Orange County metal quintet Atreyu unveil a revamped lineup with their newest release, Baptize, available now on Spinefarm Records. The reworked ensemble consists of new addition Kyle Rosa on drums, bassist Marc McKnight, former drummer now lead vocalist Brandon Saller as well as guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel. The group’s first release in almost three years, Baptize is a 15 song guerilla attack, which with a few exceptions all clock in at the sub three-minute mark. With a five week headline tour in the late fall, Atreyu looks ready to sprinkle some water on foreheads in the second half of 2021.
It seems that every account of 2020 is dominated by the events of a worldwide virus and its affects on the populous as a whole and more specifically the music industry specifically. Atreyu was not immune from the global pause button being pushed. As Miguel relates, “We went into the studio with (producer) John Feldmann in late 2019 for a couple of weeks, then we took a break and went to Australia on tour.” While in Australia, this thing made its presence known. “We were just kind of on standby, so to speak. So, we waited for a little while and then got back into the studio and continued to work.”
Baptize introduces Brandon Saller on lead vocals and a new drummer. Experiencing major shifts in personnel and their roles within the band can be trying, but not so says Miguel, “The transition was pretty smooth. The thing is, that we actually had this lineup. We did a European tour about a year and a half, maybe two years ago, and Alex, our former front man, he couldn’t make it. He had suffered a back injury and we obviously couldn’t just cancel the whole tour. So, we had to make it work. Brandon moved to the front position and we had Kyle filling in on drums. So that was almost like a trial run and we didn’t even know it.” Like in sports and television, people sometimes are no longer able to perform, or simply do not want to any longer. The same can be true for a recording and touring outfit. “Nobody can ever foresee these things, obviously we can’t look into the future. You just kind of roll with the punches and make do with what you’ve got and make whatever adjustments you need to make. It’s been pretty positive, all the way around.”
As for what to expect from the new record, Miguel shares, “Whenever we release a new record, I always get asked, ‘What can we expect?’, and I can never come up with a satisfactory answer, or at least satisfactory to myself anyway. The only thing I can really say is, it’s most definitely an Atreyu album. If you’re a fan of Atreyu, you are going to love this album.” As mentioned earlier, the record punches and jabs like a boxer setting an opponent up for the kill. In addition, there are three very formidable guest spots on the record, more about that later.
Atreyu is what you could call a genre defying lot. Their music can be beating you about the head one moment, while they can serenade you with a melodic interlude the next. Miguel explains how that melange of sounds and styles ends up on their records, “I don’t think any band really wants to be pigeon-holed, right? We’re a band that will throw anything at the wall and see if it sticks. We’ve always been a band that has prided itself on growing and moving forward and trying new things. Trying things that are maybe left of center or that people might not expect us to do. That keeps it interesting for us as the artists, but it also is interesting for the audience as well, because you never know what we’re going to do.”
While changing things up is a way to keep it interesting for themselves and their fans, it is not some contrived plan. Miguel continues, “We never know what we’re going to do. It’s just never business as usual musically. We definitely try not to just repeat ourselves over and over again. If we feel like we’re spinning our wheels, we got to throw a curveball in there somewhere and try something new or different.” Their approach is apparently not part of a grand plan. “We’ve never said out loud, we’re going to try this, or we’re going to do this and we’re not going to do that.” As far as doing what their listeners might want, Miguel says, ” Obviously we take that into consideration, but it’s not the end all be all of what we do.”
As previously mentioned, there are several high profile guest appearances on the record. Atreyu enlisted a few heavy hitters to lend their particular talents to this latest release. There is a vocal appearance by Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix, a brief drum contribution from Blink-182’s Travis Barker as well as some guitar from Trivium’s Matthew Heafy. As with Miguel’s previous assertions of certain things not being part of an elaborate plan, he affirms how the guest spots came to be, “The opportunity just kind of presented itself. It’s always fun to work with friends or people who are outside your own band, it just adds a whole different color or flavor to the song.” Miguel further expounds on how Shaddix, himself no stranger to loaning his vocal chords to other artists, came to appear on the record. “On that song, Untouchable, there is a specific part that he lays down. It was just kind of a no-brainer, we were discussing who would sound good on this and, someone said, ‘How about Jacoby from Papa Roach?’, we all thought, ‘Obviously!’ He was gracious enough to come in and do it.”
Heafy’s assistance on Oblivion also came about pretty organically, he explains very simply, “Matt’s been a friend of ours for a number of years now. He was more than happy to do it and it worked out really well. We had toured with Trivium a number of years ago (supporting Korn) and we were on the same stage with Trivium for the whole summer. We got to know those guys really well, we hit it off and just kind of kept in touch with them ever since.” Blink’s Barker pounds out a brief but impactful donation to the record with his drumline channeling, ” There’s a middle section on Warrior where we kind of had this idea of having like a big college football game type of vibe, marching drums, and so who better than one of the most famous drummers in the world?” As for how the association came about, he goes on, “He’s pretty much John Feldmann’s neighbor. He actually works out of John’s studio quite often. Everybody nailed their parts and added something. They basically just made what we had already way cooler.”
For the better part of the last 20 years, aside from a three year hiatus, Atreyu has been relatively stable in personnel and their continued output and touring activities. 2021 sees what could be called a new chapter for them, in a book that may have more chapters than any of the characters ever imagined. Miguel offer his thoughts on the band’s longevity, “When a band first starts out, when they’re younger and full of energy, they just want to stay out on the road. They don’t have any responsibilities, no mortgages, no bills or anything like that. When they get older, they kind of taper off from the touring aspect. For me, it’s kind of the opposite. When we first started touring, after the first three to four weeks of a tour, we’d all start counting down the days until we got home. Now, that I’m older, I want to stay out and be as busy as we can, because we’re all very cognizant of the fact that we’re extremely lucky to be doing this at all, let alone at the level at which we get to do it.” He puts the exclamation point on the subject with this, “It’s not lost on us that we are very, very fortunate!”
Part of the good fortune to which Miguel alludes is the ability to continue to earn a living as a musician. The ever-evolving model for how to do that has probably drastically changed a few times throughout Atreyu’s career. he ascribes the following, “We broke right before people were essentially using the internet to consume music. Our first record, CD sales were a huge deal. These days, obviously, it’s your streaming numbers and YouTube hits and whatever it may be. So in order to stay afloat, bands have to tour. That’s just the way it is now, that’s the economy of music. Although Atreyu has had a very sustained career over the last two decades, he is very candid about his band’s position in the rock genre hierarchy, “There’s just only a handful of artists, maybe 25 or 30, that are still making big money off record sales, and most of those people are not in the rock genre.”
The rock music pie is rather large, but that pie is sliced up into many different classes and sub-classes. While there are numerous artists vying for their piece of the pie, Miguel realizes that Atreyu has to work hard to get their particular piece. He piggybacks on to the previous thought, “Aside from Metallica and U2, the huge stadium acts, there aren’t too many in rock making good money off records sales, off the top of my head, maybe Avenged (Sevenfold), Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed. In the long run, it is a business. The music business as a whole is just changing and evolving so quickly. You have to stay on top of it. You have to get creative as to how you have income coming in.”
Miguel apparently likes to stay busy. In addition to his work in Atreyu, he flexes his creative muscles in other ways. “I have another musical project called Fake Figures. I just finished writing an album for that. We’re in the middle of demoing stuff, demoing vocals, etc. right now. Hopefully at some point, probably later this year, we’ll actually get in the studio, track it and release that.” This year will probably be viewed as a breakout year for most artists who have been feeling the restraints and the ensuing hangover of a “lost year.” It’s possible that Miguel specifically and Atreyu collectively will see it as year of rebirth. Releasing a new record and hitting stages all over the United States affords them renewed opportunities. The biggest of those, the opportunity to Baptize more people into the Atreyu fold.