M. Shadows sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about releasing “The Stage” as a surprise, the difficulties they ran into it with doing so, “The Stage” being more ambitious than “Hail to the King,” the album’s artificial-intelligence theme, the scary downsides of AI, Neil deGrasse Tyson making a cameo, working with Joe Barresi, revamping their tour production to be more of an event than a show and more.
Why suddenly release an album with no advance notice?
Well, man, a lot of it has to do with boredom [laughs]. Everyone else is dropping the breadcrumbs, having four or five singles before their record comes out. It completely takes away the mystique of the record; by the time it actually comes out, you’ve already done 50 interviews about what the record’s about and is going to sound like. It’s 2016; people’s attention spans are so short at this point, who has time for three months of lead-up?
You’ve got five guys over here who are very bored of that; so for us, it was about keeping the hype very short and sweet, and then executing on all levels. Here’s the record – we spent a long time on it, and it’s available for you now. And now we can all learn about the record together, after you hear it, instead of hearing all these things about it as we’re dribbling crumbs at you. We just said, “No BS this time – we’re just going to do everything that we want to do, from the live show to the merchandising, to how we present this thing and how we release it.”
The album’s songs revolve around the subject of artificial intelligence. What got you interested in that topic?
Someone sent me an article on AI that was written by Tim Urban on the website Wait but Why – that was kind of where I stuck my toes in the puddle, and I said, “OK, I’ve gotta learn about this!” I felt like this is one of those things that our generation is going to have to answer for, eventually, and I just wanted to educate myself on it. So I decided to read a lot of articles – I was going through a lot of Sam Harris stuff, and hearing some podcasts that he had done about artificial intelligence and what it could mean. I started seeing different opinions, from Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking. …
The more I read about, the deeper down this rabbit hole I got, I thought, “You know what? I really want to talk about this!” It’s something that’s going to be an issue in the future, for our kids and our kids’ kids; and if we have a voice that can be screamed from the top of a mountain, I wanted this to be one of those things where we can maybe educate our fans a little bit – or maybe inspire them to educate themselves. I talked to the other guys [in the band], and we all started talking and thinking about these big questions. We were like, “Man, this is the record! We’re going to put out a piece of art, and it has to be about this, because this is really speaking to us right now!”
What was it like working with producer Joe Barresi on the record?
We loved him. Everything that he brought to the table was very insightful; he was like, “Why would you ever tune your vocals? You can sing! Why would you put samples on the drums? Brooks can play!” And we were like, “Yeah! You’re right!” And so we went with his style, and I think it’s our style now. I love it – it’s raw and it’s crazy, and it’s real! There’s no drum samples on there, there’s no vocal tuning, there’s none of that stuff.
Will many of the songs from The Stage be featured in your upcoming tour?
Absolutely. We have been been building a stage based around this thing since July, or maybe June; we hired a company that has done stuff for Cirque du Soleil, and we’re trying to do things that we’ve never seen a band do. We’re going to try to get away from fire and blowing stuff up, and make a show that moves organically in and out of these ideas that we have for this record. We’re trying to take this album and turn it into our version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall – it’s an event, not just a show.
It sounds like you guys are really having a lot of fun with this.
Man, it’s been so great. Vocally and musically, we went “out” a lot on the record – if we came up with something that made us laugh, we put it on the record. We laughed the entire way through [the making of 2005’s] City of Evil, so I think that’s a good sign; it’s like, either people are going to love it or they’re going to hate it, but you’ve gotta put it out. I mean, all of my favorites are like that. Listen to that new Bowie record – it’s a brilliant record, but it’s so fucking out there, and that’s why it’s art! It’s so exciting to us to put out something like that and be completely, 100 percent satisfied with it. And then to do this whole secret thing, it’s really fun. We’re having a blast!