Mike Ruocco started his first band at the age of 12, was signed to a major label by 19 and soon after was touring the world with the likes of KISS, Alice Cooper and Daughtry. He’s played in stadiums and heard several of his songs dominate rock radio.
But even after that kind of success, the singer/guitarist has had a moment to pause, reassess and start down a new path. His aptly-titled new record The Rise. The Ride. The Risk marks that turning point. “I’m proud of that title: it’s everything my music represents,” says Ruocco. “The rise – this is beginning of my new career. The ride – a look back, reflecting on where I’ve been. The risk – this is all me. I’m doing this all independently because I feel so strongly about the material. I just want to get back on the road and play my new songs for the people who want to listen…whether it’s 20 or 20,000.”
While his previous work was more in a hard rock/alt-rock vein, Ruocco’s new record reflects serious growth, both lyrically and musically. Freed from restrictive label politics, the singer was able to experiment with heaviness, ballads, acoustic songs and even electronic elements. “Most people listen to all kinds of music, and that’s the record I wanted to make,” he says. “I don’t want 10 or 12 songs that all sound the same – that era of music is over.” Shaping the diverse nature of the record was the recording process, which saw the singer track new songs with different producers in Birmingham, Benton (Illinois), Los Angeles and Ruocco’s hometown of Baltimore.
You can hear that newfound sense of musical freedom in the first single, “Too Late.” In demo form, the song was an acoustic number, but quickly transformed into something decidedly more modern, with beats and synths subtlety shaping the background. While Ruocco’s previous work had its dark moments, this track is a positive one, touching on the tumultuous nature of human relationships and how it’s “not too late to make things right.” Says the singer: “Positivity is a central theme on the album. As I got a little older, my nerves have calmed a bit, and I got tired of hearing all the anger in rock music. It’s not all about drop-tuned guitars, shaved heads and anger. When I grew up, rock music encompassed a lot of different moods. I wanted to reflect that in my own music.” (The diversity in Ruocco’s music isn’t new. For the past few years, he’s been a songwriter for BMG, allowing him to work with everyone from pop to rock to country artists).
Ruocco plans to road test his new material this spring and summer with a full band, and continue his goodwill tours for the U.S. military. In the last few years, the singer has traveled overseas multiple times to perform for the troops, while also performing a concert at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C., where amputee and shock-blast victims were recuperating from their war experiences.
“I wanted to do something tangible for the troops,” says the singer. “We play for free because we want to do our part. It’s an amazing experience, both doing the shows and just talking to the service men and women afterwards. And at Walter Reed, seeing the effects of battle was awakening. For us to be able to bring some semblance of comfort into their day is the most we can ask for.”
As he prepares to release his new record and tour, Ruocco hopes his album reflects a new way of thinking in the music industry, one that looks both to the past and the future. “It’s a different musical climate out there,” he says. “I’m hoping there’s a return to the idea that rock’n’roll can be about great songs, thought-out lyrics and real passion.”
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