In a new interview with Australia’s “Everblack” podcast, ATREYU‘s former drummer Brandon Saller, who is now focusing completely on singing after previously sharing lead vocals with Alex Varkatzas for most of the band’s two-and-a-half-decade existence, reflected on the lineup change more than three years ago that made him the frontman for the California-based metal outfit. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “First of all, when everything happened, it was… I think a lot of the world just thinks that I made a call and I did things and that’s why the band is the way they are. I think a lot of people see me as this overarching power figure that doesn’t actually exist in real life. Our band is very much a democracy and everyone in our band is very much a brilliant mind in themselves and everyone has their part. And when we decided to make our separation, I boldly said, ‘Okay, well, what are we doing?’ I’m not gonna be the one that says, ‘I’m gonna sing in our band now. I’m not gonna be the one that jumps… ‘If that’s what you want, you guys come up with that and you let me know what you wanna do.’ So it seemed obvious to everyone that my voice is already familiar; everyone knows my voice. So rather than get someone else to come sing and have some other brand new thing that we have to try and get people to relate to, they already have me. And they have Porter [bassist Marc McKnight], quite obviously. Porter has been singing, screaming, with Alex on our records since [2006’s ‘A Death-Grip On Yesterday’ album]. So it was, like, ‘Let’s keep it familiar’ or whatever. And we had actually done some shows with the current lineup in 2019 in Europe, so we kind of knew that it worked live already and it was comfortable live.”
Saller continued: “I mean, obviously, at first, it’s terrifying. You don’t know what people are gonna think. And there’s a lot of people that will go just pure negative because you’re not what you used to be or what have you. I think a lot of people really wanted, they really wanted drama and to take sides, and I think people really wanted to see a fight, and we’re not about it. We’re just about whatever happened in our own lives is our own personal thing. And we’ve both kind of moved on and gone our own ways. And he’s doing brilliant new music as well. And I think we’re at the top of our game for what we’re doing. And it’s one of those things that at first was, of course, scary, but I think there was a confidence within our band that guided us through the transition, and I think from the first show… The first tour we did back, it was a headline tour in the States for [2021’s] ‘Baptize’ [album]. I think in our minds, it was, like, ‘Oh, dude, we’re crushing. We got this.’ I look back on that tour and you can still see that little bit of, like, ‘Okay, we’re still figuring it out. We’re kind of a new band again.’ And then I think towards the middle of the ‘Baptize’ cycle, it really clicked. And we did the ‘Trinity Of Terror’ tour, and we did the NOTHING MORE/ASKING ALEXANDRIA tour in the States, we went out with BULLET [FOR MY VALENTINE] in the U.K., and we were just firing on all cylinders. So, it was, I’ll say, an easy transition because the support system within the band is fricking watertight. But it was definitely nerve-racking at the beginning, because now I’m the dude, I’m the guy, and I have to convince you that you have to like me as the guy. And I don’t have near the physique. [Laughs] But it’s been really good. We’re really, really enjoying our band more so than we have in a long time. So it’s all panned out to be a beautiful thing.”
In October 2020, ATREYU surprise-released a new song called “Save Us”. It was the first taste of the band’s music since the departure of Varkatzas a month earlier. A couple of days before “Save Us”‘s release, Varkatzas updated his Instagram stories with hashtags that seemed to throw shade at his former bandmates and their new material: #fakeheavy, #conartists and #justwaitandsee.
Saller previously discussed Alex‘s departure from ATREYU in an interview with Terry “Beez” Bezer of Knotfest.com‘s “Mosh Talks With Beez”. Asked what he thought of Varkatzas implying in a social media post that “Save Us” was “fake heavy,” Saller said: “I thought it was hilarious, because I think everyone heard it and then was, like, ‘Hmm. Okay.’
“The four of us were very, very adamant on this whole thing” — referring to the split with Alex — “being very, very positive. There’s no shitting on people that we wanna do. There’s not a part of us that wanted anyone to shit-talk us or him. And our whole stance was, like, this is what it is, but we can still lift each other up and make our fans feel good about the fact that there’s no beef; there’s no whatever.
“He did his own thing, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of idea of a narrative that we would have liked to put forward,” Brandon continued. “We’ve always, still to this day, been fully positive. When people say stuff about Alex, I’m still, like, ‘The dude’s awesome. You should support whatever he does next.’ He’s learning guitar, he’s taking interest in different things, and I will still, till I’m blue in the face, say, yeah, support him. If you like his voice, if you like what he did in ATREYU, he’s probably gonna make more music. Now you have two bands you can listen to.
“The ‘fake heavy’ thing was — we don’t know where that came from,” Saller added. “Alex wrote ‘Save Us’ with us. He wrote probably seven, eight songs that are on the next record. He was a part of the beginning of the album, so for him to say it’s fake heavy, then he wrote a fake-heavy song.
“I think ‘Save Us’ is one of the heavier songs we’ve ever written. It is two and a half minutes of facepunch. Another view we’ve had is no matter who says what, let’s do what we’ve always done and just let the music talk. We’re just gonna continue doing that and let the tunes do all the talking. And people will know what we’re all about. They’ll know everything they need to know from [listening to] the songs.”
According to Brandon, he and his ATREYU bandmates wanted to avoid making the split with Alex more dramatic than it needed to be in the eyes of the public, preferring instead to give everyone a taste of the new music they were working on.
“A lot of people got really butthurt because of the lack of detail that we gave [in our statement announcing Alex‘s departure],” Saller said. “And I feel like we just felt so strongly that in this day and age, click culture and clickbait, every headline’s looking for, ‘Guitar player of ATREYU slept with the singer’s wife’ — some weird drama. But we had no interest in that. We just wanted to keep it about the music and keep it positive and let our fans know that this is what’s happening, we’re separating, it is what it is, and let’s just think about the future.”
“I think people think a lot of it is a lot more quick than the reality,” Brandon theorized. “I think that people think that we just made this decision and posted it on the Internet, and that was it. But we’ve been going through this for months and months and months. When you’re in a business and a relationship — a marriage, essentially — with someone for 20 years, there’s a lot of steps to go through before you can say anything. We were very much wanting to say really nothing — just be positive and let’s be adults. And luckily, we have so many people that really, really are showing us a lot of love.”
In December 2020, Brandon implied in an interview with “Sappenin’ Podcast With Sean Smith” that ATREYU was no longer on speaking terms with Varkatzas: “We’ll call it a breakup,” he said. “There’s obviously a separation, so I think that’s something that, in our hopes, the future will heal. But the five of us in the current situation are tighter than ever.”
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