUP
DRUMS: Tama Starclassic bubinga in “stardust fade” lacquer
6×14 Starclassic maple snare
16×16 floor tom
16×18 floor tom (not shown)
15″ 2002 Sound Edge hi-hats
18″ RUDE Wild crash
19″ RUDE Wild crash
20″ RUDE crash/ride
22″ Alpha Metal ride
20″ RUDE Novo China
HARDWARE: Tama Road Pro Iron Cobra hi-hat stand, Iron Cobra Power Glide bass drum pedal, Iron Cobra felt beater (with pedal tension a bit tighter than “out of the box”)
HEADS: Evans coated Power Center Reverse Dot on snare batter, Hazy 300 on snare bottom, clear G2 on tom batters, black resonant on tom bottoms, clear EQ3 on bass drum batter, black bass drum front head
STICKS: Vater 5B hickory with wood tip