"I'm extremely busy, but extremely not busy," says Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows of his current state. "We've got all this stuff coming up, but I'm doing everything from home — it's nice and kind of chaotic at the same time."
The Orange County metal band certainly has a lot going on at the moment. In addition to prepping for their first-ever acoustic performance (as part of a special Grammy museum event on October 19th at L.A.'s Clive Davis Theater) and an appearance at Linkin Park's Chester Bennington tribute concert on October 27th, A7X has also recently announced a month-long U.S. tour with openers Breaking Benjamin and Bullet For My Valentine, which kicks off January 12th in Nashville. And if that wasn't enough to think about, Shadows and his bandmates — guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, bassist Johnny Christ and drummer Brooks Wackerman — have been overseeing the new deluxe version of Stage, the band's critically acclaimed 2016 album, which will hit the streets December 15th.
The expanded edition of Stage will include the album's 11 original tracks, along with four live concert recordings — "God Damn," "The Stage," "Paradigm" and "Sunny Disposition" — and "Dose," an original song recorded during the album's sessions. Also included in the package are six cover songs: "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd, "Retrovertigo" by Mr. Bungle, "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, "As Tears Go By" by the Rolling Stones, "Runaway" by Del Shannon (featuring Zacky on lead vocals and a cameo by Vandals guitarist Warren Fitzgerald), and the Mexican folk song "Malagueña Salerosa."
Revolver spoke with Shadows about the deluxe edition of Stage and the rest of the band's current doings, as well as their recent tour experiences with Metallica, what he and his kids are listening to these days, and what their plans are for Halloween.
YOU GUYS ARE SLATED TO APPEAR AT THE CHESTER BENNINGTON TRIBUTE CONCERT. WHICH OF THEIR SONGS WILL YOU BE PERFORMING?
M. SHADOWS Well, the song we're going to be doing keeps changing, so I don't want to say anything yet. I basically told Mike [Shinoda], "We're going to be the easiest guys you've ever dealt with. Just tell us the song we're singing the day before, if you have to, and we'll nail it." He said, "No, no, don't worry about that — you're doing this song." And then, I get a text from him a week later saying, "Okay, Jonathan Davis is gonna do that. How bout you do this one?" So I don't know for sure what we're going to do at this point, but we'll see.
WERE YOU CLOSE WITH CHESTER?
I wasn't close with Chester. I'd only met him in passing, but I am very close with Mike, and I also play a lot of golf with Dave [Farrell]. Mike's one of those guys where, we'd always go to Coachella together, and we'd play each other demo versions of our new records and talk about producers; we became pretty close, him, me and Brian [Synyster Gates]. So when this happened ... it's hard losing a friend, and it's also hard seeing a friend go through something that you had pretty recently gone through, yourself.
I IMAGINE THIS MUST HAVE GIVEN YOU SOME SERIOUS FLASHBACKS FROM THE REV'S PASSING.
Yeah, and I think being on the other end of it, you kind of know how to respond a little better. Because people don't really know how to respond to something like this; they don't know if they're reaching out too much or not reaching out enough, or they're saying too much or not saying enough. For me, I know that there's really nothing you can say. So I told them that, and said, "We're there for you; whenever you need something, just let us know." We reached out a few times, but you try to stay out of their way and let them mourn, let them try to figure it out. Because there's nothing anyone can really say to you at that point.
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF BOTH CHESTER AND CHRIS CORNELL TAKING THEIR OWN LIVES? THAT WAS A PRETTY BRUTAL ONE-TWO GUT PUNCH FOR THE ROCK WORLD …
Yeah, it's surreal, it's absolutely surreal. And just the way that it all went down, and how they were friends ... it's just very confusing. And it's heartbreaking, because both were such great singers. Soundgarden is one of my favorite bands; we got to hear them at Carolina Rebellion this year, because we were playing two nights later ... No words, man. It's really tough.
WELL, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING HAPPIER, LIKE THIS DELUXE VERSION OF STAGE YOU'RE COMING OUT WITH IN DECEMBER. WHERE DID THE IDEA TO ADD ALL OF THESE COVER SONGS COME FROM?
When we were writing the Stage album, we realized we'd never really done proper covers, where we were taking songs and making them our own and kind of playing around with them. I came up with the idea of doing a cover of "Wish You Were Here," but we didn't really want it on the record. We've always kept our records really clean — we've never had guest performances, we've never done cover songs. So the idea at the time was, let's do a bunch of covers, and we'll put these things out on streaming services, and one day people will wake up and have some new songs. So everybody picked a song they wanted to do, and then in the studio we kind of pulled an audible and did the Mr. Bungle cover, as well.
OF ALL THE COVERS, THE BUNGLE ONE IS CLOSEST, STYLISTICALLY, TO YOUR MUSIC. WAS IT A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO STEER CLEAR OF METAL COVERS?
I just think that a metal band covering a bunch of metal songs is so boring, so "done before." In the past, we had no problem covering "Paranoid" or "Walk" — but now to me, the same type of band doing the same thing, it doesn't necessarily get us excited to do that. What I loved about doing Pink Floyd and "God Only Knows" was doing our little twist on them; I loved transcribing those songs and listening to those beautiful chords, seeing what they're doing, and trying to bring the songs into 2017 with our own modern twist on it, but still keeping the beautiful nuances of what they were doing. I think that was really important to the writing process with Stage; felt like those type of bands really influenced us more this time around, so it made more sense [to cover them] than doing a Dio cover or something.
WAS IT AT ALL INTIMIDATING TO HAVE TO STEP INTO MIKE PATTON OR BRIAN WILSON'S SHOES AS A VOCALIST?
Every single cover we did was intimidating, vocally. The thing about covers is that, the first thing you're going to notice is the vocals, because it's not the same person. If you listen to what Axl [Rose] did with Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," it's completely different; but at the time, the first version I knew was the Axl version. I'm sure there were a bunch of Bob Dylan purists at the time that were like, "This Guns N' Roses version sucks!" [Laughs] I think it just depends on what generation you're from, which version you heard first and who's voice you're used to. I'm sitting there trying to sing Pink Floyd, trying to sing Brian Wilson, and trying to sing Patton, who is probably the greatest metal vocalist of all time. So for me, it was just about being me and doing what I do and trying to put our own twist on it. But as a vocalist, you're going to be the first one that people come at; I have an instrument, it is what it is, and I can't change that. But we're just having fun with it; if people take it too seriously, then that's on them.
IT'S COOL TO HEAR ZACKY TAKE THE LEAD VOCALS ON "RUNAWAY."
Yeah, that took me out of the firing range for a little bit there! [Laughs] Though I don't think people are as uptight about Del Shannon's vocals. We had Warren Fitzgerald play on it, and it was pretty much the reincarnation of the Vandals, having Brooks and Warren playing together; and, of course, Zack is a huge punk rock fan, so we turned it into a punk rock version. Zack really wanted to sing it, and I thought it added a nice little color to the record, to have a different voice on there. And I think it might be something we move on to with the next record, with Brian and Zack singing. Why not? Just to put some different nuances on things.
"DOSE" IS THE ONLY UNRELEASED ORIGINAL SONG ON THE DELUXE VERSION OF STAGE, AND THAT WAS RECORDED DURING THE SESSIONS FOR THE ALBUM. ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY NEW MATERIAL YET?
There's a little too much on our plate right now for that. We like to get a really solid premise of what we're trying to do with each record, and I think that's why they come out so different from each other. I think if we started writing right now, our heads would still be in the Stage space, and I think whatever we'd write would just be an extension of that. But if that's where we're still at two years from now, I would gladly follow that, because I love where that record went. But if the band and I are somewhere completely different in two years, I would fully embrace that, as well, because I love putting out records that are kind of polarizing.
SPEAKING OF POLARIZING, WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING ANOTHER "SURPRISE" RELEASE, À LA STAGE?
I think if we had to do it again, knowing what we know now, we would have done something to embrace the casual fan more. 80,000 people bought Stage in the first week, but those were hardcore Avenged Sevenfold fans; we completely missed out on the casual fan, who maybe needs to hear a single for a certain amount of time first before buying a record, or whatever. So I think we'd need a plan for what happens after the surprise; we put so much time and energy into keeping it a secret, that once it came out, it was like, "OK, now what do we do?" So I probably wouldn't want to do the same thing again, but I'm a firm believer in trying to be inventive and not letting something like this make us not want to try anything special again. I think it's important that bands keep pushing the envelope. I'd rather be disappointed than bored, to be honest! [Laughs]
YOU GUYS DECIDED TO PUT YOUR OWN TOUR ON HOLD TO JUMP ON METALLICA'S WORLDWIRED TOUR. IN RETROSPECT, ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THAT DECISION?
I am, in retrospect. If you talked to me two weeks ago, I would have said, "I don't know what's going to happen." But we put these tickets on sale for this tour with Breaking Benjamin, and we sold more tickets in the first weekend than we sold for our entire September tour last year. So I don't know if it's an accumulation of things, of all the press we got from the Metallica tour, the evolving record ... but something definitely happened in the last year, and I think a lot of it had to do with how much publicity you get just by being on tour with Metallica.
DID YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER THAN USUAL IN ORDER TO WIN OVER METALLICA'S STADIUM CROWDS?
Oh my god, yeah. Every night was like going to war! We knew that was going to happen, because you can't just walk out there and think your songs are going to carry you. I mean, people are sitting there eating hot dogs a mile away from you in the nosebleeds; you've gotta somehow get those people, and they might not have heard "Hail to the King," or "Bat Country" or "Nightmare". These are people who don't listen to modern rock radio; maybe they were listening in the Nineties, and they've moved on to other things. So it's a whole different way of looking at things; you have to really work for it and win them over.
WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO THESE DAYS, METAL OR OTHERWISE?
I like the new Mastodon, and I'm still listening to the last Gojira record. But I've been listening to a lot of Pink Floyd, too. It's hard for me to find new things that are not completely overproduced; in this day and age, it's so over the top with the kick drum samples and the fake everything, and it's hard for me to feel any emotion in the music. I feel very bad for this generation, and what they're given on a daily basis; I know everyone says that, but there's definitely something missing in a lot of the music today, and I think a lot of it has to do with not only the loudness war, but the sampling of the drums. There's no nuances to anything; everything's just so saturated and pushed into your face, you don't have any chance to get into the music and explore it. It's just all right there at 10 at all times, and to me that's disappointing. Because if you put on a Pink Floyd record, or even a Mastodon record, there's a lot of space in there; there's a lot of space that you can really swim in, which is what I love about music.
YOU HAVE TWO SONS, AGES THREE AND FIVE. DO THEY LIKE TO LISTEN TO MUSIC?
They do! It's so funny; I scratch their backs before they go to bed every night, and our playlist is "Patience," "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and "Estranged," and by "Estranged," they're out. They love GNR, and they love Avenged Sevenfold — my son told his teacher that the two songs of ours he loves are "God Damn" and "Fucking Nightmare," so I got a call from the school about that. [Laughs] But yeah, they love rock music. They love Metallica, Megadeth ... I put on "Sweating Bullets" the other day, and they were laughing about Dave Mustaine talking to himself, so that was pretty funny!
WHAT ARE THEY GOING AS FOR HALLOWEEN?
One was going to be Bowser from Mario, though now he wants to be a Ninja, so we'll see. And the other wants to be a policeman — I'm gonna be a jailbird, so he can put me in jail. We have a great street; people are into it. There are multiple haunted houses on it, there are fog machines going, there are people just walking around in creepy costumes; it's very active. Our friends will come over with their kids, we'll have some food and the parents will drink some wine, and then we'll take the kids up and down the street.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE HALLOWEEN COSTUME WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
You know, this is going to sound so offensive, and it's gonna make my dad look really bad. [Laughs] You obviously remember the Rodney King riots in L.A., right? Well, there was that guy Reginald Denny, who got hit in the head by a brick, which was terrible. My dad thought it would be funny to dress me up as Reginald Denny — so I'm out there with a brick on my head and blood all over. People were like, "What are you?" And I'm like, "I'm Reginald Denny!" And I had no clue who he was! [Laughs] In 2017, that sounds so insensitive, and not a good costume to have on. But I was a little kid walking around as Reginald Denny!