“It was all about the business, branding your image, burning demos, the cost of CDs. I totally researched all of it,” Winter told Pollstar. “By the time I graduated I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
He soon learned real chemistry can take some time as the Middleburg, Fla., band went through several personnel changes and bad showcases before everything began to click in 2004.
The final blend of Winter, Duke Kitchens on guitar and piano, guitarist Elias Reidy, bassist Joey Westwood and drummer Jon Wilkes combined and decided to “get serious about being a band,” the singer said.
“It was a risk, because we’d already done the showcase thing. We’d been passed on [by record labels] six or seven times. Bills pile up and you still have to make rent. You’re playing with fate for a little while,” Winter explained.
“Finally we got the guys that gave a crap about the right things, and about music, and ever since then we’ve been unstoppable.”
It’s been a long haul for Winter and the band, from playing parties and clubs in the Jacksonville suburbs, to being a fan favorite at Warped and headlining the Take Action tour in 2007.
The band will go abroad next year, with a visit to Australia in February or March. Agent Michael Arfin of Artist Group International is also working on a swing through Japan and New Zealand. Next year’s Bamboozle is on the books for RJA, which soon will record its next album.
RJA’s 2006 Virgin debut, Don’t You Fake It, went gold on the strength of songs like “Face Down” and “Guardian Angel” that the band had been honing for at least five years.
Many of the album’s songs address weighty subjects like depression and alienation, and “Face Down” specifically tackles teen domestic abuse. But don’t call RJA “emo.”
“Anyone who reviews our album and writes something like that just proves their own ignorance, honestly,” Winters objected. “I know that sounds a little negative but it’s a fact. We’re a rock band and we have piano ballads. ‘Face Down’ is not the poppiest song on the record, by far. We released that one because it had meaning.”
It’s a subject near to Winter’s heart. He’s had friends victimized by domestic abuse and depression, and became a certified crisis intervention counselor.
The Take Action tour promoted mental health issues and his work as an advocate earned the band a nomination for MTVu’s “Good Woodie” award for social activism. “We basically hooked up with the Take Action tour to support suicide prevention and intervention that helps people identify kids at a young age with early signs of either depression or various degrees of mental illness that can lead to suicide and that can be prevented,” Winter said. “We encouraged our fans to go in themselves and take the training,” he added. “I was told by the head of one group that the one tour we headlined there was a 500 percent increase in signups than they’ve had the entire existence of the operation. I was pretty stoked.” He’s also pretty stoked about his business team, which virtually auditioned for their jobs. “When we built our team, we wanted to hang out with them, and know them,” Winter said. Manager Steve Tramposch of Launchpad Entertainment and Arfin quickly won them over.
“I love Mike Arfin,” Winter said. “He said, ‘I’m gonna book your band even when no one else wants to book it. But I’m going to get you to the point where you’re going to be able to play where you want and people are gonna come.’ And that’s what he did.”
Arfin is equally effusive, telling Pollstar that it’s combination of writing chops and work ethic that set RJA apart from most young bands.
“Great bands who write great records will always find their way to the public,” Arfin said. “The Internet is a great resource and a great way to spread the word. The bands who write the great songs and the great records will always rise to the top.” Tramposch was knocked out by RJA’s three-song demo and contacted them from New York with an offer to manage the group.
“We made him fly down to Middleburg and took him to a barbecue and hung out all day with a bunch of people he’d never met before and that was the end of the discussion. We hired him,” Winter said. “We’d also met a lot of sharks to that point and we’d said no to all of them. He’s the guy we said yes to. Why? Because he was honest. If there’s any managers out there reading, be honest. Be honest with your band and they’ll be honest with you. Not every band and band manager hate each other. We don’t.” For The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, it’s all about the chemistry.