WELCOME TO THE FAMILY
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...
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,”
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
“WE HAD A BACKLASH ON CITY OF EVIL, HAIL TO THE KING AND THE STAGE” AVENGED AREN’T AFRAID OF TAKING RISKS WITH THEIR SOUND, AND THEIR FANBASE
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.
THE DELUXE EDITION OF THE STAGE IS OUT NOW VIA CAPITOL. AVENGED SEVENFOLD HEADLINE DOWNLOAD ON JUNE 8
“WE’RE INSPIRED. WE’VE THROWN SOME IDEAS AROUND FOR THE NEW ALBUM” AVENGED ARE LOOKING TO GET TO WORK COME SEPTEMBER TIME
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…