"It’s been important to have those positive distractions because if you just focus on the hard and heavy stuff we’re going through, you can be dragged down quickly.” - JB Brubaker
Just over a year ago, August Burns Red released their 9th album, the stunning 'Guardians'.
Though what has followed is an album cycle unlike any other. Unable to tour, the band have watched the album blossom and bloom from the comfort of their homes and through their screens.
With the release of a new EP, bringing together leftover session tracks, covers and reprised versions, we look back over the last 365 days with guitarists JB Brubaker and Dustin Davidson and find out what it has been like watching your art flourish on its own...
First off, how does it feel to be reflecting on a year of ‘Guardians’ in a way in which you haven’t before due to the circumstances of 2020 and beyond?
Dustin: “It’s different. We’re used to reflecting on albums whilst we’re out there in the world touring on them. In that scenario, we’re hearing and seeing the responses to the record live in front of us - this time, the live performance has been taken out of it. Aside from the livestreams, there’s only a couple of times that we’ve been able to play these songs. It’s a unique situation. I don’t want to say that this is the forgotten album, but it’s certainly not going to get the level of touring that our other albums have got. That’s what makes it so unique.”
What was it like watching people consume the album in real-time, but not in the way that you would typically be able to?
JB: “It was a high point of the year for us. There weren’t a lot of positives going on at the time. Every day the news was negative, and we knew that we weren’t going to be touring for a long time. We had this record that we were proud of that we got to release, and we got to focus on that fan response just from reading. We all spent hours scrolling through comments on YouTube and Facebook, and Twitter. We were digesting all of the feedback. We had nothing else to do, and we wanted to know everything that our fans thought of it. We found that the response was positive, which was helpful in the current mental states that we all found ourselves in. It was nice to have something positive to grasp on both as a band and as humans. August Burns Red is such a massive part of all of our lives, after all. I teared up a little bit at the chart positions that we got because we were so nervous that people weren’t going to buy the record. We were restricted to digital.
“I do feel, like Dustin said, that ‘Guardians’ could end up being our forgotten album, though. We haven’t been able to give it the attention that we wanted to, just because of not being able to tour it. By the same we get out on the road, are we going to have a new record out then?”
Dustin: "Even if we don’t have an album out, then, ‘Guardians’ just isn’t going to have the opportunity like everything else. We will play ‘Guardians’ tracks when we are out again, but it’s just not going to be to the extent of our other records. The whole landscape is going to look so different."
Though it’s the poignancy of these songs and what they represent that will continue to inspire and help people. What was it like watching people unfurl that side of things?
Dustin: “We’ve always wanted to be a positive band. If there was something negative within our songs, we had to find a way to make it through that and shine a light in a way for us to try and find the positives in it. For ‘Guardians’, when we were going through the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people mentioned ‘Ties That Bind’ as a track where the lyrics felt like they had been written with this period in mind. People would then tell us how those lyrics were helping them through. That song wasn’t written for the pandemic, but to have it shed some positivity and help people at a point of sadness was awesome.”
JB: “We’ve always tried to be a positive band in what is a very dark scene. I think that ‘Guardians’ being released when it did. It was a point where people needed that bright spot. They needed something to hang on to. Bands are announcing shows now because they and their fans need something to look forward to. So ‘Guardians’ was the thing that people could look forward to and enjoy and distract them from what was going on outside. That’s been the theme for the last 12 months. What’s the distraction? There’s been so much heavy shit to process. It’s been important to have those positive distractions because if you just focus on the hard and heavy stuff we’re going through, you can be dragged down quickly.”
When you played the livestreams at the end of last year, what were the things that were going through your heads as you performed?
JB: “While initially, the live streams were odd, what with not playing to any people, they ended up feeling normal. It was like we flicked the show switch, and then it was just, ‘Go!’ We’ve done it so many times that we were just ready. And even though there wasn’t a crowd to feed off, we knew that people were watching. Even if it’s just playing for the camera guys, they were still watching us intently. It’s a bit like when we shoot a music video. You try to go as hard as possible even though you’re just doing it for the camera. More than anything, it was just nice and fun to be on stage together again.”
Dustin: “It felt like we had returned to some normality. Being around each other and playing music together again was what it was all about. The first practice back before the livestreams was just awesome as well. Being around our crew and seeing familiar faces and making the same jokes we make on tour was just a nice return to what we do. I can only dream about what it’s going to be like when it’s real again. We didn’t take it for granted before, but now that it’s been taken away, it’s going to feel like we’re taking in a fresh breath of air.”
JB: “Yeah, I will have a fresh perspective on touring when we’re allowed to do it again.”
So in terms of this new EP, where do you feel as though the two brand new tracks, ‘Standing In the Storm’ and ‘Icarus’, fit into the ‘Guardians’ story now compared to when you made them?
Dustin: “I just think that both of those songs deserved a release, and they just didn’t belong on ‘Guardians’. They didn’t fit on the album, but they fit within the sessions because they were a part of the process. It was pretty obvious to all of us that they didn’t fit the vibe. But ‘Standing In The Storm’ still feels like an ABR song, and we still love it. It’s hard to make that call at the time, though.”
JB: “We didn’t want the record to be an hour, you know? Our records are pretty dense, to begin with, so it doesn’t make sense to throw in even more tracks on top of the material that we had there, to begin with. ‘Standing In The Storm’ really was one of my favourite songs instrumentally when we were putting things together. But we wanted the record to be more aggressive and heavy, and the two songs we left out just aren’t as brutal as the rest.”
Does it feel as though the material you are working on now is reflected in these two tracks?
JB: "To be honest, I don’t feel like those two songs are a good representation of where we are heading now."
Dustin: "Though something to mention is how those two tracks were written in the middle of the sessions rather than at the end. ‘Standing In The Storm’ was song three, and ‘Icarus’ was song ten. They were a part of the project."
So how are you interpreting the future of August Burns Red then? What is changing?
JB: “It’s pretty simple for me. Dustin is writing a lot more material now. He wrote half of ‘Guardians’, and he has continued to write a lot. That’s going to keep on pushing us in a different direction. I’m not the sole contributor of material right now, and that’s going to stretch us further. Dustin is the most talented guitar player in the band, and he knows how to do things with a guitar that I don’t know. It’s going to push our sound in new directions just because of this new songwriting process.”
Dustin: “What’s exciting about writing music for this band is how it’s a very long bookshelf. You can’t fit what we do in a small space. It’s vast. We’re a metal band, but we don’t always have to play thrashy riffs and breakdowns. We’re able to throw in unique, clean parts and spacey stuff too. It’s not to a script. We don’t have to write the same stuff as we always do. Right now, I’m personally learning some new music theory, and I’m excited to delve into sounds that are super unique to me and take things to a deeper level. I often get stuck in ruts and go, ‘I’ve already done that’. So I stopped writing, and I started guitar lessons again and developed a new ear for new scales. I just want to be able to take it somewhere else.”
The only barriers that have ever been put around what ABR do have been put there by you. So you can break them down just as quickly...
JB: “It’s the line that you choose to walk through your specific artistry and the box that your specific artistry puts you in. On the one hand, people want you to sound like you. It’s obvious when we write stuff. We sound like August Burns Red. What Dustin wants to do is push those sounds. After nine records, we have a foundation in place. I am guilty of doing things over and over without even knowing it. I don’t want my favourite band to reinvent their sound completely, but I also don’t want them to put our the same record twice.”
The rest of this EP also demonstrates how much you were trying to have fun with the band. From the covers to the reprise versions, it’s all pushing and pulling in new and exciting ways…
JB: “Yeah, it’s a lot of stuff that we did for fun.”
Dustin: “The reprise versions especially are things that we have done for a while, and it’s just a lot of fun to be able to work on them in different ways and see how they sound.”
JB: “There is so much meat to the songs that you don’t usually get to hear. There are so many underlying textures covered by these guitars, drums, bass and screamed vocals. When we can strip them down and showcase all of the other elements, which are almost afterthoughts, that’s what I love about doing projects like that. We create space that we didn’t have before to do more interesting things.”
And what are you most excited about as we look forwards?
JB: “I don’t think I have been as excited to work on new music as much as I am right now in a while. I think that’s because we’ve had such a long lay off and we’ve all been able to broaden our tools and the possibilities of what we can do. I just love bouncing ideas off Dustin and talking about things because it’s something we haven’t done in about ten years. We’re learning how important collaboration is for August Burns Red to push forwards.”