Avenged Sevenfold: 'We're Really Focused On Our Songwriting'

artist: avenged sevenfold date: 12/19/2008 category: interviews
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Avenged Sevenfold: 'We're Really Focused On Our Songwriting'
You listen to the self-titled new album by Avenged Sevenfold and you hear Synyster Gates flying up and down the fretboard like a bat that can't find his way back home. He bashes into notes and slides up the neck to find the fret he's seeking and then he'll unleash a variety of finger vibratos; fast, frantic pulls or slower and more sweeping lifts. Gates is a gifted player, a graduate from M.I. (Musician's Institute) and a recognized stylist on the cutting edge of the metal divide. But the truth is, the studio is a laboratory, a staging platform, a magician's secret lair. All types of things can be accomplished in a studio that can't be done live: You can drop in notes; you can work over a phrase 10,000 times; you can work on a bar at a time. You can even bring in outside players to handle your parts (back in the hair metal days of the 80s this happened on multiple occasions with bands like Warrant, et al). So, you don't know really know if what you're hearing is the masterful virtuosity of a precocious young guitarist or simply the results of hours and hours and hours of slaving over a single solo while this person works out the proper fingering, phrasing, and tones. Well, if there was any lingering doubt about Gates' ability to rock a solo, it was laid to rest with the release of the band's concert DVD, Live In The Lbc & Diamonds In The Rough. Filmed in Long Beach, California, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Sevenfold's Orange County, California hometown roots, the concert presents the band running through material from the last album (Avenged Sevenfold) as well as tracks from some of their previous releases. On song after song, Synyster just wreaks hell with the guitar, storming through tremendously complex solos and rhythm parts, and sometimes doing all of this while singing tight background vocal harmonies. The tone was fierce and the attack flawless. There was not one screwed note the entire evening. We talked about the DVD and the miscellaneous tracks (the Diamonds ). A couple years ago, I spoke to Zacky Vengenace, and just like his counterpart, Synyster was ridiculously low-key about his guitar gifts and almost embarrassed to talk about them. He praised his cohort endlessly, however, in almost downplaying his own talents. UG: I watched the live DVD and what really struck me, and I knew this before of course, is that how accomplished the band really are as players. It's one thing to hear somebody on record and you wonder, Well, certainly he's playing those parts but maybe he's cutting and slicing and pro tooling. But I was really amazed at how good the band really is and how different you and Zacky are as players. I mean, you guys are really sort of 180 degrees and you really get that sense of personalities and approaches. On record it just doesn't come across as much but obviously you are the lead guitar player and Zack does all those harmony things with you and is more the rhythm guy. I'm gonna take one of Zack's quotes from our interview and I just wanna see how you might react to him. My question to him was, Are there specific types of parts that you're more adept at putting down, rhythms or riffs. You're credited as guitar and Synyster is credited as lead guitar. Is that the way it tends to break down? His answer, Totally. When it comes to duals or anything like that we'll definitely miss it up. All the more technical stuff is usually left up to him, I do a lot more of the galloping, muting stuff, that's more my specialty because that's more of where I came from with all the punk rock stuff. That's still accurate I'm guessing? Synyster Gates: Yeah, absolutely. Could you comment a little bit on that? You know, how you guys approach the parts and has it become even more defined? I think it's become a little bit more mixed up. Oh, interesting. Yeah, you know, as people progress and stuff like that, he'll still carry himself as a rhythm guitar player but he actually plays fucking very very well at this point of his life and he's worked his ass off, so he could be a guitar player by anybody's standards. So even though some of those things are rhythm oriented, some of the leads are a little more solo-esque or whatever and so, yeah, I dunno, there's definitely advances in both parties playing.
"Music is pretty much in my blood and it's definitely in my environment."
Being a California guy I've been to Long Beach a bunch of times and actually my brother lives down in Orange County. It must be an unbelievable feeling to be able come back to Long Beach, basically your neighborhood, and play a show like that. It has to be overwhelming, right? It just must be an incredible thing? Yeah, it's amazing. You definitely kind of realize where you came from when it happens and then you see your friends out in the crowd. I mean, even people you went to school with that you haven't seen in, like, 10 years, it's quite an amazing thing. It's kind of a way to judge your progress; very, very excited. Do you feel like God up there, Synyster? You know, onstage, like there's nothing wrong with the world at that point? Yeah, there's definitely nothing wrong with the world at that point. I just go up there to have fun with my friends. I don't take it as seriously anymore as I used to and I think it comes across a lot better. We have better shows. Just go up there and bust out a few beers, you know, Zack's got a bar on the other side of the stage, take a couple of shots and treat it as a party. It's something everybody looks forward to as opposed to something that you'd ever be nervous about or worried about performing it to the tee and performing it at 110%. You just wanna go out there and have more fun each night and the audience reacts way better, you have way more interaction. It's just a quite the cool process at this point for this band. That's cool. You bring up a great point. I mean, obviously the band is enjoying themselves, you guys don't take yourselves seriously. You'd mentioned that maybe back in the day it was a little more sort, Hey, look at us, or a little more of the ominous thing? Yeah, it was just more contrived. You just wanted to put on a perfect show and every song had to be played at this exact moment and, you know, no talking in between and you wouldn't even think about interacting with the audience. It was kind of just very mechanical and I think all bands go through that and you just chose to change, you know, if you become in tune with it. At a certain point you either wanna change it because you want a better show or you just don't care and you just wanna have fun. We kinda wanted to do both, and we are. And because of that events become, in my mind, it might be strange for you to say it, but certainly one of the kind of forerunners of this style, of this genre, you guys have been able to sort of take the edge off the live thing and yet bands are looking to you truly as players and musicians. It all works, it's all working. Yeah, I think so. It feels like it is. I'm gonna pull some tracks off the DVD. Synyster and maybe if you could give me a few words on some of this music here? Cool. Afterlife. Great chorus, you know, the harmonies going on. The band sings a lot more than I realized. Everybody sings. Rev just sings like, wow, like Phil Collins or something, man. Your solo is just so freaking cool, the way you're sliding up to those notes and kind hitting the notes. Can you comment a bit about your performance of that song, Synyster? Yeah, I don't know exactly what to say but it's definitely a fun song for us. We're very proud of it. We focused a lot more on writing better choruses. You know, we had really long adventurous songs before and you'd go to, like, the third part of the bridge and that would be our favorite part and the rest of the song would just kinda cool or whatever. So now we really focused on our songwriting and especially choruses 'cause it is the hook of the song, so yeah I'm very proud of that chorus and guitar work. It's taken me a while to pull it off live and kind get it to a comfortable point where I feel comfortable performing some of those solos and that's one of them. So kind of relearning what you've put on record? Yeah, we always write above our head and you can do a bunch of different takes and splice things together in the studio but live you have to nail it or else you're a fraud [laugh]. And Avenged Sevenfold would hate to be ever fucking misconstrued as a fraud 'cause we definitely go full-bore and put all our effort into recreating those songs live in their entirety just like you hear them on the album and I think we do a good job of it. Absolutely. Beast and the Harlot you're actually singing on that song as well. You do a fair amount of that where you're playing and singing, and a lot of those riffs you're playing are not kind of, you know, you're not rhythmically doubling what your voice is doing. A lot of these guitar riffs you're playing at 32nd notes and you're playing in quarter notes. Did that take a while for you to get the two together? Definitely. You just start off slow and you figure out where the rhythms match up. Yeah, you just start off slow like anything else and it's learning how to do something and now that I've been doing it for a few years it's easier to perform a song where you're pretty much patting your pretty much head and rubbing your stomach and you're playing. It's getting easier and easier but it still sucks. You know, it takes quite a few hours of time spent alone to play and sing it and work it out. Then you go to rehearsal and it's a totally different thing, you've got to do it in one take, and then live you can't screw it up. So, yeah, it's a delicate process. To put something to perfection, which no band is perfect, but when it is your goal it' s tough to get there; it's tough to get to perform those things and have good nights where 90% of the shit is pulled of comfortably. How would you characterize the Long Beach show then? I thought it went down great. It was a very difficult show, it's one of our bigger ones so they put us in places not so acoustic friendly so it's really hard to hear shit, but listening back I think we're all pretty much in tune, solos turned down alright, Shad sounds awesome, drumming's amazing. I mean, I'm pretty proud of it 'cause up there I had to drink a little bit more to make things a little more comfortable 'cause the in-ears where definitely a little ambient [laughs]. Oh really? Interesting. Yeah, it's funny I saw that you were leaving the stage during the last song you had to go back and grab that beer I thought that was a freaking riot. Yeah, definitely had to.
"I find myself bringing the best out of different guitar players."
And again I hate to keep harping on it but God it just seems so effortless. I'm watching you play these things and I'm thinking, and as a guitar player, not like you but more as a songwriter, but speaking to and watching a lot of guitar players I don't know if that's the evil side of us but it's like I'm watching going, Is he gonna screw that fucking thing up? Man, it's like you never did. Everything came out so beautifully. [laughs] Well, when you're trying that's when you will screw up 'cause you're over thinking it, but when it's second nature and you're up there having fun that's when you perform at your best. Unfortunately, it's like the opposite of a Catch-22. You know, when you're having fun and you're not thinking about things, you're playing better, but it's hard to do that; it's really hard to get to that point. A Little Piece of Heaven is just, wow. It's funny 'cause I didn't know until I looked online that your father actually played with Frank Zappa? Yeah. 'Cause I'm listening to the song and my first instinct is kind of a little bit of a Danny Elfman thing, I know he's been a bit of an influence on you guys, and then I'm getting a little bit of the Bohemian Rhapsody Queen thing, not that you sound like Queen but that kind of an arrangement, you know? And now hearing it it's like the Zappa thing. Obviously you're not a Zappa clone and the band doesn't sound like Zappa but did your dad used to play you Zappa songs or talk to you about song arrangement? Yeah, my dad and I were definitely very close. Music is pretty much in my blood and it's definitely in my environment. My whole family plays or does something, so he was the most successful. He was gone a lot when I was growing up 'cause he was touring and stuff. (Synyster is talking to his pals who are there with him. He is in a skateboard shop and we talk skating for a minute). We've been here (in the skateboard store) for, I dunno, an hour and a half or something making a couple of different ones. We've got some cruiser boards and some stuff. We're gonna go to skate parks. We're on tour with Buckcherry right now and these guys just get, like, decked out with wrist pads, elbow pads and all this kind of shit. So we're like, Really? 'Cause you can't really get hurt if you do that, but isn't that embarrassing? and they're like, Nah, the kids just love it that you come down! So yeah we're like, Fuck it then, we'll go get a shit ton of skateboards and helmets and all that kind of stuff, so that's what I was doing. Are you a skateboarder? I used to be when I was a kid, we all were. We were born and raised in OC so there's a bunch of skate parks by our house, but after you fall a few hundred times you kinda give that shit up when you get older. Now I pretty much just surf. It's safer, all you can do there is drown [laughs]. That's cool, man. So your dad playing with Zappa he was gone, music was in the family. Your dad's actually played on your records. Pretty unbelievable. That's pretty much it. He's a very talented dude and he's very supportive. Almost Easy, another really great solo by you, man. Thank you. You're kind of sliding these note, you've got this wonderful vibrato. You've got a faster vibrato, a slower vibrato, you'll kind of slide up to a note and hit that vibrato and it's always in pitch. Just another technique you've learned over the years? Yeah, a guy told me one time when I was in MI [Musicians Institute] very pitch sensitive dude, his name is Brett Garsed, an amazing guitar player. That was the first lesson he gave me my very first day 'cause I tend to bend things sharp. I still do it but it's kinda hard, so I kinda work my vibrato around that and I always remember that especially when I hear myself live 'cause I do it half the show, you know, so I'm really extra conscious about it at this point in my life. Interesting. Let's jump to some of the studio tracks here. Synyster, where did the track Demons come from? Let's see, which one's Demons? I only know 'em by their working titles but I think I know which one it is. Yeah, that was a song we were really happy with at the time but it just never transpired into something that we were very proud of, or as proud of as the rest of the record. You know, so it just made the b-sides and we weren't even gonna release that 'cause they suck but we gave the kids an option to hear the shittier side of Avenged and sometimes a little bit more adventurous and they wanted to hear it, so That's interesting to hear you characterize it as maybe more adventurous but maybe not quite up to snuff for other Avenged songs. Totally. Interesting. The Iron Maiden cover, Flesh of the Blade, I know Zack was talking about the Maiden guys as a pretty major influence on the band. Yeah, definitely. I kinda came into the band a little bit later but it's kinda one of Shadow's first fucking loves. At first I thought it was a little ridiculous [laughs] and then grew to love them, obviously, 'cause they're definitely great at what they do. So initially you did find them a little bit overbearing or pompous or something? Nothing too bad, it just wasn't my cup of tea, I guess, at the time. It took me a little while and then I totally got into them. Until the End, your dad actually orchestrated those strings and there's, like, piano and stuff on there. Where did that come from? Well, I really wanted to do kind of a long November Rain-ish song, and so this is a song that I've been working on for a very long time, which is, like, the number one sign and symptom of a bad song [laughs]. So that's basically what it is and it did get finished. It's kind of one of those songs that just didn't quite get there. Tension, another very cool song, piano thing, very cool little solo. It's a little bluesier thing for you? Yeah, definitely. What I'm doing I try to do my best to just hit the parts and not try to be a douchebag all the time. Does that bluesier side come from a place where people like Page, Beck, Hendrix, Peter Green, Mick Taylor? Yeah, definitely. I really like the rhythm guitar stuff. It's really hard to hear on there but there's some Hendrix-esque type of stuff going on which I think is really cool, and he's one of my favorite rhythm guitarists, actually. And Jimmy Page is one of my favorite lead guitarists, so it's kind of a mix of that.
"When you're having fun and you're not thinking about things, you're playing better."
Your rhythm section, I'm really impressed by those guys. I think a band is really only as good as it's rhythm section, as its drummer. Is that something that just kind of developed, the singing aspect of it? Was Rev always singing? Yeah, the Rev is one of the most talented guys I know and have ever met. No matter what band you talk about, the biggest most famous bands off all-time, he's right up there as far as I'm concerned. He's a brilliant writer, he's got one of my favorite voices in the world, and I know this for a fact, he's the best drummer in the world. I mean, put those things together and he's a pretty unstoppable dude. I feel very much like that with the rest of the guys, too. It's a good place to be this very far along in your career. I mean, a lot of bands start getting success and the in fighting starts. You know what I mean. Yeah, it's like any relationship. A lot of people unfortunately grow up and we're growing together every step of the way. It's one of those things you can never predict or work on; if you're compatible you're compatible and we fortunately are. Almost Easy, is a Chris Lord-Alge mix. How would you characterize one of his mixes? I mean, obviously everybody in the world uses him so there must be something he does? Yeah, there's two different aspects. He makes things huge and gigantic. He can make things bigger than they actually are and that's a wonderful thing. Just for what we do, since we tend to have a big of an arrangement going on the whole time. Like, Andy Wallace does our whole records because his separation is just immaculate and he can make things very big as well, but you can hear everything; everything's featured exactly where you want it, he gets the vision, and so they're both great. Walk is the Pantera cover that Terry Date engineered, who actually worked with the original Pantera guys. That must've been pretty cool. Oh yeah, it was wonderful. He's a totally amazing guy and it gave me a chance, 'cause I never got to meet Dimebag before he died and he's, you know, if not my favorite one of my favorite guitar players. So just to kind of pick his brain about what he using at the time and what the kind of mindset was in the studio and all that kind of stuff. It was very very bare bones and raw which is exactly what it sounds like, which is what they promoted and which is what they were all about and it was cool to hear that was the real thing, you know, coming from a fan. So yeah it was a great experience and he got up all the crazy tones for us and pulled secrets far as the production elements and all that kind of shit; got to pick his brain a little bit. Dime was great, obviously, and he's influenced everybody. What was it about him that made him so unique and such a big influence on you and separated him from everybody else? His uncanny feel, he has more feel than anybody that's ever picked whose ever picked up a guitar. It's just what he does. He just rapes and pillages the guitar, he tortures it. You listen to some of those songs and it's like, How can you do an instrument? you know? His groove and his feel are just beyond all comprehension. In your own way are you trying to emulate that? Not copy, but in terms of your rhythm and sense of feel and phrasing? I think, yeah, for a guy who knows he can't have that much feel, I'm fine with the feel that I was given from whoever my creator was, maybe my mom or my dad [laughs] or God. And that's fine, I'll never be him. You know, when I was maybe 19 or 20 or 21 if somebody told me I couldn't be like Dimebag Darrell I probably would've said, Fuck you, yes I can, or if I found that they were just telling the truth I would've been bummed. But now I am what I am and hopefully kids dig on that. Very cool, man. Do you find, and you touched on it a little bit earlier, all these other bands out there, do you think they have the same mentality? Do you think all these other guitar players in these other bands of that mindset? Is there a competition thing amongst guitar players in this genre? I definitely think that there is but I do my best, when we're on tour with guitar players, I find myself bringing the best out of different guitar players. Because I'll come up and just ask questions. I'm just there to learn, I'm not there to try to show them that I'm better or worse. I just wanna learn, so I think when people have a chance to met me or jam or whatever it's a very non-competitive place. So in my experience I find there is a lot less competition than what you read about in guitar magazines and stuff. Guitar players can be a little egotistical and definitely catty (chatty?) and competitive, but most I've met have been really cool people, except for Zack [laughs]. A lot of the songs from the DVD where from the Avenged Sevenfold record, which was a little bit more of a boldish step for you guys bringing in different elements and different things. Would you agree with that? Definitely. We produced it ourselves and it was the funnest time we've ever had in the studio. We got to do everything ourselves and there was nobody looking over us and it was very fun. Was there ever chaos involved? Like, Synyster, that solo sucks, do it again, and that kind of thing? Well, nobody thinks my solos suck [laughs]. I'm just kidding. No, there's definitely a ton of that, but it goes both ways, you know? We're all very, I hate to use the word hard on each other, but we all get it. We have huge talks beforehand thing, you know, We're gonna be really hard on each other and we just want this to be a perfect album. We're gonna be doing ourselves, there's not gonna be that shoulder to lean on. Being a producer, you know, we're gonna have to do it for ourselves. Fuck the egos and lets go make the best record we've ever made, and that's exactly what happened. I think when you see the DVD that came with the actual CD, the making of the album or whatever, you can see how fun it actually was and you can see the funny shit. You know, Shad would come in and tell me to do it again or tell Zacky to do it again, we'll be telling him its outta tune over and over, shit like that, but it's funny. Like I said, egos are left outside the door. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008
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