Latest release: Chasing the Grail (Riot!)
When WCW star Chris Jericho took up an offer from Stuck Mojo’s Rich Ward to front a part-time cover band back in 1999, precisely nobody could have forseen what it was to become. Festooned with ludicrous pseudonyms and accompanied by a ridiculous web series that painted them as clueless buffoons entrapped by a draconian record contract – not to mention such a silly band name – it was hard to imagine Fozzy as anything more than a gimmicky one-off jaunt for a pro-wrestler and his rap-metal buddies. More than a decade later, Fozzy is a totally different prospect, a professional touring band with four albums under its belt and ever-growing respect for what they do. The 2005 album All That Remains opened many doors for the group and went a long way to dispelling their early image as a mere joke.
“Obviously when we started off we were a different band that was just a fun thing with this Travelling Wilburys, Blue Brothers kinda storyline,” Chris Jericho says. “I think All That Remains turned a lot of people’s heads as to what a great rock n roll band this is, with good songs, and I think that kind of the bridge between old Fozzy and new Fozzy. And in a way even though this is our fourth record, it’s actually like our second. A lot of people were looking forward to what we were going to do, maybe a little curious as to what was going to happen and I think they are surprised by how good it turned out.”
The success – both commercially and critically – of All That Remains inspired Jericho and the band to work even harder on the follow-up and push themselves toward the next level of achievement. Having won cynics and doubters over to the concept that Fozzy was a real band and not just another Jericho marketing gimmick, it was more important than ever for them to make an even better album this time.
“We made such advances with All That Remains that we really wanted to make Chasing the Grail something that would take us to the next level cause we knew we had a chance to gain prominence, gain credibility and gain success for the band,” says Jericho. “That’s why we took so much time on doing Grail… the songwriting, the recording, putting together the right team to promote it and it’s been a huge success worldwide. It’s got the best reviews we’ve gotten, the most airplay we’ve gotten, the best sales we’ve had.”
Fozzy is one of the few bands from the last decade that has built success from having an unashamed traditional metal style: All That Remains sold well over 100,000 copies. The latest effort sees the band extending their horizons to incorporate even more influences, resulting in a remarkably diverse album.
“It really is a diverse record for us,” the singer says. “There’s a lot of different styles of music. It’s still Fozzy, but there’s ‘Under Blackened Skies’ or ‘Friday the 13th’ which are very fast, thrashing songs, but you also get ‘Wormwood’ a 14-minute song, ‘Broken Soul’ is like a Southern ballad and ‘New Day’s Dawn’ is a European, Candlemass, Lacuna Coil type of a song. So there really is a lot of diversity on the record, and I think that’s something else that’s taken the band to a different place. I know doing a 14-minute song is not something that every band tries and the ones that do don’t always succeed, so just having that track on the album put us into a good place as well. We really, really took a long time to make this record something that people would consider to be a classic, and so far so good!”
It’s always been abundantly clear that the band’s main influences were 80s metal giants like Dio, Maiden and Priest, but Jericho also namechecks 70s rockers like Journey, Styx and Foreigner as well as classic thrash bands. In the past however, by far the most common comparison made with the band has been to Ozzy Osbourne, particularly in regard to Jericho’s vocals. And rather than argue, the singer embraces the idea warmly.
“The Ozzy influence is tremendous because I never tried to sound like Ozzy,” he says. “I always wanted to try for a Bruce Dickinson, Halford type thing. Also we double-track all our vocals which is a classic Ozzy trick that gives you a more haunting, ghostly type of a feel. And there are a couple of tracks on this record where it was like, ‘Gee, did Ozzy stop into the studio and lay some tracks down?’ If you’re going to be compared to somebody, it’s not a bad comparison. I didn’t try to sound that way, it’s just one of those things that pleasantly happened.”
While there was less emphasis on Jericho’s Ozzy-like stylings this time, some critics have accused him of processing his vocals on Chasing the Grail. He concedes that the double-tracking method may have that effect, but it isn’t deliberate.
“The double-tracking does add a certain quality to the vocal that might sound a little processed,” he admits, “but it’s not really a T-Pain kind of thing. It’s more natural because when you double-track you have an echo because you have to sing the same thing twice and it’s not going to be perfect, so there is going to be a bit of a blur on there, but it’s nothing like the vocoder, whatever-you-call-it, pitchshifter effect.”
Chasing the Grail closes with an epic multi-part 14 minute song centered around Wormwood, the star that poisons the rivers in the Book of Revelation. It was a truly ambitious undertaking, and the one song above all others that proves Fozzy’s legitimacy as a serious metal band. Music for the song was written by former member Mike Martin, who also laid down all the guitar parts.
“It was one of the visions I had for the record before we started recording,” Jericho says. “I’ve always loved ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and songs like ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’ and Rush and Dream Theater. So I wanted to have that long song because I knew we had the right players in the band and it just felt right. And I always felt that writing about the Apocalypse would be great subject matter for a metal song. I just started writing and the next thing I had ten pages of lyrics. There are seven parts to the song, like ‘2112’ had all the different parts and chapters. Mike Martin was much more of a proggy player and a big Dream Theater fan like me, so Rich said to let him do it. And Mike did a great job, he came in with a really cool vibe for the lyrics I had written, kind of a dark, depressing kind of forboding type of song.”
It’s the first song in the band’s history not to feature Ward as either a writer or musician, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t still heavily involved in the track’s final outcome.
“Rich produced my vocals with me and did some production and we changed a couple of things in the back end. So it’s not that he wasn’t involved,” Jericho explains. “He just didn’t play any instruments on [the song]. His influence was there on the melody lines and a couple of things that MIke wanted to do that didn’t fit into the vision I had for the album. So he was still involved. It wouldn’t have turned out as well without him.”
Clearly, Jericho’s enthusiasm and vision for Fozzy would come to next to naught without Rich Ward, the industry veteran who remains a somewhat under-exposed force in the metal arena despite his 21 years as a professional musician. Jericho declares it part of his personal mission to elevate Ward’s status in the eyes of the music world.
“Chasing the Grail is [Ward’s] sixteenth record!” Chris declares, a claim that would probably surprise those not familiar with the guitarist’s burgeoning catalogue that along with four Fozzy albums also includes a solo album and work with Stuck Mojo and Sick Speed. “He knows how to write a song, he knows how to produce a song and more importantly he knows the business, and more importantly after four records and ten years together he knows me as a singer. He tends to write stuff that is really challenging for me but he knows I can do it. We have a very good working relationship. It’s kind of a mission of mine to get him out of this under-rated category and into the forefront as a producer, as a songwriter, as a guitar player, as a live performer.”
It was Ward who came up with the album’s eventual title, following Jericho’s initial suggestion of Wormwood.
“Rich came up with Chasing the Grail. And we thought it was fitting, because everyone’s chasing after something. There’s a Grail we’re all searching for whether it’s a girl or a relationship or a job or money or whatever it may be. It really fits into whatever in life everybody’s about.”
Finding a Grail to chase is one thing that has never been any trouble for Chris Jericho. Along with the band and his illustrious wrestling career, he’s also a writer, radio broadcaster and TV presenter and more recently began acting. He could very well be considered a Renaissance Man of entertainment.
“I never really put myself in a box when it comes to something creative,” he says. “I started wrestling when I was 19, but I was playing in bands since I was 12 years old. And I always wanted to be in a rock band, and getting the chance to do both of those things, it was kind of worth it for me to put in the time and effort. And to see Fozzy grow as much as we have over the last ten years is the same way I’ve seen Jericho progress as a wrestler too. And as far as writing a book and having a radio show and acting, it’s all part of the whole wheelhouse of being a creative person. I never really denied myself a chance to do something if I thought there was a chance I could make it happen. I’m a pretty good judge of things that I can make happen, and so far, so good.”