For many bands, losing your frontman is quite a setback, but for Atreyu, the departure of singer Alex Varkatzas has given the band a new lease on life.
With the front spot vacant for the first time since the late 90s, the band decided to move drummer Brandon Saller up front, drafting Saller’s Hell Or Highwater bandmate Kyle Rosa behind the kit.
From this change came new album Baptize, which, due to the timing of Varkatzas’ departure, was formed largely with the original lineup – and as a result is just what everyone expects from an Atreyu album – only a little heavier.
We caught up with guitarist Dan Jacobs to talk about the upheaval, working with super producer John Feldmann, and his favorite sushi… guitar?
Some big changes for the band on this record – you guys have had a stable lineup since the mid 2000s pretty much (other than the break), how did Alex leaving in the middle of writing the record change the ultimate direction of the album?
Luckily the overall direction and vibe of the album was set in place when Alex parted ways with the band so most of what you hear was written while he was in the studio with us aside from a handful of songs that were put together after.
All the parts on the album that would normally have been Alex were just replaced with either Porter screaming or Brandon screaming or singing as well as even myself singing on occasion to change things up a little bit.
Having a new lineup for us at this point in our career has actually been refreshing and allowed us to try a lot of things that we had never tried in the past.
Were you guys at all slow to put out a record right now that you can’t immediately tour behind?
At first there was definitely some hesitation because we wanted to be able to release music when we’re able to tour. We also didn’t want to sit on this finished album for a year or two so we decided to just go for it and give everybody some fresh Atreyu jams to chew on during these crazy times.
You’ve got a couple of killer guests on this record, Jacoby Shaddix, Matt Heafy and Travis Barker – how did those come about?
Jacoby and Matt have been friends for a while and both people that we’ve always had our eyes on working with at some point in time. This all just happened to come to fruition during this album.
Travis Barker is someone we as well always have had an eye on working with but didn’t know personally. Luckily since we were working with John Feldmann, and he works very closely with Travis Barker as well as lives near him, we were able to arrange having him be a part of a song in a very unique way that he does not typically present himself on songs. We chose to have him play on the bridge of our song “Warrior” showing off some of his snare drum line type skills. Sounds huge!
Baptize has John Feldmann back in the producer’s seat for the third time with Atreyu. He has something of a reputation for putting his own songwriting stamp on a band’s music, I’m curious if the songs as they are on the record sound much different to how they were at the writing stage?
We wrote everything in the studio aside from the route ideas that we would bring in to work off of. Working that way helps to generate a fresh vibe and energy in the room and really just sonically captures the moment in time that we’re all living in.
We’ve always been a very self-sufficient band when it comes to writing but it’s nice having someone like John in the room or even bringing in other co-writers to lend a fresh ear to what we’re working on and give us a perspective that we otherwise would never have thought of or seen.
How did the band deal with the lockdowns in 2020? Did you guys end up spending more time on the record than you might otherwise have?
We were working on our album when the pandemic hit and were about halfway through it so we had to hit the pause button and wait till things were safer to continue.
Luckily we were able to make that work several months after the initial lockdown so that we could continue writing while we were still in the same mindset as the previous songs already written for the album.
Aside from that we were all doing what we had to do to make ends meet. Myself personally, I was grinding away with my brother Joe at our company Rock World Merch making and selling facemasks and gloves or just whatever people needed to stay safe and to help keep our business going.
So guitars! What did you guys use on the new record in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?
I personally was using my Kiesel guitars for any leads or signature parts. There’s a couple other guitars that John has in the studio with him for tracking rhythm parts as well as a Kemper that we can plug into and just cycle through great sounds to make the process fast and easy as well as consistent with tones and effects.
Technology these days makes it pretty easy to do more stuff on the computer and not need as many physical pedals or amps to plug into to get great sounds. This saves a lot of time and helps keep momentum going when you’re in the moment and feeling a song and don’t want to have to slow the whole process down trying to dial in a tone.
Did you have any reference records going into the studio in terms of how you wanted the finished product to sound?
For us we just always want things to sound huge. Not necessarily any one record in particular but I personally am always referring to Def Leppard or Queen because of how grand their recordings sound especially when it comes to vocals and group vocals.
Are you a gear head at all? Any pieces of gear you’ve played recently that were a pleasant surprise? Anything you got to play that was disappointing?
I’m not a super big gearhead but my new Kiesel Hyperdrive signature model guitars are the bees knees. Jeff Kiesel is the Willy Wonka of guitar making and has built me some absolutely incredible custom guitars.
One of them is actually a Bento Box style guitar that has realistic sushi pieces laid out in the body of the guitar including ginger and wasabi, a sushi roll volume down, and cross chopstick inlays to finish it off. It’s so quirky and wild but at the same time a beautiful instrument that is so well-crafted and sounds incredible.
I also just released a new signature series Blood Guitar through Kiesel that is now available for sale if people want to get down with the get down.
Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?
My Kiesel sushi Bento Box guitar! Really helps with those raw tones and tasty licks.
A lot of guitarists are embracing modelling and profiling amps these days, especially due to making fly in gigs much easier. What’s your take on digital amps and effects?
For the convenience and consistency that they provide I’m a big fan. I’ll admit you do lose a little bit of the feel especially when you’re using a wireless unit on stage as well but at the end of the day they sound great and make my life a lot easier when traveling and in the studio.
If someone maybe wasn’t familiar with you guys but wanted to learn to play one of your songs, where would you suggest they start? Any riffs/licks/passages in particular that are fun to play, or maybe challenging but rewarding for more advanced players?
I think Right Side of the Bed is a great start because it has a little bit of everything that I like to do with our music in one song. Has a big fun riff that’s not too difficult to play at the beginning, a really cool guitar solo that’s again not super hard to play, and a fun break down in the middle of the song as well as a big chorus. What more can you ask for?
What’s up next for the band? Any new material in the works? Any post-rona plans?
Up next for us is just getting our new album out and back on the road as soon as shows are a thing again. We have some festivals in the states that we are supposed to be playing as of now at the end of this year so hopefully that’s still a thing!