" I railed, "that's insane. Nobody wakes up at that hour.
" Particularly not Zacky Vengeance
, one of the hellriding guitar players in Avenged Sevenfold, the thrashing metalcore band that just released City Of Evil, it's first major label release (they were signed recently to Warner Bros. Records). And yet I was being informed that this was the ungodly hour the musician wanted to chat. It made no sense to me - musicians sleep the sleep of the dead and never roll out of bed before noon. I couldn't figure it out. But then the powers-that-be told me Vengeance
was on the other side of the world, in Europe, and it all made sense. Early in the morning Hollywood time was like 2:30 PM in the afternoon for the young Turk which is probably the hour he was just rising.
Full of piss and vinegar and justifiably proud of the new album, he talked Ultimate-Guitar
's ear off in the following verbal assault.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: There's something very English sounding about the band - that sort of classic trumpeting of guitars that bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest embody. Would you agree with that statement?
For me personally, it wasn't from the beginning. Umm, you know 'cause I was like punk rock stuff and Iron Maiden and I didn't really get it. And then I'd write songs and everyone would be like, 'Oh, it kind of reminds me of Iron Maiden and stuff.
' So then as I grew up, you know, I was getting the CDs and I was like, 'Wow, this is awesome.
' And it's strictly by chance that we have a little bit of that sound to us. I think mainly because our singer, M. Shadows
loves to sing his ass off and high notes and stuff and drum-wise you know we have sometimes we still have like the galloping beats and music to go along with it and stuff.
So you're saying that you initially visualized a sound and later when you listened to bands like Maiden you realized a similarity?
Yeah, personally, for me it was that way. I know our singer has always been a huge Iron Maiden fan; I mean his dad turned him onto it when he was really young and stuff. But it wasn't until he got me into but then I realized how cool it was and how over the top and original it was for what they were doing.
Sonically you sound like Maiden and even the image - the skulls and ghosts and dark elements - is reminiscent of that band
|"We just love what we love and it goes from all different directions from any kind of music."|
I think we get a lot of enjoyment out of all sorts of things. There are shock rock bands like Marilyn Manson who are way over the top and there's something about that that's awesome. We love stuff like Alice Cooper. I like bands that have something that sets them apart like Gwen Stefani having a total cool style of her own that people emulate. I really respect that. And then on the same token everyone will agree with me when I saw we like the bands like Pantera and Metallica who just don't give a f--k and they're out there to kick ass, you know? And that's kind of their thing, you know, just to keep it simple. And I think we try and incorporate all of that into our image and definitely our live show too.
That's really amazing that you would cite someone like Gwen Stefani as an influence. Is this proper metal etiquette?
To us great music is great music and we've never liked bands just to like them to be cool. We just love what we love and it goes from all different directions from pretty much any kind of music you can imagine we can draw good stuff from it. Sometimes it weirds our fans out but I think that's what gives us our sound. We like bands from super shredding Euro-metal bands to really laid back singer/songwriter like Elvis Costello. But I mean our main driving force behind everything is like Metallica and Iron Maiden. They take all the music they love and then create their own thing with it; just go out there with full energy and explode on the scene and live in concert and everything.
You released a couple of indy records before landing the Warner Bros. deal. Were you putting together the pieces of the band on those early albums, seeing what worked and what didn't work stylistically?
I think we've always known where we wanted to be. We started out when we were 17 and 18, we started the band, and at that time we didn't think about anything really; we wanted to be like all the bands we loved like Pantera and stuff and put on an awesome show. And we loved heavy music and we loved punk rock and stuff and we just came together and wrote and pretty much no holds barred form the beginning. I mean we have a ballad on our first CD (Sounding the Seventh Trumpet) and there's full on punk songs and it's all over the place. You can tell it's very young; up until City Of Evil
, it's taken seven years for us to mature musically. But right off the bat we definitely think we had something different. I think there's a very raw, honest, youthful energy to that album. It's not the tightest album and it's not the best-produced album but you can definitely see where we were headed from the album. And then we learned a lot about production and trimming fat and stuff from our songs on our second album, Waking the Fallen. We learned, 'Wow, people play to a metronome' and songs are in time and you can have some sort of structure.
And then on City Of Evil
, you know, we took everything that we've learned from both prior albums and all the touring and the friends that we've met in other bands and stuff and we just wrote the album for where we were at at that time.
What does it feel like having a big album deal?
It was really exciting because right around the time when all those labels were looking at us, a lot of stuff was goin' on for us. We felt touring-wise we were really starting to get noticed by people and you have labels taking you out for free dinners and stuff which is always awesome when you're starving to death. We found a place that we feel really comfortable with. We weren't very nervous because we had the two albums out on independent labels and we'd put on a very very solid core underground fan base. We already went out there and did all the dirty work ourselves and we'd gotten as far as we could on indy labels and now it was a time to make a step to reach out to more people. And it was awesome, you know. I was never nervous about it. I mean I was as nervous about it as I was for any of the other albums we did. When we made our first album, before we had one fan, I was nervous about it. And then I got a little bit nervous about Waking the Fallen and wondering if it was as good as Sounding ? Because you always wonder if it's gonna be as good. But we knew that we'd find a way to make it work.
So you recorded your first album before you had any kind of following and before anyone knew who you were?
|"Up until City of Evil, it's taken seven years for us to mature musically."|
Yeah, definitely. We had some demos and we kind of circulated them around Orange Country where we're from. There are probably a few hundred in existence 'cause we had to pay for them ourselves and we didn't have very much money and stuff. We played a couple shows but in the grand scheme no one knew who we were and we just saved up our own money pretty much and went into the studio. Pretty much did it ourselves. And then we put it out on a Belgian label surprisingly enough and obviously it didn't do much for anyone. And then it got picked up by an indy label (Good Life Recordings) and from there we got our chance to buy our van and started touring and it's been nonstop from there.
On the new album, then, you've come to a point where you know exactly what you want to record? You have song ideas and guitar riffs already put together?
There's definitely riffs that carried over from the last album that we just couldn't make work for Waking The Fallen
but we weren't ready to give up on them. And when you're all sitting together and writing all of a sudden some of those riffs just pop out. 'Hey, why don't we try this out?
' or 'Why don't we use this?
' And then there's stuff, riffs you get from just jamming in soundchecks over the previous year-and-a-half of touring. But it really comes together when you all sit down, sit at your house and come up with stuff and bring it over. It's one of those things where you bring all your ideas, everyone brings all their ideas to the table and you sit down and find a way to make 'em work.
Let's talk about some of the specific tracks and see what's happening musically. What about the opening song 'Beast and the Harlot?' That has an incredibly dark feel and a lot of musicality with that strange time signature during the chorus.
Basically we wanted a song that was a little different than anything we'd ever done with more swagger I guess would be the right word. We wanted a song with lots of textures, too. And on this album since we had intros, typically we had intros on our last two CDs (opening musical motifs) being the first tracks, we didn't really want to have like a separate intro track. So what we did was incorporated like an epic intro into the song. That's actually carried over from an intro we were gonna use from Waking the Fallen surprisingly. So that was kinda cool. And then from there we just this really almost southern muted riff that was a pretty simple riff but it was really in your face and stuff and Shadows wanted to try something kinda where he sang low on it and threw a really high octave on it. It kinda balances out and almost sounds kind of mechanical. And then I think Synster went in there and threw the off-time guitar over the chorus just as a layer at the end. It definitely ya know kind of gives it a more upbeat feel, a little bit happier feel. The rest of the song is kinda like darker and then the chorus comes in and it's a little bit happier.
We'd always done a lot of dueling guitars but we'd never really done any solos that meet up and dueling solos. And this was the first song that we got a chance to do that. Basically I meet up with him and we do this little chromatic solo at the end of one of the solos before the first chorus. Kind of a little solo interlude before we get into the chorus; there's a little bit of a weird way to structure a song but it definitely works. It's kind of a cool thing for us.
You talk about dueling guitars and that type of thing but how exactly do you and Synster approach guitar parts?
It's kind of a chopping block. We basically just kind of do whatever feels right. There'll be days where you've been there for so long you get burned out and you just go in there and track all day whatever the other person doesn't want to do. The tracking and what we actually play live are two different things. There's days where I track stuff and I just have to learn it that day in the studio because I knew how it went but when we'd actually be rehearsing or in pre-production it would be something that I'd never played. Basically it's just being in the studio and what the producer wants and when it's time to lay something down, whoever's closest, whoever's in the room or whoever can pull the part off. There's definitely things that require a certain feel.
Are there specific types of parts that you're more adept at putting down? Rhythms or riffs? You're credited as guitar and Synster is credited as lead guitar - is that the way it tends to break down?
Totally. When it comes to duels or anything like that, we'll definitely mix it up. All the more technical stuff is usually left up to him. I do a lot of the like more galloping, muting stuff, that's more my specialty because that's kinda where I came from with all the punk rock stuff that I always loved writing and stuff. He showed me a lot about lead stuff and I've showed him about stuff about a world that he's not really from.
And while we're talking about guitar parts, run down the specific guitars and amplifiers you use to play those parts.
|"Whether or not they're my favorite artists, you always have something in common with left-handed players."|
Totally. Me and Synster both use Schecter
guitars. I'm not sure what model his is but I use an S-1, the S series and then I have an S-1 Elite and I switch off. I'm a left-handed and they've been company that's been really really good to me as a lefty and I really enjoy playing their guitars actually. For amps we use Bogner Uberschalls which to me is one of the best sounding amps. I've tried many many other amps and nothing is as heavy or as clear sounding as the Bogner.
We're also big fans of the H20 pedals. The producer, Mudrock, had a pretty big pedal collection; he picked up quite a few pedals in Japan. We used an Ebow on 'M.I.A.' And we used a Semour Duncan pickup booster pedal (SFX-01); I use it in my live rig. It's kind of cool for clean tones, it really adds a lot.
You've gone through Marshalls and Peaveys and everything and Bogner is the sound for you?
Totally. For our sound I think it's the best. The only problem is it's a smaller company and it's harder to get your hands on them. We have ours but when we have to fly places and rent equipment for the day to do a certain show when we can't ship all our gear, then it's kind of hard to get those. But yeah, I mean, Bogner is responsible for our main sound and we each have compression pedals which actually adds so much to the regular overdriven sound. I use a Line 6 Constrictor and for me that's just been amazing and I think that Synster uses just a regular Boss pedal. It's amazing how much that adds to our sound.
Compression helps in creating the band's guitar sounds?
Definitely, it really tightens up everything for muting and even for rhythm and everything it's really kind of a secret little gem that we use.
As a left-handed player, were you listening to people like Hendrix?
Totally. I always thought it was really cool. In fact my first guitar I ever had was a right-handed Stratocaster
turned upside down, the Jimi Hendrix cream color and stuff. I was never the biggest Hendrix fan but I just loved his playing upside down guitar and I just related. I've always related and whether or not they're my favorite artists, you always have something in common with lefties. Curt Kobain or Paul McCartney or Tim Armstrong from Rancid. On our last tour I actually met, I can't remember his name but he was in Body Count ?
Ernie C, yeah, and he's a lefty too and he came 'cause he likes our band and he was telling me about his left-handed guitar collection and stuff and that's just awesome that we have that in common.
Now I just use regular left-handed guitars; I've switched over. I had to make the change. I was a little too rowdy for the upside down guitar and I broke all the knobs off.
Getting back to the album tracks, the song 'Burn It Down' opens with all those harmony guitars on the intro. And there's a heavy classic influence ala Yngwie. True?
Totally. I'd actually written those guitars at five in the morning when I couldn't sleep. I was listening to a band that no one would ever imagine me listening to and they kind of done something similar but really slow using different notes. I can't think of who the band was to be honest. I came home and tried to do something along the lines and sped it up and used different notes and stuff and it came out really really cool. It kinda runs up the fretboard. It's definitely a lot of fun to play. We're both pretty much playing.
You record harmony guitars at the same time?
Not that but there's definitely some we've been forced to. On live radio broadcasts or whatever.
How do you actually show each other the parts? Some of the guitars here are pretty complex.
Oh, definitely. Basically it's whether you remember it or you just put it on a little handheld recorder and you just show each other very slowly and very repetitively. Especially like with the duals, Synster is really really good when I come up with a riff, he can lay a dual on it very fast because he can pick up on that really quick where I can't so much.
'Bat Country' is the band's ode to the late great and weird Hunter S. Thompson?
|"The tracking and what we actually play live are two different things."|
Yeah, that song is one of the most simple riffs that we have in any of our songs, you know? Just grinding out on one string at a time. And it's just really upbeat and in your face and stuff and it's cool because it just reminded us of driving out to the desert and stuff with your friends and it reminded us of the movie, Fear and Loathing ?. And they lyrics are definitely inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and stuff and just doing everything balls out.
'Seize the Day' is a bit of a change with the acoustic guitars and piano.
Totally. On all of our albums we kind of break it up with slower songs and stuff and ballads and all sorts of stuff like that. We wanted to use acoustic guitars and piano and everyone in our band can play piano a little bit. Or a lot. We just wanted to write a more mellow song.
Who actually plays the acoustics on there?
They're actually played by Synster's dad (Bryan Haner) who's a great guitarist and he has a really good feel 'cause he's always been more in the country world and stuff. He's a studio musician and he was really excited to be on the album and to be able to play in the studio especially with his son. And me and Synster were so burned out on, after recording 75 minutes worth of layering guitars for weeks and months, that by the time it came to do the acoustic stuff it was kind of nice to bring him in.
Recording digitally to Pro Tools allows for all these layers and the mixing and matching of instruments?
Yeah, our first album was done completely analog but everything else we've done to date has been on the Pro Tools. We record the drums live on analog because Pro Tools can't replicate the sound that analog can get from drums. It makes it punchier and just gives the drums such a great sound. And then we take that after recording the drums to analog and bring that into Pro Tools. It's really kind of convenient but on the same token I think a lot of bands just nail a part and then cut and paste it and stuff. Every bar in every one of our songs is so important that we think that if you do that you'll take away from a lot of the feel so we go through and play all the songs and we try and make it as perfect as possible.
I know our first album is not very tight but there's a certain sound to it that I think is just amazing and I don't think Pro Tools couldn't have captured. But on the same token I think our newest album has so many things going on, so many different layers, and so many different instruments doing different things at the same time, the only way you'd be able to get a certain clarity to that is by recording to Pro Tools.
And 'The Wicked End' also changes things up with the choir and all the orchestral string instruments. How did that section in the song develop?
We're huge fans of movie scores and stuff like that and huge Danny Elfman fans. I think it's hard not to be. We just love epic songs and that song just kind of took off. There's this part that people were comin' up with and it just expanded and before we knew it we were adding all sorts of orchestral pieces. We're like, 'Instead of doing this, why don't we put a boy's choir here?
' and it ended up being this epic interlude in the middle of the song.
So the band is always searching for new ways to make the music sound different and to bring new textures to the guitar?
Definitely. I think each part of every song requires the right sound for it and it's always fun to experiment and stuff and try new things. It's more Synster Gates' world; I like to keep it simple but it's always fun.
What does tomorrow hold for Avenged Sevenfold?
We have a lot of touring left for the year. We do a co-headlining tour with Coheed And Cambria. It's our first time getting into arenas and stuff and putting on a full show. And then we are going to live the summer of our dreams by heading back over to Europe to do main support for Metallica and Guns 'N' Roses. That's all pretty surreal for all of us; I don't think it really has hit us yet to be honest.
2006 Steven Rosen