Interview: Ronnie Winter from The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

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By Saffy Wihoite

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are gracing our shores on the 28th of November at Galatos.  After a 4-year hiatus, they have burst back onto the scene and headed straight for the spot they are most familiar with, number 1 on the Billboard Christian Rock Charts.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was one of my first post-hardcore music bands back in 2006 and they have had major successes with each release since becoming independent in 2010.   

I delved deep with vocalist and lyricist, Ronnie Winter, into the concept behind The Awakening’s story, lyrically, musically, and the different movements the album takes us through.

This new one is a concept album, was it daunting writing an album that was different from your others?

Yes, it was. I'm, not going to lie; most of the albums I have written for this thing have been pretty easy, except for this one.  It definitely was one of the hardest things I've ever done and I'll probably never do it again. I'm really happy that people like it and that it's going over well.

Because concept albums are known for being either really great or really terrible.  There's not a lot of middle ground, people are either going to like it or hate it, and that there wasn't going to be too much mediocre response. It was going to be either really good or really bad... it's a lot easier to write on the fly and make music that you think sounds cool, because you're the writer.  This was different because I had to link song 1 to song 2 and song 2 to song 3 – its one story; it goes from the beginning all the way to the end. You know I did my best and I feel like I did an okay job.

You're probably putting a nicer message out into the universe anyway.  A lot of the tracks are quite relatable. I personally relate to Unfinished Business.  I'm sure a lot of people have people in their life that they've failed and they've started coming around to what that person wanted for them.  

I'm glad you mentioned that one.  Like I said I'm weird, man. We don't do things how most bands do.  The more you look at our band the more you'll see that. That song, I wrote that song and recorded it seven days before the record came out.  Seven days. At the end of the album, I felt like there was something I was missing. There was something unsaid, some type of... Unfinished Business, if you will.  I searched deep and thought you know, there are still some things out there, there are some lessons I had to learn the hard way, and in doing, that I hurt some people.  

Unfortunately those people were very close to me and still are today.  And I'd never actually put down in a song that I was sorry and that I was trying to do better. Because that's all people really wanna hear from you, they love you already.  They want you to understand that; you gotta forgive yourself before you can forgive somebody else. I tried really hard to take that concept and put it in a song and deliver it to a few special people in my life and I did that, and the message in that song is really for me and for a couple other people in particular and it had to be done.  

And the reason why you can relate to this, and why a lot of people can, is because nobody is perfect, man.  And that’s why we gotta stop judging each other. Everybody makes mistakes, the thing is, what do you do after that? That's what that song is all about.

I personally found that songs 4-6 were expressing gratitude for the people in your life that like, put up with us during those time periods, which I am grateful for a lot of people in my life for doing that.

Yes, you're really getting it, I'm very happy to hear that.  Like I said earlier, when you make concept record one of the biggest fears that you have is that it's going to be a little too deep, a little too vast.  Especially in today's culture, you know a lot of bands don't even release albums anymore they just release a couple songs in little bundles now. So to do a concept album when they're not popular is very risky.  And I can tell that you've actually understood exactly what I was going for.

There are two parts to the concept album; one which are the lyrics, which we've discussed; there's also the musical part.  Those songs, 4-6 are movement 2, songs 1-3 are movement 1, songs 7-10 are movement 3, so not only does it lyrically follow, it sonically shifts. There are 3 movements.  Just like an orchestra (like Mozart), there are musical movements that coincide and change with the lyrics.

Those three songs you just mentioned in particular, that's exactly what I was trying to do.  I was trying to tell them; Thank you, thank you for sticking by me, not giving up on me. Which is different from song 10, which is ‘sorry I'm trying better’.  In the middle of the record, I'm saying; thank you.

This album is more mature from Don’t You Fake It, growth has happened.  The last few tracks, 7-9, are kind of about, for me, acknowledgment that stuff is hard but we gotta notice the positives in our lives.

Exactly.  Because what happens is, if you've gone through something like I have and you've actually learned your lesson...like I'm the type of guy who has to put my hand on the stove.  Somebody can tell me it's hot but I don't believe it until I burn myself. And that's been good and bad for me in my life. So songs 7 to 10 are essentially me sharing that experience with other people and saying “Hey check it out”.

That's why some of the song titles are like, Learning to Live, because I was 29, 30 years old and finally figuring out how to live.  I've actually seen articles on this. I believe they call it adulting now.  I didn't grow up, I'm still a big kid trapped in a man's body. I've never been the most responsible person that you've ever met.   I'd never say that, I made a lot of mistakes. [I] had a lot of fun on the way - a lot of pain and suffering as well. I made some pretty vast life changes, and I did learn how to live.  I learned how to be responsible, respectful, humble. I'm trying to share with people in those songs how I did that and that they can do it too, if they want.

The Awakening had a really great response, the fans responded well to it and On Become Willing has spent the last 10 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Christian Rock Charts, what prompted the return to the scene?

You know this is the longest we've ever taken off between records. Usually we release one every 2-3 years since I started the band 15 years ago, this time we waited for years because I got married to my co-producer Angela, and we have a baby called Wolfgang who is 2 years old. I didn't wanna be gone on the road or be that dad who wasn't around. And we decided to wait while I took some time off and then I decided to get back in the game so here we are.

That's so lovely. How has having a child influenced your creative process?

Well in a few different ways. For starters we have to take turns in between engineering and taking care of the kid so while one of us is downstairs, feeding him, changing him, the other was producing. Then we would switch out, so that changed it a little bit because I was used to being able to work full time, which I know a lot of parents struggle with. But luckily I had a great partner and we balanced it pretty well, and we both do the same thing for a living. We both make records so it was really good for both of us. It was tough I'm not going to lie.

There were some times where you know babies don't sleep a lot and musicians are known for staying up all night and working until the wee hours of the morning, and if you mix that with a crying baby pretty much insomnia reigned supreme for about a year and a half there, but we got through it and made a great record.

The band's message is about looking at things to remind you to be grateful, what are some of the things you look towards to remind yourself?

I'm such a cheeseball when it comes to that.  Firstly, my wife and son. I'm totally in love with my wife. I think she's the greatest person on this planet.  My son is everything to me. I literally cannot imagine not having him in my life for one day, so for me, it starts when I wake up.  

As soon as I open my eyes, I'm grateful.  I then get down and pray, and thank God for everything he's given me: for what I know about and don't: I thank him for my success and ask him to teach me to be a better father and a better son; then I start my day.  And it just seems to me that when I do that, which I have done consistently 365 days in a row for years, when I do that, I am able to somehow affect people positively. I don't think it's me, I think it's him working through me.

I just try to share that with other people. I just try to share that…you tried your way, I tried that way too for a long time, and that lead me to the deepest darkest holes of depression and knocking on suicide’s door.  It's a miracle that I'm alive today. I tried it that way; drinking all night. I tried doing drugs - guess what? All it did was make me wanna kill myself. So I tried this way of life and all of a sudden everything started to make sense to me.  

I started to have this sense of peace, so if there's somebody listening to this album and they're at that particular stage of their life where they're trying it their own way, then they can maybe hear somebody like me whose already been through it and stepped around that landmine, and then saying “Hey I just wanted to let you know, there's a landmine that way.  If you go this way it’s clear. This way is clear. I went that way and got hurt. Don't do what I did... come this way.”

How is touring different now that you have a child?

It's a lot different. I made a lot of sweeping changes.  I didn't take it lightly. One of the things that we do, which is why we're only playing five show this time, most of the time we play more.  Even when we tour in the states, I only tour half of the week. We play shows Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday; fly home to see my family Monday to Wednesday.  By knowledge we are one of the only bands who do that, my bandmates are the same.

That’s lovely

Exactly that's how we roll now.

What're you most excited to do when you're finished touring?

First thing I do, I take over watching for the baby because while I'm gone Angela has to watch him all the time, 24/7.  We really like to co-parent, we both like being really involved. I change his diapers, his clothes, all that stuff. I'm active as a dad as you can be and she's a super mum.  So I always feel a little bit of guilt when I'm gone because I'm on stage, I'm playing a rock show. It looks like I'm having a good time, which I am, when I'm on stage, for the one hour, but the other 23 hours I'm just missing them the whole time.

What experience have you had being in The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus that you wouldn't have gotten otherwise?

Oh wow lots of stuff.  The main obvious one would be recognition of other cultures.  We're from a small town, people call [me] a redneck, I think you guys call it bogan.  So that's me, by the way. I'm as bogan as it gets, and so is everybody I know. That's where I came from.  So we're flying to Toyoko, Australia, Europe... all the different creeds, and languages and cultures. I don't think I would've experienced that without the band.  That's been really great. A really cool side benefit.

So you must feel pretty at home in Auckland with all the bogans.

Yes I am. My entire life I've said that; that's my people.

What city that you've performed in recently has gone off the hardest?

Bali was pretty nuts.  We have played Indonesia before but we never played Bali.  Sometimes the first time you go somewhere it's really bad, or it's really good.  From the first song it was apparent that these people had been waiting for us for a really long time. Sometimes it's cool to go somewhere you haven't been before.  You can see the footage online, it was insane, fantastic show. Bali is in first place, but you never know it might change.

Last year it was Australia.  The whole tour was the best of the year.  We actually had more fun in Australia with the Anniversary Tour than we did in the States.   It went really well. Ticket sales were comparable but the audience in Australia was amazing.  This year so far, it's Bali but we'll see what happens when we come out there in a couple weeks.

Hopefully Auckland will go harder

I believe it is possible, time will tell.  I hope that people really bring it, man, because the places that we go to that treat us well, we come back.  Year after year.

What's your favourite bastardisation of The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus?  Mine is The Red Jumpsuit Apple Lettuce.

I hadn't heard that one yet.  Do you remember the show Saved by the Bell?  Do you remember the principal? Well, he was like a legend to my generation, and he was at a festival we were playing one time and he kept asking us  “How do you say the band name?” and we told him like 2 or 3 times. He called us The Red JumpSOUP Apparatus. I cracked up, I couldn't stop laughing and then I had to sing like ten seconds after that, so, so far that's my current favourite.

That'd be quite hard.

It was, it was a little bit weird but your adrenaline starts kicking in when you hear the drums.  I was a little overcome. If you look very carefully at my face you can see me laughing before the show.

What's your favourite song to perform from The Awakening and all time?

I'm such a weird guy.  There are a lot of bands that aren't playing their big songs, that ain't me.  I love Face Down, I'm proud that it was me.  I still like it every time I hear it.  I'm still just as happy with it as the first time I ever heard it mixed...so that's me, man.  I still love that song every time I play it. It has a special meaning to me. I know it's affected a lot of people’s lives.  Also Guardian Angel. I have a few favourites. From the new record though it's On Become Willing. I love that people are reacting to it.  It's a really fun heavy song live so it translates well. It just rocks, so that's my current favourite.

What to expect from a show?

Here's what we're doing.  So this is a concept record. Although you seem to have digested it well, a lot of people are still discovering it and feeling it out.  We've had a great response but I really want people to take time to digest it, because as we discussed earlier, it was really hard to do. I put a lot of time into, as well as my life, with my brother and my mixer Paul.

So, we're going to take our time on this one... we aren't rushing through anything.  We're just playing movement 1, songs 1-3. After that we are going to play our ten biggest hits, so essentially, it's all the songs that everybody wants to hear, other than the fact that we're out performing movement 1.

Do you prefer being independent; does it have different challenges than before?

Yeah, I like it. Yeah you know it just depends on who you're talking to.  Since we started being independent we've had success with every release, we've had the most success with this release which has been fantastic, but we've had consistently number 1s in every single album we've put out after leaving Virgin.  As a matter of fact, we only had 3 with Virgin and 7 after leaving Virgin, including this newest one. So we've actually had more after leaving.

The only thing is we don't have a big PR company; we don't have a label fronting a bunch of money so we aren't waving the flag of our achievements all the time.  Some people we meet we say things like “oh where have you been” and this-and-that, and really, we haven't been anywhere.

We just aren't mainstream anymore, and for me that's a little more comfortable.  I enjoy it. I enjoy being in control of my own music. I like not having to run anything by anybody when it comes to the creative process, because when you work for a label there somebody called an ANR and a President and they have to approve everything and they're not always right.  

Sometimes they are; sometimes they make really great decisions, but sometimes they make some really bad ones too, which is the risk you take when you sign a contract with these guys.  When we were able to get out of the contract which is very, very, very, rare, you know...that was 8 years ago. I decided to give it a go on my own and we've been successful since, and I don't see any reason to change that yet.

Are there any upcoming video games that you'd like to hear your stuff on?

I wish.  We had a good run with that with our label, but when we left our label, we disconnected from all contacts in the major label world.  Which meant we lost our contacts to the video game world. For a little while, we were in a lot of games, and I am a gamer. That was probably my most favourite part about being with a record label, was being in video games.  So if there were a video game to approach us, we'd probably say yes. But you know, we were twenty-two when we came out, they want the new twenty-two years olds. We get that, we're the old geezers now. It's not our time anymore it's their time.  We had our time, it's time for somebody else. Life moves on.

We're kind of like the kings of a dying breed.  It's weird being a popular post-hardcore band when the genre itself is no longer popular...but it doesn't bother us.  We're just going to keep going. It's just like, we play what we like, we're not really in the popular genre. As I told you earlier it happens; music is circular.  So, we're just sitting here waiting for a big emo comeback and when it does, we're going to ride that wave, man. You guys can unite under the banner of Jumpsuit and relive your youth.