Vocalist Ronny Munroe
***Interview By Lord of The Wasteland (Transcription By "Kill" Kamerman)
As far as U.S. metal bands go, there aren’t many that have remained as consistent as Seattle’s Metal Church has. Their self-titled debut came out on Elektra Records way back in 1984 and despite a five-year break due to changing musical tides in 1993, the band has consistently been releasing quality albums that are true to heavy metal’s roots without ever jumping on trends. Granted, that dedication has also been the reason Metal Church has remained underground with a loyal and devoted following rather than breaking through to the upper tier with their peers.
However, that is also what has kept Metal Church on the straight and narrow for almost a quarter century with THE DARK and BLESSING IN DISGUISE being their two best-known works. Along the way, members have come and gone but guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof has remained the one consistent as the band’s main songwriter. Three men—David Wayne, Mike Howe and Ronny Munroe—have also held the vocalist position over the years. Many will hold their loyalties but Munroe, no longer the “new guy” having three studio releases (coincidentally, the same number as Wayne and Howe) under his belt, has been eking out his own rightful place in the halls of Metal Church lore. It is on Metal Church’s new album, THIS PRESENT WASTELAND, that Munroe really cements his position, though, combining his classic vocals with Vanderhoof’s music to create Metal Church’s strongest and most enjoyable record overall in years.
After a few tries to get connected for a phone interview (Munroe got held up coming back to California after taking in the Judas Priest concert in Las Vegas), I chatted with the singer on all things Metal Church, as well as the resurgence of thrash, his solo career and his involvement in some interesting charity work.
THIS PRESENT WASTELAND is out September 23rd and it’s hard to believe but this is the band’s ninth studio album! I’ve been listening to it repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and it’s probably my favorite album from Metal Church since BLESSING IN DISGUISE.
That’s awesome. Hey, thanks for the great review, too, man!
You saw it?
Oh yeah, I read it, dude! It was one of the best ones we’ve gotten, so I appreciate that.
I enjoyed all the albums through the nineties, A LIGHT IN THE DARK and THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, but this really seems like a return to that classic Metal Church sound that everybody knows so well.
Quite a few other people have said the same thing, and I thought the same thing as well once Kurt [Vanderhoof] was sending me the initial mp3s of the music that he wrote, like “Crawling To Extinction” and all that. So I agree that it is kind of a throwback on some of the songs.
Vocally, you really shine on this album. It’s certainly the best work I’ve heard since you joined the band – lots of impressive screams and some really excellent vocal melodies. It’s just a great performance overall.
Thank you very much! I appreciate that.
Did you consciously spend any extra time working on your vocals for this album?
Well, there was quite a bit more pre-production on this one than on A LIGHT IN THE DARK, which was quite a bit rawer. Even though this one, production-wise, sounds a bit rawer, that’s not the case as far as the amount of time we spent preparing. I had two or three rewrites on some of the songs, and things really seemed to come together on this one.
You’ve got a new guitarist in the band as well – Rick van Zandt – how did he find his way into the group?
Well, Rick was the guitarist in the Seattle band Rottweiller, who I performed with at Wacken Open Air in 2002. About two weeks before we went into the studio to record the new Rottweiller CD, I was asked to join Metal Church. From then on, he and I have stayed friends over the years. He’s also the guitarist in my solo band. There were a lot of people who wanted the job, of course, because it is Metal Church, and Rick was close, a good friend, and a very competent player. He fit right in, and we’re glad to have him.
We know that Rick plays on the new album but is there any material featuring your former guitarist Jay Reynolds’ that made it onto the new album?
No, we parted ways before we started doing any of the recordings.
There are some really killer solos and leads on some of the songs, like “Deeds of A Dead Soul,” “Monster,” and “Breathe Again.” I hear a lot of NWOBHM influence on that last one. Did Rick bring a lot to the table in terms of writing the guitar parts or did Kurdt do most of it himself?
Well as we all know, Kurdt is the music writer. But as far as the solos go, most of those are Rick van Zandt’s – Kurdt gave him free reign. As you pointed out, the solo on “Deeds Of A Dead Soul” is a classic solo, and that’s van Zandt. We did have some guest spots, and on “Monster” was Angus Clark from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and on “Mass Hysteria” is Chris Caffrey from Savatage and TSO. On the song “Congregation” is Matt Leff, who played in Wicked Witch with Jeff Plate.
It didn’t say anything about that in the promo. Usually there are mentions of the guest stars, but there wasn’t any mention at all.
(Laughs) Go figure!
“The Perfect Crime” is shaping up to be one of my favorite Metal Church songs. It’s just a great, classic metal song through and through. Is that planned to be a single or anything? It seemed like a standout track to me.
Well at the beginning, when Kurdt was going through the order of the songs, because he does that part of it – and he’s good at it, by the way – he did mention to me that he wanted “In The Company Of Sorrow” and “The Perfect Crime” to be the first two tracks. We didn’t talk single, but he did think that those two, including “Perfect Crime,” were very strong, and could have the potential, I guess, to be singles. But we never even think about singles – he writes, I put my melody and lyrics on there, and we just hope for the best.
I was listening to the last album, A LIGHT IN THE DARK, earlier today, and there seems to be a lighter mood on this album overall. There are a lot more hooks and accessible songs than on the last album. Is there something that might have inspired Kurdt to write a few more hooks on this album than on the last?
First off, I don’t think Kurdt really has a formula. But all bands that have gotten back together – a few times, in our case – always want to try to recapture their heyday, but I don’t think he’s ever consciously doing anything like that. I think he just gets a feeling from the first song that he writes, and then that becomes his formula right there, and then the songs just pop out. It’s incredible. But I agree with you, because I thought that if I could go back and do THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD again, which was my first worldwide release, I would. But I think there are a few more hooks on THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD than there are on A LIGHT IN THE DARK, as well. But he went to a more progressive side on A LIGHT IN THE DARK. There are even more hooks on THIS PRESENT WASTELAND than there are on THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD.
We’re talking about accessible, but “Meet Your Maker” has to be one of the heaviest songs that Metal Church has ever done.
I agree with that – I had fun singing that one, as well.
Do you find it harder to find that aggression, or to go to a more aggressive place, now that you’re older and not so full of piss and vinegar?
Well, I’m not dead yet, but no, I don’t, because the subject matter of this album is just what the title – THIS PRESENT WASTELAND – suggests. I guess I had a lot of aggression in me that just came out. When I get in the studio, whatever happens happens.
Is there a loose concept to the album that ties in with the title?
Not consciously, but all the songs pretty much ended up being about personal struggles, and the demon within, and government, without really being into politics. I don’t discuss politics or religion, because it really gets you into trouble. But I’m just giving my point of view.
Metal Church seems to be one of those bands that are incapable of releasing a bad album. You guys have never had a dud, or anything that’s really been looked at as a failure. Even on our website’s forum, I’ve never seen anyone say anything bad about Metal Church. What is it about Metal Church’s music that you think seems to have such broad appeal and acceptance for almost a quarter century?
Well, it begins with Kurdt Vanderhoof – he’s still the main songwriter, and THE guy. He came up with the name, and it’s his songwriting. It’s an honor for me to be in the band, and to be able to write the lyrics, as much as he lets me, because he’s also a great lyricist. He writes actual songs, and that’s hard to find these days.
Definitely. You guys also did kind of a unique thing this time around – you asked fans to contribute artwork for the eventual album cover. What made you decide to go that route?
Well, I had brought it up sometime before A LIGHT IN THE DARK, because we all know a bunch of graphic designers and whatnot, and some are really awesome. And I said, “Hey, why don’t we hold a contest?” Anything that gets the fans involved draws them closer to us, so that’s what we did, and that’s how we found that cover.
The final choice is great. While it’s simple, it really says a lot.
Yeah, and I think that’s what Kurdt’s vision was on there, with the guitar/cross shadow. From the very beginning of the band, Vanderhoof has always wanted to send a positive message, and not a negative one – nothing really demonic. That’s always been his vision, and that certain cover spoke to him. He sent it to me and asked me what I thought, and I said, “Hey, if that’s what you want to do, go for it!” I thought it was cool, too, and like you said, simple is sometimes better.
I’ve noticed that the guitar cross made a return on the last two albums, even though they disappeared after the first album. Is there a reason that they made a comeback on the last two in particular?
I don’t really know, I think that Kurdt wanted to go back to the original “thing.” I don’t know if he’s trying to recapture anything or not, but that’s what he wanted to do. And I dig it – I like it being on there.
It’s an icon for the band. You see that, and you just know. It’s like an inanimate mascot – sort of like your version of Iron Maiden’s Eddie.
There you go! Exactly!
A couple of years back, the band was recording a live show, and it was reported that you were working on a documentary called BEYOND THE BLACK, which was focusing on the history of the band. Did anything come of that?
Well, right now that’s been shelved for a while. The guy who’s been doing it is a good friend of mine, but there are a lot of other things he’s trying to accomplish right now. So I don’t know when that’s coming out. He still needs to do some more interviews and get more footage, but I’m hoping within the next year.
Do you have any idea if that’s planned to be part of a DVD package – a bonus thing – or will it be a standalone release?
Not right now, but I’ll tell you that everyone can go to http://www.metalchurchmusic.com/ or the Metal Church MySpace, also the Ronny Munroe MySpace, and find all that stuff out as soon as we do. As soon as we find anything out, we post it.
Speaking of the band’s history, do you find a lot of people coming up to you and Kurdt saying what a huge influence Metal Church has been for them?
That actually happens quite often and it’s very flattering. My girlfriend and I were watching some kids in Trinidad covering Metal Church’s “Metal Church.” There were people around them cheering – and that’s in Trinidad, and they were teenagers. So that shows that the younger generation has not forgotten. Maybe their parents whip the old records. But Metal Church is still around.
The current flavor of metal in the U.S. seems to be the metalcore, but you get bands like Metal Church, Iced Earth, Jag Panzer, Cage, and a few others, that keep flying that flag of traditional metal. Do you think your style of metal will ever go out of fashion, or does it have a timelessness that will cross generations?
All we can hope is that people enjoy the songs that we write – I mean, music does transcend. I think Metal Church will last forever. One can only wish.
When you guys play live, do you see a wide range of ages – maybe parents with their kids?
We do – there are parents who were watching the band back in ’84 who are there with their kids, and now they’re coming out in 2008. It’s incredible. Generations of metalheads, man. That’s what it’s all about. I think that metal will always be around.
Metal went out of fashion in the nineties, and that’s when Metal Church decided to take a break, but it was always there in the underground. It just wasn’t on the charts like it was at the end of the eighties.
Exactly. I also remember that it never left Europe because grunge didn’t hit there.
Exactly. In Germany especially – they’ve always been crazy over there.
(Laughs) You can say that again.
Given that the earlier Metal Church material dabbled in thrash, what do you think of this resurgence of thrash metal that’s popping up?
I think it’s great. Didn’t Testament get voted best album of the year already? I’ve only heard a few cuts from it, but that kicks ass. Also, Iced Earth, though that’s not Bay Area, and Death Angel, and Lääz Rockit are back together, and they’ve got a new record. I think it’s great. The guys are getting back on the road again and bringing the metal to the people, and that’s what it’s all about.
Even Metallica, the big boys of the Bay Area, have a new album coming out. Are you excited to hear that?
I like Metallica. They’re definitely a big influence on a lot of great bands and I definitely respect them. And I’ve heard a new cuts, and it sounds like they’ve also done a kind of throwback, and that’s awesome.
I’m fighting the urge to go out there and look for it, because I’ve heard that it’s out there, but I don’t want to hear anything from it until it comes out. It’s tough.
That’s a true fan right there.
Exactly. I mean I’m 36, so I still come from being there the minute the store opens and buying it and getting the art. I’m not into iTunes – I haven’t gotten into that yet.
Well that’s good, man. I’m a little older than you – not much (laughing) – but I remember going to Tower Records in Seattle at midnight to wait for the new Iron Maiden record so we could all rush in and buy it. It was exciting – you got to read the lyrics and liner notes – the special thanks. That’s the way it still should be, but hey, it’s the wave of the computer.
It’s sad. Tower Records is gone now, and that’s too bad.
A lot of them bit the dust, but hopefully someday we can get some more of them out there.
Are there any tour plans coming up for Metal Church? I’m in Vancouver, and you guys haven’t been here for about four years.
Wow. Well I apologize for that. There are some plans being made as we speak. Like I said earlier, as soon as there’s anything concrete, it’ll be up on the site. But we had some dates that we had to cancel a few weeks ago. This was no fault of our own – just certain people we were working with at the time. We just have to make sure that next time we should be working with the right people. That’s all I’ll say about that. But as soon as we have anything, it’ll be up on those sites.
You’ve been in the band for four years now – you’ve sung on three records – do you think you’ve overcome the “new guy” status, in the fans’ eyes, or do you think there are still purists out there who aren’t accepting of anyone but David Wayne?
There are, but there aren’t a lot. For the most part, I’ve been greeted with open arms, especially when they see me live. I think I do a pretty good job – that’s what I’ve been told, at least – but there are always going to be the diehard fans. I respect that – these are heavy shoes to fill. Mike Howe was great, and David Wayne was great, so I give much respect to both.
The interesting thing is that David Wayne and Mike Howe each sang on three albums, which is the same number that you’ve sung on.
Exactly. So we need to break it and go to number four.
Were you a fan of Metal Church prior to joining the band? Obviously you’d heard of them, but were you what they’d call a fan of the band?
Oh yeah – I mean I have the cassette tape of the first album. I used to drive around screaming “Gods of Wrath” at the top of my lungs, not knowing that twenty years later I’d be the front man. It’s a dream come true for me.
It’s almost like the “Ripper” Owens story…
Well, pretty much, but his was Judas Priest. Not to diss Metal Church at all, but Judas Priest are Judas Priest!
On the back of the promo, there’s a little blurb that sums up your voice as “Rob Halford meets Dio.” Those are pretty tough shoes to fill – do you agree with a statement like that?
Do I agree with it? I’ll say this – both of them are influences of mine, throw Dickinson in there, and Ian Gillan, and you’ve got all of them metal-wise. Maybe I sound like that at times, but that’s because I sat in my room practicing to those guys for years. But I would like to think that I have my own sound. But those are heavy shoes to fill – trust me.
Personally, I hear a lot more of newer Bruce Dickinson meets Paul Shortino from Rough Cutt.
Oh wow – no one’s ever said anything about Shortino before. And Dickinson is a compliment, so I appreciate that.
Your voice is obviously suited for metal and hard rock, I mean your voice and your singing style personify those two genres.
Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to be joining “Gone Country” anytime soon.
Have you ever sung outside of metal and hard rock?
Yeah – I’ve got some easy listening – well, not easy listening – that’s completely retarded to say (laughing) – but some softer stuff. Just some stuff I recorded for my kids to listen to while I’m on the road, and a couple ballads here and there. So I have a softer side, and I do like a lot of different styles of music. But for me, metal has always just been in my veins.
You mentioned earlier that you have a solo project. What style of music is the Ronny Munroe Band?
Well, it’s still full on metal, but there are some keys here and there, and maybe some more harmonies. But basically, just good metal – songs that I’ve written on an acoustic and turned over to many friends of mine – Kurdt, Dennis Turner, Rick van Zandt, and it’s giving me a choice to get some of the voices out of my head, so to speak. Things I’ve been holding onto and wanting to release to the public. And as you know, Kurdt has his Presto Ballet, and Jeff’s doing something, as well. They’re just side projects – Metal Church is our number one priority, but when we’re not touring, it’s nice to be able to do things like that.
Is that just a studio project, or are you doing any live dates to support it?
I’m going to be playing the King Kat Theater in downtown Seattle on November 22nd with those guys, and I’ll go out and do some tours. Kurt Vanderhoof and Jeff Plate are both involved in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so when they’re on the road, they’re on the road for about three months. During that time is when I can get out and do some things of my own.
I saw on the website that you and Rick van Zandt are playing an acoustic show for charity on October 4th. What is the charity, and how did you get involved with them?
Well, it’s the Breakfast Club for Kids. I got involved because I went to a rotary meeting where I live, in Castro Valley. I went, and they asked me if I would perform and donate my services. What that charity is for is to feed underprivileged children and their families in the mornings, and also to help them with tutoring for the children and their parents. I’ve got a couple children myself, and I’d like to be a part of anything for kids.
Very nice! What sort of songs are you going to play? Ronny Munroe originals? Covers?
I’m just doing three acoustic songs, and then they’ve got other performers. I’m doing “Time Will Tell” from THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, and a song called “Always,” which is on my three-song EP, and I might throw in “Renegade” by Styx. I think people would know the words for that, and it’s something I’ve never done before. I actually have a high school string section and a small choir to back me up, so it’s something totally different from everything I’ve done before.
Well, we’ll see! But it’s for a good cause, and that’s what counts.
You’re also involved in CliveAid, which is for Multiple Sclerosis, I believe?
Correct, and that was started for Clive Burr, the original drummer of Iron Maiden.
How did you get involved with that one?
Well, I met Sam Hill in London when we were playing with Paul Di’Anno about two or three years ago. He gave me his card, and we talked, and throughout the last few years, we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit, and he asked me to be involved. That’s another worthwhile cause. And I’m not out to save the world or anything like that, but I believe that once you can reach a certain level – though I’m not famous by any means, I have a fan base – if someone asks you to do something for a good cause, you should try to help out.
I was reading that you were working with Meliah Rage last winter on their new album.
Yeah! I see you did your homework – that’s good.
Well I won’t lie to you – I’ve got a loose friendship with Tony Nichols from Meliah Rage, and he sort of tipped me off that you were out there.
Okay, yeah (laughing). Well Tony’s a good guy. Those guys went on tour with us about a year and a half ago, and they’re all great guys, and a great band, too. I really enjoyed having them out with us. We stayed in touch after the tour, and he called me and asked me if I wanted to do a song on the new record, and I said, “Yeah, of course!” I wrote it, and it’s called “Last Rites.” I went to Boston a few months ago to record it, and now I’m just waiting for them to get it done, and to release it.
I understand Paul Souza left the band, and now Mike Munro, the original vocalist, is back in the band. Were you ever approached to do the vocals for the album, or was it just sort of a one off thing?
No – we’re just good friends. I did the one song, and I’ll say this – if they were to have problems finding someone, and they were in a bind, then I would’ve helped them out.
It’d be a great fit with their sound, that’s for sure.
Yeah, and they’re all good guys.
Well that’s all I’ve got for you, Ronny. Any last words, or anything you want to add?
Well, THIS PRESENT WASTELAND comes out September 23rd, so go out and buy it, and remember to check our official site – http://www.metalchurchmusic.com – and the Metal Church MySpace and the Ronnie Munroe MySpace. Keep your metal horns flying, man!
***Thanks to Jon at SPV Records for setting up the interview.