Over the past eight years, August Burns Red have continued to stride along their own path. Their latest endeavor, ‘Leveler,’ shows the quintet once again breaking down barriers and creating songs full of character and vigor. Refreshing riffs and belligerent vocals delivered on top of an unwavering rhythmic foundation keep this band afloat amongst a number of unanchored acts.
While gearing up for a short tour (which was ultimately canceled), vocalist Jake Luhrs had a chat with Rock Edition about the band’s new record, his approach to lyrics, and this summer’s Vans Warped Tour. Read all about it below.
Having avoided the sophomore slump and putting out a well-received third album, I hear some fans saying, “August Burns Red can do no wrong.” Is that intimidating to hear?
Yeah. I mean, I don’t necessarily believe that we can do no wrong. I just think that we have really supportive fans. A lot of our fans have been with us since the beginning, so they’ve grown with us and are really appreciative of our progression. I think that the record we’re going to drop soon, ‘Leveler,’ is exactly what our fans are looking for. It’s something that is a little outside of the box, but not too far away from home. You don’t want one record to blow your mind or be really catchy and then the next album to be the complete opposite. It’s not what a band is supposed to be doing, in my opinion.
From the little that we’ve heard, it sounds like you’re getting a lot off your chest, lyrically speaking. With that, the record sounds a little heavier and edgier.
Lyrically, I would say yeah. There are definitely some songs that are passionate and aggressive. Overall, these songs are experiences or stories. We have one song about overcoming addiction. We have another song about someone putting someone through hell, lying to them, and betraying them. I know many people with this similar story. As people, it’s really hard for us to forgive someone for all the horrible things they’ve done to us, especially when they’re close to us, such as family or a friend. That song is lyrically pretty brutal, but at the end it just speaks about forgiveness. To truly love someone is to forgive that person. There’s another song that deals with Christians that are two-faced and use Christ not as a relationship but as a religion. They kind of put him on the back burner spiritually and put him in the forefront in the world so that it looks like this person loves Christ and God. Instead, he uses Christ to gain financial benefit and to be popular in the world’s eyes. That song is called “Poor Millionaire.” The background behind that title is that the man is a millionaire who has fame and money but is poor in the spirit and doesn’t actually have a relationship with God. The guy is lost and doesn’t even feel his own soul. There’s some pretty brutal lines in that track, but that’s what was on my heart, so I wrote it.
When it comes to lyrics, do you tend to do a lot of rewrites?
It’s funny that you ask that because I was just looking through some of my photos on my camera that I took when I was over in Europe. I had wrote these lyrics, and I really wanted to show my fiancé but I didn’t have internet on my phone. So I had to type them up on my laptop and then I pulled my phone out and took a photo of my screen on my laptop and sent it to her so that I could show her the lyrics. I looked at the photo today and these are lyrics that I wrote a long time ago and only two lines were changed. Sometimes you don’t really change much around, and then there can be lyrics that we tear apart. Sometimes the concept and subject matter is good but there’s a lot of bad lines. When you’re writing lyrics and putting them into a song, you really have to dissect the lines because some words don’t sound good in certain melodies or certain patterns. It’s a lot of polishing things up, pulling things out, putting things in, and switching things around. In doing so, you still have to keep the story [intact]. It can be complicated, but I’ve been doing it for a long time and I have a certain style of doing it.
Do you ever think, “Gosh, after we release this song, our fans will be singing these words too.”? Does that ever affect your writing?
I definitely think about that. I’ll think about it when it’s actually happening more than when I’m writing lyrics. I write these lyrics for myself too. Some of the things that I write about, people are going to go, “Oh my gosh, that person’s such a horrible person, who is that?” In some of these lyrics, I’m talking about myself. I like to keep myself in check. I think writing lyrics that are for myself can be therapeutic, or however you want to say it. When I’m on stage screaming these lyrics about someone, it could very well be about me. And I’m not going to write something that I don’t believe in. Also, I’m not going to write something that I think is inappropriate for fans to listen to, you know what I mean?
Right, and it doesn’t seem like you’re looking for shock factor or anything like that.
No, but there are some words in our song “Poor Millionaire” that I think some people are going to give me a little guff about. I put them in there for people to understand how serious I am about that song. I want it to be like, “Oh my gosh, did he really just say that?” Not for shock value, but for you to understand the seriousness of what I’m talking about. You’ll hear that when the record comes out.
Going into Audio Hammer Studios with Jason Suecof again, you obviously didn’t want to make the same record. Were there new ideas introduced right from the beginning to make ‘Leveler’ different from ‘Constellations’?
We definitely had different ideas. I did a different thing with my voice this time that I didn’t do as much on the last record. There are more parts with me yelling than with extreme growls, although those are still in there as well. I wanted to scream with more emotion and more passion behind my voice. I want there to be a variety and have my vocals be diverse. Dustin [Davidson] also did some backups and we sprinkled him throughout the record.
There’s one song that’s really really awesome. It’s one of my favorites. That probably sounded stupid, but I’m really proud of it. On the song, Dustin and I split the vocal parts in half. It’s a conversation between a kid and I guess you’d say adversary. The kid has these dreams and ambitions and goals that he wants to reach for, but the adversary is telling him that he’s worthless and isn’t going to make it. I’m the kid and Dustin is the adversary. It’s kind of a cool concept, and you can definitely tell that it’s a conversation. We did little things here and there like that just to change it up a bit.
What’s the title of that song?
That song is “Carpe Diem.”
Nice. A cool thing about ‘Leveler’ is that you’ll also be releasing a deluxe edition, which is a first for the band. On the deluxe edition, there’s an acoustic rendition of “Internal Cannon,” a MIDI version of “Empire,” your song “Pangaea” as performed by Bells…
Yeah, and our friend Zach [Veilleux] did a rendition of “Boys of Fall” on piano. He’s a phenomenal pianist. He writes his own pieces and he’s just a really good old friend of ours. We just wanted to do something different. We’ve never really done anything like that. We wanted to just have fun with it. Even though a lot of our lyrics are serious and the music isn’t as exciting as — I don’t know — A Day to Remember; it’s not as poppy and it doesn’t make you want to jump around — we wanted to kind of have something special for the fans to pick up and something to include our friends. Also, we always like to support our friends and spread the community of music in Manheim, [Pennsylvania].
Can you tell us about the song “1/16/2011”?
Yeah, that’s the day that four young men that attended high school in Manheim got into a car accident and all died. It pretty much tore the town to pieces. I mean, it was a really big deal. They were part of the football team at the high school. It really kind of turned Manheim upside down, just from the loss and everything. Our song “Boys of Fall” on the new album is actually a tribute to those boys.
That’s a true story?
Yeah, it really happened in our hometown. It stirred up the whole place. We just wanted to really write a song to those kids, their families, and everyone else that was a part of that.
Oh, wow. That’s so sad.
I want to talk about the cover art that Jordan Crane designed for ‘Leveler.’ I know that JB [Brubaker] explained the meaning behind the regular album cover, so I was wondering if you could explain to us what the deluxe edition cover is depicting?
Well, it’s basically — [laughs] I don’t want to say anything like an end of the world thing — it’s kind of like everything got pillaged and flipped upside down and the world is being obliterated. It’s like something massive happened and everything is leveled. That’s kind of the concept that we went with. I love the artwork. I think it’s not metal at all. It’s something different, which is what we want. We’re a metal band — I would actually call us American metal…
Yeah, because I remember once we were in Europe and I was being interviewed by this guy. I said, “Yeah, we’re like metalcore or something.” Then he said, “You’re not metal, you don’t know what metal is.” He was a big fan of Swedish metal or whatever. I don’t really want to put ourselves in a genre anymore, I just want people to like our music. We just kind of do what we want, and we didn’t want typical artwork. We gave Jordan some information about the album and the title and let him do what he wanted. He did a great job. I know that online there’s a mixed feeling about the artwork, but that’s expected.
You guys will soon be heading out on this summer’s Vans Warped Tour. Do you have any pre-show rituals besides dumping gallons of water on yourself before getting on stage?
[laughs] No, man. We don’t have any pre-show rituals. We did Warped Tour a few years back and it was a blast. We have a lot of friends on the tour. Warped has always been something to look forward to. It’s like a big vacation, to be honest with you. You’re just out in the sun, hanging out with kids. I love walking around and just running into kids. Just hanging out with everyone and having a good time and good conversations. It’s a long tour, and I’m sure there are going to be some ups and downs, but it’s fun. We’re ready to go out there and have a blast.
Pick up August Burns Red’s new full-length Leveler.
For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.