An Interview with Travis Miguel of ATREYU

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - March 2005

Thereís something special about the Orange County/So-Cal scene that has become an acknowledged breeding ground for todayís crop of young talent. Bands such as Eighteen Visions, Bleeding Through and Avenged Sevenfold have instantly become household names, while the highly successful Atreyu has proven the theory is no fluke. Already one of the biggest bands in metal right now, Atreyu has been through two albums, countless tours including a coveted Ozzfest slot and a chamber music tribute album dedicated by The String Quartet. Speaking with guitarist Travis Miguel, youíll find a righteous brother who seemingly hasnít grown accustomed to the fame his band enjoys. Not a bad thing, needless to say. Thanks for having me up. 

Travis Miguel: No problem. Well, to begin, I know much of "The Curse" has to do with the darker, lonelier side of immortality, but your use of a vampire as your muse, I think, also serves as muse to exorcise certain demons from a bad relationship, perhaps? A parasitic girl, maybe? ďBleeding Mascara,Ē ďYou Eclipsed by Me,Ē ďDemonology and HeartacheÖĒ Is there a dual message presented with this album?

Travis Miguel: Not really. People tend to misconstrue this album as being a concept album about vampires, but thatís not the case. Each song is independent of each other. Alex (Varkatazas) uses a couple of vampire references here and there, but for the most part itís just imagery. Itís more just something to look at, really. It kind of adds a bit of flair, but the whole vampire thing, I think, seems to show that maybe people are looking a little too deep into it, you know? Maybe theyíre just distracted by the cover art, I donít know. (laughs) 

Travis Miguel: But like I said, itís not a concept album. Thereís no big vampirism concept behind it or anything like that. We just thought it would make it a little more interesting. Cool. Now, from ďThe CrimsonĒ: ďRobert Smith lied, boys do cry, and with blood tears in my eyes Iím an Anne Rice novel come to life.Ē I think itís a really nice reference because I think some people, myself included, can relate, having read "Vampire Líestat" with The Cureís "Pornography" playing in the background, so that line alone hit me right there. Obviously thereís some sort of connection between the two that inspired you guys. What do you feel that might be?

Travis Miguel: Youíd have to ask Alex about that, really, because he writes all the lyrics, but yeah, the way he arranges his lyrics and chooses what he says, I think, is extremely clever, and that lyric also stands out in my mind. (laughs) A good majority of our listeners probably donít even know who Robert Smith is! (laughs) Sad but true!

Travis Miguel: Or Anne Rice for that matter. But for those who do know who those people are, they get the references and Iím sure it makes it more meaningful for them. Definitely. I also read where "The Curse" stems from being in a tour van for a long amount of time with dramatic events going down around you guys, and you guys were sort of incapacitated to react from being on the road. So I guess put me in the back of the van and give me a birdís eye view of what transpired at that point in time.

Travis Miguel: I mean, itís not referring to any particular moment. Itís just the haunt Ö weíve never gone on tour and have it run a hundred percent smooth, especially when weíre in a van. Weíve been through it all as far as the van breaking down or getting incredibly sick on the road, which is just the worst! (laughs) I can attest to that right now! But you know, itís about losing money, getting a flat tire, losing merch, losing equipment, equipment breaking while onstage, you know, getting screwed over by promoters, stuff like that. For awhile it just seemed we were cursed and a lot of the bands we toured with at the time (laughs), it seemed like our bad luck rubbed off on them! Bloodlet, Sky Came Falling and Drowning Man all broke up shortly after touring with us! (laughs) Wow!

Travis Miguel: We were on tour with Red Tape and they hit a deer and totaled their van. (laughs) I donít mean to laugh Ö

Travis Miguel: We were on tour with Darkest Hour and they got all of their money stolen. They had personal belongings stolen too while on tour with us. Jesus.

Travis Miguel: (laughs) So if youíre in a band and youíre considering touring with us, you might want to think twice! (laughs) 

Travis Miguel: But no, itís just an inside joke amongst us so we can kind of have something to laugh at. Yeah, that works. 

Travis Miguel: Just the misfortunes of being on tour, you know? I guess it has to be a little bit of a different perspective that you have a bus for this tour. Iím sure youíre a little bit warmer Ö

Travis Miguel: It does help! Less hassle with someone else driving, what have you.

Travis Miguel: Exactly, exactly. It does help. It improves your state of mind a little more maybe?

Travis Miguel: Oh yeah! Morale is really high all the time, you know? If you want to kind of get away, all you have to do is climb into your bunk and just take a nap or watch TV. and since weíre not in such close quarters weíre not as sick as we used to be. Right

Travis Miguel: I mean, it still happens, but just having this and being privileged to have this makes all the difference in the world. We feel lucky to even be on the road, let alone on a nice bus like this. Yeah. Now, Iím probably going out on a limb, but I want to compare the use of Brandon (Saller)ís clean vocals, particularly on ďThe Crimson,Ē ďRight Side of the BedĒ or even ďNevadaís Grace,Ē as having an eighties kitsch to them. Particularly, and I donít mean it as an insult, but in a Rick Springfield vein. 

Travis Miguel: Mmm hmm. That, to me, seems like one of your differentiating factors.

Travis Miguel: With the singing/screaming thing, it wasnít a huge drawn-out plan where it was like, ĎOh, if Brandon started singing then weíll sell a million records.í The band started off as more of a straight-ahead hardcore band, just screaming and fast circle-pit parts and mosh breakdowns. So we just decided to add a little something else and Alex, our frontman, he actually tried his hand at singing at first but it wasnít working out too well! (laughs) (laughs)

Travis Miguel: Brandon has a loud voice, so we figured weíd have him give a go at it and it worked out great! Weíve been doing it ever since and now Alex is starting to kind of cross over into the more melodic parts too and Brandonís crossing over into the more harsh vocal parts too. So, weíre constantly changing and weíre constantly evolving. With that being said, everybody thinks were some sort of spooky Goth core band and who knows? Maybe the next album might be dedicated to Ö (looks down at a sandwich) Salami! (laughs)

Travis Miguel: I donít know, man. (laughs) I just think that some people take what we do a little too seriously! I donít think they get it. I think theyíre giving us a little more credit (laughs) than we really deserve! Weíre not an intellectual band, weíre not trying to save the world, weíre not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that. And even with the whole singing/screaming thing, Iíve done interviews where they say ĎOh, this is such a new thing and a new concept.í Like, Fear Factory was doing it in 1991! Right!

Travis Miguel: And V.O.D. was doing it in í95, so itís been around for quite awhile, but I donít know Ö The more accurate statement is that itís now catching on.

Travis Miguel: Yeah, yeah, finally itís catching on, which is cool, you know? But it seems like youíve attracted part of The Cult of Tori Amos! (laughs)

Travis Miguel: Yeah, sure! Cool! I mean, the melodic part of it attracts more people, even older people. My parents are like, ĎI like it when Brandon sings, but Alexís screaming is not too pleasant!í (laughs) Thatís too funny!

Travis Miguel: Itís just music and itís entertainment. People shouldnít take it too seriously. Itís just escapism.

Travis Miguel: Basically, yeah. Definitely. This industryís so political and people get stressed out all the time, you know? Thereís arguments, management and all this stuff, and when you think about it, itís kind of ridiculous because this is rock ní roll! This is just music, this is entertainment. When you get up onstage and act like idiots, some people can escape from their everyday lives Ö and Iím not complaining at all, this is what weíve all dreamed of Ö but I just stress to everybody to not take it too seriously and enjoy it while you can and have fun with it. Absolutely. Now, I want to add to that eighties theme. I read a really cool quote by Marc (McKnight) that said: ďIíd really love to be in the eighties where I can wear my bandís shirt around. Damn 2000s!Ē 

Travis Miguel: (laughs) I spent my teens in the eighties, so I can relate to that.

Travis Miguel: Right. I donít know if you can speak for Marc or yourself, but what would you expect you might get out of this hypothetical scenario? Letís say you really are walking around the eighties wearing an Atreyu shirt, aside from people coming up and asking if you dig "The Neverending Story," then what? 

Travis Miguel: The whole eighties thing comes from our other guitar player Dan (Jacobs). The five of us are just completely different from each other, you know? I really love left and center music, stuff that they all hate. I love bands like Isis and Neurosis, Mastodon Ö Right on!

Travis Miguel: Pelican, Tom Waits, Deftones, stuff like that. Dan loves the cheesy eighties hair metal Ö (laughs)

Travis Miguel: Marc and Brandon, theyíre really into Ö well, Brandonís really into the poppier stuff, bands like Sugarcult, My Chemical Romance, and Alex pretty much likes anything thatís heavy and dark, so I mean, thereís so many different musical tastes and when we mesh it all together, it kind of comes out sounding the way it does, which is what the CD sounds like. Right.

Travis Miguel: So it works out pretty well. Okay, cool. Now with "The Curse" and "Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses" youíve found yourself atop the pack in the scene weíre talking about, the metalcore genre or subgenre if you want to call it that.

Travis Miguel: Mmm hmm. I know I was kind of touching on the clean vocals of Brandon mixed with Alexís screaming, but what would you pinpoint as your chemical element of success right now?

Travis Miguel: I donít know, man, itís hard to say without tooting your own horn. Thereís a lot of bands out there right now that sound exactly the same from each other and Iím sure other people lump us into that category, sounding like every other band out there as well. In my own personal opinion I just think the songwriting itself is very strong, you know? Itís music that I think everybody can get into. Some of the songs are heavier than others, some are slower, some are faster, so I think with us itís just Ö as cheesy and stupid as it sounds (laughs), thereís something for everybody in there. Thatís cool. Now, you guys come from Orange County and Iíve spoken with a lot of bands from that area and Southern Cal all around Ö

Travis Miguel: Yeah. I get the impression that the Orange County scene is a really tight-knit family, much less movement. Collectively you guys have helped bring this type of music to the masses, so tell me whatís so special about the Southern Cal scene in your eyes.

Travis Miguel: I think the fact that Ö especially Orange County Ö the scene itself is just so big. Thereís so many opportunities for bands, especially younger bands, to get out and play and network with other bands and with other kids putting on shows, where itís like if you take some poked-up town in America where thereís maybe a venue to play in versus many or a few, thereís not much opportunity for kids. I think thatís where bands like us and bands like Eighteen Visions, Bleeding Through, Throwdown and Avenged Sevenfold, I think whatís helped us move right along is just the fact that the scene is so big. (laughs) To an extent, maybe we were spoiled because we had all those opportunities, but we definitely took advantage of those opportunities. Itís what got us here now. You all took care of each other.

Travis Miguel: Yeah, weíve toured with all of those bands and played many shows with them. One of my first shows with Atreyu was us, From Autumn to Ashes and Avenged Sevenfold. It was in some warehouse no bigger than like, if you took this bus and squished it together like this Ö (laughs)

Travis Miguel: And the P.A. was basically a microphone plugged into an amplifier Ö (laughs)

Travis Miguel: And there were maybe twenty kids tops there. Looking back on it, if you took those three bands and put them on the same bill today Ö Yeah.

Travis Miguel: Itíd be huge and thatís just astounding to me! I never thought that bands like us would ever get out of California, let alone across the country and across to the Atlantic, so itís surreal and again Iím not complaining, you know, but itís definitely surreal. Sure, no doubt. Now, you guys have been confirmed for Vans Warped this year, right?

Travis Miguel: Yep. Cool, so youíre no stranger to the outdoor summer festival gig like Ozzfest Ö

Travis Miguel: Right, right. So tell me your perspectives of playing Ozzfest. It has to be grueling as hell, but rewarding in the end.

Travis Miguel: Yeah, it is. I mean, the heat is brutal! (laughs) Showers are available every day, but sometimes the waterís not really working too efficiently! (laughs) (laughs)

Travis Miguel: Itís either way too hot or way too cold, you donít even bother taking a shower at that point. But you get to play in front of thousands of people every day and a lot of those people, especially this past year because there was Ö particularly on the second stage Ö all pretty much underground bands like ourselves, Throwdown, Bleeding Through, God Forbid, Darkest Hour, whereas before Ozzfest kind of only took the major label quote-unquote ďnu-metalĒ bands and stuck them on the second stage and they didnít really do anything after that, you know? So I think this past summer was good for all of our bands because we were all playing to people that normally wouldnít have even heard of us, let alone seen us play live or heard our music. Right.

Travis Miguel: So it was a definite exposure boost for all of our bands. It did nothing but help us. And yeah, it did wear on us after awhile, especially two months, you know, the heat every day Ö itís basically the same thing every day and thereís only so many times you can drink a six pack of beer to wash away your boredom! (laughs)

Travis Miguel: But still, we had a blast and we made a lot of friends on that tour, and weíre definitely looking forward to Vans Warped Tour this year because weíve never done it and thereís so many good bands playing on it and it just seems like a really cool vibe. We all grew up going to Warped Tour, so itís definitely an honor to be a part of it. Thatís cool. Youíre going to be on the main stage Ö

Travis Miguel: Yeah. And youíll have to get ready for that half hour format. I mean youíve gotta love that precision clockwork Ö

Travis Miguel: Yeah, yeah, it was the same thing on Ozzfest, you know, it was boom boom boom. Get your shit onstage, play, get off. Ozzfest was run like a tight ship and thereís a reason for that. Everything went over really smoothly. Everybody had their shit together. I heard Warped Tour is a little bit more laid-back, which is cool as well, you know? You donít have to stress out and be running around everywhere to get all your stuff into place, but either way, summer festivals are cool because itís like summer camp for a bunch of band dudes, you know? Itís cool. (laughs)

Travis Miguel: You meet so many people and you get to play to different people every day and thereís just so much to do all day: go out and watch other bands or check out the other booths and stuff like that, so summer festivals are real cool. It where itís at. Right on. I read where Atreyu had a hard transition to Victory Records in the initial going, but obviously itís a relationship thatís paid off in the end with their extensive advertising and a really nice push of you guys. Tell me what was so awkward in the beginning. Was it some sort of dawning like, ĎOh shit, weíre signed to this label?í

Travis Miguel: Yeah, definitely! When we recorded our first demo we didnít bother sending it to Victory because that was so far off the radar, but one thing led to another and our demo fell in the right hands and next thing you know the question becomes ĎWow, should I sign this record contract or should I finish up school and be an adult?í (laughs)

Travis Miguel: But Iím glad I did and we wouldnít be here right now if it wasnít for Victory, you know? Especially for us growing up on a lot of the older Victory bands like Snapcase and Earth Crisis, Strive, Bloodlet, Reach the Sky, bands like that. Just to see our name on the same roster as all of those bands is just Ö weird. Itís cool, you know? We never thought anything like that would happen to us, so weíre stoked. Which one of you used to work at a Hot Topic store?

Travis Miguel: Myself and our singer Alex. Actually, thatís how I got into the band, was through them. Okay, right on. To me, itís amazing to see a retail store become a symbol of counterculture. Donít get me wrong, Iíve bought a few shirts there, but whatís funny is the things that were big in the eighties have all cycled back in that place Ö

Travis Miguel: Mmm hmm. Itís not a rebellious thing to me anymore, itís actually quite surreal.

Travis Miguel: Yeah, yeah. So since youíve worked there before, what are your thoughts on this whole Hot TopicÖphenomenon, I guess you could call it?

Travis Miguel: Itís Ö especially for younger kids discovering more underground music, I think thatís a definite headquarters to go check out a cool new band or whatever. Right.

Travis Miguel: Whereas before kids didnít have that kind of outlet unless they went to an underground uber indie store, which you canít find those places as much anymore; theyíre so few and far between. So yeah, itís cool, you know? Itís giving kids exposure to stuff they normally might not get to see. Thatís cool when you put it like that. Now, Iím sure youíre aware of The String Quartet tribute to Atreyu Ö

Travis Miguel: (laughs) Yeah! I mean, the cello, violin, viola, they all do seem to go hand-in-hand for some reason, man.

Travis Miguel: Yeah. You know, with the macabre undertones in the lyrics. Are you flattered that a project of this nature has been bestowed upon you guys? It usually takes a whole career for tribute albums to surface on a band.

Travis Miguel: Definitely! I remember the first time I ever heard of that concept, you know, hearing a string quartet cover metal, was when it was done to those Metallica songs. So the fact thereís a string quartet out there who actually took the time to learn our songs and kind of transcribe and translate them to four completely different instruments. Itís beyond me Ö itís cool, you know? Itís flattering. Yeah.

Travis Miguel: To listen to it, itís kind of Ö again, itís very surreal just to hear it in a different format like that, but itís cool. Absolutely. Now, you guys are headlining this Thick as Thieves Tour with Unearth, Norma Jean and Scars of Tomorrow. Youíre riding high with sold out shows and Iím sure youíd feel you have an agreeable cast of openers, so to this point, howís the tour been going?

Travis Miguel: Itís been awesome. The kids have been Ö initially we were a little scared because like you said, the caliber of the opening bands are so high it keeps us on our toes! (laughs) I hate going on after Unearth because theyíre so good! (laughs)

Travis Miguel: And Norma Jean, and Scars of Tomorrow Ö Itís like ĎWow, canít slack off tonight!í (laughs) 

Travis Miguel: Or for the rest of the tour for that matter. Yeah, we were scared kids were going to leave after the opening bands, but kids have been sticking around and singing their hearts out, moshing, and so itís been pretty cool, you know? Every band on this tour is amazing, theyíve been definitely getting a lot out of it and so have we. Itís cool that we just got off a tour with Taking Back Sunday, which, you know, is the complete opposite of this tour and itís cool that we can bounce back and forth like that. Yeah, it definitely feels good to be on a heavier tour this time around. Right on, man. Well, thanks again for having me up here.

Travis Miguel: Sure, no problem.

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Copyright © 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400