"You're not cooler than anyone": Avenged Sevenfold write letters to their younger selves

Avenged Sevenfold's M. Shadows, Synyster Gates, Zacky Vengeance and Johnny Christ share some advice with their younger selves

"You're not cooler than anyone": Avenged Sevenfold write letters to their younger selves
James MacKinnon
Header Photo:
Jonathan Weiner

There's been a lot of life lived and a life tragically lost across Avenged Sevenfold's two-decade career, alongside huge global success. Here, the band pause to reflect and address their younger selves, to impart some advice about the long journey ahead…

M. Shadows

If you’re reading this, then I know you’d probably tell me to fuck off and do the opposite of what I say. Life’s a crazy journey and you can never predict it, but everything happens for a reason. To get to this point, there’s a lot you’ll learn along the way.

The most important thing is to respect your bandmates. The sooner you learn that these are all human beings with individual likes and dislikes, the sooner you’ll be better off; on the road, in the studio and when you’re writing music together. Even though you’re good friends, people rub each other the wrong way the longer they’re together, so take a back seat every once in a while. The band will become a democracy and that’s healthy, but it’s something you’ll need to adapt to as a human. Let people be themselves. Don’t get upset about little things.

At the moment, I know your main ambition is to get out on the road because that means you’re not at your parents’ house. Get any opening slot you can. Living in a van through Warped Tour is going to be cool. But through all that, keep playing music for the right reasons. It’s not to get a nicer house or have money, it’s because it’s all you want to do. Good things will happen for you.

Things are more simple for you now, so please enjoy it. Enjoy rolling into a room with minimal crew and getting onstage to play music for passionate fans. Selling out 400-cap rooms brings the same feeling as playing sold-out shows at The O2, and you should be just as proud of both. Remember that your shit does stink. You’re not cooler than anyone because you’re in a band.

As you get older, it’s not all going to be easy living. When you have kids, your focus and attention will be on them. Nothing is more heartbreaking than being on the road for weeks, and they can’t come with you because they’re at school. That’s the career you chose, but know that it gets a lot tougher on the heart. Also, having your girlfriend as your tour manager cannot last, because she is not going to want to live on the road selling your merch for years!

Try everything while you’re young. That’s the time to do it. As human beings, we like to experiment and I highly advise that you do, but try to make sure a problem doesn’t arise. Enjoy being in a van with your best friends to the fullest, but at some point you have to grow up, mature and be a part of society in a respectable way.

Keep that chip on your shoulder. You’re always going to be sceptical of people in the industry, but you need to be even more sceptical than you thought you needed to be. A lot of them aren’t musicians and all they care about is the bottom line. Be cognisant of the fact that doesn’t necessarily mean they have good ideas for you, artistically. You need strong personalities in the band. Always be true to your vision, no matter how many people get mad at you about it. Remember you’re the one that has to put your head on the pillow at night and be proud of what you do. You have to man up and take on the fights you have to for your art.

Lastly, don’t change a thing. Write the music you want to write, and don’t take success for granted. Bands come and go, but not every band can continue to grow. Keep your head on your shoulders, continue to write what’s in your heart and people will connect with it.

Synyster Gates

First of all, don’t have any regrets about anything. There’s nothing I can say to you that would expedite the successes that we’ve enjoyed as a band. However, there is a whole host of stuff you can do to help yourself be a better band member.

Get a computer now and be more active on the internet. I know what you’re thinking: you see people in bands with personal computers and say, ‘Ugh, that’s not the real world. Who needs that? Come have a drink!’ But there is a whole world of guitar on there you’re missing out on, and a lot of cool stuff you could be educating yourself on: from politics to philosophy, and who knows what.

Speak your mind. Don’t put things off or procrastinate, just because you don’t want to deal with something. You’ll only end up getting super-stressed.

Also, don’t be a snob when it comes to the business aspect of the band. It sounds so sell-out and uncool when you come from a fucking big punk rock background, but when you start something like this and are booking shows, you need to realise that it is a business. The faster you adopt that mindset, the better off you will be, because it’s absolutely fucking awesome to be involved in that side of things. It supplements your creativity and you can do stuff philanthropically through it, which is the stuff that’s going to feel the best.

When you do a meet and greet for a kid who has a disability, remember that you’ve done something with your career that culminates in that day for that person. To be able to pay your own money to fly someone out like that, or figure out cool ways to raise money to fight cancer – that’s absolutely incredible, but you don’t get that without working on your craft as a businessman. It’s all business, but it’s how you choose to do it that will determine if it’s a greedy venture or world-changing.

Lastly, know when to put the whiskey bottle down. Enjoy the partying and excess, sure, but start working on a bit more moderation now. You could definitely use a five-year head-start on that and, trust me, you pay for it in your 30s a lot more!

Zacky Vengeance

Do everything exactly how you’re doing it. You have a passion for music that is unrivalled, because it comes from a place of being starry-eyed and ambitious. That’s where the magic comes from. When you finish Waking The Fallen, buy a boombox and listen to it in your room. You will feel like how Metallica must have felt the first time they heard Master Of Puppets, because it will be so far beyond anything you thought you were capable of doing. And because you wrote it in M.’s parents’ garage, it will be even more special. But prepare for the road ahead, because you’re going to deal with ups and downs like you’ve never experienced before.

There are many forks in that road and you will have to make tough decisions. Always give every ounce of yourself to those that you love and care about, because you don’t know when they might not be around anymore. Every day is a rad opportunity to put a smile on their faces. If it wasn’t for the fans, you wouldn’t be able to live your dreams. If it wasn’t for family, you wouldn’t have the support you need. And if it wasn’t for friends, you would have nothing. Cherish every moment and never take them for granted.

Always be proud of your punk rock roots and where you come from. Be happy to butt heads with people who don’t think you play well enough. You’ll become one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, but if you doubt yourself, then the albums you make won’t be as awesome as they will be. Always believe in yourself and tell people who don’t to fuck off. You have to approach life fearlessly, no matter what.

The thing that will make your band so special is your ability to leave your egos, and throw pride out of the window when it comes to doing what’s best for Avenged Sevenfold. That means giving in. It will be hard, because every single person is so passionate and they’re all unique people. But at the end of the day you all share the same goal. It’s about the entire family: your band, your crew, your fans. Don’t ever do anything to change that.

And always, always make sure you give everything you have to your fans. There will come a time in your mid-20s, when you first start getting successful, that you will get a little cocky and arrogant. It will be really dumb, because you never know what someone else is going through and how much you might mean to them. You need to realise that success gives you an opportunity to be good to the people who really need it the most. When you hear somebody tell you the band has helped them through a rough time, or led to meeting their future spouse, or that one of our songs was played at their best friend’s funeral, it means so much. So when you’re tired, cranky or hungover, don’t ever overlook that, because that’s the greatest gift success will ever bring.

As long as you can live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself, make the music you love and perform it how you want to, then you’re always going to be happy.

Johnny Christ

You’ve just quit high school to join the band, which seems like a no-brainer. You’re not thinking about the consequences. You can only see the upsides, because you’ve got so much passion to be a bass player in a band. You made the right choice and it will all work out – you got pretty lucky!

The first time you get onstage with the band will be in Tucson, Arizona. Try not to fuck up so much! That show will be rough and maybe you should be a little more prepared than you think you need to be. Spend money on a good bass, because you will break strings every night, and that’s pretty hard to do on a bass. So don’t worry about going into debt and spend that money sooner. In the van days, you will often end up being the driver for the night, so stay awake. There will be a few times it gets hairy. That being said, get as much sleep as you can now, because when you’re in your 30s and you have a son… good luck!

Really try to discipline yourself now. This will be your craft for the rest of your life, so don’t take it for granted. You’ve really got to work at it and enjoy the process of learning. When you get into a studio for the first time to make Waking The Fallen, you will be way out of your element and you won’t fully grasp what it means to record an album right away. But it will be a great experience and through it you will learn a lot. So, enjoy the process. You’re going to feel in your head and in your heart that it’s not quite there yet, but don’t worry. You will get there in the end.

Savour the moments when you’re on Warped Tour, walking around in the sun handing out demos to people. You may be taking it upon yourselves to put the band out there, but you’re really just playing with house money and the responsibilities aren’t so high yet. Enjoy that time at ground level, and as things get bigger, try to work on keeping yourself in the moment. Don’t let it get away from you. Oh, and be on guard for the pranks that the band will pull on you as part of your initiation process! Especially watch out for buckets of water…

Just keep on doing what you’re doing and it will all work out fine. You will love these guys whose garage door you used to knock on just to watch them rehearse, and you’re going to love being a part of it. Most of all, just enjoy the ride and don’t take anything for granted. It’s going to be rough sometimes, but in the end it’s all worth it, I promise.

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