Interview Outtake: Avenged Sevenfold's M. Shadows on Playing for the Troops
On Tuesday, Revolver's September/October "A Salute to Our Troops" issue officially comes off newsstands, replaced by our new issue, the 2011 edition of our annual Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock issue. But before that happens, we wanted to share our complete interview with Avenged Sevenfold vocalist M. Shadows about playing for men and women in the military in Iraq and Kuwait last year; an excerpt from our chat with him is featured in the "Salute to the Troops" issue. You can see A7X rocking the good ol' U.S. of A on October 15 at the 48 Hours Festival in Las Vegas.
REVOLVER Why did you guys want to play for the troops in the Middle East?
M. SHADOWS I guess we have our personal reasons: Those men and women are over in Iraq and Kuwait and different parts of the world--I don’t want to get into my beliefs about war--but you could say, over there, defending our country, and the fact of the matter is they’re people we grew up with. They’re from our generation. And they’re dedicating their lives and their time to be over there, so we figured we could go over there and entertain them. It’s the least we could do while they’re in harm’s way. We also wanted to go to the Middle East and check it out and see what they’re up to over there. We had a lot of fun over there. We got to shoot guns and hang out and live like them for a while in the barracks. It’s one of the things that all around we were just excited to do it and to just support them in the way they supported us.
How hard was it to actually get permission to go to Kuwait and Iraq?
We’ve been trying to go for a while, but it’s a lot more complicated than people think. It’s not like you just say, “Hey, we’re going over there.” You’ve got to get all this permission, and USO’s gotta be on board. The USO does a lot for the troops, but a lot of times they’re behind on what the people want to hear. They bring over a lot of country artists and a lot of pop artists, which I’m sure the troops are happy about. But to bring a metal band was something they had to be sold on. Like, "Are you sure people are going to care about this?" And they did. We had the biggest turnout for all the bases that we went to that they’d ever had. It just goes to show, there’s a lot of young men and women there that listen to rock music, and they were really excited that a rock band was coming. It was awesome. It was a really big success for them and a success for us. We just had a blast over there.
Do you have any personal connection to the military?
I think everyone in the band has had someone that’s served in their family. I wouldn’t say that anybody has a military family, but both of my grandfathers were in the military. But I have a lot of friends out of high school, they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives, so some went into the Navy, some went into the Marines, some went into the Army. A few of them have been over in Fallujah, when we were first going into Iraq and getting in a lot of not only gun battles but a lot of danger. So we have a lot of experience from just wondering if our friends were going to come back. Thankfully all of them have. But that’s why we were really dead-set on it. And it just turned out that while we were over in Europe, the USO finally came around and said, “Yeah, we’d love to have Avenged come over.” And it just fit perfectly in with our tour. We’d already been on tour for two-and-a-half months over there, and it was like, OK, do we want to go to Iraq after all that? And it was actually refreshing getting there. It was awesome. Being in Europe for two-and-a-half months will wear you down, but once we got to Iraq, it was just exciting and it felt dangerous, and it was just good to get there and be with a bunch of Americans in Iraq.
But were you guys nervous at all?
I’d say there was some nerves. Everywhere you go, you have a bulletproof vest on and helmets, which means there probably is some level of danger. They don’t make you wear all that stuff just to laugh at you. When you’re going up in the C-130s [military transport aircraft], the pilots are all looking out for Iraqis shooting at you. The whole time, it’s pretty dangerous, but it’s also very exciting, and it’s something we felt we had to do.
What were your most memorable experiences during the trip?
Every base was pretty memorable in itself. The first base we went to was in Kuwait. It was the last training ground before they ship people out to Iraq. It was their last little bit of training. So we got to go in the Humvees and get them turned over as if getting hit by a grenade, and you’ve all got to try to get out of them. There’s smoke and you’re upside-down and disoriented, and that’s fun. To crawl out, see who can get out fastest and see who can get cover. They let us shoot M16s and stuff and shoot targets and do all that stuff, too. There are all sorts of different guns.
We went to a base [in Iraq], they still call it “Mortaritaville.” There was mortars coming through all day. People in the city who just shoot mortars into the base. They really have no aim at anything. They’re just kind of makeshift. But you’d hear a turret will go off and they’ll shoot it out of the air. We had one get through while we were there, and it just landed on the base. They get, like, eight of them a day. Basically, an alarm goes off if the turret gun can’t shoot ’em down and you have to just duck and cover. So we had two of those while we were on that base. They were far from us, but still, it was like, “Really? There’s mortars coming through?” There’s little explosives that they make by hand and they just shoot ’em into the base. They’re just trying to kill somebody.
And then to play there was just insane, because it was rowdy and everyone’s got to hold their gun at all times. So you’re playing for 5 or 6,000 men and women who all have M16s on their shoulders. And they’re trying to pit, and it’s pretty crazy. They’re not loaded on base, but it’s still pretty crazy. A couple of the bases were a lot more strict. So they’d get the talk before, like, “You’re not moshing. No one’s getting sent home because of a broken nose at a show.” But there were some places that were just so out of control that they couldn’t stop it. It was kind of funny seeing the different bases and their discipline level.
In Baghdad, we stayed in Saddam’s palace. It was crazy, man. It’s hard to explain. There’s a golfing area they called the Baghdad Country Club. Basically he had golf balls set up and you’d just hit ’em into the water. He had so much stuff, and it was so over the top. He drove his country into poverty--his people were all poor because he was taking all the water, he was talking all the money, he was doing all these things so he could have these crazy palaces that were basically all a façade. All the gold was fake, all the chandeliers were fake, but it looked like it was billions of dollars worth. All the Americans have set up camp in there, pretty much. That’s their bases now. So they’re living in the palaces. He had about 48 palaces in Baghdad alone. It’s insane to go through there. You see where the bomb missed him by 20 minutes. And he had 220 family members and friends that he let get bombed by George Bush—he didn’t even tell them that the bomb was coming, because he had heard. We got to look at all the bombing sites and the movie theater that he had that was playing Pretty Woman at the time. You know, you learn a bunch of funny stuff. We got to see some of the murder pools, where he would have woodchippers and they’d put people through them and feed them to his fish. Just crazy stuff. So we got a big history lesson over there, and we got to play for some awesome people, and it was an unbelievable experience.
Have you been able to stay in touch with any of the soldiers you met over there?
There are a lot of guys over there that I still play Xbox with. We’ll jump in each other’s games every once in a while. But there’s probably like six or seven guys that I play video games with now.
Did you feel like you won over some new fans?
I think everyone appreciated it enough that we even came. I’m sure there are people there that listen to stuff heavier than us, that aren’t Avenged Sevenfold fans [but came to the show] because there’s nothing else to do. Everyone was really cool. Not only do we have a lot of respect for them, but I’m sure a lot of them respected the fact that we were even there.
Did you guys get any gifts from any of the soldiers?
I’m actually in my studio right now, and I’m looking at a bunch of stuff they gave us. There were a lot of people with Avenged tattoos there, which was cool. They gave us a lot of their batalion’s patches. They gave us bracelets. They gave us cool knives. A lot of Challenge Coins from commanders, because we came and played for their group of guys and girls. Lots of cool stuff.
Would you guys want to go back and play the Middle East again?
It was an absolute honor and a pleasure to go there to Iraq, and I hope the war ends soon. But if it doesn’t, or if something else pops up, we would love to go back, and we’re looking forward to that and playing for them again. We’ve visited Walter Reade [Army Medical Center] quite a few times, we’ve done quite a few things for them.
I know that sometimes we, as Americans, we reach outside of our means, and every once in a while we like to "police the world," but I think we do a lot of good as well. I think that those people [in the military], it’s very important that we support them, because I’m not putting myself in front of a bullet every day. And you’re not, but they are. And it’s pretty commendable.