For fans of Atreyu, Hell or Highwater may have a pretty familiar sound. Although the band boasts little to no metal influence — instead striving for an old-fashioned straight up rock and roll sound — the powerful voice belting over Hell or Highwater’s instrumentals is that of Brandon Saller, Atreyu’s drummer and the melodic side of their vocals.
With their new record, Vista, due out next month and a major tour kicking off this weekend, Saller and the rest of Hell or Highwater are looking forward to proving they’re more than just the drummer-turned-vocalist’s other band. After all, the new album has technically been years in the making at this point.
“We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now because we started writing it, but then Atreyu started touring again,” Saller says. “Everything got put on hold for almost two years, but then we finally finished the record last year. It’s been a long time coming, and a lot of energy went into this record for sure.”
But if you’re expecting to catch Saller behind the drumkit on Vista, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The songwriter traded in his drumsticks to focus more on his singing with Hell or Highwater, which allows him to move around and show off his skills as a frontman rather than simply a vocalist. For the 33-year-old, drumming will always be a part of his life, but getting to move at the front of the stage is still a really good time.
“It’s a lot of fun to be up at the front and see the crowd more closely,” Saller says. “It’s very freeing when there’s nothing holding you down in the back of the band. It’s a whole different monster, but it’s definitely a whole lot of fun.”
Of course, with Atreyu back on a part-time basis, Saller won’t always be able to commit a ton of time to Hell or Highwater. Vista got put on the back burner for Atreyu’s Long Live, and even while he’s touring for the new record, Saller will have to occasionally pick up the sticks again to perform at a festival or two with Atreyu. For the most part, the lyricist’s goal is just to focus on one band at a time and switch between the two every couple of years.
“I think what we’re going to do is just flip-flop back and forth,” Saller says. “Atreyu just did a two-year cycle, and now that we’re done with that, I’ll be able to focus on Hell or Highwater for the next year or so. Atreyu will still play some shows here and there, but it’s easier to just go back and forth so I can put my focus on one thing at a time.”
Although many artists might detest going back to the early stages of playing tiny venues and building a fanbase, Saller welcomes the process with open arms. Sure, he could take the easy way out and just have Hell or Highwater perform at all of the major rock festivals where his name would get them an afternoon slot, but the singer also enjoys the more intimate experience of actually getting to know the people who enjoy the music he’s creating — and that’s tough to do from a giant festival stage.
“I’ve always loved the process of building a band,” Saller says. “Even with Atreyu, that was always so much fun to just start out and be able to really interact with the fans. You’re face-to-face with the people who are giving you the ability to start touring and buying your records, and that’s a really cool time. We’ll also have the opportunity to play some of the big festivals along with the small clubs and shows, so it’s cool that we get to fill both of those spots at the same time.”
Hell or Highwater will be at the Constellation Room inside of the Observatory on April 14. Tickets cost $12 and are available through the Observatory’s website.