Enlightening words with Fireball Ministry
By Naughty Mickie 

The musicianship on their albums, "Ou Est La Rock" (Bong Load Records, 1999), "FMEP" (Small Stone Records, 2001) and "The Second Great Awakening" (Nuclear Blast Records, 2003), is refreshing, while their look is rock-hard tough. Fireball Ministry is a mix of elements, from their members, vocalist/guistarist James Rota, guitarist Emily Burton, bassist Janis Tanaka and drummer John Oreshnick, to their sound, often called "stoner rock." Yet they shine all the more.

Rota and I exchanged thoughts and words over the telephone lines from somewhere out on the road.

"We started in 1998," Rota begins. "Emily and I were living in New York and we decided that to start writing some songs together and we made a demo and moved out to L.A. There wasn't too much going on in New York. When we got out there we decided to shop the demo around while we were looking for people to play with, but in the process of doing so Bong Load Records called us. They're the label that put out the first Fu Manchu records and we were looking for a label that was geared more to independent rock.

"They called us for a meeting in their offices and we went down for the meeting and met with the owner and the general manager." Rota continues, "Their first question was could they come see us live and we said it was just the both of us, it was nothing really that they could come see. They were like, 'That's cool, we can still do the record. You guys can to put a band together while you're recording it.' That worked out really well. Then we met up with John, our drummer, who was actually the general manager of Bong Load at the time. We put out our first record and a few years later Janis came along."

Rota came from a music-loving family.

"My folks are really pretty big into music. They were always listening to music and they always listened to really good stuff. Kiss didn't help matters any. When I started getting into Kiss when I was younger, that whole being able to be a comic book hero for my job didn't seem like such a bad idea," Rota laughs.

"My mom made me play violin from the time I was seven years old for a long time," Rota goes on. "Then I've picked up a bunch of different things. This is actually the first band I've been the guitar player in so to speak. I was mainly a drummer."

Rota didn't sing very often either before forming Fireball Ministry.  He studied video editing at the University of Cincinnati and is a video editor when he's not rocking. Rota has also paid his way doing graphics for television and editing for commercials.

When he's not making music, Rota reads comic books, watches movies and rides a Yamaha V-Star 1100, which he chose because "I don't have a dentist's salary and I want to actually ride the thing, not fix it."

"I not really all the exciting," Rota quips.

The members of Fireball Ministry are spread across Southern California, from Los Angeles to Burbank and Long Beach.

I ask Rota about FM being pegged as "stoner rock."

"I just think that a band like ours 20 years ago wouldn't have been called that, we would have just been called a rock band, but nowadays it seems that when bands come out they belong to some sort of club," Rota replies. "You have to put every band it their own little club. You've got the sad rock club, then you've got the jock guy club, the jock metal club and all that stuff. When we hit the scene we didn't really fit in anywhere because we're pretty straight forward and I think that that is the first place that everybody thought they could put us, but I don't necessarily think we're anything more than a straight-forward hard rock band."

OK, so what about that funky name?

"We were living in Cincinnati and there was this public access preacher show on, it used to be on every day, called "Fireball Ministry,'" Rota recalls. "There was this preacher lady who would come on and scream at the top of her lungs fire and brimstone. It always struck us as weird that this woman would call her ministry the 'Fireball Ministry' because it sounded so satanic. When we watched that show we thought that would be a much better band name than a ministry. So when we started putting the band together that was the name we picked."

Rota writes most of the lyrics for the songs, although the band works together on their material.

"It's pretty much a collaborative effort. We get together in a room and throw ideas around and put those ideas together into different things and chop up pieces here and add pieces there and by the end of the day there's some songs written," Rota says.

Since FM is playing a variety of venues, I am curious as to Rota's take on the scene.

"I think that it's really segmented." Rota explains, "I think that if a kid wears eyeliner and has a mohawk, then you're going to listen to one kind of music. If you're the kind of kid that wears a baseball hat and sports are your thing, then you'll listen to another kind of music. I think it's just silly that bands start playing music so they can belong to a scene as opposed to being a band who plays the best music and the music that's most true to their heart that they possibly can. I think that there's a lot of people that are in it for a lot of the wrong reasons. But then again, it's just my opinion.

"For us, there's no real scene for us," Rota adds. "We're just a band that writes songs that mean something to us and we go out and play them for people and hope people will like it."

The Internet has definitely helped FM with their promotional efforts, but Rota feels that downloading has hurt the music industry and that someone needs to figure out how to change things. It's not hurting big bands, like Metallica, or bigger labels, so much as it's hurting the smaller bands like FM.

By this time, FM has completed touring and is preparing to go into the studio with a goal of a new record to be released by spring.

"We're itching to get in the studio to write new material," says Rota, noting that they already have some ideas toward the next album.

I would be slighting FM fans if I failed to ask Rota about the accident while on tour. On the way to Hartford, Connecticut in September the band's touring van hit a deer. Unfortunately, the deer died, but the musicians were fine.

"Everything was cool. It was more of a scare and financial burden more than anything else," Rota remarks "The most important thing that we'd like to get across is that the music that we play is about having a good time and we're not out there trying to tell people what to do or complain about our lives or anything like that. I think that anybody that writes music about the sadness in their lives and their problems is a little bit egotistical. We're not very self-absorbed people, we just want to come to your town and turn on our amps and fire everything up and have a good time," Rota chuckles.

FINAL NOTE: After this interview, I had the pleasure of catching Fireball Ministry at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Their performance was powerful and energetic, a must-see to add to your concert list. Rota stood by his words-- no "I'm a rock star worship me" airs, just honest charm, a few words of wisdom and a great sense of humor.

Find out what Fireball Ministry is up to at www.fireballministry.com

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