Interviewed by David Felix
Date: April 5th, 2005
When you think of late 80’s / early 90’s “hair bands,” no list would be complete without FIREHOUSE. The critically acclaimed foursome has survived over a decade of grunge and hip-hop and is still going strong. Their last album, “Primetime,” was an absolutely incredible release which, arguably, is one of the bands best releases since their debut back in 1990. If you don’t have it already, I strongly urge you to pick it up.
Now poised for their appearances on Friday April 8th at Club Infinity in Buffalo, New York and on Saturday April 9th at the Wreck Room in Wallington, New Jersey - FIREHOUSE lead vocalist C.J. Snare gave me a shout to talk about the band’s past, present, and future. And, if I might add, it was one of the best interviews I have ever had the pleasure of doing. So don’t miss the shows over the weekend… God knows I’ll be there! FIREHOUSE is a tremendous live band! You don’t want to miss it! Here’s what C.J. had to say….
So where have you guys been playing so far since you’ve been back in the States?
Oh my goodness… we’ve been all over the place! Denver (Colorado), Salt Lake City (Utah), Winston-Salem (North Carolina)… God, we’ve been playing so much I think I’d have to check our website! (laughs) Isn’t that terrible?
I know it must be a tough thing to keep track of sometimes. The thing is, I try to keep up with my favorite bands to see if they’re playing around either through “Pollstar” or their websites. Whenever I type in FIREHOUSE, I always get a list of dates for you guys. Do you ever take a break and what drives you guys to stay on the road so much?
Well, no! (laughs) I tell ya what, in the beginning we were in Daytona Beach, then to Denver and Pittsburgh. Then we have Buffalo this Friday… then to Wallington near you guys. After that we have Baltimore, Virginia, a couple of shows in England and all this before the “Rock Never Stops” tour starts up.
How did you get involved with that?
Our name was put into a hat for that! (laughs) But “Rock Never Stops” is almost like a franchise now. They put together a group of musicians or quote/unquote “hair bands.” VH1 sponsors it and they just recently put out a Compilation called “Metal Mania Stripped” which, I guess, is the modern, updated, 21st century term for “unplugged.” (laughs) Ya know… it’s the same thing! But we were one of the bands on that release. So they got CINDERELLA, ourselves, RATT, and QUIET RIOT and we’re like the only “90’s” band in there because our first album didn’t come out until 1990… but we’re still in that genre. Probably one of the last bands of that genre.
It’s been over 13 years since the release of your first album. You’ve survived the entire “grunge” era which basically destroyed a lot of bands in your musical genre. Moreover, you’ve still been able to maintain a reasonable amount of success the entire time. How do you account for that and what keeps this band together as a unit?
Well, it’s like you said… the “grunge” thing. That was the demise of a lot of bands. But still, there are a lot of bands, like the ones I just mentioned and others, that just sat down and made that career decision and said “This is what we want to do!” I think a lot of bands, maybe, happen into it or they’re a bunch of young guys who are like “Yeah, this’ll be cool!” and accidentally stumble across a hit or something… I don’t know. But when you look at all those bands from the grunge era… they’re all gone. I’ll give you an example- like when we won the best hard rock/ heavy metal band award on the American Music Awards back in 1991 and that was like the beginning of the end! We were up against ALICE IN CHAINS and NIRVANA ! Now, I’m the only singer out of that category still living! (laughs) I don’t know what Kurt Cobain had in his mind or what Layne Staley had in his mind but that era has not really survived. I mean it was there and it squelched a lot of bands at the time, but you still see a lot of bands still out there, still touring and still working it. I think it’s because we all made a conscious career decision.
Speaking of your award, what was it like having that kind of success right off the bat with your first album?
I guess there are pros and cons. It really was right off the bat because it was our first major release but it really felt like we had paid a lot of dues just to get to that point. There had been a lot of bars, a lot of smoke filled clubs and little places we had to play. We would do odd jobs just to make ends meat… ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or Oodles-of-Noodles. Then when the album did finally come out and received those kinds of accolades, the fans responded and showed their appreciation by stepping up and forking out their dollars for it. It was really, really gratifying but on the same token, it was an indicator of the times. Nowadays, artists get basically one shot and if you don’t do it, “Good-bye, NEXT!” Gone are the days when they really developed an artist’s career. Bands like KISS, AEROSMITH, LED ZEPPELIN, OZZY, BLACK SABBATH… ya know? Not every record was a blockbuster mega-seller. But they stuck with the artists, they kept putting out records and they were really more into that career development. Whereas now, it’s all about the bottom line.
You’ve always had an incredible voice and it sounds just as good today as it did when you first started. What do you do to maintain it?
(Laughs) Well, have you ever seen the movie “ROCK STAR?” (laughs) They asked him that question and he said, “I eat a lot of pussy!” But seriously, I think it’s training, genetics, and lifestyle.
Now I understand that both Bill (Leverty) and Michael (Foster) have taken over some of the lead singing duties on a couple of tracks from your last album. Do they perform them live as well and do they do any other songs live that didn’t originally feature them on lead vocals?
Well, that’s a no to the last part of the question, they don’t do any other songs. It all began on not the last record, “Primetime,” but on the album before, “O2.” Bill actually brought a song to me demoed up with his voice on it and he wanted me to sing it. I was like, “No, that’s cool…lets do it like this and let people hear your voice.” So he agreed. Then “Door to Door” came along which was an incredible song too which Michael does.
I think one of the things that gives FIREHOUSE its sound is the vocals. The backing vocals, the harmonies and everything that we utilize… and those guys can sing! It was time to show the audience they could. So yes, live they both do a song.
Back in 2003, you guys suffered a great loss when your bass player at the time, Bruce Waibel, passed away. How did you guys get through the tragedy and who plays bass now?
It was indeed a terrible, terrible loss and I’m not just saying this posthumously. I used to say it to his face or to anyone else who would care to listen. Bruce was one of the most awesome musicians that I have ever had the pleasure and opportunity to work with. He not only was a monster on the bass guitar, but he could play guitar nearly as well as Bill. He would just sit down with a guitar and just start singing a song. You could just feel the emotion coming out of it. It almost made you want to cry! And I was always like, “Wow! Sing me another one, dude!” He was just great all around. A great musician and a funny, funny guy. When he passed away, it really was an incredible loss for us. But, as a band, we felt we needed to continue on and we really knew he would want it that way. So, the new bass player is from Ohio and his name is Allan McKenzie. He is just rock solid, great tempo, no overplaying and what a voice!
How did you hook up with him?
We announced that we were looking for a bass player and he sent in an audition tape. He was playing with Jani Lane’s solo project at the time. So from all the auditions, tapes, photos, etc. we received, we just thought he absolutely rocked!
Do you ever feel “burned out” from spending so much time on the road?
Yes and no. I mean who doesn’t in their job? You have your up days and your down days but more so on the long tour bus. Because then it’s like, “Where are we?” (laughs) Think about it… you’re playing in Jersey one night. You get on the bus, turn on the television or whatever, fall asleep and you wake up in New Hampshire! It just goes like that for week after week after week. That’s when the “burn out” factor comes in… but I’ll tell ya what keeps it fresh. It’s when you get up there and look into the faces of those music lovers, the die hards. That’s when you get instant gratification and realize this is why we’re doing it… for them!
Do you feel as excited today stepping out on that stage as you did when you first started?
I have to tell you, when I was an aspiring musician I always use to wonder what it’s like to play the same song night after night after night. I mean does Steven Tyler get tired of singing “Dream On?” I can’t answer that, but when I see the faces of the people just light up because of that song they recognize, that sparks a memory in them or recalls a feeling… it’s AWESOME! It never gets old and never fades.
Is there any FIREHOUSE classic that you wish could be removed from the set list… at least for a little while?
That’s one of those tough questions because we have people coming up to us all the time saying like, “Awww, I wish you could have played this song or that song.” But, we are obligated to play our hits! So, I would say no because that’s the reason we are there. Would I like to play longer? Yes, I’d love to have like three or four songs from our catalog that we could rotate in and out every night. I mean there are songs in our catalog that I forget because we don’t do them on a regular basis. I don’t mean that to sound jaded, but that’s just how it is as you keep moving forward as an artist.
What keeps your ideas and music fresh?
Certainly the travel. There are drawbacks to all the travel but there are perks as well because you get that new information. You get that new inspiration constantly in having new experiences. That’s fodder for new material and artistic creativity. Another thing too is listening to new music and new ideas. We’ve been fortunate the well hasn’t run dry or at least not to our faces. The fans and the listeners are always coming up to us and saying things like, “You guys consistently put out good music.” I mean I’m sure there are a lot of people out there saying “That Sucks!” too but at least they’re not coming up and saying it to us. (laughs)
Popular tastes in music have changed drastically from 1990 until now. Is there any type of music that you personally enjoy that you think might surprise your fans?
My taste is all over the place. I listen to everything from super heavy stuff to classical music… which I actually play. I can just sit down and play the piano for hours. Maybe that would surprise them because we go out there and ROCK! I’m not going to say there isn’t a rap song I like because I might like the “groove” or something, but I’m not a real rap fan. To me, it’s like you’re talking over a repetitive sample and then they say, “I’m a singer!” Music is defined as the sounds which are pleasing or pleasant to one’s ear… but it’s not pleasing OR pleasant to MY ear. Like all the guitar players, the singers, the drummers, and just all the musicians that spend time developing their craft to become somewhat of a virtuoso. That’s what I gravitate towards. I don’t know about you?
Oh I absolutely agree, 100%!
So I think classical music might surprise ‘em. I listen to new age stuff and trance stuff too… that’s probably THE most surprising.
Ok, so to take my previous question one step further. What keeps the relationships between the band fresh and continue being productive after all this time?
It’s funny but I think we take each other for granted. I mean it’s like you’re in a relationship with a really hot chick! (laughs) Look at Tommy Lee with Heather Locklear and then Pamela Anderson, you know? You just take it for granted and it’s obvious “something” went wrong! (laughs) So I think we take each others talents or abilities for granted. I expect Michael Foster to be an animal behind those drums. I’ve seen it so many years, I love to watch him, he’s entertaining and the same goes for Bill. That’s what I’m use to. As far as what keeps it fresh… I don’t know. We all have common backgrounds in our upbringing and we also have the same common goals. Going back to a previous answer, we decided a long time ago that this is what we wanted to do. This is our job and we’re serious about it. It’s our passion but it’s also a business… make no mistake! It’s how we make our living. So, it’s mutual respect and also like best friends. We’re a family!
Obviously you guys will ALWAYS be remembered for “Love of A Lifetime” which became almost everyone’s favorite wedding song and has gotten steady airplay all through the 90’s and even today. How does that make you feel to know that you’ve been almost immortalized in song and that ten, twenty, maybe even fifty years from now, people will still be hearing that song?
(Laughs) You know it’s funny you say that. Only because, I guess, it was maybe only about one year after the song was hot on the charts that Epic Records / Sony Music came to me and said, “How does it feel to have written a standard? A classic?” And I didn’t know what they meant then. Now I have the benefit of time to look back over this and there isn’t a show that goes by where people don’t come up to us and are like, “’Love of a Lifetime’… we got married to that song!”
When I sat down and wrote that song, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh this is going to be a cool wedding song.” It was just a love song. Actually I was playing little solo gigs in a Holiday Inn somewhere. So it was just like me, my keyboard and a little drum machine.
Late at night, when I was done with my solo gig, they’d let me come in and drink free draft beer and tinker around a little bit. So that’s what I was doing and that song came out.
Early in our career, though, we had the input of Jon Bon Jovi and he told us, “Take a song, put it away and never, never play it again. It’ll ruin your career!” When we brought the first album demos to Epic Records after we had been signed, we had another song completely for the ballad. So they were like, “Everything is here! ‘Don’t Treat Me Bad’ and all that stuff’s in place but you just don’t have that power ballad which is really happening on the charts right now.” So they offered to bring in some writers to try and help us out and I just remember, kind of, raising my hand sheepishly and saying “Well, I have a song…” So we played it for them and they absolutely loved it and it did become a big hit.
Is that my legacy? Well you know what? It could be worse….
“Love of a Lifetime” is just as much your legacy as “Open Arms” is to JOURNEY.
Well, it’s not a bad thing to be a career musician and have a song that everyone remembers. A lot of times I’ll be like sitting on an airplane and in just normal chatter with someone next to me it’ll be like, “I’m a musician.” And they’ll be like “What band?” “FIREHOUSE” then they’re like “You guys sing ‘Love of A Lifetime!’” They know it! Most of the time, though, they know the name of the song more than they know the band. It’s weird but our ballads even seem to cross borders! We did a show back in December in India in front of 40,000 people… we filled the stadium! And they were all there singing “Love of A Lifetime,” “When I Look Into Your Eyes,” “ Live My Life For You.” All of our ballady stuff… they just love that over there in Southeast Asia.
So after this summer with the “Rock Never Stops” tour, what are your plans?
We’re going to do the U.K., Ireland, Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Spain… that whole European run. We’ll also going to be heading down to the Caribbean again. Puerto Rico and then we’ll be heading back to the States to do some more headlining dates before hanging it up around the holidays.
When can we expect to see a new FIREHOUSE release?
Well that’s interesting. I was just saying to Bill about the song we have “Christmas with You.” Well, Tommy Mattola who was president of Sony records at the time had approached us to do a song for a compilation album. So Bill and I sat down and wrote that song, “Christmas with You”… but it was never really done properly. So I had said to Bill that I know we’re getting set to release another CD in 2006, but we have this song. Maybe we should just write a couple of new songs in the mean time. Like maybe a holiday kind of thing to get some kind of “offering” out there. Re-do “Christmas With You” which will actually be descent this time and do that for 2005. But that’s just in the talking stage right now so don’t hold me to that. The full finished deal will be out probably the end of 2006.
What about your solo project?
That’s also going to be out in 2006. Maybe not even 2006, it could be as early as Christmas 2005! I am anxious to spring that on the fans as well. It’s pretty eclectic and diverse. There’s some pretty heavy stuff on there… almost like a DREAM THEATER kind of thing.
Who plays on your solo album?
The guitar player is a guy named Chris Green. He’s from England and he’s just like one of those guys I had an immediate chemistry with, like when Bill and I met back in the late 80’s. I met Chris in Spain. We were in Madrid and these guys were opening up for us… a band called PRIDE. I was standing up on the balcony and this guy did a solo and I was just like “HO-LY SHIT! I want him!” So I started conversations with him throughout last year and right up until now, he and I have been flying back and forth writing, putting together ideas, etc. So yeah it’s Chris Green from PRIDE. Make sure you mention him because you’ll be hearing about him.
The bass player is Simon Farmery… also from England. The drumming spot right now is kind of open. We’re just using studio guys right now but I definitely want an American guy because I don’t want to be totally out numbered!
Are there any instruments at this point that you still aspire to play?
Yes, guitar! I am a guitar dude. It’s funny, but I started playing piano when I was six years old… classical piano. So I was always use to making chords with my palms down. And I have written songs like “Don’t Treat Me Bad” and some of our heavier songs on piano. I write them then we transcribe them to guitar. I know the voicing of a guitar. I can sit and play it on the keyboard that way but I never picked it up… and I should!
Ok… if you could spend an hour with anybody, living or dead, who would it be and why?
(Laughs hysterically) Awww man… you’ve got a sheet in front of you! That’s not fair!
Oh my God! I’d have to say Jesus Christ so I know I truly believe! I mean we’re indoctrinated into the Christian religion so yeah… to spend an hour with him would be pretty cool! They say, if you’re good you’ll get to spend the rest of eternity with him so one hour here would be REALLY cool!
Do you think that what we characterize as “hair bands” will ever have a resurgence in popularity, or at least in some close form, the way it did in the late 80’s and early 90’s?
I think it has experience some resurgence from where it was. Right there in the early 90’s, we surprised a lot of people because we were the only band of that genre that I can remember that actually had a top 20 hit right in the middle of that whole Seattle scene. That was with “I Live My Life for You” in 1995. I remember how the industry reacted to that… they were kind of caught with their pants down, actually. Now that you have such big, large, music conglomerates that monopolize what we listen to and the way we actually get our music in this digital age, it seems to me that what has really become “pop” music is whatever the record companies decide will be popular. If it’s what they play on MTV and if it’s what they put their big corporate dollars behind, then that’s what kids get to listen to. Therefore, that’s what they are motivated to go and buy. Will they ever get behind “hair bands” again and people who really put time, effort, energy and strive for a level of virtuosity in their instrument again? I can’t say, David. But I will say this… it wouldn’t be started by someone like myself. It wouldn’t be started by an existing band, I don’t think. It would probably get started with some kid, somewhere, in a garage, right now who may do something amazing and get the era started again. If you recall, there was a pretty good metal era going in the early 70’s before the whole disco thing started. And disco knocked all that down for a while but then it came back again. So I think it’s possible, but it will be brought on by new artists and then those of us who are still standing and survived and can still walk may profit and become part of that wave again. I was hopeful with THE DARKNESS because they were kind of in that vein. They had some popularity but just not enough to get that whole wave going enough to get an entire generation behind it.
As we spoke about earlier, you guys have been together for over 14 years already. How much further do you think it can go or how much farther do you want FIREHOUSE to go?
This has been an incredible, incredible career. To do something that you love, to be an artist, to be an entertainer and to actually go out there and have fans all over the world and be able to make a living at it… as long as that’s perpetuated, I don’t see any reason to ever stop.
Well that’s about it, CJ. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down and talk to me.
Thank you. I think we covered a lot of ground here. It was a great interview. Very comprehensive questions and it’s been a pleasure. See you Saturday night in Wallington!