by kellie abrahamson
The First Coast is home to many a music success story. From Lynyrd Skynyrd to Yellowcard to Limp Bizkit, our little town has given the world plenty of musical gems to groove to. But while most of the Jax acts that win their way into the limelight pack up and head to LA, Middleburg boys The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have made their hometown their home base and have no plans to leave anytime soon.
“I like being here. I’m not going anywhere. This is where I live. This is hopefully where I’ll die,” frontman Ronnie Winters said when we caught up with the band during Planet Fest in the fall. Ronnie had plenty to say about their new record, their charity work and their love for the ‘Burg.
EU: Are you guys just now getting back home or have you been here for a while?
Ronnie Winter: We got here less than 24 hours ago. Just drove about 3,000 miles from California to make it to Planet Fest. And we made it with less than 24 hours [to spare] but we made it.
EU: I heard you guys just got done with a video shoot.
RW: Yes, we have a new video for our single ‘You Better Pray,’ which Planet Radio has been playing, I’ve been told, pretty regularly. It actually hasn’t had its impact date, which is what they call it when a song gets put to radio, so it’s pretty awesome that they are already playing it. We are really stoked about that because we have developed a relationship with Planet over the last couple of years and they’ve always had our backs.
EU: I heard something on the way over here. Were you guys on The Hills?
RW: Yes. That’s old news. We were on The Hills and we were also on The Best of the Hills because the episode we were in was one of the top ten or something like that.
EU: How did that happen?
RW: Well, that’s one of those things where basically everybody in the industry or whatever you want to call it, they always just kind of put things out there. For instance “Hey we’re looking for a band for this, we are looking for a band for that.” It was kind of a weird scenario because in this one the female lead actress, I don’t know her name off the top of my head. I don’t know a lot of actors’ names. I know Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck and stuff like that. But anyways, the lead lady, whatever her character is, she is interning also, regardless of the show, at American Eagle and we had an American Eagle photo shoot. It’s one of those things where the crew was already going to be there anyway filming her because she was going to work on our photo shoot. And then they ask us “Hey, mind if we also, while we are doing the photo shoot, allow them to have The Hills camera [crew] film an episode around you guys?” So it really wasn’t about us, it was about them, as usual, but we were kind of in the background. So, whatever, we want to spread our band name, spread our music, so any media outlet out there we are going to take because it makes sense.
EU: More importantly, you all are big into charity work, you always have been. What brought you to that?
RW: Nothing really brought us to that. We just always have done that. I like being able to say that. You know, the first time we played with Shinedown was at a Hurricane Katrina [benefit] concert at Freebird in Jax Beach. That was in 2005, before we were signed. So before we were signed we were doing this kind of stuff… We are just very grateful, honestly. It’s always easy to prove that you’re grateful with actions other than just words. We do it because we think it’s cool.
EU: Tell us a little about your work with Half of Us.
RW: That is actually super recent, it just came out last week and I haven’t even seen it yet. Everyone says it’s pretty cool. Basically the story with that is they called us and said “We know your singer has had a pretty interesting life.” I’ve spoken about it a few times in seminars and stuff because we’ve done a lot of work with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and we’ve done a lot of work raising awareness about youth depression and suicide awareness and mental issues, which a lot of that has to do with domestic violence at a young age. It affects the kids and their mental psyche, and then you find out later in life that they suffer from it and everybody around them suffers from it. So, I’ve kind of shared my story, not to get sympathy because that’s not what it’s about. That’s not what I’m trying to do… I really like to think that I’ve overcome [my past]. I’m singing in a band with my friends from Middleburg and we have a platinum record. Now our new CD is coming out and we have songs on the radio. Even though there were some bad times, things have changed and the only way that that was possible was by not giving up and not falling back into the same excuses and blaming everybody else for my own problems. I had to deal with my own sh*t on my own time. And I did and that is what Half of Us is about. Kind of going into how I was pretty crazy when I was younger, like everybody else right out of high school, just kind of searching for like a meaning, I guess… It was a weird time for me. But I was able to pull out of it and I feel like I’m normal now. We’ve been blessed. Nobody can plan out every little detail, it’s better to keep moving forward, stay positive. Bad things are going to happen. Trust me, it’s not always been sunny for me, that’s for damn sure, but it is now and I’m enjoying it. And I think that’s what it’s really all about.
EU: You also have the Guardian Angel Foundation. What is that?
RW: That is a non-profit organization that we started. I’m the founder and basically we’ve just done so much charity work at this point and the only thing that I don’t love about it is that I want to literally watch the money [go] from peoples’ hands to the door to peoples’ hands. That always bothered me. I want to see it [make a positive impact] tonight, not tomorrow. I don’t want to hear about it next week; I don’t want an email that says how much we raised. I want the money to go from here to here and I want to watch it happen and the only way to do that is to run you own organization because there is no one telling me no anymore. So we did and from now on anytime we do a charity event I can make sure, for sure, that the money is there that night… and the money goes where it’s suppose to with no middleman. And that’s what I had to do to ensure that’s what happens. And that is the only reason why we started it.
EU: About your new single, ‘You Better Pray.’ What’s the story? What’s it about?
RW: ‘You Better Pray,’ it’s a pretty tight song. It’s doing pretty well for us actually. We’re stoked. But we really didn’t care if it did good or not because that’s the song we wanted to release and that’s the attitude that you have to have because people don’t like every song that you release. So you need to be stoked on it because you’re the one that has to play it every single day on every radio show and this and that for the next ten years. So we released the song that we wanted to release first. It’s a story basically about us and everything we’ve been through in the past couple of years. It’s about standing up to people that are trying to hold you back and push you down. We definitely had issues with that. It’s about the little guy overcoming. Like I said that’s what we are in this band, we are the little band that could. Some people know that, some people don’t know it and the only people that don’t know it are the people who choose not to research it, and that’s their own right and that’s fine. But if you actually check it out, we’ve been around for a while, man, and we went through a lot of crap to get where we are. And I’m grateful for every second but it definitely wasn’t easy and anyone who thinks it’s going to be easy is going to have a hell of a hard time making it because it isn’t easy. It’s never easy for anybody.
EU: Did you guys have that attitude from the beginning? The “we’re not going to listen to what everybody else is saying and call our own shots” attitude?
RW: Yeah… Definitely, I mean I think it’s like the Middleburg mentality. I mean, I had record executives flying in from New York and Los Angeles to my trailer. They landed in Jax International and took a cab all the way the entire 45 minute ride into the woods and pulled up in the yard, like “What the hell is going on?” They walked in my front door and saw beer bottles laying out on the floor from one wall to the other. Every single member of the band except one guy smoked cigarettes and we were all smoking at the same time. I mean it was gnarly. It was just middle-of-nowhere rock and roll like in its purest form. And I wanted them to see that as opposed to flying out there and putting on nice clothes and getting all pretty for them, which inevitably happened later. But that’s what I wanted their first experience to be. So, yeah, from the beginning we’ve been doing things our own way because if you write good songs then you call the shots. That’s how it works.
EU: So speaking of that, I understand you were having a little bit of trouble with Virgin [Records]. Is that right?
RW: You could say that, we were. We definitely are not anymore and it’s been pretty awesome so far. Ever since Jason [Flom] was fired there’s been a whole [new] entire regime that’s gone out of their way to be respectful and to care about not only our vision and our music but our opinions on everything. They’ve been amazing… Basically a year and a half, two years ago was when it all started and all the bad apples are gone now, they’ve all been fired. Every single one of them and only good people are left. That’s what happens, when you screw bands you get worked out of the system because you can only screw so many bands before everybody starts to know about it and then nobody wants to sign to you anymore and you’ve ruined your reputation. So that was not necessarily the story with Virgin but with specifically Jason Flom who was the label president and was able to run the company into the ground in three years… Now there’s all these other guys trying to build it back and their doing an amazing job. I love working with them. So it’s completely turned around, actually, for the positive.
EU: The new album is coming out in February. What can we expect?
RW: The new record’s coming out, it’s called Lonely Road. It will be released February 3rd and just like always with our lyrics we’ve always stayed true to what’s current and what’s important to us and basically we’ve been on a pretty lonely road for the past three years which is the road, touring nonstop, so that’s what it’s about. It’s about us and what we’ve gone through. It’s about all the stuff we talked about with Virgin. It’s about going through success and changes. There’s a song in there that I wrote about a kid coming up to me asking me if we’re going to sell out or not… It’s about us. It’s about the last three years on this crazy rollercoaster ride that we’ve been on.
EU: Last time we talked you said you were still “as ‘Burg as they come.” Is that still true?
RW: I like to think so. I’ve got boots on and a Bud Light in my cup and it’s, like, noon. I’ve definitely still have kind of a southern accent. I’m losing that a little bit because I’ve been around the world so much, it starts to like level back out when you’re not so in the South. But, I don’t know, I guess I’m not trying to sound ‘Burg but we just really are who we are and that’s never going to change, specifically me and Duke. We bought a house in Middleburg about a year ago, converted our garage into a studio. We’re not going anywhere. This is where we live; this is where all our family lives. It’s beautiful here, it’s a beautiful city. Why would you leave? I mean if anything we’re always fighting to get home. The more time I get home, the better for me ‘cause we’re never home, ever.
EU: You’re always touring.
RW: Every band is, though, it’s not just us. If you want to make it you work. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices, not seeing your friends and family for years… [But] I like being here. I’m not going anywhere. This is where I live. This is hopefully where I’ll die.
EU: So if MTV Cribs wants to come over, they’ll have to come to Middleburg.
RW: You know, we’ve actually talked to them about coming to our place and we thought it would be pretty awesome because they’ve never done anything like that before. But we’ll see what happens. We’ll see if they show up. I don’t think that we’re bling-bling enough for them yet but whatever, we’ll see. They know we want to do an episode because we actually did talk to them though.
In honor of the band’s new record, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus will have a CD release blow-out at Freebird Live on February 3rd. Tickets to the show are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the show. For tickets and more info, head on over to freebirdlive.com.
platinum record, middleburg zip code
by kellie abrahamson