Photo: Ashley McGuire; Photo Edit: Devin Taylor
Last week, former Escape The Fate vocalist RONNIE RADKE got out of prison, after spending nearly two-and-a-half-years there. In January 2008, the 27-year-old was convicted of battery with substantial bodily harm for his role in a high-profile May 2006 fight in his hometown of Las Vegas that left 18-year-old Michael Cook dead. Radke originally avoided jail time, but after violating terms of his probation, he was sent to prison in August 2008. While incarcerated, Radke started a new band, From Behind These Walls, which is now known as FALLING IN REVERSE. The band are planning to leave next week for Orlando, Florida, to record their debut with producer Elvis Baskette. Earlier this week, Radke opened up exclusively to Altpress about FIR’s forthcoming music, what jail was like, being sober, how he’s changed and how he feels toward toward Escape The Fate and his replacement, Craig Mabbitt.
How was your first weekend free?
It was a lot of anxiety. I can’t be around too many people, and I’m nervous and shaky. Today was a lot easier. I went to the mall for the first time, and there were people trying to film me to put on YouTube. I ducked and I covered my face. Getting back to reality, you know?
It is. I’m the same person, but a lot has changed, though. [I’m] sober now and sticking to it. All I want to do is work—work on my record and my career. That’s the main focus.
So far, what’s the biggest change for you being out of prison?
The biggest change is trying to adapt to my surroundings. It’s harder for me, because I’m more famous than before I went to prison. Like, way more. I didn’t realize how famous I got since I went to prison. I got fan letters, but I didn’t realize it blew up like that. I get out, and everywhere I go, it seems like people know either about it or are a big fan. I don’t know, I got a lot more eyes on me than a normal prisoner would, right? It’s hard to get used to, but I’m doing it, though. I’m doing pretty good.
What are you doing to make things easier for yourself?
Trying to stay busy. I’ll force myself to do things I don’t want to do. Like, “Let’s go to Walmart” or, “All right, dude, I don’t want to do this, but we have to.” If I don’t do it now, it’s going to get worse. So I’m gonna walk into the Walmart, right? The little things like holding money? It’s so foreign to me now. It’s crazy to hold money or drink out of a water bottle. I’ll [turn on the sink and] walk away forgetting that I have to turn it off because in prison, the sinks turn off by themselves. It’s just crazy. Eating food? Oh, my God. It’s like an orgasm in my mouth, eating food that’s not prison food.
Describe people what it’s like [being in prison]. Did you have your phone?
No way, no way. It’s so locked down. It’s, like, the worst thing that could ever happen to anybody, besides living in a third-world country. When your freedom’s taken away from you, a lot of people don’t really think about it. But when it happens to you, it changes everything forever. I’ll never be the same. I have a lot more respect for myself and people around me. I’m not disrespectful, I try to be polite. I’m more polite than I used to be. Inside prison, there’s a lot of stuff you have to follow, or you can literally get killed over stuff so stupid—for bumping into somebody and not saying sorry.
Wow. That’s frightening. People don’t realize that you can’t mess up there. It’s a lot of pressure.
I did pretty good for a long time. As you go through the prison experience, it gets easier to do the things…I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. It’s so violent, right? It’s full of hatred. There’s so much hatred in prison. It’s Nazi skinheads, Black Panthers, bloods, crips... Where do I stand in all that? I never joined any of those gangs or anything because I don’t believe in that stuff, but it seems like there’s no love. It’s literally all hatred, all the time.
What did you do to protect yourself?
I did a lot of push-ups. I got some muscles now—a little bit of muscle. I had to protect myself a couple of times. One misconception [about prison] is [that people get raped]. People don’t get raped in prison anymore. And if they do, it doesn’t happen really often. That was a plus. That’s only in the movies. That’s one thing people don’t know.
Were you allowed to have visitors?
Yeah. I had to choose my visitors. The only person I chose to come visit me was my friend Nason [Schoeffler, bassist in Falling in Reverse]. There were a lot of people that wanted to come visit me, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I wanted to start new. I just wanted to have a new life. I don’t want to deal with all the drama anymore, I want to save it for the record.
That makes sense. There are a lot of people around you in the past who didn’t have your best interests at heart and were bad influences. To get clean and stay clean, you almost have to cut people out.
It’s almost impossible when the dudes in your old band were doing drugs with you. When the ball drops, when everything starts crumbling, there’s only one person to blame after that. That’s when you figure out who your real friends are, if you know what I’m saying. It’s like all of a sudden, it’s all my fault. [Escape The Fate bassist] Max Green used to help me get drugs. He used to help me steal money. He used to drive me around ‘cause I never had a license, so he was the one that was driving the van. We’d stop at places and we’d sell our merch to get drugs. And it was him driving. [A representative for Green, who is currently in rehab, declined to comment at this time. —ed.]
I remember Brett Gurewitz from Epitaph Records—I had just got out of jail for these traffic tickets, and he’s like, “You gotta go to rehab.” And he’s like, “Max, I’m trusting you to pick him up and take him straight to rehab.” [Green was] like, “Yeah, man, I got it.” No one knew Max was a drug addict then. He kept it on the down-low. Right when I got out, Max was like, “We gotta go to rehab. But do you want to stop at the drug dealer’s house first?” I was like, “Yeah.” Seven days later, I finally went to rehab.
When was that?
That was the only time I ever went to rehab, it was before [2006’s] Dying Is Your Latest Fashion came out. I always thought [Green] was a good friend, and I didn’t know what a good friend was. I don’t think a friend would do that to you, and then stab you in the back. Not to mention, I’ve known [the members of Escape The Fate] for so long, then [they talked] all this shit while I was in prison for something I didn’t do. I really didn’t do it. Everybody knows it. You can read the discovery—the legal part, what really happened—and you can see that I didn’t do it. I’m the only one that went to prison. I didn’t shoot anybody. I didn’t punch anybody. I was what they call the face of everything.
Have you talked to Green lately? When’s the last time you’ve talked to him?
He’s never written me one letter, no. All [Escape The Fate] do is talk shit about me.
So you haven’t talked to anyone in the band?
No, they’ve never written me any letters. Not even one.
Do you miss them?
No. Well, at first, when I first went in, it was so fresh, I would miss them. Then it just started getting like, “Oh, he got caught with heroin.” They’d start making up lies. “He’s addicted to heroin, in prison. He got caught with heroin. Fuck him. Go suck his dick,” to, like, 13-year-old children while onstage. They’re telling these kids, you know, “Fuck the old singer. He just got caught with heroin, he’s going to be in there for a long-ass time. This next song’s called ‘Situations,’” and then go sing my song. It’s just like, I don’t know. I don’t want to talk to [Green]. We’re not friends. We’ll never be friends after that. How could you be friends with somebody that would do that to you? Plus for knowing you for so long, too. That’s, like, heartless, you know?
How did you hear about this stuff in prison?
Nason would just tell me everything that was going on. I didn’t believe most of what Nason said when it came to, like, how bad the Escape The Fate records are now and how shitty of a singer Craig [Mabbitt] is and how Auto-Tuned his voice is. I went on the [ETF] Facebook, and almost every comment is like a “Fuck you.” I have such loyal fans, man. I didn’t realize that it was like this. I thought I would just fade out. I didn’t realize how big it’s going to be.
Any interview that was done with you or that other people did about you, the comment response was insane. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s just the reality of… I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’m honest with everything I do. I would never not be honest in my lyrics and in my songwriting. When that was gone [from Escape The Fate], they’re looking at each other, like, “Well, what do we do now? We’ll just let the producer write everything.” When a producer writes everything, it’s not really from the heart anymore. It’s not from [the band’s] heart, at least. You can’t take a singer out of a band that’s already established and put another singer in and dress him up the exact same way and try to pull the veil over these fans’ eyes. It doesn’t work like that. Kids can see through that, I believe.
What was drug rehab like in jail? Was it different than regular drug rehab?
The whole prison experience was drug rehab. That was another reason I got so angry that they were saying I got caught with heroin. If I would have got caught with heroin, I would still be in prison. I’d be in there for another four years, you know? Obviously it’s not true. Drug rehab… I don’t know. It’s not all love or anything, it’s still like rehab on the outside. You live and you learn in there. Exercising every day started slowly getting the chemicals in my brain back to normal to where I’m like, “I don’t even want to look at a pill or even think about going and getting anything.” I’m so strong now, it’s ridiculous.
In an October 2008 interview, you said you had an album’s worth of songs and were going out to record with Omar [Espinosa, ex-ETF]. Is that similar to what is happening now? Is it some of the same songs?
It’s not Omar. It’s the same producer [Elvis Baskette] who did Dying Is Your Latest Fashion. Back then, I was supposed to go record with Omar. And I’m glad I didn’t, cause I don’t think I would have been at my prime, and my lyrics are so beyond anything I’ve ever written. People don’t even know. My lyrics are freaking ridiculous now.
In what way?
The metaphors, how the words are formed together. You’re already professional at what you do, right? And someone sticks you in solitary confinement. For two-and-a-half years, every single day you come up with new ways to do things, and you have no outside influence by any type of other music—cause there’s no other music. It’s just you and yourself and all you have to do is write, write, write, write, literally for two-and-a-half years. I came up with some of the most genius things… I don’t think anybody’s even going to come close to this for a long time.
How many songs did you end up writing?
About 25 songs that are done, and 30 miscellaneous.
What are the themes you’re coming up with?
A lot about my mother, a couple songs about prison, about getting out of prison and going to jail for something I didn’t do, and how corrupt Vegas is. Songs about Max and Craig and what big douchebags they are now. It’s a lot about… just real stuff, you know? I’ve had a really hard life, so I don’t really write songs about love.
You haven’t had room for that, in a way.
Yeah. I only write how I feel. And I’m not going to lie to myself and try to write songs on how much I love somebody. I do have love, but… there will be a lot of songs about just what I’ve been through. What I’m going through and what I’m going to do.
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