Do you smell smoke? If so, it’s because FireHouse will torch the stage this March in Toledo, Ohio! I caught up with Bill Leverty, lead guitarist of FireHouse to talk about celebrating 25 years since the band’s debut album, touring and sharing the stage with fellow artists!
Hi Bill! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.
A: Thank YOU for taking the time to chat with ME! It’s my pleasure.
Q: You and the band are currently embarking on your 25th anniversary tour, is that right? Beginning March 18th?
A: Our 25th Anniversary Tour celebrates 25 years since our debut album was released. That album came out on September 11, 1990. So, technically, we’ve been partying to this 25 year jam since September 2015.
Q: For those who may not know, Firehouse has been around since the late 80’s and the band has hardly had a lineup change! That’s quite an accomplishment! Tell me about the current group dynamic.
A: That’s right. We are 3/4 all original. Our bass player, Allen McKenzie (who is an Ohio native) has been with us for over 13 years. We call him “The New Original”! 🙂 Allen is an extremely talented bassist and a remarkable vocalist. He sings all of our super high harmonies. You’d never know that by hearing him talk. His speaking voice is real powerful and deep. He’s got an exceptional range which is exactly what we need in that position. CJ’s lead voice is as strong as ever. He hits every note, every night. Michael Foster, our drummer, is not only one of the greatest rock drummers ever, but he is also a great singer. I think because of the vocal strength of these guys, we are able to reproduce all of our harmonies that are on our studio recordings. I’m really thankful to be in a band with guys who have this much talent.
Q: The band has released eight studio albums. How do you go about creating a setlist from your catalog?
A: Well, depending on how long we get to play, it can be “very easy” or just “easy”. What I mean by that is when we play in a festival situation where we open up, there will be a time limit on how long we get to play. Because of the time restraints, our set list is practically written already, so we play the songs that people know us for.
Our fans wouldn’t let us off the stage if we didn’t play our biggest hits! When we get a headlining show, we can add songs from deeper in our catalog. For example, we just played a private wedding for an extremely successful hotel owner and we rocked for over two hours and played songs that we had never played live before. When it comes to choosing a set list, we don’t argue about it. We just throw out ideas, take a vote and play the way the chips
fall. It’s much more fun that way and everybody gets to have input on what we’re playing.
Q: Do you prefer to introduce new material to audiences live or via radio play?
A: I like both. You can get an idea by the audience’s reaction if a new song is working or not when you play it live, but there’s nothing like having an audience that is already familiar with your music. It feels like they’re playing it with you when they already know it.
Q: Let’s talk Rock the Arena! It will be held at the John F. Savage Arena on March 19 in Toledo, Ohio. This is going to be a full day of music. Are you able to tell me where Firehouse plays in the lineup?
A: I would imagine that we will be on earlier in the show, so I would ask that everyone please get there as soon as you can. You have to get there early just so you can catch the first band. The really cool thing about this gig is that it is indoors in an arena and there are several bands that will be playing. You usually don’t get this kind of gig indoors. Get there early! You will be glad you did!
Q: You are sharing the stage with Trixter and Winger to name a few. Do you enjoy listening to the other bands or does it lend a certain degree of pre-show jitters?
A: I love watching other bands and Trixter and Winger are no exception. Both bands are amazing live. They have great musicianship, vocals and songs. Both bring a different vibe to the stage that I know the audience will get off on. I think watching other bands makes me try harder, especially when I watch how good these guys are. We
all want to sound as good as we possibly can, and having other bands on the bill who sing and play really well gives us that extra kick in the pants.
Q: Speaking of sharing the stage, drummer Michael Foster filled in for Warrant’s Steven Sweet a few years back, right?
A: Yes, our good friend, Steven Sweet, had to have some shoulder surgery and Michael Foster was asked to fill in for a few shows while he recovered. I remember talking to Michael during that time and he was working so hard to learn their songs and arrangements the best he possibly could. He was telling me what a creative drummer Steven is and how unique his playing is. When Michael was filling in, we did a couple of shows where he played his regular job (his gig with FireHouse) and then went right back out there and played with Warrant. I would’ve needed a stretcher to roll me out after all that.
Q: You and Michael Foster are both originally from Richmond, Virginia, right?
A: Yes, he’s from the east end of Richmond, and I’m from the west end. We’ve been playing together since 1984. He is an amazing drummer. You could just watch him play our set and be totally entertained. I honestly don’t know how he does it.
Q: Tell me about your guitars, Bill? What model(s) are you currently playing? Is this the same guitar(s) you started with?
A: I’m playing C.R. Alsip Guitars. They are world-class instruments made in Texas by my friend, Jake Willoughby. Jake had been doing guitar repairs in Kansas for over 25 years and decided to start building them. He was first inspired by Grover Jackson who was the premier builder in the 80’s. Jake also learned so much of what NOT to do by repairing so many guitars over the years. He figured out how to make the ultimate weapon. Check out his guitars at www.CRAlsipGuitars.com.
Q: Do you work closely with your sound engineer and guitar tech when you are doing a soundcheck at a venue like an arena, or does your sound engineer know what you prefer and just go with it?
A: Our sound engineer, Tony Avitar, who also happens to be a native Ohioan, has been with us for over 14 years. He knows what we all want and we’ve gotten to a point with him where we trust him completely. He’s a top shelf sound engineer. I know that every gig, he’s going to make us sound as good as any soundman could.
Q: Would you care to share with us your first concert memory?
A: My first concert was The Doobie Brothers. They opened up with “China Grove” and I thought I was going to pass out because it sounded so awesome. It was an awe inspiring event for me and was literally life changing. I knew that I wanted to make music for a career. I wanted to be in band. I wanted to write songs. I wanted to be a singer. I’ll never forget how well they all sang together.
Q: One last thing, Bill. I notice on FireHouse Music that the band has VIP upgrades available for several upcoming shows including Rock the Arena in Toledo. Are VIP upgrades (in addition to the event ticket purchase) still available for those who might be interested?
A: Yes, and it’s a very cool thing. We can’t always get out front and meet the fans who really want to meet us, so this allows people to come back, hang out for a while, get photos with the band, get their merch signed, etc. We’ve even got a deal where you can get onstage with us and we’ll dedicate a song of your choice to someone you really care about. Everyone who has done it has walked away completely surprised with how much fun they’ve had. You can sign up at our website, FireHouse Music . Just click on VIP Experiences.
Bill, thank you so much for your time! I look forward to Firehouse’s performance at Rock the Arena in Toledo and wish you and the guys all the best on the 25th anniversary tour!
Thank YOU so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. See you soon!!
Writer: Amanda Knight @AmandaJill82
All Photos Credited to: Jason Evans Photography