They’re back! The number one melodic metalcore five-piece band to come out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania are gearing up to release their brand new record ‘Phantom Anthem’ on Friday, October 6th. The record, like all of this band’s outputs, boasts huge solos and riffs, larger than life breakdowns and honest, heartbreaking emotion. It’s the August Burns Red you know and love, just turned up to eleven and I got to speak with guitarist and chief songwriter JB Brubaker about the record’s process, tracking analytics, gear and AxeFX, and those damn atheists.
Yo JB, how are you today?
I’m doing pretty well, I’m sitting in the woods outside this weird venue in Austria!
Woods? Is that what makes it weird, that it’s near a forest?
Yeah, there’s a rock club in the middle of the woods. There’s nothing around except this bridge over a little river that runs by the venue. It’s like no venue we’ve ever played before.
Wow, because I saw you were in Austria today but had no idea it was in the middle of the forest.
Yeah, we’re in a town called Dawnmer and to be honest, I’m not even sure where exactly we are. I’ll have to look at my maps and find out!
Well, you’re there to play music, not study geography so I wouldn’t worry too much.
[Laughs] That’s very true!
Speaking of playing music, you’re playing ‘Messengers’ in full this tour.
Yeah, we play that tonight and I think we’ve got five shows left before we put that album to bed for a while.
Did you have to re-learn a lot of them or was it a pretty quick, muscle memory process?
We had played a lot of them but there were a few we had to learn as we’d just never performed there, namely ‘The Balance’ and ‘Vital Signs’. I think we did ‘The Blinding Light’ like, once, but that was before the record even came out so no one knew it! [Laughs] But fortunately, everything we write we tab out just to have it on record. So we just sat down and had to relearn them as far as muscle memory went. We knew how the songs went but just weren’t clear on how to play them. They’re ten years old so it wasn’t the end of the world or over the top challenging.
Playing all these old songs live and then straight away doing an encore of newer songs, is it much clearer to see the growth and development of your band over the years in terms of musicianship and success then it is otherwise? I usually get the sense from bands that it can be hard to see your own development when you’re so caught up in it.
I think you really can! Some of these old songs from ‘Messengers’ I’m not even really that excited about. I’m more excited about playing the mini set after the record because I’m more interested in them and I like our newer stuff better. I do understand our fans nostalgia though as I’m the same way; you get tied to a certain album and the way it makes you feel. I get that and I love that but I also as an artist am interested in performing our newer stuff as it’s a better representation of where we are as people and artists right now.
Yeah, I can understand how having this new album just on the horizon would make you want to just play that.
Exactly! We’ve played ‘Composure’ a thousand times now whereas we’ve played ‘Invisible Enemy” twenty-five times. There’s a new fondness for it.
Well, your next tour won’t be an album tour I’m guessing which means the setlist will be more varied. Are you guys using internet analytics to track what people are listening to the most and what places seem to respond to better or are you more trusting of your instinct and how it all feels when you do up a setlist?
Well, we definitely look at our analytics. The Spotify one’s great as you can see what’s being listened to the most but I don’t think that impacts our setlist. Our ‘Wrecking Ball’ cover of Miley Cyrus is one of our most streamed songs but we have no interest in playing that live ever. But that would be a good place to start I think if you were trying to build catered setlists. Yet we have a good idea of what songs go over well live and just through fan feedback on social media we can see what people like the best. There is a lot of material to pick from however and it can be difficult to decide on what to cut as we can’t play a two and a half hour set as we’d all die and the fans would get sick of standing there I think. As new songs come out it gets harder and harder to work out what to cut.
I mean, the Foo Fighters pull it off so maybe one day you can all play three-hour sets and shout about younger bands being shit.
Yeah, I have no idea how they do it! Dave Grohl is a machine. He can just sing for three hours somehow!
Springsteen’s the same. Just these old yet relentless beasts.
And Green Day is another example! I hear they play for hours and hours!
At least you get your money’s worth!
Let’s talk about your own band and ‘Phantom Anthem’. With it only a bit out from release, I’m curious to know if what this album means to you and what it represented in its beginnings and origins has changed as you guys have sat with it and maybe as you’ve had time to reflect on your history on the ‘messengers’ tour?
Well, I’m so much more involved in the musical side of things and write the majority of the music. My goal is to just write the best songs I can so the lyrics I leave up to the other guys and Matt, our drummer, titled the record. In fact, he’s titled the majority of our albums. My view of the album hasn’t changed from when I wrote it to now. My vision was really realised in the studio. The songs came out how I had them in my head and I’m really excited about that. I think it’s an awesome record behind the meaning of the songs and we’re really touching on a lot of subjects like we do but I don’t want to talk on that and do an injustice to the lyrics that the guys wrote.
That’s completely fair. So you said you write the majority of the music and I’ve been dying to ask this question as I know you guys have for sale the tab books and the Guitar Pro files for some of your albums. Do you use software to help you demo out ideas? Like, Guitar Pro, EZDrummer and Sibelius type things?
Yeah! I’m using a program called TabIt which is a PC only program and to be honest, Guitar Pro probably slays it completely now but I am stuck in my ways. I have been using this program since we wrote ‘Thrillseeker’. I know my way around it and I can tab really fast so I’m demoing out everything in midi in that program and I send them out to the rest of the band where they can easily learn it just by reading the tab. It takes away the need to sit down and say, “Listen to this guitar part and watch my hands and work out how to play it.” Everyone can learn it at their own pace and after all these years using TabIt, I think everyone has a good idea of how it’s supposed to sound based on me sending so many midi demos over the years that we’ve turned into full songs. They can see my vision for the song just form the midi.
That’s fantastic! Yeah, I can agree with the “use what you know”. Guitar Pro 7 just came out and I tried it for five minutes and just had to go back to Guitar Pro 6 ‘cause I know that so well.
Yeah, like, who wants to learn a whole new interface, it sucks! [Laughs] Though let’s be honest, it probably is a lot better if you put the time in and learn it in the end but…
Well, in the time you could take to learn something new, you could use the old thing and demo out the next hit song.
[Laughs] That’s a great point!
So when you actually move on from these midi demos and being to record, are you using AxeFX in the studio like you do live or do you use pedals and tinker around when you’re recording?
For cleans and crunchy tones we definitely use AxeFX, especially just for smaller sections here and there. We’re dialling in new tones for each different clean parts, and there are a lot of cleans on this new record. It wasn’t like, “Here’s the clean tone for the whole album.” It was us thinking, what is gonna sound best for this part? What combination of cabs and amps can we use to make this sound the best? And then you have so many pedal options in AxeFX, you can spend a lot of time dialling in tones. Thankfully we had a lot of time to work so we did spend a lot of time tweaking and making the tones just right.
We don’t use a lot of pedals besides an overdrive and a noise gate for rhythm guitars. I do use a wah, we’re not faking the wah sounds with digital ones. But yeah, apart from that most of the effects are done within Pro Tools or blocks in the AxeFX.
That’s actually great to hear you guys are really embracing the new technology.
Yeah, that’s the way things are going. I think digital is better than analogue as far as I’m concerned.
I’m inclined to agree with you there, even though a lot of people aren’t.
Well, I think that’s because of the learning curve. It’s like what we were talking about with the guitar tab programs. You get used to one thing and you’re not ready to embrace the new thing. I was adverse to AxeFX for a long time. It took a while to convert me but I’m all the better for it.
Very true, and some people are also a bit snobbish. Even though I doubt people are gonna miss the studio, analogue warmth when they’re listening to the tones in a crowded room through a PA at your show.
No, definitely not! [Laughs] No one knows the difference. I’ve been playing AxeFX for years and no one’s noticed.
Whilst I was looking at the video for your new songs and some of your old ones, I kept seeing a comment appear almost verbatim from different people, and it was: “I’m an atheist but I love them!” And I’m curious why you think that people need to assert they’re almost making an exception for you guys, when in reality, as far as I know, you aren’t really a religious band.
Yeah, you’re right but August Burns Red have had Christian ties for a long time and I think if you’re an atheist you have a built-in sense that you’re almost not allo0wed to listen to a religious affiliate. But, there are atheists in August Burns Red, believe it or not, not everyone is Christian. We totally understand different views and where people come from as far as religion goes. Religion is not an easy thing for everyone to get on the same page. In fact, it seems to be toxic and the cause for a lot of the problems in the world so I can totally see where an atheist might be coming from when they look at us as a Christian band. ‘Cause if you’re an atheist then you probably don’t get down with religion in any way so you’d think it to be eviler then, “Satan”. Their thinking, as far as I go putting myself in their shoes, is that they don’t want to stand behind a Christian band because they think it’s ridiculous yet they put that aside because they like the music. But, August Burns red were many things but I don’t think it’s appropriate to call August Burns Red a Christian band in 2017.
Damn, that’s a well-thought out and empathetic response! [Laughs] I love that! Thanks so much for taking the time today JB to talk with me, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I can’t wait for everyone else to hear this new record.
No worries, Matty! Thanks so much for the great chat!
‘Phantom Anthem’ is out October 5th through Caroline Australia and Fearless Records. You can pre-order it here and read our 90/100 review while you wait for this epic new instalment in August Burns Red career to drop.
‘Phantom Anthem’ by August Burns Red
Out Friday, October 6th through Caroline Australia
and Fearless Records
- King of Sorrow
- Hero of the Half Truth
- The Frost
- Invisible Enemy
- Carbon Copy