Some groups initially form to merely clown around, having a great time, and perform cover interpretations of numbers by their favourite acts. There usually comes a time where these groups become serious about their intentions though, and lean towards penning original material. Originally operating under the guise of Fozzy Osbourne, Fozzy shed their identity as a covers group, instead choosing to write compositions firmly rooted in metal's classic elements, hearkening to the genre's eighties heyday.
In March 2009, it was announced that Fozzy had inked a worldwide contract with Australia's Riot Entertainment. That same month, drummer Frank Fontsere returned to the group's fold. Mainly a collaboration between World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler Chris Jericho and Stuck Mojo mainman Rich Ward, Fozzy had previously released a 2000 self-titled effort and 2002's "Happenstance", both mostly consisting of covers of tracks originally cut by such outfits as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Scorpions amongst many others. 2005's "All That Remains", however, contained solely original material.
Issued during January 2010, "Chasing The Grail" features "Martyr No More", which was the official theme of wrestling pay-per-view "Royal Rumble" that same month. That track and "God Pounds His Nails" boast guest guitar solos from none other than Jeff Waters, guitarist of Annihilator. "Broken Soul" is a seventies oriented southern ballad, whereas "Wormwood" is a fourteen-minute prog inspired epic, the latter the final contribution of guitarist Mike Martin. With support from Forever Never, Halcyon Way and The Jokers, Fozzy will tour the United Kingdom during mid May, performing in Glasgow, Nottingham, and London.
On March 30th at 17:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Fozzy guitarist Rich Ward to discuss "Chasing The Grail".
Rich Ward: Hello?
UG: Hello. Is this Rich?
It sure is.
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com. How are you Rich?
Man, I'm doing awesome. I'm doing great. Just sitting here in Atlanta, Georgia, the sun is shining outside. I went out and exercised this morning out at the park, and am just having a great day. I'm really enjoying it.
Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Fozzy inked a worldwide deal with Australia's Riot Entertainment in early 2009, so that they would issue 'Chasing the Grail'. Why did Fozzy opt to sign a worldwide record deal with Riot Entertainment specifically?
Riot is an Australian company, as you said. They put out the last two Fozzy records in Australia, and did an amazing job with them. They've also released the Stuck Mojo records, and also my solo album as The Duke. The owner of Riot Entertainment - John Howarth - just does an amazing job promoting his records, and has just proven to be someone who is not only someone who we've come to trust in the business, but also has become a good friend of the band, almost like family. It felt natural to try to partner up with someone that we already had a really good, established relationship with, and it felt like the right thing to do. From the very beginning stages of talking about writing and recording a new album, he was the first name that we started talking about releasing it with, so we didn't really explore it a whole lot. We had an idea that John was the guy and that Riot was the company, and we just went with our gut instincts on it.
Will Riot Entertainment issue future Fozzy albums?
Yes, absolutely. We just feel that when you're building a band, you need to have all the right players in place, and we feel that when you're trying to handle the business side of things, you try to get all the right business people, the right manager, the right label, and the right promo people - like Andy Turner in the UK, who handled my career at Century Media for years when I was in Stuck Mojo. It's so important to keep those folks and the people that you have good relationships with intact, and make it feel more like a family.
How does 'Chasing the Grail' take a step forward from 'All That Remains'?
When I went into the writing and recording process, it was the first time that I treated Fozzy as my only band. On all the previous albums, I was still obviously very involved with Stuck Mojo and my side project The Duke, and another band that I had called Sick Speed. I worked with all these other bands at the same time, so a hundred percent of my focus wasn't on Fozzy at the time. Even though I'm really proud of those early Fozzy albums, any time that you're trying to balance multiple projects, you're always gonna compromise slightly in little places on one or more of the projects. That's just based on the fact that there are only so many hours in the day, and only so many weeks in a month to allocate towards working. If you're splitting your time amongst different bands, you're always going to have to sacrifice in some places. This was the first time that I've ever said "Ok. This will be my only focus, my entire life's existence - the writing and recording of this record". Obviously, as a journalist you know that focus is everything. For us as a band, when we all came together, our focus was razor-sharp on 'Chasing the Grail'. We all came together with a common vision that I think really benefited the end product.
Was it difficult to achieve focus? Considering Chris' extremely active wrestling career?
Yes, it's very difficult to work around Chris' schedule. The thing is it makes it a little easier for him though, because before we even started working on 'Chasing the Grail', he'd written all of the lyrics that he wanted for consideration for the album. Before we even started writing the first note of music, I already had fourteen pages of lyrics that I could go through to start working off of. After we put all of Chris' lyrics into use and built some songs, then it just came down to sending Chris the demo versions that I had recorded here at my home studio. During his own time when he was travelling in the car or on the plane, and was in hotel rooms, he then had a chance to go over my demos and work on the material. By the time that we got into the studio, he was well prepared. We were then just talking about, when he had his off days, booking time in the studio to record. It would be more difficult if we were trying to write as a band all in the same room, rehearsing and writing. The beautiful thing about mine and Chris' relationship is Chris writes the lyrics, and then I take his lyrics and write the melodies, so we don't necessarily have to be in the same room in order to create. We can do things separately and work as a team, but both have our projects that we work on independently.
How did having the lyrics for 'Chasing the Grail''s tracks beforehand help? Usually, the musical parts for a given track are written prior to the lyrics.
It was really helpful, actually. A lot of times, I'll write the music first, but I'll have some melodic ideas in mind. When I'm working on melodies and start recording ideas, I usually just make up words. I'll sing "Did you ever know what I'm gonna do?", or whatever, just making up some kind of crazy, nonsensical lyric. It's much easier if you actually have the lyrics in place in front of you though, because it helps you work on your pacing of the melodies. It's just a good blueprint and a template; not only for the pacing of how you're going to sing the melodies, but also in giving you a good starting point on the mood of the song. If we've got a big, hard, rocking, aggressive set of lyrics, obviously it really points me in the right direction in terms of what types of riffs and what types of drum beats to write. If there's then a really melancholic, sad piece that Chris has written lyrically, it really helps me to write that as well.
Do you feel that Chris' singing is more mature on 'Chasing the Grail', considering the gap between album releases?
Absolutely. His vocals on 'Chasing the Grail' are the best that he's ever done. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that he's now much more experienced; this is his fourth album, and like anything in life, the more you do it, the more experience you gather. You're able to use all of those lessons that you've learnt over previous recording and writing sessions, and it tends to build you as a stronger writer and a stronger singer. Without a doubt, I feel like this is Chris' strongest vocal performance. Also, it happened with a lot more ease; he was a lot more confident, and because he was more confident, he was able to come in and be more creative. He tried different things that he may not have had the confidence to try on previous records. Feeling himself maturing as a singer and as a musician really helped to make 'Chasing the Grail' his best of all the albums.
Was 'Chasing the Grail''s release date a bit unfortunate, given the fact that that date coincided with the build up to Wrestlemania where Chris' schedules becomes extremely busy?
Yeah, it made things difficult. His schedule, especially when he's champion, is a lot more demanding. Obviously, he has lots of television and house show obligations and travelling obligations that prevent us from being able to work as much as we'd like to. That's always been the case. The only time that we've ever really had the opportunity to tour quite a bit was when he took some time off in 2005 and 2006, so that was nice for us to be able to do a lot of touring. At the same time though, it's like anything else in life; problem solving, and being able to work around obstacles, is what'll bring strength to your group. What we've been trying to do is find creative ways to maximize whatever time we can get out of Chris' schedule, and make sure that when he has two to three days off in a row, that we're utilizing those to be out there playing, or be rehearsing and working to better the band.
Why did Fozzy decide to name its fourth studio album 'Chasing the Grail'?
The third song on 'Chasing the Grail' is actually called "Grail", and we were thinking about what was the common theme of the album, and what was the overall... If you could say what was the one message of 'Chasing the Grail', it was that Chris' lyrics were all kind of based on this search, or this goal of reaching higher places and finding purpose, and looking in the mirror and recognising that we're all flawed as people. What defines us is how we're willing to work through those problems, and we try to determine what we have to do in life in order to improve ourselves. I think that was the common, recurring theme of 'Chasing the Grail'; the idea of our purpose in life being the Grail, and the chase and search for the Grail. We thought it'd be a good title for the album.
What brought about guitarist Mike Martin's 2009 departure from Fozzy?
Like any car accident, if there's three cars involved, every car has their own idea of what happened (laughs), and has their own perspective. It all boils down to the fact that we just saw things differently, and there was too large of a gap in terms of where we could come together in agreement on things. Mike had only been in the band for a short period of time; he wasn't in the band when we recorded 'All That Remains' and things started to fall apart right before we started recording 'Chasing the Grail', so technically, Mike hadn't really even played on a studio album. We just felt that instead of trying to force something to work when there was obviously just too much disagreement, it was a good idea to shake hands and move on. I mean, Mike is an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter, and he'll have a great career on his own. He doesn't need Fozzy.
Despite those creative differences, are you still friends with Mike Martin?
Well, as with every time when you have a falling out in a band, there's always that period where there's a bit of that tension and strain, where everybody has a weird taste in their mouth. Mike and I have been best friends for a number of years though, and I'm sure once we get an opportunity to sit down over a meal and have a good hug, everything'll be fine.
How did drummer Frank Fontsere come to return to Fozzy in 2009?
You know, the cool thing about this is that Frank and I went to see Metallica together in 1988 on the 'And Justice For All...' tour. I mean, we've been best friends for years, and he joined Stuck Mojo in 1991. We've been together for so many years that just not playing with him feels wrong. I would never compare the Van Halen brothers to us, but it has a similar feel in that when you play together with somebody for so many years, you know each others' playing inside and out. Again, just like with Mike Martin, Frank and I had a bit of a falling out, and we just felt like it was best we go our separate ways for a little while. Like it is with all best friends and people who are creatively just meant to work together, we came to a point where we just got together, sat down and talked, and decided that whatever our little petty arguments were didn't really matter in the big scheme of things. Even the most successful bands have struggles, and that's not just true for bands - it's true in life. There are always gonna be challenges and struggles, but when you're in a band, you're around these people all year round; you're either playing, or you're in a hotel room, or you're in a bus, or you're in a rehearsal space, or you're in a club, or you're in a backstage room. You're together like a family, so all of the little things in life that cause friction and tension are amplified and magnified several times over. You rarely get a break from each other because you're always together, and I think that's why you see lineup changes in bands. They're common. If you're having trouble with your boss at work or if you're having issues with a co-worker, you can go home at five o'clock and then you have your own life. When you're in a band though, you don't go home. You live with these people; they're your family, they're your co-workers, and they're your creative partners. So many times, there's just not enough time away from each other to give good perspective, and without that perspective, tensions can sometimes become so amplified that you don't see that it's worth going on. Sometimes you make good decisions, and sometimes you make bad decisions - like with Frank. We realized that it was a bad decision for him to not be in the band, and that's why he's back.
'Chasing the Grail''s first single, "Martyr No More", has a Black Sabbath vibe. How did "Martyr No More" musically come together, and how would you personally describe that track?
Almost all of the music that I write starts with a basic riff idea, and then I start working with different drum ideas either with Frank, or with a drum machine in my studio. I just build it like you would a painting; you start with the outline, and you just start filling in colours and shading. Sometimes I might like one part, but might not be crazy about another part. You start making revisions, and you rework it, and you revise and revise, and that's the way it goes for all of Fozzy's songs. I think "Martyr No More" came together pretty quickly, because the basic ideas came together pretty fast, and then it was just a matter of trying to work with Chris' lyrics and trying to find a good balance melodically to match the riffs. Of course, I grew up loving Black Sabbath, so there's probably so much of that influence in my life that it's hard to avoid it.
How did Annihilator's Jeff Waters come to lay down guest solos for "Martyr No More" and "God Pounds His Nails"?
Chris and Jeff are great friends, both Canadians, and have probably known each other for five to six years. Chris and I are huge fans of Jeff's playing. Chris and I were talking after Mike Martin's departure from the band. We were talking about how it'd be great to have a guest guitar shredder come in, and play a couple of solos. Jeff's was the first name that came up, and we said "Man, we gotta do it". Chris called Jeff, and he loved the idea. We couldn't be more honoured to have him on our record.
"When you're building a band, you need to have all the right players in place."
Would you consider Fozzy's lineup complete at the moment, or are you open to considering hiring a permanent second guitarist?
We've got a second guitarist that is gigging with us, and I could see him becoming a permanent member, but then he's got a full-time band that he does as well. We're in a place where we're just seeing how things go. His name is Billy Grey, and Billy was in the band during touring for the 'Happenstance' album. Billy was actually in the music video that we shot for that album, so Billy has played with us a number of times, and he also played with me in my other band Sick Speed. Billy has been a Fozzy family member for years. He's a great guitarist, and is a very welcome, amazing addition to the band.
'Chasing the Grail''s second single is "Let the Madness Begin".
Yeah. "Let the Madness Begin" is all about the balance between a really good, classic melody and a great, classic rock riff. That was our focus for the whole record, but I think "Let the Madness Begin" is probably the one song on the album where I think that balance is best. Sometimes when you're trying to write a heavy album, you find that sometimes you'll end up compromising the melody for the riff, because obviously, the riff is so important for the drum part. On some rock albums, the vocals become the focus, and then the music takes a backseat. We tried to find that fine line where the music was important and the melody was important. We treated them as equals, and I think "Let the Madness Begin" was that perfect balance between hard rock melodic vocals and a big metal riff.
"Broken Soul", meanwhile, is a ballad type track.
I love it. I mean, I grew up here in the south east of the United States. I grew up on southern rock, and I love southern influenced music. When Chris sent me the lyrics to "Broken Soul", it read like a melancholic ballad, a song longing out for redemption. I felt like maybe kind of a Lynyrd Skynyrd on steroids approach would fit the lyrics, and so I worked on getting the basic arrangement together, and then I collaborated with a keyboardist to work on piano and a Hammond B3 organ. I feel like when it was all said and done, we found that perfect balance. It didn't sound like a different band, but at the same time, we took a little bit of a risk and went outside the normal blueprint of what a Fozzy song sounds like. I think "Broken Soul" is a great addition to the album.
'Chasing the Grail' also features "Wormwood", which is a bit different for Fozzy. The track is a progressive rock tune that lasts for roughly fourteen minutes.
Yeah. Again, "Wormwood" is based of off Chris' lyrics. He came to us and said "I want to write a long, epic song in the vein of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"", Iron Maiden's epic from 'Powerslave', and in the vein of a Dream Theater song, really making it a prog epic. Chris had - I think - five to six pages of lyrics set out in different sections of course, classic prog with different chapters. Obviously, it was quite a musical undertaking to work on, but Mike Martin did a great job on it. "Wormwood" is another great piece of the album.
Is progressive rock a musical aspect you would like to explore on future Fozzy albums?
Probably so. You don't want to just write those songs for the sake of it, but if Chris has a great set of lyrics that steer a song towards an epic prog direction, then yeah, I'm sure we'd love to do it again.
How long will it roughly take for Fozzy's fifth studio album to surface?
We're actually talking about trying to have another album out within a year, in April 2011, just in time for getting out in spring time, ready for the festival season. Obviously, that's just a rough plan, but I think it's something that we'd like to shoot for.
Do you have any musical ideas in mind for Fozzy's fifth studio album?
I do; I actually have several ideas already set aside. They're in the early stages of development, but they already look very promising.
How would you musically compare those ideas to the tracks featured on 'Chasing the Grail'?
I think we've really found a good place musically in terms of who we are as a band, and I think 'Chasing the Grail' is a really good template for what Fozzy fans can expect from us moving forward. Again, it was the first time that we were really able to sit down, and focus, and put all of our energies into the album. Again, I'm sure there will be surprises like "Broken Soul" and "New Day's Dawn". There'll be some songs that are a little outside the usual, where we get a chance to stretch out and try some different things. I think the ideas on 'Chasing the Grail' though, and the attitudes, riffs, vibes, and melodic ideas, are probably what people can expect moving forward. More of the same.
Fozzy has a UK tour planned during May. Outside of that, does Fozzy have any other touring plans?
I know there's some shows this summer that we're doing in June and July. We are doing things in the U.S., and then once we start getting into September and October, I know we're talking about going to Australia, doing Japan, and then coming back again to the U.K., and then going over to the Continent and doing some shows in Continental Europe. There's a lot of stuff coming up, but again, because of Chris' schedule with wrestling everything has to be planned out. It's a very delicate balancing act.
As mentioned, Fozzy is touring the United Kingdom in May. What is the U.K. like for Fozzy?
Without a doubt, it's the best market. I don't know if it's something in the water, or if it's just the musical history of the U.K., but for whatever reason, the fans are just over the top in terms of enthusiasm and energy. They're always such an amazing, fun crowd. We've never had a show where we didn't walk off stage and say "Man, that was just the coolest experience", and again, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that wrestling is really big in the U.K., and so the support for Chris as a wrestler is there. Also, Stuck Mojo's success in the U.K. was good, and I feel like we started with a really enthusiastic fanbase at the very beginning. We were able to really build on that, and built a great relationship with the audiences there. We've had amazing shows - as a matter of fact, some of the best shows of the band's career have been in the U.K.. I think we've built a good reputation for ourselves there, and I know as a band we have a lot of fun. I know we're excited about coming over as many times as we can.
Outside of Fozzy, do you have any other musical plans?
Not right now that are planned. I mean, of course we'll make another Stuck Mojo record some time, and I'm sure we'll tour that as well. I'm the kind of person that doesn't like to plan what I'm going to have for dinner tomorrow though. I just want to worry about what I'm eating tonight, and I think that's where we are as a band; we're just focusing on exactly what we're doing at this very moment, and not looking too far into the future. Let's face it, I'm irresponsible (laughs). I like to live for the moment, and really work hard on and stay focused on exactly what I'm doing at that moment. When we then get to tomorrow, I'll work hard then too, and just take it a day at a time.
So basically, you're focused on Fozzy related activities at present then?
Yeah, at the moment. For sure.
Do you have any plans to issue any new albums as The Duke?
Absolutely. I love that Duke album, and it was one of my most favourite records to write and record. It was a good opportunity for me to really push myself musically, and to try some things that are a little outside my comfort zone. I'd love to make another record. I'm working with a singer here in the Atlanta area on a record right now over the next couple of months. We're gonna be writing and recording some little bits and pieces - just a day here and a day there. It's a lot more melodic rock oriented. I'm definitely gonna be staying busy working on a lot of different things, but again, with only eighteen hours of daylight a day for me to work on things, I'm just trying to make the most out of every hour and be as prolific a writer as I can without losing my focus.
"We all came together with a common vision that I think really benefited the end product."
As you've mentioned, you live in Atlanta, Georgia. Since Wrestlemania XXVII will hail from Atlanta in April 2011, can we see Fozzy playing at that event?
Yeah, I'd love to. I'd love to. Fozzy hasn't played Atlanta in a number of years; I guess it's been since maybe 2004 or 2003 since Fozzy played Atlanta, so we're due to come back here. I would imagine we'll probably do a show if not in Atlanta, at least in the Atlanta area sometime in the next few months. We played in Phoenix right before Wrestlemania XXVI. It's always a great experience to play your hometown, especially if there's a Wrestlemania party on a Friday night. That'd be great.
Is there the possibility Fozzy might perform a track at the Wrestlemania 27 event itself?
Of course, that would be amazing. We'd always like to. The WWE has been good to us over the years. Obviously, they've used our songs for pay-per-view themes in the past, and we've played live on 'Raw' a few times. Vince McMahon has always been good to us, and has used us in different ways over the years. Obviously, any way that Vince feels like he can use Fozzy as a way to promote the band, we'd love to oblige.
Do you have a message for the fans of Fozzy?
Just thank you so much for all the years of support. I know you're a U.K. based journalist, so it means so much for us that every time we come to the UK, we just feel like we're at home. The love that we get is just amazing, and from the bottom of our hearts and minds specifically, just thank you so much for all the years of love and support. We're just looking forward to coming over, and having some great shows.
Ok. Thanks for the interview Rich.
Well thank you so much. I can't thank you enough. I look forward to seeing you when I come over.
All the best Rich.
Alright dude. Take care, man.
You too. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
"I think that was the common, recurring theme of 'Chasing the Grail'; the idea of our purpose in life being the Grail, and the chase and search for the Grail."