On 13/12/14, CJ Ramone & band performed at the Grand Münsterdslam (Germany) as one of the openers for the Donots, who were celebrating their 20th anniversary. Hooray hooray hooray! It was already quite a while ago that the good old rock ‘n’ roll mobile drove out for a Ramones-related trip but – the usual suspects - Danny, Jean and yours truly took off in the afternoon for a 3-hour trip to the venue ‘Halle Münsterland’ to shake loose those rusty hips. The mismatch between our sense of arriving somewhere in time and the deutsche Gründlichkeit made us miss the 5 first minutes of CJ’s set. The set was way too short (25 minutes or so) … but I would make the same remark as well if they would have been allowed to play for 2 hours straight, haha. Anyway, it was made up by CJ counting off in his own style (1-2-3-4) during the Donots gig and joining them on stage to sing Pet Sematary.
Before I write any further, I would like to thank Maya and Humberto from KKT (Kikis Kleiner Tourneeservice) for their hospitality and making the interview work out. Thanks a million and hope to run into you again sometime!!!
(pictures will be up soon but I have a very lazy photographer :-D )
Here we go!
Ramones.be: Hi and welcome to Europe again! Last time you were over here, you were promoting your Reconquista album. Now you have a new album out which is called ‘Last chance to dance’. If I remember correctly, you said you were going to put out another 4 albums after Reconquista, 1 album per year. Still on plan?
CJ RAMONE: Yeah, 5 records and then I’ll see where I’m at. I don’t say I’ll stop after those 5 but that was my goal as from when I started to play again. We’re 2 down the road right now. I also have a book that I’m working on for a long time now. So, plenty of things to keep me busy.
Ramones.be: When I first listened Reconquista, it appeared to me as a statement: ‘Hey, I’m CJ RAMONE, do your remember me?’
CJ RAMONE: (laughter) That’s good!
Ramones.be: Now you issued ‘Last chance to dance’. Isn’t it more like ‘hey kids, this is another chance to dance’? Especially because you have even more albums on their way.
CJ RAMONE: Yes, you know, the title didn’t really have anything to do with things ending here and now. At many of my shows before the last song I shout ‘Hey, this is your last chance to dance, so, enjoy it’. I had this song on the record but even while recording I didn’t really have a title for the album and I was really under pressure to come up with one. I really liked that song, the way it sounded and I already had the image for the record… I thought it fit well together. It’s more an artistic statement than it is a factual statement.
[Sleeve picture of Last chance to dance features a hooker on Times Square, NY in the 70s. Courtesy of Allan Tannebaum.]
Ramones.be: Is it just me or are you way more relaxed on this album?
CJ RAMONE: Reconquista, for the biggest part, was a dark record because I wrote those songs in the time period in between when the Ramones retired and when I came back to play music again. Professionally it was a very bleak period but also personally I had a whole lot of stuff going on and that record is a total reflection on that. But the good thing is, that for me at least, writing songs is very therapeutic. When I wrote that record I had the feeling I got all that stuff off my chest and out of my head.
The songs I wrote for this record [Last chance to dance], where pretty much all written in the time period I was touring for Reconquista. They’re a lot more light, a lot more fun for the most part. For me, and I cannot say that probably for every band, but every song or album I write is a reflection on what I’m currently going through, what I see around, what I’ve done, what I’m thinking about, … this one is really a good snapshot of what happened between 2012 and 2014.
Ramones.be: When you did Reconquista, you used the crowd sourcing community. For the new album, you’re on a label again [Fat Wreck Chords]. Any difference for you as an artist?
CJ RAMONE: I indeed did the crowd sourcing thing and really enjoyed that because it really put me in direct contact with the fans and it seemed like a really honest way to do it. After being away for a while, it was a good way for me to re-establish me with the fans and to offer something really personal to my audience. I enjoyed the whole thing very much. When I came to actually sending everything out, I did the labels myself, I packed all that stuff and shipped it out… it was a really, really personal thing.
On this record, I decided I was going to put it out myself. I talked to Mosrite Records and they were interested in doing it. I was going down that route and then, Fat Wreck Chords, through Steve Soto, heard about us. I was also looking for somebody at the same time to do press and the girl that I hired was also doing press for Fat Wreck. So, I checked via her whether Fat would be interested in putting out a single for my new album. They were all in favor of the idea and they wanted to put out the ‘Understand me’ single.
After a while we were talking about it, I wondered whether they would be interested in putting out the whole album. You need to understand it is very difficult for me to go to a label. Since the Ramones retired I have done everything on my own. The Los Gusanos releases for the most part, Bad Chopper through a friend’s label (Acme records). I always kept it personal, tried to keep it between me and the fans and not have anybody else’s influences but Fat has a history of being a strictly punk rock label and they really are. I know Mike (Fat Mike of NOFX and owner of Fat Wreck Chords) really wants to do everything from the heart. He personally has to give the ok for every band that gets on the label.
So, when I was talking to Vanessa Burt, the publicist I was working with, she said the label was interested. They were going to see our band play at Punk Rock Bowling [festival in Las Vegas] and take it from there. A couple people from the label came out to see us perform in Vegas and really liked the show. They told they had to get it in front of Mike and if he would approve it, then it would be a go. A couple of weeks later we heard back from them that Mike liked it and that was for me, regardless of what you feel about NOFX or Fat Wreck Chords, a real acknowledgement that I was doing something legitimate.
Ramones.be: It was your chance to dance…
CJ RAMONE: Exactly! I was thrilled because it was my project, even though it has the Ramone name attached. They took it on because they thought of it as a good record rather than for what my name is. Getting on Fat Wreck Chords meant a lot for me.
Ramones.be: Does that also mean that you’ll be added to their artist roster and get more chances to tour?
CJ RAMONE: Yeah, I hope so! It’s a very different thing for me working with a record company. With the Ramones I didn’t have to work with one. I took all of my marching orders from Johnny and Monte [Melnick, tour manager]. I personally didn’t have to go through all politics. The one thing I can say that really was a relief, was that I just called him (Fat Mike) up and said: ‘This is what I’m doing, this is what I want to do and this is where I want to go and so on’. He just said: ‘Yes, ok, we’ll back you. Let us know where you’re going and we’ll make sure you get press there. We’ll make sure people know you’re coming.’
We’re going to Australia in February and I contacted Vanessa to tell her about it. She immediately got in touch with the one doing press for them over there and the whole thing got rolling. That’s really what I needed because I was gone from music for so long and haven’t gone to places like Australia for years. If I would go down there with a small promoter, on my own, it’s really hard for me to let the fans know that I’m coming to tour. That’s the very positive thing that Fat provides me with, they can give everybody the heads’ up that I’m coming before I get there. They will let them know I have a new record etc. It definitely helps to get the word out.
Back in the day, I was not really label friendly after my experience with the Ramones. There is some historical context, right. The Ramones gave Sire Records some of the greatest rock ‘n roll ever recorded and they couldn’t get them a gold record. My opinion of record labels back then was very small. So, Fat Wreck Chords, being owned by Mike, who is in a punk rock band, understands the whole thing. He sees it from a very different point of view. And even though it still is a business, he still understands the whole DIY thing, what punk rock fans really want and are looking for. I’m a lot more comfortable being on Fat Mike’s label then I would be on Warner Brothers or Atlantic or something like that, where they really don’t care and treat you as a commodity. With Fat Wreck Chords I just have a better chance of them recognizing what I’m trying to do being willing to go along with it.
I’ve always tried to be approachable to the fans, also through Facebook or other social media. I try to sign autographs for everybody after the shows and engage with them as much as possible because they make what I do possible! Understanding that is what I like about a punk rock label. It’s about the fans and certainly not about the artist or record company. It’s a good situation for me.
Ramones.be: Do you see a big difference between what you’re doing now and your period with the Ramones if it comes down to engaging or being able to engage with fans?
CJ RAMONE: The good thing is that all the things I learned from Johnny, as Johnny was my mentor back then, I’m able to do now but on a much bigger scale. Back then, it was pretty much when you did shows or autograph sessions you could have contact with the fans but now, on my Facebook page I put pictures up of me and my kids in the backyard feeding my chickens for example. The fans can actually be part of what I do every day. I run my Facebook page myself. There’s really nobody else sending people messages, somebody else posting for me etc. It literally is all me!
Because I was a fan of the Ramones before I became part of the band, for me it’s not just like reaching out to fans but it’s reaching out to people that I have something in common with, which is of course our love for the Ramones and everything that goes along with it. It also helps me to get feedback on my new songs, my new records. For the moment, it feels like what I’m doing lives up to the Ramone name. I’m not saying that my albums are as good as the Ramones or that anything that I’m doing is ground breaking but if you like the Ramones, or that style of music, chances are that you’re going to like what I’m doing. Not because it sounds exactly like the Ramones but the influence and the spirit is there. That’s what I’ve concentrated on. It’s not about sounding like them or putting on a show where we play everything 15 beats per minute faster than the record. I haven’t done any of this, just tried to be honest and carry on the spirit of the Ramones.
Ramones.be: You played your song Three Angels as part of this night’s set. Any chance you’ll have a song ‘Four Angels’ now Tommy sadly passed away?
CJ RAMONE: Maybe a song about Tommy at some point. I did a radio interview today, the DJ mentioned Tommy but moved on to other things. I said I wanted to go back to Tommy and explain something that I don’t think a lot of Ramones fans understand. Tommy created the Ramones. There are lot of ways you can look at it and figure it out. Even when I was just a fan… if you deconstruct the Ramones career and look at their discography. Look at the albums they put out and go backwards: from Brain Drain back to End Of The Century it was mediocre, mediocre, mediocre, … The last record that Tommy had anything to do with was Road To Ruin. He thought Marky how to play that drum sound. Marky was a metal drummer [former bands: Dust, Wayne County & the Backstreet Boys, Richard Hell & the Voidoids] and I’m definitely not knocking him for that, hey, I come from a metal background too. But his playing style, listen to Richard Hell and the Voidoids, was completely different. Tommy taught him a whole new style of playing. And of course Marky expounded on that and developed that real fast right hand but if you trace those records back, the Ramones leave the realm of every song on every album being great at Road To Ruin. And that’s the last record Tommy had anything to do with (in that period).
Then they come out with End Of The Century and every album has fewer and fewer good songs until Too Tough To Die when Tommy is back in the picture. To me, that was their comeback record. That is the record that said: it’s the old days again. Then they go back in using other producers etc. and everything is mediocre up to the point of Mondo Bizarro when Ed Stasium comes back into the picture. So, if you deconstruct that, once Tommy is gone, the Ramones become a mediocre, directionless band. They really do. It’s up and down, it’s all different styles on the records, the production is all over the place. You easily hear it’s the producer that is actually guiding the whole process.
So in that interview I did on the radio, I explained that whole thing and I said, people do not understand that Tommy came up with the sound of the band, invented punk rock drumming, he was the manager in the beginning, he told Johnny he would play guitar, DeeDee would play bass, and Joey that he would sing. But their problem was that they couldn’t find a drummer that played in the style Tommy heard in his head, so he decided to play drums until they would find a drummer and once they did, he would step aside and just be the manager… but that drummer never came. Tommy got out on the road with them and played drums. He was managing at the same time and making all the decisions. He was the brains of the operation. To give an example, Joey, a great singer and early on a great lyricist; DeeDee, one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song writers of all time in my opinion and invented punk rock bass playing; Johnny, probably influenced more guitar players than Van Halen or anybody else… but Tommy was the guy that had the vision to put it all together. He looked at the four individuals and knew how to make it work.
Ramones.be: Most of times, Johnny was indicated as the leader. Was that only to the outside world?
CJ RAMONE: Only after Tommy was gone. Before that, Tommy was the leader but what happened was that Tommy couldn’t deal with touring. Touring and being on the road all the time takes a certain personality. He was meant to be a manager but not to be a band member.
Ramones.be: If you look at the discography, apart from the albums that you played on, which one would you wanted to be part of if you could choose one?
CJ RAMONE: I would have loved to be part of the first record. The first record is great because it’s their birth. The style is there. The song writing ability is there. Everything was there but the production was a bit rough. Guitar left channel, bass right channel. Drums and vocals up the middle. I think it would have nice to be there for the genesis, the absolute beginning of it. That’s always to me the most exciting period. Before the masses understand it or know how great it is. Just to be there and knowing, this is the birth of something. Nobody has been in this territory before! But that being said, by the time they hit Rocket To Russia, that is when they perfected their song writing style, the production techniques, all the harmonies, Ed Stasium playing all those sweet guitar lines on top of Johnny’s just real aggressive strumming. That to me is the highlight of the Ramones style. That’s like the pinnacle. It’s like Metallica’s Master Of Puppets or Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. It fits in that genre, the absolute pinnacle of their style. And then again, if I would have been just on the first record and that’s that.. well… then I would have been there in the beginning… that would do for sure! (laughter)
Ramones.be: Going back from the past to the present, what keeps you busy when you’re not touring or writing music?
CJ RAMONE: When I’m at home, I’m pretty much a full-time dad. I have chickens and grow vegetables. All kinds of boring stuff. What I love the most when I’m home, besides my family and everything else, is riding my motorcycle. I love long distance trips all by myself to get everything out of my head.
Ramones.be: Well, I you like to travel, here’s a question to finish up. If you would be put on a deserted island with your family and you could take along only 3 things, what would you pack?
CJ RAMONE: A record player, my record collection, and… no motorcycle because there’s nowhere to ride. (Dan Root, Adolescents and in CJ RAMONE’s band shouts: you Manowar costume) Well, these guys joke with me all the time because where I grew up heavy metal was it. I played in metal bands my whole life. So, if you lived in my town and didn’t like Manowar, you got your ass kicked at school. It was strictly metal. I was always a punk fan but because I was into metal that much as well, every band in my town wanted me in their band because I could play any Iron Maiden song all the way up to Power Slave. That’s the type of bass player I was, very technical and only used my fingers. The first time I played with a pick was when I auditioned for the Ramones.
But anyway, the third thing to bring to an island… my record collection, my record player and I would have to bring an acoustic guitar. All music related. I can’t help it. (Dan Root again: I can’t believe you would leave your 3 kids at home! – CJ: Pay attention, they said they will be there too!) (laughter) That’s where I could teach them to play and they could play for me when I’m old and my fingers are too wrinkled up to play.
Ramones.be: That’s it! Thanks very much, see you next time when you’re around! Now we’re off to see the Donots play their set and look forward to see you perform a song with them.
CJ RAMONE: My pleasure! See you next time!
CJ performing live in Brazil: