The Life Lesson August Burns Red’s Jake Luhrs Realized After Wayne Gretzky Handshake
Of course, he spoke about the viral moment where he got to shake the hand of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. He fanboyed harder than he ever had in his life and it helped offer perspective on his own life and how much he means to his own fans.
Regarding Death Below, it's a record that was written during the pandemic and one Luhrs feels differs from much of the group's back catalog in that it bears overarching sadness both lyrically and musically — a sadness that is profoundly authentic. Still, he says August Burns Red never want to deviate too far from expectations and the their signature aggression and off-kilter moments also define this 10th album.
Elsewhere, he chats about his personal mission to lift up others and how his Heart Support mental health network and namesake festivals help accomplish this goal.
Read the full interview below.
Music as an art form is both calculated and intuitive. What aspects of Death Below were thought out and what was pure instinct?
We have always wanted to stick close to the roots of the band, so the aggression and off-time signatures and progressive song structures.... What's really interesting about Death Below is that [guitarist] JB [Brubaker] and [bassist] Dustin [Davidson] wrote this album during the pandemic. There's a lot heartache, division and doom and gloom.
Overall, t's still got like the aggression from ABR, but it has this sadness over it and real vulnerability lyrically and in the music. It's an album I think that people will have an emotional attachment to more so than like, "Oh, this is really just a catchy record," or, "This is just exciting and fun."
We still have those elements, but I feel like it's really different in the fact that it's very much a time capsule of the pandemic and how difficult that was for everybody in the world.
Jesse Leach from Killswitch is on the single "Ancestry" and is just one of the guest performances on this new record. How do outside musicians enhance the music without diluting the qualities that make it unique to you?
That's an awesome question.
I think it's really important that when you do a collaboration with an artist, you understand their skillset and that they really want to collaborate with you.
Jesse Leach is a phenomenal vocalist. He's a legend in the industry and he has a great performance as a vocalist. What was really cool about working with him — and what I think is really important — is he had a real desire to understand the lyrical content, the idea and the vision for the song itself before kind of putting his pen to paper.
Another thing that I really like to enjoy as a lyricist and a vocalist is giving him the opportunity to have a canvas where he can kind of paint his own picture within the picture and that's what he did on "Ancestry." There's nobody else that could have done a chorus that well.
What was great was he drove from, I think New York, to the studio and was like, "Hey guys, I kind of have this idea." And we said, "Okay, well let's hear it."
He laid it out and we're like, "It's done." He's just such a professional and he knows what he's doing, but I think he knew where to draw from his own experiences in his life and lyrical content by really understanding the scope of the song overall. He did a fantastic job and that's really what you want when you want a guest musician to be a part of your song.
August Burns Red, "Ancestry" ft. Jesse Leach
August Burns Red are touring this year, not only supporting this new record, but also to commemorate a milestone anniversary. What makes longevity monumental, particularly to this band?
For us, the idea of going on 20 year anniversary tour is still not fully comprehendible to look back at all of the accomplishments and the changes. I also think of the other side of how being in this band has changed us all and made us better men and humans. I think it has to do with the fans impacting us as much as we impact our fans with our music and the community that we've built.
We're not stopping anytime soon, but we know that after 20 years we're finishing well when we do. We can say we did it and we did it well — we've made our imprint and an impact. We're very honored and humbled by the fact that we're walking into a 20 year anniversary tour and our fans are by far the most loyal people I've ever met in my life.
Recently a video of you shaking hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's hand went viral. How does your excitement inform a better understanding of people who are eager to meet you?
I don't think I've ever fanboyed ever in my life to that degree. And if that's how people feel when we do it, like at our meet and greets... there's no words, honestly.
Even if you're not a hockey fan, you know who Wayne Gretzky is. I'm giggling and I'm laughing because I'm like a little kid right now even thinking about that moment. I don't know how to compare it or how to really flesh it out.
The fact that it went viral is hilarious. The first week after it went viral, I felt like I was in a simulation — this can't possibly be real life right now.
What that does say is when you are in a place where you've inspired someone or encouraged them, that's precious ground and the fan or the person who really looks up to you or is inspired by you has given you a gift of authority to have a place in their heart. That's a really special and precious place.
I try to remember that for when I have fans that are excited to meet me. They've given me this position to be in a place of their heart and I want to respect that as much as I can. I really try to go out of my way to shake hands and take time with fans. Again, it's a part of the community that we're building in our industry and in the music genre itself. It's very, very important. I'm just honored that anybody would even remotely think that I'm their Wayne Gretzky. That's just a huge honor.
Uplifting other people seems to be your personal mission statement done through your music, YourLife Gym and the Heart Support mental health support network. How does an event like Heart Support Fest encompass and promote all you believe?
Heart Support Fest really embodies what I believe my personal mission for my life is, which is to really build community and help people understand their worth. Their life is so important and I think that a lot of times where that starts, or what I've experienced with some fans over the years just talking with them, is how they see themselves, the experiences that they've had and the trauma that they've got in their life.
I believe that this genre of music, for me, has always been about unification, bringing people together and uplifting one another. That was pretty much why I started HeartSupport.com, which is an online community for people to talk openly about their mental health.
We're doing Heart Support Fests to bring the music and that understanding of the power of music and what we can do when we come together for music. The other side of that is really trying to give people a place where they can be themselves and feel like they can be who they are and understand more about themselves by sharing their story and by expressing what they've experienced with others. [It's about] creating that unification, which I think is one of the fundamental pillars within the music genre.
Thanks to Jake Luhrs for the interview. Get your copy of August Burns Red's new album 'Death Below' on CD or vinyl and follow the band on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.