August Burns Red’s new album Guardians was released on April 3rd via Fearless Records. We caught up with frontman Jake Luhrs to learn more about the record, his overall experience when their tour with Killswitch Engage was postponed, and what life will hopefully look-like once this COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end.
How would you compare the recording process of Guardians to your prior efforts?
I think the thing that mainly comes to mind is just the collaboration. The fact that we were all very much wanting to collaborate with each other, which is really great that we’re at that place in our career as friends and artists, because everybody wants to create their own art. And sometimes it’s difficult to have someone else come in and change things around when you’re so stuck on, your heart’s on that part, or that lyric, or the pattern because it’s important to you, or you really think that it’s great and it’s a part of your art. For someone else to come in and say, “Hey, we’re going to change this, or let’s try this instead.” I think for this process, everybody came to the table very humble and excited to work together. And so, it was probably the best environment that we could have created for ourselves to make this process even more fun and pleasurable. We’re definitely a band that wants to be professional in every shape and form, but at the same time, we still want to enjoy it. It’s still a passion of ours, and a dream come true. We want to have fun while we’re on this journey. I think that probably just made everything so much easier, because it’s hard for a body to be successful if the body parts aren’t all operating together, right? There’s so much more you can do with two hands than versus just one. And so, I think that we as a body really just worked well together. I think that, that’s why this album is great because of that one key element.
What are some themes on the album?
A lot of the themes that we have for the songs is really a lot about unity and community. Obviously, “Defender” is about someone coming in and protecting you and defending you when you’re weak, or when you’re being attacked. That song has a lot to deal with Matt. He just went through a really traumatic experience in his life, and people were shaming him and making up stories about him. His father stood up and stood tall and protected him in that time of weakness and brokenness. “Lighthouse,” talks about how we perceive other people, and judge them, and ridicule them. And if they’re like an outcast, we were not willing to really engage them, or things like that, and how we need to change that perspective and how these are human beings that are going through a tough time where maybe they’re a black sheep because they’re not the cool kid or whatever in the group. And that doesn’t mean that you have the right to belittle or shame them. We have a song called “Blood Letter,” which is one of the heaviest songs ABR’s ever written. Actually, Grant and Carson Slovak went to Dustin and JB, who are our main songwriters, and said “Hey, we want you to write the heaviest ABR song you possibly can.” And they went for the challenge, and I think they delivered. That song is about someone taking advantage of you, and using you for their own personal gain, and how you kind of stand up to them and say, “Hey, look, you’re not going to be able to do this anymore. You can’t hurt me like this anymore.” But also being the quote-unquote bigger man saying, “Okay, well, I’m not going to stab you in the back like you did me, but we’re no longer going to associate together.” Just taking the higher road, but standing up to that person. We’ve never really been a type of band that writes all the lyrics about one particular subject, or we’ve never really done a concept album or anything. But these are from our personal lives. We’re not trying to write something that we think our fan base is going to enjoy or think this is what people want to hear. It’s really like, “Hey, man, Brent went through this, or Matt went through this, or I went through this, and we’re going to share that because we feel like it’s something that other people go through and that people will connect with us.” And they have for 15 years. So I’m really happy and pleased with what Brent and Matt produce lyrically.
I want to talk about the tour with Killswitch Engage that just got canceled or postponed. How many shows did you guys actually perform before you found out and what was that experience like?
Dude, it was the worst. Okay, so if I could just give you a brief backstory. Killswitch Engage, that band is like, in my opinion, is one of the pioneers for American metalcore. I mean, I was jamming to those dudes when I was in local bands. Right? And so, to be able to say, “Hey, you’re going to tour with these guys, and they respect your music and respect you.” Is almost surreal.So it’s like, “Wow, what the heck?” And then we got through two shows with them. And the second night, we were talking to Adam, their guitarist, and he was like, “Hey, I don’t know how much longer this tour is going to be, because all these other tours are already canceling. So let’s hope for the best.” And then the next day we had an off day, and my band went out and played in Louisville, Kentucky. And that afternoon, we heard that our booking agent and Live Nation were having a meeting. We pretty much knew what that meant. So we said, “Okay, let’s play this last show, give it all we got, and then we’re going to go home.” And it’s really unfortunate because that puts ABR out of work now after all this has done, probably six months plus. So we haven’t been on the road. And it’s unfortunate because this is our job. But it’s unfortunate to our crew. That’s who I’m really concerned about, and I just hope that they do well. Because I know some of those guys, they go home from our tours, and they work at local venues. Our sound engineer, Buddy, he goes home in Philly and works at the TLA. But now he’s not on tour, and he can’t work at the TLA. So it’s just kind of a tough time, I think, obviously for everyone. But we wanted to continue the tour. But now looking back, I’m really glad that we didn’t, because I would just hate to jeopardize our fans and have our fans get sick. I mean, that would be devastating and heartbreaking. But the great thing is that’ it’s postponed, it’s not canceled, and we’re going to reschedule the tour. It’s still happening. Everyone who bought their tickets gets to keep their ticket if they want, and they can come to the rescheduled show in their city.
It is getting scary, and I feel bad for a lot of people who are out of work right now. And what’s also scary is that we don’t know how long this whole thing is going to last. I feel like we’re in this sci fi movie, and I notice a lot of bands are already rescheduling and taking a risk as early as June. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s simple. It’s like, hey, this is still a problem. Don’t go on the road. If this is still a major issue then you can’t. But I mean, I totally understand. I get it. It’s their job, how they feed their families. I mean, just like everybody else. It’s like, “Hey, we want to go back to work because how else are we supposed to feed our families?” But if it’s still a high level of a hazard, I think obviously everybody will need to stay home.
What do you think is going to happen in the aftermath once this whole thing is over? Do you think things will just go back to normal, or will life just change?
I don’t think it’s going to go back to normal. My hope … and I just want to speak positive. I know that there’s some negatives that are running through my mind, but I’d rather not share those. I would rather share the good that I hope and pray comes. I really hope that people put aside their religious views, put aside their political views, the color of their skin, or who they’re in love with and really just love people, because after this is all over, you’re going to be able to go anywhere on this earth and people that you meet will have just experienced the same tragedy, stress, anxiety, doubt and fear. I think that’s a powerful tool if we let it. I think that what it does is it opens up the invitation of unity and another sense or shape of love that we haven’t really encountered with one another, like a stranger. I hope that people use it for good and they go, “Man, you’re not a Republican or Democrat, and you’re not this, or Christian, or whatever. But you’re a human being. And we just went through something really hard. Is there anything I can do for you?” That’s what I hope for. I hope that countries that have been battling each other recognize that they can find some sense of understanding and peace, because there are enemies out there that they can’t see, and they’re not taking that enemy doesn’t care what you look like, or what you believe in. That’s what I hope for. I also hope that people who are super-ambitious, that run a hundred miles per hour every day, slow down, this is a realization for them, an epiphany, where they look at life and they go, “Whoa, hold on a second. It’s not about me working every day and trying to succeed and be this person that I think I should be. I really need to sit with the present day and absorb what’s going on and what I should be thankful for and what I have today.” And then for the people who aren’t like that, the opposite, where they go, “Okay, I guess this is just going to be my life.” Or, “Okay, I guess I should give up on my dream.” Or, “Okay, I guess this is just the way it’s going to be.” Right? I hope that this is a wake up call and that they have an epiphany of like, “Man, I don’t want to live like this, and I don’t want to die this way.” Or “I should fight for my dream, because this is my life, and it could’ve just been taken away from me through this whole coronavirus situation.” So that they springboard into a new drive, and a new look on life, and pursue, and find some of the ambition to bring their dreams to reality. That’s what I’m hoping for and praying for.
That is a really good outlook, and we can only hope for the best at this point if only people will come to their senses like that. Are you guys planning on doing anything during this quarantine? I know a lot of bands are putting out their merch, etc.
Not really, not like that in the sense of merchandise. I mean, I know that we sent back the 300 limited pieces of this shirt that we did for the tour. We sent that to our merch company, so we could just sell them if people wanted them. I’m going to be working on a home workout program, and shooting a bunch of videos for that. I’ve been doing first reaction videos. I don’t know if you know what those are, but it’s when you listen to a song and you videotape yourself reacting to it. And I didn’t even know these existed until maybe about two months ago. I ran across this band called TrueShot, and they did one for “Defender,” our single. And I was like, “Wow, that’s really cool these guys do this and did this for my band.” I returned the favor, and I hit them up, and I said, “Hey, send me your single and let me do it for you.” I posted it maybe a couple of weeks back, and my fans on Instagram were really pumped on it. Like, “Man, you should do this, you should do that.” And I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to edit stuff. I don’t really know where to begin.” But then my buddy, Taylor, from In Heart’s Wake, he sent me a text and said, “Hey, would you be willing to do a first reaction video for our new music video Worldwide Suicide?” And I said, “Yeah, okay, fine. Sure, I’ll do it.” So I’m doing those. I just dropped the first reaction video for Fit For A King’s, new single, ‘Breaking The Mirror.” That’s a cool way for me to engage with my fans and just kind of hopefully put a smile on their face, make them laugh, not think about what’s really going on here. I’m doing those workout videos. I run a nonprofit for mental health called Heart Support, and we have a Twitch stream. So on April 3rd, I’m going to go on our Heart Support Twitch stream, which is twitch.tv/heartsupport. And people can come hang out, and we’re just going to go through each song on the record. I’m going to talk about the writing process, what the lyrics are about. And just kind of go through the whole album with the fans I mean, this is a difficult time, and people are hurting. Unfortunately, some people are passing, and just like, “Whoa.” So this is the way that I’m trying to give back to the community right now.
You’re keeping yourself busy and keeping everybody positive during this hard time. My last question for you is there anything else that you want to say or add about the album?
Guardians, the reason why it’s plural and not singular is that we can all be guardians. Everyone has the ability to protect, defend, nurture, guide, help heal other people. I think that the record is very fitting for the season that this world is in right now. I just hope that this record not only brings a smile or a laugh to your face, but encourages you to reach out to other people around you and to do what we were created to do, which is love and build one another up, so that’s what I hope people get from the record, Guardians.