Grunge may have buried big-hair rock in the early 1990s, but it never truly went away.
Case in point: Razor & Tie’s “Monster Rock” and “Monster Ballads” compilations have each sold more than 1 million copies in the past year.
And then there’s the bands themselves. Tampa Bay-based rock quartet FireHouse, for instance, has never been busier; it is still hugely popular in Asia, and it recently performed with Quiet Riot and Warrant in front of 30,000 fans in Trinidad, of all places.
“There is this resurgence for rock music,” FireHouse lead singer C.J. Snare said recently. “I don’t know if it’s because enough time has passed now that it’s considered a classic rock thing or nostalgic, but I’m noticing at shows that our attendance is really picking up and now they’re running us on ‘Where Are They Now?’ on VH1. Whereas three years ago we couldn’t get near a radio station, now they’re calling us and asking us to come in again and do morning shows and play acoustic versions of our songs.
“Americans first like to build you up, then they love to rip you down. Then if you can tough it out long enough, they like a good comeback, too.”
FireHouse arrived at the tail end of the hair-rock scene in 1990 when it signed with Epic Records. Even as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were emerging, Snare and band mates Bill Leverty (guitar), Perry Richardson (bass) and Michael Foster (drums) still did remarkably well: They had seven U.S. chart singles in four years, including the gold-selling “Love of a Lifetime” and the Top 10 hit “When I Look Into Your Eyes”; their self-titled debut album sold more than 2 million stateside, and they have 15 gold and platinum albums in 13 countries.
Still, the group fell victim to the classic music-industry horror story: record company politics.
“We released ‘3’ (in 1995),” Snare said, “and (Epic) didn’t really put any push behind it. We had this song, ‘I Live My Life For You,’ which I think they kind of threw against the wall like a spaghetti noodle to see if it would stick. Without their help, it still went to No. 26. They were caught with their pants down; they were not prepared at all.
” ‘The Tonight Show’ is like ‘We’d like to have them on. Do you have a video clip?’ ‘Oh, no, we’re not ready.’ By the time they got all their ducks in a row, it was coming down the charts. Then they released a song called ‘Here For You,’ which started off even more strongly than ‘I Live My Life For You’ did. It was the most-added out of the box at radio and double-digit adds for three consecutive weeks. I remember going to the local promotions people, ‘So tell me, how’s it doing? It’s growing and going so well.’ They said, ‘We’ve been told by the higher-ups to stop working the song.’ Can you imagine the frustration? We were like, ‘What? What are you talking about? This thing’s growing into a hit and you’re not working it?’ “
Snare said the band was told that Epic, stung by poor sales for Michael Jackson’s “HIStory: Past, Present and Future – Book I,” was funneling all its promotional money toward salvaging the career retrospective.
Then, a year later, Epic wanted a greatest-hits CD for FireHouse, a sure sign to Snare that their days were numbered.
“We didn’t want to cheat our fans by just taking previously recorded versions of songs and sticking them into a compilation,” Snare said. “We decided to go in and rerecord everything in an unplugged fashion (for an album titled ‘Good Acoustics’). We included three new songs on it.
“I remember calling up our product manager and saying, ‘Okay, this is where I think we should allocate our promotional dollars.’ Yadda-yadda-yadda. My product manager said, ‘Stop. I want you to know we haven’t been given one penny for promotion.’ Once again, frustration city. ‘They’ve laid out like six figures to record this and you’re not going to promote it? What is it, a tax writeoff?!’ It went gold in seven countries.”
Eventually, FireHouse asked to be released from its contract, and Epic relented.
It wasn’t easy to carry on, Snare said, but buoyed by unbridled fan support around the world, they didn’t cave in.
“We’ve come this far, we know people like our music, millions of people. Do we stop or do we keep going?” Snare said. “We’ve always been a very persistent band. We’re still doing it, and now we have a new album out.”
Staying true to its rock guns, FireHouse made its Mystic Music debut with “Category 5” on Oct. 26. Snare admits the band initially was puzzled about what approach to take with their fifth album.
“You’ve achieved the pinnacle of success and acceptance and that was with this type of music, which now if you play this type of music, you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “It’s very confusing as a writer, because you know what, you write from your heart but you’d be a fool if you don’t keep your ear to the market. I’m not saying we’re in white lab coats creating these formulated songs.
” ‘Category 5’ is a broad-based album. We stretched the limits of what we consider to be the parameters of rock ‘n’ roll. We ran the gamut on that album because we were experimenting. Where do we fit in? We know people like our ballads, we know they like our rock stuff; there’s a touch of Americana in there too, some country influences like the Eagles and Southern rock. We ended up staying with what we are.”
In the land of Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, Snare doesn’t know where that leaves FireHouse, but “I just know that we’re survivors.”
BWF (before we forget): FireHouse is stationed on the Web @ www.firehousemusic.com. … The FireHouse album discography – “FireHouse” (Epic, 1991); “Hold Your Fire” (1992); “3” (1995); “Good Acoustics” (1996); “Category 5” (Mystic Music, 1999).
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