Ronnie Winter Gets Real About Music, Career and Addiction
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (RJSA) is a Florida-born rock band that emerged onto the early 2000s emo scene. Rising to popularity alongside alternative greats like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, RJSA established their own identity as a band from that scene that has stood the test of time.
The band saw success with their 2006 hit Face Down, off of their first LP, Don’t You Fake It. For nearly two decades, RJSA has toured extensively both in festival settings and headlining tours around the world. Today, RJSA continues to entertain audiences across the globe, and later this month, the band will perform live at Vinyl in downtown Pensacola. DTC staffers had the opportunity to chat with lead singer Ronnie Winter ahead of the group’s upcoming show in Pensacola.
Catch RJSA’s live performance at Vinyl Music Hall on February 23. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased at vinylmusichall.com. To keep up with the band and their latest projects, follow @redjumpsuitapparatus on Facebook or @redjumpsuit on Instagram.
DTC: How did growing up in Florida influence your music?
RW: I think it had a huge influence. A lot of bands like Underoath and Anberlin came from the Orlando area, and even before that, Limp Biskit, and even before that, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. There’s a really strong rock heritage in Florida from bands who originated there and have gone on to have a lot of success. We always used to think about those bands when we were jamming in our little trailer in the middle of the woods. We always used to think ‘Hey, if it worked for them, it can work for us.’ I think if we didn’t have all those examples—because there are some towns where no band has ever come out of that region—we might not have even went for it. There’s definitely a rich history of rock in Florida and we try to just join up to that lineage.
DTC: How did it feel to experience success relatively early in your career with your first LP, Don’t You Fake It?
RW: It didn’t feel early to us, but commercially, what a lot of people forget about with almost any band is there’s a lot that went on leading up to our first album. We had done a lot of shows in Pensacola, Tallahassee, Ocala, Gainesville, Orlando, Fort Myers, Tampa and Atlanta, for two years before we even signed a record deal. We all still had jobs; we were also working nine to fives, so we would do what we call ‘weekend warrior runs.’ That’s how we got a record deal, because we had demos before the album. A lot of those [demo] songs made it onto that first record, but when it comes to commercial success as far as being in the public eye, the album did do really well quickly after release date. So by that term, I would say, it felt good!
[Prior to the album release,] the only people who really knew about us were people in Northeast Florida. They were even a little bit disappointed that so many of our existing songs were on the first record, because they already knew them all. But the whole rest of the country and the rest of the world, it was new to all of them. It was kind of funny; the hometown was already ready for the second album, but the rest of the world was still discovering us. It was awesome to have the album well received because a lot of times if a band’s first album doesn’t do well, they’ll get dropped by the record label. It’s really important to hopefully have at least a song or two do well on your first release.
DTC: While you’re not specifically a Christian band, you often incorporate spiritual themes in your music. How has your experience been with expressing your faith in a genre that typically doesn’t embrace religion such as emo or punk?
RW: It’s funny, because the people who don’t want to hear about it are the same people who preach acceptance of all types. So it’s like, they want acceptance for how they live, but they don’t want to give you acceptance for how you live. That’s what I’ve discovered, so there’s a little bit of duality in that. We try to just walk the line; we are spiritual in nature, but at the same time, we accept all walks of life. When you’re in a band, the first thing you realize when you go on tours is how many different kinds of people listen to your music—it’s really wild. So we accept everybody, all gender identifications, all religions, all races, we’ve never alienated any group. We do have a spiritual undertone, but we’re not a band who walks up with a Bible in our hand and start reading out of it, you know, we don’t do that. That’s not really our style.
DTC: Being that RJSA began making music in the early 2000s, what was it like gaining popularity from the internet and specifically social platforms like MySpace?
RW: It was cool. When we first started this band, the internet was brand new. People were still listening to CDs; the number one way to listen to a band was to put their CD in your car. When we actually went out on tour, we were still selling CDs to people and now those are gone. The cool thing about MySpace was you could play the music on your page. I think that’s what really changed everything—people were showing their identity with their MySpace pages by vibing them out, putting up what later became emojis and wall pictures. Then they would have their playlist, which we now call a playlist, but back then there wasn’t even a term for that. Sometimes people would have Red Jumpsuit on their playlist and we were like, ‘Whoa, check that out, we’re on this!’ We were looking at random people’s pages, and getting a high off the fact that they had one of our songs up there next to bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy; it was just really exciting.
We did gain a lot of popularity on [MySpace], but we didn’t even know we were popular there. We weren’t watching it all the time. Social media was big, but it was still all so new, so it wasn’t like you were always looking at your phone. Later, when Instagram and Facebook became big, that’s when we finally realized that we had this awesome, huge online presence. But, the truth is, we didn’t even really know we were big on MySpace until MySpace was already dead.
DTC: As you’ve been playing for about 20 years now, what changes have you seen or witnessed in yourself?
RW: I’ve gone through a lot of changes. In the very beginning, I was scared and had a lot of stage fright. I’m actually the original drummer for the band and I used to sing and play drums at the same time. Eventually, I just started singing because I kept running out of breath when I was playing and passing out on the drum set. That doesn’t really work live. I prefer to be in the back. I never really did interviews because I was always nervous about that. Now that I’ve been doing it for so long, I finally got used to it.
I’ve gone through all kinds of addiction issues, and I’ve conquered most of those. I’m eight years sober from drugs and alcohol, so I feel fantastic. For a little while, I was using those [substances] to try to get through being on tour. We’re a band that’s been around for 20 years, and we never took a break, we’ve never had a hiatus, we never broke up, we never took time off. We toured that entire time, except for during COVID. That was the only time in our career where we were off the road.
I know plenty of people who drink and they do it responsibly, and that just wasn’t me. Because I’m in a band and every single day, there’s like 50 people like ‘Yo, that was a good show! Have a drink, have a drink, have a drink!’ It was really peer pressure, the want and the need to fit in, be part of a group and be accepted as the cool guy. I think that’s what happened to me. I’m much happier now, and it’s been almost 10 years for me. I’m feeling good. I’m on the other side of the battle. So now, I just kind of try to help others who are going through it.
DTC: What are your thoughts on the current emo scene? Are there any new artists that you’re particularly inspired by?
RW: I think it’s alive and well. It’s actually really amazing because for a while there, it kind of went back into the underground. I feel like when My Chemical Romance came back, I started noticing all these other bands starting to reunite. We never broke up, so for us, we were always just sticking around. When My Chemical Romance came back, it was like ‘Boom! This band came back, this band came back, etc.’ Then When We Were Young announced their festival around the same time. It was really explosive. I’m glad we didn’t break up before that happened. It was cool to be around for that.
Then, like you said, there’s all these new artists. There’s so many of them now, it’s hard to keep up! I think my favorite, I’m pretty sure that people would call him emo, would be KennyHoopla. I really like him a lot. I got to see him last year at a festival called Is For Lovers, which is Hawthorne Heights’ festival that they put on all over the country. He [KennyHoopla] just killed it and the crowd really loved him. He was really good and I really liked his music.
DTC: Over the years, how have your influences changed and impacted your music?
RW: The one thing that we’re known for is honest lyrics. The number one most searched thing in the history of our band for 20 years straight has been lyrics. You can check online and see what people are looking up about your band and it’ll actually show you what they’re searching. We thought that was really cool. I think it’s because all of our songs are like 98 percent true stories. So from the very beginning, I got my influence from my life. Whether it’s something that’s happened to me or a friend or a family member that’s close to me, I write songs about it, and then I share them with everybody else. So, I don’t think my influences have changed. But if you mean sonically, then I still listen to the same stuff I did back in 2001. I am totally stuck in the past; I still listen to all that early emo, early pop punk and that’s it. That’s all I really listen to. I know I need to branch out more, haha.
DTC: Do you guys have any new or upcoming projects in the works?
RW: We do. We are literally right in the middle of recording our newest album right now; we are halfway done. We did just sign a new record deal, which is a big deal for us. We’ve kind of teased it, but we haven’t really talked about it too much. We’re gonna do a big announcement at some point. People who read interviews will learn about it, but we haven’t really done a huge social media push like, ‘Tada! We’re with these guys now.’ We signed a record deal with a company called Better Noise who are really awesome. We’re finishing our new album, and it’s going to be out sometime this year.