Red’s Renaissance: An Interview with Randy Armstrong

Red’s last album, 2017’s Gone, was an album surrounded by speculation. The band’s longstanding record contract with Provident was fulfilled. There were whispers that there might not be another album from the band at all– or at least, not one in the format that fans had grown used to.

The band (Michael Barnes, Anthony Armstrong, Randy Armstrong, and Dan Johnson) finally let eager fans know what form their new era would take earlier this year with the launch of a GoFundMe designed to invite fans to be a part of launching Red as an independent band. The plan was for the band to operate as their own record label, interacting directly with fans to deliver the music they wanted the most.

Last month, we heard the first fruit of Red’s renaissance, a track titled “The Evening Hate.” Red bass player Randy Armstrong took some time to share with Rock On Purpose about the song and what the future looks like as this veteran rock band starts something new.

Would you like to jump right in by talking about the title of “The Evening Hate?” It has this really unique historical tie.

Yeah, it’s definitely unique from the fact that when we heard the term, I was watching a movie. I heard a character say it, and it caught my ear immediately. So I looked it up, and it’s in reference to WWI and the trench soldiers. I just thought it was really provocative and cool, and an opportunity to tell a story in a song. And that’s one of the most difficult things to do in music, is to find a cool way to tell a story.

The music video ended up illustrating that story so well too. What was it like to envision that video?

There’s so much fertile ground with an idea like “The Evening Hate.” We thought we could do a war video. We sort of started a war in our last video that we shot, and we thought “it would be great to pick up that story from there,” using the opportunity to further the storyline in our videos.

We hired a construction company to dig some holes, then we wrote, directed, edited, and released a video in three and a half weeks.

Man, that’s intense!

Yeah, exhausting! But people are really responding well to it. We couldn’t be happier.

On a personal level, what does the idea of “The Evening Hate” represent? How do you want that concept to connect to listeners?

Every time we’ve done an album, it’s kind of been a snapshot of where the band was at the time. We’ll never be able to recreate that, because as we go on in life, circumstances change. Life changes. Ideas change.

When we did Of Beauty & Rage, we were at a pretty dark point, and you could tell in how dark the music was because that’s kind of what was flowing out of that time. Gone seemed to take a different approach; it was much more positive, but it was also reflective of the fact that we’re not guaranteed tomorrow. We were thinking “we might not be here, we may not be a band after this—our record deal is up, we don’t know.”

But we had the opportunity to go independent, and we thought it was the best thing for us to do. We needed our fans to help us get started. When the money started coming in to support everything, we knew that the fans still wanted us to be around. And we wanted to take the opportunity to get back to the sound that fans fell in love with in the first place, and to do some heavier stuff than we’ve done in a while.

It’s fun because now we don’t have to wait years to release albums. We can release songs in the middle and do things the way that we want to do them, while touring on top of that.

In that process, one of the most common questions I keep seeing from Red fans is “is there going to be a full album?” Or are you guys just going to keep releasing singles? What does your plan look like for this brand new world you’re in?

I’ll say this: there is no guarantee of an album, but there’s no guarantee of there not being an album. We have the freedom to go with that ebb and flow. The music business is changing so much; it’s like a pond of water. It never looks the same, it’s never the same color, it’s always changing. It moves so fast, and if you don’t keep up, you’re going to get left in the dust.

But with this freedom we have to make music, we definitely pay attention to our fans’ comments. And I know fans have been frustrated that we haven’t been turning out a lot of heavy stuff lately, and we thought “The Evening Hate” was a great launching point to get back to that sound that they fell in love with in the first place.

It’s just a call that we’re going to have to make when the time comes. We do have Red comments from fans wanting us to make an album, so we’re entertaining the idea of finishing an album and not just doing singles. But that’s still an ongoing conversation. When we originally announced that we were going to go independent, the plan was just to release songs here and there, and we told fans that. But there seems to be this overwhelming response for us to complete an album.

How did being independent impact your creative process? What is it like experientially as people, as artists, to be creating now on your own timeline?

You definitely have more of a sense of ownership over the process. You don’t have anyone thinking for you.

When we were with our label, it was a good relationship, and they gave us a lot of creative freedom. But there were times when they asked us to do things that we didn’t necessarily want to do, mostly in what kind of music they thought we needed to make. Like we needed to have a ballad, we needed to have a slow song, we needed to get more poppy, we needed to go where radio was going. We started to pay more attention to that than to servicing our fanbase and sticking with what made us popular in the first place.

But we didn’t have much of a choice; we were on their dime, and they called the shots. When you control the money, you control the shots. We released that music, and 80% of our income would be taken by them. So when we launched the GoFundMe, a lot of people were wanting to know why a band that’s had the success that Red has had is asking for so much money. A lot of people don’t realize that if the label’s taking all of your money, there is no money left.

So we’ve seen overwhelming support. We’re ¾ of the way to our goal. We’re off and running with the music now. Fans can expect more to come for sure!

You referenced this, but Red has endured through an unbelievable amount of industry change that has happened since the release of End of Silence in 2006. After all of these years, after all the things you rode out as a band, what is still motivating you guys to keep wanting to make new music and adapting in this system?

People come up and say “what does it take to make it in the music business?” Well, it takes way more than a lot of people are willing to give or to sacrifice. When you say “we’ve been through a tremendous amount,” I’d consider that an understatement, because people don’t really realize what bands have to go through in order to stick around. And the fact that we’ve been able to stick around for over a decade is a feat in itself.

But we’re still here, still going, because we have a very loyal fanbase—a fanbase that really takes care of us well. And we love music. We love making music, we love performing. This was our goal as kids, this is what we dreamed of doing. And a lot of people don’t get to realize their dreams. So why would we want to get to the point where we’ve “made it” and turn our backs on it, when this whole new opportunity that’s been presented to us could be the best part of our career?

We don’t know exactly what this is going to look like yet, but there could be more financial freedom for us than we’ve ever had, if we continue to deliver music that the fans love and are listening to. Then the phones start ringing and opportunities start presenting themselves, and we’re able to have this resurgence that we feel that we need. We can’t do that unless we first get in the studio and try.

We weren’t ready to walk away from this. We wanted to say, “when we’re ready to leave, when we’re ready to be done, we want to call that shot.” We don’t want somebody to say “well, we have nothing left for you guys, so you’ll just have to call it quits.” We want to go out on our own terms.

It was just like when we moved to Nashville. We decided to move to Nashville and start a band because we didn’t want to turn around when we were 40 and say, “we should have tried that.” So here we are now, at 40, and I have no regrets. And I have this new opportunity that I don’t want to turn around when I’m 50 and say, “you should have done it.”

A lot of people don’t get to do this. I think a lot of people love music and follow artists and athletes because they are the walking realization of something that they may want to do also.

With this new opportunity ahead of you, with so much untapped potential, obviously there’s a lot you don’t know. But what do you hope happens with the future of Red? What are things you’re dreaming about doing?

I think our hopes are just achieving more than we’ve achieved. Tom Brady, how many Superbowls has that guy won? I’ve lost count. He does it because he loves it.

The bottom line is, success comes with hard work. And hard work comes with passion and just wanting to do it. And that’s what we’re counting on. Success will come. The awards and things like that are cool and everything. But they’re only the result of hard work. So that’s something we’re accustomed to, we’ve been doing it our entire career.

This is no different, but what we see as success now is being able to stick around without the help of a label. Truly relying on the music, as opposed to relying on a label who is giving us money to make the music. We’re the bank now. But we have to create the product, we have to finance the product, we have to do it all ourselves.

What can you tell people about what the rest of this year looks like for Red?

We are putting together a short run of shows, but it’s not going to be a headlining tour. We originally thought that we would end this year with a full 10th anniversary headlining tour for Innocence & Instinct, but the way things have shaken out with making music, putting together a new team, new booking agency, new management, new everything, we’re still in the process of finishing up our recording process. We have several songs still to finish.

It takes months to plan a tour, but we were asked to be a part of a tour that’s not very long. We do still want to play a few shows in honor of our second album, and we’ll be announcing soon that those will happen in September. And then this short run I’m talking about will happen at the end of October, after we get back from an event we’re playing in Germany.

But the goal is to go back hardcore in 2020. We wanted to take the time off this year so we could do all this retooling, catch our breath, let the market miss us for a while and then come back out swinging.

If there was one thing that you could communicate to these fans who are such a huge part of Red and this era, what would your consistent message to them be?

Every band probably says this, but our relationship with our fans is extraordinary. The overwhelming support—we don’t have to defend ourselves online, our fans do it for us. I feel like Red fans have always had a feeling of ownership over the band: the music’s theirs, the band is theirs, it’s all because of what they’re doing. We could not be more thankful. We’ve had a good life, we’ve had a good run, and it’s all because they’re buying our music and listening and streaming and telling people “hey, you need to check this band out.”

It’s still up to us to keep that happening by creating good content and good music, but I feel like real fans stick with you through thick and thin. Through the worst times, the bad songs and bad album cycles. Everybody has their opinion, but they’re still willing to say “hey, I’m with Red in this new opportunity, and I’m anxious to see what they’re going to do, and I support them.”

It’s hard to wrap your head around, that people are willing to do that. But if I remember myself as a kid and my favorite bands, I was willing to do anything to see them play. I’d listen to them all day long, and they gave me inspiration and hope. People will do anything for that, that feeling, over and over again.

Our goal has always been to meet people where they are with our music, to inspire them, to help them get out of their own way and to just forget about life for a minute. And that’s what we want to keep doing.

You can find “The Evening Hate” on Spotify and Apple Music. Follow Red on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to continue to be a part of their new era.

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