Four years ago, Atreyu dropped off the metalcore radar, citing a need to recharge and consequently signalling the end of an era for the genre. Luckily, theirs was always set to be a never-ending story and the OC bruisers are back on the bill, due to hit Reading Festival and release their sixth album in September.
Already Heard caught up with guitarist Dan Jacobs ahead of their return to London’s Underworld to discuss their time apart, the new record ‘Long Live’ and the closely-guarded secrets to their longevity.
Already Heard: It’s great to see you back on the bill again! How have you been musically since we last saw you?
Dan Jacobs: Myself, I haven’t been doing a tonne with music, I’ve been writing with people here and there and I was singing with a band called Angels Fall for a bit, just helping them out. Aside from that, I was just raring up to play with Atreyu again. I’ve been chipping away at my boys for several years before they were ready to do it again, I’ve been ready for a while! Everybody was just burnt out and just not feeling it at the time. Finally once everyone was mentally ready to get back on the road and writing again – and here we are!
AH: From a guitarist’s perspective, how have you found picking it all back up again? Have you struggled remembering the old chords?
Dan: Not really because I still play here and there. I just enjoy playing guitar at home. I was a little bit nervous because I’d pushed myself to a certain level of musicianship with Atreyu, so I wanted to make sure when I came back that I was at the very least at that level. Once we started playing certain songs, it’s kinda like riding a bike, I remember how it goes now! Some of the stuff, I was like “man, how did I used to play this?!” Luckily, I’m back where I used to be and it feels good. What’s funny to is I have to go and re-learn some. It’s like anything, if you’re not constantly doing it, you’ll just forget. It’s almost ironic, but there are probably some people out there that can play more Atreyu songs than Atreyu can! When we were coming back, I was trying to remember how to play some of my solos, I had to look up videos of myself doing instructional videos so I could learn from myself! And the ones I couldn’t find, I had to look up videos of other people playing them! “Nah, I’m not sure that’s how it goes… is that how it goes?!” Some of them I’m digging through aren’t playing it right and I’m thinking, “damnit why don’t you play it right?! I’m trying to learn from you right now! I’m supposed to teach you so you can lay down the road without knowing it and teach me!”
AH: So why have you decided to come back now?
Dan: It just felt right! I think it was a matter of everybody being on board at the same time and we’d got interest from a couple of guys here and there, but not everyone, then it would go back the other way. Some people would be interested but not the other people and it was just like, “ugh, come on guys! Just get everybody on the same page!” I think everything happens for a reason though, I feel like this is the best time for us to come back. We unintentionally starved the market which is the best thing we could’ve done. We were really burnt out, even our fanbase was burnt out because we were touring so much, we were so accessible. By starving the market and stepping back for a bit, people are kind of like, “are they gone forever? Are they ever coming back?” Everybody wants what they can’t have, you know? So if you take something away from somebody, then they start getting all excited and talking about it, so it worked in our favour, it’s helped launch us back into the scene.
AH: You’re one of the most consistent lineups in the genre, you’ve never hit the headlines with shock departures and fallouts. What’s your secret to staying together?
Dan: One is just at the end of the day, just being good friends. Brandon (Saller, – drums and vocals) and Alex (Varkatzas – vocals) and myself went to middle school together, we’ve known each other forever. We spent more than half our lives playing music together so we just have a chemistry that’s been working since we were kids. As well as that, once we met Travis (Miguel – rhythm guitar) and Marc (McKnight – bass), it just felt right. Having good musicianship and making the band itself sonically sound good are very important, but it’s not necessarily going to hold a band together. It’s like dating. Taking our hiatus and trying to do other ventures, especially musically, we really realised how valuable our chemistry was and how well we write together. When we got back together and started writing together again, it was incredibly easy, almost too easy, compared to how it is writing with other people in other scenarios. We definitely have something very special and I think that’s something we all realised, so it makes it easier to want to be here and do it.
AH: So now you’ve told us the record is out in September. How has the recording process been? Has it taken a while to get this one ready?
Dan: No, strangely. We were all so excited and inspired. By the time it came around to doing it, we just pumped the songs out pretty fast. Sometimes we’d write two or three songs in one sitting, doing rough demos on our phones and sending them over to Alex and he’d come up with lyrics to it. We broke the record into two halves – we went in and recorded the first half, then came up with the vocal melodies and guitar solos for the second half in the studio as we were going along. Then when we finished the first half, we went back to the second and worked on the next 5 or 6 songs. We’d never really approached it that way before and for us, it was better, instead of “let’s write 15 songs and try to remember them all and write them all and play them all in one go”. Let’s just do a few at a time and really focus on these songs, give them much more attention, that way they can be the best they can be.
AH: We’ve heard ‘So Others May Live’ and it’s a real return to your roots, it’s good to hear that raw energy coming from you guys again, there’s no ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ here. How does the rest of the record sound?
Dan: It’s very similar in that sense, it’s a lot more classic Atreyu but with the production of ‘Lead Sails’ in terms of the grandeur and the rock vibe. I don’t want to think too much about it because I want people to form their own opinions of it, but we know what we’re doing now, we’re a lot better songwriters than we were. We’ve worked with so many different producers and learned a lot from each one of them, and collectively we’ve taken everything we’ve learned and put this record together. It’s a beast! There’s nothing worse than being all “this is the heaviest record you’ve ever heard in your life” and people hear it and think “this isn’t as heavy as I thought it was going to be”. I’d rather just be like “I’m really proud of this record, go and check it out, if you like Atreyu, you’ll like this record.”
AH: Speaking of your past records, you’ve created a different atmosphere with every return to the studio, ‘Lead Sails’ is completely different to ‘The Curse’ for example. If you could go back and revisit a record, either re-recording it or revisiting the tour, which would you go back to?
Dan: Probably ‘Lead Sails’! If we did it again, there’d probably be a lot more aggressive vocals this time around, not entirely, some songs would still be similar to how they were, but there’s definitely a few songs that wouldn’t have made it on the record as well as the vocals would’ve been done a bit differently. It was definitely special for us because we went out on a limb with it, we were already a very different sounding band – nobody sounds exactly like Atreyu! So for us to take another left turn created something really cool, interesting and relevant but different. We tried to progress on every record, but we finally realised we didn’t need to keep progressing, we just needed to do what we do best as a band and as individuals, which is what I think we’ve done on this record [Long Live]. We’ve done what can people do best and if something makes someone uncomfortable, we’ll scratch it and move onto something else. We don’t conform to the scene if the scene doesn’t conform to us.
AH: Your back catalogue is massive and a setlist is always going to miss one track or another. What are the tracks that you know will never make the setlist but you wish they would?
Dan: There’s a song called ‘Fork In The Road’, we’ve played it once, I’m a huge fan of that song, it’s one of the songs I primarily wrote, I love the riffing, the guitar solo and the whole vibe of the song. As far as I know, it’s a pretty popular song with the fans, but it never makes a set for whatever reason. That or ‘The Squeeze’, which is probably one of my favourite Atreyu songs, a song that we did when we were tracking ‘Lead Sails’, it has that vibe of ‘A Death-Grip On Yesterday’ because we were still putting clean vocals on it. It’s a really cool song, I don’t even know if you can find it anymore, it was on a limited edition of ‘Lead Sails’. You can get cornered as a band into playing the songs that we know get the best crowd response, then bring in a couple older random things in there.
AH: We know you love a good cover, especially Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’. Anything else you’re looking to cover?
Dan: It’s always fun to do a cover song live, when you do something that people are very familiar with and the song itself is a very popular song. It’s great for fans or people who have never heard of us before to have something they can attach themselves to and relate to, and be able to sing along with a band they’ve never seen before. If it’s just all original music, they just have to stand there and hopefully buy the CD later! As for the next cover, I don’t wanna say what it is yet and spoil it! I don’t even know if anyone will even know the song to be honest, it’s something so left of centre, it’s completely random. Most Atreyu fans won’t even realise we listen to that style of music! For me, as a songwriter, when I listen to songs, I can hear it totally different to the way it’s being performed, thinking “this should be a ballad or a heavy song”, looking at it lyrically and the way the chord progressions are. This is a song that’s not metal or rock at all! It’ll be interesting to get feedback from the original band, to hear their songs from a band they’ve never even listened to, like “this band did what song of ours? That’s so random!”
AH: So you’re due back in London at the Underworld tomorrow! What can we expect? Any surprises up your sleeves?
Dan: I think what’s probably surprising to anyone that comes out to see us is because we’re older and we’ve been around for a bit, you might think you’re not going to get the same show you would’ve gotten 10 years ago, but you definitely are! We take names and get them up on stage, we don’t fuck around! That’s one of the main reasons we did the video (for ‘So Others May Live’) as a live concept video because one of the main things that’s sold our band to people in the past is our live show. Some people might hear our CD at first and think “this is cool!” But then they see us live and it’s like, “oh I get it now! Now I understand what’s going on!” Our live shows are very important to us. The only surprises are to anyone thinking we’re not going to be bringing 150%.
AH: How does it feel having gone from a headliner at Chain Reaction right up to Knotfest last year? It must show that everyone trusts you to bring as good a show as you always have?
Dan: Yeah, it’s kind of snowballed, once we gave the thumbs up that we wanted to do this. We’re just excited to put stuff out and we can never wait until the next show or the next opportunity. But at the same time, without trying to do too much so we don’t spoil it or burn ourselves and our fans out. This is kind of going to be our game plan, not to play for the next 5 years and disappear again, but to just not tour as much, not be as accessible. So if we come to town and you miss us, you don’t know when you’ll see us play next. Before, we were touring so much, people could just see us on the next festival or two months later at their headliner, it was just too much. You just have to play everything strategically or people will stop coming to your shows because they’ve seen you too many times! Not that that’s a thing that’s even possible!
Words by Ali Cooper (AliZombie_)