The record, which arrives April 3 via Fearless Records, sees the five-piece bringing a heavier approach than they’ve ever achieved before while they push further into collaborating within the band.
Guitarist John Benjamin “JB” Brubaker explains they changed their way of writing songs resulting in a much stronger, concise record. Since becoming a father, Brubaker, who was the primary songwriter, hadn’t had nearly as much time to contribute to writing. This started their push for members increasingly collaborating together and working as a unit.
“I was delivering full songs and full albums for the band when I was in that phase. Since having a kid, I’ve had to recalibrate how I spend my time because I want to be a good father and be there for my family,” Brubaker says. “Our bassist Dustin [Davidson] is a fabulous guitar player and songwriter, and he’s been contributing a couple of songs here and there over the past few records, and with this album, he fortunately has been really stepping up at a time when I was stepping back as far as how much I was able to contribute to the writing process.”
Beyond the instrumental writing for Guardians, Brubaker says the lyrics for the album also became a team effort. Rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler and drummer Matt Greiner were lending a hand with lyrics all throughout their entire recording process. This new level of collaboration comes from working together for nearly two decades and learning how to approach each other.
“I think after being in the band together for so many years, we have an understanding and appreciation for each other’s opinions, whereas in the past, we may have taken offense to getting critical feedback on a part if we said we think something could be better,” he says. “Now, after just being in a band together for so many years, we have gotten so much better at taking that criticism and using it positively to make our songs better without taking shots at our individual egos.”
One of the most notable differences with ABR’s Guardians when compared to previous albums is that the songs are considerably heavier than before. The guitarist ended up accomplishing this through two major changes. They spent more time in the studio and ended up focusing on writing more simple songs.
“Instead of having a dozen different parts in a song, maybe I would have six different parts to keep things a little more concise and easier for someone to understand without having to listen to the song 10 times,” Brubaker says. “It takes a lot of listens before it clicks sometimes. I wanted to simplify the music a little bit with this record.”
August Burns Red split the recording of Guardians into two sessions with months in between. This is something the band have never had the luxury of doing before, and in the time between these sessions, vocalist Jake Luhrs mentioned that he felt the tracks weren’t quite heavy enough. This lit a fire in Brubaker and Davidson to step their game up and focus on delivering something hard-hitting.
“With eight songs done, the guys started listening to them, and Jake told me on tour that he thought the songs were great but that the record wasn’t as heavy as the last few have been,” Brubaker explains. “I remember thinking the songs were pretty heavy but [realized] I needed to focus on delivering some heavy material for the next session. Dustin and I sought out to write some heavy songs. We wanted to make sure we were filling that vacancy that Jake seemed to think was there.”
Despite the music taking a heavier direction, ABR have remained positive in the message they deliver to fans. Guardians focuses on a loose theme of people being there for one another when they need help, and their positivity shines through in the lyrics.
“That’s what we’ve always been as a band,” Brubaker stresses. “We want to have that light in the dark as far as being in a dark heavy music scene. We love the music, but we don’t always love the message of every band. We’ve always wanted to bring a positive message when we do our music. Our singer Jake runs a nonprofit called HeartSupport, which is all about bringing attention to people who are struggling with addictions or abuse and mental health problems. For that reason, I think keeping things positive and helpful and supportive is something that’s important for Jake since he’s singing those words.”
Splitting the recording process allowed the band to see holes in their songwriting that they may have never noticed initially. One particular example Brubaker notes is “Bones,” which originally featured a clean instrumental interlude that they saw was unnecessary, and they were able to bring it up to snuff with the rest of the heavy material they aimed to achieve.
“Usually we’re in the studio for a month or two at one time, and we don’t have that time away to digest the songs fully and decide what we might not like or what to change,” he explains. “Typically, a band do not have that liberty. This time, we were able to go back and make some changes to songs we had already recorded.”
The band were scheduled to hit the road with Killswitch Engage and Light The Torch, and while they were able to perform a small handful of those shows, the tour was ultimately postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They plan to reschedule these dates eventually, but since the outbreak took over, the band have been adjusting their plans.
“I have been in touch with the other guys a lot actually, and currently we are all self-quarantined and staying at home,” Brubaker says. “I think that’s the right thing to do right now and what we want other people to be doing so we can all get through this quicker. We’re supposed to be going to Europe in June for the festival circuit, and I’m really wondering if that’s actually going to happen. As things get worse, and they seem to be getting worse by the day, with no end in sight, I honestly don’t know when we’ll be back on the road. I hope we can be back out sometime in the summer, but we’re not going to be if people don’t start staying at home and listening to their local governments about COVID-19.”
Through all the chaos the world is experiencing right now, the guitarist hopes Guardians can be a positive light to give people some distraction from everything. “I hope the record can be a breath of fresh air to people who are stuck at home right now and don’t know what’s coming,” he says. “I think it can be a distraction and enjoyable because I know that we all feel pretty stuck right now, and there’s so much we don’t know about what the future holds.”
Guardians arrives April 3 via Fearless Records and is available to preorder here.