An Interview with Brandon Saller of Atreyu
The year is 1998… The internet, which is beginning to become commonplace in American households, is beginning to change the landscape of music. Up until this point, music was listened to primarily on full length albums or singles played on the radio and exchanged through trading cassettes with friends. Compilation CD’s and traveling festival-style shows like Warped Tour and Lollapalooza were just emerging as the dominant method of music fans having the chance to check out bands and performers from different genres. In short, depending on where you lived it was a lot harder to hear music outside of the popular styles and a hell of a lot harder to casually listen to the more fringe genres and performers without putting a lot more effort into it.
Along comes the internet, and the dinosaurs like Stevie Nicks talking about how artists can’t make a living anymore. But this medium also has a flipside; bands born in suburban garages that may not have had access to big time record labels and A&R reps are actually able to get their music out on a wider scale, at least if you were willing to wait several minutes for your AOL dialup connection to eventually download a full 3-minute long song.
And while the excesses of bloated artist-exploiting record contracts started to crack, a band called Atreyu made up of high school friends was releasing their first recordings on underground record labels.
“When we first started, our songs go a million different directions and have no rhyme or reason,” Brandon Saller, Atreyu’s drummer and vocalist explains. “That time was just sorta pure feelings and emotions put onto tape.”
Made up of four – eventually becoming five – members, the band’s early releases expanded beyond their hardcore influences and began to mix metalcore and screaming emotion.
“We haven’t belonged to one genre in so long. We’ve always just written music that we loved and I think when you do something that is kinda pure and has no agenda other than that we love to make it, it connects with people.”
While the early 2000’s brought the increasing ubiquity of the internet and its spread of music, allowing metalcore to infiltrate bedrooms and car CD players across the country that had previously been a landscape of classic rock at its most aggressive, or maybe, if you were lucky, a radio station that would incorporate harder rock bands. With a large independent record label behind them landing Atreyu on movie soundtracks and Headbanger’s Ball episodes, Saller describes how the band could tour and play with bands all over the hard rock spectrum, “We can do metal tours with bands like Slipknot or Taking Back Sunday. We’ve done Ozzfest and Warped Tour. We’ve done tours with Linkin Park and shows with Korn and Rob Zombie. There’s always gonna be a heavy element when we’re writing music, and there’s always gonna be a rock element.”
At a time of upheaval in traditional foundations for the conventional music industry, Atreyu’s stature began to loom larger and larger, emerging from the underground scene into large festival stages and the Madden NFL video game soundtrack, which may have cemented their rise from Orange County, California backyard parties to tastes of a worldwide audience of melodic metal and rock lovers.
The musical landscape appears a lot different these days than it did 20 years ago when it still seemed like the internet may just be a passing fad. I mention this because Atreyu is currently embaked on their 20th anniversary tour, which will bring the band through Reno’s Cargo Concert Hall on Saturday, November 16th. It was by coincidence that they formed at a time when the face of music and how people in small rural towns were able to access music that spoke to them, rather than the same major label bands that held a near monopoly on the culture for so long. And while the band formed while its members were all in high school, today they find themselves at a far different place…
“It’s an interesting way to grow up,” Saller recalls. “I turned 18 on one of our first tours. As the years go on, a lot of the older lyrics were a lot darker, a lot more about relationships and heartbreak and things like that. And then we grew up, we got married. On the new record we have songs about being fathers, having children. I think it’s just a representation of where our lives are at.”
Imagine standing at a precipice looking down the barrel of what your life will be for the next two decades.
“When the band went on hiatus, we had only really known ours ourselves as humans in this band, so the break gave us the opportunity to explore what else we were made of and to see what we could do outside of the spotlight.”
Saller and the other members of the band spent three years on other projects, before reuniting to put out music once again as Atreyu. “I think it was really good to make those realizations about ourselves and create some individual identity apart from the band. When we came back to the band, it was like, ‘we know what this is, but it doesn’t define us’.”
These days Atreyu are playing again, performing at large rock festivals and headlining their own national tour, supporting their most recent album, 2018’s In Our Wake, while performing a setlist voted on by their fans and consisting of some deeper tracks spanning their 20 years as a band that haven’t been played at all on previous tours.
“I think as a band we’re always wanting to try something different. We’re always wanting to expand the parameters of what people might think of our band.”
With two decades of growth and hindsight, Saller can speak candidly about where his life – now having spent more years as an active member of Atreyu than not, which is an accomplishment given that the infrastructure necessary for a metalcore band to even exist for that length of time, let alone succeed was something that was created on the fly around the time the band initially was forming.
“It’s a beautiful thing. We’re very fortunate. We’ve always prided ourselves on our music being a snapshot of where we’re at in that moment. We’ve had a longer run at this as a career than most people have in normal careers. The fact that we get to be here and play these songs, and our fans are singing along to all these deep cuts, it feels phenomenal, you know?”
On the verge of entering a new decade, where the old rules don’t apply and artists need to remain a step ahead if they want to ride the wave rather than have it wash them aside, Atreyu is 20 years deep and still releasing brutally creative music while the major label music industry slides further into shambles. Sometimes there’s a beauty in the earthquakes…
Keep up with Atreyu at atreyuofficial.com
or head to KWNKradio.org to listen to Nocturnal Transmissions and other freeform programming for the Reno area.