The American Christian metalcore band August Burns Red performs a live concert at the Danish heavy … [+]
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When it comes to modern metal, Pennsylvania’s August Burns Red are easily one of the most sought after US bands of the last decade. The five piece metal act is widely known for their blend of technically crafted instrumentals with crushingly heavy breakdowns, which to many is characteristic of the sub-genre metalcore. However, unlike a vast majority of metalcore bands, August Burns Red have remained tried and true to their sound for 17 years, and to their own credit they’re constantly praised for keeping the sub-genre alive and well.
Beyond the scope of metalcore, ABR have a number of accolades showcasing their relevance and importance in modern metal. Both of their last two studio albums earned Grammy nominations, along with high praise from fans and media outlets alike, and consequently the band has grown to headlining festivals, selling out 2,500 cap venues, and even starting their own annual Christmas music festival: Christmas Burns Red. All these feats are even greater under the notion that August Burns Red is entirely self-managed. Members/guitarists Brent Rambler and JB Brubaker are the sole managers of the band, and have been throughout the majority of the band’s career.
Much is in store for ABR in 2020, as this spring they’ll embark on one of the year’s most anticipated metal tours supporting fellow metalcore icons, Killswitch Engage. Simultaneously, the tour marks a new album cycle for ABR, as their eighth studio album, Guardians, is set to release April 3rd. Considering how pleased the metal community and more closely the ABR fanbase was with their last two records, the combined hype for their new album and super tour with KSE will undoubtedly further their brand. Discussing all things ABR, the process of being a self-managed band, and how the state of metalcore is changing, ABR guitarist/manager, Brent Rambler, offers his thoughts.
ABR and Killswitch are certainly two of the biggest names in metalcore, but do you think the frequent demand showcased for both ABR, KSE, and other like minded bands is evidence that metalcore is having a resurgence?
I think as far as metalcore goes, it was a genre that got flooded by a ton of bands ten years ago, and Killswitch has been around for a really long time, and then us, Parkway Drive, and even a band like Architects, we all came out in the early 2000’s, and I think provided a freshness to the genre. We’ve stuck with our sounds, Parkway Drive has evolved a whole lot more into a hard rock band, but you kind of saw all the bands that were around from the start just kept growing and getting stronger, which is really cool to see. It’s like when metalcore was first evolving to what it is now people got really into it, and they just kind of stuck with the bands that brought them into the genre. There have been so many bands that have come and have unfortunately gone, as like I said, I think it’s that nostalgia thing where you’re really drawn to music that got you into a certain genre, and I think for us being closer to the beginning of the sound that metalcore is now, I think people who latched on to it then kind of stayed with it. We do these anniversary tours, Parkway Drive has done some, and you know it brings people back into the fold. If you loved the record that was ten years old you might still love it, and then you get to go see it live. I think that helps keep your fanbase, and it also draws them in to listen to your newer material. I think a lot of it’s nostalgia based, like if we were a band that got you into metalcore, or if Killswitch was or if Parkway was, I think people tend to stick with you, I know I do for the music I listen to. I listen to bands that are old and I listen to their old records. It takes time to sit down and discover new music once you get older too I think.
With the ongoing success 17 years into your career, from two Grammy nominations and a continuous stride of critically acclaimed albums, does the band feel any pressure when starting to write new material?
I think there’s always a little bit of pressure, you want to keep the fans happy but you also want to make music that you really like too. I don’t think there is an inherent pressure to go out and get another Grammy nomination, because you know there’s 20 thousand Grammy voters, who knows what they’re going to pick. So we don’t think about that too much, but as far as putting out a record that we think our fans are going to like, we definitely think about that. We want to keep the fans we have really happy, because we’ve had such a long career and people have stuck with us. We wouldn’t be here without those people that have come along with us on this 17 year trip. So there is pressure to make sure those people like the record, but we also want to make the record we like. There’s finding that balance of “ok, should we add this random ‘punky’ part here, or should we just keep it hard and heavy.” I think on this record there’s definitely a really good balance of that. We have some cool interlude parts, but for the vast majority of the record we wanted to make it fast heavy, basically a record you could just put on and instantly jam to. But there’s also the deeper tracks that will take you a couple listens to figure out what’s going on and what’s happening. We definitely tried to strike that balance and I think the record is successful in doing that.
As an entirely self-managed band, is some pressure taken off with being entirely self-managed, or does it mainly just add pressure?
As far as the self-management aspect goes, JB [Brubaker] and I manage the band, we are the sole management of August Burns Red. So for us there’s been added pressure, but I will say when we had a manager we were always extremely hands on anyway, and we mutually parted ways with our manager because he was like “look, you guys can do this yourselves.” As far as it translates over to the band, specifically with JB and I putting on the Christmas Burns Red festival, we worked with a promoter in town and he handled a lot of what you think of from the promoter aspect, where JB and I handled a lot of marketing. Communicating to the festival bands and things like that, that adds pressure to JB and I to perform because the other 3 guys in the band trust us to do our job, as well as make sure things are successful. Whether or not it takes any pressure off of anyone that’s into question, but it definitely allows our business to be more streamlined because everything comes directly to the band, versus there being someone who’s passing along information from someone to the band. It’s just like here’s the information, and it comes straight to us. We can determine what we want to do and how we want to do it.
Do you think the music industry or even the metal, punk and hardcore scenes could use more self-managed artists?
I think in general probably yes. There are some bands that have zero interest in handling any of the business aspect, and for them great, go out and get a manager and take that off your plate. There are certain managers out there who can be successful at pushing your band towards radio, but for us we sat down and took a real hard look at ourselves and asked “are we going to be a band that gets on mainstream radio? No, were not [laughs], unless we want to drastically change our sound that’s not realistic for August Burns Red. What we were looking at was something we could remove that was taking a very large chunk of money from the band, and instead put it directly into the band’s pocket. That’s what we looked at, and like I said before JB and I were already doing so much work for the band in terms of management, even though we had a manager, so it just seemed like the natural thing to do. The company that JB and I have our name under, Tandem Management, it actually has a decent amount of guys in bands who are managers and also manage their own bands. It’s something that will grow because punk and metal kind of came together, and then there’s that whole DIY mentality that came along with it. That’s how we started, we didn’t pick up management until well into our careers. We were pretty DIY for the first six years of the band’s career, and that mentality just carried through. There’s a lot of bands too that have recently become self-managed, and we just had a conversation with one of them. They hit up JB and I and asked for some quick advice on what to do and anything they might be missing. That’s a conversation we’re more than happy to have, because like I said, some managers are awesome, some managers are great and they do a really good job, but it is expensive, and if it’s something that you feel like you can do yourself it’s worth taking a look at.
ABR has been hosting an annual hometown Christmas show since 2006, what was it like turning it into an actual festival this year? Were there many financial hurdles, or did it play out easier than expected?
There weren’t many financial hurdles, we paid out deposits to the bands, the lighting and sound companies, and things like that. The hope is just that you just sell a lot of tickets because that’s how you’re going to cover everything else in the end. We worked with a promoter and the band has savings, so if there was going to be some kind of big financial hit we would have been able to cover it. In the end it worked out extremely well for us, and I think the bands had a really good time. We knew coming in where we would need to be in terms of ticket sales to break even, and it wasn’t an unattainable goal for us, it was something that we felt we could definitely do. We got really good bands to play and in general we thought we could knock it out of the park, and ultimately push pass the amount of ticket sales in order make it a profitable endeavor.