Fireball Ministry - Preaching to the Choir

Interview with: Emily Burton

By Joe Who?

Liquor And Poker Music is a cleverly named new record label whose motto of part "Cold Gin", part "Ace Of Spades", and 100% Rock, certainly makes sense, but could be viewed in other ways also. I look at it like this - Life's like a deck of cards shuffled up with numerous stories, many thoughts, and various scenarios, but ultimately it's the nostalgia card that brings us our fortune. I speak in tongues, yet, when it comes to the music I grew up on, I can't help but cherish the roots of where it all began. An excellent example of a band up holding the traditions of classic rock is the Los Angeles Califorina based band known as Fireball Ministry.

"The First Church Of Rock 'N' Roll" was founded in the late ninties under the leadership of Reverend James A. Rota II, (vocals and guitars) and Emily J. Burton. (guitar) The team went through a series of moves that would take them from Ohio to New York before finally settling in Los Angeles, where they eventually hooked up with new drummer John Oreshnick for their debut album - "Ou Est La Rock?" (French for "Where Is The Rock?" on Bong Load Records - 1999) Unfortunately the label folded, landing the trio on Small Stone Records briefly. An ep was soon released called - "F.M.E.P." (2001) featuring Fu Manchu bassist Brad Davis.

The next full length album ("The Second Great Awakening" - 2003) saw the band's luck change with a new record deal, (Nuclear Blast), a new bass player added to the group, (Janis Tanaka - formely of; L7, Pink, Hammers Of Misfortune) and high profile tours ensueing, helping to spread the word. Meanwhile, going into album number three, turned into a familiar case of deja vu - second verse, same as the first... the pattern continued, when bassist Janis Tanaka decided to quit, and the band was once again without a record label. Then along came bassist Johnny Chow, (AKA - John Mark Bechtel - formely of My Ruin, and Systematic) and new label, the aforementioned Liquor And Poker Music to the rescue, who released their most recent album - "Their Rock Is Not Our Rock" (2005)

I think the late great Bon Scott said it best - "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll)". Nobody said it was easy, but taking chances is all part of the game that any band will testify to. Win Lose Or Draw, Fireball Ministry's determination, and growing congragation, are proof that timeless rock never dies, it lasts forever.

I recently spoke with guitarist Emily Burton, right before Fireball Ministry's first ever Milwaukee Wisconsin headlining show, as part of the "Triple Threat Tour". We discussed a number of topics, including; Ronnie James Dio, career gambles, (strategies, advantages, disadvantages, and perks) tour highlights, trends, religion, and more...

Wormwood Chronicles: The last time I recall seeing you guys live, was on the Dio / Anthrax tour a few years ago, supporting your "Second Great Awakening album. I bet you were all stoked to be on that tour...

Emily Burton: Yeah, that was a really good one, because it was just fun to be able to play,and then watch Dio every night, you know? (Laughs) It was a good tour in general, and I think we fit in pretty well... it seemed to go over well. The people that came to see us... I mean, obviously they're gonna come and see Dio, (Laughs) but his fans seemed to dig us. So yeah, it was really cool.

WC: I don't know if you heard the big news recently... Dio is rumored to be getting back together with Black Sabbath, but this time around they're gonna reunite as "Heaven And Hell". They're supposed to be doing some festivals, and hopefully some touring here in the states. Did you hear about that?

EB: Yes, I'm gonna go see that... hopefully multiple nights! (Laughs) I think that's a fabulous idea. I will definetely be going to at least one of those shows for sure.

WC: What happened with Nuclear Blast? Why was they're a switch with labels going into this latest album?

EB: Um, it was difficult... The reason we signed with Nuclear Blast was because a friend of ours from Los Angeles was the A&R guy. The main office for Nuclear Blast is in Germany, but we had some friends in the L.A. office. Once we were signed to Nuclear Blast, we realized how difficult it was to really deal with, you know... everything has to get cleared through Germany,and stuff like that. There was a lot of confusion, and just not the greatest communication. So we just thought it would be better to be on a label that's in the U.S. (Chuckles) I mean, Nuclear Blast is a great label, but they understand Germany better, and know how to market in Germany. They don't really understand how big the United States is,and the kinds of things you need to do, I think for it to sell in the U.S. So we just wanted to be on a label here. (Laughs)

WC: Was it also difficult being on a label that is primarily more "extreme" metal oriented?

EB: Yeah, you know... everyone was like - Oh, it'll be great, because, you guys will be the only band on your label that sounds like you do. You're thinking yeah, ok, that's cool, we'll be unique, but there wasn't anyone really on that label that we could tour with, you know? That just made it a little more difficult, and we were one of a hand full of U.S. bands, so that was even crazier. They brought us over to Germany twice, which was awesome. We toured with Uriah Heep and Blue Oyster Cult, then we did metal festivals, and also did some of our own shows. So it was awesome to be able to go over to Germany, but when it came time to do stuff over here... I just don't think they understood what to do with us. (Laughs)

WC: So have these record label changes over the last few years helped or harmed the band in your opinion?

EB: (Chuckles) Um, you know, who can say? On the one hand you get a new deal for a fresh start with these labels but our intention was never to switch labels on every album. We signed with Bong Load Records way in the beginning, the guys that owned Bong Load are producers, so those careers kind of took over and then the label folded. I mean, we were happy being on Bong Load at the time, you know what I mean? Then we needed a new deal, Nuclear Blast happened,... then all those problems there. You never wanna jump around, but what are you gonna do? (Laughs)

WC: You guys had some success with "King" and "Flatline", from "The Second Great Awakening" album. Were you surprised those songs did so well? Or did you have a feeling that those songs would be the "breakout" ones from the album?

EB: No, not at all. (Laughs) "King", actually had been around for awhile, because, that song was on an ep that we did for Small Stone Records back in 2001... it was "King", "Choker", "Maidens Of Venus", and a bunch of cover tunes. When we were gonna record "The Second Great Awakening", we never planned to put "King" on the album, but then Nick Raskulinecz who produced it, was like - "You should just re-record that song, and we'll put it on the record". I'm really glad we did, because the ep is just... you didn't even know we had one, (Chuckles) It's just this little thing. So yeah, I'm really glad we put "King" on the record. That wasn't planned, and "Flatline" was the first video we ever made.

WC: Why did Janis quit the band? How did you guys hook up with your new bass player Johnny Chow?

EB: We knew Johnny Chow just from seeing him around L.A. and becoming friends with him. Janis left the band to play with Pink again. We had some shows booked at the time, and Johnny filled in for us. Then we decided to just go ahead and start recording the album. So he joined right then, and he had like two weeks, I think, to come up with all his bass parts for the album and record them, but it all worked out good. I mean, I was glad that he joined then, so he could play on the record, rather than a month later, when we would have just had someone else play.

WC: This "Triple Threat Tour" you guys are on right now is the final tour cycle for your latest album. ("Their Rock Is Not Our Rock"...) I was wondering if you could sum up your thoughts, opinions, and highlights for this album over the last year.

EB: Oh, man. (Laughs) I would say the Disturbed tour was actually really good for us. We toured with them in June, and were main support. So we were playing 4,000 seaters and they were really good to us. We weren't really sure how that would go over, you know... with their fans, but we did really well,and I think that was definitely one of the bigger tours that we've done.

We have a new video that we made for "The Broken" that's gonna be shown here shortly on Headbanger's Ball. (note you can check it out here... It was kind of a last minute thing. We were like - "Should We Make A Video?" because, we wanted to make a video for "The Broken" from the begining but the label said - No"Sundown", we wanna do "Sundown" as a single. I'm glad that we got to do a video for "The Broken", because,that's one of my favorite songs. So yeah, it was a good ride for the album I think.

WC: I like the title of your latest album - "Their Rock Is Not Our Rock". I'm assuming the title was inspired by all this modern, trendy, popular music out right now...

EB: Yeah, it's kind of a take on a bible verse from Deuteronomy, but essentially it's just kind of saying - we play what we wanna play, and this trendy crap is not our style... "Their Rock Is Not Our Rock"! (Laughs)

WC: That being said, I'm gonna throw you a curve ball with this next question... If Their Rock Is Not Your Rock, how do you balance staying current today while sticking to your roots with your classic rock sound? The older fans can appreciate what your doing, myself included, but how do you reach those other people? Does it ever become frustrating?

EB: Kind of... I mean, we play what we like and you either like it or you don't. It is crazy when young kids come out, and they're into it, and you're thinking - Alright, they like good stuff! I listened to a wide range of metal when I was a kid so I would hope that kids today would do the same, but as far as staying current you know... whatever, we don't really pay attention and we just kinda do it. I mean, we did a tour with Opeth, and they're really technical right? I think a lot of their fans were like - what's going on? Why is it so slow? (Laughs)

WC: All these various tours you've been a part of,is it hard adapting to the different crowds?

EB: Yeah, it's always weird, you never know. What was weird about that one was the first part of the tour... it was us, Pelican, Opeth...

WC: Oh, cool, good Chicago band...

EB: Yeah, they're kind of doomy, so that was kind of a cool vibe and then Nevermore came on. So then it was us, Nevermore, and Opeth, and then that kind of changed it you know... to this...

WC: Power Metal...

EB: Totally and so I'm not sure how that worked (pauses) ... we can kinda do that, sort of, bu, not really. Then we jumped on a tour with CKY again. We've toured with them a few times and always seems to go over really well, and they're a completely different kind of band...

WC: Younger crowds too I bet...

EB: Yeah, but those are actually really fun shows because, those young kids are going crazy, you know? Then on the Disturbed tour.... yeah, same kind of deal like it was with the CKY tour, maybe a little bit older, a little more metal type of crowds,but, they were great. They'd get there early, because there was another opening band too, you know... they'd be there for the whole show, and they were all into it. So it was really cool.

WC: With the music climate constantly changing, do you see things in a different light now, compared to when the band first started out?

EB: Um, of course I'm more jaded. (Laughs) The business is really tough. I mean, it's the same, and it's different, you know? We meet bands... just the other night we met a couple of guys who had their seventies style rock band starting out, and they were kind of in the same place we were a few years ago. It's just the same thing over and over.

I would hope that good Rock 'N' Roll bands have success, but trends change, and crappy things come and go, you know? "Nu Metal" was the beast when we were starting, and now that's gone, but now you've got horrible "EMO" and "Screamo" bands. We'll have local openers, and it's like - UGH, God! Is this really what's going on? (Laughs)

There's always a band... like Wolfmother for example who have had some success and you hope that will bring success for everyone, but a few years ago Monster Magnet had their big run, and everyone was like - Yes! now is the time...

WC: And now it's like - whatever happened to Monster Magnet? (Wyndorf being in and out of rehab sure didn't help them any...Mality)

EB: Yeah! (Chuckles) but you never know, there's no way to tell what's going to happen.

WC: You know something, Emily, from my perspective, what I really like about Fireball Ministry is your ability to write great songs. I notice a lot of bands try to out do each other by going heavier... not that there's anything wrong with that, I like the "extreme" stuff too, but I think it's really refreshing to hear a band like you guys put more emphasis into the actual songs. Do you agree?

EB: Thanks. Yeah, that was the whole idea from the begining, we wanted to write good songs. I mean, we're not really a jam band, song writing was always the focus. We wanted to have parts that you could sing along to, you know... that was always the goal.

WC: That's really missing nowadays too...

EB: Yeah, I would agree! (Laughs)

WC: I noticed "Their Rock Is Not Our Rock" sounds a little more varied, compared to "The Second Great Awakening". Was that the goal for this album and How did you approach this one compared to the previous record?

EB: When we did "The Second Great Awakening", everything was pretty much there and had been written for awhile. The three songs were from the ep and a lot of them we had been playing. There were a couple of songs written in the studio, like "Rollin' On", and "The Second Great Awakening" the intro, and all that but, it was a little more in place before we actually went in to record.

With this one, we had songs, but, we kinda went in with Nick who produced it and we played them for him and spent a week playing around with them live in the studio rather than just having full on demos. So in a sense it was kind of put together a little more on the fly,than "The Second Great Awakening", and that's how it came out. (Laughs)

WC: If I had to compare the two albums with bands... "The Second Great Awakening", I thought sounded like Black Sabbath, and "Their Rock Is Not Our Rock" reminds me of classic Kiss...

EB: Yeah, yeah, I can see that, or a little bit more... um...

WC: It's not straying too far from your sound, don't get me wrong...

EB: Yeah, it's like, more AC/DC-ish sometimes than just pure Sabbath...

WC: Oh, yeah, AC/DC's in there definitely...

EB: I like the Sabbath and the Mercyful Fat, and all that. Jim (Rev. James A. Rota II...) really likes Judas Priest and Kiss, you know? None of it is bad, that's all a good thing when it comes together, but it's just probably the way it comes out.

WC: Do you guys use metaphors lyrically as a more subtle abstract way to make the listener think? Or would you say your more direct making your statements?

EB: It's pretty open to interpretation. Usually the lyrics are about something you would have no idea that's what it's about, but it's just written in kind of a broad way that you the listener can interpret it in how it's going to affect you.

WC: How does religion play a part in your music? Your called Fireball Ministry and for example, you have song titles on the new album like - "Hellspeak", "Spill The Demons", and "Save The Saved"... Do you want it all to tie in?

EB: It's more of a "theme". We just thought those song titles sounded cool right? (Laughs) "Spill The Demons", Yeah! Fireball Ministry the name just kinda came from... (pauses) it's a real church, and we just liked the whole fire and brimstone, you know... damnation imagery, and how that relates to bands. It's like a lifestyle more than just musically, at least it was for us when we were growing up. We wanted to make it something you can belong to, you know? Then going with that, yeah, we kinda stick to the "theme" a little bit, but mainly we just, you know... whatever sounds cool, is what it ends up being. (Laughs)

WC: What's your outlook on the band? Where do you see yourselves in ten years?

EB: Here at Shank Hall! (Laughs) I don't know, who knows, who can say? You just keep doing it,and see what happens. (FYI - Shank Hall is the venue in Milwaukee where Fireball Ministry had their show. The name Shank Hall comes from the musicians cult film - "This Is Spinal Tap". In the film, Spinal Tap played in Milwaukee at a then fictitious club named Shank Hall. The clubs owner Peter Jest, booked the Tap at the UWM Ballroom July 11, 1984. He then promised the band if he ever opened a club in Milwaukee it would be named Shank Hall. Guess what? He did, in 1989. Which naturally leads to my next question...)

WC: Do you have any Spinal Tap moments or crazy road stories you could share from any tours you've done past or present?

EB: Oh, my god...well, speaking of "Spinal Tap"... (points to the stage, where there's a miniature Stonehenge hanging down from the back drop of the stage!) (Laughs) That's totally awesome! Um, one of the most "Spinal Tap" moments was... Ok, we were on tour with Blue Oyster Cult, and Uriah Heep in Germany, and Blue Oyster Cult's lighting guy... their road manager is also their lighting guy or something. Ok, so he's running lights, and we're kinda standing there and I guess Uriah Heep didn't want any of the green gels because, it was fucking up their pedals... like, they couldn't see the lights on their pedals and stuff. They were like - "We gotta get rid of these gels". So the guy from Blue Oyster Cult comes up, and says - "What The Fuck Are We Gonna Do During Godzilla?...Godzilla Is Green"! We're all standing around looking at each other like - Oh my God, that did not just happen! It was totally awesome! Touring with them was great. I gotta say Uriah Heep were some of the coolest guys. They've been around since the beginning, and they'd take us out drinking, they were super cool.

WC: When you finish this tour, are you guys going to start work on your next album?

EB: Yeah, that's the plan.

WC: Any details on what we can expect?

EB: Um, No, I got nothin' for ya! (Laughs)

WC: Do you guys usually write music and lyrics in advance when you're on the road? Or Is it too distracting?

EB: It's pretty difficult. I mean, we always make that plan, like, yeah, we're totally gonna work on new stuff, but it's really kind of hard. We usually bring our practice amps and stuff, but it's kind of hard to focus, you know... and then you're thinking about the show. It's not like if you had an hour long sound check and then you could hang out and work on stuff... it's more like, throw your stuff up and try to get a good sound. So no, not really.

WC: Thank you so much for your time, Emily. Do you have any final words for your fans out there?

EB: Thank you.No, just keep Rockin' ! (Laughs)

Liquor and Poker Music's Official Website

Fireball Ministry's Official Website