Adelitas Way frontman Rick DeJesus is one of the most outspoken figures in rock music today, and it’s not just about the talk for him. After the release of its third album, “Stuck” (2014), Adelitas Way took the reins of its present and future, leaving Virgin Records and going independent. Using PledgeMusic to reach fans directly and help fund its fourth album, the band now has control creatively and on the business end. If the new album, “Getaway” (released Feb. 26, 2016), is any indication, DeJesus and his bandmates—drummer Trevor Stafford, guitarist Robert Zakaryan and bassist Andrew Cushing—know what they’re doing. It’s a great hard rock record that captures much of the power and energy the band brings to its live shows. And DeJesus sounds like a new man while talking about the experience and the current state of the band—well, almost. He’s still as honest as ever about the music business and rock music’s place in it. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with him to get to talk about that and more.
LIVE METAL: I first talked to you about a year and a half ago, right at the start of the Pretty Reckless tour, and at the time, you seemed very frustrated and miserable and just not happy with the way things were going for you. Then, a few months later, I talked to you at the start of the PledgeMusic campaign, and you seem rejuvenated and relieved to have gotten your career in your own hands. So now, after a year of doing things independently—the album is out, you’ve done some tours—how do you feel about where you and the band are in your career?
RICK DEJESUS: I feel amazing. We were signed to a record label for a really long time, and we always had to wait for them. We felt like we were constantly playing the waiting game with releasing our albums. We were constantly trying to please them with the type of music they wanted us to make. I know the game. I know that you need hit songs. You want the world to know your songs and love your songs. But the label was putting a different kind of pressure on us. They wanted us to change our entire sound on that third album. And then they wanted us go out with bands—we did not want to do that Pretty Reckless tour. For us, that wasn’t the kind of band that we were excited about going out with. And they didn’t treat us good on the tour. It was a miserable tour for us.
So yeah, at the time, it was a very difficult time in our careers. We were evaluating the fact that we didn’t want to do what was going on anymore. We wanted to make a change. And that change was this. That change was having more control, doing things ourselves, having more control over when our albums come out, being able to make the kind of record we wanted to make, being able to put music out to the fans when we’re excited about something. We made that “Stuck” record—we finished that whole record and then sat on the album for a year. The label was like, “Let’s try to find the right time to put it out.” We’re not in that kind of era of music anymore. We’re in the type of era where Beyonce is dropping songs on a day’s notice. Streaming is the king. Everybody’s going to the streaming services and discovering new bands, and no one’s out there buying records at Best Buy. It’s just a different time.
For us, I feel really great, ‘cause we’re ahead of the curve at this point. I feel like, at least in rock ‘n’ roll, the artists are going to start heading in more of an independent direction, and I think we’re gonna lead the pack for what’s going on today. I feel like, in a couple years, you’re gonna see everybody there.
What was the experience like with PledgeMusic and getting the fans involved?
It was fantastic to see all the fans come to one place. They all came to one area to support the band. It’s very difficult because you don’t get the money until the whole campaign is done. You end up really paying for your record yourself anyway. It’s not like they pay for your record. You end up paying for it and then getting the money back.
The difficult thing about PledgeMusic is we had to ship out 2,500 items, and shipping out that many items, it’s almost impossible to keep all your fans happy. When you’re shipping out 2,500 items, you can’t ship them all out at the same time. So that was one of the challenges. It took months and months and months to package and ship and deliver everything, and I had to write out 300 handwritten lyric sheets, which was very difficult.
But at the end of the day, it was great to see our fans come together and show that we were still as relevant as we thought we were. We raised well over our goal, we put a record out that we’re very proud of, and our fans were right there to support us. We feel very happy. We had fun making this album, we had fun doing this process, and we’re back to the basics. We’re back to what we got into this for: We’re having a good time playing music.
You also got back to the band’s roots by going out to Chicago and working with Johnny K on the new album. What was that like?
Of course. Johnny’s one of my favorite producers we’ve ever worked with. I’ve worked with everyone in this business, and to me, Johnny K was a memorable experience for us. He’s a fantastic producer. His vision for what rock records should sound like was exactly what I wanted. Johnny went for a very live approach. We told Johnny we want the record to sound a little bit like our live show, and we went into Groovemaster (Recording Studios) and recorded most of the album live together as a group. The praise for that has been amazing. It’s our first critically acclaimed album. Johnny K really put his stamp on the record. I loved working with him. He’s a dear friend of mine.
In this business, you meet certain people who will always be there for you. You meet certain people who believe in your band, and Johnny was one of the first people that was like, “Yeah, of course, I’ll be a part of this album with you guys. I know you’re doing it independently.” I’ve built a monster team of people who believe in us. I have the same guy heading our radio that’s worked all my songs in my entire career. We had Johnny K produce the record and mix the record—his track record speaks for itself. So we’ve built a team that we just absolutely believe in and they believe in us, and you can tell the results.
As you talked about before, the title of the previous album, “Stuck,” referred to how you and the band were feeling at the time. Does the title “Getaway” say something about you now?
A little bit. We got away from all that crap. But really, “Getaway,” for me, was about those people that need a vacation from their jobs, from their normal life, from all the stress. Virgin Records was stressing me out by the end, which wasn’t the case my whole career. I had a great relationship with those guys the first few years. Once they fired our A&R guy and they changed presidents, it was a different game for me. I didn’t want to be there anymore. My whole team was gone that I went in there and started working with.
So for me, “Getaway,” yeah, a little bit–I got away from that. But also, for the listeners, it’s their getaway. When they put this record on, they can escape from the job that they’re not too happy with at the moment, or even if they love their job—I’m sure they’re working hard and working long hours—it’s an escape. For me, when I was writing “Getaway,” I was thinking about a nice vacation.
The first song and first single, “Bad Reputation,” that’s obviously autobiographical, right?
Of course, 100 percent.
So why did you decide to write that?
I just wanted to make a statement. There’s a lot of things that people say about me—for being so bold to go independent, for calling radio stations out for killing rock music. When you have strong stations that once were hubs for music—like Houston or St. Louis—you could go in there and sell out a show, and now they’re no longer supporting rock music. They’re playing Imagine Dragons like everyone else, and they’re playing Bastille like everyone else. I love Imagine Dragons—they’re cool, they’re from Vegas—but they already have 75 radio stations playing their stuff. They don’t need the Point in St. Louis playing Imagine Dragons. The Point has to play Godsmack, and they have to play Adelitas Way, and they have to play the current bands that are gonna be coming through—Shinedown. Some of these bands might get a little love because they have to, they’ve accomplished so much. Rock stations need to play rock bands. I think it’s very, very important for the scene, for rock ‘n’ roll. Some of these stations are not taking any accountability for being a part of destroying. Everyone’s saying rock is dead, and they’re the ones killing the genre by not playing the bands.
For me, I speak my mind. I say what I want. “Bad Reputation” is letting everyone know, yeah, I am who I am. You can say what you will about me. I have the artists’ best interests in hand always. People can say whatever they want about how I speak openly about the business, but if people don’t know, it’ll never get fixed. I’m very, very open and honest about the climate of the music business, and I think a lot of people in the industry don’t like that. People in the industry don’t like that I’m trying to take an independent route. Everyone wants to exploit the artists and take everything they can from the artists. It’s very rare in this business for people to have the best interests of the musicians and of the artists, and I’m tired of those days. So “Bad Reputation” is just a little slap to those guys, saying, “Yeah, you know who I am. I like to do this. I’m a little crazy, and that’s it.”
Are some of these songs inspired by specific people, like “Filthy Heart” or “I Get Around?”
I have a tendency to combine emotions. I think, yeah, there’s a type of person that can pull that out of me, that can pull that emotion. It’s not an anger, but it is a little bit of an anger. “Filthy Heart,” I was coming off of that Pretty Reckless tour. I felt a certain way, and I wanted to write a song that had that vibe of how I was feeling.
You even got the name of the band in that song.
Exactly. So it was certainly a little slap at that. But also, too, there’s a story behind every song. For “I Get Around,” that song is true, as well. Before, obviously, my years of being a father and a husband, I went out on a date and those things actually happened. That whole story actually happened. I went out with a girl who asked me, “How many people have you been with?” I totally didn’t tell the truth, and she obviously didn’t tell the truth, because when I went home, I was sitting with my friend, and he was like, “Oh, you went out on a date with that girl? Aw man, a bunch of my friends hooked up with her.” I’m like, “Really? She tried to act like she was the saint of all saints and I was the one out there doing all kinds of madness.” So I thought it was a funny story, and I felt like, I’m gonna take a stab at this and say, “OK, look, truth is I get around and you do, too. Let’s not lie about it.” We’ve all done a little more than we like in that area.
I know all these songs are your babies, but do you have any favorites that stick out to you?
Yeah, obviously “Bad Reputation” and “I Get Around—love. “Harbor the Fugitive.” Some of these songs definitely stand out to me and definitely have certain unique feelings to me and I feel a certain way about them. But I try to make every song I write mean something or be from the way I see things or my perspective on things. Songwriting has to be honest, or no one will believe it.
You’ve already done one headlining tour this year. How did that go?
It was the best headlining tour we’ve ever done. Half the tour was sold out. You couldn’t get tickets to a lot of nights. For us, it was a tribute to all of our hard work. We were very proud. There was even one time my drummer looked up at me, he was very emotional with me. He was like, “Everybody’s trying to say what we’re doing is crazy going independent, and that we’re this and we’re that.” He’s like, “Well, look what’s going on.” We would show up, and sometimes it would just be us—one band on the show, not a package; Adelitas Way and a local—and there would be 500 people there singing every word. After everything we’ve been through, it shows you that all of our hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
It was a very great feeling for us, and that’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to add more value to our live show. We’re not gonna tour unless we like the band. That Pretty Reckless tour really taught us a lot. We’re not gonna go out on the road with a band that we don’t feel we mesh with or we don’t dig or we don’t like or doesn’t respect us. We’d rather just sit at home with our families. We can go and headline once a year, see all of our fans across the United States and then get back in the studio and make another album in the time we’re not touring. And if a band like 3 Doors Down or Three Days Grace or Disturbed or Breaking Benjamin—someone that we’ve toured with, that we respect, that we know will treat us great and appreciate us as artists and we appreciate them as artists—we would gladly say yes to go out on the road. But it’s got to make sense for us at this point in our career or we’re just gonna pass on it.
So what do you have coming up?
We’ve got some tour dates coming up. We’re doing a West Coast run—headlining run. We’re bringing out Stitched Up Heart for a couple dates. We’re hitting Boise, Spokane, Seattle, Portland area—that whole run. Then we’re gonna take some time off. Then we’ve got the festival in Dallas with Shinedown and 3 Doors Down that we’re gonna do. And we’re just gonna keep hammering away until something comes along that we love.
That’s great. I’m really happy to see everything paying off for you guys.
I appreciate that. We’re hoping to set an example for other artists. If they ever feel like they’ve been taken advantage so much and if they’re ever thinking about walking away, they know that there’s another option. They know that there’s an option where they can be happy and have fun again.