Gary James' Interview With Bill Leverty of
They have sold over 7 million albums worldwide. They have 16 Gold and Platinum records. They had two Billboard Hot 100 Top 5 hits; four Billboard Hot 100 Top 25 hits, and seven Billboard Hot 100 Top 100 hits. Their songs have been used in network TV shows, major motion pictures and video games around the world. We are talking of course about Firehouse. Bill Leverty spoke with us about the group.
Q - Bill, I believe people would be surprised to find out that Firehouse was named the Favorite Heavy Metal / Hard Rock New Artist at the 1992 American Music Awards Show. You beat out Nirvana and Alice In Chains! That's quite an accomplishment.
A - It definitely was one of the highlights of our career. We didn't think we were going to win that, but the fact that we got chosen and the fans vote on that stuff...
Q - I would think you'd have a banner behind your drummer saying, "We beat Nirvana!"
A - I don't know. (Laughs). I don't know if that's the angle that's going to make anybody have a great time when they come to see our show. I think back on it and go, "Wow! That was a great time." I really had a good night that night. I'm really thankful the fans appreciated our music enough to vote for us.
Q - Did anybody from Nirvana congratulate you that night?
A - No. I don't see any of those guys. We weren't congratulated by anybody except for the band that passed it on to us, that won of the year before, which was Slaughter. The following year we presented the award to Pearl Jam.
Q - Your popularity base seems to be centered in Asia and Europe. Is that correct?
A - I think America is also our bread and butter, throughout the Mid-West. If you live on the East Coast or West Coast you might not know about us as much. But in the Mid-West we probably do 65% to 70% of our shows.
Q - Why wouldn't you be as popular on the coasts? Does that have something to do with record company promotion?
A - I don't think it was record company promotion as far as it was the reception of the gatekeepers.
Q - Are you talking about radio?
A - Probably. We had a couple of radio program directors that really believed in the band, played our songs in our songs did really well at their stations and we had success with them. There were some program directors that didn't believe, didn't play, therefore we didn't have the longevity, but in that gut of the country we still have to this day a loyal fan base. It's not to say there aren't any on the coasts, because we can play some gigs all over the country, but most of our gigs are in the middle of the country. I don't really don't know why that is.
Q - Before Firehouse there was White Heat and Maxx Warrior. Did those bands play cover tunes or originals?
A - Each band played probably 70% cover tunes, 30% originals.
Q - You were playing cover tunes by who?
A - I really like The Scorpions. They were one of my favorite bands. I also played the Led Zeppelin stuff. I gravitated more towards the guitar artists of Classic Rock. Anything Eddie Van Halen was doing I was trying to cover, Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne stuff. I was doing UFO. Whatever was a hit at the time that was in the Hard Rock, Melodic Rock genre, we played those songs to. That's what the audience wanted to hear and that's what we enjoyed playing. If all that stuff aligned, we would do it. That would include bands like Def Leppard, Krokus, Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, but I also liked to go back to Blue Oyster Cult. Some of the bands that were formative years influences.
Q - Charlotte, North Carolina. What kind of a place was that for a band like Firehouse in 1989?
A - It was the perfect place for us because there were seven venues we could play within sixty miles. There were record company executives from every label that were there. We didn't know it at the time we moved there, but radio promotion offices for every record company, every major label, were stationed right there in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were in charge of the Southeast region. So not only radio promotion people, but marketing people also. We got some attention. They all knew each other so they all associated with each other. We got some attention by getting some airplay on a radio station there and then all the record company people that were living there heard our song on the radio, heard about how it was a hit on a local station and they were wondering "How come I can't get my bands played that's on a major label, that I'm trying to get you to play our song, but this band that doesn't even have a label is getting all the airplay. What's up?" Because of that, we had everybody from Atlantic to Geffen to Columbia. Every record label came out to see us. So, it kind of worked in our favor. It was the perfect place.
Q - Where did you get this Epic Records A&R guy to see the show?
A - He flew from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina to see us, December 9th, 1989. The reason I remember the night was because it was our drummer's birthday. There was an ice storm in Charlotte, North Carolina where there were traffic accidents all over the place. It was really un-drivable. But for some reason he made it. He went from the airport in his taxi straight to the venue, got there. There were about ten people there. We played. We thought we were terrible. He thought we were good enough to get a record deal and he signed us.
Q - Here he thought he was flying into the sunny, warm South.
A - It was a terrible ice storm, and down there they are not used to having any kind of frozen precipitation. When they're driving, I was just watching 'em go down the street sideways. It was that kind of an ice storm.
Q - Did writing original material come easy for you?
A - I think some did and we struggled on a lot of it. It's always been that way for me, to try to come up with something that I really believe in and I really will get the energy to continue to work on to really refine and get to say I'm proud of this. Those were hard. It's easy to write a song. It's really hard to write a really good song. I am still working on that. Maybe one day I'll achieve that. It's kind of like a challenge that I'm still working on.
Q - This record label, Pony Canyon, is that your label?
A - That's a label we had for our fifth album and our 'live' album. We are not on that label anymore. It's a Japanese company. When we left Epic we went with Pony Canyon. They offered us a licensing deal for Japan and Asia basically. Great label. They're still around. They have a lot of bands. They're a real label over there.
Q - When you're on the road these days, are you performing your material from the past as well as new material?
A - We do both. We play the old hits that everybody knows us by and then when we get a headlining set we play a couple of songs off our latest album.
Q - Which is on what label?
A - It's on our own label. Firehouse Music. The album is called "Prime Time". It's in the same genre as Melodic Hard Rock. We've got some slow stuff on there. We've got some fast stuff and we've got some half-ass stuff. (Laughs).
Q - You are also putting out solo CDs. What can you do as a solo artist that you can't do in Firehouse?
A - I can put out more material. I can put out a more diverse CD because people aren't expecting a certain sound. I can take my own time with it. I can do it my way, 100% instead of getting a 25% vote. I sang all the material. If I'm doing an instrumental record, it's all instrumental. The three out of four records I've done have been vocal. One has been instrumental. I think it's just having the freedom of doing it myself as an artist. It kind of keeps me focused on creating new music and trying to be creative and stay busy. So, when Firehouse is off the road, I'll go down and try to crank out another song.