Alex Varkatzas, lead singer of the metal band Atreyu, is a slender man, but his voice fi lls arenas. On May 27, 2006, it fi lled the
Varkatzas says one of the coolest moments of his life was hearing his band’s song, You Eclipsed by Me, blaring from the arena’s giant speakers. “All these people are on their feet, and our song is getting them pumped up,” Varkatzas said. It would be a triumphant moment for any musician, but Varkatzas’ excitement was amplifi ed by the fact that he is an avid martial artist and mixed martial arts fan.
Actors, musicians, and athletes from other sports have long made ringside appearances at fights. Many have trained in boxing and martial arts to maintain their physiques or to prepare for physically demanding roles onstage or screen. Varkatzas is only one of a growing number of musicians from
The tatted up 25-year-old Varkatzas was a Tae Kwon Do tyke who liked to watch the early UFC tournaments with his younger brother. He watched The Ultimate Fighter Season One to kill time on tour in 2005, and was inspired to train. When Atreyu finished its run of shows, Varkatzas signed up with Cleber Jiu-Jitsu in
There are a lot of blue belts out there and a lot of so-called kickboxers, but Varkatzas is “by no means a candy ass,” said OC Muay Thai owner Dave Janssen. UFC veterans Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, Justin Levens, and World Extreme Cagefighting star Cub Swanson have trained at Janssen’s gym. “When [pro fighters] are there, Varkatzas trains with them,” Janssen told us.
OC Muay Thai occupies a warehouse space east of the 405 in
M Shadows lives the sporting life when he’s not on the road. A lifelong athlete, the 25-year-old dedicates much of his free time to working out and participating in recreational sports leagues. He was introduced to the
Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, and Bleeding Through often spend six months or more each year on the road, which makes traditional training impossible. “It’s hard to train for a month and leave,” Leppke says. As a result, the gym has to come on the road. Each band takes Thai pads and focus mitts on tour. Varkatzas carries mats too, so that he can roll with band members. If there is no where to train, “I’ll go to the gym and do a gnarly workout just to do something,” the Atreyu vocalist said. Occasionally the band will spend several months touring with other acts whose members or road crews fight train, and he will get to roll with new faces.
But months of less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements, bad food, and countless hours spent sitting in vans and on buses takes its toll. “I get dull and it takes me a week or two to feel comfortable in the gym after returning from tour,” said Varkatzas, but after that “I’m feeling the rhythm, you know what I mean?” The life of a full-time touring musician is hard, and all of these guys would like to have more mat time.
But their lifestyle does afford them the freedom to hit the gym four to six times a week when they are home.
“There are probably more 18-to-25- year-olds in OC involved in MMA than not,” says Throwdown vocalist Dave Peters. Boasting Schieppati as a former member, Throwdown is another OC band that exploded from small, underground shows to the summer festival circuit of Warped and Ozzfest tours.
Throwdown is an example of the cultural crossover. While Peters is a fan, he is not a fighter. However, the band tapped into combat culture for the artwork on its 2003 album Haymaker as well as the video for Forever. In the video, a group of young men gather in a darkened storage space to bust each up Fight Club-style while Peters spits and snarls his way through lyrics about commitment and integrity. Peters thinks that MMA offers the same catharsis that some look for in the churning mosh pits of hardco
re and metal concerts.
Those pits, inspired by the chaotic and often violent shows of early 1980s punk bands, have become a ritualized fight where participants smash each other and anyone else standing too close to the perimeter. What was once a space for the frustrated and fucked up to blow off steam is now a place for maladjusted jocks to beat each other’s heads in. Fights at shows are common, and the culture of violence often carries over into other parts of show-goers lives. Schieppati admits that he used to run with knuckleheads, but “ever since I started training, I’m calmer. It just evened me out.”
Heavy music and combat sports have enjoyed unprecedented success after spending years on the freak show fringe of pop culture, and
Success is sweet for the misfits and miscreants who were told to stop playing music and get a real job and for the eccentrics and extremists who only feel free in a cage. But that success is complicated. What was once a passionate pastime is now a brutal business with promoters, managers, and hangers-on all working their own angles. These musicians stay focused on one passion by immersing themselves in another.
“The music industry is full of sharks and shitheads,” Varkatzas says, “but when you’re rolling, your intentions are clear. It’s a noble truth; I want to beat you, you want to beat me.”
Arena-sized sound system or not, the rock singer is coming through loud and clear.
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