Dear Guitar Hero: Avenged Sevenfold
You guys seem to be living a crazy Mötley Crüe–style rock life. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen backstage? —Judah Spelmann
GATES [laughs] Well, we try to keep our personal lives to ourselves. Maybe in 10 years we’ll write a book. Everybody likes to talk about our partying, but I can guarantee we’re not shooting up heroin like Mötley Crüe. Sure, we have our own personal vices, but we just do our own thing and try to keep it private. But we always wake up at a certain time to prepare for the show, ’cause that’s the most important thing. Business comes first, but when that’s done, whatever happens, happens.
VENGEANCE Yeah, we love to have fun, but we don’t go out of our way to be psychotic. We’ve been friends for a long time and we were wild way before the band even started. There’s always crazy backstage stuff, but to be able to pinpoint one incident would be next to impossible, which might actually be a good thing! [laughs]
Synyster, how did attending the Musicians Institute impact you as a musician? Do you think you’d have been just as good a player without it? —Stephen Angus
GATES I went to Musicians Institute to study jazz. I spent six months there, and I’m a much more well-rounded player as a result. I initially set out to be a studio musician, like my father, so I went there to work on the shit I couldn’t do alone. I’ve always loved jazz, and it’s actually something I miss at this point in my life. But I didn’t learn metal there, so as far as Avenged Sevenfold goes, if I hadn’t gone to M.I. it have changed my life.
You guys have an amazing sound and chops. But I’m wondering: why do you hide your real names and wear eye makeup? —Evan Webb
GATES [laughs] It’s just what we do, brah!
VENGEANCE I think the most important thing to putting on a good show is to always mix things up. Sometimes we wear makeup; other times we don’t. The point is, you’ll never get the same Avenged show twice. I think it’s really important to be theatrical. I mean, look at Iron Maiden!
Earlier in your career, you guys used Les Pauls and SGs. What made you switch to Schecters? —Brien H.
GATES For me, Gibson is the best-playing guitar of all time. The only thing I’ve found that’s even comparable is my custom Schecter. Also, a Les Paul lacks a whammy bar and 24 frets, which I require. Besides, Gibson is a little late in the game. They just offered us an endorsement, but Schecter has been by our sides supporting us since day one.
Do you feel camaraderie or competition with other contemporary guitarists, like the guys in Lamb of God or Shadows Fall? —Ryan
GATES I’m really good friends with Johnny Donais of Shadows Fall. We’re both lead guys, so it’s funny when we sit down together to play guitar. [laughs] There’s no jam session. We just both start playing leads! [laughs] He’s an amazing guitarist, but we have different styles. Maybe five years ago I might have been more competitive, but these days I don’t think of myself as a competitive guitar player. I know what I do is different, and for what I do, I can play just as fast as the next guy.
VENGEANCE I feel nothing but camaraderie with those guys. There’s always competition when you’re in a band, but you wish everyone well. A little competition can also keep a band progressing. But as far as guitarists go, listening to the Shadows Fall guys or Zakk Wylde is very humbling. It makes me want to pick up my guitar and practice. I have such a long way to go to catch up to guitarists like that, but that’s also what keeps it fun and helps me become a better player.
You guys have a unique style of playing: crazy arpeggios, nonstop semitones, four notes on one string during a shred lick… Did you consciously set out to develop a new style? —FiL
GATES I don’t think we did. We just listen to different music all the time. Sometimes we listen to our metal forefathers, other times it’s contemporary stuff or even the production on some crazy rap record. We just take from everything.
VENGEANCE Anytime we write any style of solo, we want it to be different. We just take bits and pieces from our influences and try to make it our own.
What were your first tattoos, and how old were you when you got them? —Brad
GATES I was 15, and it was my name across my back. I heard there was a Crip called Nine who lived in Compton who gave underage kids tattoos. So me and a few of my white friends rolled into the Compton swap meet and got inked!
VENGEANCE My first tattoo was on the back of my leg. I was 16, I think. I remember driving with [singer] M. Shadows from Southern California to his tattoo artist in San Jose. I wanted a bird and a dagger, but I don’t actually know what he ended up drilling on my leg! But I do know it’s still one of the brightest tattoos I have.
Synyster, you seem to have a rather unusual picking technique. How and why did you develop it? —Ryan Voelker
GATES Unusual picking technique? Hmm…I think everybody’s different, and sure, maybe mine’s a little weird. Basically, I was self-taught for 10 years, until I went to the Musicians Institute. But by that time it was too little, too late. [laughs] They could teach me theory, but I was already playing too fast to really stop and change my picking technique.