Staying humble after striking gold on the charts with the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus hasn't been a problem for singer Ronnie Winter. The laid-back frontman still lives in the small community of Middleburg, Florida, where, he's happy to report, he doesn't mind being recognized by the townsfolk on the street.
“It happens—absolutely,” Winter says, on the line from an Albuquerque tour stop. “Everybody knows us, and when we're back we end up hanging out with all of our friends. Nothing is really that different, other than the fact we don't have to work.”
But as much as Winter notes that he never changed after RJA had a surprise hit with 2006's Don't You Fake It, the same can't be said of the band's fans. The quintet started working the underage circuit in the Sunshine State, building a grassroots following with a blend of razor-burn pop-punk and screamo-tinted emo. During that time, Winter began to see plenty of familiar faces in the audience.
As is often the case in the underground, those who were there at the beginning weren't exactly thrilled to be sharing their favourite unknown band with the unwashed masses. After discovering that firsthand, Winter sat down and wrote “Represent”, an acoustic-tinted emo-pop jam that appears on RJA's recently released sophomore album, Lonely Road. Lyrics such as “There's a consequence for the path you chose/Will they change you?” make it clear one encounter with a “fan” gave him something to think about.
“Right pretty much during the peak of Don't You Fake It, there was this kid that I'd recognized from shows from before we were big,” Winter relates. “I walked up to him and was like, ”˜Hey man, what's up?' He kind of just looked at me and shook his head. It was weird, so I was like, ”˜Are you coming to the show, or just hanging out?' He was like, ”˜Oh man, I don't know”¦ You're so big now.' I'd never done anything to this kid other than hang out with him after a show, so I was like, ”˜Okay, look dude, you're obviously having a bad day, and I'm not going to let that get me down.' ”
As is made clear by both that encounter and Lonely Road, in some ways the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus doesn't give a shit about what anyone thinks. That's a warning that those looking for a rehash of the band's breakthrough hit, “Face Down”, will find themselves challenged by much of what they hear on the new album. Over the course of 11 radio-buffed tracks, the group goes above and beyond in an effort to mix things up, dabbling in everything from dusty country rock (“Lonely Road”) to slow-dance '50s pop (“Believe”) to string-drenched protest folk (“Godspeed”).
As much as Winter stresses that he's in no way comparing his band to Pearl Jam, he argues that he's after the same kind of career as Eddie Vedder and company.
“Everyone wanted them to always release the same kind of song, and they wouldn't,” he notes. “But they are still fine and have turned out to be a career band. Re-creating the same stuff over and over again gets boring, and not just for the fans.”
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus plays Venue on Wednesday (August 12).