August Burns Read released their nineth album Guardians at the exact wrong time. The album recieved rave reviews and was a huge hit with fans, but by release day, April 3rd 2020, the world was already one foot into lockdown.
The band didn’t let it get them down – through 2020 and into 2021 they’ve kept busy, in particular with rerecording their 4th album Leveler for it’s ten year anniversary, but adding some spice in the form of guest vocalists, new solos and some alternative tunings.
We caught up with guitarist JB Brubaker to talk about the rerecording, how Guardians might end up a lost album, and keeping a solid lineup for 15 years.
First off, the idea to rerecord Leveler for its anniversary is inspired – who came up with that? Did anyone need to be talked around or was it something everyone jumped on?
It was an idea that came to mind towards the end of 2020. I’ll take credit for the idea, but it was certainly a team effort to execute.
We were in a unique position where we were in between labels and had the ability to record our own music and self-release, which was an exciting concept for us. This was the first time since 2004 that we had been completely independent and without a label.
We used the money from our Christmas Burns Red livestream to fund the project and dove into the track at the beginning of 2021.
I think there was a little bit of apprehension from some of the guys but ultimately we got everyone on board and make the new version of Leveler happen.
I think if Covid hadn’t shut touring down this project would have never happened. Being off the road for such a long time allowed us to dive into some projects we wouldn’t have normally had the time to do.
Going back to the gear on that record, what were you using at the time, and how do you look back to that tone now?
In 2011 I was just starting to get into midi gear.
I remember spending hours upon hours wiring up a complex rack mount midi switching pedal system. I was using an RJM Music RG16 to control all my pedals which were racked up in an enormous road case that housed two 6505+ amps and an eight space rack. It was a whole new world for me.
We had been writing more intricate parts into our music and I wanted to simplify how I was controlling my pedals live. The world of midi switching was fascinating to me and I was eager to learn.
I really took pride in how I built my guitar rig and even built a smaller “fly version” of the same set, which was honestly a big headache. (Always showed up at baggage claim in shambles!)
An example of how I was implementing this midi switching system would be that I’d have one button programmed to change my amp channel to clean while also turning on my compressor, reverb, and delay pedals. Then I’d have another button programmed to switch my amp to dirty and turn on my noise gate and overdrive pedals. It aided in removing the pedal “tap dance” routine from our live shows and let me focus on playing.
I was using an RJM Music Mastermind midi foot controller to control all my midi stuff. (I still use a version of the Mastermind live today.)
My tone on Leveler was a 6505+ amp. It has been our staple sound for a long time. That amp rules and I still love how it sounds and feels. Back then I was playing through a Mesa Boogie 4x12 recto cab, which is what we used live and also on record. I’d still use that cabinet today if I needed to run one, but we typically go DI to front of house.
As far as the rerecording, what did you use this time, and what was the thought process behind updating those guitar tones?
Originally we recorded this record with an Ibanez RG that Brent had. I forget the model but it was blue with yellow pick ups. Quite the looker!
We used a Peavey 6505+ for the rhythm tones, and I believe we used some boutique amp that Jason Suecof (our producer) had for the cleans. The name of that escapes me. I also don’t recall what we used for leads on the original recording. (Sorry!)
[EDIT: KGR reached out to Jason Suecof who confirmed the leads were recorded with a Kustom head and Tubescreamer, with a Bogner Ecstacy for cleans]
I think the original tones sounded a little fizzy by today’s standards. We wanted a clearer sound and more precise performances. The original recording was pretty rushed. We were able to take our time on the 10th Anniversary Edition.
I am confident and satisfied with all the guitar parts on the new version. That could not be said of the 2011 version.
We used a PRS Archon for the rhythm guitars on the newer version, and a Kemper patch we are keen on for the lead tones. All the cleans and crunch tones were done with my Fractal Axe Fx II XL+.
I’m pretty stoked on the PRS Archon. We’ve used that for rhythms on the Guardians Sessions EP as well. It has a really tight and clean tone, but packs a punch. Sick little amp!
Tell me about some of the tunings you guys used for the rerecording – was that based on how you’d been playing the songs live, or was that something that came out of the rerecording?
We had never played any of these songs in alternate tunings before we recorded the 10th Anniversary Edition of the record. Our thinking was that if we changed up the tunings it would make the songs sound a little different from the original recording and further update the sound.
We play in a lot of lower tunings nowadays whereas on the original version of Leveler the entire record is in Drop C. It was just a desire to freshen things up as much as possible.
The new tunings are probably a little strange for fans to hear the first time around, but once your ear adjusts to how you’re used to hearing the record, I think they take the songs to cool new places sonically speaking.
Going back to last year’s release Guardians, how does it feel now looking back at releasing a new album – and one that had such positive critical reception – right as the world closed it’s doors?
The Guardians album is a sad story. I feel like it’s an album that will never quite get the time and attention it deserved as a result of the world shutting down for such a long time.
I’m grateful fans seemed to like it! We definitely put a ton of time and effort into making that album. The thing is, by the time we’re able to get back on the road and tour the way we’re used to touring, I think we’ll probably be knee deep in new material and be ready to record our next album. It doesn’t leave a lot of time to properly tour Guardians, which is a bummer.
Still, I’m glad we could release the record during the pandemic because I know our fans appreciated hearing new music from us, even if we couldn’t take it on the road.
2021 marks 15 years for the current lineup, which in any music scene is an incredible feat. What do you think it is about the five of you that’s kep the lineup consistent for so long?
I think we’ve been able to make this line up work for so long because we’ve survived the hard times and been able to grow together.
It hasn’t always been a smooth process. The band had plenty of internal conflict along the way. Disagreements over business decisions, personal relationships, creative control, etc all effected how our relationships ebbed and flowed over the years.
We are at a point in our lives now where we’ve put the petty ego stuff behind us and we’re all focused on the same common goal of writing the best music we can and putting on the best show we can.
We’ve matured together and see that ABR as the five of us will always be bigger than any of us as individuals.
This career is a gift. That is something we all recognize and don’t take for granted. Recognizing that, along with being united on the same common goals enables us to not sweat the small annoyances of living in a confined space together on the road.
The five of us are brothers at this point. We are able to communicate with each other clearly and work together to keep the machine moving forward, and for that we are grateful.
As the world reopens, you guys have some shows coming up at the end of this year along with a UK/Euro tour at the end of next year – should we expect some new material in the interim?
We are always writing and looking towards the future. New material is in the works! I don’t see us putting out the follow up to Guardians in 2021 as our focus is on Leveler: 10th Anniversary Edition, but the creative wheels are turning. I can’t wait to see what we come up with for our next offering!