by Tracy Darlington
the end of the day we're Christians before anything. That's exactly
the reason we're doing what we're doing. We've been saved by grace,
this is what it's done for us, and we believe that it can do the
same for you."
The guys in Red got their start in the Erie, Pennsylvania area performing popular contemporary Christian music covers in local youth groups. But they quickly grew out of that phase into harder rock. Having personally dealt with tragedy, regrets, addiction, and a litany of past mistakes, Red looks real issues right between the eyes on their debut album End of Silence and refuses to blink. Their hit “Breathe Into Me” recently won a Dove Award for best Rock Recorded song.
I caught up with guitarist Anthony Armstrong on a rare day off.
Tracy: When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician?
Anthony: The first time my brother and I realized it was when we were in 9th grade, when we were 14. We were at the Creation music festival in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania. We went up to the lookout, and we were up there praying and hanging out, doin’ our thing. When we came down from the mountain we had this clarity about things. We were drawn to that festival’s music. Audio Adrenaline and dc Talk were the big ones for us. If you read our thank you’s in the liner notes of our album, I thank all the guys in Audio Adrenaline for the impact they and their music had on my life.
Preachers don’t always speak to you, and you don’t always get a whole lot out of them. But you go to these shows, and the music is saying the same thing as the preachers, but it’s just so much fun and there’s so much behind it that’s cool. You start paying more attention. It was so inspiring to us. It was the inspiration of the music that changed us. It made us the guys we are today.
How did you guys form the band and eventually get signed with Essential records?
We all moved to Nashville for the music. The only original Nashvillian is our drummer. Our band at the time recorded with Barry Blair. He’s the original guitar player for Audio Adrenaline who wrote the song “Big House”. He found us on the internet and said, “Hey, I like your music. Do you guys want to come to Nashville and record a record?” And we’re like, “OK.” (Laughs.) So we packed our bags after we all graduated college, moved down here and recorded a record. We were working odd jobs, and we met the other guys and formed the band. We loved each other, got together and started writing songs, and here we are!
What is Red’s mission as a group?
There’s one word we like to use the embodies the theme of the record---redemption. The record talks about a lot of dark things in our lives, our experiences, vices, addictions, relationship issues, the things we’ve lost. It’s dark, but we find a Way out of that dark place. You can find redemption. Funny enough, the first three letters of the word “redemption” are RED. It’s pretty cool.
You guys have said that your album “End of Silence” encourages Christians to be more aggressive in witnessing and end their silence about Christ. Tell us more about that.
That’s something we’ve been really passionate about from the start of things. “End of Silence” is something that took on two meanings for us. It took two years to write our first record, and in that two years we honed in on ourselves as musicians, physically and spiritually---what we wanted to achieve as far as inspiring kids. “End of Silence” turned into our end of silence. People are finally hearing what we have to say in our music, coming out with that message. Now we have an opportunity for people to hear our message, and we have kids telling us, “Hey, this song says this to me and inspires me this way. This song helped me stop cutting, to not kill myself.” These kids are finding their interpretation of these songs, and it’s drastically changing them. That’s exactly what we set out to do. That’s what music did for us. Music spoke to us in ways that sometimes a pastor can’t from a pulpit. These kids are hearing the music and believing in themselves again, believing that there is a way out of their situation, and to not be silent about it. To say, “Hey, I struggle with this, and I’m not the only one.” That’s what we want kids to do. We don’t want kids to be afraid of their faith, and we want them to not be silent about finding a way to inspire others to turn to Christ.
It’s weird, because we’ve been doing a lot of mainstream stuff lately. We don’t even have to say “God” or “Jesus” on stage for people to know there’s something different about our band. We automatically have people coming to our merchandise table saying, “Hey, are you Christian? ‘Cause you don’t say the f-word on stage.” We never say we’re Christians. We don’t have to say anything for people to know that we’re different. Yes, we are a Christian band. At the end of the day, we’re Christians before anything. That’s exactly the reason we’re doing what we’re doing. We’ve been saved by grace, this is what it’s done for us, and we believe that it can do it for anybody. If you have questions about that, shoot. Because we can help you out.
What makes a Christian band Christian?
This is an awesome question. I love having the opportunity to say something about that. There’s no such thing as a Christian band. There is Christian music; there is Christian content. You can play a song, I can just sit here and play a guitar for you and label it a Christian song. When lyrics are involved, that’s one thing. You’ve got bands like Casting Crowns that are talking about the altar and the door. They’re carrying the cross in their message. And you’ve got bands like us where the meaning is embedded, and it makes people more or less dig for the question, and the answers. I think everything about our band is like that. We’re Christian guys who have been saved by grace with a Christian upbringing, and we love music. That’s basically what we are.
It’s hard, because in the mainstream . . . look at Sting, who’s a Buddhist. People don’t call his music Buddhist music, thinking, “Well, he’s Buddhist so his music must be talking about Buddhism.” It’s easy for people to label you if you sing about God. There are bands out there who sing about God, like U2, but that doesn’t make them a Christian band. What it makes them is their own thing. We always like to call ourselves a Christian band because that’s what we are. If they ask us if we’re a Christian band, we tell them yes. And if they ask us why, we tell them why.
What’s your most memorable on-the-road experience so far?
I laugh because there are so many! The night we broke down in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is probably the most memorable. I mean, the absolute middle of nowhere. If you’re a horror movie buff, there’s a movie called The Hills Have Eyes. We were completely surrounded by rolling hills of grass and barbed wire fences, and I think we were somewhere near a farm because we could hear cows. You could not see five inches in front of your face - no joke! It was scary dark. No moon in the sky, no nothing. It was a clear night, so there were stars. It was actually beautiful and quiet. But the second we opened the door to the bus to step out we heard a rattlesnake just getting all fired up because we were about to step on it, or we were near it, or something.
Then we looked under the bus. The u-joint, the part that actually makes the wheels turn, literally broke off and was laying on the ground. So we were pretty much not going anywhere. We had been on our way to one of the biggest festivals we’d ever played, I’m pretty sure it was called Crossover Festival. So we spent the night in the middle of nowhere, scared out of our minds. The only thing we could think of was like, “Dude, some crazy serial killer is gonna come over the hill and kill us all.” It really felt like we were in the middle of a horror movie and there were cameras on us and we didn’t know it. It was hilarious. We crawled out the windows of the bus on the road side instead of stepping on the ground so we wouldn’t be killed by a rattlesnake. And we didn’t have any cell phone service, so that was even funner. We had to walk to find help. It was my wife’s first time out with us, and actually it was the last time!
We hear you’ve accidentally injured your fellow band members on more than one occasion?
Yeah, yeah. I’m the culprit. It was our first show in California, and I accidentally hit Michael on the head with the top of my guitar and cut his head wide open. He probably lost a gallon of blood. It was awful. Had to stop the show. He was bleeding profusely. It was just pumping out of his head like a military movie. It was crazy. Broke the guitar in half. He got seven staples in his head in the emergency room. Three hours later we came back to the venue. He was real groggy, and his left arm was numb ‘cause he pinched a nerve.
I’ve also dislocated somebody’s jaw with my guitar. We had a guy from another band come out to sing one of our songs with us. He was right behind me, and he didn’t realize where he needed to be. I turned around and smacked him right in the face and dislocated his jaw. Cut his jaw wide open at the bottom.
My brother hit me in the face with his bass guitar one night and cut my forehead wide open. There’s actually a picture of that on our MySpace page. I finished the show like that ‘cause I thought it was sweat coming down my face. That’s why I allowed it to look the way it did. I didn’t realize it wasn’t sweat or water, it was blood dripping down my face. Nobody could tell because the red lights on stage were washing my face out. Our band’s called Red, so they like to wash us out with red light on stage. That was the bass-to-the-face incident. There are so many injuries, I can hardly keep them straight. It’s funny, ‘cause a lot of our friends who are musicians in bands are like, “Man, you guys give real meaning to a band named ‘Red’.” Yep. Luckily nobody’s ever been hurt to where they couldn’t continue on a tour. They’re just out for the night. (Laughs.)
Could you talk to us about your Dove Award winning song “Breathe Into Me”.
Me, Jasen Rauch, Rob Graves, and Jason McArthur wrote it. It was one of the first songs we ever wrote. We’ve all been down some pretty crappy roads. We were like, “Did you ever wonder what it’s like to just know that God’s really there? To know that whenever you need Him, He can restore you.” It’s kind of that breath of fresh air in your lungs. That’s where the theme of the song started, and we ordered the rest around that. We added some cool riff stuff, and I wrote a chorus, and we decided to just call the song “Breathe into Me” and have the chorus say, “Breathe your life into me”. It speaks about those times when you need a breath of fresh air and restoration in your life. About a time when there’s nothing left, where God is the only way out. It says in the Bible to call out to Him. “Breathe Into Me” is my personal favorite on the record. It sums up everything about the record, about redemption. It all comes back to that redemption that we need.
What do you know now that you wish you’d know when you first started in music?
That I was gonna be broke. (Laughs.) I left a job where I was making 50-some thousand dollars a year as a district manager for a retail company, to be a broke musician. It’s a very humbling thing, because a lot of people think we’re doing it for the money. Like, we crossed over to do the mainstream thing to make money. We’re not making anywhere near the money people think we’re making! It really isn’t about money for us. If it was, you would be able to tell. The music would struggle. We’d write one cool song and then write 9 fillers on the record and still make thousands of dollars. No, we want to make ten amazing songs and inspire as many people as we can, and put a roof over our wives’ heads and food in our kids’ stomachs.
I think we’ve all decided that as long as we’re taking care of our families and still able to do our music, that’s the thing. I thought there would be a lot of money in it, and I’d never have to worry about money, and being in a band educates you that money’s not as important as everybody thinks it is.
Our lead singer’s a nurse. He’s the healthiest guy in our band too. He takes all kinds of vitamins and stuff, because if he’s not healthy he can’t sing very well. As much as we tour, if he’s not healthy we have to cancel the show. Guitar players can still play with food poisoning, but not singers. And I’m saying that because it’s happened!
How do you keep on track spiritually when you’re away from home so much?
It’s an accountability thing. With five guys in a band we’re able to talk to each other and encourage each other and focus on what’s important. As a band we do Bible studies, and we read devotional books. Our tour manager’s on the phone every night with his wife reading devotionals before he goes to bed. I think that’s what keeps us on track, just having each other to go to and talk to. A lot of bands don’t have that. It’s unfortunate, because there are some really talented bands out there that fall apart because they don’t have a physical someone to look to.
Can you give us an update on how the writing’s coming along for your next project?
We’re excited because we’ve had such a successful first record. It’s almost like there’s this line you cross that says, “OK, now it’s time to ask these guys about their next record.” Enough time has passed and everybody wants to know what you’re doing about your next record. It’s coming along great. We’ve been writing a lot. We’ve been writing since the first record was done. We still had songs that didn’t make the record that we wanted to put on it, but for legal reasons couldn’t get on the record (‘cause you can only have a certain amount). We already have a concept and a title for the record, but we won’t tell anybody. We’re very tight lipped about it.
We’re also the type of band who’s pretty confident from the start that our music is gonna do something great. We were so focused and passionate about the songs. We’re doing the same thing with this record. We’re using the same producer, we’re using the same mixer, the same people writing. We’re gonna step it up a notch and give people a record where they’re gonna say, “Wow!” But it’s still gonna be a Red record. It’s still gonna have the elements that people have fallen in love with, but we’re gonna bring it up again on the next record. We have a lot of pressure on us, because it’s that sophomore record that makes people sometimes say, “Maybe it was a fluke the first time,” or “Wow, these guys are really legit.” We just want to write a good record. We enjoy the songs we play now, and we want to have ten or twelve more.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you or the band?
This whole twin thing is pretty cool. My brother and I are identical twins, my brother’s married to an identical twin, and our drummer’s an identical twin. Our other guitar player has been sick the last couple weeks, so his identical twin brother has been playing guitar for him. So every night for the past few weeks there’s been two sets of identical twins on stage.
My brother and I are kinda competitive. We’ve always tried to look a little different, which hasn’t always worked very well. We try to look as different as we can, but you can’t help it. (Laughs.) Well, sometimes without planning it we’ll get on stage and we’ll both have a cutoff T shirt and a pair of jeans on, and people will do the whole bookends thing, looking back and forth. Sometimes we do it on purpose ‘cause we think it’s hilarious. Most people in the front row for the whole show are like, “No, they’re related, but are they twins?” You can read their lips.
Ever switched places?
We switched places in college on our girlfriends one time, and they totally fell for it. And we actually switched places on stage once, too. Randy was left behind when our GPS re-routed him and we went underneath where my brother was on the interstate and didn’t pick him up. We figured it out when we were two hours past him. That night I played bass on stage, instead of guitar. We had to be a four piece that night.
Randy is a minute older than me, by the way.
You’re in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A grande white mocha. I think it has whipped cream.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Turkey pepperoni, diet coke (That’s a big one! Ooooh, diet coke is my favorite thing of all time!), and eggs or flat meat.
Here’s an inside joke . . . We were looking at our day sheets (they hang those up for us so we know what’s going on that day, they have the lunch menu and stuff) and one day it said “Lunch--- flat meat”). We’re just like, “What is flat meat?” Flat meat is what you buy when it’s already sliced.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
A lot of people are excited about hearing our new stuff. Hang in there and be patient. We’re gonna hopefully unleash another amazing record on you again!
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.