Punk Out's founder and director, Michael McCarron, had the chance to chat with August Burns Red's guitarist and song writer, Brent Rambler. McCarron and Rambler talked about the inspiration behind August Burns Red's new single, "Identity," the band's forthcoming new album, Found in Far Away Places, and about the treatment of LGBTQ fans and musicians in the alternative music scene.
Found in Far Away Places drops on June 29th via Fearless Records. You can pre-order the record here.
Interview by Michael McCarron
MM: At Punk Out we work on what we call the “three I’s,” which are: Identity, Inclusion, and Inspiration. You have a song called “Identity.” Could you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the song? What made you want to write it?
BR: Well as far as lyrics go, lyrically the song originated about just someone that we in the band know – they came out to their family after about fifteen years of knowing, and the original inspiration for the song is that it must’ve been very nerve wracking and very scary at first. But you know, when it was done and it was over with and everyone was absolutely fine and perfect with it and let it settle for a bit, that must’ve been such a great and freeing feeling. So that’s the idea for the song, and [we] kinda morphed it all into [the idea] that it’s more important to be happy in your skin and happy with who you are than pretty much anything else in life. And if you can’t go through life being comfortable with who you are no matter what then you’re gonna live a pretty miserable and unhappy life. And we just felt it was an idea that a lot of people could connect with. It turned out to be a really positive song that we’re really happy with, both lyrically how it came out and musically as well.
MM: How’s your friend doing?
BR: Great! Seemingly great. It’s not someone that I get to talk to a whole lot, but the story was kind of passed on to me and – this happens a lot. I’ll get an idea or inspiration just from something I hear if I think that it can have an impact on a lot of people and in a positive way then I take to writing about it. I’ve done that before with the people I know and stories I’ve been told. But they seem to be doing very well. Everyone around them is nothing but happy so that’s obviously a huge plus.
MM: Coming out is really hard. I know how difficult that is and I also know how important that is to have your friends around you who support you and have your back. So I can only imagine it meant the world to him. Even if he didn’t say it, I’m sure. So you write this song that’s all positive and, like you said, it has a really great message, so what do you hope that your closeted LGBTQ fans take away from this song?
BR: I hope they listen to this song and – like there was the “It Gets Better” campaign, and I just hope they look at the song and can maybe use that and think in that way. If you’re really scared to make that jump and come out to everyone, you have to realize that there are so many people in the world – it doesn’t matter who you are – that do love you and will support you no matter what. Sure, if you make a of couple people feel uncomfortable or you make a couple of people really mad or you’re really scared of how your parents are gonna take it, they still love you. And it may take a bit for some people, but obviously they’re family, (and if) they’re not gonna support you and what you want you want to do in life or the decisions you make, then maybe start surrounding yourself with some people who are. If your family isn’t there for you, I guarantee that everyone has friends who will be. So I know it might be scary but there are people around to support you.
MM: I’m a firm believer that in a lot of areas, especially a lot more secluded areas across the country, that sometimes you don’t have that person right around you who can support you, and so when we see musicians and lyricists like yourself write songs – I mean it’s kind of like you’re going, “Hey you who lives in this small town in Kansas, you may not know anybody around you but we’re here for you. August Burns Red are here for you.”
BR: There are people around who are there to help, no matter what.
MM: You guys have never really hidden the fact that you’re a Christian band, and obviously Christians are very much split on LGBTQ rights, so I wanted to know, since you have a lot of fans who are Christian, if they came to you and said, “ya know, I’m just not down with the gays,” how would you address that from a Christian perspective?
BR: For me personally I wrote a song called “Treatment,” and the big basis for that song was, well the original line was, “It’s time to stop worrying where we go when we die, and start worrying how we treat others while we’re still alive.” That is the big thing. So far, I’ve only actually had one person say anything to me about it. Like, “I don’t know if I can agree with what you’re saying in the song,” and I mean that’s great that I’ve only had one out of how many people that have heard the song... It’s been so well received lyrically. And to that one person I said, “Humans are humans and everyone should be allowed to be free and live the life they want to live.” Like, who is anyone to tell someone who they can and can’t love? I mean, the need to love and be loved is one of the basic human rights that you need to survive. And so when you sit there and you think, “Oh well, I’m a Christian, I can’t agree with that.” Well, you as a Christian first and foremost are supposed to love people – that’s the big thing. So for them to sit there and say they can’t support this or they can’t deal with this, it’s kind of unreasonable to me what two people choose to do in the privacy of their own home literally has no impact on your life whatsoever. It’s all about people who just want to be able to love each other the way everybody else gets to. And that’s what I say to people who question me about it.
MM: I think it’s awesome that you have a discussion with them because often times a lot of these barriers we can break down by just simply talking to each other – talking to people who don’t necessarily agree with us and not shutting them out. And I think a lot of times we – I mean, I’ve been with the music scene I guess for a decade now and often times you can’t even talk to somebody because a word offends them and so they won’t even listen to you. I remember being younger and somebody would say some homophobic slur, and I’d refuse to even talk to them and that’s not the right way to go. They’re the people we’re trying to convince so why would you shut them out of the conversation?
BR: Like I said, it’s a basic human right and a basic human need and at this point for me it’s just like, “Come on? Really?” Like, this is still an issue? For me it shouldn’t even be an issue.
MM: One of my favorite lyrics in the song is, “I’m standing firm / it’s who I am. You can’t keep me / you can’t keep me. I’m moving on / I’m moving free.” Are there any lyrics here that when you were writing it, were your favorite or kind of stand out?
BR: Yeah, I mean a lot of times when I write out the lyrics to a song, they come out more poetic when you read them, and then when you have to go back and, obviously when we put the words to a song they get edited quite a bit. So the part that you’re talking about, I remember the first time that our vocal producer had finished that part – I got chills. I thought, “this is so good,” and I hoped people would listen to this song and think, “Yeah, I can do what I want and I can be who I want and I can live the life that I want to and not be afraid.” I also love the line, “You can’t decide where my heart resides.” I think that’s kind of the whole gist of the song. That whole ending, I think, is a pretty powerful part.
MM: Lyrically, does this song kind of foreshadow where the record is going?
BR: No, I’d say just because the way we write lyrics pretty much involves three people. Our drummer Matt, Jake, and I write the lyrics for the band. We don’t really have themes as far as the record goes lyrically just because of that. And we do that because we are six albums deep now, so obviously if there’s one person writing the lyrics, the might end up eventually becoming a little stale and start sounding the same. So the fact that we have three people writing helps to keep things fresh. Granted, I have more on this record than I have before. It’s done by a voting process, so that’s just the luck of the draw for me. But we touch on a lot of different things on this record. We’ve written about social issues before so it’s not something new that we’re writing about, it’s just the fact that since we have that process, the lyrics that have touched on things like this before might not have gotten voted in because we felt they weren’t quality lyrics compared to something else. We have a song called “Ghost” and it’s about the homeless population and just the general ignorance and how they get swept under the rug. We touch on things like questioning what you believe in, and who you are, and we talk about family struggles on this record. So it’s definitely, lyrically, a more impactful record than we’ve had in the past, I think. People might be able to listen to a lot of these songs and think, “I can really relate to that.” That’s what I always hope for, anyway.
MM: I think one of the things that I respect most about you guys throughout your career is your willingness to kind of forward the conversation and address topics that aren’t necessarily vanilla kind of topics. You’re willing to put your neck out there and take a stand and even force people to think, which is one of the things that makes me gravitate to you guys. I was following some of the threads to the song and reading some of the comments on the forums, and it was interesting that there was a lot of talk when the song came out that it was actually about or was inspired by the death of Lela Alcorn. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that story?
BR: I am not.
MM: She was a transgender woman who died by suicide several months ago. Just the lyrical content of the song, people were relating it to her story. She wrote a note and in it she outlined a lot of the things in your song like not being able to be who she felt she was, and not being able to get the approval from other people. You mentioned the song was inspired by your friend, but I think it sort of highlights the common experience that a lot of people have.
BR: That’s what we really hope for with a song like this. It’s nice that people are comparing it to another situation as well, because that means it’s going to do what we want – which is to impact as many people as possible. When you write a positive song, you want as many people as possible to look at it and apply it to their lives, because a positive message is good no matter what. Obviously there will be tons of people who look at this song and don’t relate it to coming out, but they’ll relate it to something else, like, “I really want to do this with my life instead of this to appease my parents or to appease whoever,” or that kind of thing. We hope that all really spans across different types of people.
MM: Punk Out works mainly with LGBTQ people within our music scene. What do you have to say to your LGBTQ fans?
BR: Obviously we love all of their support and we’re here to support them as well. We love them all, and if anyone is scared with where they are in life or they are scared about coming out to their loved ones, remember that they are your loved ones and they’ll love you no matter what. Like what we talked about earlier, if you think that support is not there, it’s not a hard to find, you just have to look for it.
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