Hard-hitting rockers RED accomplished more of their goals with one album than most bands ever do in their lifetimes. Hit single? Check. Grammy nomination? Got it. Tours with musical heroes? Done.
But if RED's 2006 debut, End of Silence, brought the band to the forefront of modern rock, their third and latest album—Until We Have Faces—will surely solidify their place as one of the most inventive hard rock bands to lay down tracks this century.
Instead of setting the controls to idle following two successful records and tours, RED found itself in the midst of writing an ambitious new album that challenged them musically and conceptually.
"We had the title before anything else," says bassist Randy Armstrong. "We didn't set out to make a concept record. But as I sat and listened back to the final record, it's amazing how much of the content, pretty much unintentionally, deals directly with the title of the record. From start to finish, it's about all the emotions people go through trying to find their identity."
Randy recently talked with the Peavey Monitor about Until We Have Faces and the role his Peavey basses and amplifiers play in his sound.
RED had success right away, with a Grammy nomination on your first album. Your third release, Until We Have Faces, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. How does the band maintain that level of success?
It's pretty awesome to come that far in a couple of years. The band has made a name in the active rock market and we do pretty well at radio. It should be an interesting couple of years. There are lots of good opportunities coming our way.
We were pretty surprised about the Grammy nomination. We were in Arkansas when we got the call. Our manager was on the line, and he asked us, "What's it like to be nominated for a Grammy?" We were blown away. It was one of those things you never think are possible, especially when you're learning to play as a kid.
What inspired you to play bass?
I was a trumpet player when we started the band. Anthony (Armstrong, his twin brother) was playing guitar, the singer (Michael Barnes) was playing guitar, and we needed a bass player. I thought the bass guitar sounded cool with drums, so I picked it up and haven't stopped. That was 1997.
The three core members—Anthony, Michael and I—we grew up together in Pennsylvania, graduated and moved to Nashville. Our favorite bands inspired us to play and start a band, and we always dreamed of making it big, so we moved to Nashville after college to give it a try.
We played the local scene for a year before we got a deal. Local radio was very supportive. We were discovered through demos that were played on radio. Our song "Breathe Into Me" was voted best local rock song of the year. We were literally in the CEO's office the day after our label got the demo.
We didn't have a fan base when we started touring. We only toured for five months before the record came out. After doing tours with Seether, Three Days Grace, 3 Doors Down, Papa Roach and Sevendust, things really blew up. It was a big honor to do our first big tour with Sevendust. We're all huge fans.
RED has really bucked the music industry trend by growing bigger with every album. Not many bands are doing that these days. What is your advice to bands starting out today?
I think first, take care of your fans. That's a big deal. They're the ones supporting you. Second, if you're going to put out a record, make sure it's your best stuff. The cream rises to the top. If it's good you'll have staying power.
It's always a breath of fresh air for me when I meet bands that are really grounded. People can see through the rock-star B.S. We want to be as transparent as we can. We don't run around acting like we're better than everybody. People expect us to be a certain way because we've accomplished some things, but we're still the same guys.
We're just trying to write music that's positive and powerful and hopefully helps and encourages people who may be in bad situations. We write our songs from a faith perspective; we've tried a lot of things the world has to offer and it hasn't really worked out. We're four guys who believe in something, but we used to fall for everything.
In addition to traditional rock music instruments, RED incorporates strings, electronics and samplers. How do those elements work into the writing and recording process?
It's all a texture thing. We're big fans of stuff like Nine Inch Nails and old-school Linkin Park, and we think the Chevelle records sound great. We always go for that wall of sound, so when you put in the RED record you're going to hear a good mix. We record several guitar tracks and then the drums. We overdub with samples, seven layers of guitars, two layers of bass, and when it's done it's huge. When we tour, we bring a hard disk track system that provides all of the programming that we can't reproduce live. Our drummer controls that.
You've built your sound around Peavey Cirrus™ basses and Peavey bass amplifiers for several years now. Then you turned up on the Conan O'Brien show with a new blood-red Peavey PXD™ Tragic™ bass. What's the story?
I've loved the Cirrus from day one, but I saw the PXD on Peavey.com and it looked really cool. I actually picked it up the morning we flew out to L.A.! I thought, "Why not play it on national TV?" [Laughs] The first time I played it was on the show, and I loved it. It's set up a little different than a Cirrus. I've been playing the same guitar for five years, so I'm still in the adjustment period, but I really love the sound and the way it looks. A few nights later on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," we knew we were playing a softer song, so I played the Cirrus. I switch between them live now. I've also got my Peavey ProComm® wireless system.
What amplifiers are you using?
I'm running through Peavey VB-3™ and Tour 700™ heads—each one goes through its own Peavey VB-810™ cab. I really like the fact that I can set the cabs up side by side. I pull the low end and some mids through the VB-3 head and cab, and the high end through the Tour 700, and it's just thunderous. I actually got that idea from Seether. Combining them, you get the best of both worlds.
I'm a pretty straight-up bass player and I like a lot of attack in the sound, so I'm using the graphic EQ on the VB-3 and not a lot of effects. I'm a tuner-and-volume-pedal kind of guy. Probably 50% of my overdrive comes from the VB-3. The high end attack combined with low end creates the tone that I call my own. I'm happy with the sound, so why change it? M