Red is a Christian Rock band that has ascended into the mainstream alongside Rock acts like Papa Roach and Korn. The band members let their faith creep into their music and their message, but do not let it define them. Earlier this year Red released its fourth studio album, Release the Panic. The album debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart, showing their strength as a national act (Red's previous release, Until We Have Faces, debuted at No. 2 in 2011).
CityBeat recently caught up with Anthony Armstrong, the band’s guitar player, who spoke about the band’s inspirations and vision for the future of Rock music. Red is playing on Friday at King’s Island in Cincinnati for Spirit Song 2013, which runs Thursday-Saturday and features some of the biggest names in Contemporary Christian music.
CityBeat: I saw you guys at (Columbus, Ohio, Hard Rock fest) Rock on the Range. What was your favorite Rock on the Range moment this year?
Anthony Armstrong: That’s a tough one. You know what is really sad, our good buddies Sevendust played right before us and we didn’t get to see their set so I was really disappointed. Papa Roach put on an incredible show every single time they take the stage, so I would say they are up there as one of the best. It was cool to see Bush. That was really cool to feel like I was in high school and to see those guys doing their thing. When they started playing “Come Down” I felt like I was right there back watching. There was an old movie from the ‘90s called Fear with Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg, and I think Bush was the entire soundtrack to that movie. I just felt like I was back in the ‘90s and high school listening to Bush records. It was cool.
CB: You guys play Christian music and are a Christian band. Is it ever hard to be on tour or at these festivals in this non-Christian atmosphere?
AA: It’s never for us. I think media outlets and sources, even in interviews like this, people are so curious about that. They ask the question because they want to understand and know the answer to how we deal with that. For us, we don’t see it any different than if we are playing a Christian show. We are all just people in general. You are going to see crazy stuff happen at those shows too. We like to hangout and we like to have a good time. We don’t get too out of control. We hang out with all these guys. We love these guys and they love us. We just show them we aren’t any different than them because we love God and we believe in God. We don’t feel like it should be something that draws a line or creates a wall that we can’t get past. It is just what we believe. There are plenty of guys up on those stages in all the different bands that believe different stuff. I say come see one of our shows. We are going to do exactly what those bands do just as good if not better. We aim high and we really try not to focus on that kind of stuff. It just complicates things. We are just a Rock band.
CB: I have seen you tour three times over the years and you never look any different or sound any different than the other bands. It is just a different message through the words.
AA: Yeah, that’s the thing with the message. We are not going in there with some sort of agenda. We are not going into these shows with some sort of recruiting mentality. We are just going to play some Rock songs. Wherever these songs reach, wherever they are in their life, if these songs inspire them, then we did our job. That’s all we care about doing. We’ve done many of the things people standing in the crowd are doing. We know they don’t work out for us. We know they are bad for us. We know the one thing that works for us is our faith. A lot of people want to hold you over the coals for it because they think it’s lame; they think it’s cheesy and you are not hardcore if you believe in God. I know more crazy, jacked-up people that believe in God than I know that don’t believe in God. We are the ones that are here because we need God because we can’t get out of our own way. A lot of the guys that turn to God and live that lifestyle were at that point. Brian (“Head” Welch) from Korn is a perfect example of that. The guy was literally on his death bed constantly getting high. He reached out and said, “If you are real I want to know. I want you to show it to me.” And God did that for him. That was just a cool story for him to hear.
CB: I know you tour a lot over the years. Do you take time out to write as a band or do you write when you are on the road?
AA: We write so much it’s ridiculous. It’s a love-hate relationship. It takes more love than anything. It’s really cool. We just released a record. We probably won’t really start diving into writing until about January or February of 2014. We usually put records out about every two and a half years. That’s about the time you start digging into the new stuff. You take this first part of a new record release to key in on the new songs and translate and see how everything goes, start paying attention to what is going on in the world. You start collecting the inspiration you need to write another record. That’s one of the things we’ve always focused on.
CB: One of my favorite songs that you guys have was your first single, “Perfect Life” — could you tell me the story behind that song?
AA: Yeah, we were out in L.A. with our new producer, we had never used him before, his name was Howard Benson. We had three records with the same guy that we still love. We will probably do another record with Rob Graves. It was just a transition for us. We wanted to try something new. We were out there in the Hollywood hills hanging out at Howard’s huge house. You could probably fit our tour bus in there three times. We were hanging out on his back patio talking about the record and what we were about to do. He said, “Check this out guys,” and we look out and there is Kim Kardashian in the compound in front of us. We started talking about that TV show and that transitioned into what it is really like out in Hollywood and what the media projects as what life really is on the Jersey Shore and all this other stuff. What life is all about when you can have these things and be this glamorous and have this lifestyle. This is the perfect life. This is what you want. This is what you can attain. We were like, “This is complete bull. You can be happy no matter what you are doing” It’s about chasing down the things people think are important. The perfect life is projected to us in a certain way. For us we are saying, find out for yourself. What is the perfect life for you? It shouldn’t be what other people do. It should be what you do.
CB: Is it hard being on the road with your brother?
AA: No, it’s not. It’s amazing. It’s really cool because in a band, when you have a band of four individuals, when you have a fight or an argument it gets pretty awkward. Randy and I are like the unofficial leaders of Red. We take care of everything from the administration to the music. I am really involved with the writing side of things. Randy is really involved in managing our affairs. When something goes down, Randy and I can usually sort it out between the two of us. We will discuss things together as a band and a group of guys. Ultimately, Randy and I can bounce things off each other and get a little heated but the guys just know we are brothers and that’s the way brothers are. We have been competitive towards each other our whole lives and now we are in a rock band together. We have never been separated. We have always been together. We went to college together. We roomed together for four years. We might as well have dated the same girls. It was just wild. I love the dynamic. They say never mix business with family, and I haven’t really experienced it being a bad thing with me and Randy being in the band together.
CB: I hear also that you cause the occasional accident over the years on stage. Any new accidents lately? I am personally surprised Michael doesn’t hurt himself more jumping around the way he does.
AA: We are more afraid of the fire now. We are pretty scared of getting burned. We have had a couple near accidents. If you get too close to the flames, it singes all the hair off your arms. Nothing has been like it used to be with injuries. I hit Michael in the head twice, sent him to the hospital once. I opened his eye and had seven staples in his head with my guitar. My brother has hit me in the face with his bass guitar and cut my eye wide open. Rock & Roll.
CB: What is your favorite guitar to play?
AA: I have a custom 24 PRS that I named Vegas after my Bulldog. It was my first PRS guitar they made for me and only me. I have a love affair with that guitar.
CB: A lot of people right now are saying that Rock is dead and Rock music is dying, that Country is the new thing selling out the stadium, it’s the new Rock. Do you believe that?
AA: I don’t believe it because when I went to Rock on the Range and I saw it is alive and well. I don’t believe that Rock & Roll has its act together. We live in Nashville, Tenn. We see the CMA Awards and the CMT Awards. You see how it is such a different animal. It would be really cool to see Rock get its act together and have that sort of Rock N Roll Awards. The MTV Awards used to be about Rock. We don’t have anything specific to us. We don’t have anything specific to Rock Music in general. It’s the Grammys or we are part of something. I would love to see that sort of thing happen. Other than that, I don’t think in a million years the world would be livable without Rock N Roll. It’s something in Rock music makes you feel. It gets you fired up and people love that feeling. It’s like drugs.
CB: What current music is inspiring you guys or you personally?
AA: There is such great music right now. In Rock N Roll right now, I’d say, we are big Muse fans. We have always been huge Sevendust fans. When we first moved here, I think I had to buy their record three times because I listened to it over and over and over. We are inspired by not just the music. We get out on the road with these guys and see what kind of guys they are. They work their tails off. We are all scratching for our place and hoping things just work out and it is just cool to see other bands doing things we do.
CB: I am sure you guys are going to have a great set here in Cincinnati at Kings Island.
AA: They won’t let us use fire this weekend.
CB: I have seen your show with fire and without fire and it is always good.
AA: We consider it icing on the cake, another cool thing. We want to be able to stand alone without it. When we can use it, we use a lot of it. What is funny, Rock on the Range, this summer when we play festivals, we do 28 points of flames, 28 different nozzles of fire. It’s just fire but it is so much fun. It is such a cool thing.
CB: After that show, are you going back on tour this summer?
AA: Yeah. Right now, the summer is chalked full of festivals. We will play festival dates and it is really cool for us because we play the big late night stages where we can do the pyro and stuff. After that we will get into the fall and have a couple tour options but we are not allowed to talk about the yet because they haven’t been announced. We are going overseas. We are going to Europe for three weeks right before Thanksgiving. We have some stuff happening.