BILL LEVERTY INTERVIEW:
September 5, 2008
FireHouse was one of the last up-and-coming bands to enjoy major success before grunge completely changed the face of popular music. Guitarist Bill Leverty (www.leverty.com) has been with the band through the highs and the lows as FireHouse (www.firehousemusic.com) continue to tour and record almost twenty years after first bursting upon the scene. In fact, in this second interview with Sleaze Roxx (conducted by Jason L.), Bill says that the band will begin recording a new album this winter, proving that these North Carolina boys have no thoughts of slowing down.
Sleaze Roxx: What were you hoping to accomplish when you set out this year on the road and how is that going?
Bill Leverty: We wanted to go out and have some fun playing our music. We absolutely have accomplished that, yes! The only thing that makes it hard on us is the lack of sleep. Oh well, that’s rock & roll.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there an upcoming show that you are particularly excited about?
Bill Leverty: Firefest in the UK will be great. We’re really good friends with the promoter, Kieran Dargan. He’s like family.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you prefer to play festivals or smaller, more intimate venues?
Bill Leverty: I like both for different reasons. Festivals generally have more people who aren’t real familiar with our music, so it’s a chance for us to make new friends. Intimate venues usually allow us to play a full, headlining set, where we can get a full sound check, play longer, do a long meet and greet with our fans, and hang out a little longer.
Sleaze Roxx: Is FireHouse currently playing material from one era of the band or can fans expect a sampling of all the albums?
Bill Leverty: We play mostly from the first album since that’s what people know us for most. We do add a few songs from as many albums as possible, and try to play a song or two off of our latest CD, Prime Time.
Sleaze Roxx: Every established group seems to have that one cover tune that they’ve always played. What is FireHouse’s?
Bill Leverty: We have several that we’ve been alternating. “Another Thing Coming” (which we recorded for the Judas Priest tribute album, Hell Bent Forever. We also have a bass player with an amazing voice who sings “Highway To Hell” better than anyone I’ve ever heard sing it. We’ve also covered so many songs in the past that we dig up from time to time: “Free Ride”, “Walk This Way”, “American Band”, “Rock & Roll Music”, and many others. Also, on our Good Acoustics album, we recorded a version of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road”. We have played literally hundreds of cover tunes though. I love throwing one in every night.
Sleaze Roxx: FireHouse has had great success over the years performing and releasing albums in Japan and other Asian countries. To what do you attribute that to?
Bill Leverty: I don’t know why we have traction over there. I’m just glad that people anywhere have a chance to listen to our music, and if it sticks with them, that’s a bonus. Getting our music heard is the biggest challenge that we face these days. I believe in our music enough that if people can hear it, they will want to hear it again.
Sleaze Roxx: You have obviously been exposed to many different cultures having toured the world. Is there one that you have been drawn to more than others?
Bill Leverty: I’ve really enjoyed elements of all of the different cultures around the world. I’ve really come to realize how much I love America and how culturally diverse we are here. I have to say that Japan is one of the most remarkable cultures that I’ve experienced. The people are so polite and deeply embedded with tradition that keeps honor as the most important character quality. The food is really good over there too!
Sleaze Roxx: In 1991 FireHouse received the AMA for favorite new hard rock/heavy metal artist. Can you tell me what stands out most in your mind about that experience?
Bill Leverty: Well, that was a great day. I remember hanging out with Garth Brooks, who hadn’t sold a million records yet, and just talking about music we loved, which he was saying how fond he was of hard rock music. I also met Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and a bunch of other big name musicians. It was a great time.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you forget to thank anyone in the acceptance speech?
Bill Leverty: I didn’t do the talking. I wish they allowed each one of us a little bit of time to thank the people who we wanted to so we each could’ve had a list, and a few seconds of time at the podium. I do know that our producer, David Prater, and our engineer, Doug Oberkircher, as well as a few others, should have been thanked.
Sleaze Roxx: Who came up with FireHouse as the band name? Was it inspired by the Kiss song?
Bill Leverty: We used to be called White Heat. We found out that there was a trademark issue with some other bands around the world that were called White Heat, so we went looking for a new name. Michael Foster came up with the name FireHouse. He had gone through training to be a fire fighter at the academy in Richmond, VA. We were all aware of the Kiss song, but the name didn’t come from that.
Sleaze Roxx: “Love of a Lifetime” is the song that FireHouse is most famous for. Can you tell me a little bit about how that song came to be?
Bill Leverty: When Epic Records signed us, our demo had eight songs on it. The ballad on the demo was a darker ballad and the label wanted to hear another one that was more of a pop ballad and less of a rock ballad. We had played “Love Of A Lifetime” for Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora and they suggested we not release that one. We submitted it to Epic and they loved it. The song ultimately went into the top 5.
Sleaze Roxx: When did you first realize that that song was going to be a huge hit?
Bill Leverty: I guess after it was on MTV and got into heavy rotation, I realized that the song had resonated with a lot of people. I’m still honored at every gig when people come up to me and tell me that they used that song as their wedding song.
Sleaze Roxx: In ’04 FireHouse performed the National Anthem at a Toledo Storm Hockey game. How did that come about?
Bill Leverty: The Toledo Storm organization had heard about what a hockey nut I was and liked our band. They actually booked a FireHouse gig to play after the hockey game in the event hall next to the arena. We told them that we would love to sing The Anthem before the game, and they thought it was a cool idea. We’ve sung the National Anthem for The Minnesota Vikings twice, as well as for the world championship motocross race at the Houston Astrodome. We do a 4 part harmony version that is a lot of fun to sing.
Sleaze Roxx: A lot of the groups that FireHouse got lumped in with were from California. How does being from North Carolina set you apart?
Bill Leverty: I’m not sure that where we were living at the time we got signed sets us apart. I think that our sound, songs, and personality is what makes us different. I think we’re more like regular people than rock stars. Maybe that’s what helps people to relate to us.
Sleaze Roxx: With exception of bass player changes, FireHouse is essentially the same group of guys that started playing almost 20 years ago. To what do you attribute that to?
Bill Leverty: We all are still headed in the same direction musically and personally. We are also a democracy, and we vote on the issues to make the right decisions for the group, not for the individual. If I get out-voted, I have to be a big boy and accept that the group runs the band, not the individual. We would have never had any success if we were run by a dictatorship. We’ve also kept a close relationship with our fans. We go out and meet our fans after just about every show. Our fans are honest with us and tell us what they like and don’t like. We listen to them. After all, the fans are paying our bills.
Sleaze Roxx: You are going to be doing a 7 day cruise ship event with Skid Row in early ’09. How did you get hooked up with Skid Row?
Bill Leverty: We’ve done a bunch of shows with Skid Row and really think very highly of those guys. They are such a great band with great songs. The guys in the band are all really cool people. When the idea was presented to us, we immediately thought it would be a great time for us, and a great vacation for our fans. The company that put it all together is www.bestmusiccruises.com.
Sleaze Roxx: Are there any other things on the horizon for ’09 that fans can expect? New releases?
Bill Leverty: I just released my second solo album called Southern Exposure. This one is instrumental music. I hope to do more guitar clinics for Randall Amps and play some of the material off this album in 2009. As for FireHouse, we plan on starting to work on our next album this winter. We’ll continue to tour as much as possible because we love to play live.
Sleaze Roxx: On your website you have a photo up of you hanging out with Barry Williams (Greg Brady). I have to ask, what’s the story behind that?
Bill Leverty: When we released our fifth album, Category 5, I was shuffled off to Las Vegas for a promotional event, and there he was, standing in the same green room I was, waiting to get on the radio and talk up his project he was working on. I said, “Hey Barry, how’s it going?” He was really down to earth and laid back. I told him that I played guitar for FireHouse and he said that he liked our music. I asked if he’d mind if I got a photo with him and he said “no problem”. We hung out for a while during that event and had a lot of laughs. He’s a good dude.
Sleaze Roxx: Also on your website you have the guitar tab for some of the FireHouse songs posted including “Love of a Lifetime.” Being a guitar player I can tell you that that is very cool. Did you personally do the transcribing and where’s the solo?
Bill Leverty: No, I didn’t do the transcription, and actually haven’t even checked it out to make sure it’s right!! Those tabs were brought to my attention through an email I got from a fan.
Thanks to Bill Leverty and Jason L.