NRT Interviews Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Written by Ronnie Winter
Published by New Release Tuesday
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: Back Home
Our Editor talks with frontman Ronnie Winter about the journey he and his band have taken over the years.
Florida-born alternative rock band The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus has had quite the journey in its 10 years of existence. The band became something of a local legend in the Sunshine State, garnering a massive fan base while perfecting their craft of songwriting and live performances.
Eventually, the momentum led them to sign a deal with Virgin Records. The band would go on to record two albums with Virgin. Don’t You Fake It, released in 2006, was certified Gold for exceeding sales of 500,000 copies, and yielded the band’s most successful single to date, the anti-domestic violence ode, “Face Down”—which peaked at No. 25 in the U.S. and No. 3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
The band’s best-charting album to date followed Don’t You Fake It with 2009’s Lonely Road, a track that hit No. 5 on the U.S. Rock charts and No. 3 on the U.S. Alternative charts. That album yielded the band’s second-biggest single, “You Better Pray,” which peaked at No. 17 on the Alternative charts.
The band eventually left Virgin Records and released 2011’s Am I the Enemy
—as well as several smaller projects—independently. Now, the group is celebrating its second No. 1 hit on the Christian Rock charts with “Remember Me” from the band’s latest project, the Et Tu, Brute? EP
. (The first was the title track from Am I the Enemy
Originally conceived as a Christian rock band, much of Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’s lyrics carry direct biblical themes and positive messages, however lead singer Ronnie Winter says the major-label success proved to be a significant stumbling block in the life of the band, and they drifted for a time.
In this exclusive interview with NewReleaseTuesday.com, Winter talks about the ups and downs of the band, where his faith stands today, and the triumphant return of Red Jumpsuit Apparatus as an overtly Christian band.
So you’ve been doing some Christian music festivals lately. Tell us about that.
Yeah, quite a few. We did Lifest, which is amazing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin—definitely one of my favorite shows in the recent last three or four years. We’ve done Tent City and Alliance Festival also, which are both metal, punk rock festivals and also Kingdom Bound. And Creation.
Was it all this summer?
Most of those were this summer, but then also sprinkled through. This is the first year with our new booking agency called ETA specifically to help us with trying to be able to get shows booked in the Christian market. They’ve been doing an awesome job for us.
To some extent you’re almost being introduced to some people in the Christian world, even though you guys have been around for 10 years and you guys are pretty well established. What’s precipitated this sort of shift for you guys as a band?
I get asked that question a lot. The only answer that makes sense is the actual truth, which is we were a Christian band in the beginning. I accepted Jesus I think when I was like 13. That’s always been something that was me and my brother and my grandmother kind of instilled in us as young kids.
Our first band was called Dishonest and we were, like, straight Christian metal. My brother, Randy, was the singer and I was the drummer and he was the guitar player. Basically when that band didn’t really make it I started writing other songs which didn’t really fit in that genre. Instead of being super metal they were more punk rock and post hardcore. That turned into Red Jumpsuit and it wound up being just a couple of my friends that were hanging out with me, playing Halo, whatever.
That’s how the band started. In the beginning, a lot of my lyrics were all spiritual because I was coming out of playing with Dishonest and Randy wrote all the lyrics in that band, so this was kind of my first attempt at writing lyrics, really. In the beginning it was exactly what I wanted it to be, and then as the story goes you sign a record deal and everything changes.
In 2005 we signed with Virgin, and I really didn’t have a lot to say about anything after that. I was young; I was 22 years old and I was definitely tempted by everything that you could possibly be tempted by. I made some bad decisions. The only thing I really regret is not being crazy, over-the-top about insisting about how we were perceived and how we marketed ourselves because they just wanted us to be—if you just read the lyrics in the first album, almost every song on there has direct biblical references.
There’s a song called “Misery Loves Its Company,” which is directly talking about Satan. It talks about misery loves its company and that’s why he wants to bring all of us down with him because he doesn’t want to be the only one. The whole song talks about that. There’s another song called “Grim Goodbye” that has a verse from Ezekiel in the lyrics and it talks about the walls of Jericho. These are all on our album from 2006, even though we were not a “Christian” band.
Was there a tension in that?
Just because we didn’t advertise ourselves and play shows with huge Christian bands doesn’t mean that my lyrics weren’t spiritual. Then we had a lot of success and with success comes excess. I surrounded myself with the wrong people for a while. I knew that my testimony wasn’t where it should be and I definitely was aware of that so there was that weird situation where you have this conscious relationship with God and Jesus, but you also know that you’re living crazy. You’re like, “I shouldn’t be doing this,” but you do it and there’s that conflict, but you’re also in a van and you’re touring and you also have a family.
I kind of just toggled back and forth with that for a couple of years and then about two or three years ago I was like, “I’m just going to get my life in order.” I’ve got a pretty good grip on it now and since then I’ve been steadfast and just trying to show people.
How do you feel you’ve been received by the Christian community?
Depends on the song. Some people immediately try to find the songs that are bad. We have a song called “Damn Regret.” It bothers a lot of Christians even though the song is used in a context of a verb. The fact that I have to explain that already off the bat means I could have been smarter on choosing that song title. I’ll admit that, but it also shows how judgmental a lot of mainstream Christians can be.
The fact of the matter is if you look at the verb in context it’s not a cuss word, but I have to explain that and the fact that I have to explain that means they already passed judgment, which means they already don’t like the band, which means I already didn’t get the desired effect that I wanted to by them listening to our music, so I’m already in the losing situation.
Now being a 30-year-old man, I understand that now. Being a 19 year old kid I didn’t understand that. Then I have a song called “Casting the First Stone” where I deliberately cuss in a verse. Some people will sit there from the pulpit and tell you that you’re going to burn in Hell if you say this word and they’re wrong, and I’ll stand there and tell them they’re wrong and that’s exactly what “Casting the First Stone” is about.
Some Christians will read lyrics to that song and be like, “They’re not a Christian band. He cusses in the song,” but if they read the line, I’m actually talking about their talking about my cussing in this actual song. Think about that. It’s inception. I dare you to read the lyrics and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. The bottom line is telling people about Jesus and salvation. That’s it. If you want to get all caught up on everything else, congratulations. You do that, because that’s not why I’m here and that’s not what I care about.
I’m going to say what I’ve got to say and hopefully somebody who just came to the rock show is going to be like, “What is it about this band? What’s special about this guy? What is this energy that he has? What is this happiness? What is this vibe they have?” They’re going to want to know what it’s all about and then they’re going to listen to the lyrics and they’re going to find the biblical references and who knows, maybe they’ll turn to God.
At this stage of your life, this season, or maybe just in general, what is Ronnie called to do? What’s your mission?
Sobriety is hard for me. That’s my main battle. I’ve been an alcoholic for so long that it’s a daily thing for me. I have to pray every day about it. Most of the time I win. Sometimes I lose. That’s why we have a Savior. I am definitely not a preacher by any means. I’m a lyricist and a singer. I’m glad for the talents I was given and I’m a drummer on top of all that.
When I am completely focused, the only thing I really want to do is share the music—which is also the Word—and write and record and continue. I’ve been so lucky for so long and so blessed for so long it seems impossible to ask for more. I talk to my grandma about this all the time. She’s the spiritual foundation of our family and she said, “You have to ask for blessings.” I’m like, “I feel bad asking for blessings, because I’m a singer in a rock band. This is my job and I have a home and my friends and family, we all live because of this company. How could I possibly ask for more blessings without feeling guilty?”
I try to just remember to be humble—not even humble because it’s easy to be humble when thinking about God because He’s so massive and so awesome, but I just try to remember to be respectful and just grateful for every little thing. Even on the worst day that you’re alive you’re still surrounded by so many awesome things that you should be grateful for, if you choose to look at them.
Are you writing a lot?
Yeah, I never really stopped. Me and my brother do the bulk of the writing. Always have since we were kids, but the band definitely helps out. Our lead guitar player, who actually probably won’t make it to the show tonight unfortunately because his flight got delayed. He does all the lead guitar, but we do pretty much all the rest of the music. I tracked all the drums on the new record and I write most of the drums. He does a lot of the keyboards and guitars and stuff. It’s a collaborative effort, but mainly me and Randy. We never really stopped writing. The fourth record is going to come out soon.
We’re talking about recording in December, but right now we just found out yesterday or two days ago our song “Remember Me” is number one right now on the country, number one on Christian rock. Right now we’re just happy about that—celebrating that and we’re so grateful. What can you say other than, “Wow.” We’re just going to relish in that moment for as long as it lasts and not think about the future so much and live in the present for a little bit. Then once that is a memory we’re going to focus on the next record.
Are you guys still playing shows in the mainstream market and stuff?
We’re very much still a mainstream band.
How has your perspective changed on those shows in the last couple of years since God got a hold of you?
I don’t like them. It’s different. We really didn’t get to experience this side of the world until early last year and a lot of this year. With the mainstream shows, there’s just drunk people everywhere. It’s just constant drunk people and that’s it. That’s really the main bummer-outer to me. There’s just always drama. Somebody’s getting into a fight. Somebody’s bothering somebody. Somebody’s harassing somebody. Somebody’s spilling beer on something, on gear or whatever. You know, this is coming from a guy who’s struggled with alcoholism.
It’s weird seeing it from the complete opposite perspective. You’re like, “I hope I wasn’t like that.” And everyone else being like, “You were like that, bro.” It’s kind of unfortunate, but I’m glad that we don’t have to do it all the time. I definitely prefer not to do it as much anymore, but we still are a prevalent band in that industry, and as long as our songs are continued to be played on the radio we’re still affecting people who are nonbelievers who might eventually come over. We’re never going to close the door on that chapter, but if I could have my way we would definitely do a lot less of it.
How can we be praying for you?
Always just to stay sober. 20 years from now I’m still going to ask for that. I don’t think I’ll ever fully be able to just be like not a problem. I don’t know. Maybe. It’s still somewhat new to me though. I’m not sure on that one, but that’s probably the main thing for me personally, but as far as the band, the obvious things like safety. God forbid if anything happened to my guys. I don’t know what I would do. Just good old fashioned safety. Watch over us. We appreciate it.
Posted October 29, 2013 | Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and a church staff member. He’s also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and the worship leader at his home church in the Portland, Ore. area. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.