August Burns Red - A Conversation with JB Brubaker
The forecast for the year couldn't have looked better for Pennsylvania powerhouse AUGUST BURNS RED. Charging into festival season, the band recently released their ninth studio record, GUARDIANS, to unanimous praise. No stranger to earning accolades, the band had a career in which they had already racked up two Grammy nominations and four different Top 10 albums. Their ninth however, would debut No. 1 on the Billboard Hard Music Albums chart, the Rock Albums chart, and the Vinyl Albums chart. All this amid conditions less than ideal for an album release.
With the band's making headlines, fan buzz continued to stir with anticipation growing to experience the record live. As is the familiar storyline, the charge would come to a grinding halt with the rest of the world.
Keeping things positive, guitarist JB Brubaker had a conversation about GUARDIANS and the band's status while the world remains at a standstill. The takeaways - complacency is not in the cards, consistency is key, and NoFX has a special place in the guitarist's heart.
In the last year the band celebrated the 10th anniversary of CONSTELLATIONS as well as recorded and released what critics have called your heaviest record to date in GUARDIANS. How is the band adjusting to halting that kind of momentum?
Brubaker: It’s certainly a bummer to press pause during this time. We were on a nice roll the past couple years. Tours were getting bigger, fans were responding so positively to the new music we’ve been releasing. The adjustment to life at home hasn’t been too difficult because we had spent three months off the road before everything shut down. Speaking for myself personally, I was in a routine at home with my wife and two-year old son. We just sort of fell back into that routine when our touring was postponed. We’re all able to take some comfort in knowing that this is affecting everyone. ABR isn’t special in not being able to tour. Everyone has to figure things out right now.
There seems to be a big reaction to the band opting to use clean vocals on this record. Was this more on a conscious change in direction for the band or was it something that just seemed to fit in the song writing process?
Brubaker: We’ve been dabbling with some clean vocals for a couple albums now. Our singer Jake is interested in stretching himself as a musician. After screaming exclusively for such a long time he’s naturally evolved into wanting to try new things, just like the rest of us with our instruments. We don’t want to become a band who relies on clean singing and choruses to write a “hit” song, but we also don’t want to shut down Jake’s creative side so it’s been something we’ve been dabbling with. ABR has always liked to keep our core sound intact while taking small steps in various sonic directions. I think the cleaning singing is one of those small steps.
Spill it. How bad does it suck having invested so much time and effort into a collection of songs only to not be able to play them live?
Brubaker: Yeah (laughs), It sucks. There’s no good way to spin it. The news is so grim and it is difficult to think optimistically about our timeframe of getting back on the road. The response to Guardians has been so positive. Lots of fans were calling it their favorite album we’ve ever put out. To just sit on that is frustrating, but I’d rather be in this position then sitting at home with a new album people hate. We’ll tour it when we can. Like I said before, we’re not alone in this. This sucks for so many people.
What resonates with fans in that ABR continues to not only stay relevant and active but appeals to new fans with each record?
Brubaker: I think we’ve done a really good job of finding our niche in the metal world. We carved out our sound and we’ve stuck to it. While producing a more mainstream or marketable songs might help push us to the next level, we are still stoked on the music we’re writing. We haven’t had aspirations to try and reinvent ourselves. I think it’s cool that people have stuck with the band for so many records and that one of the most common positive comments we hear is that we are consistent and never let our fans down. There are a lot of bands who I love for two or three albums but then their sound changes and they sort of carve out a new fan base around the new sound, but leave their old fans behind. We don’t want to do that. Sure, we are always happy to win over new ears, but we’re very proud to keep longtime listeners excited about our band. I think consistency is a big ingredient when it comes to longevity.
Do you agree this is the heaviest record of your career thus far?
Brubaker: I think it is. I’m totally biased but Guardians is a very aggressive album. We went away from a lot of the chill sections that had been a staple of our past few albums. As an artist, I really like the “weird” stuff, but I also know that it can slow the momentum of a song. When we wrote Guardians we wanted to write a punishing album that had the best elements of our early heavy records alongside the melody and progressive elements of our later albums. I think Guardians is a wonderful representation of our whole career up to this point.
The band has a body of work that is 9 studio albums and one live album deep in just 15 years. How difficult is it to steer away from being redundant?
Brubaker: I think one thing that has been helpful is the emergence of our bass player, Dustin Davidson, and his contributions as a songwriter. Dustin wrote half of Guardians. He’s a way better guitar player than I am, and he’s getting better and better at writing. Having a new writer in the band is really helpful in breathing new creative life. I also think it’s been important for us to trust ourselves. If we write a song and think it’s sick, we have confidence that our fans will as well. I think we are our own worst critics so when we emerge from the studio with an album’s worth of material that we are genuinely psyched about, the fans have always been on board.
You guys released a video of your cover of "Linoleum" by NoFX and people went APESHIT. How did this come about and how did Shane (Silverstein) come into the fold?
Brubaker: I came up on punk music, as did some of the other guys. NOFX is my favorite punk band. In 2009 we covered Linoleum on the b-side of a 7” we did for a track on Constellations called Indonesia. Over the years we’d occasionally bust this song out on tour, always with guest vocalists. This past summer on the 10 Years of Constellations Tour, we played Linoleum pretty regularly during the set. Silverstein was on that tour with us and their singer, Shane, was singing it with us. When we got home from tour I was doing a bunch of play through videos on my instagram page. I got a comment from my buddy Trevor Williams who’s a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He said “do Linoleum next!” I know he was joking, but that sparked the idea of doing a quarantine version of the song. We didn’t have any recordings of doing the song with Shane and we were all stuck at home so we went for it. It was fun to make and we love the dudes in Silverstein so I’m glad it came together.
Any plans for more quarantine covers?
Brubaker: We talked about doing more briefly but have turned our attention to other stuff. I think there’s a chance we’ll do more depending on how long we’re stuck at home. Covers are a lot of fun, but our hearts are more into writing original material so we’d rather spend time on that.
Speaking of, how are you soothing that creative itch while stuck at home?
Brubaker: I’m trying to write music during this time. Guardians writing concluded last August so I’ve had a nice layoff from being creative. Writing makes me feel productive. It’s always good to get a head start on writing and I’m sure as a result of COVID-19 and social distancing, there’s going to be a LOT of great new music coming in 2021 and beyond.