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— by Jocelyn Vena

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus had no intention of anyone ever hearing their music.

While in high school, founding members Ronnie Winter and guitarist Duke Kitchens wrote and rehearsed songs for 18 months. But when some of their friends heard what the guys had written, they urged them to finally make the songs public.

The duo convinced a local studio owner to let them record their music, and soon enough, they were handing out demos at shows and becoming a hot commodity on the local Jacksonville, Florida, hardcore metal scene, despite their emo leanings.

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Beyond their bombastic sound, it was the Apparatus' autobiographical lyrics that helped them forge a tight bond with their early fans. "Immediately in town we got a ridiculous response," Winter said. "I got thousands of e-mails from people saying that they know how I feel and they relate to the song and it really helped them out."

But despite the fan support, record label interest was hard to come by, and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus eventually lost the other founding members.

"Aliens came down and abducted the rest of our bandmembers, so we weren't really sure what to do at that point," Winter said. "I called [guitarist] Elias [Reidy], who's pretty knowledgeable on that topic, and he said, 'Oh, we'll just replace them,' so we did."

The band's current lineup includes Reidy, bassist Joey Westwood and drummer Jon Wilkes. And with the ink dry on a deal with Virgin Records and mainstream tastes turning toward the emotionally wrought punk the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus specialize in, the timing finally seems right for the band.

"We weren't really seeking a record deal, but the fact of the matter is you need to have distribution, so why not through a major?" Winter said. "They can do it as well as anybody else. We're happy to have them, and [Virgin] is happy to have us."

So is producer David Bendeth, the man behind screamo favorites such as Hawthorne Heights and Breaking Benjamin. He's behind the boards for the band's debut, which could be out this summer. Bendeth turned out to be more than a producer, serving as a father figure for the boys as well. "Working with David was a very interesting experience for all of us, I think," Winter said. "He was a very challenging producer and he pushed us to our limits."

But with the prospect of mainstream success on the horizon and a spot on this summer's Warped Tour, Winter is ready to take on anyone who refers to the bandmembers as sellouts. "The greatest thing about that was they called us sellouts when we were still living in trailers," Winter said. "If you consider selling out making sure that the rest of the United States can hear your music, then I guess we're sellouts."


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