“We don’t want to follow the genre; we want to lead the genre.”
August Burns Red frontman Jake Luhrs delivers the concise mission statement halfway through our phone call, enjoying a rare moment of relative downtime before his life becomes a whirlwind yet again. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, metalcore quintet is at home right now, rehearsing for a North American headlining tour that kicks off in January. They’ll be showcasing songs off their blistering new album, Phantom Anthem, whose first single, “Invisible Enemy,” just earned the band their second Grammy nomination for best metal performance.
For more than a decade, August Burns Red’s technical, hook-filled metalcore has proven an antidote for a genre cluttered with uninspired riffs and boneheaded breakdowns. Phantom Anthem is their most dizzying effort yet, an onslaught of relentless guitar solos and pulverizing drums anchored by Luhrs’ blood vessel-popping vocals. Their latest Grammy nod serves to validate not only the band, but extreme metal in general as a viable mainstream entity.
Needless to say, Luhrs and his bandmates are thrilled to revisit the Grammys next month. But this time, they hope to make a few changes — namely, not getting stuck in an elevator on their way to the red carpet. Luhrs recapped the heart-wrenching incident on the phone and discussed why “Invisible Enemy” resonates so deeply with him.
First of all, congratulations on the Grammy nomination! That’s incredible.
It really is, and I don’t really have words to express how I feel about it, because the first time a couple years back was mind-blowing and obviously extremely humbling. But then, to be nominated again, we didn’t think that would ever be in the cards. I think what I really am excited about is the fact that the Grammys are recognizing our style and our genre of metal. ‘Cause there’s so many great and talented bands that are in our genre of music, that I’m just excited that everybody’s starting to become recognized. So to be one of those bands — I keep telling my friends, it’s like the equivalent of being in the NFL and going to the Super Bowl. This is our Super Bowl. So it’s kind of cool to think about it that way, and just to be appreciated for the music and all that we’ve done with our career.
Where were you when you heard the news?
[Laughs] This is borderline embarrassing how I found out. I was going to the studio to do some tracking for this other project that we’ve got going on, and I went in and I’m like, “Hey man, do you have coffee? I need to go grab some coffee.” So I grabbed some coffee and I was like, “Alright, I’m gonna go use the restroom real quick.” And so I’m sitting on the pot, on the toilet, and my producer yells at me. He’s like, “Jake!” I’m like “What’s up dude?” He’s like, “Congratulations!” And I’m like, “For what?” And he’s like, “You just got nominated for a Grammy!” And I was like, “What?” He’s like, “Yeah, dude! We did it! Again!” So I’m literally just having a blast on the toilet, hearing that I just got nominated for a Grammy again. And then, I guess maybe 45 minutes later, everybody just started texting me. Fearless Records, our record label, gave me a big congrats. So it was really cool to hear that again, that we’re going round two.
It sounds like getting nominated a second time didn’t dull the impact at all.
Oh, yeah. I mean, like I said, it’s the biggest honor that a musician can get. You know what I mean? In my eyes, anyway, because it’s the world of music telling you that you’re appreciated and that you’re respected. That’s a pretty amazing thing. So no, it definitely did not dull at all by any means. It’s just a big honor.
You guys have been steadily growing your fan base with every album for nearly 15 years. How does it feel to know mainstream audiences are starting to accept such a heavy, fringe genre of music?
All of it’s great. When we wrote this record, Phantom Anthem, none of us were like, “Yeah man, we gotta write a record or a song to get nominated for a Grammy or to break the underground scene,” or anything like that. And to be honest, I think we weren’t even thinking about attracting new fans. I think we were just like, “Hey, let’s just write a killer record that we really love, and let’s hope that our fans that we have now stick around.” And surprisingly enough, it definitely opened new doors to new fans and a new fan base, a new demographic that we haven’t really tapped into yet. And to get the head nod from, I guess you’d say the next level up, the bigger scene, just feels really good.
What makes “Invisible Enemy” special to you?
Well, it’s really heavy. [Laughs] Personally, I’m the guy in the band that just loves breakdowns, and I just love aggressive songs. Initially, when [guitarist] JB [Brubaker] had written that song, I was like, “Yeah dude, for sure. I’m gonna tear this one up. This is my kind of vibe.” There’s a part in the middle of the song where I scream, and I think it’s like 16 seconds long or something like that. And I call it the “Wolverine scream,” because in the lyric, we’re talking about being surrounded by pain. So I really wanted to convey that, you know? That this is really hurting and it’s making me frustrated and it’s painful. It’s a painful scream.
So I sat there in the studio, and I must have been in there for half an hour, just working on this one scream… I would think of my own pain, like things I had been going through or things that I had just experienced, to get me to a place of feeling that. But then I thought to myself, “How do I envision this scream coming out of me?” And the thing that came to me was Wolverine. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any Wolverine movies or were a fan of him when you were younger, but when he gets angry, he kind of growls a little bit, and then his scream comes out. So I was trying to mimic that and really be pissed off, you know what I mean? So the combination of thinking about the way he would scream and how crazy scary the sound is, and my thoughts of pain and suffering in my life, I just kind of went for it and finally got a really, really good take.
Tell me a bit about the elevator debacle from your first Grammy trip.
We’re about to leave to go to the red carpet. And some people took the stairs ‘cause we couldn’t fit everybody in the elevator. But [my friend] Isaac and I, and his wife, we’re in the elevator, and we’ve probably got 10 people stuffed in this thing. I hit the first floor button, it shuts, and then it starts to go — and then it just stops. It started making this buzzing sound like it was trying to push itself down but couldn’t, and then it would lock up and stop and it would shake really bad.
I cracked open the elevator door, and I’m just holding it so people can get some air, because it’s starting to get stuffy in there. It’s hot; everybody’s sweating. And finally we yelled at [guitarist] Brent [Rambler] — I think it was Brent — and said, “Hey, we’re stuck in this elevator!” So he ran downstairs and called the fire department.
Finally the fire department shows up. They open the doors for us, we get out, we take the stairs down, and then we just realized that we’d been in that elevator for, I don’t know, a good 20 minutes, 30 minutes? And we have to go to the red carpet and we’re running late. So everybody’s like “What are we gonna do? Do we get an Uber?” And I was like, “Dude, there’s firefighters here.”
I was like, “I know this is ridiculous, man, but we’ve got to go to the red carpet and we’re late. Is there any way that you’ll give us a ride?” And he was like, “August Burns Red’s the name? Well, we’re a fire department, of course we’re gonna give you a ride. Yeah, we’ll totally do that.” And I was like, “This is awesome!” And literally — my adult dream of being nominated for a Grammy, I’m experiencing that right now, right? But the little kid in me wanting to be on a fire truck — are you kidding me? Dude, I was so stoked.
I jumped in that truck. He gave me a little headset. I’m talking to the firefighters in the front on this headset, and there’s these barriers on the road, so they’re just turning the sirens on and blew their horn, and everybody’s moving the barricades out of the road and they’re passing through everybody. And then we showed up to the red carpet and they just let us out. I was like, “Dude. That’s super cool. L.A. Fire Department took August Burns Red to the Grammys.”