August Burns Red has kept busy throughout lockdown, with three releases out over the course of the past year – Guardians, Guardians Sessions EP, and Leveler 10th Anniversary Edition. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the chance to speak with guitarist JB Brubaker about the latest recordings and releases in the August Burns Red world, his pandemic experience, their breakaway to being a self-produced/self-released band, signature guitars and gear preferences, and more. Check it out below.
So first off, how have things been for you and your family, handling everything that’s been going on for the past year?
You know, we’re making it through, I guess, it’s been a challenge as for many people. One of the challenges, without getting too deep right off the bat, but my wife and I have only known each other through me being on the road. So, coming home for a year and a half straight is just an adjustment for both of us just for the lifestyle we’re used to, and we have a small child, so we’ve been doing a lot of co-parenting, which is different for me. Because I’m used to being the career guy, going out and working. So a lot of adjustments, but we’re making it through and trying to make the best of the situation.
I’m sure that is an adjustment, especially for touring musicians in general, it’s a huge adjustment to be like, “oh, I’ve got to stay home now, what? This is weird”.
Yeah, definitely weird. I think both my wife and I miss the “normalcy” we had, because it was comfortable for us, and I definitely miss playing shows and I can’t wait to just get back to that environment.
Everyone’s waiting for that environment to come back for sure. Regardless, August Burns Red, you’ve had three releases in the past year alone, Guardians, the Guardians Sessions EP, and now the Leveler 10th Anniversary coming up, so no doubt the band has kept busy, I think.
When Guardians came out in April of 2020, we had this kind of feeling of like, almost defeat. Like, we just put this record out that we’re so pumped on, and can’t do anything with it. And we just sort of hibernated for a couple of months right there at the beginning of lockdown. Then we basically did a 180, we were like, “okay, this isn’t ending anytime soon, we need to come up with a plan to be an active band because this is what we do”. And then we just started cranking and we haven’t stopped, and we’re going to keep doing what we need to do to be an active band, whether or not we can be active on the road. We need to keep ourselves busy one way or another. So we’ve recorded a lot of stuff and we’re releasing a lot of stuff, we just want to keep doing our band, because it’s what we love to do.
So when Guardians came out, you said, it was April of 2020, so you had everything done basically, before the pandemic and lockdown happened, right?
Yeah, the record was done for a few months, we had that tour with Killswitch Engage that we only got to play two shows on before we had to come home because of the pandemic, and we had a great plan for the record that has gone away. But there are some things that are more important than August Burns Red’s touring schedule *laughs*. This is one of those.
But the touring schedule will come back around at some point, hopefully later this year.
Yeah, it will.
So you also have the 10th Anniversary of Leveler this year, how does it feel to be looking back on that album? Because it wasn’t your first album, it was your fourth, so August Burns Red had already been going for a while by then, but you were still pretty new as compared to now. So while rerecording the tracks, did you find yourself reflecting on experience since then in the band?
Yeah, totally. Just looking back at the songs for what they were, I mean, reflecting on the songs, reflecting on where we were at as a band and our relationships as bandmates, a lot has changed since then. In 2011, 2012, when we were on the Leveler tour, we were going through a lot of growing pains as a band, and just understanding each other as individuals and working on internal conflicts and stuff that are inevitable when you spend so much time together in very tight places and traveling a lot. And on that touring cycle, I think we played over 40 countries or something ridiculous, we toured really aggressively on that record.
Wow! 40 countries, you covered a lot of ground there.
*laughs* Yeah, it sounds daunting to be thinking back on it, we definitely haven’t been that ambitious since. And honestly, it was probably a little bit too much, because it put a lot of strain on our internal relationships, but, it also taught us how to work through problems and understand each other more, and I think that that conflict we experienced then has helped us to be really stable as we came out of the weeds. And at this point, ten years later, we’re stronger than ever internally in how we get along, and we’re all on the same page working toward the same goal, there’s no individual ego, we’re all in it together for the common good. So I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish since this record came out. And then more so on the musical side of things, I’m really proud of being able to dissect these songs from Leveler, and be able to give them sort of a modern facelift from the original recording. The production’s way better, we were able to do more with guitar solos and we brought in guest musicians that we weren’t able to do the first time around. And I think for fans of the original, it’s going to be a new experience, and I think for people who haven’t heard the record at all, it’ll be an opportunity to share the album with them and have them hear it like it’s a new, modern release.
That’s awesome, and really great to hear about how tight the ties are between you guys in the band are now, just from what you’re saying, it sounds like you’ve grown over the years, and that’s great to hear from a band that works as hard as you guys for as long as you have.
So how did you initially approach the decision to re-record in general? What did you do in terms of going back and listening, deciding what felt like it needed an update, things like that?
Our bass player, Dustin, and I handle the majority of the songwriting at this point, so we basically just pulled up all the original guitar tabs that we had written for that album, and combed each song carefully, changed the tunings, we tuned everything down a little bit lower than the original recordings as metal music just has gotten lower and heavier over the last 10 years. And then we rewrote solos and various guitar leads here and there, and then added a lot of pads and sort of ethereal textures underneath various riffs to kind of give the record a more dynamic vibe overall. We approached it the way we would approach a record that we were writing now. We know a lot more than we did when we were writing back in 2010. So basically, gave it the modern August Burns Red facelift.
Of course – that makes sense, you’ve learned a lot over the years, and what you said about the downtuning and giving it an even more modern metal sound – I think for a lot of metal fans, they understand a lot about the music but may not be musicians themselves, and may not even necessarily recognize something like tuning down and how much heavier or darker it can sound without that insight. I think that’s cool that you guys went in and provided that modern metal sound that people will recognize, even if they’re not sure exactly what created it, you know?
Right, totally, I agree. We are just in this really unique position right now where we’re in between record labels, we’re out of a contract right now, so we’re free to do whatever we want. That is something we’ve never been…we haven’t been “free agents” since, like, 2005. So we wanted to take this opportunity where we’re all kind of stuck at home anyway, and focus on studio projects, because we’re able to do that anyway, and self-release if we want, which we are doing with the Leveler 10th Anniversary Edition.
Cool, yeah, I mean, you guys have been signed to labels for a long time, because you had Solid State for years before, and Fearless Records for years now, so I guess it is kind of the first time you’re out and exploring on your own a bit there.
Yeah, it’s really weird, but if we had to be in that position, I’m glad it was during the pandemic, when we were at home, and able to spend a lot of time with our music.
Because that way you don’t have pressures and deadlines and things, you’re like, “let’s just see what happens!”
Exactly! I love that.
You’ve also got a Leveler livestream coming up, and you guys have been doing playthroughs and things like that for all of this time, you’ve been keeping active on social media, keeping the fans engaged and everything. Is this the first actual full concert livestream you’re doing?
It’s actually our third, we did two at the end of last year, in November we did one for the 15th Anniversary of our record Thrill Seeker, which was our first record that we put out. And then around the holidays, we did one for Christmas. We play an annual Christmas show and we couldn’t do one this year, so we decided to do that online. But it’s going to be a good six months since we did anything, so we’re really excited to play together again. We have a really ambitious show planned out, both in the amount of songs and material we’re going to be performing, and I guess the sheer size of the production we’re trying to do. So hopefully it comes out the way we envision it, I think it’s going to be a really fun August Burns Red show even though people can’t watch us in person.
That’s the thing with the livestreams, everyone needs to make it bigger and better, I think, is how a lot of bands are feeling, because you don’t have that in-person energy and experience, so it’s more of a visual and audio thing, like “how big can we make this that it still feels almost live?”
Right, that’s the goal, and it’s definitely a challenge, but it also opens up possibilities for us to do things – like, what we have planned for the Leveler livestream is something that we could never take on the road for the size of band we are. It only works in this one-off sort of environment, so I’m excited at the prospect to do something bigger than we could typically do on a regular tour date.
So that will be some interesting surprises for fans in that case – what, are we going to have like an Iron Maiden Eddie-style big August Burns Red mascot coming out?
*laughs* Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, I don’t want to give anything away.
Of course *laughs*.
There will be no Iron Maiden characters coming on stage though, I can say that much.
*laughs* I also wanted to ask about the Guardians Sessions EP, that was another lockdown release. Was it just something that came up for you guys during lockdown to go back and revisit some things, do some B sides, covers, things like that?
Yeah, definitely a product of us having time on our hands. We had a couple of songs that were unreleased from Guardians that we wanted to put out, but we didn’t really want to release them just as singles. So we took advantage of our downtime and did a couple acoustic reworking of songs from Guardians, and then did a couple covers for fun just for us. I started with a cover of the Westworld theme song, probably back in 2018, and I never got to finish it because I was just too busy with more pressing material. But as soon as we got sent home, that was the first thing I did. And I actually spent a lot of time finishing that cover. And then, we realized we had a fair amount of material and it made sense to do an EP, instead of just releasing it all at once, we thought it would be fun to just slow release one song at a time. I think we did seven songs over seven months, starting last October. Which was cool, we’ve never done anything like that before, and I think it was fun for fans to just get that steady stream of new material.
Absolutely, it gives you something to look forward to, especially when you know it’s on a monthly basis, you’re getting something new from August Burns Red. Was that one also self-released, self-produced?
No, this one was with Fearless, it was our last. It just happened to fall under the time when we were still under contract, but Fearless was fully behind it, and did an awesome job helping us to create and market the record. Happy to have them on the team for this release.
And you also had, for years on Fearless, this producing team of Carson [Slovak] and Grant [McFarland] for many of the albums, so was that anything tied to Fearless, or will you still be working with them after, do you think?
We actually started working with them – our last record with Solid State was also produced by Carson and Grant, they’re long-time friends of the band, and there’s just an understanding between us. We really get how they work and they get how we work, and they’re local to us, which is nice, because a bunch of us have families now, and it’s difficult to be – I mean, not in 2020, since we weren’t touring – but, typically if we’re on the road, we don’t want to then come home from a six-week tour and fly to LA for six weeks to make a record, like that just doesn’t work with our lives right now. So it works well to work with Carson and Grant and we can treat it as a day job where we usually work 10am to 6pm, like a normal kind of workday. And then we go home end can be parents and whatever we need to be for our families.
Yeah, that’s convenient, but funny, because no one ever really thinks of music, especially metal, as a 9-to-5 style job, so that’s funny you guys were able to work it out like that.
It definitely wasn’t in our 20’s, but now that we’re in our 30’s, things are a little more regimented *laughs*.
Of course! You’ve got to adjust and balance everything as you go along. So I also wanted to talk about gear a little bit, I believe I saw you were endorsed by Ibanez for guitars, but other than that, what are some favorite go-tos for gear in general, whether it’s Ibanez or otherwise?
Yeah, I play Ibanez guitars and I actually have a new signature model coming out this year through Ibanez, it’s a black guitar with white stripes, I had one previously that was green with white stripes for anyone who knows anything about that – so if you know anything about guitar, and you’re interested in that sort of thing, keep an eye out, it should be out shortly. I play Fractal Audio Axe Effects for my amps, just a digital amp processor, and I’m literally standing in my studio right now looking at my pedalboard, I don’t know how in-depth you want me to go *laughs*.
However in-depth you feel like, man! It’s all good.
Cool. Well, one thing I guess that’s cool about what I’m doing right now is, we have a lot of different tunings during our songs, and rather than play four different guitars during a set, I use a pedal called a drop pedal that a company called DigiTech makes, and it basically allows me to drop the pitch of my guitar without actually changing the tuning of the guitar, which makes it really easy to play live in lots of different settings without having to switch guitars constantly. Really handy when traveling overseas, this one, so you don’t have to haul around four different instruments. I don’t know, technology’s crazy, it’s crazy to think how much gear we used to haul around to make our sound, and now we’re playing out of these little computers, basically, that do everything in one small box, it’s wild.
No, absolutely, it’s so crazy. And there’s new things coming out every day with audio processing, digital, everything you can do where you’re still the one physically playing the guitar, but so much is happening in these digital plugins and processors that transforms it into something completely different. It’s really cool, actually. And I’m sure people, during the pandemic, have had time to develop even more.
For real! I just know for myself and my band, we’re done a lot with home studio stuff in just the last year, because we’ve had the time and we’re stuck at home, so we’re trying to step up our home audio game.
And I’m sure when you have – like you said earlier – labels involved, and there’s deadlines and whatever, you probably find a sound and you’re like, “Okay, this is cool, we’ll stick with it”, but I’m sure if you’re experimenting at home, you have more time to be like, “What would happen if I used *this* pedal or *this* plugin instead”?
Absolutely, we can try out so much more at home before we get into the actual studio with our producers, which is a big win for everyone, really.
Well, like you said, you guys have been keeping super active for the past year, and it’s definitely great for the August Burns Red fanbase out there that’s looking for new stuff from you guys, so it’s cool you’ve been keeping up with it. The livestream is definitely something to look forward to, so other than that – do you have any ideas on what’s next on the plate for August Burns Red, or are you just going to hang out for a while and wait for shows to come back?
Well, we have aspirations to tour in the fall, we are confirmed on a bunch of festivals that have been announced, so we’ll just have our fingers crossed that we can play again, because that’s what our hope is, and that’s the hope of the fans as well. So hopefully people get vaccinated and we can get back to playing again before long.
Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, JB, it’s been really cool talking with you and getting to know more about you and your gear and lifestyle and everything. Best of luck with everything!
I really appreciate it, thanks for having me on.