DATE OF INTERVIEW:
19th March 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, it’s Mark from Metal Discovery here.
RICH WARD: Hey Mark, how are you?
(Rich Ward on the essence of Fozzy)
"This band is not necessarily about making money, and selling lots of records, and being famous; it’s more about making music with amazing people that have a great time doing it."
Rich Ward - uncredited promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Self-declared as "America's most entertaining band" none would perhaps dispute such a tagline in describing onetime 'mock' band Fozzy. Fronted by professional wrestler Chris Jericho, current WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and featuring charismatic Stuck Mojo guitarist Rich Ward, the band began life under the moniker Fozzy Osbourne in 1999, initially performing classic metal covers under the guise of a Spinal Tap-esque back-story which was consolidated by a half hour MTV mockumentary. Opting to become a more 'serious' band in 2004, this year has seen the release of their fourth studio album and first release for five years, 'Chasing the Grail', a mightily impressive set of compositions, adeptly produced by Ward himself, which proves them more serious than ever. Metal Discovery got the lowdown from Rich on where Fozzy is at in 2010...
MD: Fine, how you doing?
RW: I’m doing great. I saw that you had called a couple of times…he’s got me backed up every twenty minutes with interviews and I just want to apologise that I was running over on that last one. I can’t thank you enough for being patient with me and calling back. It means a lot.
MD: No problem, I got to hear your amusing answer phone message!
RW: [laughs] Yeah!
MD: “Leave a message for…Ronnie James Dio”!
RW: When I first got this phone they prompt you for your messages and they say “leave your name, your ID…”, and I jokingly said “Ronnie James Dio”! Then I left my voicemail message and something happened, and my voicemail message got deleted somehow. I was going back through the prompter and it was “press 4 to leave a new message”, and then it said “do you want to leave your greeting?”, and it says “Ronnie James Dio”. I hadn’t heard it in like three years and I thought oh my god, that is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard so I just kept it!
MD: It made me laugh!
RW: Well I thought if it made me laugh it would be good for a couple of other people too!
MD: I got confused initially and thought - what phone number has he given me?!
MD: A fantastic new album, ‘Chasing the Grail’. I had it through on a promo last week and really, really loving it. How pleased are you with how the final recordings turned out?
RW: I’m really happy. You know, I always go into these albums with great expectations and sometimes you feel like you hit the mark, and sometimes you walk away thinking - I could’ve done this a little better. Especially now, in today’s world, where record companies don’t give the kind of budgets to make the albums that they used to because, now, record companies are like “oh, well studio time’s a lot cheaper than it was fifteen years ago; you should be able to do this a lot cheaper”. All the labels are so worried about budgets because the retail sales are not what they used to be, so you have to make records for a lot less money than you used to. I just remember the old days where Andy Sneap comes over and we get a hotel, we go to the studio twelve hours a day and work for five weeks and then we’re done. But now it’s not like that, you know. You can’t afford to bring a producer over to America and put him up in a hotel for five weeks. That kills your entire budget! [laughs] So, by proxy, which has turned out to be a blessing, I have started producing our own records now out of budgetary reasons. I know a lot of musicians don’t like to pull back the curtain and reveal the little guy behind the curtain; they want everything to seem like - “oh, we’re rich; we’re rock stars and have huge houses, and drive these big cars, and have swimming pools with nude poll dancers in the hot tub”. But we don’t live like that. None of us do. I just released my fifteenth album and every year is struggle to work hard and, you know, recognise there are more and more bands, and less and less shelf space in retail chains for you, and you just have to keep working hard and know that you have to be better than everybody else. The thing about it is I’ve never looked at the world as something I was challenging; I always challenge myself. I wanted to make amazing albums for me because there’s that pride and integrity involved in knowing that when you were twelve years old, standing in the mirror, holding a guitar, your first guitar, and you said “okay, this is it, this is what I wanna do”, and fast forward, you’re so thankful for the opportunity that you don’t wanna blow one second of it. You recognise that every moment, and every riff, and every melody is sacred and it has to be right. And “right” means different things to different people but, for me, I know what my “right” means. I want to hit those marks every time in my life and, for this album, I feel like…you know, I’ve lived with this for so many months in writing it and recording that I needed to step away from it. After I had it mastered I left the studio and didn’t listen to it for three weeks and then, one day, popped it in, turned it up and I just had the biggest smile and said “okay, I did it, it’s good”.
MD: Ah yeah, it’s nice to get that bit of distance from it, I guess, once you’ve finished and have some time out, and then go back and listen to it more objectively because you’re that close to it when recording it.
RW: Yeah, absolutely. And, obviously, this is a massively group effort; it’s not just me taking all this credit because the band is amazing and I had some other guys helping me. Renny Carroll who plays in a band called Forever Never from England helped me do some vocal arranging with Jericho and sang some backing vocals, and we had a keyboard player who always comes and does some work. Ultimately, it was an amazing group effort so it’s a pleasure as a producer and as a songwriter to be surrounded by so many great players.
MD: Definitely. I’m quite intrigued by the last track, ‘Wormwood’ because it’s a pretty different direction for the band and the album as well. The album kind of takes a completely different direction at the end with a fourteen minute prog rock epic. How did that song come to be because I gather it’s the only song you haven’t written music for on the album?
RW: Right, and that’s why it took a left turn because it was a vision that Jericho had from the very beginning of us talking about the album. He emailed me fourteen sets of lyrics for the new album and said “hey, look through these; don’t feel like you have to use all of them, but find the ones that you gravitate towards or that you can relate to and have a connection with”. So I started going through them and one of them was ‘Wormwood’ which, at first, I thought was a strange name and I started looking through the lyrics, and I was like - this is five pages of lyrics! And then he explained to me - he wanted it to be a very Dream Theater meets Iron Maiden, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, prog, epic, long musical exploration and I was like, “I don’t do that!” I wouldn’t know where to start! Even though Iron Maiden was one of my favourite bands, I never found myself gravitating towards ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ or ‘To Tame a Land’…
MD: Or ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’…
RW: That’s right. My favourite songs were always the great four and five minute songs. So I just said - “would it be okay if we asked Mike, the other guitar player in the band, to write the song with you?“ Because I think the sign of what I consider a great musician, and not just a great player, is know your strengths and weaknesses and I just didn’t feel like, when he told me, okay, this song has four chapters, the first chapter does this, the second chapter does this and, if I’m being completely honest, as much as I respect Dream Theater it’s not necessarily something that speaks to me. It’s not a style of music that I relate to a lot. I have a short attention span. I grew up on AC/DC. I like to have my ass kicked for four minutes and move onto the next one! So to cut a long story short was Mike collaborated with Chris over the phone and they spoke about it and, originally, I was supposed to produce the song and mix the song, and this happens sometimes in the world of music is that they got some weird possessiveness of the song and I didn’t quite understand but, again, we had a deadline to work to for the album and I just told Chris and Mike - “you guys work on that jam, finish it up, and I’ll take care of the rest of the album”. Then there became this weird falling out between Mike, Chris and I over the song, and I still don’t know quite what happened but, nonetheless, I really like the song. I think it’s an amazing piece of work and I like it because I think it’s something that I probably couldn’t have done, and I’m honoured to have it on the record. It’s the same thing in working with Chris - I’m not a good singer but I can sing. I use singing more as a writing device than I do as a way to have a career. And Chris has a very interesting sounding voice and, when I’m writing songs, I have to be very conscious and, especially on this album more so than any other time in the band’s career, I found myself really writing for Chris as opposed to writing something that would be something that I would sing or something that would be comfortable for me, which is another thing that makes this record better than anything we’ve done before. As a producer and as I songwriter I started recognising that it’s not just about your guitar parts anymore. I’ve been honoured to work with some great producers over the years like Andy Sneap, and Shawn Grove, and Rick Beato, and after working with a few guys that are just amazing that education has really taken me a long way.
MD: So you’ve learnt a lot from working with those producers?
RW: Yeah. I mean, I’m always the guy in the band who was there on the first day of recording when you’re first hitting the first kick drum to the last mastering…you know, flying up to New York or wherever I’m doing it. I’m there for the whole process where nobody else in any of my bands, whether it was Stuck Mojo or Fozzy, has ever had the tolerance to spend five or six weeks, between twelve and fourteen hours a day, to do that. I just love the process. I love writing and I love recording. Some people are much more attracted to getting in the bus and doing a set and live stuff. I love that but there’s something magical about stepping foot in the studio with nothing and then, when you’re finished, all of a sudden there’s this thing that you hold in your hand that no-one can ever take away from you. It’s an amazing process so, because I’ve been so attracted to the process, I’ve had an opportunity to spend hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours with great producers, and mainly Andy. I’ve worked with a few other American guys but Andy…ironically, I spoke with Andy on the phone about 45 minutes ago for a couple of seconds. We stay in close touch and have just become amazing friends over the years, and I have such a great respect for him.
MD: Were you a fan of Sabbat originally then?
RW: I wasn’t. I’d never even heard of ‘em! That’s the thing about living in the South here in Atlanta is that there’s like a blackout of all cool music. When I grew up it was ZZ Top, Ted Nugent, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, AC/DC, and it wasn’t even until 1982 or 1983 that I’d even heard of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. That’s the weirdest thing because all the radio stations, when you turn it on, I mean you hear Van Halen obviously and Sammy Hagar singing about “I Can’t Drive 55”, but I had no exposure to Venom, or Metallica or any of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It really didn’t reach us in the Deep South because the only way you learnt about those things was either through the fanzines or you learnt about it through radio and, down here, we just didn’t have any of it. The first time I ever met Andy or knew anything about him was we were on tour with Type O Negative in 1997 with Stuck Mojo and Andy came out to the show at Rock City and we had a good long chat. My A & R guy at Century Media hooked us up and we’ve…it’s a funny story; I don’t know if I’ve even told this to anybody, but we both had hair past our waist at that point - you know, we were the total stick-straight, super long hair…so we basically looked like brothers from different parts of the ocean! We both played Les Pauls which he told me, “ah man, I love your Les Paul”, and I was like “yeah, I’m a Les Paul, Marshall guy”, and he was like “well, Century Media are interested in me producing the next Stuck Mojo record”, and I asked him “do you like the way Korn albums sound?”. He goes “no, they’re terrible”, and he says “hey, do you know I have an original Rhandy Rhoads pick?”. It’s like “cool!”, and I said “you wanna go on the bus and listen to Dio?” And we’ve been best friends from then on! From then on we spend holidays together, and we argue and fuss friendly like brothers do, and we just have the best relationship. He’s definitely been my production mentor over the years.
MD: Yeah, he’s a fantastic producer. You decided to drop the mock back-story of Fozzy in 2004 and became a band in your own right. Was that always your intention or just a logical progression for how the band was evolving at that time?
RW: It was just one day, Chris Jericho approached me and said “you know, there’s only so many times you can tell a joke before it just isn’t funny anymore and, maybe, would you be interested in trying to approach Fozzy as an original band instead of playing all covers?” Because our first two records were primarily covers, and wearing costumes onstage, and having fake stage names, and the back-story. And I said “sure, but you recognise that we would actually have to rehearse to take this seriously!”…because Fozzy was just a fun jam band. We never intended to make albums. One day, Johnny Z from Megaforce said “man, I love the concept of what you guys do, would you be interested in making a covers album?”; we said “erm…sure, I guess…”. So Fozzy has been an amazing organic evolution where that we haven’t really put a lot of thought into lots of it. It’s been kind of like a group of guys who were best friends growing up together; who like to set things on fire and have explosions, like figuring out how to mix different types of chemical compounds to make the biggest explosion!
MD: Pyromaniac metallers!
RW: Yeah, that’s right! That’s kind of like what Fozzy is…having a great time trying to perfect fun, mischievous stuff, and we share a common respect of not only each other as people and have a brotherhood, but also as musicians and as people. That’s what makes this band great. With my previous band Stuck Mojo there were times we would tour and there wasn’t always that camaraderie and brotherhood. You know, sometimes you’d play in a band with guys you love making music with but there’s not necessarily that thing where you wanna go and have a meal with ‘em after soundcheck. That’s difficult because you love the time onstage, you love making music with them, but there’s something missing in the chemistry when it comes to the friendship. That’s been the beautiful thing for me in Fozzy is that any time there’s been any awkwardness with anybody in the band over the years we just shake hands and say - “heeey”. This band is not necessarily about making money, and selling lots of records, and being famous; it’s more about making music with amazing people that have a great time doing it. That’s been our motto for years and it’s worked for us because Chris, obviously his fulltime job is as a professional wrestler, and my fulltime job has been a couple of other bands and so, for Fozzy, it’s been so important that that feels like a holiday and that when we come together it’s completely pure motives. You work for the pure love and passion of music and doing it without the pressure of feeling like you have to do something that’s current or doing something that’s going to fit into some trend because some radio marketing guy says “oh, you can’t do that because there’s no room for that on the radio” and “oh no, you can’t do that because what’s popular right now is this band and this band, no-one would ever review your band favourably”. So, part of our success I feel…or failure depending on your perspective, has been that we have never felt the pressure to do anything other than what we want to.
MD: You’ve dropped the fun part of the mock back-story, but I guess you’ve still maintained the fun essence in what you do.
RW: Yeah, that was part of it. It’s like when we said “hey, are we gonna drop the back-story?”, and we just said “yeah”, then we said “is that gonna be confusing?”, and then we said “maybe, but if it is we’ll do our best to apologise to those who missed the fun shtick that we had and then try to apologise for the change by making some really great albums, and really try to improve on the…” ;I hate to use the word product, but I use that word as all encompassing, really work harder to make the band, and the live show, and the albums better.
MD: Definitely. Obviously you had the Spinal Tap thing going on with the mockumentary and everything but has the band had any real disastrous Spinal Tap moments over the years?
RW: Oh yeah, every show is a disastrous event! It’s always that way. I find touring to be amazing and…it’s somewhere between joyous crying and laughter, followed by miserable crying! The highs and lows of touring are unrivalled by anything else I’ve ever experienced before in my life. I remember we played…I believe it was, if I’m not mistaken, Bradford Rios, before it closed…we played a show there with Fozzy and Chris was in the dressing room, and I don’t remember if he was on the phone or why he was still in the room; we were all on the bus and we were either eating some take-outs that we had ordered or just whatever we do after the shows…talking, watching TV or whatever. We were wondering…“where’s Chris?” You know, bus call was thirty minutes ago, we were supposed to leave and we don’t know where he is. We start hearing this alarm that’s going off and then found out that the club owner didn’t know that Chris was still in the dressing room, and he locked him in the dressing room, turned out all the lights, and set the alarm on! And Chris is trying to find his way out of the dark club using his cell phone as a torch! [laughs] He set the alarm off and the police show up. So it’s always something like that, you know! It’s always those stories that at the time, maybe frustrating or whatever, but always those are the ones you tell for years and years on. The end of one tour we did with Stuck Mojo when our record company was mad at our manager, they decided to cancel our transportation from Dortmund, Germany, to London to get our flights and, basically, we had to hitchhike, my drummer and I, all the way from Dortmund, Germany…you know, planes trains and autos! We had to sneak on a ferry…no money in our pockets. I mean, just unbelievable, but those are the adventures that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. At the time, I wanted to kill everybody! But those are the experiences that make us who we are.
MD: So, in retrospect, quite fun to look back at.
RW: Oh, it’s amazing. Every time I meet somebody that’s signed to Century Media records they always harass me to tell the story…“is that story true about you guys?” It’s like infamous now in the annals of Century Media history! You know, they basically cast us aside and made us hitchhike to Calais to catch the ferry!