By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Matt Byrne, a drummer from Poughkeepsie, heard about an audition for a heavy metal band called Hatebreed in 1998 while he was still in college at SUNY Plattsburgh. The band had formed a couple years prior but was in need of a drummer. A week after his audition, Byrne was on tour with the band. Though he took a brief hiatus from Hatebreed a year later, Byrne returned in 2001 and has been part of the band ever since. Hatebreed will be playing at Clifton Park’s Upstate Concert Hall Wednesday June 8.
Byrne explained why he left the band after his first year, saying, “At the time it didn’t feel like a good fit for me. Me and the other guys were different people in different places at the time.”
In 2001, the drummer who replaced Byrne left and the remaining bandmembers asked Bryne to come back to fill in. Shortly later, the band was signed to Universal Records.
Byrne said he first got into metal when he was 12 or 13 years old. You know that the older sibling or cousin who introduces you to new music in those pivotal years that define what you’ll listen to for decades to come? For Byrne, that person was an older cousin who introduced him to bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Kiss and Iron Maiden.
“I got into metal before hardcore,” said Byrne, who said Hatebreed is a melding of the two.
He first started playing drums at age 14. “I had an uncle that played drums,” said Byrne. “I tried guitar first and I stunk. Couldn’t do it. I wanted to play heavy metal and my mother got me an acoustic hand-me-down guitar. She got me lessons from some church lady,” he added. Byrne lasted four months with the church lady guitar lessons and then decided he wanted to try something else. That’s when his uncle offered to give him his drumset, but on one condition: only if he promised to take lessons first.
Byrne said he gives his parents a lot of credit for encouraging him to play, or at least not discouraging him from banging on his drumset at home for all those years. “The drums are really loud,” he said, laughing. What’s louder, he said is “a kid playing in the basement, [who] doesn’t know what they’re doing. It must sound absolutely horrible.”
Before Byrne joined Hatebreed, he was studying at SUNY Plattsburgh to become a special education teacher. Byrne’s academic pursuits were at least partially influenced by his mother, a Spanish and French teacher. “I don’t have a problem talking to people,” said Byrne, explaining why he chose to study education. “ I can talk with a crowd.”
Byrne’s father worked for General Electric and his younger sister now lives in New York City.
While Byrne has loved metal for most of his life, he says his drumming is influenced by other genres like funk and jazz. “I try to keep my ear open to almost everything,” said Byrne. “I like drum based music like funk, faster heavy metal and jazz. I hear a lick that I like and it makes me want to play on my own,” he added. He said he incorporates the improvisation that’s essential to jazz music in his drumming. “Our live versions are always a little different. I like to play in the moment. A lot of jazz guys come from that improvisation style. I try to bring that to heavy metal without messing up the songs or my bandmates,” he said.
Byrne said he’s especially proud of the band’s latest album, The Concrete Confessional which came up in May. He said he’s excited to “watch the fans grow into it.”
For those who don’t know much about the difference between metal and hardcore, have no fear because Byrne didn’t mind explaining. “Everything comes from early punk stuff,” he said. “Hardcore is faster, shorter, louder, and more in your face.” In contrast, he said,“Metal is based off of hardcore and punk.”
Byrne didn’t miss a beat when asked who he’d like to tour with, if he could choose anyone or any band. “We’ve never toured with Metallica. I’d like to [tour with them] since they’re the biggest thrash band ever. They’ve broken down so many walls for so many bands in heavy metal. If you’re into heavy metal, they’re your heroes. They’re still at the top of their game,” said Byrne.
The term intense would be an understatement when describing a Hatebreed show, according to Byrne. “It’s a little more than intense. We have very loyal fans. It definitely [gets] rowdy,” he said. Byrne said “there are a lot of circle pits, a lot of jumping up and down, a lot of stage diving.”
When it comes to describing a Hatebreed concert, Byrne said “cathartic is a good word to use.” Byrne said fans have come up to tell them that their lyrics have helped them through hard times in life whether it be depression, abuse or bullying. Byrne recalled seeing fans in wheelchairs hoisted up and passed around by other members of the crowd. “Sometimes people bring in prosthetic limbs to be signed after shows,” he added.
“Our fans come to the show and they let it all out and leave it all on the floor. They go nuts to the music and they let it all out. It’s kind of like a cleansing experience,” Byrne added.