Zacky Vengeance (seen here on the left), guitarist and backing vocalist with American heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold, chats with Kevin Cooper about signing with Capital Records, working with Cirque du Soleil’s design team for their stage show, their latest album The Stage and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Zachary Baker better known by his stage name Zacky Vengeance, is an American musician, best known as the rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist, and founding member of the American heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold. Joining Zacky, the bands current line up consists of lead vocalist M. Shadows, lead guitarist and backing vocalist Synyster Gates, bassist and backing vocalist Johnny Christ, and drummer Brooks Wackerman.
To date, Avenged Sevenfold have released seven studio albums, one live album/DVD, two compilation albums and eighteen singles. They have sold over eight million albums worldwide.
Whilst getting ready to tour the UK, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
What’s up Kevin, how are you doing man?
I’m very well thank you, how are you?
I’m good thank you.
And before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No problem, thank you man.
And just how is life treating Zacky Vengeance today?
Life is good, it’s busy, but I am certain that other people have it way worse off so there are no complaints from me.
Well, we really must talk about your latest album, The Stage, and I have to say that I have been playing it for a few weeks now and I think that it is a fantastic piece of work.
Thank you very much, I appreciate that.
Are you and the rest of the boys in the band happy with it?
Yes we are, we truly are all happy with the album. Now that it has been released and I have heard such kind words from our fans, which really does mean the most to me. This is the first time that we have released an album that is not completely divided by the music critics. They are all really latching onto what we were attempting to do and just how ambitious the musicianship was for us. So for that I am really excited. When it actually comes to writing and recording, it is hard for me as an artist and a human being to second guess every note along the way. There are some artists who can go out there and they think that their shit doesn’t stink and then there are people like me who will be asking all along the way ‘is this where this needs to be’ or ‘is the song too long’ (laughter). So for me, I am always questioning what we do and if I am honest I think that is what makes us work harder.
Well, I have to tell you that at this moment in time I really do like Higher.
Oh cool, that is an interesting choice because the song Higher is one of the deeper cuts on the album. It is most definitely one of the smarter songs. I think that once people get past songs like The Stage and the more straightforward songs then they can start to get into the deeper songs like Higher, with the drumming, the keyboards and the melodies. That is most definitely a really creative and much more unique sounding song and is exactly what we were really going for.
Do you have a personal favourite track on the album?
Oh man (laughter). I have to be totally honest with you and say that I think that is a hard question for me to answer (laughter). Let’s see, I think that my personal favourite song on the album would most probably be Angels. Ever since the riffs started coming together and the song began coming to life, I feel like it has such a darkness and a sombre tone that is really hard for a band to capture. I feel that throughout our career we have probably only been able to capture anything similar to that after losing The Rev (James Sullivan) in some of the songs on Nightmare. There is something really special about when you do finally come across a song that touches you in that sort of way. I also really do love The Stage, I am really proud of that song. I love the video that accompanies The Stage; that song never gets old to me which is something that I certainly can’t say about every one of our songs (laughter).
Why all of the secrecy around the album’s release?
To be honest there were lots of conversations taking place between our singer M. Shadows and the rest of the band about just what made music so special to us all whilst we were growing up, and what it was that made us want to play music. Just what was the inspiration behind us? We all remembered going down to the record store after school every single day, trawling through the bins in order to find new music. What made it so special was having saved up a couple of bucks, having looked at the artwork, read the song titles, and you then decided to take that piece of art home with you. Once you got the album back home you would unwrap it, be the first person to listen to it over and over again, making your own decisions on it.
Nowadays, it is that which is missing. People will now get hold of a song three or four months before the album comes out; they can listen to ten seconds of it and decide whether they like it or not. Then the band will release a second, third and fourth single before the album even comes out. Meanwhile, the fans still keep skipping over tracks to the next song but with The Stage we didn’t want to give the fans that opportunity. We wanted to give the album straight to our fans and remind them that the album as a whole was meant for them and for their enjoyment. And the only way that we could see us doing that was to not tease people and drag them along for months prior to the release of the album and just surprise them with it.
Having been a record collector for many years now I know exactly what you mean. Whenever you bought a new album it was your property, no one else was ever allowed to listen to it or indeed like it.
Absolutely, and that is what was so important to us as a band. We all really do feel like that has been missing. To be honest with you we are all culprits. I am as bigger a culprit as ever because I listen to a band that I know has an album coming out, and if a song doesn’t latch onto me within the first ten seconds, I will either skip forward to another song or go back to listening to something that I know that I like. I don’t even give stuff a chance nowadays but I really do want our fans to give the album a chance (laughter).
I don’t know if you are aware or not but here in the UK The Stage is still on the Amazon Best Sellers list.
Really, that is incredible. For our fans over there in the UK that really is a special thing because by doing a surprise release we had no idea what would happen. We all agreed that the album simply wasn’t going to have the same amount of impact on the first week that a traditional album would. But on the same token we never set our goals for what happened in that first week. It is ultimately where you end up in your career and what you do for your fans rather than how many copies you can sell. However, it is nice to see that the fans are enjoying the album and are continuing to support it. It is a huge testament and hopefully that continues once we get over to the UK and bring our show. We will be giving it everything that we have in order to really make it a special experience for our fans and hopefully that will continue.
Was The Stage always going to be a concept album?
We have talked about concept albums in the past but nothing seemed to manifest itself. However, with this album it wasn’t until the light bulb came on and we had this concept that the album was actually inspired. So yes, from the beginning the album always had the blueprint to be inspired by a certain concept. That is what is so great about it; that we could take that mentality into each song that we have written, and both lyrically and musically we have incorporated a lot more universal and spacey type of elements. Then we bring it back down to very raw, human social elements and touch upon technology and artificial intelligence. The concept really helped in the song writing process.
It is your first album released on your new record label Capital Records. Is that a good fit for you?
Absolutely, when you have been doing this for as long as we have, you know when something is working and you know when something feels wrong. If someone were to hand me a guitar pick that wasn’t the right thickness, I would instantly know that it wasn’t the right thickness simply because I have been playing so long. With Capital Records, we have gotten to a place where Warner Brothers has essentially lost all of the artistic, friendly, hardworking music executives that welcomed us to the label in early 2000. They are no longer there. We have not felt like a priority for a long time now which is something that as a successful band who has sold millions of albums you would want to feel some sort of mutual respect.
Walking into Capital Records they were so excited about our ideas creatively and offered up such great and creative ideas as well and that is what you need in a record label. You need to be sharing ideas with artistic, cutting-edge people and that is what we now have. Since we have been with Capital we have released an album in a manner that has never previously happened for any other artist but us. Having a surprise release date both visually and physically has previously never happened. We are the first band to ever do a live 3D performance for our fans in virtual reality. We have made a music video that is eight and a half minutes long which is highly acclaimed by both fans and critics. Plus fresh opportunities are continually coming along. We really do feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg for us with Capital Records. This whole campaign just started a couple of months ago for us.
I know that this is a difficult question for you to answer but would you say that The Stage is your best work to date?
Oh man, I think as far as musicianship this is definitely the pinnacle of our career. It is hard for me because every album is truly so very special and for me to be sitting there and being one of only a handful of people on the planet who knows truly how every album was written, recorded, together with all the time spent in the studio, then every album is special. However, hopefully over the course of a lifetime I will be able to share all of those memories with the fans so they can understand what was happening at each point of our lives for each album. Musically we are at a stage in our careers that is really ambitious and for that I think that the musicianship is top notch.
Not wanting to toot my own horn by any standard of today’s music, we really went above and beyond to make sure that there is no instrumentation on this album. It is definitely up there but yes, it really is a tough question (laughter).
You are performing here in Nottingham on Wednesday 18th January, what can we expect?
Oh man, well I will tell you, we have been planning this stage show for as long as we have been writing the album. The two go hand in hand. I have to say that it has been one of the most time consuming, sleepless nights, providing experiences because the show is the most ambitious show that we have ever done to a point where it is teetering on a lot of design elements together with live elements that no rock or metal band has managed to get close to doing before. We wanted to move away from just building a big stage and blowing stuff up (laughter). We actually reached out to the team that designs the Cirque du Soleil shows which are just phenomenal. We worked closely with them to create a, I guess, a more interactive live show for our fans.
The stage is going to be moving and evolving; the imagery is going to be just unbelievable and it is definitely without a doubt going to be the most ambitious live show that we have ever done (laughter). And that says a lot because we are always trying to go above and beyond and put everything that we have into the show for our fans and this time we are doing more than we ever dreamt possible.
You have briefly touched upon the 3D streamed live show. Is there a danger that you could find yourselves playing to an audience of no one with the gig going out live on the TV?
(Laughter) that is definitely a topic that we kind of discuss in each one of the songs on the latest album, where technology is headed, trying to create some awareness that automation will ultimately take over certain peoples jobs in the not too distant future. That could certainly apply to music. So what you have to do is always be looking a few steps ahead, and make sure that you are at the forefront. If we were able to play concerts that could be broadcast to millions of fans around the world in their living room and be able to give them the same experience that they would get by actually attending the concert, I think that the implications of that would simply be incredible if it was done right.
There are kids that have been waiting fifteen years to see us in countries that we have not been able to make yet and for them to get their own private performance of Avenged Sevenfold, well, that could be the future of music. I would love to be on the forefront of anything that would benefit our fans around the world.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
That was Dangerline from our 2010 Nightmare album.
Christmas has come and gone now, but I am sure that your fans would like to know that either giving or receiving, what has been your favourite Christmas gift?
Oh man let’s see. That’s a really great question so let me see. It’s hard for me to think because every year I try to outdo myself (laughter). I think that the best gift that I ever gave was to my mom and what I did was I wrapped up a bunch of money and put it in jars. I gave her a large sum of money and she had to unwrap each individual bill which was wrapped in red ribbon. She had to work for it (laughter).
What is your perfect Christmas and did you have it last year?
Oh man, my perfect Christmas without a doubt would be if somehow and miraculously it snowed at my house for an entire week up until Christmas. That would be the greatest thing ever to happen. Obviously it doesn’t snow where I live sadly, so my chances of having a white Christmas are probably nil for my entire life unless global warming kicks in and something really does go askew (laughter). If I were to wake up at my house on Christmas morning with snow outside of my house in California that would most definitely be the be all and end all. It didn’t happen last year and I don’t think that it will happen next (laughter).
On that note Zacky let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been fantastic and I am looking forward to seeing you here in Nottingham.
Thanks Kevin, I truly appreciate you taking the time to speak to me. Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to seeing you when we hit Nottingham. Bye for now.