Ten years ago, in 1990, Firehouse released its self-titled debut CD. Now, in 2000, with the October 1999 release of its latest CD Category 5, on Mystic Music, Firehouse extends its legacy. The premier melodic hard rock group's fifth album is a fresh serving of the same mix of rockers and ballads that made Firehouse famous. It is the first album since 1996's Good Acoustics and the first "electric" album since 1995's 3. The band's line-up has remained the same for all five albums, as well -- C.J. Snare (lead vocals, keyboards), Bill Leverty (guitar, backing vocals), Perry Richardson (bass, backing vocals), and Michael Foster (drums, backing vocals). I recently spoke with guitarist Leverty.
When asked about 1996's acoustic disc, Bill responds, "That's an interesting time for us. That was sort of the beginning of the end with Epic Records. They asked us to do a greatest hits album, and I was told years ago, whenever they want you to do your greatest hits, get ready 'cause they're getting ready to kick you out. So we said, 'Yeah, we'll do a greatest hits, but is there any way we can rerecord all the songs instead of just giving our fans the same cuts off of different albums and stick 'em on this album.' And they said, 'OK, but you've got a limited budget.' So they cut our budget and gave us only a quarter of what it was supposed to be. So we went in and recorded that thing, and it went gold in seven countries. They didn't promote it here at all -- they didn't put one penny into promoting it here. Wherever they did let people know we had a new record out, it sold really well.
"And actually, they didn't drop us -- we asked to be released from the label after they didn't put any money into it. And they waited about a week and wrote us back and said 'Yeah.' We were free agents, so that was kind of good news and bad news. It was bad news that we weren't on Epic anymore, but it was good news that we at least could finish a record and give it to somebody who would do something with it now. If we didn't have a label, we could do it ourselves, and that's better than handing it to somebody and then having your hands tied and not being able to do anything."
And melodic hard rock still seems to have a much bigger market than some people in the music industry would lead you to believe, notes Bill. "We're finding that to be true, especially this last tour we did. After we finished recording Category 5, we went out on the road for 18 months, and from the very beginning to the very last show, we were having a lot of radio stations call us, and VH1 came out and wanted to do a piece on us. And all that kind of stuff just made us all feel like 'hey, it is coming back.' It's not coming back as fast as we'd like it, but the industry is waking up and saying, 'Hey, you know what? Back in the days when this music was really popular, there were millions of people who were really into this stuff, and they didn't just fall off the face of the planet, and what do you know, they're not buying pimple medicine anymore, now they're buying cars and computers and diamonds. They'd be perfect for our station. Wow, we screwed up.'"
Bill expands upon that: "I think the industry made a lot of these people go to country music because that's where a lot of the melodic, positive message songs were, and there are a lot of good players in country music, good singers if you can get around the twang. But I think it's coming back. We just need to have a couple of good, melodic hard rock bands and albums that get on top again, and then a lot of these stations and industry people will open their doors again wider to bands of this genre."
Firehouse didn't sign with Mystic until near the end of the band's 18-month tour. "And then all of a sudden it was like 'Well, we'd better go home now because we've been out for so long,'" says Bill. "The Mystic connection happened through our manager, Perry Cooper, who we've been with for a little over a year now -- he's a former VP with Atlantic Records. And I was introduced to him through a friend of mine, Brian Johnson, singer for AC/DC. We didn't have a deal at the beginning, and he got Category 5 to just about every label, and we had a lot of them interested, but the reason we chose Mystic is because they were the type of label that liked us for what we were -- they didn't want to change us or anything -- and they were also not sitting on the fence thinking about it. They immediately said 'Yeah, we want to sign this band.' So we knew 'OK, they get it.' And I really like their ideas and their ways of promoting the band. They're WEA distributed, so we're in all the stores. Right now it's a licensing deal for just the one album, but they do want another album from us, so we're negotiating that now, and we should be signing something pretty soon with them for the next album as well.
"And we do have a live album that's going to be on our website (by print time). It's only available at firehousemusic.com. Our first-ever live CD recorded one night in Japan."
So check out Category 5, in stores now. Says Bill, "The first single is called 'Can't Stop the Pain,' and there's probably 40 stations playing it right now (as of about 2 months ago). I was surprised at all the airplay. As a matter of fact, a lot of the stations that are playing it are getting a lot of phone calls making it a 'most requested' or 'top five phones.' So it's proving to us and to the record companies that people still like Firehouse." Indeed. It's another strong album top-to-bottom, and it'll be a fun next tour!