March 5, 2020 Interview – Justin Matthews of Toothgrinder
The roads we travel in life are hardly ever paved with gold. Mostly always uneven terrain, a defining moment of self-discovery can sometimes be lost in obscurity, but fortunately Justin Matthews’ epiphany saved himself. The lead man for Metal act Toothgrinder, after a struggle with addiction, Matthews found peace within himself, sobriety, and a new sense of self awareness.
A culmination of several defining moments, in the end Toothgrinder are now as strong as ever, recently releasing arguably their most powerful album to date, I AM. Rolling out this past fall via Spinefarm Records, the latest effort from the band is progressive, heavy, heartfelt, and lyrically empowering. An inspiration time for Toothgrinder, Matthews recently took the time to speak candidly about his journey, growth, the work put into I AM, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Toothgrinder has been established for nearly a decade now. Beginning as an independent act, you went on to sign with Spinefarm Records, releasing 2 studio albums, and continue to build a strong following. Through everything, what has the journey of the band
been like to this point?
Justin Matthews – It has been a roller coaster ride for sure. A fun roller coaster, but a roller coaster nonetheless. As with any creative endeavor, there is a lot of ups and downs, and unknowns. It can be very stressful at times, not knowing where the future is heading, but it keeps things interesting. I have learned over the years to do my best to not place value on the outcome and more on the journey. I am extremely grateful for everything we have been able to accomplish thus far, and also very grateful to be able to be surrounded by so much talent on a daily basis.
Cryptic Rock – The hard work seems to be paying off because the band’s sound has grown a lot since your 2016 debut LP, Nocturnal Masquerade. While retaining Progressive Metal elements, you have certainly interjected more of a Rock vibe to your music with each passing album. How would you describe the band’s progression?
Justin Matthews – I would like to say maturity and growth, but that sounds very cliche. Though some might not agree, I think we all just got better as musicians, and wanted to start focusing on songwriting more. I know for myself, I definitely wanted to start singing more, because it was a lot more challenging. I wanted to push myself to a very uncomfortable level. Plus, I think I have gotten less angry over the years. It was getting harder to write such angsty jams when I was becoming more at peace with everything.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable, growth is important, and the music shows that. Speaking of growth, I AM came out back in October. This album is arguably your most complete album to date. Mature, honest, and striking are a few of the words that best describe it. What was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Justin Matthews – The writing process was much like Nocturnal Masquerade, where we composed a lot of the music before heading into the studio and honed in on the details while recording. We worked with Matt Squire, who understood our vision inside and out. It was a very pleasurable experience but grueling because of the time constraint. I think half the record was recorded on blown out vocals, but Squire reassured me that certain singers purposely blow out their vocals for recording, so I went along with that. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – The end result is really strong. You have mentioned a good portion of the inspiration for this album came from rediscovering yourself if you will. You mentioned a good deal of the influence is a direct reflection of your own personal struggles and overcoming them. Could you tell us more about all of this?
Justin Matthews – When it came to lyrical content for the album, sobriety was my whole life at that point, and still is. I found it impossible to not incorporate those themes into the songs. After a bit of brainstorming and feeling out the material, I decided to just dedicate the message of the entire album to sobriety and spirituality. I think we need a bit more positivity and less resentment in Metal music, but that’s just me, 5 years ago I was all for the “fuck the world” theme. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – The world could just use a bit more positivity in general honestly. The feeling you get when listening to I AM is a sense of hope, empowerment, and individualism. Would you say the creation of this album helped save you? Furthermore, do you feel renewed at this time in your life?
Justin Matthews – Honestly, the recovery programs I am involved in is what saved me. Helping others find their way into recovery is what saves me as well. I think the process of recording an album becomes very self-indulgent at some points, and that is where I start to disassociate with my recovery goals, but once the album came out and I started talking to people about the message and how they can get help, that is when things started to feel right and selfless to a point. As for the themes you mentioned, I would say that is very spot on. Right now I do feel more stable than I have felt, really, ever.
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. Everyone has their cross to bare so to speak. We all have mistakes we have made, but how we recover from those mistakes is what defines us. This in mind, what was the defining moment for you to realize you needed to make a change in your life?
Justin Matthews – I had two pretty clear rock bottoms. The first resulted in my introduction to sobriety and a handful of its programs. I decided it wasn’t for me and “went back out” for another six months or so. I then had a second bottom, where on March 24, 2018 I got sober, and I have been sober ever since. Since then, life has definitely been better. The learning to deal with all the baggage built up along the way without having the ability to numb it out is where things get difficult, but I have learned to deal and have a variety of tools to get me through those hard times.
Cryptic Rock – Good for you, and beyond the music, your story will inspire many in similar situations. We mentioned how the band’s style has grown over the years, and truthfully, I AM is a bold step forward. How are you finding fans supporting the band at this time with what they have heard with this new album?
Justin Matthews – It is pretty much exactly what I expected. You will always have the people who think we aren’t heavy enough anymore, and you will always have those who support us no matter what. Then you have the new listener. I think this record has attracted the new listener, which is huge for us. It is still too early to tell, considering we have not really toured on this record, but I have hope it will start gaining more momentum.
Cryptic Rock – Once people hear it, it will. You wrapped up a killer tour in 2019 supporting Lacuna Coil, Bad Omens, and Uncured. You were then a part of the Megadeth Cruise. How did these tours go for the band?
Justin Matthews – That tour was a ton of fun, and the cruise was a great vacation. I am just really excited to dig into future tours and really try to promote this record. Our tour this spring with Jinjer and Suicide Silence will be absolutely killer. I am expecting some good things to come.
Cryptic Rock – Good to hear! Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi movies, what are some of your favorites?
Justin Matthews – I would not consider myself a Horror / Sci-Fi guru by any means, but A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) was the first movie when I was a kid that scared the living shit out of me and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) still scares the shit out of me to this day. I am also a huge Stephen King fan, more so the books. I think Pet Semetary in book form is one of the most terrifying things I have ever read.
I enjoy more of the psychological stuff if I really want to scare myself. I am a habitual over thinker, so those kind of movies really fuck me up. To be honest though, I don’t watch too much negative stuff anymore, I try to keep a lot of the entertainment around me fairly light, it seems to help a bit.