October 30, 2018 Interview – Dan Jacobs of Atreyu
Their influence is immeasurable and their catalogue of music is exceptional. With nearly twenty years under their collective belt, Atreyu got their start back in 1999, on the Orange County, California Metalcore scene. They kicked off their career in 2002 with their debut, Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, and went on to release five more albums over the next thirteen years – ranging from 2004’s break-out hit The Curse, to 2007’s pivotal shift Lead Sails, Paper Anchor, to 2015’s Long Live. Each successive album only served to strengthen the band’s reputation for their stellar blend of heavy-hitting Rock/Metal and deliciously soaring melodies.
With their brand new offering, In Our Wake, the band revisit some of the magic that made Lead Sails such a key moment in the evolution of their career but, as always, continue to explore new ground. Here, they tackle everything from Rap/Rock to a power ballad of the most epic proportions, and do it all with that magnificent finesse that makes Atreyu so very special.
Taking a moment out of his busy schedule, Guitarist Dan Jacobs chatted about all things In Our Wake, from working with Producer John Feldmann again to how Atreyu approaches songwriting, to the bridge created by performing cover songs live and so very much more.
CrypticRock.com – Atreyu has been a band for twenty years now. What has been some highs and lows of your career, thus far?
Dan Jacobs – For me, one of the biggest highs was when we released our second album, and for the first time our career really started to shift in an upward direction – bigger fan-base, people treating us differently, just being noticed more. In particular, we did a signing at a Virgin Records Store – I mean, Virgin Records Stores don’t even exist anymore.
At the time, for a band like us, being as aggressive as we were, to do a signing at a Virgin Records Store seemed like the most serious thing ever. We showed up and there was literally a line a mile-long wrapped around the place. We thought we were going to have to run for our lives! It was a pretty incredible feeling, to feel your life just shift in an interesting direction.
Lows are just taking breaks, just getting away from doing this and then even the waves and shifts of the music industry changing. When you’re an artist, you have to ride waves as far as people caring or not caring about your music; you can be the biggest thing one day then not the next, then big again. It’s a constant ride that’s stimulating in some strange way. Some of those can be a little downer sometimes, can mess with your head a little bit, but in the big picture it’s all good.
CrypticRock.com – The band has been around long enough that there has definitely been many hills and valleys throughout your career.
Dan Jacobs – We started doing this when we were teenagers and we’re all in our thirties now, so yeah, it’s all we know.
CrypticRock.com – Let’s talk the new album, In Our Wake. It was mentioned in the press info for the album that you chose to work with John Feldmann in hopes of recapturing some of the magic from 2007’s Lead Sails, Paper Anchor. Do you feel that was accomplished?
Dan Jacobs – Yeah! I would say recapture but on another, higher level. John’s the only producer that we’ve ever worked with twice. We’ve kind of checked to see if the grass is greener on the other side with everything we work with; we keep changing it up just to see, you know? We decided with this one, basically, now that we’ve had time to look back on everything, the album that really stood out the most – even though we got a lot of flack for it when it came out – the one that stood the test of time more than anything was Lead Sails, Paper Anchor. For streams on the internet, that one absolutely crushes any other album; it streams more than all the other albums combined. So, we were like, “Okay, obviously there’s something there. Let’s maybe go down that direction again.”
I think John really pushes us creatively, which is something that we really enjoy. It’s really easy to get in a safe spot and write songs a certain way that works for us, or any artist for that matter. John really has this energy about him, this drive, just a different way of going about things – he gets stuff out of us – and quickly too; the writing process is very quick. It’s interesting how sometimes the songs that come together the fastest end up being the biggest masterpieces, and the ones you spend all this time on end up being a b-side or whatever.
CrypticRock.com – Did you do anything consciously different or try anything different in the studio this time around?
Dan Jacobs – A little bit. We’ll always try to do something different. In this case, part of it was the writing process. We’ll bring riffs and stuff, stuff that we thought was kind of done-ish or whatever. John was like, “That’s cool and all, but let’s come up with something fresh right now. Let’s just be in the moment.” We said, “Alright!” We wrote the majority of the album like that, which creates its own kind of vibe.
Even a song like “The Time Is Now,” for instance, we took a different approach. “The Time Is Now” is a song that we wanted to write, because we wanted to have this anthem, arena-sounding – something that you could play at football games, TV commercials – this big-sounding, Rock anthem thing. We consciously tried to write a song like that, as well as consciously trying to write a ballad and different things to make sure that our album, collectively, is well-rounded and not like you’re listening to the same twelve songs over and over again.
CrypticRock.com – It’s a great, very well-rounded album, so you definitely achieved that. Also, the album delves into some very – not necessarily sociopolitical but important topics; several of the songs emphasize the importance of time as a resource, and there’s a definite awareness to the lyrics which is new for the band. What inspired this?
Dan Jacobs – A lot of it came from normal life experiences and stuff. We’ve been writing songs for twenty years and now we have twenty extra years’ experience to think about things and look at life in different ways, digest it different ways. One of the things that really stimulated a lot of stuff on this album – including the name and the title track – was actually something our bass-player Porter brought up: he really liked the idea of this thing “In Our Wake,” like the wake of a boat but with people.
When you go through life, everybody you interact with – whether it be for two seconds at a subway stop or somebody you spend years of your life with or anything between – you leave a wake behind you whether you realize it or not with these people; you interact with them and you can leave something positive with them or you can leave something negative. They’ll take that, and they will go through the rest of their life with it: it can affect them for a second positively or negatively or it can really change the course of their life. There’s something very powerful about that! There’s a lot of lyrics that stemmed off that idea and concept.
CrypticRock.com – It’s a wonderful concept and idea, and the video that you did for “In Our Wake” is phenomenal.
Dan Jacobs – Oh, thank you. Our bass-player Porter did that with Sean Stiegemeier. Sean’s done a lot of our videos over the years: he literally did our video for “Lip Gloss And Black,” it was the first music video he ever did in his life and he’s a famous videographer now. Between him and Porter, the photos they take are so powerful and dramatic. They travel all over the world to these really remote places to get these incredible shots, then compile them and throw them onto our music video. It’s insane! Every photo you see was taken by these guys.
CrypticRock.com – Porter is a phenomenally-talented photographer.
Dan Jacobs – He’s incredible, yeah! I don’t know if you follow him on his social media page, but he has his own style and he has an incredible eye for it. He designs a lot of our stuff. Actually, the artwork for this new album was designed by the guy who did Lead Sails, Paper Anchor, but a lot of the fonts and the whole layout, the way it’s all laid out and put together, was all done by Porter.
That’s one of the great things about being in this industry, is getting to rub shoulders with so many talented people. Some of our music is the way it is because of bands we toured with who inspired us along the way. For example, years ago we were on tour with – one of our first headlining tours, we were on tour with God Forbid, Underøath, and Darkest Hour. God Forbid has Doc Coyle in the band and his brother. Doc’s now in that band Bad Wolves, and they had the hit with “Zombie,” The Cranberries’ cover.
Anyway, I remember being backstage with them on the tour – I was watching them warm up, I was watching Dallas and Doc warm up. They were playing this riff, kind of a sweeping pattern, and I was like, “That’s really cool! What is that?” They showed me how to do it and I took that concept, and that’s the intro to “Bleeding Mascara” on our album The Curse. It kind of inspired this whole style of guitar-playing that I’ve added to my arsenal, and it was influenced just by being on tour with super-talented people. You either chat ‘em up or say, “Hey, man! What are you doing there? Do you mind showing me real quick?”
CrypticRock.com – It’s amazing how much being around the right people can be so inspiring. Now, to go back to In Our Wake, “Blind Deaf & Dumb” feels like a bit of an experimental track, but it works perfectly. Was this an intentional curve-ball?
Dan Jacobs – Yeah! Like I was saying earlier, we’re just trying to get outside the box, try to stimulate different things. Every album we still want it to sound like Atreyu, but we want to do stuff we haven’t done before. We’re not like an AC/DC kind of band where every album sounds like this band and that’s it: for us, we need to constantly evolve. We even change our logo every album – no band really does that! We’re constantly changing everything just to keep it artistic, keep it going with the time.
Honestly, right now, Hip Hop in general is probably the biggest thing in the world. If you look around, there are so many bands right now that are just very Hip Hop-influenced; you can feel it spilling over into the Rock/Metal world. Our last album, we had a song called “Do You Know Who You Are,” and the verses on that have a kind of Hip Hop-ish vibe. It worked really cool and we’ve never done anything like that, so with this album we did want to have that kind of vibe to the verse. There’s another song that’s kind of similar, it didn’t make the album – it’s just a b-side for any other stuff that we might need songs for – but it has a similar Hip Hop-ish, heavy vibe to it. At the same time, not so much to the point where people are like, “Oh, these guys are a Hip Hop band!”
That’s basically it: we just wanted to change it up. Since we first did it, it makes you a little uncomfortable, ‘cause it’s new and fresh and it’s something we’ve never done. It was one of those things like, you know, “Do we like this direction?” But once it all came together, it was cool. We’re stoked on it and proud that we let the barriers down, just tried something fresh. It felt good!
CrypticRock.com – It is something different for Atreyu, but it works. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you close out the album with the epic “Super Hero.” What inspired that song, in particular, and how did you go about deciding to have Aaron Gillespie of Underøath and Matt of Avenged Sevenfold provide guest vocals?
Dan Jacobs – This song, we wanted to do something where we didn’t hold ourselves back, as far as song structure goes. Most songs that are on the radio are in the pocket of about three-minutes and thirty-seconds; they use that structure, everything kind of fits into that pocket, give or take, depending on what you do with the intros. bridges and whatnot. This song, we were like, “Let’s not worry about that. Let’s just write a song that’s super-long and has all these epic elements in it – with strings and all this orchestration. We wanted kind of an E.L.O./Chicago kind of style done Atreyu style.
As far as having Matt and Aaron on the album on that song, lyrically, “Super Hero” is about basically being a superhero to your kids. Both our singer Alex and Brandon have two children each, so. Once you have kids, you are kind of a superhero to your kids one way or another. Right now, Alex is really influenced by a lot of old 1940’s comic books – that’s something he’s really passionate about right now. So, basically, the reason why we got Matt and Aaron is because they are both fathers themselves, and we wanted to have everybody who was singing on the song and writing something on it be a father; they could relate and make it all tie together correctly.
CrypticRock.com – It works and it is truly a standout track. Is this sort of lengthy, epic take on songwriting something that you think you guys will explore again in the future?
Dan Jacobs – Probably, in one way or another. It wouldn’t sound like that – it’d be whatever crazy thing we come up with at the time, but yeah. We just love going out on a limb, we love doing epic, big Rock-sounding stuff; stuff that’s classic. There’s so much amazing, timeless music that was put out back in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s; you can pull from that era and pull such incredible production ideas, song ideas, and melody ideas. They’re still so relevant today. So, there will be more “Super Hero”-s out there.
CrypticRock.com – Awesome! On a similar note, throughout the years, Atreyu has done some phenomenal covers. There are no covers on In Our Wake, but might we see some mixed into the live set?
Dan Jacobs – Yeah, we’ve been talking about it. It’s a fun thing to see bands, in general, cover something that you wouldn’t expect them to cover. Personally, I’m a really big fan of cover songs live, especially because when you play a festival or something where you’re playing in front of a lot of people that maybe haven’t heard of you before or are seeing you for the first time, they might not know the words to your songs and not feel like they can connect on that level. Having a cover song in there gives at least one song that’s common, that everybody knows, and people can jump in and feel like a part of the set at that moment. That’s the catalyst of getting somebody to be a fan and want to pay more attention to you, because you had at least one song that they could participate in and not feel like they’re left out.
CrypticRock.com – It definitely creates a bridge between the band and the first-time audience members. So, speaking of touring, you are about to embark on a headliner with Memphis May Fire, Ice Nine Kills, and Sleep Signals. What should fans expect?
Dan Jacobs – We’re doing something a little bit fresh, as far as production and stuff – stuff that we’ve never really done before – which will be cool. Obviously, a lot is tied around the imagery of the album, which is so cool because there’s so much that we can pull from it. It’s really exciting! We’ll be playing all the old classics and a couple random songs here and there – including a handful of new songs, treat people to those, as well. It’s going to be awesome!
Aside from what we’re bringing to the table, both Memphis May Fire and Ice Nine Kills also have just put out new albums. All three of our bands are coming out with new albums, and it’s really exciting to have that going on and then all three of our bands are on the radio right now – we’re all on Octane. It’s cool! Everybody’s cycles are lining up at the same time, which doesn’t happen that often. It’s really cool and very exciting!
CrypticRock.com – Okay, let’s end the interview with two random questions. The first is if they ever remake The Neverending Story, would Atreyu be willing to do the score?
Dan Jacobs – Yeah, we’d love to score anything – but especially something like that would be cool. We’re very self-sufficient when it comes to writing, and we’ll write anything. As you’ve heard in our catalog throughout the years, we’ve kind of dipped into a little of everything. Something like scoring a movie would be incredible! Already, right now, “The Time Is Now” is getting played – the NFL has picked it up to use this season on things like Monday Night Football, and during games you hear it pop up here and there. So, we’re well on track to do stuff like that, but that would be incredible to be a part of that – especially with our name coming from the movie.
CrypticRock.com – Last question. CrypticRock covers music as well as films – particularly Horror and Sci-Fi films. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, do you have any favorite Horror/Sci-Fi films?
Dan Jacobs – Honestly, I’m not a huge-huge fan of that – our singer Alex is a little more into that stuff. If there’s anything along those lines that I’ve been checking out, that I’ve been stimulated by, it would be – do you know the show Black Mirror? I’ve been watching that and it’s kind of like modern-day Twilight Zone. It’s sometimes hard to watch because you’re like, “I’m so sad.” It’s so brutal! But you get through it and you’re like, “Man, who thought this up? This is wild!” The concept and just weird scenarios and stuff, such a mindfuck; I think that aspect is really interesting. Stuff like that often times influences me with a song idea along the way.