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Kerby’s Exclusive Interview With Rev. James A. Rota of Fireball Ministry

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Thursday, December 29, 2005 @ 2:01 PM

"I’ve got the drill ready."

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Straight up Sabbathian rock has been in short supply for quite awhile now. Sure, there are plenty of bands out there who perpetuate the idea they represent some form of old school metal, but when it comes time to throw the band’s disc into the stereo, the auditory homage simply isn’t there. This may be what makes Fireball Ministry such an enigma—in an age where the charts are currently saturated with groups that are categorized as either scream core, (supposed) punk and nu metal (yep, it‘s still there)—here is a band that actually manages to sound fresh by writing music exemplary of a group that really does love traditional metal--instead of merely talking a good game, Fireball Ministry actually delivers classic hard rock as gritty and tough as a cement block to the dome. With the release of the band’s third full length record, Their Rock is Not Our Rock, Fireball Ministry seems ever closer to realizing the vision that they promised to fulfill back on their debut Ou Est La Rock?—a record that is damn hard to find, but once acquired, proves doubtlessly worth the effort.

Anyone who speaks to Rev. James out on the road has to realize that the glamour factor associated with a Fireball Ministry tour is relatively minimal. There is simply no affluence here and certainly no catered engagements backstage. At the time this interview was conducted, the band was about to take the stage for the last time on the recent CKY tour which on the surface may have seemed to many an incongruous pairing, but…the current financial reality dictates that FM get out there and play as many shows to as many people as they possibly can. In the case of the CKY tour, the majority of the audience was obviously comprised of teenagers who just happen to be precisely the dynamic a band like Fireball is going to have to appeal to at least to some degree if they are going to go anywhere--it’s only common sense to realize that groups starting out today can’t expect any type of longevity by appealing exclusively to forty year olds. Basically, a band that wants a career in metal has to have an eye on the youth. Besides, as Jim states here, it isn’t like Ozzfest was ever a viable option…unless, of course the band was willing to play ball Sharon-style which, of course, means an exchange of funds---money that many fledgling artists such as FM are simply unwilling or unable to pay. Think about it: all those times metal fans have been confounded by the selection of some seemingly undeserving band for the second stage…well, it all came down to money. When Jada Pinkett Smith’s group Wicked Wisdom wanted to play Ozzfest--hey, no problem—just write the check. If some half assed death metal band from Saskatchewan sporting a singer with a hare lip wants on the bill, that’s no problem either…if they have the financial backing.

The current tour and promotion circuit for Their Rock is Not Our Rock will continue as Fireball Ministry joins HIM on the Viva La Bands tour. If the other groups on this particular bill aren’t something that many on KNAC.COM find attractive, it is a virtual certainty that at some point over the next year, the group will end up touring with a more established act as they have recently shared bills with both Dio and Judas Priest. When that happens, make sure you get in the front row as Mr. (Jim Rota) And Mrs. Fireball (guitarist Emily Burton) are certain to rock the stage with current bassist Johny Chow and long time drummer John Oreshnick as they are certain to deliver a set that can only enhance the total experience of the evening regardless of who the headliners happen to be.

Ou Est La Rock?
It’s right here.

KNAC.COM: If someone could view the inner workings of a Fireball Ministry tour, how would they know instantly the level of your commitment to rock?

ROTA: Well, I guess it would be the fact that we’re on the road during a time which is quite possibly the worst in recorded music history to be in a band financially. Anyone who is in a band and who didn’t get a gigantic advance from their label, has to be in this simply for the love of what they’re doing.

KNAC.COM: That has to apply to….90% of the bands on the road today?

ROTA: Yeah, there is no one playing music on this level just because they think they’re going to get rich or for the glory or the fame. If you have that mindset, you’re dead.

KNAC.COM: So, you’re saying that the ultimate gratification has to come from the work—in this case, it would be the release of Their Rock Is Not Our Rock.

ROTA: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny because we’ve never been in a situation where we’ve been able to go over every detail of the music to see if this particular part is perfect or that specific section is perfect. It’s more of an old school approach to making an album where you work on the songs for awhile and then go in and record. It’s like you’re haulin’ ass to get it done because there isn’t all this money to sit and goof around or whatever.

KNAC.COM: No Axl Rose recording budget here?

ROTA: I wish—believe me, I’d still be working on the record. The satisfaction comes though when you’re finally done racing around and you’re holding it in your hand and can go, “yeah, we have a new record out.” Then, of course, there are problems like when the kids go in to the store and can’t find it, but that’s a whole other area of dissatisfaction. Even if the process isn’t perfect, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you produced something.

KNAC.COM: With such a streamlined approach to recording, do you find yourself constantly wanting to alter portions of songs when they’re played live? Kinda like, “this is what I should have done—maybe if we had more time.”

ROTA: Yes and no, but honestly, I think that if we were given all that time, it might just hinder the process rather than help it. I just know my personality, and if we had all the time in the world to work on something, I would just obsess over it. That’s usually what happens when a band has nine months to record an album—it doesn’t generally end up sounding like what it did in the beginning. You just go in and nail it. Led Zepplin II was probably recorded in two weeks. The first Van Halen was recorded in four days, and when people talk about those albums, they go “bam, that’s the record.”

KNAC.COM: So just one quick creative burst?

ROTA: Most of the time, it seems like it’s either there or it’s not.

KNAC.COM: Or it’s Gary Cherone era Van Halen--or maybe even some “Poundcake”.

ROTA: Yeah, exactly. It’s “Poundcake” time, baby!

KNAC.COM: That song is actually going to be your encore tonight, right?

ROTA: I’ve got the drill ready.

KNAC.COM: Aren’t personnel issues difficult to deal with you’re talking about a band whose members have to work other jobs or are constantly trying to make things work financially? Kinda like, “I can’t get the time off to tour right now.”

ROTA: That really has been an issue in the past even with our bass player situation. People end up getting better paying gigs. It’s a situation where they feel like they can’t refuse to take a job that pays that type of money.

KNAC.COM: That makes sense--you just can’t not play bass for Lionel Ritchie.

ROTA: Yeah, it’s that whole thing where you feel like you’ve “got to dance on the ceiling.” It’s funny because labels and managers are always the ones telling you that you have to be the ones who are committed because you’re the ones who want to do it, but there is also reality. I’m not sixteen. I don’t live at my mom’s. I had shit that came up called “life.”

KNAC.COM: You mean moving back home at this stage of your existence really isn’t an option? You don’t want to cruise with your wife down into the basement every day?

ROTA: “I’m herrree.”

KNAC.COM: “Hey mom, I’ve just got to make this happen! I‘m gonna keep it real out on Eight Mile! I‘m gonna make it happen.”

ROTA: Well, it’s always the same argument. They want you to sacrifice everything so that they can get rich off what you do. More and more, you’re seeing the gap closing to where the labels are becoming less and less necessary. Honestly, what we do, the only thing we need a label for is distribution because in theory, we could go and get a small business loan and fund ourselves for four or five tours off of that small business loan. Of course, then we would just owe that money back much like we do anyway.

KNAC.COM: At that point, they’re pretty much a bank—aren’t they?

ROTA: Basically that’s true--but in our case I’m not saying our label is doing a bad job or anything.

KNAC.COM: And every band pays for these services in one respect or another.

ROTA: Yeah, we’re doing our part, so to make it sound like we’re the pampered rock stars and they’re the ones behind the scenes doing all the work isn’t an accurate description. I would love that--I would want to be pampered and taken care of--sure.

KNAC.COM: You want to be Brett Michaels circa 1988?

ROTA: Yeah, around the time of “Open Up and Say Ahh” Tour.

KNAC.COM: Sure, but what if you had to be C.C. Deville for the rest of your life?

ROTA: Yeah, I could do it.

KNAC.COM: Really?

ROTA: I could do it.

KNAC.COM: Let me break this down--you get five years of banging whatever beautiful silicone laden creation you want that possesses two legs, but then…you have to vacillate between sad heroin addict and even more sad fat guy.

ROTA: No, I really couldn’t do it.

KNAC.COM: Why not?

ROTA: When it all comes down to it, there are easier ways to make money, and you can always play music whether it is to two thousand people, twenty people or just your kids. Who cares? As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, who cares? I just couldn’t imagine going through all of this just for the hope that you might get rich and famous.

KNAC.COM: So…what you’re saying is that truly ‘every rose does have its thorn’?

ROTA: And………as it was said. (Starts laughing). When a genius speaks, you don’t question it.

KNAC.COM: C’mon, Jim. You have Bob Dylan on one hand, and ya have Bret Michaels on the other, and it’s damn hard to believe the two don’t get confused more often.

ROTA: Actually, we opened for Bret Michaels once at the House of Blues in Anaheim.

KNAC.COM: Was he doing the country set?

ROTA: No, no, no. This was maybe like two years ago, you know, he did the hits and kept everyone happy. He also did some new material. It was also the only concert I’ve ever played where a late thirties, early forties woman grabbed my leg from the audience--twice, and then threw me a present onstage.

KNAC.COM: What was the gift?

ROTA: It was a necklace.

KNAC.COM: Sure it wasn’t a rash?

ROTA: No, that was a different show…this was a necklace placed in a little box.

KNAC.COM: What kind of hair did she have?

ROTA: I didn’t really see because I was too freaked out by the fact that I was being “touched.”

KNAC.COM: Was it the sexual nature of the calf groping that disconcerted you? I mean, you weren’t shaking your ass at the time, right?


KNAC.COM: So this was just unsolicited adulation--

ROTA: More like MO-lestation. Mostly I just felt that way because it never happens…at least with us.

KNAC.COM: But it did that night.

ROTA: Yeah…(sighs) but it was the only night.

KNAC.COM: Would you ever consider an entire tour with Brett Micheals?

ROTA: Never. I just can’t be continually violated like that. I should have known. When you’re Brett Micheals, that’s how you’re gonna kick it. I should have been prepared.

KNAC.COM: Well, his unabated sexuality just pervades any performance.

ROTA: Agreed.

KNAC.COM: The guy could sing “The Sound of Music,” and the women are still gonna lose their minds.

ROTA: Without a doubt.

KNAC.COM: I have a pretty good idea about the answer to this question, but…would you like to explain why Fireball has never played Ozzfest?

ROTA: We got offered Ozzfest, but as you may or may not know, there is a very large buy in for that tour. It kinda goes against what we’re all about. For the kind of money they want for a band to be on that tour, we can do a lot more with those funds. To be honest with you, in light of the whole Iron Maiden fiasco that happened last year, I’m kind of glad our band has never been associated with that. What happened that day was enough to make you want to quit music--this type of music anyway. Uncool. Nobody that I can think of has the right to attack any band while they’re on stage. Fan or otherwise. It is totally uncool. It’s the same as if you were a teller at a bank and someone didn’t like the way you were counting money and started screaming at you. I’ve never been to a show where I’ve heckled a band. It would never cross my mind. Now to do that to Iron Maiden? Those five gentlemen made this shit up. Who are you to throw shit at them? The shining part of that though is that they played every one of their songs. They’re professionals. That was a bad event, and I also think that maneuvers like that where you’re charging a band to play music especially one that has played hard for the last seven and a half years like we have is really kind of an insult. It shouldn’t be that way. When you go out on tour with a band, it should be because they like or respect your music and want to help you out. That’s how it would be if we were in that position. This business isn’t like that anymore.

KNAC.COM: Ozzfest has in many ways come to embody a lot of what is wrong with rock today. Do you think fans would feel differently about the show--at least the bands on the second stage--if they knew the primary reason many of these groups were playing centered on the availability of tour support from the label?

ROTA: If I was a kid and found out something like that, I would think it sucked or was terrible. It’s almost like you’re getting duped. They may not even want that particular band on the tour--they just provided the money for the catering for the first week. That isn’t what this is about. I’m not saying it hasn’t helped a lot of bands or whatever, but for me, there are a lot of other things I could do that would make me more money. I don’t necessarily feel the need to exploit myself to do that in the music business.

KNAC.COM: Does it make it even more deplorable to know that the recipient of this money grubbing is Sharon Osbourne and that the proceeds may very well go to yet another boob job or another collagen injection? Ozzy used to be notorious for bringing bands on tour like Motley Crue and Metallica and helping them break in a big way. What happened?

ROTA: I dunno, but any success this band has had up to this point has been based on that. Guys like Dio and CKY have taken us out on tour because they like our music. That’s cooler than being on a bill just because you’re paying the rental on the Jumbotron. At this point in our career, we could end, and I would know that we put out the best records we could as a band. We wrote the best songs we could as a band. We played the best shows we could as a band, and we did it all from the heart. All that means is that I will never have a musical regret as long as I live. I can’t tell you the amount of bands that I meet who are very successful and who have heard of our band and come up to me personally and who apologize to me for their band. What’s the point of that?

KNAC.COM: I don’t know how you’re going to answer this, but I do know how much you love Maiden--if you could only chose one band, do you chose Maiden or Priest?

ROTA: All right. I’d have to say Priest. That’s my band.

KNAC.COM: What about Priest or Sabbath?

ROTA: I’d still say Priest. We actually got to open for them for one show in Detroit this summer.

KNAC.COM: How impressed were you by how precise and powerful they were at this stage in their career?

ROTA: Not only were they awesome onstage playing songs that you want to hear with 110% heart, but those guys were the nicest, most cordial guys ever. I have always told everyone that if I ever had a chance to meet them, I would avoid it because I didn‘t ever want to have it in my head that I was disappointed. At the end of the show I did stick my head in their dressing room and tell them “thanks.” KK was sitting on a chair, Travis was eating, and Ian was drinking a diet coke--I just told them that it meant a whole lot to me. KK was just like “get your asses in here.” He was just like, “get a beer and hang out.” He told us that he had all of our records, and that was amazing. That’s an experience you can’t really buy or put a price on. It really does make up for times when maybe things aren’t quite so good.

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