When California metalcore band Atreyu took a hiatus in 2011, many thought that it might be the last we’d hear from them. However, three years later, they announced that they were back, and now they’ve got a new album Long Live, out on Friday (18) and a new label, Spinefarm. we caught up with bassist Porter McKnight to talk about how the band’s hiatus helped them grow not just as musicians, but as people, how the new album came about, and their unconventional touring plans.
So what led to the hiatus in the first place?
We’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve been in the band since 2004, and they’ve been doing it since ’98, as kids in high school that grew up together. It got to the end of 2010, and the fire wasn’t out in any way, shape or form, but you could just feel it dwindling. You start to get a little weary, and it’s better to just stop then then keep forcing it and break up. We don’t want to be the band that phones it in, and isn’t our true self up there and you could start to feel that happening so we were just like, ‘Let’s just take a bit, we’ll come back to this when the time is right.’ We never broke up, we never hated each other or anything, and I don’t think it ever will, but we needed to hit a pause button. Brandon had another band that he wanted to start playing shows and writing more, Alex wanted to start a gym and he had a kid, Dan has a whole merch business of his own, Travis played guitar is some other stuff, and I’m more of an artist than a musician. I do a lot of photography and graphic design and general art,so I explored that avenue a little bit more and did things that I couldn’t do when you’re traveling like we did.
Now that the band is back, is there any kind of resentment, and are the doors shut on everyone else’s endeavors?
No, not even remotely! We’re doing this slightly different than the way most bands do. We’re only gonna do like 2-week runs. We’re gonna go out for a couple weeks, we’re gonna play the shows that we want to play, the shows that make sense, the shows that’ll be the most fun and the most rewarding on all fronts or we won’t do it. We can say no now. Before we were like, ‘We better do it. It’ll be good for this, it’ll be good for that.’ So we’re gonna do roughly 2-week stints and we’re gonna come back for a couple weeks as well. Like I said, our singer has a kid, Brandon has another band and his wife, and they’re trying to have a kid. This allows us to be able to still have our own creative life endeavors and still do this when we want it. I travel a lot so we’re here for this press and I’m staying for four more days and hanging out with some friend. This director who I went to Ethiopia with and did a film, we’re going to Chicago for Riot Fest and I’m staying for four or five more days just to explore and walk the city. We’re going over to Reading and Leeds and all those festivals in Europe and I’m staying in Scotland for a week after that right before we get to Riot Fest ya know? I love to travel and explore and create so it gives me time be able to do that and still have this band that I love.
Cool! So in making the new record, when did you actually decide to start doing IT again?
It would’ve been January of last year. Dan was actually the main catalyst for this. I was gonna move to Scotland. I told all the dudes ‘Look guys, I love you but we’re not doing anything and There’s no reason for me to be here.’ Then a month later, we decided to start playing again. Dan was the guy that every few months, was like “Let’s do it guys, let’s do it.” And it was just never the right time and then one time he called and we were like, “Okay let’s meet over dinner, let’s see what happens.” So we decided to just start writing some music and see what it was like and we did and it was wonderful.
Were the songs pre-written?
No, we just got together, sat down and wrote songs!
So what lead to signing with Spinefarm?
We were courted by quite a few labels, but to be perfectly honest, they were the most genuine, the most real and we knew they would let us be us. And they wouldn’t have a heavy hand and be like, “let’s try to get this song a single, you should sing that part instead.” They didn’t even hear anything until the record was literally almost done. That was the main thing, that we knew they’d trust us.
You released a single a while ago right?
Yeah, “So Others May Live.” That wasn’t really a single, it more of a thank you to the fans. We recorded it for free, we gave it out for free, we wanted to let people know we were back.
Is that on the album?
It will be on certain ones, like the European version of the record, it’s on a special edition of a certain record but it’s not an actual song on the record, no.
So why even sign with a label?
We debated that. We know how the industry works, we know how to run our own shit. I have enough internet savvy to build up a site. We could do a digital release and not really fuck with stores and manage ourselves even. We debated all of this, but in the long run, that takes away from us creating. And management can give us a lot of chances and a lot of connections that we wouldn’t have on our own. And we’d have to be sitting there on the phone pushing all these buttons, meeting people, trying to find different press outlets, and we’d have to hire someone else to do that. There were so many benefits to having a label and management. And we’ve found the best fuckin’ partners. Spinefarm are incredible thus far. They’ve been wonderful to us and I’m really excited to be a part of it. And I know they love our band and I know they trust us and know they’re not fucking us. Same as Raw Power Management. They’re fuckin’ beasts. They’re hungry, they love our band, and they know where to put us.
The industry has really changed quite a bit in the six years since you last put a record out. What do you think of the changes?
I think there’s pluses and minuses of the state of the industry now. We went through the big boom of like every fucking band getting its thing out there and being carbon copy, cookie cutter. We went through the internet exploding and like having the ability to get your music out there and then you just hear all these other bands and you’re just like, ‘There’s nothing there, there’s nothing real.’ I think that bubble burst. There are a lot of other bands coming out no, like the new Bring Me The Horizon’s incredible, Stray From The Path is a brilliant band. There’s a lot of really good heavy music right now. I think there’s a really like a resurgence or a renaissance at the moment. We’re stoked to be a part of it!
So with your new method of touring, how do you plan on doing two week stints with other bands?
It is tricky, but we’re sticking to our guns, ya know? And honestly, I think for the sanity of musicians and the sanity of just be people involved, I think it could be a new way. We could be trailblazing a new style of touring. Nobody wants to be out there for two months straight. It’s not smart. It’s really not smart for the sanity of everyone involved and just the whole process. Bands are phoning in half those shows. Any fucking band, if you’re out for that long, you can’t tell me that every night all five of you, or how many of you up there, actually wanna be there. But when we play shows now like every show, we’re there, we’re present, we fuckin’ give it our all. I’ve never not done that.
What’s the biggest change in the band in time?
Dudes grow up. Alex had a kid, started his own business. That changes you, especially having a kid. He is a lot more calm, a lot more rational, a lot more intelligent about situations than he once was. Brandon being able to go out and explore his other more rock side of his creations, and he writes songs for sync for TV and that sort of stuff. So he’s getting all that out and he comes back with a fresh look at metal and he’s not trying to infuse those other feelings. I went and explored being an artist and I think we’ve all just grown. We’ve all grown as people and we’re all on our own two feet. We weren’t really using Atreyu as a crutch, but we couldn’t fully be ourselves. We came back to this fully, understanding who we are as people and what we can and can’t provide, which creates a better synergy. Writing this record was the easiest thing we’ve ever fuckin’ done. It should be easy, you shouldn’t have to labor through every fine detail, you should just trust your instincts when you’re writing songs. It’s a great fuckin’ album!
You started Long Live in January of last year. Do you have new music written already?
No, see how we did it is we got together in January, we wrote a couple songs in June, July of last summer. We chose three of those songs, and recorded them. “So Others May Live” was one of those, there’s a song called “Reckless”, it’s the last song on the record that’s on it, then there’s one that was on the 7 inch we released very recently. We recorded those three songs just to see what it was like and they turned out fuckin’ incredible. “Reckless” is one of my favorite things we’ve ever done. So after that, we started writing. We wanted to record in November, December-ish. So we wrote six or seven songs in that time span, took a couple weeks off, got together and wrote a song, etc. After New Years, we got back together again and were like, “Okay, we want to go back in the studio on this date,” which was essentially a week and a half to write six songs. We finished with four days left. Incredible. It took us no time at all.
Trial by fire! So no new songs written on top of that?
Since then, no. We finished the record before we left for Australia in February. Then it took like a month or so to get mastered, and the labels like to sit in on things for a while to promote it an all that.
Anything else you want to mention?
I wanted to talk about the video and the artwork cause I had a huge hand in that. So for this record, I asked if I could do the artwork cause I thought I was confident enough to take that task on.
Was it the first time?
It was the first time I’ve done it for us, yeah.
You’ve done it for other bands?
I’ve done it for other bands before, yeah. I’ve done it for Sound of Animals Fighting, this band Under Minded and a bunch of other shit. So I really wanted to take that task on and I was thinking like, ‘Okay, well you got to have pictures of us in the booklet.’ It was based on a Hitchcock photo, actually, this image of Hitchcock on a funeral pyre, lighting a cigarette, like not giving a fuck so I wanted each person to have their own scenario. That’s actually Brandon’s scenario. I had Dan being buried alive, Travis being forced off a building, Alex walking off a bridge or some sort of situation where like, with a weight on his leg like drowning himself essentially and then I wanted to be fed to wolves. I realized with budgeting, it’d be really tough to get a wolf. So I decided on lynching which is interesting cause I’m a southerner. So I was like that’s really cool, that’ll be beautiful.
I like the idea, and thought, ‘Fuck, I should do this to a video and write a storyline around that idea.’ I figured if I do it with the video, then everything is better, because I can have better locations, more time, better budget. So I wrote the idea for the “Long Live” video. Then I shot a lot of the art on-set. In the booklet I have the photo of each of us in our death scenario and then across from that, I have an art piece that’s based on their scenario. Dan’s is very earth based, Brandon’s is fire cause he’s being lit up, etc. I shot a lot of those on set and I also traveled around Scotland, Amsterdam and Belgium and just shot a fuck ton of photos. I rented a car and drove into the highlands in Scotland and shot a bunch of stuff and all of that’s in the art. It was just a really wonderful experience to create something I’m so proud of. I built those coffins. I had a friend build that, I set it up, I found a spot, well the cover is, the coffins are shot in San Diego and then I composited 10 photos from New Zealand. After we played Australia, I went and traveled New Zealand and combined everything and that sort of thing. So it was really a wonderful feeling to create something for this band I love so much and I really put in my part. To write and direct my first music video revolved around it too. There really is no better feeling. It’s the best thing I’ve ever created in my art world and the best music I created so I just want it to be fuckin’ out there.