Last Saturday, on a steamy, August evening, a tightly packed crowd of Dadae-po Rock Festival goers were anxiously awaiting Firehouse, the evening’s headliner. As the band took the stage, I couldn’t help thinking how far removed this scene was from the one in which I first saw the group.
It was 1991 in a crowded Chicago night club. The crowd was more loosely dispersed, the scene somewhat darker and the music totally unknown to me. They weren’t the opening act, and I wondered if this group was anything like Mike Watt’s 80’s-90’s power trio fIREHOSE(sic). They weren’t. They did however, have a loyal following that slowly filled up the medium-sized music hall. They put on a good show and to their credit, I can’t remember for the life of me who was the opening act. I can only assume they rocked harder than the headliners that evening.
Flash forward 19 years and several thousand miles.We all look a bit different than the first time we encountered each other. Their hair was significantly shorter, while mine was significantly longer, and my build significantly more rotund.
Although at this show, there were several couples in the crowd who had used some of their rock ballads as their wedding song, one thing hadn’t changed–they still put on a good show.
After the show, I had finagled my way backstage hoping to get an interview, and although every member of the group I had met had been as down to earth, friendly and nice as anyone of your buds back home, it seemed that time constraints were going to make my quest for an interview impossible. As I was waiting for a friend to use the bathroom, Bill Leverty, the lead guitarist popped his head out the door pointed to me saying, “OK, we made some time for you. Only you and only five minutes.” I have to admit my initial feeling was shock. Not because they had agreed to the interview, but because I though they were pointing to my attractive wife. “No way,” I thought, “ I don’t care how famous they are… oh they mean ‘me’. Cool I got the interview.”
I walked into the wonderfully air-conditioned trailer to see original band members C.J. Snare (lead singer), Bill Leverty (lead guitarist), Michael Foster (drums), and current bassist Allen McKenzie sitting around a table. As I struggled to set up my recording equipment, also known as my iPod, the pressure of my time constraint and my inability to get my iPod to do what I wanted, left me visibly nervous. Snare broke the tension, by joking that his favorite color was blue. Thanks C.J. for stepping on my first question.
Busan Haps: You guys got together in 1989, can you tell us a little bit more about the genesis of the group?
CJ: We were actually two cover bands. There was White Heat with Bill and Michael, and the original bass player (Perry Richardson) and myself were in another heavy metal cover band called Max 40. When the two bands broke up, we got together and we kept the name White Heat, but the record company said at that time there’s too many ‘White’ bands out there. There was Great White, White Snake, and White Lion. The record company told us to change our name, and we came up with Firehouse.
BH: Is there any meaning behind the name?
CJ: Michael was in training to become a firefighter. He came up with the name.
BH: Oh really?
Michael: Yeah. It’s not glamorous, but we were White Heat and we wanted to keep it hot, maintaining that theme of hotness.
BH: In 1991 at the American Music awards, you guys were named ‘Best New Heavy Metal/Hard Rock band’. How did things change for the band after that?
CJ: Well, it went downhill after that because we won against Alice in Chains and Nirvana. It was like the end of our era (heavy metal). But for us it was very gratifying. We honestly didn’t think we were going to win, but I’ll never forget the feeling. I’m sure we all shared this feeling. We probably should have known we were going to win, because at rehearsal Dick Clark came across the stage and shook our hands, so we got to meet a rock-n roll icon like that. It was difficult then, as grunge came in, but we were able to maintain our following. Then Asia (the continent not the rock group) just latched on to us. That was a really great thing for our career.
BH: Yes, and that brings me to my next question. You guys have a huge Asian following in countries like Singapore, Japan and Thailand. Why is that, and what’s the most striking difference between the crowds, venues, etc. here in Asia than in the US?
Bill: They speak a different language.
BH: (Laughs) Yes that’s true, and they look different also.
Bill: I think the record company promoted us here at a time when they should have promoted us in the States as well. We gained traction here, and they kind of dropped the ball in the States at that time. But fortunately, we kept it rolling, and we’re doing OK there (in the US) too. It’s great to come here and I wish we could come back more often.
Firehouse, back in the days of massive hair
BH: In 2004, you guys were one of the first, perhaps the first Western rock band to play in Northeastern India. What was that experience like?
CJ: Very surprising, because we played a stadium, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong, and it was packed. Forty thousand people, with only Firehouse on the bill. It was really, really cool. So we went back in 2008, to find 43,000 people at the same venue. We played some other cities as well. We didn’t realize are following was so huge there. And as Bill said earlier, we had gotten really good promotion from Sony and they really built us up here in Asia. Fortunately, things came back around in the United States and got much better.We really didn’t have it as bad as some other bands. For example, Winger got really bashed by Beavis and Butthead. We kind of lucked out of the heavy metal iconoclasm.
BH: Now, this is your third trip here to Korea. What do find appealing about Korea and/or the Korean people?
Bill: I like the food here a lot. I think the people here are really nice. I like their work ethic. I like the fact that they have it together, as opposed to some places where things are supposed to be ready by three o’clock, and now its four o’clock and nothings ready. They’re really polite and the people here just take care of you.
CJ: Bulgogi, Korean Barbeque, Cass beer and Kimchi, baby! Love it! Yeah!
BH: I think you just may have made Firehouse Korea’s most endeared American band by what you just said, C.J.
Michael: I think the people are more passionate about music here for some reason. I’m not bashing the States or anything, but you come here, you see all the people jumping up and down going nuts. They get so excited.
BH: Last question. What kind of music do you like to listen to? What is currently getting a lot of play on your iPod’s?
Michael: I listen to everything from country to rock. Right now, I’m into the new Avenged Sevenfold record. I like that a lot.
CJ: He turned me onto that. He also turned me onto Hailstorm. I really like that. That’s good stuff.
Bill: I just got Jeff Beck’s new CD. I really like that.
Michael: So you see we all got a lot of different tastes. What do you like Al?
Allen: I got a lot of prog rock on mine. I like progressive rock. I like the Beatles, I’m a big fan of older metal. I like the Scorpions.
CJ: We just played with them last week in Oklahoma City.
Then, their manager came in to whisk them back to the hotel for a brief respite, and then off to the next strange and exotic location – New Haven, Connecticut. And like the true Southern gentlemen they are, they thanked me and offered me a cold beer. Good band, very good show, and great guys.