Of all the ways to describe Nashville-based Christian rock band RED (comprised of lead singer Michael Barnes, guitarist Anthony Armstrong, his twin brother, bassist Randy Armstrong, and drummer Joe Rickard), lazy is not one of them. Quiet certainly doesn’t fit the bill either.
Fresh off the release of their third studio album, Until We Have Faces, and a couple of late-night television appearances, the band got a welcomed break from their hectic schedules, coming home to Music City for Father’s Day. That is to say, they got a break for a couple hours or so.
I got to catch up with Armstrong a few hours before their show, and he offered some insight into the band’s extensive touring schedule and why they aren’t just focused on success. “The target has gotten bigger on our back,” he says, “so people really put us under that microscope and wait to see if we are going to fall apart. But this band’s got a really strong foundation, and we’re all small-town boys [who] remember our beginnings.”
As a part of their Kill the Machine headlining tour, RED found themselves close to those beginnings once again as they prepped for their Father’s Day show at Exit/In. For this workhorse band that has played more than 1,300 shows since its inception in 2006 and released three albums in five years, time with family is something they work hard to find.
“We’re family guys,” Armstrong tells me when I jokingly ask him what the band members do in their meager amount of free time. “Coming home on Father’s Day for a show, it’s pretty neat how it worked out.”
This show was special in other ways as well, as it marked the band’s first major headlining tour. Armstrong tells me it’s a blessing to finally be headlining a tour that can stop in their hometown. “To be playing Nashville again on a really cool tour, having lived here 10 years,” he explains, “we feel like we’ve become a mainstay in a lot of ways.”
Supporting the band on this perfectly timed homecoming were Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Taddy Porter and Knoxville’s Oh No Fiasco, who stirred the crowd’s energy like hot coals early in the show with their infectious dance-based pop/rock rhythms and catchy hooks. Taddy Porter followed with a solid set of straight rock ‘n’ roll.
After a few technical glitches caused a longer-than-hoped-for delay, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus took the stage. RJA recently ditched their record label, Virgin Records, when they felt like the label failed to promote any more of their songs with the intensity that made “Face Down” the band’s first mega-hit. This did nothing to detract from their show, however, as they came loaded with a slew of songs just as good and just as memorable as “Face Down.”
After RJA’s set, roadies worked to prepare the stage for the main attraction, a feat that involved setting up an elevated drum kit with an illuminated red bass drum complete with cover art from their latest album on the drum head.
Once the changeover was complete, RED took the stage, pumping up the already ear-blasting Exit/In volume with their aggressive sound. A few songs in, Barnes asked the audience how many had never seen the band live before, and more than half of the audience raised their hands.
Armstrong explained that this moment is one of the coolest parts of the show each night, as it both keeps the band grounded, and also fosters lasting relationships between the band and their fans.
“Every single night we ask the crowd [that question],” he begins, “and when half or three quarters of the crowd raise their hand, there’s still a lot of people out there who have never heard of the band. It’s so cool to get to do,” he continues. “After the show, people will say, ‘I’d never heard of you guys before, but I’m a fan for life.’”
RED’s energetic and charismatic performance Sunday night certainly helped gain them some fans for life as well. Striking a perfect balance between their heaviest lyrical songs and their most energetic, fun and hard-rocking tunes, the Armstrong twins and drummer Joe Rickard provided a tight foundation for Barnes’ powerful and heart-pounding vocals.
The show now over, Armstrong tells me that the band, which appeared as a musical guest on Conan earlier this year, is off to complete their own tour and then join up with the Rock Allegiance Tour with Buckcherry, Papa Roach, P.O.D., and Puddle of Mudd. But playing shows is not all the band has in store.
“We’re hoping to do the East Coast late night shows,” he replies. “That would be amazing … hopefully blow up some more stuff, use some more pyro.”