Some musicians will do whatever it takes to get by. Some will do their best to overcome anything blocking their path to get where they want to go. Count Metal Church vocalist Ronny Munroe among the latter. And ladder.
On the fifth night of their U.S. tour Feb. 20, Munroe was kind enough to grant the SAMME an interview over dinner. But first, there was one more barrier to elude.
Headed across the street from downtown's Backstage Live concert venue to the only restaurant within walking distance, hunger was put on hold by a long, slow-moving train -- which soon became non-moving. With the eatery immediately on the other side of the tracks, Munroe and Co. stood around for approximately eight minutes waiting, to no avail, for the train to pass. None of that mattered to lead guitarist Rick Van Zandt and bassist Steve Unger, who showed up a couple minutes later and promptly climbed up and through one of the cars, merrily continuing on their way. Still a bit hesitant, the rest of us finally did the risky deed and made it across safely. Crisis averted. Considering all of the obstacles Munroe has hurdled in the past decade with Metal Church, what was one more?
Read on to see what Munroe had to say about the band's return to San Antonio and the metal scene in general, his past and present solo work, playing on a cruise ship and more. Watch the SAMME's chat with Metal Church founder Kurdt Vanderhoof, click here for a review of the concert, and visit the "Suggested" links in blue at the bottom for related coverage. And since we know you're wondering -- the train resumed movement 45 seconds after we made it inside:
Q: Welcome to San Antonio, or welcome back. It's been quite awhile, and Metal Church is back with Generation Nothing, an album you guys released in October. I know this tour started a week ago (Feb. 14). How does it feel to be back on the road?
A: Well, it's been a long time coming. The record is being pretty well-accepted, actually. We're very happy about that. This is our fifth gig tonight. We've had some issues going along on the road so far with broken tires. Actually, it was a broken tire because the rim got all bent up and everything. Aside from that, it's very good to be back out in support of this record and just bringing Metal Church back to the fans again because I know the fans missed the band.
Q: Talking with Kurdt about an hour ago about the last time Metal Church played here, it was shortly after you had joined the band. Here we are a decade later for your return. What do you remember most about that show, what do you like most about playing in this city?
A: To be honest with you, I like Texas in general. I haven't had much of a chance to get out and explore anything. The Alamo of course, I mean, that's always a place you gotta go to. I went there and peed on it, of course (a reference to the 1982 arrest of Ozzy Osbourne for urinating on the memorial cenotaph at Alamo Plaza), and then I left. Just kidding. It's a beautiful place, and the weather's nice.
Q: Generation Nothing hits you hard with the first two songs, "Bulletproof" and "Dead City," and sets the tone for the rest of the record. You've been in the band for the last four albums now. What was your approach as a band and personally for you as a vocalist to get this record to sound a certain way? What was the mindset or thought process on making it?
A: I don't really think there was a huge mindset on that. When Kurdt goes in to write, and once he gets in the zone, it is what it is. And he is Metal Church. He's always been the main songwriter, always will be. As far as myself, we had a lot of pre-production on this one, more than we've ever had. So we did a couple rewrites here and there. I was able to do some things in my own studio and go back and forth. I just went in prepared and sang balls to the wall, basically. Not like I had anything to prove or anything like that. We were apart for about four years and have grown. I've done some other things since then. The mindset was different. I think the stars aligned, and I think it panned out this time for us.
Q: In 2009, Kurdt announced that you guys were calling it quits. He told me today that he always knew you guys were going to come back at some point, but from a fan's standpoint, they probably think, "This is the end. I'm never going to see these guys again." Can you talk about where you were as a band and everything that has happened since then, to get to this show tonight, the road you guys have traveled?
A: Basically, why we disbanded, it's well-documented that it had a lot to do with the industry and bad decisions touring-wise and things like that. We just wanted to call it quits before there was any inner turmoil or anything like that, so that's what happened with that. But since that time, before we got back together, I was able to put out two solo records. I've got another one coming out in mid-March, which I'm very proud of. It's my best material to date. I had the best writing partner that I've ever had in Paul Kleff, from a band called FireWolfe. He and I just clicked like that. It's like my Lennon and McCartney thing going on, which I'm really happy about. Aside from that, I was also able to do a couple of tours with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which was another dream of mine because ever since I saw them the first time, it was like, "Oh, I want to do this." And (Metal Church drummer) Jeff Plate, actually, the drummer of the East Coast TSO, called me one day and said, "Hey, I think there might be a slot open to sing." So I went out that day and bought myself a flip-chair, got all the lyrics. I got the music, and I started working on that stuff. I was flown to Tampa to audition for seven days. I finally called and said, "Can I go home now, or am I getting the gig?" And (TSO manager) Adam Lind called me back and said, "Can you be at the airport in three hours?" I said, "Sure." He said, "When you get back home, I'll give you a phone call and give you the gig." And of course, I said, "Why can't you just give it to me now?" But anyway, I got home, he called me, and they gave me the gig. I did the winter tour in 2011 playing the schizophrenic bum, which was very cool because it was a spotlight song. And also, (TSO founder) Paul O'Neill, that song was very dear to his heart, and I worked really, really hard on that to try to do what Paul wanted me to do. Also, with Joel Hoekstra from Night Ranger on acoustic guitar. Because of that, my work ethic and whatnot, they invited me to replace Jeff Scott Soto on the spring tour playing the part of Mephistopheles. So I took that, and that was singing two songs. But that was the last time they were going to do the spring tour. So basically, I got brought in to end each tour. And now I'm just doing my next solo album, and of course Generation Nothing. Right now, aside from my solo record, Metal Church is my No. 1 priority. It's all of our No. 1 priority, trying to rebuild the brand, getting back out there and doing what we need to do. But of course I'm going to keep doing what I do as well on the side because as we all know in this day and age, you can't just rely on one band. We're not Metallica. We don't make that kind of money. Right now, Generation Nothing has been doing really well. Rat Pak Records, Joe O'Brien, I think has done a great job promoting it. We're doing this tour. It's a month long. Then we go to Europe at the end of April, and also at the end of June we're doing some festivals, and then we'll see what happens from there.
Q: When you joined Metal Church 10 years ago, obviously you were coming into a band that had a history with a couple of singers. What did Kurdt tell you as far as, "You're going to have the freedom to do your own style," or "Hey, I want someone who sounds like Dave Wayne and Mike Howe" -- how did you strike that balance as far as bringing your own style to the table?
A: I was fortunate enough to have the kind of voice that already fit that style and be able to sing both the Dave and Mike era of stuff. Kurdt really never told me to do anything except for he just said, "Well, we do have to kind of try to, in parts, have that signature sound." But like I said, I already had that with my voice. I was a fan of Dave. I was one of those millions of kids that drove around screaming my ass off to "Gods of Wrath." Not knowing 20 years later, I was actually going to be fronting the band. So I was prepared. Heavy shoes to fill for both of them? Yes. They're both great singers in their own right. But I never really thought about it too much. I just came in with as much confidence as I could have, and I always prepare. I've got a good work ethic with anything that I do when it comes to singing. Taking the trash out? No. Singing? Yeah. I prepare very well, as much as I can.
Q: When you guys came back, you were on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise (January 2013). And I was telling Kurdt that I was on the first two (2011 and 2012). The year that I didn't go, you guys were on there. What was that experience like for you? Was it everything you thought it would be?
A: It was, and to elaborate a little bit more, I think we were offered that the first two or three years. And we turned it down for obvious reasons because we were on hiatus. And then finally he called me up and said, "Well, we got the offer again." We talked, and it was like, "Well, what do you think?" I'm like, "Let's do it." Then we built it into a reunion thing, and we figured if everybody's in, let's do this again. To 70000 Tons of Metal -- and I apologize, I don't remember his name -- the promoter (Andy Piller), but that was very awesome. There was press and bands from 40 different countries. I know for sure we had much more exposure from that one gig than we did when we first came out with The Weight of the World (2004). So this whole thing, getting back together now, the stars have aligned for whatever reason. The way the songs came out, we're back on the road, we've got some festivals coming up, and the future's looking bright for Metal Church.
Q: You touched on your solo album. Can you tell me about the guys who play on there with you?
A: Yeah, the first couple had Michael Wilton from Queensryche. Stu Marshall on Lords of the Edge wrote the majority of the songs with me. Tony Nichols from Meliah Rage offered up a couple songs on The Fire Within. I don't want to forget anybody. Chris Caffery played on my record, on Lords of the Edge, and gave me a song. This time around, I don't want to let everything out because there's going to be a lot of promo coming up for my next record, but I'll tell you this: It's called Electric Wake. And there's a big story behind that, but I won't get into that now. Once it comes out, then we'll do an appropriate interview for that. But I'm lucky enough to have different people this time. I've got George Lynch, who offered up a solo for me, Dave Rude from Tesla. And I did a duet with Pamela Moore -- Sister Mary of Queensryche. We've shot a couple of videos already for that, and I'm looking forward to it. It's going to come out after we get off of this tour, not to take away from Metal Church or anything like that. Basically, my record was already written before Kurdt called to do Metal Church. So I was just kind of weighing it out.
Q: You touched on your TSO time. I believe you had some experience playing with Jon Oliva before you got into TSO?
A: I've known Jon. He's been an acquaintance and now a friend of mine for a few years. I actually went to a gig in San Francisco and got up on stage with him and sang "Hall of the Mountain King." That was another dream come true. I mean, It's Jon Oliva. The Mountain King, for God's sake. Great guy, great singer, and he is an integral part of TSO. We all know that. So yeah, that was an experience too. Along the way, more and more keeps happening, and I just hope that it keeps elevating. That's the goal.
Then I'm sure you know a TSO band member I went to junior high and high school with, who I was first chair violin with -- Roddy Chong.
Oh, Roddy! Roddy's a good guy, and he's very talented. He's also a public speaker, does motivational speaking. He really works his butt off on stage.
Q: Anything else you'd like to say before you get ready for the show tonight?
A: Just thank you for all the years of support, for Metal Church of course, and for myself. It means the world to me. Keep listening to the music, keep buying the records. Come out to any show you can, and visit RonnyMunroe.com, Ronny Munroe official Facebook, Metal Church official Facebook, MetalChurchMusic.com, and all the appropriate stuff. Just Google us, and you could find us everywhere. Thank you for the time, and heavy metal love!
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