August Burns Red
Published: December 2013
By Michael Yoder
In the surface, J.B. Brubaker leads a fairly simple life at his home outside of Manheim in Lancaster County.
He enjoys going to local restaurants with his new fiance, Katelyn. He's an avid baseball card collector with a soft spot for Cliff Lee cards. He Tweets several times a day about everything from Philadelphia Eagles football to his mother's apple dumplings.
But there's one thing that separates the 29-year-old from most others around him: his ability to shred the hell out of an Ibanez guitar. Brubaker is the co-founder and guitarist of progressive metal band August Burns Red. Over the course of a decade, ABR has moved from performing at small D.I.Y. shows in Lancaster to playing some of the biggest stages around the world, including the main stage of this year's Warped Tour. And the band's June release, Rescue & Restore, debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
Brubaker and his bandmates - vocalist Jake Luhrs, guitarist Brent Rambler, bassist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner - are currently on the road in support of Rescue & Restore, which has garnered critical praise for melding world music sounds into a genre more commonly known for heavy guitars and screaming (which Brubaker has spoken out against in past years as limiting bands artistically). Rescue & Restore was ABR's first full-length album made locally - recorded in March at Atrium Audio on North Prince Street in Lancaster - after recording four other full-lengths around the country. Even though ABR maintains a large national and international fanbase (1.5 million fans on Facebook alone), the band has remained true to its local roots. They still practice in Greiner's garage in Lititz, and when they're not on the road, Brubaker can be spotted going to shows at the Chameleon Club.
ABR returns to headline its semi-annual Christmas show in Lancaster this month. We caught up with Brubaker, who spoke to us from a music venue's parking lot just outside of St. Louis, surrounded by strip clubs and an off-track wagering parlor.
Fly Magazine: What has been more surprising - the critical response to Rescue & Restore, or debuting so high on the Billboard charts?
J.B. Brubaker: I've been more surprised by the reception it's gotten than the sales. What's surprising about the sales is that we debuted higher on Billboard than we ever have, but we sold fewer units than we did with our previous record. We sold 26,000 albums the first week, which was good enough for No. 9 on the Billboard Top 200. That's pretty pathetic, because if you debuted at No. 9 like 10 years ago, you would have sold 300,000 albums. That's just the sign of the times.
FM: How about the response to the album from your fans?
JBB: A lot of people seem to be saying it's our best record since Messengers in 2007, which has been the fan favorite and the album that put us on the map as far as being a band people actually care about. We did the Warped Tour this summer, and we only played two new songs since the album had just come out. The new songs got a good response, but it was nothing like the response we're getting now that people have had time to digest the record and know the songs.
FM: What was it like recording Rescue & Restore in Lancaster?
JBB: We went in at 10 in the morning and went home at 6 p.m. We got to sleep in our own beds. We treated it like a job, which we've never done before. For our previous albums, we traveled to Florida or Nashville. Now that we're getting a little older, it's nice to be able to stay at home. If we're not touring, we don't want to be traveling. In the past it was like, "OK, we're home from touring, but we need to go down to Orlando for five weeks and do the album." But it was cool this time because we got to go home every night and kept it local.
FM: What initially drew you to playing guitar?
JBB: It wasn't necessarily the instrument in particular. I just really got into live music and immersed myself in punk rock as a high schooler. Going to shows was my favorite activity, and my friends and I would do it all the time. I never necessarily thought I would be the dude on stage, but after I graduated high school, I bought a guitar as a graduation present for myself. It certainly wasn't something I was good at immediately. It took a long time. Some of our friends started doing bands, and it was kind of the trendy thing to do. That's how we started. We were like, "Yeah, let's try to play songs together." Things just kind of spiraled from there. That's about the most cliché start-up of a band possible [laughs]. We even started playing in a garage.
FM: So you're a musician who actually enjoys going to shows?
JBB: I love going to shows, and I think it's really important to go to shows if you're touring and playing a lot because it helps you to remember how it feels to be in the audience and not to sweat the small stuff on stage. For instance, I went and saw the Arcade Fire play a few years ago at the Mann Center. They started a song, screwed up the timing, stopped and had to restart the song. No one cared. Everyone was just happy to be watching them play their songs. If that had happened to us, it would have ruined our night. It helps you to think about the big picture and not necessarily that I flubbed a solo or I was a little off time here or there.
FM: You've been outspoken in the past about the metal genre. Have your opinions softened?
JBB: At this point in my life, metal has become pretty stale and generic. I like the incorporation of other genres. It breathes a little bit of life in to the genre for me. It's something we've been trying to do on our later albums - deviate a little bit from the norm and the typical rules of metal. We want to keep it interesting for ourselves and hopefully the people who listen to it.
FM: You're performing as part of your annual Christmas show in Lancaster. Do you have an all-time favorite Christmas present?
JBB: So many years and so many presents to choose from [laughs]. Last year I got this one-of-one Cliff Lee baseball card from my parents that I really wanted, but I wouldn't pull the trigger on eBay. It was way overpriced. I noticed one day it was no longer listed, and I was so bummed because I wanted to collect each color of the card - total nerd talk [laughs]. Six weeks later, there's this big box on Christmas. I'm opening it, and there's a smaller box inside and another smaller box inside. The last box had this baseball card, and I was so stoked.