With their self-titled album, Ronin is here to make a statement. Tired of hearing that rock is dead, Chris Feldmann (guitar, vocals), Jack Mauro (guitar), Andrew Vitale (bass), and Justin Maas (drums) use hard pumping melodies and rock in its purest form to hit back. Full of passion, energy, desire and fun, the album will replace your blood with pure hard rock. We sat down with Chris Feldmann to talk about the album, their favourite playlists, creative process, rock and much more!
OSR: You have all known each other for a long time, but what made you decide to start a band together?
Feldmann: Originally, the band was just an unnamed series of jam sessions between myself and Andrew Vitale starting in late summer 2016. We’re late bloomers to the musical/instrumental realm, starting in our mid 20’s. Those jams began after I had been playing the guitar for about 2 years and at the end of a road trip to Atlantic City, Vitale dropped me off at my house and went straight to Guitar Center and bought a bass. It stayed just us for quite some time.
Early 2018, we got our buddy Justin Maas to jam with us a few times on drums and he got hooked in quite quickly. Fast forward to early 2019, shortly after we put a 6-track demo out, we enlisted our immensely musically talented friend Jack Mauro for lead guitar work. Our idea is/was to just play aggressive rock music that we enjoy playing as much as we enjoy listening to. We figure if we’re into what we’re creating 100%, that passion will translate to a wider audience. We got tired of hearing how rock has no place in the current musical culture, so we want to try and change that. I know, lofty goals and all, but ya gotta start somewhere. If we can move the needle even the slightest bit, get some momentum going, I think the culture will change with the thrust of other bands coming through also.
OSR: Did you know from the first moment what you wanted to sound like or has this evolved over time?
Feldmann: We kind of had a good grasp that we wanted to just play whatever we wanted but while maintaining some element of an abrasive rock sound. Other than that, I think we are pretty open to adding any other elements we feel at the time, but overall, our idea of our sound has been realized and continues to grow each time we play.
OSR: You have recently released your debut, self-titled album Ronin which is a pure rock extravaganza. Other than rock for the sake of rock, is there a theme or backstory to the album?
Feldmann: No intentional overall theme that stretches through all 8 tracks, but there are some thematic threads that could be seen throughout. One theme that someone might see is the idea of “coming to terms” with something. Whether it be from a decision you’ve made, something that happened to you in the past, something that’s currently happening to you now and really just learning to live with reality, regardless of if it’s preferable, convenient or desired. Facing truths and realities is something that’s very potent for songwriting, at least for me.
Indoctrination, too, plays a role in some of the songs’ lyrics. To wholeheartedly believing your own BS or someone else’s, being zoned in on an ideology with a rigidly narrow view, and then perhaps one day being confronted with a reality that is counter to what you’ve been led to believe for years. I just find that stuff fascinating and it makes for some great lyrical content.
OSR: What was your creative process for the album? Did you start with a single track and work around it?
Feldmann: Most of the songs on the album came from riffs I had for a few years and then some early jams with myself and Vitale when we first started playing together, which sprung from the riffs/lyrical content I had been working on. Then with the addition of Maas and Jack, a bunch of the songs took different shapes and directions from where they were. It was nice to have additional input and opinions outside just mine or Vitale and the songs are better for it. Some of the songs were written spur of the moment at full band rehearsals, though too when I came to the band with a chord progression or new riff I had been working on and songs developed from there.
Lyrically, it’s mostly me, with edits and suggestions for changes from the other guys when they feel it calls for it, but we’re usually on the same wavelength luckily. Even if the song frameworks as far as chord progressions and melodies are from me, a lot of the nuance in transitions and harmonies are from the other guys. Jack is a master when it comes to harmonies and overdub melodies for vocals and guitar. Maas works out most of the transitions between sections and crafted a number of the song endings/outros. Vitale is a bridge section aficionado and he also has placed some significant lyrical content on the songs, and as well as frameworks for a few others we’ve been working on outside of this debut album.
I also never, ever try to step on anyone else’s parts even if it’s a “song” I presented to the band. Each of us comes up with how we want to approach our parts in service to the song, feeling, mood and overall vibe we’re experiencing when working on a particular tune. I’m pretty straight forward when it comes to songwriting, so having the other 3 guys input helps balance things out if a section is too long, or something gets too repetitive. We work really well together when it comes to crafting and finalizing the songs, and things tend to come together quickly.
OSR: What music would we be likely to find if we took a peek at your favourite playlist?
Feldmann: A pretty wide variety of music honestly, but mostly rock music I’d say. Metallica, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Creed, Frank Sinatra, Cage the Elephant, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Queen, Mastadon, Chris Cornell, Alter Bridge, Alice in Chains, Avenged Sevenfold, Volbeat, and occasionally an assortment of Broadway musicals.
OSR: What is the one thing you would like people to take away from listening to the album?
Feldmann: We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished on this debut and people should listen to it because it offers a wide variety of styles and sounds that span across the rock genres, pulling from our collective and individual inspirations throughout the 8 tracks. These songs are actually songs, as opposed to a collection of noises slapped together in some kind of order. This is our vision of what rock music really is, in contrast to what you might hear on the radio that is classified as rock, or what groups/artists get slotted at awards shows as rock acts and who are up for rock awards of some kind. Many of them don’t really fit the bill and yet they’re called “rock bands”.
That’s why everyone says rock is dead and we’re hoping to change that with our debut. We’ve got some very different vibes and feelings across our debut and we strongly believe it’ll resonate with rock fans and make a connection that people are looking for. So all in all, that was an incredibly long-winded way of saying we want people to feel exactly what rock music was meant to sound like.
OSR: Who would you say is the biggest influence on your sound?
Feldmann: I’d say Metallica for sure is the most obvious from our sound. They’ve influenced me immensely from a very young age and they still do to this day. Hetfield is king in my book. A big part of my more aggressive vocal approach and playing style. Alice in Chains is also up there, I think. That sort of gritty, dirty rock sound mixed with the beautiful harmonies Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell created. I think there are definite shades of those elements in our sound.
I also have to say Avenged Sevenfold. Maybe not the most noticeable right away, but I know that I can recognize it for sure. In some of the different experimental type-sections we throw into songs, like the tonal shifts in ‘Temptress’ and ‘Down’. Also, some of my vocal approaches at times are similar to that of M. Shadows, certain vowel sounds and expressions. Definitely one of my vocal/musical heroes.
OSR: If the band were pack animals, what would you be and why?
Feldmann: Wolves I’d say for sure. Wolves, individually, are plenty dangerous and capable, but when put together in a group, there are no better packs that work together and more seamlessly than them. That’s Ronin in a nutshell, capable musicians on our own but when combined together working toward a singular goal, we are a force to be reckoned with that won’t stop until we get what we’re hunting. It might take us a while, but we’ve got plenty of gas in the tank and more will than our prey, so it’s just a matter of time until we reach what we set out to attain.
OSR: You are all self-taught musicians, what would you say to anyone wanting to follow in your rock stylings?
Feldmann: Yeah, don’t wait as long as our dumb asses did. Seriously, regardless of age, just pick up an instrument and go! Take your favourite sounds, genres and artists and put them together to create something of your own. Don’t conform to any genre because you’re “supposed” to have a certain “sound”. Screw that. Just be yourself, be authentic, wear your inspirations on your sleeves without being carbon copies but don’t shy away from it either. Everyone has their reasons for picking up their instrument, so why bother pretending otherwise. Moral of the story is, play music that you’d want to listen to, not based on what you “think” others want to listen to, because more often than not, there’s a wealth of people out there that share your tastes and will connect with your music.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the coming year?
Feldmann: Well, hopefully, a slew of live shows and gigs! This last year has been emotionally draining for us and filled with lots of “not playing shows anxiety”, but it also allowed for us to record our debut album without any interruptions, aside from periodic lockdowns that is. We truly believe that our music can connect with a lot of people, so we plan on getting our debut album out to as many people as we possibly can through gigs and streaming. Maybe that leads to a regional tour, getting a manager, getting signed by a label? Who knows? All we know for certain is that Ronin are here to have a good time and play rock and roll. So, come aboard or get out of the way!