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Interview: Hell or Highwater’s Brandon Saller on balancing bands, being a frontman

Posted by on May 19, 2017

As the drummer of Atreyu Brandon Saller has kept time for some 18 years. He’s also handled clean vocals in the band for just as long. When Atreyu went on hiatus, Saller stepped out from behind the kit to front a new band, Hell of Highwater. 2011’s Begin Again, more than just an album title, was kind of a mission statement for the band. After that album and an EP, Atreyu reformed. And while some might have thought his other project over, that proved not to be the case, as the band’s sophomore album, Vista, was released today on Spinefarm Records. While on tour with Black Map and Nothing More, we caught up with Saller to talk about life on the other side of the kit, what his aspirations for HOHW are.

 

Let’s start out by talking about the new album. Many of the people where might think you’re a new band, but you have a crowd. Are you finding that to be the case on all of these shows so far?

It’s been pretty awesome so far. I feel like we took a little bit of a risk to take an entire set of new songs, but to our surprise they’re really stoked to see it. From song one, people are singing it by the second chorus. There are bits in the set that people are really gravitating towards. It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully that’s kind of a translation of how the album connects in the future.

 

This is your second album for Hell or High Water. When you started Atreyu was still not together right?

Yes, we started our hiatus in 2011 and Hell or High Water’s first album came out in 2011.

 

Did you think there was going to be Atreyu again, or did you just think that ‘this is my new band?’

At first I didn’t know. I had no idea. There was a bit of pessimism because there’s obviously a little bitterness of going away, but I had no idea what the future held. I still wanted to make music, I already had written songs, and I already made a big part of the album by myself so I kind of went for it. It was all we could do independently that we did.

 

So when Atreyu got back together, was there ever a question that Hell or Highwater would continue?

It was never a question of if, it was just when. All the guys in Hell or Highwater understood what was happening with Atreyu. Everyone understood it was the right time to do that, and they got it. They were heavily involved in the cycle too. A couple of the dudes would come out with us and do crew stuff. Joey our guitar player filled in for Travis for like eight months during the cycle. It was very much a family vibe, and they understood. That allowed us a lot more time to continue writing. If Atreyu hadn’t come back I felt like four or finve of the most important songs in the album would have never existed. The time spent allowed us to make the record that we wanted to make.

 

Do you enjoy singing more than you enjoy playing the drums?

I kind of fucking do. It’s not that I enjoy it more, but I enjoy being in the front. There’s a different energy and connection that you could get from the crowd. It’s a lot more alive with the face-to-face.

 

Of course, drummers can’t just walk around the crowd during concerts.

Fuck no they can’t.

 

Would you ever do a show where it was Hell or Highwater and Atreyu?

I just did about three weeks ago. We played a festival in Arizona where Hell or Highwater played and then All The Remains played right after us, and then Atreyu was right after them. Yea, but my dumbass. Hell or High Water played a show the day before in Orange County and I do a lot of writing for sync and for TV, film. One of the projects I was doing was playing a show as well, called American Gentlemen. I played with that, and then two bands later I played an hour of Hell or Highwater. Then we drove to Arizona overnight, played a Hell or Highwater set in 30 minutes. We had an hour and a half in between, and then played an Atreyu set for 45 minutes. It worked out. I didn’t die, my voice didn’t go to shit, and it was successful.

 

With James Brown dead, you might be the hardest working man in show business!

[laughter] I’ll take the crown.

 

Talk to be a little about the sync project. Is it something that you’ve actively been involved in? And are there any commercials that anyone might have heard you in?

Yes, and probably. A few years ago, I meta guy randomly at a Hell or Highwater show in Vegas. We started writing together, he introduced me to what sync was, and he really kind of championed me and believed in me as a writer. We had a really great number of syncs on HBO, CBS, and ABC. Then through him I met a guy named C4, he is a hip-hop R&B guy. He’s fantastic, we had really good chemistry, so we started a thing called American Gentlemen which is kind of hip-hop meets Gorillaz sort of thing. Sometimes he raps, sometimes I sing. It’s that sort of thing. It’s mainly hip-hop stuff with some sort of guitar sounds. We started doing our thing about a year ago, and now we’ve had tons of promotion. We’ve had The Bachelor promos, and like I said HBO and ABC. We just got a Toyota thing. This is a whole other side of writing.

 

Is it hard to get syncs? Is it almost as hard as getting a record deal every time?

It’s difficult. I’m with Kobalt music so it’s awesome. They’re absolutely incredibe, their sync team has literally changed my life. They’re all just really hard workers and they know what’s good and where to put it. It’s been awesome, I’m very lucky.

 

BYou have two bands so will there be a point where you would be financially stable enough to do sync work only?

Without being an asshole it’s already that way. I just love playing in both of my bands. I love playing shows. More so, I feel like that part of my career allows me to do whatever I want in my band. It kind of takes away the financial burden element, and just allows me to make music freely and purely.

 

So what’s next for Hell or Highwater?

We’re finishing this Nothing More tour, and then we’re going out again this summer with Stitched Up Heart. It’s called the Hearts & Hell Tour, it’s very cleverly named. We’ll be doing that June into July. We’re doing Chicago Open Air. We’re doing a lot of festivals in the fall. We’ll be touring well into 2018.

 

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