A Candid Chat with Rich Ward

We hooked up with Rich Ward recently for a chat about Stuck Mojo and Fozzy... and ended up discussing politics, the history of Stuck Mojo, and new technologies. Rich was totally candid about Stuck Mojo - and his take on the internet, music criticism, and human behaviour is incredibly insightful.


One of the most talkative and happiest people I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing is Rich Ward (Stuck Mojo/Fozzy).  He's a really easy-going dude, quite happy to talk in-depth about almost everything. Metal as Fuck hooked up with him for a yarn about Stuck Mojo's latest release The Great Revival, and a bit about Fozzy too - just for the hell of it. But we went far, far deeper than just music.


Because Rich is part of Fozzy and Stuck Mojo, he almost lives a double-life. Once Stuck Mojo finished their last tour cycle late in 2008, he began working on the next Fozzy record. When he started writing for the next album, he started pretty much from scratch. But, within a couple of months he had twelve new songs, which he eventually worked back down to ten. Then in addition to these, the new Fozzy release will see another track written by a bandmate, plus a track that was originally destined for the last Stuck Mojo release, The Great Revival, but which was not completed in time. Ironically, it was the title track for that Mojo release. As Rich said, 'it's nice to keep it in the family'.


'I've been working hard on that record since November first, and the record's really good, I'm really happy with it,' he emphasised. 'It's enough like what you've come to know from Fozzy: it's a good hard rock/metal record, but this album is definitely a step up for us because Fozzy has always been Stuck Mojo's side band.'


As Rich went on to explain, because Stuck Mojo were off-tour for so long, and aren't going back out on the road until the northern summer, he has the luxury of being able to treat Fozzy as his only band. 


'I can work it full-time without having to worry about any other shows, or any other obligations for Stuck Mojo. It's really been a big treat for me,' he explained. 'Because obviously any band that I do, or any musical project I do, I wanna do it one hundred and ten per cent. I wanna make a great albums, and it's nice to be able to keep one hundred per cent of my focus on this.'


Normally, Rich writes a record in his home studio, and sends mixes to Chris Jericho who works up lyrics. These guys then work collaboratively by phone and internet to share their ideas. Face-to-face processes don't work for them because, often, Rich is out on tour, or Jericho's on the road wrestling. Once they've worked up their ideas, they get together and start laying down vocal tracks.


'Then what we would do is, we'd fly out to Atlanta and we would record all the vocals for the record in two or three days,' Rich explained. 'You know, it's always nice to take your time with things. Even the biggest of big bands, you know, they'll spend a week on vocals, because let's face it: the human voice can't sing all day long. It's an issue of physiology, your voice really works well for a couple of hours, and then if you keep singing you're just going to get diminishing returns.'


As Rich went on to explain, you can put in a couple of hours a day of solid, creative work with vocal tracks - but that each song might take an hour to get through, so your actual output is quite low. That's why it's better to be able to spend a week doing it, instead of cramming it all into a few days and not getting quality at the end.


Fozzy fairly recently did a worldwide distribution deal with Australia's own Riot! Entertainment. This idea was Rich and Jericho's idea. It happened because, of all of the record companies they had ever dealt with, Riot! was the only one able to produce the most amount of sales per territory, of any territory in the world. 


'So, per capita, All That Remains sold exponentially more in Australia than it did in the States or in Europe, and it was really nice,' Rich enthused. 'It's because John [Howarth, CEO of Riot! Entertainment] - we're friends. We've had a relationship that's been intact for a number of years and I think because there's a friendship involved there, heck we're almost like family: we talk on the phone so often. I think it just extends the whole relationship.'


Because there was this pre-existing friendship between these guys, not to mention the mutual respect, Ward explained that John really took care of the band and worked hard to make sure that the album was properly promoted. In addition to this, Riot! promoted the last Fozzy tour in Australia, they released the last Stuck Mojo album, and they released Rich's 2005 solo album.


'He [John] has just done such a great job for us that we really felt that he was The Guy,' Rich explained. 'We were gonna make a deal with a company to work this out worldwide, and we thought that Riot! was the one to go with.'


Stuck Mojo's last release, The Great Revival, has had an interesting reception by the media. A lot of critics have really bagged the release, others have been disappointed by it and believe that it's not really Mojo's style - and some few others have really loved it. It seems to have been a fairly polarising release. As Ward told me, he was saying in the months before The Great Revival came out that he believed the album actually had the possibility of destroying his career. He laughed about it, but it seemed that he was laughing as a result of discomfort and not humour. 


Despite that comment, however, he was realistic about the nature of creative work.


'It was such a departure from things we'd done in the past,' he said, 'and that's the risk that you take when you're in a band.'


For those of you who aren't up with your Mojo history, the band was formed in 1989, when these guys were still teenagers. They were touring full-time back then, and didn't put out their first full-length album until 1995. Rich pointed out that the evolution of Stuck Mojo has been dramatic, given that they started out as a funk-rock/metal band. They gradually got more aggressive, and heavier, as they matured. He also pointed out that the lineup changes that they've had has resulted in a change to the band's sound.


'Even though I've always been the primary songwriter, I've always felt that it's appropriate to write for the guys that you have in the band,' Rich explained. 'Just like, and I hate to compare us to one of the greatest bands of all time, but I'll do it just to make a point, but when Cliff Burton died, you know, from Metallica, the sound of the band changed because it wasn't the same guys,' he stated. 'And even though Hetfield was writing most of the material, and it was pretty much he was driving the riffs and it was his thing, because there was a noticeable difference in style between Newstead and Cliff, the band sounded a little different. And I think that's been true for us.'


Stuck Mojo changed lead vocalists, and he defines their previous vocalist, Bonz, as a character: a dude that was super-aggressive, crazy, and that had an interesting vibe and aura. But he also thinks that Lord Nelson, the band's present vocalist, is even more interesting still.


'He wasn't nearly as deep a vocalist and wasn't nearly as interesting, in my opinion, as the guy we have now. And I wanted to exploit that by trying to write music that was a little more interesting,' he said.


But the other thing that Rich pointed out is that most of what is possible in metal has already been done. He didn't mean that metal is generic, but more that there are limited ways in which it can be written, and limited sounds that you can get out of one scale.


'The minor scale has, like, seven notes,' he emphasised. 'And there's only so many ways you can play a heavy riff without kind of sounding like one of either Slayer, or Metallica, or Pantera. It's all kind of been done. And in order to not end up being just another one of those bands making just another one of those records that sounds like everybody else, I really wanted to try to do something that was different.'


Rich is aware that this approach may not have been a commercial success, and that the press would identify that the album was well outside of what people had come to expect from Stuck Mojo. But his goal wasn't necessarily to meet expectations nor to create a commercial success. One thing that Ward is very wary of, is writing music that meets people's expectations. The other thing of which he's very conscious, is of the mutual respect that exists, however ethereally, between bands and their fans.


'You know, ultimately, I don't live in a mansion and I don't drive a Ferrari. I'm just very fortunate that I make music for a living,' he said. 'But ultimately I think that the true fans of this band want us to make albums that are honest. And if I wake up and decide that I should write a heavy album because that's what's expected of me, or I should write a typical rap-rock album - whatever that means - because it's expected of me, then I don't think the fans would respect me.'


More to the point, Rich told me that he wouldn't be able to respect himself if he followed the whims of expectation, and instead strives to create material that he wants to create, and that he is personally inspired by. Therefore, his take on the critics' responses to The Great Revival is that the range of criticism is pretty standard.


What Rich also pointed out is the difference in perceptions of a band thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet. These days, the internet has made a huge array of reviews accessible to anyone who cares to look, whereas when the band was at its peak in the mid-to-late-90s, that wasn't the case. Back in the day, fans generally didn't have access to critics' work from around the world. 


'In 1998 when we released Rising, most people were not using the internet as a resource to look at what's going on with bands. It was just kind of in the infancy at that stage. And we got good reviews and bad reviews back then too!' Rich laughed. 'It's just that back then nobody had the ability to Google search Stuck Mojo and go "wow, Metal Edge gave the band a ten, and Metal Maniacs gave the band a six, and then there was Metal Hammer in England gave the band a two. It's always kinda been that way.'


As Rich said, they have a black guy who raps, and Rich plays metal riffs - so it's not going to be every metalhead's cup of tea. More to the point, he believes that if everybody liked it, he'd be wondering if the band was doing something wrong: all of his favourite bands have a stack of critics that hate them. His point is that you need a thick skin, and you need to understand that an opinion is just an opinion.


'It's kind of like, well if some of my favourite bands are hated by some people then maybe I'm doing the right thing,' he said.


This fitted into a discussion we had about the fact that one of the worst moves a band can ever make is to create music that the masses demand and expect of them. Rich asserted that the problem with doing something like that is that when you follow a fashion, you write your music at the peak of the trend - but that by the time the album comes out you've hit the back-end of the curve. Then you run the risk of not selling your records because people and trends have moved on. The inevitable thing that happens is that you get poor reviews, and you've done your dash, all by trying to ride a wave of popularity. 


Another point that Rich made, and a valid one, is that the tendency to create music that sounds like another band often comes from a band's, or a musician's insecurity in themselves and in their own identity.


'When I was eighteen years old, I was really influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was really influenced by Faith No More. There were times where I would sit down and say "I really wanna write a song that sounds like Faith No More". Or, "I really wanna write a song that's like Megadeth",' he said. 'I would make those things coz I was still kind of forming who I was as a musician when I was young. I was still trying to find my identity and who I was as a player. But now, twenty years later, I don't question those things,' he emphasised. 'Now when I write a song I don't go, "huh, wonder if people'll like it" because you can't worry about those things.'


The issue of new technology and the internet tended to come up in the discussion pretty often. And the reason is that Rich believes that while the internet is a beautiful thing, it also encourages 'noise'. The sort of noise he refers to is unfiltered, disrespectful commentary that can exist because of the boundary-less nature of the internet - an absence of benchmarks that we've never seen before, in terms of statements and behaviour. That might be ok, but as he also pointed out that today's society is one in which anything that somebody says can be considered offensive by somebody else.


'It allows anyone to say anything in any form, and what ends up happening is that we live in a society now where any type of speech, no matter how okay you think it is, can be offensive to somebody else,' Rich pointed out. 'And we're also defensive these days about things, especially in politics. It can be no more true than it is now that the hate you see for these, and I know it's all around the world, the hatred that you saw for Bush; and now that Obama's in power it's the same thing. It's just switched sides. Fifty per cent of country loves Obama and fifty per cent of them hate him with a passion. And it's like, you know, if they really just took a step back they probably would agree with sixty to eighty per cent of everything that he says.


'It's just that people will focus on the small sliver of things that they disagree with and focus on that. So we end up being a society where we're so polarised, just focusing on the twenty per cent that we can't agree on, instead of just being able to get together and be able to respect each other for all that common ground that we all can see eye-to-eye on,' Rich remarked. 'Instead, we just focus on the negative. And it's easier to do that via the internet because there's no filters. You don't have to be accountable for whatever you say because you can say it and you can do it in the privacy of your own room - as opposed to the olden days where, you know, if there was a question-and-answer and you said something that made somebody mad,' he laughed, 'then they'd smack you.' 


Stuck Mojo moved away from Century Media records fairly recently, and are now residing with Napalm Records. The move happened when Mojo's contract was up and they had the opportunity to look around at other labels out there. While Century Media really worked hard for the band, the dynamics between the label and the band were interesting.


'Over the years we had spent the good and the bad times with them, and there was a lot of mud in the water. And there were a lot of people that really, really loved the band at the label, there was a lot of people that really didn't like dealing with us because we saw things through a different prism.'


Stuck Mojo were also Century Media's biggest selling band for a number of years. But in the end there were two different visions of the way things should be handled: the band's vision, and the label's. 


'It was a good partnership,' Rich was swift to acknowledge. 'We both grew together, as a band and as a label, and it was difficult finding a record label that was willing to partner up with us again, knowing that we were an established band that has a loyal fanbase. So we really needed another label to reach out to younger fans for us, to cultivate a whole new generation of younger fans for us.'


That's why they thought it would be a good idea to go with another label that was similar to Century Media. When they'd signed with Century Media in 1994, the label was primarily carrying death, black, and doom metal - as Rich puts it, they carried all the bands that had 'the logos you couldn't read'. 


So that's why they went with Napalm Records. Like the earlier days of Century Media, Mojo are now with a label that focuses on extreme music and doesn't have a lot of bands like Stuck Mojo. Simply because they are a crossover band, Stuck Mojo really stands out and at the same time gets to keep its own identity.


But at the same time, being on an extreme label makes it more difficult for Stuck Mojo to reach out to a broader audience. Being the way they are, the labels market their bands to extreme metal fans - and as Rich pointed out, it would be strange for an Emperor fan to also be a fan of Stuck Mojo.


'We end up getting marketed to the same magazines that they would market Rotting Christ to,' Rich explained. 'So that's the reason why we get some of these reviews that you'll read and go, wow someone goes "I hate this record". Yeah! You like Rotting Christ!'


This is why the band's recent tour with Danish up-and-comers Volbeat was so exciting for them. Volbeat's audience is so diverse - in terms of age, gender, and sub-genre preference - that Stuck Mojo really appreciated the opportunity to support them. It gave the band the opportunity to make contact with some of the new, young audience that they are keen to reach. 


Let's not forget that, in the past, Stuck Mojo has toured with Testament, Pantera, Machine Head - who were their first national support slot - Type O Negative, and others. They were always playing with different types of bands. 


'It's great because the fans were so different!' Rich enthused. 'We need to be doing those types of tours because it gave us an opportunity to play for the true metal fans, and also got us the chance to play in front of audiences like with Life of Agony and Type O Negative: there were lots of girls at the shows, whereas when you play with Machine Head in the States it's kind of the same as with Stuck Mojo, it's kind of like 99% guys and, like, five girls.'


As Rich pointed out, it's important to get girls at the shows too because if you're only playing music to fifty per cent of the population, and if your music has no appeal to women at all, then to him it seems like you're alienating a huge portion of your audience. 


When I asked Rich about how bringing in Lord Nelson on vocals has changed the band, he told me quite candidly about the problems that started to arise in the band with their former vocalist Bonz. Back in the early days Rich would write music with a drum machine and his guitar, and would record is ideas on an old four-track, and Bonz wrote all the lyrics. Then they'd get together and thrash out their ideas. As the band evolved, Rich recognised the value of working with lyrics much earlier in the piece, so they started to create songs as a unit, incorporating lyrics before the songs were finalised. 


It was the living together for about eleven months out of every year that caused tensions to really grow between Rich and Bonz. When they weren't touring, they were in the studio. And don't underestimate how much these guys were touring: in 1996 they played 300 shows; in 1997 they did 274 - so they were always on the road together. Being totally different people, they just got 'burned out on each other', as Rich tells it.


'Being a heavy metal nerd I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't party,' he explained. 'My life revolves around playing guitar and making music. And also fitness is a big part of my life. I don't want to be a bodybuilder, I want to be in shape so that when I perform I can give 110% of whatever the fans' expectations are in energy. And Bonz was the complete opposite,' Rich noted. 'He loved to party, and to my best estimation the party was more important than the music and the performances.'


While telling a story looking back on it, it is easy to feel that this is what it was like for these guys all the time. Rich is quick to point out that it was a gradual thing that emerged, and that they grew this way over time.


'It's just that we were on the road all the time,' he reflected. 'The drugs are free, the booze is free. And as all of us as musicians have these addictive personalities - we're either addicted to fame, or we're addicted to whatever - and those addictions are just amplified by all that exists in that world.'


The more that Bonz partied, the more angry that Rich got, and the more Rich felt that Bonz was taking the band for granted. 


'And that's not one hundred per cent true that he was taking it for granted, or that he didn't care,' Rich qualified. 'That was my perception. And that's what happens when you're in an ending relationship, whether it be a marriage, or a friendship or working relationship with people. When you're around them all the time, the little things start to really bother you. Especially when times are tough, you start to - unfortunately it's human nature - you start picking at each other, the people that are around you all the time because whatever those little things that in the big scheme of things don't mean anything, well they do under that microscope.'


It got to the point where Bonz and Rich hit a wall. As Rich described it, all communication between these guys just totally stopped.


'It got to the point where we weren't talking. Well, when I say "not talking" all the communication was all surfacey. The brotherhood and that kind of family that existed was gone,' he mused. 'He would always travel in a separate vehicle with either the opening band or, if we were a support band, he'd catch a ride in the headliner's bus. We'd travel separately because, you know, that magic was gone. And at some point I just said, "hey man, we should probably not do this together any more because nobody's having any fun'. Making records was like having dental surgery because there was such a lack of respect from each other that we weren't able to make good music together.'


What all of this comes down to is the fact that now, with Lord Nelson, Rich is back in the position that he was in when Mojo had just started: making albums with dudes that he really gets along with. 


It has resulted in Stuck Mojo really becoming a family again, and these guys now have a great relationship - without getting territorial about the ways in which elements of their creations are pulled together. He feels honoured to be in a band with guys he really likes and respects.


'There's just this real cool open exchange of ideas and it's great,' he enthused. 'It's the way it should be.'


Rich's idea of a band, back when he was a thirteen-year-old kid wanting to play Sabbath, AC/DC and Van Halen, was of a group that was like family: a unit that was them against the world, and were fighting the same fight. If it's not like that, Rich explained, then it's all got a hollow feeling - like you're just going through the motions. 


'And every band we've toured with, whether they were supporting us or we were supporting them, there's always guys that hate each other,' he reflected. 'And it just blows me away. It just seems like, man, that just sucks. It's not the way it should be.'


For the next few months, besides working on the Fozzy album, and working on his home-based studio - something that will allow Rich to take his time recording his material and to spend the time developing his ideas - his focus is on doing promo for The Great Revival.


He's also hoping to get back to Australia soon - if not with Mojo, then with Fozzy.


'Fozzy's definitely going to be over within the next year and fingers crossed we'll be there with Mojo as well,' he told me. 'I love Australia, I really do. I've been trying to get Mojo over for the longest time, and we've had a couple of opportunities to but the timing was just bad. It'd be great to be over again. I just really fell in love with the country and the folks because Australians are a lot like people here in the south east in the US: just really easy-going and laid-back. It felt really like home, but just half-way around the world.'


Stuck Mojo's latest release The Great Revival is out now on Napalm/Riot.