This month saw Red unveil their fourth studio album, Release the Panic. No matter what your thoughts on the album are, there’s no denying the power and impact the band has. With a huge role on the Winter Jam tour and some massive headlining tours coming up, I chatted with Anthony Armstrong about direction, blue album covers, and keyboard cowboys.
Lee: So, let’s first talk about your new album. The thing that jumps out at you right away is that the album cover is blue instead of red or shades of gray. Was this indicative of anything, or what was the choice behind that subtle change?
Anthony Armstrong: I think our motive behind that was that all of our other records had something to do with red, and I think the whole theme on this record is literally about panic and chaos and confusion. So, it’s centered towards that. You know, you see destruction and damage with this guy walking through this chaos behind him and above him and all around him. With the band being called Red and now the whole thing is blue… It’s meant to be confusing and chaotic. A lot of people are asking about that, it’s kind of funny. It’s cool to actually answer that question, because it gives people a little more perspective on that. I mean, there’s literally a reason for everything, so that’s definitely what that’s about.
Lee: How would you say that your sound has evolved from your last album to now with Release the Panic?
Anthony: That’s a tough question for us, because we don’t feel that the sound is evolving. We tried something a little different, you know, a little flavor… a little twist to our music. But, ultimately we’re not in the market to change our sound totally. We love all the elements from our last record and the things that we normally do. But, once again to throw a monkey wrench into the theme of this whole project, we change things up a little bit. It’s funny because the record being called Release the Panic has actually caused panic among the fans that have gotten used to a certain thing. That’s kind of what the record is about. We get comfortable or used to things and all of a sudden when chaos and panic happen, people don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s pretty awesome how it’s all worked out. Like I’ve said, there’s an evil genius behind the whole thing.
Lee: There are several songs on the new album that revolve around the idea of redemption through love, but of course you also acknowledge the chaos of this world. Do you want to talk about why those themes were chosen for this particular record?
Anthony: A lot of bands are literally afraid to tread in certain waters because they’re ultimately afraid of the judgement that they’ll receive from “Christians” and “believers.” It’s like, “You shouldn’t sing about those things,” “you shouldn’t talk about those things.” Why? You know, we all live in the same world. We’re all under the same sky. We all deal the same things on a day to day basis. It’s all in how you get through those situations or deal with those people, or whatever. With our music we always find a way to be redemptive. That’s the way we should be. If we only ended up singing about the dark things, we become dark people. I think that that redemptive quality is what gets you in that moment where it’s like, “wow this is a heavy song, but then there’s just something about it at the end of it,” and you feel like you’ve been uplifted. That’s kind of the point.
Lee: Yeah, I see that. One of the lyrics on the album talks about how no matter how far we run from love (I’m assuming God’s love), it’s always right there behind us. Was that song written to a specific moment or a specific story, or was that just kind of how you were just crafting in that redemption element?
Anthony: I wouldn’t say it was anything specific. It’s just the guys in the band in general. Because we’re believers and we chose grace a long time ago and believe in God and the whole nine yards… it doesn’t mean that we don’t deal with the same things that everybody deals with. It’s crazy out there right now, man. I think that the last thing we want to do is make people believe that we have it all figured out. This is basically our interpretation of what’s going on. This is what we’ve seen. Not only as music makers, but we’re world travelers and we’ve seen a lot of things, done a lot of things, and seen a lot of people. This is our opportunity to report back what we’ve seen and what we’ve experienced and music gives us that outlet. It’s definitely about that. I think at the end of the day, a lot of people are just focused on, “these guys are a band… these guys are musicians,” but if you really take the time with any Red project to dissect what’s going on, the project makes sense and it’s just like, “wow.” Sometimes we wow ourselves. How were we able to record that in that way and it be relevant and make sense?
Lee: Speaking of dissecting some of the Red albums… Of your past albums, Innocence and Instinct had that Dante’s Divine Comedy feel to it. Of course, the last album was titled after one of the lesser known stories of C. S. Lewis (Until We Have Faces). What elements have influenced this album, coming into it?
Anthony: I wouldn’t say that anything specific to an author influenced it. Once again, in the second record and third record… even the first record… there were elements of where we were diving into these authors and reading into their interpretation of what was going on, or was going on when they were writing these things. The fact that this record is literally about chaos, panic, and damage and these things that are going on… there’s not… I don’t feel a lot of people take the time to stop and think and decide for themselves certain things or even read books … we didn’t really feel the need to dive into any specific author, but just being vigilant about what’s going on out there. Looking at, “this is what’s happening in politics,” “this is what’s happening in the economy,” “this is what’s happening with school shootings”… all the stuff that’s just crazy out there. It’s focusing more on that and almost becoming an author ourselves this time. Instead of going, “Ok, the Divine Comedy talked about this, and the certain levels of hell and the cantos and all that.” This time we ended up almost writing a story ourselves.
Lee: So, you were produced by Howard Benson this time around. Talk a little bit about how that impacted the record.
Anthony: I think the only impact it had on the record was that he knew exactly what we wanted him to do, and what we asked him to do. It’s something people don’t realize is that when you come to a producer, you come to him and say, “This is what we’ve got. This is what we want to do. Can you make it happen?” We did the first few records with Rob Graves and said, “Here’s our four songs. This gives you an idea of where we want to go.” And from that point on we developed a sound.
Going into this new process we were just like, “There’s a certain thing we want to do with this new record.” You know, change things up. Obviously, you do three records with the same person and it starts to have a bit of a repeating static feel. We used to say, “Well this is the ‘Already Over’ of this record.” “This is the ‘Pieces’ of this record.” “This is the ‘Breathe Into Me’ of this record.”
So, how do we get out of that element, but still capture the power that these songs did have? So we went to him with a specific idea and said, “this is what we want to do. This is the sound we’re going for. Here are the things we don’t want to do. What do you think?” And he was like, “Well, let’s get some pre-production going and see how this turns out.” At the end of that process, we were psyched. He knew exactly where we were going and what we wanted to do. He’s a master. He’s the master of making that happen. We were really excited to work with him.
Now, you also worked with Jasen Rauch, of course, for the writing. We recently talked with Matt Baird from Spoken
and he called him, “a gift to music.” What would you say about Jasen’s impact on the writing and the production on the album?
Anthony: It’s really funny man. Jasen produces a lot now. When we first started, we would all sit together, specifically on guitar parts, and write all the songs… it’s always been for Red a sum of the parts. The man hasn’t been in the band for four years. It’s been a long time since Jasen has been around, but we’ve always been great friends and been likeminded with certain types of music and writing styles. Even in this process there were times when we were like, “I wonder what it would be like if we worked with this person?” We’ve never been quite about the fact that we write with other writers. Obviously, because we want to grow as writers ourselves, but there’s certain things that… you know, it’s like with baseball. That’s why you have a clean up hitter. It’s like, well this guy is the best at this, so we’re going to put him in this position. This guy can’t pitch, but he can play third base like it’s nobody’s business… so that’s what comes in handy with music. You can dive into someone else’s brain and they can bring something to a song that just gives it that extra push. I think that’s the process we went through with Jasen. So yeah, we like to write together and with each project we’ve done that.
So, with this project in particular, you did your video for “Release the Panic,”
and worked with Chris Corrado. Talk a little bit about how that came about and how you decided to make this the sequel to “Feed the Machine?”
Anthony: Well, since we made “Feed the Machine,” it was just such an amazing process and it got such a great response. People were just kind of taken back by it. We just wanna do things that bands don’t do. We don’t want to fit a mold. We want to confuse people. We want them to be like, “Why did they do this?” because it keeps the buzz alive. It keeps people talking about what it is we’re trying to accomplish with our songs, music, and any visual you see with Red. With the “Feed the Machine” video we were like, “Let’s blow this thing out. Take it over the top and make a mini-movie.” Bands don’t put that much effort into their music anymore. A lot of guys are getting jaded by the fact that people just steal their music, money has gone out the door, labels are disappearing, and fans now have the opportunity to sit behind their keyboards and be the keyboard cowboys and literally nit-pick every single thing that goes on. A lot of bands get so jaded by that and are like, “Well, I’m only going to write these two great songs on this record and the rest are just going to be fillers.” They don’t go to the effort of making great music videos anymore and spending the money on doing those things. We’re not going to let those things effect us. We’re gonna do what we wanna do and what we set out to do regardless of what’s happening.
So, we blew “Feed the Machine” out. We thought it was an amazing and fun project to make. It got the response we obviously expected. Even we sat back and were like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” There’s just no denying that. A couple years ago when that came out we decided we have to do something that continues the story. That’s what’s really cool, too. When we started writing about a year-and-a-half ago for Release the Panic, we obviously had those things in mind. Six months into the release of the third record, Until We Have Faces, we started writing for the fourth record. So, all that to say, it was all fresh in our minds. So going into this next process we asked ourselves, “How do we continue this story of what we consider to be the machine?” And, “Release the Panic” became that, because now the machine is the Accedia Corporation. It’s got a face. It’s got a name. It is an entity of it’s own. We like creating that suspension of reality. That’s what a movie is. It’s fiction, but it’s not fiction. You know, there are things that happen in movies that are real life. It’s like, “Ok, so how do we create that? And what song is going to have the aggressive impact that we want it to?”
You know, our mainstream single right now is called “Perfect Life,” but that’s not really a song we’d use to do a sequel to a song that’s as aggressive as “Feed the Machine.” So we knew we definitely had to go with the title track. We made the movie with Chris. Chris is a big fan of Dan. He’s actually an associate… he’s a producer out in Hollywood. He works on a show called Castle. He’s done several other shows. He’s worked on Indiana Jones and different movies. So the guys knows the industry well and knows how to put together a lot of things as far as any sort of video is concerned. So we teamed up with him and gave him what we wanted to do… the imagery we needed to try to capture, and he did a fabulous job. So, we basically called it the sequel. This is the continuation of the story. And, I don’t even think we’re done. I think we’re going to continue to do something else. How do we move on and make it a trilogy?
Lee: That was going to be my next question, I was curious if it was going to continue…
Anthony: I think so, man. I think each one of our records, whether people know it or not… it boils down to interviews and stuff like that for the knowledge to get out there… but each one of our records sort of spills into the next as far as theme and what we’re going for. This record is no different. I think that the next record cycle, you know in about six to eight months, we’ll start writing for record five. Because it’s a long process and obviously this record is fresh on our minds now. So we’ll go into this next record and hopefully be able to create The Dark Knight… the third installment.
Lee: Let’s talk a little bit about your tours. You’ve got Winter Jam coming up, are you guys excited to be back on that?
Anthony: We’re on it right now. We’re in the seventh weekend. We’re in Knoxville today on the UT campus. It’s amazing. It’s pretty cool to be on the tour and be in front of thousands of people while releasing a record. It gives them a chance to see the songs live and come to life.
Lee: Aside from Winter Jam, can you talk about what tours are coming up beyond that, yet?
Anthony: Yeah, yeah. Things happen six to eight months out. We just teemed up with a new manager and new management. There are obviously tours that we’re up for. We’re not allowed to speculate yet about what’s on the table. We’re going to take about ten days off at the end of March when Winter Jam ends. Then we’re going to do a headlining run in support of the new record. We’ll probably go out with a four or five band package and do some big clubs. After that… that kind of leads us into the beginning of summer and stuff for a big Spring.
Lee: You’ve toured with a ton of bands from the P.O.D. crowds to the secular artists and bigger tours, are there any particular artists that you’d love to tour with if you had your choice?
Anthony: Yeah, I think some of the bands that we’re actually talking with now in order to tour with are definitely bands we’re interested in being around. What we always look for is that it’s just going to be a great show from start to finish. Even the youngest band that buys onto the tour, you know the opening act, what are they going to bring? Is it going to be a cool night for people to come and spend fifteen to twenty bucks? People want to know that what they’re spending their money on, that they’re going to get something out of it. That’s something we take pretty seriously. So, we would hope that anybody we tour with does that.
There are definitely bands we’d love to tour with. Right now we’re talking to 30 Seconds to Mars. We’re talking to Foo Fighters. We’re talking to… man, if we could tour with Muse, we’d be over the moon. That would be amazing. Big fans of those guys. Bands like that. Good rock bands that have sort of stretched their mold, so to speak.
Lee: I have just a couple reader selected questions. The first one was, “Where do you see Red going from here?”
Anthony: That’s a pretty broad question. Hopefully, Red continues on and upward. To continually grow. The first week of this record release is bigger than the last one, and bigger than the first two. The band continues to grow. We get to see many more faces. We’re overseas for the first time ever this year… this past year. We did a show over in Europe and we were selling out shows while headlining. So, it’s pretty incredible to see that our music is reaching across oceans and giving us the chance to continue to do what we love to do, and that’s make music. Hopefully we’re going onward and upward. I think musically we’re charting new territory, but also continuing to make sure that we’re true to ourselves, for sure.
Lee: “The liner notes list Hunter Lamb as writer for the song ‘Damage,’ what part did he play in the writing process?”
Anthony: The riff in the verse… it’s kind of buried… it wasn’t really a marquee part of the song… he’s a good friend. He’s kind of like Jasen. Jasen will come in and write a pre-chorus, or a line in the chorus. So, that’s kind of what happened. In Nashville, when you break down writers on a song, there’s almost a technical aspect to it. If a guy writes literally five words in a chorus, you have to list him as a writer. Like Hunter for instance; He’s my guitar tech. I’ll be in the back lounge or in the studio, he walks in and points to something and is like, “dude, I love that. What about this?” He played for Paramore for a while, so he’s obviously a player and so he sat down and I was working on the verse part and he was like, “Instead of doing this… we should do this…” And, he couldn’t even play it. It was funny. He was like, “I can’t play it, but try it.” So, I tried it and I liked it. So we gave him… you know he was pretty adamant… and was like, “I’d love to write with you guys.” And, we were like, “Yeah, dude. It’s obviously got to be a good chemistry and work well.” And certainly on that song it did for us. He became a writer on that song.
Lee: “How did you land on Release the Panic as the album’s title? It seems as though the original title “Glass House” would have been more fitting with the artwork.
Anthony: I think early on we wanted to call the record “Glass House.” But, it’s really funny, about a year and a half ago… that was one of the first demos we finished… and we were like, “What if we called the record “The Glass House?” We’re a very visual band and we wanted to create a visual. I think even with our live show… it’s a very theatrical environment. So we were like, “how do we create this environment?” Our entire stage looks like this gigantic glass house. Everybody talks about how you can’t throw stones and everybody can see in. That’s kind of the whole point, the transparency of that. Think about how relevant that is to our belief system. Even with music makers, everybody can see in and say what they want to say. But on the inside of that glass house, there are so many more things that people can’t see… inside people’s hearts and minds. And so we thought that would be perfect for the record. But, then this reality TV show came out called The Glass House. So we were like, “No. We can’t do that. We can’t call the record “The Glass House” for that reason.” People would automatically assume we called it that because of the show.
So we had to ask ourselves what else was relevant about what we’re doing in the songs. Ultimately, it’s about confusion and chaos and what’s going on out there. Release the Panic is basically talking about forgetting about the panic. Not making things so difficult and scaring ourselves into thinking that things are worse than they are. Especially as believers, we’re charged with not being panicked. We’re not supposed to worry. We’re not supposed to, because then that battle has already been won. It’s an interesting twist.
Lee: “Your last album had some Bible verses to go along with finding your identity in Christ, letting go of personal pain and suffering. Are there any verses that speak specifically to you conceding the overarching theme of the record?
Anthony: There’s a couple. I think that what I just mentioned about the worrying thing… do not worry… basically, calling it a sin to be worried. As believers, it’s a sin to be worried. It comes out of Deuteronomy. I can’t remember the verse, exactly. But, there’s one I always refer to, it’s Isaiah 1:18. It’s kind of cool, because it sort of relates to the band… it says, “Although our sins are crimson, I will make them white as snow.” So, it’s about that redemption. All the damage we do… it’s about repair. It’s not about the damage we do, it’s what we do to repair that damage. Ultimately how God repairs it if we ask Him to.
Lee: My silly question that I always end with; Who is better, Batman or Superman?
Anthony: Batman, all the way. He doesn’t have super powers. He makes it happen without super powers. Just lots of money. Anybody can be super if they have super powers, but he doesn’t have any special laser beams in his eyes, or the ability to fly. He’s a human like all of us. He just has the toys, you know?
Lee: You know it’s funny, I’ve asked that question to… I don’t know how many bands… and out of all of them, Brian… “Head” from Love and Death has been the only one to say Superman, but… you know, with his personality, he was like, “Dude, everybody is gonna say Superman. Who doesn’t want to fly?”
Anthony: I’m going to call him once I get off the phone with you and be like, “Dude, Superman? Really? You’ve got him wearing underwear and wearing red an blue, when Batman’s black and mysterious and scary.”