Billboard chatted with Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows earlier this week about the band’s big statement. A7 wants to do “everything differently” these days -- which is why the idea of a rock band playing a VR rooftop show and following in the footsteps of Beyoncé and Drake by surprise-releasing an album excited Shadows so much. We spoke to the frontman about the changes, the special show, the group's new drummer and becoming the first metal band to record with an astrophysicist.
Why the decision to do the surprise release?
For us, it was purely out of how we like to receive records this day and age, with the quickness of the Internet. We feel that when some bands are putting out records, it’s just so many breadcrumbs, and it takes so long and you’re four singles deep. By the time you get the record the excitement’s over. We haven’t really been excited by that way of doing things in a long time.
So we said, "If we’re gonna do a record, we want to release it on our terms." That way, media isn’t getting in the way of people’s opinions, they can hear the music first. They don’t have a bunch of interviews [where they hear], “This is why this is our best record,” this and that. It’s more about them hearing [the music] first, and without any preconceived notions. And they get to make the decision themselves. To us, that is the purest way to consume music, and we’re excited to do it this way, especially since no metal or rock band has really done it yet -- besides Radiohead, if you consider them a rock band. But I wouldn’t consider them in the same genre as us. So it excited us.
Does it also keep the music fresher and more exciting for you?
We finished the record in July. But, for us, I will say these are different feelings that we’ve had. Usually when you’re putting out a record you have reviews from people a week before, and you have a vibe cause everyone’s heard it -- you’ve heard feedback from everyone and they’ve listened to your single for a couple of months. Radio’s playing it.
But I gotta say, when you do it like this... this is our seventh record, and we’ve never felt this way. Nobody has heard this record, we haven’t had any opinions from anybody, we’ve had one week of radio, and it’s just really exciting to us. It’s so invigorating, and that’s what you want.
Capitol has so much history. Does it feel like a new beginning with the label switch?
The newness started well before Capitol. We decided to make a change and we got [former Bad Religion drummer] Brooks Wackerman to be the drummer in the band. We’ve been working on this record for two years with him, jamming, doing things, doing it all behind the scenes. And we already knew this was a restart for this band, and we wanted to change the way we do merchandise, touring, the way we write songs... Brooks is a big part of that.
Now we’re changing the way we release records. So we recorded the record with no label, we self-funded it and we were gonna release it ourselves unless we found a great partner. And Capitol came around and they happened to be that great partner. Going into Capitol, we did our strings there, we did all the horn-section stuff there. That place is pure history. We got to see a new Frank Sinatra track being mixed, that they pulled out of the vault while we were in there doing our strings, which was unbelievable.
What songs are you excited to play live from the new album?
I think the fans are going to be very responsive to this album because of how live it was recorded. And there’s tons of energy in it. We’re building a show right now -- like I said, we’re gonna redo everything. It’s not gonna be all pyro and typical rock show. We’ve always had a really big rock show; we’re gonna try to take it to the next level without using all the same tricks everyone uses.
There are four or five songs that are gonna be in that set list right off the bat. There’s a song called “Simulation,” which is very visual, a song called “God Damn,” “Stage,” which is going over great. So we’re building a whole show around the album, but we will be playing some of the deeper cuts from the other albums as well.
Are there artists you admire for the way they evolved creatively and as artists?
I think Metallica did a good job, they’re always doing the deeper cuts and looking to push boundaries. I think Kanye West is brilliant at what he does, he’s got a different live show, different merch for every tour, different vibes and he just puts out great records. Then there are a bunch of bands I love musically: I love Tool, Faith No More, System Of A Down, [artists who are] just different, and play by their own rules, and whether people get it or not, it doesn’t really matter to them at all.
And I think that comes with age, and that’s where Avenged Sevenfold is at this point. We’re five dudes in our mid-30s now, and we want to write the music we want to write. We’re gonna put it out the way we want to put it out, and if people like it, cool. And if they don’t, that’s understandable.
How did the Neil deGrasse Tyson collaboration come about?
Over the last few years we, as a band, have been having a lot of conversations about artificial intelligence, about where we’re at on the frontier of science and learning a lot about that, from videos, podcasts, books. And we got so into it we decided to write a record firmly based in -- not only science -- but in what’s to come in a few years. We got so deep into it that we started writing a record around it.
I had the idea one night while we were on tour to write a song based around The Big Bang, a heavy metal version of that, and that’s what came when we wrote the song. And, at the end of the song, we wanted to put a little cherry on the top. So we reached out to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s people, and he called us back, and he’d always claimed he was willing to do things as long as it involved education. So we kind of pitched it to him as we wanted to educate our fans; maybe they’ll want to go out and learn more about this stuff. And he actually hit us back and gave me a call and he was in.
He wrote that essay for us, and it’s very interesting. I don’t think there are very many astrophysicists on heavy metal records these days… or ever.