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INTERVIEW – Jake Luhrs, August Burns Red – September 2013

| 2 January 2014 | Reply

Interview – Jake Luhrs, August Burns Red – September 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

An edited version of this story was first published in X-Press Magazine’s 16 December 2013 issue

Pennsylvania residents AUGUST BURNS RED have given the Christian Metalcore genre a good shake up since their debut album Thrill Seeker in 2005, and have gone on to release six adventurous albums in all.

August Burns Red - Jake Luhrs 01

It’s always a little tricky going into an interview when you’re strictly verboten to discuss part of what makes a person so interesting, but even though we can’t ask singer Jake Luhrs anything about religion or his Heart Support non-profit charity, there’s still plenty to talk about with their latest album, this year’s Rescue & Restore, again pushing the parameters of the metalcore genre, and in the process scoring a U.S. top ten album as a result.

Australia is firmly in August Burns Red’s sights, with a slot on the prestigious Soundwave Festival coming up in early 2014.

August Burns Red - Jake Luhrs 02

I catch Luhrs during band practice at home in Pennsylvania, where he immediately registers his surprise at the album’s runaway success.

“It hit #9 on the US Billboard chart,” he says excitedly, “which is such an exciting and honouring thing. There’s not many people that get to do that! We wouldn’t have gotten there if it hadn’t been for our dedicated and loyal fans, so I really, really, really, really appreciate them.”

In addition to Rescue & Restore’s complexity – it infuses elements of punk, indie and heads down rock into their metalcore framework – it’s also probably the band’s heaviest record to date.

“I definitely think that it is a heavy, heavy record,” Luhrs agrees, “and I think that the way we are progressing is being more and more mature in our songs, and really just wanting to progress as musicians. I think at first [when] August Burns Red started out, we figured out what we wanted to play, or what we wanted to sound like, but now I think it’s not so much what we want to sound like, but it’s [more to do with] who are we? Who are August Burns Red now?

August Burns Red - Rescue & Restore CD

“Everyone in our band is a musician, one way or another,” the singer continues, “and as we’re all growing, I think what happens is a natural progression – that everybody puts their hands in the cookie jar, and we’re all working together to make what we have now. I dunno, we tried to step outside of the box and really push ourselves our hardest to bring the best that we could at that time.”

It makes a lot of sense – being true to yourselves as people and as artists, and discovering the music you’re MEANT to be making, as opposed to trying to direct your sound in a certain way. The results, of course, speak for themselves, with a Top Ten album.

“Yeah, and that’s funny because that doesn’t always happen,” he concurs. “There’s a lot of bands out there who stick to who they are, or their roots. They take their music in a direction which is them. I applaud that because there’s a lot of bands that don’t, that are just replicas of other bands, or are nothing new and just sound generic, or they don’t push themselves hard enough. And those other artists that say ‘this is who we are’ and wear their heart on their sleeve, and they don’t make top ten or no-one cares. Still, that’s art, that’s music. If you look at why we all started to pick up a guitar or drumsticks when we were a kid was that reason there.”

The band’s Christian faith doesn’t see them preaching through their music, but their lyrics are none-the-less full of positive messages. It’s an ingredient to the band’s sound that has won them a lot of respect, be it conscious or subconscious.

“I don’t think that everyone likes that our music is positive,” Luhrs counters, “but no-one’s saying you have to listen to us, you know. I think the thing is, that we try to write our lyrics in an honest way and in a very relatable way to our fans, so they can cling on to them and go, ‘that’s exactly how I felt’ or ‘this is exactly what I’m going through’, or some sort of positive message.

“If you look at metalcore, or that style of music,” he continues, “there isn’t really a ton of positive messages out there, if you were to divvy them all up, so I think that it’s a good thing [that we are positive]. The kids, yeah they wanna hear something aggressive, but maybe they don’t wanna hear a message full of hate – they wanna hear hope. So having an aggressive message of something positive, I think, is interesting to our listeners.”

2012 saw the band release Sleddin’ Hill a Christmas album featuring instrumental metal versions of holiday favourites Frosty The Snowman, Jingle Bells, Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and more. Luhrs explains how that came about.

“It’s kind of been a tradition of August Burns Red to every year have a Christmas show in our home town of Manheim [Pennsylvania] and every two years we will cover a Christmas carol, and they are just so popular with our fans – it’s like a fun little treat for them, you know.

“And the thing is, then they love to play them at Christmas time and their families are always like ‘what is this?!’ – that whole thing. So the thing is, after doing these Christmas shows and putting out these Christmas carols and seeing such a desire to have more of those – what are we gonna do? Just, let’s do a whole Christmas album! It was really just a treat for our fans.

“You’re taking a Christmas carol and ‘metallising’ it, making it heavy and aggresive – of course, it’s always funny to hear that. So I know that process was a nice, relaxing, fun thing for us to do.”

August Burns Red 01

The conversation turns to next year’s Soundwave Festival tour, and Luhrs is unequivocal in his anticipation for the being part of Australia’s largest heavy music touring circus.

“When we heard that we could be a part of that, and that was what we were gonna do, we were excited!” he exclaims. “Sometimes you get offers to be on festivals and tour packages, and you know, sometimes you second guess them and you’ve got questions – but we’ve heard nothing but good things about Soundwave, and then we saw the bill, with all the other bands – it’s so diverse that it would be silly for us not to be a part of that.”

Luhrs is equally positive about the differences between headlining a club show and playing an afternoon slot on a festival big stage.

“I think they both have their pros and cons. I don’t think anything could ever truly beat being in a venue where you’re sweatin’ and you’re on song eleven and you got four more left and all these kids are jam packed in there and they’re all… you can touch ’em, you know – the energy in that room is just massive.

“Whereas if you play a big festival, you’re more spaced out from the fans, you can’t really see everybody, you’re not playing as many songs. But at the same time, man, you’re getting on a huge, massive stage, with a bunch of other great bands, and a massive, massive crowd. You’re meeting fans, and you’re meeting people who weren’t a fan, so you have an opportunity to show others who really haven’t heard ABR what we’re about. So like I said, there’s pros and cons.”


When prompted to name the acts on the lineup that he’s most looking forward to see or hang out with, the big names don’t even get a mention.

August Burns Red - Jake Luhrs 03

“I have to say, I have a little part of my heart excited to see Finch,” he declares, “I used to listen to those guys a lot, a little bit back and I love their music, so really excited to see them. Then we’ve got our friends Let Live, we love to share the stage with those guys and hang out with them – that’s kind of a family reunion for us. And then I love to see Terror, I’ve been a fan of those guys, and I know that they have an aggressive, nasty show, so I’m pretty pumped to see them as well.”

Have a look at just about any photo of August Burns Red playing live and Luhrs looks like he’s about to pop a blood vessel in his head. He laughs easily at the observation and readily admits that the show takes it out of him a fair bit.

“We try to put on an energetic show as best as we can,” he elaborates, “I don’t think we’re one of those bands who are really sort of flashy. One of the things that we really desire for every show is to be really tight, to be a really well put together band that for every show it’s kind of like listening to the album. That’s really important to us, so that’s why, well, hopefully that’s what we will deliver on that tour. When we get up there we’ll just put our hearts on the stage and be as tight as we can together.

“You know, there’s nothing like being on stage,” he carries on, “there’s no other feeling I can use for an example. There’s a lot of my heart in the lyrics, there’s a lot of my heart in the message, and what I believe in. To pour it out on a stage and seeing kids singing along, and seeing them excited and happy… Even to talk to the kids after the show saying you know, ‘your song helped me overcome this’ or seeing tattoos of my lyrics on them – and hearing what those lyrics mean to them, which may not even be why I wrote it, but seeing how impactful our music is…

“When I get up on that stage, for me it’s kind of all or nothing. It’s a very passionate moment for me that I get to share with our fans. Yeah man – I’m living my dream – I have nothing to scream or be upset about, you know!”

August Burns Red 02

Luhrs may be happy enough to hear of fans interpreting his lyrics to suit their own lives, but he doesn’t feel the need to be overtly mindful of how they may be construed when he’s writing them. It’s all about the positive message for him.

“I think overall if all five of us really believe in the lyrics and believe in the message…” he starts to explain before slipping into a more comfortable example. “Sometimes we might have a lyric [where someone will say] well that’s kinda cheesy, or that’s not really fitting to the actual subject matter or direction that we want this lyric to go, then we’ll change things. I think the main goal is to be relatable to our fans, to write something that you know they’ll feel.

“We never have lyrics that are extremely negative,” he insists, going on to explain “or if we do, then later in the song we will have something which shows why, in that moment, there was so much anger, so you have to consider that. I’ve never actually heard of our lyrics being something that someone took and used in a negative way, which – thank God – that’s good to know. So I don’t think it’s a huge concern when we’re writing.”

To wrap up I ask Luhrs which record he would like to be a part of recording if he could magically travel through time to any one in history. His answer may come as a surprise…

“Oh gee… that’s a big one!” he laughs. “Okay, I’m gonna say one that would be maybe a little left field… I think maybe, All Eyes On Me, by Tupac Shakur. I think that would be really interesting, to know [when] recording that album, what his lyrics meant to him.

“If you listen to that album and listen to him rapping,” he explains, clearly knowing his stuff, “he’s a very passionate rapper and also I think he’s very intelligent. I think the way that he used words and patterns and what he’s singing about – I mean, a lot of it is negative and a lot of it is stuff I don’t condone, or believe in to be right, but I think it would be a very interesting place to be, watching him write that album.”

Just before we sign off, Luhrs again proves that he may be a blood vessel-popping metalcore badass on stage, but he’s quite the nice young bloke off.

“Thanks man,” he says in parting, “I appreciate your time and thanks for caring about what ABR is up to – I appreciate it.”


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