Avenged Sevenfold's Arin Ilejay on festival debuts, high pressure and headlining Download

(Image credit: Gavin Peters ./Retna Ltd./Corbis)

Three years ago Arin Ilejay stepped out on stage at Download Festival to tens of thousands of fans eager to see if he could cut it.

Following from the late, great Jimmy 'The Rev' Sullivan and prog legend Mike Portnoy, Ilejay had some mighty big shoes to fill as he joined up with Avenged Sevenfold. An hour or so later and whether the new kid was up to it was no longer a debate. He absolutely slayed it.

And now he's back. But this time, Avenged are top of the bill at this summer's Download. Ahead of this landmark show we chatted with Arin about gigantic festivals, conquering nerves and keeping his head in the game.

Download 2011 was your introduction to the UK, that must have felt like a huge show at the time

"That was one of the biggest shows I've ever played. I'd never been over to the UK before. That was pretty big and awesome. I was completely taken aback by the whole different kind of craziness that you have out there. People were going nuts and really loving the music. That was cool for me. It was hard for me to wrap my head around. It was great to see the fans so stoked. I just tried to keep my head in the game and made sure I went hard every time."

Were you aware of the size and scope of Download before playing it?

"I wasn't aware of how huge and ridiculous Download was until I got there. Being back stage and seeing all of the huge bands that we were playing with, that took me back. I didn't know what to expect. When I got there I was blown away. It was incredible. To go back and headline now is amazing. I can't believe it. Last time we played System of a Down headlined and they were incredible. To now be coming back with us as one of the main attractions, it is the sickest thing ever."

A headline slot must bring a lot of pressure, how do you deal with that?

"With keeping my head in the game, that has taken me to a place that really helps me out. I stay focused and do my best to perform as big as possible. I do that so it translates well out in the crowd. I make sure I'm focused on the music and that makes it a lot easier for me to not get too wrapped up in my nerves. But, I will still get nervous. I don't know if that will ever go away, regardless of how big the shows get. I still get nervous right before I go on stage, right up until that first hit comes down on the snare. Then it all falls into place."

Is there an added risk of things going wrong at a festival compared to your own headline show?

"Every show is something that we know we have to be ready for. We have to be ready for anything. If something goes wrong then we have to be ready to adapt to the situation. We take every show seriously no matter how big or how small it is. We are ready for every moment and if anything goes wrong we power through it. We smile, laugh and move on and carry on killing it."

Coming back to pressure, the heat must be on to top the stage show you brought over last time, especially with this being a headline performance

"The pressure is there to top what we did last time. But the cool thing is that even though there's more pressure, we have more people to share that burden with. At the end of the day we have an amazing crew and we have great people backing us to help bring this big show. We just come in and do our thing and intensify the set by bringing more things to blow up."

What is the key to a successful festival show?

"Fans should just let go of all consciousness and just go nuts at a festival. Bands playing should realise that if they don't come out to quiet the crowd they expect, they should still play just as hard and just as crazy as they would on their best day. They should expect technical difficulties. Fans really respect bands when they know they're on their A game and they're on it no matter what. A band that brings it's A game is a band that fans can look up to."

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).