Tony Cummings spoke at length to Ronnie Winter of mainstream rockers RED JUMPSUIT APPARATUS
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"We decided, 'Hey, you know what? If people want us to come play live, that costs money.' We have to pay our band-members so they can pay their bills; we have to spend money on fuel, on airplane tickets, on merchandise, on gear-rental. When we go out on tour we've no problem accepting money, because we're providing a service, we're providing live music; but when it comes to them just listening to the message, we personally - and we've been made fun of for it, we've been praised for it - we don't believe that digital music should cost money, we don't understand why it does. So we took a stance to forever release our music free via our website, redjumpsuit.com. Again, if you don't want to download the huge file and go through the steps that takes, you can go to iTunes and click buy. You have the option."
Tony: Are you doing lots of live gigs?
Ronnie: "Yeah - all year last year. This year we're celebrating the 10-year anniversary of our initial mainstream album, which was called 'Don't You Fake It'. We're all over the globe. We started right off the bat in the Philippines; we did three huge shows there. We were supposed to play India as well, but the plane caught fire. Really scary. Because of that the plane had to turn around over the water - crossing the pond - land back at JFK, get off the plane, get on a different plane. Because of those extenuating circumstances the band wasn't able to make it in time to that show. But we kicked off this year already with three huge shows in the Philippines, which were very successful, and we're going to tour the rest of the year throughout the US and possibly the UK.
"We're not as well-known there because we don't use mainstream media outlets, we don't use the media companies that labels use there, and we don't feed the machine. I would rather use that money elsewhere, instead of spending it for magazine outlets that are full of questionable material. Even though the popular bands are on the cover of these magazines, getting interviews, the real reason they're getting pushed is not because people care, it's because their labels are paying for that marketing. We decided if people want to find us, they can. We come to the UK every couple of years and we play smaller clubs; usually it's a lot of fun. I can't tell you how many times I've had people thank me after the show for talking about Jesus on stage, because it's so rare there. There's the people who will say, 'I remember your band - they used to play your songs in the club every night - but I haven't heard from you in a long time.' I take that as a win: that doesn't hurt my ego, that doesn't hurt my pride. The reason they don't play us in the club anymore is that they don't want to play someone singing about Jesus. If anything, I respond to that with, 'Good, I'm glad they don't play us there, because we don't belong there."
Tony: I read an opinion somewhere - possibly on Sputnik - that your first album was amazing and your second was terrible. What are your feelings on that sort of strange view?
Ronnie: "The thing about websites who review albums is, usually, if you read that review they don't review the album. We were a band that didn't have any mainstream ties: we came from a small town, built up our own fanbase. The reason we got a record deal is we were already popular without their help. A lot of these music review websites are owned by certain media companies, so when record labels or management companies place advertising budgets, along with that they'll get a review. When people review our albums they're not getting advertising money from us; so when they do, they have a preconceived notion of 'These guys aren't popular anymore because they don't have a label that's feeding us money'. Basically they breeze through the review - they always talk about what you did before instead of what you're doing now. We honestly don't even read them; it's never affected our career, and I've never had one fan in 13 years of touring come up to me and say, 'I read that review on Sputnik and I didn't like your band anymore'. I hate to break it to you but they're not as relevant as they think they are."
Tony: For us, advertising doesn't come into it at all. We try to operate with Christian integrity.
Ronnie: "That's great, but that's rare."
Tony: Do you think you'll be able to sustain on this level much longer? You're working hard, doing tours, and you must have lost some revenue because you released your last album for free.
Ronnie: "I get that question a lot; it's always interesting to me. Some bands make it 30, 40 years, but the overwhelming majority don't make it past 10 years. We're 13, 14 years now. We decided a long time ago - eight or nine years ago - that if we wanted to continue this band, there has to come a point in your career where you decide, 'Am I doing this for money? Or am I doing this for something else?' The money never lasts. You can read every interview from every famous artist, they've been up and they've been down and one thing they will all say is that the money doesn't last; so when you encounter that first situation where you realise this isn't something I'm going to be able to do forever, you have to make a decision right then. 'Do I want to do this because I believe in what I'm doing? Or am I doing this for pure financial gain?'
"Most bands, when they come to that crossroads, they break up. Two or three of the members in that band will decide, 'I'm not making enough money so I have to pursue other endeavours'. So now you have people leaving the band. That leaves you with the other two guys who are probably controlling the decision-making when it comes to the business aspect. 'Those guys are leaving; do we want to continue this, or do we want to let it go?' We decided that we're just going to continue to write and to release music because we can - nobody can stop us. I can release music from now until the day I die. Because of that simple freedom, I chose to do that."
Tony: I've had the privilege of speaking with a number of churches around the world - in India and South America as well as the US - and some of them are experiencing revival. Do you believe we are beginning to see revival?
Ronnie: "Yeah - the old cliche, history repeats itself. I've seen revival. I think a lot of it has to do with my particular generation. When I was growing up it was definitely cool and edgy and popular to not believe in God. If you can trace that to the correlation of statistics to the rise of depression, anxiety, suicide, drug-abuse, alcohol abuse - it all traces. This is just my opinion - I'm not a doctor, a psychologist - but this is my own research: if you trace the correlations between the rise in those things, eventually the general populous starts to realise something. 'What we're doing isn't working.' So then they start to look at people who seem to be happy, balanced, who have some type of serenity with living daily life. What they start to see is those people have some type of spiritual connection; most of the time it's a spiritual connection to who I call Jesus and God and Trinity. There are other people who have achieved it as well throughout various types of accepting a higher power. When this smarter next generation of kids start doing their own research, if you're doing the best you can being a follower of Christ to live in his will, people see that: the way that you treat people, the way you present yourself, it becomes very apparent. So those people who are searching for something, hopefully they see that, they find that. They've experimented with everything else so why not experiment with this? A lot of times they'll find that peace, the peace that passes all understanding. At least that's what we hope for."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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