In The Pipeline: Atreyu drummer takes center stage in Hell or Highwater

On the musical front, over the last five years I've written here about a variety of Huntington Beach-based artists. There's been Dean Torrence, of Jan & Dean fame (as if I had to qualify that), songstress Franki Doll, the mighty Avenged Sevenfold and the reggae sensations the Dirty Heads, among others.

Recently, I interviewed another well-known rocker, oblivious to the fact that not only is he a longtime Huntington Beach resident, but also that we live about two minutes away from each other!

For more than 15 years, drummer-vocalist Brandon Saller gave his all to the Southern California metalcore outfit Atreyu. But after hammering out five studio LPs with four of his best friends while traveling the globe and performing for legions of exuberant fans, Saller is now going front and center in the band Hell or Highwater.

Formerly known as the Black Cloud Collective, this is his new band, featuring Saller as front man. The five-piece band released "Begin Again" on Tuesday and will support the release by touring on the Uproar Festival kicking off in August along with Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet for my Valentine and a host of other bands. Here's my discussion with Saller about the new project, which also includes guitarist Matt Pauling (the Confession), guitarist Neal Tiemann (MWK, David Cook), bassist Joey Bradford (Thieves & Liars) and drummer Kyle Peek (MWK, David Cook).

Where does Hell or Highwater fit within your career right now?

Everything I've ever done has led to this. When I first started, I was just a drummer. I started singing and got more and more comfortable and then evolved to where I am as a performer now. It was the time for me to get out front and try something exciting. And here I am.

What's it like to now be the front guy?

Lots of fun. I had obvious nerves, but after the first show, it was cool. A stage is a stage for me. I'm comfortable wherever I am up there. Being face to face and getting to interact with an audience more is something I love. I've never gotten to do that before. I'm always at the back. In Atreyu, I was as crazy as I could be from the back. But it's not quite the same.

Not a lot of guys have made the move from drum kit to center stage. Dave Grohl comes to mind. Are there any specific front guys that have influenced you?

Not really. I never thought of who I wanted to emulate. As a kid, I was into hardcore and punk and all that and so the front men were psychopaths. So I like that kind of style. Otherwise, I just try and be me. If I'm comfortable and proud of what we do, that will come across. If I let people understand I'm having a good time, I hope they will too.

Have you gotten much feedback on the new record?

It's been overwhelmingly great. There's always a scary thing when you make new music. Atreyu fans may expect something along those lines that we did, and so there will always be people that hate it because it's not what you did before. For me, though, I did eight or nine of these songs before I had a band, so it's kind of like my baby. I care about this music, and so far so good on feedback.

What's the status of Atreyu today?

As of now, there are no plans for us. We'll all focus on our own things separately, which works for me because now I can put my full attention, 100% of my being, into Hell or Highwater. I'm sure there will be a future, but nobody knows when or where. When the Atreyu monster peeks its head out of our hearts, then it'll come back. Until then, people will be able to enjoy some fun and new stuff from us.

M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold makes a special appearance on the new record. You both live in Huntington Beach. Have you known each other a long time?

We've been friends for a long while. We've toured together a lot in the past. It was just a cool opportunity. It was real mellow how it came about. I said to him, "I've got this cool song I'm working on. Do you want to help me get it together and then sing it with me?" He was like, "Sure — I'm not doing anything tomorrow." (Laughs)

So we did it, and I think it sounds great. It totally sticks out on the record. It's a different sort of the storytelling lyric on the record, and I'm glad that we wrote that together and recorded it together. It makes the record more interesting. I've always been a huge fan of his voice, so it was great to get into a room with him and put our heads together.

How do you like living in Huntington Beach?

It's amazing, it really is. What a perfect place to come back home to after any period of heavy touring. The weather, the people — I've never really found any other place like it in Orange County or anywhere else. I think something that stands out is the music scene here. Not just the big bands people know about, but there are lots of other players on the way up, some smaller bands—there's a true scene. It's a musical hangout, which as a musician I really appreciate.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

This corrects the name of the band in the headline.

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