At this time last year, Avenged Sevenfold
was focused on shaping its fifth studio album, which looked to be a much darker concept album from the get-go. The Huntington Beach natives did manage to write the majority of the record in 2009, but their career and more importantly friendships took a very different turn in December. It was during that fateful month that drummer, songwriter, and friend Jimmy The Rev Sullivan
suddenly passed away at the age of 28. The remaining four bandmates(vocalist M. Shadows
, lead guitarist Synyster Gates
, rhythm guitarist Zacky Vengeance
, and bassist Johnny Christ
) were at an emotional and creative crossroads, but in the end they realized moving forward was the only way to celebrate Sullivan
Immediately stepping in to temporarily fill Sullivan's
shoes was another percussive legend in his own right: Dream Theater
's Mike Portnoy
. Utilizing the demos that Sullivan
recorded before his death, Avenged Sevenfold
was able to go forward with what the group believes would be The Rev
's musical vision. The resulting record Nightmare
, slated to be released on July 27, still has elements of the original concept album idea, but lyrically it very much pays homage to the band's drummer and friend.
Bassist Johnny Christ
recently talked with Ultimate-Guitar
to discuss the mindset that Avenged Sevenfold
possessed during the making of Nightmare
. The thought of touring has been somewhat of a dismal idea for the band without The Rev
, but Christ
realizes that it must be done in order to get the music a testament to his friend's memory to the masses.
UG: I realize that you have been through quite a traumatic time over the past year, so I thank you for talking with us. Can you give readers some background on the songwriting process for Nightmare? How much did the album's musical path change following the tragic events of the past December?
Johnny: We had been writing for awhile. When Jimmy passed, the record was done. We had been working on it for nine months on just the writing process. It started pretty much after the last touring cycle. I would say eight or nine months went into writing this record. It started out being a concept record. Jimmy had been involved throughout. We had completely finished the writing process and we were ready to go into the studio. We were going to start the second week of January, I believe.
Your fellow bandmates have described Nightmare as a much darker record in comparison to your past material. In the first stages of the writing process, did you have a goal to shape it as such?
"We wanted to have a dark concept record, sort of like The Wall or Operation: Mindcrime."
We definitely had made the decision that it was going to be a concept record. We wanted to have a dark concept record, sort of like The Wall or Operation: Mindcrime. At the same time we wanted to incorporate some of what we had done in the past with the guitar work. We wanted to make it heavier in general. Throughout all of that, the songs that came out were musically already as dark as we wanted them to be. Then lyrically it took a different turn when Jimmy passed. The lyrics then became mostly not 100 percent but mostly to do with his death and his life.
Did you at any time hesitate going forward with the record after Jimmy's passing? Or were automatically inspired to shape Nightmare as a tribute album of sorts?
When I got the call, we all went over to Shadow's house. It was the four of us, some of girlfriends and wives, and we were pretty much inconsolable. It wasn't anything to do with the band. It was more like, What are we going to do without our brother in life? Rather than it just being about the band, when we did start thinking about it, we were more like, We can't do this without him. It would be very hard to replace him. After a couple of weeks, we realized that we should get this record out. Jimmy had written 60 percent of the record by himself. Everyone has their piece of the puzzle that ensures the song can come together. When he had been there for every aspect of the writing of the record, it makes it very much his record. We discussed about what to do with the band. He had demoed drums on an electric kit, but those wouldn't do him justice. Those were things he laid down in one track. Knowing how he was, he would have been very much a perfectionist. Then the idea came up to have Mike Portnoy come in. He had sent his condolences. He was pretty much the perfect fit, being one of Jimmy's heroes. He was very much an influence on his life. We asked him if he would do the record, and he said he would be honored. He was very cool about what we wanted. He'll never be Jimmy, but as long as we get the right guy, it would have been what he would have wanted. For the next weeks we worked on it very hard. I think we accomplished a lot on this record.
Will you be touring with as well?
"Everyone has their piece of the puzzle that ensures the song can come together."
When we were doing the record, we were deciding if we were even going to tour. That was another thing that we were like, No way. We can't tour without him. That would be weird. Frankly, the idea right now is that we've got to do this. We need to get Jimmy's work out there and heard. That's what he would have wanted. It would also be something therapeutic for us as a band.
I've been reading quite a bit about one particular song on the album, Fiction. Is it true that it was the last song that Jimmy composed?
Yeah. He had finished writing the second part of the song. It was cool for us to have it, but it was very eerie and a little fucked up. Usually when we do demos, you kind of hum the melody and the song lyrics might come through. The lyrics that Jimmy had written in the song were very clairvoyant and very eerie, basically saying his good-byes to us. It ended up sounding great and we put it on the record. We're very fortunate for that. It's very eerie and a little hard to listen to.
Having a highly respected drummer like Mike Portnoy sign on to help is certainly a testament to Jimmy's playing.
We've been able to tour with some phenomenal drummers and bands that we've learned a lot from. Mike stepped up to it, learned all the parts. Mike was very respectful and made sure he approached it the way we needed him to. It was very cool because he was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark time.
Did you switch up your usual studio setup during the making of Nightmare?
Yeah. This time we worked with producer Mike Elizondo, who is a very classically trained and accomplished bassist himself. Otherwise he's a brilliant musician and songwriter who has worked with 50 Cent and Dr. Dre for a long time in the business. It's definitely different genre of music. He was great to have in terms of getting different sounds. There was nothing too dramatic other than a few amps and stuff. Over all, I used the same things that I used on previous records to get the raw tones.
Were you using Ernie Ball basses again?
Yeah. I used Ernie Ball for most of the songs. There were also a few others like a '72 Thunderbird.
Has your technique or approach to the bass remained consistent over the years?
I think as a musician you push yourself to get better. Each member of this band has done that in their own way, and I think that I've done that myself. We help each other out in that way. We work on each other's strengths and keep working towards it to become more mature. There are a lot of guitar players that might want to try and do over-the-top things where it really isn't necessary. Coming into the self-titled, I think I had more maturity and that allowed my bass to develop. For this record, I had written about 80 percent of the bass lines already before we went into the studio. That way I could work stuff out after it was laid down. In terms of the bass lines, they're written for each song. What kind of vibe is in each song? You go by a song to song basis and try to find a balance with the guitars. I think we accomplished that on this record.
What advice would you give someone who aspired to make a living in the music industry?
You definitely have to be Internet savvy these days. I don't know exactly where to go for that kind of stuff, but overall I'd say you want to get your stuff out there. With the Internet and everything today, there are so many cool ways to promote yourself.
Interview by Amy Kelly