American rock band Fozzy have evolved from a comedic outlet to an international-tour-hardened live band with a diehard fanbase. Stuck Mojo guitarist Rich 'The Duke' Ward and his cohorts – which includes the renowned professional wrestler Chris Jericho – have reconvened to create their seventh album, Judas. The album's title track video has acquired an incredible online response that has reinvigorated the band. In light of the strength of the latest album and the band's growing legacy, Australian Guitar spoke to Rich, the driving force behind the band.
The latest album seems to be heavier with pretty tight songs and minimal improvisations.
Yeah, the lyrical content helped steer the riffs and overall direction into a darker area. Conceptually, once we started to sort through the ideas we ended up with a heavy record. On Do You Wanna Start a War and Sin and Bones there was quite a bit of exploration, digging into our progressive influences. On this record we wanted songs that hit you on the head with a big crushing hammer blow. Even the melancholy ‘Wordsworth Way’ has a heavy feel with Sabbath moments. We wanted to try to keep the record uniform, focussed and streamlined.
That song is one of three on the album that used Chris' lyrics.
He wrote a lot of lyrics in the same way that I wrote lots of riffs. Chris contributed to ‘Wordsworth Way’ the most because that song was about the relationship with his mother; some really dark times. He also contributed on a couple of others but when you've got five guys in a band and a producer [Johnny Andrews] who was involved in the song writing, arranging, lyrics and melody contributions, there were six of us working together to create the best album we could.
You co-wrote songs with Johnny on this album too.
Most of our previous albums had my music and melodies with Chris Jericho lyrics. This is the first time that I have worked collaboratively which is an interesting energy exchange. It is frustrating hurling ideas out simultaneously before you’re in agreement but it did produce the best results.
Did that process also include the guitar solos since they are pretty compact performances?
We had a lot of conversations about solos. If a bridge melody was better, I lost the vote. It came down to making sure a solo section counted. If more solos are on a record, you take them for granted. When you only have a few, you have to give it your best foot forward.
Some of the drop C tuned riffs [generally played on a ’76 Gibson Les Paul Standard] utilise panning. Does pre-production shape those ideas?
Well, we record the album twice. The blueprint or demo version is for constructing the songs and arrangements. That process took a year because Johnny had other projects and Fozzy was touring. I either brought full songs to Johnny to work on melodies and lyrics or I'd play guitar for two hours, we’d listen back and build something around ideas. This is the first album where there was no one way to write a song. My normal approach was to build a song structure around a riff. On this album, sometimes we had one riff and a drum beat so we would build a verse section, come back weeks later and expand on it. I've been producing our records for over a decade but we made a decision to push ourselves and be open to new ideas by having an outside coach come in to lay down the law.
Do you now have a similar approach or mentality to tackling cover songs?
Our early cover songs were true to the originals but we just added our flavour such as on Iron Maiden’s ‘The Prisoner'. But for Abba’s 'SOS', we had to deconstruct the song and think of how Fozzy might have written it as opposed to doing ‘Mob Rules’ by Black Sabbath which is a perfect song for a heavy metal band. We do have a couple of classic metal songs as bonus tracks on this latest record that we haven't released yet. They're A-list classics that everybody knows but they haven't been covered that many times.
Nice. Do cover songs help in a live situation to play alongside new material?
Yeah, we are also doing thirty minute mini concerts for fan clubs and VIPs before a show where we add some cover songs into that set. It is nice to do because it gives us a chance to play it and gives our really loyal fans a chance to hear songs that they wouldn't necessarily hear in the regular set.
Did Paul DiLeo returning to the bass position impact on the band’s sound?
Even though he left for a short period of time, it had nothing to do with us. Being away all the time is very difficult on relationships. It is hard because Paul plays in Fozzy and also plays for a German pop star named Nena, so he is Europe a lot. Being on the road put stress on his twenty year marriage so we had two great bass players [session bassist Jeff Rouse and Stuck Mojo bassist Randy Drake] fill in for him for the gigs but Paul never missed an album so for recording, nothing really changed.
The album has keyboard and synth parts. Is that added to live shows with production techniques?
We thought about bringing out a keyboard player but logistically it is hard since stage sizes can be prohibitive to have two full big guitar rigs, a bass rig, room to move around plus add a keyboard rig. So we just do what most other bands do for piano, strings or any type of electronic accompaniment; put it on a track and play to a click track. It has become the industry standard and we have been doing it for a very long period time because we really enjoy percussion elements such as electronic drum pieces or tambourine and shakers; things that are a big part of the song’s rhythm. So, instead of having a badass percussionist standing up there on tambourine, we put it on tape.
Amusingly, sometimes production aspects covering absent musicians go unnoticed.
Yeah and some of my favourite bands like Queen, Pink Floyd and Queensrÿche have a lot of detail work on their albums. I enjoy bands that expand their sound beyond the core four or five members by having say keyboards or female backing vocals. We brought a couple of female vocalists in to help us with ‘SOS’ and ‘Tonight’ from Do You Wanna Start a War. I think it is cool to collaborate like that.
Indeed and you've got some clean, funk rock guitar on the song ‘Weight of my World’.
That was huge for me as growing up I really loved funk music. I went through a big period when I was into late seventies Earth, Wind and Fire, Ohio Players and The Isley Brothers. You never want to force influences that don't work onto a song. It just happened to be that ‘Weight of my World’ had such a funky drum beat that it worked to tap into my Nile Rodgers right hand funk guitar impression.
Clearly you survived the Steel Panther tour down here several years ago.
That was such a great tour. I love those guys. We recently played a festival with them in Milwaukee. They are as good a bunch of guys you could ever meet. I love Australia and it has some of the best metal and rock fans that I have ever met in my life.
2018 Australian Tour
Friday November 9th - Max Watt’s, Melbourne
Saturday November 10th - Manning Bar, Sydney
Tuesday November 13th - The Gov, Adelaide
Wednesday November 14th - The Triffid, Brisbane