Interview and Photos by Craig Hunter Ross.
Chris Jericho is known the world over for his years as one of the biggest stars and box office draws in the world of professional wrestling, as well as several other media ventures including a successful run on Dancing With the Stars.
Put these two powerhouse performers together, add a shared love of music and metal, and you have the birth of the band FOZZY.
What started out as a novelty project has evolved into a band with thirteen years of world wide concert performances and six albums on it’s resume; and they seem to be just hitting their stride.
Currently on tour as part of the Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival, along with the likes of Godsmack, Shinedown, Staind and other cult metal favorites, FOZZY is gaining exposure to thousands of metal fans across North America and winning them over with their high energy stage performances.
Rich Ward sat down with Guitar International just a few hours before the band’s performance in Bristow, Virginia, for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Craig Hunter Ross: Here with The Duke of Metal, lead guitarist for Stuck Mojo, Adrenaline Mob, Walking with Kings and of course FOZZY, Rich Ward.
Rich Ward: And Led Zeppelin, you forgot that…[Laughs]
Craig: Ah yes, and that small stint with Van Halen as well…
Rich Ward: Yeah, when Eddie’s chops weren’t up to snuff and I had to step in and keep the band’s reputation up to par.
Craig: When you get a phone call from Gary Cherone, well, you just have to pick it up.
Rich Ward: [Laughs]
Craig: So you’re hanging out at a WCW [World Championship Wrestling] event and you meet Chris Jericho. You start chatting about music and now thirteen years and six albums later, did you foresee any of this happening?
RichWard: No…absolutely not. You know the original incarnation of this band, “Fozzy Osbourne” was just a vehicle for some local Atlanta musicians to get together and play some of our favorite cover stuff.
It was actually a slow transition from the “goofy” era of “Fozzy Osbourne”, which included Quiet Riot, Twisted Sisted and Motley Crue and more funny type of stuff up to when Chris joined the band. Then we tried to streamline it into Maiden, Priest, Ozzy, Scorpians and Accept.
Then we came to a period where we all just said if that if we were going to keep doing this, while some people are still laughing, it’s no longer funny to us. We were doing Steel Panther before there was a Steel Panther.
It was cool, but I think the more that Stuck Mojo became a side project, we became more desirous to make FOZZY the vessel for the original material.
Chris had even made a conscious decision to start backing down on some of his wrestling schedule as well. Like a lot of guys when they get into their mid to late thirties, he started thinking about how many more titles are there to actually win.
He still loves wrestling, but at some point just felt that he had done it all, had other interests; writing books, playing music, all the above. I just think that he was willing to make more time for the band and that was the essential part for us.
For Frank [Fontsere] and I, who started Stuck Mojo in the late ’80s, we’ve been full time musicians. So for us to make a transition to FOZZY as our priority, it was going to take a commitment from Chris and that he was going to be willing to have the same commitment.
We didn’t have back up jobs like he did. We didn’t have alternate careers. We were just musicians. If we were going to prioritize our time, then we needed his commitment and that’s when you started to see FOZZY become a real band.
All of us still have other projects that we’re working on, it’s just those had to be rendered to side projects and they became the status that FOZZY was to us for years.
Craig: Being that in your beginnings FOZZY was a novelty, almost a segue between Spinal Tap and Steel Panther.
Rich Ward: Exactly right.
Craig: You were playing club shows, small theaters, one off events here and there; as you have gotten more serious and begun to get some legitimate recognition, does the pressure increase and maybe take away some of that fun? Almost like golfing with some buddies and hacking all over, then playing regularly and getting better, then being too serious and not enjoying it as much?
Rich Ward: It probably would if we hadn’t already gone through this before with a band. Our entire lineup is fairly seasoned. I won’t make a judgment on whether we have been successful or not, I’ll leave that up to fans and the industry; but we’ve done this so many times.
Our bass player played for Billy Joel and Paul Simon, Frank and I obviously played with Stuck Mojo for years and toured the world and have sold a lot of records with that band, so we’ve all really already gone through the process of those butterflies you get when you start moving out of clubs and start to play big festivals and make big records with big producers; so it was easier for us.
It was more like we were race car drivers and moving from NASCAR to Formula 1 or vice versa. I think the vehicle was different, but the experiences were very similar. Nothing that we are experiencing today is any different than anything we have already gone through. It just has a little bit of a different paint job on it.
Craig: Basically, just some variances to scale, but once you’re on stage it really doesn’t matter.
Rich Ward: Yeah, you’re right. The big adjustments are show to show; stage size, is it raining, are you in a parking lot, etc. Concerns are just day to day.
Like this morning, we all get up, we all exercise, we get a little bit of rain; we look at performing as like being a prize fighter, timing is very important; When do you eat, are you warming up, you know, getting ready for “the fight”.
Then when that is done, you have other obligations; signings, press and things like that. But those are the things that I find to be easier for us than for younger bands, we know what to expect. We’re a little bit more tuned into what we need to do to be at our best.
Craig: In terms of FOZZY, Chris [Jericho] writes titles and lyrics and you write the music. Do you leave yourselves a lot of leeway in the studio or do you come in pretty much with everything formulated and ready to go?
Rich Ward: The only changes or spontaneity that takes place is among the band itself. The dynamic between Chris and I is certainly in play in that he writes titles and lyrics, I interpret them into songs and melodies.
Sometimes they are final arrangements; sometimes they can be a bit influx. Then the demos that I record with me singing Chris’s parts get sent out to all of the guys with me [and Chris] being completely open to any changes that may want to be made.
As I’m writing, I’m writing very loose ideas. Sometimes they get used in the final takes and sometimes they end up very different. Think of it as Chris and I create the blueprint and then the builders come in and build the house. It can look different than the original and almost always, it’s much better.
Craig: Does Chris ever come back to you after receiving a demo and ask ‘What were you thinking”?
Rich Ward: Yes, several times. I’ve only backtracked one time though, I usually hold my ground. The reason is, I find that when I read Chris’s lyrics as poetry, sometimes I just don’t get it.
I can’t get inside his head and I don’t ask him for explanations because I don’t want to know.
I want to cold read the lyrics and then interpret them as I see them, the way a fresh listener would. Like, what would an average fan or listener’s gut interpretation to the lyrics be? I may take what he wanted it to be about and turn it into a mid-tempo rocker or vice versa.
There was one time, on the last record [Chasing the Grail], where there is a song called “Pray for Blood” where I was not 100% confident and he came back and wasn’t crazy about it…and there have been times where he just came back and said he didn’t like this or that and I would say “Just let it sit for a couple of days”. Like pasta sauce, sometimes it’s better when it’s been in the fridge for a couple of days. Let it sit, and almost without failure, it will grow on him.
Craig: You produced Chasing the Grail, and you produced the new record, Sin and Bones. Do you ever experience any conflict in having to walk that fine line of not only having to produce your own band, but also in having to produce yourself? There’s always that temptation to overdue and possibly ruin a song by not knowing “when to stop”; almost like a kid coloring a picture…
Rich Ward: Yeah, I’ve actually ruined stuff over the years doing just that. When you are by yourself, like in my home studio, you aren’t watching the clock. In the old days, you worked a fourteen hour day and you had thirty days to make a record. You had to be quick and you had to have good time management.
Now, I wake up, make breakfast, go to the gym, then I start to work. Then I’ll take a break to have dinner with my wife and then work until one or two in the morning.
Then I’m like “Oh I’m not sure about this” listening to it the next morning and like you said, it really gives you the opportunity to over think things because I’m on my own schedule with no boss, no one coming over to check your work, etc. and I’ve done things in the past I wish I could have “undone”; mainly, “Why did I have to put eighteen tracks worth of guitar on there”, when it probably would have been fine with four.
Another problem is when I’m recording guitars before vocals are done and I may be compensating to make it sound big and full, without the ability to look at the whole piece because Chris hasn’t sang yet. On Sin and Bones, I feel like I struck it right.
Sure, I have made plenty of mistakes though over my twenty three year career, maybe even some that have hurt my career. But , you’re never going to get better unless you make those mistakes and learn from them. You just make sure you don’t do it again.
This has been good timing for Chris to sing the best that he’s ever sung on a record; for us as a band to have better camaraderie and better chemistry. It just all came together.
Craig: Well the new recording, Sin and Bones, is fantastic. You really can’t pigeon hole it either. There are evident influences of Dream Theater, older Queensryche, Iron Maiden. Are those the types of influences you all were bringing and is that where you all are most comfortable in being able to just play whatever you feel without narrowing things to a specific sound or genre?
Rich Ward: The only rule we had when making this record was to not be too eclectic. Let’s try to have it feel like an album, not too all around the dart board. But at the same time, we just wrote and organically whatever happened, it was.
I never went through a process of second guessing things. It really was a first draft, early demos in the back of the bus, drum machine, simple guitar and me spacing what would be vocal parts. Real simple caveman demos. The version two, more refined, version three, etcetera. Like you would a recipe, over time, you just constantly taste it; and that formula works really well for us.
I think the other thing too that was great was not tracking all of the vocals at the same time. Chris was still wrestling so I would go down to Tampa for three days, have Chris do vocals on a few songs, then go back to Atlanta.
I’d go back to Tampa a week or two later, we’d record three more songs over three days. We limited it to one song per day on vocals. We didn’t try to push it any further than that; we’d just concentrate on one song. That worked really well.
The extra cherry on top was, as opposed to previous records where I made Chris stand really still behind a microphone and tell him not to move so we would have space proximity; I gave him a hand held mic. This way he sang like he was performing and kept him in a mindset of performing, rather than being caught up in the technical aspects of the recording.
He could be a singer, he could be a performer, because that what he is, a performer. Chris is a rock and roll singer and it was all about capturing that magic, that moment and that energy that he has on stage. I felt like having him hold the mic allowed him to be Chris Jericho.
Craig: That’s just being a great producer sir!
Rich Ward: It’s a shame it took me three records to get to that mindset! [Laughs]
Craig: So what’s next for FOZZY? You’ll be continuing on the Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival through the fall and then out to even Australia I believe.
Rich Ward: We have tons! I think the only space that’s not booked is January, but we’re looking to fill that too, find a tour to jump on or book our own shows. The idea is to keep it going.
The album is getting great reaction, selling well and being reviewed well. We’re going to work hard on this thing. We’re not going to let it come to us; we’re going to take the fight to it.