Interview: Avenged Sevenfold Vocalist M. Shadows Talks New Song “Carry On,” Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and the Next Album
Avenged Sevenfold recently released a new song “Carry On” on the smash video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II. They also appear in the game, after the credits, as animated versions of themselves, playing the new track. We recently had a chance to chat with A7X frontman M. Shadows and we talked not only about “Carry On” and Call of Duty but also about his band’s next album, due in 2013, and his favorite record of 2012.
REVOLVER How did the song “Carry On” first come together?
M SHADOWS Well, there are some funny back stories to it. There is this station on XM radio called Boneyard, Ozzy’s Boneyard, and me and [guitarist Synyster] Gates have been listening to a lot of Ozzy’s Boneyard, and when [video-game developers] Treyarch asked us if we wanted to do the song and they asked for something uplifting and uptempo, we were like, “Dude, let’s do a song like if a modern band was gonna do something that was gonna be played on Boneyard.” Like, very thrash but melodic, more thrash riffs with a more Maiden-type vocal. So we just had fun with it. We only had a couple days to put the song together. When we got the call, Treyarch was kind of last minute: “We want to blow up our characters at the end of the game. Can you guys do this? We need the song in a week.” We were like, Ya know what? Instead of going too crazy and beating ourselves up over it, we’re like, “Let’s do something we can hear being played on Boneyard if we were an ’80s band.” We just did that song, and we’re happy with the way it turned out.
Is that the fastest you’ve written a song?
Probably, I don’t know. It’s definitely the fastest timeline. We don’t really do too many things like this. Ya know, when video games call or when people ask for stuff, we tend not to do that stuff. We like to not do too many things like that. Since me and Zacky [Vengence, guitar] and Arin [Ilejay, drums] are huge fans of Call of Duty, it was more of an honor to do it. We wanted to be involved in the game. We said, “OK, we wanna do this. How long do you need it? Oh, it’s in a week? OK, yeah, we’ll make it work.” It was the quickest turn around for something that had to be shown to people on such a global scale, for sure. It was fun, and it was cool.
When you’re rushing something like that, not to say that you were rushing, but are you happy with the way everything turned out?
Yeah, we didn’t over think it. We knew that we had to either drop a guitar solo or drop a bridge so we dropped a bridge because they needed the song to be under 4 minutes for animation purposes. I mean, this thing was getting done in August and I don’t know how many millions of dollars it costs to do all the animation on something like that, but we needed to make the song short and to the point and, like I said, uplifting and fun. So if it was an Avenged Sevenfold song on a record, we probably would have looked at a couple of things like putting in a bridge and things like that that we normally have. We just put in a drum solo and two guitar solos and called it a day. It’s fun to do stuff like that because where we normally wouldn’t tread on an album, it’s fun to put something out like that and be able to experiment even if it’s a shorter version of something we would normally do.
Tell us about the experience of being animated. Did you get to wear one of those funky suits with the lights on it?
Oh, we got to wear ‘em! Yeah, we got to basically perform the song a million times with skintight suits on, the stuff all over your face, the animation, whatever they need to animate that stuff. They took pictures of all the tattoos. It was pretty crazy and we had to perform the song as if we were playing in front of an audience. It was a different experience, but it was fun! It was comfortable. All of the people over at Treyarch have been friends of the band for a couple of years now going back to when we worked with them on Black Ops I for Zombies: Map. So you’re doing this in front of some of the directors over there that are gonna make sure the game gets done right. It’s totally comfortable. They’re friends at this point. We don’t see them as some outsider’s corporation. They’re just people that we know at this point.
Did they involve you at all in seeing the building of the animation or did you just see the finished product?
I went in a couple of times. They didn’t want to send anything over the Internet, which I understand. It was really important to them that everything was secret. That was why up ’til the day of release, anything that got released they were taking down immediately. Those people at Activision are just hawks. It was crazy! So I saw the cut of our characters and they sent me renderings of what our characters would look like, but I didn’t see the finished product until a leak on YouTube, to be honest. Then I saw that and it got immediately taken down and then it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that I actually got to see it for real.
What did you think?
I think it’s awesome! I think it’s fun. It’s so funny. When you look at a company like Call of Duty and you see all the backlash they get for making the biggest game and everyone’s got a complaint about this or that. Ya know, to me, this was meant to be fun. It’s entertaining. It’s funny at the end of the game. It has nothing to do with the campaign. It’s more of just showing that Treyarch and Avenged Sevenfold have a sense of humor about it. It’s a fun thing with all of the characters in the game are all in the audience and stuff. For us, it was a fun thing. It was an honor to do it. That’s pretty much it, ya know?
Plus, you got to rough up some of the characters.
Totally! So cool. That’s one of the things I was laughing at. It’s funny, like, people who see us and don’t know Avenged Sevenfold are gonna think we’re a bunch of dicks! Total assholes! Just beating up these characters.
So, since you did this new song, have you been working on an album, too?
Ya know, the song we did, like I said, back in July. We’ve been working on the album since September, and this isn’t a dig at the direction of that song or anything, but I want people to understand that even if they like that song or if they don’t like it or whatever, the album is a completely different entity. We’re working in a direction that I really feel confident with. Ya know, this wasn’t a song for the album. It was more of a thing we did for fun for Call of Duty. The album has been getting worked on and we’ve been pretty quiet about it. I think that’s because we’re really trying to make this thing as good as possible without getting all these expectations and all sorts of people talking about “They said this or they said that.” All I can say is that I’m really, really happy with the album, and I’m really proud of it so far. I think we’re gonna start recording in January.
I know you don’t really want to talk about the direction yet, but how many songs have you written so far for it?
That’s a hard question to answer because songs come and go. There’s about six songs, whole song ideas that I’m 100% happy with. There’s a lot of other ideas and if those pieces find their place in other songs that could be… Let’s just put it this way, a million ideas and six solid songs.
What has it been like working with Arin on this album with writing?
It’s been good, man! It’s been cool. A lot of it’s been us refreshing him on what our influences are and where we’re coming from as a band. There’s a lot of things that he was never brought up on that we have to quickly get him acquired to such as Pantera and Metallica and Slayer and Megadeth and we’re introducing him to these records that were literally the biggest records when we were growing up. Just records that you have to know. He’s much younger and he grew up listening to Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet For My Valentine, ya know? So it’s a completely different generation and it makes me feel old to even talk about it. Right now, we’re handing him [Pantera's] Far Beyond Driven and [Metallica's] Master of Puppets and saying, “Learn these albums. You need to learn these things” because when we’re talking about “groove metal,” we’re not talking about some Warped Tour band. We’re talking about fucking Pantera! We’re talking about Black Sabbath, ya know? So we’re getting him acquired to that and I think he’s learning really quickly what we’re looking for. We’re not looking for an overly technically proficient drummer. We’re looking for a guy that knows how to fit the song and be in the groove and play the right thing in the right moment. It’s been cool. It’s been good. He’s been doing really, really well.
Have you seen him attach himself to one of these records? Is there one that he’s just going crazy over?
I think he was blown away by the simplicity of “The Black Album” and what Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] does. How it’s just so catchy, but so simple. What Lars is doing in there, just even his snare hits, it’s almost music in itself because it’s as catchy as guitar riffs. You take a little bit of that and you take a little bit of what [Pantera drummer] Vinnie Paul is doing in his style of kick-drum patterns and all that stuff and the groove, that he’s not overplaying stuff, but when he does come out of his little pocket, it’s perfect. It’s things like that that you see he’s kind of reacting to. He gets it. But he hasn’t really acquired that because a lot of modern-age metal is a lot of double kick and a lot of aggressive, overplayed drums, and a lot of times they forget about the groove. We’re trying to get him on the plain of “Hey dude, we’re not trying to impress people with our playing abilities. We’re trying to write the best songs possible.” He’s getting there. I think that takes a lot of maturity especially for a guy his age. When we were his age, we just wanted to shred. So he’s doing well. He’s growing up fast.
It sounds like going back and revisiting these records has been rubbing off on you. It sounds like you’ve really been thinking about that stuff.
Totally, dude. I’m going back even further. This isn’t a dig at anyone who’s doing dubstep and shit, but people keep saying, “Do you think Avenged is gonna put that kind of stuff in their music?” It’s actually the exact opposite. We’re going back to Sabbath stuff. We’re looking at the blues chords they’re playing most of their stuff in. We’re listening to classical. We’re listening to Zeppelin. We’re kind of going backwards with what we want this record to feel like. Kind of old soul. All this new stuff, “Let’s put some techno beat in our bridge” is just completely what we don’t want to do.
That sounds good!
It’s crazy. You get all these fans that are like, “Do you think Avenged is gonna do this type of thing?” It’s like, Man, I wanna make music. I get it. It’s pump-up music. You wanna go to a club and dance. It’s fun. Some of it’s really good, but to me, I wanna write a classic metal record, a classic rock record in 2013. So that’s our goal.
I guess to wrap things up, one thing I was wondering, we were talking about the album in 2013, but what are your favorite albums of 2012?
Um, I’m not exactly sure when these albums came out, because I’ve been known to get albums later than their release date. I love the Volbeat record that came out probably two years ago or a year ago. I actually got really into Lana Del Re,y which is kinda an oddball choice. I got into some older records that I never really got into. I got into Love At First Sting. I think that what it’s called. The Scorpions’ record. Some old-school stuff. Some Zeppelin stuff that I hadn’t heard before. Newer stuff, I don’t know. I just downloaded the Soundgarden record. I haven’t listened to it yet. I just downloaded the new Three Days Grace to check it out. Haven’t listened to it yet. A couple of things I’ve downloaded but haven’t had time to really dig into because we’re writing and not that the new stuff isn’t inspiring, it’s just that we’re really trying to get to the meat and potatoes of the classic, what makes classic records and these riffs, and just getting into the old Pantera stuff, old Zeppelin stuff, old Sabbath stuff right now.
The Ozzy’s Boneyard stuff.
Ozzy’s Boneyard, dude! That’s a little more up-tempo than what we’re going for, but yeah definitely. Definitely, you just learn so much from classical music and metal is always taken from classical. It’s so funny to me that classical has always been musically so proficient. You get these great lead lines and these great melodies and the way the chords are working together and then a lot of metal bands want to just ignore that aand go with pure double bass and screaming over it. To me, when bands like Metallica do, like, the bridge in “Master Of Puppets,” it’s so classical. It’s just brilliant. If it’s done right, I think there’s something to be said about classical music and metal. It’s fucking brilliant.
What is it that you like about the Lana Del Rey record?
I just love her songwriting. I think it’s a really well-done record. It’s warm. I just love her songwriting. The melodies are brilliant, I think. The production is great. I mean, it’s something I love to listen to, throw it on, and I love every song on that record. It’s one of those things that I can throw on and push shuffle and never be bummed when something comes up.