A well-known aspect of heavy metal’s culture is the combative nature among fans between the fans of different sub-genres. While it is often non-combative but laced with profanity, fans have always debated whether more traditional, pure, true forms of the music are superior or if the newer, more expansive movements are ultimately better for the metal scene as a whole, as opposed to “diluting” the music. One of those movements in recent years has been the metal-core movement, which blends hardcore punk elements such as breakdowns, guitar-chugging, and bare-bones drumming with the bigger, more distorted, overall grandiose styles of heavy metal.
More often than not, bands of any given movement struggle to keep up and either break up as they fade into underground obscurity or change their sound to remain relevant in the public eye. Pennsylvania’s August Burns Red, however, stands out as a bit of an enigma among those tiers. The quintet gained their initial fan base with their accessible structure yet impressive musicianship, and have continued to grow as a band, in terms of both writing and fans – even earning them a nomination for “Best Metal Performance” at the 2016 Grammy Awards! We got the opportunity to learn more about August Burns Red’s experiences in their career in heavy, aggressive music, as well as their writing process, being labeled as a Christian band at a time, and more through rhythm guitarist, Brent Rambler.
What was your experience going from Solid State Records to Fearless?
It’s been a great experience. Fearless has more of a global presence, which is something we really needed since we do a lot of international touring. Also, their marketing team has been fantastic.
Congratulations on the Grammy nomination for “Best Metal Performance” this year! What are your thoughts and reactions on the nomination?
We were, of course, very surprised. Underground metal has never really gotten a lot of attention from the Grammy’s so the fact that they gave us a nod was very unexpected and awesome.
August Burns Red’s sound and style has progressed and expanded over the years. How do you approach your writing process, album-to-album? Do you have an idea of what kind of feeling or experience you want put into your music, or do they come from jam sessions?
We 100% do not jam. Everything is written and ready to go when we hit the studio. The only thing we really do together are the lyrics. That’s more of collaborative effort. We don’t usually have a plan as to what each record is supposed to sound like. What comes out is what comes out.
How do you progress and experiment with your own music and writing approach? How do you push your boundaries with your music ability?
Everything gets written out in a program called TabIt, which has tons of samples and sounds for you to use, because of that virtually every riff is something new that we have never played before, so we have to practice a lot to get ourselves up to speed with what has been written.
August Burns Red is known as a Christian metal band. I don’t think we’ve interviewed a band of that identity yet. At the risk of going into the cliché of, “Why is that important to you?”, I’m curious as to how your faith, your passion, and career in metal music coexist and intermingle. Especially in the age of social media and 24-hour news networks, where the religious and the socio-political spectrums are often intertwined.
I don’t think we’ve been known as that for years – thank you, Wikipedia. We’ve always said that members of the band are Christian so that comes across in some of our lyrics. We don’t preach from stage, and we made the active choice that this band is about music, and being a positive influence. Since a lot of people correlate Christianity for positivity, that label has stuck with us. We don’t mind it, but it’s always funny to me when I write lyrics, such as [for] “Fault Line,” and people immediately think it’s religious. It had nothing to do with religion, but was a song for and about how much we appreciate our fans. It’s cool though. We want our words and message to impact as many people as possible so people are free to interpret any way they like.
What was the music scene like in Manheim, Pennsylvania when you started? How is it today?
There is no music scene in Manheim, but it’s a suburb of a small city called Lancaster, which is where we grew up going to and playing all of our shows. We would organize tons of local metal shows when we first started, soley so we could be the opening band on the bill. It worked out really well for us and we got to open up for a lot of national acts because of it. It helped make us grow locally, which eventually brought the attention of some record labels. It was a lot more organic versus how it seems to go today, where you just kind of hope your band blows up on social media.
What are your thoughts about the metal, rock, and/or progressive music scenes, cultures, communities, etc., both when you started playing music and today?
I don’t really have many thoughts on it, because there isn’t much to say. It’s all pretty stale and sterile at this point. When I started things seemed a lot more exciting, because people were more passionate about the actual bands, not just individual members’ social sites. Luckily for us, our fans are great, and seem to be in love with our music, a lot more than how we look or the cars we are driving, or any of that nonsense.
How does the music scene, culture, or the sub-genres affect your experiences in touring and performing, especially when sharing the stage with other bands? Including this co-headlining tour with Between The Buried And Me?
I don’t think that it does. We’ve been doing this for a very long time and we have adopted our own way of doing things, so we run like a well-oiled machine.
You don’t follow the traditional heavy metal uniform. Was that a conscious decision to be different or a natural progression?
We started this band in high school, so we just wore the clothes we would on a daily basis. Dressing up to play metal is really, really dumb. It’s about music, not the two hours of face paint you put on before the show.
When writing music do you compose all the instrumental elements at once, or do you create them separately and see how they flow?
They all get created at once. Of course things can change throughout the process though.
I can hear elements of classical music composure in your writing, such as going from a heavy minor tone to a progressive major tone almost seamlessly. What influence has classical music had on your writing style?
I don’t think any. None of us listen to classical music, or have much of a clue when it comes to music theory.
What are your hobbies or interests outside of music?
I enjoy riding my bike (Cannondale Caad10), I enjoy craft beer, I like records and comics, and I have a nice little family that keeps me fairly busy.
Marvel or D.C.? Favorite Hero/Villain?
August Burns Red’s latest and seventh overall studio album, Found In Far Away Places (2015), is available now on Fearless Records. Be sure to catch them on tour now in the United States, co-headlining with Between The Buried And Me, with support from Good Tiger. Special thanks to Brent for taking time to answer our questions, and to Amy Buck of Good Fight Entertainment for setting up the interview!