A Conversation With Fireball Ministry: On Longevity, Rocking With Legends, and Making Puzzles

There’s something impressive about longevity. When a band continues to pump out great records year after year, it’s hard not to admire them.

That’s the case with Fireball Ministry. An exciting, catchy blend of Hard Rock and Stoner Rock, Fireball Ministry has been hard at work since before Ou Est La Rock?, the band’s debut release in 1999.

As of today, the band includes:

  • James A. Rota II – Guitar/Vocals
  • Emily Burton – Guitar
  • John Oreshnick – Drums
  • Scott Reeder – Bass

We recently caught up with the band to discuss their activity during COVID-19, what it takes for a band to stick together for more than two decades, and more.

Fireball Ministry On Staying Busy During COVID-19

Monster Riff: Really do appreciate you checking in today. You’re right that there’s really nothing going on these days. I mean, what have you been doing to stay busy during COVID?

Emily Burton: We did a home video. That was kind of fun. I think that was the trend right in the beginning because everyone was like, “What do we do?” I have a jewelry company, so I have been working on that and then just some other musical projects, but it was definitely a bummer. we were supposed to play at the Viper Room last Friday and, you know, that didn’t happen. So sad.

Fireball Ministry On Sticking Together

Monster Riff: Yeah, it’s been a similar story as a fan. We’re in Pittsburgh. I just keep my fingers crossed and every week another person gets knocked off the list or pushed back another month… What is awesome about your career, from my perspective, at least, is that most bands don’t make it five years, most bands don’t make it 10 years, yet here you are going strong after more than 20 years?

James A. Rota II: What the hell is your problem? C’mon. Thanks a lot for reminding us. Thanks. Interview over. [Laughs]

Monster Riff: [Laughs] What does it take to keep a band together for such a long period of time?

John Oreshnick: I mean, it’s like a marriage. We don’t see each other enough. That’s the easy part.

James A. Rota II: We don’t vacation together or anything. No, I just think for us, it’s like if you’re all friends first, it’s going to be a lot easier to be in the band. You know what I mean. John and Emily and I have been in the band since the very, very beginning. And Scott has been in the band, I mean what… getting close to what, 10ish years?

Scott Reeder: Something like that. I have been around eight at least, which is longer than I’ve ever been in any band, actually.

Emily Burton: And you’re the longest bass player too, for sure.

John Oreshnick: And you’ve got the longest hair out of any of our bass players.

Emily Burton: You’ve gotten the longest hair.

Scott Reeder: Even out of the ladies? One thing that I would add to that as from an outsider being relatively new is that it’s a fair situation. Everything is equal, and the bands that I have seen do that last forever.

James A. Rota II: Yeah, I agree.

Scott Reeder: When bands fight over publishing or stuff like that, they start harboring ill will for each other. Break up and bad shit happens. It’s like society as well, everybody is fighting over equality right now but if everybody was equal, maybe society would last a long time.

Emily Burton: True.

James A. Rota II: Again, not to get crazy, but if you look at people as your equals, you know, the situation usually doesn’t escalate if everybody feels that they’re worth the same as everybody else. That’s just basic human behavior, I think. For our band, it’s like there is no person in the band who is more important than anyone else. I think that’s like all the good bands. Personally, I think if I had a solo career, it would not be awesome.

John Oreshnick: I’ll go to that. I want to see that show. You can start your dance music career.

James A. Rota II: It’s coming. I’m in.

John Oreshnick: I will be your wardrobe guy.

James A. Rota II: I like that. 

Scott Reeder: Good thing you have a big truck.

James A. Rota II: That will make me bigger than a K Pop star, I think, if you and me, if we put our minds together, John. You know, I think every great band, not to call our band a great band, but every band that lasts a long time, they realize that together is what makes that magic. Scott and I were involved in that documentary Sound City a few years ago, and that’s the whole point of that documentary: people getting together and making music is what makes music great. Right? If you’re in a band together and you all feel like equals, it’s overall a much better experience, I think. I’ve never been in a band that splits shit up weirdly.

Fireball Ministry On Creativity

Monster Riff: When you think about the creative process, how does that balancing act work out when someone brings in a song or something new and you have to evaluate it as a group?

Emily Burton: I think we welcome that, you know what I mean? It’s always kind of a collaboration, even on the last record we did, which was the first full length we did with Scott. It’s like what he brings to the song. We’ll have the song, and then Scott comes in with his bass stylings and it just adds, you know, that much more. I think that we’re really welcoming to that. That’s probably what adds to the longevity. There’s not just one person in the band who has to do everything and write everything. It’s like a group effort.  

James A. Rota II: I have been asked that question before, and it’s funny how you describe it. How I always describe it is it can be inspiration from anything anyone does, out of the four of us, usually, and whether that’s Emily saying a song title and saying, “This sounds cool!” and if I think about that like, “Hmmm, that does sound cool. What could be the story or the theme based around that?” That is one way we write songs. Another way we write songs is the classic good old riff version. The three of us—Scott, Emily or I—will come up with a riff on one of our instruments and then it just builds and builds and builds. It’s like all different ways, which is another reason I like being in this band. And, again, I don’t know, you know I think that every band gets sick of each other, no matter what. When you’re in that much of a confined space with the same people, like we all are right now during this pandemic, I think this is the first time that anyone ever realized what it is like to be in a band. Because you’re with the same people all day long, you know, all week, and you learn that you either love those people or you don’t. In our case, we feel like we love each other. 

John Oreshnick: And it’s those three people. Everybody else I am fine talking to on the phone or whatever, but it’s like, these are the people I can hardly wait to get into the room with. It’s insane.

Emily Burton: We shot the video and we are playing and put it all together and it’s no substitute for actually being in the same room and playing together. I mean I am definitely looking forward to when we can start doing that again

James A. Rota II: And the thing is, you know there’s enough technology available to people these days. Even though it sucks that you can’t go do the things you normally do, I do think there are alternatives that will bridge the gap between now and when we can actually go do something again. I am not a big hater on the drive-in concert thing. I don’t think that’s so terrible. And to be honest, at my age, I’d rather not stand that close to anyone during the concert. I’d enjoy the eight feet. 

Scott Reeder: I saw a video of a social distanced concert last night, actually, before I went to bed, and some drunk lady goes up on the stage and gets in this singer’s face. He’s politely asking her to back off. She grabs his masks and pulls on him and his face or something like that.

James A. Rota II: It’s one of those moments. I don’t think anybody in any business, 

anywhere, was prepared for something of this magnitude, so it’s got to settle and then we got to figure out how to deal with it. It’s not like before when you have time to plan and you can… I don’t know. There are a lot of things that still need to be worked out.   

Emily Burton: Luckily, we’re in the creative field. I have hopes that the music industry will figure this out. There has already been cool stuff happening. The live streams were fun, and you can see things that you wouldn’t have been able to see. If you lived in the middle of Kansas, you can livestream the Grateful Dead or whatever.

Monster Riff: With that in mind there has been a lot of really creative stuff going on right now. Has there been anything that you have seen that has really stood out to you?

Emily Burton: Hmm, I don’t know…There is a YouTube series and I am blanking on what it is. I think it’s cool—a bunch of different musicians can get together and make a home video or whatever. I’ve seen a few collaborations in that sense that seem interesting and I am sure that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It’s like “Hey, you’re sitting there, want to play with me?” while they’re sitting in their living room.

James A. Rota II: Yeah, I agree I like those too.

Monster Riff: We’re definitely getting more mashups and different types of mashups that we probably never would have seen if it wasn’t for this.

James A. Rota II: Well, you know, the minute you pull somebody out of their comfort zone, that’s when shit gets good. I always find that if you do things differently than last time, then you’re probably doing something right, because you’re thinking about it and you’re not just relying on muscle memory. And that is true with the creative process, as anything else. I mean, we all kind of learned that with our phones and what not.

Emily Burton: Oh! We made puzzles, which I don’t think we would’ve done if everyone hadn’t gotten so into puzzles during this thing. So they’re being manufactured.

James A. Rota II: Yeah, a guy who does our merch was just like, “Hey, I am doing like seven variations of the Rolling Stones lips puzzles, do you know want to run some puzzles?” And we were like, “Sure.” And that was the impetus of that. It was like there was no planning or anything, it was just like someone hit us up and we’re like, “We can do these too!”

Monster Riff: Do you have multiple puzzles designs?

Emily Burton: No, it’s one design. It’s like a collage. It’s on our website because you can preorder it.

James A. Rota II: Again, when you learn about puzzles and what makes puzzles hard and what makes a puzzle easy, those puzzles of cityscapes and horror scenes, those are really hard because there’s not a lot of information for your brain to put together right away. So I did some research and a puzzle that has a busier photo makes for a harder puzzle, so we just did a collage

Emily Burton: We are now puzzle experts because of coronavirus.

James A. Rota II: I got my puzzle degree.

Fireball Ministry On Band Chemistry

Monster Riff: That’s awesome… Obviously, you have a lot of chemistry. You’ve been at this for a long time. Was there ever a moment that you felt like throwing in the towel?

James A. Rota II: No, why? What does that do? That just makes you miserable, you know? I want to play until I can’t anymore, so why not just play with the same people that you like? I’ve gotten really lucky in my life to talk to a lot of pretty epic musicians. It all just seems like the same thing to me, you know, like when Joe Walsh was in the James Gang, that was his band and he was super into being in the James Gang and then he joined the Eagles then he was super into being in the Eagles, but he still did a James Gang reunion because he wanted to play with his guys, like his friends, and this would be more like you saying, “Do you think you’ll never be friends again?” And at this point, it’s like no, we all know what each other’s limitations and personality differences. To me, it’s like saying the band would not ever play again or be in existence would mean I am not friends with these people like Emily, John, and Scott, and that sucks.

Emily Burton: We had periods where we took breaks, you know, in between… Time flies between records, so we seem to take a longer time before we’re like, “It’s been three years. We should probably work on a new record. I can’t imagine throwing in the towel. And today you can rock until your like 80, because look at the Rolling Stones

Fireball Ministry Band Photo
Photo: Andrew Stuart

Fireball Ministry On the Band’s Early Days

Monster Riff: Earlier on, the band released albums every two years for the first 10, then there was a seven-year hiatus, then a five-year hiatus. What were things like in the early days of the band when you were churning out records?

Emily Burton: I think we were touring a lot, you know? Those first three records, I actually just put up a tour history on our website. You know, you forget how much we were on the road and how many shows we were playing. So, I think after that third record, we just kind of took a break that turned into a little bit longer of a break than we thought it was going to be to put out a new one. In the early days, I think it was, as soon as we put out The Second Great Awakening on Nuclear Blast, I think we were touring a ton, just constantly.

James A. Rota II: I agree with Emily. We would get home and all of the sudden there would be another offer, then we would get home and there would be another offer, and then we would get home and there would be three offers in a row, and that kind of stuff, and you know. We were younger. And you know it’s… Not to keep talking about me, but I am working on this documentary about how touring and what would make people get into a van and, you know, want to go around the country and figure this all out for yourself and everyone has the same story where it was just like, “What the hell else was I going to do? What would be the thing I would do besides this?” And I think in the beginning, you’re just so excited to go out there and do it. So, it’s like anything at the beginning of the career… You would be surprised at how many big, big bands these days, the ones that all have kids and families, only do two weeks and then they go home for a week, then they go back out and they do two weeks and then they come home for a week, but that’s how you can keep doing it forever and forever, I think, rather than burning yourself out. Plus, there is real life. 

Fireball Ministry On Touring and Travel

Monster Riff: What is the name of your new documentary?

James A. Rota II: Right now, it’s appropriately titled, Van Doc, but we haven’t named it yet. But it’s great. I mean,  I like anything that is about throwing everything away that everyone told you and going and doing it yourself because anybody who tours knows what it felt like. I feel like any musicians that ever toured knows exactly what it’s like to be a gypsy, like in the coolest way ever, or a pirate, you know, it’s like you don’t live by other people’s rules when you’re doing that shit.

Emily Burton: Even now when we’re touring, I still play the same game with myself where you try to take all the extra food, even though I can literally buy lunch, but you still take everything extra from your rider. It’s a weird scavenger hunt that you go on when you go on on tour. 

James A. Rota II: That’s called PTSD, behaving like that.

Emily Burton: It’s fun!

James A. Rota II: It’s like, “I’m not going to eat!”

Emily Burton: You’re like, “No, I am not going to leave that jar of peanut butter, better take that with me!”

John Oreshnick: I remember when Emily put the bread in her pocket… Oh, no, that was me!

James A. Rota II: Wait, wait, I got to tell you. This is a good story. We were playing—don’t judge us—we played this corporate gig for this watch company. The guys from the watch company were super nice and they wanted to take us out to dinner afterwards and I was too tired, so I went to go to sleep. So all these guys went to some fancy hotel that had sand on the roof rather, so it looked like the beach on the roof, and they all ate down below, and John O has a tendency to wear sweatshirts, you know hoodies, so my brother who used to tour manage us said, he told me, “When we were walking up the stairs to go to the fancy bar, John O was pulling rolls out of his sweatshirt front pocket, chewing on them as snacks.” So, yeah, you get hungry but you make do. You figure out how to feed yourself. Like Emily said, if it’s there, you can take it because you never know. 

John Oreshnick: But that’s the kind of shit that, like, even when you’re on a big tour with buses and trucks and roadies and everything else… It’s just like when I look back, that’s the kind of shit I miss, like just the weird stuff, like, we’re going to sleep for an hour. I know it’s horrible when it’s happening, but then when you think back to it, I guess it’s like when guys go to war or something. They just sit there and tell war stories like those were the good old days. “Remember when Johnny’s arm got blown off? We had to sew it on.”

Fireball Ministry On Concerts and Playing With Your Heroes

Monster Riff: You’ve talked a little bit about the behind the scenes on tour. From the fan side, every time I go to a show, I come away with a special moment where I saw something I’ve never seen before. Looking back, are there any moments as a band that stand out for you?

James A. Rota II: I can remember the first time we ever played a show that was of a certain size and multiple people, I could see multiple people singing the words to our song. And I remember thinking like, “Fuck yeah, there it is.” When I am on stage, I like to look out and see people that I think would have been me when I was was watching concerts, and I get amped if I see people that really know the band and are really into it, you know you’re just like, “Good, I am doing the thing I always wanted to do and it’s making people happy like it made me happy,” and that’s the best part because I didn’t play sports and shit, I didn’t have that. I’ve always been the same thing, I haven’t developed or evolved much since I was 12. So, you know that’s the most exciting thing for me. 

Emily Burton: Playing festivals like the European Metal Festival was the highlight for me because I would see the bands in the magazines, bands playing those huge concerts and you wonder, “Will there be anyone there for us? No one’s heard of us.” And the fact that there was a huge crowd, that was a really exciting moment. I feel like early on, you’re like, “Wow, yeah, this is for real.”

James A. Rota II: Or that time we delayed going home from a tour, which I can’t remember what it was, we stayed two extra days with family in NJ just so we could open one show for Judas Priest. It was just when Rob Halford just came back to the band. It was the craziest night ever

Emily Burton: It was between CKY and Opeth, but I am glad we did that because that was totally awesome. But yeah, that was worth it. Getting to open for the bands you love is very exciting.

John Oreshnick: Remember the first trip we took to Europe? We were opening for Blue Öyster Cult and Uriah Heep. The whole time I am thinking, “How the fuck is Uriah Heep headlining? I only know one song by them. Easy Livin’. And then they open with Easy Livin’ and I am like, “Now what do they do?” It’s like going to see Deep Purple and they open with “Smoke on the Water,” but then you’re like… Their entire set is amazing, and we watched them every night.

James A. Rota II: And you know the songs. They’re one of those weird bands that you’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s them! And that’s them!” I love those shows.

Emily Burton: Our first show with Scott was on the Motörboat, which was crazy. That was crazy.

Scott Reeder: I was thinking about that too. For me, that was something I’ve never done before. Not that I am some jaded old fuck, but looking out while were playing and seeing the sun going down on the horizon it was just…

Emily Burton: Yeah, it was the Motörhead Cruise. It was on a cruise liner and they had multiple stages and the one stage was kind of on the deck. It was an open air deck. It was nuts. There was a pool so people could mosh in a pool in front of you. It was very weird but cool.

James A. Rota II: We did both Motörhead Cruises because why not? And that concept seemed weird at first, and then you do it and you’re like, “Oh, I get what this is. It’s like a festival that makes stops.”  You know, it’s basically a floating festival, so those were cool.

Fireball Ministry On What’s Next

Monster Riff: When you think about what’s next for you guys, is there another album on the horizon? Maybe another tour, assuming COVID-19 disappears?

James A. Rota II: I guarantee we’ll make music. We should probably be working on that now so that by the time we get out of this shit we could actually record it.

Emily Burton: We were tossing around the idea of an EP, possibly, but yeah, it would be good. I think it’s time. Looking at the time we recorded the last record, it’s definitely time for a new one. I would say it’s on the horizon, for sure.

Monster Riff: Have any of you been writing on your own through quarantine?

Emily Burton: I have a new side project that’s coming out next month, that’s two songs. That’s going to come out. I have been collecting riffs for our next Fireball album.

Monster Riff: Do you want to plug your other project?

Emily Burton: Sure, it’s called Hex and Dagger. It’s Brad Davis from Fu Manchu and Helen Storer who played in a bunch of projects. She was our first bass player.

Scott Reeder: Yeah, I just did a track for a little Italian band. There’s another thing from England that I am singing for, and then I got a project with Jim—one song that will be on a compilation record… This Louise Patricia Crane record came out that I played on a couple of tracks with Jakko from King Crimson and there’s one that has Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull.

You can keep up with Fireball Ministry by visiting their website.

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