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Interview: Brent Rambler of August Burns Red

In between cruising around Europe on his bike by day and riffing with his band August Burns Red by night, guitarist Brent Rambler was lovely enough to take some time out on the American five-pieces European tour to chat all things marionette dolls, their new album ‘Phantom Anthem’ and the best way to get rid of writers block.

So you guys are cruising round Europe at the moment on the ‘Messengers’ 10th Anniversary tour, what’s it been like playing to crowds who still adore the album all this time later?

It’s been great! It’s been a surprise, obviously it’s a very nostalgic record for a lot of people and I think the popularity of this genre was blossoming when that record came out. So I think for a lot people, that could have been one of the first records that really got them in to our style of metal, the metalcore genre, I feel like it hits home with a lot of people and it’s been great! The fact that people still care and want to hear the record straight through, ten years later is pretty awesome.

And being so long since some of those songs have been played live, when you were rehearsing for the tour, were there ever moments where you guys just went, “hey how do you play that part again?” 

Yes (laughs) absolutely! There are some songs on the record that we’ve never played live before cause when the record came out we were a new band and we only had 30 minute sets on support tours playing as the first or second band you know. So there were a handful of songs that we had never played and we had to go back and completely learn how to play those songs again. And then obviously there’s songs that we haven’t played in years so definitely took some time so it definitely took some time to rehearse and get it down. But everyone practised at home and we got together for a handful of days beforehand and just played the set over and over again and luckily we’ve all progressed in their musical ability since we started so it wasn’t too much of a hassle.

You’re big on bikes, have you had much of an opportunity to ride around Europe in your down time?

Yeah actually I bought a bike the first day of this tour in London and I just thought, “I’m not going to have a budget,” because if I had one I’d end up waxing and waning and second guessing and thinking, “ah this is too much money!” So I went in, first bike shop I saw, first bike I saw I said, “screw it I’ll take that one,” (laughs) and it’s worked out pretty well, better than I expected! I’ve been able to go a couple hundred miles on this tour so far and it’s been great. I’ve probably only not been able to ride about three or four days and that’s just due to one day being on a ferry for 12 hours, yesterday we weren’t able to park at the venue till 2pm so there wasn’t much time in the day and things like that. But for the most part, I’m able to get about 15-20 miles in each day.

Invisible Enemy dropped not too long ago, can you run us through what went into it?

When the record was being put together, all the songs were put out onto a MIDI program called TabIt, just a music tabbing program, but I remember when I first heard it I thought, “this is a cool song.” And as it came together I started to go, “oh wait this is actually really awesome,” and then the vocals came out really well, really happy with it and it’s just a powerful song I’d say. When we get to it in the set on this tour, it’s got this oomph to it compared to the other songs that come before it and is just a big powerful part of the set so we really love that.

And the film clip is really cool, you’re all marionette dolls! How much work went into that and what made you want to do the video in that style?

It was actually our director, Sam Halleen’s idea! He works for Fearless as their in-house video guy as well as a legit music video director. Anyway we were trying to figure out and solve the problems of our scheduling, obviously going into a European tour we were really busy so it was tough trying to figure out when we were going to figure out this music video. And then he just said, “guys I have a great idea, I’m buddies with this production company that does marionette stuff, Team America style, would you be into this?” So they sent us through all these mock ups of the puppets and they looked great!

At first we were a bit worried, cause we had a video that we never released for Mariana’s Trench that was a stop motion thing and it came out not that great and it was never released cause the label didn’t like it so we were worried it could be the same. But Sam was just like, “trust me it won’t be like that,” so once the clips started coming across we were like, “this is awesome,” and all the little instruments and things like that. It’s cool for us to see and it’s funny and entertaining and pretty captivating and impressive in terms of how much effort went into the puppets! So I’m sure somewhere down the road you’ll be hearing some amusing things from us with the puppets, we did some voice over stuff (laughs) but all in all the end result is something we’re really happy with.

Was it a strange feeling watching it back for the first time, because the dolls are nearly identical, right down to the instruments!

Yeah definitely! The first time I watched it was I just thinking, “please be good,” and then as soon as I started watching I just had a smile on my face cause it was so awesome. And when you’re staring at yourself as a puppet it’s definitely a little strange at first (laughs), but as the video progressed and it got into the simulated shots of old videos we made it was just really cool. And it incorporated one of our biggest and coolest fans at the end of the video and that was awesome!

And ‘Phantom Anthem’ is the new album, you said before that Invisible Enemy felt like it had a bit of oomph to it. Was that heavier sound something you focussed on in the process and what did you guys try to explore and convey through this album that listeners may not have heard before? 

Umm, I guess we just try not put our songs into a box! We don’t approach a record and go, “hey we’re going to write songs like this,” it’s just how it naturally came out and I can’t say there was necessarily a focus on trying to be heavier or anything like that, I just think it’s what came out! It’s how we try and go into every record, we try not to put ourselves into a box in terms of what or how we want to write but I think we just try and make an August Burns Red record. I don’t think people will get a record from us that just comes out of left field with a completely different sound because we have that core fanbase who’s kept us going for 15 years now, so we don’t want to let them down. But at the same time we want to write songs that we like so we remain creatively pleased I guess and involved in what we’re making. But yeah I’d have to agree with you, I think it is a heavier more aggressive record

You and JB have tended to incorporate sounds and styles that are typically outside the metal realm, what different styles of music inspired you while writing the album and what did you try and include into it? 

I think for us, what we listen to in our spare time, cause we’ve been playing metal for so long, I don’t think any of us listen to too much metal anymore. So we always just want to incorporate things that we actually like, so we listen to a lot of indie rock bands and a lot of punk bands and even folk music and everything in between and we want to put that stuff in the songs because that’s what we enjoy listening to in our spare time. Even though we are a metal band, I think it’s fun to incorporate these different sounds in a metal song because you can kind of prove that this style of music doesn’t have to be punishing the entire way through, you can take breaks so when the heavy stuff comes back in it sounds even bigger. So I think we’ve always focussed on trying to put dynamics into the songs so the big parts feel a lot bigger and then we can bring things down so when we bring them back up it makes for a more interesting listen.

It’s the 7th album you guys have released (8th if you include the Christmas album), is it ever difficult to come up with new riffs and how do you get past writers block when it hits? 

Yeah I mean writing can sometimes be a real challenge. JB writes most of the guitar parts and I write most of the words. So for me, when I’m writing the lyrics to these songs, I’ve definitely been so frustrated with writers block, I’ve written songs about having writers block, just to appease myself (laughs). Cause I think, “maybe if I write about frustrated I am maybe it will turn into something eventually,” but yeah you definitely run into that from time to time. You know there’s not a time where you go, “right, I’m going to be creative now,” it kind of just needs to hit and then flesh it out once the idea hits you.

You’ve done the US tour, you’re in Europe now, are you able to shed any light on when us Aussies will next see ABR without getting in trouble?

(laughs) Yeah we really wanted to come down for the ‘Messengers’ cycle but we just couldn’t get the support from agents down there, it didn’t seem to be the right time or the interest for the ‘Messengers’ tour. But we’re hoping we can come down sometime next year! We always talk about coming so it’s something we really want to put in the works it’ll just be a matter of whether or not everything comes together! Cause we can come down there as much as we want but if we can’t get anyone to bring us down there (laughs), we’re kind of at their mercy, but hopefully we can come down sometime next year but no guarantees at this point.

Well when you do, there’s plenty of picturesque coastal roads that are perfect for the ol’ push bike so when you come we’ll hook you up!

(laughs) That’d be great!

‘Phantom Anthem’ will be released October 6th via Fearless Records

Written by Sam Muggleton