Matt Snell is many things: Bassist; Mechanic; Educator; Jazz enthusiast; Metal fan. He’s also a very talkative fellow, yielding a very giving interview, answering all of the questions put to him with candor and detail that is most refreshing. We went past thirty minutes together, the majority of our dialog is included here.
After we got the obligatory Five Finger Death Punch question out of the way, we moved right onto Invidia. A most excellent new debut album of eleven original songs entitled As The Sun Sleeps that he’s put together with Travis Johnson (In This Moment), Brian Jackson & Marcos Medina (Skinlab) and Darren Badorine.
When Invidia’s album As The Sun Sleeps (SPV Records) finally gets unleashed on March 31st, prepare yourself for a body of music comprised of many elements of heavy metal, touching on all of the musician’s laurels. As The Sun Sleeps has staple metal songs, elements of industrial rock, riff-rockers, and even some full-on slap-bass rap-rock, all delivered with a fine polish courtesy of über-producer Logan Mader. I’ve been able to play the full album through numerous times and can attest to it being a bold step forward from five apt musicians.
Do you get to do interviews and not talk about Five Finger Death Punch? Does that ever happen to you?
Snell: All the time. But I’m happy to talk about it.
Well, you know, that’s years ago now. Six years? There’s nothing really there to talk about.
Snell: Thank you. Yes. It’s ancient history. And we are not legally allowed to get into too much of it. So…
Yeah. Shit happens.
Snell: Well, It’s not even that. There were some decisions made and legally we are not allowed to trash talk each other. And I wouldn’t anyway. That’s not something I’m into. I love those guys. I had an amazing time in the band. What’s to complain about? I got a couple of gold records and a platinum record. I went around the world five times. (laughs) It’s all in the ‘win’ pile for me.
Exactly. So walk me through the years after Five Finger then. You started a band called My Acumen. That was a thing for a few years, wasn’t it?
Snell: I did. Yes. I took about 6 to 8 months off and just chilled. I’d been on tour for several years and just took a break from all of it. I decided to do another band. We finished it rather quickly, and then one of the guys I was working with in that band went off to do something else and pulled his music so I couldn’t use it. So I had to find some new people and re-record and re-write half of that record. So it took me a minute to finish that. We got it done. I’m really proud of the record. I love it. It’s the record I wanted to write. So it’s different. Commercially it wasn’t met with a lot of great reviews. Which is fine. It did not fit into a formula. I had songs that were six to seven minutes long – along with some more rock radio formatted songs as well. But it was pretty much us doing what we wanted to do. Writing a record where every single song is mixed differently and sounds different. We used different guitars and different amps and different tones. We were really just trying to have fun and experiment and create something that we all really liked. We finished it and we had several label offers but it takes a certain amount of money and a certain amount of push to make a band like that viable. It just wasn’t happening. Some of the guys in the band, they need a certain amount of money a week based on the lives they have created for themselves, it wasn’t going to materialize. We left it as: we’re all friends and we can do something with it anytime, but that’s it. Tim, my drummer, I’ve known him twenty years now. He’s my boy. And that’s a record that I recorded at home in my studio. We did go into a studio in L.A. and did some drum work. I had some help from Dan Certa mixing it, but it was pretty much something that I did. So it was up to my digression all along the way. It was a lot of fun. It just wasn’t going to materialize the way it needed to to be commercially successful.
You mentioned commercial viability. Does that play into how you write, towards what your dreams and aspirations are as a musician?
Snell: I think it’s just a reality. It’s not something that I do now. It’s not something that I’ve done with Invidia. When you are launching a brand new band, and we didn’t have ten other people that were in other bands, it was a brand new product, and it was different. There were songs on it that were long and different and weird-sounding. And a lot of odd meter stuff. Not that anyone else isn’t doing that. But I took a lot of influence from bands like Opeth and Meshuggah and then tamed it way down. And then we tried to do our own thing with it. We put some vocals on it and the songs were met well, but that doesn’t guarantee you success. There are so many good bands out there that don’t become commercially viable. And there are ten different reasons why each of those bands didn’t get to do what they wanted to do. Local bands open our shows all of the time, and that’s something that I quite enjoy. I get a chance to see new bands and new music. I’ve seen a lot of amazing local bands, bands that I think ‘have what it takes’, that they could become the next big thing. More often than not it doesn’t happen.
Snell: Not a negative. It’s just reality. This is a business, and there’s a lot of timing involved with things. It’s more than just being good.
So how far along were Travis (Johnson) and Brian (Jackson) with Invidia material when you came aboard?
Snell: I think they had two songs together.
So you got to collaborate on the majority of this album then? That’s awesome.
Snell: Yeah, I got to come in and write all of my stuff. I don’t think were expecting a lot of what I did. It worked out really well. We were working with Logan (Mader) so a lot of the creative process happened in the studio. It was a lot of fun. The most fun I’ve had making a record, that’s for sure. I found the environment really friendly and productive and positive. There was just a lot of good energy. As I was sitting back as a quote unquote experienced veteran, I felt like ‘this is supposed to happen’. This is going to be something special. Sometimes you really have to grind it out in the studio to get things finished, and that just didn’t happen with this album. Everyone’s heads were in it, and it all happened in an easy fashion.
Cool. That’s kind of what you want as a musician, I’d imagine.
Snell: Exactly. It’s been nice.
Being a band of musicians who have all spent time with other acts, does that make things easier when you come together on a project like Invidia? Or does it bring challenges?
Snell: I think it’s a huge asset. Ironically, it eliminates ego. Since everyone has done something and been successful (proving themselves in their own areas) I know to trust them. And they also know to do what’s best for the project. It’s never about ‘me’. It’s about the band. Invidia is five people. It takes five people to put that show on. It takes five people to perform those songs. So nobody is more important that anyone else because they were in ‘band A’ compared to ‘band B’. That’s foolish, and it’s an ego-driven way of life that is not something that I subscribe to. And I know that the rest of my band members don’t either. So for us, I think it was a tremendous asset going in with experienced players who have recorded dozens of records over the years. I’m totally not worrying about not being able to show up at the studio if I had something to do. They’ve got it. They know what they are doing.
Cool. So now that you have spent some time together, and you have created music together when you think about each of your new bandmates, what characteristic about them do you find sticks in your mind the most?
Snell: It’s a really interesting group. I’ve known Travis forever. I’ve been in bands with him before. I can always know that he will be consistent. He’s a guy I don’t ever have to be concerned with. Darren (Badorine) is a good friend of mine, and he has a really solid work ethic. I’ve known him for a few years. I met him when I moved up here to Reno about four or five years ago. He just has a love of playing drums. He just loves performing. He’s real fun to be around. Brian is a life-of-the-party kind of guy. His nickname is ‘Celebration’ (laughs). If you’ve been around our camp you will understand why his name is celebration. And Marcos (Medina Rivera) was raised in Puerto Rico in a minuscule town so he has a very Buddhist way of looking at life, which is a way I live as well. So he’s like a superb judge of character and of people’s emotions. He is somebody who knows how to read people real well. So he kind of glues everybody in the band. My nickname that I’m not supposed to know about is ‘DAD’. (laughs) I’m pretty much the business guy. I maintenance the tour bus and provided the trailer and built all of the gear. I’m always harping on everyone about behaviour and professionalism and whatnot. Not that they are by any means unprofessional, you know? I’m just the stickler for detail. And I like to cook. So we have a full kitchen on our bus. I’ll cook a lot of meals and feed everybody.
Snell: I do it because it’s fun. And I don’t like eating fast food. So they have started calling me dad. They think I don’t know it. But I know.
I think every collective needs a voice of reason.
Snell: Hey it’s better than some of the other things I’ve been called in the past. So it works for me.
Right? Now as far as demographics for Invidia, are you five all in the same area geographically? Of does jamming on music require some fly-ins?
Snell: Well, we are all in Nevada except for Marcos. But he is just over in Denver, so we can get him in with us in about an hour. Darren and I are in Reno. Travis and Brian are in Vegas. I still have a house in Vegas so for me to get down there is a pretty standard trip. I can fly there in 45 minutes or so. Or take half a day and drive in there. It’s not a problem. I have lots of frequent flyer miles, so Marcos has been enjoying the benefits of that for the last year. (laughs) Everyone practices and prepares and home. We don’t need to get together until a few days before we kick off our tour. Then we can run through things and iron them out. The rest of what we need we do through Skype and through the internet, email and whatever else we need to do.
Cool. I’d never heard of Flatline prior to prepping this interview. So you had mentioned that you and Travis were in bands together and that was one of them.
How long were you together in that band?
Snell: Uh, it’s a longer story than just that. Back in the day, we had this public storage rehearsal space. Chris Howarth from In This Moment, he ran that place. So they gave him a free apartment. So basically he had turned his apartment into nothing but band rehearsals. So there were four bands rehearsing out of there. There was a band called Deadset that I used to play in that Travis originally played bass for and I ended up becoming the bass player for. This spawned Travis into singing. He got into Flatline. The guys in Flatline were all from some of the other bands who rehearsed there. In This Moment rehearsed there. Deadset rehearsed there. Anubis Rising a band I used to be in that is now Intronaut jammed there. We used to jokingly call it ‘shanty town’, but it was like our own little village of bands where pretty much everyone who came out of there was successful. So we were in and out of each other bands a lot. When I was in Flatline with Travis, he was singing with that band probably for about a year or so. And I was recording the first Five Finger Death Punch Record and they needed a bass player for a while to do some touring. So I jumped in and played with them for about six or seven months. We did some States touring and then went over to New Zealand and did some shows over there. And as soon as I got back it was pretty much the same time that Death Punch got picked up by what was at that time The Firm which is now Prospect Park so I had to say goodbye to those guys at that point. But they managed to get signed about six months later and ended up opening some shows for Five Finger. So we’ve all kind of stayed close over the years.
Right on. Officially, you and Travis are bassists. I’m assuming you are both able to play multiple instruments.
Snell: Oh of course. I was raised on piano and saxophone and jazz music for ten or twelve years. Before I even picked up a bass. My whole family has always pushed the arts, you know? My brother is a doctor of music and my cousin is an opera singer over in Austria. Arts were always a big thing in our family. We play multiple instruments and do what you’ve gotta do to get it done.
Do you think Travis ever had an inclining that he might play bass on this project? Was that a conscious decision of his to not?
Snell: I don’t think so, no. I believe that his focus is playing bass for In This Moment and he wanted to sing again. He wanted to get out and do that. So he’s a good frontman, and he’s a good singer. I enjoy performing with him. I’ve focused solely on playing bass for most of my adult life. It was an obvious choice for them. They already know what I’m capable of. I think it worked out for the best. And it happened for a reason.
Let’s talk about this new album As The Sun Sleeps. How quickly did that material come together for you guys?
Snell: I’d have to go back and look at my credit card statement, but when I was in Vegas that time, it covers that trip. We pretty much got that record recorded and finished end of January last year. And we had a little bit of a switch out with the drummers, so we had to go back and do some work with the drums after we’d initially finished tracking all of the guitars and everything. So that set us back a little bit. But we just started working on getting the band out there, trying to get it picked up. There was a lot of interest. A lot of back and forth with a lot of different people. And that carried on for quite a while. Until we all decided we’d found a home with SPV GmbH. As far as a band beginning from idea and concept to signed and on tour, it was ten months? Which is amazing.
That’s pretty efficient.
Snell: You know when Zoltan Bathory started up Death Punch, that came together pretty quick too. It was about a year. It was about a year before that band was picked up and up and moving. So if you are making smart decisions and doing the right things in the correct order and dedicating yourself to something, the success is inevitable, I think.
How did you find working with Logan Mader?
Snell: I loved it. I’ve worked with Logan before. He mixed the first Death Punch record, The Way of The Fist. And I had to go in and do some re-tracking for a few songs on that record and got to know him. I’ve known Logan for a long time. I totally trust him. And I know the rest of his work. One of the things I like about working with him is, as an engineer myself, he’s so far ahead of me that I get to take an audio lesson the whole time he’s working. And he is so fast, and so good at it. On the performance side, he’s good at providing a calm, comfortable environment to work in. Always positive and supportive, and he has great ideas. He pulls the stuff out of you that you maybe didn’t know was there. Especially when it came to the production of the vocals on this album.
I always feel a bit lame trying to describe an artist’s work. I’m not a musician, so I always feel shallow doing it. I try and always get a descriptor from the artist directly when I’m talking to them. So how about it? How would you describe your material?
Snell: Um, it’s everything. What you are up against is a battle of adjectives. (laughs) Trying to find the ones that not only apply but have them being correct and current with our vernacular. Basically, there’s something for everybody on the record. I think that was kind of the point. We have some traditional older school kind of metal stuff on it. “Making My Amends” is a pretty standard metal song. But our single “Feed the Fire” that is out now isn’t. There’s a lot of room for that song to breathe. There’s aggression, there’s mellow, there’s a prettiness to it, there’s harmony. Then we go into other songs that are more industrial sounding. Slothy bass. Dirty sounding. Dark. I can’t wait for this record to hit the shelves. I can’t stress that enough. I’m really proud of it. Really honoured to be a part of this band. I’m humbled by the whole experience. So I can’t wait until people can hear the entire record. They’ve all only just heard the one song. There are a few live videos out there of other songs that sound like they were recorded with a phone (because they were). But once you get to hear the entirety of this album, it’s a record that you can play from beginning to end. It can be played over and over and over. You are not just going to play one song. and go “That’s the only song I like on this record.” It’s eleven solid songs. Which is a hard thing to come by.
I’ve let it play through a number of times. Which I tend to do when I’m doing interviews so that I can get a feel for the whole thing. I immediately liked ‘Rotten’. I liked ‘Step Up’. And I dug the single. ‘Feed the Fire’ has some nice harmonies on it.
Snell: Ok. You have heard all of it. That’s great. How fun is ‘Step Up’?
Check out the video for the song “Feed The Fire”
I think ‘Step Up’ is cool. There’s good build-up on that song.
Snell: Out of nowhere. Out of nowhere, here’s what is technically a rap-rockish song. And I got to do a bunch of slap-bass on it, which I haven’t been able to do in a long time. And it’s just a fun song to play. It goes over so well live. People just get it right away. The haters will come out and say “Oh, it’s rap-metal.”
Oh God, yes.
Snell: Whatever. It’s an awesome song.
Just doing the research for this interview I went onto a few articles, and I was reading some stuff on Blabbermouth, and the first ten comments on every article are shitty. All negative. It’s insane to me.
Snell: And they were poorly negative. I’ll get down on some Blabbermouth. It’s hilarious. I mean, I was in a band called Five Finger Death Punch. Can you imagine the hate we got in the beginning? It was ridiculous!! But some of it was hilarious. It doesn’t bother me. There’s always going to be haters. I think that is kind of why that place exists. It’s for more people to hate on you. And the more hate you get, the better you are doing.
There’s that adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. So, people are at least taking the time, right?
Snell: I would like to see a less uneducated slam. “Oh, it’s a graphics card thing”. Are you kidding? Nvidia is a graphics card. But Invidia is a thousand-year-old latin word for Christ’s sake. Do your research. Come at me harder if you are going to slam me. I’m pretty good at battling people verbally. But we never engage that kind of negative behaviour anyway.
Yeah. It’s not going to go anywhere good. I totally get it. Describe yourself as a teenager Matt. What were you like at 15?
Snell: Oof. Like everybody else, walking around with a hormonal boner in my pocket. At that point, I was immersed in Metallica and early Slayer. I was building hot rods. I was an auto mechanic for like ten to twelve years. I had just given up on playing team sports. I found it way to militant. My interests were changing. I was more interested in trying to get to concerts. I grew up in upstate Illinois. So bands didn’t come to Libertyville, you know? They came to Chicago. And I wasn’t old enough to drive yet. So I was working on getting a car together so I could start going to shows. I just immersed myself in music 24/7. I was still competing in jazz competitions throughout high school. So I was doing that as well. And other than that, I was a spoiled kid from the suburbs at the time.
What are some of your hobbies? Are you a gamer? Reader? Comic book guy? Movie guy?
Snell: Uh, hockey is my number one addiction. I’m a lifelong Chicago Black Hawks fan. Well before they became what they are now. I’m an avid skier. I have a boat. I like to take my boat out to the lake and hang out. And like I said, I was a mechanic, so I did the car thing forever. Music is my juice. I like building gear and making records. I was an engineer for seven years. I taught it for six of those years.
Nice. How did you find teaching? Did you like that?
Snell: Uh, it was tough. It’s a commendable career. I taught adults. So it was a very different environment. When adults are paying thousands and thousands of dollars to go to trade schools, they can choose when they come and go and they can choose when they want to learn. But they are also adults, you know? I can’t send them to the office. Fortunately, they are at a school that they WANT to be in and not that they HAVE to be in. I found most of it was real positive and they wanted to learn. And what we wound up eventually doing was I just wound up bringing in local bands from L.A. to record. I taught the masters classes towards the end of their education. So they would some to me to work on an SSL or a two-inch tape and Pro Tools and record a band. So I would regularly bring groups in. In This Moment came in when they were under a different name to do their first couple of demos.
Right on. That’s a win-win.
Snell: Yeah. That’s back when Jeff Fabb was playing drums for them. And then we did our own bands. For me, to say that I’m a teacher, it’s a situation where you kind of have to look at it for what it was. Yes. I was a teacher. But I wasn’t writing on a chalkboard. I had an overhead projector and we talked about electricity and EQs and how the sound works through time and microphones. All kinds of stuff like that.
Some people cannot do that. The responsibility of trying to bestow knowledge onto somebody else would freak them out.
Snell: Oh, it’s fun. That was the easy part. My mom was a sub teacher her whole life. My aunt was a teacher her whole life. So that wasn’t hard to do. Performing in front of people started when I was a child. My mom ran a theatre. So we were around it. Getting up in front of people has never been an issue. So I think once you get over that part of it, I’m happy to teach anybody anything.
Is there a definitive concert that you went to that actually made you want to pursue a career in rock and roll?
Snell: Uh, it’s a combination of two. The first one would be Metallica with Queensrÿche and Suicidal Tendencies in 1988.
Snell: That was an arena show at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago. And I was fortunate enough that my parents let me go. It was the And Justice for All tour. It was just ridiculous. It was so big with the huge collapsing stage and all that. I had no idea that something like that could even happen live. It was SO big at that point it seemed somewhat unattainable, so about a year later when I was able to drive I went down to the Vic Theatre in Chicago and saw Testament. They turned out to be my favourite band for probably the next ten years. And Nuclear Assault and somebody else was on that bill. It was a club show. Sold out. Probably about 1500 people. Just watching everybody, this was back when fans stayed between bands and chanted out every word to ‘Reign In Blood’. The whole record during set-change. Just the energy that came out of Testament’s show, it changed my life forever. I probably went down to the Vic another thirty times that year as a result. It was a great time. I knew right then and there that that was what I was supposed to be doing.
Cool. I’m digging As The Sun Sleeps Matt. I hope it gets well received.
Snell: I think it will. I’m hoping it gets out there and gets word of mouth and people are nice enough to purchase it.
Exactly. Is this time surreal for you guys? Where you’ve got the product, and you are sitting on it for three to four months waiting for people to hear it?
Snell: It’s kind of like going to the playground, but then your mom chains you to the picnic table. Everyone else is playing and you are like “We’re here. We’re ready. Ready to go.” We have everything done. We have artwork. We have t-shirts. We have all the gear done. We’ve done a tour. It’s like “Can we please release this record now?” It’s very frustrating. But you just have to trust in the process and use patience to figure out the right course of action. Right now we just have to be calm and wait. It’s going to happen as it happens.
You mentioned hoping people would buy it. Do you have any preorder packages that are available online?
Snell: Oh yeah. It’s all available. It’s easy to find. There are bundle packages. There’s mail-order with posters, shirts, just the disc. We’ve done everything we can. It comes down to dignity and honour. You know, you won’t walk into a store and steal food. But people think it’s ok to steal music. Still!!! This has been going on for seventeen to eighteen years now, this argument over music theft. The bottom line is the theft of the actual music is what has turned the industry into what it is today. And if you don’t like paying a lot of money for concert tickets, then get yourself and your friends to start buying records so that we can afford to do things. I would love to have more support on the road. We have keyboard parts in some of our songs. We have to track those in order for you to hear them live because I can’t afford to hire a sixth Beatle to come on the road, feed them and clothe them and give them a salary and everything. The reality is people are going to steal the record instead of buying it. It’s priced reasonably. We aren’t asking thirty to fourty dollars a record. It’s kind of a cancer in the industry where people will just use a streaming service and then won’t buy the record. The streaming – well, that’s good, we are finally getting paid for that now, but it’s not about greed. It’s about functionality. It’s about the band being able to put gas into the bus to get to the next gig. And then we would like to eat when we get to that gig. It really comes down to starting with record sales.
It’s very true. I was at a show last year with a buddy who was pissing and moaning about the cost of the ticket to the show. I asked him if he stole the new album, or if he bought it. He stole it. And I said “Fuck you. That money has to get paid somewhere”. It’s checks and balances.
Snell: Yeah. It trickles down. And the sad thing is the band isn’t going to see the difference on the inflated concert ticket.
Snell: In order to function and pay our bills and our taxes and feed our families and stuff, we have to make a living. It’s not about being a millionaire. It’s about being able to survive. When there are people constantly stealing from you, it’s quite frustrating. It’s a matter of changing the public’s option about doing it. You could put every block in the world out there. I could chase YouTube all day getting videos taken down, but I have to do other things. It’s about a moral shift in people’s attitudes about bands and music and what they feel that they are owed. We’ve made a record. We are trying to sell it. It costs lots of money to make records. It costs lots of money to generate artwork and manufacture and then ship things to people. If it keeps getting stolen, then the band has less ability to come to your town and perform. And that is ultimately what all of us want to do. We didn’t get into a band to check out our product placements (laughs). We got into it to prance around on stage with our instruments like it’s the most fun that we’ve ever had. It may sound kind of cliche, but that is what everyone is doing in these bands – we are playing rock star, and it’s a blast.
I think most people, especially in the metal genre, they go to shows. They buy their tickets and they buy merch. I mean, nobody that goes to metal shows needs another black t-shirt with a band logo and a goat on it, am I right? But they still buy them and support their scene.
Snell: Yes. And trust me, that is sometimes the make or break on a tour. A lot of bands are going out and playing for nothing. A lot of bands will go out and get paid, but the gas tank will eat up their paycheck. When they manage to sell a t-shirt or two, there is a little bit of leftover money there so that they don’t have to have McDonalds that day. They can actually eat something decent with possibly a bit of cash leftover. It’s a huge part of the business now. You used to see one shirt, maybe two shirts. Now it’s displays with five different shirts, a couple of different hoodies and hats, bracelets, keychains. You name it. Now we are retailers. We are so grateful for anyone who ever buys anything from us on the road. For me to roll into a town that I haven’t played in yet and see one of my hoodies on a kid waiting outside of a venue waiting to come into my show – that’s huge. The first time I saw something like that was in England with Death Punch. This was one of the first times we were playing in England. People outside the venue were wearing our shirts already. That is amazing. It’s so cool. It’s the same thing here locally. I front our web store. So I do all of our shipping of all the merchandise. I know where the big sales are going down and I want to play in some of these areas that we haven’t ever played yet. We can’t wait to get out on the road again. Everyone in the band will take their turn at the merch booth – selling merch and talking to the fans and taking pictures. We are not here to be elitist. We are here to be a family.