Totally True Memoirs of a Metal Producer: Atreyu’s Lead Sails and a Paper Anchor
One Sunday morning in 2006, my fourth granddaughter by my second son from my sixth marriage, Alimonia, called me. “Pop-pop,” she asked in her sweetest little voice, “will you help my favoritest band get more famouser?”
Well, when a toddler recommends a metal band, I listen. BulletBoys, Trapt, Five Finger Death Punch, Thy Art is Murder — all profitable bands first brought to my attention by someone who crapped their pants on a regular basis.
So naturally, I called my people, I said “Find out who the hell this band is.” I had to read the name phonetically, because Alimonia couldn’t spell yet. It turned out they were called Atreyu, which I think is one of the all-time stupidest band names I’ve ever heard (and I’ve worked with Enuff Z’Nuff). Also, they were from Orange County, which meant they were going to be a real pain in the ass to work with. But you know me. If there’s money to be made…
I never actually saw them play before I bought out their contract for that schmuck with the hardcore label in Chicago. I did go to Ozzfest, but I spent the whole time hanging out in Ozzy’s trailer, talking business with Sharon. But then when Atreyu came off stage, and I was surprised to find that my old pal Ralph Macchio was in the band! He still looked like he was about sixteen-years-old, and he hadn’t lost his sense of humor: “My name’s not Ralph,” he kept insisting. Ralphie always did know how to make me smile.
I told them I’d watched them and they were fabulous. They bought it, of course, and were signed to Hollywood Records a week later. I finally listened to the album they’d just put out and realized they were basically Killswitch Engage without the burden of talent. I could work with that.
But then they delivered the demos. I said, “Fellas, are we making a metal album here, or did I just sign fucking Goldfinger?”
Alex, the guy who did the screaming, told me, “We invented metalcore, we’re over that shit.”
I stifled a laugh, because I didn’t feel like being this kid’s teacher about the history of metalcore, and said, “Sabbath invented metal, and they were never ‘over that shit.’ Even the worst Metallica alb-“
“I fucking hate Metallica-flat out,” Alex interrupted. “Fuck Metallica, fuck Black Sabbath. I don’t give a fuck about the fucking ‘roots.’ Those aren’t my roots, so I don’t fucking care. Green Day was more important to me.”
Well, that attitude sure explained a lot. Luckily, the band’s drummer, whose name I think was… Brian? Brendon? Bradley? I think it was Bradley. “With all due respect, sir,” he said, “our friends in Avenged Sevenfold changed their sound and got more popular. If they can do it, why can’t we?”
I tried to tell them that it was no easy thing to shrug off most of your fanbase and break into the big time. “Take it from me, fellas,” I warned them, “I produced Cold Lake.”
None of them knew what Cold Lake was, which was a relief, but none of them knew who Celtic Frost were, either, which made me run to the phone to call my people and see if it was too late to get out of this job.
So we started turning their drek demos into a drek record.
For the sake of the whole thing not being a total waste of money, my goal was basically to make the heaviest My Chemical Romance album possible. It was an uphill battle, though; I haven’t seen a band make this many decisions that are against their own best self-interest since Megadeth made Risk.
I got them to at least open the album with one of the more on-brand tracks they had, but I couldn’t get them to change this stupid lyric about the apocalypse being an annual event or some nonsense. They had a reasonably catchy Offspring song, but they insisted on adding a section that sounded like a bad Morricone rip-off with a drum machine underneath it. The one song they had that actually sounded like the other album I heard they ruined with a ton of bells and whistles I couldn’t talk them out of. They had a song that sounded like a pretty decent glam metal song, and since Michael Monroe owed me a favor, I suggested we get him to do guest vocals on the track. They brought in the yutz from Break Cherry.
The worst was the auto-tune. JESUS CHRIST, we had to use a lot of auto-tune — a LOT of auto-tune — to make these twerps sound good, but no matter how much we used, they always wanted MORE. Bradley kept saying that nothing sounded “smooth” enough. I tried to talk some sense into Ralphie, but he’s such a consummate actor he wouldn’t break with his whole “My name’s not Ralph” schtick. So then I tried to use reverse psychology. “Well, Black Sabbath did use vocoder on ‘Planet Caravan,’” I said while Alex was hovering nearby. He said “Fuck Black Sabbath!,” but he didn’t ask Bradley to make the vocals sound human again. I think he was distracted by something shiny.
The first single was the “Bull” song, which was a compromise. It sounded enough like the band’s other stuff that I hoped fans would lie to themselves and say “That’s just the single, the rest will be better,” the way they do whenever a new Metallica album comes out.
It worked. The album stunk to high heaven and Alimonia hated it so much she stayed mad at me for a year, but it debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart and went gold. When the band called me to produce their next album, I passed. God will only let you dodge so many bullets.