August 23, 2019 Interview – Randy Armstrong of RED
Over the last decade plus, many Rock bands have come and gone, but one that has stood the test of time is RED. The culmination of three lifelong friends with similar artistic visions, the Grammy nominated, RIAA Certified Gold-selling band RED has stood out in the Hard Rock scene with a distinctive, emotional, and cinematic sound. Reaching number 1 in Hard Rock Billboard charts with four of their last five albums, and number 2 with 2017’s Gone, RED look to raise the stakes with more new music. Recently declaring independence from a major label, they are in the midst of a new era with big plans for 2020 and beyond. Invigorated, co-founding member Randy Armstrong recent sat down to talk the evolution of RED, their work on a new album, inspiration, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – RED has been established for over fifteen years now and has attained a great deal of success over that time. How would you describe the journey the band has been on thus far?
Randy Armstrong – One word would be unforgettable, I just really don’t think we’re done yet. We have a lot of energy and juice left, but if I had to quit tomorrow, I’ve accomplished more in my career in music than I ever thought I would. I think we could all walk away happy now, but like I said, we’re not ready yet.
Cryptic Rock – It is good you’re not ready to walk away because RED is still making a lot of great music. At the core of RED, it has been yourself, your brother Anthony, and Michael Barnes. How would you describe the chemistry you three have together?
Randy Armstrong – I’d say we’ve been friends for thirty plus years. We’ve been doing everything together since we were kids – we met in third grade, we moved to Nashville after college, and we all had the same goal in mind. I think when that happens, you can find a group of people who have the same sort of beliefs/goals, and you get them together, a lot can be done.
We’ve kept our heads down and made it through a lot of tough times whatever they might be – physically, financially, and personally. We’ve crawled out and kept going. With this new season of independence, doing our own thing – when we want to do it, how we want to do it, and where we want to do it – I think everybody’s excited and ready to see what else happens.
Cryptic Rock – You mention about going independent, RED has been with Essential/Sony for around thirteen years. It is a new beginning, so that is exciting, but is there a level of anxiety being an independent band again? What does it feel like to be independent?
Randy Armstrong – Honestly, this may sound overconfident, but I don’t think there’s any anxiety. At this point we’ve got an established fanbase. I think that if any band continued to give their fans what they want and tour, they are going to be there and return the favor. Touring is one thing that we’ve always been good at; with the exception of this year where we took off to start writing music and get our label started. We’re pretty heavily into touring otherwise and 2020 is shaping up to be our busiest year, at least in the last five years.
It just goes back to what I said before, we all have the same goals in mind. As long as we stick together, I don’t think there’s anything we can’t accomplish. We don’t allow our success to define our happiness, we allow our happiness to define our success. We’re certainly happy with what we’ve accomplished and what we’re doing. We’re certainly privileged and thankful for that.
Cryptic Rock – It will be very intriguing to see what comes next. You have already released two new singles in the last few months. Are these a taste of what is to come?
Randy Armstrong – Yea, you hit it on the nose. These are sips of the album that is to come. We’re releasing an EP, it has not been announced yet, so this is an exclusive. We’re releasing an EP on November 1st, it will be five songs, three of which will not be on the album – two that we’ve released already and three other songs. Then next spring we’ll be releasing a full-length album.
Cryptic Rock – That is big news! So is the EP completed?
Randy Armstrong – The EP is done and we are full into finishing the album. We have to turn the album in by the end of November in order to set it up correctly and release it next spring. We’re full in writing/recording mode and we won’t stop while we’re out this next couple of weeks traveling. We take our rig with us, continue to work, and it’s not a break from the studio.
We consciously came off the road to do this, and because of that, we didn’t want to tour heavily this fall. We’re set up here to do it, and going in and out all the time will interfere a little more than we wanted to. That said, we committed to a couple of weeks this fall just to give fans a taste of things to come, say ‘hi’ the only time this year, then hit it hard again in 2020.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. The 2019 tour you are talking about kicks off Saturday, August 24th and go through October where you are set to play in Germany. RED has done a lot of touring in the USA, but what is it like touring overseas?
Randy Armstrong – It’s like touring in the United States. Fans are super thankful you’re there, they want you to love their country, and because of that, they give you everything they’ve got. We’ve had the privilege of seeing a lot of Europe and Russia. There’s other territories that we want to play that we haven’t hit yet and hopefully with this new energy, album, and direction we’re going to be able to do that. We would certainly love to be able to go play for the troops. There are a lot of things that are being discussed and that are on the table.
Anytime we can leave the homeland and get to go to other places, it’s just one of those things you get to do as a band traveling that a lot of other people don’t necessarily get to do; see the world and all it has to offer. We love going to Europe and we’re going to be heading over there next spring right after the album comes out to probably do the longest run we’ve ever done there. We’re going to hit as many territories as possible and just keep going from there.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like a lot of great things are coming up. To go along with the newest single “From The Ashes,” you released a lyric video, but a full music video for “The Evening Hate.” RED has done a fantastic job with your music videos through the years. There has been a continuous storyline through many of the videos. Will that keep going?
Randy Armstrong – What a lot of people don’t realize, the storyline began back in 2009 with a video with did for the song “Death of Me.” You tell a story with music, that’s the business we’re in. We try and find something that is our niche and take it a little further than other bands would.
When people think of RED they think of a story and more as a brand than just another band, at least that’s what our core fans think. That base grows with every song we release, with every video we do, and we always have that in mind. There were some restrictions we had under our label financially that wouldn’t allow us to do some of the things we wanted to do. With this new direction there are some things we’ll be able to do and not have to ask permission; we don’t have anybody to answer to. We’ve been intentional about the videos and I don’t see that coming to a close.
Cryptic Rock – The band has done a fantastic job with the theme and story lines of each music video. Let’s talk about the music of RED, which is very in-depth, thought-provoking, and, at times, dark. What can fans expect from the forthcoming record?
Randy Armstrong – The new album is going to be about us cutting ties, doing our own thing, and writing music that our fans originally fell in love with. Already with the first two songs we’ve released, fans are saying this is reminiscent of End of Silence (2006), Innocence & Instincts (2009), and Of Beauty and Rage (2015) – three of our most popular records. We certainly have been listening over the years, we were asked to go certain directions to do certain things and try certain things. Sometimes it worked for us and sometimes it didn’t. We just want fans to know we’re listening and this is going to be the RED-est RED record we’ve ever done since I can remember.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that is pretty exciting to hear. You mentioned Innocence & Instincts, that record recently celebrated a ten year anniversary back in February.
Randy Armstrong – It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this for over a decade. We were certainly nervous going into the studio making that album. Everybody gets their entire life to make their first record and then a couple years to come up with something that can top that or continue it. It was one of our most critically acclaimed albums and certainly a lot of fun to record.
We’re going to head out and do a few shows in honor of the tenth anniversary. We wanted to do a full-length tour, but like I said, with recording and the way things have shaken out, the later half of this year we thought it was more prudent to stay home to make sure the album gets completed. We know fans will be more thankful for that than they would be to see a show when they know they’ll be able to see us in 2020.
Cryptic Rock – It is good you will be able to honor Innocence & Instincts in some way, plus new music certainly is very compelling. RED has a very distinct sound. You know it’s RED from the guitar tone, Michael’s voice, and the production. What are some of your musical influences?
Randy Armstrong – Mike, Anthony, and I participated in various band stuff growing up. We were band geeks in school, we did marching band, concert band, pep band, and county band. Mike and I were in choir together for ten years and we’ve played a lot of different soundtracks. I remember our senior year of high school we performed the theme to James Bond and a couple of other songs from the soundtrack. Cinema was something that was so easy to get out of yourself and go somewhere else in your head. To this day I still love going to the movies.
When we make a music video there’s no music until we get to the final details. When you put music to something it brings it to life and you don’t realize how much music plays a role in a movie – I would say it’s 85% of how good a movie is. With that we wanted to create music that took us places and made us feel things that a regular song you hear all the time would do. It’s not necessarily about being the biggest band in the world, topping all the charts, and winning all the awards. To us, our success is creating something that makes us feel something. If people are latching onto it, and so far they have, that’s good enough for us.
Cryptic Rock – You certainly feel a lot of emotion listening to any of RED’s music. Speaking of cinema, if you are a fan, what are some of your favorite Horror or Sci-Fi films?
Randy Armstrong – I would say the scariest movie I’ve ever seen was The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). Anything that’s based on a true story is just chilling. To read about Emily in real life, hear the recordings in the court case and stuff is really chilling. I liked The Amityville Horror (2005). I thought The Ring (2002) was pretty scary, I remember seeing it in the theater and kind of having my hands close to my eyes the entire time in case I did not want to watch for a second. (Laughs)
The fall is a great time to watch Horror films and there’s plenty of them out there. I think they are getting creepier and creepier. When everybody is trying to top each other, that’s when things stay good. It’s the same thing with music, if every band is trying to top the other band, good things come from competition I think.
Cryptic Rock – Very true. A lot of quality material is being put out in the Horror genre of late.
Randy Armstrong – Yea, when we were out on Long Island we wanted to go to the Amityville Horror house, but didn’t get around to it. I remember one time we were up in Maine for a show. Our producer lives up there, so he knows the area well. Anyway, we went out one night for lobster, so we went kind of site seeing afterwards. We came up along this abandon three story hospital or clinic of some kind. It was tucked back in the woods, by itself in the pitch black with no light… but there were lights on inside the building. It had to have been been abandon for at least fifteen or twenty years. We said, “Let’s go check it out and scare ourselves.”
There were probably six or seven of us and we were trying to find a way into the building. We found a ladder on the backside of the building that led us up to the roof, we went up to the roof, but there was no way in from there. Long story short, we never found our way into the building, but there were plenty of windows to look in. We hoisted our guitar player at the time, Jasen Rauch, up onto an awning above a door to look it. When he looked in he turned around immediately and said, “Let me down, let me down.” (Laughs)
He took a picture of it and it was one of those scenes you would see in a film – there were hospital beds, and all kinds of creepy medical equipment. When we were done snooping around we did some research and discovered it had become a mental institute. There was a cellar door leading down to the basement, and none of us were planning on going down there, but one of our techs at the time did and found a suitcase with all these dolls with one eye and little pieces of hair. It was a seriously disturbing location, I’ll never forget it. (Laughs)