November 17, 2017 Interview – Michael Barnes of Red Talks Gone
Individually, our lives take different paths, but when it is all said and done, we are humans – universally asking the same burning questions. At times overwhelming, it is part of the human condition no one can avoid. Thankfully we have a release inside the healing power of music. Traveling along their own journey, Red has been offering listeners a therapeutic brand of emotional, heavy, and thought-provoking Hard Rock for over a decade now.
Begun with their powerful 2006 debut album, End of Silence, Red continues to top Rock charts, but mostly importantly, hoping to help listeners find answers within themselves. Recently we caught up with Lead Vocalist Michael Barnes to talk the band’s last few years, the work that went into their new album Gone, the meaning behind the music, plans for the future, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Last we spoke, in 2015, you were preparing to release Of Beauty and Rage, and it has been quite a busy time for the band since. How would describe the last two years of Red?
Michael Barnes – The last few years of Red has been an intense ride. That last record was just a very intense, emotional record for us. It was that struggle of being in a kind of dark, deep place, and kind crawling and reaching yourself out of that hole. I feel like with Gone, when we started writing it, we are on the other side of that emotional experience. In a way, the music was a little more uplifting, even though we’re still touching on darker subjects with this record, but it seems a little more happy in a way. It’s definitely been a long journey for us, we’ve been working on this last record about a year and a half, but it’s been a fun ride for sure.
CrypticRock.com – The last record, Of Beauty and Rage, followed a particular storyline – it is a very intense and very dramatic record. Gone is thematically a little bit different. What was the lyrical and musical inspiration this time around?
Michael Barnes – If you look at the title track “Gone,” it is talking about the type of legacy we will leave as humans. Whether you have a family or not, what kind of legacy are you leaving your family, or the community, or the people that surround you? What will they know you for? Like in the chorus, it asks “Am I just here to breathe air?” That’s not the exact lyric, but, are you here just to breathe air? What’s the point of it all? When you’re gone, what is the point? The first single off the record, “Still Alive,” is very closely connected to that theme as well. It kind of made sense that the title track was “Gone,” and “Still Alive” was the first single because it’s really pushing that narrative of what the record is about.
“Still Alive,” you look at the lyrical content of that song, it’s a very intense, and a driven song, where the chorus is very simple. The verses are a little bit darker…talking about, if we just burn it down, what is the point, it’s all meaningless. Then, when you get to the bridge, is it all for nothing? Like a lot of people ask this question – what is the point? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? A lot of that touches base.
Then you go further on in the record, where it’s “A.I.” and “Singularity,” which is kind of the artificial intelligence of life. Then it is about what is the meaning of that? You see a lot of that in magazine articles, talking about artificial intelligence and that eventually will be here, and what’s that gonna look like. There are shows like Westworld and things like that which are touching a little bit on that as well. It’s interesting to kind of dive into. What will it be like as human beings creating something that would come to life, and what kind of meaning would that have?
CrypticRock.com – These are very compelling topics. We all wonder what is the point of everything. Although, the bottom line, which you drive home in your lyrics a lot is, yes, we are amongst darkness, but we are also amongst light. It is about making the most of the time we have, and making a mark in a positive way. Is that right?
Michael Barnes – Yes, exactly! There’s definitely redemption value in our music, because we touch those harder subjects. I think that is a good thing, because we shouldn’t just take things at face value; what people tell us. We should dive into maybe some of the harder questions, and really find out for yourself what you think the meaning is.
I think all humans kind of go through this arc in their life where they’re taught this certain thing growing up, or they learn something a certain way, and they get to college, or they get out into the real world and they see how it really is. Then they have to think for themselves, and so they ask these questions – “Why am I here?” “I go to a job, and I flip burgers or whatever…what’s the point of it?”
You will find out, there’s definitely always some positive light, and I think that’s the point of “Gone” as well. If everything is meaningless, then what’s the point, and “Gone” is saying the point is to leave a legacy – to make the world a better place around you. Then, right after that song is “Coming Apart,” which is holding on, staying strong, even though you might feel like you’re falling apart. It is a very positive stay in there, stay in the fight, type of song.
Then, the next song after that is “Unstoppable,” which is a cover of Sia.It’s a very positive, uplifting song. We tend to do that back and forth between struggle, and I think it’s real because for people, every day, it may be different for them depending on what’s going on. We just try to write music that would reach into your life and really may be touching base on those questions you’re asking, but then try and lift you up, keep you going, and fighting the fight.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, and the lyrics of Red certainly do provide that. Now, on the musical end of this, these tracks are very dynamic. You have a mix of everything from electronics to Hard Rock, to a little Pop. On the opening track, “Step Inside, the Violence,” you offer some of the most dynamic vocal lines heard from the band. Tell us about that opening track.
Michael Barnes – Yeah, it’s really cool, I like that track a lot. Actually, there isn’t a ton going on in that track, which is cool if you think about the instrumentation and such. There’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that, there’s a little bit of salt and pepper put all over it. There isn’t just this wall of sound. It’s just all stripped back with little interesting parts of song going on. That’s why I really like that song. It’s kind of laid back in the verses, and then the chorus is just really intense. Then there’s that crony vocal, and you kind of wonder what this is all about?
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. It is a great introduction to the record.
Michael Barnes – Yeah. I think it’s cool, because it’s very different from what we’ve ever done before. There’s a lot of low-end, deep, driven stuff like you’d hear in Hip Hop. I thought it was kind of cool to add that kind of sound to it. Then, the second verse is almost a little more rhythmic. It was kind of fun to venture out a little bit, because we’re used to just singing very legato.
It was fun to add all the elements to Red with a “Feed The Machine” scream with a droney something in the chorus, then, doing that little rhythmic thing, and the belting and screaming. There’s a wide variety of things, but very almost simple and straightforward as well.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of “Feed the Machine,” you have done high production videos over the years. That said, there is a sort of intertwining storyline amidst many of your music videos. Characters seem to all intertwine with one another. What developed that concept, and can we expect to see that storyline continue in future music videos?
Michael Barnes – When we wrote “Feed the Machine,”I felt like it had this story behind it. So when we started working on the music video, I just loved how it turned out. We’re comic book guys; I’m a huge video game person, so I love stories and things that make you think. It was fun to have almost a Matrix kind of feel, where machines are attacking you, changing you, and connecting you to the machine. It’s fun to add a little bit more than just the music itself.
We kind of went down that path, and all of us have a journey. Like Anthony, in “The Darkest Part,” where he’s almost in a dream realm. Then there’s these creatures that are chasing him, and at the end of that video, he wakes up. It’s also fun too because it also interconnects all three videos. You can watch them from back to back, and it all kind of intertwines. It’s kind of a fun thing to do. I don’t know if we’ll continue the story or not, we’ll have to see. We’re working on this video right now, so we’re not sure whether it’s gonna be that way or not. You’ll see and have to find out (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It makes it very interesting. You can tell that the band put a lot into the music videos. The music, itself, is stellar, but it is the visual that makes it that much better. You guys have spent many years on the road over the past decade or so, and you toured all over the world; travelled to many different places. Through those experiences, what would you say were some of the more important things you have learned from life on the road?
Michael Barnes – That is like the meaning of life question (laughs). In the past couple of years, with what’s going on politically, how people are talking about Russian collusion, we’ve realized, because we’ve been to Russia several times and we love playing in Russia, the people are a very emotional people. So, when outsiders say, “Russia is bad,” it tends be the Head of State. The Heads of State attack each other, fight each other, but the people have nothing to do with it sometimes.
In America, it is very divided where some people think we should do things one way and another that way. It is probably like that in different countries too. You look at Brazil and you look at what’s going on in Venezuela… it’s crazy, people can’t even eat because there’s no food. It’s not their fault, but it’s the Head of State that turned that country upside down.
I think we have the mentality of, especially back in the ’80s, talking about the Cold War saying, “Russia is bad.” It may not technically mean Russia as a whole, the people. I think that is one of the things I’d take away from it – not to put everybody into a box thinking this is what they are. That’s what I like about America, because America’s all about individualism, and that’s what we need to get back to that. We take credit on who a person is based on their character, and not just what they say, but how they act.
We’ve had an amazing ride. It’s crazy, we come from a very small town, so just the fact that our music’s reached overseas! We’ve been to New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Russia, the UK, and all over Europe. We’ve had some amazing shows over there. Last year, we played Poland in front of like 60,000 people for a show with Rammstein, and that was amazing!
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a lot of cool experiences. It is true, sometimes we see things as black and white. We do not really look beyond that, and realize that there is more to a picture. It is exhausting, it does not seem like people can even talk anymore. There is no conversation – it is either your way or my way. That is negative and not healthy.
Michael Barnes – It is OK to disagree, we just need to have lines of communication open. Don’t just shut people down because you don’t agree with what they say. It’s a little intense, sometimes I have to turn off social media a little bit to clean the slate of my brain. That is what is great about music though. We don’t have to be political with our music. We’re here for a release. At our shows, I’m sure we get a wide variety of people that come from different walks of life and political views, but they can all come together for a show to rock out with us, and that’s an awesome thing.
CrypticRock.com – Music should unify. Red just wrapped up a fall tour with 10 Years and Otherwise. How was that run, and what can fans expect going into 2018?
Michael Barnes – The tour was awesome. It was fun hanging out with the 10 Years and Otherwise guys. We played a show in Orlando, it was ridiculously packed. We haven’t played in Orlando in a long time. I know there was a lot of radio support on that, which helps for sure. When they’re playing us on the radio, people come out, and that helps.
What I take away from that is with “Still Alive” as our single, if anybody has a radio station, please, call them, and request, because that’s what gets people to come out to the shows. It keeps us moving forward, it’s how bands make their money, merch sales and ticket sales. You don’t make a lot of money off record sales anymore.
The tour was a bast. For 2018, a lot of people are talking about the Starset influence on this record, because we had the same producer. Some of the plugins were the same, not exactly the same instruments, but that atmospheric plugin sound. We like Starset, we’ve known Dustin for over ten years now, he used to be in another band called Downplay, which I don’t know if a lot people know. He was a big fan of our 2009 record, Innocence and Instinct, back in the day, and I think we did a small run with them when he was in Downplay. We’re looking forward to trying to get out there with Starset.
I also know Breaking Benjamin has a new record that’s coming out, so maybe we can tour with them while doing our own headlining one as well, hopefully UK and European festivals. I know a lot of our European fans can look forward to that as well. There is a lot of things coming up for sure.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, that is very exciting to hear. Not sure if you recall, but CrypticRock also covers Horror films and you mentioned you were a fan. Have you seen any new Horror films lately that you enjoyed.
Michael Barnes – Let me think, while we’re working on the record, we’re always watching Horror movies because that is what our Producer Rob Graves likes to watch (laughs). He’s always putting on some crazy stuff, and I’m just like what in the world are you watching? He had this one that was called The Green Inferno (2015). It’d been made before by a French director, and it got banned in France. It was so realistic, he had to testify and show them how he did it to make them realize these people didn’t actually die for real. Rob had the newer version on. We were watching it, I can’t remember what song we were doing, and we said, “What in the world are we watching!”
CrypticRock.com – That is funny. Everybody’s high on the new It movie. Did you see that?
Michael Barnes – I did not see it, but I did watch the original version with Tim Curry back in the day when I was probably 10 years old. I just remember out of all the scary movies that I watched when I was a kid, I just remember not being able to sleep for weeks. This is the reason people have nightmares about clowns, and this is why I hate clowns (laughs).
2017 Tour Dates:
DEC 1 FRI Ashwaubenon, WI
DEC 2 SAT Dundee, IL
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