Brent Rambler – August Burns Red ‘A Reflection On Jesse Leach, Guitar Playing And 20 Full Years’
A long time ago, it was the year 2003, and a little band called August Burns Red had formed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Fast forward 20 years, 10 albums and copious amounts of touring later, and the band have become heavyweights, both as songwriters and live performers. With the group releasing their latest record Death Below and currently on the road to celebrate 20 years of being a unit, they’re only moving from strength to strength.
The band were about to start the next leg of their 20th-anniversary tour in Niagara Falls, a little outside of Buffalo, New York, when I caught rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler for a chat. He sat down to delve into the recording process of Death Below, seeing Killswitch Engage‘s Jesse Leach in his element and what’s changed the most since the band started out.
So let’s delve into your new record Death Below. I had a full listen last night and it’s really great. I know this one was written during the pandemic and channels darker times for the band. How would you reflect on those times and how they’ve culminated into the making of the record?
It made the record – as far as the process of creating it – a little strange… Usually we just roll into a studio and have the songs that we’ve written… We spend about two months in the studio and record it all together, whereas for this album, we recorded it in four or five different sessions over a period of two years. So we were just recording when we could, when we had material.
I think that mood-wise the record’s a little darker. I don’t know if that’s generally because of the pandemic or just the way the first few songs came out… You build an album around those few songs, and that sets the mood I think.
Totally. In terms of the process of making the album, how smooth of a journey was it? Were there any notable challenges?
There weren’t really challenges, other than recording it in different parts. We stayed with the same producers the whole time, but we needed to change studios a couple times because of different, random things. That was a bit of a challenge, but in the end it was okay.
At the very beginning, we weren’t sure how much we could get together, because we were actually recording the album right as the pandemic started. We went into the studio and did four or five songs, and it was just like, ‘Hey if you don’t need to be here, don’t be here’. It’s not the way we usually roll. Usually everyone would come into the studio as they please, listen to what’s happening and just be there (even if it’s not their day to record). But you know my wife was pregnant, we had some other stuff going on in the band, and so we didn’t know with COVID how things were… how they could affect people yet.
Other than that, it wasn’t too difficult, we navigated that pretty quickly and figured it all out.
It’s really good that you guys didn’t come across too many roadblocks. Now you have some great guests on Death Below, from Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage to Spencer Chamberlain from Underøath. Who were you most excited to work with and what was the process of recording with them like?
I loved working with Jesse, that was a cool feature for us. It came together really well. He actually drove down for the day – from where he lives in New York – and did his part. It was neat to see what he had in mind for that part in the studio. It was an awesome experience to have him sing his idea for what the chorus was, and we all just stood there going, ‘Yeah that sounds great. Let’s do that.’ (chuckles). I think his feature is really good, and it turns a more progressive song into something that’s more catchy and easy to listen to.
I think that’s something that Jesse’s really good at, in terms of thinking about how a song will translate to an audience.
For sure! He’s good at making things that musically don’t feel good timing-wise and making them feel catchy.
Now let’s talk about the evolution of your craft over the past 20 years that you’ve been in the band. How do you feel you’ve grown as a guitar player, and how is that reflected on the new record as well?
I only started playing guitar like a year or two before the band first started (laughs). So when we first started recording and playing music, I wasn’t very adept at my instrument yet. The songs are so difficult, and – I’m not going to lie – they take a very long time to learn, but we’ve all become pretty good at the style of music that we play. So we can sit down and focus, get these songs together… We always find a way to make it work for a live setting, but for me as a guitar player, this stuff is still challenging. It’s something that I and all of us work on every day.
That’s great. In terms of bouncing off your other bandmates, who is the person that helps elevate you to that next level?
I’d say our bass player, Dustin, because he actually writes a lot of the guitar work and he’s an excellent guitar player. He’s leagues beyond me as far as skill level, so when he writes a song it’s like playing catch-up. So I have to work harder and harder to get to that level.
It’s really good you have someone in the band that makes you want to be better at your craft. So you guys have a long-standing relationship with producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland. How would you reflect on that relationship?
It’s awesome and Carson actually recorded our very early demos as a band, like in 2004, so we’ve been working with him for a very long time. As they’ve grown as producers, we’ve grown as band, so it’s been great for us. They know what we want to do and what to do as producers for us at this point. We know that they’re always welcome to give input, but they aren’t going to sit down and actively write a song for us (that’s not what we need them for). Although Grant helps us write almost all the vocals for a record and he’s great at it… We just know each other so well that we’re a well-oiled machine when we get together.
It’s awesome that they’re like other members of the band at this point. Now you guys are currently touring for your 20th anniversary, which is amazing! What’s it been like putting the setlists together? You guys have a pretty big catalogue of songs.
We just went through each album we have and plucked a couple of songs. We’re trying to do two from every one, and one from Thrill Seeker. It’s the longest set we’ve ever played. We’re alternating every night between Set A and Set B, just so that we’re playing as many songs as possible… But yeah we basically picked our favourites off each record and what we thought were the fan favourites.
Have you been playing songs from Death Below as well, or are you leaving that until later?
We’re playing ‘Ancestry’ and ‘Backfire’, just because those came out before the tour started, so we figured those were the two tracks to play.
Now let’s turn now to August Burns Red being a band for 20 years. With a couple of changes, it’s pretty much been the same guys. Has there been a moment when it’s really sunk in that you’ve been able to make music with your best friends for so long?
I think that as time goes, it becomes more and more apparent that we’re all still here doing it and doing it at a higher level than we ever have been. It’s crazy – this is the biggest headline tour we’ve ever been on and it’s 20 years into our career.
The fact that our fans are still here and there’s more of them than ever is awesome. Also the fact that we get to do this with pretty much the same people that we’ve done it with the last 16 or 17 years is amazing.
That’s really cool! What’s changed the most over the years since you started out as a band?
I think our live show has changed the most, actually. We now have this massive production that we travel with. Every tour, the light show gets bigger and bigger. That’s the biggest change – how we tour. When we first started we had a van and trailer with as little stuff as possible, and now we have a bus, a truck and all this stuff. We’re trying to put on the biggest and best show we possibly can for all the people who bought tickets. That is a change that’s going to keep growing.
Interview by Genevieve Gao
Stream Death Below here
August Burns Red – Death Below tracklisting
2. The Cleansing
3. Ancestry feat. Jesse Leach
4. Tightrope feat. Jason Richardson
5. Fool’s Gold in the Bear Trap
9. Dark Divide
11. The Abyss feat. JT Cavey
12. Reckoning feat. Spencer Chamberlain