ATTILA: Becoming the Villain

Interview with Fronz by Jeremy Saffer
Photographs by Jeremy Saffer

Love them or hate them, Attila might be the most polarizing band in metal today. They continue to be an unstoppable force in heavy music, however, and coming out of 2016’s Chaos free of a record label, Fronz and crew have self-released their new album Villain, working with three renowned producers to create the ultimate Attila achievement. We spoke with modern Renaissance man Fronz about Villain and to get caught up on everything that has come from the chaos of the past three years.

Villain has been out for about a week now. How are you feeling about it?
I feel very proud, very excited. This is our first release in over two years, and it’s also our first self-released album ever. There’s definitely a lot of mystery when you release a new album, because there’s no telling if people are going to like it as much as you do or what the reception will be for the album. But I can definitely say, hands down, that this is the best reception we’ve ever received from any album we’ve ever made, which is crazy because we’re seven albums deep into our career, so it’s cool to know that the support is still there. I think the community as a whole appreciated and respected the fact that we did it all on our own. We released it on our own, we stuck to our roots, and we stuck to what we know, which is being a heavy band and not compromising and not changing who we are. I think people were able to really see that and feel that. And I would say that the biggest thing that sets Villain apart from every other Attila album is just the fact that lyrically the entire album is very, very real. There are, of course, really fun songs on the album that are typical Attila party style songs, but for the most part, the album is very genuinely real and it’s fucking deep. In the past, if we wrote anything along those lines, people weren’t as receptive, and I don’t know if it’s because our fans are starting to grow up a little or people are just more acceptive, but everybody really loved what we did on Villain. So, it’s very relieving to see that this process that took a year and a half of us writing and creating this album has been a success. It means a lot to us.

What was the process of self-releasing the album?
The biggest thing that set it apart from any other album we did is that there was no timeline, there was no crunch, there was no schedule. We got to write whenever we felt creative, we got to record with whoever we wanted to record with. So, Villain is an album created with three different producers. We worked with mostly Andrew Wade, we also worked with Matt Good and Nick Samson, and I think that is a very cool thing to be able to do. Typically when you’re on a record label, there’s timelines to keep things running smoothly, and the label will say, “Hey, you gotta record in a month, and you have this much time to record.” And the process is kind of…you know, I don’t even know the word. The process is very like on a schedule, it’s very machine like, but I think in reality the process of being an artist and creating things is that you need to do it on your own schedule as you see fit. So, that was what was really special about Villain for us. Because it was like a year, a year and a half long process. We really spread it out. We were able to feel fresh every time we were recording and making this album. I think it shows. The album is all killer, no filler (laughs). It’s definitely been a great experience, and it was a good process.

How was it working with three producers? Did they all bring something different to the album?
Yeah, exactly. Matt Good actually vibed really well with Attila, and we got along really well. He embraced our crazy side, but he also helped with vocals and singing. He helped me do things I didn’t think I could do. For example, the song “Subhuman,” we did that one with Matt Good, and that song has been received really well. It’s definitely one of the top three fan favorite songs from the album. That’s a Matt Good song, and that song is very different, very atmospheric, singing, it’s got a lot of feeling behind it, it’s crazy. And then Nick Samson is a guitar legend, so he really brought out the crazy side of Chris [Linck], because Chris is a very talented guitarist, and him working side by side with Nick Samson really brought out the best in him. So, tracks like “Manipulate” and “It Is What It Is” have really fucking awesome riffs and awesome solos. That was the cool thing about working with Nick Samson. And then, Andrew Wade is pretty much who we did the majority of the album with, and he’s also like the glue that brings everything together. And his production, his ear for music is amazing, and ever since we started working with Andrew Wade, it’s been incredible. We love him, he loves us. He understands the band. It’s almost like when we get together in a room and we start making music, it’s just…we get it. There’s no questioning, it’s easy, it’s easy to work with him, it’s easy to record with him. The last song we wrote for the album, too, which is interesting, we all wrote together in the studio with Andrew, and that song is “Toxic.” And that song ended up becoming a top three fan favorite from the album, as well. So, it’s just cool that we got to create a variety of music with three different producers and create the album the way we always wanted to created it, without anyone telling us what to do.


Producers aside, what do you think the biggest changes were musically from Chaos to Villain?
Chaos is definitely a…I don’t know how you would explain it. Chaos is an oddball album for Attila. It’s very raw, a lot of it is very catchy to Attila standards, it’s lighter. There are heavy tracks on Chaos, but for the most part the songs are a lot lighter than any other Attila album. So, that album had a lot of mixed reactions from our fans, and I’m not, you know, too prideful to say that, but the reactions were mixed. I’m thankful for that album because we do have some pretty big songs from that album, like “Moshpit” and “Bulletproof.” I love those songs. The whole album, honestly, I think is a good album. It’s just very different than what Attila fans are used to hearing from us. And Villain is us taking a step back to really reflect on who we are and what we want to make, and the fact that we all love heavy, abrasive, fucked up music—that’s who we are as a band. Villain is very much us being ourselves and not trying to be anything else, except for ourselves. It’s not that Chaos wasn’t us being ourselves. Chaos was us exploring new territory so to speak. So, any time you try that as a band you’re going to get a lot of criticism. Some people absolutely love Chaos, and it’s one of their favorite albums. A lot of people didn’t fuck with Chaos, and that’s fine.

Is Villain a return to form, or is it the next step in the evolution for Attila?
I think it’s both. Villain is very much a return to who we are as Attila, but there also are tracks on Villain that are very evolutionary for Attila, such as “Subhuman” and “Bad Habits,” which are very catchy songs with choruses but still very much Attila. Because we weren’t trying to be anything except for ourselves but still evolve while keeping true to ourselves, I think that’s why people respect those songs so much. Any time in the past when we wrote songs that were catchier or might have had a chorus, people didn’t like them. But I think people are just able to recognize real genuine, from the heart, like, “Yo, Attila meant this. When they wrote ‘Subhuman,’ when they wrote ‘Bad Habits,’ they meant it.” Like, this is real. And it translates, and people love it and respect it. So, there are definitely songs on the album that are evolutionary and a step into the future for Attila, but then there are songs on the album, like “Perdition,” “Villain,” “Manipulate,” and “Blackout” that are very traditional Attila. Even “Still About It” and all these songs are very, you know, Attila.

Do you see yourself trying different stuff vocally or more clean singing in the future?
That’s tough to say. I really enjoy it, and I really think it adds another element to the song. But I think that the formula for Attila is to have a good mix of songs on an album. And this is just speaking on behalf of myself, speaking on behalf of especially my bass player Kalan [Blehm]—we’re massive fans of heavy music, we listen to extremely heavy stuff, and it’s what we enjoy. So, I don’t think we will ever stray away from being a heavy band, but we also very much enjoy writing catchier songs. I think in the future, Attila albums will be a similar format to what Villain is. I think you’ll have some of the heaviest songs ever written, and then you’ll also have tracks that are catchy. And that just makes for an overall good album, because you get every end of the spectrum, and it makes it not boring, not stale. I think that’s the future of music, honestly—having an album that people want to listen to from track one to track 10, or whatever it may be, because that way it’s never boring. No two songs sound the same, it takes you on a journey, ups, downs, roller coaster, everything. It’s cool.

Record labels are starting to push singles rather than full albums, where every song is just as important as the last one. Do you think Villain is that album for Attila?
One hundred percent. There’s no songs on this album that aren’t good or shouldn’t have been on the album. We didn’t throw together an album and say, “Hey, we only really like three or four, but we’re just gonna put all these others in here.” Because you have to keep in mind, for the past two years, Attila has been just releasing singles, and that’s kind of been our move. And, while it was fun, I think the way Attila fans are, they just want more. They actually do want to sit down and listen to a full album and enjoy the full experience versus just having a single. We’ve always been such a dynamic band with all kinds of different songs that it makes sense for us as Attila to put out an album, so that way you can get the mix of things without saying, “Oh, this song is way too heavy,” or, “Oh, this song is way too catchy or too light.” The album allows you to experience all of it without getting a skewed judgment on who we are.

Being that you self-released Villain, do bands really need record labels nowadays?
That’s a good question because, as a record label owner myself with Stay Sick Recordings, I can definitely say that what we do for our bands is very helpful to them. We provide so much support and push to help everyone progress, but I think it really depends on what stage of your career your band is at. So, if you’re a younger, developing artist, I find that a lot of times, especially with the bands that I sign to my record label, these bands are incredibly talented. They’re motivated and want to work hard, but they are missing the things that make a band run. They’re missing that marketing, they’re missing those connections within the industry that really can make or break your career, especially in the beginning. Because everyone in a band knows the hardest part of being in a band is the beginning, when everyone is working their jobs on the side and trying to find that balance between full-time touring. There’s a lot of bands out there that are extremely talented, and they end up breaking up because they aren’t able to break from that local band level or starting out band level and take it to the level they need to be at, to actually be full-time musicians. And I think that’s where my record label excels. We’re able to take these bands that we truly believe in—we’re not here to change you, we’re not here to change your music, I’m not going to be in the studio with you barking up your neck telling you what to do. Literally, if we sign a band it’s because we love them, we believe in them, and we know that we have the assets needed to push them to the next level in their career. We can help them get a booking agent, we can help them get a manager, we can help them get on tours, we have all the marketing connections. Ever since we signed our distro deal, we’ve got insane connections with playlisting for Spotify and Apple Music, and that makes such a huge difference nowadays with the world of digital music and how everything is switching to streaming. If you’re on our label, we’re going to get your band on these playlists, and we’re going to put your music in front of so many brand new ears that you wouldn’t physically be able to do on your own. So, on that standpoint, yes, a record label is great if that’s the part of your career that you’re in as a band. For Attila, on the opposite side of the spectrum, we’ve been a band for 15 years and we have such a dedicated, built-in fan base, that unless you are an incredibly large label, like Universal or Sony, and you’re gonna toss us an insane amount of money, promise certain things, and give us connections that we can’t build on our own, then it doesn’t make sense for Attila to be on a label. Because at that point we’re just giving someone our money for something we can do on our own. And on that note, yes, in the beginning stages of our career, having a label helped us. It helped us build the connections we needed and helped us navigate this industry. And then we just reached a point where we’re not gonna gain any more fans from a label. We have all the connections we could possibly need. And we’re very self sufficient, and all of us are very business minded, so it’s not hard for Attila to be an independent band and do this on our own. It does require more work, it is a little bit harder, but in the end it’s worth it. And to know that we have full freedom to do anything we want—musically, our schedule, anything—we do whatever the fuck we want, and it’s really cool.

How is the touring for the new album going so far?
This tour has been incredible. It’s something that you really have to come see to understand. Us teaming up with All That Remains almost seemed maybe a little strange to other people, but it just makes so much sense, because we’re both heavy bands, we’re both metal, but we’re both different spectrums of metal. They definitely are more in touch with the radio rock circuit, and they have a different set of fans than what we have. And we’re more of like, I guess you would say, the Warped style bands. So, the crossover is really cool, because there is crossover, people like both bands, but we’re also so different that we just appeal to a giant umbrella of metal fans. The turnouts have been amazing. Some of the days are sold out, or about to be sell out. Yeah, overall this tour is a good package. It’s great to be out with Escape the Fate, too. We’ve always loved those guys, and they’re fun to tour with. This is definitely the smoothest tour we’ve ever been on, and everything’s going really well, so I can’t complain.


It was really cool seeing the All That Remains fans, since you went on before them last night, not sure what to expect from Attila. Then you come out with that intro breakdown, just destroy, and they’re instantly into it.
Yeah, we’re definitely the heaviest band on the bill. Honestly, if I had to choose any type of lineup, I would always want it to be that way. I would always want to be the heaviest band on any lineup, because I think it makes us stand out more, and I’ve always wanted to stand out. We’re all very personable, we all have funny, weird personalities, we can get along with anyone, but our music is very in-your-face and abrasive. So, it’s a cool dynamic, and when it comes to gaining new fans and playing in front of new people, I think people appreciate that. They realize, “Hey, these dudes are playing really fucked up music, but we can also probably go to their bus and they’ll take a shot with us or chug a beer or do something weird.” It’s like, yeah, we’re just those homies. You’ll probably find us at the bar next to the venue, let’s drink a beer together. It’s cool. I like it, I like this tour, and I like what we do. I’m happy to be back on the road in support of this new album.

Speaking of, can fans expect to hear any new jams when you play live?
Yeah, on this tour, if you come out to the tour we’re on now, we’re playing four new songs. We’re playing “Perdition,” “Villain,” “Toxic,” and “Bad Habits.” In the future as people get to digest the album more, since it just came out about a week ago, whatever songs become fan favorites, we can go home, we can plan out music videos for them, we can add them to the set list as well, and just keep playing new stuff. Anyone’s ultimate goal as a band is to release an album that’s so good that you could do a tour based off that album, to where hey, you guys like Villain so much, we’re gonna do the Villain tour, we’re gonna play the whole CD, front to back, track by track, and hit it. I think that would be ideal, and that’s every band’s dream. It’s just that, even if you work really hard creating music, the fact of the matter is sometimes you’re going to release CDs where hey, people only really like three tracks. And it’s like, okay, well, that sucks. But I firmly believe, especially from the feedback we’ve gotten this past week that Villain is an album that we could one day play the whole album front to back, and it’d be really cool. So, I don’t know, I’m really happy with the way things are going. I would love to see something like that happen, and depending on what tours we’re on for the rest of the year and what the fans like, we definitely could be adding more new music. It’s really just up the fans.

What’s the rest of the year look like for Attila?
There is a rumor of Rage Fest II happening this summer. We branded our own tour last summer, called Rage Fest, and we just wanted to create the best summer indoor festival that could possibly happen. Because the fact is, it’s hot as hell in the summer in the US, and people don’t really wanna be sweating their balls off at a campground. People would like to be in an air conditioned venue and still see all their favorite bands on one bill. So, we may be bringing back Rage Fest this summer. And, other than that, the rest of year we’re definitely going back to the UK and Europe. That’s a huge market for us. We’ve been growing steadily over there, and we miss it out there. And I would love to also make a trip back to Japan, or Asia in general, absolutely love it out there—another market that we’re growing in, which is something I’m very thankful for. And other than that, I would really like to get back to Australia. I really want to hit every corner of the world, especially being that we have a new album. I don’t see any reason why we won’t go everywhere in the world with this album. So, everything is to be determined, but it’s gonna happen.

Attila aside, you have other projects going on. A few years ago you did your first solo record. What are you working on now?
Yeah, so the newest endeavor, or, alright, I’ll rephrase that, my newest project is called Bone Crew. And I released it to the world about seven months ago, back in August. I was working on the project for about a year, and I had a vision of fusing together really heavy, like slam metal, and trap music. And it just so happens I have a friend, by the name of Da Boi J, who is a really fucking bad ass rapper, so I hit him up, and he loves metal music, too. I said, “Dude, I have an idea for a project. I think it’s gonna be really huge. Let’s call it Bone Crew. I’ll get together all the music. I have the vision, just crush it with your rapping skills.” And we teamed up together, made the project, put out an EP, we launched it back in, I think it was the very beginning of August 2018, and 24 hours later we’re on XM Radio, which I couldn’t believe. Nothing I’ve ever done, even with Attila has ever been on XM, which is crazy to me. But 24 hours later, we’re on XM radio, things are popping off, and the reception was huge. And I knew that creating trap metal music would be very contradicting and receive a lot of mixed feedback. I did it anyways, and people ended up really liking it, which was something I’m very thankful for. And right now we are working on the Bone Crew full-length album. We have our first show coming up, which is going to be at So What Music Festival, which is in Houston this year, and that’s going to be really cool, our first performance together. We’re trying to work on the full-length, which we’re almost done with right now, hopefully get it out this summer, and continue spreading the trap metal movement and seeing where it takes us.

Do you have anything else aside from that, musically, going on?
Nothing else musically. Well, this is kinda funny, but me and my bass player Kalen have been talking about making a heavy metal kids album, remaking all the biggest kids songs into super fucking heavy metal songs. I don’t think anyone’s ever done it. The idea started because I’m a dad, I have two sons, and I’m always jammin kids music with them. I was thinking about it, like, “Hey fuck, dude, a lot of our fans have kids now, and they have to listen to kids music, so let’s make heavy metal kids music and get kids into heavy metal super early.” We’ll do a remake of “Baby Shark” and all these fucking songs, and it’s just like this crazy ass idea, but I think me and Kalen are gonna fucking work in the studio for a week and make a heavy metal kids album (laughs). But that’s about it, though. Just working on the Bone Crew full-length, promoting the new Attila album, and anything I can do musically I’m excited to do, because it’s just fun to create constantly.

And Stay Sick is still going very strong, which is awesome.
Yeah, my clothing line Stay Sick is crushing, and I’m always working on new stuff, as far as that goes. Other than that, my biggest endeavor that I’m really passionate about is the record label, because it’s fun to work with new, young, upcoming bands. It’s nostalgic for me, because I remember being in that position of being a young band with a lot of fire and motivation, and just needing the right people to help make things bigger. It’s a very rewarding and fun company to be a part of.