What's in a name? Well, it depends who came up with it. In the case of Middleburg, Florida quintet the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, it might mean anything. Jumpsuits can be sleek and fashionable, tight and revealing. Or they can be loose and homogeneous, suggesting redundancy and confinement befitting a jailbird. Red is often flashy and easily noticeable, but it's also the color of blood. And an apparatus allows a jumpsuit to be used for a specific purpose, such as leaping from an airplane--or it could be something sexual. After all, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are ballsy and emotional, pulsing with vibrancy and tenacity. They're strong, yet vulnerable, and they shift between musical styles with the confidence of superstars.
Strange then that, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus means…absolutely nothing. "It's 100 percent completely arbitrary," laughs singer Ronnie Winter. "When we started the band, we only cared about having a good time and writing good songs far more than coming up with some symbolic, incredibly intelligent name."
"I think it's funny when bands scramble their brains to try and come up with some unique, untouchable band name," adds guitarist Elias Reidy. "Why waste time thinking of something when we could be concentrating on music instead? The locals loved it, so we went with it."
A brief listen to the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus' debut and it's obvious that these boys have spent a lot of time concentrating on their music. Their songs are flush with the determination, hunger, and energy of youth (the average age in the band is 21). And while they tap into elements of pop-punk, pop, screamo, and metal, they combine them in a way that's both surprising and invigorating. "In a time when everything's labeled and categorized, you kind of have to try your best to step outside the box and be as unpredictable as possible to separate yourself," explains Reidy.
"Yeah, but we like to mix unpredictability with the comfort and melody people want to feel when they hear a song," clarifies Winter. "You can't just be crazy, ridiculous. You have to stick to the point musically and make the song catchy to the listener."
No worries there. On just their first record Don't You Fake It, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus already have mastered the difficult art of ensnaring the listener, whatever particular style they're delving into. "Face Down" blends propulsive, chugging guitars, a steady beat, and yearning pop vocals and climaxes into a detonation of dissonance and a volley of screams. "In Fate's Hands" (the name of Reidy and bassist Joey Westwood's former metal band) starts with plangent acoustic strumming then abruptly shifts into overdrive with start-stop guitars, tumbling drums, and a chorus as angry as it is infectious. And "Cat And Mouse" is a melancholy ballad anchored by a repeating delicate piano line that surfaced as if by magic.
"We were at a showcase for a record label, and we were pretty sure we weren't ready, so everyone was on edge," recalls Winter. "So, to calm his nerves, Duke [Kitchens] sat down with his guitar and just started playing. I walked up to him and said, "'Dude what is that?' And he said, 'I just came up with it.' So I said, 'Keep playing it. Don't stop.' And I made him play for two hours straight while we wrote the entire song all the way through."
In addition to being musically adventurous, Winter doesn't shy away from confessional, confrontational lyrics. The cantankerous "Seventeen Ain't So Sweet" addresses a female friend who has an amazing voice but has been unable to make a dent in the music industry because she doesn't look like a plastic pop idol. The reflective, flowing "Your Guardian Angel" shows Winters letting down his guard and trying to express what it really feels like to be in love.
But it's "Face Down," a scathing indictment of domestic abuse, which hits hardest. "Where I come from, you see it when you go to the store, you see it when you stop for a smoke, you see it all the time," Winter says. "It's something everybody sees and doesn't do anything about because they're just so accustomed to it. I was the same way and I was a victim of it. So the best way I could think of to get people to not make the same mistake I did was to write about it."
Winter and Kitchens, the only original members left in the band, formed the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus just for kicks in 2003. For 18 months they wrote and rehearsed with no real intention of playing shows or recording an album. When some friends who heard them jam suggested they play out, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus started booking gigs and were immediately embraced by the local scene. "We played this place called the Art Bar twice, and the second time we played it, we sold it out," Winter says.
Encouraged by the response, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus contacted the owner of a local studio to see if they were ready to start recording. When the response was a resounding yes, they recorded their first EP, using it to promote themselves wherever they could--online and at local concerts, high schools, colleges, malls, beaches, and other locations across Florida. Although the reaction was undeniable, the industry wheels didn't start turning right away. The band showcased for several labels to no avail, leading to discouragement between members, some of which left or were removed from the band.
Determined not to give up, the remaining members posted ads around town looking for new members with the same level of dedication and motivation. After auditioning several dozen guitarists, Winter accidentally returned Reidy's phone call about the opening one night at 2 a.m. and the conversation eventually led him to meet up with the guys an hour later. The group clicked immediately--Reidy's playing style complimented Winters' while providing a fresh perspective on the band's sound, and by the morning, the band had taught Reidy five songs.
Their fan base continued to build to an almost unheard-of level for a local band, in-turn attracting New York-based management. Winter then added drummer Jon Wilkes (whom he met years ago when his old band jammed with Wilkes' group), and the current lineup was then completed when Elias brought in his childhood friend and former bandmate Joey Westwood. "The whole situation was solely based on fate," recalls Reidy. "Originally, Ronnie randomly approached Joey in a record store and told him they needed another guitarist. After joining the band I re-introduced them to Joey, who became the new bass player. It only made sense." Just a few months later, following a flurry of industry attention, the band signed with Virgin Records.
With their line up in place, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus entered the studio last year with producer David Bendeth, who has previously worked with Hawthorne Heights and Breaking Benjamin. "We were blown away with the sonic-quality of the Breaking Benjamin album, so we were really excited to work with him," Reidy says. "Plus, he really understood our vision."
"He really challenged us to make us a better band," Winter adds. "It wasn't always easy, and when we did something he wasn't happy with, he'd say, 'That's not good enough. You can do better and you're going to do better.' And you know what? We did."
From the chugging riffs and serpentine guitars of "Atrophy" to the steely rage of "Justify" to the tender lament of "Cat And Mouse," the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are determined to get their music across to the masses. There may have been a time when they didn't know if they were ready to be heard, but those days are gone, and now they're eager to tour the world and beyond with the conviction that, when your music speaks so eloquently, who cares what's in a name.
- Ronnie Winter (vocals)
- Duke Kitchens (guitar, piano)
- Elias Reidy (guitar)
- Joey Westwood (bass guitar)
- Jon Wilkes (drums)