"There's a bunch of ideas that were thrown into the mixing bowl there," A7X frontman M. Shadows, who personally greeted all those who attended the shoot, tells Billboard, "but the main idea was to get fans involved and make sure the kids knew this is a song full of energy first and foremost -- 'hey, this is a record we can wrap our heads around. It's cool live stuff. It's a rockin' song' -- but at the same time, we wanted the technological hint in there, so as the video progresses you start seeing things glitching out and all of a sudden the world turns digital. And by the end, there's a little nod to the lyrics; you see an eyeball kind of in there as an Easter egg, which is kind of big brother watching what we do the whole time as the humans turn into a digital world."
The rock world, of course, has been watching the journey of The Stage, which A7X surprise-released on Oct. 28. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 -- and No. 1 on the Top Rock Albums, Top Hard Rock Albums and Top Alternative Albums charts -- but Shadows acknowledges that the unconventional rollout has made for something of a struggle ever since. "I think rock fans were more skeptical of the surprise release than I expected them to be," Shadows notes. "Obviously it works in the [pop] mainstream a little better than it does in rock 'n' roll. A lot of our fans were like, 'Why are you doing a surprise release? Is there something wrong with the record?' sort of thing. We go to shows and people are talking about our new record and I find out they're talking about [2013's] Hail to the King. They don't even know we have a new record. I don't really know what to think about what we did at this point."
That hasn't dampened the group's appetite for trying things outside the proverbial box, however. "I think it was a fun experiment," Shadows says, "and I think there are ways to experiment with releasing music. Maybe it's EPs or releasing singles all the time or records as more of a special occasion sort of thing. But at this point, I'm still trying to figure it all out myself so, yeah, I don't really have a good answer. I think we had some fun and we took a chance on it and I don't know how it's going to play out to this day. But I'd do it again."
A7X has played overseas dates promoting The Stage using a specially designed stage with its own array of special effects. That will go into storage, however, as A7X gears up for a summer North American tour, which gets under way June 9 and will be spent mostly supporting Metallica's stadium run, with a few festival and headline dates thrown in. That will put The Stage campaign in a kind of stasis, but Shadows is confident the exposure will prove worthwhile for both the band and the album.
"Lars [Ulrich] called me a few times to talk about this, and I said, 'Dude, we just spent, like, a million dollars on building our stage and now it's gonna have to sit in storage?'" Shadows says with a laugh. "But the more we thought about it, what rock bands besides AC/DC, Guns N' Roses and Metallica get to play stadiums in 2017? So for me it's one of those things where the positives outweigh the negatives so much, so why not be part of the biggest rock tour of the summer and make it awesome for the fans, and then we can do our thing later."
That will be next year, Shadows says, when A7X heads out on its own headlining tour of North America. The group will certainly play a couple of songs from the album this summer, but Shadows promises fans can count on hearing plenty of proven favorites. "We were throwing around ideas of 'Let's do a crazy set list where there's some deeper stuff and get more of the new record in there,' but then we said, 'Y'know what, there's gonna be 60,000 people a night and most of these people really don't have our records and maybe have heard some stuff on the radio, so we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot if we went out there and did something too crazy," Shadows says. "So we're gonna do the bigger songs and make the set list flow constantly with things people have heard on the radio, and then we'll come back through in 2018 and do a headlining set and do some of the deeper stuff and get back to what the stage is all about."