August Burns Red bassist describes the band’s new release, Guardians
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
May 25, 2020
Photo by Ray Duker
Dustin Davidson is the bassist for August Burns Read, a metalcore band based in Pennsylvania. ABR is also made up of John Benjamin “JB” Brubaker (lead guitar), Brent Rambler (rhythm guitar), Matt Greiner (drums), and Jake Luhrs (lead vocals). The band’s ninth album, Guardians, was released April 3, 2020.
FBPO: How were you first drawn to the bass? Do you come from a musical family?
DD: My mom, my aunt, and my uncle all sang. My uncle actually played bass, so when I got started playing bass, he was super stoked! He wanted to show me all the beginning riffs, “Smoke on the Water,” and all that stuff.
FBPO: I bet he’s your favorite uncle.
DD: That’s right! [Laughs] My mom played clarinet and my aunt played the flute, high school band stuff. As far as me getting into music, it started in middle school. My friends in my neighborhood were all into punk and pop/punk stuff, and I grew up hanging out with them. They were older than me, they were the cooler kids. I started listening to bands like Blink-182, New Found Glory, The Starting Line. I would credit Blink-182 as the band that got me kick started. They got me into wanting to be in a band. My neighbors were playing in a band, but they needed a bass player, so that’s actually why I got started on bass, because that was the spot that needed to be filled.
FBPO: Did you play anything else before the bass?
DD: I played the saxophone. I think I started playing the saxophone in 6th grade, and I picked up the bass right around the same.
FBPO: Who were your bass influences once you discovered the instrument?
DD: When I discovered the instrument, it would have been Mark Hoppus, because Blink was my favorite band, but I was very drawn to Flea too. I meant that guy’s insane! Still to this day, he’s one of the best. I’d say those two guys.
FBPO: You were pretty young when you joined August Burns Red. How much did you do professionally before you became a part of ABR?
DD: None. None, professionally. I was just playing in some local bands here in Maryland. I was playing guitar and drums. before I started joining this band called the Overture, to play bass for them. Around the time I tried out to join ABR, I would have gotten all new bass gear, so it was just perfect timing. When I went there to try out, they were like, “Wow, you got this Ampeg setup, and a nice bass. All right, cool. That’s a good start!”
FBPO: How did you get the gig? Wasn’t it through a mutual friend?
DD: Yeah. I honestly didn’t know they needed a bass player. Myspace was big at the time, and I was working for my dad. He owns a mechanic shop, and I was the painter. I was painting a car and my buddy was calling me but I couldn’t answer. So he showed up and knocked on the window and he said, “Dude, you know this band August Burns Red? Well they just posted on Myspace they need a bass player or a guitar player. I know you do both, but I thought I’d let you know.” I didn’t even have an email address at that time, so I made an email address and submitted, “This is who I am, and I’d like to try out.” I’d met the guys before, like once or twice, before they were signed. I think it helped that I learned the songs super quickly, didn’t have any problems with them, and also that lived really close to them, so it was probably a good thing that I only lived two hours away.
FBPO: The band’s 9th album, Guardians, was just released. How would you say that one compares to the previous releases?
DD: I think it’s our heaviest release to date. JB and I, being the main songwriters, we wanted to write stuff that was really heavy. When you have eight to nine albums over your career and have all these different sounds, you’ve got different fans. Somebody discovers us later and they like this bigger idea, experimental idea we would do in our songs. You gotta kind of incorporate that too. We did that with Guardians, but as a whole, we just wanted to give back to our fans what seems to go over the best, what they wanted, and that’s the heavy stuff. So that’s really what we focused on writing for this record, and I think it stands out as our heaviest record to date.
FBPO: What really got my attention is how the music sounds loud and angry and rebellious, but the messages are about reaching out to people and being helpful. I thought was an interesting combination.
DD: Right! We’re angry music for happy people!
FBPO: [Laughs] The production is great too, by the way.
DD: Thank you. That’s Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak. We’ve worked with them since Rescue & Restore. I think that was our fifth record. It would have been the first record we did with them. We’ve gone back to them every time. They’re always learning new techniques and tightening it up and we just have this great working relationship because we’re friends with them and we’ve worked with them for so many years. We understand each other and that’s how we can deliver product.
FBPO: Writing seems to be about as important to you as playing. Is that a fair statement?
DD: Yes, that is a fair statement. Writing and playing music are two of my favorite things. You write songs, you go out and you tour for a couple years on those songs, and then by that time, you’re ready to start playing new songs. It’s really exciting to write something new, to get it out there, to see the reception it gets, and then to play something new live. Switch it up.
FBPO: I bet a lot of people don’t know you play guitar also. Do you write more on guitar or on bass?
DD: I write more on guitar. I never sit down and say, “Here’s an idea for a song based on bass,” but I will do that on parts. There’s a part on Guardians from “Extinct By Instinct,” in the interlude, where the bass is doing this tapping riff. That whole section started with that bass tap. I wrote that out and then I kind of based everything around it. I will do that from time to time, but most of the times that I sit down and try to come up with a new idea, it is me picking up the guitar and riffing on the guitar for a while and once I finish it, bringing the bass in. It starts with the guitar and it ends with the bass for me.
FBPO: It’s got to be challenging coming up with new material after so many albums. On the one hand, you want to maintain the overall ABR sound, but on the other hand, you want to keep it fresh. How do you balance that?
DD: I try to learn new things because I’m, for the most part, self-taught. I started taking lessons later in my career. I was probably around 25 when I first started taking lessons, and that really helped me. I never studied theory growing up, so that really helped. It kind of opened this window to new ideas and new directions. If I get stuck, it’s just getting away from something, and trying to learn something new, to come back and approach it from a different angle.
FBPO: I suppose the long-term cohesiveness of the band must be a big help, especially after you and Jake joined?
DD: Absolutely. We’ve been touring for so many years. We all know and understand each other better than ever. We’re adults now. This is the best touring and writing and collaboration that’s ever been. Everybody can be honest, there’s no hard feelings. Whereas in the past when you’re younger, and you say you don’t like something, you could be butting heads on something or not have it end up in a good way. With Guardians, this was our biggest collaboration to date, and it was probably the smoothest operating recording session we’ve ever had.
FBPO: Tell me about your gear.
DD: I have a new bass right now, a Kiesel. It’s my first headless bass. I love it so much, and it sounds go much brighter than the Vanquish, which I was playing. I’ve been with Kiesel since 2015. I just recently switched to a Kemper (amp). It made things easier and better for me live. When we tour, we can’t take a bunch of different instruments, especially if we’re flying overseas. We utilize a lot of different tunings, so all of our guitars are set up in drop-C. I used to use a drop pedal. In the past, our lowest we had gone would be A#, but on this new record we have an A and even a part that drops down to the G, and my drop pedal couldn’t handle it. It could handle a guitar, but it wasn’t handling me dropping the bass from C to A to even lower, to the G.
FBPO: That’s really low!
DD: Yes, it’s very low! I know that, but there are so many people that play in that tuning all the time. We have one song on the new record in A, and then one part that goes down to G, and then it comes right back up, so you could have the drop pedal take it down there for one little rhythm, but for the majority of our tuning, my favorite to play is B or A#. I just think that’s a good place to be. If I want to be more melodic I stay in C, but I usually won’t go higher than that. That setup I was using for years was a SansAmp RBI, a rackmount, with a Darkglass B7K Ultra. That’s what I was using in the studio. On tour I was using the SansAmp GT DI Deluxe. It’s a nice little pedal. I was using that with the Darkglass as well, to help color it a little bit more. We haven’t used cabs on stage in a while just because we take so much production on tour these days that we just go DI on everything.
FBPO: What do you like about the SansAmp, or Tech 21 gear in general?
DD: Oh, the punchiness that it gives me! It allows me to cut through those high-end guitars. My old pedal didn’t color my bass the way I wanted it to. It didn’t give me this gain structure that I wanted. And then I found that RBI. I want to say I’ve been using that since 2008, or somewhere around there. I’ve used that ever since. I discovered it early in my career and just never went away from it because it was so hard to get away from it. It sounds so good and everyone would compliment me on my bass tone. “What do you use?!” “I use a SansAmp RBI.” “I gotta get one of those!” So I just stuck with it. I think the most important thing in my tone is my Kiesel and my SansAmp.
FBPO: What kind of strings do you play?
DD: D’Addario nickelwound, 55 to 110, and I swap out that 110 for a 120 because it’s a little bit too floppy.
FBPO: You’re primarily a pick player. Do you ever play with your fingers too?
DD: Yeah, I switch up and play with my fingers live sometimes. I use them for playing, like, a dynamic part.
FBPO: Do you have a preference for one style over the other?
DD: I definitely feel like I should play with a pick for our style of music. Honestly, I wouldn’t be capable of just playing with my fingers. I couldn’t do fast triplets like that, and really fast chugs with my fingers, so I’ve definitely stuck to using a pick. But I do love to switch it up, and slap, and pluck with my fingers, and thumb, and just do all different kinds of stuff if the part warrants it. If we’re doing like a clean section, a nice little interlude, then I’ll typically be playing with my fingers, almost always on those parts.
FBPO: What advice can you share with our students who are learning bass online here at forbassplayersonly.com? What do you think is important for them to know?
DD: If anybody is questioning if they should stay self-taught or seek lessons and professional advice in the first place, my advice is, if you want to grow, and you know of somebody who is a good teacher, then take it. If you want to take your playing to the next level and you’re questioning, should I take lessons or not, I would go for it because it really did help me.
FBPO: What about the future? I know you had a tour planned to promote the new record, but obviously, that’s all changed.
DD: Yeah. A very strange time we’re living in right now. We were on the road for a short (time). We played two shows with Killswitch, and then we had a headline show. That’s the day it became a reality we were going to have to postpone the tour. We are going to reschedule it, but no one really knows when shows are going to be able to start happening. We want to get back out and do that tour again and honor the tickets that have been purchased for it. That’s what our plans are. We’ve just got to figure out when we’re going to be able to do it. Guardians just came out, so it’s weird to be at home, not out there playing new songs and supporting it.
FBPO: What’s been keeping you busy in the meantime?
DD: Oh, writing and trying to interact with our fans online as much as I can. I got a camera, so I’ve been shooting a bunch of pleasure videos and stories talking about some of the songs I wrote for the new record. I’m trying to put a nice little series together for that. Just trying to do as much as I can to interact with people online since we can’t really go out and do anything.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
DD: If I never got on the road in the first place and joined ABR, then I probably would have stuck at my dad’s shop and been a mechanic. Otherwise, something with the outdoors. I’m a huge backpacker, camper, I love climbing peaks and going into the mountains and getting off the grid.
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview, here.
Guardians is available here: