Avenged Sevenfold's M. Shadows: “You want to put your stake in the ground and be on the right side of history”

In his My Year 2020 interview, M. Shadows opens up about the Black Lives Matter movement, the lessons he learned this year, and how the new Avenged Sevenfold album is shaping up (spoiler: it's "nothing like anything we’ve done")…

Avenged Sevenfold's M. Shadows: “You want to put your stake in the ground and be on the right side of history”
Emily Carter
Header photo:
Jonathan Weiner
Live photos:
Chris Casey

Unlike so many unfortunate bands and artists this year, 2020 didn’t affect Avenged Sevenfold’s plans all that much. The Huntington Beach metallers have been working on the follow-up to 2016’s The Stage for some time now, but on a fairly casual basis lately: “It’s like, ‘When we can, we can,’” frontman M. Shadows shrugs calmly to Kerrang! today, explaining how there was no scramble to finish the material that was already in place.

Nevertheless, the quintet – completed by guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, bassist Johnny Christ and drummer Brooks Wackerman – didn’t drop off the grid entirely over the past 12 months. They gave away free merch to fans as an incentive to quarantine when coronavirus hit, and also released awesome 2008 DVD/CD package, Live In The LBC & Diamonds In The Rough, digitally for the first time – along with five additional tracks. Most importantly, though, their vocalist took a stand in the summer and showed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, writing a moving piece about what the rock and metal community should be doing in these strange and testing times.

Here, an extremely optimistic M. Shadows reflects on his 2020, and hints at what’s to come from A7X when the time is finally right…

How has your year been – have your family and friends managed to stay safe and healthy?
“Yeah, you know, the year I think has been great – I’ve been hanging out with family a lot, hanging out with the kids, hanging out with the band. We’ve had quite a few friends get coronavirus, and some of it’s been worse than others, but no deaths or anything too serious. People get it, then they get sick and quarantine – so I’m sure it’s just like for everybody else, it’s just random.”

On a personal level, how would you describe your 2020?
“It’s been positive for me, although the year started off losing my idol, Kobe Bryant; he died in a helicopter crash, and that was crazy. And then there was coronavirus and the lockdowns. But I’ve just been trying to stay positive, and be thankful for each day. The kids didn’t have school, and as insane as that was with being on Zoom calls with teachers and everything, it was actually really positive because we got to hang out a lot. Usually if you’re on the road and in hotel rooms and the kids are at school you don’t get to see them, so I’ve just been really grateful to get to spend the last couple of years with them. So for me, it’s been positive.”

Has basically becoming a full-time dad and family man this year taught you anything?
“It has – although I don’t know if it’s anything in a quick soundbite! Really, it’s just made me grateful that I have the time, but it’s also made me realise that the band thing isn’t that important; it’s all about your family. Being forced to stay at home was actually really good for all of us because moving forwards it’s going to make us think about how we book tours, how long we’re going to be gone, how we’re going to incorporate the family… I think that’s been really good for us just on a human level to put things in perspective about what’s important.”

How did you feel about the idea of the world shutting down in the way it did?
“Well, I think in America especially we should have done a better job! The reality is that if we had done a better job earlier on then we might be in a better position now. It’s just unfortunate, but there’s different political views, and different ideologies, and for me it’s really [all about] just listening to the scientists and doing what you have to do: wearing a mask, and doing the best with what we’ve got.”

Going back to the start of 2020, was there a plan in place for Avenged that had to be ripped up?
“There was no itinerary! We had offers to do things that we weren’t going to do, so this has been good for us because we weren’t going to do anything anyway. We just weren’t feeling it; we were going to just work on the record, and then when the record’s done we’ll do shows. At this point the record’s still not done, so there’s really not that much going on in our world! We hang out a lot and we’re working on stuff, and when that gets done we’ll call some people and say, ‘Hey, let’s do some shows.’”

Did you throw yourself into being creative this year, or was it more about doing things as and when it felt good?
“You know, it’s always been about when it feels good. We’ve been writing a record for a while, and most of it was already written. But then we kinda took a break on it, and then it would be like, ‘Hey, let’s get together two days this week,’ instead of five or six. It just started getting more casual. Then we recorded really casually, and – like I said – we’re still in the middle of it: we still have all these things that we can’t do. We’re still trying to get string sections together, and our mixer is older and I know that they don’t want him to travel right now because of COVID, so even if we got it done right now, we couldn’t get it mixed. So we’re just not worrying about it, you know? It’s like, ‘When we can, we can.’ But right now, we can’t (laughs).”

You put out a band statement about not wanting to release an album until touring was back. Was that a unanimous decision, or were any of you of the mind to speed things up and get an album out while people are sat at home?
“No, no-one wants to put out the record if we can’t tour it. The reality is – and no-one wants to hear this – in this day and age, rock’n’roll just takes too long to make: you know, it’s going to be a three-year record to make. And if we put that record out and then we’re locked down for another year, as much as people don’t want to believe this, they are not going to give a shit about a record that came out a year prior when it’s time to tour. And so if it’s going to take us two or three years to write a record, we’re not going to put it out if we can’t go play it live. We know the anticipation won’t be there when the tours come around. You see it every day – if you look at iTunes or Spotify and see how quickly it all turns over, it’s just weekly onto the next thing and onto the next thing again. If you just imagine putting out a record in August, and then you’re not touring until next August, people don’t want to hear this but they’re not going to care; they’re going to be like, ‘What’s next?’ Once the Gojira record, or the new Metallica record, or the new Megadeth record comes out, they’re not going to care about what came out the year prior. Our whole thing is: if it’s going to take us three years to do a record, we’re going to make sure we can play it live and people are going to be excited about it.”

There have been some amazing albums this year that have likely been forgotten about quite quickly: as we’re all doing the same thing each day, you’re not necessarily absorbing everything fully, and then you just move on to the next thing.
“Totally. We have a lot of friends who have released records and they’re like, ‘Well, we want to get it to the fans because it’s a tough time,’ but you have to think about it in terms of: if the fans can’t see it live, and they can’t go out and interact in a way that feels important… it’s just a personal choice, I guess, as a band. There’s other reasons, but we just want to be excited about it, and we don’t want to be in quarantine and then a year later it’s like, ‘Hey, remember that old record? Let’s go play it!’”

You mentioned string sections that haven’t been done yet. Does that imply that things are going along the lines of The Stage, and there’s some quite grand material in the works?
“Well, we’ve had strings on every record, but the [new] record sounds nothing like The Stage – it’s a completely new direction, and it sounds nothing like anything we’ve done. That’s all I’ll say about it: it’s over the top, and it’s very eclectic and wild!”

Is there anything you wish you could have done more of this year?
“Not for me personally. I was coming off a vocal injury, so I was able to do everything that I need to do in terms of work, and having this extra year has actually been really beneficial. The only thing I feel bad for is just the kids, with no school, camps, no sports… that’s really what I care about. For me, I’m 39 years old, I’ve done a lot – I can chill at home for a year, I’m not worried about it!”

So was there no baking banana bread or learning new skills like that?
“No, no! Honestly, I was and I still am singing about six hours a day; I do two hours in the morning, two in the day and then two at night, so that’s a lot of singing. I’ve been really trying to hone in on making sure I don’t fall into old habits to protect my voice. That’s been important to me. And then everything else has just been a lot of podcasts, a lot of books – I’ve not been learning a new language or anything, but I probably should have… now you’re making me feel bad (laughs). At first when quarantine happened I was like, ‘I’m gonna do all this stuff and it’s going to be amazing!’ but after a couple of weeks it was like, ‘Nah, I’m just going to play video games and chill!’”

Who is your biggest hero of 2020?
“Well, I lost my biggest hero, who was Kobe, but I think LeBron James has been pretty cool; I like that he has been very socially active, and he’s really dug into his cause. And not only that but he won a championship for the Lakers! But more than that, on just a social level, he’s really put himself out there and voiced his side of what he believes in, and I think that’s been really cool. And, also, this is very vague, but I would say all the school teachers [are heroes, too] – my kids’ teachers have all switched over to Zoom, and are trying to teach kids and continuing to bring our youth up into something positive… I mean, they’re incredible, because I know it’s miserable for them.”

You voiced your beliefs this year in an op-ed piece about Black Lives Matter. What was that like for you?
“It was good. We were very antagonistic when we were coming up as a band. I’m really good friends with Fat Mike now and we always laugh about it, but we were like the anti-NOFX message – they would go out there and try to get kids to vote, and we’d be like, ‘Why are you trying to get 16-year-olds on Warped Tour to vote? Fuck this!’ We were just very antagonistic, and we realise that now. We still have people in the band that have differing opinions, but I couldn’t sit there and watch that all go down, especially when people think of us as like a right-wing band – we’re not, and that would drive me nuts under my skin, and at night I couldn’t sleep with that. So many of my friends and even family members are of different races, and I see how they get treated, and I just had to say something. I got permission from the band and said, ‘You know, I’ve got to write this, guys.’ And they were totally cool with it. You want to put your stake in the ground and be on the right side of history, and to me it was like: ‘We should care about this because we’re all humans.’ And that’s why I really wanted to put that out there. I think we lost a massive amount of Instagram followers that day, which was pretty funny to see how crazy the world is, right? Just by saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ people will cancel you, and that’s hilarious. But I thought it was interesting, and it was good to be what I feel is on the right side of history.”

Going into 2021 – and especially after the U.S. election – are you feeling hopeful about the future?
“I feel great! As a planet we have so much to work on, and there’s debates on all of this stuff but the reality is we have to work on everything together – from globalism to poverty to global warming. These are world problems that we have to work out. I’m happy that as a country we’re going to be there soon I hope, and we’ll see what happens. We all have to do our part, and in America it’s just so divided right now: you can’t even talk to anyone about anything. There’s a political divide that’s just insane, you know? Like, ‘Oh, you’re wearing a mask? You’re a sheep.’ ‘Oh, you’re doing this? You’re that.’ It’s crazy. It’s a difficult time, for sure, but hopefully we can pull together. I feel good – I’m a hopeful person, I guess!”

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