No band has emerged from the hardcore metal scene and into the mainstream spotlight with as much power as Orange County’s Avenged Sevenfold. Their latest album City Of Evil has propelled them into international rock stars and landed them the radio/MTV breakthrough song ‘Bat Country’. With unconventional song structures, ripping guitar solos and lengthy songs, Avenged Sevenfold have trashed the corporate version of success and made the mainstream pay attention.
Blistering.com managed to catch up with Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows to talk about the breakthrough success of City of Evil, the band’s growth as songwriters and why he could care less about what people might think about him or his band.
Blistering.com: You’re originally from Orange County; can you give us an idea of what it was like growing up in OC?
Shadows: It was pretty normal. I consider it a lot better than most places. Orange County’s got cool beaches and it’s kind of a party town. The music scene is pretty big and when you grow up there’s a huge pub scene. There’s a big scene for everything. There’s great weather and great scenery; it’s pretty cool.
Blistering.com: At what point did you first get into music?
Shadows: I don’t know what age exactly, but the week that Appetite For Destruction came out my Dad bought me that tape. I listened to Nirvana and stuff like that, but then I started getting into older punk like Black Flag and our drummer started getting me into Pantera, Metallica and those types of metal bands.
Blistering.com: What was it about Appetite For Destruction that was so significant for you?
Shadows: I don’t know, I just love everything about it. It’s just catchy and I can really get into it; the guitar solos are amazing. Everything about it is just amazing to me. It’s the first thing that I got into so it’ll always be special. It’s just the perfect album.
Blistering.com: What were the initial reactions when Avenged Sevenfold started performing in Orange County?
Shadows: I think we considered ourselves a punk and hardcore hybrid band at first. We had some hardcore metal with a lot of punk rock influence and I think the hardcore scene embraced us at first, but we weren’t really looking to be embraced by that scene. It was kind of a weird thing, we did well in Orange County but we did well in other places too.
Blistering.com: What was your reaction when people started labeling you as a metalcore band and a leader of that movement?
Shadows: At first we were just laughing at it and then it went a little overboard and got drawn and then other bands started coming out as metalcore and they sounded so horrible that we didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It was one of those things where we don’t listen to metalcore, we don’t own any metalcore CDs and we don’t necessarily like those bands.
Blistering.com: This record is quite a change musically from your last record. It seems like the band has grown as songwriters with this record.
Shadows: I think there was a vast progression, but it was one of those things where we wanted to expand everywhere because we weren’t happy. We wanted to make it gritty and little dirtier, more attitude based. We’d sit there and try to get different textures out of my voice and I went to vocal training with Ron Anderson, a vocal coach who has worked with a lot of my favorite singers. I went to him and he really opened my mind to how the vocals were recorded on a lot of my favorite records. I think it’s going to be weird for a lot of our fans, but it’s definitely what we were going for.
Blistering.com: Ron Anderson has worked with guys like Axl Rose and Chris Cornell, but what was it that he brought to the table?
Shadows: It’s funny, you hear anybody who’s on the radio and they all have the same characteristics. You hear Scott Weiland, Axl Rose or Chris Cornell and they all have that high distorted, gritty, whiny low range. Ron taught me how to have that grit to my voice while still having the tone. He brought all of that to the table and he brought that technique to my voice. I’ve worked with him for about a year and a half now, but I worked with him for nine months before the record. I told him that I want my voice to sound different from everybody else, but I wanted those characteristics in my voice. We also had him in the studio and he produced the vocals on the whole record. It was one of those things that we just wanted to go all the way with it.
Blistering.com: Are you worried that older fans will perceive the new vocal style as you “selling out”?
Shadows: That’s something that bands worry about when they’re younger. At this point, I could really care less, because we’re just going to do what we want to do and what feels right. We’re not the type of band that’s going to worry about what everyone is going to think about us. If we did that, we’d end up writing a metalcore record.
Blistering.com: Do you think the growth in your sound was a necessary evolution for Avenged Sevenfold?
Shadows: It definitely was; if we did another record like Waking The Fallen and sold a million records, none of us would be happy. We just wanted to release a record that we felt comfortable with. We wanted to write something that we could call a creative metal record. We took a lot of different things musically and combined them into one record and that’s all we wanted to do. We’re all best friends and we want to be happy, not worry about everyone else.
Blistering.com: Where did the title City Of Evil come from and what does it mean to you?
Shadows: Originally, we wrote ‘Beast And The Harlot’, the first track on the album, and lyrically it was about the fall of Babylon and it being called a city of evil. At the same time, Zacky was working on the artwork, which was a city with our bat character riding out of the city, so we decided to call it that because the album artwork looked like the city of evil burning. We had the song about Babylon as the first track, so we just called it City Of Evil.
Blistering.com: There are some really diverse things musically on this record, like the boys choir on ‘Wicked End’.
Shadows: That originally started out with us wanting to do a thrash song and just go somewhere with it that we’ve never gone before. We’re all huge Danny Elfman fans, he did the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack, and whenever we do the introduction to our live show, we always have Edward Scissorhands playing. We wanted to do one of our own, so we wrote the score first, and then based the rest of the song around it. When you listen to Danny Elfman, he always has a boys’ choir, so we went to the label and asked if we could hire a boys choir and they said we could, so we just went with it. It was one of those things where we tried to branch out and do whatever we wanted.