Chris Jericho is a guy who has made a very nice career out of his many creative passions; wrestling, writing best selling books, doing satellite radio and last but certainly not least writing, recording and performing music for the past 14 years with his band Fozzy. Jericho is well aware that his band has had to work twice as hard as other bands to overcome misconceptions about the wrestling correlation and his fame but has been willing, even eager to do the work. In the past few years that hard work has been rewarded with high profile tours, slots on Rockstar Uproar and critically acclaimed albums, the latest, “Sin And Bones” premiered at #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. The record which came out late last year, continues to gain the band significant action including their latest tour with legendary British rockers Saxon and I sat down to ask Chris a few questions, read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Chris, love your band and just talked with Biff from Saxon for this tour. Are you wearing your scarf or is that already packed for the tour?
Chris: (laughs) Oh cool, you talked with Biff? That’s awesome, no I’m finished with my scarf phase. That’s over. It was a thing for a while. I still, in the wintertime, wear a scarf when it’s cold because then you never get sick but for a while I got so crazy with the scarfs that I was wearing them during the summer. That was so 2011 man, get with it ! (laughs)
LRI: I wanna start off a little left of center by talking to you about your writing. Obviously you have many talents including doing radio shows and interviewing rock bands yourself but your autobiographies “A Lion’s Tale” and “Undisputed” were two of the best wrestling related books ever, along with Mick Foley’s. I worked on editing Kelly Garni’s book on growing up with and working with Randy Rhoads and know what a huge undertaking documenting your life can be. What did you learn about yourself and how do you look back on how well those books were received?
Chris Jericho: I always wanted to write a book, I took journalism in college, years ago. It was kind of early 2000’s when the big trend was wrestlers releasing books and I always wondered why they never asked me. It kinda pissed me off so after a while I was like, “You know what, I’ll just wait and do it myself” because at that point no one was really writing their own books. I think Mick was the first one to write one himself and had to go through a lot of hoops to do that. So I left the WWE back in 2005 and I got the opportunity to do a book through Fozzy’s booking agent who actually had a literary division. That’s when I was hit with the idea that there were so many amazing experiences that I didn’t wanna cram them all into one book and rush it so I came up with the idea of doing a trilogy. I didn’t sign on for a trilogy (with publisher Penguin Publishing) I just signed each book, one deal at a time but that is kinda how I decided to do it and yeah, you do learn a lot about yourself in the process, especially in the first book. I wrote “A Lion’s Tale” in 2006, talking about experiences that happened over the course of my whole life but more specifically from 1990. So there was 16-20 or so years of trying to remember stuff so you really had to piece these things together. I’d never written a book before so I didn’t know what to expect but once you get into the groove it does flow. All my books, I’ve written every word. I mean, I’ve worked with a collaborator as far as getting advice or opinions on things but I actually wrote everything myself from the captions to the dust jacket to every single word in the book. When the second book came around, the process was a little bit easier and quicker because the experiences were a little newer and a little more fresh in my mind and now I’m working on my third book. It will pick up right where the second book left off, which is about mid-2007, so those experiences are really fresh but unbelievably I have so much stuff to write about, so much has happened in the last six years that there’s definitely no shortage of material. I actually feel pretty fortunate that when this third book will be released I will be 43 years old and I will have three complete documentations of my entire life and had that opportunity to learn so much about myself. You really do and a lot of it is cathartic and you can get a lot of that out of your system and onto the page where it exists forever but you don’t have to dwell on it. It’s a very taxing experience to write a book, time wise, emotionally, physically but when it’s all done it is a really amazing feeling. It’s kind of like recording a record where you’re starting with nothing and six months later you have this amazing piece of work that you’re really proud of; it’s very gratifying.
LRI: You’ve already scaled the vast majority of mountains in wrestling and in recent years so many of your rock and roll dreams are coming true with Fozzy, is this third book going to focus a lot on the music end of things?
Chris Jericho: Well yeah, the first book was basically exclusively wrestling because that was most of what I had done up to that point in time, even though music was mentioned a lot and I had been playing in bands since I was 12 years old. The second book was kind of half Fozzy, half wrestling and the third will be the same because you know as my life progresses I spend more and more time with the band so there’s more stuff to write about on that end, especially a band that is growing as much and as quickly as Fozzy. It’s funny how the musical experiences can kind of parallel the wrestling experiences, you go back to the early years of wrestling the dive places and getting ripped off and rising up the ranks and then going through the same experiences with Fozzy. I mean, when we first started playing we did our time playing dives, getting ripped off and here we are ten years later getting to the next level and the next level after that and the one after that and so on but there’s still always ridiculous shit that happens. You just have to sort of look at it with a sense of humor so now when stuff like that happens I just think to myself “Well, this sucks but it’s going to make for a great story in the next book” (laughs). Tons of stuff happens and you can’t predict any of it but that’s what makes the book so interesting. There’s a real diversity to the things that make up my life so the books aren’t just for wrestling fans or just for rock and roll fans, they’re also just for anyone who enjoys reading about some unique life experiences.
LRI: Definitely, they appeal to fans of biographies in general, in large part because of your storytelling talents. I’m glad we’re talking now even though I’ve been following Fozzy since you first announced the band because so much has happened and you’ve become this seasoned rock and roll vet. I remember the first album coming out, the first bio of Fozzy and all that. There was a band from England who had a silly name called The Beatles, then the was another band called Def Leppard, all of those bands evolved and the name just became part of the legend. Do you remember you and your guitarist Rich Ward sitting down and having discussions about moving past the stage names and cover songs and all that characterized the embryonic stages of Fozzy?
Chris Jericho: Yeah, I remember the exact moment, it was when we did the Howard Stern show. Howard was doing this thing where he had put together his own band called “The Losers” and decided he was going to go up against “celebrity” bands. Most celebrity bands are novelties or vanity projects but Fozzy has never operated that way, we’ve always been a legitimate kickass rock and roll band and we went in there to compete against Howard’s band and we fuckin smoked em. We didn’t win but we got a vote for us (laughs) which was the only time somebody ever voted against Howard and he even told us afterward “You know the only reason why you guys didn’t win was because this is my show, you guys smoked us and I’m never doing this again” and he didn’t. The day we went in there we knew this was the moment we were dropping the whole initial phase of Fozzy. The initial phase of the band was kind of a “fun thing” but from that moment on we decided we were going in to kill and officially be ourselves; that was kind of the end of the first stage of Fozzy’s career and the beginning of the next stage. That was a fun time, but like you said, that was only two years of our existence and it’s been 13 years now and it’s become an even bigger beast, especially in the last three years. When we started doing the “Chasing The Grail” record which was our album before the lastest “Sin and Bones” we knew that we had to start putting a 100% focus on Fozzy because we knew that we really had something special and we just had to take it as far as we could go. Since we’ve reconfigured, regrouped and had this whole new attitude a lot more things have happened for Fozzy. We reshaped the lineup, reshaped the live show, reshaped everything surrounding the band and now here we are going to heights as a band that we always dreamed of but we never even close to two years ago or even last year. Some of that is shown just by the amount of shows we’ve done on the “Sin and Bones” tour, it was released a year ago and now it’s our biggest selling record, highest charting record ever, most played on rock radio, our most critically acclaimed and this is the most we’ve ever toured on a record. We’ve already hit the 100 gig mark and anytime you hit three digits as far as shows for a tour, you know it was a success and the great thing is, we’re not stopping. We’re set now to do this whole U.S. tour with Saxon and we’re going to Australia after that so there’s a lot of great momentum going on because we’ve finally figured out who we are as a band and stuck to it.
LRI: You mentioned 2010’s “Chasing the Grail”. I enjoy all of the records but to me that was a real eye-opener as to what the band was truly capable of in terms of songwriting and performance. Was that a difficult record to follow or expand on? Were there some things you wanted to take from that album and some things you didn’t?
Chris Jericho: I think when we were doing the Grail record was when we really realized who Fozzy is and what we do best and what we do best is write around very heavy riffs combined with very melodic choruses. A lot of vocal and guitar harmonies are involved and the result is almost like, and I always say this but, almost like Metallica and Journey had a bastard child. We really figured that out on the last record and wanted to focus even more on that with “Sin and Bones”. When we debuted this album there was a lot of momentum behind us from “Chasing The Grail” and a bigger spotlight on us because people were really starting to figure out that Fozzy was a serious force and just realizing that they really liked our band. Every day, even today, people will say, “I finally checked out Fozzy and I can’t believe I waited so long, this band is amazing” and that’s the thing with us, we’ve been doing this for so long that people KNOW this name. When they keep hearing “Fozzy, Fozzy, Fozzy” they’re like “Fuck, who the fuck are these guys?, Why don’t they just go home and die already?” and when we DON’T then they think “Ok, maybe I’ll actually check this band out” and then it’s like “Oh my gosh, what were we waiting for??” (laughs). That’s a compliment when we hear that, we like that. All of those things led to us starting work on “Sin and Bones” and then when you add in the fact that we just got signed to Century Media which is the biggest record label we’ve ever been on, we just knew “Ok, we REALLY have to hit this mark, this has to be our best record ever”. That’s partially because there’s no second chances when you sign with a new record label. If we sucked and the album bombed then you just start your downward ascension so to tell you the truth we really put a lot of pressure on ourselves to write the record that we thought we needed to deliver for Century Media, for our new fans and for our old fans. It’s like you said John, you’ve been with us from the start and there’s tons and tons of our fans who have but at the same time there are also tons and tons of our fans who are just experiencing the band for the first time with “Sin and Bones”. That’s why, when we do headlining shows I always make sure that the setlist contains at least one song from every record. The majority is newer stuff from the past two records, that is the lion’s share of the set but there’s always going to be a few tips of the hat to our past, songs like “Enemy”, “To Kill A Stranger” or “Eat The Rich” that harkens back to the people who’ve been there with us from the start. That’s important to us and we would never turn our back on the early days of the band even though we’ve progressed so much that doesn’t mean there’s not good songs associated with that time frame of the band as well.
LRI: Century Media is definitely a strong label, all you have to do is look at what a band like Queensryche is doing. They’re also helped Fozzy’s profile tremendously in the past year but there is still so much work you have to do as a band as well. The video for “Sandpaper”, looks amazing, it really is like a fun, original MTV era video, something you don’t always see anymore. You were also able to include M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold in it which is even cooler. You’re obviously no stranger to being on camera but was it a lot of work to get it to where you wanted it?
Chris Jericho: Anytime you film a video it’s a lot of work, especially when you have a minimal budget, you kind of have to do a run and gun shoot. You have to work a 16 hour day to get every single shot that you want and you have to have some people who are just as into it as we are as a band. Our director Shawn is a guy we’ve worked with many times before and when we told him our idea of doing an homage to “Evil Dead’ he got it right away and Rich had the perfect location for it which was a friend’s place in rural Georgia. It all kind of fell together and that’s always been the Fozzy way, even if we don’t have a huge budget we are so a. respected, b. been around so long in the industry and c, legitimately nice people (laughs) that we can use some favors from certain friends who have certain talents which is a really cool thing because suddenly a five thousand dollar video budget looks like 5 million when you watch it. That’s kind of why the “Sandpaper” video works though, because it was very cheaply made but it looks a lot more expensive than it is. Like you said, Century Media, what they’ve done with Queensryche is amazing and what they’ve done with us has been as well, we’re still really at the very beginning . We just started with them and whenever you start out with a new label there is always this feeling out process. “What is this going to be like? Let’s give it a chance and see how it’s going to pay off for us” and I think last year we were one of the top 5 most profitable bands for Century Media so I think if we can get into that category then next record we should be getting even more support from them because now they know what they have so it’s great for everyone involved.
LRI: This tour with Saxon just seems to make a lot of sense. If you are a fan of Fozzy and don’t know of Saxon you are gonna be blown away and vice versa if you’re a Saxon fan who isn’t aware yet of Fozzy you are gonna walk away impressed. I know you know your metal, which is refreshing. You love your Helloween, you love your Metallica and I know you love your Saxon. How are you feeling about this tour and what is your personal history with Britain’s legendary Saxon??
Chris Jericho: Well, first of all, what you just said is perfect. I mean Saxon could go out with Anvil or Fozzy could go out with Asking Alexandria and those are great bills for sure but this is a cool cross section. There are going to be Fozzy fans who don’t know much about Saxon and a lot of Saxon fans who don’t know much about Fozzy and some fans who will be there for both bands but at the end of the night it is a very cohesive package with bands who are very similar in a lot of ways. At the end of the night everyone’s going to have a great time, everyone’s going to have their socks rocked off and there will be new fans created for both of our bands. That’s why this package works, it’s two bands who are similar in approach and would appeal to each others fans but also promote more diversity in the overall crowd. My personal history with Saxon is that I became a fan around 1984 when the “Crusader” record came out, I worked my way backwards through their catalog but also was a big fan of their 1980s output, “Innocence Is No Excuse”, “Rock The Nations”, the “Destiny” record, “Forever Free”, “Solid Ball of Rock”. I was really into that era of Saxon too and I always debate with Lars Ulrich who loves early Saxon and I love mid-period Saxon so we always have conversations about which is better. I will also tell you that what really attracted me the most to this tour was hearing Saxon’s last two records, “Call To Arms” and “Sacrifice”, especially “Sacrifice” which I think is one of the best records they’ve ever done from start to finish and sounds great, the songs are great and that really appealed to me because it proves they’re not just a nostalgia band that goes out and plays “Wheels of Steel” and “Denim and Leather” every night. They’re going out there and playing some great new material, they’re still kicking ass and still putting great effort into it every night and it’s paying off. You do see the band headlining festivals in Europe and the U.K. and doing their first extensive U.S. tour in years and they asked us to come along so that’s a big honor for us but it’s also a big challenge. We’re going out there to kick their ass every night and I’m sure they’re going out there to kick our asses every night and it doesn’t matter who wins because it means the fans are gonna win, which is all that matters.
LRI: Anyone who’s read your books knows about your personal history in Japan and I know that Fozzy has a large European following and tours often there but was wondering what type of word you’re getting from the far east, Are you planning to spread the band’s wings over there?
Chris Jericho: That’s funny you should ask about that. That’s kind of our manager’s “white whale”, as we call it, for our band. The far east is the one market that we can’t seem to break into, along with South America and it’s just one of those things. For as many doors that have opened for us these past few years, there are still some that are a little bit harder to budge and it was the same when I first started wrestling, I could just NOT get into Japan at first. I had one tour in 1991 but I couldn’t get back for years until finally 1994 came along when I went there one time and suddenly broke the door open and suddenly I was a regular. I know that’s the same thing that’s going to happen with Fozzy. It’s just a matter of us going there for the first time. We know we have so many fans there but we just can’t seem to get through to them that we would be great there on tour because our music is tailor made for Japan. We are heavy and melodic, which the Japanese love, plus, not to toot my own horn but I have huge name value in Japan. It’s just for some reason, probably whomever’s in charge can’t get past the wrestling thing and that’s fine because I know it will happen eventually. We’ve always had to work twice as hard to get half the results but when we finally do get those results, the people we reach are our fans for life. When we reach our fans, they are fans for life because they know this is real. We’ve had to work for everything we’ve achieved, we’ve never been handed anything and we don’t wanna be handed anything. We want people to want us because we deserve to be there and Japan and it’s coming, we will get there. I won’t stop until we do, I promise you that.
Saxon, Fozzy and Halcyon Way Tour Dates:
9/12/13 – Patchogue, NY – The Emporium
9/13/13 – New York, NY – BB King
9/14/13 – Montreal, QUE – Corona Theater
9/15/13 – Toronto, ONT – The Phoenix
9/17/13 – Reading, PA – Reverb
9/18/13 – Cleveland, OH – Peabody’s
9/19/13 – Dayton, OH – McGuffy’s
9/20/13 – Flint, MI – Machine Shop
9/21/13 – Joliet, IL – Mojoes
9/22/13 – Milwaukee, WI – The Rave
9/26/13 – Dallas, TX – House Of Blues
9/27/13 – San Antonio, TX – Backstage Live
9/28/13 – Houston, TX – House Of Blues
10/1/13 – Tempe, AZ – Club Red
10/2/13 – Long Beach, CA – Gaslamp
10/3/13 – Ramona, CA – Ramona Mainstage
10/4/13 – Los Angeles, CA – House Of Blues
10/5/13 – Corona, CA – M15
10/6/13 – San Francisco, CA – DNA Lounge
10/8/13 – Seattle, WA – Studio Seven
10/9/13 – Portland, OR – Mt Tabor
10/10/13 – Vancouver, BC – The Venue