One of the bands I found myself quite curious to see again at Heavy Montréal this year was Atreyu. Like most people familiar with the group, I was a big fan of their 2004 album The Curse and was eager to hear some of that material live once again. Brandon Saller, Atreyu’s long-time drummer, took a bit of time in the media tent to field a few interviews, and we managed to get a few minutes with him to catch up on what was new.
Atreyu has released two albums since re-forming in 2015. Their latest, In Our Wake, features M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold) and Aaron Gillespie (Underoath) on the track “Superhero.” The album is a return to form for Atreyu and stands up to the most popular material from their entire catalogue of music.
The audio for this interview is included here via SoundCloud. There is a bit of background noise; this interview was indeed recorded at the Heavy Montréal Festival amidst a melee of music, scurrying festival workers, and press types. It’s decent enough audio that we deemed it worthy of a listen and included it for listeners who’d like to hear Brandon Saller answering questions in the real.
Are you an original Atreyu member?
Brandon Saller: Yes.
Ok. I think my first Atreyu intro was on The Curse album in 2004. That was the first one I bought. You toured with Taste of Chaos on that album.
Saller: We did, yeah.
Released literally last week, check out the music video for “Generation” from the deluxe edition of In Our Wake that features seven additional bonus tracks:
So, did Tom McDonald (Hedley) do the base on that album, or some of the songs on that album?
Saller: He did, yeah. He came in kind of as a session player. We had a bass player early in the band. And on that record, things weren’t working out, so he actually went home right at the beginning. So, myself and Travis, our guitar player, covered some of it, and then he came in and learned a bunch of it and track the bass for a lot of that record. He kind of was a little bit of a lifesaver.
When did Mark come in? Did he record anything on that album?
Saller: Not on that album. Actually, we called him. While we were recording that album. And sent him the bass and drum tracks and we were like, “Hey can you learn fourteen songs or twelve songs?” Seven of them being new or six of them being new, and then the week after we got home we played us our first show with him. There’s a festival in Las Vegas with no rehearsal. So he got kind of thrown into the fire a bit.
Can you talk a little bit about how Atreyu formed back in, I’m thinking it’s around the year 2000?
Saller: 1999 actually. Yeah, a majority of us went to high school together. Myself, Alex and our guitar player Dan. Alex met Travis. They both worked at Hot Topic together in the mall and then we met Porter, our bass player, through another local band that we were friends with. So we all kind of just came together naturally from there.
Images of Brandon Saller at Heavy Montréal (Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, Quebec) on July 28, 2019, by Mike Bax and Trevor Lamas:
And you parked the band for three and a half to four years?
Saller: Yeah. We took a little bit of an, I guess you would call it a hiatus, for about four years. Yeah from about 2011 to 2015.
And you came back at around to 2015 and worked out a deal with Spinefarm.
Brandon Saller: Yes, we’ve been with them ever since. This will be the second record we’ve released with them, In Our Wake. They’ve been great.
Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like coming back together after a hiatus re-energized and ready to write? Did anything change with the way that you would write music?
Saller: I think maybe we’re just a little bit more eager. I think we got that burning back. I think that’s why we stopped in the first place. Things began to get a little bit machine-like. And we didn’t want that. We didn’t want to be that. Fans don’t deserve to watch a band that’s just going through the motions. And I don’t think a band in that space deserves to go out and do what we do. So for us, it was like we had to take a break to kind of figure some things out on our own, and get that fire back. We didn’t know if we ever would. But luckily we did. Our fans have been awesome, and a lot of new fans have been really cool. We’ve really gotten a second chance at being a band. So I feel like we’ve come back and it’s better than it’s ever been.
“The Time Is Now” to watch this Atreyu video, released last fall:
So it’s been a while since I’ve seen you perform. I think I maybe caught a 2008-2009 show and haven’t seen you since.
Saller: It’s been a while, yeah. We’re definitely stoked to be here.
Can you talk about maybe a gateway band or a concert that you saw that made you want to rock out as a musician?
Saller: I feel like growing up in the punk and hardcore scene in Orange County there was a lot of local shows like local Orange County hardcore shows were absolute insanity. Like madness; people jumping off the rafters and piling on the stage. It was insane. So a lot of local bands for me personally. Bands like Adamantium or Death By Stereo. Throwdown, even. Local hardcore bands were a big one for me and seeing bands like AFI really young. Seeing that kind of theatrical vibe on stage and hearing people fanatically go crazy at a show really made me want to get on stage and do it as well.
Is this your first Heavy Montréal?
Saller: We played it once before some years back.
Do you have an overall impression of what this festival brings to the genre?
Saller: I mean, it’s kind of awesome. I’ve played a million festivals, you know? And it comes down to the crowds being always awesome. People come to a festival have a good time and go crazy. But it comes down to the rest of it that makes the experience good and the kind of vibe. We haven’t obviously been on stage yet today but… Pulling in and going to get some catering and the whole thing. There’s like food trucks back there; ten food vendors and we got some barbeque and hung out, and there’s like a DJ and catering, and he’s spinning old hip-hop records and stuff. It’s definitely top-notch so far. I got a nice iced coffee. Life is good today.
Atreyu’s seventh studio record In Our Wake was released on October 12th, 2018, through Spinefarm:
What do you think is the most important characteristic of your genre of music?
Saller: I think energy. You know I think that you have to have an energy on stage and energy through your music to stand out. I think that there’s a lot of the same in our genre so whatever bands can do to set themselves apart is paramount.
Do you follow crowdfunding at all? Are you hip to the demise of PledgeMusic and what’s going on with that?
Saller: I know that they’re no longer around. I know that was troublesome for a lot of bands and people in general, which is a bummer. I mean, with my other band, we’ve done multiple crowdfunding things on a smaller scale, and they’ve been awesome. Both times, not with PledgeMusic, it was actually Kickstarter. But I mean. You know, for funding tours and funding releases. It’s really cool for fans to get an inside look and really get something special with the release. And obviously, make independent bands be able to function. I don’t know all the ins and outs to what happened with PledgeMusic, but I know that it left a lot of people high and dry.
Would you continue to crowdfund? Is that something you would look into? Not through that platform obviously.
Saller: Not through that platform. I think that with the right things that you can offer, it can be really beneficial. Like I said, giving your fan base something interesting to be involved in with the release or with a tour. A lot of bands kind of half-ass it, and I think that it’s kind of crap. Where you can get your name in the liner notes? I don’t know; I don’t care about that. But I think if you offer really cool experiences and you kind of give people something that makes them feel a part of something, then I think that’s awesome.
Can you recall what your favourite piece of band merchandise is from maybe back in high school?
Saller: Yeah I had a shirt in high school. There was a band called The Joy Killer, it was the singer of TSOL. And they were kind of this cool, weird attitude rock band. Weird, like clean guitars, and I loved them. And I had a Joy Killer button-up; it was like a gas station shirt almost with their name embroidered on it. I stole it from like a friend of mine. I had it for years, and it disappeared, but I feel like I wore that shirt probably like three times a week in high school. That was definitely my top shirt.
Watch the music video for the title track to In Our Wake:
What do you feel is the best concert that you’ve ever played?
Saller: There’s a few. I mean we had it when we came back, we went down and did Soundwave in Australia. And that was consistently one of the loudest, hottest, most packed shows we played in like years and years and years. That was definitely a huge memory. And then other than that I’ll say Detroit; Taste of Chaos. The one we did with Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet For My Valentine. I believe the arena was either sold out or close to it. So that was one of the bigger shows on the tour. There’s nothing like playing in a sold-out arena. That’s just an awesome feeling.
How important is physical product to you as a band? Is that something that you personally want to put forward given that streaming is so popular?
Saller: Absolutely. I think it’s like I said; you have to make it worth it, you know? We love the idea of doing limited colours of vinyl, and we would do a lot of merch drops where there’s limited you know merchandise items or this and that. And I think that it’s not that people don’t like physical product, it’s just easier to listen to music and not buy something. So if they are going to buy something, it’s probably not going to be a CD. It’s going to be a record. You know the artwork matters and the layout matters. Maybe it comes with the poster or you know like there are special things to commemorate releases like shirts or pins of this and that. We’re very much a band that tries to keep things exciting that way.
Did you use that FaceApp interface and make yourself look old?
Saller: I looked like… A creepy, like a creepy, perverted old dude that lives in South Florida. It was unfortunate. But at the same time, I kind of looked cool like my wife was like “I think I’m ok if you look like that when you’re older.” Which was good.
Did you post it?
Saller: Yeah I did. I posted it on my socials. You can check out the creepy old grandpa on my socials.
Another favourite from the band is “The Crimson” from 2004’s The Curse:
What’s your favorite soundtrack album ever?
Saller: Oh wow, a soundtrack album. That’s a tough one. I feel like for the band; a big one was the Underworld soundtrack. We were on one of them, but those were like… That movie, for some reason, did so much for bands in our genre at the time. That was a big one for us.
Was that a remix though? Didn’t somebody touch that, or was it a straight-up song?
Saller: It was an original song. Yeah, it was on the actual DVD.
Can you describe how you personally like to write material?
Saller: I feel like most of the times a riff or a melody will just pop in my head. It’ll start as a really silly voice note on my phone. And then as I can into the studio, I have you know the means to build it. It becomes something else, but everything always starts; most time as a melody like that I hum into my phone.
Do you back your phone up regularly. Are you putting it up on a cloud?
Saller: I don’t. But I think I have it on auto, so like it automatically does. But I’m really horrible at organization. There are probably 300 voice notes on my phone that I don’t know them via the title. It wouldn’t be like “Atreyu Idea – Pop.” Or “Atreyu Idea – Dark” or anything like that. It just goes by where I was. So I have to remember what city I was in when I thought of it. So it’ll be like “Leighton Lane, Santa Clarita, California.” And I then am like, “Oh yeah, I think that’s where I was when I thought about that.”
Assuming you were still in a band in your 60s, what do you think is the attribute you’d like to be remembered for the most as an artist?
Saller: I think a kind of realness. I mean, I think that being a genuine band, and being a genuine artist. Being honest with your music is the most important thing.
“Ex’s & Oh’s” stands out as one of the band’s biggest hits, featured on 2006’s A Death-Grip On Yesterday:
Were you following Game of Thrones when it was on?
Saller: One-hundred percent.
And were you happy with the ending?
Saller: No. No, I think it was very awkward. There was no reason why it went the way it went. There could’ve been so many more exciting like big epic things that happened. I love some of the episodes leading up. Even the dark episode that you almost couldn’t see I liked, because it made you feel uncomfortable because you couldn’t see anything. But the ending? It was like, “Really? That’s it? That’s fucking how this ends?” I think that they could have gone out on a high note. Who knows, maybe they didn’t because that would be too obvious. I don’t know. I thought there were some cool elements, but it could’ve gone better.
How much time per day are you spending on your smartphone? And do you feel that it’s too much or too little?
Saller: It’s way too much. Way too much. Probably at least a couple hours a day. It’s just that natural thing these days where it’s like I’m bored for one second so I’ll look at my phone. Which sucks because it really makes you not find something real to spend your time with. When I’m home, it’s a lot less. I have kids, and I’m married, so I’m not just stuck to my phone all day. But also for me, my email is my life’s blood. That’s my career. I write music. I make music for TV and films. So it’s like I’m constantly getting emails that I have to approve. If I’m not getting emails, there’s no business. So I think that’s part of my mental, is like always checking my phone and rechecking my phone. But as far as like social media and stuff, that’s way too much.
How different is it when you’re on the road compared to when you’re at home? Because when you on the road you want to be on your phone communicating with your friends and family.
Saller: Of course. I mean I’m always texting them and Facetime-ing my family stuff, but I’m definitely on my phone more on the road than I am at home.