As a measurement of ambition, most cover bands are more than happy to play for free drinks and a few bucks at the end of the night. Few and exceedingly far between are the ones that set their sights on the arenas of the world.
Formed in San Antonio by guitarist Rich Ward in 1999, Fozzy (originally “Fozzy Osbourne”), was hatched as a bit of a lark — a loose collective of local musicians getting together each week to run through some covers and have a bit of fun. Even when legendary WWE champion Chris Jericho assumed vocal duties, the band maintained the most modest of aspirations. After all, with an established celebrity —a wrestler, no less — as their vocalist, just how far could they go? Nonetheless, they released an eponymous covers album that shifted a few units, but it would be their follow-up, Happenstance, featuring five original songs and a chest-beating vocal performance by Jericho, that suggested that Fozzy might just have some legs after all.
Fast-forward to 2014. In July, Fozzy released their sixth studio campaign — Do You Wanna Start A War — brawny amalgam of modern metal, 80s sleaze and whiskey-soaked Southern howling. Not only was it their fourth collection of original material, but the record shot straight into the Billboard 200, hitting #54 in the very first week. Neither overtly extreme nor compositionally complex, the blustery grooves of the 12-track collection tapped into the boozy revelry of sweaty dance floors and high-end strip clubs, offering heavy music enthusiasts the chance to have a bit of fun between all of the doom, gloom and brutality. Fozzy’s success has revealed that there is a powerful thirst for music that is both heavy and danceable, and that they’re just the men to do it.
Beyond his celebrated wrestling career and his life in heavy metal, Jericho is a veteran actor of stage and screen, a bestselling author and a weekly podcast host. We caught up with him after a show in Rochester to discuss the new record, to find out the secret ingredient in their live set and to come off the top rope at him with our five Either/Ors. We were entirely unprepared for his answers.
The album’s had some time to breathe. How does it feel?
It feels great. Whenever you do a record, you always come out of it feeling like it’s the best record of your career, and you should feel that way. We took a little bit of a chance on this record by just being completely ourselves and not worrying what other bands are doing, what’s popular on the radio or wondering, “Is this song too heavy?” or “Is this song too poppy?” Whatever. It’s a very diverse record and you can hear that when you listen to “Lights Go Out” or when you hear “Died With You” or “Brides of Fire” or “Do You Wanna Start A War.” There are a lot of different musical styles on this record, but still it’s all Fozzy.
Critically and commercially, this has been your most successful release yet.
It debuted in the top 50 on the Billboard Top 200, which is the highest yet been by leaps and bounds, and “Lights Go Out” made the top 20. Now we’re on tour with Theory of a Deadman, playing these songs live. We did 45 minutes tonight and five of the songs are new, and people know them! They’re singing, they’re going nuts during “Lights Go Out,” they’re mesmerized by “Bad Tattoo,” they’re bobbing their heads and rocking for “Do You Wanna Start A War.” “SOS” is going over huge. These songs are made to be played live and people who hear them are responding accordingly, so it’s really cool for all of us and very gratifying.
Although Fozzy began as a covers act, you’ve since released four albums of original material and earned slots on some of the biggest music festivals on the planet. How has this evolution looked from within the band?
I always compare Fozzy to Pantera. What I mean by that is that if you look at Pantera, their original incarnation was different from what they became. They were doing Metal Magic and Power Metal and they were wearing makeup, they had a different singer and were doing more of a Judas Priest or Van Halen-type generic thing. Suddenly they get a new singer, they change their look, they change their vibe and they become the legendary Pantera. It’s kind of the same with Fozzy. Not like we’re legendary like Pantera is, but we started out doing covers. We were the original Steel Panther. About two years into that we decided we wanted to do more – we wanted to do something different. That was in 2002, so it’s been twelve years and it took a long time to change people’s perceptions of our band. Plus there’s the fact that Jericho, the singer, is a wrestler, so people were like, “Well, we don’t know if we want to take this seriously.” So when we did the Chasing the Grail record back in 2010, Rich and I said, “Look, we can take this to the next level. Let’s see how far we can go.” Because we know that as songwriters, we have something different to offer. Grail comes out and does great. Sin and Bones comes out and does even better. Then Do You Wanna Start A War comes out and kills it. Plus we’ve toured with some of the biggest bands in the world, from Shinedown to Godsmack to Metallica to Avenged Sevenfold. You can see that this band is going places. It’s not Chris Jericho’s band and it’s never been that. It’s five guys – five rock stars – playing killer music. We’ve worked for this, we deserve this and it’s cool to see it happen.
When you all sat down to write the material for the new album, what changes did you feel were necessary to move the sound forward?
Here’s the thing – we’ve been moving towards this all along. Every band takes a few records to really figure out who they are. For us, our first records were covers, and then we did All That Remains, which was highly-acclaimed, but then we took another four or five years before Grail came out. With Grail, we started from scratch and rebooted the machine. So Bones and War are where we finally started homing in on who we are and what we do best — very heavy, groove-oriented songs with a lot of melody and a lot of harmonies. We’re harkening back to bands from the Seventies where everybody sang. If Metallica and Journey had a bastard child, it would be Fozzy.
You’ve opened for some of the biggest bands in metal — what’s the strategy for playing to another band’s audience?
People are sometimes like, “What the fuck is going on? There’s a band on stage opening for Slayer, and they’re wanting us to chant, ‘Hey, hey, hey, one, two three,’ and they’re named ‘Fozzy’ – a muppet name – and I don’t know what that even means.” (laughing) But by the end of the set, guess what happens – they’re chanting, “Hey, hey, hey, one, two, three!” They’re chanting “Fozzy!” They’re jumping up and down and having a great time. That’s what we do. We make sure that people have — and this is almost a dirty word — fun. Our vision for live shows is Van Halen, 1979. Not that we sound like that, but if you watch any videos from that era, they’re having the best time on stage. We’re not afraid to smile and to have a good time and that allows us to continue to grow and to reach the next level.
You just announced the Cinderblock Party Tour. How did that come together?
We’re just finishing up this tour with Theory of a Deadman, which has been amazing. We were up for a couple supporting slots in November and December, but we weren’t really getting anything we liked, so we said, “Look, we’ve gotta grow up and be big boys sooner or later. Let’s tour on our own, let’s put together a great package and let’s make it an event.” That’s what we did — we hooked up with Texas Hippie Coalition, an amazing band with a great new record called Ride On, we got Shaman’s Harvest, who are another great band – super fucking laid back with that Southern rock-type vibe – and all three bands have the same vibe – it’s a party. People are coming out to have fun at these shows, so let’s put together a party. What are we going to call it? How about a “Block Party?” Ok, but it’s heavier than that, so how about a “Cinderblock Party?” Wow! Now we have a name. You talk about the Uproar tour or the Mayhem tour, well we’re the Cinderblock Party — it’s heavy but it’s fun. It starts November 20, in Flint, Michigan and goes through December 12 in Tampa, Florida, with all of the ups and downs and twists and turns in between. One thing I noticed on this tour with Theory – Theory is a great band with a lot of hits, but there’s not a lot of energy. Our band, energy-wise, is blowing them away every night because like I said, you can’t compete with Van Halen in 1979, man. Texas Hippie Coalition and Shaman’s Harvest are the same way, so people are going to come and they’re going to drink, they’re going to have fun and they’re going to sing along and that’s what we wanted. We wanted to put together something special and see how far we can take it. If it does well, we’ll do another leg next year with the same guys because we believe in both of these bands and we believe in our band.
I don’t see any California dates — that’s a pretty big market to pass.
When you do a tour, you’re always going to get people saying, “Why aren’t you coming to San Diego?” or “Why don’t you come to Los Angeles?” We know we need to do Portland and Denver and Boise, Idaho, but all in good time, young grasshoppers — we will be there. If you build it, they will come. If this tour does as well as I think it will, we’ll have to take it across the States. We’ve done so much touring in the UK, in Europe, in Australia and across Canada and we didn’t really do a lot of touring in the States until we did Uproar on the Sin and Bones tour. Now we’re United States junkies. We want to tour as much of the United States as we can. Hey, going to England is great, but eating bangers and mash and fish and chips every night fucking sucks! I want Outback Steakhouse and I want diners and I want eggs and real bacon, not shitty ham. (laughing)
Where do you see Fozzy in five years?
I want the band to have progressed in the next five years in the same way that we have in the last five years. I love playing music with these guys. I love being in a band with Rich Ward and Frank Fontsere (drums), Billy Grey (guitar) and Jeff Rouse (bass). Once we started putting our full focus into the band and started giving a thousand percent, it started moving in leaps and bounds. I say this with zero ego: we’re dangerous. We’re a dangerous band because you can put us in front of anybody. My experience in show business all came from rock and roll. When I first started wrestling, I wanted to be the ultimate rock and roll frontman of wrestling. I wanted to be the Paul Stanley of wrestling. I took those qualities into wrestling and then I brought those qualities back into music. I know how to work a crowd. Rich knows how to work a crowd. We how to write songs that people will groove to. We know how to write the kind of songs that you hear in strip clubs. Chicks like our tunes. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we’ll whip your fucking ass. We like the fact that people have low expectations for our band; we’re hiding in the weeds and when we get our chance, we’ll come out and bite you and you’ll never forget us. Give us the same chance for the next five years that we had for the last five years and I fully expect us to be headlining arenas. And that’s my goal. If I didn’t have that goal or if anybody in our band didn’t have that goal, then quit. Go and get a job working at Sonic. Over the next five years, for people who love us, it’s going to be the greatest five years ever and for people who hate us, it’s going to be miserable. We’re not stopping. If you like us, great, and if not, step aside and let the people who like us have your seat.
We end these things with an Either/Or exercise. I give you five choices and I’d like you to pick one and explain why. First off, Halford or Dickisnon?
Dickinson, man. Bruce is one of my heroes. I actually know Rob way better than I know Bruce, but that’s only because I’m scared to talk to Bruce because I’m such a fanboy. But for me, Bruce is the quintessential heavy metal singer.
Cardio or leg day?
Cardio. I stopped doing legs years ago because I found out that with good cardio, it works your legs. Also, I started doing yoga a few years ago and that’s the best cardio/leg workout you can do. So, cardio or leg day? I’m going yoga, bitch!
Die Hard or Lethal Weapon?
Wow. I’m the one guy who never got the whole Die Hard trip. Mel Gibson’s my guy, even when he went through that shit where he was a stone cold racist, or he was drunk or he was on drugs. Dude, welcome to showbiz, man. We’re all drunk or we’re all on drugs at some point, so I’m going Lethal Weapon, with the honorable mention for Danny Glover, who whips ass in all of those movies.
Zeppelin or Sabbath?
Sabbath, man. I never got into the Zeppelin trip. It’s not that I don’t respect them, I dig them, but Ozzy is one of my fucking guys for life. I never liked Sabbath in the 80s because they had mustaches and in the 80s, the only mustache that I liked was on Rudolph Schenker. Anybody else had a mustache, I didn’t like him at all. But I was always a huge Ozzy guy. I always ask this question – who was the better riff writer, who’s written more classic riffs, Hetfield or Iommi? It’s the ultimate argument. So I’m going Sabbath, I’m going Ozzy Sabbath and honorable mention to Dio Sabbath, which does not get the credit it deserves, especially Mob Rules and Heaven and Hell. Those could possibly be the two best Sabbath albums ever, as much as people might crucify me for that. Track by track, and technicality and hooks- every song on both of those records is amazing.
Ballsy thing to say.
I don’t mind. I know. People are going to yell at me either way. (laughing)
Great sex or a great show?
I’ll tell you what, man, and I’m not saying this to be egotistical, but I can have great sex whenever I want. It’s the great show that’s elusive, like capturing the Loch Ness Monster. A truly great show doesn’t happen very often. When you do a tour like the one we’re doing now with Theory of a Deadman, I think we’ve done twenty shows, and they’ve all been good, but the true blue great ones have been three, possibly four. So if you do some quick math, that’s maybe twenty percent. Tonight in Rochester was a good show, but Baltimore was a great show. Boston was a great show! So you can really pinpoint those. I’d go with a great show over good sex every night. Because sex is like pizza or Motorhead, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.