Interview with Ron Scalzo - vocalist Return to Earth, August 2010


Return to Earth is the amalgamation of the musical talents of three veteran and visionary musicians whose material can't be pigeonholed to one genre or easily classified. You'll hear bits and pieces of their influences and other projects and those bits and pieces come together to form the unique whole. Time for us to ask them a bit more about their second album 'Automata'

Could you please shortly introduce the three members to our readers and tell us what bands they were in before?

Ron Scalzo: Chris Pennie is our drummer - he was a founding member of The Dillinger Escape Plan and is currently behind the kit for Coheed and Cambria.  Brett Aveni plays guitars - he's played in some New Jersey-based bands, including The Substance & Getaway Car.  And I'm Ron Scalzo, vocalist -  I also have my own electro-rock project called Q*Ball with Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal of Guns N' Roses.

I don't know your first album 'Captains of Industry', but did it open doors for you and how were the reactions on that one?

Ron: We put 'Captains of Industry' out on our own, thru my small indie label, Bald Freak Music.  Chris & Brett had some solid songs cooking, they approached me about singing, and we put it all together pretty quickly with the help of Bumblefoot, who mixed & mastered the album.  It sort of came & went quietly - the album was released right around the time Chris started touring with Coheed, so we couldn't really promote it the way we wanted to or play live to support it.  But it obviously got us a little attention from both the public and the music industry.

Metal Blade is one of the bigger labels in the metal scene, how did they get interested in Return to Earth?

Ron: It happened in a flash. Chris sent the album tracks to Brian Slagel and they immediately expressed interest.  Metal Blade are big Chris Pennie fans and we were big Metal Blade fans, so it seemed like a good fit for all involved.

Was the music for your new album 'Automata' already written before signing them?

Ron: Yes, the album was pretty much done when we started negotiating a deal.  I think part of our appeal is that we're very capable of doing things on our own both musically & business-wise - no one has to hold our hands to get things done.  We were prepared to release this one thru Bald Freak, too, but we knew that a label like Metal Blade could help bring us to greater heights, so we went for it.

What is the biggest musical difference between your debut and the new album?

Ron: The new album is just plain heavier and more ambitious.  I think all three of us stepped it up and as a result, challenged each other to match the intensity that the others brought to each song.  Personally, this is the loudest, most intense thing I've ever had the pleasure to sing and scream on.

Who writes the bigger part of the songs, or is it a band kind of thing?

Ron: Chris & Brett are definitely the musical masterminds - they write the bulk of the music together, I contribute with melody lines, lyrics, and harmonies.  Brett writes some lyrics, too.  We all have our roles and the results always seem to be satisfying for all involved.  Bumblefoot mixed 'Automata' and he makes sense of the madness like no one else can.

Any deeper message behind the title 'Automata'.

Ron: 'Automata' is a loose concept album about the struggle between man and machine, about technologys rise against mankind.  A lot of my lyrics are based on personal experiences that I tied into that theme.

There are several musical influences and several styles implemented in the songs, can you tell us by what bands or styles are you influenced most?

Ron: We're all big music fans - rather than one or two big influences, I'd say there are a ton of smaller influences mixed in together.  Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Muse, System of a Down, Faith No More, Bowie, Queen, Ministry, The Mars Volta, Metallica, Slayer.  The list goes on.

Who is responsible for the Faith No More influences?

Ron: I definitely wave the Mike Patton flag high - I try to emulate his scream-and-sing vocal style, and having sung along to Faith No More albums as a teenager, I think I got some good practice in.  Chris is a big fan, too.  I love that FNM are not just a metal band or a rock band or a new wave band.  They defy description, and to an extent, I think we do, too.

Are you aware of the fact that being so variable can be a problem to gain a bigger fan base?

Ron: Yes, but we don't write music with the thought that it will have universal appeal.  We write for ourselves and for each other first.  If we get each other juiced up with a riff or a melody, then we're off & running.  The biggest factor is that the song appeals to all of us as a band first.  The true fans will find us and appreciate us for what we have to offer - truth, passion, intensity, and a kickass drummer.

Personally I think that you make a big chance to become one of the bigger acts. 15 years ago it would probably be possible to make a living out of it, what is your opinion about the  (illegal) download mentality and the very logical side effect that the ticket prices for live performances get so high?

Ron: It's a tough time to be a musician and a great time to be a music fan - it's all at your fingertips nowadays, whether legally or illegally.  We're music fans, too, so we get that things are always changing.  I think the high ticket prices are a response to the fact that there are less outlets for bands to make money nowadays - and not just bands, but venues, promoters, merch companies, booking agents, crews.  It's a Wild West show out there, and the Internet has given us all the impression that music should be free.  I think we're content with a moderate level of success at a time where 'success' isn't easily defined.  To keep making music without breaking our own bank, to put out a quality sounding product, to play live for our core group of passionate fans, to be able to keep playing with all the cool new toys that companies keep putting out.

Anything else you do besides playing in Return to Earth to pay the bills?

Ron: Chris has Coheed, Brett & I have day jobs.  I've worked in the radio industry for most of my adult life - it's always been a secondary passion to making music, so I'm grateful to be doing a lot of things that I love & that I've worked hard to be able to do them all.  I was a college professor for a year, I DJ'ed at clubs in New York & New Jersey for a few years.  Any job that allows me to continue to make music & helps to put bread on my table is a good job.

Are there any touring plans or do you just record songs and that's it?

Ron: We want to play out, with the understanding that Chris' s obligations to Coheed come first.  Chris isn't replaceable on stage.  Whenever we can do it - festivals, an opening slot, a short tour here and there - we will.  And we'll continue to make music together whether we tour or not.

Any expectations for the future and how this record is going to sell?

Ron: We're reasonable about the potential success of this album.  Good press goes a long way, but there are a lot of other X factors - we think songs like "The Replicas" & "You Will Be Replaced" could make a splash on radio, but it's not up to us.  We hope industry folks will have an open mind and we know Metal Blade is working hard to promote us.  We want to get these tracks into video games and films, we want to start working on a new album.  The first step of our plan is complete - the album's out, there's a good buzz, we have a cool video for the title track to promote.  Whatever happens next, we'll be ready for it.

Suppose you are asked to be part of an interesting tour and you must decide which bands are involved, which other 4 would you choose besides yourself?

Ron: That's a loaded question!  There are so many bands I think we'd love to share a stage with - for me, the opportunity to commiserate with the likes of Trent Reznor and Mike Patton would be a dream come true.  Those guys are the Mecca for me.  I'm a big fan of Mastodon & Torche.  Whoever's game - let's do it!

Anything else you want to share with our readers?

Ron: From running my own label, I've noticed that the passion for metal and for music is really strong overseas - in Europe and Asia, especially.  I would really love to get out there and see the world, to see that passion firsthand.  It seems to me that here in the States, a lot of kids turn their noses up to new music, that they don't share the same level of passion.  We hope your readers give us a chance and recognize what we stand for - we're just three guys who love to make music, to listen to it, to perform it.  We think we made a record to be proud of and we hope you guys feel the same.

Ron: May the power of metal compel you!!!  


Interviewed by Reinier de Vries

Return To Earth - Automat

Album available on Metal Blade Records