Chris Jericho attained worldwide fame as a professional wrestler, but these days you’re much more likely to find him on stage fronting Fozzy—his hard rock/metal band that many might be surprised to know has been existence for more than 15 years—than you are inside the squared circle. Since Jericho and his bandmates made Fozzy their priority circa “Chasing the Grail” (2010), the band has grown steadily, achieving its biggest success to date with its latest album, “Do You Wanna Start a War,” released in July 2014 via Century Media Records and featuring the hit single “Lights Go Out.” Jericho recently called in to chat with Live Metal’s Greg Maki about the making of the new record and more.
LIVE METAL: The newest album came out this past summer. I felt like with the previous two albums, “Chasing the Grail” and “Sin and Bones,” the band had really come into its own and established a sound. Was part of the goal for this new album to kind of challenge expectations people might have had based on those?
CHRIS JERICHO: I think so. I think that when we started doing this record, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t so much focused on what was going on with the rest of the music world—what kind of is happening on rock radio, what the trend is. We wanted to just do 12 great songs and not worry about if this song is too heavy or maybe this song is too poppy or maybe this song is too dance-worthy—whatever it may be. Let’s just do 12 great songs. It’s gonna sound like Fozzy no matter what. If you look back to some of the greatest bands of all time—like Queen or The Beatles—they would do a record that would have a metal song, a ska song, a dance song, a ballad, industrial tune—whatever it may be. But it was all great, and it was all Queen, it was all The Beatles, because when those bands are playing those tunes, it sounds like that band.
I think nowadays bands have really gotten into the groove of “We’re a rock band, so we play nothing but rock,” or “We’re a thrash metal band, so we play nothing but thrash.” I don’t see why you have to do that, and I don’t think we do have to do that. That’s why the record has done as well as it has and why it’s been our biggest success on the charts and in sales and in the reviews, because it is a very diverse record that concentrates more on just a good song rather than what kind of style it is.
This was the first time you’ve been able to make an album with the exact same lineup as the one before. Did that have an effect on it?
I think so, but the core of the band has always been the same. It’s always been me, (guitarist) Rich (Ward) and (drummer) Frank (Fontsere). I think when you have that core element, it’s gonna sound the same no matter what. There’s been different bass players, but Rich plays all the guitars on the record, with a few solos here and there by whoever else is in the band at the time. The songwriting is me and Rich. The core of the band is me, Rich and Frank. It’s great to have (guitarist) Billy (Grey) and (bassist) Paul (Di Leo) with us for two records in a row, but if one of them left, it wouldn’t really matter because the core is still the same, the songwriting is still the same. So the band is always gonna sound like us.
If I remember correctly what Rich told me a couple years ago, you often will write lyrics first, before the music comes along. Is that how you worked on this one?
For the some of the songs, for some of the songs. I think “Sin and Bones,” I wrote the lyrics for every song, and on “Chasing the Grail,” as well. Whereas this record, I wrote the lyrics for seven of the songs maybe, and then Rich wrote a couple tunes with a guy called Johnny Andrews in Atlanta. And then, of course, we had the ABBA cover, and then Rich wrote “Tonight” by himself. So there’s a couple tunes that I didn’t appear on, but the majority of the lyrics are mine. I’ll kind of submit those to Rich and kind of see what kind of a vibe the lyrics give him and what kind of a feel he has for it. Sometimes, I’ll say, like, for “Do You Wanna Start a War,” “This needs to be an anthem. This is an anthemic type of a song.” And so he’ll come up with an anthemic type of a vibe for it. Whereas a song like “She’s My Addiction” from “Sin and Bones,” “I want this to be like a heavy Stones, Journey, Guns N’ Roses. Basically, it’s a Cult-type song.” And then other times, I’ll just give him the lyrics, and whatever he comes up with, he comes up with. It’s all part of the process. And then, some of the songs he has already written with melody lines; some of the songs he’s written already have lyrics. We write songs in a lot of different ways in the Fozzy camp.
Has he ever come back to you with something that really surprised you, that you would not have thought of at all?
All the time, all the time. There’s a song I remember called “New Day’s Dawn” on “Chasing the Grail” that when I first heard it, I was like, “This is awful.” And then I listened to it again, and I realized it was amazing. Sometimes, the best songs, you have that reaction. There’s other songs where he’ll play me and I’m like, “Ah, that’s not up to snuff. That’s not good enough. Sorry.” At the same time, it’s same way that I’ll send him some lyrics and he’ll go, “These lyrics just aren’t good enough.” So there is a lot of songwriting collaborating going on between us, and that’s part of the fun, trying to figure out which way to go is best.
This record, the song “Tonight,” when he played that—it’s a total power-pop, Cheap Trick-type vibe—and I think he was afraid to play it for me, because he didn’t know if I would like it because it’s not, quote en quote, heavy. But it’s one of the best songs on the record. That’s what I’m talking about as far as the diversity. Let’s not worry that it’s not heavy. Let’s just worry that it’s an amazing song with a great chorus and a great hook, and that’s all that matters.
There’s a wide range of topics and moods in the songs. Where do you get inspiration when it comes to writing lyrics?
Basically, from titles, from song titles. I’ll read a certain passage and say, “That’s interesting,” and then I’ll write it down, and I’ll have to write a song called this. “Do You Wanna Start a War,” I actually heard that on a Green Day live record. When they went into the song “Holiday,” Billie Joe Armstrong yelled out, “Do you wanna start a war?” And I thought, wow, what an interesting title. That’s a great title. What does that mean? Does he want to start a war in the classic sense? Do you wanna start a war with something that’s pissing you off? Do you wanna start a war with something that’s holding you back? Do you wanna start a war with some type of person that’s an asshole? There’s a lot of ways that you can read into that. I was really just intrigued by that title, so I wrote it down. A few months later, when it was time to starting writing the lyrics, when the inspiration struck me, that’s the first song I went to. Same with “Bad Tattoo” or “Brides of Fire”—they all come in different ways.
You might hear something or read something. I remember I read something in a magazine a few years ago, it was a car ad and it had all these superstitions on there and I saw paraskavedekatriaphobia, and I was like, “What is that?” So I googled it, and it turns out it’s the fear of Friday the 13th—it’s funny that today is Friday the 13th that we’re talking. And I just thought, wow, that’s a crazy song title. It’s the best song title that Iron Maiden never wrote. When it came down to doing the lyrics for that, I just googled superstitions and just read through two dozen superstitions and kind of incorporated all those into lyrics. There’s different ways you can come up with ideas and thoughts, so I’ll just write them down and save them for later on when it’s time to get writing.
From “Sin and Bones,” was the song “Dark Passenger” inspired by “Dexter?”
Absolutely. I always loved the idea that he was talking about his “Dark Passenger.” The song’s not about “Dexter,” but it’s basically inspired by it, the fact that you could have this dark passenger, this other entity that follows you wherever you go. Yeah, “Dark Passenger” was inspired by “Dexter,” and the B-side on “Sin and Bones” called “Walk Amongst the Dead” was inspired by “The Walking Dead.” And then on this record, there’s a song called “Witchery” that is inspired by “American Horror Story: Coven”—the third season of “American Horror Story,” if you’ve ever watched that show. I like doing the relationship lyrics and the stand-up-for-what-you-believe-in lyrics, but I also like my fantasy lyrics, too, every once in a while.
Each of the previous two albums ended with a longer, epic type of song, which you didn’t do on the new one. Is that another example of you just trying to change things up a bit?
Yeah, that was by design. We did actually have some lyrics written for a longer song that was based around the Donner Party, if you’ve ever heard of that. We decided we don’t want to have to end every record with this long, epic song. Both those songs, “Wormwood” and “Storm the Beaches,” are amazing songs, but it’s not really what type of a band we are. I think we did those to show that we could do it. I think it’s more important to just work on—like I said, if you’re talking about Queen or The Beatles or Iron Maiden or whatever, you would have these long songs, but it wouldn’t be every record. We enjoyed them, and maybe we’ll do another one in the future. But maybe the band has moved on. At that point in time, we felt 14-minute songs were important to do. They were fun to do, but we’ve been there, done that. Much like Rush, we’ll probably never do another “2112.” You kind of move on and let’s try a three-minute song next. Let’s go the opposite direction.
Coming up next month, the band is heading over to the U.K. and Europe for a tour. It seems like, in general, hard rock and metal are a lot bigger over there than they are here. Have you found that to be true in your experiences there?
In some ways. I think the major difference between the two is over there people seem to kind of like what they like. There really isn’t a rock radio scene, whereas here, a lot of the big festivals like Carolina Rebellion or Welcome to Rockville or Rock on the Range, Rocklahoma, Uproar, Mayhem—they’re kind of based around radio play, what’s going on on rock radio, who’s getting the major radio play, who’s getting that going. And the festivals will book their bands accordingly. Whereas in Europe, it’s more that people just like what they like. Print magazines are still very prominent over there, but other than that, it’s just word of mouth and buzz, I think, more than anything. That’s probably why there is a little bit more of a rock scene over there, because it’s not organized, it’s organic. Whereas here, it’s kind of more organized and always has been. “This is the hot band. That’s the hot band. This is the band you have to listen to.” It’s not like that really over there.
Your band has taken off in the past couple years at a strange point for the music industry. No one seems to really know what’s coming next. Where do you see things going business-wise?
The old business model is dead. Gene Simmons said rock is dead and people were all up in arms, but I don’t think he meant that bands are dead; I think he meant that the business model is dead—because it is. The way things were done five years ago, 10 years ago—very short periods of time ago—that sort of is gone now. I think there is other ways to survive as a band, there’s other ways to prosper as a band. I think there could more ways in the future. I think we’re kind of in the middle of one foot in the old and one foot in the new. People don’t really know what’s gonna happen. I would imagine that with technology and the way things are, I think somebody will come up with something in the next couple years that reinvigorates the revenue streams.
In the meantime, you can’t kill a rock show. You can’t download a rock show or the feeling that you get when you’re there. So I think live music will always prosper and always survive and always do well. I think people are just gonna have to get creative as to how they continue to expand their revenue streams as a band.
A few years ago, when you made the decision to do Fozzy full time and make it your priority, was that something you had been wanting to do for a while?
I don’t think so. I think we did it when the time was right to do it. The way the band started and the way it evolved, I think there was a little bit of a break between “All That Remains” and “Chasing the Grail.” That’s when we decided to fire up Fozzy again and do “Chasing the Grail,” but let’s do this differently from before. Let’s make this bigger, and let’s make this the priority. So I think the time was right to do it when we did it. I think all the roads kind of took us there to that point, to that place. It’s been amazing to see how much the band has grown the last five years since we made it the priority.
I saw you guys a couple times last year at some of the festivals, and I really noticed that the chants from the fans, where it used to be mostly Y2J, it was more Fozzy. How does that feel now to not just have Chris Jericho fans but a lot of Fozzy fans?
That’s just the natural progression. Fozzy is easiest name in the world to chant, and probably 99 percent of the time they’re Fozzy chants. If there’s a few Y2J chants scattered around, it’s like when you to an AC/DC show, people chant Angus. It’s OK if you get that once in a while. If it’s a thousand percent that, maybe you want more Fozzy. I think at this point in time, organically, the Fozzy chants are more prominent than the Y2J chants, if there is even any Y2J chants. And it’s not an insult. Like I said, when people chant Angus at the AC/DC shows, it doesn’t mean they don’t like AC/DC; it means they like Angus, too. As long as you’re making noise, that’s all I really care about.
After the European tour, what’s next for Fozzy?
We’ll go to Jacksonville for Welcome to Rockville, and then we’ve got a few other festivals. Working on a couple different things—something huge that we just got that we’re about ready to announce when the time is right for that over the next few weeks. But just putting together more tours and keeping the ball rolling, keeping the momentum going, man, absolutely.
Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun watching the band grow over the past few years. Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?
No, man. I appreciate the love.
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