Catchin' Up with The Duke - A man-to-man with Rich Ward

The sublime presence of Rich "The Duke" Ward returns to the Metal as Fuck pages, catching up about all things Fozzy, Stuck Mojo and rock n' roll.

If you don’t know by now, I’ll tell you again. Rich Ward, the master guitarist behind the monumentally successful Fozzy and hip-hop/metal crossover outfit Stuck Mojo is the nicest guy in the world. I love him. Even though I could never be in the same league as his apprentices’ apprentice when it comes to, well, being cool, I feel privileged just to talk to the man, to share his ideas and converse in a meaningful setting. Despite ringing about an hour late, he apologized profusely and sincerely. Before I could ask him anything, he asked me how I was doing!

“I’m so sorry Tom, we’ve been having problems here,” he says in his genuine, tuneful voice with a hint of that unmistakable Southern drawl. “My phone just froze and I couldn’t make any calls!”

Naturally, all was forgiven as a matter of course.

The last time I’d talked to Rich was during my time in his hometown of Atlanta, GA the definite “capital” of Southern rock. His warmth and passion for his craft filters permeates his being – it’s hard to sit in the same room and not share the same enthusiasm for his work as he. “The Duke” as he’s affectionately known has known many successes – sold out shows with two bands that have broken the mold of metal, selling loads upon loads of records and even carving out a unique place with his own solo material. Of course he’s known most for his recent teaming up with WWE superstar Chris Jericho in Fozzy, an amalgam of Jericho’s passionate lyrics and Ward’s melting pot of rock influences is not just a fluke – it’s a product of hard work.

“I’ve been doing a lot of Fozzy gigs,” he says. “I’ve also been producing a record for this guy – I can’t tell you who it is because I’ve been sworn to secrecy.” He jokes. “There’s a band, and it’s a fairly big band that has asked me to fill in for them and I’ve had to learn twenty-one songs in eight days. Yeah. My brain’s gone…frickin’ melty.” He laughs along with me.

“But it’s good man, it’s good to be working. It’s amazing to wake up every day and think ‘Good grief, I’m still a professional guitar player.’ Well, for one more week,” he laughs.

Being in Fozzy means he gets to unleash his “anything goes” mentality toward creating music and even the dynamic between himself and [vocalist] Chris Jericho – not exactly gunshy about making a spectacle out of himself – is “pretty compatible” despite the nature of Jericho’s chosen profession, as Ward explains.

“We both come from an ‘anything goes, let’s have a great time’ on stage philosophy. Where [we say to ourselves] let’s just go crazy! You know, we don’t have rehearsals where we set out what we’re going to say, like Chris says something at some defined point and I say some retort back to him. It’s a real kind of free-form flow to the songs.

“Sometimes we’ll spend fifteen minutes BSing in between two songs. We’ll do jams, I’ll play a piece of a riff and Chris is freestyling, he’s bringing somebody up out of the audience...we’re kind of the Eddie Van Halen/David Lee Roth kind of relationship. Our chemistry just works!

“There’s no doubt that Chris is the main attraction. Dave is the Skipper and Eddie is Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island. I’d never vie for the leadership role but I’m comfortable being his little sidekick on stage and we have some cool interplay there.”

Last time Rich and I spoke, he was just putting the finishing touches on Chasing the Grail in the studio and was about to mix and master their live album, recorded in Australia. Rich gives us an insight on how it all went.

“I think it turned out great,” He enthuses. “It’s a great sounding live record. I’ve done two live albums in my career – one for Stuck Mojo in 1999 and the Fozzy one in 2005 and both are amazing live records. I got lucky, because live records are a tough thing to do right. First you have to get the right kind of performance and the sound quality has to be there as well. But yeah, we named it Remains Alive. The only way it was available was via a Riot! Entertainment Fozzy Fan Pack, we called it the ‘Survival Kit.’ But over the summer (in the US) it’ll get a proper release over Amazon and iTunes as well as a proper, bricks and mortar music store release.”

The live record in and of itself is a rare and dying breed in metal, especially since the rise of the live DVD and now Blu-Ray. Rich loves live records because it was an integral part of his childhood – and that bands that have abandoned the live record in favor of the DVD is a noticeable trend but for Rich, it’s ultimately up to the band to decide.

“Well, in terms of Fozzy, we shot video and audio in Australia for two shows – one in Brisbane and one in Sydney. I’ve got the master tapes of both shows and if the guys at Riot! want to grab the video and edit it themselves, then great. But if it’s gonna be on me to do the video editing and it’s going to be on my shoulders, then it’s obviously going to be ‘on my desk’ so to speak. Eventually I’d love to get to that process, to edit DVDs from beginning to end and making sure everything is done good. But if it ever sees the light of day it’ll be because I finally got around to doing it!

“But the reason I feel okay doing live records is because, if I’m just being honest, is that I grew up on live records and I love ‘em. I’ll put them out there – and if people don’t buy them because they want the DVDs, then I’m okay with that. I don’t always do things in my life to make a lot of money and sell a lot of product.

“I mean, if it sells ten thousand copies that’s awesome and if it only sells ten that’s equally as awesome – because one of them will be owned by me. Hell, at least I’ll be able to listen to it and enjoy it!”

As for his rationale towards making music, his philosophy is simple – Rich makes records for himself and the guys in the band first and for others second in the hope they will enjoy listening to it just as much as he did making it, as he enlightens us.

“It’s like when you and your girlfriend go on holiday and you take a bunch of photos and then you hang them in a photo gallery – you do that for you. If I play shows and I make a recording, I can have it as a record of that show – an opportunity to remember this band line up and this period of time on this tour. So a lot of things that I do in terms of recording is as much for me as it is for mass consumption. I just hope that the fans of Fozzy or Stuck Mojo have the same kind of palette as I do.

“What I’m really doing is making records with Chris and the guys in Fozzy based on what we enjoyed growing up as music fans. We were huge live music fans – Live After Death by Iron Maiden, Unleashed in the East by Judas Priest and you know, obviously, KISS Alive. There were so many albums we grew up with and live albums were just such a big part of how we were fans of those bands and fans of music.”

Despite having a holistic and music-centered ethos to Fozzy, unfortunately it is far from the norm. Music has become an industrialized product and deliberately abstracted from the individuality that it’s intended to express, instead made by committee and designed by focus groups and marketed back to “target demographics.” There is undoubtedly a corporate culture in music with a lot of hands manipulating the levers of the “hit factory.”

“I’m sure there is a [tendency towards losing the individuality of a band] because there’s a lot of pressure – the band is obviously more than the four or five guys that make it up,” he calmly and rationally explains. “You’ve got management, you’ve got a record company that has a big investment, you’ve got booking agents and they want the records to be well received so they can book lots of dates, you’ve got PR people that work for the label and independent PR people and radio marketing people…there’s so many people involved in the machine that obviously everybody wants a say.

“You can always tell when an album is trying hard to be successful. And that happens kind of when the album sounds like everything else that’s current at the time. You see that with Nickelback – they had this huge commercial success and then you heard six or seven new bands that all sounded supiciously familiar to Nickelback. Not just in the songwriting but in the actual production too. To me, and no disrespect to those bands because if that speaks to them musically then full power to them, but that’s something that doesn’t appeal to me.”

Rich recalls in the early Stuck Mojo days when his new blend of rap and metal was just taking shape and gained traction, the band carved out a dissimilar path to their copycat contemporaries.

“When Stuck Mojo first started we were one of the first bands to mix a proper aggressive street rap with a metal band. When the style and the genre became completely inundated with all these new bands started to make rap-rock like us, we actually pushed away from that. We tried doing more crossover elements with melodic music and death vocals and trying to do it differently. We really tried to explore the boundaries of that style of music.

“I think for Fozzy it’s been the same thing. As trends become more popular we kind of push away from that a little bit and figure out how to cut our own little niche in there and create something for ourselves.”

Rich obviously invests a lot of time and effort in his work and his humanistic attitude towards mastering his craft and receiving validation for it is a want and not a “must.”

“I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t care if people like it – of course I care. It’s like anything in life – everyone wants to be received well in whatever they do. Some type of affirmation that their efforts have value. But at the same time, that’s an afterthought. That said, Chris is the same way I am – we don’t sit around and try to carefully plan something in order for it to be received well or have some type of commercial value. I guess I’m lucky in this way in that I have enough musical projects that I participate in that I don’t really have to count on one of them to be some type of huge commercial success.

“To be honest again, I’d love it if one of my bands if was a big commercial success. Of course, I think everyone who makes records hopes that at some point they have a gold album or a platinum album to show for it. The problem that comes with that is the goal. For us it’s never been the goal, it’s always been a desire; just a by-product of making great albums.”