April 14, 2020 Interview – Brent Rambler of August Burns Red
The twice Grammy Award-nominated August Burns Red are one of Metal’s finest. With 17 proud years beneath their collective belt, these Pennsylvanians are masters of their craft, one that is as technically astounding as it is pummeling and infectious. Hard-working, dedicated musicians, the quintet has consistently delivered exceptional studio albums, including 2007’s seminal Messengers, 2009’s Constellations, 2015’s Found In Far Away Places, and 2017’s Phantom Anthem.
As of April 3rd, 2020, you can add Guardians to that list. Yet another triumphant addition to their magnificent oeuvre, the 11-song disc delivers the heavy but maintains August Burns Red’s hope-filled approach to songwriting. To discuss the album in further detail, Guitarist Brent Rambler sat down to chat about the collection’s coincidental theme, putting a smile on fans’ faces, stepping back to gain perspective, and much more.
Cryptic Rock – August Burns Red is quickly inching up on two decades as a band. What has all this time taught you about yourself and music?
Brent Rambler – When we started out we were from a small town in Lancaster County and the world seemed pretty small. The box that we had put ourselves in was extremely conservative. Lancaster is a great place, but it’s not an extremely diverse community. Being able to play music and being able to go on tour for a living kind of opened up a whole other world. It made us appreciate different cultures more, it made us appreciate different places more; it definitely changed my perspective.
I think music can do that, in general. Music can make you think a little bit if you actually read the lyrics and take the time to listen to what they’re saying, then, hopefully, it can shed some new light on the world for you. But, yeah, for me, personally, music was able to lead me to expanding my horizons and my beliefs and other aspects of my life.
Cryptic Rock – A lot of people note that they learned a lot as soon as they stepped outside of their community.
Brent Rambler – You have to, you have to be able to adapt. Being a touring musician, if you aren’t an easily adaptable person, that’s when you have people who quit bands and things like that. When you’re on the road and you’re touring, you need to be able to kind of mold yourself to the situation that you’re in; you need to be able to adapt to that situation.
We went from being at home all the time to being crammed in a 15-passenger van with 10 other people, to sharing hotel rooms and sleeping on people’s floors that we didn’t know. Now we’ve worked our way up to a tour bus, but it’s still 11 or 12 different people on a tour bus, all the time together. Not everyone has the same beliefs or standards of cleanliness. (Laughs) So, you need to be able to adapt easily and you need to be able to be quick on your feet if you want to tour for a living.
Cryptic Rock – Plus you need plenty of Febreeze! (Laughs) Okay, obviously we’re here to discuss Guardians, which arrived on April 3rd. The album has a loose theme of being your brother’s keeper, a reminder that none of us is an island; that we can all be one another’s guardians. What inspired that mindset at the time of writing and recording?
Brent Rambler – For the theme for the whole Guardians thing, that was purely coincidental. Matt [Greiner] and I write most of the lyrics for the band and we don’t write together, we write separately. We sat down to pick an album title for the record and we were going through the lyrics, and we were like, man, this theme just keeps popping up over and over and over again. So, that’s where the idea for the title came from, but that was purely coincidental. It just maybe happened to be that we had similar life experiences or things like that throughout the last couple years.
As far as the writing process for the new music, we had a block of time in April  before tour, and then we had a big block of time in September and August of last year. We used those two time periods to actually record the record, but as far as writing the record, the guys in the band are always writing. It takes us a long time to complete and finish a song, so we are continuously writing. To sit down and say, “Okay, we’re going to write 12 songs,” that doesn’t generally work for our band.
Cryptic Rock – To dial back for a second to what we were discussing earlier, even though the theme is coincidental, it’s perfectly timed. Obviously you could not have foreseen where the world would be right now when you sat down to write, but it’s a very timely theme.
Brent Rambler – Yeah, it’s crazy how that worked out. You know, we definitely didn’t expect anything like this to ever happen; it is just a weird timing thing. I don’t want to say it’s a good timing thing, because this isn’t a good thing at all. So, it is just a strange coincidence and I guess all we can really hope, for us, is that if you’re having a bad day, if you just got laid off from work or something like that, maybe the new record will put a smile on your face. That’s all we can hope: that right now when everyone is in such a down time that they can look at the record and they can enjoy it. For that hour of time, maybe they’ll be, like I said, able to get a smile on their face. Maybe some of the lyrics will hit home with them and help them process a bad situation.
Cryptic Rock – Guardians is a phenomenal album, so it’s almost guaranteed to make a lot of people smile. That said, let’s discuss a few of the tracks a little more in depth and perhaps you can provide some insight into their writing, a fun anecdote from their recording, or anything like that; whatever comes to mind and whatever you want people to know about each song. The first track we selected was “Bones.”
Brent Rambler – “Bones” is about how you tend to look at other cultures as maybe less than yours. It’s something that’s been happening since the dawn of time, as far as humans go. We’ve always kind of said, “Well, I’ve created this life and it’s better than the life you’re living. I’m going to impose my will upon you and try to make you like me.”
Earlier in the interview when we were talking about breaking out of your shell a little and being able to learn about other people’s cultures, that’s something that we’ve all really enjoyed in the band. Being able to experience the way other people live is a huge plus side in touring, and I kind of wanted to write a song about it—about how we should be celebrating people’s different cultures versus trying to make them assimilate into our own.
Cryptic Rock – That’s an important point to make. The next song is “Defender.”
Brent Rambler – I remember the first time I heard that song. JB [Brubaker] sent over the guitar tabs that he made for me to use on a MIDI program, where you can play back music in a video game format, pretty much. I remember that song was sent over to me and I listened to it for the first time, and I said to my wife, “Welp, just off this song alone, I think August Burns Red will be alright for another two years.” I knew immediately that it would be a big song that our fans would absolutely love, and it has been so far.
Cryptic Rock – That’s the track where the “guardians” theme is the most obvious.
Brent Rambler – Yeah. Our drummer went through a divorce a couple of years ago, and in that time the most consistent person for him was his father, as far as keeping him level-headed and helping him through that entire process. So, he wanted to write a song about that and “Defender” just worked perfectly with that. The imagery in the song is awesome, and I think it can speak to a lot of different people on a lot of different topics.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. It can be interpreted in many different ways. Alright, next up is “Lighthouse.”
Brent Rambler – “Lighthouse” is the good samaritan song. It’s about, you know, sometimes when people do good things for other people, they go, “Okay, let’s go do this charity thing but we’re going to film the entire thing and we’re going to put it all over the internet. The whole thing is going to make me look like a really awesome person.” Sometimes, with certain people and certain things, it can seem like they’re doing more to gratify themselves than they are to actually help anybody. We wanted to kind of write a song about that, and that’s where “Lighthouse” comes in.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, and lastly would be “Three Fountains.”
Brent Rambler – “Three Fountains” is just the closer. (Laughs) We knew that when we first heard it recorded, and then when Jake [Luhrs] had the idea for the vocals at the end to make them one big, cyclical thing. It was perfect! At first we were going to put it in the middle of the record, and then we changed our minds.
“Three Fountains” is an awesome song. It’s a song about taking a step back and kind of taking yourself out of the situation. In order to make the best decision, sometimes you have to take that step back and look at things from a different perspective, and look at things from the outside. The lyrics that cycle through the end are just all kind of about that. You know, the whole “30,000 feet in the air” line is just about taking that huge step back to look at things from a new point of view.
Cryptic Rock – Do you have a lyric on the album that is really resonating with you at the moment?
Brent Rambler – My favorite lyrics on the album are probably the song “Empty Heaven.” I don’t know that that’s specifically resonating with me personally at this time, but those are the ones that when I listen I’m like, “Yeah, this is awesome!” They came out just so well. But as far as what resonates right now, I think “Defender” just resonates really well when you hear, “The voice that shakes, that calms the quake.” I think everyone kind of needs that right now, that one voice that can help calm everything down.
Cryptic Rock – Definitely. Now we touched on this briefly earlier, but what do you hope fans take away from their time with Guardians?
Brent Rambler – I just want them to enjoy it, that’s all we can really ask for. We’ve been a band for 17 years, and we’ve been afforded that luxury by the fans that keep supporting us. They’ve been extremely loyal to us throughout our career, and we wanted to create an album that we felt they would really enjoy. I think for most musicians and most artists, you want to be able to get your creative energy out there and you want to enjoy your art, as well. That’s something that we’ve been able to do time and time again—we love making music like this—but we also want the people who have supported us to keep enjoying the music we make. So, that’s all I can really ask for, is that they sit down, they have a good time listening to the record, and I hope they want to listen to it over and over again.
Cryptic Rock – It’s a great album that fans are going to love. Clearly everything touring-wise is currently up in the air due to COVID-19, so instead of asking about a current tour, let me ask this: Fans are clearly passionate about the band. What’s the craziest reaction that you’ve witnessed to one of your songs throughout the years?
Brent Rambler – Oh my gosh, there is a hilarious video—we posted it on social media a little bit ago, maybe like a year or two ago. We put out a record, Phantom Anthem, and then we did a Phantom Anthem headlining tour. Our stop in Pittsburgh, there was a guy filming in the crowd and he’s now a fan favorite of ours. We had the intro, the band’s walking out on stage, then we go into the opening song, “King of Sorrow,” which starts with this big boom, pretty much. The boom happens and then the lights turn on, and he just freaks out and it’s all on video. (Laughs) He’s losing his mind and it’s incredible. It’s one of the best things that I think we’ve ever been able to put on our social media sites. It’s an incredible video and it puts a smile on my face every time I see it. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) To step away from August Burns Red for a minute, are there any albums that were recently released or that are arriving soon that you’re hoping will light up your quarantine time?
Brent Rambler – I’ve been listening to the new Silverstein record a lot, I think that’s a great record. There’s a lot of stuff on that record that actually fits with the times right now, too. There’s a band called Tycho that put out a new record, they’re a cool instrumental band, and I really like that album a lot. The new Polaris record is great! Who else just put out a new record? That band Loathe, their record is awesome. At first I wasn’t that into it, but it was one of those ones that just really grew on me; now I dig it. So, I’ve been listening to those a lot.
Cryptic Rock – Last question. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Brent Rambler – It depends. I used to like Horror movies more when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older I think I’m more squeamish. (Laughs) The movie that scares me the most, and has scared me the most maybe to this day—I just have the imagery burnt into my mind—is that movie Event Horizon (1997). Have you seen that? That movie is terrifying! (Laughs)
I loved all the Predator movies—I don’t know if those are Sci-Fi or Horror or not. Even Alien (1979), that counts. Terminator 2 (1991)—that’s Sci-Fi and that’s probably my favorite movie of all-time.