Don’t forget to check out part one of this in-depth interview with Rich Ward here.
I know that when it comes to Fozzy, you and Chris Jericho kind of met through WCW- but overall, how did that all start?
We already had Fozzy Osbourne in existence, it was a cover band that was basically a group of Atlanta local musicians and we would get together and play cover songs. Diamond Dallas Page helped us out; he helped Stuck Mojo with a video in 1998 for a song called “Rising”. Raven was in it and Scotty Riggs, Billy Kidman and there were a lot of really cool guys in it. Anyways I became really good friends with those wrestler guys through DDP, and all of Stuck Mojo used to work out at Lex Luger and Sting’s gym- so we already knew all the wrestlers because the wrestlers and the rock guys would work out during the day when everyone else was at work. We all woke up at like, eleven, and then we’d go to the gym and work out around noon. We had very similar personalities; we all kinda had the same type of lifestyle. I went to a show that I believe was in Greenville- I met Chris a couple of times through DDP but I believe the first time we discussed Fozzy for the first time we were in Houston at a Monday Nitro and he and I were just talking about music and bands that we liked. He had mentioned to me that he sang when he was in high school which was obviously like ten years before that, but that he was still interested in music and did projects with friends from time to time. And I said well dude, I’ve got this band called Fozzy Osbourne and you should be the guest singer and we could play a show in Atlanta- let’s come up with a set list of a bunch of songs, you can pick some and we’ll pick some. We played a show together and it was so much fun, the fans had such a great time. I mean we were terrible, it was brutal, it was awful- because we didn’t rehearse! Fozzy Osbourne was like, the worst garage band you could imagine. We just wanted to have a good time, like we kinda learned the songs but we kinda didn’t, you know what I mean? It was just serious enough to kind of know the songs but just shitty enough that we didn’t care that much. But because that show went so well that was the catalyst that lead to us taking Fozzy Osbourne a little more serious. We had a band meeting after that show and we were all like- this is great! And then that lead to a second show, and then a third show and a fourth show and after the fourth show there was this buzz about the guys from Stuck Mojo playing with Chris Jericho in this band that played covers and dressed up in crazy outfits like they were from the 80’s. We got a record deal offer to make an album full of covers. And the guy who signed us was this guy named Jonny Zazula- you know, the guy who signed Metallica…Megaforce Records. And it was a really big deal for us, we were excited. And at the same time it still had a hint of not being that big of a deal because we weren’t even playing our own songs, we were playing Motley Crue and Twisted Sister and Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Accept- so we had one foot in the ‘this is awesome!’ door and then the other foot in the fact that he’s still a wrestler as his day job and we’re still doing Stuck Mojo and another band called Sick Speed together as our day job. Fozzy was still kind of our vanity project that we really enjoyed. And over the years as we played more shows and made more records and started touring together, the kind of love affair that we had for the band and for each other just organically grew. We went from just being these guys who wanted to play great music and have fun to this whole thing turning into something really special and really unique, and we eventually at that point stopped wearing the wigs and stopped calling ourselves Fozzy Osbourne- and we became more of a serious band. As much of a serious band as the audience would take us since we were still playing covers at that point. And I can’t even believe it; we started the band 17 years ago. It’s hard to believe we’re still doing this and making records- we’re super passionate about it.
See, I was going to ask you about the first two Fozzy records because I know they were covers and then your third record was predominately originals. I wanted to know if that was a contracting thing or if it was the band kind of cracking down and becoming more serious.
I think Chris’ quote was, and I’m paraphrasing this, but I think the quote was “there’s only so many times you can tell a joke before it’s not funny anymore”- the idea of having fake names and costumes and wigs. And he just said ‘hey, I don’t wanna be Moongoose McQueen anymore’- which was his stage name, ‘let me just be Chris Jericho and let’s make a real record’. The first album was a combination of original material that we wrote and some re-recorded stuff that I had originally wrote for my Sick Speed band. There was a song called “The Way I Am” and there was a song called “The Test”, those were both songs that I had from another band that we had re-recorded. And we were still kind of figuring out who we were, we had went from being a cover band to being an original band but we worked full time, and probably by the time we put out ‘All That Remains’ which was that album, we had only played twenty or twenty-five shows. Most bands figure out who they are early on in their career because they’re out touring and playing lots of shows and they’re growing together, that chemistry is starting to develop as a group, not as individual musicians. But we hadn’t gone through that process because at that point we were still the guys from Stuck Mojo plus Chris Jericho and it was still kind of a part time thing. We were still at that growth spurt of figuring who we are as a band, and figuring out what we sound like. It was cool because I think ‘All That Remains’ is a cool album and I really do like it, but it wasn’t quite…Like if you listen to ‘Chasing The Grail’ which was the following album, that album and ‘All That Remains’ sound completely different. And if you listen to the next album, ‘Sin and Bones’, it’s a very different album than the one before it. You can see that Fozzy is working hard in the studio and starting to tour more and develop who we are as a band, and you can kind of see that. And you see that in a lot of bands, look at Metallica or Megadeth or Van Halen- you can name any band, and you see this growth. And it doesn’t necessarily come from trying a bunch of things, but it comes from honing in on things. You’re starting to learn who you are as musicians, and you hone in on trying to figure out how you can be better as a team- like a baseball team or a basketball team. It isn’t all about individual achievement; you will not win until you really play all together. That’s the process of learning who we are as musicians, and how we write together. A big part of that was me learning who Chris Jericho is as a musicians, as an artist and as a singer because Chris is writing most of the lyrics but I’m writing the melodies that he’s singing- honestly most of the melodies that he’s singing. He’ll hand me a lyric sheet and at that point I was taking those lyrics and turning them into music. Part of that process is being mindful, and I’ve learned more and more as we’ve started to make more albums, is learning how to represent musically who Chris is, not just writing because I like the way something sounds or I think it’s a cool melody. But, who is Chris as an artist? And writing for that artist. I think that’s one of the most important thing any band can do is be yourself. I can always go see a band that’s trying too hard to be something that doesn’t seem real genuine- I see that all the time. But you can tell that the guy is not super pissed off, so like, why is he playing that super heavy and hard shit? It’s like, people have personalities, and trying to create music that is an extension of that personality is when you really start becoming an artist. It took Fozzy a while to figure that out. We were still making great records, in my opinion, the records were really good. But I don’t think we were making albums that were artistically a great representation of who we were, we were still a studio act if you know what I’m saying. There are lots of bands like that who were studio groups- they just didn’t do a lot of touring. The more time we spent on a bus or on a plane, in catering, in the studio, the more we started to figure out who we all were and who we were as a band. I think that was why our albums have just gotten better over time.
And how is Fozzy treating you, overall? Do you guys all mesh together really well?
Yeah! We get along great. Just like every band I’ve ever been in there’s been a few lineup changes and growing pains and just trying to find out what’s the right chemistry and who are the right guys- some guys have quit, some guys have been fired and some guys we look at and say “do you still wanna be in the band? No? Okay well let’s just shake hands and go our separate ways”. And more times than not that’s kind of how it goes- whether you’re in a sports franchise or a band or a romantic relationship- all break ups look different. We’re real fortunate that Frank and I, Billy and Chris have been together for a long time, coming up on ten years. We’ve had a couple of bass player changes; we just had a hard time finding a local guy who can be part of that chemistry. So we were lucky that we had Paul Di Leo who I met when I was in Adrenaline Mob, he was the bass player of that band. And I loved playing with Paul, Paul lives in New Jersey and he has a full time spot playing for that German popstar Nena. That was his priority, and occasionally he’d have to miss shows and that just became tough for us because we started touring and that was just more and more shows he’d have to miss. And then we got Jeff Rouse in the band who played with Duff McKagan’s band Loaded, and he also has a great band called The Guessing Game that he’s the lead singer of. Then it became the same issue we had with Paul, trying to make schedules work. Honestly Jeff was doing us a favor and I loved Jeff and I wish he was still in the band because we had such great times together, but he lives in Seattle. Our schedules just didn’t always match which made it tough. And finally we met Randy, Randy Drake, and he’s a local Atlanta guy. I never knew him, he played in some cover bands around town and he’s got an original band too- I just never knew him. Frank met him and said ‘hey, we should try this guy Randy out. He’s a great bass player and a nice guy.’ We had him over at the rehearsal space, just Randy, Frank and I and we jammed. The first minute I was like- this guy is amazing! And he’s such a nice guy. Finally I felt like we’ve got the five dudes. I always hate to say ‘this is it’, but it feels like it is. I think even more so than the playing, it’s seeing how the chemistry is off stage, how we get along. Like you said- how are you guys getting along? These are great people, and we have a great friendship together. We get along really well; Chris has yelled at me and I’ve yelled at him. Me and Frank don’t talk occasionally for like, two hours. We get into an argument about politics or something stupid- but that’s just being friends. Especially when you’ve been friends for this long. We went to see Metallica on the ‘…And Justice for All’ tour when we were kids, before we were in a band together. We were roommates, it’s just been good. It’s good to be in a band with friends, people you respect and people that you play well with. Because honestly, like I told you about high school- I wasn’t a very good guitar player by the standards of ‘can you play Van Halen?’ or ‘can you play this Randy Rhoads guitar solo?’. When you’re 14 years old, that’s how you rate yourself. How long is your hair and how fast can you play? And by those standards I was the worst player in my high school, but I have a sound. And Frank probably wasn’t the best player in his high school- but he has a sound. And when Frank and I play together, we’re better than if we were playing with anyone else. Frank makes me a better guitar player. We complement each other, and again, that’s coming down to chemistry. Just like how a basketball team wins national championships- it’s not how many times you can dunk the ball, it’s how well you play with your team. And I can’t stress that enough, when it comes down to it, it’s all about chemistry.
My next question is in regards to your last album ‘Do You Wanna Start a War’- on that album you guys covered “SOS” by ABBA, which I will admit I totally loved. However I was wondering why you chose that song?
As I told you, that era of 70’s AM Gold is my favorite. So I love ABBA, I think they’re amazing- I love them. Chris had an idea of a song and then I brought up “SOS”, the original plan was we were gonna do both songs. His was Cliff Richards’ “Devil Woman” which is a killer song. So we were gonna do both songs but then just decided to do “SOS” because we had a bunch of other material that was really good, so there was no point in putting two covers on the album- let’s just do the one song. And then I had this idea of making it basically what would happen if ABBA got into a street fight with Cheap Trick and just having this super happy party rock song. And yeah! I love it, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Me too! I think it’s great.
I brought in two of our favorite local female singers, a girl named Christie Cook and a girl named Shirley Fisher. They came in and helped us give it that ABBA sound by having those female voices in the chorus section. I didn’t want to do it like they do it, but I did want there to be a hint of what ABBA had. We could do a Heart cover or we could do a Pat Benatar cover but there’s something about the way that those chicks sings those songs that just imprinted it into our brains. And I don’t know that even if it was the greatest rock singer, name whoever you want, I think I will always hear Ann Wilson singing those Heart songs in my head. I wanted to go ahead and make sure that we had some female voices in that big chorus section to give it that feel.
I know you guys are working on a new Fozzy record, too. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah! This album is a little different for me because I’m not producing it. We’ve hired a guy named Johnny Andrews who’s the guy I co-wrote “Lights Go Out” with. I’ve worked with Johnny on past albums and the guys at Century Media, which is our record label, basically said that we should consider getting together with Johnny. I am the primary songwriter so most songs are created in my studio, so it’s me working with a drum machine and a guitar in my lap and a set of lyrics that Chris gives me and I just start chipping away at it. But what makes it not a Rich Ward song and makes it a Fozzy song is when I give everybody my rough demos, they all take it and make it their own. They’ll all put their own thumbprint on it- Frank plays it the way he’d play it, not the way I’d play it. Then it becomes a Fozzy song. And then the idea of it being cool to write with somebody else and getting some new blood injected into it came up…and I know Johnny- it’s the craziest thing. I used to work at a music store with him when I was a kid! And I was like…That Johnny Andrews?! And he’s written a couple number one songs for Halestorm, he’s written for Three Days Grace and he’s written all these big songs and I’m just like wow, how cool. So I was still weird about going to Nashville or LA and sitting in with a guy I’d never met before, staring at each other and going ‘whatcha got?’. You know? But Johnny and I already knew each other, we were friends. And the cool thing about Johnny is Johnny isn’t a metal guy. He’s an alternative guy. When I met him he was way into Nine Inch Nails and like, into dark and kind of gothy alternative stuff. So when he and I work together it’s nice because it’s not two boneheaded metal guys fishing from the same pond. He’s bringing some different influences into the conversation and it’s really cool, I’ve really enjoyed it. And the other part of it is now that Stuck Mojo is activated again and Chris is back wrestling full time again and he’s got his full time podcast- I can’t produce this whole album and write it myself and record it myself. I just don’t have the time. So, having Johnny there just helps. And the same thing goes for Stuck Mojo, I didn’t produce that album either. And it really is good for me because then I can just concentrate on being a guitar player and being a songwriter. And again, I love producing. It is so much fun to wear that hat and be able to work with everybody but honestly, it’s why it takes me so long to make Fozzy records. I’m making the salad, and the mashed potatoes and the steak and the dessert and then I’m making the espresso when the meal’s over. And not to mention the fact that making a record is not just pushing buttons, there’s a lot that goes into production. Normally when you’re in the studio you have assistant engineers that you’ve got doing some other tasks- I’ve never hired anybody else. I’ve done it all myself, so I was basically it. I poured the concrete, I framed the house, I put up the sheet rock, I did it. And it’s tough, but I’m pretty excited about having someone to share the load with me on this. And he’s a super creative guy, he’s got great ideas. I’m really hoping that Johnny can kind of be, for us, what Rick Rubin has been for other bands, what Kevin Shirley has been for Iron Maiden- this outside guy who can come in and act as an extra chair at the table.