Founded in 2002, GRAMMY-nominated/RIAA-certified gold selling alternative metal quartet RED consistently pair sophisticated instrumentation with hard-hitting songwriting. Dynamic, eclectic, grippingly personal, and unflinchingly outspoken, their artistry has never felt as evocative and irresistible as it does on their brand-new eighth studio album, RATED R.
The follow-up to 2020’s highly acclaimed DECLARATION—the chart-topping first release on their own independent label, Red Entertainment—the self-assured and thought-provokingRATED R finds the Nashville-based band tackling several resonant and relevant topics amidst centering on the ideological and interpersonal divisions, confrontations, and suffering of modern society.
“This record examines how there’s almost no authentic human interaction anymore, leading people who would otherwise have empathy to no longer have it,” guitarist Anthony Armstrong explains. “People just jump online to be whoever they want and say whatever they want. They talk without truly listening first, and we’ve got a real problem with that, especially when it results in violence, children bullying each other, and things like that. Plus, there’s the losses we experience by focusing 24/7 on technology instead of stripping away everything that doesn’t matter and seeing how beautiful and healing it is to live with the bare minimum of what’s necessary.”
Bassist Randy Amstrong agrees: “We’re talking about how traditional family values and systems are broken in a lot of ways and it’s causing chaos. Kids are forced to do active shooter drills at school, and it breaks our hearts. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people, and there are a lot of hurt people out there who want to harm others. There’s also the notion that we learn by suffering and making the wrong decisions. As philosopher Meiser Eckhart stated: ‘The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction.’”
Those sentiments even influenced the sequencing and meta qualities of RATED R, as Anthony describes:
“The opening track, ‘Surrogates,’ kicks off with noise from news reports that symbolize how overwhelming the media can be. Then, with “Tell Me How to Say Goodbye” at the halfway point, it sounds like the listener is fishing through radio channels trying to find a good station and an escape. With ‘Emergency’ at the end, we want to lift people out of the darkness while bringing back that initial concept through various emergency signals and tones from eight or nine countries. In a broader sense, we wanted to give fans some sort of tie between the songs to make it all feel connected.”
It’s precisely that kind of blunt, innovative, and affective approach that makes RED’s work so multifaceted and striking. It’s what led to the LP’s title and visuals, too.
“It’s RATED R for RED and because it signifies the views we want to share. We approve of it, you know? We always try to be a bit provocative and get our audience thinking with how our records look and what they’re called,” Randy clarifies.
Likewise, Anthony adds: “The artwork was done by Courtney Dellafiora, our social media manager who also handles our photography and video content. The cover draws from ‘Surrogates’ in that it represents the fake, almost plastic versions of humanity we’re encountering now. We bought some mannequins and tried to make them look creepy, like four shadows of four people. It ties into our usual penchant for subliminal imagery.”
Behind the scenes, RATED R is notable for two major changeups: Anthony taking over production duties from longtime partner Rob Graves and drummer Brian Medeiros taking over for Dan Johnson (thereby officially joining the Armstrong brothers and inimitable singer Michael Barnes).
“Rob was busy with his solo project, so he gave us his blessing to try a different route by having me oversee RATED R’s production,” Anthony reveals. “That said, we’ve absolutely kept the classic RED formula of symphonic elements, piano-driven atmospheres, heavy yet melodic guitarwork and deep-seated and robustly delivered messages. We’re the sum of our parts and of multiple people working on things together. It’s never been, like, just one guy controlling and writing everything like a puppeteer. ”
As for the inclusion of Medeiros, Randy ponders, it partially came about because he was already such a diehard RED fan. “When we met him, he said he listened to us in high school. That made us feel old [laughs]. He was naming songs and lyrics, and his love for the group shines through how invested he is and what he’s bringing to the table.”
Anthony admits: “Our biggest fear was making sure the vibe was right. After all, we’ve had some monster drummers, so Brian had big shoes to fill. He totally nailed his audition, though, and he’s got great energy and ideas.”
Excitedly, the quartet aren’t alone on RATED R, either, as the collection features RED’s most expansive lineup since 2015’s seminal Of Beauty and Rage.
For instance, former percussionist Joe Rickard—who contributed to 2017’s GONE and DECLARATION—returns for mixing, programming, and songwriting. “He’s done great things on his own with bands such as In Flames, Three Days Grace, and All That Remains. Of course, we love having him involved whenever we can since he’s super smart and talented. He’s a blast to work with and a big part of RED’s history, so it’s very exciting to have him onboard,” Anthony comments.
RATED R also sees David Davidson (the arranger and composer for almost all of RED’s prior releases) handling orchestration. Anthony contemplates: “He has an amazing talent to hear things we can’t, so we’ll send him something and he’ll come up with great additions.” There’s the spectacular voice of Teirney Armstrong and various other guests scattered around the sequence as well.
Releasing on August 4th, September 1st, and September 29th, respectively, upcoming singles “Surrogates,” “Cold War,” and “Your Devil is a Ghost” do phenomenal jobs at demonstrating the collaborative and creative hefts of RATED R. “Surrogates” is even getting its own music video—helmed by Medeiros—that thrillingly ties into the band’s filmic past.
“Brian’s an accomplished photographer and videographer, so his expertise allowed us to continue writing, shooting, and producing our videos ourselves. RED fans will love how ‘Surrogates’ builds upon the story we’ve been telling since our second LP (2009’s Innocence & Instinct). In fact, we’re going back to the 1890s Old West since it’s like the prequel to the entire series,” Anthony explains.
This fall—and into 2024—RED will be commemorating RATED R (and their 20th anniversary) with an extensive international tour, too. According to Anthony, they couldn’t be happier about the opportunity: “We released DECLARATION a month after the pandemic shutdowns began, so we never got to properly tour it and witness what it could’ve done. With RATED R, we can. We’ve already lined up some European festivals, and what’s really cool is that we’ll be able to headline and offer the complete RED auditory and visual live experience for the first time in years!”
Clearly, there’s never been a better time to be a RED fan. From their stunning debut collection (2006’s End of Silence) to the widely celebrated DECLARATION, RED have repeatedly impressed and innovated. It’s no wonder, then, why their work has garnered numerous awards; coverage in publications such as Loudwire, Rolling Stone, Under the Radar, and Guitar World; appearances in film, TV, and video games; and millions of album sales, streams, and dedicated followers.
“This is our chance to reach some people. We want people to be inspired by the music and what the music stands for. We want people to take responsibility for changing themselves and what’s around them,” Randy concludes.
With RATED R, RED have undoubtedly delivered their most visceral and valuable statement to date.
RATED R is available everywhere on September 29, 2023, with preorders starting in early August.