Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows Opens Up on ‘Nightmare,’ The Rev + Future Plans
Avenged Sevenfold know a little something about overcoming obstacles. After the devastating loss of their drummer and friend, Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan, the band didn’t know if they’d be able to continue on. They pulled it together, and released ‘Nightmare’ in Jimmy’s memory in July of 2010. The album soared to the top spot on Billboard charts and marked the bands first ever No. 1 release.
Since the release of ‘Nightmare,’ A7X have been out on the road non-stop and show no signs of slowing down. Recently wrapping up their headlining run on Uproar Festival, Avenged Sevenfold are heading right back out with their Buried Alive Tour to hit cities they missed on their previous runs. Supporting Avenged on the trek, which is named after the group’s latest single, are hot young acts Black Veil Brides, Asking Alexandria and Hollywood Undead.
Loudwire recently had the opportunity to talk to Avenged Sevenfold singer M. Shadows about ‘Nightmare,’ The Rev, life on the road and the band’s future plans.
So, originally after you finished Uproar Festival, you were going to return home, take a break, and then start writing, but now you’re heading out in November and December on the Buried Alive Tour; what made you want to go right back out?
I was convinced that we had hit up every place in the States, some places multiple times, but our booking agent told me there were still some places we had missed so I told him that if he could show me an itinerary that made sense then maybe we’ll do it. So, he showed me it and I said, okay, Bismarck, Duluth, we really haven’t been to some of these places, so we’ll do this before Christmas.
Also, we were really focused on doing Puerto Rico; because that’s something we’ve wanted to do for awhile. It just kind of came around to one of those things. Also, there’s a radio station that has been very supportive of us, so they’re doing a Christmas show, it all seemed to work together so I got my arm twisted and said okay, we’ll do it!
So, is the plan now to finish out this tour, go home for the holidays and relax a bit and then get back into writing new material?
We probably won’t write for awhile. We still have to go to Southeast Asia. I know we have to go to Bangkok, Singapore, Indonesia and we’re going back to Japan. We’re trying to go to China, so right now they’re working on a whole south East Asia tour with Japan, as well. So, that will probably be like four months after Christmas. We’ll probably take the four months off, do that tour, and then we’ll start talking about the next record after that.
The band had very successful evening at the Golden God Awards this year (winning awards for Best Vocalist, Best Album, Best Guitarists), and in an interview, Zacky [Vengeance] said that last year you were just sitting in the audience, not really knowing what the future held for the band. How would you describe where you are now as compared to that year ago?
At those Golden God Awards, Jimmy [James "The Rev" Sullivan] had just passed away and we were there to support his family; we didn’t want them going to the Golden Gods with all those people being there without us being around. At that point, we were really questioning the future of our band. I’d say a year later it’s a story of triumph, it’s a story of just growing up; we learned a lot about life, we learned a lot about ourselves, I think we’ve become better people because of it, and because of knowing Jimmy.
Because of the good qualities that he left, everyone is trying to pick up on them. There are a lot of things that he did that everyone’s kind of doing on the tour bus now to make sure that his legacy lives on with all of us. It’s a really cool thing, as cool as it can be for losing your best friend. At the same time, we all realize we’re all going to the same place; he just went a little earlier. Now we have to continue on until we go to that place.
Could you share one of those things that you’ve started doing on the bus that Jimmy used to do?
Just small things, he would stay up until 7AM in the morning, drinking beers with our driver Merle, just sit there and tell stories all night. I noticed a lot of us are doing that now, staying up and hanging out and just watching the road and getting crazy up there. Jimmy would gather us all around and play his iPod and sing until 7 in the morning and go crazy, and I notice that we still do that. We get the iPod out and play some of Jimmy’s favorite songs — play some Mr. Bungle and Oingo Boingo — and get crazy. Just fun stuff like that that, that he use to always do, put your arm around your friend and drink some whiskey and have a good time.
‘Nightmare’ has been called your most personal album and one that would take fans on a very dark journey; how would you describe the journey you took on the album?
I was introduced to anxiety during this album; I had never had anything like that. I’m kind of a slave-driver during the process, I keep pushing the guys to write more and more and more, and I’ll throw out songs that people think are good. That’s kind of the process we had for writing the music when Jimmy was around. We got to the point where we were really happy with the music and I was going to start writing the lyrics, and then Jimmy passed away.
I had a lot of anxiety and all these crazy things that I’ve never experienced before, and just trying to figure out what the perfect words was to say. We were in the studio with Mike Elizondo and everybody — brilliant artists and brilliant producers — but it was just kind of a crazy. It was a confined space and I just felt like we were in this hole, trying to dig ourselves out. When it was all said and done, it was definitely something we were all really proud of.
I think on a musical level, I was happy with it, but not only that, I was happy with it on a sonic level, I think Mike did an amazing job and Andy Wallace did an amazing job, and when I got to sit back and listen to it all, I was just really proud of it. I was proud of all the work and struggle that we went through to get it done, I think it shows. It’s definitely my favorite record sonically and emotionally that we’ve ever done.
You mentioned the emotion involved; do you consider ‘Nightmare’ a tribute to Jimmy?
Absolutely, there was nothing else going on in our minds at the time. Even the songs that aren’t about him are about him. The songs that are about him are obviously about him. The whole album is a tribute to him and his last piece of work and his first No. 1 record which he was never able to celebrate. It was so many cool things — he really respected Mike Elizondo, it was just a crazy time in his life and a special time in all of our lives and we’re lucky that we were able to get it to come together in the way that it did.
You’ve said in past that at a young age you were influenced by bands like Guns N’ Roses – in April you had the opportunity to perform with Duff McKagan at the Golden Gods, was that a special moment for you?
It was really cool. It’s crazy, I just wish those guys [Guns N’ Roses] would get it together and go back out as a band. It was really cool meeting Duff. On a personal level, I don’t know Duff well, but the guys in Metallica have been guys that on a personal level, the way they run their band and the way they’ve been able to stay together, and the way they treat their crew and their opening bands, is a band that we really look up to and try to shadow to this day. We try to mimic what they do because they’ve got it right, they’ve stayed together for a long time, they’ve been through tragedy, they put out great music, have a great live show and they’re just good dudes.
In listening to the evolution of your vocals throughout the years, we hear a lot of growth. Is that something that you put work into on a regular basis?
The last 10 years I went to vocal lessons after I blew my voice out on ‘Waking the Fallen.’ In some of the records, you can hear the progression of me having control but not having control of my voice. Now, I’m at the point where I really understand my voice, it’s something that I’ve really nurtured to the point where I have complete control and can pretty much do what I need to do and keep myself out of trouble vocally or get myself out of trouble. It’s one of those things I worked really hard at; I went to vocal lessons 3-4 times a week for about six years. It’s to the point now where I’ve got a grasp on it and I get it. I’m not taking lessons anymore but if I get in trouble I call Anderson and he gets me out of trouble.
Since the release of ‘Nightmare,’ you’ve been complete road warriors, and I know you said you haven’t started writing any new music yet. Are you a band that does any sort of brainstorming or writing while you’re out on the road or do you consider touring and writing two completely separate animals?
Two completely different things, but while we’re on the road, I take notes on things. If there’s something I really like or a chord progression, I write a note in my Blackberry and maybe a year later I’ll revisit it and ask, what did I like about that? I really don’t try to think too much about it, I like to be fresh. I don’t write songs just to write songs, I know [Synyster] Gates doesn’t either. We don’t want to become like country artists where there’s a formula. We really like having songs where we think the arrangement is just as important as the melodies, even though they’re typically not.
A song like ‘Nightmare’ was a No. 1 active rock track and I always talk about it when people ask me about songwriting because you couldn’t give that song to another band and sell them on the fact that it’s six and a half minutes, saying trust me with this full minute intro into this, and then there’s a bridge that goes on too long, you just couldn’t sell that as a good song. But if you perform it in a certain way, arrange it in a certain way that has attitude and works with the melodies and what you’re trying to do, then it becomes a good song, and so I don’t like writing just to write. We don’t write like that. We write when the time comes and we try to be exciting and stuff that excites us usually makes the record.
I have to ask about Arin [Ilejay], he’s been playing drums live with you for a bit now but he’s not a permanent member of the band. Are you going to visit that possibility in the future?
It’s all about the writing process; we have our reservations about people coming in and how they’ll fit into the writing process and how dedicated they’re going to be and how much they can bring to the table. It’s not necessarily about him; it’s just based on our experiences. We like the way we work and we like the way we write and it’s a little bit out there, a little more over the top or cutting edge than we want, but then when the record comes out, it feels normal for us. We need somebody that’s going to be along for the ride so we need to go through that process again with him before we can say he’s a band member and then he doesn’t know what he got himself into.
Writing for us is a completely different beast and we know he’s a great touring drummer, he’s great at playing the parts but we want to make sure that he’s great at creating his own parts, as well. That’s going to be the final test for him, and then he needs to decide if this is even what he wants to do. He’s toured now for a year and a half and this is our life. We’re going to be doing this for the next 10 or 20 years and there’s a lot of things you give up along the way. You miss holidays with your family, you don’t really have a normal family situation, and he has to make sure it’s what he wants too.
Do you have a favorite album from 2011?
Right now I’m really, really into the new Mastodon record; I’ve been listening to that a lot. Burn Halo put out a record this year that’s really good, too. Hell or High Water put out a great record – so those three records are kind of on repeat for me right now.
I know you’re a basketball fan, what are your thoughts on the lockout?
I think it sucks; I’m really bummed. I was watching ESPN the other night and the announcer said. “The Lakers should be playing the Warriors tonight.” It’s a bummer. They’re arguing over 2 percent, 2 cents on a dollar, I just wish they’d get it together. Having a season is more important than their pettiness, but at the same time, I’m not in there in the negotiations and I have no clue. It’s not my job, I’m just a fan, so I would say get it together just because I’m a big fan of basketball. I’m sure it will work out, there’s too much money on the line for it not to work out.
Watch the Avenged Sevenfold ‘Nightmare’ Video