Fozzy started as a joke, more or less, a way for the members of Stuck Mojo to have a little fun playing covers in their Atlanta stomping ground. That continued after pro wrestler Chris Jericho—sorry, “Moongoose McQueen”—became its vocalist. By album number three, 2005’s “All That Remains,” the band had made the transition to all original material. Fozzy began to carve out its own identity with 2010’s “Chasing the Grail” and has solidified its sound with the superb “Sin and Bones,” released in August. With the band members’ full-time focus and a slot on this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, the time is now for Fozzy to make its mark in the hard rock/metal arena. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with guitarist Rich “The Duke” Ward to discuss the band’s evolution, the new album, touring the United States and more.
LIVE METAL: As I’ve been thinking about it, it’s kind of hard to believe it’s been 13 years since Fozzy started. Back in those early days of the band, did you ever envision it becoming what it is today?
RICH WARD: No, absolutely not. We didn’t plan on even making records. The band was a cover band that pre-dated even Jericho singing in the band. It was just a local Atlanta cover band that I started with the guys in Stuck Mojo to kind of have fun and go out and dress up in goofy ‘80s metal costumes. At a couple of the gigs, we had the guys from Sevendust or the guys from doubleDrive or Butch Walker—just kind of a vehicle for playing covers. Then when I met Chris, we talked about music and we found all the bands we really loved in common and said, “There’s this band we have, Fozzy Osbourne, that we do. You should come and be the singer for this band at a show. We’ll build it up and do some crazy Spinal Tap-type of stuff and really make it a fun show for the fans. I think it would be really cool.”
We played the show and it sold out, and the audience response was great, so we said, “This is way too cool to not do again.” So then we did. And then after we played three gigs, we started getting phone calls from record companies asking if we’d be interested in making an album—in particular, Jonny Zazula from Megaforce, and he offered us a lot of money to make a record. We said, “This is preposterous. (laughs) We’re a cover band. Why would you want to record an album full of covers?”
But he really believed in it and saw something special in it, and truthfully, I’m glad that he did because we didn’t at the time. Chris was obviously fully involved—he was just moving to the WWF at the time—and I was involved in two or three music projects, including my Stuck Mojo band, and I had a side project called Sick Speed that I had, and I was also working on some solo song ideas. So it was just kind of happenstance that it all came together, and now, 13 years later, the fact that this is all of our primary focus in our lives is pretty miraculous.
The new album, “Sin and Bones,” is the third album of all original material. After the first couple albums, what inspired the change to go to all originals?
I think we just at some point said, “If we’re going to keep doing this, I think the joke won’t be funny anymore.” I know that Steel Panther has been able to kind of do this for a while with what they’re doing, but I think after we did it for five or six years, we just felt like it stopped being funny to us. Because one of the big things was, we in the band, our rule was we were not supposed to acknowledge that we actually were Chris Jericho and Rich Ward. So in interviews, we would pretend like we’re not that guy. It was just part of the gag that we thought was hilarious. Chris Jericho would say, “No, that’s Moongoose McQueen. He’s impersonating me.” Or vice versa.
I wasn’t active in Stuck Mojo anymore. We had some drug issues we were trying to work out in that band, and the timing was just right for me to change focuses on where I placed my original songwriting efforts, because truly that’s what it was gonna take for us to make original records. Chris is the lyricist in the band, but ultimately, all the music and melody, I write. So I was gonna have to be able to allocate the time, and then the overall direction of how we approached—obviously, not wearing spandex onstage anymore was the next step. Not having our drummer wear a ridiculous wig.
And then, we just thought, this is gonna be cool, we can do this. But really, I had to talk to Chris and say, “Hey, if we’re gonna do this, we can’t rely on the gimmicks anymore. We actually have to be a great band,” which we were very capable of doing, but we never rehearsed. This was just a band that showed up and played covers. We never ever sat in a room together and ever worked on those songs. Chris would learn the lyrics and practice them on his own, and we would learn the songs. So if we were gonna move forward as an original band and we were gonna take it seriously, then our entire mindset on it would have to adjust. That was the genesis of it. That took place, I think, early in 2004.
Did you have trouble getting people to take the band seriously, and is that something you still deal with today?
Absolutely. We’re still undoing the groundwork that we laid in the first few years. That’s the unfortunate part of every action you take in life is gonna have consequences, and some of those are going to be good and some of ‘em are gonna be bad. We put out great records in the last seven years, but the problem is we actually labeled ourselves as a comedy number for a number of years. And then on top of that, half the band came from a rap-rock band, which is hepatitis-C in today’s society when you’re talking the music business. In 1995, Stuck Mojo was one of the biggest bands in the genre, but that genre was tainted by what normally happens. The same thing as when Limp Bizkit was at its height and some of the other bands that were doing a similar thing, when that thing slips up with them at the helm, all of the other bands kind of went with them. It’s kind of the same thing—it’s unfortunate, Creed was a great band, but they were so popular that there’s always gonna be a backlash, and stylistically, the bands that are kind of attached to that are gonna be hurt, as well. So I think for that part of it, having a rap-rock band as the core of the musicians, then having the lead singer be a professional wrestler—that’s a lot of baggage to overcome to have music fans take you seriously. And we knew that.
We never whined about it and said, “Oh, you’ve gotta give us a chance.” People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. I’m never gonna be judgmental about anybody. When Keanu Reeves came out with a band, I can’t say that I didn’t roll my eyes a little bit. It’s just the nature of things. So I don’t have any judgment on fans who find it a little hard to take it seriously. The good news is we’ve got three albums now of material that people can make their own mind up—is there value with what the band does? And what they also can do is they can go on YouTube and look at clips of our live show, and they can come out and see us play live and then make that assessment if they’re the slightest bit curious that this thing is real or not.
We’ve done a good job of doing the slow, long climb to the top of Everest. It has taken a while to overcome a lot of those preconceived notions, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it. I think it all boils down to the fact that the band is really good and we really like each other as dudes. We get along great, there’s great chemistry on and offstage, and I think that’s a big part of it, too, because over the years I’ve toured in support of and had bands open for me, as well, in Stuck Mojo that I’ve seen, they don’t get along, they don’t ride on the same bus together, there’s a complete split—sometimes two to two, sometimes three to one—and you see them onstage going through the motions, but offstage they can hardly stand each other. I think that some fans can kind of see that.
There’s something to be said about a band being a team, and if a team plays well on the field and gets along off the field, as well, they’ll not only succeed, but I think there’s a sense of something that people can get behind because they can tell that there’s something real and genuine about it. I think we have that in our advantage, too. Like I said, there’s a true kind of camaraderie between all of us, and we enjoy playing in a band together.
I feel like the band really started coming into its own with “Chasing the Grail” and you’re kind of building on that on the new album. What goals did you have going into making “Sin and Bones?”
I really didn’t have any. Chris had all the lyrics written for the album before I started getting into the music at all. So I was kind of just going through and saying, “OK, I really gravitate toward these here,” and I would just start working on music with these kind of lyrics in mind to start with. Then toward the end, I had a couple extra song ideas that I still needed the lyrics for. A lot of this, I was writing in the back of the bus on tour. It was really helpful. I had a studio set up in the back lounge of the bus, and I was able to, any time I needed a new set of lyrics, I could just grab Chris and say, “Hey, listen to this idea. Here’s the vibe. Give me some words.” And then, once he gave me the words, I could start working on melodies and coming up with the delivery ideas for the lyrics.
So for me, it was kind of organic. I really don’t ever try to blueprint anything out. I like to see where the song goes, I guess kind of like a painting or anything else. You start working, and it kind of unfolds. I let the song kind of dictate a bit how it should go.
Towards the end, when I’m about 75 percent there, I may go into less emotional-based stuff and I start getting intellectual about does this part go too long, could the song benefit from an extra eight bars of outro—those kinds of things. I start looking at the song more critically. But the blueprint, the basic design of the songs, so to speak, is really an organic process. Just sitting down with a guitar and a microphone, and singing and working on riffs, and then I program all the drums. It’s actually a program that I use called EZdrummer. It’s an awesome program, it’s right on my laptop, and I can get the basic drums ideas, just so that I can show our drummer where I’m kind of going, and then he takes it from there and interprets it like a drummer would and really builds upon it and puts his thumbprint on it.
Once you’ve seen “Some Kind of Monster” and you see a band struggle over what kind of band it should be, you realize that you shouldn’t over-think these things. I’m a 43-year-old guitar player who’s made 17 albums. If I haven’t figured out who I am as a writer, and if I haven’t figured out what it is I’m good at and where I should be and focusing on, on the music, then—you know what I mean? It’s like a pro baseball pitcher who can’t figure out how to throw the ball. At some point, you know instinctively where it’s gonna go and what you should do. I think I just rely on my instincts.
You close the album kind of similar to the last one, with a long, epic song, “Storm the Beaches” in this case. How do those kind of songs come about? Do you, ahead of time, decide you want to do something like that? Or does it come organically, like you said?
No, actually I’m glad you said that. That is the only nonorganic element for me on the album. Chris Jericho loves Dream Theater, and he loves the long Iron Maiden songs. And I love the long Iron Maiden songs, as well, but that’s a little less in my wheelhouse of my level of expertise, so to speak. He always likes the idea of closing the album with a longer song. On the last album, “Chasing the Grail,” our former guitar player, Mike Martin, I asked him, “Could you just take this?” ‘Cause Mike was a big Dream Theater fan and is a real proggy musician, and I felt like he was much more suited to create that. So he and Chris worked on that song together.
But on this record, I worked with Billy Grey, our guitar player that’s in the band now. My idea was—growing up, my favorite band was Iron Maiden. I felt very comfortable doing a “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”/“To Tame a Land” kind of song, which were songs that, growing up listening to Maiden, I really liked. So I focused less on the crazy, prog elements and went for more of a straight approach, reading the lyrics, really trying to capture the vibe and the emotion that Chris was trying to convey in the lyrics themselves because ultimately, when you’re dealing with these kinds of epic songs, they’re usually based around a lyrical theme, and I wanted to try and not alter Chris’s lyrics in any way. I wanted to try and stay true to them. On the rest of the songs, there are a lot of times where I’m altering the lyrics—not because the lyrics aren’t good, just because sometimes fitting poetry into the form of music can be difficult. So there’s some slight editing—changing some words, phrasing. But on this song, I really didn’t want to change anything. I wanted to try to honor the lyrics in their entirety. So I worked really closely with the riffs and tried to keep their pacing and their tempo to a place that I could accommodate them as they were written as opposed to having to edit around them. And I feel like it’s a really good song. All the guitar solos on that song I let Billy Grey do. He’s a fantastic lead guitar player. Because it’s more of an aggressive, up-tempo song, I think Billy’s really fast. He’s a big fan of Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, and I felt like his style was much more suited to those solos. On the rest of the record, most of the solos are mine. They’re more of a kind of bluesy, rock style.
That’s the beauty of this band. Because all the pieces work well together and we complement each other, we don’t overlap in our skills a lot. We all fill a little bit of a different void like a good team would do. Not everyone needs to play first base. It’s everyone playing their position properly to make a really good team, and I think we’ve achieved that.
On a song like “Storm the Beaches,” you get the lyrics and it’s pretty obvious what he’s writing about, but with others, it might not be so clear. Do you talk to Chris about his inspiration for the lyrics and what he’s trying to say?
Sometimes, we have discussions about what he’s trying to convey. But a lot of times, I try not to ask him because I try to interpret them. Ultimately, 10 people who read a set of lyrics will interpret them 10 different ways, based on what they need to get out of it. It’s like a book or a film. So many people will see different things in it, and a lot of times, it’s what they need the film or the song or the poetry or the book, whatever they need it to do to help fill whatever hole they have in their world or whatever need or necessity they have or whatever their worldview is.
A song like “Storm the Beaches,” as you said, it’s pretty cut and dried. It’s about the invasion of Normandy. One element that I really liked about the lyric was a lot of it was from the first-person perspective of a soldier who was seeing it. I think Chris got the idea from a letter that was written from a soldier home to his mother right after the Normandy invasion. I think it was kind of that personal reflection on telling his mother what he had seen that Chris was really touched by. He thought it would really be interesting to see that in song form, so he used that as one of the elements. He really researched it, which was cool. Jericho’s a big Steve Harris fan, so part of his influence from Steve’s writing is that he wants to, on occasion, really delve into a topic and really research it and do it justice. I think it’s a real standout piece for Chris’s writing on the record.
I’m a really big fan of the TV show “Dexter,” so I was wondering if you knew whether the song “Dark Passenger” was inspired by that.
Absolutely. That’s exactly it. He had to explain it to me because I’ve seen a couple episodes of “Dexter,” but I haven’t followed it religiously. He just said, “Hey, here’s the deal. This guy is Dexter.” So it’s basically the serial killer is of super intelligence, and the dark passenger is the spirit that lives within him that creates the killing. I thought, “Wow, what a really interesting idea.” So I wanted to make the song really dramatic.
At first, I think Chris had seen it as a really aggressive song—the serial killer. I like the idea of the Hannibal Lechter/Dexter approach, where the guy is not just some vicious, animalistic killer. The guy is brilliant. I thought the song needed to be beautiful at times to express that side of the character. So I tried to find the balance between the really brutally heavy, aggressive riff and some moments in the song that express that higher intellect.
Listen, I’m not trying to oversell myself. I’m a rock guitar player, and I grew up on the basics like most of those guys did, like AC/DC, ZZ Top and Van Halen, and it just so happens that I really like Pink Floyd, I really like Queen, and I’m really influenced by musicians that are willing to take some risks to try to create something interesting and not just the four-chord thing.
So for me, those types of songs, like “Dark Passenger,” are a real challenge that I really enjoy, to try to create this musical landscape to help paint a picture sonically to fit right in line with the lyrics and not just treat the lyrics as words. Ultimately, when Chris sends me lyrics, in essence, I’m telling him how to sing them because I’m writing the melody he’s singing. It’s a lot of trust he’s put in me. I really want to make sure that when we’re in the studio working together, I’m giving him great melodies because I know he works really hard on the lyrics, as well.
On the song “Blood Happens,” who did those almost death metal vocals on the chorus?
Those are mine. What really separated Stuck Mojo was that we had three kind of distinctly different vocal styles. One was the rap vocals, and then our bass player had a great, melodic rock voice—kind of a Paul Rodgers/Sammy Hagar rock voice. And I did all the aggressive, death metal vocals. Over the years, Chris has encouraged me to incorporate that at times in some of the different songs, and it felt appropriate in that song.
You’re on Fozzy’s first full, real U.S. tour on the Uproar festival. How long have you been really itching to get out across the U.S. like that?
Yeah, it’s crazy. We’ve played lots of shows in the U.S., but we’ve never gone out for a full seven weeks of straight dates. Usually, we would go out for a week or two, then come home and maybe go out for another week and then go to Europe. We spend most of our time touring Europe. We’ve actually toured Australia more than we have the States. It’s bizarre. We live in the States, and you would think it would be the fall tradition to tour in your backyard.
One of our problems has been there obviously are two sides to the music business. We create the music, and then there are people who sit behind desks and work hard for the bands in the business side of things. We have really lacked good organization in the past years in the States. That’s been the problem for us touring. There’s just been a lack of momentum on the business side here. You can’t point to one person. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way things have happened.
We’ve just had stronger relationships and stronger momentum in these other territories, and obviously, when things are happening in the U.K. or in Germany or in Australia, that’s where you tour. So that’s what’s really been the deciding factor for why we’ve spent so much time over there.
Now that we’re on Century Media, obviously their record company is well respected and has a great reputation here in the States and does a great job with marketing and promotion. When we knew that we were gonna be releasing this record through Century Media—I think we signed the deal about a year ago—we started looking at when is the release date and we need to start looking for a big U.S. tour to launch this album and launch Fozzy officially, kind of christen the band with our first tour in the States.
We knew that the Mayhem/Uproar touring festivals were the two biggest and best, and that one of them needed to be what we got on. So we worked really hard—I say “we,” I mean less me because I’m the producer of the record, as well, so I really spent most of my time working on the album. But Chris and management and the record company worked really hard with the guys who own the Mayhem and Uproar festivals to try to find a spot for us and figure out if they thought the festival would benefit from having Fozzy on there and would there be a place for us.
We were really lucky that we were offered a really good slot—not just a chance to be on it, but we’re headlining the Jägermeister Stage. It’s a great opportunity for us. We go on right before P.O.D., which is the last band before things start on the main stage. So for us, that’s a great spot—late in the afternoon, people have fresh ears, they won’t have already listened to 30 bands and had 30 beers. I think it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce us to a lot of new fans. I’ve toured in the States for many, many years in my other bands, and I love it. It’s a great place to be, and I love the fans here, and we’re all really excited about it.
Is there else you would like to say right now?
Just how appreciative I am that you spent the time to talk to me today, and I’m really excited about this new record. It’s really cool. I feel pretty blessed and lucky to be almost 20 years into a career where this has been my only job and have a real chance to make music. Every 15-year-old wants to be a musician or an athlete or an Indian chief (laughs) or whatever it is that people set their sights on when they’re a kid, and this was always mine. So to all the Fozzy fans that are reading this, I really appreciate all the support and giving me this amazing opportunity to make music.