When woefully-unsung Hard Rock revivalists Fireball Ministry quietly proffered their Century Media Records debut There Rock Is Not Our Rock (2005), nothing could have prepared the fans of the notoriously insular genre for the unprecedented sonic assault that awaited them. Replete with a staggering array of fist-pumping, mosh-inducing wares (most notably the maddeningly infectious gem “It Flies Again” and the mighty “Broken”, which was featured on the WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2006 video game) that defied traditional classification, the group's particular interpretation was harmonious, heavy and maddeningly infectious. Recently, oft-charismatic frontman James A. Rota III, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was once again kind enough to again speak with us regarding the long-overdue release of their latest high-octane effort Remember The Story.
Todd: For the sake of the uninitiated, how was Fireball Ministry initially formed? Was the group effectively jump-started once you'd met (guitarist) Emily (Burton)? I can imagine everything truly was history at that point.
Jim: “Emily and I met when we both lived in Cincinnati. Our tastes were always very similar. ...Musically, I had never found a person like that. It's interesting when you find somebody that you work so well with musically because you don't have to think about anything. It ends up being exactly what it is for the reason it's supposed to be, if that makes any sense. ...We're very like-minded in what we were trying to do, so then when we started writing songs together. At the time, we were both living in New York. We were like 'It's really easy to write songs', so we moved out to L.A. because it seemed like a better place to be at the time for that kind of music. In New York, there were great bands like Raging Slab Iron Lung and Scissorfight. All these different bands were happening at that time in New York, but it seemed like there was more of a scene going on out in LA., right? We moved out to LA. in September of ‘98 and we had a deal by October with Bong Load (Records). But it was only Emily and I. She and I had played all the songs on our demos that we were sending out to all the different labels. We recorded them ourselves in our apartment and then shipped it out to all these labels that we really wanted to be on. And lo and behold, some of them would call us back and say 'Stop sending us copies of your demo'. But then a couple of them called us back and were like 'Come by and talk to us'. At the time, Bong Load was one those labels that we really wanted to be on. We went in and met with those guys and it just so happened that we didn't have a drummer because it was just Emily and I. John (Oreshnick), who has been our drummer for a thousand years at this point, was the general manager of Bong Load. Yes, we met him as someone who worked at the label. And it was rad because he was the perfect drummer for the band. It's just like one of those things that ended up working out great. That's basically how the band came to be. Then we started going through bass player after bass player. Helen (Storer, ex-Hammers Of Misfortune, L7, Stone Fox), who was our first bass player, we also someone we met in L.A. She's amazing. And then there was Janis (Tanaka). Everybody that's been in the band we all still love, respect, and appreciate. We're happy that they were in the band because I think everybody has brought something new to us. We love everybody that's ever done this crazy thing with us.”
Todd: Am I correct in remembering that the group was named after a low-budget Cincinnati cable televangelist?
Jim: “Yes, her name was Maxine. ...We lived in Cincinnati at the time. But it was just so weird that they had that name and then on top of it was super religious. But it just sounded like a such a Satanic evil church name. It was a really big Jesus loving Church. There was a guy, I think was her son, but we still can't confirm that, and he would play these Les Paul (Gibson guitars) and a white Flying V (guitar). ...I think he was the musical director.”
Todd: Why was there a seven year 'distance' between Fireball Ministry (2010) and Remember The Story (2017)?
Jim: “Basically, it came down to me having some health issues. ...I had some heart trouble that seems to be, at least at this point, not that bad anymore. That was the real reason. It's all good now, but I needed to get myself back on track before we could be active again. Plus, (bassist) Johnny (Chow) started playing with Stone Sour. We were like 'What do we do? Do we do make a record?' I was Producing a movie called Sound City for (Foo Fighters frontman) Dave Grohl. I got really close with (Kyuss bassist) Scott Reeder. We knew each other, but we hadn't been tight or anything. But during the making of the movie, we hit it off. We had him play on one of the songs for the movie. I was like 'If we decided to start playing again, would you want to play with us?' and he was like 'Hell, yes! That would be great.' Then we started doing the Motörhead cruises, which we really enjoyed doing. That led to a few different labels actually hitting us up. They were like 'Do you guys want to do a record?' and we were like 'Well, shit, I guess we should do a new record'. That's how it all happened (laughs).”
Todd: I would imagine having the opportunity to record with Scott Reeder had to have been a dream come true.
Jim: “He's our ultimate dream bass player. There's no one better. He's the guy. Both Emily and I have loved his playing for so long. And he's such a great human being that we feel very lucky to have him in our band. Honestly, I don't want to say if he hadn't wanted to do it, we wouldn't be doing it, but it's definitely the best thing that could have happened for us. ...Bass players have been our Spinal Tap, man. ...I don't know. It's just one of those things. For some bands, it's drummers. I'm just glad the core has always been there because John, Emily and I get along really, really well. I like the fact that John, Emily and I have been playing in the band for almost twenty years at this point. We still don't hate each other, which is a big deal because I know a lot of people in bands and that's not always the case. We're really lucky that way. You know what I mean? We still enjoy each other's company and aren't bummed when anyone of us are around. I feel very, very lucky that way.”
Todd: As a Producer, what did Paul Fig (Alice In Chains, Deftones, Rush) contribute to Remember The Story? With an education from Pasadena City College and Dick Grove School Of Music, he definitely has all the skills.
Jim: “Paul comes from the long line of Engineers and Producers that came from (Los Angeles-based) Sound City (Studios) like (Producer) Nick Raskulinecz (Ghost, Korn, Mastadon) who did a bunch of our other records. Paul has a really awesome Rock sensibility. He knows how to capture the sounds of real instruments, which is crazy. And I'm saying that as if it's a thing that people don't do. Recently, we got our kitchen redone and my wife wanted a linoleum floor in it. A white black checkered linoleum floor. The crazy thing about it is that we had a hard time finding somebody that knew how to put down a linoleum floor because people don't have linoleum anymore. They don't get linoleum floors. That's how I feel about it. Everybody wanted to put down tile, wood or whatever. I'm bringing this up because I feel that way about people that Produce records. You can't find them anymore. Finding somebody who can plug a heavy guitar in and make it sound great and also knows how to record live instruments... It's hard these days. Most people just want to use samples or drum loops. Actually recording a guitar with an amplifier and a microphone is difficult. On top of that, Paul is great at getting a good sound. He's got a really good sensibility when it comes to things like 'That might be a little bit too long', 'We might want to spice that up with this or that' or 'That part doesn't seem to make any sense'. He's the traditional Producer in a way that we're used to since we're old school, so to speak. If that makes any sense.”
Todd: Those are indeed traits and characteristics that don't appear to be in abundant supply. It's rather sad, really.
Jim: “And it's weird thing because it's not necessarily rocket science or hard to do, but at the same time, it really does seem like people just aren't interested in doing it anymore. You know what I mean? And that's the part that makes me the most sad. That's definitely the part that makes me say 'Why not? Why in the world wouldn't you want to do that?'. ...Actually playing instruments is much fun than letting a computer play them, in my opinion.”
Todd: The artwork for Remember The Story is stunning. How did you become involved with Caitlin Mattisson?
Jim: “Emily is really well connected within the fine art community. Emily was the one that was said 'I love this artist Caitlin Madison and I want her to do our album art'. And I was like 'Totally' because Emily always knows all the awesome people that are making fine arts. We hit her up and lo and behold, she was totally awesome about it. I gave her a rough idea of what the album was about, some of the lyrics and she took the entire concept on her herself and made it her own thing, which I love. It's always fun to collaborate with an artist who gets it. We had a great experience with her. She's done stuff for amazing, amazing bands and amazing, amazing artists.”
Todd: How is the songwriting hierarchy in the group structured? Has it always been you co-writing with Emily?
Jim: “Yes and no. John has always been a huge part of everything. Emily and I usually come up with some riff ideas. We're pretty organic and natural when it comes to doing on everyone's part. We'll come up with riff ideas and then we'll all get in the room together and say 'Well, this should go this long' or 'That should go that long'. And then it's up to the bass player at the time, whoever that happens to be (laughs). In this case, it's Scott. And then it goes off to John so he can add whatever he feels is the right thing for the songs. And then I usually write the lyrics and all of the melodies afterward so that everyone has their individual parts. You know what I mean?”
Todd: How would you describe the music Fireball Ministry creates? I've seen an array of oddball classifications.
Jim: “I don't know. I think that we're a Hard Rock band. We're a party Rock band. We just want people to listen to our music and have a good time. Every great memory I have had in my life has been listening to music, going to see live music or being moved in some way by music. Every great memory, happy, sad or whatever. We just want to make music that moves people in whatever way possible. Hopefully it's positively not negatively. ...We hope to just make people's lives better. That's all I've ever wanted to do. I've been really lucky to work on some pretty amazing projects and meet some really amazing musicians and people. It always seems like it's the same common thread of people that do this stuff. We're just out there trying to make everyone's life a little less shitty.”
Todd: The group has obviously been signed to a number of different labels. In hindsight, have you found that the labels have had difficulty marketing you due to your sound not being easily pigeonholed into a single genre?
Jim: “Yes, because when we were on Nuclear Blast, for example, they were really into the band and they did want us to do well, but it was at the time when Limp Bizkit was the biggest band in the world. So what the hell do they do with us? We were just lucky that people wanted to take us our on tour. We got lucky that way, but at the same time... I don't know. I think that our kind of music and the kind of music that we play is like an old pair of blue jeans because it will always fit. It feels good to know that people will pay to see it, still want to pay attention and still like it. I think our music reflects that. It reflects absolutely no pretense. I hope people will still want to listen to loud guitar music in five or ten years. I get worried when I see the state of affairs. ...I really do”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? Any chance you will be focusing on dates beyond the SoCal region?
Jim: “We did CalJam with Cage The Elephant, the Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age and a lot of other great bands. I'm trying to think what else we'll be doing. We're doing a handful of dates with Red Fang (in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego) after that. Most of those are out here, we're working on getting some stuff together. ...We should have some new news soon, but those are what we got started with, thankfully.”
Todd: What type of set list will you be working with? Will you be attempting to showcase most of your catalog?
Jim: “Yes. For the first tour, we're doing three from the new record and then the rest is all from the whole shebang, so to speak. I hate it when you go see a band and all they play is either all the obscure shit or only the hits or too much of the new shit. I've always thought it was better to keep the new stuff to a minimum until people actually let you know if they like it or not. Until then, bands need to play the songs people want to hear. I really hate it when bands don't do that. I like it when the bands play the songs that people actually want to hear.”
Remember The Story (2017)
Fireball Ministry (2010)
Their Rock Is Not Our Rock (2005)
The Second Great Awakening (2003)
Où Est La Rock? (1999)
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