“I sound disgruntled, but I’m just telling the truth so people know what it’s like for us.”
It will never be said that Adelitas Way frontman Rick DeJesus is afraid to speak his mind, especially when it comes to the music business and how record labels treat rock bands today. Having spent years in the trenches, racking up a string of hit singles at rock radio and selling hundreds of thousands of albums and even more singles, yet still touring the country in a van, he should know. His band’s latest album, “Stuck,” released in July, describes the predicament nearly every rock band is facing, and DeJesus firmly believes it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
When Adelitas Way’s tour supporting The Pretty Reckless came to the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, Live Metal’s Greg Maki climbed aboard the band’s van, and DeJesus laid out the gory details.
LIVE METAL: You’re just a couple shows into this tour, but how is it going so far?
RICK DEJESUS: I think it’s gonna be a good tour. I think, especially for us, because we’ve been playing so many active and current rock tours for the past five years on tour, and I think this is the first tour we ever played where we’re getting to play in front of 15-year-old girls, like young kids and stuff. Maybe it’ll open up a new fan base for us. There’s more than that here. There’s a lot of fans of all variations, but there’s a lot of the young kids. I don’t feel like, with the way the music business is now, we’ve ever had an opportunity to reach that young of an audience, outside of them stumbling across us on Spotify or something. I think it’s gonna be a good run, man. I think it’s gonna be great for us to build a whole new core of fans.
When you have a different audience, does that affect what you do at all?
No. We always come out, these kids are getting blasted in the face with guitars by us, and they don’t know what’s coming, man. They’re like, “Whoa, I’ve never heard of this band, I’ve never seen this band.” We’re kind of an underground band. We’re the kind of band that everything we built, we’ve earned from being in this [gestures to the van], touring for five, six years. We’ve never had that lightning. We’ve never had that “Oh, they were in a big movie.” That’s never happened for our band. We’ve built it by playing small clubs, by playing amphitheaters, by playing big shows, small shows and just building.
We almost have a cult following of die-hard fans that come to all of our shows. So it’s good to add to the cult following. We want to put all-ages shows on. We’re not trying to be a bar band. So it’s good to get out and play on these tours so other kids can experience the music, ‘cause so far—we’ve actually done two shows with The Pretty Reckless—and from the social media end of it, we’ve seen a lot of young fans being like, “How have I never heard of your band?” The bottom line is, it’s because record labels don’t do shit for rock bands anymore. They’re busy doing Ariana Grande and all the pop bands, and the rock bands, they’re just kind of like, “Let them fend for themselves.” And we do. We fend for ourselves.
Since you are going to be playing to a whole bunch of new people on this tour, what can they expect to see from Adelitas Way?
We’re one of the best live bands in rock ‘n’ roll. That’s why we’re here. That’s how we built what we have. I get in a lot of trouble for my big mouth, and the problem is I say whatever I want, because no one has built this for me. I’ve done this the hardest route you could possibly go. I’ve done this by hand-to-hand combat selling CDs and going and blowing people away every night with a live show. That’s why we’re where we are. We’re not where we are, like I said before, because of anything outside of people walking into a room not knowing who we are and walking out saying, “That was the best band that I’ve seen in a long time.”
The new album came out a little over a month ago.
Yeah, it trickled out over iTunes and Spotify. We saw it.
I feel like it does the best job you’ve done yet of capturing the energy you bring to the live show, and then it also has other sides to it.
We went for that. We went for an organic feel. We tried to capture our live show as much as possible. It’s actually a shame, because—we talk about this all the time—we feel like this is our best record, and it’s our least recognized record so far. Our die-hard fans went out the first week, they bought it, and we had our best debut on Billboard. But I feel like this is the least that fans who don’t know about us have been able to hear about us. This record has gotten the least love to get pushed out there for people to discover it. Our die-hard fans know what we made, they appreciate it, but I don’t feel like we’re touching any new fan bases on this yet. This tour is helping with that, and it’s the beginning of it.
Why is it that you haven’t done that?
‘Cause there’s a notion that rock is dead. We’re all struggling, even the biggest rock bands. They won’t admit it to you in interviews, but I talk to them. Everybody is afraid. Everybody knows what’s going on. We’re getting buried by—it’s not buried by Spotify, because Spotify is the future. Streaming is the future of music. The problem is nobody is sharing streaming with us. There was back-end deals cut. They’re taking it all, and we’re just like, “OK. I guess we just sell T-shirts?” And that’s cool, ‘cause we’ll do that, too. That’s why we’re like cockroaches, ‘cause when everyone takes everything from us, rock bands are like, “Well, we’ll just sell T-shirts, and we’ll get to the next place.” We’re not getting much support from really any outlets. It’s tough.
This kind of thing is starting to get talked about a lot lately.
It’s the truth. People are starting to speak the truth. I’m a big advocate for the truth, ‘cause no one can do anything to harm me. Look, we’re in a van. We play shows every night. We’re not in every commercial and video game and magazine or TV. We have nothing. We have this. We have a live show. We have traveling to the next city and blowing a new batch of fans away. So I get told to shut the fuck up all the time. I get called, and they’re like, “You need to stop.” But why?
Earlier in the summer, I read about your comments in St. Louis about rock radio.
Yeah, there’s a couple stations like that, man. The bottom line is this: They see something else working, but that shit’s dying out, too. The alternative, indie stuff—that’s dying. We’re all dying together now. Before, they were like a hump above of us, and everyone was like, “Run and do that!” So there’s rock stations that are like, “Fuck rock. Run and play fingersnappy bands. Play it! Fuck rock bands.” And then, their ratings didn’t go up. So they kept trying to use the rock bands that had a core base to do shows. They didn’t have anyone to put their name on the shows, ‘cause when Imagine Dragons comes through, they’re not gonna go to the active rock station. They’re like, “No, we’re a pop band. We’re not gonna play a show for you guys.”
So these rock stations are still putting their names on Adelitas Way shows and Three Days Grace shows and active rock shows when they’re not playing the bands. I have a problem with that. If you’re gonna abandon us, fully do it. Commit. Go to the alternative panel. Get the fuck off active rock. Go away. Don’t play the middle of the fence and just stop playing new rock and even old rock, man. They’re trying to blend in Nirvana with alt-J and Imagine Dragons, like, “We are the rock station!” That doesn’t work.
Since, obviously, it’s hard out here for you, what is it that keeps you going?
Our fans, man, and the fact that I love to play rock ‘n’ roll. And honestly, I have a time limit on this. I like to fight through adversity, so now is not the time to quit. I’m gonna barrel through this, we’re gonna continue to rock shows, and we’re gonna make records. But the day that I do feel like no one gives a shit—you know what I mean, when you start feeling that?—I’ll make records for myself. I’m not gonna come out here and kill myself.
But I do feel like we took a lot of risks on this album. We compromised with the record company making a record, and we’re happy with it, but we took a lot of risks on the rock end of it on making this album. We didn’t want our songs sounding like everything else that’s on rock radio. We did a lot of soul searching. When you hear an Adelitas Way song, we want people to know immediately that it’s us and it’s not 10 other bands. And we feel like we try to do something different and we’re almost paying for it. Even where we were once supported heavily at rock radio, they’re kind of looking at what we did and being like, “Oh, that’s something new.”
We’re in kind of a middle zone where we’re not frustrated, but we’re focused on knowing that it’s only in our hands. We have to go on stage every night and blow any band away that’s around us to get the recognition that we know we deserve. You guys are gonna see rock bands start dropping like flies soon, I promise you that. The weak ones are gonna go. We’re not in that pack. We’re stronger than those guys. We’ll be around. But people are taking music in general for granted, I think.
What can be done to turn that around?
I think they’ve just got to share with us a little more. I think every deal can’t be so shady. There’s still a lot of people getting rich in the music business. I guess they’ve always been doing it to the artists, but it was different when artists were selling a million records and getting like 9 cents on each of those albums, ‘cause they were still like, “Oh, I got a check for 80 grand.” Now, we’re getting checks for like 14 bucks. We get a million spins on Spotify and I get a $15 check, and it’s like somebody somewhere sold my music, and they made money off it and they didn’t trickle it down to us. At the end of the day, the only avenue that we’re making money is live shows and T-shirt sales. So we’re out here slinging T-shirts, and if that’s the business we gotta be in, then that’s the business we’ll be in.
The new album is the third album, so you’ve already established a sound. You said you want to take some risks. Was that the main goal?
Yeah, we took risks, man. We wanted to just make great songs, but we also wanted to make sure musically we challenged ourselves. You get grouped in with a group of bands. We’re grouped in with bands like Pop Evil, just certain bands that we respect what they do, but we don’t think we’re in the same world as them. If that’s what rock radio wants and that’s what’s gonna dominate, maybe we don’t fit into that planet. We’re just gonna keep making records the way that we make records. And I like those guys, by the way. That’s not malicious. I’m just saying, we’re a ‘90s grunge band. That’s how I see ourselves. We combine classic rock from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘90s. That’s where our band gets all of our influence from. There’s no ‘80s influence. We’re not trying to be a bar band, which we probably will end up being because that’s where music is going. We’re gonna keep playing until the people stop coming out.
There’s a title track on the album, “Stuck.” Why did you make that the album title?
It was a challenging record, man. I signed every deal I signed. I know what I get into. But when musical trends are popping and happening, it affects everyone. I didn’t get into music to make records that sound like everybody else. I didn’t get into music to just run after whatever trend’s going. We battled that a lot on this record. Everyone wanted us to sound a certain way, and everyone was like, “You need to make this kind of record. You need to make that kind of record.” We felt stuck for a minute. We felt like we wanted to express our influences and do what we wanted to do, but we were kind of getting, “Well, to sell records, have you heard of Imagine Dragons?” And it was frustrating to go through that process. In the end, I’m very happy, ‘cause we were pushed to make what I feel is the best record we ever made. But I also had a lot of uncomfortable stages making this record because it was extremely challenging.
The first song most people heard from it, “Dog on a Leash,” really comes out hard and hits you right away. What was the inspiration for that song?
We were very, very proud of “Dog on a Leash,” and we were very excited for it to come out, and like I said, I don’t feel like it got embraced with enough respect. The song went to radio, it went out, and instead of people embracing like, “Oh, Adelitas Way, they kind of took a little bit of a different turn”—Shinedown makes Shinedown records. Those bands make their records. We don’t want to just be like mini versions of them. We want to carve our own place in rock music out.
“Dog on a Leash” is about exactly what I was telling you. We had a million people telling us what we could and couldn’t do, and we were just trying to be ourselves. We tried to get as much of ourselves on this record as we could. This was the most difficult album I ever made in my life. I really look forward to the next record, because this one was such a tough experience for us. I’m very happy with how everything came out, but emotionally, it took a toll on us.
How long did you spend actually working on it?
Man, it was almost two years. A year and a half, two years. You guys don’t know, man. When something becomes popular, when Miley Cyrus has a hit song, even if you’re a rock band, there’s a million people in the room saying, “Well, she’s selling, so you’ve gotta make a song that sounds like Miley Cyrus.” You’re in here with the most rugged motherfuckers in music, and you’re trying to tell me to listen to “Wrecking Ball?” I want to smash that shit. I don’t want to make that shit. So it’s kind of tough for me.
You worked with Nick Raskulinecz on this, who’s produced a whole bunch of big bands. What was it like working with him?
Nick was great. Nick did what we wanted to do. We wanted to capture an organic sound on this record, a live feel. And we’re still honing that sound. We haven’t perfected it yet. We want our records to sound live. We want it to sound like those classic rock records. We want to capture that feeling. We don’t want it to be all Pro Tools sessioned up. We don’t want it to be fake. We want it to be real. And that’s what we’re gonna keep striving for on our future records.
The band has had a few lineup changes over the years. What effect has that had?
There’s different variations for different people. I think the number one factor is music isn’t what it used to be. There’s not 10 buses following you around, people aren’t getting paid millions of dollars, and you either love this shit or you don’t. If you want to be in a band nowadays, you’re about to go through the hardest road of your life.
We’re a successful band. We’re very successful. When you look at the grand scheme of things, we’ve had two number one hits, we’ve had seven hit singles, we’ve toured the entire country six years, we fill rooms. We pull up, we play a headlining show, there’s 500 kids there. It feels great. It’s still hard for us. So imagine what it feels like for a band that’s about to sign their first deal.
When the perks start dwindling down, you see who the real rock ‘n’ roll soldiers are, and you see the people who just want the next bigger thing—more money, buses. That shit’s not realistic unless you have a smash pop hit. And you see how many pop acts are on the rock radio scene right now—none. The pop radio is playing zero anything with guitar. So there’s our odds. I sound disgruntled, but I’m just telling the truth so people know what it’s like for us. It’s not just my band. Theory of a Deadman, coming off a record that sold 2.5 million records—when was the last TV show you saw them on? Nothing. Even the biggest bands in our world can’t get shit, because we have this stigma that somewhere along the line—we’re the coolest motherfuckers in music, and somewhere along the line, we became the uncoolest.
How did that happen?
It’s coming from the top. Whoever is booking late-night TV is booking all pop bands. Whoever is controlling the radio is shifting it all pop-oriented or, like, Mumford & Sons. Maybe they thought America was getting too angry. I don’t know how it happened, but we got smooshed by a high power. There’s great rock bands that aren’t getting love. A lot of great rock bands. They’re blaming it on us, like, “No one’s making good records.” Soundgarden made a great record this year, Pearl Jam made a great record this year—even those bands can’t get on shit. When Soundgarden can’t get on something, you know how it makes me feel? It makes me feel like there’s no shot in hell. It makes me feel like when my band gets brought up to Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel that they’re in a room laughing, like, “Did you hear this rock band that wants us to play them on our show? How funny is that?” We get nothing, man, and it’s cool. We’re cool with that. We’re just gonna keep being great live.
We are one of the hardest working bands in music, and I’m just telling the truth. There’s people that try to shut me up. They don’t want the truth to be out there. But the reality is when I look at how I get paid, the only avenue that checks come to me is through how many T-shirts we sell. And that just says something, ‘cause we’ve sold millions of singles and we’ve sold a lot of records. So think about that. But records don’t sell anymore. It’s all streaming. You’ve got a Five Finger Death Punch shirt on. Their new album sold like 200,000 records. It should’ve sold a million. And it’s gonna be getting worse. It’s not gonna be getting better. You’re not gonna see them put another one out and be like, “This one did even better.”
It’s gonna continue to dwindle down to where even those guys are gonna be like, “We’re the biggest fuckin’ band in the world and we’re selling 55,000 albums? How does that happen?” When that starts happening, when the biggest bands start seeing the difference, that’s when we’re all gonna turn on whoever’s cutting the Spotify deals. That’s when we’re all gonna come together and it’ll get fixed, and we’ll start getting paid and we’ll be able to survive. If all the bands don’t kind of come together and say, “We’re not making any money anymore from our music,” it’s not gonna fix itself. You’re just gonna see bands dropping like flies until everyone’s like, “Fuck this, I’m out.” “I’m out, too. You done?” “Yeah, I’m done, man.”
That’s what it took before when Napster first came out. Metallica took a stand against them.
This is even more powerful than Napster, because let me just tell you, it’s a beautiful service. I use Spotify. It’s amazing. I hate it, but I use it. We will not be able to compete with it. CDs will die. They’ll be a collector’s item that you can get at live shows. Records, obviously, are already dead, and it’s a collector’s item. iTunes already sees the future is done for them, so they’re trying to get into the business of streaming. So that’ll go away, and it’ll all be Spotify, Beats Music—streaming, streaming, streaming, streaming. You know how much we get paid off streaming? Almost nothing. So once all the bands realize that’s going down and we all come together to make it at least get something—I’m not trying to get the whole pot, man. I would just like if somebody’s making $20 million, throw us $100,000. I’m not trying to get $18 million of it. Trickle me down some royalties so I can feed my kids and my band can live and we can know what it’s like, after touring for 10 years, to be in a bus. That’s just the truth.
It’s not good, but it’s refreshing to hear someone actually talk about it like that.
Yeah, I’m not afraid of nobody, man. Fuck everybody. I make music for myself and for my band. We’re like Mad Max, dude. They’ve taken everything from us, and we’re still here. We’re still doing what we do.