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Interview: Jake Luhrs of August Burns Red discusses upcoming album, Guardian

August Burns Red are set to release their eighth full-length album, Guardians, tomorrow, April 3rd, on Fearless Records. On the eve of their album release we had the chance to talk with Jake Luhrs about the new album, navigating the crazy world we’re living in right now, and hear all about his and the band’s plans for utilizing this time to put out new content and connect with fans in new ways.

ME: First of all congrats on your new album, “Guardian”, that debuts tomorrow! With the new album so close to being released I wanted to ask you a little bit about the early stages of the album’s creation. When you guys set out to create “Guardians”, does the band typically start with a goal for the album as far as a particular sound or feel you want it to have? Or would you say it’s more of the opposite approach where you guys just start with creating songs that you want to make and kind of let that dictate the direction the album goes?

Jake Luhrs: I think that because our main songwriter, JB (Brubaker), writes throughout the year – so like when we released “Phantom Anthem”, throughout the two years of touring he’d get an idea for a song and kind of map it out and I think from my understanding that kind of comes piece by piece – there’s not necessarily a particular direction. I think there’s more of boundaries that we kind of stay within so that we can still be creative in the writing process, but keep to ABR roots.

We all get different inspiration from different genres of music. I’ll listen to heavy music when I’m at the gym or maybe If I’m out and about but I usually listen to different genres for inspiration so that I can try to expand and we can expand as artists. But again, I think that the writing process never goes to like a concept or maybe like a vision or direction. It’s kind of what JB writes as he’s growing as a musician. So that’s kind of what we end up with. And then, you know, the rest of guys get their hands on it.

There are times where, like in this record, our producers kind of felt like they wanted to see the record with a little heavier content. So they challenged Justin, who also writes, and JB to write the heaviest song possible. And so that’s kind of where Blood Letter comes in. And so it kind of gives the record a little bit of a heavier side. But, yeah, we as a band don’t really sit down and think, “what’s the direction or vision for this?” We kind of just write throughout the years of touring on the previous album and then we really get our hands dirty when we get into the studio.

ME: That’s awesome, and you kind of answered my next question within that which is, as far as the sound of the new album goes, it sounds like it’s aimed at being on the heavier side. Would you say that’s pretty much what fans can expect from “Guardian” – to be a heavier album?

Jake Luhrs: Um, yeah, it wasn’t necessarily aimed at that like with the Blood Letter song when they were like “this record could use a really, really heavy, aggressive song”. But yeah, after listening to the whole album as a band and kind of talking about it, we kind of feel that it is definitely aggressive for sure. You know, some of our previous stuff had a lot of instrumental sections and some really big explosive, out of the box sounds. But this record I feel like is just, it’s just like a rampage. It’s like a hundred miles per hour. Each song feels like it has a very heavy undertone similar to like “Messengers” and “Constellations”. I feel like it’s got a lot of that, which is our older material. Again, there was no real intention of writing that way. But, you know, I guess it was just kind of what came after we all finished writing everything. So, yeah, I would say that fans that are really excited or really enjoy “Messengers” and “Constellations” will probably be a super fan of this album.

ME: That’s good to hear, I’m excited for it! To kind of follow up on that, one of the things I love about new albums and singles coming out is seeing the visual aspects that artists add to it and how creative they can get with that. So I wanted to talk a little bit about the “Defender” music video that you guys put out, which is the lead single from the new album. Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea of turning that song into a comic for the music video and the process of putting the visuals to it all came to life?

Jake Luhrs: Yeah so honestly, the team that we worked with for the music video kind of came up with this concept, after hearing and looking at the lyrical content, of doing like a comic book themed animated music video and we’ve never done anything like that before. Also our guitarist, Brent Rambler, is a huge comic book nerd so when the concept got sent to us he was like “we have to do that!”. And we were a little, or I’ll say I’ll speak for myself, I was a little concerned as to how “animated” this would be or if it would look like a comic book. And you know, sometimes the vision is great, but we can lack in execution. And I’m speaking even just for myself and personal experiences, right? Like I can have an awesome idea but then when it’s on the ground, it’s like yikes this isn’t as cool as I thought. So I was a little timid, but after working with the team and the director and the guy who, I don’t know the name off the top of my head, I wish I did, but the animator, I mean, it came out better than I had anticipated and so it was just a really creative, cool concept that the band didn’t really necessarily have much to do with until it was presented to us and then once everybody latched onto the idea, we went full force. I think it’s a good, really cool, unique, out of the box video for us.

ME: Absolutely, I think it came out great! It’s like you said, it was something that you guys have never really done before in having an animated video and especially for that to come from a heavier, metal band it seems like that would be such a mismatch at the surfuce level, but it worked out so well. It’s a realy cool concept.

Jake Luhrs: Thank you!

ME: Yeah! So with the three singles that are out so far, being “Defender”, “Bones”, and “Paramount”, how have fan reactions been to them?

Jake Luhrs: Well, I’m not quite sure how I can put into words necessarily how I feel because, you know, we’ve been doing this for close to 16 years and the fans, the way that they received the three singles, I mean, it’s probably the best results we could have asked for. The response has been asolutely amazing. And, you know, I think we think that each single kind of touches on a particular fan’s love for our music because there is quite a bit of difference in the singles and just to see everybody respond the way that they have, it’s like, man! After 16 years you kind of think, well, maybe people are going to say we’re old or outdated or, you know, maybe they’re just going to be over the metal sound, things like that. But we’ve gotten more recognition and more of a positive response from this album than we did the last record, “Phantom Anthem”. So in all areas, I mean, it’s just kind of been really ridiculous.

And so we’re really amped now because at first it was like, man, we’re gonna put on our ninth album, you know, and we’re pumped on the music because, of course we are, we wrote it, but then we’re like man I don’t know, what is everybody going to think? And once we released “Defender”, which is our first single, there’s a really big moment where I say “we will deliver the sentence” and then there’s like this pretty heavy, aggressive break down afterwards and people just soaked it up and they just like absorbed that song and then it kind of just shot to the sky after that. So I think the rest of the record, I mean, if people like those three singles, they’re gonna like the album. It’s not like we do anything too crazy from the direction of where we’re going. It’s just like, hey, this is the path and it’s an aggressive album. It’s got some very emotional parts and maybe some darker sounds. But, you know, it’s got a lot of meaning behind it and I really am attached to this album for what it means and the message behind it.

ME: I think that says so much too when a band, especially a band that’s been around for a while, can put out music and still have fans be excited about it. Because like you said, it can easily get to the point where artists put out stuff that fans are just bored of. So I think it says a lot when fans are still so stoked whenever you put out new stuff and just absorb it like that. It’s cool to witness.

Jake Luhrs: Yeah man, like I said, I’m super pumped and tomorrow’s the big day! We’re actually doing a listening party on a livestream for my non-profit called HeartSupport that’s on twitch.TV/heartsupport at 1:00 PM. Eastern. And I’m basically just going to do the whole record from front to back and talk about the lyrical content, the writing process, some of the vocal implementations, and then a Q&A. So that should be a lot of fun because then I get to hear from the fans about their favorite part. And they get to kind of better understand what we were doing.

ME: That’s so cool! I’ll be sure to post that link so that fans can join in if they weren’t already planning to. Following up on that, one of the things that I actually wanted to talk about is how the world is just in a crazy state right now and you guys were supposed to be on tour for this album launch which obviously had to get postponed with all the safety precautions being taken. So have you and the band found it challenging putting out a record during this time when you can’t physically interact with fans and do the shows and all the typical things that normally adds to the excitement of putting out an album, has that been a challenge?

Jake Luhrs: It has. It was definitely, you know, it blew the wind out of our sails for sure. We were going out with Killswitch Engage which you know, are a legendary band. We spent a lot of time rehearsing two of the singles that we had so that we could preform them live for our fans. We spent a lot of time in production, like pre-production, for this tour with our lights and our sound, you know, all of that kind of stuff. So, yeah, having to postpone was a huge bummer. But at the same time we completely understand why. And I would be heartbroken if I transferred this virus to someone and they brought it home to their family and their father got sick or mom got sick, like that’s just, we just can’t do that. So we had to postpone it but it’s going to get rescheduled and I think right now the concern is, you know, obviously for the world to just get healthy and to get well. But I’m concerned for our crew because this is this is their livelihood. I mean, so, we’re trying to figure out ways that we can help support them financially so that they can keep their heads above water. Because these guys have families and things just like the rest of us. So we’re kind of working on that a little bit.

But, you know, because we can’t be on the road and release this, we were going to postpone the record and just say, let’s wait till after this whole craziness is over and then we can get them the record. But when we started to really think about it, we thought about the message of the album and the title “Guardians” and what it means and when we were talking about it we were like, this is exactly what our fans need right now. They need encouragement from us and music to hold on to to give them hope and to break their fears and to hopefully have them open their eyes to love their neighbor and put aside their religious beliefs or their political views and just come together as a community. Because right now that’s all we have and that’s how we’re going to survive this thing. So, when we were discussing that stuff it became kind of eerie almost how connected this moment in time, this season of our lives, and the lyrical content on this record are. It’s like it’s just perfect timing for us to give this out now. And so we’re not going to postpone it. It’s definitely coming out at midnight tonight!

ME: I’m glad you guys went ahead with putting out the album. That was one of my fears just as a music fan in general that with all of this spring tours getting canceled and all of the new music and albums that supposed to be coming out in the next few weeks/months, I was worried that artists were going to start pushing releases back too. But I think you said it perfectly, now is the time more than ever that fans really need that new music and to be hearing from the artists that they look up to and have that to look forward to and hold on to while we wait this out.

Okay, so you kind of touched on this a little already, but I wanted to ask – I know you guys are doing the livestreams for the album like you mentioned, along with that do you have anything else that you can share that the band is working on as far as any other live streaming ideas or ways to connect with fans or merch sales or anything that you kind of have in the works that you want to put out during this time of not being able to be on the road?

Jake Luhrs: Yeah, I think, you know, coming out with some merch that’s going to help support our crew is something that we plan on doing. We have a pretty ridiculous shirt coming out. I think we’re going to use that for supporting our crew.

I’m also doing, so – I like fitness and like exercising and going to the gym. And so I know a lot of people who can’t go to the gym, obviously, since they’re all closed, and they don’t have maybe gym equipment at home. So I kind of did a quick poll on my Instagram to see what people want. And a lot of people are asking for like body weight exercises. So I just finished shooting the third day out of a four day workout program with Fearless Records and my fitness brand called More Weight Fitness. So we came up with this really cool, kind of like beginner/intermediate level exercise program. And it’s kind of neat because you obviously don’t need any equipment, just your body weight. And then you can scale it to what is best for you. Like there are certain tips and techniques to make it harder or more challenging for you. And then there’s other options if you want to start out with the beginner exercise and then you want to go up to like an intermediate exercise. So there’s a lot there and it’s absolutely free. Again, it’s just a way to give back to our community and keep them entertained and excited. And I’m a strong believer in the physical impacts the mental and vise versa. So if we can mentally encourage our fans through our music and we can physically encourage them with this workout, I think it’s just going to kind of help shift their spirit and their mind and obviously their body to just a more positive note, because there’s so much negativity and there’s so much fear and and questioning and anxiety and stress. So working out and getting that in is a good thing for us if we choose to do it.

ME: Absolutely. That’s that’s an awesome idea, it’s so cool seeing the way that different bands and artists are putting new content out right that they normally wouldn’t think to or have the time for.

Jake Luhrs: Yeah, here’s one more for you – when the single “Defenders” came out I went on YouTube to look at the video and I stumbled upon a first reaction video and I had no idea what a first reaction video was, I had never seen one. But this band called TrueShot from New Hampshire, the singer and the guitarist shot this first reaction video. And if you don’t know what it is, it’s basically these guys have never heard the single “Defender” so they videotaped themselves with high quality audio and they played the song and then they show their reaction to it and they discuss what they liked and what they didn’t like afterwards. So when I saw this from a band, I reached out to them and said “man, this is really cool. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this for us and show people what your thoughts are on the single. Do me a favor, send me your single and I’ll do a first reaction video of that.”

So they sent it to me and I did one. And my fans were like yo, this is super cool. You need to do this for like, ‘As I Lay Dying’ or, you know, ‘Fit For A King’ or, you know, all these bands that are my peers. And so I’ve done three now additional from the first one. And I’m just gonna do them like once a week because it’s just something fun that my fans like. They enjoy it, you know, seeing me react to other bands and give them my two cents. And then another thing, it’s basically me just having an opportunity to give back to my peers. I mean, to promote ‘As I Lay Dying’ or ‘In Hearts Wake’ or ‘Fit For A King’ and like, their new songs and kind of introduce my fans to their music if they haven’t heard it and so it’s kind of cool. It’s just something different, you know, and so many positives from it.

ME: Definitely, I love that idea too! Do you have any that you’re working on right now that you haven’t released yet?

Jake Luhrs: Yeah, I do! Well, I got this idea, and you can tell me if it’s a good one or not, but I’m gonna do a battle of the bands where basically I get the fans or my subscribers on YouTube to tell me what two songs I should pick from what two bands. And then I’m going to shoot me listening to both of them and ask the subscribers to comment below which band they think won the battle of the bands. And then I’m gonna randomly pick maybe one or up to three random people that comment and send them merchandise that was on the ABR tour that we had to postpone. So it’s kind of something that’s specific from the tour and kind of special. And then maybe like a $100 gift card to iTunes so that they can go out and buy music from their favorite bands and support their bands that way.

ME: That’s so smart, I love that! That would be such a fun way to get fans involved in it and who doesn’t love getting merch?

Jake Luhrs: Right? Or a $100 gift card to iTunes?

ME: Yes I love that! It would be cool too to do some like local bands and bands that don’t have that name recognition yet.

Jake Luhrs: Yeah, I was thinking about doing one of those once a month called ‘Sounds of the Underground’. You know, they’re like underground bands. I’ve got a slew of dm’s and things requesting like, “hey, man, I’m in this band check it out”. So I’m going to try to do one of those a month just to kind of promote them and maybe, you know, I know that SharpTones been following me and kind of looking at my first reaction videos and, you know, I’m with Fearless so maybe who knows, I could listen to one of these fans and some label will listen to them and go, “wow, this is actually really, really good material” and they’re gonna go knock on their door. So, again, it’s just an opportunity to give back to the community and the music scene and keep people excited and have something to look forward to if they’re having kind of a downer day.

ME: Definitely, man, there’s so many directions you can go with that. That’s awesome. Going back to a little earlier you also touched a little bit on saying how important it is to keep up with mental and physical health. So are there any tips that you can give people who are struggling right now with being stuck inside and not being able to, you know, keeps their normal habits and routines and to help with any kind of mental health or to just not going crazy sitting in the house all day?

Jake Luhrs: Yeah, totally. I think one of the things that I like to do, and I think over maybe like even a couple of weeks really can change your mindset and your perspective, is if every day you list out five things that you’re grateful for and kind of try to do that at the end of your day, cause if you do it in the beginning of the day it’s easy to say, you know, I’m grateful for my friends, but if you do it at the end of the day, you can look back on the day and see the things that you are grateful for and the things that you have already or committed to in that day. And it kind of makes you self reflect and go back in the day and have to really think about it. Then you wake up and you start to just be a little more appreciative. You have a little bit of a different perspective. You’re not really dawning on the fact that you can’t go out, you’re more so waking up and reflecting on the things that you have now and that you are thankful for, and it can kind of give you that positive boost and appreciation for life. And it also kind of will maybe encourage you to do more of some simple things in life and and find joy in those things. Like, for example, taking my dog to the park. You know, it’s a very simple act, but I get a moment to share with this dog who’s been my best friend and kind of been mentally encouraging to me. So taking the dog down to you know, enjoy the nice weather and have some peace and relaxation is a simple thing for me.

Another thing is, you know, try to maybe do something a little bit different, change your routine up every once in a while. Don’t just do the same monotonous stuff because you’re going to start to get bored and then you’re gonna start to think about, oh, well, if only I could do this or I could do that. And then it’s going to tell you that life sucks. Now, I think, you know, the circumstances are challenging and difficult, but we still have a choice, right? We can choose whether or not we’re gonna let the sadness or the fear consume us or take hold. Or we can go to a positive place in our mind. That’s the beauty of life, you know, a lot of people can control and change your circumstances but they can’t control your mind. They can’t tell you how to feel. Only you can do that. So, you know, maybe changing up your routine or going to do something sporadic or maybe challenge yourself with something in your life, like a diet or challenge how many hours you play video games or watch TV and go spend that time doing something different, like reading a book or journaling or, you know, picking up that paintbrush that you put down 15 years ago, you know? Things like that. So, for example, this first reaction video is a great way for me to change my routine and do something different. I’m not dwelling on like, oh, man, I wish I could play hockey with my boys. Of course I want to go play hockey with my boys but I can’t. But I can do these first reaction videos, I can learn about editing, I can interact with my fans, I can listen and broaden my horizon with new music. Like there’s so many different opportunities in looking at your routine and going hey, you know what? Today, I’m just going to go out and do something I’ve never done before wether that’s inside my house or in my yeard.

ME: You know, it’s funny that you say the first point of writing down things that you’re grateful for, I’m a big journaler and I just got a journal where you start every day writing down five things that you’re grateful for but it has to be something that happened in the last 24 hours. So it can’t be vague stuff like “I’m grateful for my family”. And you’re right it definitely does kind of force that perspective change. It almost forces you to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day and that’s always in the back of your mind. I definitely think that’s a great practice as well as using the time to do things that you don’t normally do or learn a new skill because like you said, if you just focus on the things that you can’t do right now it’ll drive you crazy.

Following up on that, did you say that the fitness routines that you guys recorded are already out or are you working on getting them out?

Jake Luhrs: So right now they’re being edited by Fearless, their video editor Sam who is this an awesome guy. We plan on trying to release those, I think, in the next week or two. We think it’s great because we’re going to put some of the new ABR music in the background, and we just think it’s going to be a fun thing. But we kind of want, you know, since the record is coming out tomorrow, we really just want to engage the fans one on one as much as we can and then we’ll probably end up putting the videos out maybe, I mean, it could be as early as Monday of next week, but if not, maybe a week and a half from then.

And another thing, too, because I know that a lot of people are struggling mentally, I’m am the founder and president of a nonprofit I mentioner earlier called HeartSupport and it’s an online community that shares and talks openly about their struggles. And that could be anything like addiction, it could be depression, loneliness, maybe a hard breakup, self-harm, things of that nature. Basically, it’s a community that accepts everyone, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, it doesn’t matter who you’re in love with, what you believe, what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. You’re 100% accepted by HeartSupport and the community. And we have roughly half a million people a month interacting with our social media and posting on our support wall, which is basically a thread forum for people to write in. And they can write in anonymously or they can build and make their own profile and they can just kind of share it, open up the vent and you’ll get people responding back saying, “hey, man, I’ve been through the same thing” and “have you ever heard of this book? It’s a really good book. You can get on Amazon for ten bucks” or you know, “this is a challenging thing and I’m so sorry” and just kind of be there to support or to engage and to help that person with their unique path of healing. So right now, if people are struggling and it’s just really, really rough for them mentally, that’s a place that you can go and you can find comfort in a safe space to express yourself.

ME: That’s incredible. I’ll definitely be sure to link that as well, I think any resources like that are so important as far as building a community around people that are supportive and know what you’re going through or just are there to lend an ear to listen. Yeah, that’s incredible.

Jake Luhrs: Yeah. And we have our own resources too, we’ve written our own books. We have a book on depression called ‘Dwarf Planet‘, we have a book on self harm called ‘ReWrite‘, and then I wrote my book, and I’m a faith based person, so I wrote my book about my faith and, you know, challenges that I’ve gone through and difficult times in my life and how my faith has helped me kind of stay on track and have hope and find healing. So that book is called ‘Mountains‘ and you can actually get it on Amazon for $9.99 and all the money goes to HeartSupport the nonprofit, so all the proceeds are to support that. So we’ve got books too if you wanted to to get them.

ME: For sure, I’ll link those as well. When did you start HeartSupport? How long has that been going?

Jake Luhrs: It’s been going for I think about nine years now.

ME: Wow. That’s that’s incredible.

Jake Luhrs: Yeah, it’s taken a lot of time and a really good team. I have, you know, seven full time employees and you know, which I’m I’m currently trying to figure out how to support financially for these next couple months. But I have a great team of people. And, you know, the community is is really what’s made it grown so fast. It’s just that, you know, other people see it as their place. It’s like, you know, HeartSupporters isn’t, you know, Jake Luhrs, it’s the community that makes it so great and the understanding, you know, it’s like the place of your heart where it’s like in an act of unconditional love and acceptance and understanding, and grace and mercy for one another, for the other person that makes it such a really special, unique place.

ME: Man Yeah, that’s awesome. I didn’t realize it would be known for that long. That’s great.

Jake Luhrs: Yeah. I’m really pretty proud of what the community has built there, so it’s great.

ME: Definitely, you should be! Well, thank you so much for your time today. I know we’ve covered a lot already but is there anything else that you want to plug or talk about or let fans know about with the album coming out tomorrow or really anything else coming up in the next couple of months for you and for August Burns Red?

Jake Luhrs: Not really, I just hope that everybody stays safe and just remembers that, you know, even if you’re not going to get sick or something, there’s definitely other people around us that that could and so just try to think realistically and logically about the decisions that we make here right now in this time until we get through this together. And I hope that people enjoy the record. I hope they enjoy the lyrical content, the emotion and the songs, and that it feeds them some sort of positivity or encouragement.

 

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