Fozzy’s Rich Ward: “My Obi-Wan Kenobi is Devin Townsend”…

Fozzy’s Rich Ward: “My Obi-Wan Kenobi is Devin Townsend”…

Fozzy are back with a new album out later this week... Paul Kerr gets all the info on the new release from guitarist Rich Ward...

Fozzy have a new album, Judas, coming out on 13 October 2017 and it’s a big grooving sound wave that has a number of fine tracks. The review will be up very soon. Today though, I am getting to talk to the very humble driving force behind Fozzy and also Stuck Mojo. Ladies and Gentlemen I now present the one, the only, the Duke of Metal, Rich Ward.

Hi Rich, I understand you guys are out on the road at present so it’s really nice to be able to be talking to you in amongst your busy schedule. “Hey, yeah man, thanks for ringing and taking the time to speak to me. We’ve got one more show tomorrow night, tonight we’re in a coastal region of North Carolina. We’ve then got a few days off and then back out on the road again. Yeah so we’re staying super busy out here just working away”.

The new album, Judas, is due out October 13. This is a follow on from 2014’s very successful Do You Want To Start A War?  It’s been a bit of a layoff, so what can the fans and new listeners look forward to?  “This album is very much an organic evolution from the last album. There were some small changes that came about due to the fact we were working with a new Producer. I’ve self-produced the past few albums but this time we decided to hire a guy named Johnny Andrews, whose role was effectively, to be the sixth member of the band. He was very involved in the song writing and creative process, so much so that he was involved in the lyric writing, the melodic style and chord progressions. This was very similar to what you would see in the seventies and the eighties where the rock bands worked with Producers who weren’t just button pushers, they were more like coaches. They’d work with the band to get the best out of them, the best performances and best song writing. I think our subtle changes were due to some really good guidance from a great producer”.

Your charismatic frontman Chris Jericho, has a significant workload through his exploits in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and plenty of other interests. As a result of that workload, Fozzy members get time to explore other options. Based on my first few listens of the new album, I am gathering that downtime hasn’t been detrimental to your creative process. How easy was it to get back into the groove of writing and recording for Fozzy? “The thing about Chris is he doesn’t sleep and he’s just constantly working.  I actually want some type of Doctor to prove to me that he is not a machine. It astounds me that I will go to sleep at 3.00 AM – he’s still awake and going- and when I wake up at 7.30 AM I can still hear his voice. He is constantly working and so even when Fozzy has time off, even if he’s wrestling a show that night, travelling through the day, he’s still writing lyrics. We don’t always have to be in a room together to be creative, nowadays he can be writing lyrics emailing to me where I am working on some melodies and songs. I’ll make some demos and then e-mail them to him, we’ll use whatever technology is available – Skype, Facetime – to achieve what we need to. Luckily for us we didn’t have any deadlines to have the album finished by which allowed us enough flexibility to have the album that we wanted to without rushing.

The technology does allow collaboration so much easier these days. “Yeah, you’re in Australia and I’m in North Carolina and we’re doing a job together.  Phone, internet and video communication has just made the world so small”.

It also makes it a lot easier to get a presence out in the world now.  We’ve seen that with the build up through the video for Judas, that has been out for a while now, and the amount of views that it has got.  I remember seeing a tweet saying that it had been the biggest response to Fozzy ever. Through this it makes it so much easier to connect with your fans as a result. “Absolutely, and I think the success of that video came down to the right song, the right video and the right performance from Jericho. When it comes down to it you’re either doing a performance video, or you’re doing a conceptual video or a combination thereof. We really spent some time to working through the ideas for putting together the video and on the day there was still a lot of improvisation.  On the day we were recording we had to be willing to look at things again and be willing to make changes and willing to consider other things. It is the same when you write a record, basically when Fozzy makes an album we record it twice. First it’s the writing demos, so we get in there and we’re effectively creating a sketchbook. Then you gather all your ideas and record them down and then you rerecord it the second time. It’s a good idea to not get too attached to your ideas, as you head down further into the process you may find that the songs are not quite right. They may need some subtle changes, some editing here and there and I think that is part of our success as we are always willing to improve on things and let them naturally evolve”.

It definitely shows. How long did the album recording process take this time?  Was it easier or harder than the previous albums? You have been the producer since Chasing the Grail, so how much of a change was it for you personally because you had another producer this time?  “It was more enjoyable, not everything was my responsibility. Being the engineer, the producer of the record puts me in a very awkward position because then I have to tell my band mates things like “hey, that’s not good enough, we have to do it again”. It creates tension between us, so having somebody outside of the band who gets to wear the coaches jacket, it was nice for me and at the same time allowed me to focus in on playing guitar. I could also focus in on the song writing and not have to be all things to this album so it was great. There were also new challenges, like having to compromise to somebody who was new to the process. It was a bit weird, cause all of a sudden there is the new guy and he gets to vote. He gets a chance to say “No, I don’t like what Rich Ward wants”(laughing). I used to be able to tell everyone what to do and now I have to listen as well”.

Well that would be a significant change as it has been a few albums straight. “Yeah, and I like being the producer but it is a lot of responsibility and a lot of time. We started writing the Judas album a long time ago, it took almost a year to write and record. Part of the reason for that was we were still an active touring band, we were in Europe on tour, then Chris would go wrestling, we had a lot of scheduling to overcome. Whereas it would have been easier if we could’ve all been located in one studio for a month or two to work as a group but it wasn’t an option. So the process took a lot longer to do than what we expected but I think it really benefited from the gaps in time. We would work two weeks or a month, and we would take some time off and be able to come back to the material with fresh ears. It was nice to be able to hear material you had worked on and have a bit of a critical perspective on the songs and I think the album really benefited from that”.

For me I can really hear that, I’ve had a few listens already as I’m doing a review for it and the best way I can describe it is “it grooves”. “Thank you very much, I’m lucky to be in a band with so many talented musicians. I’ve known Frank (Fontsere), our drummer, since 1988.  We went to see Metallica on the …And Justice for All tour together. We’ve been friends and played in bands together, that chemistry has really helped us.  It doesn’t matter if it’s AC/DC, Metallica, Slayer or Van Halen; chemistry is really the key to the success of a lot of these bands. Our success as a band, I think, in a large part comes down to the fact that we really play well together and we bring out the best in each other’s playing”.

I went to both Fozzy’s Australian gigs in 2013; at Soundwave and also the support set for Steel Panther later that year, I actually bought your VIP package and got to meet you guys. “Oh cool”.

I was really impressed with the energy of the band and with the burgeoning catalogue you are building – can Australia expect a tour anytime soon? Speaking on the behalf of others I was talking to at the gigs, we would love to see you guys get a longer set.  “Our goal is, the next time we come over, to come over as a headliner.  It looks very likely we will be over in 2018, those discussions are in the works now. We’re working with promoters, our agents and other bands to try to make that all happen. So really it’s not a matter of if, it’s when and obviously Australia has been very special to us. We’ve had some great tours and some really amazing shows, we’re really excited about the idea of coming back”.

It was special to be part of that last time you were here, you guys were amazing on stage and the crowd responded. Your VIP experience was really a nice touch, I’ve been to, and I know others who have been to, other bands where it’s in and out.  You guys really take the time to engage with the fans in there. “I really enjoy that part of it, one of my favourite parts of being in a band is meeting people. Just cultivating relationships and talking to people about music and movies, it’s just fun. I’m a bit of a recluse when I’m at home, so it’s nice when we’re out on tour to meet new folks and start off new friendships”.

What are your favourite tracks to play live, why is that? “Right now the new song Painless is in the set, we’ve just released it on iTunes and I have to say it’s one of my favourite songs to play because it’s got a really huge chorus, but it’s also got a really heavy, dark riff. It’s all those perfect criteria for me on a fun song to play and it’s got a great groove. Yeah, so right now Painless is my favourite live track”.

You had a stage name “The Duke” which later morphed into the “Duke of Metal” and is a very cool moniker, what’s the story behind it? “There was a German metal magazine that was doing a review on a Stuck Mojo album and the album review said ‘If Zakk Wylde is the King of Metal, then certainly Rich Ward is the Duke of Metal.’  I thought, well I now have a new nickname, it was too good. You’re not allowed to give yourself a nickname, but if somebody else does, you have permission to run with it. Well, I did (laughs).

Well I really do like it. “Yeah I do too, because John Wayne, the original badass Duke set a high standard but I’m still trying to live up to it”.

Unfortunately it looks like we’ve only got time for one more question, so who’s been your biggest inspiration in music, and why is that?  “Several ways I would look at it, but one of my really big musical influences is Devin Townsend. Part of the reason is because Devin is just fearless. He doesn’t compromise anything in life for fame, notoriety, financial reasons, he is a complete true artist in every sense of the word and I really respect him for that. As far as guitar players are concerned; Zakk Wylde was one of the most influential players on me, Dimebag Darrell. I’m a huge fan of David Gilmour, Angus Young, John Sykes, there’s so many great guitar players that I draw influence from so it’s hard to just put it down to one thing. I love Neil Schon from Journey, he’s one of the greatest guitar players of all time but like I said if I was talking about who was my “Obi Wan Kenobi”, it’s definitely Devin Townsend”.

I want to thank you very much for taking time out to talk to me, I believe it’s quite late over where you are in the States. “Thanks so much for your time and from the bottom of my heart, thanks so much for your support”.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you Rich and we’re all really looking forward to seeing you guys on tour here!

Paul Kerr
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