An interview with M. Shadows

(From 2003, soon after Waking the Fallen was released)

I hear you just got into a bit of a car accident?
Yeah, my first one. I was in the left-turn lane, reading a magazine, and when the light turned green, I took my foot off the brake and bumped the Mercedes in front on me. I was in my girlfriend’s SUV, so it didn’t hurt her car at all, but it did some damage to the Mercedes. It was just a little bump, but we had to stand around for over an hour and involve the cops and insurance and all that.

I interviewed Thrice as well for this issue. Both you guys were on Hopeless (or SubCity, the charity-supporting imprint of Hopeless), and both of you “came up” together in roughly the same area, right?
They’re from Irvine and we’re from Huntington Beach, which is about 20 minutes away. We didn’t really know each other until we were both signed to Hopeless. The first time we ever played with them was the Warped Tour.

One of the similarities between the bands is really good guitar players. In a world of knock-off indie pop and dumbed-down nü metal, Thrice’s math rock and your Swedish metal influence finally give future guitarists something to work on. And you’re all pretty young, right?
I just turned 22. But we’ve been playing for a long time. And we’re into a lot of different bands across the board. For Waking the Fallen, we kind of went back to the stuff we grew up on - Pantera and Iron Maiden - and tried to do something different with it.

You reference Iron Maiden? While certainly they’re the backbone of the duel guitar riffing, your sound brings to mind In Flames, At The Gates, Soilwork, Arch Enemy, and more contemporary European metal.
Iron Maiden influenced In Flames and all of them, and they still have it - I just saw them a couple nights ago and they were awesome - so I reference the originals. Also, so many bands are playing that style now, and a lot of them aren’t really going anywhere new with it, even though I still like the records, so if I had to reference a band as an influence, I’d go with the originals, the guys who stilldo it the best, and that’s Maiden.

The piano and string section I compare to Faith No More, because it’s not Ben Folds, The Beach Boys, or Borknagar, but seeing as you’re the vocalist, what are your vocal influences?
Axl Rose. He might not have the greatest voice in the world, but he had so much personality… For the roar, you can’t beat Phil Anselmo of Pantera. And I love Bruce Dickinson and James LaBrie from Dream Theater. I take a little something from each, even though I really don’t sound like any one of them, and maybe you couldn’t even tell that’s where it came from when listening to it.

What about Mike Patton and Chris Cornell?
I’m a huge Mike Patton fan, and while I like and respect Chris Cornell, he’s not a favorite or really an influence. He’s probably one of the best singers of all those guys, he’s just not my personal favorite. I like vocalists who create their own style, and who no one else really sounds like. Mike Patton, Axl Rose, and Phil Anselmo all have distinctive, original styles, even if a lot of people did try to copy them later.

Song-wise, we also greatly respect bands who are diverse and distinctive; bands who changed up the style a lot and keep you listening to the entire record. Bands like Queen and Mr. Bungle or System Of A Down. They break it up, try different things, and when we sat down to make this record, we wanted it to sound really different from song to song, to keep it interesting. We’re all into so many different styles of music, we wanted to incorporate as many elements as possible from all the different genres and time periods.

Your last record, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, was good, but it wasn’t nearly this diverse.
It wasn’t as focused. And it was more rushed. The songs weren’t as picked apart and analyzed and put back together to create an interesting listening experience. The last record had a million parts, but a lot of them didn’t lead anywhere. We were really into early Metallica and Pantera, but we hadn’t really gotten a handle on songwriting yet, I guess…

Did you get into the thrash and speed metal of the late ’80s? You mentioned early Metallica, what about Exodus and Testament? I hear some Testament in your band…
Our drummer was really into Testament. I was more into Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth, and everyone bags on me for not worshipping Testament. We just got off a tour with Shai Hulud, and they were freakin’ out on me, making a list of Testament records I had to go out and getimmediately.

You’ve mentioned a number of “old school” influences, which is great, because nothing pisses me off more than hearing some kid dismiss a band entirely because “that’s the shit my older brother listened to, I want something new,” not realizing a lot of young bands just water down what’s come before until you’re left with, like, Saves The Day and Static-X and a thousand other also-rans. Ahem… But what new singers do you find interesting? Who do you consider your peers?
A lot of the new singers sound the same, so when I listen to their music, I listen to the music and don’t get much inspiration out of the vocals… But I think Children Of Bodom has a great singer, I’ve been hearing a lot about Strapping Young Lad, even though I don’t know too much about them. I heard the guitarist of Children Of Bodom quit, just before their U.S. tour and everything…

A lot of post-hardcore (or whatever) bands try to do the clean vocal offset by hardcore roar, yet their singers can’t sing very well, and their roar is pretty generic. Who do you think is straddling that fence well?
Melody-wise, I got into it with Bad Religion and NOFX, because it wasn’t as big and elaborate as, say, Queen, but there were still strong melodies and a lot of harmonies. And while they’re kind of a Queen rip-off, I’m a big fan of Blind Guardian. They do huge harmonies, and I wish we could do the same, but we didn’t want to get too out-of-control with the vocal layering. While we like layers and keeping it diverse, we want to keep it heavy and hit hard, so we watch not to overdo it with harmonies.

Blind Guardian? Wow, wouldn’t’ve thought to reference them…
Love that band. We actually played with them once, at The World in NYC with Symphony X. It was amazing. We’re way too heavy for that crowd, but it was a lot of fun. That’s one of the “problems”: We tour with so many different kinds of bands because a lot of promoters don’t know what to do with us. We played the Warped Tour, next year we hope to play Ozzfest, and we’ve gone out with Mushroomhead, Shadows Fall, and Tsunami Bomb. We don’t do great in front of a lot of crowds, but we do well in front of a lot of different kinds of crowds, ya know? We’re too different for everyone to like us, but we’re different enough for some people in any crowd to like us. We don’t really fit neatly in anywhere, so we just do our thing… And luckily, it kind of took off, and it’s getting easier the more we get established.

We aren’t a “scene” band, we don’t play for just one type of crowd. We never wanted to be a scene band, because when the scene dies, your band dies too. We did pretty well with Mushroomhead and Shadows Fall, because those bands bring in the people looking to see a show, kids wanting to go nuts. We don’t just jump up and down and shout, and we don’t just stand around looking at our shoes and play complicated riffs, we really put on a show, and we really try to get people moving. We’re still pretty young, so we’re stuck in with a lot of scene elitism, and that’s not at all what we’re about. We got into music pretty young, and it’s our lives, ya know? We live and breath and sleep metal, but yeah, we’re a lot younger than most of the bands we tour with. We started in grade school, and we’ve worked and practiced really hard, and we listen to so much different stuff that inspires us and pushes us to get better, but we’re finally getting to the point where we’re pretty happy with our songwriting and playing skills.

I hear that your next record is already committed to a major…
We signed with Warner Bros. Some people know about it, but we’re really trying to get attention for this record and build it up on our own before we admit we “sold out.” (laughs)

How’d that come about, seeing as this record just came out?
We had the record done, and got a publishing deal with a guy who worked at EMI. We wanted to keep it quiet, but word spread really fast in the major label world, and we felt comfortable with Warner Bros. The point of being on a record label is getting the CDs into stores, and they can do that for us.

While I like Hopeless and review most of their records, Avenged Sevenfold was always kind of a weird fit on the label…
Totally. It worked for us as well as against us. They really did a lot for us, but we needed to get out beyond the punk world that Hopeless works so well. We needed the whole package, and that’s something only a major can do for you. We talked with Glassjaw and The Used, and Rancid is on Warner Brothers now, and all of them were happy with the label so we went with them.

Isn’t Disturbed on Warner Bros?
Yeah, and Linkin Park. Disturbed was acquired by Warner Bros when Giant folded into them. Our manager is actually the one who signed Disturbed to Giant…

I’m not really a fan…
Neither am I.

I wish you’d play with more nü metal bands and show them how to play and not just “groove” that one riff they lifted from Pantera…
We do really well with the nü metal crowds, but yeah, a lot of the bands just throw whatever chords behind the vocals and call it a song. If you wanna hear groove, go listen to Pantera, cuz then you can also hear Dimebag solo his brains out. Most groove-oriented nü metal is boring as hell…

Another point of interest (kinda) is “the look.” I didn’t realize you were so Gothed out… Aside from thinking you must be 25 or 28 to be able to play like you do - not to mention have such a deep understanding of a couple decades of great rock and metal - I expected either a bunch or long hairs or a less-stupid variation on the funny hair and piercings look of nü metal…
Yeah, a lot of people are surprised by that. We get in front of Shadows Fall’s audience, and at first they don’t know what to make of us, but we love those guys, and their audience usually really gets into us, once they get passed the fact that we’re young and look different. It’s a new generation, and most of the metal kids deal with it pretty well, they’re pretty open to it once we start to play.

As much as I don’t really care much for them, Davey Havok of AFI kinda paved the way a bit for the “dark punk look.”
I’ve been an AFI fan since their first album. (tape ran out, but we had a great talk about how the West Coast always loved AFI, but until recently, the East Coast didn’t give a shit. I personally warmed up to them with Davey’s Misfit side project, Son of Sam. And then, of course, talk turned to how much the Misfits rule, and how hardcore punk and metal and powerful melody and harmonies have coexisted and ruled in the past, but ya gotta dig back to a great band like the Misfits to find a reference point)

Not to harp on it, but what made you sign to Hopeless in the first place?
We were on a label called Good Life in Europe, and Hopeless heard the record and offered to re-release it in the States. We knew we needed to be on a label that could get our record in stores in the U.S., and Thrice was on Hopeless, so we did it.

So this is the first record you’ve done specifically for Hopeless?
Yeah.

What was the time lag between when you recorded Sounding the Seventh Trumpet and when Hopeless reissued it in the U.S.?
About nine months before they picked it up, but it took them a while to actually get it out. The real time lag was between last record and this one: About three years.

That explains the huge leap forward in songwriting, playing, style, and overall craft…
Totally. We knew it was going to be a huge leap, because we matured a lot - personally and as songwriters - and the first record didn’t have our lead guitar player. He came from the Music Institute and can play anything, he totally shreds, and when you add that to the band, it really helps. He has a really good understanding of a lot of types of music, and he brings a lot to the band.

Doing the math, that means you were about 18 when you recorded your last record?
17, just turning 18…

To make a record when you’re 18, then to live and grow for three very developing years without recording…
…was killing us. We toured a lot. And we always had to explain that the record we had out was no longer representative of what we were doing. We didn’t feel right playing most of those songs anymore. So we had to take a break from touring and write. We took a four month break, and at the end, we had 16 songs written. Every day at my house, even if after sitting there for 12 hours we only got one riff… We also got hooked up with Mudrock (Godsmack, Puya, Chimeria).

So there was a three year lag, during which time you grew a lot as people and musicians, and now things are really happening very quickly for you…
Definitely. When this record was done, our publishing company made a couple copies, and suddenly everyone was calling our management. Our management wouldn’t make copies for people, but he brought people into his office and he played it for them. It was sick how many people went through that office. Honestly, if all this didn’t happen, we would’ve been really disappointed. We knew we had an album in us that was good enough, that people would really respond to, so we just had to work on it and make that album happen.

What did you do during those three years?
Well, when the record got re-released - as I said, Hopeless took a while - and then the record needed to be out for at least 10 months before we could record another album, and then we got offered a lot of great tours that we couldn’t pass up. We also needed to hook up with a good producer who could teach us something… We had a few meetings with Mudrock and got really comfortable with him, so we knew he was the guy we wanted to work with.

Mudrock used to live in Boston, as did Brian McTernan, who produced both the Thrice albums…
I have another connection for you: We worked with Teppei, the guitarist of Thrice, on a lot of our preproduction and demos at For the Record in Orange County. We’re all friends now, and he works there, and we wanted to go in and record some stuff to work it up before going into the studio with Mudrock. It’s all connected…

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