There’s one thing you can say about Chris Jericho – the guy knows how to kick ass, whether inside a wrestling ring or onstage performing with his heavy-metal band, Fozzy.
On August 14, Fozzy released their new album, Sin and Bones, featuring M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold on the first single, Sandpaper. The internationally-renowned band is the brainchild of Jericho, (one of the most renowned WWE wrestlers in the world) and ex-Stuck Mojo guitarist-extraordinaire Rich Ward.
Before Fozzy kicked off their first-ever headlining tour of the U.S. in Kansas City this month, Jericho chatted at length with Rock Cellar Magazine about Sin and Bones, and how a wrestler nicknamed the “Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla” learned to release his inner rock star.
Over his 20-plus year career as a professional wrestler, Jericho has become one of the most popular – or hated, depending on the role he’s playing – performers in the business, and has captured practically every championship available in wrestling’s big leagues.
Son of former NHL standout Ted Irvine, Jericho was born in Manhasset, N.Y., but raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Fozzy started out in Georgia in 1999 as “Fozzy Osbourne” – a cover band playing classic hair-metal anthems by the likes of Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe, and Judas Priest. By 2005, with the release of the album All that Remains, Fozzy was selling hundreds of thousands of records worldwide and garnering a rabid fan base.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Your new album cover has an old-school Motörhead or Judas Priest aesthetic to it. Was that deliberate?
Chris Jericho: I think it really captures what the band is at this point and time, and elements of the record. It’s a very dark and creative album with some pretty cool imagination behind it as well. And I think the cover represents those combinations of things really well.
I’ve always been a big proponent of creative album covers, especially when you’re talking about Iron Maiden – who was always one of my favorite bands. I remember how I’d always look forward to seeing what kind of adventures or what kind of element Eddie would be in when a new Maiden album came out.
RCM: How much did your new record label influence the album cover?
CJ: One of the fascinating things about being on a label like Century Media is they have this great art department, whereas in the past, we’ve had good labels but we’ve always had this kind of do-it-yourself type of vibe, because we pretty much had to be that way. Working with Century Media’s art department, we created this really wicked-looking design for the cover.
People say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but they certainly do when it comes to albums, even though they’re very small now. They’re not big like they used to be when we were kids and you could actually see all the artwork and become immersed in it. Even with CDs, I think kids nowadays are just looking at the album cover on their phone. I think it’s still really important to make a cover that is impactful and as memorable.
RCM: Fozzy has really honed their sound over the last few years. How you keep those very melodic harmonies over heavy riffs, as heard on Sin and Bones…?
CJ: Thanks – I think that’s what we do best. It’s because, if you look at the two creative elements of the band which is myself and Rich Ward, we have a little bit of a grey area where we like the same bands like Ozzy, Metallica, and that sort of thing. But he’s very much into ’70s rock and roll like Journey, and Styx, and he loves Stryper, Bad Company, Boston, and bands like that. And my favorite band of all time is The Beatles, along with Queen.
So we really like the whole concept of vocal harmonies and three quarter part harmonies throughout the songs.
And when you combine the Pantera and Metallica element to what we’re doing, along with this Beatles and Journey element you get a really heavy melodic sound. And there’s not a lot of bands that are doing that in this day and age.
RCM: The ballad Broken Soul from Chasing the Grail had that great ’70s southern rock vibe. How to you think your new ballad, Inside My Head, compares?
CJ: Broken Soul was a really popular song for us, people really dug it, but we wanted to do another ballad that was a little more of a traditional rock-like ballad. Inside My Head is very dark and heavy sounding, so it doesn’t have the piano and southern-rock feel that Broken Soul did. I’d say it has more of a darker, Soundgarden-meets-Sabbath-meets-Metallica kind of vibe, when bands like those would do slower songs. And that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not heavy – it’s very, very heavy. It’s probably one of the best songs on the album and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being a single.
Another thing is we wanted to keep all the songs in the same vibe, as we were always saying how we wanted this to be our “Black Album,” like Metallica. So any songs that didn’t fit that darker, heavier vibe got dropped.
RCM: The new track Spider in My Mouth has an interesting song title. What’s that all about?
CJ: Yeah, it’s funny. How I write my lyrics is I keep a list of song titles – it used to be in a little book, now it’s on my iPhone – and that was a phrase that stuck with me for years. It was from a Stephen King book, I don’t remember which one it was, but the guy in the story couldn’t have been more disgusted if he had woken up with a spider in his mouth (laughs).
And I remember thinking, what a crazy analogy! I wondered, what if you did wake up with a spider in your mouth? How would it feel? You’d be so disgusted! So I just wrote that down and when we started writing the lyrics to this one I thought, “I woke up with a spider in my mouth and a cockroach in my head.” And I thought, that’s it – there you go!
RCM: Fozzy has had several intriguing song titles over the years. Tell us about Paraskavedekatriaphobia (Friday The 13), from Chasing the Grail.
CJ: When I was growing up I’d always read the back of the record jacket and right off the bat, the song titles that stuck out for me ended up being the ones I automatically liked the best. And even if there were great songs on the album that maybe I didn’t like the titles to – those always ended up taking me a few more times to warm up to. I remember when (Iron Maiden’s) The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner came out, it was on the Somewhere in Time record. I remember feeling like this was a great song before I even heard it.
RCM: Are there bands you’ve heard in recent years whose song titles grab your attention?
CJ: When I first heard The Beast and the Harlot by Avenged Sevenfold I thought, ‘Wow, now that’s a great song title!’ I had already pictured what that song had to say before I’d even heard it. That’s why for some of the new tunes like Spider in My Mouth, or the album title Sin and Bones, I immediately thought those were great titles. And with the song Sandpaper, I remember getting the idea for that title when I heard the riff that Rich had written, as I thought, “That sounds like sandpaper for some reason!”
RCM: What are some of your favorite band names?
CJ: There’s so many great band names that immediately hooked me when I first heard them – like Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, and Raven, who were one of my favorite bands in high school.
I’ve always liked the name U.F.O, which is a band that I wish I was a little more hip to growing up because everyone I talk to raves about U.F.O. All my friends like Kirk Hammett, Eddie Trunk, and Adrian Smith are into U.F.O., but I just never got into them. I guess I was just a little too young when they were popular.
RCM: Fozzy played a show with Raven in the early days, right?
CJ: Yeah, we shared the bill with Raven along with other bands like Anal Cunt and Goatwhore – speaking of interesting band names! – at the March Metal Meltdown show in New Jersey. But I always thought Raven was a cool name for a band, along with ones like Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, Metallica, and Motörhead .
RCM: Motörhead’s lead guitarist Phil Campbell is on the new Fozzy album. How did he get involved?
CJ: Phil’s been a friend of ours for a while and he was interested in doing something on the record and I was like, well, the song She’s My Addiction is pretty much a Motörhead song, so let’s do that one! So he was perfect on it and really just killed it. Motörhead is not a thrash metal band, they’re a blues metal band, and anybody who knows that band knows that.
RCM: She’s My Addiction sounds like one of those dirty old rock and roll tunes by The Rolling Stones, but heavier.
CJ: I wanted to do one song that a stripper could dance to. It’s a very heavy, almost a dark song, with this blues vibe. And it’s definitely got a Stones-meets-Guns N’ Roses-meets-Buckcherry type of vibe to it. But the addiction in this case is the chick is actually driving the guy insane, the same way heroin can drive someone insane. So it’s not a love song by any means.
RCM: One of the highlights of Chasing the Grail was the 14-minute long epic Wormwood. The new album has a 12-minute epic, Storm the Beaches. How do these enormous songs come about?
CJ: With Wormwood, Mike Martin was with us on that record, and it was kind of the last thing we did, writing that song together. I always had the idea to write a long song because I’ve always been into Iron Maiden, Rush, Helloween, and Avenged Sevenfold, who write long songs and I have always loved that. And I always had the idea to write one of those epic songs about the end of times – the rapture – which nobody had ever written about at length before, which I thought was amazing. It’s the perfect subject for a metal song, so Mike wrote an amazing piece of music to fit that idea.
RCM: Mike Martin’s guitar style has that Dream Theater vibe, don’t you think?
CJ: Yeah, it’s that little more wanking type of style, lots of soloing – keyboard solo, back to guitar solo, back to keyboard solo…
RCM: And Storm the Beaches…?
CJ: After Mike left I wanted to write another long piece with Rich, and see how Rich would approach it. Storm the Beaches off Sin and Bones is the last track on the record and it deals with D-Day. I got the idea from Saving Private Ryan and the whole attack on the beach, and to hear his long version of a song, it’s even better because it’s more like [Iron Maiden’s] Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
It’s not all about the soloing but rather more about the storytelling and riff that carries through. So I’m really, really happy with how people got into Wormwood and how they enjoyed it, but I think anybody who loved Wormwood will probably love Storm the Beaches just as much, if not more.
RCM: Does your approach to writing lyrics change when undertaking these epic songs?
CJ: When I do lyrics for shorter songs, they often get chopped up to fit the song better, and that doesn’t matter to me – all that matters is the song. But when you do a long piece, you can’t chop this up and that up, and that’s what I told Mike with Wormwood and what I told Rich with Storm the Beaches.
It’s like this is a story to tell, so every lyric that’s written here has to be represented somehow, and both those guys did that. Rich did a really great job with Storm the Beaches – it’s got this big, long symphonic piece in the middle of it.
That’s another side, another element to Fozzy – not a lot of bands would take the chance of doing a 14-minute or 12-minute song, or could do that. Wormwood gave us a lot of credibility and legitimacy, which gave us the confidence to take the band in another direction as well.
RCM: Even epic 20-minute songs like Yes’ Close to the Edge or Rush’s 2112 don’t feel like they’re all that long because they’re so intricately crafted.
CJ: Oh yeah – and I think it’s because when they’re doing it as a story, they drag you in, so that by the time the piece is over you didn’t even realize how long the song was. It’s just a great tune that took you to different places. And that’s what music is supposed to do, it’s supposed to move you and set some scenes in your head. It’s about capturing your imagination and letting it move, and letting you feel what you’re feeling.
It did take us a few records to have the courage to try writing a long song, because you have to get to a point to knowing who you are as a band, be confident in your abilities and confident in your fan base. I don’t think you can be a new band and just shove a long song don’t people’s throats. But now that we’ve done a couple long songs, I personally would like to do it with every record.
As the main lyricist in the band, I have a lot of ideas for long songs and things we can do, because I’ve always loved songs like Rime of the Ancient Mariner or [Rush’s] Cygnus X-1. It’s an interesting place to be for a rock and roll band. And I think as long as you don’t do 10 songs that are 10 minutes long, then I think there’s potential for significant growth within the band, and for the fans too.
RCM: Fozzy has a huge fan base in the U.K. Why do you think that is?
CJ: It’s just one of those things where we got an offer to go over there, and I’ll never forget the first time we played there in 2004. It was at Nottingham in a place called Rock City, and when I walked on the stage I just couldn’t believe how many people were there. It blew my mind, the place was jam packed and sold out.
And Fozzy, for whatever reason, really connected with those music fans. Maybe it has something to do with the way music fans communicate over there, talking about what’s cool and what’s not cool, rather than just going with trends or what’s on the radio. I think people in England just listen to what they want to listen to, and we’ve been very fortunate and benefitted greatly from that and still do to this day.
I think at this point, England has always been our best country, but we’re going to change that very soon with our tour of the U.S. But it’s always good to know we have such a large fan base in England and we tour there as much as we can to pay the fans back who have been there with us from the start.
RCM: At what point did you feel Fozzy’s momentum building beyond the U.K.?
CJ: We’ve been playing for 13 years, but I think the first couple of years we were just in shock, more or less. We were shocked by the fact that we got a record deal right off the bat, signed by Jonny Z [Zazula] who signed Metallica and Anthrax in 1982.
And then when we did All that Remains in 2005, we could feel a momentum building but then we stopped for a bit to reconfigure what we wanted to do. When we got back together in 2009 to start work on , there’s where I felt like we really needed to do this right. Grail went amazingly, we did 16 countries for the last tour, built a lot of credibility and we said, “Now we really have a chance to make it to the next level,” as all the stars were lining up. We started getting this gig and that gig, along with opportunities like performing on the Download Festival.
I think you know when your band is building momentum when you feel that buzz. You can feel it building and see how word gets around as people start to understand what we do.
We’re finally, after all this time, getting over that thing where people say, “Oh, that’s that band with the wrestler singing.”
RCM: So you think it’s hard to be taken seriously as a musician when you’re already famous from your other career?
CJ: The best example for me is 30 Seconds to Mars. They’re a great rock and roll band in their own right, but people will still say, “Oh, Jared Leto, he’s that actor…” Who gives a shit if he’s an actor! People should just care that he’s a great rock and roll singer who’s in a great rock and roll band.
RCM: ‘Course there’s advantages – people might discover your band only because they follow your wrestling career…
CJ: I’ve been playing in rock and roll bands since I was 12. So by the time we did the first Fozzy record, it wasn’t like I just woke up and said, “Hey, I want to be a singer!” And that’s something I think a lot of people are just now starting to figure out. This is real for me, it’s who I am as a person. I think people were surprised with that first record we did when we came out of the gate and we really killed it.
RCM: You’ve got a whole new group of fans from your appearance on Dancing With the Stars. What was that like for you?
CJ: It was great. I went into it wanting to learn the art form of dance, and I thought being a musician and a wrestler was something that would help me and it did. It was a great experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
RCM: Did you ever try to emulate a certain singing style?
CJ: I always wanted to sound like Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, but a lot of people tell me there is an Ozzy style to my vocals. I think I sound like Jericho (laughs). But I’m certainly influenced by all the music I grew up listening to. The very first album I ever bought was Blizzard of Ozz on cassette, for two bucks at a second-hand comic-book store.
RCM: How about the first rock concert you ever attended..?
CJ: It was The Police on the Synchronicity tour. They’re another one of my all time favorite bands, even to this day. I think the first metal show I saw was Iron Maiden on the Powerslave tour. I saw Metallica gigs — Maiden and Metallica were always my bands and they were the ones I liked the most.
RCM: Is it surreal for you sharing the bill with Metallica at some of these huge rock festivals Fozzy has done?
CJ: It really is – playing these big shows in front of 30,000 people. Big crowds can be hard sometimes, though, because they can feel like this one, big, giant, monstrous entity. These crowds can just feel enormous when you’re up there on stage, like those massive outdoor rock shows you sometimes see in countries like the Ukraine, Chile and Brazil.
RCM: Speaking of Brazil, you sparked some controversy and got suspended from WWE a few months back when you grabbed a Brazilian flag, crumpled it up and kicked it out of the ring during a wrestling event in Sao Paolo. Did you take the “bad guy” persona too far?
CJ: It was just something I did in the course of trying to entertain the fans, and it was something I shouldn’t have done within the laws of the country. So you live and learn. I love Brazil. I have no problems with Brazil. It is what it is, man. You know sometimes you do things like speeding too fast, and you get a speeding ticket. You pay your ticket, you get back in your car and you keep driving. It’s a different world – it’s not 20 years ago.
RCM: Several years back, your wrestling persona evolved from the cowardly bad guy to a more diabolical and condescending villain. People hated you even more than ever! What inspired the darker turn?
CJ: I saw the movie No Country for Old Men and loved the character of Anton Chigurh [Javier Bardem]. I was really taken by how the guy was completely committed to what he was doing.
It didn’t matter that people thought he was evil and wrong because in his mind he was right and that’s all there was to it.
I liked how he was so calm, cool and collected even though he was a complete psycho. I thought: these are the perfect elements and traits for a great wrestling character!
RCM: How does performing in the WWE as an established wrestler compare with performing live with Fozzy?
CJ: Now that the band is getting to the level where I am in wrestling, it’s so gratifying and exciting to see it all happening again. I love wrestling. I love the WWE, I always have and I always will, but when you’ve done it for as long as I have and gotten to the peak of the peak of the peak…a pay-per-view like “Money in the Bank” is a great challenge, but to me it’s just another pay-per-view.Whereas with the band, every gig we play, every single we release, is the next step, so everything has to be good at this point.. once you get that momentum going.
When you’re in Black Sabbath, you can do whatever you want. You can arrive five minutes before you go on stage and, whatever – you’re “Black Sabbath!” When you’re Fozzy, everything we do has to be perfect at this point in time.
With the WWE, it’s the same thing as being in Sabbath. I can pretty much show up when I want, I know I’m going to be good because I know exactly what I’m going to be doing and the fans know exactly what they’re going to get. And once you get to that crossover point, it’s great. Fozzy, we’re still going towards that level and that’s why it’s so important that everything has to be right.
RCM: Because word of mouth is so important?
CJ: Exactly. We need everyone to say, “Okay, I’m finally going to check out this band we’ve heard so much about over the last few years. Let’s see what they’re all about?” So we go out there and deliver the very best performance we can. That’s how we make fans.
RCM: On your Sin and Bones tour, Fozzy will be playing a variety of venues, from music centers to pavilions to amphitheatres throughout the U.S. Do you prefer one type of venue over the other?
CJ: It’s all fun, as every night we’ll be playing in front of 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 people depending on what night and where we are. And so you get big crowds, smaller crowds and every show is important because when you’re headlining, those are your fans who will tell others how much you kicked ass. When you’re playing the big festivals, that’s when you have to win everybody over. So with both types of shows, you have to go out and just kill it because you want to please the people who know you, and win over the people you don’t.
I mean, the last tour we did was just a quick one based around the Download Festival, where we played to 30,000 people. Then we played a sold-out club in London in front of 600, then we went and played a half-full club in Wolverhampton in front of 250. That’s the trials and tribulations that you go through when you’re in a rock and roll band, but for us it’s all part of the process.
RCM: What do you anticipate for Fozzy with the release of your new album and first headlining tour of the U.S.?
CJ: I think we’re going to blow people’s minds on this tour and with Sin and Bones. We’re a great band, a tight band. We can go toe-to-toe with anybody as far as entertaining, and as far as songwriting goes. I honestly believe that in my heart. The release of the new album and tour of the U.S. couldn’t have happened at a better time for us, I think. We’re ready for it, more than we’ve ever been. And it will be really exciting to see what happens over the next couple of years, ’cause we’re coming to kill, destroy, and kick everyone’s fucking asses.
Chris Jericho has left the WWE after a loss to Dolph Ziggler. This should thus, free him up completely for the Fozzy tour. Most fans believe of course that Jericho will be back. Here’s a video highlight from the Ziggler fight:
..and a link where: Jericho gives a heartfelt goodbye to the WWE Universe.