August Burns Red’s Jake Luhrs: ‘Just Being Human and Being Real’ Draws Both Secular + Spiritual Audiences [Interview]
August Burns Red's Jake Luhrs was the latest guest to appear on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. The band is wrapping up 2017 on a high note with their Phantom Anthem disc, and the singer chatted with Jackie about appealing to both secular and spiritual audiences, the challenges and details of writing for their new disc and his excitement to be back touring in support of a new album. Check out the chat below.
Let's talk about the new album, Phantom Anthem. It's your fifth album to go No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums Chart. Congratulations on that, by the way.
Yes, thank you very much.
What's the biggest challenge in making music to appeal to both secular and spiritual audiences?
I don’t know. I don't think that we see much of a challenge. I think the reason why we’re received in both secular and spiritual groups is the simple fact that we’re just genuine and I think just very transparent. We’ve never really been a band to preach the gospel or saturate our lyrics with Jesus or strict biblical verses or anything like that. Some of the Christian bands like hardcore bands that I know, like the band For Today. I don't know if you are familiar with them or not. It’s more so, for us I think, it’s writing out our personal life experiences and telling our stories. But, with whoever is writing, if it’s like our morals or our Christian morals and values, things like that, I think it’s honestly just being human and being real in our lyrical content that draws both groups to really appreciate what we do.
August Burns Red have released eight studio albums plus two live albums and two EPs. How did being so established allow you to take chances musically and lyrically with Phantom Anthem?
It’s tough. We’ve been around for a long time. I think for us, when we wrote this record, we just wanted to write something that felt like it was a mature step for August Burns Red, and something that was a little more darker and aggressive, kind of implementing our old roots. And so, I don't know that there was a challenge because when we write an album. We never really think to ourselves what we really need to do on this record. It’s always a natural progression for us. And so, we try not to think of trends or what direction the music scene is going, but more of what’s the direction of August Burns Red? What are we doing? So we were hoping off this record, that just our fan base that has grown with us throughout the years would appreciate the efforts that we put in writing this record. But, the great thing about this album and what I am thankful for is the fact that it’s actually been received by critics and everyone else in a very positive manner. So, we’ve actually kind of spread our music to making new fans and earning respect from critics and things like that from this album. So, it actually came out to be something much greater than we had initially thought.
Jake, when you write how much do you consider the instrumental aspect of a song and what do you do so your lyrics convey the spirit and attitude of the music?
I’ll try to shorten this for you because that’s a big process of how I apply the lyrical content to a song, depending on the feeling and emotion the song has. People who are fans of August Burns Red know that a lot of times, we’ll convey a lot of different feelings within a song. Rarely songs continuously have one type of feeling. So, my job is to be a storyteller and to get the story conveyed in a way that the listener can really feel the passion and the feeling behind what I am saying. So, that process takes a lot of time and effort.
A lot of editing goes through with the lyrical content -- me spending time with the instrumental version of a song in depth, just writing out the feelings that I feel as I listen to a part and then looking through the lyrics that we - and we submit maybe about 30 to 40 lyrics per record. So, I have to go through all of these lyrics and kind of see which ones we all agree are the best and then how to take that lyric into a song. And so, there’s time when maybe in the middle of that lyric, it doesn't convey the same passion or feeling as that time that it would be placed in the song. So, sometimes we have to rewrite that. Sometimes there’s words that just don't sound good to be screamed. Maybe if there is a singing part coming up, you really have to make sure that you are using the right words and that they convey the right tone or feeling to the part to make them actually be conveyed properly. So it's a long process but after doing this for so long you understand the importance of it.
"The Phantom Anthem" tour starts early in 2018. After all the miles you've been on the road, what makes you eager to tour now, especially with this new album to support?
We come out with a record every two years and so obviously when the record comes out you're so happy because there's new material to play. I've played the song "Composure" I don’t know how many times. So when you get new material it's always an exciting thing and the process of rehearsal leading up to these shows - and then it's always fun too, because with that song you get to see the crowd receive it and if its a live song or not. You get to see your fans singing back to you and really sharing stories after the shows.
One of the great things I enjoy personally is just hearing how a song has impacted somebody's life or made them think about something or changed the course or direction that they're going. Or maybe it just encourages them in a moment where they're just feeling down and out. But then also just seeing people sing these lyrics and we get to share that. So, after years of touring and being on the road, I think the passion and intimacy that the musicians share from the stage with the fans in the crowd, that's something you can't find anywhere else. I've never felt that feeling in anything other than at a show. So, I think ultimately yeah it's great that we've got the new record and we've got new songs to play - that's fun and exciting. But the passion and intimacy there just is what I think draws me to the desire to play shows.
The title of the new album, Phantom Anthem, refers to people being something other than what they seem. What side of Jake Luhrs isn't so obvious to most people?
[laughs] I'm not sure. I guess if people just know me from Jake Luhrs, the frontman of August Burns Red. I mean, onstage I can seem pretty aggressive and maybe angry, but it's literally just passion bleeding out onstage. I'm just a goofy guy and I like things to be - I guess overall lighthearted. But then there's also a nonprofit that I started April 18 of 2010 called Heart Support. That's for people who struggle with self-harm, addiction, depression, sexual assault and things like that. I've got a team with me that really does that so a lot of people may not know that I really want to spread the awareness of love, healing and encouragement to people. I think that's important. Being a frontman is my job and it's my passion and dream but there's also another side of me where it's like, hey you know, I really desire change in the world and to spread unconditional love and encouragement. That's maybe something people wouldn't know.
Thanks to August Burns Red's Jake Luhrs for the interview. The 'Phantom Anthem' album is out now and available via Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay. You can look for the band on tour at these locations. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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