Throughout four discs, hardcore five-piece AUGUST BURNS RED have strongly instituted the idea to be different. While their actions weren’t always to experiment excessively, they’ve been a band poised to do outdo themselves and push boundaries, even if it meant fusing styles and tempos that are completely foreign to their type of music. Just before the band’s headlining gig in Toronto, we caught up with vocalist Jake Luhrs to dig into the expectations that come with genre tags, the emotional attachment between a band and an audience and how even with their fans (see Heart Support) and their music, the group are still integrating their original intentions by any means necessary.
Are defying expectations and restrictions important for any band despite the genre they find themselves in?
I think genres as a whole are kind of silly. Everybody wants to categorize music but I thought music was just to express emotion, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to categorize all that. I like to think that heavy music is heavy music; I know obviously there’s metal and other genres, but when you get down to the nitty gritty of all of it, I think its silly. With us, we don’t follow a typical metal formula, we just write whatever we love. On one of our songs, “Internal Cannon”, there’s a little salsa part so how could you put that into a metal category? Music is music, and I think it should be left as that.
Do you think that people are too quick to pigeonhole you as a metalcore band?
If there was a category, that would obviously be what we fall under, but as I said, once you start getting into the argument of American metal vs. Swedish death metal vs. black metal and Christian metal, it doesn’t even make sense to me anymore. I guess if we were to be in a genre of music, it would definitely be metalcore.
Are there certain expectations that you feel are placed upon you as a result of labeling?
I think there are expectations from our fans that the next record we put out will be better than the last one. That’s what everybody wants. As a personal example, I’m a big fan of Bon Iver and I think he’s got a really cool style and I like his music. So obviously there’s an expectation the next record he comes out with will be better than the last one, or at least different. We have that expectation too, but I think thus far in our career we’ve actually done that. I don’t see us not progressing in our musicianship.
Your guitarist JB is quoted as saying anyone who can learn to play metalcore is doing it. Do you guys bring something different to your live show to stand out from the rest?
I think every musician probably says that they do. If you ask a musician if they think they’re different from the rest, I’m sure they’re going to say yes, because they’re the artist. The music they write means the most to them. As far as the live show, I don’t know if ours is any different, but again, I’m the artist, so I feel like it is because I’m putting my heart out there every night. I think it’s more than just a show of being entertained. I think fans aren’t just entertained by our music, or by us doing crazy guitar swings or whatever as it’s an emotional attachment. It’s a moment that we and the crowd share at that specific moment in time but in my opinion, it’s a little but more passionate than just going to see a rock concert.
You guys often play big shows in huge venues so how do you create that intimate connection to keep bringing people back to such a larger setting?
I think with big venues it can be harder. The vibe is a lot different when the kids are practically on the stage or when its super sweaty and packed and that definitely brings out a more natural feeling than being on this massive stage in front of thousands of people, where you have a mile and a half to run around. But at the same time you have to ask yourself, “What are you doing here? Do you want to play a show and give it your all or not?”. Sometimes it can be discouraging when there’s a huge barricade and you cant really feel the crowd as much as you’d want, and when that happens you just have to deal with it. That has rarely happened on this tour, and since we’ve done rooms of this caliber before, we’re used to it now and we just know what to do.
In my opinion, it’s great you can create this kind of connection in such a big space, because kids really thrive off of the physical connection and screaming into a guy’s mic. The fact you guys have got such a dedicated following despite there being a reasonable physical distance between you and the audience is impressive.
You’ve said you gauge how well a show went based on the crowd’s reaction. Do you have any secrets for getting the crowd as excited about your music as you are?
Just be genuine. I just think of ways to get the crowd involved, and if they want to get involved, they do. Sometimes you take that chance where you tell them to clap and they don’t really want to clap and that kind of stuff can happen, but it’s more of just being genuine, being a real person. I’ve always thought of the crowd as a new person I’ve just met and to get this person to see who you are, you have to go up to them and shake their hand. That’s the way I perceive myself as saying, “Hey, you don’t know me, but I want to get to know you and I think we could be friends”. Once you make that relationship and you ask them to clap, you’ve got everyone doing it because you invite them by saying “This is your show, not mine. I’m not going to be here tomorrow, I’ll be somewhere else, so let’s have fun with this and make it what we want it to be”. That’s a good time.
You’ve been together as a band for nearly ten years now, and this past June, you released your most successful album to date. Did something change with you guys as a group that enabled you to do that?
I think it’s all just natural progression. We kind of went through with what we had when we started and we toured ten months out of the year for like three years and now we’re touring eight or nine months this year. It’s just dedication to the band, fans, touring and playing shows. Through that and through just being as close as we are as a family and listening to music that isn’t metal – all of that caused a natural progression from where we were two or four years ago to where we are now. Luckily, our style and our progression is something that kids are infatuated with.
Obviously you guys are quite attached to the community you’re involved with as your program Heart Support seems to be evidence of that.
It’s something that Matt and I do; it’s a side project that’s an online community that kids can go to and encourage and inspire one another. When I get off the stage, I talk to kids at the merch table, and it seems like a lot of them want to know how we made it or are curious about my faith. I’m pretty open about my past and things that I’ve gone through, so kids tend to like to talk about that because they can relate to who I am. One day I just thought there should be a place for all these kids to go to be able to talk about their differences, issues and struggles and not feel ashamed to do so. That’s why I started it, and I’ve been doing it for about eight months.
Is it a way to give back to the community you’ve been involved with musically?
Totally, that’s one of the reasons why I did it. I just see so many people opening clothing lines or other stuff, and I wonder why they’re choosing to open another clothing line because there’s already too many in my opinion. Like the t-shirts are all printed on Haynes. I don’t want to go down that road and to me, that’s not giving back to the kids. I don’t understand it. I’ve always been raised to support your local scene, it’s something that’s rooted in me. My local scene now is the kids I see come out to every single show, so I want to give back to them and let them know they can have more than just seeing me on stage and we can talk as I’m a normal person with the same issues. I’m no different and instead of idolizing me, why don’t we just encourage one another and support each other.
What is it about where you guys are right now as a group that allows room for progression while remaining true to your original intentions as a band?
I think there’s always room to grow. It’s up to the band whether they want grow or not, whether they want to step outside the box or progress in their musicianship or their instrument. A lot of bands towards the end sometimes show they just don’t care and they plateau, and they plateau because they’re not working hard enough. It’s hard to explain, but I definitely see us continually progressing and it’s going to take a lot of work to write another record that’s better than the last one, but we’ve done it before so we’ll do it again.
[Find more interviews, video features and daily music updates on Twitter]