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Interview: Ronnie Winter from The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

American post-hardcore champions The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have had an exciting year with the release of their first album in four years, ‘The Awakening.’ Their latest hit, On Becoming Willing, has been sitting at number #1 on the Billboard Christian Rock Single Charts for over 10 weeks. As the quintet get ready to hit our shores, we chatted with charismatic frontman Ronnie Winter who dished on his favourite Australian hotspots, superhero fans, and the life of a Christian in the rock industry.

What are you most looking forward to about this tour? 

It’s one of our favourite places! We have consistently toured Australia in the last 8 to 10 years and we don’t tour everywhere in the world. There are a few countries we specifically hit every time and Australia’s definitely one of them.

We’re most looking forward to reconnecting with our old friends. We’ve come to recognise quite a few people over there. We’re all a little bit older and wiser, but we’re still growing a lot so it’s just good to go back to you as much as we can.

There is a lot of excitement and anticipation for this tour! What can fans expect from these shows? 

Well, we’re not playing the album in full because it’s just a little too much to try to serve to people in one dish. The album has three ‘movements’, which is essentially three songs—the singles. We’ll play Movement One and then all the other hits for the rest of the night because we like it when bands do that.

As you mentioned, this is not the first time you’ve been to Oz. What’s been the most memorable adventure you’ve had previously? 

It’s probably going to sound cheesy but we had been to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. They take kangaroos and koalas that have been injured and they house them  It’s like a zoo you can walk around and actually pet and hang out with them, and for us it’s really exotic. It’s like the coolest thing in the world and I tell all my friends because it’s really awesome!

Where would you like to visit this time?

This is probably the least amount of time we’re going to spend there. There are 4 back-to-back shows. That’s because we were getting solid feedback from the Australian fans so we wanted to come over there and play some of the new stuff. We were going to wait another year, and if we did we would’ve done what we normally do, which is 4 to 5 shows and a couple of days off and then 4 to 5 shows.

I think we went somewhere called the Gold Coast. That was really cool. We’ve been there three times and it’s probably our second favourite place to just chill. We can check out the restaurants and just walk the strip, but this time it’s all business.

Supporting you is The Comfort. Have you met them before and what do you like most about their music? 

I have not met them yet but I will meet them soon. We had a bunch of bands submit and we decided for a while we were trying to bring another US band with us. Then we decided to also consider Australian bands. I was set a lot of submissions and I liked theirs the most.

We always try to be cool and pick one band, whether it’s the main support or a support slot. There have even been some shows when there’s been a contest winner. It’s something we always looked forward to when we were a band first starting out and were lucky enough to open up for some big bands. We did those competitions so we try to pay it forward now.

What’s your favourite song from ‘The Awakening’ to perform live?

It’s definitely the current single (On Becoming Willing), which is probably going to sound like an obvious answer but it just hits hard. It’s a heavy kind of bouncy, fun song and it’s got a really cool post-hardcore metal bridge.

It’s crazy it did as well as it did because it’s actually really aggressive compared to some of our older stuff.  We were surprised at how well it’s done. That one’s my current favourite just because it’s metal and in your face and big and open on the chorus but really intricate. I really like how it came out.

What is the craziest thing a fan has ever done at one of your shows? 

Oh my god, we’ve seen some wild things, that’s for sure! There are always a few people who are just way too drunk and are making fools of themselves, but you get used to that and I’ve done that myself when I was a young man. It doesn’t bother us too much as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

I don’t know if this was the craziest but it really just stopped me in my track—recently we did a guest performance for the Atlanta Warped Tour and there was a guy in a full-blown Deadpool suit crowd surfing. It was so unexpected that it stopped me for a second and I think I missed a line.  I have Deadpool Issue #1, the very first comic ever so it was cool for me. So far I would put that up in the Top Ten.

How awesome! What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done at a show? 

Me? Not too much, I mean we’re not a flashy band. We don’t wear a bunch of eyeliner and leather with spikes; we don’t have crazy fireworks and fly up in the air. I grew up listening to bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, and it was just 3 or 4 dudes rocking. That was all it was about. It was about being tight, playing in tune and in time, and just being a good band.

I haven’t done too many crazy things but I have had a few close calls. One time we were playing a show and the stage was really high off the ground. I went over to the right because I needed water and jumped off the side of the stage. There was a little rail on the bottom that I didn’t see and the front tips of my feet caught it and I flew off the stage. Luckily, I swung all the way around to where I literally was hanging like a bat. I was about three inches away from smashing my face right into the concrete but I caught myself with my hand.

Nobody in the crowd knew it. As far as they saw it looked like I stepped into the darkness and stepped back, but my heart was racing and my brain was freaking out. I just got up, dusted myself off and went back on stage to finish the show but I was inches away from having zero teeth and that would’ve been a nightmare!

What a close call!  It’s a good thing no one knew. 

It freaked me out big time! 

How have your shows evolved since when the band first started in 2003? 

We’re better musicians. You would be surprised when you meet a lot of guys in bands, they don’t know too much about music, but this band is different. Both me and my brother (Randy Winter) are classically trained. We can read and write music on sheet paper. I actually went to college and played in the orchestra, while he played percussion in the high school orchestra.

Over the years, every time we replaced a member we tried to replace them with somebody who’s a little bit better, so we’ve really fine-tuned the art of playing our own music. We’re not Dream Theatre and we’re not Tool but we’re really great at being Red Jumpsuit. We play really solid and really tight and I think that’s the biggest improvement.

In the beginning we were just doing our best, we weren’t really pros yet. We were still pretty young but now we’re in our mid-30s and have been playing these instruments longer. I’m a better singer—I don’t drink or smoke anymore so my voice is pristine. I never really cared about that when I was young because I was a kid just there for the party, but it really affects your voice over time.  

Do you do much songwriting on tour and if so, what kinds of things inspire you that you would not get from home? 

That’s interesting. You’re the second Australian interview to ask me that and nobody else has ever asked me that before. I guess you guys think about it a lot, but we do write on the road.

There was one song that wound up being the first single on our last album, ‘4’. The song was called The Right Direction. Randy actually came up with the guitar and I helped build the song around it.  He sent it to me and the label was ‘Paris.’ I texted him back and was like, “What’s up with the song title?  Why is it called Paris?” It was still a cool song but it literally had nothing to do with Paris.  And he goes, “Oh, I wrote and recorded this in Paris.”

Usually I just write the song, then I send it to the guys, they learn their parts and that’s how we roll. But sometimes Randy or a producer or someone will bring us a song and I will co-write with them. It’s kind of a rare situation but it does happen. I’m a producer, my brother’s a producer, my wife is a producer and our drummer’s a producer, and we don’t just work for Jumpsuit so you never know who’s recording in this band.

‘The Awakening’ is your first album in four years. How did the hiatus impact the writing and overall sound?

That’s a great question! The main reason why we took that long off—which is the longest in our career—is because my wife and I had a baby and my brother got married. The baby’s name is Wolfgang, and I told (the band) I wanted to be around that first year. I didn’t want (my wife) to have to do all of it by herself so we took that time off.

As far as how it affected the writing, this is the first time I’ve ever attempted a concept record and I’ll probably never do it again because it’s really, really hard. Based on the response we’ve gotten so far—which has been honest—people really dig it. In the past, I had tried it and failed miserably. I’d get about three songs in and be like, “Aw, this is too hard.” I didn’t feel like linking them all together and I couldn’t make sense out of it.

But with this one I had enough time to really map it out. Song One ends where Song Two picks up and Song Two ends where Song Three picks up. In a way it’s like binge-watching a TV series as an album.  That’s how specific these lyrics are. It was hard and I don’t think I could’ve done it without that break. 

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus has been classified as a ‘Christian’ band.  There are other rock bands like Switchfoot and The Fray who are Christians but don’t like to be defined this way. Do you find there is a stigma in being labelled as such? 

Sure, but we don’t care and we don’t get caught up in the politics. Anybody who listens to our records knows I believe in God and anybody who listens to our records also knows I don’t try to shove that down their throat. I don’t think I know everything, I know for a fact I don’t know everything. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life and I’ve had a lot of success.

What I tell people is just what works for me. When my mind, my body and my spirit are linked and I’m living right, I feel better; my life feels better and I think clearer. Good things seem to happen for me and I just share that with people. If every time you got a headache you took Tylenol, then your friend had these same headaches, you would recommend Tylenol to him. You wouldn’t tell him he has to do it. You wouldn’t open his mouth, shove a pill down and be a jerk about it. That’s essentially what we’re doing. You can call us a Christian band if you want or say we’re not one, it really doesn’t matter to me. I just mention what God has done for me because I’m not afraid.

What I do is tell people how I feel and I’m very careful about telling them that I respect what they think and it might not be for them. I’ve accepted that and will still be friends with them, no problem. 

Do you find it is especially difficult to remain true to your beliefs as a Christian in the rock industry?

Definitely in the beginning. I just got really into the party thing for a couple of years. I drank way too much and just not really living a spiritual lifestyle whatsoever. Then about six or seven years ago I rededicated my life to the Lord, about a year or two after that I got sober and now we’re quite a ways down from there. I live a whole different life but I’m still in this band and I still play all the same songs.  I’m just a better, sharper, more efficient version of the old me. Like they say, “a little older, a little wiser.” 

Are there any side projects you’re also currently working on?

Yeah, I’m always working on stuff. I never really did the ‘cover song’ thing. It’s really popular, it has been for almost ten years now but I stayed away from it. I always wanted to just been known for our music. That was important to me. But we’ve reached a point in our career—we’ve been a band 15 years, we’ve had over 10 number ones and we’ve sold a million records.   feel confident now that people know who we are and they know who I am as a songwriter so I’ve opened up to the ‘cover song’ world.

I just did one for a label called Hopeless Record and I’m very happy with it. I can’t tell you the song title yet but it’s coming out very soon.

I’m also doing another one, and the whole premise is famous musicians covering famous musicians so I’m on there with a bunch of other really, really cool people. We’re covering all these mega-huge hits and doing it our way. I was working on that today, actually. All that will be coming out… maybe this year, maybe not this year, but it’s soon from now. People won’t have to wait long. 

What would you say is the essential heart of The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? 

We haven’t changed much. In the very beginning it was important to share the message of hope and to raise awareness against domestic violence, mental illness and depression and drug and alcohol use. In our opinion, it’s all linked to the mind, the body and the spirit. We’ve stood for those things since day one and the message is still our thing. I know a lot of people will find that cheesy but those are the things we stand for. 

Where would you like to take the band in the next 10 years?

I’ll be 45; I’ll be a geezer! If everything stayed exactly as it is now I would be happy. We tour just enough to make a living, which is not normal. Most bands tour all year long just so they can drive profits, and I get that because we did that and it just brings you out. Right now we have a great balance between touring, home life, and studio life and it’s really great so I hope 10 years from now we’re just continuing this steady progression we’re on and nothing tragic has happened. Who knows, right? No one’s promised tomorrow.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus Live Dates

The Triffid, Brisbane
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Club Azzuri, Newcastle
Manning Bar, Sydney

Written by Anna Harvey