Is hating Sabbath and Metallica a family value?  Photo courtesy Atreyu.
Is hating Sabbath and Metallica a family value? Photo courtesy Atreyu.

Emo Money, Emo Problems

A couple of weeks ago in these pages, I declared Rx Bandits the best OC band of the last decade. Some hate mail ensued. It concerned the absence of "real" bands like Atreyu from my controversial statement. Upon reflection, I thought maybe I was just being a prick. Believe it or not, at the time the letter came in, I was trying to get an interview with Atreyu, and in an effort to conduct a decent one, I delved headfirst into the metalcore, screamo, metallic-hardcore scene which I've otherwise avoided.

Teach me, Atreyu! Show me why you have legions of adoring tweenie fans! Show me what I've missed in the emotive hardcore movement!

My assessment? Well, do you ever get the feeling you've seen it all before? That a band has just taken what others have offered, watered it down, painted it up, and cranked the amps loud enough to cover the mistakes? Do you ever feel like they just got lucky? When you've seen two dozen kids stroll by, and they're all wearing skinny jeans, black T-shirts, and screaming through their eyeliner, it's like these dudes are all caught up in their own feedback loop, with no outside influences, knowledge of history and, most strikingly, no ideas.

Alex Varkatzas is the lead singer of Atreyu, a band whose style he reluctantly describes as "metallic rock." A while back, when he prattled off in an article something along the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing here) "I fucking hate Metallica," and "Fuck Black Sabbath," my eyebrows were . . . raised. Varkatzas insists his remarks were all taken out of context.

"When that stuff is in a magazine, it sounds a lot worse," says Varkatzas. "I drank then, and I'm not making excuses, but it was just an off-the-cuff generalization. I don't believe in heroes, don't worship." He added, "I respect those bands, but I stand by what I said."

Fair enough. So what were some of your influences and inspirations?

"I grew up listening to a lot of punk. Without that, I wouldn't have gotten into music."

Any bands in particular?

"I liked Rancid, growing up. I guess they're more of a modern punk band . . . yeah, Rancid."

Okay, okay, not a long list. In my hate mail, the reader pleaded with me to never "insult OC" by leaving out hometown heroes like Atreyu. Thinking that perhaps I'd been hasty, I asked Varkatzas if he could comment on the OC hardcore scene that birthed him and his band, and launched them on successful tours all over the US.

"I don't know, not really. I'm never really home; we've all kind of gone away. It would be a lot harder for my career if I just played in Orange County."

Considering my above assessment of the genre in which I felt Atreyu belonged, I wondered what a central figure in the movement thought about it. Does he think that pretenders have crowded the ranks? Does he think that imitators have somehow taken over metalcore's hallowed grounds?

"I don't know. I don't have much to do with it. We haven't been considered a hardcore band in a couple years, and that's fine with me," he says, before waxing philosophical about the nature of musical labels: "Genres are made up by critics, not really by bands. We never set out to fall into a genre; it's not a competitive thing."

Varkatzas is currently enjoying the spoils of moving to a major label, Hollywood Records, the benefits of which, he says, are pretty simple. "We actually pay our bills on time, and when they owe us money, we get it on time." He goes on to say that the fear of faceless suits influencing the music is exaggerated. "No one tells us what to play; our record sounds that way because we love the record. Period."

Atreyu have left the cultured county that nurtured them, along with the hardcore scene, though according to Varkatzas, they never really belonged there, and never really plan on returning. They'll be at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Sunday, though, where the loop will again commence—and, likely, my hate mail.



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