In our feature interview with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus frontman, Ronnie Winter talks ‘Don’t You Fake It’, recalling their 2006 days, being labelled under ’emo’, as well as their next album…
Ronnie Winter is a full-time Southern Californian father by day and a part-time singer and frontman by night with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Thanks to Destroy All Lines and Chugg Entertainment, come next month, Winter and his four band mates will be coming back to Australia to celebrate and perform their now decade-old debut album, ‘Don’t You Fake It‘. (No one ever really counts their 2004 self-titled album, anyway.) ‘Don’t You Fake It‘ is a record that since its release on July 18th, 2006, has seen just over a million copies sold and has since become synonymous with this band.
Yet sometimes with these anniversary/celebration album tours, the record in question isn’t always the band’s favourite record – it’s simply just the most popular and successful album that fans want to see live. This is the case for Winter, as his personal favourite album is actually the most recent Red Jumpsuit Apparatus release, ‘4‘.
“I think that most musicians when they make new records, they will always like the most recent one as it’s the freshest in terms of hours being put in”, he tells me over the phone. “For instance, our last release was ‘4’ and I can still remember all of the hours we put in the studio; the tracking, the mixing and so on. So yes, mine would definitely be ‘4’. But there all the same to me; they’re all songs that I’ve just written over the year that I’ve released under this band name with my friends. ‘Don’t You Fake It’ could very well still be my favourite, but your first album will always be awesome.”
When you consider that just after this upcoming Australian tour was announced, the Melbourne date on May 12th at the Corner Hotel sold out in just a matter of days, with a second show being added very shortly afterwards. So, I think it’s safe to say that it’s indeed a favourite for many and is most certainly regarded as “awesome” by a great number of their fans. But when talking about his own band’s favourite releases, the topic of his favourite songs from this 11-year-old release comes up, and Winter reveals the song gathering process for The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and the “stream of consciousness” of their debut’s lyrics.
“From this album, it’s hard to choose as those songs are a stream of consciousness for me. So, ‘Face Down’ is ‘Your Guardian Angel’, ‘Your Guardian Angel’ is ‘Cat And Mouse’, ‘Cat And Mouse’ is ‘In Fate’s Hands’; it’s all where I was at that time in my mind and my life. I don’t make a record that is too spread out, as the songs are all usually compiled over a year or two – or even from a certain month – so that’s way there’s that continuous flow to the vocals on that album.”
He pauses and then ends my suffering. “But to answer your question, my favourite song, especially my favourite to play live right now, is ‘Your Guardian Angel’.”
Ah yes, the ballad.
Now, for those of you who remember this band’s early days, TRJA got heavily and consistently lumped in with the ‘emo’ crowd of the past decade along with many other bands – come on, you know the band’s I’m talking about here. Personally, I always found that the band became much more of a “rock n roll” band on the following records, like on ‘Lonely Road‘, for instance. But even so, I have always wondered if that pigeonholing early on bothered Winter and his bandmates and with this interview, I had a chance to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
“We don’t really care about most things”, says the singer matter of factly. “We have low expectations which have proven to be a good way to look at life for both me and the band. On our Facebook bio, under where it says genre, we have “HAHAHAHA”, so we don’t really try to fit into a genre. In fact, every record we’ve made was always somewhat different from the last. If you look at ‘Your Guardian Angel’ and ‘The Grimm Goodbye’, it sounds like two different bands. One is a 6/8 power ballad [‘Guardian Angel’] and the other is an eight-minute post-hardcore song [‘The Grimm Goodbye’]. From the beginning, we showed that we had a rather random approach to how we write.”
“You can call us whatever you want, so long as you listen to the music”, Winter firmly concludes.
Genres aside, I have always found that ‘Don’t You Fake It’ is a good example of a time and place record; it came out when that kind of alternative/rock style was doing very well commercially and due to its release in mid 2006, that now puts it within the rose-tinted view of nostalgic fans that are looking back to their youthful days. So I present the notion to the frontman that maybe the record would have been received differently if it had come out this decade but Winter shoots me down quick.
“I don’t ever speculate, and I think that things are how they are everything happens for a reason. That’s a really weird way to look at life but that’s how I live. And I think that ‘Don’t You Fake It’ did exactly as well as it was supposed to, and… life went on.”
When talking with Winter, you really get the vibe that he’s someone who isn’t that bothered by a great many things, but not in a necessarily rude way, mind you; more of a general level of acceptance and mild-contentment. However, this wasn’t always the case and his state of mind and overall outlook have developed over time from playing in this band for fourteen years now. But he wasn’t always like this.
“Not in the beginning, yes! I lost a lot of sleep back then and we were all very young and we cared a lot. We didn’t know any better. We’ve been together fourteen years now and we’re married, we have kids, and we’ve just grown up. When it’s all said and done, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. And the people that do take us really seriously, all I can say is “relax, buddy”.”
As the frontman puts it, that was all way back when they were simply five young men in a budding rock band with a solid and successful album on their hands… and who also had an arguably cringy look about them in retrospect. Winter laughs when I bring up the band’s old promo photos up, saying “I never really see those photos anymore.”
“I do have them in boxes, but I don’t have them lying around the place”, he continues. “But when I do see them, like online, I just remember where I was at that time. It’s like time travel almost. It felt normal for us at the time. I imagine it’s how people who grew up in the 70’s and they have afro’s and all that awesome 70’s style. They might not wear that today, but they don’t regret. I may not have my long hair today but I don’t regret growing it out.”
Again falling on the topic of the band’s “image”, and while it may have been quite shallow of me, I ask Winter if he thought the way the band looked – their straight “scene” hairstyles and trendy rock band countenance and temperaments – helped their initial success?
Again, for him, it’s a ‘no’.
“I highly doubt that, as there are and were far better-looking bands out there. Most people wouldn’t even know us from our image, they know us from the songs. If it was all based on the image, I don’t think we’d have lasted this long. And I’m so glad we’re known for our music.”
As you’re probably well aware of, Australia has seen a lot of these album tours of late. I mean, just this year we had Killswitch Engage play ‘Alive Or Just Breathing‘ in full last month and Underoath celebrated both ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety‘ and ‘Define The Great Line‘ in February. The tours are great for fans of course, and the promoters know that these shows will sell well, even if they don’t fully sell out. Winter provides me with his thoughts on these kinds of tours and their frequency these days.
“Well… if you’ve made it ten years as a band or longer, and you’re still a band, people really support the idea of you going back to your old records. People really like that. I think it’s definitely that bands are doing it for the fans, and in our case, we have a large percentage of fans who say that they want to see us play the first album. It’s never bothered me and it never will. So why not do it every ten years? As far as it being a trend? I don’t know, we didn’t start it but I think it’s awesome. As long as we and the fans are enjoying the shows, then cool, we’re doing it!’
Of course, there are far worse and far more egregious trends you could take part in then performing an old album of yours in full on an Australian tour. When I voice this to the singer over the phone, Winter laughs and exclaims, “Exactly! Like, come on, we’re just talking about rock n’ roll here”.
Finally, and yes, I know that this is a really fuckin’ softball bit to end on, but with the band going back a decade in their discography for this Australian tour, what happens when this physical and musically time travelling trip comes to an end? What goal does The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus look to, if any?
Of course, Winter already has those future plans ironed out.
“After these tours, we’ll be going into the studio to record right here in Southern California. My wife and I are co-producing it and the album will be called ‘The Awakening’. We’re going to record it this year and we’ll also release it this year – we’re fast like that. But that’s all you’re getting from me right now!”
Hey, fair’s fair, and I’ll be holding you to that info, mate! But until “The Awakening” comes out (if that even is its real name), diehard fans have May’s ‘Don’t You Fake It‘ tour to look forward to. Which of course features this classic naughties banger…