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Ronnie Radke Discusses Songwriting, Conquering His Demons and Taking His New Band on the Road (from the February 2012 print issue)
“I really work well in the studio. All I really need is a good engineer who can work fast.”
“I have a ‘no drinking’ policy on tour. That goes for everybody. Nobody drinks on tour, and I don’t want it around me.”
For Falling In Reverse lead singer Ronnie Radke, the past few years have proven to be the most difficult, and most rewarding of his life. His life story and exploits have been well documented, but here’s the short version so we can get it out of the way and talk about the music.
Yes, he’s had problems with narcotics.
Yes, he’s spent time in prison.
Yes, he was kicked out of his previous band, Escape the Fate.
Yes, he was abandoned by his mother.
All caught up?
Amazingly, after all these setbacks and tribulations, Radke has emerged clean, level-headed and more creative than ever. He speaks quietly, but deliberately and honestly about his music and his life. He’s humble, charming, and even pretty funny when you get him to open up. There is a subtle hint of shyness behind his voice, though, something that fans might be surprised by, considering the band has been called “this generation’s Mötley Crüe” by The Huffington Post.
He formed the basis for his new band in prison, and after his release, went straight to work on the recording of the group’s debut, The Drug In Me is You – perhaps the most brutally personal album of the past ten years.
Radke and company are set to leave the past behind and hit the road for a full-fledged headlining tour in the New Year. We recently caught up with the singer to discuss the band, how he stays sober on the road, his songwriting process, and his future musical plans.
We should probably start by putting the new band in context. After you left Escape the Fate, what were you looking to do, musically, with this new project?
I work well in the face of adversity, I think. I just wanted to be back on top, and to prove to people that I’m actually a great songwriter at heart, and that I’m actually a good person…when I’m not on drugs.
The songwriting on the new record is intensely personal. Is that a cathartic process for you? Or is it hard to get up on stage every night and sing about and relive things that have caused you so much pain?
I like that feeling. Some people like that feeling – I like to be honest with all the lyrics. I like to have fun with some of the lyrics, too. I have a dark sense of…biting, I think. And I think that shows.
There’s a really sharp wit about it that I certainly think is one of your assets, lyrically. How would you describe your writing process? Is it something you sit down to do, or does it come more organically than that?
It’s funny; I’m in the car right now on the way to the studio with my drummer. But to answer your question, it’s more organic than that. The first record I wrote with Escape the Fate, we were all together. But I would put my two cents in and I wrote all the melodies and lyrics. This time, I wrote a lot of the guitars. I wrote a lot of it in prison – like the drums I’d write with my hands, just playing along with the melodies. I wrote a lot of the guitar parts and melodies [there] as well.
I also think this is some of the strongest vocal work you’ve done to date. Were you doing anything differently this time around? Or is it just more confidence with your voice?
Our producer [Michael “Elvis” Baskette], I’ve known him for a long time, he did my first record – I just felt comfortable with him. He’s a really smart guy, and I think he saw I was lacking confidence when I came in [for Falling in Reverse studio sessions]. He really tried to build up my confidence by bringing my voice out of me again. And part of that is from practicing and learning from all the previous tours I’ve done.
Because before, with Escape the Fate, I had never toured before we made a record. I made that record and then we toured a lot, and over time my voice got stronger and I got more confident in it.
Is there anything you do on the road or in the studio to protect your voice? Because you can go from really guttural screams to some high, high vocal parts, and I know that can cause strain over time.
I just don’t drink or smoke, and I get as much sleep as I can. I actually exercise every day now, and I drink a lot of water.
You guys have been releasing some pretty interesting videos online. Do you still find that to be a relevant means of promotion for the band?
That’s just a way, a lighthearted way, of looking at my life. Trying to make everything a bit more lighthearted. I love the look of [the videos], and dressing up like that. I’m attracted to that style.
You mentioned you’re driving to the studio right now. Can we get into your recording process a little? Maybe walking us through a typical studio session for the band?
I really work well in the studio. All I really need is a good engineer who can work fast. Someone who I can tell what I want to do and who can snap to it and get it done. And a drummer who can play guitar. That’s all I need, pretty much, to write the demos.
Do you go into the studio with fully formed songs, or are you writing a lot during the sessions?
I have about 12 or 15 songs still to go and I’m saving those for the next record. I’m experimenting right now with a few genres of music that I’m fusing together. But I can’t really talk about it. I can’t really exploit it yet, until it’s done.
You guys are hitting the road for a headlining tour over the next few months. Will the new stuff follow that, or will you take a breather before recording more material?
We’re touring ALL of next year. There are some really big tours after the upcoming one. I’m not really allowed to talk about those, but they’re about to be [announced] very soon. There’s a big summer tour and then maybe some overseas tours after that, then a little bit of studio time. But not for the album, for some other things [I’m working on].
So when do you think you’ll hit the studio again for Falling in Reverse? Sounds like the next year is pretty booked up for you guys…
I’d say next December, maybe?
You said you’re melding a few different genres together. I was wondering if you could talk about that any further?
It’s gonna be pretty gnarly. I don’t want to talk about it, though. I don’t want people to copy me before I do it!
One of the cool things about this record is the thick, layered vocal sound you have on a few of the tracks. Are things like that hard to pull off on stage?
I think that goes for every band, there’s things on the record…that’s why a good producer is a good producer. Something live, that’s breathing art where you’re running around. For the most part, I try to make it sounds as much like the record as possible. Give or take, there are some things that won’t [translate], but I think that’s the beauty of the live show. Because it’s more raw…unless you sound fucking TERRIBLE. I think adding a few different things to make it more raw is where the beauty of the live show is.
Sounds like getting the right producer is pretty important to you. Is that an avenue you might want to pursue in the future – producing other people’s records?
I think that’d be like Eminem and Dr. Dre. If Eminem went with someone else it just wouldn’t be the same. I think [producer] “Elvis” [Baskette]…me and him have a formula [that works]. For example, not to name any bands, but bands that switch producers…sometimes it works. Sometimes it sounds fucking horrible and sales drop.
Well, if you’re not going to give any examples, I will. Metallica comes to mind…
[laughs] Yeah, exactly. Well, and when some people get sober their records sound like crap.
Sure, there’s that too. Fortunately I think you’ve bucked that trend.
Needless to say, you’ve lived an…eventful life. For our readers who might be going out on the road for the first time, or reading the magazine in the tour van, is there anything you want to say to them? Some words of wisdom – musician to musician, as someone who’s made some mistakes and is still out there doing it?
Yeah, just got some sleep, dude. You know? It’s not like…a lot of people get wasted and think they have to live up to a certain expectation because of the forefathers of rock and roll or hip-hop. I think there needs to be a paradigm shift, you know? You don’t really need to do that. It’s so pointless – you wake up one day and realize how dumb it is. I went out the other night just to support a friend in Hollywood at a bar. I went there, and me and my drummer and my bass player were the only ones who weren’t drinking. And the whole place was filled with smoke, and it smelled horrible. And everybody was acting so [stupid], and I went home and realized how [stupid] it all is. I’m not bagging on people who make the choice to drink, but night after night after night after night…it’s self-destructive.
Do you have a support system to help you stay sober when you’re on the road?
I have a “no drinking” policy on tour. That goes for everybody. Nobody drinks on tour, and I don’t want it around me. It’s not hard for me [to resist], but I just don’t want it around me…the smell, anything. I don’t need it. No one goes crazy and drinks too much. And if it ever happened, I’d let them know.
Any last words?
I’m just really excited for 2012. I think it’s my year, OUR year…finally. And I’m really happy with how everything is turning out.
Photos by Jonathan Weiner and Matt Grayson. Special thanks to Jessica Giordano at Epitaph Records.