TCB Exclusive: Random Hero Dives Into 'Tension'

Random Hero is comprised of Aaron Watkins (vocals), Rob "Los" McDonough (bass), Patrick Madsen (drums) and newest addition Micah Labrosse (guitar). Since the Denver-based band’s debut more than a decade ago, Random Hero has earned numerous Top 5 Christian rock singles, including “Mirror Mirror,” “Not Alone,” “Burn Up the Night” and “Mercy,” in addition to the Top 30 mainstream rock hits “Impossible” and "Running." Among the band's accolades, Random Hero has worked with former Skillet guitarist Ben Kasica and they were featured on the hit MTV show “Made,” as well as multiple stops on one of rock’s biggest traveling festivals, the Vans Warped Tour. Regularly showcased on Christian music’s top rock outing, the CityRockFest Tour, Random Hero continues to be a mainstay at fairs and festivals around the country and internationally. Adding to their discography on August 23, the band hopes Tension will bring their message of hope and healing to an even larger audience with their most melodic and hook-laden release to date that has something for every listener. In this exclusive interview with Random Hero, the guys share why this record is so different from any prior releases, a prophesy early on that influenced the process and the tension they experienced as a band leading up to this new album. You can view our entire interview with Random Hero below, in video or text form, along with two compelling exclusive acoustic performances.

Since this is our first time talking with you, can you share with us the meaning behind the band’s name and how the group was formed?
Aaron: So the name Random Hero derived from the fact that none of us are in the military or [are] police officers or firefighters, the heroes that we all look at and admire. Being in the band, we are in a situation where the best way we can be a hero is [to] go out and share how we found Jesus and love on everyone. So a random hero could be anyone, and it’s just about doing the small things because you don’t know where people are at. So just holding a door for somebody or buying a coffee. It’s just about being intentional about doing good for others.

We hear a new album is set to release this summer. What can you tell us about this new project?
Aaron: So we have a new record coming out and the new record is called 'Tension'. We are very excited about it! It’s different than anything we’ve done in the past. From the get go, the beginning of the entire thing, we were challenged by our label and our peers to look outside the box we were in to grow musically and spiritually and together. So we took that and we think we are athletic and very competitive in that nature; so when our label came up to us and said what they did, it was a smart tactic. Using reverse psychology instead of pushing that we can do this, saying we couldn’t do it. There was an immediate switch where we said ‘game on, we can do this’. And so, we came out and did cowrites with two legendary humans - Kellen McGregor from Memphis May Fire and Josiah Prince from Disciple. For me, it stretched me beyond what I thought I could do, and artistically they pushed us in every direction. When we came out of the whole thing, I just felt like all of us were better at our craft, which is an awesome experience.

Patrick
: This was the first record that we’ve ever written as a band [where] every day we were a team unit. They were there the day I tracked drums; we were there the day Rob tracked bass, when we did vocals, and everything. So this is the first time we got to do an album as a team. And we got to the studio the first day with Kellen McGregor and we were immediately put out of our comfort zone and put on the spot. He turned around and had the session prepped and everything. We were so excited and he says ‘what do you have for me?’ And I just looked at Rob.

Aaron: I was sitting in the corner, and was just like ‘please, God, let them have something cool.’ And they’re like ‘we don’t have anything.’

Patrick: I had thought about writing ideas or something before coming up, and I know Aaron did too because he had been sending some voice memos. But what we really wanted to do was come up and be vulnerable to the gift that we were given. Aaron has a cool story that he will go into about this cool prophesy that was put over him.

Aaron: So I like to help lead worship at church when I can when we aren’t on tour, and our pastor was praying over me and this other guy. And as they are praying over me, they stopped and the guy said he felt the Holy Spirit was telling him to tell me that ‘there was a sound coming from the throne room of Heaven that only you guys can hear. If you listen to that sound and capture that sound, you can change the world.’ When people speak that stuff, and not necessarily know what you are doing, it’s pretty intense. So I called the guys up and let them know that we might be onto something really awesome, and I didn’t know what it was, but we needed to be intentional with listening to what we are supposed to write. So we didn’t go up there with any big ideas, but with little pieces of the puzzle to see what would happen. What we were supposed to do initially was to get a few choruses and cool hooks, and then go back home and continue writing on it. But as we continued listening and working and hammering away at everything, the songs just all pieced together. It was like watching an artist paint; it was an out-of-body experience just watching us work. It came together so fluidly and so organically, I couldn’t even believe it. Most people take almost a year to write a record and up to 60 or 70 songs, and we wrote this record in 14 days – finished the record in 12 and had 2 days off. It’s just crazy! So every day we came back to show Joe, our label owner, what we had, he was just blown away. But the process was just awesome, the ability to do this as a team and bounce ideas off of each other, even if you didn’t like them, just taking off that vulnerability, you just start grooving and creating.

How would you describe the sound of this record to new listeners?
Patrick: The lyrical content for this is communicated to the listener that we have been to those dark places. We’re a real band, and that’s one thing that we are very intentional about is after the shows meeting people and listening to them. So in the lyrical content, I feel that’s what’s communicated. Now in the musical content, I think you are going to hear diversity and not just coming from one person. 'One man can never be a team' is the motto we go by, and so you’ll listen to parts that just take you on a journey and turn into this guide to a crescendo. So from a musical standpoint, that’s where I’m coming from with that.

Aaron: I would say that there’s something there for everyone. We were intentional about what we were doing, and so we were intentional about the styles. We are a rock band, so we wanted to make sure we still stayed in that rock guidelines, but also wanted to give people something that doesn’t just stand alone. So I would say the sound isn’t just a one-lane of rock. So how we described it for our label is that ‘we didn’t just give you a great rock record, but we also opened up the highway for you to go to your rock and pop and CCM stations because there is something for everyone on this record and not just directed toward one group of people’.

So sound aside, how else would you say the band has evolved through the process of creating this record?
Aaron: Well, we have evolved physically with members, or a member. But I think every artist has the need to want to grow, and I think for us, there is a creative in all of us. And that creative can be for business or arts or working as a teacher or whatever is your creative, and for us it was music that God placed into our hearts and our lives. And so I think we wanted to grow, and when that creative isn’t growing, it gets comfortable. I don’t think we were necessarily comfortable, but our creatives were just wanting to break out and do something different. It’s that definition of insanity – doing the same things and expecting different results. And so we wanted to do something different and just open up to whatever the idea was. We could have written the greatest country record in the world, but we had no idea. For us, it was just being able to be vulnerable and communicate those thoughts without hurt feelings and being able to take constructive criticism from others, especially amongst each other and your peers. I think the growth came when we were doing these writing sessions because there was so much more we wanted to throw into it that we weren’t able to do in the past. So it was just really exploring unchartered territories for us and it was really exciting.

Patrick: There’s a saying that the drummer has the best seat in the house because he gets to see everything, and that statement rings true in the studio. I’ve literally watched my bandmates fall in love with music again, and I watched it happen and it was one of the coolest things, myself included. We were just so excited about where this was headed. Day one we had a song in the bag, and so we were just so excited. And if we weren’t in the studio, we were 8 to 10 hours in, working. And we were bunking out at Joe’s house, so this is what it should all be about – having fun and laughing until our stomachs hurt and making quality music. And that’s something in 20 or 25 years down the road, I will never forget. So I feel we evolved closer as a band and as personal friends.


Aaron
: It’s one thing when you write a record when you are apart and you are piecing it together. But when you are together, and you’re going through the motions together, it’s different. There were days we were plucking guitar or just sitting out back at night asking God what we were going to write tomorrow. I think we were 10 or 11 days in and I was tapped with nothing else to give, and all of a sudden I start hearing this melody. So a lot of it too is just being diligent and listening and being obedient to whatever that sound is supposed to be rather than trying to put our own thing into whatever this was going to be.

What were some big life events for you personally that impacted the songwriting process of this new record?
Aaron: Well so the title of the record is ‘Tension’, and tension is a universal thing; everyone feels tension. And sometimes it’s the most heavy feeling when you’re in the room with someone you have an issue with or something is going on that you can tell. And it’s not just evident to one person, it’s evident to everyone. We went through some things, some management changes, and not just with the record was there growth, but also we were letting one person go, and then there was getting signed by RockFest Records. There was a lot of tension and stress that came along with that. Then our previous guitar player ended up breaking his wrist onstage during a show, and he ended up having some issues with that as far as getting healthy. He just wasn’t able to perform the way he wanted to, and so there was a lot of tension with him because of where he was at, not necessarily with us, but you could see he was fighting something. The joy he had had before was just diminished a little bit. The thing about tension is if you face it head on, that’s when you feel the pressure release. No matter the outcome, good or bad, you just know you did your due diligence to take care of the situation. And so for us, it was a big year to focus on taking on tension and being okay living in the tension sometimes, but knowing we would come out okay on the other side. So that’s one thing, being in a band with four dudes, there’s always going to be something that pops up or a situation that becomes intense, and we have to either fight each other like brothers and beat each other up or do we figure out how to talk this through and come out on the other side okay. There’s always a learning curve, but that’s kind of the cliff notes version of what we’ve been going through. We’ve also been through some crazy things personally, but as far as the band goes, I think that’s a lot of what went into writing this record – learning to be okay with that.

Patrick: During the writing process, it was definitely a reminder that life happens at an extreme rate. When we were doing these sessions and all this amazing stuff and joy was happening, life back home for all was going downhill in certain instances. In my life, my wife was going through a kidney transplant, so when I was up here doing the record with the guys it was very hard. She would call me and be so scared with the fear of death, the anxiety, the medication she wasn’t used to, and she didn’t know how to feel. And she wanted to call me and FaceTime me and it was just extremely hard. I’m trying not to carry that into the studio, but you can’t delete it from your mind because it’s your wife, but if you go into the studio with a bad mindset, that’s a writing session that never went anywhere. So we always try to be mindful of that, that there’s not much we can do about what’s going on back home, which is the worst feeling, but we are here to take care of a mission and work for our families as well. And that’s what got me through. I was able to lean on my brothers, and they got to lean on me too because they were going through some stuff. But it’s something you forget, and it’s definitely why this record is called ‘Tension’ and why we incorporated it into the music.

Aaron: We just wanted to keep it as honest as we could. We could write about sunshine and bunnies, but let’s be honest, life is only like sunshine and bunnies occasionally. It can be really dark sometimes, so that’s why we relate to people and they relate to us. We mulled around with different titles and we really liked the one because the art was cool, but our record label said we couldn’t just like the title because the art was cool. But ‘Tension’ just makes sense. Even when we wrote the song, I remember when it happened and we were talking and processing through a lot of things, be it with our personal lives or the band, and you could just feel tension not with us but the situation we were going through. And we thought we really needed to hit on this and focus and see if there was a way to talk about it. And we did, and I wish you could have been in the studio, but it just happened.

What was the last track that you knew was the one that completed the album?
Rob: Probably “White Flag” for me.

Patrick: For me personally, our song called “So Close”. We were writing on Joe’s back porch and we all agreed on the premise being about our wives. We couldn’t do this without them, and on any record I was on for five years with this band, we had never written a song dedicated to our wives and our kingdom back home. And so when we did that, I thought it was really cool and did complete the album. What we do on the road is not possible without them, and it’s not possible without God either, and we incorporated both in this album.


Aaron: I would definitely have to agree with that one. That would have been mine. And that was actually the last one we wrote. But I also think that there are so many songs on here that if we could have gone in order, I don’t know that I could have pinpointed the last one. But “So Close” and “Outgrown” because they are strictly to our families. “Outgrown” is from us to our children and an all-encompassing to us. And that song is about watching your kids grow up, or as God watches us grow up in life, and they shed their skin of innocence and adolescence into adulthood. And as parents, you still see them as they are babies and I have two boys 3 and 6 [years-old]. And I hold on to those precious pieces of them. And “So Close” is for our wives. Women are the strongest people on the planet. From everything they do in our lives and our marriages to support our band, it blows me away. And they just came about and it’s not like we said ‘we’re going to write a song about our wives’; it just happened.

Patrick: As the only member of the band that doesn’t have kids, I watch these guys and how amazing fathers they are. But from the outside perspective, they see their kid and they comment that they got bigger or their hair is longer, or with music being timeless, this is something that their kids and their kids’ kids can listen to forever. And that has a huge impact for my future kids and watching these guys is a huge influence for me. 

Micah: I can say that when I was given the album to listen to and think it over, the track that stood out to me that I wanted to move forward with these guys was “Motivation.” It was just the one on the entire album that stood out sonically to set the bar that this is where we are going to go and there is no stopping.

So for our final question, how are you guys going to define success for this new release?
Rob: For me, it would be if one person gets saved from listening to this, it would be all worth it. For me, that would be successful.

Aaron: I think success is definitely one of those things that can be defined any way you look at it. People want power and fame, but if we were doing it for all that we would have quit. I define success aside from the spiritual side that guides people to hope wherever they are at. For me, I feel we are already successful because when my wife was listening to this record for the first time, she said ‘this is something I want to listen to over and over again. I hate to say, but some of your old stuff, I just don’t care for it, but I want to listen to this and I’m going to listen to this.’ So for me, I made it because I created something that my wife likes.


Patrick: The way I would define success for this record is sustainability. I love what we do and I never take a day for granted. I always say I’m enjoying the ride, because we all know at some point we will get older and we aren’t going to drum as fast or be able to play that sweet pick section as fast. But I would love to know that 20 years from now we are still doing something musically together and it was because of this record. I never want to stop doing what we do; the people I have met have changed my life for the better. And I just never want this train to stop.

Aaron: We’ve talked about this and said this is something we want to do until we are 60. Look back at our kids and say that we worked hard, and not just for ourselves but for them. That just shows that when you are called to do something, you follow the path. Sometimes it’s going to suck and sometimes it’s going to be amazing, but that’s one of the big things that when we look back from doing reunion tours is that we’re still doing this. 

Micah: Mine is similar to Aaron’s. When my wife heard the record before I said yes to the guys, it was probably the first record I played for her that she said ‘you need to take this serious’. And I think the second part of success is that after every season you look back and see how you’ve grown. I know for myself, I’ve seen the last five years that every year I’ve grown so much. I’ve met all these goals, and to me that is success that people grow.

Catch Random Hero on tour with RED starting August 25th. For more information, visit www.randomheromusic.com.