While some major label stints prove extremely fruitful for all involved, others do not. Signing to major labels sometimes comes with compromise, whether it be musically, visually, or whatever. Record sales and financial success are the driving factor for major labels, who pursue a hit single to sell copies of an album by the bucketload. Disillusioned with Virgin Records, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus opted to go down the independent route. Adopting a unique business model where they keep 50% of profits, let's hope they're successful and it's the catalyst for others to do the same.
Scheduled for issue on August 30th, 2011, 'Am I The Enemy'
will be the third full-length from The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
. Previous outings include July 2006's 'Don't You Fake It'
, which boasted the singles "Face Down
" and "Your Guardian Angel
", and February 2009's 'Lonely Road'
, boasting the singles "You Better Pray
" and "Pen & Paper
". These outings were via Virgin, which the group has since left - self-released in August 2010, 'The Hell or High Water EP'
was Red Jumpsuit
's first release following their Virgin departure.
'Am I The Enemy''s inaugural single "Reap" hit radio stations on March 24th and subsequently iTunes on April 26th, the first track to be penned by frontman Ronnie Winter in collaboration with Goldfinger vocalist / guitarist John Feldmann. Feldmann's songwriting contributions extend towards the whole album, not to mention his handling of production. 'Am I The Enemy' will be released by Collective Sounds, a record label launched by Red Jumpsuit's management personnel The Collective.
On June 17th at 15:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus vocalist Ronnie Winter to discuss 'Am I The Enemy'.
Ronnie Winter: Hello?
UG: Hello. Is this Ronnie?
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com, calling for the interview. How are you Ronnie?
I'm pretty good. How are you doing?
I'm doing well. Would it be ok if we began the interview?
Third studio album 'Am I The Enemy' is scheduled for issue in August. What did The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus wish to achieve this time around?
We went to California and we made this record with producer John Feldmann, who's also the singer of Goldfinger. He's done a lot of great records with bands like Story Of The Year and The Used, which are two bands that we like a lot and we feel we have similar aspects as far as songs that are not only punk and rock 'n' roll, but also have singing and good vocals. We were very happy to work with him, and basically we just wrote a bunch of songs. We had about twenty-three songs on the board before we picked the eleven that went on the record, and we just went up there and just made it happen. We were glad that we even got to make a third record, because a lot of bands don't get the chance to make a third album. Something happens or they fall apart - there's a lot of reasons. It's actually hard to keep a band that long, so we're just stoked that we got a chance to make a third record.
How did producer and Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann come to work on 'Am I The Enemy'?
Originally it was a writing session with me and John - it didn't necessarily have anything to do with Red Jumpsuit. I was in LA, and a lot of people just get together and write. I've written a lot of songs, and he's written a lot of songs. The first song that we actually wrote together was "Reap", and I was just really happy with how the song turned out. I was like "This is great because I can actually use this in Red Jumpsuit; it makes sense, and it fits The Red Jumpsuit's style." It was like "Alright, cool. Let's try to write another one", so the very next day we wrote "Salvation". They were the very first two songs written for the record, and we just had a good time hanging out. I brought up the idea. It was very genuine. Normally you send music to producers like six months to a year in advance, they listen to songs and then they decide if they wanna produce the record - this record didn't happen like that. Basically we hung out, and wrote two songs together. I asked if he'd produce it, and he said "Yes." We continued to write ever since that time we wrote those two songs, and then we banged out the record.
Since the music written between you and John Feldmann wasn't originally penned for use in The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, what was the music originally intended for?
That's a tricky question. I wouldn't say that wasn't the intention, but we didn't really necessarily.... We'd pretty much given up thinking that bands can make it on their own. Obviously, we all love music. I met Duke (Kitchens, ex-rhythm guitarist / keyboardist) in college music during high school, so ever since we started hanging out together music was always involved. We just weren't always in the same band, so when we finally started jamming together it was just more about fun and playing music that we wanted to play, but not necessarily music that a lot of people were gonna like. A lot of our early stuff was very experimental; a good example of that is a song called "Grim Goodbye", which is eight minutes long. Most people don't like eight minute songs anymore and definitely radio stations just won't play it, so in the beginning our goal was just to write what we wanted to jam to. We had fun in the jam room. That's what I meant by that.
You've produced some of the group's material I believe.
It's definitely totally different than just being in a band. Technically I produced the seven songs on 'The Hell Or High Water EP', but the band helped as well. Matt and Duke engineered most of the guitars, and I produced all of the vocals and the arrangements and stuff like that so that was a little bit different as far as having to worry about not overspending your budget and keeping your studio time booked properly and all these other things. Normally when you're in a band you just walk in, record and somebody else deals with all that kind of stuff, so it's a little bit more stressful. You've then gotta pay attention to just making a quality product, and making sure everything sounds comfortable to what you listen to currently. That's not always easy either because there are a lot of records out there right now being made, so I don't know. It's kind of a hard question to answer. I definitely like being in a band more than producing, but I do produce as well just because it's fun to do but in a different way. Definitely if I had to make a decision between one or the other, I'd choose singing in a band or playing drums in a band.
How would you musically compare 'Am I The Enemy' to The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus' previous two full-lengths?
I would say the biggest difference is John brought in a lot of electronic elements. The first two really didn't have a lot of digital drums, loops and so on, so it's a very kind of new, fresh sound. We've always really just stuck with two guitarists, a bass player, a singer and a drummer, and on this record there's still two guitarists, a bass player, a singer and a drummer but also a lot of cool electronic effects. We're big fans of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, and they've always done that kind of stuff. We enjoy that music, but we've just never tried it. You can definitely hear it right off the bat in our song "Reap"; there's some cool digital reverse / reverb effects and some cool little samples right at the beginning, and that's really what I'm talking about. You'll notice little things like that all over the record and I feel like that's a pretty big change, because - like I said - we've never done anything like that really.
Is it more difficult to replicate these songs live, or will the group just use tapes?
It's actually pretty simple. We only have one actual sample that we use and we just run it right off an iPod, and it's just all a little digital effect. It's actually quite simple because we've always played to a click anyway, and we just put the stuff that's extra that we didn't actually... Like I was talking about, the digital drums and stuff where it's a loop. There are still always real drums going on behind them, so we just play.
How did the track "Reap" come to fruition?
That was the first song that me and John wrote together, and basically I just showed up at his house and he invited me in. We sat together at his table in his kitchen with two acoustic guitars, and we just talked about where I was in my life and everything the band had gone through and what I did and didn't wanna write about as far as direction and an idea. We just wrote "Reap" on the spot in his kitchen, together me and him, on two acoustics.
What is "Reap" lyrically about?
If you listen to it, it symbolises that we made a decision in our career. We left our manager and our label three years ago, and a lot of people thought we were crazy because we could've stayed with Virgin and we had the opportunity to stay with Virgin. We actually turned them down, which is not really a normal thing. Most bands don't turn a major label down, but it's no secret that we weren't happy. We were glad that we had the opportunity to make our own decision, and we really feel like because of that we've been able to regain our identity which is why the chorus says "If you gain the world by trading your soul / Remember you'll reap just what you sow." Basically it's just expressing ourselves, knowing that we did the right thing. We may not be the most popular band on the planet and we may not have sold a million records, but that's really not what's important to us. What's important to us is writing what we wanna write, making the videos that we wanna make, and marketing the way we wanna market. That way we are true to ourselves and retain our soul per se.
What made The Red Jumpsuit unhappy with Virgin as well as the group's management situation?
The biggest hurdle that we had to overcome was they kept firing people all the time. Anybody who's a good businessman knows to find a great team, and stick with that team for as long as you possibly can as long as everybody's doing their job. The actual original lineup when we were working with Virgin was great, so pretty much everybody that worked under (Jason) Flom from the first staff team that he created... Because we signed to Jason right after he got hired - it could possibly even have been in the very first week that he was hired to Virgin. What normally happens is a president comes in and he makes a lot of changes, and then "Boom", here's what they call the new regime. At least that's the term that they were throwing around the office all the time that I heard. The new regime when we got there was great; they loved the band, they liked our music and they liked us as people. Our project manager was great, our video lady was really good, our marketing guy was amazing, and Jason was good. Everybody would treat us fairly and well in the beginning, and then as the story goes, they change everybody. People started getting fired left and right. We had three to four different marketing directors in like six months, which is just crazy because you get with somebody and you set this plan and set everything way in advance. You're then like "Ok, we've got this plan. Everything's gonna go according to plan - everything's cool, and I understand what's going on." Then they fire that guy and then they bring a new guy in, and he's got a new plan. Then they fire that guy too, and bring in another new guy. Basically what happens is nobody knows what's going on and everybody's getting fired right and left, so people are worried about losing their jobs and stop focusing on your band and pushing your band. Things just start to collapse, and that's what happened. As a matter of fact, if I'm correct - I'm not 100% sure on this - they're basically not even a record label anymore. They're just basically an imprint for Capitol now, so they went from being a very, very large and successful major label to barely even surviving and being able to keep the lights on in the building. That's a true story, and that's not my opinion - that's a fact. How does that happen? Running your company poorly, that's how that happens.
As a journalist, a major issue with record labels is the fact they change press officers every few months so you don't have a bloody clue who's handling which band.
It's ridiculous, and you know what? How do you develop a personal relationship with somebody and really try to build a team when everyone wants something different? It's impossible, so that was my main complaint. I think a lot of bands can relate to that and now that we are back to being independent I've had not one single change in our crew since we started, not one.
How did The Red Jumpsuit's new label situation come about? Its deal with Collective Sounds, which is a record label launched by the group's current management company The Collective? It sounds unique.
It's definitely not 100% normal, but that's us and that's how we operate - that's kind of what we're known for. Basically we have this new management which are great; we've been with them for almost two years and we haven't had really any major problems at all. After we signed, they decided to start a label. The first thing they did was come to a couple of acts that they had, and said "Hey, if you're a free agent..." or however you want to describe that. Basically if you're doing things on your own, which at that time we were 100% doing things on our own. "... How would you like to sign to us? We'll put your record out, and we'll hook you up with distribution and stuff like that." With a lot of bands that are completely on their own, it's not easy to get distribution. It's also hard to a lot of international touring as well, so we were like "Ok, cool. What are you offering?" They basically said "We'll offer you a 50/50 partnership, so you'll co-own your half of the label and we'll own the other half. You worry about the music, we'll worry about putting it out and we'll do it that way." To me that was just like the greatest possible option that's out there, because we basically have full control over anything that we want to have an opinion on. Anything else that we don't really know about necessarily they handle. I'm definitely enjoying the relationship so far, and I recommend it to any band out there that's not already locked into a four or five album deal.
Is a major distributor handling distribution?
Yep. They hooked us up with the guys at Sony RED. They're the one of the biggest, best distributors out there, so basically we have distribution like a major even though we're not on a major.
There's not much money in music, but a 50/50 deal is definitely a lot better financially than the usual major label deals.
Yeah. Not so much anymore, but at the same time you know what? That's just how it goes. Either way, we were happy to - like I said - make a third record. A lot of bands don't make it that far. 50/50 is a lot better than nothing.
On 'Am I The Enemy', how are the songwriting credits split?
I would say it's about 50/50. Most of the record is written by the band, but at least 45% of it is written specifically by me and John which is a new development. The first two records were all 100% written by me and the band - there had never been a co-writer in the history of our career. That was a new thing, but the cool thing about that was - like I said earlier - it just came about naturally. I just was in LA, had a writing session with John, and we just so happened to write a song that was suitable for Red Jumpsuit. Then "Boom", that started a spark and that spark started four more songs, and those four more songs started the record. It wasn't something that we pre-planned. It's just something where the band heard the songs, they liked them and I liked them.
For future Red Jumpsuit material, will you write with John, write by yourself or write with other musicians?
We're pretty open people. We still have a lot more songs too that we didn't record, so the trick really was picking the right ones - the ones that made us happy that we still wanted to put out, and then also the ones that were co-written. It really helped the band, so I can't be too upset about it.
Are any of these leftover songs worth recording for an EP or something?
Some of them are just in demo format. When bands go to make a record, there's two different kinds of ways to do it; a lot of times bands will just record every single song that they have and then they'll sit back and pick, or they'll start on the four to five that everybody agreed on which is what we did. Then everybody produces their demos, so we have existing demos with eight to nine songs that we didn't use. As far as actually having mixed, mastered and ready to go versions though, we don't have those because - like I said - we focused on the eleven to twelve that we nailed down. I know three of those songs that didn't make the actual record are being used as exclusives. I believe one of them is a UK exclusive, one of them is a Japanese exclusive and one of them is... I wanna say an Australian exclusive, but I don't know if we've made a final decision on that. So basically, we still used those songs but we used them as exclusives so we can change the packaging up a little bit, and the fans in that particular country get a bonus track. It's cool. Bands do it. We're not the first ones to ever do it, but it's done.
In terms of the album tracks written solely by Red Jumpsuit and those written by just you and John, can you tell as a listener? Are there certain hallmarks where you can tell John was involved?
I don't think so, because no matter what it's me singing on every song. The singer really I think... As far as vocals are concerned, every singer has their own particular style and no-one really controls that other than the singer. You're not gonna go in and change the singer. Not normally, because usually there's only one way they know how to sing - at least that definitely goes for the rock singers I know. I don't feel like you can notice. I guess we'll find out what other people think, but I don't think so. I think it's a pretty seamless record. It goes from one song to the next; they have a very cohesive sound and they definitely sound like a record, and not just a random bunch of songs put together. I think they blend pretty well, and I would highly doubt people would be able to spot which ones were co-written with John.
Will there be future singles from 'Am I The Enemy'?
Definitely. Obviously the first single is "Reap", and we're probably gonna do three to four songs depending on just timing and where we're at with the album cycle. Definitely I would say at least three singles, but you never know. Sometimes you get more than that, which'd be great.
How did the track "Salvation" come to fruition?
That was the second song that me and John wrote together, so that was day two of our writing sessions. We sent it to the band, the band came in and added a bunch of stuff to it. Even with the songs that we wrote with John, the band still wrote the majority of the music. Me and John wrote the progressions, the lyrics and the melodies, and pretty much everything else was Red Jumpsuit. That was the second one that we made, and like I said, it was shown to the band. They all thought it was great, and they all wanted to jump in and record it.
What are the lyrics to "Salvation" about?
I think everybody goes through a rediscovery phase in their life where you're headed in one direction, and then all of a sudden you make a lifestyle change and you're just in a completely different place. It's a little bit about growing up, getting older. We're all getting older; I'm twenty-eight years old - two years away from thirty - and that's kind of scary to me. The song is about finding my way back to my dreams. We all just returned to where we were before we were signed to a major deal, before anybody even knew who we were. We went back into our studio and made this EP that we released right before the record 'Am I The Enemy', so that song is looking back to where we were. When we were back in our home towns for a couple of months, it was really the first time in four to five years we've taken three months off and just stayed at home, and enjoyed our family and our friends.
Since The Red Jumpsuit had a break, does that mean the batteries have recharged and the fire is stronger?
I think so. It's weird talking about that because a lot of people are gonna be like "Stop complaining you're in a band - it's the best job in the world" and they're totally right. I'm trying not to complain, but also trying to be honest at the same time in saying when you have a big song or a couple of big songs. You do a lot of touring right off the bat and you really miss a lot of stuff, but you don't even necessarily notice until you finally do come home. Like you said, our batteries are recharged. I definitely feel like we got the spark back, and got to just have fun being in a band again. You can't forget to do that.
The internal structure aside, has there been any other differences being an independent band again? Does Red Jumpsuit still get on the same types of tours, the same press coverage and all that sort of thing?
I don't think there's been a huge difference. We tested the waters with the EP that we put out last year, and Sirius started playing the songs. We were doing great tours with other bands that are still on huge labels and we've been doing a lot of regular festivals, so I don't know. I haven't seen a whole lot of difference in touring really, personally. Actually, we've been touring more recently (laughs). We don't have to worry about crossing any lines either. A lot of people already know about this - I'm not blowing people's minds here - but a lot of bands with major labels have backhanded deals where a label got this band on the tour or another label got that band on the tour, so we don't have to worry about politics or anything like that. We just tour, and if we find a band that wants to tour with us we're like "Hey, do you guys wanna go on tour" so it's a lot simpler and it's easier. There's just not as many people involved.
You mentioned backhanded deals orchestrated by major labels, though obviously some groups benefit from these backhanded deals. Has there been a problem in that sense for Red Jumpsuit? Certain labels being friends, and leaving the group out in the cold?
There was one issue on Virgin where we had a problem because there was a band that they wanted to put on as our opener for one of our headlining tours. I'm not gonna mention the band because I actually like the band, and it's nothing personal - I'm giving an example of how it can hurt your career. Basically we told them no, so they got really upset because they pretty much had already told the band that it was a done deal and was gonna happen, which they shouldn't have done. That was before they came to us and asked for permission, and we had another band that we had toured with previously that we were friends with, and we had already promised them the spot. It wasn't anything personal, like I said. We had already made a promise to another band, and we weren't gonna break our word. We said "Look, we've already promised the spot to another band. You guys should've checked with us first before you told them that this was gonna happen. This isn't our fault." For the next two months, everybody that was involved with working with that band... Because not everybody in the label works for the same bands either - that's different, and a lot of people don't know that. For the next two months, all the people working for that band hated our band because we didn't take their band out. We never promised that we would to begin with though, but that caused a little bit of drama in the office. Now you've got people working in companies who think that you have an ego or this or that, but really it comes down to just holding your word and doing what you said you were gonna do, which is what we do.
It's good that Red Jumpsuit stuck to its guns, because some other bands might've just said "Fuck you" to their friends.
We definitely did and that tour wound up being one of our best tours ever, and I will never do it any differently. We had a great time with those guys, and they deserved it.
Thanks for speaking to me Ronnie - hopefully 'Am I The Enemy' is the start of something new for the band.
Thank you very much sir. I hope it is as well, but either way - like I said - I'm just happy to even make a third record, and I just hope people like it and give it a fair chance. That's all I can really ask for.
Have a nice day, and the best of luck to you.
And the best to you as well. Take it easy.
Take care. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
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