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Atreyu Frontman Alex Varkatzas: “We Invented Metalcore. That May Sound Cocky But I Don’t Care.”

Brii Jamieson
Brii Jamieson 15 October 2018 at 13.40

"I’ve been doing this since I was literally 12 years old. So throughout that I still don’t know where we fit, and I think our fans know that."

Atreyu's brand new album 'In Our Wake' was released on Friday, and it marks what frontman Alex Varkatzas considers their most collaborative body of work to date. 

Rock Sound caught up with Alex to talk through the new era of Atreyu, and what the state of the scene in 2018.

HOW DID THE ‘IN OUR WAKE’ ERA KICK OFF FOR YOU?
Says Alex: "Without getting too into it, at the end of the last album cycle we fired our old management. That’s not the reason we ended the cycle though. The cycle ended and we just looked and evaluated everything that was going on with our band and felt it was right to part ways. We then started thinking about what the next record was going to actually sound like. We took a little time and then we just went into it. We did half of the record in summer of last year and the other half in the winter. We didn’t make any social posts about it or anything, we just into writing."

WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU GO BACK TO JOHN FELDMANN FOR PRODUCTION DUTIES?
"That was done on purpose. John really brought a lot of fresh ideas and really shook us up back on ‘Lead Sails, Paper Anchor’. We really wanted to be shaken up again. ‘Long Live’ was a rad record and Fred who did it for us was awesome, but he really left us to our devices. We were doing our own thing really hard on ‘Long Live’ almost individually. I would write the lyrics alone and everyone else would already have songs written. It wasn’t as collaborative. On this record, every scrap of every song is very much a collaborative effort between all of us, even the lyrics. For the first time ever on any Atreyu record, we really let go of the reins."

WHAT WAS IT THAT FELT DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND?
"This is going to sound weird but I feel like I brought more to the table this time around. I think on ‘Lead Sails’ we were a part of John’s process. He showed us his ways and we were like ‘oh shit this is the proper way to write a song’. Then we had ‘Congregation Of The Damned’ and ‘Long Live’ to play with on our own with it. To then come back to him again, you notice that he has changed his process a little bit too. So it was really cool to come and bring things to the table saying ‘I know where you’re going with this but how about this’. In Atreyu, John is the only person who has ever written with our band. We could do it without him, but it’s much more fun with him. We sat down and he said ‘if you guys work with me I’m going to make you uncomfortable and try uncomfortable things’."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO PUSH YOURSELF IN THAT WAY?
"I think we thrive when we are uncomfortable. What I’ve learned from training in martial arts is if you stay doing the things that you like and the things that you’re good at you don’t work on the things that are more challenging and that are where the growth lies. On ‘Long Live’ without realising it, we weren’t challenging ourselves. It was like not fucking for four years and then going ‘ARGGGGGGH’. Every song was just like bam bam bam bam bam. And I love it. Artistically it’s rad. But if I was thinking of that album in terms of colour it was grey and black. This record would be like the fucking Northern Lights with explosions and fireworks. There is so much more going on and that’s on purpose."

DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE AN ALBUM LIKE THIS? HAS IT TURNED OUT THE WAY THAT YOU WANTED IT TO?
"I think it turned out even better. For me as a vocalist, this album exists to challenge myself. On ‘Long Live’ I said that I wasn’t going to sing. I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t go back and change that record at all. My favourite vocalists right now though as dudes who do and try a myriad of things. So for me I was thinking how can I change my instrument to suit each song? Not that I’m turning my back on screaming my lungs out, but we’ve already heard that. I’ve been focused on me a lot but Brandon’s voice is fucking insane on this record too. Almost every song on this record I have a slightly different vibe. We just wanted to push the envelope and it either comes out rad or it doesn’t and I know it came out rad. When you’re listening to Atreyu you’re opening up a different bag of tricks every time, and that’s exactly what you should want."

WHO DO YOU FEEL ATREYU ACTUALLY ARE IN 2018? WHAT DO YOU FEEL THAT REPRESENT WITHIN THE SCENE IN THE MODERN DAY?
"You know I don’t know where we fit in any scene and I don’t think that any scene knows where we fit. I think that’s just part of us. This is going to sound a little cocky but I’m a singer in a band. I don’t think we fit into any genre. I think we are hard to pin down. When we first started it was a little easier. We were a metallic hardcore band with singing parts. There wasn’t any else like that when we were doing it. People get confused and say ‘you’re a metalcore band’, but we invented metalcore. That may sound cocky but I don’t care. We pre-date Poison The Well and Killswitch Engage and all those bands. I’ve been doing this since I was literally 12 years old. So throughout that I still don’t know where we fit, and I think our fans know that. This is the place to be you. This is our driving force and heartbeat. This is the place we go to express ourselves. I think our fan base and the people who like our band are like that too. They like music and we play music."

IT’S ALMOST AS IF ALL THESE YEARS OF DOING WHAT YOU WANTED HAS GIVEN YOU MORE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPRESS YOURSELF NOW.
"I feel like we took our gamble earlier than most bands. ‘A Death grip On Yesterday’ sounds different to ‘The Curse’. ‘Lead Sails’ sounds different to ‘Death grip’. I think we have already had backlash and positive responses to our sound, so you can’t say that the band has changed its sound now. This is just our sound. People live way too in the moment. When a band drops a new album they believe that it’s everything that the band is now. Yet I have never seen a band go out on tour and just play the new album in full. They play a mix because that’s what you want. You don’t go to an art gallery and an artist has displayed just one picture. It’s all different sizes, styles, and colours. It’s all different representations of art. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to give you the same brush stroke on the same canvas on the same frame over and over, year after year. Life changes and people change and the experience that we are all going through changes, and this is our way of emoting that."

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU FEEL ‘IN OUR WAKE’ ACTUALLY REPRESENTS AS AN ACTUAL IDEA?
"The first sessions when we were recording this album was around the time of Chris Cornell’s death. Then a month later there was Chester Bennington’s death. It was an unfortunate coincidence that these events took place around the time that we were focused and writing the record. With our limited interactions and connections to the bands, it was all pretty crazy. It really got us thinking about legacy and what we leave behind. I think that became a big vibe within this record. For me, no matter what song I was writing those two dudes were in the back of my head. It’s like those guy were our idols and if they would have let us carry their burden, even just for a minute, we would. I think other people can that for other people. It doesn’t have to be a famous person. It can just be someone in your life who may be struggling. That’s what built this record."

I GUESS IT’S A CASE OF USING YOUR POSITION AND YOU LEGACY TO LET PEOPLE KNOW THAT THEY AREN’T ALONE IN THESE SITUATIONS. IT’S ABOUT EMBRACING THAT AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.
"Yeah. I mean I’m a nobody. I have 4000 followers on Instagram. But in terms of that burden, I look at this picture we took when we were on tour with Linkin Park and Chris Cornell when he had a solo record out. It’s of me, Chester, Chris, Mike Shinoda and Busta Rhymes. It kind of breaks my heart. I’ve dealt with my own issues and suicidal thoughts and my own issues. Yet ever since those events, my life has changed in a positive way. I now want to be that change and help people without having to deal with that loss. We are all in this. We have all felt the call. Some people go and some people stay but we are all still fighting together. That’s my legacy. That’s what I want to do."

WHAT DO YOU WANT THIS ERA OF THE BAND TO BE ULTIMATELY REMEMBERED FOR?
"I want this album to almost be seen as the restart of our band. I feel like there was a lot of bullshit behind the scenes of ‘Long Live’. There was a lot of fucked up shit, but it’s all gone now. Now we can focus on this band and give it what we are supposed to. This is our calling. This is what we do."

Listen to Atreyu's brand new album 'In Our Wake' below:

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