Over the past few years, Red has garnered extensive mainstream success, with their last two efforts debuting high on the Billboard charts. With a new album in stores now and a current stint on this year’s Winter Jam, Red is not slowing down anytime soon. I talked to guitarist Anthony Armstrong about the band’s current whereabouts, from the new record to their lyrical approach to, most importantly, their relentless live performance.
How is the experience playing Winter Jam compared to the last time, considering that you guys are playing a higher spot in the lineup than in 2011?
Anthony Armstrong (Guitarist): As far as our place in the lineup, we’re psyched about it. We’re co-headlining with Toby [Mac]. It’s a big part of the spectacle. They put us right before intermission so we have enough time to tear down our huge stage and get the fans out there to check out everything. We love that position we’re in, and we get a chance to wind down before we go out and meet some fans at the end of the night.
Do you guys try to play a lot of Christian festivals? I know there’s kind of a dividing line because you guys have had a lot of exposure both in religious and secular music scenes.
AA: Yeah, it doesn’t really matter to us, man. We don’t care where we play. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian festival or a bar – a dark, dirty bar. Music is for everyone. We write it that way. It’s geared towards meeting people where they’re at regardless of what their background is, whether they’re believers or not. We love Christian festivals; they’re a big part of our summer. It’s a chance for us to cater towards a certain audience, but ultimately, our hearts are geared towards catering to everybody.
Release the Panic dropped last week. What should fans expect with this album?
AA: They should expect a new, interesting direction on some of the songs, and they should expect the Red they’ve always heard. We decided to try and do things a little bit different with this record. We put out three other studio records before this that had a very similar sound and a very similar vibe. For us, we have to draw that fine line between what fans want and how we can stay creative and inspired by the music that we write. We did a little bit of everything on this record I think.
You guys worked with Rob Graves for your first three albums. What influenced the switchover to Howard Benson for this one?
AA: Just change. When you do three records with the same guy, things start to get a little static. And that’s just not good in the musical world. It’s time to move on and experience a little bit of change and see what we’re capable of as musical writers.
What was the process like working with Jasen [Rauch, ex-guitarist] on this album, considering that he continues to write lyrics even though he’s not in the band?
AA: He doesn’t write as much as you think he does. He never has. It’s a big misconception.
So what was the writing process like for the band then? Does everybody write?
AA: Yeah, we all write. We took time off the road and wrote about a year and a half before we even recorded this record together. We collaborate with a lot of people. There’s a couple new guys on this record who we worked with, a guy named Dave Hodges and another guy named Mark Coleman – guys who we feel absolutely comfortable writing with. They bring something to the table; they bring us an extra little piece. The song is broken up into so many different parts, and you’d be surprised how little or how much someone can write on a song.
Lyrically, what does this record touch upon? Are there any central themes or lyrical elements that stand out to you guys?
AA: Yeah, I think so. For us, the record ultimately is about the state of the world. There is a panic out there of sorts, and we experience it probably more so than a lot of people because we get out of our backyard. A lot of people are stuck where they are, and they don’t get to see the world the way that we do. With our music, we feel that it’s our job to report back and give them something that’s going to at least get them out of their way for a few hours.
What was the process like making the artwork, and what does the album art represent?
AA: There’s a song on the record called “Glass House,” and it’s about being transparent and breaking through that glass house. Everybody can see in, everybody’s got an opinion, everybody’s got something to say about what we do. And I think with the glass house, no matter what they’re thinking or what they’re saying about us, the glass house is ultimately about what God sees. It doesn’t matter if our house is glass or not. He sees through everything. You see broken glass and you see all of those elements with the artwork, and that’s what it’s about. It’s about breaking through all of that no matter how transparent it is.
How does this album differentiate itself from your past three releases? Did you attempt to go down any new paths this time with your sound?
AA: Yeah man, we definitely did. We went into the process thinking, “We’ve done three records that have a very similar sonic landscape.” And with this one, we went to Howard Benson and were like, “Look Howard, we don’t want to do strings on this record.” We don’t want to do the same things we always do. It’s too predictable. It’s boring. You’ve got to expand the fanbase somehow and someway. And that’s important because I feel like music should reach as many people as possible. We’ll have our fans say, “This is the ‘Breathe Into Me’ of the record” or “This is the ‘Not Alone’ of the record.” On this record, there’s going to be a good chance to hear a different vibe. There’s still rock songs. There’s still something to be reckoned with, especially at the live shows. I think we wrote songs that are – once again – for everybody, but we just expanded on that a little bit.
What are your current intentions as far as being in a band goes? Have you always had the same mindset, or do you find it evolving as the band evolves?
AA: I think your M.O. from the very beginning is the most important thing. It has been for us anyway. Our M.O. has been inspiring people. And with inspiration, a painter is a perfect example. It’s another creator, or artist, and if this guy keeps painting the same picture over and over again, it just gets boring. It’s like, “How can that inspire me?” It’s about putting something out there and interpreting the world in some way that brings some sort of realism into someone’s life. And that’s what I think we’re doing with music. We’re going out there, seeing what it’s really like out there, and reporting back to our fans and the people that listen to music for escape. And that’s exactly what we wanted to do.
Release the Panic dropped on Tuesday. Where does Red go from there?
AA: We finish this tour, we get about ten days off, and after that we just hit the ground running in support of the new record. Probably a couple headlining tours, some international touring. Definitely going to be in like 50 countries this year most likely. And we do this tour that we started last year called the Redvolution Tour, which we’ll probably end up doing also.
Anything else you want to say to your fans?
AA: Come out to the show and check it out. You’ve got to see it. It’s something to be reckoned with, I promise.
Yeah I was there last week in Kansas City. It was awesome.
AA: Yeah, well we’ve got another thing coming, and it’s over the top.