ATREYU BLITZKRIEGED THEIR WAY TO THE TOP OF THE ORANGE
County metalcore scene in the late ’90s, largely on the strength of
Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel’s dual-guitar onslaught and the
fervid vocals of charismatic frontman Alex Varkatas. The band,
which also features drummer and vocalist Brandon Saller and bassist
Marc McKnight, brought an atypical melodicism to its impassioned
din, attracting legions of fans, and the attention of Victory Records.
After three victorious releases, Atreyu migrated to Hollywood
Records and released 2007’s Lead Sails Paper Anchor, which eschewed
the death growl or “Cookie Monster” vocals prevalent on its previous
recordings, and flirted with mainstream hard rock sounds.
The album, along with the enhanced Lead Sails Paper Anchor 2.0,
topped Billboard’s Top Rock Albums, Top Hard Rock Albums, and
Top Alternative Album charts and sold more than 300,000 CDs,
and well over double that number of digital singles.
Despite that success, Atreyu’s latest release, Congregation of the
Damned [Hollywood], takes a different tack, returning to the band’s
hardcore roots while sounding even heavier. “Each album is a stepping-
stone to the next one, and we couldn’t have made this record
if we hadn’t made the previous one,” says Miguel. “We’re always
trying to travel down new roads while at the same time revisiting
stuff that we have done previously, and I think this record is definitely
a good representation of that. It’s kind of an all-encompassing
Jacobs and Miguel bring distinctly different approaches to the
band’s sound. “Dan is more of an all-around, straight-up, solid, rock
player, with lots of finesse, whereas I’m more outside and left of
center,” says Miguel. To which Jacobs adds, “Having two different sounds and styles brings more to the table
than if we both played in exactly the same
way, and it gives us more to work with when
writing songs.” Nonetheless, when queried
about the secret of crafting distinctly different
tones, Miguel quipped, “We just plug into
Marshalls and let them do all the work.”
You get a much bigger sound on the new record
than previously. Did you do anything different
Jacobs: This one was a little more thought
out. We’ve done a lot of records with different
producers every time, so we’ve learned
so much that we now have a system for putting
everything together, sort of like feeding
a machine. We’ve always tried to make things
sound bigger on every record, and this time
we figured out more of the tricks behind it.
What were some of those tricks?
Miguel: Lots of reverb [laughs].
What were some of the different guitars and
amps that you used?
Jacobs: Yeah, reverb and delay and maybe
a little chorus make everything sound bigger.
Sometimes we would track with those sounds
and sometimes they were added while mixing.
But what really makes the parts sound big
is layering. We start off with very bare-bones
rhythm tracks and from there we might record
the actual rhythm tracks, then add some overdubs
with different guitars and amps, then
add a little ear candy or “shenanigans” as Marc
[McKnight] would put it, then the leads. It’s
like building a high-rise, if you will, and almost
literally becomes heavy because you are stacking
so many guitars on each other.
Jacobs: Our signature ESP guitars [the
Dan Jacobs LTD EX and DJ-600V models, and
the Travis Miguel LTD TM-600 model] reigned
mostly, but we also used others including a
’69 Gibson Les Paul goldtop, an Ibanez Talman,
some sort of Fender Strat, and a Fender
Sub-Sonic baritone Telecaster that’s a bitch
to play but sounds amazing and adds heavy
I thought you just played through Marshalls?
Miguel: The producer, Bob Marlette, had
a huge wall of guitars, so it was a “kids in
the candy store” situation where we could
just grab what we wanted. We used them
to add octaves and harmonies. There’s not
necessarily more going on musically, but
everything sounds bigger.
Jacobs: Bob also has this really cool setup
with lots of amp heads and a room that’s
sectioned off with about ten cabinets miked
up and ready to go. He also has drawers full
of vintage and modern pedals, and he just
flips a few switches and suddenly you are
playing through all of this different stuff.
“Let’s try these two heads and these two
cabs and these pedals.” It made it really easy
to try new things really quickly.
Miguel: We used everything from a single
amp to five amps chained together, and
when we recorded multiple amps we’d just
blend them onto one or two tracks for a combined
Jacobs:We use Marshall amps live, and
we tried to keep from going too crazy with
other amps to make sure that the record
sounded like we do on stage. But in the studio
we blended our Marshalls with a Bogner
Ecstasy Classic, a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier,
a Fender Twin for clean stuff, and some
amps by Lone Wolf and Diamond.
Which Marshall amps do you use?
Jacobs: I use a Vintage Modern for my
main dirty sound, and a JCM 800 as a backup
if I need it. I also have a Roland Jazz Chorus
120 that I use for my clean sounds live.
Are there any pedals that you use regularly?
Miguel: I like the JCM 800s and 900s.
Right now I’m actually playing through a
900 that I bought back when Atreyu first
started out. I sold it at one point, but the
guy I sold it to just sold it back to me for
half what he’d paid.
Jacobs: I have an Ibanez TS9 Tube
Screamer, a Boss wah, and a Boss NS-2 Noise
Suppressor to keep everything quiet.
It sounds like you mostly prefer to get distortion
from an amp rather than a pedal.
Miguel: I use the Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler
and ML4 Modulation Modeler, a Boss
RV-5 Digital Reverb, a DigiTech Whammy,
and a Morley Bad Horsie wah that I like
because it comes on when you touch it. I’ve
never been good at using the typical wah
that you have to stomp on, because usually
by the time I figure out whether it is on or
off my solo section has passed [laughs].
Jacobs:Yes, sometimes with a little overdrive
to boost the amp a little bit more. Pedal
distortion doesn’t have the same balls as
amp distortion, and if you use a lot of stuff
it gets too synthetic sounding. Our ESP guitars
also have EMG 81 active pickups with
AB Afterburner boosts in the bridge slot,
which give you up to 20dB of additional gain
for high-energy amp distortion.
Speaking of your signature model ESP guitars,
how closely do the commercially available
versions resemble them?
Miguel: They are just more affordable
versions of what Dan and I play, but the electronics,
hardware, wood, and inlays are the
same. You can buy the commercial versions
for $1,000 and $1,500, whereas if you
ordered an exact copy of one of our guitars
it would cost two or three times that much.
The Travis Miguel model has 24 frets. Why did
you want to have 24?
Jacobs: The main difference is that ours
are handmade, whereas the others are massproduced,
and there are a few shortcuts that
make it possible to make a lot of them. The
paint jobs are also a little different. We
wanted ours to be special because they are
our personal guitars, and we are the only
ones in the world to have those particular
Miguel: I wanted to have as much as possible
and I figured that if I could have those
two extra frets, why not?
Though you didn’t opt for an additional string.
Miguel: I think we are about as low as
we want to go in terms of heavy low end.
We’ve been playing in dropped-C [C, G, C,
F, A, D, low to high] pretty much from day
one and it is kind of home for us. Maybe one
day we might get a wild hair and play around
with the 7-strings, but I don’t see it happening
What gauge strings do you use with those lowered
Jacobs: On the song “Lonely,” we tune
down another half-step to dropped-B [B, F#,
B, E, G#, C#, low to high], which is the first
time we’ve ever gone that low. Dropped-C
is sort of the Atreyu sound.
Jacobs:We both use Dean Markley Blue
Steel medium sets gauged .011 to .052.
Is heaviness in the fingers, the gear, or is it a
state of mind?
Miguel: We use fairly heavy picks,
though. Dan uses 2.0mm Dunlops and I use
1.5mm Dunlops, but I’m not choosy. As long
as there’s a pick in my hand I’m okay.
Jacobs: Heavy is in the riff. You can obviously
stack on a bunch of distortion and bass
and have the kick drum hitting at the right
time, and it will sound brutal. But there were
old school bands that didn’t have anywhere
near as much distortion as many bands use
today, and they were actually heavier in many
cases. The riff in “Black Sabbath” is one of
the heaviest ever, and it consists of only three
notes played through a low-gain amp on a
guitar with super-light strings.