Ronnie Winter Isn’t Afraid to Ride the Snake
Florida emo/screamo-pop quintet Red Jumpsuit Apparatus may be one of the quietest success stories in recent years, having jumped from the pack of Warped Tour forgettables to platinum-selling stars — via 2006's Don't You Fake It and the recently released Lonely Road — without a ton of fanfare. Frontman and chief lyricist Ronnie Winter has led the band through several lineup changes since its early '00s formation. He's prone to write heavy shit about domestic abuse and the dangers of peer pressure, but he's also known to crack wise and party down from time to time, too. We got a taste of both sides of Winter's personality when we spoke to him over the phone recently in advance of RJA's July 31 show at the Marquee Theatre.
New Times: Hey, man, it's Michael from New Times.
Ronnie Winter: Do you feel weird that your name is Michael, because Michael Jackson just died?
NT: Not really.
RW: Is it like, every time somebody talks to you they're like, "Do you feel like Michael Jackson?" Is it happening?
NT: Oh, sure, it's been happening to me more times than I can even count. It's amazing.
RW: Okay, just wanted to go ahead and add myself to that list.
NT: Are you broken up inside about Michael Jackson?
RW: Uhh, well, you know, yeah. It's the death of a legend. That's our modern Elvis. So totally, yeah, a little bit. I don't wanna say I'm sad, but I feel like this is a time in my life where one day my kids will be like, "Do you remember when Michael Jackson died?" and I'll be like, "Yeah, I kinda gave a shit." But as far as a singer, he was a fucking legend. With all that being said, I'm not heartbroken.
NT: It's been a weird summer of celebrity death. Are you afraid for your well-being?
RW: Oh no. I can see where this is going already. Fortunately for me, I'm not a celebrity. Most people have no freakin' clue who I am. You had to go there, didn't you? Maybe if I was a little more rich and famous I would feel worried and I'd be sheltered in my home. I'm not really on that level, so I'm good to go.
NT: Ehh, don't be so modest. You and your band are getting pretty famous. So how old were you when you decided to really do this, make it a reality instead of a dream?
RW: Well, my mom was really big into hair metal — you know, I'm 26 and I grew up during the '80s, and that's when hair metal was the shit. So every day, it was on MTV all day long. That was pretty much the only thing that was on our TV. And basically, David Lee Roth and Van Halen together definitely are my first rock 'n' roll memory, and that's when I started thinking, like, "Man, I could do this." Not, like, I think I'm better or anything but, "This is sweet. This is what I wanna do. Screw being a doctor or a lawyer."
NT: But a lot of people want to be in a band. What does it take to get from dreaming about it to making it a reality?
RW: Well, a couple things. First of all, a little bit of luck. A lot of people don't accept that, but you can have the master plan and you can have all the connections and everything else in place and it still won't happen. Other than that, it's just the classic "bust your ass." I see a lot of bands who don't walk the walk. They all talk shit and say, "I did this and I did that and our songs are good" or whatever, and then you actually look at the band and half the band sucks, or their songs suck, or they don't do anything — they don't fly around or they don't put their money into the band or they don't promote themselves. They don't really go out and reach out to a fanbase.
They think that just because they have a few MySpace plays, some record label's gonna call 'em up and a record's just gonna fall out of the sky. Well, guess what? It doesn't happen that way. It didn't happen that way for us, and it doesn't happen like that basically to anybody. So if that's your thinking, you might as well go ahead and play the damn lottery while you're at it, because it sounds like you have some pretty awesome luck.
NT: Do you care about what people think of your band or your albums, or is it a matter of you're proud of what you do no matter what anyone else thinks?
RW: That's kind of a serious question to me, so I wanna make sure I answer it seriously. And my answer is: Look, man, you're the master of your own destiny. Anything that you believe can really happen, it can happen. As far as articles and reviews and CD sales and all this other bullshit, none of that shit matters, man. It really doesn't matter. 'Cause when it's all said and done, you're gonna die. None of us gets out of here alive. That means you have X amount of days on this Earth to make an impact. Whether you do it through, you know, being a lawyer or a doctor or a construction worker or a burger-flipper or whatever it is you were meant to do, that's what you do. But as far as I'm concerned, I was meant to write music and play music and perform music.
So to answer your question, as far as I'm concerned, who gives a shit about any of that other stuff? Who cares how many records you sell? Who cares about how many interviews you do or the reviews you get? None of that shit matters. What matters is, you're here right now and you're alive, so what the hell are you gonna do about it?
NT: Wow, you're a pretty intense dude.
RW: Hey, whatever, man. Sometimes you just gotta ride the snake.