Ronnie Romero: “I wasn’t in Rainbow because I was a lucky guy! I am not here to just fill an empty space in hundreds of bands!”
Over the past few years, Ronnie Romero became one of the top rock vocalists on the current heavy rock scene. His fame rose since he joined Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow as their main singer in 2015, and the rest is history. He now works with legendary musicians, in addition to his main band Lords of Black: Michael Schenker, Adrian Vandenberg and Magnus Karlsson, to name a few..
In the past couple of years, Ronnie also got involved in a band called Intelligent Music Project based in Bulgaria, whose leader is Milen Vrabevski (MD). He sang in a few of the songs in their 2020 album ‘Life Motion’.
Earlier this year, IMP released their sixth album ‘Creation’ reviewed by us here.
Angelina Pelova spoke to Ronnie Romero and Dr Vrabevski on behalf of the Midlands Rocks.
AP: Thank you so much for sparing the time to talk to me! I really appreciate it. I know you are really busy and lately very productive, so hopefully I am not stopping you from recording any vocals?
RR (smiles): Not today.
AP: Good. The reason for this interview is your work with the Intelligent Music Project and, if Milen doesn’t mind, I will also ask Ronnie some questions specific to his work. Shall we start with the back story, how did you get together with Milen? Milen, how did you choose Ronnie?
MV: We should have started with the star first, however it’s a great pleasure for me firstly to be in contact with you, and, secondly, I will start with the good news that for the first time we started composing together. Ronnie will provide compositions of his during the jam session that will take place here, in Sofia, in the beginning of next month. For the first time, I will not be 100 per cent the author of the next album which will be number seven and will be most likely released next year. This is the hot news and the hot topic for us! It will be a great experience and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ronnie for joining in. His contribution will be much appreciated and despite the whole pandemic situation he’s doing great and we will have a tour, a normal tour at the end of this month.
So, how we met. I heard his voice. I said to myself, this is better than Ronnie James Dio! And I grew up with this music in my heart that is no longer available. However, I decided that, instead of a replacement of this sound, there must be something bigger and greater, and then I heard our friend Ronnie, at a concert of another Bulgarian band. They did something with songs of our past. I decided to make a connection via a reporter, a friend of mine who introduced me to him. He agreed to come over to the studio, we tried a couple of things and all of a sudden it became obvious that he’s clearly suitable to be the lead vocalist and the frontman of Intelligent Music Project (IMP). He gets easily into the project, he understands finely what the message is and he is the person who can, using his perfect vocal, make the message more convincing. This is why we agreed on the second project, and I already started thinking about composing for Ronnie, which has never happened before with any vocalists throughout my whole career. So Ronnie now is my relief that there is a good way to show the audience that there is still hope despite the difficulty of our times, that positive thinking and positive approaches in life for once matter, and this all sounds really convincing.
AP. Thank you. Ronnie, what made you join IMP? Is there anything in particular that appealed to you, as it is clearly very different to the other things you do? Their style brings out a completely different side of your vocal and you sound really great.
RR:, there was a thing that attracted me the most to this project. Everybody knows that I normally get involved in many different things. Normally, the things I get offered I can’t say no to. When Ritchie Blackmore calls you or Michael Schenker, then Adrian Vandenberg, when all those people want to work with you, it is so hard to say no!
The most attractive thing to me was the challenge because it took me totally out of my comfort zone, singing in a completely different style of music: it’s not heavy metal, it’s not hard rock. For me as a musician and specifically as a singer it is very challenging to try different things, to get out of your comfort zone and out of what you feel comfortable singing. And mostly because I grew up listening to different styles of music. I’m not that kind of a keen and young guy that is listening to just Metallica or Iron Maiden. I grew up with my father listening to bands from Led Zeppelin, Rainbow and Purple, going through Stevie Ray Vaughan, Frank Marino, Jimi Hendrix, and then going to Boston, Kansas, Journey, and then a lot of different things like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad, so there is a mix of many different elements in my head about the music.
So, when I talked to Milen for the first time and he sent me some songs from the previous releases, I was like, OK, this is different, I like it because there is a kind of a Toto element, then there is an Asia element, then progressive, but still has some hard rock theme and taste, so it was pretty interesting for me to join. I was at first thinking, I need to prove myself that I can sing this, you know. Then the second thing, the most important thing to me, is the message of the music. These are hard times we all live in. People have had enough of Apocalypsis, of war, of vikings, all that kind of thing. It’s enough of that; people really want to hear something different. That’s the hook from Intelligent Music, because we are bringing a message of hope and a positive message to the people that we are going to get through this, everything’s going to be OK and we need to get confident with each other and trust each other, and that’s the thing. For me it’s amazing and great and wonderful to have the chance to sing something like this, musically, and then the message, so it was a double price.
AP: And how do you feel about composing music? Did you naturally evolve to the need to create music now that you’ve been singing for many bands, or is that something you wanted to do before but never had the chance?
RR: I got little chances before: I did two or three songs for my band Lords of Black, mostly in the first records, I did something with Ritchie (Blackmore – A.P.) that never came to light. I did a song with Michael Schenker, for example, that kind of thing. Normally, I really know that I am not that great a songwriter, you know, I don’t have that skill, so I really prefer to let the good guys on the songwriting side do the job and put my talent on the vocals. But in this case, this is different because when you get the feeling that you like the music, it’s challenging for you and you like the message, yes, brings you a different kind of excitement and you want to be in the whole thing in a deeper way because you identify yourself with the music and the message.
AP: It gives you more of a satisfaction?
RR: It gives you the feeling that you really want to say something from the inside. I think nowadays it’s really hard to find this kind of a project. You can see everywhere, mostly in Frontiers (Records – A.P.), that there are plenty of projects with different musicians and everybody is playing with everybody. Most of the time it is soulless; it’s just music for the car, you have a release for a couple of weeks and then go to the next thing, you know.
AP: I must say that Lords of Black is still on my phone and I am not deleting them!
RR: No, but I mean as a musician, normally it is a really cold way of business in the way that you sign a contract, go into the studio, record the songs and send the tracks back, and next, right? That’s the thing that keeps me tied to IMP and Milen: you can feel that we are doing something different. In many ways, it’s the old way to make music when you normally meet with the musicians and not just sending tracks by WeTransfer, you know, and you actually meet with the people, you rehears with the people, you go to the shows and, I mean, it’s a different feeling, it’s like the old days!
AP: So you feel like you belong to the band?
RR: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I don’t feel like I am just a guest or featuring Ronnie Romero, you know, I actually belong to this. I feel I need to put something else and not just vocal performance on it. I really want to put my grain of sand, bring some lyrics into songs and some ideas. I think that’s great, that’s made me really tied to this, I am really happy to be part of this! Actually I think it’s the first time for Milen that he’s going to do the third album with the same vocalist, right? In a row! Yes, that’s telling you and telling people that it’s something special here, it’s not just another project with a lot of messages from different parts.
AP: That’s really great to hear! It sounds like (that’s more of a question for Milen actually) that your music and mission are serving people as well through the Foundation (Bulgarian Memory Foundation). How does the music fit into your foundation, Milen?
MV: It’s an integral part of everything I do. Just listen to those messages because I am sharing with you the formula of success. Moreover, the psychology of it, the way the band was founded, is quite applicable for everybody, just very few people think in this direction, which is practically not a big problem if you make an effort to see how and why is the focus of the entire album. There is a lot of information even if you don’t speak English. People get adequately challenged with this music and understand what the whole thing is about. This is really strange but it makes me help here, because obviously our efforts were not in vain, and I think that I still have a lot of things to say and share. This is not just for fun, just for show. We need to have more shows for our fans and we need to be able to share with them the truth of life that can make their lives better, that’s all.
AP: It sounds like you have a very good match between the band, or Milen and Ronnie. There is one thing I meant to ask you, Ronnie, which you answered partially. You know how people say, David Coverdale of Whitesnake, or Ritchie Blackmore of Rainbow, do you see yourself as Ronnie Romero of one of the bands, and are you now in the position to say no to people because you don’t like their music? Do you belong to one place, or are you that core that attracts satellites around you, how do you see yourself?
MV: Can I make it easier for him with just one sentence? (RR laughs) As long as he has the group in his heart, it doesn’t really matter if he feels a part of it or not, because the job is done, the message goes through in the right direction and in the appropriate manner, that’s the whole thing.
RR: I totally agree with this. And actually you can have two ways of thinking about this. First of all, people need to understand that the music business that we have nowadays has nothing to do with the music business of the 70’s or the 80’s. I was working on the highest level of music for the past five or seven years and I can tell you there is no musician (I mean, young musician like me; I am 40-year old but I can say that I am young in the music industry), there is no way that you can live just with one band, there is no way to do it. So you need to make all different collaborations all the time, to try to have a life in the music industry.
AP: Instead of having to have a day job, you mean?
RR: Exactly. So that’s the first thing, and the second thing is, as Milen said, well said, as far
as I feel, like it happens with me with the IMP, that the message is the message that I really want to give to people and that’s what I was looking for when I was thinking of becoming a musician when I was a kid, that’s what I want to do, that’s the key. And I can tell you, I have played with a lot of musicians in the past five years and I am in the position to say no to other people, and I can say that I said no to a lot of well known musicians in the past two years, because I didn’t like the music and I didn’t like the message. I mean, I am not here as a musician just to fill an empty space in hundreds and hundreds of other bands!
Mostly nowadays with the pandemic and the Covid restrictions, we the musicians need to take the challenge, we need to realise and take the responsibility of what people need to hear from us. As I told you before, there are a lot of bands that do stuff about vikings and the second world war, which is pretty cool, but I feel I am here for something else. I feel the need to create at some point, not for everybody but for some people at least, the soundtrack of their lives, and that’s the real thing for the musicians nowadays. I can tell you that the only ways where I can actually make this happen is with Milen; it’s the way it is. You can hear the music, you can hear the messages and I think that people believe me when I sing in Milen’s songs, and that’s very important for us, to make people believe in the message we are delivering! I can tell you that in my band Lords of Black I try to do this and mostly I really feel like that band belongs to me, and you can see it in my social profiles. I mean, when you see the description in the bio, it is Ronnie Romero, singer of Rainbow, Lords of Black and Intelligent Music Project, that’s it.
AP: Can you tell us what more you’ve got planned? A few weeks ago I interviewed Magnus and as we were talking, he received the files from you with the vocals for the next album of the Ferrymen. Is Rainbow going to do anything, or is that it for now?
RR: I don’t think Rainbow are going to do anything new.
AP: Are you doing anything with Lords of Black?
RR: Yes, with Lords of Black we just finished a new album. I don’t know if Tony (Hernando) is ready to deliver the message to the record company but we are really close to that. I did the same with the Ferrymen which is a great album, in my opinion the best of the three albums so far. We are planning in the next couple of months to make a new Sunstorm album, because it was against the odds, everybody was wondering, talking and criticising, but the Sunstorm album was pretty successful. We are ready to work on the second one. It’s probably going to be released in the next year. And that’s it. At the moment, as Milen said before, we have some shows in a couple of weeks.
AP: The show in Budapest has been delayed to June, I understand.
RR: Yes, the show in Greece in Thessaloniki was postponed as well but we’re going to play the shows in Bulgaria, so it will be great to have the chance to play some live music again, and then we are going to the jam sessions directly for the composition of the new songs.
AP: Have you got a plan B if the concerts are not allowed to happen?
MV: We always have a plan B! We will postpone it. However, you understand now why we made the next step in the development of our professional relations! Because the combination is fine, and it’s like a win-win situation for both of us! In the winning soccer team, for example, you do not make changes, just keep the players and score the goals. And to make the best level of communication, of collaboration right now, I think by providing some new songwriting approach will be great for us, because we keep the same atmosphere, we keep the same serious approach and obviously the messages remaining in the same direction, probably stronger, because there will be other points of view. United, so it is like energy, like a laser beam, lots of energies together have a stronger impact. I think it works out fine.
AP: As a listener I can hear the end result and it’s really great between all of you. So in the next album you are working on are there going to be other vocals again, or are you Ronnie going to be the only one?
MV: We still don’t know. This is always touch and go. For example, vocalists that have experience in musicals. Usually my albums are concept ones and I prefer to see different approaches sometimes in a few particular pieces, like I did in the previous two albums I worked together with Ronnie on. I must tell you that I admire his approach of not having any type of ego in those relations. If the producer decides that something sounds more convincing with another vocalist, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that Ronnie cannot do it better. It means that there is a different direction of making the message more particular, more well defined, therefore more convincing.
AP: It sounds like a very good team if you can work without egos getting involved!
MV: Right. We have come to that status of having a perfect relation that excludes ego from our collaboration and everyday communication. There might be some, I still don’t know, as I am about to record my eighth song for this seventh album, probably today or tomorrow. Then I will listen to the jam session and we will be working together with musical producer Ivo and my guitar player Bisser. We’ll be listening to what they did with Ronnie, we’ll be carefully selecting, probably we will work together on the particular sound, particular approaches in the arrangements that are common for us, and we’ll decide together in the end what goes best for the seventh album.
AP. Great. Ronnie, there is something I want to ask you. Some time ago you posted something on your social media about the music business being very cruel. Are you OK to talk about that, or would rather not? I don’t know the back story, but I wondered whether people may be accusing you of jumping from band to band not understanding why you do it? Or trying to impose their rules on you?
RR: Actually there was a mix of both feelings. That post was in the last two-three months. It’s not just trolling on the social (media), which is a very important issue because we were suffering, and not just me. I can understand other people, they can criticise me, they can criticise my work, as at the end this what it is all about, people either like it or they don’t, like you either like Coca Cola or like Pepsi, it’s the same principle, that’s fair enough. But when people went for a different approach, they were insulting me. They were insulting not just me on social media, they were saying bad words about my future wife, I mean that’s really unfair. That cannot happen, we cannot allow this kind of behaviour!
And then the second thing was, it brings me to the question you asked me before. I said no to a musician who wanted to work with me and the guy was really rude. He is a well known musician. He thought I’d work for him for free, and I said no. I put my fee on the table and there was a really nasty conversation, really nasty! I was really disappointed. And that was the day when I decided to tell people what was going on. It’s really, really easy to criticise and really easy to do whatever you wanna do in an anonymous profile on social media, but that doesn’t make you smarter! And it’s not fair for the musicians! If you tell me, I don’t like your vocals, I don’t like your band, or I don’t like whatever, that’s super cool. But to say such things… That’s what it was all about.
AP. It is good that you are now in position to call the shots and not fill anyone else’s shoes, and…
RR: You know what happened then? Everything that I did so far and everything that I am doing is because of my hard work! Nobody gives me anything for free! If people think I was in Rainbow because I was a lucky guy, that’s not true! Ritchie Blackmore gave me the chance to be in Rainbow, but you need to fill the shoes to be in Rainbow! You need to be a good singer to be in that band, that was not for free! And the same thing with Michael Schenker, and the same thing with Vandenberg, and with all the guys. If people say I am a bad singer or I’m not good enough, that would be OK, you know. I don’t think that Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Vandenberg and many others were wrong about my vocals, anyway (laughs).
The most unfair thing to me is that a lot of people think that everything came to me for free, and that’s not true. As a musician, you need to make a lot of sacrifices every day because it is not easy to be away from home for months and months, travelling and travelling, playing in one city and next day playing in another city. That’s not easy, you know. It’s happened mostly because of my talent. Nobody gave me anything for free. I am working my ass off every day, to make the best music possible that I can do, and that’s it, you know. I am not just in a cheslong with a mojito waiting for a call from Ritchie Blackmore or Michael Schenker to do an album! Because I’m good! And that’s it.
AP: You are! I feel really privileged to have this discussion with you and Milen. Is there anything else, Milen, that you want to add at the end?
MV: I just need to share that it is a great privilege for me to be among the rock audience of the United Kingdom. I am trying my best to fit in their stringent criteria and meet their expectations 100 per cent because I still feel there is a need for a project like mine. I am very proud to have Ronnie on board. He is our frontman which makes me absolutely happy and I would say content because my messages easily reach the target audience. Thank you very much for your attention.