In 2006, the band Red released its debut album, hoping someone would listen.
The group wasn’t even on a label at the time, but slowly people tuned in to the hard-rock sounds of the disc, which spawned the hits Breathe Into Me, Break Me Down and a couple of other chart-toppers. The album ended up nominated for the Grammy Award for best rock or rap gospel record.
Five years later, Red doesn’t release albums quietly.
Quickly after the Feb. 1 release of Until We Have Faces, Red was hovering near No. 1 on iTunes’ sales charts, and the band was booked on TBS’s Conan and NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno, national television debuts for the band.
“We can’t even believe the numbers that are coming in,” guitarist Anthony Armstrong said a few days after the album’s release. “Some amazing things are happening.”
For Central Kentucky fans of Red, one of those things is a slot on the Winter Jam tour, which comes to Rupp Arena on March 12. The bill is topped by the resurgent Newsboys, the David Crowder Band, Kutless, Francesca Battistelli, Jason Castro, Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets, KJ-52 and tour hosts NewSong.
But Red is easily the hottest band at the moment on the show, like many other bands successfully crossing the line between mainstream and Christian venues.
“We try to play the same way whether we are playing in a church or a bar,” Armstrong said at last summer’s Ichthus Festival. “We want people who see us to say, ‘Those guys are the same no matter where they play. They’re not putting on an act or trying to hide anything.'”
One thing Red showed very well at Ichthus, where it was the Friday evening main stage opener for Skillet, was that it could play to a huge crowd — sort of like the one it will see in Rupp Arena, where last year’s Winter Jam drew 14,756 fans.
“We started doing this thing about a year ago where, before the floodgates open and everyone starts rushing into the arena or festival grounds, we walk around where those people are going to be standing,” Armstrong said. “We walk around anywhere where the crowd is going to be and just sort of put ourselves in that place, so when we look out there we’re like, ‘I was standing in the same place where that person is standing now,’ and you automatically have some sort of connection with them. It seems like you are playing for a person you were more or less praying for, praying that they’re loving the show and for their situation and whatever they may be going through.
“And that’s cool, because that’s what our music is geared towards. It’s geared toward speaking to people, and not trying to recruit them to be a Christian — we’re not into that. But we are into touching people’s lives.”
That was the intention with Until We Have Faces, an album that had a title before it had any tunes. The inspiration was a C.S. Lewis book about Greek mythology called Till We Have Faces — “But we’re not into Greek mythology,” Armstrong says, with a chuckle.
“We were looking for something that had to do with discovering your identity, and there was a passage in that book we found that said, ‘No human being can ever receive a message from the divine unless they truly know who they are.’ Because we all believe in God, we apply that to a passage in the Bible in 1 John that says, ‘Your true identity will only be revealed when God’s identity is revealed in you.’
“We see our fans really struggle with who they are. They’re searching for whatever they’re supposed to be doing with this life. It’s a very scary time for a lot of people. They’re letting the world define them and tell them this is the way you need to be and what you need to do, and this is who you’re going to be. If people guard their hearts and discover who they are on their own, instead of letting someone else do it for them, I think they will end up a happier person and feel some sort of obligation. That’s what the record is about. It’s sort of an anthem for those people — people that don’t have a voice.”
The first two tracks on the album, Feed the Machine and Faceless, serve that message with a distinctly Red sound.
“There’s an overall sonic vibe that we’re looking for on our records that our fans have come to expect,” Armstrong said. “It’s that really sonic landscape with the symphony and the piano and the really cool programming and stuff. We wanted to amp up that stuff a little bit on this record, and we wanted to dive into the angst that’s been created by seeing people really struggle to find themselves.”
Red’s album seems to say it’s a message and a sound people want to hear.