Matt Greiner

A new album finds the Christian metalcore stalwart August Burns Red toying with previously unexplored sonic elements. Drummer, band, and fiercely loyal fan base all come up winners.

Story by David Ciauro
Photos by Alex Solca

There’s no shortage of August Burns Red’s signature aggro-melodic riffs, odd-meter complexities, and prog-metal mayhem on the band’s brand-new album, Found in Far Away Places, its first for Fearless Records. But what should be a pleasant surprise for longtime ABR followers are the songs’ atypical breakdown sections, which journey into spacious, cinematic, orchestral, surf-rock, and even rockabilly realms.

Matt Greiner proves to be an expert navigator throughout Found in Far Away Places, using his methodical approach to craft parts that help each song tell a story, both lyrically and musically. Greiner makes smart choices across the album, knowing precisely when to leave space and when to go for it. As August Burns Red prepared to embark on the Frozen Flame Tour with Miss May I, Northlane, Fit for a King, and ERRA, Modern Drummer spoke with Greiner at length about the making of the album, which was near completion at the time, and then again after it was in the can.

MD: When did you start writing the new record?

Matt: We started early last year. JB [Brubaker, lead guitarist] began writing while we were on tour, and I started writing drum parts at the beginning of September and finished at the end of October.

MD: Being that the new record is being finalized now, will you be playing any new material on the Frozen Flame Tour?

Matt: We aren’t playing any new songs on this tour, which is funny, because I feel I have a better grasp on the new songs since I spent the past few months working on them. We’re playing fifteen songs, a few dating all the way back to [2005 debut] Thrill Seeker. We had six full-lengths to choose from, so it was hard to come up with a set list that we’re not sick of and that the fans are going to love. Hopefully we’ve hit that balance with this list.

MD: Are you refraining from playing any new material because you don’t want the first impressions of the songs to be cellphone-quality audio from the shows that fans post on YouTube?

Matt: [laughs] That’s exactly the reason! In addition, people won’t know the songs yet, so it won’t translate as well.

MD: Has the writing process always been the same for the band?

Matt: The process has been the same on the past four records, going back to [2009’s] Constellations. Prior to that, on Thrill Seeker and [2007’s] Messengers, I had written with JB in person in our practice space. But that changed as we progressed as musicians. We’ve found a lot more success when we write separately from each other. It’s a very efficient way for us to write. So now JB will write the guitar parts for a song in its entirety and then email it to me. I’ll download it and open up a program called TabIt, which allows me to visualize all the notes and all the rhythms, which is helpful because I’ve always been a visual learner.

MD: What do you do from there?

Matt: The first thing I do when I’m writing drum parts is get to know every part of the song. It’s a lot less frustrating for me that way. If I can memorize each part before writing my parts, I’ll have a better feel for the flow of the song and where it’s going. Then I can write accordingly. Typically I don’t go with the first idea I have. I usually just play something until I think it suits the part well, and then I build it into my muscle memory. When I’m finished, JB comes over and listens to me play it, and together we finalize each song.

I treat writing my parts like it’s a job. I’m not always excited to be writing. It’s a lot
of work. I’ll set up my drums over at my parents’ farm, which is ten minutes from where I live. I’ll drive over there around 9 a.m. and write until lunchtime. I force myself to write, and I find that driving away from home helps me treat it more professionally and not walk away from it.

MD: Since you’re so prepared ahead of time, how long does it take you to get your tracks done once you’re in the studio?

Matt: As the first person to record, I want to get in and get out and let everyone else get to work building the songs on top of my parts. I was in the studio for about nine days to finish all the songs and percussion parts for this record.

MD: Do you prefer to be by yourself when you’re recording?

Matt: JB likes to be there, because he knows I can get frustrated if I finish my parts and then he comes in and changes a bunch of stuff. I’ve gotten better at it over the years; I think I’ve grown up a little. Then the whole band comes in at the end and listens to everything I recorded, and if there are any changes to be made, I’ll make them.

MD: The new record sounds great. There are a lot of unexpected genre-meshing twists and turns. Did JB specifically set out to inject these musical departures into the breakdowns?

Matt: JB doesn’t really like to have a formula or a plan when writing. I love those parts the most, because they provide the variety that keeps things interesting for me as a drummer. I think JB had more headroom going into this record, and that’s how those parts came about. After having done so many records, experimenting and taking risks so many times and seeing things work out, it’s a lot easier for us to swallow those new sounds and new styles, whereas before we may have been a little more afraid to step out of the box.

MD: “Identity” has an almost surf-rock vibe to the breakdown.

Matt: When I wrote drums for it, [I found that] there were only so many beats that fit a “surfy” part, which makes my job a little bit easier and makes the song flow really well. The part after that is heavy, but it works, because the melody is still there and there’s a dynamic build into it.

MD: “Everlasting Ending” is another song with an interesting dichotomy. It’s a heavy song, but it’s got a sparse breakdown reminiscent of the guitar solo in Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” with the steady rimclicks going throughout the part.

Matt: That’s a song that I actually wrote a lot of my parts for in the studio. All I had to know was the time signature. In other words, at what point does that riff or guitar melody start over? It has a very fluid sound, and I just played whatever came to mind. You can hear a musician’s influence in “Everlasting Ending.” That’s the kind of song where you can really hear someone’s playing, because there’s that space—it’s slower and allows for a lot more interpretation. I’d say that’s my favorite song on the record. I wrote the lyrics for that song, and they mean a lot to me.

MD: There’s a lot going on in “Ghosts,” with a moody intro that leads into a linear tom pattern. Then it gets real heavy and later adds a melodic chorus with help from Jeremy McKinnon from A Day to Remember.

Matt: That beginning is really slow and quiet, with a lot of space, so I knew not to overplay. The tom groove was actually something that I’d initially written between the hi-hat, snare, and kick, but I changed up the instruments I was hitting. I do that a lot. If I come up with a beat or a sticking that I think fits well somewhere, JB and I will go over it, and instead of changing the part, I’ll change where I’m playing it [on the kit] to change the sound of the beat, but still keep the sticking the same. I find that goes a long way when I come up with a cool sticking that helps the song along but that’s too intense—or not intense enough—where I initially played it.

MD: In 2011 you started a drum company, Greiner Kilmer. What made you want to start your own company?

Matt: I was on Warped Tour with Kaleb [Kilmer], who I had met at church right before Warped began, and we started scheming up the idea to build drums. His father owns a furniture-repair company, so he has endless tools at his disposal. Kaleb is an engineer and is able to figure out how to make things work. He’d made a snare drum out of drumsticks, and he showed it to me and I couldn’t believe it. So he started making handmade stave and segmented snare drums. A couple of years later, we had sold quite a few, and this year we started making full drumkits. Adam Gray from Texas in July is one of our main artists now.

MD: What are your goals for the company?

Matt: I would say that it’s a company aimed at employing Kaleb. As far as financial gains for myself, the band has been my main career, and that’s where I put a lot of my time. Greiner Kilmer is definitely something I have time for when I’m home, and something I can promote on tour, but as far as the size of the company, I don’t have any particular goal in mind. As long as we’re making a quality product that our clientele wants to hold on to forever, I’ll be very happy with it.

MD: The band has a strong Christian message, which runs counter to what some people think about heavy metal in general. How did you first discover metal?

Matt: When I was sixteen I went to a Christian festival called Creation, and there was a stage where they played heavy screaming metal, or metalcore music, that was still Christian, and I was just thrilled by the drumming in it. So I bought a couple of CDs, started playing drums, and wanted to play in that style. It’s funny—I called my mom last year when we played this festival in Germany, and I told her that I couldn’t find a single band on the roster that she would have let me listen to while growing up. Simply put, music is just music, and it can be used to glorify yourself or glorify God, or send out negativity and instill fear in some people. It’s a powerful medium, for sure, but I don’t think it can be just boxed up and categorized. I’ll listen to anything that is edifying and musically tasteful.

MD: The band has a clear message, and you’re particularly involved in cultivating a sense of community with your fan base—for example, with HeartSupport.

Matt: Yes! HeartSupport is an online community where our fans or anyone can come and read about other people’s stories and hopefully be inspired. Our singer is the leader of that organization, and he’ll occasionally ask me to write something for it or stand at our merch table and talk to fans after the show. I think a lot of people that come to our shows want to be able to meet us in a way that’s more than just a handshake and a picture. They have something to say, and HeartSupport is the conduit through which I can be there for the fans, to listen to what they have to say. A lot of people want to talk about our lyrics—what they mean to them and how they relate to them—so it’s an affirmation to keep writing lyrics, playing drums in a band, touring, and working hard, because we’re helping people through playing music.

MD: Where will the remainder of 2015 take you?

Matt: We’re on the Warped Tour this summer on the main stage, and I’m teaching drum lessons for up to thirty people almost every day at the TEI [the Entertainment Institute] tent. When Warped is done, I’ll have about a month at home, and then we’ll be doing some international touring this fall. I’m very excited for people to read the lyrics and see the artwork for this record. The message of August Burns Red is as important to me—if not more important—as my drumming.

Tools of the Trade

Greiner plays a DW Collector’s series drumset with cherry shells and a Mexican Chechen veneer. The kit is composed of 7×10 and 8×12 toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and an 18×20 bass drum; the snare is a 6×14 Greiner Kilmer Custom Pioneer Walnut stave-shell model. Matt’s Zildjian cymbals include 14″ K Custom Session hi-hats, a 16″ A Custom crash, an 18″ A Custom Projection crash, a 20″ K Heavy ride, an 18″ Oriental China Trash, a 9″ Oriental splash, 6.5″ and 9.5″ custom bells, and a 13″ Oriental China Trash stacked with a 10″ A Custom splash. He uses a Remo Coated Ambassador snare batter, Clear Vintage Emperor tom batters, and a Clear Powersonic bass drum batter, plus Vic Firth Matt Greiner signature sticks, DW 9000 series hardware and double pedal, and Ultimate Ears UE18 custom in-ear monitors.