Orange County, CA has been home to many successful rock bands over the years and Atreyu is one of those success stories. Founded in 1998, Atreyu has found never-ending triumph in everything they do. Since returning from a brief hiatus, their sixth studio album Long Live was released September 18, 2015 and is their first album since 2009’s Congregation Of The Damned and has made it to the #4 spot on the Billboard Hard Rock Album Chart in the week ending on October 10, 2015. The new album showcases how Dan Jacobs (guitar), Porter McKnight (bass), Travis Miguel (guitar), Brandon Saller (drums/vocals) and Alex Vartzakas (vocals) are infinite in their music and their brotherhood. The magnificent thing about Atreyu is that they have two vocalists, Alex Vartzakas and their drummer, Brandon Saller. This is quite impressive considering the timing a drummer must keep during a song, especially the heavier, progressive beats that Saller must play while he is singing. As Atreyu is currently on tour promoting their new album Long Live, during such a busy schedule, Screamer Magazine was fortunate to connect with Dan Jacobs (guitar) who is an original member of the band.
Since this is the longest tour they have done in the United States, Jacobs tells us that the tour is going great so far and that it’s been really exciting for them. So what is the story of Atreyu? There have been several reports of where the band is from so Jacobs confirmed that they are from various parts of Orange County in cities such as Yorba Linda, Huntington Beach and Glendale. Originally, the band started off with a different name, Jacobs informs us. “Back in the late 90’s we were called Retribution and that band started when our lead singer, Alex Vartzakas and I met and we started playing guitar and bass together and then he started playing bass and I started playing guitar. Eventually, we brought in our good friend Ryan Saller’s younger brother Brandon and he was a drummer. We started jamming as a three-piece under the name Retribution” Jacobs proceeds to tell us. “After that, we became a four-piece with Alex putting down the bass and just doing vocals and then from there in 1999, we decided our sound was getting a little bit more aggressive and changing and evolving to a point where we wanted to start off fresh and start a new band and a new type of band and not just be a punk band because we were heavy into the punk rock world so we changed our name to Atreyu.” Around 2004, there was a switch in different members Jacobs says. “From 2004 to the present we have had the same members.” As members were replaced, it didn’t cause the band to directly veer from the punk sound they had been known for, but it did ignite a new goal for Atreyu. “I was interested in all kind of music like we were prone to listening to” Jacob tells us. “You start off just listening to punk and our taste for musicianship just became more apparent and then we started craving music that was a little bit more aggressive and a little bit more technical. From there we wanted to incorporate that into our own sound as well. So it was a question of how big do we want to go and what sound do we want and since rock was already evolving on it’s own and we kind of wrote a bunch of songs that were onto something bigger than what we had been doing and so we decided to compliment that with a new name and a fresh start.” The name Atreyu stems from the 1984 film “The Neverending Story” Jacob details. ” Like many bands in those days who took their names from different movies, we were all really into comic books and horror and sci-fi fantasy and all that kind of stuff so we looked at that and see what’s available. Actually, at the time we became Atreyu, there were five or six other Atreyu’s in the world doing their thing but none of them were as serious as we were or really doing much so luckily for us, we were able to keep the name.”
Jacobs is one of those guitar players who has a transparent instinct about music. He is incredibly skilled in his guitar playing but most importantly he has that “x-factor” the “passion” for rock music which above technical playing is a more necessary skill set. Being one of the founders of Atreyu dating back to their Retribution days, Jacobs continues to evolve in his craft. As Jacob tells us about how he started playing guitar at the young age of 12 years old in 1994, he seems quite proud of his accomplishments and his growth thus far as a musician as his thirst for new music continues to thrive. “At the time, I was really into the music of the 90’s, Green Day in particular” Jacobs establishes. “I picked up the guitar and from there I kind of got into Rancid, The Misfits and the NOFX and I just started from there in the punk world and then I got into the metal scene and from there, initially, I was just getting into the 90’s music scene, like 90’s rock” Jacobs concludes. When it comes to writing music, and with the change in style that Atryeu underwent, Jacobs tells us that he and Sallers and Vartzakas had chemistry from day one musically and have been writing music together for quite sometime so Jacobs feels that the three of them in particular have a writing chemistry that is incredibly special and makes it possible for them to continue to make music together. “We write great songs and we don’t have any co-writers or anyone writing their songs for us so we are self-sufficient in that sense” Jacobs expresses. “As a whole we’ve been able to write and with Travis and Marc too, we have something special. All the members of Atreyu contribute to the writing and it wouldn’t be the same without even one person.” Looking back, Jacobs said he really never wanted to pursue anything else other than music, he just loved music. His mom had a guitar in the house, but she didn’t play and every once in a while he would dig through her closet out of boredom and try different things. Eventually, he headed down to Circuit City (now known as Best Buy) and was infatuated with the keyboards they had out. “I was always drawn to the piano and key instruments until I was about 11 years old and someone was sitting next to me in my classes who played drums and suggested I start playing guitar” Jacobs tells us. “I thought to myself, yes! Then I can be like Billy Joe from Green Day. Once I got going, we all took it very seriously and even though I was in high school, and some kids who had bands didn’t make the cut. We just had the mentality that we were going to big and it wasn’t an option and you’re going to keep up or you’re not progressing, you’re going to get chopped. We really didn’t realize just how serious we were taking it. Once we started touring, everything became real and it just happened and we realized how big it was becoming and how we could make it as big as we want to make it.”
From the beginning of time, musicians have been influenced by other musicians and this inspiration ignites the fire within. Some bands are more of a direct copycat and some merely take their own style and add in bits and pieces of their musical influences. For Atreyu, they have become one of those bands who is now an influence for newer bands but they had their own as well. “A lot of the local bands around, the classic rock and punk bands have contributed to the sound of Atreyu” Jacobs says. “As far as having inspiration, I listened to bands like Def Leppard Van Halen and Queen and did my best to emulate that guitar sound and the riffs, hooks, choruses and at the same time we were very influenced by the more pop/punk like Save The Day and Jimmy Eat World. Even going down the metal well, with Soilwork and Scandinavian metal. It is just a hybrid of so many things that are factors in our music. It’s because we can’t settle down on just one sound, we want to include a little bit of everything. I think you try to play every kind of you love when you’re in a band.”
As we mentioned in the beginning of this interview, Atreyu, like many other bands that have held a long career have returned recently from a hiatus. For some bands it is merely because they want to go back home to their families and take time away, for others it is so they can pursue side projects or so they can make changes within the band’s line-up. For Atreyu, it was nice to have that break but Jacobs tells us that it is great to be back and that they had missed doing the music. Since growing up together, it was weird because he felt that something was missing when they took that time and weren’t doing music for a while. “Since being back, our chemistry has been awesome, like it was before. Writing and the vibe is really cool and everything is just amazing with everyone including the engineers so that has just made the whole process easier to get our vision across and make the album sound and feel the way we wanted it to.”
Throughout their career, Atreyu has toured in support of their album, played sold out festivals and to a lot of bands, it is always an incredible honor to play along with some of your favorite bands or bands that you simply admire. Even the musicians you see playing a 60,000 seat arena have been fans of someone at some point and no matter how successful they become, they still get that excitement of meeting and even better, working with someone they admire musically and that is a distinguishable reward in itself. “We have had many experiences like that” Jacobs says. “When we play festivals or are touring, playing with bands like Metallica or Judas Priest or Black Sabbath’s original line-up to Slayer and Slipknot, Linkin Park, System Of A Down. We have played with so many huge bands over time, it is such a trip to be considered part of the same world as these people and now they’re your peers and they had been bands you just looked up to when you were younger and wanted to be like them.” With that all being said, Atreyu has become just that caliber of band for many and Jacobs describes the feeling to us. “It’s amazing and like a drug and it makes us want it more and try harder. The more we get from people, the more we want to give back so anything like that or any situation is just incredible. Before that, we felt we weren’t getting it as much as we had wanted and it was discouraging at times but we just kept at it and now with this new album, it’s coming out with guns blazing and we are more excited and passionate and better than ever really and because of it, we can feel it in our music and our live shows, everything just seems to have this incredible energy, it’s just really cool.”
The inspiration behind Atreyu’s music and their creative chemistry is more of a collective effort between Jacobs and Saller. “Brandon or I will bring in a riff of a song and then from there we will sit and work things out as far as it needs to be and the structure and everything” Jacobs describes. “Once we do that, we will send a demo over to Alex and he will put lyrics together and map out where he thinks vocals should go and from there, we will just take it into the studio and finalize everything on the particular song.” As music journalist, getting the opportunity to ask one of the band members about the inspiration for your favorite song of theirs is an advantage that should never be wasted. In this case, we ask about a track called Bleeding Mascara from their 2004 album titled The Curse. “That was a song that was lyrically inspired by Alex and the emotional turmoil of the f***ed up situation he was going through at the time in his early 20’s and most people go through similar things or get confused about how things work or what people go through at that age” Jacobs tells us. “That song was definitely about some heartache he had with a relationship he was in at that time. Musically, the intro was a sweeping picks pattern thing I learned basically note for note from a band called God Forbid. Dallas Coyle taught it to me when we had toured with them a when they opened up for us. I remember seeing them rehearse backstage and I was inspired by their guitar playing and I remember trying to figure out what that technique they were using was and I found out it was a sweeping technique that he learned from a band called Nile, and Dallas showed me how he did it and I thought to myself how much I wanted to do that and I just sat there with my band and practiced it until I got it down good enough. From there I took it and put my own little version of it in the intro of Bleeding Mascara so that’s how it came to be” Jacobs recalls. It truly is fascinating because this song comes straight out of the gate, no holds barred with an orchestra of guitar and progressive drums. Song lyrics are often left open for interpretation and if you search online, different songs can mean something totally different to someone else. In the case of a song called Ex’s and Oh’s from their 2006 album titled A Death-Grip On Yesterday has been defined as a song about Vartzakas’s past alcohol addiction. This subject has been one of struggle for many musicians and for people in general. Jacobs says “It’s mainly about obsessions with drinking and putting yourself in bad situations while you’re intoxicated. Not that we’re opposed to drinking, we are all for having a good time but then we all have those nights of drinking where you have a little too much and you wake up in a situation thinking to yourself “whoops, that sucks” I shouldn’t have done that.”
Having been friends for so long, it makes it like a family vibe and the musical chemistry stemming from nearly 20 years of music from Atreyu as they have written and performed together. Even with the change in members and even with the break they took for a while, their relationship as a band and as friends have not deteriorated. When you have a group of musicians in a band, there can be ego problems or drug problems or just simply a case of creative differences. Atreyu seems to withstand time and get through the ups and downs of the music business. Perhaps this is why they remain so successful and continue to grow as individuals that combine into the culminating band they continue to be. Jacobs gets deeper into this and says “A lot of bands don’t have what we have had or have and take time off to work with other people and try to get a vibe off writing with other people. You can really learn to feel how much harder it is with other people and then when I would come back to my band, it was so easy and effortless. It is just a meant to be kind of thing and we have been fortunate in that regard. Some bands try to force it or try to take people that aren’t meant work together and attempt to create music and it just doesn’t work. We have a very organic thing going and we go with our gut feelings rather than ride something out that isn’t fitting well.”
It is hard to imagine that 1998 was 17 years ago and that was about the time when the internet was really becoming popular in homes across the world. Social media was not a “thing” yet. There was no Myspace or Facebook or Twitter or even Youtube which plays a vital part nowadays for bands and artists. The way we as fans can connect directly to the bands we love is surreal because as most of us may remember, there was a time when you had to sit and write out a fan letter that you would mail to a fan club or band manager and pray that you got something back like a signed photo. As for Atreyu, when it comes to how social media has contributed to their success and their feelings about it all, Jacobs says “I back the internet and everything that’s done, only because if it wasn’t for the internet, my band wouldn’t have been signed and be where we are right now. We might have, I don’t really know but we were one of the first bands to be found and signed because of the internet if not the first one and that have gone on to be successful. Back in 2000, when there weren’t any social media sites and we just put our song up on our website and some random person found it from Victory Records and they e-mailed us then flew out a couple weeks later to see us play a live show and then we were signed to the label and on our way. It was all because of posting our song on a website.” While their starting label was signed with Victory Records, Atreyu has since changed labels a few times throughout their existence in the music industry. Many independent labels have either closed down or been bought out by the majors and have become sub labels. As the music industry continues to change and to evolve, sometimes you just have to roll with it. When asked about their change in labels and preference of major labels vs independent labels, Jacobs expressed his opinion. “They’re very similar in certain ways but I feel like the push for radio mainstream comes from the major label side a little bit more. I feel that they do a little bit more. For us, we usually write singles. We don’t do it intentionally but we just write songs. I think that comes from being on a major label but now that we are on Spinefarm, it is kind of a happy medium and has the independent label mindset but with the major label backing and experience since it is all underneath Universal Music Group.”
Atreyu’s most recent album Long Live has received critical praise and graced the Billboard charts since its release. They are no stranger to having hit albums, but this new one seems to be one that Jacobs is incredibly fond of. When asked about the inspiration of the album and what is different about it as opposed to their prior albums, Jacobs said “this one I feel is the first album where we know 100% what we’re doing, and what sound we wanted and who we are as a band. Before that, even with our first album Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, we had no idea what we wanted to sound like. We had so many sounds we wanted to accomplish so we would go in all these different directions be it singing choruses or old school metal songs or metal punk, just all over the place. With every album we were constantly evolving and whether it was working with different producers or different band members or touring, we just learned a lot.” Jacobs goes on to say how he feels that taking the hiatus has helped them to grow a lot and appreciate what they were doing. “We know what we want to do as a band” Jacobs says. “We know we like classic rock and we incorporate the punk sound and just go for it. Everyone just came in and did what they do best and this is what the album is about. Going full circle and being better than we have ever been. This is by far the most confident we have ever been. The response is overwhelming and the passion we feel we are getting is great.”
Referring back to social media, rumors seem to flood the internet at times. Sometimes, it is a positive thing and sometimes it is negative. A lot of times, rumors surface as wishful thinking on a fan’s behalf. Websites like Wikipedia and imdb can be written and updated by anybody so it is safe to say that you can’t believe everything you read online….Except Screamer Magazine, of course. Recently, there was speculation of Saller leaving the band and joining another successful Orange County band called Avenged Sevenfold. After the death of drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, it seems they have made several attempts to find a replacement like Mike Portnoy and Arin Ilejay who they parted ways with a few months ago. As much as we love Avenged Sevenfold, we also are avid fans of Atreyu as well and would hate to see Saller leave the band regardless of where he would go. Jacobs says that the speculation started due to a photo of Saller and Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Synyster Gates (Brian Haner, Jr) when they were just hanging out. “People are so excited about who the new drummer is so they just get carried away and put it out there that this is the new guy and it must be true because they’re in a picture together.” Surely, Avenged Sevenfold will be successful as always in finding their replacement and we are happy to say Atreyu will not be making any changes on that realm.
Being the strongest they have ever been, Atreyu has all of the makings of a band who is here to stay. Rest assured, they have no intention of stopping and their desire to grow, to keep expanding their music and feeding off of the passion from the fans, they are in it for the love of music and thrive on everything that goes with it. As they continue their tour in support of the new album and depending on how the record does, that will be the deciding factor on how long they tour. “The energy is so amazing. The whole package of playing a show and everyone’s reactions along with playing the different venues and flying off to different countries is exciting” Jacobs says. While being on tour for a long time can wear on you, Jacobs jokingly says a shot of whiskey helps to get things going. But jokes aside, at the end of the day he is grateful that he plays music for a living, they all are. And we can be grateful to Atreyu for their dedication to bringing us quality music and inspiration.