Bill Leverty - Firehouse

December 7, 2000

Tell us a little about yourself (age, place of birth, etc).

I was born in Richmond, VA in 1967. If you do the math which is too difficult for me that puts me to be about 33 years old. I'll be 34 coming up January 30th which is coming up pretty soon. Another year. What else did you want to know? Let's not talk about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of me? Kidding. That's an old joke. I started playing music at a late age actually when I was 15. I didn't start playing guitar until I was 15 and started working in a music store about a year later. I was teaching and selling guitars and stuff and haven't turned back since. I've been making a living playing music or in the music business ever since then.

Who were your major guitar influences?

I guess my first big influence was Ted Nugent, also Eddie Van Halen, then Randy Rhoades. Then I got into a lot of fusion guitarists. One of my favorites still to this day is Steve Morse. And I also love Jeff Beck and Alan Holsworth. And a guy named Al DiMeola. Michael Schenker. I can keep going until you stop me. Scorpions, Aerosmith. I like KISS, I guess, a little bit. Jimmy Page.

Ace Frehley?

I don't know. It wasn't really so into Ace. It was just the band. I really liked their songs. Lynryd Skynryd. A little bit of everybody really. Stevie Wonder was a big influence on me even though he's not a guitarist. I listened to a lot of his records. Love his writing.

Who does the major songwriting. Is it mostly you and CJ or is it more of a group effort?

In the past it's been mostly CJ and I who have written the songs. We have written together as a band and that works well usually. On this particular record, O2, we didn't have enough time to really write together because we sent our demos into our Japanese label, they're called Pony Canyon, and they liked them so much they said "Okay let's just go with these songs. We need this record in three weeks". So we're like "Well can you give us like five weeks"? They really needed the record fast so we recorded this album in 32 days. We're real happy with the way it turned out. Normally we take about three months to make a record so it was kind of different for us.

You guys put out a live CD called bring 'em out "live". Why did you decide to put out a live CD?

It was really a suggestion by our label in Japan. The Pony Canyon guys said "Hey look you're coming over here on tour. We've got a really good company that we can have record a show if you want. If it's a good show we'll put it out as a live album. If it's not a good show we'll throw it away". So we said alright. It was really nothing to lose for us because it wasn't our money. So we recorded one song in Osaka. The audience was great. We had a good performance and it became a live album. Our first ever live album called bring 'em out "live".

You guys always sound great live. How do you manage to get that studio sound in a live forum?

I just practice I guess. We've played a lot of these songs now for ten years. Kind of like you know them like the back of your hand really. A lot of what we practice is not really our instruments but our voices. Making sure that our voices all blend right and that we're all starting and stopping everything at the same time. That we're all in pitch and in tune. But I think a lot of it is just practice. Our live sound is I think - our background vocals kind of us make a little bit from a lot of other bands in that we were influenced by The Eagles and bands with a lot of harmonies and we try to use them a lot in our live show.

Firehouse consistently puts out great music CD after CD. Where do you guys get your song writing inspirations from?

I think it comes from desperation really. I'm glad you like our music. We really have made a commitment to ourselves and to our fans that we want every song on our albums to be up to a good level and we don't want to be one of these bands that puts out one good song and then all the rest of the songs on the album are junk. You wind up ripping off your fans really and when I was a kid I'd go out and buy an album because I heard the song on the radio and there was one good song and all the rest of it was crap. I think early on we wanted to make sure that we didn't put out an album until we had a whole album's worth of good songs that were worthy of being on our album because we felt that pain before of laying down that hard earned money and then getting one song for the price of ten which is not what we want to do.

Is there any CD that you've done that is your all time favorite and why?

I know it sounds like everybody else would say but our latest CD which is called O2 is my favorite CD not only because it's the freshest CD, meaning that we just put it out and we just finished it, but also it was recorded under a lot of pressure really quickly and I think the songs are really cool and I think it shows a lot of musical growth in the band and I think it shows a lot of lyrical growth in the band too. I like the production on it. It's very raw and honest. It's stripped down whereas like our first couple of albums we just layered everything so much. The guitar - had so many tracks of guitars on it that it almost sounded like a keyboard whereas this is pretty much one guitar track on the rhythm tracks and solo. Background vocals, CJ isn't singing background vocals on any of these background vocal tracks. It's the three other guys in the band and instead of putting everybody singing their parts 15 times there's one voice. You hear each person's voice individually instead of having this big, huge wall of vocals which was popular to do back in the day. But we kinda like the way it sounds live and we wanted to kind of capture that in the studio rather than going in and layering everything and trying to make it sound perfect in order to have an honest record. I think this is really the closest we've come to getting our sound.

Some bands have basically hung it up while others keep going even though there is a different musical climate now. What do you ascribe your band's longevity to?

Well the reason that we're still around today is because of a couple of things. Number one we're a democracy. Everybody gets an equal vote. You don't have one person driving the boat. Everybody has their hands on the steering wheel. Also we respect each other on and off the stage. Our musical goals and our personal lives all respect each others. And also the third reason is that we're all headed in the same direction musically and personally. We don't have one guy that wants to do something completely different which can destroy a band so we're all headed in the same direction. We all really enjoy working together.

I enjoyed the Good Acoustics CD. What was the idea behind that?

Good Acoustics happened when Sony said they wanted to release our greatest hits while we were still on their label and we thought about it. We called our A&R guy and we said "Look, rather than just taking the same songs off of the old albums and putting them on a new album and putting a different cover on it and trying to sell it to our fans, why not you let us go in and re-record these songs in an acoustic format so that we can give our fans something new and something different". We talked them into doing it and they gave us a drastically reduced budget to do it but we managed to go in and make a recording I think that sounds real good. We recorded it in a studio that the Allman Brothers work in a lot down in Florida.

Someone had asked why you named one of your CD's Category 5 which is a hurricane rating I believe. What was the inspiration behind that?

Well it was our fifth album and it is a hurricane - strongest of all hurricanes and we lived through a category five hurricane back in 1989. It was Hurricane Hugo came through and I remember living in Charlotte, NC. We were living in the band house and it wiped out our electricity for 18 days. We were under a lot of adversity and we didn't have a record deal yet and we kind of found ourselves in the same situation right at the time when we were recording Category 5 because we didn't have a record deal and we felt that there was a lot of pressure to kind of get a record deal and and we were really happy with the way the songs turned out. We didn't have any pressure to write for any particular record company or any particular market. We just wrote what we wanted to write on that record at the time and it turned out to be a very unique album for Firehouse. We really stretched our necks artistically in a lot of ways. We put out a record that I think is definitely unique for us.

One of my favorite songs off of that one is "Acid Rain". Are ya'll really concerned about the environment?

It's an environmental song. But it's got a kind of tongue and cheek look at the environment and how people don't take it seriously and how we kinda need to start thinking about how we're just polluting ourselves and polluting our world and our water supply and everything else. It's kind of hard sometimes to write songs about issues but I think that was a real good attempt to writing a song about one of these political issues that we care about.

It also seemed that it was easier to find that particular CD at the shows or on the Internet in the beginning. Was there some kind of distribution problem?

We didn't have a record deal at the time. Rather than just trying to sell them ourselves in stores which would ruin our chances to get a record deal, we decided that we wanted to go ahead and sell them at the shows only and sell them on our websites only; that way whatever record companies decided to pick us up, if any, they could have all the stores for themselves because we could honestly tell them that we hadn't sold any in any stores yet. So that was the reason for that.

The new CD O2 is out and you sing lead vocals on a song called "I'm In Love This Time".

Yes.

Was this your first time doing lead vocals?

It's the first time doing lead vocals on a Firehouse album although I've sang lead vocals on many demos. I usually just give demos to CJ and say here man you do it. He's such a great singer why not? But on this particular song the vocal style and the range and everything fit my voice so well that I thought that I should ask CJ if he'd mind if I sang the song and he thought it was a great idea. He thought it would show another dimension to the band and let everybody feel the different side of the band and a different style of the band. I'm happy to be singing on this album and I really look forward to playing it live.

Are you going to be doing more lead vocals on future CDs?

I hope so. I know that I want Michael Foster and our new bass player, Bruce Waibel, to sing on some upcoming Firehouse albums because they sing real well.

What are some of your favorite songs off the new CD?

I really like "I'm In Love This Time" a lot. That's one of my favorite ones actually. It's just a hard slamming rocker. I also like a song called "Call Of The Night" which is also a hard rocking song. There's a slower song called "Don't Fade On Me" that I think is a cool song. We also have a little bit of a stretch on the album. A song called "The Dark" which is a song about technology.

That's the one with the rap intro.

It's got a little bit of a rap verse in there. We were trying to come up with a melody for the verse on that song and I hummed him a melody and he said yeah, you know I like that but I really hear this kind of nanananaananananana and I was very skeptical at first but I said well let's sleep on it and by the time he got home he called me up and he had written these words and sang them to me. I was really amazed at how well it flowed and I thought it was a good idea so we went with it and I think it turned out really well. I'm not a real rap fan but with that particular song it seems to fit so well and it really works.

Are you guys getting a lot of radio airplay or do you think you should be getting more?

Well we're not getting any radio airplay at the present because the record company hasn't released a single yet. But after the first of the year they plan on releasing a single and we don't know what it's going to be yet. Anybody's guess is as good as mine. Go to our website and cast a vote. That would be a great thing so we could tally them up and try to figure out what the best song off the album is.

Does the record label generally pick what the first single is going to be or do ya'll have a sayso in that?

We have a sayso in it but those are the guys that are up against the battle to go into a radio station and try to get it played. And they know what they are up against more than we are. And they know which stations would be inclined to play Firehouse in this day and age than which stations would not. So what you and I might think would be the best first single they might say "Well you know what? There are very few stations that are going to play that song and we might get a better mileage out of this album by using this one".

Here is the inevitable question. Some of the fans were wondering what caused Perry's departure from the band.

Well we tried to keep the original four members of the band together for a long time but there were too many musical differences and there were too many personal differences to make it work anymore. It just got to be to the point where nobody was happy really so we made a decision and we move on and we wish him the best and we got a great new bass player we're really excited about. His name is Bruce Waibel. He played in the Gregg Allman band for 10 years. He was on the I'm No Angel album and Just Before The Bullets Fly album. And he also played in the Marshall Tucker Band whenever Gregg was off the road. He'd play with the Marshall Tuckers so he's got a lot of experience. He sings. He's a lead singer and he's an awesome vocalist and just a great guy. A real funny guy so our fans have really welcomed him so far so we're real thankful about that.

So he's going to be a permanent fixture in the band?

Absolutely.

When can we expect to see a tour from you guys?

Well that's a great question. We hope very soon. We're playing a couple of gigs this weekend if you want to come up to North Dakota or Minneapolis. It's only 35 below there. We're playing a show in January at the Farm Citrus Festival. All these shows are on our website. This spring and this summer is generally when bands do their most touring so we're looking to try to get on a package with some other bands. Hopefully that'll happen. I'd love to go out on a like a three band deal to play for big audiences. That would be the best situation. If that doesn't happen then we'll go out and we'll headline smaller venues ourselves.

It seems like package tours are kind of the thing of the future. If you really want a good audience to come out you have to have like three or four bands on a bill.

Well they get promoted properly is what it is. When you go into a club, clubs don't tend to want to promote the shows very much because they don't have that much money in it and they don't have that much money in their budgets for promoting and consequently not that many people will hear about it. So when you have a big band with a couple of bands supporting them or one of these Rock Never Stops type of tours like we did the first time, the promoters buy that. The real promoters buy it because the real promoters spend the money because you can fill up big venues. A lot of them are outdoors so you get well publicized and a lot of people come. That's the difference really between the clubs and the real promoters. I shouldn't say the real promoters but the big promoters, the big shots, is budget.

Any other comments?

Well I'd just like to thank all of the readers of the RockNet Webzine for coming to the website first of all and reading this article. And I'd like to thank them also and thank you for sticking with Firehouse for this many years and please go out and get a copy of O2 and get a bunch of copies and give it to everybody for the holidays. Please spread the word and tell everybody that we are still around and this particular time in the music business is very tough for a lot of rock bands so we need everybody's support so thank you very much for helping us keep this music alive.

Firehouse