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70000 Tons of Metal - The World's Biggest Heavy Metal Cruise


Ronny Munroe On New Metal Church Album: "[T]here Is A Lot Of Stuff That’s Reminiscent Of The Old Days"

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Band Photo: Metal Church (?)

The wind and rain was picking up about half way through Metal Church’s first set of the “Reunion at Sea” aboard 70000 Tons of Steel as the boat was rushing hellbound towards the Caribbean island of Grand Turk. That may have been the destination for some of the 2,000 passengers aboard the Majesty of the Seas, but not for old metal warhorses like me. You see, this cruise had little to do with sunshine and warmth. There were 80 shows to be seen and I was hellbound to see as many as I could, even if that meant sacrificing a day at the beach to catch up on sleep deprivation and drunken madness. The return of Metal Church was just one of those many highlights, as the first show set list consisted of the songs voted on by fans prior to the cruise. It was enough to bring a large guy to tears. Just before the Easter holiday, I spoke to Ronny Munroe to reminisce about the memories of that night in late January, as well as the future of the band, which includes a new album on the horizon. Read and listen along:

CROMCarl: The first thing that is on my mind is 70000 Tons, we just did that. I wanted to tell you what an honor it was for me to see your performance there, especially the first one, because it was the first time I had seen the band in my entire life even though I’ve been a lifelong fan of the band. It was just amazing. I have to admit that I openly wept because certain music has that effect on me, and this is one of them and I wanted to get your reaction you got from the crowd and how you thought that all went down.

RM: Well first off, thank you very much. I always appreciate hearing that kind of stuff. You know, it was great…a great experience to have a reunion show out on a cruise with bands and fans and media from all over the world. I mean that was a great thing for Metal Church to be able to do and re-launch the band. So yeah, I just had a wonderful time, even being part of the jam sessions – you know jamming with all the guys from different bands – hanging a little bit with Doro and Cristina from Lacuna Coil, the guys from Helloween…and oh geez, Mille from Kreator. All and all, to sum it up – it was a great experience and I would like to do it again one day.

CROMCarl: Excellent. How were the fans…did the fans really react well… as well I as probably would of…or did!

RM: [Laughs] Well, You know what…there were a lot of people so gracious to us. Metal Church is a pretty famous band, man. For me, it’s a great feeling to be part of it again for the second time. And uh…I’m a fan of the band as well. I was way before I became the singer…so, you know, the reaction to it from everybody seemed to be great. You know, there is always going to be those naysayers out there, Carl, as far as the “third singer” doing all that, but you know what I don’t listen to that. I just know that I go out whenever I sing those songs and try to pay respect to both Dave [Wayne] and Mike [Howe], you know, with a little bit of me in there…and it’s just doing the best I can.

CROMCarl: That was the thing I found to be the most emotion invoking thing, especially when you were out on the pool deck – that first show – and you got into “Beyond the Black,” which is obviously one of my favorite songs of all time – and it just all kind of came up at once and I closed my eyes and there was Dave [Wayne], but it was you as Dave…it was amazing. I never would have thought that anyone could have replicated it as well and you definitely hit it right on the head. I owe you a lot for that…as much as that sounds weird – it was almost as if I was watching them back then.

RM: Oh no dude, that’s really very, very nice to hear. I appreciate that. David’s a great singer, you know. Unfortunately, he was only in the band a short amount of time and I didn’t really know him as a person but the voice, you know…

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: Dave Wayne was Dave Wayne, you know – very, very unique voice and really helped the band..he was a big part of our first couple of records, you know. So, thank you very much.

CROMCarl: Yeah, no problem. I’m going to get into some of that – I want to get some feelings on that, but I’ll get that later on. By the way, was it a little bit odd on that cruise just to kind of have that whole stage kind of moving a little bit while you were singing?

RM: {Laughs] You know, basically out on the pool deck – the first show – even with the wind and the rain and the wind going into my mouth, you know – eating my hair constantly…I was having such a great time and was just so proud and happy to be there that it didn’t bother me. The show inside, in the theater, I noticed a little bit ‘cause was rocking a bit, but you know, that’s when you put a little more weight on the appropriate foot to keep yourself in place.

CROMCarl: Oh, exactly. As a fan, I felt normal, but I felt a little drunker than I was.

RM: [Laughs]

CROMCarl: So now since this has all happened, right – so now you got the band back. Was that actually thought about, or brought back together, before the cruise or did that happen as a result of the cruise? You know, Metal Church back with a new album is what I am talking about.

RM: Kurdt [Vanderhoof] had called me…you know, we’ve been offered to play the cruise since the first one, and we turned it down, of course, because we were broken up at the time. I left Kurdt alone about it for the longest time, you know I did a couple of records with them and Presto [Ballet] and this and that and never really mentioned it because I knew that he would – eventually, when in his mind the time was right - he would mention it. He did, finally..he called me up and said “what do you think? You know, we got offered this cruise” and blah, blah, blah, so on an so forth and we just kind of talked [audio illegible], cause we talked about the cruise and initially said that we were going to do the cruise, that we were going to do a record and this and that…What I’m trying to say is he kept all that – the details – quiet until after the cruise and we saw what happened with the band and how the fans reacted, and it was a great reaction. We got a lot of, you know, just a lot of great compliments and things said about our performances there. So, it all just kind of….we knew about it - is what I am trying to say – before we got on the cruise, but we wanted to see how it went first before we told the public.

CROMCarl: Ok cool. So now you are into writing the album, I assume. How is the sound and all of that coming together?

RM: Yeah, we are writing the record. Actually, when we get back from doing the Brazil show, Jeff [Plate] is gonna do the drum tracks. I’m writing lyrics and going to start actually recording some vocals here real soon. And I gotta be honest – of course, everyone always says ‘oh, its going to be a great record’, you know blah blah blah this and that. Well, to be honest, the songs that Kurdt had written this time – or has written this time – there is a lot of stuff that’s reminiscent of the old days. There is actually some thrashy punk sounding stuff, and of course there is some elements of…I’ll say – oh man - “Method to Your Madness” off “The Dark.”

CROMCarl: Ok.

RM: There’s some stuff like that, but there is also some songs that sound like early Metal Church and I got really excited when I heard the stuff cause he is really, really into it, trying to make the best songs and the best record possible – just like any other band, but we got a lot at stake here, you know. We came out, I did two records – yeah, we had some success, but moderate success. But now this time around, being that we were on that boat – it was the perfect place for us to be to reunite is what I am trying to say.

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: So we have a lot of [audio illegible] on us, but also some pressure. We have to deliver a really good record and we’re taking our time with that and making sure that that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.

CROMCarl: Right, I wanted to ask – do you think - now you are not Kurdt, but I’m just going to ask you anyway. Since the 2009 breakup , or whatever you want to call it, or just stopping the band…do you think that time…the cruise is sort of like a newer thing, but do you thing the time from the point that that happened to now that sort of reinvigorated Kurdt a little bit.

RM: Basically, when the band broke up – we weren’t fighting or anything internally…Kurdt was just, you know, Kurdt Vanderoof. He’s the founding member of Metal Church. It’s his band. He did it all from the start. And the guy has been through a lot of stuff, with all the members, the industry. You know, we got out there – we basically toured our asses off, but we did it too much. We took a bunch of stupid gigs that we shouldn’t have taken, you know, and places that we shouldn’t have played and this and that, because we didn’t have the right people running that part of the band and it just got to be the point where we were getting disappointed a lot. And Kurdt just got the point where he was fed up and also he really wanted to do Presto Ballet, which is his love now, his progressive rock [band] and it’s great. As I said, I did two records with them - well a record and an EP – and it was a really cool opportunity for me to get to sing that stuff too. But he really wanted to do that and not do the metal thing. And yeah, yeah I was disappointed and all that, but I knew eventually that he would see the light on Metal Church and remember what exactly he has with that…

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: …and that’s what happened. And he is very excited, very stoked about the whole thing. He is putting his heart and soul into it, as we all are. And we are excited for the future.

CROMCarl: Yeah, I am so excited as soon as you told me just by messenger that the record was on. I can’t even tell you how excited I was for that. It’s funny, because when I first saw Metal Church – or first came into Metal Church – or when you first came into Metal Church about ten years ago – now you’ve been part of the band – I was kind of mystified a little bit when I was growing up – I wanted to your sense as to when you came into the band there was already this history, you know. I know when I was growing up, the band was actually in the same league – or spoken of in the same league as the other “M’s” – you know Megadeth and Metallica. It was the “three M’s” way back then. For some reason, and this is my personal opinion – I actually thought that Metal Church was better songwriting and sounding as both of those other bands at the time and I just don’t understand why it didn’t catch on. Did you ever get that sense when you walk[ed] into the band now - you’re a newer member now – its ten years ago – you sort of like have this history…did it ever dawn on you – why didn’t this band become as big as those other two?

RM: Yeah, [when I got to be friends with the band and] got to be in the band and spending a lot of time with Kurdt and becoming friends and hearing the stories and the things that really happened, I can see why he didn’t stay. Although, I will say this that it’s too bad that he couldn’t have put up with it and stayed because he would have been as big as M’s – the other two M’s just like you said..they would have been. Cause Kurdt does write, in my opinion as well, better songs….

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: …he is a musical genius. But, things went on there was issues with members and blah, blah, blah and so he walked, but stayed as the main songwriter every record, as we all know. You know, there’s been a lot of member changes and as far as when I came in the band, there was a lot of pressure and everybody made me aware of that. And at first, I’ll be honest, a lot of the stuff that was said was hurtful and things like that, but you know what, I realize that there is a thousand singers out there that would love this spot and I’m the lucky one…

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: …So I had to keep it together in my mind, you know, just go out there and do your job and as long as you’re doing your job and singing the songs to the best of your ability and staying true to the originals, then I don’t give a rat’s ass what anybody says. Kurdt hired me for a reason and he brought me back for a reason. So, I don’t care what anybody else says, I’m the one that’s here and I’m just going to continue to do my best and that’s it.

CROMCarl: Right, exactly. So now I know it didn’t work out with Jay [Reynolds]. I heard some interview that you had done with another source and you had mentioned that you guys had attempted to ask Jay to get back and it didn’t work out. So you end up getting Rick [van Zandt], who was on the cruise, with you – obviously Rick has worked with you on the solo stuff and Rottweiler and all these bands and now he is a permanent member, right?

RM: Well correct, but I have to throw this in there, Rick was the guitar player on “This Present Wasteland.”

CROMCarl: Right, right. Excatly.

RM: Yeah, he was already in the band. And yeah, I’m not going to talk too much on the Jay issue. He just – basically he is no longer in the band and I won’t get into that.

CROMCarl: Ok, ok.

RM: It was the obvious call, immediately when we knew Jay wasn’t going to be able to do the show… you know, we called Rick. There is plenty of other guys out there, guitar players [that are] great, that probably could have fit in, but karmically bringing Rick van Zandt, was the right thing to do.

CROMCarl: Right, exactly. Ok.

RM: Great guitar player, great guy…you know, it was the right thing to do. So Rick is going to be our…he is our guitar player. So, hopefully this is going to be the final lineup for Metal Church for years to come.

CROMCarl: Right, so now as it stands for Metal Church, for the future, you are going to make your albums and you are going to pick and choose your tour to kind of make it…not a burnout situation basically, right? Because you have all these different projects going on as well – so you are going to do some big shows , but the idea here is to continue to make albums as well, right?

RM: Thank you for asking me that, cause we need to clarify that. Yes, we are going to remain a band. We’re gonna put an album out. We’ll do some shows and we’ll do another album when the time comes and this and that. But yes, we all have other projects and this day and age, as most people understand and know, that unless you’re Metallica-wise – that kind of band and that stature – us musicians have to do other projects to survive.

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: Kurdt’s doing Presto…he is going to continue doing that. I’m writing that third solo record – I’m actually done writing that – been working with some really cool people and solidifying my band for that. You know, I’m doing a couple of other projects as well – I’ll probably do something else in the future, whatever it is, just to stay busy. But Metal Church will always be there, and yes we’re gonna go do some shows. If we get an offer – say, for example – maybe opening for Priest [laughs] – I HOPE – or maybe something huge like that, and they wanted us to come out for a month…well, I’m sure we would make that happen….for obvious reasons. But as far as going out for a month long headlining tour in a van across the States, or whatever..no we are never going to be interested in that. We’ll pick and choose, we’ll do some fly-ins and some festivals and things like that. So, when Metal Church plays out it more going to be a special event instead of just “oh, let’s go see Metal Church again.”

CROMCarl: Right, exactly, you know you actually touched on a really good thing and it was one of my questions about the music business in general and these current days of needing to have a million bands or projects going just to survive financially. It’s not like the old days were – remember back in the old days, where if a guy left a band it was a huge friggin’ deal and it made headlines and stories and gossip and then he would go to another band and there would be sort of this tension. Now it’s like people don’t leave bands anymore – or hardly – they just add on another band and continue the bands when they are financially able. Is that sort of the way it is?

RM: Yeah, yeah. Exactly – you can point to bands like Spiritual Beggars, you know – it’s the singer from Firewind and the guitarist from Arch Enemy…I think. Then you got Voodoo Circle with Mat Sinner – my buddy Mat and Alex Beyrodt – the guitar player from Primal Fear in Voodoo Circle….

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: I think that’s the name. Mat is doing that orchestrated thing now [Rock Meets Classic]. And why….you’ve got to branch out and hopefully as we get older as musicians, you want to spread your wings. You know, as a singer heavy metal is in my blood – I love it and I am always going to be singing that, but I also want to sing some other stuff too. You know, I went out and did two tours with Trans-Siberian Orchestra…

CROMCarl: Right!

RM: …and played the part of a schizophrenic bum who sang a song “Old City Bar” acoustically with Joel Hoekstra from Night Ranger…

CROMCarl: It’s so funny you should mention that. That was one of my memories that I was going to bring up to you…but go ahead. ..

RM: Well, it was great to be in that and it really served as a chance for me to do a little bit of acting.,.I mean, not much, but a little bit – and dressing up. I mean, I never thought in this lifetime that I was going to get to do something like that. I saw the Trans-Siberian show for years and I always kind of dreamed about being up there on stage…never thought it would happen, and it did. So, that opened my eyes. I mean, I knew I wanted to sing other things before that, but that really opened my eyes to where it’s like – not that I’m going to be starring on Broadway [laughs] or anything like that – I mean saying that I want to be able to have that freedom to sing different stuff. And that’s the same way, as you get older, that all of these other guys are doing….

CROMCarl: No, no, but you would agree with me though, that when you start doing stuff that’s different than “metal,” it kind of makes you – when you come back to metal – appreciate it even more. You know what I mean?

RM: Yes, I agree with you on that. You find new nuances in the songs and what not – things like that.

CROMCarl: No, but you…You come back sometimes with an even bigger passion and understanding of it as well. And I noticed that just as a listener. I haven’t heard anything – obviously – that you guys are planning for Metal Church, but I can pretty much guarantee that when I do, I am going to hear that passion that came from when I saw you in Hartford singing “Old City Bar” – and I actually recorded it – because that’s my favorite Trans-Siberian Orchestra song – and you sang it and it was amazing. I know that it comes back to Metal Church in spades, especially with your energy.

RM: Well, thanks. I guess it’s just…I don’t know how to explain it Carl. Us musicians, we do what we do because we are all artistic – it comes from the heart, it comes from our soul. And if it doesn’t come from your heart and soul, then you shouldn’t be doing it. Because it shows, just like you said. You saw that in me…and I love music, man. I love singing. It’s a huge passion and it’s what I do and it’s what I’ll continue to do until the day I die.

CROMCarl: Now here’s…its gonna segue into what I was going to tell you later, but the Trans-Siberian Orchestra thing – just as a side note. You know, as a metal fan, 90% of what I love is metal and I’ve been into it for 30 years…27 years or whatever it is. It’s funny because you watch Savatage as a kid growing up and you love them and they never hit it big and you don’t understand why. Then all of a sudden, Trans-Siberian Orchestra hits almost immediately playing arena tours and all of a sudden you say to yourself - it dawns on me – boy this is genius because Jon [Oliva] comes out, he basically creates a “mainstream Savatage” and incorporates a lot of Savatage’s stuff into the music still today, and in the shows, and you go there and everybody’s cheering for Savatage, but if you ever mention the word everyone is “who the hell is that?” There is a genius to that – it’s almost like he made everyone in mainstream that doesn’t like metal into a metal head and they don’t even realize that they are a metalhead.

RM: [Laughs] Well, you know what? I have to add this in there. Yes, its Jon’s baby, but Paul O’Neill is also the mastermind behind that…

CROMCarl: Oh, absolutely.

RM: He’s the one that kind of did that spin doctor on the whole thing and that’s just a great organization. I’m very proud to be part of it, I was happy to be out there to be able to do two tours and it just – as you know – it’s great. Paul and Jon Oliva both again…two other musical geniuses that I’ve had the honor to work with…and privilege. So, you know, it’s a good thing and I suggest that hasn’t seen T.S.O., to make sure you get out and see a show this coming winter.

CROMCarl: Absolutely. Let me get back to your solo thing. I know we are scattering all over. Now you said you have written your solo…or almost finished writing your solo record now. Are you going to have some of the same people working with you or are you going to have a whole new set of people working with you?

RM: Well, this time around I have been trying to get to the point to where I just have one band. And the reason why I gave before, is obvious – because you can’t afford to fly people in from different states when you not making that much money, so that’s why these guys in different…like in New York and Texas and this and that. But this time around, I’ve put together a permanent lineup. And I will say this – Paul Kleff from Firewolfe is one of the guitar players and Rick Ward, who actually played on “The Fire Within” and a little bit on “Lords of the Edge,” as well, is now going to be my permanent drummer. And these guys will be recording the album with me when we start to track.

CROMCarl: Awesome.

RM: In the future, I will start to mention…well, I got a guy named Sean Baker o the other guitar and we are looking for a bass player right now, but that’s almost solidified. I’ll keep everybody posted on the progress of that.

CROMCarl: Oh, just a little side – I had spoken with Stu Marshall – he wanted to convey his “hello” to you though this interview. I wanted to share that with you.

RM: Oh great! Yeah, Stu did a lot, a lot on “Lords of the Edge.” And Stu’s a good guy, great guitar player and I am happy for him as well with his new project with the old guys from Manowar, I believe.

CROMCarl: Yeah, Death Dealer.

RM: Yeah, I wish him luck.

CROMCarl: I will let him know what you said…he is a great guy. Now, you answered everything I got…I did want to mention one thing that I thought was cool. One of the nicest things I ever heard from a musician was this: “If any of these musicians tells you ‘no’ when you try to talk to them or take a picture, you tell them to go fuck off.” That was you, who said that to me on the cruise. How important is it for you to stay in touch with your fans and have that kind of connection?

RM: [Laughs] Well, thanks for bringing that one up! You know man, the fans are everything. I like staying in touch with the fans, because the fans are who buy the records and who appreciates what you’re doing. And…you know, I understand you might get a little frustrated, but we got into this industry, whether its music or movies or whatever it is…that comes along with it. And if you don’t want that, well then don’t do what you are doing. If you can give respect for it and be courteous to your fans, because they’re the ones that keep you working.

CROMCarl: Right.

RM: So, I never understood that. I’ve never said I’ve always have is that just because you are a rock star doesn’t give you a license to be a dick.

CROMCarl: Well, it’s always one of those quotes that I’ll always remember in my head, just because it was perfect and it said it all and it was just one of those things that anyone has ever said to me, at least a musician. Alright, Ronny, I’ve wasted your time enough. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. It was just like I thought, you were very forthcoming and honest and I appreciate your time.

RM: Oh Carl, I appreciate being on and what not and thank you very much.

CROMCarl's avatar

From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.

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