AVENGED SEVENFOLD’s JOHNNY CHRIST On Making ‘Life Is But A Dream…’ Album: ‘We Approached It Very Differently’

In a new interview with Andy Hall of the Des Moines, Iowa radio station Lazer 103.3, AVENGED SEVENFOLD bassist Johnny Christ spoke about the making of the band’s latest album, “Life Is But A Dream…” Written and recorded over the span of four years, it was produced by Joe Barresi and AVENGED SEVENFOLD in Los Angeles and mixed by Andy Wallace in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. The album is a journey through an existential crisis; a very personal exploration into the meaning, purpose and value of human existence with the anxiety of death always looming.

“Yeah, I guess it was a little different this time,” Johnny said about the “Life Is But A Dream…” writing and recording process. “Yeah, we got off the road in 2018. We had to cancel a tour that we had lined up with PROPHETS OF RAGE. Unfortunately, Matt [Sanders, a.k.a. AVENGED SEVENFOLD singer M. Shadows] had messed up his vocal cords from the long, grueling cycle that we did for [2016’s] ‘The Stage’ [album]. And by the end of it, we were just exhausted. So we took a couple of months off — some recovery time — and then got to writing pretty much right away at the beginning of 2019. So we’ve been demoing and working on these songs since then, and it just got released last year. So it was four years in the making of that stuff before anyone got to hear what we had been doing.”

He continued: “Yeah, we approached it very differently. We wanted to do some different sounds and challenge ourselves creatively to trim out the fat and still keep it exciting throughout. Yeah, going in and recording, obviously by the time it was time to do that, we had time set up in studios and everything like that, and the whole world shut down, as everybody knows. And that gave it some more challenges to complete the record in the time that we wanted to. And each time it got pushed back, actually, we looked at it with a silver lining to it, and it elongated the time for us to work on the music and to work on it sonically and make sure the album as a whole flowed and did what we wanted it to do. And then we put it out and it was up the listeners to decide if we did a good job or not.”

Christ also elaborated on his previous comment that he and his AVENGED SEVENFOLD bandmates want “Life Is But A Dream…”” to be a full experience as an album”. He said: “Yeah, well, I think that comes from this record, just like all of our records — it’s not unique in this sense — but we definitely take the time to figure out what perspective we have on life and where our muse is based on where we are. We’re all new-ish parents with families, all of us now. We’re getting into our early 40s. It’s not the same thing as when we were 18 years old to start this whole thing out. So you get a different perspective 20-plus years later. And it’s fun to tap into that and use it as a muse. And when you do that and you find stuff that’s real in life and can touch everyday people and every person out there, and because it is very human, the perspective and the topics that we have on this record, that you’re gonna get people who are probably of the same age, possibly, with the same life goals, just trying to make it and grow their tribe and do the good things. And I think that’s why we’ve gotten that feedback from guys like yourself, and some others and ladies and everybody. I feel like there’s something to grab on to on this record that definitely is very human and very common for many of us living on this planet.”

This past December, AVENGED SEVENFOLD guitarist Synyster Gates told Metal Hammer magazine about the fan response to “Life Is But A Dream…”: “I think with an album like this, time is on its side. I’ve been using this analogy: both of my parents’ favorite band is THE BEATLES. My mom hates everything post-‘Sgt. Pepper’s’, my dad couldn’t care less about the early stuff. They both still respect the fuck out of it, but it’s not for them. So, for my mom, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ was the death of THE BEATLES, and I think for a lot of people, this is the death of AVENGED SEVENFOLD. But for a lot of other people, it’s a birth. The birth of a different band.”

Asked whether he’s read any of the more comments about the album online, Synyster said: “Funnily enough, I thought it could go either way. We’ve actually had really amazing support from the press, so I don’t want to make people think that we feel like we aren’t supported by the press at all. I actually feel it’s good that it just hasn’t been ignored. Even the bad reviews, people have talked about it. People are still interested in us, so that’s all I could ask for, really. The negative comments, I feel they’re the minority. I think people have been really thoughtful in considering this album.”

AVENGED SEVENFOLD singer M. Shadows discussed the reactions to “Life Is But A Dream…” last June during an appearance on the “Let There Be Talk” podcast with with rock and roll comedian Dean Delray.

“With our new record right now, all you see are 10-out-of-10 reviews and zero-out-of-10 reviews,” M. Shadows said. “But it’s the best way to be because the people that hate it absolutely hate it. It’s one of those things where, in 2023, having a zero out of 10 is actually better than anything you could ask for, because people are talking, and it’s a weird society we live in at this point.”

“All artists can do is be a reflection of themselves at any point in time,” he continued. “There’s nothing worse than when people are trying to put you in a box and want you to write the same music you wrote when you were in high school or 20 years old. Those were reflections of who we were back then; we were aggressive, young kids that were just kind of all over the place making a certain type of music. And every record kind of changed. But this one in particular — much more musical in terms of not having to have one foot fully in metal. It’s got so many different eclectic influences that we’ve had our whole life that we never really were able to kind of quantify. Like if you think about THE RESIDENTS or MR. BUNGLE, all these different things that we were growing up listening to. And I think is just where we’re at right now. It’s a different type of record. The philosophy, all of it, is different, and so it’s not gonna appeal to people that want the same thing or more of the same or they’re there in their life right now. It doesn’t mean they’re not gonna get here. Maybe they’re just not here right now. Maybe it’s our job to put our arm around them and say, ‘Hey, we’re up the street at this bar. And let’s hang out here. This is what we’re doing now.’

“There are so many psychological things that go into if people like records or not or if they don’t or what they’re listening to at the time. And it’s not really our job to figure that out; it’s just our job to put something out that we totally back and we appreciate. And we’ll see where it goes. It’s hard to really talk about it, ’cause there’s really no right or wrong answer. It’s okay to hate this record.”

The 42-year-old Shadows went on to cite a few other examples where certain records represented a departure from the sound and direction that fans expected their favorite artists to go.

“There’s a few records I think of, for my era and my age, when they came out. One is ‘Pinkerton’ by WEEZER,” he said. “They blew up with the ‘Blue’ album, and then they put out ‘Pinkerton’, which is why one of my favorite records of all time — it’s dirty, it’s lyrically uncomfortable, it’s all these things. That’s one. And then ‘Disco Volante’ is one from MR. BUNGLE. MR. BUNGLE was already weird with the self-titled [album], but ‘Disco Volante’ was just, like… Mike Patton is not even singing; he’s just making noises the whole time. It’s like them messing around with keyboards. It blows my mind. ‘Yeezus’ is one for me with Kanye [West]. He put out pretty much a heavy metal record. Everyone in hip-hop hated it, and now it’s one of his essential records. But there’s always those things that kind of stand outside the box and outside the norm and they ruffle feathers and people have knee-jerk reactions. And I think this is definitely one of those. But you’ve gotta make sure that it’s backed up with musicality. It’s gotta be backed up with some depth. It can’t just be weird for weird’s sake. And I think that’s a lot of people’s go-to on this: ‘I hate it because they’re just trying to be weird.’ It’s, like, no, actually, we’re not. ‘They’re trying to be prog.’ It’s, like, prog is the last thing on our minds. We don’t care about that. All we care about it writing shit that feels cool.

“People overthink it and they try to even put these things in boxes,” Shadows added. “And I think prog has even become its own box, which sucks, ’cause prog should be so many different directions. Why does prog have rules? The world is funny. People like to put things in a box so they can kind of discuss it better, I guess. But this record is kind of boxless, I guess.”

M. Shadows previously discussed AVENGED SEVENFOLD‘s songwriting approach on “Life Is But A Dream…” earlier in June 2023 in an interview with Lou Brutus of HardDrive Radio. At the time, he said: “We were just looking for really bold moments — in life, in art, in film. Things that we could sort of wrap our minds around an audio representation of how we were feeling about certain things.

“At this point, playing around with melody, playing around with tones, playing around with left turns, curveballs was really appealing to us.

“I think we’ve proven to everyone, whether they like the band or not, that we kind of know the rules of music, and this record, we were able to just go break all the rules,” he continued.

Mike Shinoda [of LINKIN PARK] put it to me really perfectly — I love his insight on a lot of things — and he said, ‘This record is like you guys throwing paint at the wall, but if a fourth-grader was doing it, you’d say that’s just paint on the wall. But because of everything you’ve done before, we all know you know how to make a beautiful painting, so this record is actually really special because it’s not just paint on the wall. You guys have broken all the rules and done things in an abstract way. But we wanna listen and pay attention because we know what you guys have done before.’ And I thought it was an interesting way of putting it, ’cause those [LINKIN PARK] guys — Dave [‘Phoenix’ Farrell] and Mike — have been big fans of this record. And I think that was a cool way of putting it.”

M. Shadows added: “We kind of just really wanted to push the boundaries — the musical boundaries, the lyrical boundaries, the themes — and we didn’t want anything on the record to sound generic or phoned in or not exciting. We wanted to redo everything we’ve ever done, where even the song lengths and the way we kind of put these little pieces of ear candy, but we get away from it quick. Or staying away from three choruses, or if there is three choruses, they’re all vastly different. And really thinking about turning the traditional landscape of how you would normally put a song together on its head, but do it in an interesting way — not just to do it, but just to do it in a way that we think people will enjoy and give them sort of a reason to get to the end of songs or get to the next song on the record. And I think that was just a mindset this time, was just a little different — really looking at those things.”

“Life Is But A Dream…” sold 36,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in its first week of release to land at position No. 13 on the Billboard 200 chart. AVENGED SEVENFOLD‘s previous LP, “The Stage”, debuted at No. 4 on The Billboard 200 album chart in November 2016. The surprise release of “The Stage” earned the lowest sales of an AVENGED SEVENFOLD album in eleven years. It sold 76,000 copies in its first week, less than half the tally of its previous two efforts.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD made its first festival appearance in five years on May 19, 2023 at Welcome To Rockville at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. The band’s setlist included three songs from “Life Is But A Dream…”: “Game Over”, “We Love You” and “Nobody”.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD‘s first concert since June 2018 took place on May 12 at AREA15 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


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