RED’s Declaration of Independence: An Interview with Anthony Armstrong

RED’s ascent towards the release of Declaration has been a powerful one, fueled by fans and focused on re-establishing themselves as an independent entity– while remaining one of the most consistent and respected brands in their genre. The resulting album is a powerhouse, a heavy melodic masterpiece for every fighter living with skinned knuckles and bruised knees.

Guitarist Anthony Armstrong took the time to talk with me about what the band is declaring with this album, what independence has been like, and what it feels like to release an album in middle of a global pandemic.

You guys chose to drop the album sooner than expected. Do you want to share about why you chose to release it a week early?

There’s a lot of negativity out there with what’s going on, and it brings people down. We’re not about that. We’ve always been a band that wants to lift people up and find the redemptive qualities in any given situation in life. Music is ultimately that thing for us, it’s our lifeblood. And I know that it’s the exact same way for a lot of people: music is their vibe, their muse, the thing that gets them through. 

So we were like “you know what, people are cooped up, they’re looking for that inspiration. So let’s see if we can release this thing a week early.” And that’s not always an easy thing to do, because there’s a lot of partners that we have. Apple Music, YouTube, all of them have to be notified to change the release schedule on things. So even as an independent band, we don’t always get to make that decision and say “hey, do this,” because we have other people to pay attention to. We got it worked out though, and released it a week early. People have been pretty pumped about that.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, from what I’ve seen. Has that been your experience as well?

It has. And the crazy thing to me is the fact that people have all this time on their hands, and that time often gives people the opportunity to be even more critical. When you’ve got time on your hands, you seem to dive into things a little more, especially with songs, especially with an album. This environment that we’re in right now is giving everybody the chance to really speak their mind. And we’ve seen 99% positive feedback, which is great. We couldn’t be more thankful.

The fans that reached out to help us make this record, raised the money that we needed to make a record, start a record label, start from scratch as an independent band– they really stepped up. So we guaranteed we’d step up too, and I think we did.

The process of making Declaration was different than any record before because of that fan interaction, because you were doing it all on your own. From what I understand, that means you were doing it in stages. Could you share about what the creative process looked like? 

“Stages” is really the best word to use. Everything was done in stages. When we left Sony, we’d been with them for 12 years. That was the only process we knew. So going independent was not an easy transition. It was an easy decision, but it was a much more difficult transition with money, and losing the resources we had at the label to use and to keep our music getting out to the masses. It was a difficult time.

Starting the label and doing music at the same time proved to be very tricky. Thankfully, we’re seasoned veterans, and we know our sound well, and we know the sound we’ve been wanting to unleash on our fans for a few records now. That was our number one focus. The label doesn’t matter, nothing else matters unless we have a good record. We really focused on the music.

We did the first few songs, we raised the first half of the money, and when fans heard the songs, it was “hey, when are we getting a record?” So we were like “oh, you guys want a record? OK!” So we went to the drawing board and said we can do this, this is what we need to finish, this is what we’re going to do, all hands on deck. Now it’s out there and the world’s got it, and we couldn’t be happier.

So this record is really bold in its sound, and even the title Declaration makes a statement from the very first. What was the concept behind calling it that?

That’s it man, declaration, that’s the definition. It’s not a piece of paper, it’s a strong statement, an aggressive statement. It was a little play on the Declaration of Independence: this is our declaration of independence. This is where we are as an independent band that’s had a great career and been tied to so many things professionally as far as the label, but we have severed those ties, moved on, and created something really special. All of us were very willing and able and still inspired to continue this music. The inspiration has come from the last few years of touring, asking our fans “do you guys want to see us stick around? Do you care enough about our music to still want to be here?” That was it: declaration. It couldn’t have been any other title.

The imagery we’ve chosen, it almost looks like the Declaration of Independence. It’s old paper covered in blood. The point of that is that we gave it everything we’ve got, and blood, sweat, and tears are all involved in that. RED’s always used that imagery: the wars we fight, no matter what they are, every day there’s a lot of bloodshed. That’s what Declaration is all about.

A lot of fans are calling it possibly the heaviest RED album ever, which kind of backs up that boldness. What would you say to that? Is that an intentional choice you guys made, or did it happen organically?

Well, we didn’t do a ballad on this record. “The War We Made” is a mid-tempo rock song that’s got ballad vibes, but it’s not really a ballad in our opinion. Songs like “Pieces” off our first record are more ballad-type songs.

But here we made the choice to live up to the title of the record, make an aggressive statement. Being our first independent release, we wanted to be loud about it. We wanted to do it big. There’s no arguing, it’s definitely the heaviest album we’ve ever written, while still maintaining our style, our melodic vibe. On our other records, we had moments of heaviness, songs here and there that were pretty aggressive. But this record is just in your face from start to finish. There’s no letting up. Listening to it in your car or wherever is one thing, but the shows are probably going to be pretty aggressive and pretty sweaty. I’m really pumped about that part of it for sure. 

You kind of mentioned your current single “The War We Made.” I’d love to get a little more background on that song, what the concept is behind it.

The first song we released and put out there was “The Evening Hate.” The imagery for “The Evening Hate” was loosely based on World War I. The evening hate was a phrase that was coined by trench soldiers. The German side would bomb them relentlessly until everything would fall apart. They would not let up. They called it the evening hate.

We loved that concept. Like man, that happens to us. Look what’s happening now with the pandemic. It’s like hate and hurt and pain and wars are constant. There’s a lyric in the record, “this is an endless war.” Whether it be with ourselves, or our country, or our spirit, it’s nonstop. It’ll never end, but that’s what makes life worth living: the fight.

So “The War We Made” is a reflective song about how we’ve done this to ourselves. We made this war, whether it be the war of the mind, the war of the spirit, or a physical war that we’re fighting. Whether another country started it or not, we choose to enter it. It’s a war that we’ve made.

I think it fits really beautifully and coherently with some of the other songs on this record. Fans have heard this record in stages as well. They got “The Evening Hate,” like you mentioned, then they got other songs like “Sever” and “All For You.” When the album dropped, which of the new songs that fans hadn’t heard at all before were you most excited for them to hear? Do you have a deep cut favorite?

My deep cut favorite is probably “Float.” That is right after the fifth track, so that’s where the deep cuts start. I would definitely say “Float” and “Only Fight” are a couple of the deep tracks that I love. 

We had a pretty solid sound and vibe through the entire record, and when it gets to “Only Fight,” it just changes. And it’s just for that song. We did something very 90s-grunge meets modern scream, like a Nine Inch Nails vibe. We’re huge fans of those guys and that style of music.

That was a track that we wrote for our third or fourth record, a demo that we just found. And it was just programming, there were no lyrics, no melody, nothing. We put it together.

I was talking to our producer Rob Graves. I said “hey, I want to call a song ‘Fight, Only Fight.’”

He said “what’s your idea behind it?”

“Well, that’s all we ever do. We fight, we only fight, that’s all we ever do in life. And it’s not a bad thing, it makes life worth living I think, because it makes you fight for the things you want, the things you need, fight for other people.”

And Rob was like “what if we just call it ‘Only Fight,’ but the chorus lyric is ‘fight, only fight?’”

So it’s kind of cool, we met in the middle.

I would also say “Infidel,” the second track on the record. It comes right out of “All For You,” which people had heard already. “Infidel” is pretty hardcore, straight forward and in-your-face.

So with having this first record as an independent band under your belts now, what does the future look like? I know that’s hard to answer in the middle of a global pandemic!

It’s actually kind of interesting if you think about it. This pandemic, I almost feel like it’s a rebirth. It’s almost like after 9-11 happened. Before 9/11 and post-9/11, it was a different world. And that’s not a morbid thing. A post-9/11 world is very different. And post-COVID-19? It’s going to be a different world too. It’s almost like we pushed the reset button, so to speak.

I think that’s what we’ve done with our independent effort. We’ve pushed the reset button. We feel like we’re a brand new band, and Declaration is our first effort. It’s a big deal to us. I feel like we’re retooling the band and doing things very differently. We’re not the same guys we were when we came out with End of Silence in 2006. We’ve changed throughout the years. Our hearts and minds are somewhat the same, but in some respects very different now. And this is who we feel like we are.

If there is a way that fans can support you through the crisis, I’d love for you to share it. If fans are looking for ways to back you right now, what would be ways they could do that?

It’s tough to say, because everybody needs support right now. I wish we could give more! We had a tornado hit Nashville, then this happened, so a lot of things have been kind of crazy here in Tennessee, and specifically in Nashville. As a touring musician, that’s all RED has been, that’s how we make our money, that’s how we support our families. 

Obviously, supporting a band means buying their music and coming to shows, and right now that’s not even happening. Definitely buying a record helps, but it’s not immediate help. It’s not something we see right away. It takes time for that money to be filtered through.

We feel like we’re in a good place right now, and there are programs that are out there helping guys like us. The president’s done a good job with helping. We are considered a small business. That might sounds silly to some people, they think RED is this huge world class band. But technically we are a small business, because business is defined by a certain amount of people that work in the organization. We don’t have a lot of guys that work. RED is a smaller entity. So we are obviously eligible for things that are happening in Congress right now. We’re looking forward to that help, hopefully.

So things are OK right now, but if this lasts a few more months, things are probably going to be a scary situation. I don’t think it’s going to keep us from being RED. RED is not going to disappear, and I’m thankful for that. Music will live on and survive through all of this.

Our lead singer Mike is actually a registered nurse. He’s been putting in lots of hours at the hospital. That’s something that a lot of people don’t even really know about him. My brother Randy and I, we do all the business with RED, so we’re keeping our eye on things, and we’re OK right now. It’s tough for everybody, so we just want people to hunker down and stay healthy. That’s what we care about. Because if people aren’t healthy, you’re not going to be able to come out to shows and hang out. We just want everybody to get through this so we can move on.

If you could summarize what this album offers people in the midst of this situation, what would that look like?

Everybody just wants to know that things are going to return to “normal.” And “normal” in quotes– what is normal now? Like I said, when 9/11 happened, everything was different afterwards. What’s normal going to be after this? Are we ever going to shake hands again, or are we just going to bump elbows? Are we going to stand far apart, or are we going to hug and kiss and all that? What’s it going to be like when it all goes back to normal?

But I think the American people have proven to be resilient, and that’s all there is to it. I think we’re going to get back to it, be bigger and better than ever. And I just hope Declaration fits in there somewhere in peoples’ lives and it’s inspiring them right now. Because everybody wants a little inspiration, to be lifted up. We’re tired of hearing bad news. 

Absolutely. I think this album has turned out to be very timely for this stretch of time, this moment in history. I think it’s bringing a lot of hope to people.

We released a record in a global pandemic! It’s just wild to think about. Our record release date was etched in stone, it wasn’t moving. No one saw this coming. This wasn’t some strategic business move. This was scheduled to happen, we just moved it up a week because people were like “please give us some new music, I’m going nuts.” So we did!

You can buy Declaration in RED’s webstore, or find it on Spotify and Apple Music. Make sure you’re following them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more news about when touring will resume.

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