Shortly before Fozzy released their new album Judas, lead guitarist Rich ‘The Duke’ Ward took time out to talk to All About the Rock about slugging it out in the trenches, getting your pallet moist for their upcoming UK and European Tour, keeping Kanye West from taking over the world and giving it everything he’s got.
Q: Firstly, many thanks for taking your time to speak to All About The Rock, I think it’s been about a year since we last spoke to you.
A: Yeah, we’re family members at this point so yes, it’s my pleasure.
Q: And for yourself and your fellow band members it’s certainly been a busy year so let’s start off with the band’s new album Judas. Can you tell me a bit more about that and how it compares to Fozzy’s previous six releases?
A: I think the biggest change for this record was the influence of working with an outside producer. We’ve been self-produced for over a decade and when I say self-produced, I’ve been the producer of the band. The record company approached us because on the last album Do You Wanna Start a War we worked with a songwriter/producer called Johnny Andrews on the single Lights Go Out. That turned out so well that the record company said, Hey what do you guys think about having Johnny produce the entire new album? We all thought it was a great idea but we were obviously a bit nervous and by that, I mean as you said this is our 7th album and if you include my solo records and my Stuck Mojo catalogue this is my 19th so I’ve gotten into a process which is very structured and I’ve been really happy with the results. I knew the first thing I was going to have to do was to just let go all that hesitant and nervous energy you’d expect from going into a new relationship. Let’s be honest when you are trusting an album to a new producer you’re basically bringing in a 6th band member. So that was the agreement we were making, that he would be similar how Roy Thomas Baker was or Bob Rock and Mud Lang, in that he was going to have a seat at the table and that he was really going to participate creatively. But not just in the sound of the record but also the song writing and direction.
I think that’s the biggest change for us, that we had somebody come in like that but also acted kinda like a coach. Sometimes if you’re not in a band it’s often difficult to understand the exact role of a producer, engineer or mastering engineer but I think if you’re a sports fan you understand the role of a coach or manager and I think that’s kind of what producer does. It’s taking the talent on the pitch and focusing that, and putting that talent where it will be most effective, whilst steering away from the weaknesses. Any good coach is a really good manager of personalities and have the ability to get the best out of the group. I think that’s been a real success for us, going it the recording of the new album with the mind-set of bring Johnny into the family. Our willingness to let him into the fold with open arms made things a lot easier and was a real benefit to us.
Q: That’s certainly a great analogy and picking up on that and that of seeing Johnny as a coach what did you learn from making this album?
A: I think the biggest lesson was to never settle and I’ve always felt like I was a writer who would go through the draft process, as in here’s the 1st draft, here’s the 2nd draft, here’s the 3rd revision of the song. I was quick to say that we never put the fork into it too early and say this song is done let’s move onto the next one. But Johnny really helped me to see some real weaknesses in may approach. This was that I’m a guitar player, I’m also a singer but my main voice is through my guitar playing and my riffs and because I’d been the primary song writer for Fozzy, along with Chris who is very involved in the lyric process and up until now 80% of the lyrics were written by Chris but I was writing the melodies. So, what Johnny really helped me realise was that as a guitar player I was thinking a lot as a guitar play and the melodies and lyrics were always an equal part of the process but they need to be the start of the show. Robert Plant has got to be the start of Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osborn has got to be the star of Black Sabbath and even though Jimmy Page and Tomi Iommi are the most amazing number twos in the business I realised I need to think more in terms as I’m the number two guy. I needed to put Chris, the melody and the arrangements as the priority, job number one. That was a really interesting thing for me, it’s not about selling album and it’s not about thinking in terms of its only about radio hooks. Because if you listen to my favourite records like, Number of the Beast, Screaming for Vengeance and Diary of a Madman by no means were they commercial sell out records. But the vocals are just so amazing on those records and you can tell that the producers, whether it was Tom Allom or one of the many producers on a Black Sabbath album but you can always see the influence from a really good coach stepping in and helping the riff stepping out of the way and letting the vocals be the star. That was a really good lesson for me, a humbling one because as a guitar player I never want to be number 2.
A: Judas is an album of fantastic tracks but each quite unique but also, it’s a relaxed and confident album. When you were making it did you expect it to have such a hard rocking striped back but relaxed feel?
Q: No I don’t think so, the process started for me on day one when I turned up with 4 song ideas. I have a small studio in my home where I can record demos and get the basic song structures kinda prepared for the guys when we begin the song writing process. I took some songs over to Johnny’s studio and he listened to them and said ‘Man I really like these songs but what would you think of starting from scratch, you and I sitting in a room starting and seeing what happens?’. Honestly it made me really nervous because I’ve never sat in a studio with nothing and I’ve always come to writing sessions having done my homework. I normally have some ideas, here’s a riff, here’s a melody, here’s a lyric and I’ve never just sat down and said ‘OK Let’s start’. So we didn’t discuss what kind of album it was going to be, we just started writing with the intent of who are we as a band, who are we individually and how do we create something that is us at our best. There were a lot of discussions about doing an honest representation of who we are and not being concerned with the Joneses. We would spend time and listen to different style of music, so we’d start off a session maybe listening to Sabbath then go to The Prodigy, then Marilyn Manson, Queens of the Stone Age just to kind of get our pallet moist. Whilst listening we were writing down things about them that we really liked, not necessarily about the songs but about the energy and deconstructing ideas. Then we would go listen to our albums like Sin and Bones, Do You Wanna Start a War and did similar by deconstructing the moments that were really special on those albums, capture those elements and build on them. This made things really interesting as it was a much more cerebral process then I’ve done in the past where normally I’d bang out some riffs and spend a lot of time working on the structure of the song. This was more of a half therapy session and half writing session.
Q: It sounds like a different studio feel then you’ve had in the past, has the band developed in the way you approach recording over the course of the last few albums?
A: Yeah and I think part of it comes down to when a lot of the process in the early stages of the other albums was down to me in terms of the preliminary writing so there was a lot of second guessing, a lot of worry that I was making missteps and having someone like Johnny to work with in those early stages was great. For me it was nice to have someone to discuss the songs with in those early stages and just for some reinforcement, or even to say I like this idea but here is where I think it could be better if we just did this. All bands have their own way of doing things but I really enjoyed having someone in those early stages but at the same time it could be super frustrating. There were so many times that I had an idea that I thought was great but Johnny wasn’t fond of it and we had an agreement early on that we had to have some unified thought and what was best for the record. Otherwise why hire an outside guy when I was just going to do what I wanted to do anyway.
Q: The title track Judas has really hit the YouTube and Hard Rock world by storm with nearly 10 million views. Did you feel it was going to be so well received when you first struck the riffs or did it take you and band by surprise?
A: We knew from the very beginning that Judas was a great song and we wanted it to be the first song on the album because we felt so confident about it. But yet at the same time I’ve no expectations about how the industry is going to take it because let’s be honest even though the YouTube views are the fans reacting to it there is something that happens which creates a viral momentum for a song or a band.
It’s not just what’s going on in YouTube it’s also what’s going on in within the industry, are they spending money on promotion or advertising. There’s always things going on and this opens our discussion up even more to that of a team, so instead of just a coach we also have the front office for the local club who are now in charge of getting folk in the seats. There are a lot of really big heroes in Century Media Records who are championing this record and a big part of its success. Our manager Mark Willies has had a great vision for this band for many years and has worked tireless hours. It takes a big team to make this happen and they should be patting themselves on the back because if it wasn’t for the likes of All About the Rock talking to me today there’s a lot fewer people who are going to hear about this album. It really is the larger community and the ripple effect of these things, someone could read this interview having never heard Fozzy, go to YouTube and click on the Judas link. If we all work together we all succeed and if we don’t see that then eventually there will be no rock and roll and just Kanye West and a bunch of hip hop guys taking over the world and we can’t have that.
Q: God help us all if that happens. Speaking of a big team Fozzy has just finished a tour of the states and in support of the album’s release on October 13th you’re about to embark on a one day, 3 gig event, Fozzy Across America. With only a few days away how are you feeling and preparing for that?
A: We are super excited about it and at the same time just trying to prepare for what that’s going to be like. We have a 6am call time at Fort Myers, Florida, we go into the radio station for an interview then to a local venue for an hour’s set before getting on a private jet. Flying to El Paso, Texas where we are doing an instore signing, followed by another radio station interview before going to the venue for a midday set. Back on the jet and fly to Las Vegas, Nevada where we are then playing at 11pm before a 3.30am call to get back on a plan to New York to do press for two days.
It’s just amazing because this is the first time I’ve felt this kind of momentum in my career for a very long time. The last time was when we putting out the Rising album for Stuck Mojo and this is how it felt, wind to your back and the sun on your face, with excitement from the fans and the industry. Those are really great problems to have.
So, when people say how are you going to pull it off it’s just the excitement and adrenalin of having the opportunity to get on a $50 million jet and fly around the country to play 3 different shows in 3 different time zones in one day, how many people get to do that in life and why wouldn’t I look at it as anything other than a great challenge and a great opportunity.
Q: The bands UK & European leg of the Judas Rising Tour is coming up, kicking off in Birmingham on October 27th. Are you looking forward to getting back to the UK?
A: Yeah again super excited, we’re playing some great venues including one of the big ones in Glasgow, which is already sold out. This is the first time we are coming over with shows already selling out before we’ve even arrived. We’ve had sell outs before but normally on the day and this is the first time we are playing big rooms and it all comes down to what we are talking about, the momentum of the single and the anticipation for the record. It’s just great timing and something you can’t plan, it’s not like we’re doing anything that we haven’t done it the past. It’s all just lining up and that’s part of it, chemistry, timing and having all those people involved clicking. You would never have convinced me before that we would have a video with 10 million views from an independent music label, not having spent a huge amount and still on a blue-collar budget. We are a hard-working rock band, not everyone has their own hotel room and we’re still rock n roll warriors slugging it out in the trenches.
Q: Speaking of trenches, Fozzy has played Download a few times, either early on in the bill, on Main Stage or starting the day off. When you are playing a festival like that is the early timing something you relish?
A: Yeah, if you consider that Download for us in the United States, 20 years ago was the Monsters of Rock and the history of that event alone the first time we played it in 2005 I almost had tears in my eyes and now we are playing main stage. But yeah there is something special about being first on because you can set the tone for the day. At that time people haven’t been baking in the sun, having drunk 14 beers and you can catch people at their freshest. The press are also at their freshest and it’s a good spot to be on, I’d much rather that than 4pm but obviously if you tell me we can go on at night with all the lights then yeah that would be great. We’ve still got a lot to prove as a band and we’ve had a lot to overcome over the years with half the band coming from Nu Metal, Rap Metal Band Stuck Mojo and our lead vocalist is a sports star which cause some early prejudice and narrative as a fun time rock band which you can’t take too seriously. I think that early push back from the press and from some true rock and metal fans has made us work harder and made us want to earn respect. Regardless of what people say about us they can’t accuse of us of being hobbyists 7 albums in.
I take every show with a massive responsibility, people spend a lot of money to go to gigs and times aren’t amazing for folks financially. So when people spend a lot of money to go to a festival or club show it’s something which I value because I’m a fan at heart. I recognise that when I walk away from a show and I feel like the band hasn’t put everything into it or their foot has been half on the gas then I’m disappointed that I dropped a bunch of money seeing them. So for me I see it as an opportunity that I may not get again, I don’t want any fan saying Rich Ward is not worth spending money on because the last time I saw him play the phoned it in. It’s important for me to earn the fans respect because when I was younger watching the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young or any gig when seeing my heroes I remember thinking I want to be like them one day. Now that at least I’m on the track, in the game and it’s an honour to music and play concerts I want to give it everything I have.
Judas is out now on Century Media Records.
Catch Fozzy on their UK & European Tour starting on the 27t October 2017