Firehouse came out at the end of the ’80s with their hugely successful, high energy debut album, which featured the hits “All She Wrote” and “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, as well as favorites “Shake & Tumble”, “Love Of A Lifetime”, and “Rock On The Radio”. There’s a new reissue of that album out [Bad Reputation Records], which adds 2 acoustic tracks, and a 2nd CD of live tracks. In December of 1999 I interviewed guitarist / songwriter Bill Leverty for the band’s latest album at the time – Category 5. The following year bass player Perry Richardson left the band, and has since joined Stryper in recent years. Firehouse is currently playing live shows, but their last studio release was 2011’s Full Circle. Since 2007 Bill Leverty has released 5 solo albums, including last year’s Divided We Fall. *You can check out Bill Leverty’s solo albums and stories at http://www.leverty.com
“FIREHOUSE’s latest album is called Category 5. The band, for a decade has included vocalist [and keyboardist] CJ Snare, bass player Perry Richardson, drummer Michael Foster, and guitar player Bill Leverty. I recently had a nice conversation with Bill about the band, the new album, and almost everything else pertaining to FIREHOUSE. The new album [on Mystic Records] is recommended to those in to the melodic rock, featuring a number of great pop-rockers and powerful ballads. For more on Firehouse check out www.firehousemusic.com , or check out Bill Leverty’s own site http://members.aol.com/leverty”
How’s the response been to the new album?
Overwhelming! The people who have heard it, a lot of people are saying it’s our best album ever.
I must confess that I’m not overly familiar with the band apart from what I’ve heard on the radio in the past, so I don’t know what I expected, but thinking from seeing you in the Metal Edge pages and that that probably accidentally lumping you in with a few other bands would be a big mistake. This album’s got a real good pop-rock feel to it.
I think we have elements of the metal-edge thing in our music too, and elements of other stuff, and it’s just kind of mish-mashed in to our style, and we’ve always been liking all kinds of music so much that we really didn’t know what to put on our records. The way we do it is everybody writes and we take the best songs, and put them on there every year. And these were the best songs we had this year. It’s kind of interesting because we didn’t have any pre-conceived notions about what we wanted this album to sound like, we just wanted the best songs that we could come up with on there. There’s a little bit of diversity on there, I think.
There’s quite a bit. For instance like “I’d Do Anything” – which has kind of a country feel to it.
There’s a Southern feel on a couple of songs. We’ve all kind lived in the South for so long that it’s hard not to have that as an influence, and we really love the soul-ful vibe of Southern music, whether it comes from Country or Southern rock, or even old blues and stuff like that.
Where abouts are you guys based out of?
I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, but I live near Tampa, Florida now. We kind of live from Tampa to South Carolina, to Virginia — scattered about the South-East there.
Now you guys have been together for about 9 years now!?
It’d be 10 years now. We got together in ’89, actually really late ’88, but we’ve always said ’89. So it’ll be 11 years coming up.
When you guys started out did you have any plans of long-term goals that you sort of achieved or are still looking for?
We just wanted to make a living playing music, and trying to get our music out to as many people as possible, and have fun doing it. We had no idea that we’d get any real success, although we believed in ourselves and we had our dreams. Our goals were really to get a record deal, and we were really luck we got a record deal, and that record company pushed the buttons for us back there in ’91 and we had a lot of things happen for us, so it overwhelmed us all. Back then we were just happy to be playing music, especially music that we wrote because before that we were playing a combination of other people’s music and ours. I still like playing other people’s music, it’s just that it’s that much more gratifying when you’re a songwriter and you get your songs played on to an audience that knows them.
What did you guys grow up on?
Everybody in the band has very diverse influences, which is kind of neat. My earliest influences were Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin, and then I got in to Eddie Van Halen, Ted Nugent, Michael Schenker, and then Randy Rhoads. Perry grew up , and when he was very young played in a gospel quartet, and his dad played bass, and he learned the bass from that. Michael started playing drums when he was 3, ridiculously young, he’s been playing them forever. I didn’t start until I was 15. But his parents were really in to Elvis, so he had Elvis on all the time in the house, so he was rocking and rolling at a very early age. And CJ was classically trained in the beginning as a pianist, and then he got to sing, and he was in a choir. He was in the Pennsylvania State Choir, and he was first chair tenor. in the Pennsylvania State Choir by the time he was a teenager, so he was studying real hard with that. But then he started listening to Alice Cooper and Kiss, then Judas Priest and things changed. So, we all come from a very diverse background, but our common love is Hard-Rock…..and Soft-Rock, but you know – Rock n Roll.
You guys do a lot of harmonies, probably some of the best harmonies out there that a lot of hard-rock bands try to do, and it seems so natural for you guys. Have the harmonies always been there, what influenced that?
Oh thank you. I think that was a big influence on us all from the very early days. We’ve always tried on all our albums to have a lot of background vocals because it just adds to so much to so many songs where you could really emphasize words, and add layers of sounds to make the band sound bigger. We’ve all come from bands where we had that many people singing in the band, and when we put this band together we wanted to make sure that everybody could sing, even sing lead because we wanted our background vocals to be strong. And that’s one thing that we really concentrate a lot on when we rehearse is the vocals. A lot of times we’ll rehearse without our instruments, which is good, and just sing. We put a lot of emphasis on that.
When I listen to you guys I hear a little bit of Cheap Trick, a little bit of Bob Jovi [on the lighter stuff], and a little bit of Uriah Heep [on the harmonies]. Is there any bands out there that you guys kind of look upon that maybe this is where you want to go – direction wise, or who you want to compare yourself to?
Not really. I would love to be a band like say The Eagles – they’ve been around forever, and they have so many songs that people know and some of them are really hard-rockin’, and some of them are slow and soft, and some of them are kind of twisted. But I also like bands like The Scorpions too. I love the Scorpions, I love The Beatles, I thought Zeppelin was awesome, Aerosmith is a great mentor-type band for Firehouse, and Kiss; certainly Aerosmith because they still have their 5 guys together, which we do too which is so neat to see a band like that that has been together for that long, like the Stones. And they can keep putting out good music – I mean the last Kiss album was great, the last Aerosmith album was great, and I like the last Stones record too. It gets tougher and tougher for rock music as time goes on, but I really think that longevity is the key, and that we’ve got what it takes to be around for a long time, because we all love to write music, and we’re obsessed by it.
You guys all write, how do you come together with the songs?
When we’re touring it’s very difficult to write, I have a hard time anyway. I used to try to do it, but there’s so many distractions. What i do is I go home, and I’m off for a day and then I’m going nuts for something to do, so I just go in my studio and stay in there for weeks at a time, and don’t shave, and some times I don’t even shower. And I just go through all these ideas that I’ve been storing in my mind; like we’ve been on the road for 18 months on this last tour straight, so I came home with a lot of ideas in my head that I just wanted to document, and then I just keep developing them, and at some time we’ll get together and collaborate as a team, and we’ll come up with some more songs. Usually CJ and I put our stuff together, and we complete each other’s songs, and we co-write on a lot of other new ideas, and then we’ll get everybody together again and have another writing session, and then we’ll have pre-production for the album, and put all our songs together that we got – the demos, and listen to them, and then we decide which songs we’re going to put on the album.
How many songs do you usually come up with before you actually lay down the album?
Generally I say between 30 and 40.
You guys do a number of ballads here, and what I like about the ballads is you guys don’t do the ‘A typical’ rock ballad, like a lot of bands that have the formulated rock ballad down. Take a song like “Dream” – which is a very different to what’s out there, and it’s a great song.
Well, we’ve never done a song like Dream before. We heard the demo, and we really liked it. Perry had written it with 2 of his friends in Myrtle Beach. It’s a song about a child dying in their parent’s arms. Before we heard the song Perry told us what it was about, and then he played us the song, and we were like all in tears by the end of the song; and then we were like “yeah – that’s gotta be on there!” That song is really a beautiful song. We’ve been playing it live, and it’s a lot of fun to play live.
You guys also do a lot of pop-rock stuff like on “The Nights Were Young” and “Have Mercy”, i love the keyboard intro on that. (BL: “Thank you!), and “Can’t Stop The Pain”, obviously.
That’s the first single that Mystic Records has chosen, and that’s a song about the loss of my father. I wrote the skeleton of the song with Perry and Michael, and shortly after Perry’s father died, and he wrote a really good part to add to the song, and we recorded it. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from people who’ve said it’s helped them with the loss of a loved one, and they can relate to what the song’s about.
Do you incorporate a lot of life experiences in to the songs?
Absolutely. If it’s not our life experiences, it’s somebody else’s that we know.
Well, that’s an obvious choice for a single. It’s a great catchy song, and lyrically has something to say. What stands out for you on the album – songs that you like to play live, or you’d like to see as a single?
We’ve been playing Can’t Stop The Pain live, and that’s a great song to play live, for me because there’s a lot of guitar and soloing; it’s rocks too and people get it right away, people have been enjoying that song a lot. We’ve also been playing Dream, and we’ve been playing Have Mercy [which you also mentioned]. It’s so difficult because when I hear the album I like every song for something different because it reminds me of something different. I like the mandolin part in I’d Do Anything. I like the song “If It Changes”, and the sitar part that i played; it was fun to play, it has sort of an Eastern vibe.
You guys get a lot of different sounds in there with the sitar, the keyboard, and the mandolin; it’s not just your basic 4-man set up of guitar, bass and drums.
We try to stretch as much as we can without getting to be too strange; we don’t want to sound too weird. We want a sound that’s solid and that people can relate to. We’re not all that twisted as people, so we don’t really write to come up with something twisted or hard-core.
Is there anything as far as attitudes and your everyday life that influence the music as far as keeping it positive?
Yeah, we definitely try to accent the positive in our lyrics and in our everyday lives, on and off the stage. We’re guys that we’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we try to do the right thing in our personal lives as well. We try to write about things that you can give to your neighbor and he can play it for his kids as well, because I don’t have any kids yet, but I have nephews and nieces and I want them to be able to hear my music. And as soon as you put language like in the locker room then you limit your audience and you also offend people, and we’re not into being an offensive band, I think.
Do you have a problems with bands that are?
No, not at all. It’s great to be America where you can say whatever you want, but I have chosen to do it this way.
Where are you guys now – on the road?
Well, we’re writing songs for a new album right now, and we a ‘live’ album coming out real soon also. We recorded one night in Japan. That’ll be out right around Christmas, and available on our web-site which is > http://www.firehousemusic.com < . In the meantime we’re going to be writing and then recording. We might go out and do a string of dates in February, we’re working on that now. But the plan is if it doesn’t look good for that then we’ll wait for the spring, and finish the album – then go out and tour the summer. We’ve been out on tour for 18 months in support of this album. We just got off the road actually. I know it sounds different where you normally put out a record and then go tour, but we didn’t have a deal when we first put out this record, and we went out on the road and played every club in every town, and by doing so i think it helped get us a deal and get some people realizing that we’re still together and we hadn’t fallen off the face of the planet. VH 1 came out and did a “Where Are They Now?” special on us, which was real cool. And that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t on the road at the time, so it all happened for a reason. And we’ve played every place about 2 or 3 times, so we kind of need to come back, write another album, and get out on the road in the spring, and we plan to go out with a package, which we’re working on, until the summer.
Any other bands you’re teaming up with?
Yeah, we have a manager named Perry Cooper, he works with Atlantic Records for 18 years as a vice-president in the Artist Development department, and he was introduced to me through a friend named Brian Johnson – who you might have heard of!?
Yeah, and actually Brian’s helping us with a song. He’s writing a song with us for the next album.
What have been the highpoints for you guys over the years?
To me the most memorable high was when we won the American Music Award for Best New Hard-Rock / Heavy Metal Band. It was at a time where so many things were going on that were really good, but that is the one thing that I can look at every day and say “I remember those days – that was great!” It was also gratifying because we were voted on by the people, and not by the industry, not that the industry’s bad, but because it’s good to know that the listeners are out there; the real people that buy the music picked us and not some people in a boardroom that made a political decision.
Since the award, how about your favorite things such as live draws? Or bands you’ve toured with that stood out memory wise?
We’ve had so many great tours, we’ve been real lucky. In the beginning we went out with Warrant, and that was a tour that was hugely successful, selling out every shed and venue that we went to. And then we went straight in to the studio and recorded our 2nd album – “Hold Your Fire”, and before we even finished mixing the record we were out on the road with Tesla on a tour that was supposed to last 6 weeks and that lasted for 9 months, and that tour sold out every where it went, and it also went around twice to a lot of the same places because it was so successful for so long. And then we actually went out with Poison right after that for a little while, and then Damn Yankees, and that was a really good tour as well. It was also a great honor to be open for like Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, and Michael Cartellone – a great band. It was cool to open for Poison too, they’re a great band, they got a great show, and we learned a lot about what to do in the music business and what not to do also. That was interesting, and that was always one of the bands that i wanted to open up for because they had this huge following, and they had a type of music that was good-time rock n roll – and that’s the kind of rock n roll we’re after. Bon Jovi would be a great band if we could open up for them too, but we’ve never been able to.
I think the last Bon Jovi album was their best.
Yeah, I think Richie’s such a great guitar player, and a great artist. His solo album was awesome.
What are your thoughts on the current scene? There’s a lot of crap in the business with a lot of good basic rock bands being left out due to trends and stuff. Where do you see the industry at the moment, as far as being good for you guys and some of the other bands you mentioned?
I think it’s good for us right now, it’s not great, but it’s good, and getting better, a lot better than it was a couple of years ago. The industry – radio programmers, video channel programmers, record store managers and so forth have come to realize that that whole decade of music that we had from ’82 to ’92 was very successful, and a lot of people that listened to that really liked it. And all of sudden there’s a couple of bands that came out that were very different, maybe some sounds were over-saturated, and everything changed, and everybody said “we’re not playing that kind of music anymore.” Well it’s just until recently that people are going – “Well — those people didn’t just fall off the face of the planet either! There’s people that like that kind of music, STILL like that kind of music, and missed it.” And they’re finding out that, you know – you put out these ‘Ballad’ albums or these ‘Rock n Roll’ albums and they all sell over a million copies that this type of music is still hot, and that they made a mistake by shutting the door to it. They should’ve played every type of new music, but not alienated the last decade that they had supported in the past 10 years or so.
It’s good to see a resurgence in melodic rock, because a lot of it got shoved to the side in the early ’90s, which kind of sucked.
I see a huge resurgence, and I also see a huge resurgence on the road. When we go to a town and let’s say we went to a town back in ’96 or ’97 we couldn’t get any radio station to do anything – and now they’re calling us, and saying “Hey before you come here can we arrange for you guys to come in and sing a song for us on our ‘5 o’clock Drive Home’?” Which makes us go “Hmm.” Maybe they’re saturated with all the stuff that sounds alike. And that’s happening everywhere. Even these ‘Perfect Hair Shows’ on a lot of these stations, for lack of a better name, they should call them ‘Melodic Rock Shows’ because they’re the most popular shows on the stations is what a lot of these guys are telling me. They’ve got one in Tampa. It started out as “Perfect Hair”, and they started off as once a week, and then it went to every day for half an hour, and then they increased it for an hour because everybody calls, and it’s such a huge hour for them.
Even the stations around here, a couple of stations brought back the ’80s Weekend’ or a ‘Hair Fix At 5’ where they play some Poison or Bon Jovi or whatever. And a lot of that stuff really got shut off the radio for a few years.
It did. It was not cool at all to be a part of that. And they’re finding out that “Gosh – it actually was cool, and some of this other stuff we’re listening to is so primitive.”
Do any of you guys do anything outside the band such as guest appearances or solo things?
We really haven’t at this point. We’ve just focused all our time on Firehouse, and that’s what we really have to do right now. That’s what pays the bills. As soon as we get Firehouse at a level where people know who we are, …I think our songs are more famous than the band. People know songs like “Love Of A Lifetime” and “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, I don’t think everyone knows the name of the band, and also we have to change the perception of the band because everybody thinks that what we are – Don’t Treat Me Bad and Love Of A Lifetime because that’s all they’ve ever heard, and there’s a lot more to us than that. Until that happens I don’t know if we’ll have time for other projects unless something comes along that we can’t refuse then we’ll have to make time for it. But right now, Firehouse takes up my time 365 days of the year.
Any hobbies outside of music?
Recording…..just music. [ha ha]. Actually, I’m an ice hockey freak. The Red Wings are my favorite team, and I also like the Leafs a lot. Cujo is a great goaltender, and I got a Leafs’ jersey that a friend of mine in Toronto gave me, it has my name on the back of it. My favorite player on the team is Steve Thomas, he’s wicked, got a great shot, he’s a great player.
I was over in Buffalo a few months ago, saw Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Did you really?? We opened up for Lynyrd Skynyrd and that was like a dream come true! They were the biggest influence on me as a kid, a musical influence as far as writing, and learning how to play a whole song all the way through. When I first started I learned all these Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, and played them in my band. And we got to open up for them and meet them; it was just awesome! We played 3 shows with them on the Poison tour.
I love their new album, and seeing them live was just unbelievable!
Yeah, I’ve met Rickey Medlocke a couple of times, and he’s great, and it’s cool that he’s back in the band after all those years.
Are you familiar with Uriah Heep?
Oh yeah! That was one of Perry’s [our bass player] biggest influences. He brings a lot of that to the table when it comes time to lay down the fifth harmony, the real high, ya know!? [sings the words ‘Easy Livin’]. He was really in to that. And I love Uriah Heep! Great band! I just love the sound of the organ too, “Sunrise” and all that stuff.
What are you listening to currently?
I’ve got Jeff Beck’s new album – “Who Else?”. I love Jeff Beck, he’s one of my favorite guitarists of all time. It’s a really cool album, and he’s just from another planet, ya know! I like everything he’s ever done, and I got to meet him too – which was another dream come true. I have to say that’s the best. On the radio and on the video I’ve seen the new Foo Fighters, and I think that’s a good song. I’ve always like the Foo Fighters ever since they came out, Dave Grohl’s really talented, and he deserves every bit of what he’s got. He writes very melodic songs that are ‘hip’ and ‘today’. What a great writer, and a great singer. I think the guy’s got a great voice. I really have a lot o respect for him. He also comes from my home state of Virginia.
What is this “Compassion In Action” that is mentioned on the CD?
It’s a charity that Perry turned us on to where it goes to help pay for Hospice care for people who are about to pass away. They have shelters out in San Francisco, and they’re trying to get more shelters. This guy named Damion Brinkley, who is the head of it, and he’s been on Oprah Winfrey like 7 times, and he’s physically died several times from being by lightning and other accidents, and he’s come back with a lot more spiritual and wisdom and knowledge than he ever had before, and he’s turned his whole life in to doing things that are good for people.
Familiar with the Canadian scene?
A little bit.
Any bands in particular?
Yeah, Harem Scarem. We met those guys in Japan just this past year, great people. I liked their music too – they sent me a record which was really good.
December ’99. KJ