FIREHOUSE vocalist CJ Snare has joined forces with Furyon guitarist Chris Green for a side project called Rubicon Cross. On its hard-charging debut full-length album (released May 19) the band comes out firing like a veteran ’80s hard rock/metal outfit. It may surprise some people who are under the impression that Firehouse only played hair metal ballads. On the contrary, Snare’s roots are firmly planted in heavy metal and he’s hellbent on proving it to the world.
BraveWords: From Rubicon Cross’s inception; through the writing process to the finished recording of its debut record, how long have you and Chris been working as a band?
CJ Snare: “Originally, I was going to do a solo project, just as an artistic expression apart from Firehouse. Because my roots are in metal, I wanted to do something that was a little harder edged, a little bit heavier and more aggressive. I think it was 2003 (when) we got together. Firehouse was touring over in Europe where I met Chris and we became best friends. And throughout all this time that has passed, he’s been best man at my wedding, I’ve been best man at his wedding. There have been births, deaths, breakups and divorces ... just a whole lot of life that has gone on. This record had to be written, because it’s about the trials and tribulations that you go through in your life. And we’ve been by each other’s side. It was kind of like being brothers from a different mother, as well as both being artists. We didn’t want to do anything we had done previously, because those things are still going on. We wanted it to be more of a sense of discovery. I don’t think there’s a song on here that hasn’t happened to somebody in their lives that they can relate to.”
BraveWords: Since you’re still fronting Firehouse and Chris is still in Furyon, can Rubicon Cross be considered a full-time band?
CJ Snare: “It is a full-time band. It is in-between (our full-time gigs) right now. Obviously with the music industry, anytime you put something out there, it’s a roll of the dice. If necessity dictates and we’re fortunate enough that it takes off ... we are going to play live shows if that’s what you’re asking. The amount, number, intensity, duration; all that will be determined by how the public decides to vote on May 19 and beyond when this record is released.”
BraveWords: Does the band’s name allude to the crossing of the River Rubicon by Julius Caesar?
CJ Snare: “Absolutely. Chris’s dad used to say that; it was one of his enigmatic expressions. He’d say, ‘You’ve crossed the Rubicon now.’ When you say that, as you mentioned Julius Caesar, when he crossed that tiny river in Northern Italy, it was against the law of the Roman Empire. Therefore, he had committed an act of war. It’s an act of insurrection. It’s a point of no turning back. That’s what we kind of thought this band as. There’s no way we can’t to do this. It has to happen and once we do it, there’s no turning back. So we switched the words around. We didn’t want to call it the obvious thing, Crossing the Rubicon, so we called it Rubicon Cross. Which, we’ve had a few journalists ask, ‘Is this is a religious band?’ To which I respond, ‘Fuck no!’” Snare said with laughter.
BraveWords: CD opener “Locked And Loaded” reminds me of Firehouse’s heavier stuff, such as “Overnight Sensation.” Were you conscious of this while writing for this album or were you going for a different formula?
CJ Snare: “Well, this is actually meant to stray from the Firehouse formula. It’s unfortunate that my voice is my voice. I sound similar (in both bands). Although, I really made a conscious effort to sing in lower registers at times, or to gruff it up a bit. Firehouse is known for their higher harmonies and I would consciously do lower harmonies and try and make the melodies a bit different. My roots are in metal; the classic metal like PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN and SCORPIONS. I gravitated toward that European, melodic, guitar-driven, aggressive metal. But I wanted to put a spin on it that made it much more ‘this is now, this is 2014.’ I think for the most part, we are successful in what we achieve. If you want Firehouse, come and see a Firehouse show and I’ll see you there. But if you want something a bit more heavy-edged, aggressive and ‘today,’ that’s why Rubicon Cross exists.”
BraveWords: Firehouse usually got lumped into the hair metal category. Do you think this helped or hurt your reputation?
CJ Snare: “There’s no short answer on that one. The record company will take you ... there’s a song called “Don’t Treat Me Bad,” which was an early success for us. If you look at the first video, yes we had long hair, but we were basically a jeans, T-shirt and tennis shoes kind of band. Then it started really gaining traction and actually went to number one on the rock charts and number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. They redid the video and they had stylists come in and put all the clothes on us and poofed up the hair even bigger. Do you have to go along with that? Well, you’re a young, green artist/musician who wants to make it and you’ve got this record company saying, ‘Hey man, we’ve got a hit! And we’re going to help you by styling you and molding you.’ They released a lot of the ballads ... I’ll never forget when we opened for TESLA one time. We opened with “Overnight Sensation” and I remember the whole band came running out to watch us and going ‘Holy shit!’ Because people might have the idea that Firehouse was this ballad band that they only knew us from the radio back in the early nineties. And that’s not the case. I think everybody knows that now, but back in the early days there was a misconception because the record company took the easy road. They just wanted us to chart and make them money. We kind of had a little stigma attached to us. As far as the timing goes, I seriously wish that Firehouse had gotten just a little bit of an earlier start. We did come out right at the tail end (of the hair metal explosion). If we had a couple of more years we might have been more of a household name. Because we were cranking out hits and selling lots of records and the next thing we planned to do was to go out on a headlining tour. Tides turned and tables shifted. That’s what happens in music, it continuously evolves and you just have to go with it.”
BraveWords: Speaking of music evolving and changing. As grunge took over in the early nineties and metal was dying in the eyes of record labels, radio and MTV, Firehouse became more popular in Asia and South America. What do you think attributed to this?
CJ Snare: We kind of took a different direction. We had a guy named Ron Nevison produce our third record (3) and a guy named Chris Lord-Alge mix it out in Los Angeles. Then following that, Epic Records at Sony gave us another disc called Good Acoustics, which was everything stripped down. It was during the MTV unplugged days that was really popular. Everybody thought that might sustain us and it really did. But it was the Southeast Asian countries and South America that really embraced this more acousticy side of things. It kept us going and perpetuated our career when things were pretty barren here in the US. So we never went away. We have always played and toured for the last 24 years. Rubicon Cross is something to get my metal out. I didn’t want it to sound like just me singing in front of a bunch of other guys that sound like Firehouse. I wanted to put a distinct stamp on it.”
BraveWords: Would you say that the two bands are like black and white then? How would you compare Rubicon Cross’s upcoming debut album to Firehouse’s 1990 debut?
CJ Snare: “I can’t say they’re black and white because that would say that my heart is black and white, or my creative side is black and white. There’s obviously going to be some bleed over. There’s going to be some gray areas, just because they’re both ingrained in the core of my creative soul. However there was great care taken in certain areas to differentiate and distinct between the two. The last Firehouse recording, apart from Full Circle in 2011, was 2003 with all original stuff, so it’s been awhile. I wanted to make this distinctively modern, and more edgy, aggressive with all those up-tempo songs. There’s a couple of mid-tempo or slower tunes and that’s when you might hear the past influences. There’s pretty much a crossover. You’ve got your haters out there, but I think our batting average here is pretty high, they’re embracing it and it’s not just the older demographic who are embracing, but there are a lot of younger people too who are liking it. I have my fingers crossed.”
BraveWords: What’s your future plans for Firehouse and Rubicon Cross?
CJ Snare: “Firehouse will be out all summer long. After that, Rubicon Cross will pick up and we’ll have a good read on where we’ve gained traction, where we’ve had record sales and radio airplay. We’ll cherry pick those markets and go out and play. As far as new music? Bill (Leverty) and I have talked about that. We may start with a single as the first step. Bill does his own kind of thing, too. It’s much more bluesy and soulful, and that’s not where my head is at. So we have to find a happy medium somewhere.”