In rocksins.com biggest exclusive interview to date by far, I was lucky enough to catch up with multiple time WWE World Heavyweight Champion and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho on the Fozzy tour bus before the second of their double header of shows at The Relentless Garage in Highbury, London a couple of weeks ago. Read on for what Chris had to say.
Jamie: First of all can I ask what it was like to interview Judas Priest (Chris recently interviewed Judas Priest in a feature for wwe.com).
Chris: It was great but I’ve known Rob (Halford) for years, he’s a really cool guy and it’s very easy to talk to those guys. They’re just guys like us and it was fun.
Jamie: How has the tour been going so far?
Chris: It’s been great! All three shows so far have been awesome, the first two sold out and now we’re doing the two shows today so we’re very excited to see the great fans. It’s really good to be back in the UK we have a great fan base here.
Jamie: Have you ever done a double shot (two shows on the same day in the same venue) like this before?
Chris: We did one double shot where we played a Manchester gig and then I think a Liverpool gig but we’ve never had two shows in the same venue before, so this is something new for us, so this is pretty cool!
Jamie: I think traditionally based on when you came to the UK last time for Download and for a couple of tours in 2005 the UK seems to be one of your best markets, do you guys have any idea why you think that is?
Chris: I think it’s because people just like what they like here. In the States its all about Clear Channel and radio and stuff like that but with the UK from the first time we toured here back in 2004 people just really responded to the band, they dug what we were doing and that’s why we wanted to come back here. It’s just a quick tour only four shows but we wanted to come back to the UK as soon as we could to reacquaint ourselves and say hi to everybody and then we’ll do a more extensive tour probably in the fall.
Jamie: Will you be coming back to the UK then or will that be in the States?
Chris: No we’ll be back in the UK; we definitely want to spend more time over here.
Jamie: Does the WWE have to sign off on your tour schedule or do you just have to book time off and you can do what you like with your time off?
Chris: You can kinda do what you like with your time off. I just keep my eyes open on what our opportunities are for touring and then book the time off I this for this week I only had to book off one or two shows, so its all co-existing, but I don’t have to ask their permission to do anything, just get the days off but I don’t have to tell them why.
Jamie: Fair enough! If you are planning on coming back to the UK later in the year does that mean you will be doing some US shows as well?
Chris: Yeah, we already have been, we did Phoenix and New York and we’re doing Detroit next week so we do as many shows as we can from the opportunities that we get. We’re not going to get in a van and tour across the country we’ve done that before. Now we just try and pick and choose the gigs we know will be good for us and like I said the UK is different. We’ve played in Laredo in front of 50 people in the US and I don’t feel like we need to do that anymore but when it comes to the bigger cities absolutely. We get some good radio support; the radio station in Detroit is very much behind the record so for the towns that get it, the cities that get it we’ll be there. Then you come to the UK and every town gets it so its cool to get a chance like I said to get back over here and do sell outs for the majority of the shows and just to be back here is awesome.
Jamie: Will you be doing any festivals either here or on the continent?
Chris: There are a couple of festivals in Canada that we might do and we’re maybe doing Bloodstock so there’s a couple in the works right now..
Jamie: Oh wow you guys are playing Bloodstock?
Chris: That’s not for sure and not confirmed yet but we’re talking to them about it.
Jamie: Cool, we’ll we will look forward to that if it comes off. I’ve been following you guys pretty much since you started and wanted to know why you dropped the back-story of the band and the whole Mongoose McQueen thing, was it when you changed from being a covers band to your own material to help to be taken more seriously? (Originally Fozzy had a back-story written for the band and all the members including Chris played under stage personas, Chris’s being Mongoose McQueen).
Chris: That’s exactly the reason. The only reason we started all that in the first place was that we got signed by Johnny Zazula, who signed Metallica in 1983, and he wanted us to be a cover band, he was very excited about Fozzy as a cover band. It seemed a little bit peculiar to me but like any self respecting musician, you take the money and do what you’re told (laughs). It was great for the first record, it worked well and it was a lot of fun, and the second record was half and half which was cool but after Happenstance (second album) and the tour was over with we thought we love doing this but the whole cover thing, you don’t get in a band to play someone else’s songs, you wanna play your own songs, and the songs we’d done on Happenstance got a better reaction than most of the covers we were doing. So Rich and I sat down and both said “listen, we know what we wanna do” and we knew it was time to move on so we kinda “took off our make-up” so to speak. It was a bit of a jump to stop playing covers and stop with the names and all that sort of thing, and the other reason that I came up with the whole back story in the first place was just that a cover band on its own seemed so boring! I wanted to make it more of a Blues Brothers/Travelling Wilburys type thing. So that’s how it worked and like I said it was great at the time and we just kinda grew out of it and All That Remains was a really important record for us, it was our first all original record. We got some great momentum from it and we wanted to continue that with Chasing the Grail, so even though it’s our fourth record in a lot of ways it’s like our second record.
Jamie: Do you think from here on out you will only be interested in doing albums that are 100% your own material?
Chris: Absolutely. I mean there may be a cover here or there but I don’t think we’ll ever put another cover on a record. We did a Judas Priest cover a couple years ago we did Metal Gods for a tribute album, that’s a different story. We still play a couple of covers in our set, as does Van Halen, as does Metallica you know so its part of who we are but from now on I think our original material by far eclipses the covers even though with the covers we always put our own stamp on it. The response we’ve got for All That Remains and for Chasing The Grail, especially Grail has been off the charts and welove playing these songs and you’ll see from us playing tonight hopefully they go over great.
Jamie: I know from watching Amazon and Play.com and most of the major UK online retailers Chasing the Grail has been sold out everywhere so I think that’s an indication of just how well it’s done…
Chris: In some ways it’s good and in other ways you want people to be able to get it but in a lot of ways I think it wasn’t expected that people would respond to this so well. We took a lot of time to make this record right, five years to get it done and I think it was worth it. Like I said the results we’ve been getting and the reviews we’ve been getting and the sales have all been off the charts so we knew we had the chance to take the band to a different level with this record and so we spent the time to make sure that happened, and it did so thankfully so far so good!
Jamie: With the writing process (for Chasing The Grail), as you just said it has taken you guys a long time, obviously you’re on the road with the WWE and Rich may be doing Stuck Mojo or other things, were you just pinging stuff backwards and forwards?
Chris: It wasn’t really anything to do with our other schedules and the busy schedules; we just wanted to get it right. This was the first time when I sent Rich around 14 or 15 sets of lyrics and said “use what you wanna use, don’t use what you don’t wanna use” and he loved all of them so I think 11 out of the 12 songs are lyrics that I gave to him and that was the first time we had ever done that, starting the song writing process working together which is the way you should do it. It makes you so much more of a cohesive unit because it was the two of us writing together the whole time whereas before he would come up with a riff and put together some scratch lyrics and I would take his lyrics and toy with it; this time it was all Rich – music and melodies and Chris – lyrics.
Jamie: That’s cool, its quite a varied album, some of the songs on there are probably the heaviest songs you’ve done so far but at the same time there are some really nice melodic sections, was that something you were looking for before you started or is that just how it turned out?
Chris: You know a lot of people have asked that, it wasn’t a concerted effort to say “ok, we need a ballad” or “we need a European, Lacuna Coil type song”, it was just how Rich interpreted the lyrics that I gave him. For example, Broken Soul I never envisaged as a ballad, I saw it as a much heavier, darker song and then when he came up with the ballad I had to re-write the lyrics to fit more with what he was doing. The only thing I knew from the start was that I wanted to do a long, epic song. I wanted to do our Rime of the Ancient Mariner or our Keeper of the Seven Keys or our 2112. That was a subject matter I thought writing from the book of revelations in The Bible would be very interesting and it was so I started writing and the next thing I knew I had like 10 pages of lyrics with 7 different chapters and I thought well this is obviously the epic song. That was the only really contrived idea that I had the rest were just a case of wherever Rich’s ideas took him where were they took him, whatever he got from my lyrics is how the songs turned out.
Jamie: I think Wormwood is definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album..
Jamie: But I think the main thing about it is (as I think I saw you say in another interview) it’s not the same riff over and over for 10 minutes..
Chris: No its not, it takes a lot of balls to do a 14 minute song and not a lot of bands would try it, and if they did not a lot of bands would succeed. I remember, I love Judas Priest and I loved Lochness on Angel of Retribution but there was like a 2 minute keyboard part at the beginning and there was the same slow riff over and over…
Jamie: It does feel like its been dragged out…
Chris: Exactly, it feels like an 11 minute song. I think Wormwood doesn’t it feels like it goes by in four or five minutes or so it seems because there are so many different variables just like Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Keeper of the Seven Keys there are so many different parts to it. That’s what I wanted to do and will we ever do another song like it, probably not, I mean Maiden only have one Rime of the Ancient Mariner its just one thing that you latch onto. I think it really put Fozzy in a different category for a lot of people who didn’t know what Fozzy was, to hear like “They’ve got a 14 minute song? Really? And it’s good?!” (laughs) “Well what are this band all about?” so that’s another reason why I really pushed to have it on there.
Jamie: Have you tried playing it live?
Chris: No (laughs) there’s the keyboards and so many vocal harmonies and a choir on there, plus the fact that Mike Martin isn’t in the band anymore, we wrote the song together, it was never meant to be a live song, a Fozzy audience is not the type of audience that would do…
Jamie: It’s not a Dream Theater audience…
Chris: Yeah totally, and maybe in a few years we’ll pull it out like Maiden did with Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but I think we’re more of the God Pounds His Nails or Let The Madness Begin kinda live band and people can get into it y’know?
Jamie: People can stand there and bang their heads and have a good time!
Chris: Exactly! Yeah, exactly.
Jamie: One thing that we tend to ask everyone, I notice there’s quite a few CDs lying around the bus, is there anything you’ve heard recently that you would recommend to everybody?
Chris: I’m really excited about the new Avenged Sevenfold record with Mike Portnoy on drums, that’s gonna be great. I got a chance to hear some of the new HellYeah last week in New York, Vinnie Paul came to one of our shows and that sounds pretty killer. I’m really looking forward to the new Maiden record, I love everything Maiden does, I haven’t heard anything recently that’s blown me away, although the new Megadeth record was good, but I’m really looking forward to some of the upcoming stuff.
Jamie: Me too, especially in the case of Maiden…
Chris: I’m excited y’know, it still seems like a big event a new Maiden record coming out.
Jamie: I know you’re a big fan of Maiden and Priest and Metallica and similar bands, if Fozzy were offered a support slot on a tour with one of those bands, would you have a preference as to who you would like to tour with?
Chris: We figured out a long time ago that we’re not a very good opening band (laughs), we’re too selfish and we like the spotlight a lot. Having said that if you’re offered the opportunity to open for Maiden or for Metallica that’s a different world and I think it would be quite difficult to open for those bands because its not easy; the fans come to see those bands and that’s it. But I think we’d have a chance because we’re a pretty good crowd band and good at involving people and we’re good at forcing the crowd to get into it even if they don’t really want to, so I think we’d be a good match for Metallica or Maiden and I wouldn’t be scared to give it a shot. As far as opening for other bands, if it was like the chance to open for Arch Enemy we’d rather do our own thing, but if it was one of those legendary bands then absolutely.
Jamie: If you were to open for one of those bands then I imagine your experience (playing a bad guy) with wrestling crowds could help that…
Chris: Yeah, and ten years with this band too man, I mean fuck we’ve had shitty gigs and we’ve had great gigs. There’s been shows where you just have to go and throw yourself in the fire and do whatever you can to make it happen. Most of the time it works but sometimes it doesn’t but you deal with it so I think doing it in wrestling and also being on stage for ten years with these guys, Rich Ward is a lunatic on stage you never know what he’s gonna do either so we have a couple of secret weapons in the band to try and combat when there’s some crap from the crowd, but you don’t see that too often, especially at our shows. That’s why we like doing our shows, because people have come to see our band.
Jamie: I can certainly appreciate that, I’ve seen Maiden a couple of times and on one tour they had Trivium on the tour with them who are a pretty big band in their own right and the Maiden audience just shat on them the entire time…
Chris: I was talking to M Shadows (From Avenged Sevenfold), they came to our show in New York too, kinda a star studded show with Avenged Sevenfold and Vinnie Paul and Charlie (Benante) and Scott (Ian) brought Joey Belladonna before Joey was back in Anthrax, its like the healing music of Fozzy helped those guys get back together again! But there were all these great people there and M Shadows was telling me about how when Avenged Sevenfold toured with Maiden it was just a massacre and Metallica too but they’re a great band too so you just have to go out there and do your thing and hope to win them over. We opened for Moorhead on a bunch of shows and that was just rotten and then maybe at the end you’d get a nod and you’d be like “Thank You!!”. But you know you’d expect that if you open for those bands they’re legendary bands people go to see them and that’s it; it’s not easy to be an opening band. If we were given the chance to do something like I said and it was feasible for us to do it we absolutely would.
Jamie: Do you think whenever the whole wrestling side of things is done that apart from your family that Fozzy will then become your main concern?
Chris: Yeah absolutely. I think that’s one of the things about the band, being cool about being around for so long, is that obviously there’s always going to be Chris Jericho fans that like wrestling and that’s cool I mean that’s part of what I do, but there’s also a lot of people who like Fozzy and like our songs, that’s important you have to have that. If all they were there to do was to see Chris Jericho then that would have worn off a few years ago so its been very cool to see the band grow to become a band that can come and go on tour, to have a nice tour bus and all this shit, so I would absolutely love to continue with it. I don’t plan on wrestling too much longer but when you’re in a band you can play until your 65 years old. I saw Paul McCartney whose 67 or 68 and he was just fucking amazing, so you’re never too old to rock!
Jamie: As you rightly said I think a lot of people know who Fozzy are now, I remember when you guys played Download (2005) and everyone was stood there chanting “Y2J, Y2J” and that was cool but there’s obviously more to it than the wrestling as you said
Chris: The really cool thing about that was that at the end of the set, they were chanting Fozzy! So that’s what it’s all about, I don’t mind Y2J chants, that’s fine, but like I said, its gotta go back to the Fozzy chants and it usually does, and if not we can steer people in that direction.
Jamie: One last question, is there anything in terms of the band that you want to achieve for the rest of the year, just continuing to push the album?
Chris: Just continuing to play! The first two shows that I mentioned in Glasgow and Nottingham got bumped up to bigger venues, we sold both of those shows out, tonight’s show is going to be great! We just want to continue building the band and to be a part of the band and to see it grow. This time round the amount of press we’ve had is like three times what we’ve ever had before and more advertising than ever before and the show I mentioned last week in New York, just to have all these guys come to see the band, I mean Vinnie Paul hasn’t come to hang out with Y2J he came to see the band. Shit like that all means a lot to me. Bruce Dickinson was talking about Chasing the Grail on his radio show, he said it was a great traditional rock and roll album, something that will really stick to your guts and I don’t know what that means but its Bruce and he loves the record. People are really starting to get into what we’re doing so just to continue to build the band, continue to do what we’re doing, come back to the UK and keep playing and keep building up what we’re doing.
CTG combines a wealth of Metal genres. There’s some hair metal in there, some thrash, some nu-metal, but mostly heavy metal. Each song, save Broken Soul, features a heavy, chugging riff that wants to bash your face in. This, along with Chris Jericho’s solid vocals combine for a solid effort.
The album begins with the smoldering Under Black Skies. The song is a perfect opening for the album, and leads nicely into Martyr No More, the album’s first single. Martyr No More showcases Fozzy’s ability to finely craft a chest-beating accessible metal anthem.
The next song, Grail, is amazing. The song is way more intelligently structured than I could’ve expected, and it features some of the best vocals on the album. This is a mature metal song that deserves the same respect from fans as other highly regarded bands. Unfortunately, Grail leads right into maybe the most immature songs on the album – Broken Soul.
Broken Soul plays out a lot like an 80s era ballad. It’s soft, relies way too much on simple guitar work, and features cheesy lyrics/vocals. It’s catchy though, and I could see this becoming the next single as it might appeal to a mass audience, but amidst so much good music already on the album, it stands out as Chasing the Grail’s weakest point.
Other highlights include God Pounds His Nails(AC DC on steroids) and Paraskavedekatriaphobia (Friday the 13th). Both feature fantastic vocals and guitar work. It’s a testament to the ability of the band that they can create something so catchy without sacrificing the integrity of their music. Neither song is dumbed down to appeal like Broken Soul is.
The masterpiece of the album, and most likely what Chasing the Grail will be remembered for, is Wormwood. This is a progressive piece of music that feels straight out of a Dream Theater album. The song is complex, original, and beautiful. Again, Fozzy achieves something without sacrifice. Wormwood is by far the most complex musical piece on the album, yet the sound and feel fits right in with some of the more mainstream stuff, like Martyr No More.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Fozzy’s Chasing the Grail. Great album that metal fans can enjoy.