Exclusive Interview: Atreyu’s Brandon Saller on His New Band, Hell or Highwater
Having been a part of metalcore titans Atreyu for over a decade, Brandon Saller is starting afresh with his new band Hell or Highwater. Stepping out from behind the drum set and claiming center stage, Saller initially began writing material 18 months ago and started out touring with a variety of musicians under the name the Black Cloud Collective. After settling on a fixed lineup, the quintet—which also features guitarists Matt Pauling and Neal Tiemann, bassist Joey Bradford, and drummer Kyle Peek—adopted the name Hell or Highwater, and the band in its current form was born. With self-released debut album, Begin Again, out this week, and the group soon to embark on the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, Revolver spoke to Saller about Hell or Highwater, recording a track with Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows, and what the future holds for Atreyu.
REVOLVER What prompted you to start Hell or Highwater?
BRANDON SALLER It was just different music and, I mean, I’m the kind of person who likes to just sit down and write music and play music and, you know, for not any specific reason or project or thing. And I was writing songs that I was really liking and they just weren’t right for Atreyu. In my head, there was no reason to put those songs to waste, and that journey with them was no reason why I shouldn’t go forth and make something of them.
How did the band arrive at its current lineup?
Initially, I just played with kind of random friends across the board, and when it turned into something that I wanted to tour with and everything, I wanted it to be something kind of real. So I just put together kind of a try-out, and it was really just word of mouth through friends and stuff like that. And in doing so, I found the guys I have now. They’re all such talented individually, in other bands before, and everyone was kind of coming to the end of a project, so it was kind of perfect the way it all fit in together.
How much of the record is songs you wrote yourself prior to the current band, and how much of it is material you guys wrote together?
Well, I mean quite a bit. Once they came on board, it was amazing how much they kind of put in. On the actual album, I wrote nine songs and then the guys, we all wrote three songs together. Once we kind of made the lineup concrete, I really wanted that. I really wanted the other guys to kind of have a moment on the record and really get a chance to write with them as well.
How would you describe the album musically?
I mean, it’s, in essence, an American rock-and-roll record. I don’t think that it sounds like anything specific. It’s a rock-and-roll record, but I feel like it’s just a nice, fresh approach to that, you know. I really wanted the band to sound like a modern take on a classic rock band and even farther back than ’70s, ’80s, even going as far back as like the ’50s, you know what I mean.
What’s the significance of the album title, Begin Again?
I feel like, for all of us, all five of us have kind of dropped everything in our life and really just started over with this band and we’ve put our entire heart and soul and faith in this band because we love it, and it’s kind of testament to the fact that you can do that and you can start over and you can change whenever you want, in your life. It’s never too late to do that. So I feel like the record, for us, was just a fresh start and hence Begin Again.
And it seems like you’re taking a very DIY approach with Hell or Highwater?
Absolutely. You know, all of us have had success in our previous bands and we didn’t want to have to just rely on that. We really wanted the band to be known for us, you know, and really people to fall in love with Hell or Highwater, rather than the things we’ve done in the past.
Do you take listeners’ reactions to this record more personally than anything before?
Obviously, it’s a special record for me because it is something totally new that I did on my own and it’s something that I really built from the ground up. And it’s not that I take it personally, but I think I’m just maybe more proud of this than anything else. Just because it’s like building a house with your own two hands, you know what I mean. You’re going to want to show everyone that house, you’re gonna be proud of that house, because every bit of it was made with your two hands and your blood, sweat, and tears. So I feel like I’m just more excited and proud for this record, I think, than anything else.
How are you enjoying being a frontman?
It’s a lot of fun, man, I mean, I’ve always been as active of a drummer as I can be and it’s a lot of fun just to kind of be in people’s faces now and interact and, you know, get to run around a little bit, have a good time. I feel like I’ve been let out of my cage.
And you’ve collaborated with Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows on the track “Go Alone”?
Yeah, yeah, we’ve been friends for a while. I mean, obviously we’re both from Huntington beach and Atreyu and Avenged toured a lot throughout the years, and we’ve become close the last three or four years. We’d written it together a long, long time ago, so it’s nice to finally have that come out, too, because I think a lot of people will dig it.
With so much of your time going into Hell or Highwater, is Atreyu firmly on the back burner right now?
When we decided to go on a break, the idea was go on a break and when, collectively, the five of us feel that the break is over, then the break is over. There wasn’t any time limit or “Let’s just take two years off” or whatever. It could be a year, it could be five, we don’t really know. Which makes it nice because I don’t like to half-ass anything in my life so I’m glad that I can put all my attention towards this. JASON LE MIERE