NRT's Senior Editor Angel catches up with lead vocalist, Michael Barnes and bassist, Randy Armstrong from the Dove Award-winning, Grammy-nominated rock group Red to discuss the driving force behind their critically acclaimed, sophomore release Innocence and Instinct.
Formed in Nashville, Tennessee over four years ago, Red made an immediate impact with its 2006 debut, End of Silence, which has sold over a quarter-million copies. The Grammy-nominated disc, featuring the radio hits “Breathe Into Me” (Top 10, Active Rock) and “Already Over” (Top 15, Active Rock), introduced the sonic layering, rich orchestration and visceral dynamics that became Red’s signature sound. The album steadily built momentum cracking the Billboard 200 a year after its release as sales steadily broke out to hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Not surprisingly, the album became a hit with other bands as well, leading to tours and shows with Papa Roach, Sevendust, Three Days Grace, Flyleaf, Buckcherry and Breaking Benjamin, among others. These opportunities contributed to the band’s impressive 500+ live show schedule between albums.
Still riding the momentum of End of Silence, Red returns with Innocence & Instinct, a provocative new album forged in a perfect storm of inspiration and catastrophe. Their accolades continued with the first single, the epic song "Fight Inside," making recent history when it became the first single to ever debut at No. 1 on any Christian radio chart.
During the past two years, Red absorbed a flood of ideas and emotions that empowered the band to create next generation rock songs. Finding the sonic sweet spot where epic and primal converge, Innocence & Instinct features animated dynamics that super-charge its innocence vs. instinct theme.
NRT’s senior editor Angel recently spoke with Michael Barnes and Randy Armstrong from the group about the creative sparks that led to the writing and recording of Innocence & Instinct. They talk about the near-death accident that ignited emotions and a literary masterpiece that spurred their creativity. Throughout the process, the band found peer support lifting their spirits, heavy touring empowering their performances and fans challenging them to do even more to impact lives. And it all led to confirmation that God has Red exactly where He wants.
Hi, Randy and Mike. We’re so glad you could join us to talk about Red’s latest release Innocence and Instinct. Why don’t you tell us the meaning behind the album’s title along with the first single, “Fight Inside”?
Mike: Thanks, Angel. It's great talking to you again. You know, when we’re first born we have an innocence about us, but as we grow into maturity we develop an instinctual nature. Innocence and Instinct represents that duality; the two are polar opposites of each other. As for the song “Fight Inside,” it portrays what the whole album is about: it’s that constant fight—that battle within us. In Romans 7:19 Paul talks about the struggle he’s facing between good and evil. He writes: “I don’t do the good thing I want to do, but I do the wrong thing that I don’t want to do.”
In other words, “Fight Inside” is talking about the spiritual battle that all of us go through.
Mike: Right, it’s about that spiritual battle and the duality of the human struggle. Musically, “Fight Inside” has all the core elements of what RED is about: it’s got the piano and full string arrangements, as well as the heavy guitars.
How did the literary classic Dante’s Inferno contribute to the album’s concept?
Mike: As we were writing this record, Dante’s Inferno was one of the books we were reading. What really inspired the idea behind the constant fight we’re talking about was some of the illustrations by Gustave Doré, which are found in Dante’s Inferno—-especially the scenes where the angels are battling each other. With our first record End of Silence, we focused on redemption and restoration in the midst of a broken situation. On our latest project, Innocence and Instinct, we talk about the struggle itself and the battle that all of us face.
Please explain some of the other themes on the new album.
Randy: “Death of Me” is our first mainstream rock single. The lyrics say, “You will be the death of me,” and the “you” is actually referring to yourself—-you’re having a conversation with yourself. This song describes a moment of self-reflection, when we see how our involvement in the things that aren't good for us and how our hypocritical behavior has led us down a path we never wanted to take. As a result, we end up ruining things for ourselves.
We use twins to symbolize two opposing forces in the video, “Death of Me.” In it, we see the positive side of things being chased by the negative side of things, and in the end there’s a battle. The battle doesn’t seem to resolve itself in the video. That’s because we will face struggles in our lives, even though we do find resolve in certain situations.
Mike: The song “Never Be The Same” is told from the perspective of people who have a relationship with God. Even though all of us have gone through difficult situations, when we look to God and see how He’s put us back together again and made us whole, we realize we’ll never be the same. This song is an anthem of redemption. It’s about thanking God for helping you and changing your life forever!
Your band was involved in a serious vehicle accident in November 2007, when your touring van smashed into a guardrail and slid sideways across a highway about 20 miles outside of Nashville, Tennessee. How has the crash affected your lives and your approach to songwriting?
Randy: The accident hasn’t necessarily changed our writing process, but I think it’s fueled it more than anything. It’s a situation you wouldn’t wish on anybody-—not even your worst enemy! It’s like waking up in the middle of a nightmare, and suddenly you hear screams coming from all directions. The accident was definitely a life-changing event and would be for anybody. There were seven of us in the van at the time, and it brought the core members of our band together in a way that we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
As we wrote this record, we poured all the things into it that we’ve learned—-from the people we’ve met and the things we’ve seen—-in the last two and a half years of touring. Even though we didn’t pay much attention to the lyrical content of some of the bands we’ve toured with, we definitely paid attention to their creative processes. As far as being musicians, whether you’re a Christian band or not, we’re all peers. And when you learn from the best, that’s how you become better yourself. We went on tour with bands that have sold millions and millions of records. They have accomplished this because they’re great songwriters and performers. We learned so much being around those people, and we’ve used this knowledge to take our music to the next level.
Mike: We’re always striving to better ourselves as musicians. I think that’s true for anybody in any job—like in your job, Angel.
Mike: We all want to strive for excellence, and that’s a good thing. If you’re somebody out there who feels like you’re not making a difference, just continually strive to better yourself in all that you do. You will greatly impact the people around you.
What happened to your original drummer, Hayden Lamb? Is he still in the band?
Randy: When Hayden was in high school, he sustained a shoulder injury. Hayden reinjured his shoulder during the accident when Kelly Kopp, who was our tour manager at the time, somehow landed on top of him. The injury forced Hayden to come off the road for a couple of months while he received physical therapy. When Hayden did come back out on the road with us, he had reached the point where he had to ice down his shoulder after every show. Although the medication he was taking and ice were supposed to alleviate his symptoms, the inflammation just wouldn’t go away. It got to the point where he couldn’t even lift his arms above his head.
As his friends, we had to sit down with him and explain that his personal health was much more important than touring. We asked Hayden to go and get better, and we’re kind of not expecting him to return. It was very difficult to sit down and talk to him about it. We definitely didn’t make the decision for him, it was a mutual thing. Everybody is O.K. with it. Once the dust settled, we realized it was the best decision for everybody, and the situation seems to have worked itself out.
Everybody at NewReleaseTuesday.com will certainly be praying for Hayden, and we wish him the all best in his future endeavors.
I understand you recorded your sophomore project while touring relentlessly on the road. Can you pull back the curtain on your recording process, and tell us how Innocence and Instinct came about?
Randy: They say you have your whole life to write your first record, but only a couple of months to write your second. We started writing for our second album shortly after we finished End of Silence. Although our writing process is more than likely similar to most bands, it’s probably different than others since it takes us forever to write songs. We want to present to our fans, and to the world, the best music we have to offer.
When we recorded End of Silence, we spent our time in several studios around the Nashville area. This time we had only six weeks off, which started early in January 2008, and we spent that time laying down drum tracks so we could continue recording on the road. We knew we wouldn’t have any time off to sit and relax in the studio while we recorded this album.
So we brought our producer, Rob Graves, out on the road with us, and he set up a studio on the back of our tour bus. Day by day, we went through it, and when it got down to the “crunch time,” we had to get things done! That’s when we spent some time in our hotel rooms tearing the mattresses off the beds, setting them up in a corner, hooking up a microphone and tracking vocals. The recording process has changed so much that you can now record anywhere, if you know what you’re doing, and make it sound like it came from Studio A.
Mike: As we were recording, the rain was falling and it began to thunder outside. Then the next day there was some guy who was pressure washing the pool. You’d be surprised. If you really listen closely to Innocence and Instinct you may really hear those things. [Everybody laughs.]
Are you serious? Your latest project sounds phenomenal! I’m just blown away by the fact that you recorded a majority of this album on your tour bus and in your hotel rooms.
Randy: The recording process has definitely changed; nowadays you can do anything on a computer. Even though Mike was joking about the “ambient sound”—-what he described was going on, but we were able to fix those things in post-production.
Mike: It came down to the fact that we were using a really, really good mic-—to get technical about it! [Everybody laughs.] The mic basically picked up only the sounds that were right in front of it. We were kind of worried at first. We used a different kind of mic than the one we used on End of Silence, but it worked out in our favor.
What message do you want people to come away with when they listen to Innocence and Instinct?
Randy: The theme our band has wanted to project from the very beginning is that you’re not alone in your struggles—-you’re a human being just like we are. People put bands up on pedestals all the time, and that’s not what we want to accomplish with Red. We want our fans to see us as their peers—-as people who make mistakes, and as human beings who are very imperfect. We want you to know there is a struggle going on out there. There are many people, who you will probably never meet in your life, who are dealing with the same issues as you-—or worse. We want to encourage people and let them know there is a way out.
Mike: Come to our show and talk to us. We’d love to meet everyone. When people come to meet us, they always say we’re so down to earth. We really are—we’re normal people just like you—and we love to encourage people and lift them up!
Can you share any stories from fans who have been impacted by your music?
Randy: When we began our touring career back in ’06, we played a music festival called Rock The Universe. During the festival, two young guys who attended this event with their youth group got saved. Then one day, out of the blue, we received a few e-mails at our MySpace page: one message was from the father of one of the boys, and another from their youth leader. I believe after the two guys left that festival, they began to talk about God like crazy and went on to accomplish so many great things in such a short period of time. But one afternoon when the boys left their youth leader’s home, they drove just a couple of miles down the road and were killed in a car accident. From our understanding, one of the boys died on impact and the other boy, whose father had sent us the e-mail, died later on in the hospital.
When they went back to study the accident, they discovered our CD hanging half way out of the CD player. Shortly afterwards we received another e-mail from the boy’s father. He told us exactly where he had found the CD, and that our album, End of Silence, was the very last thing the boys were listening to before the accident. He went on to say that our music, and what the boys experienced that day at Rock The Universe, had such an impact on them that they accepted Christ—and ever since then their lives had never been the same. For that we take no credit whatsoever because it was God who was working through our music.
At the same time, that e-mail was confirmation for us. You see, when you get out on the road it’s easy to fall into a routine. Some days it’s like, “Man, am I just doing this again? Am I just going to walk onstage and do a show, or am I really going to have an impact on people?” And to get those e-mails-—we’ve received several hundred since that one— just confirms that we’re doing what God wants us to do.