August Burns Red – Metalcore Guardians

Thursday, 9th April 2020

Having a discography of eight previous albums, Grammy nominations, and an ever-growing fanbase, August Burns Red have long established themselves as one of the leaders in metalcore. As such, ninth album Guardians continues to showcase the band’s ability to meld catchy melodies into driving and heavy riffs, alongside the band’s spiritual lyrics. We got to chat with drummer Matt Griener about all things Guardians, COVID-19, memorable moments, how the band is successful in both secular and spiritual circles, and much more.

Dead Rhetoric: I saw the band put up an entertainment center on the website, and your tour with Killswitch Engage was cancelled. What can fans do that want to help you guys out?

Matt Griener: Absolutely. The number one thing you can do right now is to follow the rules. Don’t feel ambitious and invincible. It’s easy to feel that way, and I understand that if you are young. But in order for everyone to have a good year and for things to return to normal, we really need to follow the structure that has been sent out. We are advocating for that as a band.

We were all talking last night about a post we were going to make about delayed gratification. We are going to have a fun summer, and in order to do that, we have to do things the right way now. It might stink if you don’t have that much going on, and you aren’t diversified in ways that don’t require a whole lot of people in your life or the workplace. If you are stuck at home, you can try to find new hobbies, and you can certainly check out the entertainment center on our website. There’s a lot to do there. I would guess you could spend 5-6 hours there and not get bored, if you like heavy metal and August Burns Red.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that there’s a higher standard to get to given the band’s presence and discography?

Griener: Yes, but we feel like our standard has always been higher. We have been more critical of our own music than other people. In other words, when we set out to write a record, if we get to the end of the project and we are happy with the music as we walk out, I think a part of us is going to be okay with the fact that people might not like it as much as we do. Of course, it’s important to us, and we need to be playing shows and have fans…we couldn’t do this without them, but in some capacity, you get to the point where your measure of success and quality has to be measured in some way by your own view of it.

If we write a bunch of songs that are really popular, but we aren’t happy with them, it’s nice but it doesn’t go the whole way. We certainly don’t want to be playing those songs on stage every night. But on the contrary, if we love what we are doing and feel we are doing are best – if people stop showing up, then I think we can all sleep at night knowing that we gave it our best shot. That’s always been our mentality as a band. Fortunately, it’s worked out that other people view our music the same way that we do and they hopefully like it [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the Messengers anniversary tour influenced what you did with writing the new album?

Griener: I think it did – we did the Messengers 10 year and we also did Constellations. Those were arguably two of our fan favorite records and they occurred during our breakout period when we were starting to get some traction. Those songs on those records were really defining for us. I think going back and having to relearn how to play them and have people singing along in the crowds – it does speak to what you are writing when you are sitting in your basement when it’s time to put together songs 10 or 12 years later.

I can’t point to a specific part, but there are definitely parts on Guardians that resemble old stuff. For example, there’s a breakdown in Defender that happens, and just the syncopation and rhythm of it is very reminiscent of “Backburner,” which is on Messengers. So either we haven’t gotten a whole lot better [laughs], or haven’t gotten a whole lot more creative, or the third option, which it hopefully is – we just still really like the same kind of music and we are in touch with it.

Dead Rhetoric: So what do you feel Guardians has to offer long term fans as well as newcomers?

Griener: Lyrically, I think it has a lot to offer. I always focus on the lyrics a lot with each record. Even though it’s hard to understand what Jake [Luhrs] is saying, if you dig a little bit, you will find that there is a lot there. The first single we released is called “Defender” and it is a song I wrote about my dad. But more broadly speaking, it’s about someone going through a tough time in their life and someone else who is in a better place/position being able to help them out. Actually, it goes a step further than that. Love is described as someone saying I love you, giving you a hug/kiss – it’s a sort of positive affection. In “Defender” there is a line about righteous wrath. What it implies is that love, maybe the strongest sense of it, is when someone gets mad on your behalf. In other words, if someone is hurting you, someone you love steps in to defend you. They are in your court; they stand up for you, even if it costs them.

More broadly speaking than that, the name of the record is Guardians. When we were digging for an album title, as is typically the case for us, and we found that a synonym for defender that we really liked which was ‘guardians.’ So I am not going to sit here and say that the entire album is based on that, but it does have this common theme of helping someone out when they are in need. The song “Three Fountains” is about that. In the New Testament, you see Paul, who was martyred and his head bounced three times. As it’s told, each time it bounced, a new spring sprung up. So the song implies that just because something goes wrong or dies, it doesn’t mean that it is the end. In fact, it’s often the beginning of something new. Something that could never have happened otherwise.

There’s a song called “Lighthouse,” which is about The Good Samaritan, who stops to help someone out when there are religious leaders along the way who, according to their religion should stop but instead they step over the guy and keep going. We need to do a much better job of helping people out when they are in need.

So lyrically speaking, I think there’s a lot there. Musically speaking, I think JB [Brubaker] and Dustin [Davidson] are some of the best songwriters around. I love the stuff they write and I have poured myself into the drumming for this record to make it everything that I could.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about the album cover for Guardians? I really love the way that it looks.

Griener: Thank you, I’m glad to hear that. That means a lot, honestly. Artwork is so hard. For many of our records, we have used the same gentleman – Ryan Clark, from Invisible Creature. He kills it; he’s the best! For this record, we wanted to try something different. We tried a few different avenues and came up short. Then one day when we were in Europe, we came up with this idea of Guardians and had like 4-5 different ideas. We had different artistic designers try them out and they didn’t end up the way that I wanted them to. JB, I think, found this painting on a gentleman who does graphic design for us, and it was this painting of a wolf protecting its family. We ended up just buying this painting, and fleshing it out from there.

Dead Rhetoric: You were mentioning the lyrics earlier, what do you feel has made the band more successful with both secular and spiritual crowds?

Griener: We would have claimed to have been a Christian band in the beginning, and most of that was my doing. In the end, it ended up being a mistake. The reason that it was a mistake is that it’s really hard to have a common goal if not everyone has that same goal [laughs]. Eventually we grew up. There were guys in the band who would have said they were Christian and they are now definitely not. It took a long time to get there, and now, we see each other with this respect that is deep rooted in this idea that everyone has convictions based on something very real to them.

There are a few trash people out in the world…there are a lot of trash people out in the world but there aren’t thousands and thousands of people running around in the world with a conviction that is not important to them. You believe what you believe for a reason, or you don’t believe what you don’t believe for a reason. I think we, as a band, because we have that diversification – each of us are so different in our views, whether someone is a secular humanist, or agnostic, or Christian, or what they believe – that’s something that is personal to each of us, individually.

What’s more important, is how do we go about living our lives in a way that we are treating others really well? So that we are always learning and asking questions and we are taking care of each other and working hard. I think that stuff seeps out without being intentional about it. It sort of comes out. If you have a black heart, it’s hard to hide it for very long. Eventually, you are going to start to see it – when you are under pressure, when you are in an emergency situation…you can’t hide it forever.

The same thing is true when you are in a band. When you are with each other on a bus, as well as with your fans. One thing that you cannot manufacture is chemistry on stage. I know that it’s something that people see in our show. We still have fun, we still enjoy doing this. Jake is grabbing my cymbals, JB and Brent [Rambler] are playing off of each other. That’s important to people. They want to know that is authentic. There’s enough fake trash in the world. Even if someone doesn’t agree with your position, if that position is authentic to you it warrants respect, and I think most people grant that. Which comes as a surprise to a lot of people, but it really is true. So I might not agree with a politician, but if I see that they are authentic and genuine, and really has a conviction, I can respect them. I can think that their policies are complete trash, but I can have respect for them.

Dead Rhetoric: I think that’s great – I think we need a little bit more of that type of thinking in the world of today.

Griener: I am speaking for myself here too, and I’m learning after years of this. I wouldn’t like someone in the band because of x, y, and z. After a while, you start to think that it’s dumb. They are some of the most hardworking people I know, they take care of their family – who cares about what they believe or don’t believe. In fact, they are probably doing a better job than me of living up to the standards of what I believe in [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that your drumming has changed over the years?

Griener: I don’t think it’s changed that much, which is really weird to think about because I’ve been doing this for such a long time. But it’s almost like – I started playing drums when I was 15, and by 17 I had figured out what I was going to do as a drummer. In what other area of your life is it really like that? But it seems like that is the case. I still love speed, I love double bass and blastbeasts. I still take a ton of time to write drum parts to a song. All of that stuff is what it used to be. I still practice between 10 and 20 hours a week.

I would say that one area is that I’m more confident in my playing. I’m not looking so much to other drummers or instructors to affirm my playing and what I am doing is correct. You can have your own sound and have it be specific to you. But in general, I would say that my drumming hasn’t changed over the past decade.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s a positive experience you’ve had with the band that’s embedded in your memory?

Griener: The Make-a-Wish Foundation is a great organization, from all that I can tell. We have worked with them a couple times. There’s a gentleman called Zach Neal. He has a disability where his bones are shriveling up and is body is falling apart. Where he once had the ability to move his arm 6” in the air, and now its 3.” It’s very sad. The gentleman has become one of my best friends. He’s an amazing kid…hilarious and very talented. He plays drums. His goal was to play one of our songs with us. In 2012, Make-a-Wish granted is wish and they flew him out to California. They took him to Disneyland and he played our song “Meridian” with us at the Anaheim House of Blues. It was one of the best nights of my life. I got to stand up there with him, and so that the band could stay on time, I actually played the cymbals while Zach sat in his wheelchair and played the rest of the drums. After he was done, he got a standing ovation from 1300 people – sold out. It was pretty incredible.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you hope that the legacy of August Burns Red is?

Griener: I would hope that people look back and say that we were one of the most hard-working bands, which really cared about making a positive impact on the world around them. On a personal level, I would hope that there were people who would say that they remember a conversation they had with so and so, and how cool it was that they got to talk about such and such for 20 minutes – I’ll never forget that. I have a feeling that those are the kinds of memories that people are going to have, more than “That song ‘Defender’ was really sick. I loved going to see it and I moshed my head off.” All of that stuff is cool, and the Grammy nominations are cool, but I think it’s those personal interactions that are going to go the furthest and be the most memorable.

Dead Rhetoric: Metalcore had it’s moment, but some of the bands like yourselves have weathered the storm. Why do you think that is?

Griener: Metalcore has definitely changed over the last 15 years; the industry has changed, and I feel like it was the most popular genre in alternative music and then it just dove and disappeared in some capacity. Now it’s making a bit of a return, I would say. But the bands that were here, aren’t here anymore. So there are bands like us and Killswitch [Engage], As I Lay Dying is coming back, Unearth is still around – but if you look, it is hard to find a lot of those bands who there then that are not now. It’s a matter of growing up. They weren’t able to sustain themselves through that dip.

It’s funny, you get to the point where you’ve been around so long, where people that might have thought that you were clichéd and generic have to give you some credibility based on the premise that you have been around so long [laughs]. I would say that is a little bit of the state of metal at this point. There are some newer metal bands that are successful, like Crystal Lake from Japan, and others here and there popping up, but it’s more bands that have weathered the storms from 10-15 years ago.

Dead Rhetoric: Is there anything still on the band’s bucket-list that you’d like to achieve?

Griener: I want to go to Israel. I want to play a show in Israel. Other than that, I have accomplished pretty much everything I have set out to accomplish. This would be a big one too – if we were nominated for a Grammy and we won. I would be able to quit the band that day, and say that there’s nothing else I could imagine doing. So quote me on that, you are the first one I’ve ever said that to!

Dead Rhetoric: I know we are in a standstill now, but what do you hope will be going on for August Burns Red later this year?

Griener: I hope we end up doing the Killswitch tour, I hope we end up doing a secondary run on Guardians in the US, and I hope that we can get to Europe and play some shows over there. I think that would be a good year. For it to end with a Grammy nomination, that would be perfect [laughs]!

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