Making the transition from drumming to vocals is a seemingly difficult task. Fortunately for Hell or Highwater frontman, Brandon Saller, the mic sounds just as good in his hands as the sticks.
Following the split of Orange County metalcore band Atreyu -- with whom he played drums for 11 years -- Saller moved on to exploring new musical avenues with his new band Hell or Highwater. With a re-release of the band's debut album Begin Again just around the corner -- due out on February 5 -- the group departs on a month long North American tour with British glam rockers, the Darkness. The tour kicks off tonight in Fort Lauderdale at Revolution Live.
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In an interview with the New Times, Saller discusses life after Atreyu, musical influences, and covering Simon and Garfunkel.
New Times: You played drums for Atreyu and now you've made the transition to singing lead vocals for Hell or Highwater. How's that switch been for you?
Brandon Saller: It's been fun for the most part. I feel like they're such different positions, but I think that the stage is comfortable for me in general so it's a lot of fun. It's definitely different to go from sitting down in the back to now standing up in the front. But, it's been a lot of fun being closer to the crowd and more interactive like that. So that's something you're kind of always lacking when you play the drums.
Was it nerve-wracking to have to develop a stage presence as far as being directly in front of the crowd?
I feel like I didn't focus too much on it. I feel like I just went out there and was myself. That kind of created my own stage presence. I didn't want to try and do anything or emulate anybody because I feel like it would have just come off silly and probably not look very good. [laughs] I just went out there and did me.
What bands or musicians have somewhat influenced the Hell or Highwater sound?
It's kind of all across the board. The music influences in this band are pretty vast. A lot of mine came from everything from Tom Petty to Foo Fighters to the Misfits and a lot of bands like that. I know that you can put everyone in the band's iPods on shuffle and it'll play stuff like the Beatles to Soilwork. It's all over the place. I think that's kind of what is cool about the band. It ends up making some music that is a little bit different and has a different edge to it because of that type of wide range of musical influences on the band.
Growing up, what got you into playing music?
My dad. My dad was always playing music, he sang and was is bands. He was very into music and kind of made sure that we were all into music and exposed to it. He raised me with a lot of stuff like Tom Petty. We'd call him Mr. Radio. I definitely think he was kind of the first person that got the idea of wanting to play music in my head.
Once Atreyu went on hiatus was it kind of a no-brainer for you to start another band or musical project?
Yeah. I already had been writing some songs even before we split and I recorded three or four songs by myself. I was going to put them out anyway whenever our next tour cycle break would have been and so it was kind of already in motion. When it became known that there was going to be a lot more time to do it, it became more serious. I found a band, finished the record, and have been touring ever since.
Do you think it's been difficult to escape the "Atreyu shadow"?
Yeah. And that's always going to be difficult with anything that you do next. The next step after you've been doing the same thing for 11 years is always going to be compared to what you did before. But, I think it's so blatantly obvious that this is so different than Atreyu. There are a lot of Atreyu fans that are really digging it but there's people who don't get it. There are those core heavy music fans who aren't having it and that's OK. But at the same time, I think we're representing ourselves in a way that the band speaks for itself enough. Inevitably, over time the band will make it's own name and be it's own entity.
How did you end up getting this tour with the Darkness?
We were looking for some tours for this period of the year. When it came together it was cool because we are all fans of the Darkness and have been for a long time. It's one of those bands that I think we will all enjoy watching every night. I think it will translate really well.
You guys covered Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer." Why that song?
That was kind of on a whim. We were going into the studio. We have these friends that were opening up a studio in Orange County and they wanted to get us in there to record a song to help promote the studio. Our guitar played suggested we do a cover song because he had this idea. He had mentioned to us a few times before that we do Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer."
At first we were a little skeptical because it's a little far off. He threw together a demo and actually pulled the original vocals off the song and changed the tempos. He created this demo of how he thought it should be and it was incredible. It was so different and almost punk. We went for it and it turned out so good. We realized we just had to do something with it. We were sitting on it for awhile and waiting for the opportunity to put it out there. So, it was great that all these things came together with the re-release because we had some really cool material to offer on top of the record.
Are there any other songs you guys would want to cover?
We actually did a couple songs. One of the things for our Kickstarter (fundraising campaign, earlier this year) was, we will cover any song the person wants and record it. The purchaser gets the only copy. So, there were two songs. One was this old school country song called "Amos Moses" that we did and who knows if it will ever see the light of day.
It kind of just depends if that person wants to put it on the internet. We were requested to also do a more heavy metal version of "Hotel California." We are in the process of recording those right now. We just love that whole idea of doing cover songs because it expands your musicianship and it's fun to learn other songs.
Are you playing any of them live?
We've done "The Boxer" a few times live. We will end up doing that a lot more. It's come across really well live even before we released it. It's got a good energy to it. I have a feeling that one will work its way into the live set.
You're kicking off the tour with the Darkness in Florida. Do you have any crazy stories about touring down here with Atreyu?
Florida has always been good for touring with Atreyu. We had this one show in Orlando at this place called the Social. We played through about half the show and it started raining. It was pouring and pouring to the point where the back of the venue started flooding. We had to rush all of our gear out and all the people inside out of the venue. But, nobody left. All the kids just stayed outside because they wanted something, they wanted a show. We ended up trying to set up at this weird bar or arcade place next door but they wouldn't let us. So we just set up our merch and hung out with the fans for something like three hours. It was awesome but scary because all of our gear almost got ruined and the venue was falling apart.
Florida has always been a cool a spot. Everyone has good energy in Florida.
The Darkness with Hell or Highwater. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, January 10, at Revolution Live, 100 SW 3rd Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $22 plus fees. Call 954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net.
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