“I still love that music,” Ronnie Winter of the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus says. The singer is talking about his love of pop punk and post-hardcore. “I don’t ever want to lose it. I’m 37 years old, and I still listen to MxPx every day.” But even as he approaches his 40s, Winter isn’t afraid of change. The band’s new release, The Emergency EP, finds them holding onto their inner Warped Tour roots while embracing new technology. As a DIY unit, RJA are making more forward strides than they ever have, sonically and socially.
Today Alternative Press is premiering the lyric video for RJA’s new single, “Is This The Real World.” “In this era of augmented reality and ‘deep fake’ secrets,” Winter begins, “we find ourselves more and more asking the question: Is this the real world? It can be hard to know what is real and what isn’t nowadays. It’s important to question what we see—especially things posted online—before we rush to judgement. Making sure that the information presented to us is correct and that we aren’t being manipulated for a more nefarious purpose is of utmost importance.”
The Emergency EP marks a number of firsts for the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. After it had been suggested to them by other bands, the RJA recorded their new songs in the back of their touring coach. This time out, guitarist Josh Burke wrote much of the music. Drummer John Espy did the mixes, leaving Winter to focus on the words and the melodies.
After listening to the record, Burke suggested the name of the EP. And it makes perfect sense. Winter fearlessly addresses his support for people who have been marginalized for entirely too long. His support of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQIA+ community comes to a fever pitch on the strident “Don’t Buy Into It.” A devout Christian, Winter’s prism of the religion is far more inclusive than what the gatekeepers preach. Winter isn’t conflicted; he knows that he’s right.
Winter spoke with Alternative Press about the EP, his firsthand accounts of seeing racism and oppression and how he feels it’s time for his fans to hear these messages. And if need be, he’s ready to put it all on the line for his beliefs.
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus were able to record most of The Emergency EP before the pandemic hit. How did you pull that off?
Luckily for us, a lot of it was recorded last year in our tour bus. Which is something we’ve never done before. I produced it, and our drummer mixed it. There are two guys in the band who have all the studio gear now. So we put all of the gear in the bus and tracked it. When we were mixing the songs, we put one out, our first single, “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Called LA” in January. And then COVID-19 broke out. We were still mixing, but we did write one song in quarantine, “Please Unfriend Me.” But the other five were recorded at the end of the year in 2019.
It was crazy. We were one of the last bands to be on the road before everything just shut down. Our last show was March 6, I think. That’s when the numbers were climbing, everything was going wild and nobody knew what to do. Everything was going great. And then all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
Nobody is on the road in 2020 except for a bunch of goofballs who don’t care about their fans. It’s scary. But not being able to earn a living is scary, too. How are you persevering?
Two-part answer that’s extremely relevant to me. I do know some guys are out there doing it, and it’s frustrating. I’ve been livestreaming consistently since March. I don’t know how many I’ve done at this point. All for free. I’m trying to be the guy who’s not talking about money and not talking about how much I’m going to lose and how scared I really am. I’m just saying, “Hey guys, wear a mask. Wash your hands all of the time. Use sanitizer. Stay home unless you literally need some groceries.” And even then, I order from Target. I almost never even go to the grocery store.
Some people definitely look at me like an extremist. But I’m not sick. My wife isn’t sick, and my 3-year-old son isn’t sick. And most importantly, my 88-year-old father-in-law isn’t sick. And they’ve remained that way. So when I see those [shows] happening, I think about the people in the crowd, not the band. Those people who may bring some pain into their family inadvertently. I’m absolutely not willing to risk that myself. I have not seen my brother or my bandmates since March. We have been a band for 17 years, and we have never taken a hiatus or stopped ever. It’s weird: At the end of every tour, you don’t want to see each other again. But now we’re literally stronger than we’ve ever been. Because we’re actually really wanting to see each other and hang out.
That unity is key to a band’s success and dedication. On The Emergency EP, a lot of the songs aren’t necessarily a call to action as much as they are a call for awareness. You want people to understand what’s going on out there, how people are being undermined and how people are willfully wrong or ignorant about things. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are acting in a capacity to help people understand what’s going on. You’re not asking them to burn down a government building, but to think with both their heart and their head.
Since the beginning of the band, we’ve encouraged people into action for good. We raised a ton of money for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Which is awesome. I am a survivor—me and my brother, Randy—of a domestic violence household. My dad beat my mom more than once. I wanted to tell people that wasn’t OK. I wanted to tell people that I’m alive and my mom’s alive. Here we are 17 years later. I’m really just doing the same thing.
With this EP, I’m bringing the fans to the next level. I’m saying, “Hey, guys, that’s not enough. Like, if you were with me on that one [“Face Down”], I need you with me on these.” These are things that really bother me. I also want people to know these are issues that bothered me last year.
We’re seeing massive cultural awareness for Black Lives Matter, as well as the LGBTQIA+ community. These subjects inform the new Red Jumpsuit Apparatus EP, hence the title. You’re also a Christian, and you’ve been supportive of this community and critical of institutions that cause division.
We have the recognition by some people—some, not a lot—in the Christian community that the LGBTQ community has been treated unfairly from the beginning. I love it. I don’t care what anybody thinks about me. The only person I want to look up to me is my son. And when he grows up, I want him to know that [hatred] is not what Jesus said. Not even in the realm of what he said.
Over the years, things have been manipulated. Fear, racism and bigotry and all kinds of “isms,” which are meant to divide. They want to divide everybody. I want to unite everybody because we can actually do that. So when you see these movements, that unity, that unity is God. He wanted us all to come together. That was His message.
I’m one of the only guys saying it right now. And I do believe that I’m gonna get a lot of negativity when [this EP] comes out. I’m ready for it. Because of the friends and people that I love dearly can relate to these topics and get any comfort at all, it trumps losing every single fan that I [have]. Even if it’s all of them for speaking how I truly feel. That’s The Emergency EP in a nutshell.
What were your wake-up calls to enlightenment? Did you have friends of color or LGBTQ friends who were marginalized? What were the flashpoints that inspired you to address the injustices?
They go way back. I was born in Tucson, Arizona, which is about six hours from where I live now in San Bernardino County. When I was 7 or 8, I moved to a small town from Middleburg, Florida. An easy way to describe our town would be if you watch a show called Duck Dynasty.
Yes, I’m familiar with it.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. I was dropped into that world. We’re talking about people who ride horses on the side of the road everywhere. Feed stores everywhere. We’re talking guys with beards in full camo. Everybody hunts. Everyone fishes. I don’t like killing animals. Everybody’s into riding horses. I ride skateboards. I was a fish out of water, big time. Then I was introduced to this thing called racism. And again, I’m not knocking the town. Absolutely not. I love Middleburg. A lot of my family still lives there. But to deny it is a lie.
I was confronted with it because some of my fans were full-blown racist, no doubt about it. Out in the open, loud and proud. I’m still trying to find my way as a young man, and I’m a super-punker. I’m into NOFX, who are very anti-racist. That’s what I’m listening to on my way to school. I’m in the hallways of my school in 1999, 2000. Then all of a sudden, one of my friends tells a racist joke, and everyone laughs. And I’m just saying, “Why is this?” It gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.
So when the Black Lives Matter movement was growing organically, I was so proud and happy. And I have no right to be; I’m just a skinny guy in the middle of a mountain town. But man, I was pumped. I thought it was amazing. I really hope they accomplish all of their goals. I’m happy to be alive to see it. And I’m happy that my son will know that I supported that.
The guy who designed my artwork has been a good friend of mine for a long time. He invited me to his wedding of him and his partner next year. I’m really happy to be part of the ceremony. He designed our EP [cover]. I met him back in 2007 when he was still in college. We were hanging out. People identify to me in confidence because they listen to my lyrics. Sometimes they’re like, “Man, I really love your music. Are you a Christian band? Because if you are, there’s everything that comes along with that.” And I’m like, “Dude. Aren’t we already friends?” “OK, well, let’s get into it then.” He told me some of his struggles back then. They were harder then, but he’s doing awesome now. And my wife and I are so happy. There are plenty more examples of this in my life.
“Don’t Buy Into It” is a direct statement that’s not heavy-handed. It comes from your heart. Conveying a stance that’s more humanistic. A lot of this EP just transcends dogma. Maybe Red Jumpsuit Apparatus fans need that.
I don’t think my fans need it. I absolutely know my fans need it. Sometimes when you’re a parent, you’ve got to give your kid something they don’t want. But what you’re doing in your heart and your results is absolutely necessary. What they decide to do with that information—just like when I put “Face Down” out—is up to them. Again, these were topics I was digging into last year. They were already bothering me. I could feel it in my insides. So these are things I wanted to say before right now. That’s something I hope doesn’t get lost.
But I believe there are more people like me. A lot of our fans have hung in there with us for 17 years. They’ve seen us at our worst and nursed us through it. They are the ones that never turned their back on me. All the mainstreamers did.
The Emergency EP by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus comes out Aug. 28. Watch the lyric video for “Is This The Real World” below.