Words: Miljan Milekić
As if seven years as a Ramone weren’t enough to earn you a place in history (and let’s not kid ourselves, they were), CJ Ramone has a lot more to offer. He never hid behind the legendary band’s name and kept writing and delivering great music. Just a few days ago, he released his latest solo album ‘The Holy Spell…’ via Fat Wreck Chords, adding to his already impressive catalog. I was honored to have him for an interview, and he was kind enough to answer some questions. Check it out below.
First of all, congratulations on the new album! I know it’s super early, but have you already had the chance to catch any feedback from your fans? How do people react to it so far?
CJ: I’m very active on Social Media, so I have actually got a fair amount of feedback already on the record. It has all been good. The same with the reviews I’ve gotten in the press so far. ‘Hands Of Mine’ seems to be a favorite.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first album you recorded without Steve Soto? How different was it to be in the studio without him, and how important was he for the band in the past?
CJ: I recorded ‘The Holy Spell…’ in the same studio as ‘American Beauty.’ Also with the same engineer/producer Paul Miner. Paul and I both worked with Steve for a long time, so although Steve was not there physically, everything we both had learned from him was put into this record. Steve has been a big influence on just about everyone he has worked with over the years. His knowledge and love of music are what made him a great musician, but his big heart is what made him a great human being. Steve was a major part of everything I’ve done since I came back to music.
Once again, you decided to go with Fat Wreck. How happy are you with them so far, and what’s the main thing that’s keeping you at the label?
CJ: Fat Wreck is my home because they let me do things my own way, which is the only way I know how to. They have done a lot for the punk rock community over the years, and have worked hard to keep the scene going.
In some of the interviews you did, I’ve read that you don’t actually live from your music, and you do it just because you love it. How do you find the energy and the motivation to keep going for so long, and still keep your writing and recording on a high level?
CJ: I love music. It has never lost its magic for me. I’ve only gotten better at writing lyrics and music as time has gone on, and I feel like I have a lot more in me. I’m also lucky to be able to work with some really great musicians over the years. Can’t say that the type of music I write will never change, but I will always write what I feel.
Later this year you will hit the road and play all over Europe. How do you see the European crowd and the way they perceive your music, comparing to the crowd in the US?
CJ: I usually spend a fair amount of time hanging out at the bar after a show, so I actually get to meet the people who come out when I come through. I think most of them see me as being dedicated to keeping the Ramones legacy alive while building my own legacy in my own style, with sincerity and conviction.
You joined Ramones around a month after I was born so I would love to ask you a million things about the band and your time with the band, but this time, I’ll try to keep it to a minimum. Being a Ramone, you earned yourself a place in the history of, not only punk rock but music in general. How does it feel to look at albums you released with the band from this time distance?
CJ: I’m very proud of my years with the Ramones. I really worked hard to live up to the name. They had their most successful years while I was there. They never toured more or made more money. I’m not saying that was because of me, but I was definitely a part of that success, and that makes me very happy. To be friends with Johnny and Joey and be able to ask them all the things every fan would want to know was a very humbling experience.
How weird was it at the time, being a fan, to step into the band and replace someone who was one of your role models when you were younger?
CJ: I could not, and never tried to, replace Dee Dee. He was the first, the original Punk. I could not live up to be his replacement in my mind, so I just looked at it as I was hired to do a job, and I was going to do it the absolute best way that I could. Anything I did that looked or sounded like Dee Dee was purely from his influence on me when I was young. I didn’t try to copy his moves, or his voice, I just let my own energy take over, and did it my way.
How much did your legacy as part of the Ramones help you open some doors for your solo career, and did you ever feel like it was also a burden?
CJ: It opened doors for sure, but like every other musician who’s been in a big band, a solo career is tough. Most bands are a sum of their parts. I understood this from the get-go and was prepared for rebuilding. It’s also why, on my Bad Chopper record, I used CJ Ward. I didn’t think those songs quite lived up to the Ramone name. In fact, my first record as CJ Ramone, ‘Reconquista,’ was recorded three times before I released it. I will never release a throwaway record, I love and respect the Ramone name, and I am trying my best to leave behind only the best of what I have to offer. That may sound melodramatic, but it is the truth.
Building up your solo career, you didn’t take the easy road, trying to copy Ramones style, but you rather developed your own style and did your own thing. How hard was it to start something new, and did you ever felt the pressure of expectations from people who only saw you as an ex-Ramone?
CJ: I was aware of all of that, but I wouldn’t be much of a punk if I jumped on the gravy train and rode it into the ground. It is definitely a difficult endeavor to start from scratch, but I love every minute of it. I love the Ramones music still and will always play some of it in my set, but my intention always was to play my own music and earn my own way.
“¡Adios Amigos!” was released 24 years ago, and Ramones disbanded a year later. At the time, did any of you had any idea how huge and important would the band be in the years to come, and how strong its legacy would be?
CJ: I did! Lollapalooza, I think, was the turning point for Joey and Johnny. When all the big headliners from the tour in 1996, started coming over to the Ramones dressing room every day to talk with them, I think they finally realized what a huge impact they had had. Metallica, Rancid, Green Day, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, all the biggest bands from the 90s, listed the Ramones as an influence on them. I was happy I was there for that.
Johnny and I had had a conversation once about their career. He was always disappointed that they had never had the commercial success they expected to have. I told him that the Ramones’ success could not be measured in record sales or concert tickets, it had to be measured in the influence they had on the entire music scene. He thought that was funny. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction proved I was right. I was glad I was there to see it. Joey was gone by then, but for Johnny, the Ramones had finally made it.