Just earlier I posted about a new interview with Synyster Gates in the recent issue of Sweden’s “Close-Up” magazine and now I’ve got the interview for you guys to read! A huge thank you goes out ot Helena E for taking the time out to translate the entire interview for Deathbat News to post!
Avenged Sevenfold´s drummer wrote a song called “Death.” Three days later he was dead. “Nightmare” was already planned to be a dark concept album, but not with this kind of support from reality. That the record right away became #1 on the American Billboard list is a weak comfort in this connection, but it shows that the band is doing the right thing with going on.
In December 28th 2009 Avenged Sevenfold´s drummer James Owen Sullivan – often called Jimmy or “The Rev” – was found dead in his home in Huntington Beach, California. It was stated that he died by natural causes, but toxic analyses later showed that his body contained the painkillers Oxycodone and Oxymorphone, the angst reducing preparations Diazepam, Nordiazepam and alcohol – a mixture similar to the one that killed the actor Heath Ledger in January 2008.
Jimmy was 28 years old and never got to play drums on “Nightmare,” the album that would become his greatest album as a songwriter. Three days earlier he presented a piano driven song with the working title “Death” (renamed to “Fiction” on the album). The verses can’t be interpreted other than a aware farewell: “Gave you all I had to give/Found a place for me to rest my head/While I may be hard to find/Heard there’s peace just on the other side.”
Guitarist Brian “Synyster Gates” Haner Jr heard a dramatic and emotional ballad instead of a foreboding farewell.
“Here’s the last song for the album, now we don’t need any more, that was how Jimmy presented “Fiction.” I only heard a great song that complemented the other we had written. The record was pretty much finished, since we had worked with the material for eight or nine months and were going in to the studio with Mike Elizondo (Dr Dre, 50 Cent, Alanis Morisette) the second week of January. The whole time the idea was that we would do a dark concept album like Pink Floyd´s “The Wall” or Queensrÿches “Operation: Mindcrime,” something really heavy and magnificent that would take a long time to melt but still be accessible.
It felt like the missing piece of the puzzle was in place when we had “Fiction.” The unusual thing with the song was that we normally don’t have finished songs in the demo stage, just ideas of certain melodies or maybe a few phrases. But this time Jimmy had a finished lyric. Three days later he was dead. It was creepy.”
Brian got the announcement of Jimmy´s death from the bands manager. It took several days before anybody thought what the drummer’s death meant for the band.
“We gathered at M. Shadows house with our girlfriends and wives filled with grief. Jimmy really wasn’t a low type, he was always joking and having fun. It was hard to feel down in his company. Maybe he hid a deeper pain underneath the surface, who knows? I’d rather not speculate in that. We lost a brother whom we had known a very long time.
It was Jimmy who called me when I was studying jazz at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood and wondered if I’d like to play with Avenged Sevenfold. My plan was actually to become a full-time studio musician, but after half a year of studies, I’d received exactly zero gigs. So there never was a doubt to drop of the education. I can’t imagine how my life would have been without Jimmy.”
When the chock had decreased the remaining four – in addition to the front man and lead guitarist, the rhythm guitarist “Zacky Vengeance” and the bassist “Johnny Christ” – started to recall that there was an almost finished album in their hearts and hard disks. Was it a betrayal to go on without the drummer, or was it on the contrary what he would have wanted? After much doubt they decided that all the work wouldn’t be in vain.”
“The first week we weren’t far from breaking up,” remembers the guitarist. “It wasn’t possible to imagine being in a band without Jimmy. But after a while each one of us realized that if it was one of us who’d died we’d like the others to go further with our legacy. His family also wanted us to keep playing, which made it all easier. We got thousands of letters and e-mails from fans thanking us for the music and asked us to keep playing. When the whole world is turned up and down this kind of support means very much. Everyone who only knew him through our songs needed to hear the last of what he created, so to resume the work with the record and finish what we started became like grief therapy.
Roughly I’d like to say that Jimmy wrote at least half of the material on the record. That joke about the drummers last words before he gets fired from the band –“uh, guys, can’t we play a song that I’ve written?” – is as far from Avenged Sevenfold as you can go. He was always extremely pushing in the writing of the songs since he also could play guitar and piano, he was like a one man orchestra. On “Nightmare” the songs “Save me,” “Fiction” and “Welcome To The family” is completely his songs, he’s been working a lot with the other songs as well. If someone came up with a melody he would give it an extra twist, when it felt like you were stuck in a song he always had a keyboard or guitar melody which would take it further. Unfortunately we only had bad recordings of his drum sessions, and with electronic drum pads that didn’t sound any good.”
The members were all agreed on who would be the best for making the recording of the drums in the studio justice: the drummer of Dream Theater Mike Portnoy, one of Jimm’´s model’s a long side with Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Fantômas), Vinnie Paul (HellYeah, ex-Pantera, Damageplan) and Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, Korn).
“He said yes without a doubt and took on all the recordings very respectably. That a drummer as respected takes his time to play with us shows what a capable musician Jimmy was, something I think many might have missed.”
He wonders in an update from your homepage if he could have a cool name like the others in the band has (but with a smiley after, but still).
“Well, we haven’t come up with anything yet. If anything we should call him sunbeam, because he’s really made the dark clouds to falter, if not disappear completely.”
Maybe has the friend’s passing strengthened the closeness and friendship among the families around him. The sentimental power ballad “So Far Away” has Brian’s father Brian Haner Sr guest playing, who’s music career started with a summer substitute with Sam Sham and the Pharaos (the group behind “The Hives” favorite song “Wooly Bully”) and since then continued with session plays for Frank Zappa, comedy shows and novel writing.
“We’ve always had a close relationship, but after what happened it felt really good to take care of what you have together,” says the son. “He has always showed me how I should play guitar, but now it was my turn to direct him a little bit. My dad based my music taste with Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, The Beatles – and Pantera, believe it or not! I was eleven or twelve when he came home with “Cowboys From Hell” and thought that I should listen and learn. It was way too crazy and tough for me to even be able to listen to it, less play the songs. I could barely nail a Jimmy Page-solo and became all dizzy by listening to Dimebag. When I returned to the album a few years later I was more ready. I’m very grateful to have such a cool dad.”
“Nightmare” was released in the United States July 27th and sold 162.500 records the first week, sufficient to push down Eminem’s “Recovery” from the Billboard list’s first place (only to be pushed down by Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” a week later). You can of course be cynic and speculate whether an artist´s death affects the public´s opinion about the work – note for example that earlier mentioned Heath Ledger got a late Oscar for his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” which in this moment of writing is number eleven on IMDB’s toplist – but you can also see it as a sort of revenge in the context.
“I see it like a receipt that we have made an album worthy of Jimmy´s memory,” ponders the guitarist with a little afterthought. “To be happy about the record selling isn’t that important right now, even though we’re of course grateful for that so many fans bought the album. By the way, it does feel good that a metalband finally could grab the number one spot, if only for a week. I think the last time it happened was when Slipknot released their latest record. Quite incredible that we’ve come this far. Ten years ago we were crawling in the gutter. The biggest dream was to play at Vans Warped Tour.”
How did Jimmy relate to your success?
“The more people we reached out to the more daring as a songwriter he became. When we signed for Warner before “City Of Evil,” which many sees as our breakthrough album, he released all tensions as a compositor and we didn’t doubt to follow. We did all we could to scare the suit people, with long, complex and a lot of untrendy influences. It was important to show how independent we were when we were on a major company. Then “Bat Country” happened to become a hit, and everything went from there. “Nightmare” feels like a natural continuation of “City Of Evil,” with the same crazy feeling of adventure. The listener never knows what´s waiting behind the corner.”
When you’re reading this Avenged Sevenfold is in the middle of a tour through North America. Later this fall they’ll head over to Brazil, a few dates in United Kingdom are also booked. So far Mike Portnoy will be in the drums. “I wish that I could stay permanently, but in 2011 Dream Theater has to start recording a new album/…/You’ll get to see me as the guy who gets the band up in the saddle again in the waiting for when the time is ready for a serious drummer relation”, he writes on the groups homepage.
“I have no idea what we’ll do when Mike leaves us at the end of this year,” Brian sighs. “We haven’t planned that far and it’s not anything I’d like to think about right now. To stand on the stage without Jimmy is hard enough.”
Has he sent you a sign, that you´re doing the right thing with going on?
“No, maybe not personally. But it sure feels like everything we have done since his passing has been fortunate. “Nightmare” is called so by a reason, but it sure feels like the sun is peeking through the clouds.”