Rubicon Cross: There's no turning back

Firehouse front man's new band is ready to shock and awe
By Peter Lindblad

Rubicon Cross, led by Firehouse
singer CJ Snare and guitarist/songwriter
Chris Green, has released its debut LP
Religion played no part in picking the name for CJ Snare’s newest musical endeavor, Rubicon Cross. The Firehouse singer is quick to dispel any notion that it did.

“I have people coming up to me and saying, ‘Is that a religious band? Are you guys Christian or something?’” related Snare. “And I say, ‘Hell no.’”

Emphatic in his denial, Snare offers another explanation, one that has to do more with a significant event in history and the incisive wit of guitarist Chris Green’s father, now deceased.

“Chris’s dad, before he passed away, always used to say [slipping into a British accent], ‘Well, you’ve crossed the Rubicon now, haven’t you mate?’” continued Snare. “’Crossing the Rubicon’ is synonymous with committing an inexorable act or passing the point of no return. You know, there’s no turning back.”

Just as there was no turning back for Julius Caesar, when, as Snare said, he “crossed a small river in Northern Italy called the Rubicon,” Rubicon Cross has come to a crossroads of sorts. “By doing so, he committed an act of war, and he went against Roman law to do that. Now, in doing so, he had to do that, because his intention was to go back and conquer Rome, which he did. He became its first emperor.”

Rubicon Cross logo
With teeth-rattling intensity, sledgehammer riffs and thick, serpentine grooves, Rubicon Cross is making preparations for a battle of sorts, as Snare and Green – acclaimed for his work with world-class metal outfits Pride and Furyon – join forces with Pride/Furyon bassist Simon Farmery, second guitarist Jeff Lerman and Seventh Omen drummer Robert Behnke to shake up the world of melodic metal and hard rock with a devastatingly heavy and startlingly fierce self-titled debut record.

While this album, available May 19 as a deluxe edition exclusively at Best Buy and released by INgrooves Records, represents a departure from the multi-platinum selling glam-metal sound of Snare’s other, more famous band, those who know Snare best wouldn’t be at all surprised that he’d choose to go in this direction.

“Well, those are my roots, because before Firehouse, I was in a cover band called Masked Warrior,” said Snare. “We did a lot of Priest, Scorpions, Maiden, and Bon Scott and AC/DC, and stuff, and that’s all really heavy, edgy stuff, but it’s permeated with melody. And some of that is more integrated in early Firehouse, and then as Firehouse started evolving and changing, I still had that side to me that I felt needed to be expressed. And when I met the guitarist, Chris Green, he was the perfect vehicle to utilize … it was a great team. We put that harder edged side of our artistic expression out there.”

Born in London, the supremely talented Green, who teams with the fast-rising Lerman to form a scintillating dual-guitar attack, is the ideal creative foil to Snare, and the two quickly became friends after their initial meeting. Snare remembered Green leaving a strong first impression.

“I think he was playing in Spain, and I think I was standing in the balcony of a show he was performing at, and I was performing at, too,” recalled Snare. “Actually, he was touring there at the time with a band called Pride, and so was Simon, our bassist. An Irishman I was with kind of nudged me in the ribs and he said, ‘Get a load of this guy.’ And I looked down, and he was doing a solo with Pride on a song called ‘Still Raining,’ and there was just this energy coming from him. And he was just wailing, and it looked so effortless, and I could see the virtuosity of his playing. And I’m like, ‘All right, I’m going to talk to this dude. He’s probably a dick or whatever, but I don’t care. (laughs) I’m going to go down and talk to him.’ And he was one of the easiest guys to know – such a gentleman. He became my bro, man – I mean, fast friends, really fast friends.”

As a matter of fact, Snare was best man at Green’s wedding, and Green would return the favor. The marriages weren't built to last. Their unbreakable friendship has, and Snare is certain it’s had an effect on the music of Rubicon Cross.

“We went through divorces and breakups, births and deaths, and 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean in between us … we were always there for each other, in the good times and the bad,” said Snare. “That bond, I think, was part of why this record resonates at the core with a lot of listeners, because it’s about a lot of experiences that we went through, and it almost just had to be written. You’ve got this amazing guitar player, and this other dude who can sing a little bit and write some songs and stuff like that, and when we came together, there was such a chemistry, that we had to get those emotions out and we had to get those feelings out.”

Along with Snare and Green, Rubicon
Cross includes bassist Simon Farmery,
drummer Robert Behnke and
second guitarist Jeff Lerman
Emotionally, Rubicon Cross is a powder keg, broken relationships and grief driving the songwriting for the record, which comes out swinging with three sonic pile drivers in “Locked and Loaded,” “Next Worst Enemy” and “Bleed With Me.”

“I think that’s one of the most important things … it’s the song,” said Snare. “Even today, it’s not just this catchy little thing for dancing or something … that fourth song is a song called ‘Save Me Within,’ and that’s about the passing of Chris’s father, and how he said … in America, we just say, ‘Save me,’ and I fought Chris on this, but because it was his dad, I let up and he said, ‘No, no, no. In England, we would say, “Save me within,” not just ‘save me,’ like not just throw me a life preserver or something, but to keep me in your heart. I said, ‘Okay.’ ‘Save Me Within’ means ‘keep me within, or keep me alive within you.’ So, the chemistry was easy, the songwriting was really, really easy, and that’s how we went.”

Assembling the rest of the band was fairly easy, too, although there was one major stumbling block.

“With Simon it was easy – our bassist, Simon Farmery – because he was already part of the crew,” said Snare. “I met him at the same time … they were playing with Pride, and then they both played in this band called Furyon, and I was always in close contact with them. I’d fly to England, and Chris and I would write a couple songs, and Simon would be around, and he’d go around to the pub and whatever, in Brighton, where they were living at the time. We just kind of hung out. We’d go for curry, which is just the most popular thing to do in England. It’s Indian food in America, but you know, good, good stuff. He met, actually, his future wife, and now his former wife (laughs), his ‘next worst enemy,’ at my wedding to the Wisconsin girl, who is now my ‘next worst enemy.’ There’s a lot of meaning behind all these songs, and they just kind of tie in. So Simon was easy.”

Behnke, as it turns out, wasn’t the first choice as drummer, but, in the end, he was the right choice.

“My neighbor, when I was [living] in Waukesha, Wis., was Mike Wengren, and he’s the drummer for Disturbed,” said Snare. “I had slipped him a copy of [our] EP when he was having his home built six houses down from mine, and finally, one day we were actually going to make this a serious thing and take it out on the road and record songs as a group, with Universal Music Group doing distribution … it was everywhere.”

Wengren was impressed with what he heard, and about six weeks later, Snare worked up the courage to ask him to join the band. It seemed like a done deal … until Disturbed guitarist Don Donegan horned in on the action.

“We were sealing the deal, and apart from like slashing our wrists or cutting our thumbs and signing it in blood, we were like 5 minutes from having the drummer in Disturbed in Rubicon Cross,” said Snare. “I remember drinking some wine with him and talking to him and everything, and Dan was right there, the guitarist for Disturbed. Finally, I’m like, ‘Okay, dude. I’m going to stumble home and get some sleep.’ I walked back to my house, and my ex-wife, who was then my wife, came with me, and he later told me this: ‘Bro, I gotta tell you, I had no idea this was going on.’”

Apparently, Donegan was about to break the news to Wengren that he wanted him for a side project called Fight Or Flight. Wengren had trouble finding the right time to tell Snare.

“Donegan had approached him with it that night right after I left,” said Snare. “He said, ‘Okay. Look bro, we’ve been drinking together for 20 years,’ and it’s like, “Okay, okay. I get it, I get it, I get it. The press would have been great, you dick (laughs).’”

Snare was joking when he said that, but, at the time, it was tough to hear. Luckily, Wengren had someone in mind who could handle the job.

“It would have been awesome,” said Snare. “Then I said, ‘Look, it doesn’t matter. It’s okay. I understand.’ But I said, ‘Well, who do you recommend?’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you a guy out of all them I’ve gone to see in Chicago …’ he says, ‘Robert Behnke. He can knock it out of the park.’ So we held some auditions for a couple of different drummers, and it was true. Robert Behnke came in, and he was just the right fit for the band. He truly, truly, truly was. And then Jeff Lerman came in, and some other guitarists as well, and Jeff just really kind of fit the bill also."

As a player, Lerman is really coming into his own, according to Snare.

"There are not many people who can go toe-to-toe with Chris Green, and I would still say Chris has the upper edge, just because he made tabs, he fills the music out more than Jeff, and [Chris] helped him a lot," said Snare. "He’s a very kind soul like that, but he definitely gave him the upper hand. So Jeff was the final addition, and that’s how the band came to be.”

As for the new record, that was a long time in the making.

Disturbed drummer Mike Wengren
came very close to joining
Rubicon Cross
“I think we started writing our first song ten years ago,” said Snare. “But we have a huge catalog of songs to show for it, too – a huge catalog, but they don’t necessarily fit this moment. We wanted it to fit together. We wanted it to be like a good book, you know what I mean? I don’t even know if anybody reads anymore. Not everybody does, so maybe it’s something else, like a good movie. And you just don’t want to take a pause. Like if you’re reading a good book, you just don’t want to put it down. It’s a page-turner, we call it. You just have to keep going. You’ve got to get to the end, it’s so good."

Snare also likes that there's a little twist at the end of the record. Subverting all expectations, down the very last song, Rubicon Cross decided to close the album with the song “All the Little Things,” an infectious, bouncy pop-punk number. Not everyone was convinced it made sense for this effort.

“Okay, so we’ve got a diverse background, and this was one of the earliest tunes,” said Snare. “And gosh, it had its detractors let’s say. In the production camps and the listening camps, and everything like that. We had written it very, very early in the morning. We felt that it contained a very strong emotional edge, and also, that it was something that was really upbeat, different and quirky. And so, everybody asked me about that one. Our producer, Rick Beato, who by the way gave Shinedown their first platinum album, and he mixed Bullet For My Valentine and Dark New Day, and a lot of bands that are in this new active rock, modern, hard, heavy genre that Rubicon Cross is in, which is really cool for me because I come from a hair-metal band, too. So, this has allowed me to do is jump out of one genre and into another, and that’s really cool. But, yeah, ‘All the Little Things’ just … I don’t know. We wanted to kind of put in something a little bit different, something a little quirky, so that it leaves you at the end kind of like a dog cocking its head (laughs). That was cool. I think it’s a good song. It’s great fun. It’s got some angst in it, too. I can see it going over very, very, very well live, everybody’s bouncing up and down and blah, blah, blah. There were a lot of people who were saying, ‘Take it off. Take it off,’ but I’m like, ‘Wait, no. We have to leave it. It’s a great talking point.’”

Another one is “Bleed With Me,” a slogan which, as a coincidence, was adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps.

“’Bleed with Me’ started first about Rubicon Cross, the band, and that we are a band of brothers,” said Snare. “And it’s about people, and it can be a band, or it could be a couple, it could be just bros, it could be co-workers … whatever, but just standing in the face of adversity and coming out on the other side better for it. That was the basic premise, but I’ve again had to do research for the lyrics. I found out, oh, that’s part of the ‘Braveheart’ movie: You know, [adopts Mel Gibson voice] ‘You’ve bled for worse, now bleed with me!’ Going back even further, it’s part of a William Shakespeare play about King Edward the Fifth. He used the same words: ‘Bleed with me.’”

In a sense, the brothers of Rubicon Cross are going to war together, presenting a united front against everything that is tearing down the music industry. It’s not like it was when Firehouse was scratching and clawing to get exposure and, ultimately, a major label deal that would catapult them to the top of the charts.

“In the old days, you had to get let into the good club, and once you were in the good club, the respect came right now,” remembered Snare. “They would actually work hard developing the artist. In other words, they’d stick with them for three albums, four albums … then, if they didn’t have success by then, they’d move on. That’s not the case anymore. You pretty much have one, two shots with songs off the first record, and if they don’t stick on the wall, you’re gone. That’s one thing. Two, you’re inundated … just like we are with media. I don’t what it was like or how old you are or anything, but when I grew up, there weren’t as many challenges. There weren’t as many bands, there weren’t as many movies, there wasn’t as much on TV. So movie stars were really movie stars, and rock stars were really rock stars, and that was different.”

For all the songwriting ability and instrumental chops they had, Firehouse got lucky, and Snare knows it.

“We got let into the good boys’ club,” said Snare. “We got let into the club, and from that point, the record company pretty much pushes you to the media and puts everything behind it. They have to be the ones that push the button in order to make it happen. And if they can hit the green light, then they’re going to spend an exorbitant amount of money at independent promotion, at radio.”

Still alive and functioning, with Snare still entrenched as lead singer, Firehouse ushered in the ‘90s with ‘80s style pop-metal hits and power ballads that had staying power on the charts. What Rubicon Cross offers is honest, balls-to-the-wall heavy metal with a keen melodic sensibility.

“Back in the days of Firehouse, the music that we were writing was considered Top 40,” said Snare. “I mean, I was on the charts with Mariah Carey … you know, whoever. You just wouldn’t see Rubicon Cross on the charts with Jay-Z or Mariah Carey or Adele or Beyonce, or whatever. I would love that, but I don’t think that’ll happen, especially not as heavy as we are. It’s kind of a niche market … radio is much more of a conglomerate, a corporate type of entity, as well as MTV not playing as many videos as they did when they first came out and now that’s much more controlled. Also, anybody can make music now, so you have to wade through the muck, the mire of maybe less than great music. And there’s just so much more of everything out there. And that includes television. That includes all media. So it’s harder to find, but when you do find it, I think it still has that same ring of truth to it. It still attaches itself to your heart and to your soul, and when you find that, it’s real.”

No comments:

Post a Comment