What’s life like in A7X in 2018? We vis­ited Huntington Beach to dis­cuss the legacy of The Stage, and if it’s pos­si­ble to stay friends when you’re in one of the world’s big­gest bands...

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: JOE DALY • PIC­TURES: TRAVIS SHINN

What are Avenged Seven­fold re­ally like? They in­vited us

to Cal­i­for­nia to hang out with them at home, for a se­ries

of world-ex­clu­sive in­ter­views

Whisky, pizza and punk rock. As far as dive bars go, we’ve hit the jack­pot. Set in a strip mall about five miles in from the coast, Johnny’s Sa­loon oc­cu­pies hal­lowed sta­tus in the sea­side town of Huntington Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. As joy­ful tor­rents of punk, out­law coun­try and soul bump on the juke­box, lo­cals de­vour pizza and beer, sur­rounded by walls fes­tooned with kitschy art, punk slo­gans and a black and white mu­ral of the Ra­mones. A noisy pack of lo­cal dudes slam shots and shoot pool in the cor­ner next to a sign that cau­tions, “If you don’t like steak, stiff drinks and Johnny Cash… don’t let the door hit you in the ass!”

With so much stim­uli, you’d be for­given for not pay­ing too much at­ten­tion to the guys play­ing pool, but if you did, you’d no­tice that the dudes are in fact Huntington Beach’s most fa­mous lo­cals, Avenged Seven­fold. Chatty and un­guarded, it’s like they’re hid­ing in plain sight; there are no fans, no­body is hit­ting them up for self­ies and they’re at­tired like most of the other pa­trons. In fact, if one didn’t know bet­ter, they’d have a rough time try­ing to pick out the rock­stars here. Af­ter in­tro­duc­tions are made, we point this out to singer M. Shad­ows, who de­murs, say­ing, “I don’t feel fa­mous at all. I think I’m more fa­mous on­line than I am in my ev­ery­day life. I think that Brian [Haner, AKA Synys­ter Gates] gets recog­nised the most out of all of us be­cause he kind of dresses the part. A lot of peo­ple will come up to Brian while I’m stand­ing there and have no clue who I am.” Does he ever speak up? “No,” he laughs, “I’ll usu­ally take the pic­ture for them.”

We im­pose on Shad­ows to skip his next turn at the pool ta­ble for a chat at the bar. There are no sub­jects off lim­its, nor does any­thing that we dis­cuss pro­voke a de­fen­sive re­sponse from the singer, although we’ll stump him twice be­fore we’re done.

Avenged Seven­fold were formed in this very town, nearly 20 years ago, by Shad­ows

(born Matthew San­ders), gui­tarists Syn and

Zacky Vengeance (born Zachary Baker), bassist Johnny Christ (born Jonathan Se­ward) and drum­mer Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sul­li­van, who trag­i­cally passed away in 2009. For­mer Bad Re­li­gion drum­mer Brooks Wack­er­man, who has been keep­ing time with Avenged for three years now, is also at home around these parts, hav­ing been born and raised in nearby Long Beach. With year-round idyl­lic weather, 10 miles of sun-drenched beach run­ning up its coast and a lively down­town area lined with bars, restau­rants and clubs, it’s not hard to pon­der why the band re­main here, rather than mov­ing an hour north to Los An­ge­les — the epi­cen­tre of the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“I try to stay away from the in­dus­try as much as pos­si­ble,” Shad­ows ex­plains. “I like be­ing around my friends; a lot of them still live here. My parents are there, my fam­ily’s there and when you have kids, parents are great babysit­ters! Here in Huntington, in the mid­dle of win­ter I can take my kids to the beach. You travel around the rest of the world but there’s just some­thing about con­sis­tent, 70˚ weather that’s nice.”

It’s hard to pic­ture these words com­ing from the likes of James Het­field, Axl Rose or Dave Mus­taine, but then Shad­ows’ wholesale lack of pre­tence only un­der­scores how dif­fer­ent he is from his con­tem­po­raries. And make no mis­take, those men are very much his con­tem­po­raries. Be­hind the power of Avenged’s mind­blow­ing live shows and a pa­rade of seven pro­gres­sively am­bi­tious stu­dio al­bums, the Orange County met­allers have notched a 2018 Grammy nom­i­na­tion for Best Rock Song (The Stage), scooped up a boat­load of awards, head­lined Down­load and sold more than eight mil­lion al­bums world­wide. As many of the ti­tans of the 80s and 90s re­cede into the dark an­nals of metal his­tory, only Avenged Seven­fold, along­side Slip­knot, stand poised as ob­vi­ous suc­ces­sors to the throne. Which wasn’t al­ways the case. In their ear­lier years, the band earned a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing ar­ro­gant and for a lad­dish en­thu­si­asm for sex, drugs and rock’n’roll — perks of the job, but qual­i­ties that rarely pro­mote a band’s longevity. To­day the guys are al­most unbelievab­ly down-to-earth and lead much qui­eter lives.

“We’ve got our fam­i­lies on the road most of the time,” says Shad­ows. “We’ve out­grown it. No one has a prob­lem in this band. The Rev ob­vi­ously had a prob­lem and we tried to fix that and we learned a lot through that. I’m fuck­ing 36 now. Snort­ing co­caine while I have two kids doesn’t sound good.”

Avenged’s co-founder and orig­i­nal drum­mer was gifted with preter­nat­u­ral mu­si­cal tal­ent and a larger-than-life per­sona, and his un­timely death in 2009 from an over­dose con­tin­ues to cast a long shadow across the band. By now it’s known that each of the orig­i­nal mem­bers wear a metal vial con­tain­ing a piece of The Rev’s drumkit as a tes­ta­ment to their friend’s mem­ory. It dan­gles from Shad­ows’ neck as we chat.

We ask Shad­ows, if he could have a con­ver­sa­tion with The Rev to­day, what would he say and more im­por­tantly, what would he like to hear? For the first time to­day, the singer is stumped. “Man… fuck, man…” He looks away for a bit and con­tin­ues, “I’d just talk to him about the good times we had. I’d talk to him about my kids. I’d tell him that I ex­plained to my kids who Jimmy is and they talk about him like they’ve met him. It’s crazy. I’d just want to hear him give me some cool mu­si­cal ideas. Be­cause that guy was such a badass. He was a ge­nius.”

The band are cur­rently en­ter­ing the final throes of their pro­mo­tional cy­cle in sup­port of The Stage – their epic but con­tro­ver­sial con­cept al­bum about space and time.

“I think we kind of mis­fired there,”

Shad­ows ac­knowl­edges.

Try­ing to shock the sys­tem, Avenged recorded the record in se­cret, sneak re­leas­ing it on Oc­to­ber 28, 2016 to the baf­fled re­cep­tion of un­wit­ting fans and me­dia. It was also their first record on


new la­bel Capi­tol Records and the first to fea­ture Brooks, who had of­fi­cially joined the band in 2015.

Im­me­di­ately avail­able for stream­ing, The Stage her­alded an un­am­bigu­ous com­mit­ment to ex­plor­ing a new pro­gres­sive ori­ented di­rec­tion–an artis­tic de­ci­sion that po­larised an al­ready-con­fused fan­base. Shad­ows be­lieves the al­bum is still find­ing its au­di­ence, ex­plain­ing, “I think it will stand the test of time in terms of Avenged’s legacy and I think that at some point it will be a lot of peo­ple’s favourite record. I just think that when you’re in the mid­dle of the process of writ­ing a record and you know that things are go­ing to be a lit­tle com­plex or a lit­tle over peo­ple’s heads, then you’ve got to know that a back­lash is com­ing. And it did. But you know that go­ing into it. I just wish that we didn’t do so many crazy things at once.”

It wasn’t the first time they’d ex­pe­ri­enced a back­lash. In fact, vir­tu­ally ev­ery re­lease has gen­er­ated fever­ish dis­may within sec­tions of their own fan­base – a near-in­evitabil­ity when one con­sid­ers the many stylis­tic left turns the band have taken over the years. But in the mu­sic busi­ness these days, crit­i­cism is the in­evitable price of am­bi­tion. Matt agrees, not­ing: “I feel that all of the ini­tial back­lashes that we’ve had, peo­ple have grown into it. They try it on and see how it fits. The back­lash to City Of Evil was in­sane. And then the next one was in­sane be­cause it wasn’t City Of Evil. The next one was ac­tu­ally fine be­cause Jimmy had died. We didn’t get much of a back­lash be­cause I think that peo­ple felt bad for us. But then when Hail To The King came out, there was a huge back­lash and then The Stage came out and there was more back­lash. The dif­fer­ent thing on the back­lash with The Stage, though, was it was the first time that we had a great crit­i­cal re­sponse and more of a fan back­lash.”

Across the bar, roars of laugh­ter and clink­ing of beers is heard from the rest of the band. Watch­ing the guys in­ter­act, one gets the sense of a very real and nat­u­ral ca­ma­raderie. It’s what’s not hap­pen­ing that tips you off — no­body’s head is buried in his phone, none of the guys are sit­ting off by them­selves, nor do any of them look like they’d rather be some­where else. They joke, bust chops, swap sto­ries and laugh a lot. And liv­ing so close to­gether, they see each other all the time.

“We drink, hang out, party,” Shad­ows says.

“If there’s any wed­ding for one of our friends, any bach­e­lor party or any night out or din­ner, we’re all there. My wife’s twin sis­ter is mar­ried to Brian and we live five min­utes‘ walk from each other. We see each other all the time. I saw Zack at the gym to­day. I saw Johnny walk­ing down the street with his son when I was go­ing to play golf. I gave him a lit­tle honk and waved at him.”

We point out the un­com­monly easy vibe among the mem­bers and Shad­ows says, “It’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter to­day than it’s been in a long time.

ev­ery­one’s got fam­i­lies and we’re re­ally re­spect­ful to ev­ery­body. We take a lot of time off. We’re not in a rush to do any­thing. Stay off the so­cial me­dia, just make mu­sic and let the pieces fall where they may. That’s how life is at this point.”

Look­ing ahead, this June sees the band’s sec­ond head­lin­ing ap­pear­ance at Down­load – no small val­i­da­tion of the role they play in to­day’s scene. “It’s hard enough to do it once, so if they ask you back, then I guess it went pretty well. So yeah, I think it’s a val­i­da­tion.” Shad­ows also ac­knowl­edges that there’s still much work to be done. “It’s al­ways been a weird thing with Avenged Seven­fold,” he ex­plains. “I can go to my golf club and men­tion Ozzy or Guns N’ Roses and they’re all go­ing to know who I’m talk­ing about but if you say Avenged Seven­fold they’re go­ing to go, ‘eh?’ That’s why it’s im­por­tant for us to get out there and go as hard as we can to try to win over ev­ery one of those peo­ple there that night.”

Last year, af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, the band ac­cepted an of­fer to sup­port Me­tal­lica on parts of their North Amer­i­can tour, which meant a re­turn to the days of day­light shows, short­ened setlists and fight­ing to win over an­other band’s au­di­ence. Avenged con­verted a broad new cross-sec­tion of fans and found both friends and men­tors in the head­lin­ers, par­tic­u­larly drum­mer Lars Ul­rich. “I text with Lars all the time,” Shad­ows says. “He’s al­ways say­ing, ‘There is no roadmap, dude.’ It’s just, ‘Let’s try this and see what hap­pens.’ And these are the big­gest guys in the game. Then you look at Ozzy’s per­son­al­ity and how he han­dles his busi­ness and how a band like Me­tal­lica does, with Lars spear­head­ing things, it’s vastly dif­fer­ent.

Look at Guns N’ Roses – that’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what Me­tal­lica does. What’s the com­mon thread? Good fuck­ing songs.”

Speak­ing of good fuck­ing songs, we men­tion that this very is­sue of Ham­mer will fea­ture Avenged Seven­fold cov­ers from a bat­tery of a gen­er­a­tion of young bands who count Avenged among their in­flu­ences. For the sec­ond time to­day, Shad­ows is caught speech­less. “Wow… Dude… that’s crazy… I’m shocked. We did that for Iron Maiden and I remember how I felt about them, and I still do. I’m just to­tally shocked. I didn’t think we were there, but I ap­pre­ci­ate it. That’s very cool!”

Talk­ing about young bands opens a con­ver­sa­tion about mu­sic in gen­eral and how other gen­res still dom­i­nate the main­stream while metal largely re­mains on the out­side look­ing in. “I think the metal au­di­ence is the most in­tel­li­gent au­di­ence,” he says. “Those are the ones who are go­ing to be the most in­ter­ested in science, the most in­ter­ested in tech… when I look at my friends who are great at all of these things, they lis­ten to metal and they lis­ten to pro­gres­sive rock. But I think that it comes to a point where they can’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween lov­ing a genre and know­ing how to grow it. Don’t call peo­ple ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ if you’re not go­ing to al­low bands like us go out and reach those peo­ple and bring them into the fold, just like how I got into it. I want to see the genre grow. I want there to be com­pe­ti­tion. I want there to be bands where we say, ‘Oh shit, look what they did. That’s fuck­ing rad and we need to beat that!’”

even though The Stage is still in its al­bum cy­cle, new ma­te­rial is on the radar and Shad­ows de­scribes the band’s cur­rent sta­tus as “in­spired”.

“We’ve thrown ideas around,” he con­tin­ues. “Not mu­si­cally, but just aes­thet­i­cally as to what

we want to do. Af­ter Septem­ber we’ll get in the stu­dio and we’ll start jam­ming and I’m sure it will com­pletely change. With the last record, we said some­thing a year be­fore that it was go­ing to be ag­gres­sive and this and that and then it com­pletely changed but ev­ery­one holds you to that, so there’s just no point.”

As his band­mates beckon for his long-over­due turn at pool, we ask how life might look if Avenged Seven­fold ended to­mor­row. Shad­ows doesn’t hes­i­tate to de­scribe how he’d spend his time.

“I love in­vest­ing, so I’d get deeper into that. I’d work on my golf game and

I’d try to make a videogame. I play videogames all day so I’d try to write a videogame story and go to some of my friends in the in­dus­try and try to do that. Any­thing like that I’d put all my time into it.” But would he be happy? “Oh, fuck yeah.”

Avenged fans can take heart that the band have no in­ten­tions of slow­ing down. Af­ter head­lin­ing Florida’s Rockville fes­ti­val, there’s US mega-fest, Rock On The Range, in May, fol­lowed by a month of euro­pean dates in­clud­ing that afore­men­tioned re­turn to Down­load. They then re­turn to the US in July for the end Of The World tour with Prophets of Rage and Three Days Grace, and it sounds like the song­writ­ing phase of the next al­bum won’t be far be­hind. With their am­bi­tions ri­valled only by an ex­hil­a­rat­ing new cre­ative vi­sion, it’s no stretch to say that nearly 20 years into their ca­reer, Avenged Seven­fold are only now en­ter­ing their prime. Shad­ows agrees. “For me, rock was al­ways about ex­pres­sion, tak­ing chances and be­ing re­bel­lious,” he states. “We have to keep mov­ing for­ward and if you’re go­ing to put us in a box, then you’re go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed.” Then, with an un­mis­tak­able sense of com­mit­ment, he adds: “I don’t feel like we’ve even come close to writ­ing our best record.” You can bet ev­ery last penny that they won’t stop un­til they do.



Cue? Syn don’t need no stinkin’ cue!

this tall You’ve gotta be us… to play pool with

“OK, whose round is it?”

A7X (left to right): Zacky Vengeance, Brooks Wack­er­man, M Shad­ows, Synys­ter Gates, Johnny Christ

kill “What’s green, has four legs and can you if it falls out of a tree? A pool ta­ble!” “Dude, that’s aw­ful.”

This looks like it could get messy. ex­cel­lent news

We should prob­a­bly con­sider mov­ing the cam­era…

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