INTERVIEW WITH FIREHOUSE’S FRONTMAN CJ SNARE
Date: June 14, 2016
Interviewer: Metal Headz Media
FIREHOUSE WERE THE ONLY HAIR BAND TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS IN THE GRUNGE ERA AND EXTEND THEIR CAREER VIA LARGELY UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS IN ASIAN COUNTRIES IN THE MID TO LATE ’90S. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH FIREHOUSE’S FRONTMAN CJ SNARE FOR A CANDID AND LENGTHY CHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AND WHERE THE HAIR METAL BAND FITS IN AT THIS POINT.
CJ Snare: Finally! I’m happy that we were able to find a day and a time that works for both of us.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes me too, and again I want to apologize for last Thursday. They asked me to go to Brainerd and I was driving home at that time.
CJ Snare: Brainerd? Where in Minnesota?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. I’m from Minnesota.
CJ Snare: Oh, ok. Isn’t Sleaze Roxx out of Canada?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, they are. I just, out of a whim e-mailed them one day and asked if I could contribute. I have a love and passion for ‘80s rock and he was like “Yeah. I’d be more than happy to have you on board.”
CJ Snare: Well that’s cool. Well, welcome on board! How many articles have you written for Sleaze Roxx?
Sleaze Roxx: Well, I started in August  and I’ve done a fair share of album reviews, concert reviews and only a handful of interviews. I’ve done a few here and there. I’m no journalist by any means. I just have a passion for it.
CJ Snare: So that was your review of the show?
Sleaze Roxx: Yes! I was the one that wrote that.
CJ Snare: Yeah! Good job on that.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow! Thank you!
CJ Snare: Thank you. Yeah. I really appreciate that. You made me sound like I was singing really well.
Sleaze Roxx: You sounded phenomenal!
CJ Snare: Well, thanks man. You made it sound like Kip [Winger] was struggling. I was talking to the guys backstage and I heard a couple of their songs and it was all from that backstage thing. I wasn’t in the front of the house like you were in front of the stage.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. I could tell from the first song that there was something going on. After the third song, he made mention of it and you know he apologized and said it’ll get better. I wanna say two songs later he was nailing it then. He was doing really well.
CJ Snare: Good! We really like working with those guys. There are a lot of shows we have coming up too where Kip does his solo thing or whatever. Reb [Beach] doing Whitesnake and everything, Kip does the acoustics thing and he’s on before us. We love bumping into those guys all the time so we’ve been friends for years and years now. They’re a good band. They’re tight.
Sleaze Roxx: They are. They’re a great live band, but I gotta say, you guys gave them a run for their money for sure, let me tell you that much.
CJ Snare: I think we go neck and neck. I mean they came out ahead of us in the genre, so they got more face time, more exposure, time and everything like that. They’re a little more prog rocky then we are. Ours is a little more straight ahead. You know, they had a higher profile because they got into the machine sooner than we did. If that scene persisted a little bit longer, I think we would’ve gotten a little more attention and garnered more as time progressed, but we weren’t given that opportunity. So yeah, it’s not necessarily based on the way you are now. A lot of time, you go back and it’s what’s the most recognizable name due to that exposure, and things like that. They realize it and we realize it, but what we realize is that we want to work together because it’s a good package for the audiences.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah absolutely! I do like it when the ’80s bands get on a bill together and co-headline or share the same amount of stage time, because all bands from that genre have been around for quite a while and can definitely play an exclusive setlist. I just think that’s great.
CJ Snare: Oh yeah. You’re right. We did play a 75 minute setlist. When we do a headlining show, it’s between 75 to 90 minutes, unless we’re really on a roll and whipping stuff out but that’s what our contracts say so it’s really cool. Just to clarify though, you say that the bands are from the ’80s. Our first album came out on September 11, 1990. We caught the very tail end of the whole movement. I mean, in ’91, we won the American Music Award and it was against Alice In Chains and Nirvana. So that was the death knell there for that type of music for a while, and of course, grunge went by the wayside. You know, music always continues to evolve so people have come back out in droves to see the melodic hard rock — whatever you want to call it. There’s so many names for it: hair metal, hair bands, …sleaze rock [laughs]. Shameless plug there!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] I guess, because I grew up with the ’80s rock, that’s how I label it. You just mentioned the music awards. I was actually going to bring that up. How did that feel to win that award against those artists?
CJ Snare: Oh my gosh [laughs]! That was absolutely amazing! We were totally unprepared for it, because, you know there was a cut off point. I remember speaking to Dick Clark about this. I should’ve known because we did a rehearsal in the afternoon and he actually crossed the stage from his podium to shake hands with us. At that time, being the nature of the show, it was totally undisclosed. We had no clue that we were going to win. Of course, he did. So for him to make his way across the stage and personally introduce himself to us and to shake hands with us was really an honor because he’s so iconic in the beginnings of rock and roll and everything. Well, I mean just beginnings! They still do Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve with Ryan Seacrest. He was really such a strong and influential persona and character in the rock genre and American Bandstand and all that stuff.
When we won that, it was really funny because our bass player, the guitar player, our drummer [and] myself, we all had a specific list of people that we were going to thank just in case we won. Now, when they called out Firehouse; and the reason they had called out Firehouse was because apparently we had had the most spins and record sales and things like that up to a certain cut off point. We knew that Nirvana was starting to dominate the airwaves with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” We were like “Man! This isn’t going to happen, but just in case, right?” Well, when they called our name as the winner, it was actually the guys from Slaughter because they had won it the year before. The other guys in my band panicked! They were like “Oh my gosh! You do it!” So they gave the responsibility to me to name all the names when we got up there. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched it on video tape or from the night of the show…
Sleaze Roxx: I do remember watching it live, but I haven’t revisited it since.
CJ Snare: Well, then you don’t remember but when I watch back, which I don’t sit here and do on a nightly basis or anything, but sometimes people will post it and every now and again, I’ll get a chance to look at it. I look really calm, cool and collected. But, I just want to share this with you, right when we got up there, the guys bailed on me! They were too nervous. They were too freaked out. And they were in panic… I mean everything! There [was] a wave of emotions coming over us — joy, elation, surprise — for them, terror, I guess. Me too and they were like “You do it! You’re the one that talks. You’re the front man. You do it!” So I got up there and as I’m watching that video playback, I look like I’m calm, cool and collected and I have it together. Inside, I was so nerved out, because I’m like, “I have to try to remember who was the bass player going to thank, who’s the guitar player going to thank.”
It’s a fleeting moment, but the after effects were so cool because we were hanging out with Tommy Mottola who was the president of Sony Music at the time, which was the label of our records. We met Steve Perry from Journey. He was like “Hey! C’mon over here to the table with us!” Mariah Carey, you know… When I’m standing up there thanking everyone, I remember looking down and seeing there’s Michael Jackson, there’s Eddie Van Halen, there’s so many people that you had watched on TV growing up. And then it seemed like in the blink of an eye but it stretched for a year and there we were and these were our peers now and we’re rubbing elbows with them. Oh, I can’t describe that feeling! That’s only one of the highlights of my life and probably the other guys too.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s great! I am really excited you guys won too. I remember watching it live and that was awesome! What’s your take on the Music Awards nowadays?
CJ Snare: I don’t really watch them. I didn’t watch the Academy Awards that was recent either. I must say I am a movie buff and I do appreciate the actors’ craft. I did major in theater, but I do not understand the filmmaking process. That was the avenue I did not pursue. I wanted to do music, and music is a little different now, because when I am listening to a recording; I like to try to figure out what type of mic they are using, and what kind of preamp they are using on the voice, and I hear a little bit of compression. It’s more analytical. I imagine that people who make films do things a little bit differently than I do too. So, I don’t really watch the whole entire show but I do watch clips of certain performers. I think pop music, and there are always exceptions, has gone to hell in a handbasket.
At that time we were considered pop music, with the American Music Awards, and we had bands like Warrant, Winger and Firehouse actually dominating the pop charts. We are talking about the Billboard Top 100. That was a different era, because people were actually purchasing CDs, cassettes, records. Now, I don’t think they are as much and I know the songwriting machine is out there, where they have one division that does the beats and another division called “topliners” that does the hooks and the melodies and everything like that. They will sit and collaborate with an artist and then they will come up with an album in a couple of weeks. I just think it kind a strayed from when the bands used to write the songs themselves. There are still a few that are going to get through and slip through the cracks and become successful, like the Katy Perry’s — not detracting anything from her talents whatsoever — Lady Gaga, Beyoncé. Now, she can sure sing!
I don’t know how many records they are selling or how many concert tickets they are selling, but I do see that a lot of people are still supporting; as you witnessed at the show you attended. What do you think that place holds? 2000 or 2,500, and it was sold out. People are still supporting the bands when there is a good dollar value for the ticket and they are packaging up. Now, if you get two or three bands from the genre, that makes it worth it for our age demographic to go out and support the music. It does have to be on a certain night. It can’t be on the night when you have to get up and go to work or get the kids ready for school in the morning. It is a change in our audience and they have changed at the same time too, because, at that time they were kids and now they have kids of their own that they are bringing to the shows. It is like we are getting another wave of fans.
Sleaze Roxx: I think that is awesome.
CJ Snare: I do too! I think it is wonderful to see your audience grow even in this difficult time. I think they are trying to get a handle on the music business. If it really is a business, you do see some of the artists that I mentioned earlier get through but it is a lot more difficult these days to even get to that starting line.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes, absolutely! Everybody today thinks that they are an artist with the ProTools that they can use and other technology that is readily available to them. And because of that, they instantly think they can become an artist, but I definitely know there’s a lot more than that to become an artist.
CJ Snare: You’re right! I mean, when we started recording, it was on tape. It was like Battlestar Galactica supersize studios. When you walked in, it looked like the bridge to the Starship Enterprise, with all these bells and whistles and knobs. There was an engineer, an assistant engineer, and a producer. Like you said, with all the ProTools, space logic and all these different digital audio workstations that you can put on your computer, just about anyone can throw something together and it would be a fraction of the cost.
Sleaze Roxx: What are some obstacles that you think Firehouse faces today?
CJ Snare: Well none of us are getting any younger, and I can say that about all of us all over the planet. People in the music industry keep on telling us that we got to put out new music, but I’m like, “I don’t know?” Bill Leverty and I, who have written about 98% of the Firehouse catalog, have discussed this at length. We have thought about a possible radio single but by the time that you do record it, it might not be worth all the time and money spent on the song. Now, it is not all about the money. There will be a few people who will buy the album and go to our shows. I know that. I have seen that with the new albums, the new Warrant album, the new Trixter album, and so many other bands all have done new albums. Then I need to take a step back and ask myself “is this like the old days?” When we would put an album out, it would increase our fan base and it would make people more excited about a new song, and it will get played on the radio so people would be exposed to it, and it would be played on MTV and VH1. People would get that much more excited about it because back then, they could not search for videos on YouTube and go to any other social media site to download our music. So they would have to go to the record store and buy it and then wait for the band to go on tour and stop in your town. It helped further the career of the musicians, because the musicians have to get paid too.
People tend to forget about that, and everyone always asked me “Well, what about the love for music?” I love music and I am very passionate about music. We all are and I think you can see that when we are performing onstage. That is not an act. That is the joy, the payoff, and the most gratifying part. But, if I don’t get to pay my bills, they are going to shut my lights off. So you got to think, these guys are career musicians — the ones that put all their time, effort, and energy into it. If they do that, they are not making minimum-wage, they are probably better off doing something else. That is the shame of it. So that is, when you ask me “Are you gonna put out a new album?” We might do something to appease our fans, but a whole record is not in the works because the model of all of the other bands before, and I’m gonna ask you “Have they sold a lot of records? Have their videos been on television? Has it brought more people to their concerts?” Because that is what it used to do. I is a mechanism that worked. Now when people go to see Cinderella, Queensrÿche, Firehouse, or whomever, they want to go see them for the songs they knew then. If we put out something new [and play it live], that is when most people will go get a beer or use the restroom.
Sleaze Roxx: I am one of those people that is a fan of the new albums that those bands are putting out. I am a fan of the last two Trixter albums, the new Queensrÿche album, and the new Winger album is great. But, you are absolutely right. The majority of the fans are there to hear the older tracks. There are a select few that would like to hear the new ones, but I feel the bands want to put out a new album for themselves and for the fans that want to hear it. That is a testament to the love of their music that they are creating.
CJ Snare: I agree. I don’t mean to come across sounding cynical, because that is not my intention at all. Not at all! It’s just that the love of music means, they probably go in. Don’t get me wrong. We love our music. I mean, you can see that Bill Leverty does his music, and I have a project called Rubicon Cross that has some heavier roots which I explored with that, and that is something I did for the love of music too. I just don’t want to be known as that “Love Of A Lifetime” guy, you know? I wanted to show people there were other things like Styx, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Scorpions that were all my earlier influences. I wanted to fast forward to this era, and to this time, into this modern day. So that was my outlet.
But for Firehouse, it is kind a like — there are a lot of bands that are going on to this label called Frontiers. I know the people at Frontiers, and I have had many conversations with the people that work there, and basically what they offer you is enough to get the record out. It’s like you said, there are two sides to every coin. There are people that are doing it for the love of music and then there are others who are not making records. I don’t think Poison is making another record. I don’t think Cinderella is making a new record, and Aerosmith is not making a new record right now. I just do not want to be limited or part of that group. It is music business.
Sleaze Roxx: I do want to say that I did enjoy the Rubicon Cross album.
CJ Snare: Thank you. That one was made for the love of music. I can make more money flipping burgers but I wanted people to hear that music. With Firehouse, I feel like people have heard our music. They have been exposed to it, and we are not certain that the effort would be worth the return.
Sleaze Roxx: Yep. I get that and I totally understand where you’re coming from. I know a lot of other bands from the ’80s and ’90s feel the same way too, and I respect that.
CJ Snare: Thank you. We will get up at 3:30 AM and fly from our homes, and I will fly from Orlando, Florida. Our guitar player and drummer are from Richmond, Virginia and our bass player is from Ohio. Our crew guys are from Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia. We all come from different parts of the US. A lot of people will say that “We drove three hours to see you” and we are all grateful and thankful for that. But we come from a long way too, and that is our labor of love, and that is how we express our appreciation through the music that we do.
Sleaze Roxx: How would you rate your albums that you have released? Which one is your favorite? And which one is your least favorite?
CJ Snare: That is a difficult question to answer. There are parts that I like about all of our records and there are parts that I don’t like as much. You know, the first one obviously because it broke us. We just knew we had something really good there, we just didn’t know how good. We also didn’t know that the era was about to come to an end. So we went in there with such optimism and everything, but as far as every album after that, I would say the one that I am most proud of is Firehouse’s ‘3.’ We dug deep and got creative on that album. We also tried to stay true to our roots while breaching the gap of the changing music scene at the time. Apparently it worked, because I think we are the last hair band, and I could be wrong, but I think so really, to have a hit in the ’90s. In 1995, we had a song on the Billboard Hot 100 that actually broke the top 20 called “I Live My Life For You.” That exploded us and other parts of the world, especially in Asia. That is our biggest hit worldwide.
Sleaze Roxx: One question that I always like to ask is; if you could create a festival or a daily line-up of bands, who would you have on it? Would you want to be in the crowd or would you want Firehouse to be part of the bill?
CJ Snare: Uuummmmm. I think I would rather not work [laughs]. I think I would rather sit back and enjoy it. I would love to get [if he was still alive] Ronnie James Dio. He had such a strong powerful voice and it was wonderful meeting him too. Of course, Judas Priest — I have really really enjoyed them. I would probably put some newer bands on there too. You know what? I would maybe put myself on there, but I would perform with Rubicon Cross. That would give more people exposure to that project.
Sleaze Roxx: It has been said that Firehouse is the state of Minnesota’s “house band.” How did that come about?
CJ Snare: I think I said that onstage once while the band was getting things tuned up for the next song. We always love coming to Minnesota and performing for their fans. We have been there so often, and they make us feel right at home, that I just had to tell the crowd that Firehouse is Minnesota’s house band. The crowd loved it and it has stuck with us ever since.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, I have even heard Rockin 101.7 [rock radio station out of St. Cloud, Minnesota] mention that a few times before you come to town.
CJ Snare: I love those guys/gals. They are big supporters of ours. We always love going to the studio to visit with them. When we are there, they will play some of our deeper tracks, and of course, our popular songs too.
I have to throw out other props too. They have been representing us for the last 15 years. It is a small agency out of the Twin Cities called ARM [Artist Representation and Management] that was started by John Domagall. I kept on seeing his name on all of these contracts, so I knew I just had to get in touch with him. I do believe my first interaction with him was at the Medina Ballroom, back when he was just a broker. He came out to our show and we started talking to him about fly dates. John said to us, “You know, there is this band out there called Blue Oyster Cult. If you get us any two dates back to back and will pay us ‘X’ amount of money for the shows, we will do this.” So that got us thinking; that this will be a better model than having a tour bus. Tour buses are very expensive. To keep them out [tour buses], you have to have a revenue generating tour to perpetuate that. We said to John that “This sounds like a great idea. Why don’t you do that with us?” So we became the first exclusive band for John Domagall. Then all of a sudden, bands like Skid Row and Warrant went to John to start doing fly dates as well.
Sleaze Roxx: That is very interesting. I always wondered how bands did that, especially when they would only play shows on the weekends. Thank you so much for your time I greatly appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to do the interview with me.
CJ Snare: Pleasure chatting with you man.