They don’t call him The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rollah for nothing.
Chris Jericho is a lot of things — a decorated and iconic pro wrestler, a podcast host, a television personality, an actor, a family man and right now, a huge rock star. For the past 15 years Jericho along with Rich Ward and Frank Fontsere (and a cast of talented musicians) have fought their way to becoming a legit contender in the heavy metal world. They overcame the reputation of being “Chris Jericho’s band” to find themselves headlining shows and touring with national acts like Theory of a Deadman based on their merits as a band and not as the side project of a famed pro wrestler. To give you a better example: it’s not James Hetfield and Metallica and it’s not Chris Jericho and Fozzy.
Earlier this year, Fozzy ignited the metal world ablaze with the release of their new record Do You Wanna Start a War? The record spawned the single “Lights Go Out” a mash-up of metal and electronic dance music. It was a bold and radical move for the band known for their tasty grooves and crunchy riffs — but it paid off huge dividends scoring the band its biggest hit to date.
Recently, I caught up with “The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rollah,” “Y2J” Chris Jericho to talk about Fozzy’s musical direction, being a dad and what would happen if Bruce Dickinson wrote a song about airplane peanuts.
I’ve been listening to Fozzy since you dropped your first, self-titled record in 2000. Do You Wanna Start a War? is a departure from what you guys have historically put out. What was the inspiration to do something one could consider radically different?
Chris Jericho: We made a deal, Rich (Ward) and I, when we started making this record — there are no rules. We didn’t want to worry about what other bands were doing on the radio or what we did in the past. We wanted to make a record with 12 great songs on it. It didn’t matter if this song felt too heavy or too poppy or too ballady — let’s put our 12 great songs and make the record of our careers. Listen, the same way we love Avenged Sevenfold and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, we love Queen and Pink Floyd and The Beatles. Take Queen for example. They would put out a record that would have a rock song, a metal song, a pop song, a disco song, a ballad. It was all these different types of tune, but it didn’t matter because they were all good. Queen didn’t have a certain type of genre — they would just play. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to put out a Fozzy record that shows all the influences we have. Even Guns N’ Roses…Use Your Illusion II…there’s ton of different types of songs and that’s why it’s a great record. We didn’t care about the rules, we wanted to write 12 great songs. When you’ve got Rich Ward on guitar, Frank Fontsere on drums and Chris Jericho on vocals it’s still going to sound like Fozzy no matter what. It still has that groove, it still has that melody — it just widens the boundaries a bit.
I definitely heard the GNR influence on there. When you went into writing this record did you thinking, “I’ve always wanted to make a Fozzy song that would sound like it could be on a Guns record?”
Chris Jericho: No, not on this record. On Sin and Bones “She’s My Addiction” was a perfect example. When I wrote those lyrics and gave it to Rich, I told him I was envisioning a Guns N’ Roses, Buckcherry, real heavy vibe. On Do You Want to Start a War we didn’t gave a specific band. Rich wrote a bunch of great riffs, a bunch of great tunes and I gave him some different choices of lyrics – relationship type lyrics, fantasy type lyrics. This record is almost the brainchild of Rich Ward in most ways. With the direction of the record…it was there’s no rules, let’s go make a great song. With “Lights Go Out” Rich and a guy named Johnny Anders wrote that tune. When I heard it I thought they created a whole new type of genre — heavy metal dance music. Take something you’d hear in a club and mix it with Black Sabbath guitars. That’s why I love that song and it’s the biggest song we’ve ever had. It’s Top 30 on rock radio which is by the far the most popular song we’ve ever done. And it’s still growing and getting more popular three months after its release. It’s because it is different. We thought let’s just do things our way. We’ve always done things opposite of what you’re quote unquote supposed to do to make it in a rock band. So why change that? Let’s put out a rock record that we’re happy with, that is different because that’s the on chance we have to stand out.
With this concept of no rules, do you feel it helped eliminate any trepidation or anxiety you had when making and releasing the album?
Chris Jericho: It might have a little bit of the adverse effect. Whenever you do a new record you always feel it’s the best record you’ve ever done. But with us, we believe that with this one. In the back of your mind, you make a record for yourself. You do it because you want it to sound the way you want it to sound and make a statement and do something different and make the art of the record the way you want it. But, you always wonder if people will feel the same way. “Lights Go Out” is a different song, but if you like “Blood Happens” or “Born Anger” or “Pray For Blood” Fozzy you might not like “Lights Go Out” so much. But if you check out War you’ll find “Brides of Fire,” or “Witchery” or “Bad Tattoo” — the real heavy, chunky, fast Fozzy stuff along with the more poppy stuff, the more dance metal stuff. It really is something for all the different types of Fozzy fans. We knew that people would be mad at us because it’s not as heavy or as fast as people expect from us. They might have a little tantrum and get angry, but they’re going to love the record. But, more importantly, we’re going to attract new fans. Fans that have never heard of Fozzy before. That’s the biggest thing when you’re in a band, you wanna please your fans, stretch their expectations and attract and make new fans. That’s what this record has done for us, a few months after its release.
You’ve been doing Fozzy for about 15 years now. Do you finally feel that Fozzy is getting its due in the metal world and it’s finally stopped being looked at “Chris Jericho’s band?”
Chris Jericho: Over the last four years, especially right after Chasing the Grail came out, we put all our focus on the band. We can now see the growth over the last three to four years all across the aboard — sales, chart position, respect, credibility, the tours we’ve done and reaction we’ve gotten. People know this is the real deal because we were never constructed as ego project or a novelty project. It’s never been a vanity project, it’s never been a wrestling thing, it’s never been Chris Jericho’s band. I’m in this band but there are five distinct personalities in this band. People who have seen us before have told us they’ve been blow away because they didn’t expect this or they didn’t think it’d be like this. Sometimes people think because “Jericho is in wrestling” we’re going to be singing running in a ring about turnbuckles and body slams. Bruce Dickinson is an airline pilot but Maiden doesn’t sing about little bags of peanuts or sitting in the middle seat across from the lavatory…they’re fucking Iron Maiden.
But if they did, they’d kill it.
Chris Jericho: Of course it would great be would. It would be a 13-minute small bag of peanuts epic song. Point being, when Bruce is on stage with Maiden I don’t care that he’s an airline pilot. If I’m on a plane and Bruce is flying it, I don’t care if he’s the lead singer of Iron Maiden. I want him to land the plane fucking properly and o it right. I think people realize with that Jericho is a wrestler, but when he’s onstage he’s a singer. [They also realize] The band is killer, the songs are great. When I’m wrestling it’s got nothing to do with Fozzy. It’s two separate projects. One of my biggest inspirations right now is Jared Leto. It’s amazing what he’s done with Thirty Seconds to Mars and his acting career. He won an Oscar and sold out the Hollywood Bowl in the same year and no one thinks twice. There’s always a stigma against wrestling with every genre — movies, music, writing a book, politics. So we’ve had to work twice as hard to get people’s respect, but once we’ve got it’s real.
You’re a pro wrestler, singer in a touring band, an actor, a podcast host, an author and you’re on television in some sort of hosting or guest panel capacity. But, you’re also a dad. How do you find time to be a dad with all of this going on in your life?
Chris Jericho: There’s a difference between work time and home time. When I’m home, I’m at home. I do everything with my kids — I wake up, make them breakfast, take them to school, pick them up, do their homework with them, make them dinner, hang out, do whatever needs to be done. That’s the difference. When I’m home, I’m dad…there is no Chris Jericho. And when I’m on the road…I’m Chris Jericho. It’s hard when you’re on the road and away from your family but it’s my job. It’s how I support my family and put food on the table. When I’m home I’m at their disposal, 100% at their service. And that’s where the balance comes in.
Finally, your podcast Talk is Jericho is coming in on its one year anniversary. How’s the podcasting world going? I know with The Highlight Reel you’re used to interviewing people – was the transition to podcasting hard at first?
Chris Jericho: The Highlight Reel doesn’t even count because that’s from the script of the show. Talk is Jericho isn’t interviews, it’s conversation and that’s the real secret of podcasting — not to have questions. You might have a couple of bullet points or script notes just in case but mostly it’s a conversation between two people. That’s why I love podcasting so much. I get to sit down and talk with my friends or people I’d like to be friends with. Whether it’s Ace Frehley, who I’ve never met but got to talk with him for 45 minutes. Holy fuck! I couldn’t do that if I was just Chris Jericho. He’s one of my heroes but you got to snap out of that real quick because this isn’t some fan boy chat. This is two equals and that’s how you have to treat it. I really enjoy it and I’m almost addicted to it. I’ve done a podcast almost everyday this week because I go and find my friends. I’m in L.A. the other day and I have some time off. So I call Lemmy and he says of course and I go over to his apartment and talk with him for a few hours. I just happen to record it. Then I go to RAW and get my Total Divas friends, three of the hottest girls in the world talking about their new show. Then we’re in Des Moines so I get Corey Taylor to come out and we for about an hour. So, it’s fun to be able to do it. My show isn’t a wrestling show, it’s a Jericho show and there’s a lot of different influences. It’s a lot of hard work but we reach a lot of different fans and I get them into different stuff I’m into everyday.
Fozzy performs with Theory of a Deadman on Wednesday, October 8th, at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey. For tickets, click here.
ill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom