Bonfire – Hand over FistThursday, 7th May 2020
German precision has elevated the country’s hard rock and metal output ever since the 1970’s. There’s something to be admired and studied regarding bands like The Scorpions, Accept, Kreator on through to Rammstein when it comes to perseverance, work ethic, and pivots made to break out of their domestic scene into the heads and hearts of international audiences. Making their impact since the mid 1980’s, Bonfire is another act well-established for their melodic hard rock / metal discography and live shows. Their latest album Fistful of Fire continues to straddle those two genres – a record that contains the ideal variety as well as front to back listening that can stand up well to those early days, just taking the opportunity to sound rich and full through today’s production advancements.
We reached out to bassist Ronnie Parkes while on lockdown in New Jersey, and he was happy to bring us up to speed on the new record, the band chemistry and responsibilities he has taken on – as well as a fair amount of discussion on the melodic hard rock/metal movement and what may be on the horizon for touring / promotional situations.
Dead Rhetoric: Fistful of Fire is the new Bonfire album – a dynamic effort filled with a solid mix of melodic hard rock and metal tracks. How did the band approach this record in relation to the last studio album Temple of Lies – and do you believe the work on the double album of covers Legends also played a factor into some of the influences and songwriting this go around?
Ronnie Parkes: I don’t think the Legends album influenced this album at all. I would say Temple of Lies did, certainly. We (have) our style now, and maybe we wanted to make things just a little (heavier), and a little better than the last one. That was the intention, to make this the best album that we could, make something better than we did the last time that’s awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: André Hilgers is the new Bonfire drummer – what do you believe he brings to the table considering his seasoning with bands like Rage, Herman Frank, and Silent Force among others?
Parkes: André is a great drummer, I really like him as a person and a drummer. He’s very professional in what he is doing, he doesn’t make mistakes. He brings a lot to the table. He has a certain style with his fills and different things that he does. He is awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: How long does the process take from the initial songwriting development to the studio work and reaching the final product?
Parkes: I would say from the initial demo development of the songs until the final product, the timeframe is about three months. Maybe a month and half to two months is actually the writing process. We are still changing things. Once we get into the studio, then it really goes from there. That usually takes only about a month, sometimes even a little bit less. I think André did all the drums in two days. The recording process goes by pretty quick because everybody is seasoned and we can nail things very fast. We’ve been recording at the same (studio) in Germany, and we have it down to science now.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you end up creating and writing more material than what ends up on the record?
Parkes: In the writing process when we are submitting the songs, Hans will take the submissions from everyone in the band. We usually end up having too many songs, so we end up chopping them down. Once we have the set songs we are going to use, that doesn’t change and we keep going through the writing process with those songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Hans as the founder/guitarist of Bonfire seems to have a lot of trust and faith in this current lineup when it comes to their responsibilities, performances, and songwriting abilities. How would you describe the chemistry in the band currently, and do you think that’s why some of the best output has been through these recent records because of that trust and understanding of each other?
Parkes: Yes, I really do. We are kind of like a family, and we all get along with each other really well. Inside working, and outside just hanging around together. He does trust us, and he knows we can do this. If we ever showed that we couldn’t do the work, we probably wouldn’t be here. He trusts in the band, and he’s happy with everyone in the band, and everyone else is happy with each other. It’s a really good unit right now.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any specific challenges or surprises that came up with the new record?
Parkes: Not really. The biggest surprises have been for this tour, right now. We were supposed to be on tour, but because of all the stuff going on, it’s not happening. It got moved to September at the moment. I was also supposed to be moving to Ireland, and I don’t know if that’s happening. We were sailing along just nice, and all of a sudden the wind just stopped (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve released two videos so far for the new record in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivors” and “The Devil Made Me Do It” – what can you tell us about the video shoots, and where do you see the importance of the visual medium in 2020 with all these social media platforms compared to the days of Headbangers Ball in the 80’s and 90’s?
Parkes: The videos back in the 80’s and 90’s had a lot more influence than they do now. Anybody can put out any kind of video of any quality. Back then, it was a certain level of quality and videos weren’t as readily available as they are today. I do think the videos do make a difference, and they are worth making – but I don’t think it has as much value as it used to have in the 80’s.
As far as the recording of the video, we decided with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivors” we’ve been around since 1986. The idea was about both the band being rock and roll survivors, and also that music is the type of thing that brings everybody together. One person all by yourself, and another person can get together and the music is that bond that creates your own little family. When you go to a festival or a cruise ship, the same people end up going all the time because they love the music, it’s a family which is a really cool thing.
Dead Rhetoric: You also had some female boxers in the video, tell us how this came about?
Parkes: The whole idea… Hans decided he wanted to make the video in a boxing ring. We (knew) Tina the boxer from a previous tour. We knew she had a gym and she must know where to box, she’s a World Champion boxer. We gave her call, she told us she had a fitness studio and also a boxing ring to use, and she was willing to be in the video. We said great, a three-time World Champion boxer, let’s do this. She is so great. She took a lot of real punches in that video. You know how when you make a video, you have to do things two or three times from different angles. She got punched in the face quite a few times to make that video.
Dead Rhetoric: Obviously any sort of immediate touring plans have to be pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic – what are you trying to do in this downtime, and how do you think the scene will be for live shows when we get the all clear?
Parkes: I’m hoping that it’ll go back to the old days of the 70’s and 80’s when clubs were packed every single night because people were out all the time. I’m hoping that from everybody being in their houses they are going to want to go out, when things do get back to normal. You’ll see crowded clubs, bars, restaurants, festivals, and movies. People are going to enjoy being out.
Right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We were supposed to tour in April, and I was supposed to come back to the US and move to Ireland, and go back on tour to play festivals and shows. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in June or July, it may be done in stages. They may limit things to 500 people to a place – which in that case, you can still play shows. Once it gets really low like 100 people, it’s impossible. Everything that we have right now has been rescheduled for September.
Dead Rhetoric: Why did you choose personally to move to Ireland, especially considering the rest of the band is in Germany?
Parkes: Right now I live in New Jersey. To go from here to Germany all the time, I end up staying there for two months. It’s really difficult, so I was very interested. I’m married, my wife has to come, and she needs to work as well. It would be really hard for her to learn and speak German, to start working. It’s a good language, but it takes a little bit of time. She has an Irish passport, she’s an Irish citizen, has family there and they speak English. I asked the band if it’s okay if I move to Ireland – as it’s a two-hour flight as opposed to a seven hour flight from New Jersey. The flights are much cheaper from Ireland to Germany. Now they are stopped.
Dead Rhetoric: What are three of your favorite albums in the hard rock/metal landscape that helped shape your outlook and viewpoints on the scene – and who do you believe is an underrated band that more people need to look into and investigate?
Parkes: That’s some good questions man. Three albums… okay. Deep Purple – Burn, Kiss – Alive, and the third one. Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast! I did it! (laughs). Underrated band. Wow that’s pretty tough. There’s a band from Germany called The New Roses, excellent band. I was impressed with their songwriting, their fairly new. It’s definitely worth people checking them out.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you say the fan feedback has been to Bonfire live over the past few years? Do you try your best to take into considering the criticisms they may level at the group as well as the praise?
Parkes: Yeah. That’s always tough because we dealt with the same thing that Van Halen had to deal with when Sammy Hagar came into the band. You have a new singer, the band is not the band without the original singer. It has been like that, sometimes it hurts and sometimes you think that it’s unfair. You don’t like what you are hearing now? People don’t understand that this is your life. This is how I make a living, when people go on the internet and they have these feelings of superiority, it’s like me writing something bad on somebody’s work performance? Why would I do that? I guess I can’t expect that people will realize that.
The shows have been really good, people have been pretty accepting of Alexx. Alexx is definitely the frontman, he’s a great singer and he has great stage presence. It works, and everybody is pretty happy. Some people aren’t open to something though if it’s not what they already know.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you still spend time honing Alexx’s English pronunciation when it comes to the material – as we talked about that in a previous talk?
Parkes: It happens from time to time, but it’s happening a lot less. He’s really a great singer, but I can’t say anything bad. He’s very open with me correcting him about that type of thing, because it’s not anything about his singing. Sometimes with foreign singers, they can be different about the ‘r’ and the ‘w’ as a ‘v’ – and sometimes he does this without realizing it. He has a good handle on it and is much better about this than before.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you also surprised that Hans allows you to handle the majority of the lyrics for Bonfire?
Parkes: No, I’m not surprised. We tried it out, he thought it was good, and it was well-received when I did it before. Now after a few albums, he let me know this is the way it is from now on! (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: It seems like in other parts of the world, melodic hard rock/metal is well-accepted and supported not just with the veteran artists but also the higher quality newcomers. Why do you think it’s such a struggle to gain acceptance again in the United States – do you believe the imagery and ‘hair metal’ tag killed things forever here?
Parkes: It’s very possible. There is still a melodic rock scene in the US, it’s just not as big as it used to be. It used to be the main source of music – in the 80’s that is the main thing that you would turn on the radio and hear a Poison song, you know? Now, you don’t hear that, you hear more disco and dance. It also has to do with the age. In Europe people go out all the time to see music. At any age – 40, 50, they’ll go see concerts if they still like the band. In the United States, they don’t seem to do that as much. I don’t want to say we are lazier – people don’t want to drive too far, maybe it’s too expensive, people may charge too much money, money hasn’t been so good. A lot of the clubs are closing for rock. People appreciate music over in Europe, it’s more vibrant and alive with that whole thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there any plans in the pipeline for another Seven Witches record – or is that still on the backburner in comparison to your Bonfire activities?
Parkes: That’s a good question actually. I’m not sure what the situation is with Seven Witches. Jack had one show set up with James Rivera back (on vocals)- he did that, I wasn’t available to do that. So with me moving to Ireland, I don’t know if I will continue to do Seven Witches, or what Jack’s plans are for a new record.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the more exciting moments when you think back to your career – either with Bonfire or other acts?
Parkes: I have a lot of high points with Bonfire- beginning with the Wacken festival, we played a really good festival in Bulgaria with Whitesnake. We played a couple of shows in Russia, shows in Greece. I love playing, getting out there and going to new places, especially when the crowd is into it. It could be a small place with 100 people, 200 people, 300 people, or a festival with 30,000 people – and they are all great. There’s no super moment.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Bonfire over the next year?
Parkes: We did have to postpone everything, but it’s back on for September. We plan to start touring again – and we have talks for an acoustic tour. Occasionally when I go over, I’ll stay for a month or two months- and when we have down days, we started to book acoustic shows in small venues. Every one of them sold out, and people really liked it. It’s easy to do, easy to set up. That might happen in the future. I’m also trying to convince Hans to write a book. Hans doesn’t like to talk about certain things, and people have questions. I think it’s a good time, we are still out there playing. Who knows how long you are going to live? Tell the story as people want to hear it.