Paolo Gregoletto of the band Trivium talks to us about the stories behind emotional songs, finding records at the flea market, and getting to those eureka moments in the studio.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where Atlantic Records talks with artists about songs they made, songs they like and songs they’d like to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs from the artists themselves.
On today’s show, we talk with Paolo Gregoletto of the band Trivium. To catch you up to speed, the band formed in 2000 and quickly built a buzz around Orlando’s music community with their unique blend of progressive metal and thrash.
After their 2003 independent breakout “Ember to Inferno,” they signed to Roadrunner in 2004 and have been able to share stages with metal legends such as Metallica, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. To date, the band has released eight studio albums and over 20 singles. Their most recent album, “The Sin and the Sentence” debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top Rock and Hard Rock albums charts. We met up with Paolo backstage before a recent Trivium concert.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember your first favorite song?
Paolo Gregoletto: Yes. The first favorite song I had was “Lump” by Presidents of the United States of America.
Tom Mullen: Really?
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah. It was really, that was the big hit at that moment when I discovered music and I guess pop music at the time. So bizarre. Actually, I went back and listened to them recently. Pretty interesting how much oddball music came out in the mid-90s and was totally like, “Hey, this is cool. This is gonna be a big hit”
Tom Mullen: Yeah.
Paolo Gregoletto: It’s super catchy, but it’s very bizarre
Tom Mullen: The weird songs won.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah. I mean, it’s just such a bizarre juxtaposition to music now. Of course, it’s always changing. I’m sure if you go back 20 years from them, it’s like alright, completely different music. But it was [an] interesting time to discover music.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song you memorized? It could be playing, too. Do you remember lyrics or?
Paolo Gregoletto: The first song I tried to memorize was that “Gangsta’s Paradise.” I had the tape, the single and it had the blank without the vocals on the back and couldn’t do it really well. That was the end of my attempt of trying to be a rapper.
Tom Mullen: Is there video of that?
Paolo Gregoletto: No, probably not. Thankfully. If I was a kid now, I would’ve filmed that and I would be horrified as an adult. The song I probably remember actually learning was Sublime’s “Wrong Way,” actually playing bass. That was one of the first songs I ever learned how to play the whole way through.
Tom Mullen: That’s a good song to start, I mean that’s very technical.
Paolo Gregoletto: When I played bass with my friends, that’s what we were listening to. Sublime, 311, very bass oriented music and I think that’s what made me like the instrument so much and stick with it.
Tom Mullen: It was in front.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, it was very driving melodically and it was interesting. You could really pick it out easily with your ear. That’s something that’s really hard to do when you’re first starting is, okay, where is the bass?
Tom Mullen: Where is the bass?
Paolo Gregoletto: Sublime was so bass heavy, it was like, well, it’s easy. It’s right in front of your face.
Tom Mullen: That’s cool. Was there a first song or album you remember buying with your own money? What was the first one?
Paolo Gregoletto: My own money. Let me see. I mean, the first album I ever owned was “Tragic Kingdom” by No Doubt. When I started buying my own records, that’s when I started really, I was deep into metal. So, probably like Sepultura, “Chaos A.D.” Fellow Roadrunner band. Was one of the first. That’s like one of the first off the top of my head that was really monumental to my playing and my writing.
Tom Mullen: Oh yeah.
Paolo Gregoletto: It was really important and I got that at a flea market on the side of the road in Pennsylvania.
Tom Mullen: Really?
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, coming home from, what’s it called? Chernobyl’s Grove or something, some small, old, been there for a century type fair thing. Stopped with family, saw the record, album cover, just the quintessential metal discovery story. Wow, the album art looked cool.
Tom Mullen: Exactly.
Paolo Gregoletto: I don’t know who this band is. It was actually right around when I think maybe “Roots” had just come out. So, I discovered them on this “Chaos A.D.” record and then I got “Roots” and I’m like, whoa.
Tom Mullen: That probably was like, wait. They did this now? When I got “Roots,” it was over.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, it was kinda crazy to discover a band. Now you think you’re so up-to-date on what everyone’s doing. If you discover a band like us or you discover us, you can get our back catalog instantly. Then, it was kind of a struggle.
Tom Mullen: You had to search.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, and an album that came out maybe two years before-
Tom Mullen: You would’ve never known.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, you would’ve never known and it might be like-
Tom Mullen: You know that feeling? I miss that.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: The unknown.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, it’s definitely… The tradeoff for having everything is maybe it doesn’t feel as exciting all the time. Although, I do think great music will still give that same feeling. The difference between us releasing this record and the last record and watching our fans react to it, it comes down to the music. That’s the most important thing by far.
Tom Mullen: Is there a specific song of yours that you felt you took to the next level? This could be when you were making songs before Trivium. Like, oh, I made this song and now I think I can do this.
Paolo Gregoletto: I mean, the two that really stick out to me, “In Waves” being one for the simplicity of the riff, but still being heavy, still being memorable. Not feeling cliché, but feeling like it’s just enough melodically, really two notes in the riff. But, so simple, so easy to remember and so heavy.
Then, “Until the World Goes Cold”, from the last record, I think really pushed us into a different type of world in the rock scene. It’s like, we’re a metal band. We can play melodic; we can play heavy. We feel comfortable playing anywhere in between the spectrum of heavy and melody and we like to mix those two things and that’s what makes our sound. That just really propelled us into a whole new audience and it really re-energized our fan base quite a bit.
Tom Mullen: That’s great! Was there a musical influence that people would be surprised?
Paolo Gregoletto: I mean, I’m always listening to everything. With Spotify, it’s like you can jump on a playlist. There’s really no-
Tom Mullen: Then when that radio kicks in after an album’s over and it starts playing other songs and you’re like, “Oh wait, I forgot about that one!”
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah. I mean, I think the thing is you can kind of just jump into things so effortlessly and there’s not a commitment to buying a record. I’ve always loved funk music. To really pin down something that’s really outside of metal, probably Frank Sinatra’s one of my favorite artists. Just a really incredible story. I read the two-part book on him, “The Voice” and “The Chairman,” which was like an epic, epic tale. Very long, but it was incredible and really made me appreciate the music even more.
I really enjoy the back story of an artist as they’re making these incredible songs because you tend to find, especially with a guy like that, the back story and the real reality behind these really either incredibly emotional songs or really happy songs is some really interesting things in their personal lives, whether it’s going through crazy relationships or just the career falling out from under your feet and having to kind of work your way back up. Always makes the music more special when you hear it, when you know those kind of things.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. I love that. Some people have mentioned crooners before on this.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: You’re not the first. That’s great.
Paolo Gregoletto: It’s definitely timeless music. I mean, you think about all those guys. They were some of the first people to really use a full voice. Bing Crosby’s like the first guy with a really full sounding voice because of microphone technology. It still sounds like they’re alive through their music.
Tom Mullen: Definitely. Is there a recent song you discovered that you had to share with friends?
Paolo Gregoletto: The recent stuff I’ve shared was probably the new Cannibal Corpse.
Tom Mullen: How come?
Paolo Gregoletto: It’s just always, they always deliver the heavy. They are a national treasure for death metal. They’ve lived past pretty much that entire scene.
Tom Mullen: Definitely.
Paolo Gregoletto: They’ve stayed relevant. They’ve grown. They’re still a band that kind of, they can do this thing that not many people can do and make you kind of, I don’t know, make you feel acceptable throwing out a song online called “Fucked with a Knife.” You’re like, yeah, Cannibal Corpse, cool. I don’t know. It’s weird. I don’t think any band could do that but them. And the fact that they were in Ace Ventura kind of gave them this really-
Tom Mullen: You’re right.
Paolo Gregoletto: Amazing.
Tom Mullen: I forgot about that.
Paolo Gregoletto: -cult classic credibility, which I don’t know, I’ve just always loved that band. They’re just great. Great people, too. The new album, what I’ve heard, I listened to half of it already. It’s great.
Tom Mullen: Cool. Are there things in other songs, not yours, that you connect with first? When you first hear a song, what do you connect with?
Paolo Gregoletto: If it’s metal, it’s gonna be the guitar riffs. Maybe some of the drumming. I mean, I’m gonna connect with the drumming in a metal song if it’s not the usual go-to stuff. If it’s something special, if there’s some X factor, if the drummer’s got something really cool going on. Cause as a bass player, I’m listening to the rhythm. Really, I’m just always kinda looking for what’s kinda different about this band. It’s easy to have a very slick production. You can get a couple plugins and make a demo of a metal song to sound pretty legit. But what is it that’s gonna make it sound different? I’m always looking at-
Tom Mullen: Depth.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, I’m listening for that other thing. Lyrics, vocals, of course. That’s gonna really make you stand apart from other bands in any genre.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs in public?
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, I think maybe the first time I really did was probably when I was in a bar or something and someone played it on one of those jukeboxes.
Tom Mullen: How was that?
Paolo Gregoletto: It’s crazy. It’s weird cause you’re looking around.
Tom Mullen: Did they know you were there?
Paolo Gregoletto: I think sometimes it’s when I was with friends, so we knew what it was but it’s funny to see people that don’t and seeing people like really actually hear it in real time and not know you and maybe turn around and listen, maybe look at the jukebox and see what’s on there and discovering it like that.
Tom Mullen: That’s cool. There’s a quote you had said about by the time you had got to the producer, 99 percent of this was written. Was anything changed when you got to the studio?
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah-
Tom Mullen: That’s a really good feeling to go into the studio and have all that done.
Paolo Gregoletto: I think the thing is, 99 percent written, in that we knew what we wanted the song to be and we had riffs and lyrics pretty much completely done. But there is still big changes and a lot of the stuff was how Matt would emote the lyrics, how Matt would sing it. Maybe changing up some notes here and there.
But it was, for us, we needed to go in knowing what the vision of the record was and you need to know this is the lyric that’s being sung here and this is how we want it to be and then Josh going, okay. You guys gotta do it like this if you wanna get it there, what you have in mind. He was really an incredible objective ear in the studios and-
Tom Mullen: How important is that?
Paolo Gregoletto: Oh, totally.
Tom Mullen: I think people listening maybe don’t know that kind of role. Cause he needs to tell you straight up.
Paolo Gregoletto: It’s hard to say what a producer is because there’s so many ways that a producer can work with a band. You got anyone from a Rick Rubin who’s this-
Tom Mullen: Yogi.
Paolo Gregoletto: -yeah, kind of has this enigma weird guru thing and then you got guys who are really hands-on. You got guys that write, guys that are more engineers than that. To a casual fan, you’re like, I don’t really know what that is. Honestly, you’re just, you are not only worrying about the music getting finished on time, you’re making sure it’s good. You’re also playing band psychologist trying to figure out what guys are like, what the weird quirks are, how do you make all these guys work?
Doing it while you’re trying to make something come under budget and sound great. It’s sort of a role that a guy like Josh is so good at. He’s got this really great, upbeat personality. He’s about making it happen. If no one’s feeling his idea, he’s not bummed out. If he really feels an idea, he’s not afraid to tell us and we’re a band that’s open to people giving us good criticisms, good ideas. It’s sort of that positive attitude in the studio, really just helps us make really angry sounding music for some reason. It’s weird it works like that.
Tom Mullen: You said, there was another quote that said learn more the craft and the technical side. You’re reading books and stuff. What was the stuff you learned from that? Did anything click where in the studio, you’re like, that makes sense now? Or-
Paolo Gregoletto: There’s always a eureka moment with stuff. The last record, it was just these little things of putting certain types of pauses before going into a chorus or sort of using key changes to really make it subtly feel like something’s changed in the song that maybe a normal, non-musician would be like, “Wow, something sounds different or feels different.”
It’s learning all these little tricks to songwriting that you take with you and then you come into this record and we have all those tricks we know how to do. They’re not tricks like that you’re cutting corners. It’s just improving something. It’s like taking a chorus and making it soar and doing all these different types of things to get that. With this record, it’s like when we get Alex into the room, this beast on the kit, it’s like showing him all those tricks we’ve learned.
This time was kinda fun because it’s like, okay, we’re the teachers now. We’re gonna teach this dude, alright, you’re a badass drummer. We’re gonna teach you how to be a badass drummer and how to write some songs that people are gonna sing back to you and it’s gonna feel musical and your drums are gonna make a big deal and make an important mark on this record because of these little things you’re gonna learn. Then, getting with Josh, same thing. He’s teaching us stuff that I didn’t know, we didn’t know.
Tom Mullen: Like what? What was one thing?
Paolo Gregoletto: Like a song like “Endless Night,” when we get to the end and that’s a very simple song, vocally driven. Getting to the last chorus and, if you give us the mic, we would repeat the last chorus the same as we did the first two. And it’s like, Josh had some other cool ideas like, “Hey, let’s repeat the first verse under the chorus to give it this whole new, hey, we’re bringing this back around to tie it up and make it even bigger.” It was like, wow, I’ve never, ever thought of doing that. We don’t do it every song. We didn’t do it on every song on this record.
Tom Mullen: But that one, it’s gonna sound different.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, I was like, dude, that’s a great idea. Josh has also worked with other stuff. He’s done hip hop; he’s done pop music. He’s been learning stuff along the way. That’s the best part about music and working with so many people is that everything they’ve learned along the way, they’re passing to us, coming into our style of music. We’re all about taking metal into uncharted territory if we can.
Tom Mullen: And learning.
Paolo Gregoletto: And learning and I am definitely not opposed to learning tricks from other styles of music. At the end of the day, it’s like you wanna make music people can remember and relate to and love. We’re doing that with just gamed up amps and intense drumming and screaming.
Tom Mullen: In college, I did a breakdown of the year show. So, we cataloged all the records that were released throughout the year and ranked the breakdowns and played them all. One year, I think Cave In won. But, do you have a favorite breakdown of all time?
Paolo Gregoletto: Ooh, man.
Tom Mullen: Mine is “Juggernaut” by Cave In. Or “The Saddest Day,” Converge is a good one in there.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, let me see. Let me see. That’s tough.
Tom Mullen: It is tough. If you don’t have one, that’s fine.
Paolo Gregoletto: Probably do “Five Minutes Alone” by Pantera. That’s probably towards the end, that’s a good one.
Tom Mullen: Cause it does it twice.
Paolo Gregoletto: They’re really kind of the first legit metal band where it wasn’t like it’s a crossover doing the breakdown. No, Pantera’s just a metal band and that’s a breakdown right there. They pretty much, for at least 10, 15 years after them, especially after that CD and that song. Man, you think about all the bands that were influenced hardcore and metal, that’s like, oh shit, we gotta have breakdowns now. We were definitely a product of listening to Pantera, thinking about breakdown parts and open chugs and stuff.
Tom Mullen: I worked Nothing Face 16 years ago when I was first getting started and they were touring with Pantera.
Paolo Gregoletto: That’s amazing.
Tom Mullen: I got to go to three or four of the shows. Watching them put, cause I was used to club shows, but watching them put the energy at an arena. That’s-
Paolo Gregoletto: That’s a-
Tom Mullen: You learn that over time.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, totally.
Tom Mullen: How your show changes and what you need to do.
Paolo Gregoletto: You learn that. We’ve toured with Slipknot in arenas.
Tom Mullen: That must have been-
Paolo Gregoletto: It’s a different type of energy and you have to project your band. It has to be bigger than, larger than life. A lot of it comes from the music. Comes from the front man. The production, if you can have it, but without the production, you gotta bring something else. We’ve had a couple arena tours supporting bands and you learn a lot. It’s a different animal completely.
Tom Mullen: Last one. It sounds cliché, but I don’t think it is. Your musical dream. You wake up from that daydream or you wake up and you’re somewhere. Is there a musical dream for you personally?
Paolo Gregoletto: Every day you get to do this feels like a dream in a way. Especially with this tour being sold out practically every show this first week or two. Being able to headline our own arena shows. That would be definitely a dream.
Tom Mullen: And a career.
Paolo Gregoletto: Yeah, it’s kinda one of those things. You want to, you wanna get there, you just gotta figure out the songs and there’s sort of a luck factor that your music that you’re making is what people really need at the time and a lot of people need it. That’s kinda what it would take. But, we feel great where we’re at to be doing this level and selling it out. It’s not a bad place to be. It’s the dream I had when I was like 15, 16. So, we’re on the way. We feel good. Feel like we’re making good music and feeling good about being in a band. That’s a dream.
Tom Mullen: After this many years, your consistency. That’s the thing that I think people rely on.
Paolo Gregoletto: We all get along. We get along and that is such a big thing.
Tom Mullen: That’s huge.
Paolo Gregoletto: We are enjoying this. There’s a difference between, I wouldn’t wanna be in an arena if it meant that we weren’t getting along, for whatever reason, to be there.
Tom Mullen: It’s family.
Paolo Gregoletto: To be able to get along, to hang out, to laugh, to have good dinners at night and laugh about stuff and then get up the next day and play a sold-out show in New York. That’s living the dream.
Tom Mullen: Cool. Thank you!
Paolo Gregoletto: Thank you very much.
Outro: Thanks to Paolo for coming on What’d I Say. Find more about Trivium at Trivium.org. Our theme music is by Max Frost. Be sure and catch up on all the Atlantic Records podcasts at atlanticpodcasts.com. Thank you for listening.