[INTERVIEW] HELL OR HIGHWATER

Musicians are a funny bunch.

Not being that content to relax in their downtime, many of them build other projects to keep themselves busy while away from their regular bands, with varying degrees of success. Some cross genres, others get together with high profile friends to make music and have fun, and occasionally some get to try their hand at something completely new and unexpected.

Brandon Saller falls into this latter category.

Known better as a drummer and backup vocalist for Atreyu, Saller formed Hell Or Highwater in 2011 during some downtime with Atreyu, but instead of sticking behind the drum kit he decided to venture into unchartered territory and put himself and his vocal chords on display as frontman.

With a more melodic approach to music, Hell or Highwater is more of a rock outfit than Atreyu, and this month releases their highly anticipated sophomore album Vista.

“It’s something we’re stoked on,” Saller enthused. “We’ve been working on this album for a few years now. It took about two years to write and we recorded it last January and it’s kind of been bubbling up inside us and right now we’re ready to explode.”

“We spent so much time writing the album,” he continued, “I think we had about 80 songs in total and for us our main goal was to get to a place where stylistically we were exactly where we wanted to be. The band has been a bit quiet these last few years and then coming back kind of slowly so I think we mainly wanted to come to an agreement that we were putting out a collection of music that we’re proud of and I think we have done that. We just wanna tour and see the world and go everywhere and play everywhere!”

After releasing Begin Again in 2011 and following it up with EP The Other Side in 2013, Saller says Vista is like a new beginning for the band.

“It’s funny, but in a certain way I feel like this is our debut album all over again. To us it’s been so long since our first album – plus we released the EP in between – but it’s one of those things this time where the whole world is gonna hear us and it’s really going to be an opportunity to be put in front of a mass audience so for us it is a whole new beginning.”

After tasting success in a major metal band, Saller says the challenge of doing something different and testing himself was motivation enough to immerse himself in Hell or Highwater.

“It’s a whole different monster,” he argued. “It’s a totally different style of music. We’re more rock and roll which kind of fills that gap musically that I like. I’m out front too, I’m not behind a drum set which gives me a chance to get up front and personal with the crowd and you feel a whole new energy playing shows which is important to me. I think it’s actually more fun singing. For a little bit you worry because there’s nothing to block you (laughs) and nowhere to hide but I love it.”

The two bands also give Saller a chance to showcase different sides of his musical persona, providing a creative outlet few musicians get to experience.

“It absolutely shows different sides of my personality,” he voiced. “When you’re in the back… I’m similar personality wise with both bands but there’s something about being up front where all I have to worry about is singing. For me that’s an awesome thing, just going out there and seeing who I’m working with. You get a little bit of sass and pezazz when you’re up there singing. You’ve got to make it a little more of a show and I’m able to do that more up the front as opposed to behind a kit. I love them both, they’re just totally different things.”

With music changing on a daily basis in today’s modern society, Saller concedes that it can be tough keeping up with changes as they happen, but also stresses that keeping ahead of the trend isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“It is difficult,” he stated. “but I think if you focus too much on that you can really sink yourself. There are a lot of bands that really try to mould to whatever is cool at that moment and a lot of bands don’t have much success doing so. Regardless of what’s cool if you make some type of music that people love those people will love what you do for what it is so you shouldn’t change. With us the only thing I think that will ever change as far as keeping up with everything is internally and the musical tastes of the band. What we are listening to at the time – as with any art – will show through in the current influence of what we do. I don’t think that we try to keep up more so just roll with what is influencing us at the time.”

While acknowledging that he will more likely be remembered for Atreyu, Saller is quick to point out that Hell or Highwater is as much a part of his DNA and will continue to share equal billing as far as his musical perspective is concerned.

“I’m not one to half ass anything,” he pronounced. “Anything I do, I do 100% so when we started Hell or Highwater I never referred to it as a side project because I never wanted it to be treated as such and just be an extra thing. We make music that I love and I’m so proud of and that’s just as important to me as Atreyu is or anything else that I do. I want to do the same things and more that I’ve done with Atreyu with this band.”

In the six years that Hell or Highwater have been together, Saller says they have learnt a lot about themselves and their music, justifying his claims that Vista is a new beginning in many ways.

“I would say the band has become a lot more focused,” he voiced. “Back then it was heavily just me writing songs. I wrote the songs by myself and recorded them by myself. Now it’s much more of a group effort. The band is… everyone in the band brings something huge to the table as far as writing and playing and everything so it has much more of an identity. Not just with the members but the band as a whole. I’m really excited for people to get to know the band because a lot of it is – because of me being in Atreyu – is like ‘that’s Brandon’s band’. I really can’t wait for the world to really be introduced to the rest of the band and understand who they are as well because they are talented and what they bring to the table is just as important as me. I think it has changed in that we are becoming a cohesive unit rather than in the beginning where it was mostly me.”

Written by Kris Peters

Kris has been writing freelance for about 20 years. Kris always found his taste in music a little too eclectic for the mainstream market but has found his niche writing for HEAVY. Based in Brisbane, Kris also runs a promotions company, KSP Productions.

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