Chimaira's Matt DeVries talks about The Infection

Recently Metal as Fuck caught up with MATT DEVRIES, guitarist in Chimaira, for a chat about the band and its upcoming release the Infection, their German ski trip, and their shift from Roadrunner to Nuclear Blast.


Unusually for many of the interviews I do, this one was a little bit rushed and a little bit interrupted. Matt was out rushing around, finalising details for the tour they were to embark on the very next day, and fitting interviews in and around everything else. But, him being a cool dude, it didn't really matter.


Kicking off the interview, we dived into the notions of writing and how the band's writing process has evolved over time. Don't forget, Chimaira have been around  for just over ten years. In that time, they've matured, they've had several lineup changes, and they have seen changes in technology that have changed the band's approach to producing music. 


As with many bands nowadays, in an era where 'new' technology is rapidly becoming so mainstream that it's no longer 'new', Chimaira rely heavily on ProTools software to get the concepts down, and they tend to not work so hard in group sessions at writing it all together. The reason for this change in process is largely due to the fact that too much input by every band member had too often muddied the outcome of the work.


'For this record, it was a bit different to the last record because we wrote a little bit on the last tour cycle and had a bit of a jump-start to writing all together. Usually we'd write a lot on our own using ProTools, and send each other some MP3s,' Matt explained. 'Once we get home from a tour we take about a month off, and then just get together and everyone just adds their two cents to what we wrote originally. As opposed to when we started out,' he reflected. '[Then], it was all of us in one room and it ended up being too many cooks in the kitchen. We've kind of got it down to a science now.'


As many bands work out, writing in this way cuts down a lot of the time that they would formerly spend writing. But, more than that, it means that creative ideas can be conveyed far more accurately. Rather than having to explain a riff these days, for example, Matt finds that he can play an example of it instead.


'It takes it back, rather than trying to describe a guitar riff and writing it, and trying to describe, orally, the drum beat, this way I can just write it and it's like "this is how I envision something". So it's definitely a faster step now.'


Changing audience perceptions about albums, and about music itself, as well as issues with illegal downloads, has definitely had an impact on the way that Chimaira approach what they do. In one sense, they now work much harder at thinking about different ways of selling what they produce.


Perhaps more than that, with every album, Matt told me, you have to think of new ways of reaching your audience - ways that work. With downloading rife, he says that it's not so much finding ways to get rid of the fact that people do it, but of finding ways to get around it. 


'Yeah, it's tough but you work even harder,' Matt pointed out. 'For instance, with this record we're trying to have as many releases as possible, and options to buy. Like, we're having the regular MP3, we're gonna have a regular CD and another CD that comes with a DVD, and a vinyl record, and an extended release which has a package of a whole bunch of stuff, and limited edition box-sets,' Matt said. 


A lot of people have said that Chimaira's upcoming release, the Infection, is in many ways the band's darkest album. But, in fact, it does sound rather like the band enjoyed themselves enormously during the entire journey of writing and producing it. I ran this notion past Matt, and he agreed that this was the case.


'Yeah, absolutely, one hundred per cent,' he enthused. 'It is a dark record, but we definitely had fun. I think that for the last record, and for this one especially, I think we're at the point where we're so relaxed and we enjoy what we do, and we're not really worrying about what the guys at the label think, so yeah you're totally right.'


Speaking of enjoyment, one of Chimaira's best experiences occurred fairly recently - the band played its first ever show in the Middle East - at the Dubai Desert Rock Festival.


'We had no idea what to expect, besides talking to other bands that have done it. But it was awesome. The city was unbelievably clean and modern. It made Chicago in the States look like Cleveland, you know?' he laughed. 'The kids were great as well, you know the kids that showed up, and we didn't know if the kids would know us that well or not! But they were singing along to every song, and we saw Chimaira flags in the crowd. It was just interesting because we've never been anywhere near there.'


Playing the festival was amazing for them on so many levels: the show, the kids and the city itself. And, perhaps more than this, they were able to spend a couple of days there soaking up the culture, which just added to the experience. While the two days wasn't a long time, they sure as hell didn't waste them.


'We only had two days, but we definitely filled it,' laughed Matt, 'with some fun. We just went there for the gig mainly, had some fun on the side and then came home.'


The fact that metalheads in the Middle East rarely get to see shows - in fact, they get this sort of event about once a year - means that they go absolutely nuts for each band that they see. 


'Yeah, the kids went nuts!' Matt recalled. 'You could tell how some of the kids they only get to see this once a year, and they've probably been back for the last five years, so it's just a real good outlet and real cool for them.'


As many fans already know, Chimaira relatively recently moved labels: from Roadrunner to Nuclear Blast. Overall, that change has been a positive one. But despite the move across to Nuclear Blast, Matt spoke highly about everything that Roadrunner has done for them, and attributes a lot of the band's perceptions of Roadrunner's role in the band's progress it to a growing maturity.


'As we get older and wiser and start to understand the music industry, we've realised that Roadrunner did a lot for us. They got us pretty far,' he pointed out. 'There was a point where we were very unhappy with them - especially with the US office - you know, just angry at certain things, and we didn't understand certain things. Don't get me wrong: we're not angry at the label and at the same time we're not bitter, but Nuclear Blast has been nothing but cool. We have a good relationship with them. They're pushing the record real hard and and they're excited about all the plans we've come up with, and all the ideas we've had they pretty much said yes to or had ideas of their own.'


Speaking of Nuclear Blast, I'd been worded up ahead of time by a publicist at the label to ask Matt about the band's German ski trip. Matt laughed but told me that really it should have been Mark answering telling that particular story.


'Mark was absolutely, absolutely awful at skiing,' he laughed. 'He'd never skiied before, so he was on the bunny run falling down. But he was ok. I hadn't been on a ski trip in about ten years but I did really good,' Matt said proudly. 'I didn't fall once.'


The story is that Metal Hammer did an article and DVD on Chimaira and they went skiing with some fans that won a competition. Embarrassingly, the fans - who were German fans - were way better than the band due to their experience on the slopes.


But back to the release.


In the lead-up to the release of the Infection there has so far been a lot of talk about Chimaira getting back to their roots, that they have actually started to come full-circle. Matt attributes this primarily to the fact that they've become less self-conscious regarding their music and are happier just being themselves. 


'We play exactly what we want to play and don't worry about the numbers or anything like that,' he explained. 'But besides just doing it for ourselves now I don't think too much. If that makes sense?'


What he meant to say is that the band had gotten wound up in all the other shit going on around them, rather than just thinking about why they were doing what they were doing, and then recording what they wanted - in other words, chasing sales. 


But at the same time, as Matt pointed out, if they really wanted to sell records they wouldn't be playing the style that they do. 


'I think it happens with a lot of bands, I think it's an outside influence from either the label or from fans or whatnot, but now we just play our hardest because we want to'. 


Not to mention that is more personally and creatively satisfying for them to work that way.


If you're a Chimaira fan, you still have to wait a couple of weeks before hearing the Infection - but happily you won't have to wait years to see these guys hitting our shores again. I'm happy to be able to say that Matt was pretty definite that we will see them later this year.


'You will definitely see us - at the very least once and I'd like to be as bold as to say twice this tour cycle,' Matt stated firmly. 'We love Australia, so as many times as possible in my opinion!'


Chimaira's the Infection is out on 24 April on Nuclear Blast/Riot