INTERVIEW: August Burns Red

“It’s going to be a grind, but it makes you thankful for the ability to go out and play shows”

INTERVIEW: August Burns Red

By Ellie Odurny

Apr 4, 2020 12:00

Having played just two dates of their current tour with Killswitch Engage and Light The Torch before the coronavirus pandemic shut down live gigs across the globe, metalcore outfit August Burns Red are facing an uncertain future. With ‘Guardians’ due for release on 3 April, we caught up with guitarist John Benjamin “JB” Brubaker to talk about the upcoming album, touring, and dealing with the unexpected.

With a career spanning 17 years, August Burns Red have remained consistent with their own brand of metalcore. Unlike many other bands in the subgenre, which had its heyday in the mid noughties, ABR have retained a dedicated fanbase who still flock to see their live shows in droves. Brubaker says it’s this commitment from the fans who have grown with the band that inspires them to keep touring. He describes how “people were pumped to hear the old songs” on the ‘Constellations’ ten-year anniversary world tour last year, saying “it’s easy to stay motivated when the crowds are awesome and so excited to see the show.”

With over 60 dates spanning a six month period, it was the first time in August Burns Red’s career that they’d announced all the dates of a world tour in one go. Brubaker says it felt “like a badass tour schedule to announce”, even more so considering they sandwiched five weeks of intense studio time recording ‘Guardians’ into the middle of the tour legs. Conceding that 2019 was indeed a hectic year for ABR, Brubaker reasons that “we love what we do and we’re grateful to be able to do it.”

That period of recording was actually the second stint in the studio for ‘Guardians’, an album that the band have had longer to record than any previous release. This writing and touring structure followed a similar pattern a few years ago, when the band were writing ‘Phantom Anthem’ at the same time as touring the ten-year anniversary shows for sophomore release ‘Messengers’. Did they do anything differently this time around? According to Brubaker, bass player Dustin Davidson wrote half the music on ‘Guardians’, which was a big change for them in terms of the writing process on this record.

“He and I bounced a lot of ideas back and forth,” says Brubaker, describing how the band’s other guitarist Brent Rambler also worked closely with vocalist Jake Luhrs “all day every day” in the studio. He talks about how Rambler was working in tandem with Luhrs and vocal producer Grant McFarland to create the vocal parts, which was a little unusual – “like having two vocal producers” – but ultimately worked out well. Adding drummer Matt Greiner to the writing process, who “always has 101 drum ideas for every single part”, Brubaker tells us how everyone got along well, listening to one another and giving constructive feedback without hurting each other’s feelings. He attributes this to the band knowing and understanding each other so well now, having matured together over time, saying that the vibes were really good in these recording sessions.

For those who are fans of anniversaries, Brubaker tells us that August Burns Red would potentially consider continuing the run of ten-year anniversary shows for their later releases, if they felt there was a real want for it. He says that, as a band, they feed off the nostalgia of revisiting the older material just as much as they enjoy going out to see other bands’ anniversary tours. Obviously at the moment, any future touring plans are uncertain, and there’s the rescheduled Killswitch tour to think about first. Once they’re back on the road, Brubaker is excited to play the first three singles released from new album ‘Guardians’: ‘Defender’, ‘Bones’, and latest release ‘Paramount’, which he says is one of his favourite songs on the record. He also mentions that the super heavy ‘Bloodletter’ will be a great live track, saying “I think I might even play bass on that one, which will be fun for me. Our bass player plays guitar on that song and I switch to bass, and that’s a nice change of pace.”

Before any of the new material will get a chance to be played live again, August Burns Red are self-isolating like other bands all over the world, with tours, gigs, studio sessions and promo being brought to a standstill by a global pandemic. Initially, Brubaker understandably describes feeling frustration and disappointment, but also stresses that “we are not the only ones being affected here, and that keeps things in perspective for us.” He says they will find a way to make it through, and imagines that when they do manage to get out for the rescheduled dates, it will likely just compact their touring into a shorter period of time.

“It’s going to be a grind, but it makes you thankful for the ability to go out and play shows, because right now we literally cannot. It’s something we’ve always taken for granted, and now that’s been pulled out from under us.”

Although movement has been restricted for the time being, bands are still releasing records, and Brubaker encourages fans to support bands in unique and unusual ways. For the rescheduled Record Store Day in June (hopefully), August Burns Red are releasing a limited run of single ‘Bones’ on 7-inch vinyl. We quizzed Brubaker on his thoughts about why vinyl has become so popular recently, and he had a few theories.

“For whatever reasons, humans love to collect things. Vinyl is a really cool thing to hold in your hand, to see the artwork in large form. There’s a lot of people who swear that it sounds better, and I just think that it caught on as this trendy thing that blew up.” He also suggests that there is always a demand for physical releases from some music listeners, and that vinyl is filling a void left by declining CD sales.

With plans changing so dramatically as a self-managed band, the management side of postponing tours and promo is also a consideration for Brubaker, as he and Brent look after the business side of things for August Burns Red. When asked if this might pose any difficulties dealing with such a new and unique situation, Brubaker responds that they have a good grasp on how the business operates, and that they understand what their bandmates want, so there aren’t a lot of surprises with regards to business decisions. He mentions that their hands are tied as much as everyone else’s and that there’s not really any planning or manoeuvring that others aren’t doing, dealing with such uncharted territory. This sense of confidence and trust between the band seems to be a recurring theme, be it in writing, recording, or business, and there’s a real feeling that August Burns Red are reaping the benefits of having grown closer and tighter over the years.

While they can’t be physically close at the moment, they’re still keeping busy. Brubaker says they’re planning to write more, taking advantage of the time at home to work on new music, particularly things “just for fun” that they may ultimately release. One of these things is a cover of the Westworld theme tune, which he hopes will appeal to fans who don’t know the show as well as those who love it. He’s also rediscovering old music and working on an isolation playlist, made up mostly of punk bands he was listening to as a teenager.

It’s clear that what August Burns Red want to do most is get back out on the road and play their songs, new and old, to their fans. Brubaker is hopeful that “we can all do what we need to do to stop the spread now and we can get back out there… and resume normal life.”

‘Guardians’ is out on 3 April , and available to pre-order now on Fearless Records.