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Synyster Gates

Oct 18, 2019

Forming in their senior year of high school, Avenged Sevenfold went from teenage garage band to one of the most successful American heavy metal outfits at the turn of the century. Selling an estimated eight million copies across their seven studio albums, the Huntington Beach natives have challenged the traditional genre, fusing aggressive metal, hard rock, and pop punk. In this episode, we speak to guitarist Synyster Gates about the importance of being musically adventurous, which albums were crucial in Avenged Sevenfold’s trajectory, and much more.

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Transcript

Announcer:
Welcome to the Ernie Ball podcast. It starts now.

Evan Ball:
Hello, I'm Evan Ball. This is Striking A Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. Today, we're joined by Synyster Gates, guitarist for Avenged Sevenfold. He's kindly agreed to do two episodes with us, so look for a followup coming in the future, but today we'll talk about the band's early days, their formation in high school, the metal scene at the time, their early gigs. We talk about the double-edged sword of going against the grain and being musically adventurous.

Evan Ball:
Syn discusses the albums that he feels were most crucial to the Avenged Sevenfold trajectory, the benefits and joys of expanding musical horizons and his musical relationship with his dad. It's really cool to see the mutual influence and synergy that's come from their relationship. Also included in this episode, the Synyster Gates School, parenthood, Justin Timberlake, and more. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Synyster Gates.

Evan Ball:
I'm here with Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold. Synyster Gates, welcome to the podcast.

Synyster Gates:
Thanks for having me, really appreciate it.

Evan Ball:
Yes, thanks for doing it. I'd like to start out, going back to the early days, to see how this all came about. High school, your singer, M. Shadows, The Rev, your original drummer, were they playing under the name "Avenged Sevenfold" in high school?

Synyster Gates:
They were, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Synyster Gates:
The Rev joined a few months after the conception, and then after a few inebriated house party discussions I think it was Val, Matt's wife, who convinced them to give me a shot, but they didn't want a lead guitar player in the band at the time. Yeah, it was Zacky, Shads, and The Rev that were jamming first.

Evan Ball:
Are you guys all at the same high school?

Synyster Gates:
No, I went to a different high school in Huntington as well as moving back with my father and I bounced back all over the place, child of divorce, and that forced constant moving.

Evan Ball:
You guys are all in Huntington Beach.

Synyster Gates:
All in Huntington Beach, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Around the same age?

Synyster Gates:
Yup, all the same age, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay, while they're in their band, are you in a rival band or are you, what are you doing in the scene?

Synyster Gates:
I don't know if it was a rival band, it was a head-in-the-sand band. I was in a band called Pinkly Smooth with The Rev, and that's what we started doing. The Rev was my best friend and that's who I grew up playing music with, and he was just writing this insane instrumental piano stuff that I really didn't think would translate. I heard no melodies, no drumming.

Synyster Gates:
He just was playing these wildly fantastical musical adventures on piano and he just was like, "This is going to be music that we're going to have in a band. You want to join my band?" I was like, "You don't have melody, drums. What am I going to do, play guitar over this stuff?" It's like piano opuses and shit like that, it was amazing stuff, and then the next day he came with one of the most brilliant melodies I'd ever heard. I was like, this guy is fucking next level. It'd be an honor to put some guitar on this shit and ruin it.

Evan Ball:
You guys are playing in these different bands. Is The Rev playing in both bands at this point?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay, okay. This is late '90s?

Synyster Gates:
Late '90s, yeah, yup.

Evan Ball:
I want to veer off track real quick just for fun. When I think of Huntington Beach around this time, Tito Ortiz comes to mind and his rise in the UFC.

Synyster Gates:
Right.

Evan Ball:
Did he happen to be on your radar at all?

Synyster Gates:
We met him a couple of times, but I wouldn't say that we're friends. We're obviously great admirers of him and always rooting him on, HB boy, hometown hero.

Evan Ball:
People were aware of it at the time?

Synyster Gates:
Oh, absolutely, yeah, yeah, yeah. We were all huge fans.

Evan Ball:
Okay, nice. I ask because being in San Luis Obispo, we were on the parallel track with Chuck Liddell.

Synyster Gates:
Oh, yeah?

Evan Ball:
They had the friendship in the beginning, kind of turned into a rivalry, but it was that same era so we were all really dialed into it.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, same here. We were fans of Chuck, too. It was so new and fresh to us and we were so young, it was just so cool to see absolute madness. It just was so much grittier than boxing at the time, you know?

Evan Ball:
Well, you guys had Tank Abbott beating people up in Huntington Beach before that.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, he was fucking with everybody we knew. All the kids that were a little older than us, they were running out and getting chased out of bars by this guy. He just wanted to fight. He didn't give a fuck where he was at and who he was with.

Evan Ball:
So scary.

Synyster Gates:
He just wanted to fight you, and the bigger you were the worse off you had it. It was crazy.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, I wouldn't want to see that, that guy hit so hard. A street fight, that's scary stuff.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, yeah, it's brutal.

Evan Ball:
All right, back on track, so you're in high school late '90s. What does the metal scene look like at this point? Because what I think of is you're peak "nu metal" at this point. Is that what's happening in the heavier scene at this point?

Synyster Gates:
The more popular scene, for sure, it was this nu metal sort of thing. I, again, just head in the sand, there was a lot of hardcore bands that we were hanging with. Certainly, Shadows was big hardcore fan and just being friends with James Hart from Eighteen Visions and going to high school with some those guys and stuff, it was guilt by association, and so that sort of thing took off.

Synyster Gates:
I was listening to more of the Panteras of the world, Megadeth and stuff like that and Metallica to a certain extent, and that was everything to me. I guess I didn't really listen to the radio that much until System of a Down came out. I guess they're nu metal, too, but as a band that gets pigeonholed in metalcore, whatever the fuck we've been called, you hate that. To me, they're not nu metal, they're just avant-garde brilliance and that's what I started listening to when radio got a little bit more hip and pulled out some really cool shit.

Evan Ball:
The zeitgeist of the time, I'm interested if you guys ever had conflicted feelings early on about direction, where to go, because you have this new breed of heavier bands and then Avenged Sevenfold fairly quickly brings back a sound reminiscent of hard rock, earlier metal, more shred. I'm just wondering, it seems like a bold to me at that point to come forward with the music you guys did, guitar in your face. I'm just wondering, was there any social pressure to go in a non-shred direction in that era?

Synyster Gates:
Well, I don't think there was any pressure. I think that if there's anybody who had this whole thing mapped out from the beginning it would be Matt. He definitely has always had a consciousness, a deep consciousness, of who we are and where we want to go, whereas I will just be nose in the books writing music, working on my craft, and whatever happens happens and is fine to me. When I think about genres affecting me, it's about what era of classical music I'm into at the moment or what era of jazz and how deep and complex do I want the harmony.

Synyster Gates:
That's fine, but I guess it's certainly not the forest for the trees. I'm a trees guy and like to work on the next iteration, I guess, of what our music will be in more nuanced form, where Matt definitely looks in this big general direction, and it's really exciting to have everything in between with all the different band members. There's the main vision of what we're going to want to do and that always changes as you start to write a song or even write a record. What you intend is far from where it's at, but it gives you impetus, it gives you purpose, it gives you direction and fuel to get cranking. For me, to answer the question directly, it was never about opposing forces or elitism or different types of music in the area. I was always just, like I said, nose in the books just working on my craft.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, how about Matt? Do you think he had a sense that the people whether they knew it or not were ready for some shred back in their lives?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, I think he's always been good at seeing that old adage that where nothing exists exists opportunity, and we've always known that. That with a little bit of fearlessness and maybe some liquid courage sometimes, we will write whatever the hell we want and the more unique it is the more excited we get. Then there's things that drive others in the band that just love the difference, love to piss people off. I can't lie, it's a really cool feeling to be extremely polarizing on a large level at times. At first, it's like you read some of these things and kids hate you and it hurts your feelings, but that's the model of success, love it or hate it, it really is.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, I worked on the Warped Tour in the early years and then came back a few years later. I don't remember what year it was, but you guys were on. I just went to one show, and you guys came on and there was a such a juxtaposition between you guys and the other bands. It was awesome, but it was just unapologetic "this is a rock show."

Synyster Gates:
Thank you, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Synyster Gates:
We were there first and foremost because we're fans of punk rock and, second, we were there to stand out and we definitely knew that. I say nose in the books and all this kind of stuff, which it definitely is, but, yeah, I think we knew when we stuck out like a sore thumb and most of the time that's what it was, because the music we were deeply attracted to was maybe more punk rock, different types of metal, rock and roll in certain things. Where we seemed to play and enjoy trying to be a part of was definitely not similar to who we were as a band musically, certainly.

Evan Ball:
All right, you joined the band a couple years out of high school?

Synyster Gates:
I joined at the end of, I think I joined at the end of 1999. Maybe I was in high school or just out of high school.

Evan Ball:
Oh, okay, pretty early, okay.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, we all grew up as friends and stuff like that.

Evan Ball:
I thought I heard you went to Musicians Institute and then came back and joined the band.

Synyster Gates:
You know what? That's probably what it was. I only went for three months, though, so I went two different years, one for three months and then thought I'd just get all the musical knowledge in three months. It's fucking being dumb and 18, and then started playing with them. No, it was 2000, I think I joined in early 2000, actually.

Evan Ball:
Okay, okay.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
What do those early Avenged Sevenfold gigs look like? Are you guys playing house parties? Are there certain clubs around Orange County that you'd hit?

Synyster Gates:
All of the above, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Synyster Gates:
Couz Café, Shay Café, house parties, Santa Ana, clubs but old houses transformed into little venues. Yeah, wherever we could play, and they were just small and nobody gave a shit. The closer to home the more friends we had, and so it looked cool and felt cool. The minute that it was out of the friend's travel acceptabilities, then it was just empty shows.

Evan Ball:
You built up a pretty loyal fan base around Huntington Beach.

Synyster Gates:
We definitely did. It took a long time and we had some really good help from bands like From Autumn to Ashes that took us out on our first tour and others. We owe a lot of that early success to them and just being really, really cool and non-elitist in a very elitist culture, which hardcore was at the time. It was very familial but it was hard to break into that scene, especially if you did anything different, fucking hated you.

Evan Ball:
Okay, your third album, City of Evil, was put out on a major label. I'm wondering, was this a notably different experience? What kinds of things change when you're on a major label?

Synyster Gates:
Fortunately for us and thankful to them, not much. Also, unfortunately, not much financially, too, because it was just a different era. We had just missed that late-'90s single equals platinum record and you're fucking golden. It was definitely still a struggle and we released our most ambitious effort.

Synyster Gates:
They signed us for Waking the Fallen and then we went and wrote City of Evil, an ostensibly zero hit compendium of just absolute madness, and we got very fortunate that we were in the right place and the right time that Bat Country took off. It was one of those things that was different on the radio and they were really accepting of going against the grain. It worked and with that aligning of the stars it took off, but nothing changed as far as like, nobody bought houses then. It was the same continuous progression. Nothing felt overnight.

Synyster Gates:
I think we all had maybe $30,000 in our pockets, which is great. It's a great payday when you have nothing in your pocket. In fact, most of us owed money, but that doesn't buy you even a nice car, really, and most of us were pretty savvy with our money or at least we saved it. We didn't blow anything, we saved maybe a drinking reserve. We'd come home after a tour and buy all our friends drinks and stuff like that, but other than that we saved all of our money and so there was no big blowout buys or anything like that, so life just remained the same. We lived at our parents' house until a couple of years later, but we had a gold record and our songs were being played everywhere. It's kind of weird.

Evan Ball:
Can you think back and think of significant periods or even specific moments, maybe fortuitous moments, that propelled the band forward?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, I think there are certain things that I've looked back on and just thought of as immense investments in our career, and that was definitely one of them. That showed more obvious returns, I guess.

Evan Ball:
Which one?

Synyster Gates:
City of Evil, probably.

Evan Ball:
Okay, yeah.

Synyster Gates:
Whereas the records like The White Album, our self or eponymous records or whatever the fuck you call it, that one and The Stage, I think, didn't show immediate return. I think the self-titled record is a fan favorite and The Stage, which had pretty much zero singles and pissed off a lot of people, had some of the most amazing events in our history when we played the top of Capitol Records, on top of that building.

Synyster Gates:
It was our highest-acclaimed record by all the different publications and stuff or fanzines and different magazines, webzines, and stuff that hated us for the Huntington Beach culture, came back around when they saw a more substantive look at life in outer space and fucking what happens next and all this kind of shit because The Stage was just, to me, a lyrical masterpiece. I feel like I can say that because I didn't write anything lyrically and it's so, I don't know.

Synyster Gates:
Those investments anchored us as a band. I feel like the songwriting that Jimmy put on display on the self-titled is just, it's magical, it's fucking magical. We have, in my humble opinion, a Bohemian Rhapsody because of Jimmy and because of our self-titled and A Little Piece of Heaven that is just by far the fan favorite. Everywhere you fucking go they scream it, need to hear it, and it's a crazy beast of a thing. That song didn't make us a bunch of money, it wasn't a single, it wasn't this. It was just an investment in the longevity and the depth of your career.

Evan Ball:
Right, got you. Real quick, you mention The Stage. Who was angry about The Stage or who was hating it and why?

Synyster Gates:
It was a very polarizing record. It's a very deep record, harmonically, melodically, lyrically. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. If you're a fan of Bat Country and that's what got you into Avenged, you probably don't give a fuck about The Stage. If a Betrayed or Strength of the World got you in, then it's probably your favorite record and I get that from a lot of people that I talk to that are deeper fans, I guess, and certainly more musically inclined fans have nothing but praise, which is very rewarding of The Stage because that's probably my proudest work to date.

Evan Ball:
Some fans want you to stay in the lane that they prefer.

Synyster Gates:
For sure, absolutely. That's fine and I don't hate them for that or even lament that at all. I totally was like that growing up, but you can't ...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, it's just taste, that's how it goes.

Synyster Gates:
Exactly.

Evan Ball:
All right, today, do you guys all have kids now?

Synyster Gates:
We do, we all have kids, tons of kids.

Evan Ball:
All right, what's the age range?

Synyster Gates:
I think Brooks's kids are the oldest at eight years old now, I believe. Time flies, it's crazy, and then everything down to I have a kid coming in one week, or so they say.

Evan Ball:
That's awesome. Yeah, okay. Are Avenged Sevenfold shows and events more of a family affair now?

Synyster Gates:
Definitely, definitely. Thank God, it's going to keep your favorite or most unfavorite band around for a lot longer.

Evan Ball:
All right.

Synyster Gates:
Fortunately or unfortunately for you.

Evan Ball:
Was there a time when you guys were at your wildest? Was there a time where you guys were most embracing of the rockstar life?

Synyster Gates:
I don't know if we thought about it in terms, but you just unleashed some already crazy kids across the globe with millions of adoring fans and tons of places to get in trouble at and late nights, nobody to tell you to go to bed.

Evan Ball:
Sounds wonderful.

Synyster Gates:
Oh, it was wonderful. It was scary, for sure, in looking back on it, and who knows what poor investments we made in our livers but only time will tell. Yeah, it was pretty brutal in the mid-2000s, for sure, mid to late 2000s.

Evan Ball:
Okay, back to the kids, back to the present, some of the kids are actually cousins, right?

Synyster Gates:
Yes, yes, yes, absolutely. We're also close that they definitely all feel like cousins, they love each other very much, but, yeah, Matt and I are married to twin sisters. We live a stone's throw away from each other and his two kids with my one kid in the future, other kid, yeah, are crazy close.

Evan Ball:
That's awesome.

Synyster Gates:
My kid, all older brothers, to me, in my experience are classic older brothers, and that goes without saying for all these different kids except for my kid, who is by far a younger brother to his cousins, his brothers, Cash and River, Matt's kids. He's such a little copycat, just tag-along annoying little brother. He just loves them so much and he's just a little sensitive guy. He's a bruiser, too, like a sensitive little bruiser. He just wants hugs and kisses at all costs, it's ridiculous.

Evan Ball:
That's so cool, yeah. Who started dating whom first?

Synyster Gates:
Matt and Val, I think, are middle school sweethearts.

Evan Ball:
Oh, really?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, from seventh, sixth grade maybe, and Michelle and I have been friends forever and then after high school we just, one thing leads to another and friends start hanging out.

Evan Ball:
This dates back a while, okay, awesome. You guys have had Brooks Wackerman on drums for a while now. How did this come together?

Synyster Gates:
Well, we were kind of in need of a drummer. We've had a lot of amazing help since The Rev passed from Mike Portnoy to Arin Ilejay, incredible, incredible drummers, but we just felt like we wanted to go a different direction. We felt that Brooks was absolutely the right guy and fortuitously we had heard through the grapevine through a mutual friend of ours, Diony Sepulveda who's our manager and tour manager, that he was pretty much done with Bad Religion looking for other gigs.

Synyster Gates:
I can't really speak for him exactly how that worked out, but we had a meeting and he was very interested and we had been fans, huge Bad Religion fans, Vandals, and this guy, just brilliant energy. We all grew up listening to punk rock and we just miss that bombastic caution-to-the-wind energy that this guy had, that Jimmy had as a huge fan of NOFX and all these different guys, so we wanted that energy. To date, he has only uplifted this band and provided extra energy when it's needed.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Is it true Wackermans are actually born with drumsticks in their hands?

Synyster Gates:
Exactly, exactly! If they want to eat cereal in the morning, they have to fucking do their rudiments. Yeah, just the pedigree is just next level and they're all just savants and wizards at their craft.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, for listeners who don't know, his oldest brother Chad Wackerman just plays stuff that's over most human beings' heads.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, absolutely, with Frank Zappa and the late great, one of my favorite guitar players of all time, Allan Holdsworth, and is just a monster, a monster.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, there's more of them, right? I think his dad was a drum teacher.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, dad's a drum teacher still teaching at Osha in his mid-80s, another fucking savant, insane. I believe Bob plays bass, I want to say, and is just a fucking next level bass player and just tons of talent.

Evan Ball:
If you could give Brooks Wackerman a stage name, what would it be?

Synyster Gates:
"Brooks Wackerman."

Evan Ball:
It works for a drummer.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
How do your musical tastes differ in the band?

Synyster Gates:
Well, historically they've always differed pretty greatly with some, what is that? Anyway, those two fucking graphs that ...

Evan Ball:
Oh, the Venn diagram.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, the Venn diagram, yeah, kind of like a Venn diagram. You have your own stuff and that's the majority of the stuff that you listen to and usually it inflects deep grievance on the road. Historically when you're driving you get to listen to your music and the others are trying to sleep. I won't name names and besmirch other bands or other preferences, but it can keep you up at night. Some of those things are kind of funny.

Synyster Gates:
Now, presently, I just think we're just so much more open-minded. There comes a point in your life where you want to be exposed to new music and you're looking forward to getting into something new. Me, I'm 38 years old, I've consumed so much music as it being part of my profession to do so as well, that you're constantly looking for new stuff. You're less picky, you're certainly less elitist, and you can always find something good. The challenge is to keep that highly discerning quality that you had in your youth when you knew exactly who you were and didn't give a fuck about anybody else. I think, still, fortunately we're still very strong in that department.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, now we listen to a lot of the same things, like Matt grew up listening to Pink Floyd. I was not a Pink Floyd fan growing up and now I couldn't be more obsessed with them. I recently got Matt into Stevie Wonder, so listening to Stevie Wonder and all sorts of stuff. Zacky got me into Lana Del Rey and different things, and Jimmy and maybe Johnny have introduced me to Justin Timberlake. I never knew who that was before six months ago, now I'm obsessed.

Evan Ball:
Wait, you didn't know who he was?

Synyster Gates:
No, I'm just kidding. I definitely, always a fan but never a deep, great appreciation for this monster of a talent. Things like that, and so you're just always open to having that, "Oh, my God, I cannot put the headphones down," type of moments.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, sometimes you dismiss these huge pop icons, but then there's usually a reason why somebody rises to the top.

Synyster Gates:
Completely, completely.

Evan Ball:
All right, we're going to take a quick break, then come back and talk about Syn's guitar playing.

Evan Ball:
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Evan Ball:
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Evan Ball:
All right, I just registered a couple days ago for the Synyster Gates School.

Synyster Gates:
Wonderful.

Evan Ball:
It's so awesome. I was prepping for this interview, so I looked in there and I had to pry myself away just so I could continue prepping, but so much cool stuff in there. Maybe I'll let you talk about it. It's a partnership between you and your dad.

Synyster Gates:
Right, right, yeah. Very exciting. We're actually doing a full renovation right now. Some of the code, source code, got hijacked. Building anything is next level. You have to be super passionate about it, and then when it does come to fruition, your passions just blossom and then you see these kids having opportunities that you never had growing up and that's been the main thing.

Synyster Gates:
It's really not about 200 or so lessons that we have, although I'm proud of that number especially for a free school, but it's all about the community. Anybody who says you can learn something or play like somebody else in 23 videos is either lying or completely ignorant to the fact that there's so much nuance and so many relatable gems that one teacher can't teach, and so what we've really tried to implement was putting a teaching hat on all of the students of all levels, shapes, and sizes. I've found that beginner students have been the greatest contributors to a lot of the stuff and that's what you hope for.

Synyster Gates:
The beginner students are sharing their eureka moments that I've long forgotten with all these other kids. There's a few different ways of how you go about these eureka moments that resonate differently with all these different kids, and all of a sudden you're expediting growth in their formative years, which is huge. They're not going to have to unlearn any bad habits like bad timing, because they all know to play with a metronome and that's the only way, and there's so many more examples of just really fundamental tricks and techniques that you'll alleviate so much future pain and suffering unlearning these things.

Synyster Gates:
The community has been it, and so that's where we're really focusing our growth and consideration and time. It's really paying off, we're seeing some insane turns of events here and it's only going to get better.

Evan Ball:
Is there a common stumbling block that you can think of that comes to mind that keeps coming up in the community?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, just frustration that it takes too long. If there's one thing, and it's the first time I've actually ever said that, it's a great question because there's a maybe a bunch but the basic thing that frustrates people is not getting there as fast or a regression but pretty much the same thing. "Why am I not getting better? I'm putting in the hours, I'm putting in this, I'm putting in that," and there's usually two variables.

Synyster Gates:
It's, you have to enjoy the process and understand that if it was easy everybody would do it, and it's not. It's one of the hardest things in the world. Doing anything well is the hardest thing in the world. Then, two, you're probably doing it wrong. If you're never getting to that point, if you're spending a year on a major scale and you haven't figured out how to run through a major scale, you're probably practicing it wrong or don't understand the application of the major scale.

Synyster Gates:
That's what the community is there to do is to support, let you know that these are the horror stories that come with it. "It took me forever and my fingers were bleeding, then I got a job and I had to take six months off, and all of a sudden I came back to it and I couldn't even play the fucking guitar," like horror stories to these kids. Then, also, "Wow, this thing completely reinvented my approach to this and that, and this is how I got it. This was my eureka moment." It'll resonate with certain kids and other kids will need somebody else's eureka moment, but that community is what gets you through all the different videos. It's not the videos.

Evan Ball:
That's awesome. I haven't even jumped into the community yet, so I'll just hype the videos real quick, because that's what I noticed. It's just a treasure trove of content, of value.

Synyster Gates:
Thank you, yeah.

Evan Ball:
It made me want to go back to square one. There are so many gaps in my playing and my knowledge.

Synyster Gates:
Well, that's it. Yeah, you should, it'd be fun.

Evan Ball:
All these videos sound interesting, so I want to go back and work through it.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, I love to hear that, I love to hear that.

Evan Ball:
Your dad does the bulk of those teaching videos, and then you offer up a ton of licks, different riffs, different techniques, so it's a really cool combination of you guys. I assume he was your first teacher?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, absolutely, first, second, and probably last teacher. We have a blues series coming out and he's doing this whole blues series, so the whole first 175 videos were a collaboration. Then I just said, "Just make sure you get some chords in on this and make sure you get a little out, because blues lends itself to jazz very much so, so get a little depth here harmonically." Other than that, he laid out 21 really full-length videos of blues playing, and it's just things that I've forgotten over the years or never even learned. It's just so deep.

Synyster Gates:
The thing about blues that you don't realize is it's everywhere. It's in pop, it's in jazz, it's in blues, it's in country, it's everything, it's everything. If you want to play minor blues, you can shift that pentatonic up and then you're playing major blues. It's all very, very relative, it's all very basic yet very pervasive throughout any genre of music.

Evan Ball:
Being of two different generations, I assume you guys grew up learning some different stuff, but does he ever now come to you for lessons on metal riffs?

Synyster Gates:
He used to, and then he outgrew me. We outgrew each other at different points in time. He's always told, really, I very much appreciated stories about him listening and saying, "Oh, that's a pretty cool thing," and then going and working it out to the point where he couldn't work things out that I was working on, when I was going to MI and different things like that. He'd ask me, "What the fuck are you playing there?" Then I'd show him and then he'd reinvent it into something else that I had no clue what he was doing, but it's always been a back and forth process.

Synyster Gates:
I think the thing that I've really appreciated about him is that he approaches music from a songwriter's perspective, which is what I've always tried to do which I think he appreciates about me. You've got to focus on motif and melody and harmony. The solo, the attempt, is that the solo's as strong as the melody and lyrical content of the song. You want to write a great song first and then write a great solo second that completely complements your hopefully great song.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah. How old were you when you started?

Synyster Gates:
I believe I was eight or nine years old when I ...

Evan Ball:
Oh, okay, pretty early.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, when I was first serious, music was in the house. I think I picked up a guitar as early as four or five or something like that or maybe even earlier. My dad was a musician well before I was born, a successful musician. He was playing with Frank Zappa probably five or six years before I was born. He was 17 playing with the absolute cats, so music was all that I knew growing up. I always knew that that's what I would do for better or for worse at some capacity. Yeah, it was always there for me.

Evan Ball:
If you look back at the earliest Avenged Sevenfold albums, do you feel like you've continued to progress playing-wise? If so, in what ways?

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, definitely. I've definitely attempted at least to broaden my horizons, always trying to do something a little bit different. The one thing that I do pride myself in is that I'm a pretty well-rounded player. The problem with that is that you don't want to be a dilettante or a mere dab hand, as they say, at a bunch of different styles, so you have to know who you are and what your DNA is, but I love jazz, I love country, I love classical.

Synyster Gates:
There's so many different techniques that apply to all these different things, so you might find all of the necessary metal techniques or you feel that they're the necessary metal techniques in your early 20s if that's what you're going for, but then you want to be innovative on those things and then that takes 10 years of just strictly devoting, applying yourself to the practice of innovation, and then you have to get fucking lucky to do something that nobody has ever done before. That's, for me, an important thing to pursue, and I'm not so sure that I've done that, even, but I pursue it.

Synyster Gates:
You won't get that way if you spread yourself too thin, but if you don't apply jazz, if you don't apply country, and you don't apply the blues and all these different genres and immerse yourself in it, then you're just going to be a replica of yourself and others and you'll never be you truly, and that's the main thing. Being exposed to all that music, I was just so fortunate that my dad played everything in the world. Jazz, I didn't have to pick up jazz by force, I just naturally loved it because it was in my house playing since I was a little kid, same with classical, country, the Beatles, whoever.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's so cool that you can practice in all those different genres and then bring it to a band like Avenged Sevenfold.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, that's the true gift is that I can apply all those things in my day job.

Evan Ball:
Do you practice a lot now?

Synyster Gates:
A lot less, to be honest.

Evan Ball:
Wait till your next kid comes.

Synyster Gates:
I know. Literally, it's kids, it's business, I'm really obsessed with songwriting. I write music all the time, constantly writing music. I'm constantly playing through different tones. I'm obsessed with the Axe-Fx. There's so many unique different colors to paint with there that it's like beginning to play guitar all over, so I'm extremely excited about that. As far as the quest for innovation, songwriting, and taste, that's still there, but scales and jazz harmony, classical harmony, the stuff that I was obsessed with a year ago, for the previous five years it was all about that, there hasn't been much of that at all, to be honest.

Evan Ball:
What do you like to do apart from music, hobbies, sports, TV shows you like?

Synyster Gates:
Man, so many wonderful things in my life have fallen to the wayside for family and music, but it's great. I loved jujitsu, I did that for about five years, and I was excelling and doing really well and then this very green, very small white belt just about broke my thumb, landed on it, and he couldn't have been more than 140 lbs. He's a little kid and it was irresponsible of me to throw this little kid around and just working all my brand new moves, and it bit me in the ass, so I couldn't play guitar for two months and I was just completely swollen shut, for lack of a better term, and I couldn't move my thumb.

Synyster Gates:
Then my feet started hurting when I was doing Muay Thai and so all those bruiser manly-man hobbies fell to the wayside, but surfing has been my side piece for my entire life. I love to surf and that's not because I've gotten hurt or this or that, it's just because time with the school and Avenged Sevenfold and all these things, family, it just doesn't allow for ... My mornings need to be spent with my kid and my future kid in the next couple of fucking days.

Evan Ball:
Do you have a solo, song, album, maybe all three that you're most proud of?

Synyster Gates:
I'm very proud of a lot of the work on Stage. It's been a couple years since I heard Sunny Disposition, and I just heard that the other day and it made me laugh. That solo just made me laugh. I had the biggest smile because I knew I was just having so much fucking fun in the studio just writing the most ridiculous little fucking excerpt of music, and that song is the most ridiculous little excerpt of music, a part from The Stage. It just reminded me of a very, very happy time where art wasn't sacrificed at all.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's cool. We'll link to that in show notes. What gauge strings do you use?

Synyster Gates:
10-52, historically, although we're going to see what happens, maybe 7-56.

Evan Ball:
7, people, do you hear that? 7-gauge, interesting.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, because we're working on some funny business here. I think we were talking about it a little bit earlier. We got a fretless, headless eight-string with a high A string and a low G string, so the middle of that is your typical standard six-string, and then we have a low G and a high A.

Evan Ball:
You keep the 10-52, a skinny top, heavy bottom in the middle.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then maybe even, I like the lower strings pitch-wise to be a little bit thinner, too, so I might have two 52s, I don't know. I love dropping the 52 to an A. It's punchy.

Evan Ball:
Do you play Cobalts or the standard Slinkys nickel-wound?

Synyster Gates:
I've been playing Paradigms recently.

Evan Ball:
Paradigms, okay.

Synyster Gates:
They keep the tonality and they're just strong as fuck, they're incredible.

Evan Ball:
Nice. Can you name three albums that were influential for you, or however many you want?

Synyster Gates:
Oh, my God. Hell, yeah. Mr. Bungle's eponymous record, the self-titled is a masterpiece and that just changed my entire life probably for the worse, definitely not for the better.

Evan Ball:
I don't think so.

Synyster Gates:
That is my go-to. That is the quintessential melange of depth meets most approachable melody. It's just so melodic. Mike Patton, right when he just out beyond out just hits these Stevie Wonder style bluesy R&B melodies that just fucking wet the panties, he is absolutely next level when it comes to taking such deep and abstract avant-garde harmony and just making it so approachable and so musical. It'll take you a week or two to get there if you're more of a pop guy, but I promise you you'll get there, and that fucking record is nonstop.

Synyster Gates:
My north star as a whole is the Beatles. My north star individually is Paul McCartney. Pick a Beatles record, I don't care if it's early, middle, or late-stage Beatles. It's all just masterpiece harmony, melodic tension release, fucking brilliance. I'd have to say that Abbey Road fucking stole my heart but, yeah, and then third ...

Evan Ball:
Was your dad a huge Beatles guy?

Synyster Gates:
Oh, yeah, both of our favorite bands, for sure, for sure.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Synyster Gates:
Sgt. Pepper's, absolute masterpiece, I do a lot of studying with that record, but I think Abbey Road just speaks to me a little bit more. I love the adventurous nature of the medley and the ending and it's just incredible.

Synyster Gates:
For sheer brutality and what I've always said is the raping and pillaging of guitar, I'd have to go with Far Beyond Driven by Pantera. Dime just, how he expressed himself, I still don't get it. There's a lot of things that you can mimic or maybe think that you can mimic musically if you spent enough time.

Evan Ball:
Dimebag, huge inspiration for you.

Synyster Gates:
For sure, for sure.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. What do you take from him?

Synyster Gates:
Absolute 110% control of emotion on his instrument. If he feels it, it's just there. There's no block from mind to tips of his fingers. It's just there, he absolutely commands the guitar.

Evan Ball:
Are you picturing solos when you say that?

Synyster Gates:
Everything.

Evan Ball:
Everything?

Synyster Gates:
Absolutely everything, riffs, solos, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, so creative and melodic on his solos.

Synyster Gates:
Insane, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Note selection.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Evan Ball:
All right, do you have a favorite social media platform, or how should people find out what's going on?

Synyster Gates:
I guess I do. I'm definitely more familiar with Instagram, although my last post was a couple of months ago and it was this 10-year-old fucking shredder kid, Jayden Tatasciore? I know I'm pronouncing that wrong, but, yeah, 10-year-old kid. I think he's on Rock of Ages in Australia right now, but just he played one of my hardest solos in Not Ready to Die, crazy sweeps and weird things going on as well as legato. It's just a blend of all these funky techniques. He's 10 and he nails it.

Evan Ball:
That's crazy.

Synyster Gates:
Nails it, vibrato, inflection, nuance, emotion. He's a freak.

Evan Ball:
Wow.

Synyster Gates:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Evan Ball:
What's the URL for your school?

Synyster Gates:
Syngates.com.

Evan Ball:
Okay. S-Y-N-gates.com.

Synyster Gates:
Right.

Evan Ball:
Synyster Gates, thanks for being on the podcast.

Synyster Gates:
My pleasure, it was a lot of fun.

Evan Ball:
All right.

Synyster Gates:
We went places.

Evan Ball:
Thanks again for tuning into Striking A Chord. We really appreciate the kind reviews that have come through. If you'd like to contact us, you can email strikingachord@ernieball.com. Also, some of you might have noticed that there's usually a short bonus clip that plays at the very end of each episode, like right after this announcement, so why not stick around for a few more seconds?

Evan Ball:
Personal guitar lesson right here. When would you do economy picking and when would it be alternate picking? How would you decide it in a riff that could be played either way? Does that make sense?

Synyster Gates:
Whatever, yes, absolutely. Alternate picking can be a little harsher, and if you want that deep John Petrucci big run through, then you might want big aggressive alternate picking thing. Also, if it's easier to play with alternate picking, I alternate pick a lot of different things, but when I'm navigating through the abyss of what you're trying to say and create, it's an amalgam of everything. It's really just a mixture of both. When you've been doing both techniques for a long time, you stop thinking about those things, so until that happens I would implore you to do both. Try them both ways. Try to master that riff with both different styles and see what happens.

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