The long road

The Baltimore Sun

Like many of his musical peers, singer/guitarist Mike Ruocco wants a wall of platinum records and an international fan base.

What sets Ruocco apart is, he knows how hard he has to work to try and get there. Ruocco started alt-rock outfit Plunge in 1995, then took a break from the group to play with SR-71. Recently, he renamed Plunge to Cinder Road, signed to record label EMI and released a debut album,

"Get In, Get Out," the band's first single, rose to No. 25 on the modern rock charts, and was No. 1 on Sirius Radio's Octane Countdown for 14 weeks.

Sunday, Lutherville-based Cinder Road takes a break from its frantic touring schedule to play its annual Christmas Show at the Recher Theatre.

How have you been, Mike?

We've just been crazy busy. We've been touring nonstop since January. Our schedule is slam-packed for the first couple of months of '08 too. We're going to tour all of '08. We're committed. We're fully committed to breaking this record.

You're also doing shows for Armed Forces Entertainment.

This will be our sixth tour with them. We're going to be spending New Year's and the first two weeks of January in Europe. Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

How are you received over there?

We've yet to visit Europe. Previous trips we went to Japan three times, South Korea, Guam, Greenland, Cuba, Hawaii. Any time you do a show for the military, it's always great. They're so starved for entertainment over there. They really appreciate when artists come over. And it's a feel-good activity for us. It's volunteer -- it's not a moneymaker. We really enjoy giving back a little bit.

How does Cinder Road rank in terms of the musical projects you've done in the past?

Cinder Road is my world. It's my life. It's my everything. This band is a dream come true for me. I started Plunge back in 1995. Three of the five of us were in Plunge. We've just had our nose to the grindstone since then. Plunge did pretty good. Then I did my time with SR-71, then in 2006, I had the opportunity to sign with EMI. I never looked back. On EMI, I've had the opportunity to realize so many of my dreams. It's been incredible. We've toured the world. The goals we set years ago are slowly but surely coming to fruition.

What were those goals?

We always wanted to sign a major-label record deal. That is an accomplishment for any band, because record deals are happening less and less and less. Labels are shrinking and merging and there's less money to be spent on new artists. A lot of labels are just focusing on the bands that have already pre-established careers. For us to be fortunate enough to land a deal was amazing for us.

The first big tour we went on was touring with Chris Daughtry of American Idol for the first five months of this year. We played the entire country with him -- literally. I think there's only four states we haven't played this year. We got to play in front of sold-out shows every night. When we were in Plunge, we spent a lot of time as a cover band. Now we've gotten to tour with bands like Puddle of Mudd and Candlebox and Buckcherry and Hinder and Papa Roach -- bands that we used to cover. These guys are our friends now. I specifically remember covering Puddle of Mudd songs. Then [singer] Wes [Scantlin] would call me and want to have a beer on our bus.

What's it like to go from covering a band's songs to having a beer with the band?

It's crazy. It's one of those things where this is always where I had hoped our band would wind up. I never set out to be the world's biggest cover band. My goals were to be able to sustain a career in music for the rest of my life. Make music, make my own music and tour and make fans. That has been my entire goal. You have to have a record deal for the kind of music that we make to do that. It costs a lot of money to tour and it costs a lot of money to make records. It takes big powerful companies to get your albums in stores like Best Buy and FYE and Borders Books.

For me, this has all been kind of a whirlwind. It has by no means happened overnight. When you're in the thick of things, everything happens really fast. It's amazing for me to think back.

And the first tour we land is the Daughtry tour. I go from seeing this guy on American Idol and Entertainment Tonight to he's now a close friend of mine. It's surreal at first. But then you realize after the fact that these are just people -- like your next-door neighbor or a buddy you went to school with. They're all just people.

Cinder Road plays its annual Christmas show at the Recher Theatre, 512 York Road in Towson, on Sunday. Fourth Element, Bad Apples and Eleven: 54 will also perform. Tickets are $10; $13 for those younger than 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. Call 410-337-7178 or go to

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