Check out the song: “Divisions”

August Burns Red guitarist JB Brubaker spoke with me recently about the band’s new release, Leveler. This new disc is not only heavier than previous work, but also includes some different styles and instrumentation than fans might be used to. For example, the song “Internal Cannon” has a sort of Spanish style Mariachi thing running through it. The band is currently touring through Russia, but will be back in the United States in time to headline this summer’s Vans Warped Tour. Here’s how the conversation went.

You guys are on the road right now in Russia. How is that going?
JB: Russia is going great! We played in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Both shows went smoothly and the audience seemed very appreciative of us making a stop in their city. Kids were even singing along to our new song “Empire” which we just put up online, so it’s awesome that they’re staying on top of our music. We feel fortunate to be able to play here and see the country.

Now that your new CD Leveler is complete how do you feel about it? Are you satisfied with the outcome?
JB: Yes, I’m very satisfied with it. Leveler is my favorite album we’ve ever done. It’s so much more diverse than our previous albums. We didn’t want to write another Constellations or another Messengers. We wanted to write an ABR album that was still fast and heavy, but with sounds and elements that we haven’t tried before. We want to push the envelope a bit.

What was the writing process like for this CD? Did you guys all write together? How long did it take?
JB: We did not write all together. I wrote the majority of the music by myself in my room during downtime we had in 2010. The lyrics were handled by everyone, but the majority coming from our singer Jake, guitarist Brent, and drummer Matt. The writing process is me writing riffs on my guitar, tabbing them out on a midi program called Tabit, and arranging the riffs into songs while adding drum and bass tabs. I then send the songs to the rest of the band to check out and learn and then we bring them all together six weeks or so before we record.

Leveler seems a bit heavier to me. Was this a conscious effort or something that you think came about naturally?
JB: It came naturally for sure. Leveler flowed out as naturally as any album we’ve done. We never set out to try and do something new. We just write whatever comes out at the time. Back in 2007 when we did Messengers we were more crazy, breakdown minded. Nowadays we still love breakdowns, but we like to incorporate more melody and instrumentation – more dynamics.

Did you feel any pressure to write a follow up to Constellations because it was such a success?
JB: There’s always some pressure when writing a new album, but we’ve used the same writing process for each album so we just went with what has been working. We’re really excited with how it came out and I one hundred percent think it tops Constellations. Writing can be stressful, but most of Leveler came pretty painlessly, albeit with countless hours of time put in.

The band keeps things interesting thematically. Can you talk about some of the subjects you tackle on this record?
JB: Leveler is all over the place lyrically. We talk about forgiveness, chasing your dreams, addiction, spirituality, being homesick, life, death, etc. We tend to shy away from the love songs and break up songs.

Are the any tracks on the disc that are personal favorite or that have good stories behind them?
JB: My personal favorite track is “Internal Cannon.” It is the weirdest song on the album and incorporates some sounds we’ve never done before. There are parts that have a real Spanish/Mariachi vibe to them and a there’s a huge spicy guitar solo. When I first sent that song over to the band there was definitely some eyebrow-raising going on, but I think it came out awesome and it seems to be getting a good reaction from our listeners thus far. I’m glad we just went for it and didn’t throw away parts we thought would be too unorthodox to our style.

All of that passion that you play with must be tough on you physically. How do you prepare for the physical demands of a tour?
JB Yes, it can be, especially as we get older and do it longer and longer. To try to stay healthy I try to stay in shape when I’m home. It can be hard to get exercise when touring so I try to take advantage of the extra free time I have when I’m home. I think eating well and getting rest is also very important to staying healthy and withstanding months on end of traveling. Those who are doing the whole nightly partying thing are certainly in for a rude awakening.

When you are on the road for a while I am sure you see and experience many different things you might not even have known existed. Are there any stories that stand out in your mind as being exceptionally strange or odd?
JB: One of the most different cultures I’ve had a chance to experience was Japan. I love Japan. It’s unlike any other place I’ve ever been. The people are so nice, everything is so efficient, and their food is insane. They eat some of the weirdest stuff I’ve ever seen. While there I ate raw octopus, beef guts, fish skin, raw squid, etc. I tried everything I could. It’s also interesting that there is little to no religion in Japan at this point. Religion just sort of faded as time went on there which is interesting because Japan often seems to be ahead of the rest of the world. Am I saying religion could just disappear? Certainly not entirely, but with the hundreds of different religions practiced all over the world I can’t help but wonder how many will still be around even 100 years from now.

When you are out on the road anything can happen and often does. Can you think of any disastrous events that happened while out on tour? How did you solve the problem?
JB: We’ve had many van/trailer problems over the years that nearly caused us to miss shows. One consistent issue we ran into was blowing wheel bearings on our trailer. This seemed to happen a couple times each summer and was always a huge time waster. It’s funny, but almost every time ABR has a day off, something seems to go wrong. I guess you could call us fortunate for having a day off to deal with problems that would slow us down. We recently did a festival in Belgium called Groezrock. It was a one off show and flew to Belgium special to play it. We had 12 checked bags, all of which were lost by the airline. We didn’t have any clothes, toiletries, guitars, pedals, cymbals, in-ear monitors, etc. It was such a mess! Fortunately we knew a bunch of bands that were playing the fest and they were kind enough to loan us equipment. Still, it felt very strange playing a guitar I had never used before in front of 5,000 people.

Any closing words?
JB: Thanks for taking the time to read this and for taking some interest in ABR. We’re super excited for Leveler and can’t wait for it to come out so everyone can hear it. Hopefully you dig it as much as we do!