Red's In the Black

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Thu, 01/08/2009 - 16:22

album promo image for Red's In the Black

By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor, GospelMusicChannel.com

Making major mainstream waves
The idea of a Christian band breaking into the mainstream isn't exactly out of the ordinary these days, but it's still rare for an act of faith to burst well beyond one-hit-wonder status. In the case of hard rockers Red, crossover began shortly after their debut, End of Silence, was released in 2006, spawning three top 20 singles ("Breathe Into Me," "Let Go" and "Already Over"), prompting a GRAMMY nomination, and securing tour dates with just about every major player in alternative rock. In fact, what started out as a few spot dates with Sevendust, Papa Roach and Puddle of Mudd soon played to a full-fledged arena outing with Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace and Seether.

As a result of the foursome's time on the road, it's taken three years to record a follow-up, but the brand-new Innocence & Instinct, dropping February 10, is well worth the wait. Not only does it head in an even more dynamic artistic direction (including plenty of head bangers balanced with monstrous ballads), but there's plenty of continued crossover potential inspired by the gang's growing understanding of the secular scene.

"It's so interesting because we came out of the gates with End of Silence primarily in the Christian market, and then six months into the record, we did a couple shows with Papa Roach, Saliva, Crossfade and Theory of a Deadman," recalls guitarist/primary songwriter Jasen Rauch. "Then we started to get callbacks from those promoters and radio stations because something seemed to have stuck, and before we knew it, we had an opportunity to go out with Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace, which at the time, was one of the bigger active rock/alternative tours. That started with 20 shows and ended up being 80 shows!"

Though an adventure of that magnitude could easily be perceived as an endless streak of temptation, Rauch is quick to point out that the atmosphere backstage was nothing short of completely professional. Rauch and his bandmates' decision to keep that attitude (rather than trying to push ministry agendas down its tourmates' throats) helped the band make strong connections.

"One of the biggest misunderstandings is that it's a party all the time," he continues with a laugh before frontman Michael Barnes interjects: "One of my favorite things to do was get up early and hang out with the techs as they set up the stage. Between them and hanging with the bands themselves, you all get to know one another and genuinely become friends. When you can mingle socially, you have an opportunity to befriend someone. They're not flat out witnessing opportunities, but most [mainstream musicians] will shut the door in your face if you approach them like 'now I'm going to witness to you.' If they see you as a cool guy who'll offer to buy them lunch, then you'll naturally talk about all aspects of your life. After 80 shows, someone may be a lot more comfortable asking you about your faith or what you stand for."

The impetus behind Innocence & Instinct
It was those very backstage interactions and meeting fans from all walks of life after shows that helped sculpt the songwriting focus for the Innocence & Instinct sessions. Though the group was still conscious of its believing fans, members set an even greater goal of reaching out to those less familiar with the Gospel. But rather than pointing a preachy finger or coming across like they have all the answers, the players exposed their inner struggles with unabashed vulnerability.~(continued from page 1)

"Red wants to write songs that are universal by definition and accessible to people regardless of where they stand," confirms Rauch. "The title refers to the battle within ourselves and tackling our own demons. It's the whole 'good vs. bad' or 'angel vs. devil' idea and we want to discuss that whole element of struggle within."

The album poses some serious questions about moving from a path of darkness to light, most notably heard on "Fight Inside," "Death of Me" and "Confession (What's Inside My Head)." Though there's plenty for its throngs of listeners to relate to, the move was noticeably risky, if only for Christian radio's tendency to gravitate to songs that are tied up with a neat little bow.

"I think it's okay to ask questions, which is not only what this record is about, but it's a whole theme relating to who this band is," asserts Barnes. "We want people to know they're not alone. Whether someone's a Christian or a non-Christian who's going through things, they should know it's normal to say they're struggling with something."

Adds Rauch: "We run into a lot of kids at Christian festivals who listen to nothing but Christian music and they're asking the same questions we get at a bar at a Seether show. They feel like there's something missing, to which we remind them that who we are as humans all comes down to God. The song 'Mystery of You' is what someone called our 'C.S. Lewis song' on the record that ponders how majestic God is even though we have such a small understanding about Him."

Crashing cars and classic books as other writing catalysts
Even amidst all the accolades and anticipation, Red recently faced an incredibly humbling circumstance that also rubbed off on the record. Amidst a warrior-like road schedule, the guys faced a near tragic accident that found their tour van smashing into a guardrail and sliding across a jam-packed highway as everyone braced themselves in ultimate horror.~(continued from page 2)

"It was such a scary experience to wake up in the middle of the night like you would during a nightmare, except it was really happening," remembers Barnes, noting most members were sleeping at the time of impact. "It definitely causes you to look inside yourself and see the fragility we have as humans and the fact that one moment your life could change completely. I just thank God we all walked away alive!"

On a much calmer though still provocative note, Innocence & Instinct was also shaped by the Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle-penned book Inferno, which speaks of Dante and Virgil standing before the Gates of Hell. "We knew we wanted to talk about wars within ourselves, struggles and journeys, all of which really come alive in the book's illustrations," Rauch explains. "Some are darker than others, but they're all about battles, which turned out to be a cool metaphor and provide some backstory and depth that most people might not realize at face value."

Success comes from connection
The one angle that's boldly apparent after exploring Innocence & Instinct is Red's commitment to channeling all the aforementioned challenges through a Christian lens. Just like the band's evolutionary musical strides, the guys' personal authenticity more than speaks for itself.

"We're fortunate we have a really eclectic audience that can embrace a poppy radio single or something really aggressive or screamy, but in all instances, we're staying true to who we are with no regrets," reflects Rauch. "We wanted to write a record for those who are lost and searching for answers as well as someone in youth group or someone who grew up in church their entire life, but have become jaded in that environment. Hopefully we can use these questions to probe and ponder no matter where you're at, and I believe we've succeeded as long as we connect in some way."

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About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).


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