And why not? The bass player as welcomed a healthy new addition to the Avenged family with the birth of his son earlier this year and is getting ready to embark on a series of tour dates that will see many a packed arena across Europe and the UK. And then there’s the matter of headlining one of the worlds most prestigious rock events, the UK Download Festival next weekend.
Overdrive spoke with Johnny about the possibility of a follow up to 2016’s The Stage, his thoughts on another concept album, as well as their anticipation for Download Festival.
OD – You guys have been touring ‘The Stage’ now for the guts of about a year and a half and with these Festival dates and the tour with Prophets of Rage and Three Days Grace, would it be correct to assume that this is the final stretch before the writing process begins all over again?
JOHNNY – Yeah, we’re really hitting it hard for this Summer and then some of the festivals over in Europe as well as our headline show in Belfast on June 6th. We’re actually doing a few shows in Europe that will take us right up until September and then we have a few last minute tie-in’s for September. At the moment we’re pretty excited and getting geared up and preparing ideas for the next album and just can’t wait to do the damn thing (laughing).
OD -There has been a significant amount of hurdles that you have all overcome since you started out, some more serious than others. When you look back on things, do you find that it’s been a chaotic journey to get to where you are now?
JOHNNY – I guess when I set back and look at the day-to-day stuff, it doesn’t seem very chaotic, but there were some pretty big milestones both good and bad that have happened to the band over the last decade or so that is pretty crazy. There’s been a lot of up’s and downs in our personal lives but luckily, our growing fan-base seems to on a constant upward motion, which is a blessing and we’re all so grateful for.
OD – Brooks (Wackerman, drums) has really become a stable presence in the band and in my opinion brought a new feel and sound to the music. With regards to writing, screwing around with ideas, has he been submitting ideas or is there a particular formula that works and has always worked for you guys?
JOHNNY – Yeah, Brooks has been doing awesome in every aspect. He’s a fantastic musician and has plenty of ideas, not to mention his drumming has added a whole other dynamic to the Avenged Sevenfold sound. Anything that Brooks brings on top of that is just icing on the cake (laughing).
OD – Has there been any progress on new material at the moment that you can disclose?
JOHNNY – With regards to new material, we haven’t really discussed ideas or brought any tracks together as of yet. Right now we are just working on some riffs and basic loose stuff individually, which is really to get the creative juices flowing. We usually come together for the writing process when we’re off the road.
I’m sure everybody individually has been working on their own ideas using our home studio’s etc, and this really helps to get the feel and emotion of the new material from an early on in the process. Some bands prefer to stay away from any kind of writing when they are touring and have a specific period when they work on new material, but for us, we just work away on ideas individually and then bring everything to the table and see what we can use.
OD – Now looking back, can you see another concept album happening again, or do you feel that it’s something that you will come back to a few years down the line?
JOHNNY – Anything is possible! We haven’t really delved into any specific ideas as to what the next album is going to be. Like, when we wrote ‘The Stage’ we didn’t set out to make a concept record, it just sort of became that, if you know what I mean.
The Stage had its own genre throughout the album and although every song is different, the whole album came together very naturally and it was a result of what we were collectively thinking about and discussing when we were just hanging out as friends and it just naturally became this concept album. So, with regards to the new album, doing another concept album is not out of the question, as anything is possible at this point. It just comes down to how everything comes together organically and if the feeling is right.
OD – Keeping that in mind, the overall presence of Avenged upon the release of The Stage from the promo to the actual music, seemed like there was a real intention to approach things from outside the box. Do you feel that you achieved that and is the intention to continue to experiment and push the boundaries?
JOHNNY – Yeah, totally man. Hail to the King (2013) is more of a departure for us in my opinion. For me, one of the first times that we pushed way outside the box was with our self-titled album (2007) with tracks like ‘A Little Piece of Heaven‘ and ‘Dear God‘ which for us at the time, was really ‘out there’! (laughing)
OD – Were you worried about the reaction to that album?
JOHNNY – To a degree. But looking at things now, those tracks have become some of our fan favourites. I think that by pushing ourselves and stepping outside the box is really what has expanded our fan base and has given us the confidence to think in a more eclectic manner rather than use the same old recipe over and over again. We’re very proud of our ability to push the boundaries and wear that on our shoulders with confidence.
It’s kind of strange, but we seem to write more freely when we go off the rails (laughing). With Hail To the King, we tried to hunker down and try to write something more simplistic and groove-based, which was a challenge to us, even though it doesn’t sound like that to other bands or whoever, but for the band, that was us challenging ourselves. As we go forward we’re just going to keep challenging ourselves as best we can. Our confidence is growing with each album. We’ve got some great writers in this band and just keep doing what we love to do.
OD – Considering the events that have impacted the band, there is no doubt that there is a story to tell. Has there been any consideration as to an official documentary or biography, or do you think it’s a little premature or an overall bad idea?
JOHNNY – No, it’s definitely not a bad idea and we’ve spoken about it many times over the last few years. I mean, we’ve done the “All Excess‘ documentary which came out around the time of our self-titled album back in 2007, and we’ve actually been filming stuff since back then, so we have a huge amount of footage to use. We eventually want to put all of this together and do something very cool but we need to figure out the right avenue and what the approach is going to be.
We don’t have a date or anything like that, it’s just a huge amount of footage right now and I guess we just need to sit down and put a plan together. The end result is that we are planning to show the history of Avenged Sevenfold like it’s never been seen before and would like to incorporate a live performance in it also to show what the live experience is all about for people who have not experienced our shows before.
OD – This will be your second time headlining Download UK. There is only a very small amount of contemporary artists that have had the privilege of such an esteemed gig. When doing a show like this, is there an extra level of pressure or is it just ‘business as usual’?
JOHNNY – Yeah, (laughing) it’s a big one alright! It’s not exactly a ‘fear’ thing when doing shows of this magnitude. We’ve already headlined Download before and have played the festival many times prior to that, so this will be our second time headlining.
We’ve been here before but by no means does that mean that we are not apprehensive about it! Let’s just say that we are very aware of the show and know it’s coming up soon (laughing). We want to make it special and not just for us but for the fans also. We started off in Donington playing Download very early in the day and now, here we are closing the festival for the second time! Being able to play something as important as Download is very dear to our hearts. We know what it entails and we take that in when we are preparing our setlist as well as production. So, to answer the question, it’s not just another gig, nor is it a huge amount of pressure, it’s kind of somewhere in between those two factors (laughing). We know what we’re doing with that stage and can’t wait to get out there and kick some ass!
OD – Next year will see the band’s 20th anniversary, are there any plans to make the occasion with something special?
JOHNNY – We’ve thought about it but we have not really had a sit-down focused conversation about it. It’s more like “Hey, we’re hitting 20 years next year! We should probably do something special to mark the occasion.” and everyone is like ‘Yeah, that would be cool.” and that’s about as far as we have come with it (laughing).
If there’s a good idea for it then, yeah, for sure we’ll do something. It’s a big accomplishment for us to be able to look back over the last two decades and still be here doing what we do, albeit, older and grayer.
OD – On a lighter note, are there any bands that you’re hooked on right now that you would like to share with us?
JOHNNY – Well, my kid is one year old so all I’ve been hearing is lullabies (laughing). Some of the bands that we have been out on the road with are awesome, like Breaking Benjamin. I’m not sure how well know those guys are over in Europe, but they’ve been doing really well over here in America. And of course Avatar! We’ve done some tours with them in the past and they are a great band. In fact, those guys are opening for us in Belfast right before Download on June 6th.
OD – With regards to the Belfast show, this will be the last performance for the band before Download Festival. Being able to do a ‘warm-up show’ in an arena has got to be a good feeling, right?
JOHNNY – I suppose when you look at it that way, yeah! (laughing) We have a killer show planned for Belfast and can’t wait to get on stage in the SSE Arena. We’re finalising our setlist now and I know that the fans will not be disappointed. It’s gonna be one hell of a show.
Avenged Sevenfold will be playing one exclusive show in Belfast SSE on June 6th with support from Avatar. Tickets are on sale now via Ticketmaster.
For your chance to win 3 pairs of passes to the show, simply click the graphic link below and follow these simple instructions:
Winners will be chosen at random and contacted privately on Monday, June 4th. 18+ only.