The Middleburg, Florida quintet who, like many of their peers, enjoy mixing punk, pop, metal, and screamo for chart success, are currently headlining the Take Action! Tour, which encourages the young to fight depression and suicide through local organizations. Frontman Ronnie Winter even appeared on Capitol Hill last month and pleaded for greater intervention in what Representative Patrick Kennedy called that day, “One of the greatest health epidemics of our time,” the third-leading cause of death for people 15 to 24, and “a public health crisis that can no longer go ignored.”
“We aren’t necessarily trying to be the political band,” Winter says in a phone interview a few days before his DC debut, even though he later insists that punk and politics is an important mix that shouldn’t go away. “These opportunities are presenting themselves to us. We would be doing the wrong thing if we turned them down, because they’re good causes.”
For Winter, the confessional lyrics he sings, which in another life would accompany a singer-songwriter’s guitar, are just “how it’s always been” for him when it comes to writing. “I’ve never tried to do anything other than say what was on my mind.”
That’s how the song “Face Down” came about, a painful recollection of domestic abuse during Winter’s own childhood — though Winter says it’s also about himself, as well as members of the band and people that they’ve all known. “`But` particularly, it’s about my past,” he concedes before adding insistently, “It’s a song about hope.”
“Do you feel like a man, when you push her around?/Do you feel better now as she falls to the ground?” he demands. Winter won’t say reliving these old wounds on stage every night is difficult for him, though. “It’s probably therapeutic more than anything,” he explains. “Especially when an audience is reacting…and `knowing` that you’re helping people. More people should try it out. Being honest kind of works out great.”
Did you catch that? “And `knowing` that you’re helping people,” Winter said. Maybe the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus — which also includes guitarists Elias Reidy and Duke Kitchens, bassist Joey Westwood, and drummer Jon Wilkes — ain’t a political band yet, but they’re clearly determined to give back to their fans.
“We want to do as much of that as we can while we’re doing our own jobs,” he says of the Take Action! Tour, but also of the work the Apparatus did with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence last October (a result of “Face Down”). “That way, you give back to the country, your community, while also funding your own business — and existing in a world and doing what’s right for you and your band.”
This sounds like a nice idea and one that we all expect a lot of musicians to live by, but it’s a lot rarer than you think, as most musical artists discover issues and subsequently lose interest after a few concerts or promotional appearances. Just consider 95 percent of the bands that played Live 8. Then again, not everyone can be Bono; the guy can be a dozen places at once, it seems, including three stages simultaneously.
In RJA’s short life – they were founded in 2003, but didn’t get serious until 2005 – they’ve done more than many acts manage in a career. Winter still sounds caught off guard by it all, as when he says, “Um, you know what? I don’t think it’s even hit me yet” about his appearance on Capitol Hill. But maybe that’s what makes Winter and the Apparatus such great heroes for so many teenagers, this obvious discomfort with accolades co-existing with a determination to help however they can.
Consider this YouTube comment found accompanying some promotional material for the January 31 suicide-prevention summit. A girl called Tess675 wrote, “The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus saved my life. When I discovered their music, I was at a place where I had given up all hope and saw no point in going on. They gave me a reason to live.”
This goes back to what Winter said about his song “Face Down.” Sure, it’s about domestic violence, but that kind of pain only makes sense if you juxtapose it against hope. And the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus believe in hope.
For Winter, the magnifying lens through which the Apparatus expresses itself, it’s the commonality of their experience with their fans that audiences respond to the most.
“I look out at the crowd at a Red Jumpsuit Apparatus show and I see me all over the place, me everywhere,” he says. “It’s amazing because it helps you remember where you were when you wrote these things, when you were thinking about them. That’s what I love about this music industry. It’s impossible to ever really forget where you come from when you’re playing shows every week.”