"Indier than indie," is how The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus's Ronnie Winter describes his band's climb from local rockers to mainstream chart toppers. Ronnie knows it's the fans that made him what he is and he repays them anyway he can, whether it be by letting them choose the third single, Guardian Angel, by giving them the credit for all the donations the band makes to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or by setting up a contest where fans can submit videos about their very own "Guardian Angel". Starpulse chatted with Ronnie, getting the young rocker's opinion on what it means to be a teen today and what he hopes to accomplish through his music.
I guess it could be considered a guilty pleasure, but I sometimes find myself reading Youtube comments about videos just to see how asinine they get. After watching the video for Your Guardian Angel, I was amused to discover that some of your fans are taking the, "I'm angry this is on the radio because now it's popular," stance, with one fan even saying, "If this song gets popular, I don't think I'm going to listen to it anymore!"
If you look at the overall majority, actually, it gives you a much different opinion. We've already sold over 250,000 downloads of that single alone. And I get emails on a daily basis talking about how much they love the song, how much they can't wait till they get married cause they're having the song at their wedding. I mean, there are a lot of positive vibes. Still, you've got a few people out there, no matter what you do in life, who are going to be negative. And I don't really care what they say. We focus on the positive in this band, and that's how we got where we are. So as far as I'm concerned, too bad.
And what do you think of the attitude of "These guys are on the radio! How can you listen to that?"
Basically, to be honest with you, it's pretty much nonexistent. You're the first person I've heard it from. So other than this phone call, we're pretty much surrounded with positive energy.
You've got a contest going on where people can submit videos about their guardian angels. Who was your guardian angel in your life?
That's not really something that the contest is about. The contest is about the same thing that it's always been about, which is letting people know that we care about what they think. If you really research the band's history, you'd know that we actually asked our fans via Myspace what song they wanted to be our third single. We're one of the few bands to actually do that. We actually put up a poll online and they voted. So our fans chose the single themselves, an overwhelming majority of the fans. So we gave them an opportunity to show us who their guardian angel is. That's what the actual contest is about. It's just one more way of giving them power and showing them that we care what they think. Me personally, I don't even know that I have one. That's not really about me; it's more about the people we talk to and meet and communicate with.
I also read that you picked the first two singles you had.
We got to pick the first two singles, yes. Our label has been pretty cool. A lot of people have a lot of label problems, and I won't say that everything that's happened was specifically the way we wanted, but it's all about compromise, and one thing you have to do is be willing to win some battles sand lose some battles for the greater good. We definitely, fortunately, with the first two singles, were about to choose the singles and our label was supportive. It's more of a scenario where I said we chose them, because we did, but at the same time our label definitely agreed with us, so it wasn't like a fight or anything.
Right now a lot of bands are talking about bypassing the major labels and releasing music straight to the fans.
I think it's smart; I mean it's exactly what we did. I think they're a little late on the ball. Like I said, anybody who's really researched our band would know that we self-released our album including the songs Face Down and Your Guardian Angel, both of those songs were on it, although one was called a different name. It was called The Acoustic Song. And we sold almost 20,000 copies on our own, more indie than independent, on our own. Which is indier than indie. And that's how we even got the attention of major labels because we were able to sell so many records on our own. And they were like "Wow, look at this band selling records with no distribution and nothing but a minivan getting them from point A to point B." So if anything, the artists doing that, I would say, "Hey, it's about time." Most of us have been doing it for a while. That's what you do. If you want to break your name, you've gotta get out there and work. We worked hard and it worked out for us. If they decide later on that they want to stay indie, that's their choice and I hope it works out for them. And I don't think that's a bad choice. We chose to sign with a label because that's what was good for our careers. I think everyone should take it on an individual basis and base their decision on what's better for their band and what their goals are because there are differences to being a completely on your own artist, and there are advantages to being signed to a label as well.
You guys started out very young. What kind of music influenced your sensibilities?
That's a good question. We're all five totally different guys, and we don't really have exactly the same musical tastes, which is kind of cool. Speaking for myself personally, I've definitely been through phases. I listened to a lot of country music when I was younger because that's what my grandparents listened to, and I lived with them after my parents split up so it was like, whatever was in the house. But before that, my parents were really into 80s hair metal and so I also went through that phase when I was a child, listening to Bon Jovi and stuff like that. Van Halen, Guns 'n Roses. But then all of a sudden I started listening to Garth Brooks when I moved in with my grandparents, Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. And then when I got a car when I was 15, and it had a radio in it, that's when the grunge era hit. So that's really when I got into rock and roll, is when I was old enough to choose for myself what I listened to Ever since then it's been, back then what was cool was Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, I've liked rock ever since then until the days of today, which would be bands like us, My Chemical Romance, The Fuse, Stripes. I'm focused on rock, really.
It must have been great to be on the same bill as The Smashing Pumpkins for The Voodoo Fest.
Yeah, they played the day before we did and they were the last act. And we literally just got there that day at like noon, and I was really happy that we made it in time. A lot of times on tour you play festivals with bands you really want to see, but you have press or you have to fly out or you gotta do this or you gotta do that. And it's just disappointing when you really want to see a band and you're there and you're in a band so you usually have good seats or backstage passes which usually means you're going to have a good time. But it worked out. I watched the whole set, it was amazing. There were so many people there, I couldn't even believe it. It was pretty cool and they were awesome. It was cool to see Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin back together again.
A lot of country songs are basically short stories set to music. Do you think that's something that's influenced your own songwriting, like with a song like Face Down?
You know, I guess I can't deny it. I'm sure it did. That's definitely a phase I went through. I can see the correlation between country music and storytelling, definitely. But hey, who knows? There's a lot of rock bands that do too. Stairway to Heaven is one of the greatest rock stories ever told. It really depends on your perspective I guess.
You did a contest with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. What is it that attracts you to this particular cause?
Honestly, it was just a genuine interest from the organization. We did pick our first single, as we discussed previously, Face Down, before we even signed. We had already released it in 2004 and we got a really great vibe from it. All the people in the southeastern, basically the very very southeastern United States, and by that I mean Florida and Alabama, knew the song, had already known the song for a long time. We got the same deal when we released the song Face Down, kids were like "I don't want the song to be big; I don't want anybody to know about it." But you know what? It went big, and everybody knows about it, and everybody's happy. And it changed a lot of people's lives because of it. And how do I know that? Because they told me that. They told me that in emails and they told me that in person. So sometimes you can't fight that stuff. You just have to go with it. But, regardless, they came to us because they said people were calling them. And they said they believed in the song, they supported it, and they were really excited because they hadn't had such a response from the youth, ever, I guess in the history of the organization. And they were just really excited about it, they were like "who are you guys? What are you all about?" And we told them, "We definitely want to hook up with you guys." So we did a little event for them in New York where we performed the song acoustically, which is something we do very rarely. And then we devised a plan to put a t-shirt for sale with the actual handwritten lyrics on it. And it's the only shirt that we sell, for a reason, with our lyrics on it, although we know how important the lyrics are to a lot of people. We only sell this shirt with the lyrics on it because we want them to buy this shirt, because the money from this shirt has basically, every single time that it's sold for $10 exactly, not a penny more, not a penny less, gone straight to the organization via us. So basically we devised a way for our fans to donate to NCDV. And so far we have raised over $20,00 for them. Honestly, it's not something that we can take credit for, it's our fans, but either way it's really awesome, I think. And again something that never would have happened if we had listened to certain people who never wanted us to release that song.
When it comes to the song Face Down, was there a particular experience in your life that inspired that?
Yeah, every song on our record, every single one, is about personal experiences that I've had or somebody in the band's had. They're not all about me, but quite a bit are about me because I'm the writer as far as the lyrics and melodies are concerned. Naturally I lean towards what I know. But yes, it's a situation where, it's just a song about, when I was a kid I went through domestic violence, my parents split up when I was young. And that's why I talked about living with my grandparents. Fortunately for me and my two brothers they adopted us and pulled us out of that crazy scenario. If they wouldn't have done that we would have been split up by the state, so I got lucky. And it's just a song about what it's like to be growing up from the ages of 5 to 6 years old all the way to the age of 12 and pretty much dealing with it the whole time. So that's basically what it's about. But it wasn't something that was really preplanned, so I can't say it was about anything honestly. I can just tell you the truth which was that it came out, and as it was coming out then I kind of figured out what was happening and I was like, "Ok, I'm just going to go with this."
Your songs really appeal to teenagers. What do you think it means to be a teenager today?
Well, I think it's a lot harder than a lot of people think. Especially with the rising amounts of drugs and alcohol and everything that is so easily available. The internet and all the craziness it brings; sometimes too much information is a bad thing. Sometimes an innocent user can have some of that [innocence] stripped away. And also it's just a crazy world, there's a lot of bad people out there. And you never know what somebody's potentially done. So I think people should probably understand a bit more. And that's why we're sympathetic, I think. We're basically five guys who never had a perfect life. Nobody in my band- we all came from Middleburg Florida and basically scraped for everything we've ever had. Honestly, we've been through a lot and I understand it. I understand almost every perspective. And if it's something I haven't gone through, I guarantee you somebody in my band has. And if I had to say something about it I would say, "Just listen." You know a lot of people don't listen to teenagers because this last generation is saying, "Teenagers think they know everything." Well, maybe the next generation's saying will just be, "Teenagers know everything."
With something like domestic violence a big problem is that people are afraid to speak up and I think your songs inspire people to think, "We're not alone here and there's someone who can relate."
Well, I'm glad you realize that, and I agree with you, It's one of those situations where most people honestly don't do that to each other and don't agree with that kind of scenario. And I think that when Face Down came out and did so well and there were many people who liked us who weren't in a domestic violence situation. It's definitely something where I think it helped inspire a lot of people and I'm glad they understood it. Most importantly, I'm glad they understood the song because it is about hope.
So what's next for you guys?
Honestly, writing. We've been writing, like I said previously, some of the songs including Face Down and Your Guardian Angel are songs that are literally three and a half years old now, and ever since then we've had people beating us over the head for new music. So literally after this show we are going back home to Jacksonville for a few days. I'll be building our studio and we'll be writing and recording for the new record. And hopefully it will be ready to record by early next year.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer