Avenged Sevenfold’s M Shadows: “My 25-year-old self would punch me in the face”

(Image credit: Press)

Matthew Sanders – aka M Shadows – has been the lead singer of Avenged Sevenfold since he and best friend Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan co-founded the band formed the band alongside guitarist Zacky Vengeance in 1999. Now seven albums into their career, they’ve become one of metal’s biggest modern day success stories. This is what he’s learned over the last 21 years.

“I’m a confident person. It goes back to one particular day when I was a kid. I was walking to my Catholic school and I’d left my shoes somewhere so I had to wear these horrible penny-loafers. My mom said to me, ‘Never give a shit what any of these people think, they’re never going to know you when you’re older, these people don’t matter.’ I was still nervous as hell but I’ve always kept that. Nobody knows what I think, they don’t know me and they never will.”

“You can’t be in a band like this and be a reclusive, sit in the corner guy. If you’re like that, you’ll never dominate.”

“Me, Zacky and The Rev played sports a lot. The Rev always played drums I suppose but we were mostly into sports. It just kind of morphed into, ‘Hey, let’s rock out together’. That ended up overshadowing everything else. We were just friends fucking around I guess. The Rev brought his kit over and totally over-played everything, putting big drum solos in while we were just trying to jam. It went from there, you know.”

(Image credit: Will Ireland/Total Guitar)

“I never tried to identify with anything. I just listened to the music I liked no matter what it was. Metal was just what I liked to listen to most.”

“When we first started we just wanted irritate people. All the shows we were playing were hardcore shows and those people get so upset about anything. We wanted to be larger than life. We had fog machines and intros and all that stuff just to piss people off. It made them talk. People were saying, ‘Fuck that band, they’re a bunch of idiots.’ Others were saying it was awesome and thought it was the coolest show they’d ever seen.”

“We had a lot of fun with the imagery and all the goofy stuff, but we always cared about the music first. A lot of people out there don’t care what you look like, they just want to listen to music but a lot of people wanted to slag on us because we looked a certain way.”

“My 25 year old self would probably punch me in the face. He was a firecracker ready to go off. He was smart enough to figure things out but he still – not to quote Sebastian Bach – had that youth gone wild mentality. You have to live it to figure it out. You have to make mistakes. We made a lot of those but we also made some good decisions, otherwise we wouldn’t be here now.”

“When we write songs, communication is key. Everyone knows not to get offended when we go into the writing process because if something sucks, we’re not going to beat around the bush and doodle on your riff for three days. If it sucks, throw it out and shut your mouth. You can’t have a big ego in that situation. That’s how we work.”

“When Jimmy died, it was so final. Most people don’t have to deal with that for a long time, and we were dealing with it at 28 and 29. Worse, it was someone so close. We had spent 18 years with him. We had done all our growing up together. We really knew each other so well. We lived on a bus with him, we had gone from not knowing how to play an instrument to playing huge stadiums together … and then, all of a sudden, he was gone. He’s not there. Ever. That’s a dose of reality that a lot of people don’t ever have to deal with.”

“Singing the lyrics Jimmy wrote for Nightmare before he died was almost the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. It was hard to sing that stuff; it was hard to finish the record. But I think the hardest thing is listening to the album. You realise he’s not there to be with you, it’s much harder to deal with than just recording it.”

“When you lose your best friend, you get a little older. Family becomes more important. You realise you write music for fun, for entertainment, and it all becomes slightly less important. They’re just songs. Hopefully they help people but we’re a lot more realistic about how the world works now. A lot of that comes from losing Jimmy, and from going through some things. What we went through happens to other people every day. That’s the important stuff.”

Tom Bryant

Tom Bryant is The Guardian's deputy digital editor. The author of The True Lives Of My Chemical Romance: The Definitive Biography, he has written for Kerrang!, Q, MOJO, The Guardian, the Daily Mail, The Mirror, the BBC, Huck magazine, the londonpaper and Debrett's - during the course of which he has been attacked by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bass player and accused of starting a riot with The Prodigy. Though not when writing for Debrett's.