Munroe’s Thunder – Darkness, Betrayal, and BraverySunday, 23rd October 2022
Back in 2014 this writer had the great opportunity to speak with ex-Metal Church vocalist Ronny Munroe about his latest solo album at the time, Electric Wake. Years in the making, we find the opportunity again to convene through Zoom to discuss this latest band, Munroe’s Thunder and the debut album The Black Watch. A conceptual record loosely based on Ronny’s family heritage dating back to the 1400’s-1500’s in Scotland, he surrounded himself with stellar musicians and songwriting compatriots to achieve a fine power/traditional metal outing in his noted wheelhouse. Prepare to learn more about the ideas behind the record, the special elements surrounding the cover art, how he gained the opportunity to now be the vocalist of Vicious Rumors, learning lessons from his late wife who passed away from cancer, memories relating to his many decades in the business, and insight into numerous future recordings down the line.
Dead Rhetoric: The Black Watch is the debut album from Munroe’s Thunder – and a concept record loosely based on your family heritage. What are your thoughts regarding the songwriting and recording sessions – plus your own research you conducted lyrically for this effort? What insights did you gain that you previously were unaware of regarding your heritage?
Ronnie Munroe: Well, most of everything I wrote about, to be honest. We all know about Braveheart and all that kind of stuff, it’s cool to think that some of my ancestors were riding around back in that time. I have never done a concept record. When I talked to my manager at the time, J. Von, she asked me what I would like to do. I said a concept record, and something about my family heritage. I knew tidbits, but once I said yes, I committed myself – and it was hours and hours and hours of research. That’s why it is loosely based, because this is from the 1400’s and 1500’s – there is a lot of hearsay, what have you’s and what not’s, ins and outs. It was really cool getting into that. I found out a lot of different stuff. I’m really happy with the results.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it challenge to figure out how to match the music with the lyrical content at times? Or were you working hand in hand with the music for both aspects?
Munroe: David Mark Pearce, and this guy needs a huge shout out – he did amazing work on this whole thing. He wrote the majority of the music, almost all the songs except for the song “The Black Watch” which Justin Zych first presented, and then they collaborated together on that. David knew the concept, and he did his own research. He was very hands on, I’ll say. It was cool for me to see him that excited to get into that. It shows in the record. As far as when he sends me the music, he’d already have those thoughts in play – it was easier for me because I’ve been a lyricist for so many years, it’s second hand to me. I wouldn’t say I was extra careful, because I tend to be extra careful in everything I do. That’s my name, I don’t want somebody reading this twenty years later thinking, ‘what the hell was he trying to say?’. It needs to make sense at least to me, and hopefully to everybody else.
It was easy for me to write along to the music that was presented to me. In general, it was a long process. A long, drawn-out story about the whole thing. It was almost over six years in the making. I am thankful it’s done, it’s going to come out, and so far from what I’ve heard people are really liking it.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art concept come about – and where do you see the importance of cover art in setting the tone of what people can expect when pressing play on the music compared to say the 70, 80’s and 90’s – when many times fans didn’t necessarily have more than one single to preview for the records?
Munroe: First off, I love the cover artwork. It has a dragon on it, and that lends itself to something else. Instead of just sticking to the Scottish theme of the record, but also because it’s back in those days. I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings and all that kind of stuff, I’ve been a fan of that since I was a kid. Especially the banner – there are things I can’t say, but my actual Munroe coat of arms is in that banner. That’s pretty cool to me to have that and get the permission to do it. That also keeps the Munroe legacy going in a different way, there is a castle with remnants still standing there in Scotland that I’ve not yet to visit – but this spring and summer upcoming I’ll be there with Vicious Rumors, so I will make it a point to get over there and visit that.
I don’t know if it’s changed much at all. You are representing the record, but I don’t think I’ve ever really gone for one thing to represent a song or theme. I’ve always had different people present things to me. The castle thing had to be there, but there are the ruins which speaks to the Thirty Years War. I go for what I think is the best-looking album cover, that’s really it. The stuff I like, most metalheads like. I am a born and raised metalhead.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see Munroe’s Thunder sitting in terms of your established discography over the years? Did you know right away you wanted to go in a melodic power metal direction based on the musicians you’ve assembled and your comfort level vocally for the style?
Munroe: Well, we did. I’m known for metal, melodic rock. I did a couple of records with Vanderhoof and Presto Ballet, a progressive rock band. We had a set kind of thing, but with a twist. I am always about throw whatever you have at me. There wasn’t just one thing where I said, it’s got to be this way. I just said what have you got – you know what the theme is, you know what I am trying to go for, send me what you come up with. I don’t think there was more than two or three ideas that didn’t make the record. Because everything was strong right from the start. The musicians on this thing were incredible – BJ Zampa on drums, Oliver Wakeman, David’s good friend, on keyboards. That was pretty cool in itself.
Dead Rhetoric: Earlier this summer it was announced that you are the new lead singer for Vicious Rumors – how did this opportunity take place, and will it be a balancing act to work for VR plus continue your own original activities for Munroe’s Thunder?
Munroe: I don’t think it’s going to be a balancing act. I was asked, and it’s been a long-time coming. Geoff, Larry, and I had talked back in 2009 when Metal Church first broke up with me. We talked about it, and it didn’t happen – but now it has. Come on, “Don’t Wait for Me”, “Abandoned”, “Ship of Fools” – all those things I saw on Headbangers Ball, didn’t know who they were and when I did, I got the Vicious Rumors self-titled record then Welcome to the Ball, and then I went back to Digital Dictator and Soldiers of the Night. Great guys, Geoff Thorpe is a phenomenal musician, and a great writer. He’s been going at this forever, and Larry on the drum kit – come on. He’s one of the best drummers in my opinion going. The songs – I used to sing those driving around all the time. It’s going to be really fun.
After all this time off, I did take a few years off. I couldn’t even ask for a better start. It’s complete power metal, it’s going to be good. I’m stoked.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve studied voice techniques under the tutelage of David Kyle, who has worked with some big names like Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Geoff Tate, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley and the late Mike Howe among others. Can you tell us how his work impacts your voice and the things that you are able to do – and what makes him an ideal coach that has brought out the best in you (and others)?
Munroe: Unfortunately, the maestro, he passed away many years ago. I was one of the fortunate ones, I did only take the initial six lessons. And it was many years after I’d already been singing, I really wanted to work on my breath control. Other than that, it was just an experience to be in the same room with him. David Kyle was a phenomenal teacher and a great human being. He’s very funny, he was always positive, he always would pump you up and wanted you to be the best that you could be – and that’s all you could ever want from any teacher. I was very blessed. I do still utilize to this day what he taught me about breath control, and it became old hat. Once you’ve trained yourself so much, I call it the switch is always on.
Dead Rhetoric: Sadly, you lost your former wife J Von Hughes Monroe in June 2019 due to stage 3 ovarian cancer. How did you personally handle the overall situation and come out of this as a tribute to her life through this album? Were there times where you wondered if you would ever get back to music at all?
Munroe: Well, I never had a doubt that I would get back to music. That’s always been something that’s always been in me. Going through that, I can only imagine what it was (like) for her, or for anybody else that goes through cancer, or any disease for that matter. For me, as her caretaker because I was there 24/7 the whole time – she fought on and soldiered on for almost three years. She was a very strong person. I learned a lot from that, to be honest. I have the utmost respect for J Von to handle things the way that she did. I can only hope that one day god forbid we all get sick, and that I can handle it as gracefully as she did.
This record is a tribute to her. As we talked, and the time drew near for her to leave this world, she asked me to promise her a few things. And one of them was making sure this record got put out. RFL as the record label, we had initially talked to them years ago. Things changed, she got sick – but a few months ago I approached Jon, and we struck a deal. That’s why RFL is releasing this, and I couldn’t be happier with the progress that we are making. The reviews are good, the interviews have started now.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at your long career in music, what are some of the special or standout moments that will forever remain in your memory banks? Either specific albums, tours, festival appearances, or other situations where you knew you were making an impact with your work?
Munroe: Making an impact with my work. Anytime you have the crowd singing back to you, the words. Even if you watch the Wacken video with the crowd singing “Gods of Wrath” – it’s one of the most viewed videos that I have been a part of with Metal Church. I didn’t write that, but it makes the hair stand up. I’m a fan, number one, of music in general. I grew up with all the 70’s stuff, I learned, and still to this day I’m putting on Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, and hoping for the next hip band that will take over. As much as people dig on Greta Van Fleet being Zeppelin, I love those guys. I think they are really good.
Dead Rhetoric: As much as people love the old, reliable, veteran bands, we need a lot of newer artists to keep the movement alive and thriving…
Munroe: Yes. (laughs). When you are a kid, you dream about being something. Whether it be a lawyer, a fireman, a police officer, a drug dealer – hopefully not. Or a rock star. Or a professional musician. And that’s what I always wanted. From one year old, I was beating on pots and pans, my sister has a couple of photos of that. A long time ago. I’m one of the lucky ones. I was able to accomplish things and actually make money doing this, not a lot of money – but enough to where I may have to work a separate job here or there to make ends meet, but when I leave on tour – that’s what I’m doing to make money. I’m blessed, graced, to have another chance with Munroe’s Thunder, Vicious Rumors, and I have a couple of other projects that are in the pipeline.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are the biggest lessons you’ve learned now that you are in your mid-50’s regarding the music business that maybe you wish you had more insight on say during your twenties and thirties?
Munroe: Well, I wish I would have studied more about the music industry and educated myself more. But I didn’t. I was along for the ride, I was too enthralled with writing lyrics, performing, and all that came with it at a younger age. As I got older, priorities changed. You stop the partying side of it, because we are not 25 anymore. You can’t party all night and get up to perform after an hour’s sleep and function. You have to take care of yourself. Just keep doing what you are doing. That’s my advice for the younger kids as well. Have a backup plan. I’m not trying to be discouraging but get your education – practice your ass off. Because it doesn’t happen for everyone. There are a million singers out there that are better than me – I just happened to get lucky, being in the right place at the right time with a lot of things I’ve done. Keep practicing but have some kind of back up plan for the future.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you handle when failures, missteps, and setbacks happen to you personally or in things regarding your music career? Can you think of any specific times when a failure may have set you up down the line for a future success?
Munroe: (laughs). I’ve submitted things before to bigger bands and gotten the letter back where they say thank you, but you are not what we are looking for. I think we all have, especially everyone who strives for something bigger and better. That’s something I’ve never been afraid of, which is refusal. I’m confident in my ability. Am I the right fit for everything? No. But am I going to put something out there and try? Yeah. That’s the way I have always rolled. Let the chips fall where they may, and again – when you get knocked down, I write a song about it. When you are knocked down, if you don’t get back up – kind of like what you mentioned about my late wife, I had two choices. I could lie on the couch and suck my thumb, woe is me – or put my best foot forward and soldier on. It’s what she would have wanted me to do, and everyone else I know. It’s what I did. It took me a while – don’t get me wrong. You struggle. That’s a heavy thing to go through. Get up and kick some ass, don’t let it take you down.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for all activities related to Ronny Munroe over the next twelve months as far as records, shows, tours, etc. that we can look forward to?
Munroe: I have a few things going on. Vicious Rumors, we will start doing something around March of next year, from what I’ve been told. And then of course spring/summer we will be over for the festivals in Europe. Munroe’s Thunder – we will focus on that right now. As soon as we perform on my own, we will be adding a couple of songs from that album to the set. I am in the works with putting a couple of different bands together just to perform that stuff and other things from my catalog. I have something going on in Stuttgart, Germany with some friends of mine, I will go over there in December for a couple of weeks to record that album. And I am working with a gentleman that is a WWE wrestler who has a band. Things are busy, and I’m getting married October 22nd, I’m happy about that. It’s been a long time, being lucky at times, I found a very good woman. She supports me 110%. I try to be a good guy too (laughs).