Posted on by Oran

Having started out at the tail end of the 90’s and gradually becoming one of metal music biggest bands in the last five years, Avenged Sevenfold continue to march to the beat of their own drum with the recently released new album ‘The Stage’. Overdrive sits down with Synyster Gates to talk about the recording process, new drummer Books Wackerman and their forthcoming 2017 European tour with Disturbed. 



One of the year’s biggest surprises within the world of metal would have to be the release of Avenged Sevenfold’s seventh studio album ‘The Stage’. With a perfectly executed stealth-like promo campaign, ‘The Stage’ has proved to be one of 2016 strongest albums, offering ten blistering tracks that are drenched with a dark rooted sense of composition, however, packed to the brim with their trademark hooks and outstanding ability to push boundaries of musical arrangements.

As Synyster greets us, it’s apparent that he is understandably excited about the overwhelming response towards the new album and seems to be yearning to get out on the road next year with touring buddies, Disturbed.


OD – I believe that the album’s concept is based on the work of Carl Sagan and Elon Musk, however in a more realistic perception of the present day. Who’s idea was it to take on this concept?

SYNYSTER – Well, there is a multitude of conceptual ideas laced through the album, ranging from space exploration to space history it’s kind of like our version of the soundtrack to the ‘Big Bang’ to present day. I think we all kind of contributed to the overall concept but it was really M. Shadows who was kind of fanatical about the whole concept from the beginning. He’s really been obsessing over the concept of space exploration and the benefits of A.I and especially the repercussions of what that will all mean to us not only now but later down the line in our future.

I guess all of this kind of stemmed from conversations that we would have over lunch or when we were just hanging out and then taking some of those ideas into a rehearsal room and writing music based on those very conversations.

OD – When writing a ‘concept’ album, do you find that it changes the dynamic of writing rather than just penning individual songs?


SYNYSTER – Definitely! Although each song is different from the next, we knew that if we didn’t like it very much – which was not the case with this album, but we were determined to stay away from the ‘sugary choruses’ that we have done in the past. You know what I mean, like ‘Beast and The Harlot‘ – which is one of my big pet peeves. I mean, that track just gets so sugary (laughs). The stuff on The Stage is just so fucking opposite to that!

I listen to so much stuff from Mr Bungle to a lot of classical stuff, as do the rest of the guys. Bearing that in mind we felt that we just really wanted to experiment with this album and approach things from way outside the box. The material is a little more exotic and bluesy at times and although I wouldn’t say that it’s ‘darker’, but it’s certainly not so fucking poppy as some of our older stuff. We really wanted the album to be catchy and I feel that we have always been able to do that in one sense or another.

The whole thing came together really naturally because we all collectively listen to such a varied selection of weird, dark interesting music.

ODThe Stage is the first album featuring Brooks (Wackerman – drums Bad Religion), his presence is very evident on this album and to me has seemed to bring a tremendous level of energy to the overall sound. Just listening to Paradigm is enough for me! I was sold when I heard that! Did Brooks just fit into the overall chemistry for you from the get-go and do you feel that it enhanced the overall direction of the recording sessions?


SYNYSTER – Oh fuck yeah! And way more than we ever expected. We found him through some mutual friends and of course, we are all fans of Bad Religion, but more importantly, it was the work that he had done with Infectious Grooves (featuring Mike Muir, Suicidal Tendencies and Rob Trujillo, Metallica) that really caught our attention. I mean, that is just some of the tastiest drumming I’ve ever fucking heard! It’s fucking insanely good, packed with groove and totally unique.

I had no idea of how fast his hands and feet were, more importantly, his level of composition is amazing. I had never heard anything like this being done on a heavy record. Our bread and butter is that type of music and his unorthodox approach to the writing and recording was just such a huge impact on what the album ended up sounding like today.

Paradigm is a perfect example as to what Brooks has brought to the table. He would just come in and although we would not really have anything really nailed down in terms of riffs or arrangements, Brooks would just do the almost opposite to what we expected and it was just insane. His presence just elevated this band to another level as he attacks the kit with such a different mindset to most. The stuff he’s playing is just super-complicated but the end result sounds clear, precise and not over the top if you know what I mean.


If you want to listen to the songs on the album, then that’s cool, but if you listen to the individual parts that Brooks is playing and dig a little deeper, you will soon discover his ability and the way he approaches the composition of the arrangements. We really wanted some unique and crazy drum sounds on this album and instead of going for the huge over-produced sound, we decided to keep it as raw as possible and packed with personality. We were so in love with these piccolo type snare drums and weird crazy tom sounds and we feel that we just nailed it on this album. I’m so happy with the overall finished product.

OD – There are some definite surprises on the album with tracks with subtle directions here and there like ‘Sunny Disposition’ the breakdown in ‘God Damn’ and or course ‘Exist’, was there a lot of writing and arrangements during the recording or did you have things pretty much mapped out prior such as your solos etc or do you just get a feel for it when working with Joe (Barresi)?

SYNYSTER – Well, when we first approached Joe, it was just to engineer the album as we had the demos pretty much nailed. For instance ‘Exist‘ had all the violin and horn arrangements already as that’s something that we are really passionate about. So basically, a lot of the pre-recording stuff sounded very similar to how it turned out on the finished album, but where Joe really came into the creative process was when he opened up his huge fucking bag of guitar peddles and tricks (laughs). He just had some crazy fantastic ideas that we wouldn’t have been able to see, had it not been for him.


If you listen to a song like ‘Higher‘, the intro and the outro has a lot of vocal textures and guitar tones that Joe’s putting through chaos pads and different guitar peddles which he then is re-amping through tonnes of different sounding amps. He’s really experimental but not to the point where the album is just filled with noise. It’s subtle and high impact if you know what I mean. He helped us incorporate a huge range of textures on the album which I feel we totally achieved.

With my solos, I put them together in the studio as I wanted to get a really good amp sound and fuck around with different pedals, which is just my favourite part of recording (laughs). To get in the studio with Joe and experiment with all of these different sounds, was such a great experience. Being able to create a sound and then write a solo because of that sound is just so exciting and unique to that very moment.

OD – The promo campaign for the album was fantastic in my opinion, were you all collectively involved with that process or was it a result of the labels brainstorming that pulled it off?

SYNYSTER – It was a collaboration between the band and our new label, Capitol Records. We wanted to approach this record from outside the box in every capacity and since I feel we had achieved that with the music, it was something that we really wanted to follow through with in terms of the promotional campaign. We were looking at different artists in different genres, such as Beyonce and Jay-Z.


If was their idea to do the performance on the roof of the Capitol Records building in L.A which was just so fucking awesome. We freaked out at the idea and then pitched to them the idea of adding in some augmented reality, to which they loved. Capitol don’t really have a lot of rock / metal artists on their roster, but you have some of the guys at the top like Steve Barnett (Capitol Records CEO) who used to manage bands like AC/DC back in the day and to be honest, it’s a match made in heaven. We’re all just so fucking happy to be with Capitol Records.

OD – Talking of promo campaigns, what did you think of Metallica’s idea to produce a video for every track on Hard Wired?

SYNYSTER – Yeah, that was a stroke of genius. There’s nothing like having some healthy competition. We really strive to think outside the box, by taking the standard approach the then twisting it a little all the while trying something new. Then Metallica comes along and just up the bar again with their promo. We’re a little jealous (laughs).

To be honest, I personally feel that this is a great time within the music industry as it’s forcing people to try unorthodox approaches to what is traditionally a tired model. The business model of the past simply does not apply to the way things are conducted these days. Just take bands like Metallica and us also, we are really excited about approaching things from a different angle and not afraid to try different things.

OD – With a great deal of the pioneering metal bands either reforming for one last lap or retiring from the business, there is no doubt that all eyes are on a few select bands to carry the torch, Avenged Sevenfold being one. Do you feel that future of the genre is in safe hands when looking at the other bands out there?


SYNYSTER – Man oh man! It’s a task and a half! (laughs) We are constantly pushing ourselves forward with the intention of trying to be the very best that we can possibly be. We are working on some things at the moment that is a little secret but overall, I think metal is being swept under the rug and I feel like we are in a kind of “last of the Mohicans” situation, as we have reached a level that not a lot of metal bands have these days.

When we made that move from Warner Music over to Capitol Records, it was almost like “this should not be happening” kind of vibe. We are very fortunate to be in the position that we’re in right now. For a label like Capitol who doesn’t really have a big metal roster, to have that belief and support for Avenged Sevenfold is such an honour. I think that most of the other labels tend to ignore the genre and just don’t seem to have an interest in investing in new bands. The whole A&R process has really changed in the last twenty or so years and it’s such a shame really because there are thousands of really exciting and super talented bands out there just waiting to be discovered.

synyster-gates-7The bands that are signed should be giving a chance to experiment with their sound and not rushed in and out of the studio. In order to make a record sound amazing, or to achieve a groundbreaking new sound, there has to be a level of time to achieve that. If that means that there should be a bunch of different guitar amps used to get a particular sound or a little more time in searching for a different tone or effect that can influence a whole new sound, then that really needs to happen. At the end of the day, nothing will ever change if there is no effort being invested in trying to make a change and push things forward.

OD – When touring “Hail to the King’ you had an insane stage production. Can we expect a similar level of grandiose proportions?


SYNYSTER – Yes Sir! We are planning to pull out all the stops and although it’s costing a bunch of money, we want to put on a real show for the people who are breaking their backs and trying to keep their heads above water. It’s our job to entertain and that’s exactly what we plan to do. Regarding the production for The Stage tour, you might have seen hints of it here and there and if not, there will definitely be hints to come. We are really excited to have the visual element for the show and to be honest, there are not a lot of bands that are doing that these days. We want to put on not just a show, but an event that you’re not gonna forget too soon.

OD – I’m sure you are busy getting ready for the up and coming European dates with Disturbed, can we expect to hear a good portion from ‘The Stage’ live?

SYNYSTER – Yeah definitely! We try to keep our shit a little secret to some degree, but there’s only so much you can do in that area. We’re just blown away with the reviews of the album. We truly never believed that it would have been received so well and it’s really made us think about things when we hit the road. The response has been fantastic and because of this, we are planning to include the new material in the setlist for sure. Usually, we tend to not play so much of a new record because the fans don’t really know the material, for instance, I never really liked Mr Bungle’s second album at first and after a few months I was like “this is fucking unreal” and the best thing in the world. So, yeah we’re really excited about playing the fuck out of the new album and can’t wait to get on tour.

OD – If you could do a show with any band, during any tour, who would it be?

SYNYSTER – For all things considered – the partying, the sales, the venues and grandiose nature of the band, I would have to say Guns n’ Roses during the Use Your Illusion tour. That must have been fucking insane to play at a level like that with that much heat on avenged-sevenfold-and-slashyou. They are one of my favourite bands of all time, plus just partying with Slash just seems like a fucking blast. We are friends with those guys and we all get on really well, but to be the same age and have not quite drugs (laughs), being able to go full berserker on a nightly basis, would just be fucking bad-ass! I have no doubt that I would have the time of my life for sure (laughs).


If it could be any band in the world, I would have to say The Beatles. I know they would not be the best hang in terms of fun, but to be a part of that legendary musical journey and have experienced playing with one of the greatest bands that ever was, would be fucking awesome.

Avenged Sevenfold kick off their European tour in Dublin on Saturday, January 7th, 2017 with special guests, Disturbed also on the bill. Tickets are on sale now from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide as well as Dublin city’s legendary Sound Cellar record store. Please check MCD Productions for all the latest.

The Stage is available now in many different formats and can be purchased here.


Oran O’Beirne