Today, CJ Snare, the lead vocalist for one of the last truly successful "hair bands", Firehouse, and now the frontman for Rubicon Cross, takes his turn Talkin' Trash with us at Glitter2Gutter...
G2G: Hey, CJ, thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Glitter2Gutter today. I know you have been hard at work with the new Rubicon Cross album, right?
CJ: Yeah, actually I was just doing a vocal here for one of the songs for the CD. I was working on a bunch of vocal takes, doing a vocal comp(ilation) for the lead, so yeah, we've been busy...
G2G: Now how did Rubicon Cross come about? Were you on some sort of hiatus from Firehouse or how exactly did this new project start?
CJ: Well, it started off, back a long time agon in the career of Firehouse, people used to ask me, "hey, man, when are you gonna do a solo project? When are you gonna do something on your own?" and my answer was always, hey, I'm able to get all of my artistic ideas out through Firehouse, you know. Well, that changed and I wasn't able to all of my things or all that I wanted to do or go the direction I wanted to go, stuff like that. So, in 2003, we (Firehouse) toured in Europe and there was this band called Pride, which was Danny Vaughn's band after Tyketto, and they were opening up for Firehouse. So, we were on this tour and I met Chris Green who was then the lead guitarist for Pride. We just had a really good chemistry, and we started writing together, and I was going back and forth to England and we became fast friends. In fact, we were best men at each other's weddings; I was at his and he was for me. We've been through a lot of tough times in each other's lives and good times in each other's lives, so not only did we develop this really cool writing chemistry and were on the same page for a band, but we also developed an amazing friendship that went along with it.
G2G: Wow, that's cool...
CJ: Yeah... So, it started out it was going to be a CJ Snare solo project, but the more I wrote with Chris and worked with Chris I was like, "man, this is as much your baby as it is mine...let's give it a brand name, let's call it something." So, at that point, he was just moving to the United States and getting married, and, one of the things he used to always say was, "well, you've crossed the Rubicon now,", you know, his being English. Now, I don't know if people know what that means, but it's kind of like the point of no return...
G2G: And it's a great Journey song!
CJ: What's it called?
G2G: "Rubicon"...it's on the Frontiers album.
CJ: Oh, okay. Cool. It's also a river in northern Italy, actually, and when Julius Caesar crossed it to take back control of Rome, at that point in his campaign there was no turning back. So for us, we just kind of switched it around from crossing the Rubicon to Rubicon Cross, and it gave us some opportunities for some great artwork and everything like that.
G2G: That's cool. Now, Rubicon Cross, at least on the EP, seemed to be a little bit edgier, maybe even a little bit darker, some would say, than Firehouse. Was that intentional?
CJ: Oh, absolutely. As I said to you earlier, I was trying to get other things out of my system that weren't necessarily Firehouse. In 1991, we won the American Music Awards for best new hard rock/heavy metal act, and that's kind of where my roots were and what I liked. And, through the years, we kind of experimented and deviated a little bit. Sometimes we got soft because people knew us for our ballads because that's what the record companies always pushed and played, and I actually wanted to do some of the heavier stuff and more modern stuff. Now, what's really fortunate is people like yourself at Glitter2Gutter, and all of the other press that we've gotten around the world, has kind of snatched me and some others from the classic rock or "hair band" genre and given us a new, more modern hard rock genre, and that's cool because I was able to jump ship, basically, not because I'm out of Firehouse or anything, because Firehouse is touring heavily, but it was nice for me to have a different musical outlet.
G2G: You know, you brought up the "hair band" tag, so I want to run with that a bit. Firehouse was one of the last bands to have any real success with that genre...in fact, I read somewhere that you guys had the last charting single of any of the "hair bands" in the 90's. What do you think about all of the comebacks that so many of these bands are making? Do you think it's just a nostalgia thing or do you think "hair metal" falls into that "everything that's old becomes new again" category and is actually making a comeback?
CJ: I think it's probably a combination of both, really, but I think there's also something that you didn't mention. You know, our last hit in the United States was in 1995, with "I Live My Life For You", which was another ballad, and it really surprised people because it came out in the center of the grunge movement and everything, Nirvana was going strong, Pearl Jam was going strong, and here comes Firehouse with a Top 40...Top 20, actually...you know, Billboard certified hit. And that launched us around the nation and internationally, too, as it became a hit around the world, and that helped perpetuate our career. So, I think some bands, like Firehouse, maybe actually never really went away, they just went other places, you know. Now, regarding the other half of your question, you know, about comebacks or whatever, I think that a lot of the guys from our genre set out to be career musicians. I think that they wanted to do this their whole lives, and they saw where other bands influenced them, and they said, "that's what I wanna do. I'm going to get serious about this and make it my career," and certainly that was the case with Firehouse, and that's why we're still here doing this. It's not so much a comeback as us still doing what we love to do and what we chose to do as a career. You know, now, sometimes people's tastes wax and wain, and sometimes we end up in different places, but the fact that there's a return to this style of music, it doesn't matter to me if it's nostalgic or, whatever the reason it is for it, we're just happy to have always had an audience somewhere around the world that's ready to listen to Firehouse or, now, Rubicon Cross.
G2G: Speaking of around the world, you guys, as you mentioned, tour very heavily, and Firehouse is actually huge in Asia, is that correct?
G2G: That had to be an amazing experience. I know that Japan and the Japanese market has always really favored a lot of the American hard rock and "hair metal" bands. Have you found that to be true with Firehouse?
CJ: I think moreso in the past, really. Now the Japanese people are more into pop, but they are also extremely into heavy metal, which is popular there, also. Now, some of the more "legacy acts" or "classic acts" are not necessarily as popular as they once were over there, however, I do find that Korea is a big supporter of us. We are slated to go over there and headline the Busan Rock Festival, which we did in 2010 and had over 20,000 people there for us headling. The same goes for India...we'll sell out a stadium of 40,000 people. We just did two shows back-to-back a few weeks ago where we were in northeaster India, and we had over 20,000 people at each show there. In 2010, we were in Singapore and had like 15,000 people there, and that's just for us; sometimes we'll be the only band. We're scheduled to go back to Nepal, to play some more Indian dates, some more Indonesian dates, umm...we're going to Vietnam and Ho-Chi Min City...so there's lots of work out there for us in that market. Of course, we probably have about four or five more "hits" over there than we do in the United States, so it makes for a really good set where we can just play hit after hit after hit after hit in that market.
G2G: Now, you were mentioning a lot of work for you, but you don't seem to be lacking for work anyway. I know you've done some session work, you've done some production work, and, of course, you've gotten yourself involved with Justin Murr and Liberty N Justice as well, correct?
CJ: Yeah, he (Murr) approached me a couple of years ago, and gave me a song called "Do What You Believe", or actually, "What Do You Believe" and I kinda changed it around (laughing). I asked Justin, "can I have poetic or artistic license here?", and he said yes, so I basically re-wrote it with him and some other musicians, and then I sang on it, and that was kind of the beginning of my association with him because they liked the way that it sounded. Now, I just mastered the whole Liberty N Justice project, and then Justin really started working with me. He's got a few key people he really likes to work with...you know, JK Northrup being one of them...and he's a very talented individual. You know he has a new project coming up called The Cigar Chronicles which I'm mixing in it's entirety..and it has 24 tracks...and it has tons of people on it. I mean, it has Kip Winger singing on one song which JK played the guitar on, um, I've got Chris Green , my guy from Rubicon Cross, playing on one song, I've got Gunnar Nelson singing on one of the songs..and then I sang on one with George Lynch and Jeff Pilson playing bass...
G2G: The "Dokken guys"...
CJ: Yeah, the "Dokken guys"...well, not anymore...but it was an honor to get to play on a track with George Lynch, and that was all through Justin. Now, he's got me working on the second half of the project and, like I said, I'm also sitting in the studio right now working on the Rubicon Cross project, which will be coming out in the fall of this year. We got a lot of buzz from the EP, and we have a single that just hit iTunes and Amazon.com...it's only at download outlets, we don't have a hard copy of it...but it's timed to coincide with a new Codemaster video game which is called "Dirt Showdown"...it's a very popular driving game, especially in the U.K.and over in Europe....and they chose our song to be on the soundtrack, which is very cool.
G2G: I didn't know about that...that's very cool!
CJ: Yeah, we're very excited about it.
G2G: Hey, jumping back to Liberty N Justice for a minute, did you get to tackle one of the many cover songs that Justin chose to do for the second half of the project?
CJ: Absolutely. That's the side I have pretty much completed now, and, man...there are just so many singers on that. You have Stevie Rachelle from Tuff singing "I Can't Dance", the old Genesis tune, but it's heavy and industrial sounding like nothing you would imagine. Then again, I've got Kip Winger doing "Staying Alive" which is not disco or anything you would think it would be...it's stripped down, bare-bones acoustic guitar. The song I was just mixing that George and Jeff played on, and I sang, is "Pride (In The Name Of Love)"...
G2G: Ah, the U2 classic...
CJ: Yep, but it's really heavy and a rocked up version. There are just so many great songs and so many artists..and it's been a labor of love. It's just an incredible collection, but we've been working on it for so long, I was like, "Justin, I sang that song two years ago! I told you to just release one record at a time!" (laughing) But he's a task-master...you know, Justin...
G2G: Oh yeah! (Laughing) Well, he calls it his "opus" and he says he can't let it go until it's perfect. He told me something just the other day about adding Jack Russell from Great White in to do yet another track that he added here at the last minute...
CJ: He's ALWAYS adding stuff at the last minute! (laughing) He calls me up and is like, "hey, CJ...you want to mix another tune?" and I'm like, bring it on, buddy, I'm ready! (laughing)
G2G: So, when this is all done, is Rubicon Cross going to tour, and if so, who is with you?
CJ: Well, at this point the core is Chris Green and myself. It was our baby, it was our brainchild, the music is ours, we recorded it in my studios here... Now, we do have another English guy, Simon, who is the bass player, and we will tour if necessity dictates. We have such a positive foundation from everyone, including yourself and Glitter2Gutter, you gave us a very nice review of the EP, and we've had nothing but positive feedback. We haven't had any haters out there, which really surprised me, and also everyone at modern hard rock has embraced us, including the people at "Dirt Showdown", you know the game, because we're on there with all sorts of modern rockers, and I'm liking that. It's along the lines of what Ozzy did when he brought out all these hot shot young guitar players and reinvented himself...
CJ: Well, that's kind of what happened with Rubicon Cross and with me...our music isn't real Firehouse-y stuff, and it's not meant to be. If you like the melodic side of Firehouse, if you like the sound of my voice, um, and you like heavy guitars and groove, but with more of a modern ilk, then you will definitely like Rubicon Cross.
G2G: I was going to mention that...one thing that you can't get away with is the sound of your voice. Were you concerned at all that people were going to get confused between Rubicon Cross and how they sound with Firehouse and how they sound just because of your voice? Were you concerned there may be come negative feedback just due to that?
CJ: Well, we set out from the start to make Rubicon Cross something different from Firehouse. A long time ago when I finally decided that I was going to do something on my own, I spoke to the A&R guy in Japan at our record label...he's now the head of Disney Records over there...it was Pony Canyon at the time...and anyway, he said to me, "you've got to do something that deviates from the mothership because we already do have Firehouse and you are the singer of Firehouse, so if you just release something that sounds like Firehouse people will get confused." So, we...that's exactly what I wanted to do...I wanted to show my heavy roots, I wanted to show that I still had some relevant sounds and songwriting capabilities that I wanted to showcase in this record, and the feedback from this little teaser, limited edition EP, kind of gave us the confidence to move forward because that's exactly how people reacted to it.
G2G: Well, that's cool because like you said it is two completely different projects and if people give Rubicon Cross a chance, other than your voice and some melodic sensibilities to it, they (Rubicon Cross and Firehouse) are not really that similar, at least in my opinion. Like you said, Rubicon Cross sounds a lot more modern, a lot edgier, and it's something that I think could fit very well into the modern hard rock market and into the satellite radios and things like that. Are you catching any airplay with the new single?
CJ: Yes we are, and while it just came out, the momentum is just starting to build. As a matter of fact, press releases have just gone out to coincide with the release of the "Dirt Showdown" video game. And this is kind of like the final teaser before the full CD hits the market this upcoming late summer/early fall. You literally caught me right here, in the studio, as I was just finishing up working on it for the day.
G2G: Before I let you go, you said Firehouse is going to be out and about, so who is with you now? I know Bill is obviously still with you, but who else is in the group now?
CJ: Well, we have Bill Leverty, the guitarist, we have Michael Foster, who is the drummer, and we have Allen McKenzie who is the bass player now.
G2G: Now, Allen is the only new member, right? He replaced Dario, correct?
CJ: Well, yeah, we had a kind of revolving bass player position. Perry Richardson was the original bass player, and he's now playing bass with Trace Adkins, the country star. You know, he had a little rough spot and we had to go our separate ways, but I'm so happy for him. You know, I played with him since he left, you know, and he's doing well and he's really, really happy. Um, then we brought in a guy named Bruce Waibel who is probably one of the most incredible musicians I've ever worked with apart from Chris Green. Bruce, we had a similar situation with him as we had with Perry, so he left, and then Dario Seixas stepped in, and I think he's playing with Jack Russell from Great White now. But Allen has been with us for eight or nine years now.
G2G: So you kind of had the Spinal Tap situation going on with your bass players, but nobody spontaneously combusted...
CJ: (laughing) Exactly, that's right, nobody spontaneously combusted and now Allen's been very permanent, so he's like a "new original". But all the other guys, are the same guys, including myself, right from the start, and still touring. Here pretty soon we're going to Portugal, then we've got the tour with Warrant and Trixter which is kind of a reminiscent thing of the "Blood, Sweat, and Beers Tour" we had in 1991 with those guys, which was one of the top grossing tours that year according to PollStar. And, like I said, we're going to Korea and a lot of southeast Asian and Indian and more things coming up. So, it's going to be a busy year with Liberty N Justice and Rubicon Cross and Firehouse doing the touring...I'm staying pretty, pretty busy...
G2G: Being so busy, do you have any time to listen to anything right now? Who is CJ Snare listening to?
CJ: I've been listening to Rubicon Cross right now (laughing)... Over and over again during the editing! We're also still continuing to write, so lots of Rubicon Cross. I did just get the new Shinedown record, and I got the new Halestorm, which I thought was pretty cool. How about you? What are you listening to?
G2G: (laughing) I've got those that you mentioned, but I also listen to a lot of new bands that people send to me for review. I like the Zeroking record, for example...but the new Shinedown record I think is amazing, I also think the new Halestorm is really good. The new Slash album with Myles Kennedy is excellent. I've also been listening to a lot of old stuff as some people have been asking for classic reviews, so I'm kind of drawing a blank on new stuff right now. I have been reading, though, and you have to get Dee Snider's autobiography, which just came out...excellent book...
CJ: Oh, I know Dee...yeah...I'll have to check that out on your recommendation...thank you for that. Also, Justin (Murr from Liberty N Justice) sends me stuff all the time to listen to, so I'm working on his stuff, so between his stuff and the Rubicon Cross stuff, Firehouse touring, there's just not much rest here for me to just sit and listen to new stuff...which is fine, I like it like that. I like being busy.
G2G: It's better being busy than being bored, right?
CJ: That's right! Well, I'm certainly not bored, I can say that! (laughing)
G2G: Now with Rubicon Cross, are you going to be label-supported or are you doing it independently when the record comes out?
CJ: Well, we have some label interest right now and we are just kind of playing the field, here...when we have the final record in hand we're gonna try to see what we want to do, if we want to license it, if we want to go to a particular label...it all depends on what we think is going to be the most beneficial to getting the music out there to the most people.
CJ: Well, no, not right now, and one of the reasons for that is we watch a lot of the other bands like, you know, you mentioned Journey a while ago, and they have a new record, and they are one of the rare exceptions of bands that put out a new record and might have charted with it. But, for bands of our genre, while it's kinda cool to put out new music, and while there is a small core audience that still wants to buy it, it's not like it used to be when we first started. The face of the music industry has changed a great deal, and I'm not sure that our demographic supports the bands as much by purchasing their new music as they do by going out and supporting them live and seeing the show. You know, that's something that can't be replicated or pirated or anything like that. Even on YouTube, it's not the same vibe as that live feel. I notice that a lot of bands from that genre, not Firehouse in particular, are doing the same thing..I mean a lot of them are getting back together and doing a "last hurrah" tour OR they are taking a stab at putting out new music. But I'm not so sure what kind of success the new music meets with as far as sales or how much the fans want to hear the "latest and greatest...that they just wrote"...ummm...I'm not sure how much success there is in new music for those bands. What do you think?
G2G: I tend to agree to a point. For example, you can look at a band like Skid Row who was at the top of the heap for a while then changed lead singers and did some damage to their fan base, but they continue to try to put out new music and I don't think they are having great sales success. However, some bands are releasing new stuff and are having at least marginal success; for example, Trixter just put out a new album, which is pretty good by the way, if you haven't heard it, and Tyketto just put out a solid new album, and at least initially I think some of this stuff is doing pretty well, especially in Europe. But you're right, a lot of these bands seem to be putting out new music solely to have a reason to tour, and I think if you're a big enough band the fan base wants to hear the hits, they don't necessarily want to hear new stuff, at least at a concert venue.
CJ: Right, right, I agree...
G2G: I mean, how long has Cinderella still successfully toured without anything new?
CJ: Yeah, well, I mean, new music does give you something to sell at the show, and that's good. And I think some bands are still putting out good, new material, but I don't think a whole lot of people are running out and buying it or downloading it...I could be wrong...but that's what I've seen by looking at the charts. If you just track retail you can see that Warrant and Skid Row and everyone like that, they aren't at the top of the charts right now and aren't selling like gangbusters on records right now, you know, or Whitesnake, or other examples of bands who put stuff out on, for example, Fronteirs Records label...we don't want to just jump on that bandwagon, ourselves. We know that when we go out there people want to hear "Reach For The Sky", "Don't Treat Me Bad", "All She Wrote", "Overnight Sensation", "Love Of A Lifetime", "When I Look Into Your Eyes"...stuff like that...you know, "Shake And Tumble"...and when we do expose them to something newer, they're receptive, but it's like "come on, come on, get back to something we know" (laughing), and, you know, we're like, "okay...gotcha...".
|CJ with hair...|
G2G: Speaking of the "old stuff", are you happy to not have to deal with all that hair any longer?
CJ: (laughing) Well, I got used to that a long time ago. I mean, I'm a Florida guy, so for the longest time I would just always wear my hair back in a ponytail. But then I just went "snip", you know, and cut that off...(laughing)...and it was not a big deal, you know. It was cool, at the time, umm...you know, I still find myself on stage at times flipping my hair, or trying to...
|CJ with MUCH less hair!|
G2G: (laughing) I just wish I had hair of any kind sometimes! Even in the 80's I didn't have much, but now...sometimes I just wish I had some...
CJ: (laughing) It's nothing that I worry about. Now, if my voice was gone THEN I would be upset. The hair...not so much...(laughing)...
G2G: Alright, CJ, thanks so much for hanging with me for a bit. The new Rubicon Cross is looking to be out late summer/early fall, and I can't wait to hear it, and I hope we get to do this again soon when we have big, big news to talk about how great it's selling for you.
CJ: (laughing) Well, I hope so, too, Arttie. And you know, that's a big thing, the fact that we haven't been categorized in the hair band thing, and yet we still get positive press from people like yourself and Glitter2Gutter, that's so super helped us because there's a new audience taking a look and taking a listen, and we're blessed, I think. Thanks for the time...it's been fun.
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