Songwriter Interviews

CJ Snare of FireHouse and Rubicon Cross

by Greg Prato

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More often than not, when a musician becomes aligned with a certain musical genre, it is hard for them to shift stylistic gears and break on through to new audiences. But this appears not to be the case for FireHouse singer CJ Snare, who also fronts another band - the heavier Rubicon Cross - whose self-titled album has found an audience outside of the FireHouse ambit.

It was with FireHouse that CJ scored a string of hits in the '90s, including "Don't Treat Me Bad," "Love of a Lifetime," and "When I Look Into Your Eyes." And interestingly, FireHouse was one of the few hair metal bands that continued to score hits after grunge and alt-rock changed the landscape (as evidenced by their 1995 single, "I Live My Life for You").

CJ spoke with Songfacts about how Rubicon Cross differs from FireHouse stylistically, how success affected him, songwriting tips, and the inspiration behind many of his top hits.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): As far as songwriting, would you say that the songs that you've written over the years, lyrically, have been personal?

CJ Snare: Lyrics are really a mixture, because you have a lot of artistic license with them. For example, when somebody said, "And that was all she wrote," bing, a light went off, and I drew from the cosmic creative pool out there to make that into something. I wrote the story backwards.

So I took a bit of a literal sense to that, putting it in a letter where she said, "Bye bye," and I found it when I got home, and I should have known something was up. So I wrote it backwards from that one line, which became the hook, as we call it, or the chorus line, and the title of the song.

Other times, yes, it's most definitely based on personal experience. The Rubicon Cross song, "Next Worst Enemy," our guitarist Chris Green had just gone through a breakup and I said, "Come on over to my house." So he flew 4,000 miles over to the United States. He was telling me about it, and he said, "Mate, she went out with my soundman while I was on tour, I didn't even know it. I feel like I've been a victim of hit-and-run serial monogamy." And I'm like, "Yeah, I know, dude. It's like when you meet those girls, they become your best friend and your lover and everything like that. And then before you know it, and out of the blue, they become your next worst enemy." We looked in each other's eyes and the light bulb went off. We had two killer lines there, and we wrote that song in an hour.

And then there's a lot of times, too, when it's just purely fictional. For example, when I wrote the song, "Love of a Lifetime," I didn't have a love of a lifetime in my life. But I thought it was a nice ideal and it was something cool to write about. That was the hook that I happened to come up with. This was way before FireHouse when I put all that together. It's not about any one particular person, although since I wrote that song, I've probably had about three love of a lifetimes [laughing], or ones that I thought were "Love of a Lifetime" that turned into the "Next Worst Enemy" and ended up with an "All She Wrote."

Songfacts: That was going to be my next question, which was "Love of A Lifetime" inspired by a real person? But you just answered that.

CJ: Yes and no. It's not a literal, but a figurative person. And apparently it's panned out for a lot of people: We get a lot people that come up and say, "We got married to that song and we're still married."

When I wrote that, shoot, man, I was playing little solo gigs, playing piano in a bar and singing. I went down after hours and penned that tune and I didn't think it was going to be a wedding song or so popular. Who knows when you're doing these things? Just as an artist, you create. So there are different methods.

A lot of times there'll be a guitar riff and then that will just spark an element of creativity that I'm, like, "Go with me on this one, okay? I'm going to call this 'Shake and Tumble,' which makes no sense, but imagine 'Wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom," it doesn't make much sense, either. But it just seemed to work within the parameters of that tune.

Songfacts: And what about another famous song, "When I Look Into Your Eyes." Was that inspired by a real person?

CJ: No, that was something that Bill [Leverty, the band's guitarist] and I just wrote. Once again it's like, "Okay, we need another ballad," because "Love of A Lifetime" had done so well for us.

And that was something we both kind of put together. Now, "I Live My Life for You" was based on my ex-wife. [Laughing] I woke up at 5:00 in the morning and wrote that with her in mind.

That did really well for us at a time when bands of the FireHouse genre, if you will, were not charting very high. I think it went to 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in '95. So that was sort of out of the blue and unexpected.

With Rubicon Cross, the current single, "Bleed with Me," is something that was used in a Shakespeare play, Henry V. But then as I researched it further I found out that it was in Braveheart. "You bled with her, with the Bruce, now bleed with me!", you know, when he's rallying on the horseback and talking to the soldiers.

And then the coolest thing was I had none of this in mind. It was about our band and a band of brothers standing in the face of adversity, like the band against the world. Tough times in the music industry and hopefully coming out on the other side better for it. Found out the US Marines used "Bleed with Me, You Will Forever Be My Brother" as one of their slogans. So it's just kind of evolved. And I used all those little bits and pieces of information I had gathered to form the entire lyric around that, once again, from the hook line backwards.

That's most often how I would craft a song. I like to drive a hook home in my particular writing style. If you listen to a FireHouse song or a Rubicon Cross song, you'll hear me normally say it as the first line of the chorus and you hear me end with it, too. And you'll hear me reiterate it at some other point outside of the chorus, too, just so you don't walk away going, "What was that song again?"

Now sometimes I miss more than I hit. It wasn't meant to be a formula at all. But my guitar player - Chris Green, in Rubicon Cross - actually pointed that out to me. He said, "Have you ever noticed that you almost always bang us with the hook line, the tag line, the chorus, and then you end it with that as well if you don't do it twice at the end?" I'm, like, "I have never noticed that." He says, "From now on, I'm going to call you Captain Hook." [Laughs]

So it was inadvertent, I've got to tell you. I guess that's just like certain painters paint with different brushstrokes, that's the way I craft a chorus.

Songfacts: Something I forgot to ask you before when we were discussing "Love of a Lifetime" - how would you say things changed for you after that song went so big?

CJ: That's a real interesting story. I originally had done that on a Fender Rhodes and copyrighted it with the Library of Congress. And it was different. I didn't arpeggiate the chords, which certainly isn't songwriting, that's just arrangement. So I had the basics of the song down, and I remember playing it for Jon Bon Jovi and he said, "Put that song away, it'll ruin your career."

So I came up with another song that went on the original demo that got us our deal with Sony Music and Epic Records. They approached us after the whole record was done and they said, "You know, the power ballad is really big these days, and we feel like we could do a little bit better than this one. So maybe we could bring some outside writers to help you guys with that one." And I said, "Well, I have another one." And the guys were looking at me with, like, "What are you talking about, dude?" Because at that time, Slippery When Wet was out, and Bon Jovi was hitting on all cylinders. They were firing on all.

But it was "Love of a Lifetime" and the record company loved it, and apparently lots of other people did too.

In addition to fronting arguably the biggest "hair metal" band of the late '80s, Jon Bon Jovi also had a keen eye for other hair metal talent. Case in point, he helped discover such subsequent hit makers as Cinderella and Skid Row, and as CJ just explained above, offered the FireHouse lads some career advice early on, as well.
Songfacts: And how would you say it changed your life when that song became so big?

CJ: Well, "Treat Me Bad" was "Love of A Lifetime's" predecessor. And that was a gold record, which back in those days meant we had broken even. "Love of a Lifetime" hit in the summer of 1991, and I remember getting one six-figure royalty check for just one single month period off of that. Bill received a check in equal size, too, because I shared writing credits with him. He and I, that's how we were going to do it. Not to compare, by any stretch of the imagination, with Lennon and McCartney, but we had a similar deal structure worked out. Anything that we both brought to the table, we split equally.

And so financially I was like, "Whoa, I kind of made it." And then into the multi-platinum phase, that was another benchmark of you've made it, you've definitely established something within the music industry. So that's how I would say it changed my life.

Songfacts: Before, we talked a bit about Rubicon Cross. It seems like it's a big stylistic departure from FireHouse. How is it singing a heavier style than what FireHouse is primarily known for?

CJ: Well, in 1991, FireHouse won the American Music Award for best new hard rock, heavy metal band. So we did kind of start that way. And I have to say that my first love and my first band were heavy metal bands, of course from a different era. Rob Halford was one of my big influences. I really love Bruce Dickinson, as well, and Klaus Meine from the Scorpions. Bands of that ilk and that genre, that's probably really where I cut my teeth as far as learning melody, the songwriting. I love the two guitar stuff. I like heavy stuff.

And I've got to say, if you come and see FireHouse live, it's a heavier band than a lot of people might anticipate if you've never seen us before and you know us only for what's been played on the radio. We came out of the box as an overnight sensation with "Love of a Lifetime," "When I Look Into Your Eyes" and "I Live My Life for You." But stuff like "Shake and Tumble," "Reach For The Sky" and "Hold Your Fire," they're much heavier. But FireHouse took time and the music scene changed as well. Our third album [1995's 3] I'm very, very proud of. I know we all are.

That was some of my favorite songwriting, and I think it was Bill's, too. That was an evolutionary thing, because the Gin Blossoms were hitting then. And not that we were trying to emulate them, but we were trying to stay true to our roots while still somehow being current as to what was relevant and what was happening in the marketplace.

With Rubicon Cross, it's actually returning to my roots. But what's been wonderful is that the folks that have heard it out there, the listening audience and the press, have put us in a different genre. It's not that melodic, hard rock hair band kind of thing. It's active rock with new hard rock/metal elements in there, too.

And it's been good for me. I sing in a lower register. FireHouse is known for the higher harmonies, and with Rubicon Cross I've paid special attention to harmonize much lower and not as often. It's very heavy, hard guitar driving sound. The chordal structures that we use underneath the melodies and the choruses really set it apart. That was really something that we were going for.

There is a FireHouse. If you want FireHouse, FireHouse is still active. Come see us. And there is a Rubicon Cross. So far we charted in the first week, which was last week. Heatseekers #23 and a couple other ones, too. And Top 40 sellers at Best Buy. I mean, good stuff for a baby band, because it doesn't say my name. It's Rubicon Cross. Who the heck is this? It's a new baby band. Let's check them out.

We're getting a lot of support, and I'm really blessed and fortunate, and filled with gratitude because of that. Because I've been able to realize a different type of artistic expression through this other vehicle and I don't know how many artists really get a second chance.

Songfacts: I forgot to ask before about the song "Don't Treat Me Bad." What was the inspiration behind that song?

CJ: I don't think it was about a specific person. Isn't that weird?

Songfacts: That is.

CJ: Sometimes songs really are personal and sometimes they really, really aren't. I remember sitting down at the piano and coming up with that chord progression, but it sounds really different on piano, obviously, than it did on guitar. I had the first verse, bridge, and chorus, and then I brought it to the other guys in the band and we hammered out the rest of the song. Mostly Bill and myself.

And, yeah, it wasn't about a real particular person. I mean it's really odd: If I had to look back over the whole catalogue, which is kind of hard to do, and I'm not just talking FireHouse, I'm talking Rubicon Cross, too, some are a work of fiction and some are nonfiction. It's the best way I have to describe it. It is writing to music, but still some things are real and some things aren't real.

Songfacts: I understand. I also thought the name of the band, Rubicon Cross, is pretty interesting. Because doesn't the word Rubicon mean the point of no return?

CJ: Close, you're really close. If you went to the true historical idiomatic meaning of it, it goes back to old English. Actually it goes back beyond that. It goes back to Julius Caesar. There's a little tiny river in Northern Italy called the Rubicon, and when he crossed that river with his army to come back towards Rome, that was the point where it was official that he had declared an act of war, committed to the act of war.

So it was inexorable at that point. It was a point of no turning back. So people in England started saying, "Well, you've really crossed the Rubicon now, haven't you?" Meaning just like Julius Caesar when he crossed that, there was no way to turn back. We thought that was really cool, and Chris's dad used to say that a lot over in England to us and it kind of resonated, so we flipped it around so it wasn't so obvious. We thought that was cool, the name for a rock band anyway. So Rubicon Cross, hence the name.

October 1, 2014.
For more FireHouse, visit the band's official site, and for more Rubicon Cross, click here.

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Comments: 2

  • Aaron Carter from FloridaLove both band the put on awsome show the are diehard to.there fans
  • Jayvee from MontrealCJ sounds like a really cool guy. I'm glad his first reference was to All She Wrote which IMO, is one of the most underrated (hard) rock songs ever, along with Arizona by The Scorpions.
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