By David E. Gehlke
Plucked from relative obscurity in 2015 by Ritchie Blackmore to front RAINBOW, Chilean-born Ronnie Romero has entered himself into the conversation on who — if anyone — will assume the role as one of rock and metal's leading frontmen once the old guard hangs it up. Despite what Romero would tell BLABBERMOUTH.NET in this interview, he handled the RAINBOW gig admirably. His crisp, throaty delivery with a slight South American touch presents Romero as less of a cover singer and more of a commanding presence who could handle one of rock's most challenging catalogs. It appears unlikely Blackmore will trot RAINBOW out for more shows, leaving Romero's performances with the band available online for posterity to perhaps silence those who questioned his ability.
The purpose of this chat was to discuss Romero's second cover album, "Raised On Heavy Radio", which finds the singer tackling the likes of ACCEPT, DEEP PURPLE, JUDAS PRIEST, METALLICA and more. But right around the corner is ELEGANT WEAPONS, his new band with PRIEST guitarist Richie Faulkner. Admittedly worn down by the number of guest vocalist requests he receives and side projects he partakes in to pay the bills, Romero is hopeful ELEGANT WEAPONS has enough success to become his primary band. For now, he still has MICHEAL SCHENKER GROUP to front, which is where this conversation began.
Blabbermouth: You have MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP, a solo career and now ELEGANT WEAPONS. Are you the type of guy that needs to stay busy?
Ronnie: "Yes, I am! [Laughs] It's part of how the music business developed for the new generation. It's impossible to think that we have the same kind of treatment in the business — I'm talking about the artists — that the artists from the '70s, '80s and even the '90s had. Other music styles are probably like that, but you need to work as much as possible to make a living as a rock musician."
Blabbermouth: You've been outspoken about this.
Ronnie: "Most of the people, not everybody, but most of the people, they want you to behave in a specific way, which is impossible. I cannot be GUNS N' ROSES and MÖTLEY CRÜE because nobody can anymore. That's why there is a lot of talk about a young artist without knowing how the business works. I can't accept that somebody tells me, 'Ah, you play in too many bands.' What do you mean? How many bands can I play in? Where is the rule that I can't play in this amount of bands? People don't know how record deals, distribution deals, or promotion and fees for the shows work. They don't know anything, but they have an opinion. Most of the time, the frustration comes from this."
Blabbermouth: People then have this idea since you sing with Schenker and sang with RAINBOW, you are living in a mansion, right?
Ronnie: "Oh yeah, right? [Laughs] I wish. I can't complain. I have a good life. I have an easy life compared to other people. That's true, but it doesn't mean I have a million-dollar record deal every month."
Blabbermouth: Can you explain how you currently prioritize your bands and projects?
Ronnie: "If you asked when I was touring with RAINBOW, that was the priority. It was fucking RAINBOW. [Laughs] If you ask me now, I'd say MICHAEL SCHENKER. Not only because of the name and the reputation it brings to my career to play with Michael but also because of the working dynamic. Writing music, going on tour, playing shows, he's a guy who is celebrating 50 years in his career and he's still behaving like a teenager trying to make a name for himself. That's encouraging for me and why it's my priority to play with him as much as possible. The rest is about to be coordinated. I have time to go to the studio every week. Then, people come with offers for shows and we set up everything so I can be busy all year."
Blabbermouth: Schenker and Ritchie Blackmore don't appear to be much alike. Was that true in working with them?
Ronnie: "It was interesting. They are two different worlds in every aspect of life, not only in the musical sense. They are totally different, opposite characters. Michael is a perfectionist. Same with Ritchie. I would make the point now that Ritchie gave up on rock music. He can do it. He played for 50 years, made a name with DEEP PURPLE and RAINBOW and is one of the founders of rock music. He's allowed to do whatever he wants, which is okay. But, Michael, after 50 years of playing, you can still see that he really wants to go out and play music. It's very encouraging for a young musician like me. To see this guy, after 50 years, still trying to do his best every night in every show for the fans. Same with every record. It's a very cool thing. I learned from both in many aspects of the music business. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Schenker has made it clear he's not motivated by commercial success, either. Does that appeal to you?
Ronnie: "He's about self-expression in music. He doesn't care about what's outside. Ritchie is on the other side. He's trying to figure out what is going on and what is working at the time, as he did with RAINBOW in trying to go more commercial [in the late 1970s]. Michael is the opposite. You can't talk to him about other bands because he doesn't know. He doesn't listen to other bands. If you ask him, 'Michael, have you heard of this band?' He'll tell you, 'I have no idea.' He wants to keep his ideas not influenced by anything, which is interesting. That makes him very unique. That's probably one of the secrets of his success."
Blabbermouth: Moving to "Raised On Heavy Radio", you picked some classics and a few under-the-radar songs. Which gave you the most significant challenge?
Ronnie: "Every song. When I did the first record [2022's 'Raised On Radio'], it was easier that there was a vocal style that was very easy for me to fit, like AOR, hard rock music. In this case, with the second album, even when it's heavy metal and people will say that I'm a heavy metal singer, every singer and every song is a totally different world for me to sing. It's impossible to fit Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford [JUDAS PRIEST] or Udo [Dirkschneider] from ACCEPT. Most of them have very unique voices. It was challenging. Even DEEP PURPLE, one of my favorite songs and I think it's an underrated song and album, 'The Battle Rages On…'. That particular era is hard to fit the [Ian] Gillan vocal style. He was in the middle of when he was coming off this high range but didn't have the voice anymore, so he kept it in the middle. Every song was challenging. The most challenging was YNGWIE MALMSTEEN ['You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget'] because Mark Boals is impossible for any normal singer. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: It's pretty cool you did a MASTERPLAN song, "Kind Hearted Light". That first album (2003's "Masterplan") is excellent.
Ronnie: "Every song that I covered is a song that is related to a specific moment of my life. I didn't pick the songs just because. Every song is very related to my story on the musical and personal side. In this case, that was an album I listened to every day in high school. I have really good memories of that album. The first two albums, actually. I like the second one, 'Aeronautics', a little more. This song, specifically, I remember. The great thing is that I asked Roland [Grapow, guitar]. We are friends. He's been the LORDS OF BLACK producer since the beginning. I asked him if it was okay for him to play a solo on this cover. I was trying to sell the story a little bit to him. He said, 'Let me listen to the song.' We sent the song to him. After that, I got an email that said, 'I'm not going to play just the solo. I will play all the guitars because I like the version.' To have the guy who wrote the song playing on the cover is pretty cool."
Blabbermouth: Let's not forget (original MASTERPLAN singer) Jørn Lande. Did you do what so many have done and mistake him for (WHITESNAKE's David) Coverdale at first?
Ronnie: "He sounds like Coverdale! I remember the first time I heard Jørn. I didn't know it was him. Somebody gave me ARK's 'Burn The Sun' album. I put it on and I was like, 'Why is Coverdale doing a progressive rock album?' Somebody had to tell me it was Jørn. I don't think he's trying to copy. It's like when people say I sound like [Ronnie James] Dio. I'm not trying to copy Dio — it's my voice. Sometimes you get criticized a lot."
Blabbermouth: That has to be hard. You are following in the footsteps of all these legendary singers.
Ronnie: "That's a battle the new generation of musicians will need to get used to. It's impossible to escape. The music from the '60s, '70s and '80s was so good. People love it so much and obviously, they will compare. I'll give you an example: I love soccer. I watch soccer almost daily and compare players with [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi. [Laughs] It's natural for people to do. Sometimes it's hard because people will think you are trying to copy it and it's not the truth."
Blabbermouth: There will be a lot of eyes on ELEGANT WEAPONS. What can people expect?
Ronnie: "Richie [Faulkner] called me once. We've been friends for a few years because of RAINBOW. We started talking and he called me and told me, 'I have this project. It didn't work with the singer. We have the songs and I was looking for a singer. I thought you could do it.' He sent me the songs and I recorded them. [Producer] Andy Sneap and Richie were very happy. Same for me. It's something fresh and different. It's something I've never done before."
Blabbermouth: I was wondering since I'm sure you get asked to join many projects.
Ronnie: "You can't imagine. [Laughs] You can't imagine how many times a week I need to say no."
Blabbermouth: That's a tricky thing to do.
Ronnie: "A couple of years ago, I learned how I need to proceed with a lot of things, especially my career. Now I'm only moved by my feelings. I usually do it if I really like it and want to play on it. Most of the time, I'll listen to the music and don't feel like I want to sing on it. I need to be honest. Sometimes, people think I'm an asshole. I'm not saying your music is bad. I'm telling you that I feel I can't do it. I'm going to be very honest: After RAINBOW, there were a lot of offers. I was thinking about the income. It was great. I was unemployed before RAINBOW. After RAINBOW, I had a lot of work and offers. But then there was a point where I felt I didn't want to do it because of the money. I want to put some meaning behind it. That turned out that I need to be honest with people. Most of the time, they don't react very well. [Laughs]
"I talked to Richie and told him it was cool. It's something I've never done before. It's not heavy metal. It's not hard rock. It's a mix in between. Some songs sound like AUDIOSLAVE and STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, which is interesting. I was happy to do it. I think people will like it. You're not going to listen to music similar to JUDAS PRIEST or RAINBOW. It's going to be very surprising for everybody."
Blabbermouth: What's the plan, then, with ELEGANT WEAPONS? Will it still be done on the side with some shows or become a serious band?
Ronnie: "We have five or six shows this summer. A few are already announced. We're going to start with summer festivals. Then we'll start working on the second record this fall and try to go on tour. Richie and I are thinking about the future. JUDAS, RAINBOW and MICHAEL SCHENKER will not be there forever. At some point, you must establish yourself and make your own path with your band. Why can't it be with ELEGANT WEAPONS? I'm starting to release things, like, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' I will focus on less but better quality. This experience of recording a new album under my name but with original material was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that I could do it because it was the first time I was involved in songwriting, writing all the lyrics and vocal lines and being part of the production and mixing. I said, 'Okay, I can do this.' I don't need to be Ronnie Romero, the 'singer of'. I can be Ronnie Romero myself. All the side projects, in the future, will disappear."
Blabbermouth: You emerged on the scene rapidly after LORDS OF BLACK and then with RAINBOW. This has all happened in less than ten years. Has the ride thus far surprised you?
Ronnie: "From the beginning, the first year after I joined RAINBOW, I always said, 'I already have a curriculum and a career that will take a singer 30, 40 years to have.' If we count from the first LORDS OF BLACK release, I did it in nine years. Sometimes it's funny when I look at my social media and the bio: RAINBOW, VANDENBERG, MICHAEL SCHENKER. It's like, 'Really? I did that!' Everything happened very fast. I was drawn into this dynamic of doing everything very fast as much as I could. I turned 41 last year. It's time to slow down a little bit. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Did you pay much attention to social media when you joined RAINBOW? The move took some people by surprise.
Ronnie: "I did in the past. It was really bad for me. Honestly, you have a guy, a South American guy, who moved to Europe to have a chance in life. Not even in music, but to have a chance to do better. Suddenly you are in the spotlight and you have a lot of people talking about you in a good way but also in a bad way. I was paying a lot of attention. It gave me a lot of stress and frustration. It was a moment in my life, also, in my personal life, when I got divorced almost three years ago. It was really hard for me.
"This is the first time I'm going to say it: I intended to commit suicide two times. It was really hard times. I was paying too much attention to what people were talking about me. From that point, I needed to release a little bit on social media. I tried to do my best. People are going to criticize me anyway. The times we live in, everybody thinks they are entitled to say whatever they want. I'm pretty much okay with criticism of my career, vocals and talent. It's okay for me if you say, 'I don't like this album. I don't like your songs. I don't like how you sing. You are not a good singer.' That's okay. It's part of the game when you are in the music business. But when people go on the personal side, it's not cool. I tell you, it was really hard for me to manage."
Blabbermouth: What did you do to change your mindset and start to ignore people online?
Ronnie: "I had my [new] wife with me at that moment and she was helping me a lot. And a couple of friends. It was because of them. Otherwise, you will be talking about the anniversary of my passing away. [Laughs] I'm just enjoying it now. If you go to my socials, everything is about fun. It's about my dogs, my wife, my free time, music with my friends. I'm trying to enjoy [life] and do what I like. If the people like it, that's pretty cool. If people don't like it, I'm still okay with it."