RED at Gramercy Theater, NYC
Safe is not where RED wants to be. Lukewarm faith is NOT an option.
By Suzanne Rahn & Michelle Ovalle
Four dedicated Christian men with a successful, hard rock style of music are reaching this generation for the Lord and are the foundation to the band RED. They have a passion to share their unique music and do so with excellence. IV sat down with band members Michael Barnes (lead vocals), Joe Rickard (drums) and twin brothers Randy Armstrong (bass) and Anthony Armstrong (guitar) at the Gramercy Theater in NYC.
RED has serious talent that can at times be eclipsed by their electrifying pyrotechnic show and decibel bending volume. RED also has the ability to jump from hard rock and heavy metal to a softer side that would appeal to anyone who enjoys music like Lifehouse or Chris Tomlin but wants to ‘kick it’ with the likes of Skillet or Fireflight. RED is made up of four humble, talented, Christ-centered guys and they are doing what they love: Singing about their faith with their own unique style – faith-inspired poetry wrapped loudly in rock.
They are reaching out to a demographic of people who are looking for more than cookie cutter, cloned Christian music. In Revelation 3:14-16 it says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Whether you enjoy RED’s style of music or not, they will never be in danger of being "lukewarm".
RED’s concerts are filled with a variety of music, soul grabbing lyrics and an amazing amount of energy, flames and acrobatics (Link to Concert Photos). RED’s songs reach people who want to find a release from the deep pain caused by what life throws their way. We all search out music that brings us comfort or ramps up the emotion we are feeling – pain or joy. RED dives headlong with listeners into the dark abyss of life that can sometimes become overwhelmingly negative. When fans see no way out of the darkness, RED puts into words the painful emotions people are experiencing. RED gives listeners something tangible to hold onto as they navigate the pain. They don’t ignore the real, intense fears and doubts their listeners feel. RED doesn’t hide behind a shiny, plastic smile of 'religion', faking their response. Their music meets people where they are, in the dark hours of their lives, then they breathe hope into hurting souls and offer them a hand out of the darkness. Their music is a gift, telling fans who are searching for answers that they are not alone and there is hope.
Their music isn’t for everyone, so I’m not trying to tell you that you will love every song they sing – much of their roster is classic rock and yes, they have a heavy metal side. They do an amazing job at both styles of music. I think that the guys in RED model Christ’s example incredibly well when Jesus taught us to that we should leave the 99 to search for the one missing sheep in the wilderness. I believe that RED is doing exactly what Christ desires all of us to do. Some of us are called to use the talents and gifts God has given us to reach the lost sheep and others are called to strengthen the ones already in the flock. Jesus did both. He routinely left the ‘safe pastures’ behind to go into enemy territory to find the missing ones. We think nothing of the sacrifice a missionary makes to go to a hostile foreign country to seek lost souls; we happily support them. The men in RED are going about it in a unique way. They choose to walk into the deep, dark places of the mind - storming the gates of hostile territory held prisoner to fear, doubt, loss and despair. That is the essence of what a missionary does. RED walks the edge to reach the lost.
You might be pleasantly surprised by songs from their first album, "End of Silence". Most of the songs are regular rock, with a little metal thrown in. Here are some links to check out if you are not familiar with RED's songs:
"Pieces" will surprise you… it’s a beautiful, gentle song with great lyrics.
"Breathe Into Me" – is a taste of RED's signature hard rock edge with deep lyrics.
"Best is Yet to Come" - classic rock with hopeful lyrics
"Feed the Machine" - shows off RED's rock talents with a metal edge - penetrating vocals and lyrics.
Now that you’ve sampled some of the RED's songs, join me and fellow Journalist, Michelle Ovalle, as we plumb the depths of mosh pits and strobe lights to get one of the best stories of the year. Heading into the basement of the Gramercy Theater, we meet the guys from RED who are relaxed and peaceful…
IV: Congratulations on your first concert in NYC as the headlining band! I was looking at your blog posts and enjoyed your video called “Rock Allegiance 3”. You were asked to Grand Marshall your hometown parade. What was it like going back to Linesville, PA and being the ‘hometown heroes’?
Randy: Thanks...It’s weird to be a big deal. We feel at home when we are there and we always go back to see our families when we are in the area touring. It’s not like we can hide when we arrive. There are only so many places you can park a tour bus in a small town with one stoplight. When we roll into town everyone knows within 5 minutes that we are back. By the way, they don’t call it a tour bus there, they say with a twang, “That’s a nice R. V.” (laughs).
Anthony: With everything that’s happened to us, we are still ‘small town’ and we love it. We love going back to our roots. It was an honor to be asked to be the Grand Marshalls - we had a blast.
IV: You’ve come a long way… When I was in the photo pit at WinterJam in 2010 I felt the heat from the pyrotechnic show. I was 40 feet away and it was hot! How much hotter is it for Joe?
Joe: Oh man… don’t get me started! I don’t wear any flammable hairspray, that’s for sure. It’s really hot. If there was ever a problem, our staff would run out with fire extinguishers. I told them to put out the drum kit first...
Michael (leans forward, fiercely pointing to his bald head): LOOK! I have a bald spot now! (we all laugh!) I got too close once. I wasn’t hit directly by flames, just the heat. It felt like my head was in an oven! I walked away with only a 1st degree burn. I had to put ice on my head for a few days… totally worth it though (winks).
IV: I see that you are heading to Germany for a concert at Christmas. What’s it like playing in Europe?
Anthony: It’s incredible! We were in Amsterdam before the Rock Allegiance tour and we had over 3,000 fans singing every word in English – it was awesome. Europeans are fans for life. They aren’t stuck up about music. They like what they like and they really appreciate live music. We are grateful to our overseas fans for their amazing support. We can't wait to get back there.
IV: You performed live on Conan O’Brien, then within seven days also on Jay Leno’s show… how huge was that!?
Anthony: Are you kidding me? – Conan is like 6’9”!! HE is huge! Seriously, that was one of the coolest stages we’ve ever played. It was a national spotlight and we never expected it. Three days after the release of “Until We Have Faces” we were asked to appear on Conan’s show and then Leno's. That was the most exciting time of our career. We were being given opportunities that we’d never had before and things were moving really fast. We are faithful guys and we believe God is directing our path. We don’t know why this is happening, but we are going to ride the lightning while it’s here. We count it as a special honor. We wonder, “How did we get picked for all this?”
IV: I think God likes to catapult people into the spotlight and then ask, “What are you going to do with this opportunity I've given you?” Do you see your increasing fame this way – as a test from the Lord?
Randy: Definitely. We have to be excellent at our craft first in order to gain the attention. God will always be our foundation as a Christian band. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. The minute we start getting scared of why we are out there or doubt what we are doing this for - the minute we put ourselves first and forget about what we’ve been asked to do, God will take it away from us. Scripture says we are not guaranteed our next breath, so we are not guaranteed a fourth record or another show. We are going to make the most of every opportunity we have to use the platform we’ve been given to glorify the Lord.
Anthony: We tell fans that we aren’t here to make ourselves more
famous. We let them know that we are believers and we are there to share
God’s glory. We are grateful that the publicity drew a lot of attention
to the music. The music holds the message of Christ. Maybe some viewers
will check us out and the message inside the songs will sink in. That’s our hope.
IV: When we saw you at WinterJam 2011 in PA we were impressed with your show. Pyrotechnics, heavy metal music and dark eyeliner are not the ‘norm’ for Christian concerts. How have you been received in Christian circles?
Anthony: Well, we were the black sheep of WinterJam at first. RED was the only heavy metal band in the show. We thought they were going to hate us and spit us out. (Some Christians can be very hard to please and intimidating – you know, the judgmental, critical type...) People can have a hard time accepting new, different or very loud things. We are trying to smother judgmental attitudes by being who we are. We are genuine Christian men and we are there to sing about Christ.
Randy: If our music is what fans are grasping for and it's inspiring them, then we are doing our job. We know we won’t reach every one. We’ve had people walk out in the middle of our shows. They can’t handle our style. They get angry or upset over our vocals or flames. It’s OK. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. (Even Jesus wasn’t liked by everyone for his radical ways…) I think people are afraid of what they don’t know or don’t understand. I’m a parent now. When my kids become teenagers, I don’t know what to expect. It’s a scary world out there. You don’t know what kids are diving into these days. You hear a band that’s screaming, using fire and stuff…and your first reaction is to be protective. Parents should check out all the music their kids are listening to. See what the lyrics say. Is it a good message? Then let them listen to it!
Joe: We’ve had parents buy the CD to preview it and they’ve become bigger fans than their kids. We love it when the whole family enjoys our music.
IV: You don’t always tour with Christian bands. Do you do anything different when you are not in an all Christian venue?
Randy: We tell everybody that you’re going to get the same show at Gramercy Theater NYC as you would at a small church in Alabama. Same songs, same message, same show.
Joe: Well maybe not the pyro part… (we all laugh).
IV: Have you been able to share Christ with others who tour with you?
Anthony: Yes, we have opportunities all the time. Back in our early days, we were on tour with SevenDust – one of our musical heroes - and no one really knew who we were yet. We all respected each other as musicians, but they didn’t know us at all. They expected to see a bunch judgmental Christian idiots walking through the door acting all high and mighty. We presented ourselves as Christ would: kind, gentle, respectful and non-judgmental. They were pleasantly surprised and told us that they listened to our music and wanted to see if we 'walked the walk'. We always have great opportunities like that - to live what we believe.
IV: Is it hard touring with non-Christian bands?
Randy: Sex and drugs will always accompany any type of rock and roll, but there is much less of it now. I won’t lie to you, partying still happens and we could have anything we wanted in seconds – it’s available right outside the door. But that’s not what we are about. We choose not to go that way and the bands we tour with see our behavior behind the scenes. We have to be honest everywhere we go: on stage, backstage and at home. There are a lot of people who are just waiting for us to slip up and make fools of ourselves and bring a bad name to the Christian music industry. I don’t see that happening and I won’t even ‘knock on wood’ because we know what we are about and how to keep focused on tour.
Joe: We figure that as our success grows, we have bigger ‘targets’ on our backs so we need to live at a higher standard than everyone.
Randy: That happens to anyone who is successful. There are a lot of people who root and pray for us and then we have others who say we aren’t ‘legit’ and hope we fail sooner or later. We are aware of it and we watch out for it.
Michael: (laughs & winks) Yeah, we keep a close watch on Joe… (Joe rolls his eyes).
IV: What’s the story behind the song “Feed the Machine?”
Randy: It's about all the crap that the world feeds you - that you need money, power and tons of material things to be happy - is a lie. We believed it for a while, but ‘woke up’. You can’t take anything with you. It won’t be here forever and you will get sick of chasing after the world's junk because it’s temporary and doesn’t bring happiness. That’s why we made the video “Feed the Machine”. People are worried that they don’t have the newest cell phone or latest style of clothes. They forget about what they were meant to do and who God wants them to be. They believe the lie that says, “Don’t be yourself, be like everyone else.” You get comfortable [in selfishness] and forget about your identity and what you were meant to do because you have become "faceless". It's time for Christians to "Wake Up" - Christ can’t move in a life if it’s crowded with the world’s junk.
Joe: Check out the behind the scenes video with fan interviews. We sent out an email to ask fans to be the ‘extras’ in the video. It was awesome to meet everyone and see such a great turn out.
IV: I think you guys have raised the bar on excellence, craft and performance. You can have confidence presenting your music to the secular world because it meets the high quality standards that the world looks for. Crossovers from secular listeners would be easy if every band reached for excellence the way you do.
Anthony: Thanks – (obviously shy about the compliment). There were many early Christian bands that inspired us - they figured it out and knew how to present their craft well. We took a lot of cues from them. Just because Christians are supposed to be ‘meek’ doesn’t mean they should be mediocre. We want to operate on the same playing field with big name bands and that demands a high standard of excellence, one we are willing to work hard for.
IV: How do you feed your souls while on the road?
Michael: We read a lot of books like “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. Right now I’m reading “How Reliable is the Bible?” by Judson Poling. It’s from a great series.
Anthony: We also love hearing stories about our fans and how they overcome serious issues in life. One kid broke our hearts and told us that our song “Hymn for the Missing” helped him through the toughest part of his life. People in his hometown told him he was nobody and put him down. They said he’d never amount to anything and wasn’t smart enough to graduate high school. He had been playing the cello since he was four years old and fought this battle alone for years. Through tears he told us that our songs lifted him up and inspired him when he was at the lowest point, they gave him hope to keep on taking one step at a time. He made it through high school and now he’s going to Europe to train with a master musician. I’d hate to think of what would have happened if he gave up. God used our music to walk with him during those awful times. That fills our souls!
Those stories are why we do what we do and keep us down to earth. It’s intense for us to see how the music touches lives. God is reminding us that what we do is vital to reaching people with his message of love and hope. It’s happening everywhere and we won’t know each person that we’ve impacted, but God knows. We just want to be used by God however He wants.
Randy: Home is where real life takes place for us. Our wives don’t’ care that we are famous. When the tour is over and we go home, it’s awesome to just be ‘daddy’ and chill with the family. We look out for each other. We have to always stay humble and remember that we can’t lose our focus and think that we saved someone’s life – we know the truth - God used our music to draw them closer to Him. It’s very humbling. We have to take the good with the bad and keep focused on the goals God has given us. That’s not to say we get it perfect all the time. We forget words, chords… rhythm (eh-hem, I won’t mention any names - LOL)… we get angry and frustrated at times like everyone else and we have to keep short accounts with each other. If we keep our eyes on the Lord and do our craft with excellence, everything will fall into place.
IV: Thanks for spending this time with us. We pray that God will continue to use your amazing music to draw people to Him. See you in the mosh pit at tonight’s concert…
To check out RED’s home page, visit http://redmusiconline.com/