Bonfire – Behold the TempleThursday, 3rd May 2018
During the 1980’s, melodic hard rock and heavy metal became a staple on the North American scene as bands reached arena audiences and sold millions of records. As the genres advanced and evolved, certain styles fell out of favor – yet never really going away in other parts of the world. Bonfire has been in existence since those 1980’s heydays in one form or another – even if guitarist Hans Ziller remains the lone original member standing. Their latest studio album Temple of Lies features Alexx Stahl who sings for Roxxcalibur as well and contains some of their heaviest songs as of late – balancing out that melodic hard rock texture with some bite as if they put the pedal to the Painkiller metal.
Reaching out to bassist Ronnie Parkes just as the touring cycle for the record would begin in Germany, you’ll learn more about the man’s background, his role within Bonfire, views on the support of the band in North America versus Europe – and his frustrations over people using social media and the internet to tear people/things apart.
Dead Rhetoric: What was your childhood like growing up – and what early memories regarding music spurred you on to picking up an instrument and start performing in bands?
Ronnie Parkes: Oh wow- that’s a cool question. I grew up in the New York City area, so there was always a lot of stuff going on. But when I was really young, I got into Kiss during the 1970’s- so I’m a bit old (laughs). Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Black Sabbath – all this music and I just really wanted to play music. I started playing music at five years old- we lived upstairs from my grandmother and I’d play her piano and she would sing. They had a garage and they didn’t use it for any cars, so my brother and I could rehearse in there- and that never left me.
I picked up the guitar first, but I was so young, so I was pretty small. They suggested for me to play piano at first because my hands were so small. I picked up guitar and played that for years, playing in different clubs and bars – and my brother was doing a Bon Jovi tribute band, and the bass player left and he asked me if I wanted to play bass. I said sure, why not- how hard could it be to play bass in Bon Jovi? Once I picked up the bass I just loved it, I never stopped playing bass. I still play guitar once in a while.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you ever take any formal training, or is everything that you are able to do you picked up from ear?
Parkes: On guitar I had training and teachers. On bass I picked things up by ear- but I took special care in making sure that I play bass like a bass player, not a guitar player trying to play the bass. I tried to really learn a lot of the nuances.
Dead Rhetoric: Who do you think some of your early influences were as far as your outlook on the bass?
Parkes: I never really looked at bass players, I always looked at guitar players, Yngwie Malmsteen. Once I picked up the bass, the instrument itself was the inspiration. The beat, the rhythm, it’s just so different than playing the guitar. Of course, the chords are the same, a G is a G, or a C is a C- it was very different in the aspect of the rhythm component of playing, as opposed the guitar part of it, the notes themselves. I just really got into that, and of course you hear certain bass players that are great, Billy Sheehan, Geddy Lee. Singing as well I found way more difficult on the bass as compared to the guitar- because on the guitar you can stop playing for a second, but on the bass you cannot stop (laughs). It’s like rule number one- if you stop, everyone looks back at you and thinks, ‘what happened?’.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest album Temple of Lies seems to encapsulate a wide variety of melodic hard rock and metal styles from song to song. How do you feel the recording and songwriting sessions went, and were there any surprises or challenges that the band had to work through?
Parkes: It was really cool. These last two albums for Bonfire have been my first attempts at lyrics. I never had written lyrics before because I was never the main lead vocalist, so I never wrote lyrics before. Being in a German band, we had a singer who was American (David Reece) prior to the German singer we have now on the last two albums. When he left, they wondered who was going to write English lyrics. They asked me to try, and all of a sudden it just came together and worked. So now I am the lyricist by default.
All the sessions went very cool- I’ve been working with (guitarist) Hans (Zimmer) for a few years now, and Frank (Pané) also. I think we have started to develop our own sound as this lineup of Bonfire- of course, Bonfire has been around since the 1980’s. But this configuration is a really great unit, we are all really solid together, the writing comes easily and even playing together- any circumstance we just kind of handle it.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think your newest vocalist Alexx Stahl brings to the table in terms of his delivery and abilities in comparison to previous Bonfire singers?
Parkes: It’s great. Alexx has a super powerful voice. I was lucky enough to see Bonfire previously, and I was in the last incarnation of Bonfire prior to this one so I see that Alexx has so much power. He’s got a great personality, he’s a really great guy, and he’s a team player. Everything about him is great.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to you writing the lyrics, have there been times where you’ve had to help him with pronunciation due to a German singer/accent trying to convey English lyrics?
Parkes: Yes. We had to do that- of course Alexx can sing quite well on his own. We wanted to make sure there wasn’t a lot of accent, because German speakers tend to sing on R’s, and in America or with someone from the UK, you don’t really sing the R’s. It’s strange, but if you listen to it, you’ll notice it. You don’t really accentuate the R’s, compared to the way a lot of other languages do. Little things like that, certain words- but I sat there, and we helped put the melodies together. He just took it from there and went with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it ironic that the band for this album finally came up with a song called “Bonfire” this deep into your career?
Parkes: (laughs). Yes. It’s funny. It didn’t originally say “Bonfire”, it just said something else. Hans is like, ‘can I say Bonfire?’. Yes, it does make sense. So we decided that we had to do this. That’s the way we did it- as you said we’ve never had a song that has been called “Bonfire”. So that’s what happened.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me about the video for “Stand Or Fall”? Was this the obvious song to do a video for, and how do you feel the shoot went?
Parkes: Actually, no. I thought we were going to do another song off the album “On the Wings of an Angel”. I thought it was a really cool song, it’s got a great hook, and I love everything about it. But we do have this heavy edge now that we started with Byte the Bullet and has a little more of a heavier edge, Alexx also comes from a bit more of a heavier background. I like heavy music too- when we did the heavier songs like “Stand or Fall” and “Temple of Lies”, the record label really liked them and wanted to do those videos. So they choose “Stand or Fall” – and that was the first video.
We went local here in Germany, and filmed that in February or March. In Augsburg, we have a friend that knows of a bonfire train, that’s where we filmed the video in a train yard in the snow. It was really cool.
Dead Rhetoric: You are now a part of the AFM Records roster – do you believe this will improve Bonfire’s status not just across mainland Europe where you’ve always had a stronghold in terms of fans, but also solidify more appeal in North America?
Parkes: Yes, we’d really love to have more of an appeal in North America, and really have more of a reach there. Bonfire is already established in Europe, so at first it’s like- why go anywhere else? We have everything that we need here, we have a fanbase and a reputation and the band has been around for so many years. There was a time in the 1980’s where Bonfire was signed to a US label, and they recorded an album in California, but it just never took off like it always worked over here. Bonfire was as big as the Scorpions and Accept here in Europe, and they both went to the US and made something more, but Bonfire just never caught on in the US.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance out satisfying your creative output album to album while also developing material that you know the fanbase will appreciate?
Parkes: Yeah, that’s a funny question, because it’s actually comes out naturally. Hans was always the main songwriter in Bonfire, and he still is. He’s the producer as well. Everybody comes up with riffs – we still get to do whatever we want, but it’s not going to all of a sudden be “Mr. Roboto”. We will be doing a play in 2019 – there’s a musical that we will be doing in Ingolstadt, in a state theater. It will be with Bonfire, but we aren’t really going to be concentrating on making it sound like Bonfire- it’s more like we have to fit this play. That’s where the creativeness comes in- even trying to make a certain sound that we have, it’s still creative trying to figure out how to do it. There’s no formula to say this is how you do it and it’s going to come out sounding exactly like this. It just kind of happens.
Dead Rhetoric: Were you a fan of Bonfire during their late 80’s major label heydays? And is a challenge to develop a solid set list given the long history of the band?
Parkes: I wasn’t as familiar with Bonfire in the 1980’s. I found them later in the late 90’s, and heard some of their stuff and liked it. Now it’s cool and great to be in the band. It’s really hard, we constantly have problems determining a set list because there are so many good songs. Bonfire has fifteen or more albums, and there are some songs that we definitely need to play. And then when we make something new, and we have to play that. What do you take out? I can only imagine how a band like Bon Jovi must be. You have to play “Wanted Dead or Alive”- so we have the same thing. We have to play “You Make Me Feel”, “American Nights”, songs like that. It becomes really difficult to try to squeeze them all in.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see your role within the band? And how do you describe the personalities of the other members of Bonfire and what they bring to the table to make everything so special?
Parkes: I’m more than just a bass player- I write the lyrics. We are all together, and I do all kinds of promotion for the band- I make videos, I come up with different ideas. Everybody has their little roles they play in the band, but we all get along really well. That makes everything really easy.
Dead Rhetoric: Has your viewpoint on the hard rock/metal scene changed from your early years to today? What’s most important for you to achieve as far as that work/life/music balance?
Parkes: The music scene is definitely different. As you get older, I find it harder- when I was younger, this came out and you would listen to a sound and be like, ‘we need to be more like that.’ Now, we just do what we do- we don’t worry about trying to sound a certain way or do this or that. Heavy music back then in the 1980’s was Pantera, Metallica- now heavy music in the 1990’s was Korn, and you now have death metal. They even have different names for all the different types of metal. At some point I don’t know if you can say that you can be the fastest player, or heaviest – and I’m not sure that’s as important as what comes out from inside that makes a great song. It’s all about the songs.
It’s hard being away from home. I live in New Jersey but I come here to Germany and I stay here for such long periods of time. That’s hard- the best work/life balance for me would be if I could bring my family here eventually. Or bring the band to the US and live there (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: When you mention not having to worry about establishing your own style anymore and staying away from trends, do you think the explosion of the internet helped establish more open-mindedness for the genres?
Parkes: The part that I do like is it gives everyone access. What I don’t like about the internet is that anybody can really hurt you, if they don’t like you but they don’t even know why they don’t like you. They can write on your page, just like a store. If you don’t like the color of the store on the outside, you can go on Yelp and give them the worst review ever – and this guy works his whole life to build this business and his store and you can go destroy that in five minutes. Because anybody can say anything, and you have just as much power as someone like yourself who works to do a review, interviews. Somebody can make a comment on Facebook, and it has almost as much weight.
Why do people go onto a YouTube video, and write about how much they hate it? What’s the purpose of that? If I don’t like something, I don’t listen to it anymore. Or don’t buy it. People need to get some respect, to me it’s just stupid.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a personal preference as far as the studio versus the stage when it comes to your activities as a musician?
Parkes: I like both equally as well. They are two different things. They both have their pluses. To be in the studio, that’s when the real creativity kicks into gear. Let me try this, and sometimes something just happens like it’s magic. That stuff also happens on the stage- the magic- but there’s not so much creativity because you aren’t improvising as much. It’s more in line with a rehearsed performance. The stage is great- they are both great.
Dead Rhetoric: What is Bonfire like live? Do you try to play the music as precisely as possible, and include backing tracks?
Parkes: We use backing tracks for background vocals and keyboards- it just adds to the experience. If two guys are singing and one guy doesn’t get to the mic, when you are in Germany you hear a lot of bands that use a lot of sampling. To compete with that, you can’t go up there and sound like a small band- it makes the sound so much bigger. And it’s actually difficult to play live with backing tracks- without the backing tracks you have total freedom, and anybody can make any kind of mistake. You can go in any direction you want- with backing tracks, you are kind of locked in, so nobody can make a mistake.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a musician over the years? And when people ask you for advice, what are some thoughts or areas you have them consider?
Parkes: Rethink the music business! (laughs). There’s not really any advice that I could give to anyone, other than if you really want to do something, just stick with it. Eventually if you try hard enough, you will get it. At least in some fashion. Here I am at 51 still playing music- I’ve played so many countries, I have played everywhere and it’s amazing to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the differences in support of hard rock/heavy metal in other countries versus the United States?
Parkes: If somebody likes a certain band, they stick to them for a long time over here in Europe. Melodic rock is more prevalent and accepted. In the United States it’s viewed as a rehash. It may have to do with the age of the average listener- the radio stations and record companies in the US try to dictate what is cool. That unfortunately changes the dynamic so that’s what people end up hearing. Gene Simmons said, ‘people don’t know what they like, they like what they know’. Over in Europe, people go out to shows all the time- there seems to be a festival every weekend, and they will drive hundreds of miles to see these bands. People in the US don’t do that as much.
Dead Rhetoric: I know you are also involved with Seven Witches- is there anything coming in the pipeline for shows or a new record?
Parkes: Jack (Frost) and I had talked about this. We discussed maybe starting to write something- everything is on the hold. It’s not like it fell apart, we chose that right now isn’t the right time to do something. We are taking a hiatus. I’ve done two albums with Seven Witches, Jack is a brilliant writer and a good guy.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda over the rest of 2018 into early 2019 for Bonfire and any of your other activities?
Parkes: We have a tour starting in April – a run of dates in Europe, and we are playing Wacken in August. And then in September we are doing something called Bonfire and friends- it’s going to be a twenty-date tour and different singers joining Bonfire as the backup band. We will have Phil Mogg, Joe Lynn Turner, Bobby Kimball, Jonny Gioeli. And then in 2019 we will do the musical. Bonfire has done something like that in the past, so this will be cool. An old folk-tale from Germany about a great warrior that takes in dragon’s blood and becomes invincible. It’s a cool story – we are writing music for that and will be performing music in the play. I’m not exactly sure how it will work. There’s talk of when we do write music for it, we may release an album for it- and a DVD of the play when it actually happens. We signed the contracts, so it’s definitely happening.