Fozzy's Chris Jericho: "Wrestling is great, but it’s not where my focus lies any more..."

MaF Publisher Allan Sko caught up with Fozzy frontman and WWE wrestler extraordinaire Chris Jericho on the eve of the band’s Australian tour alongside cock rockers Steel Panther to talk about their increasing success, the crucial decision that led to it, and how music has become such a focus that we may never see him wrestle again.

In a world where people can’t focus long enough on one task to get my kebab order right, Chris Jericho has balanced being one of WWE’s top wrestlers with the rigours of writing and touring with Fozzy. For much of this time Jericho has been considered a wrestler first and a frontman second, which is not to cast aspersions on Fozzy but instead highlights the man’s success and fame as a wrestler.

But with the surging popularity of latest album Sin and Bones earning the group a second Aussie tour in as little as nine months, 2014 could mark a bellwether year for Jericho and Fozzy that sees the man switch to being a frontman only.

“Wrestling is great, but it’s not where my focus lies any more,” Jericho reveals. “Fozzy is the priority and I’ll continue in order to take it to the highest level. The way we’re going, there’s no reason we can’t be headlining Soundwave in a few years. Sometimes people get mad at me when I say I don’t want to do wrestling anymore - or do it full time - but... Sorry! You know?” he laughs.

“Over the last three years I’ve been toning [wrestling] down because I didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, I want to play in a rock band.’ I’ve been playing since I was 12 years old. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And now, we’ve got a chance to play at such a big level. Dude, we toured with Metallica… How fuckin’ big do you want to get?”

This is the second time I have had the pleasure of conversing with the proclaimed Ayatollah of Rock n Rollah. The previous time Jericho seemed a bit weary; a consummate professional in the interview, certainly, but perhaps bludgeoned by a punishing touring and promotional schedule that would leave any person reeling. Not so on this occasion. This was a fired up Jericho, his words tumbling down the phoneline in his delightfully Canadian-accented tones. And with good cause. Fozzy, Jericho feels, is turning a big corner.

“We’ve been fortunate with Sin and Bones that we’ve toured straight through since it came out last August,” Jericho says. “We went to 17 countries, over 130 shows, and every time you get into the triple digits in one tour cycle you know the record has been a hit.

“Travel-wise, even financially it’s not easy to come to Australia,” Jericho continues. “We were really excited to get the offer to come back because we did a great tour at Soundwave this year… We had a great reaction, and it was off the charts crowd wise, we couldn’t believe how big they were. And I think the people at Soundwave and AJ Maddah recognised that and saw we were on the rise and made the decision to continue to build this band. We want to come back, the fans want us to come back, the promoters want us to come back...It’s just another step in the world domination of rock music.”

The band likely wouldn’t be enjoying triple-figure strong tours and massive crowds were it not for him and Fozzy axepert Rich Ward making a serious decision back in 2009. “I wanted to be in a band and I wanted to be a wrestler and I never saw why I couldn’t do both,” Jericho says. “When the wrestling started taking off I was in my early 20s but I still would play music and I’d continue to write songs. When Rich Ward and myself got together in 2009 for the Chasing the Grail record we said, ‘Y’know, it’s time for us to take this all the way, or not do it any more,’ because we’d kinda been doin’ it on and off and, y’know, it was more of a secondary thing but we knew we had something different. Something noone else had. So we really focused on that and made it our priority. After Chasing the Grail, that’s when things started going through the roof. That led to us being signed by Century Media in 2011, that’s when we felt we had a microscope on us and needed to make the best record of our career so that’s what we tried to do with Sin and Bones. So it’s kinda been growing and growing and growing ever since we made this, y’know, model, this decision that we were going to go hard or go home.”

No stranger to the touring circuit, Jericho has seen first-hand their honed focus payoff in crowd numbers. “With Download last year, in England... Twelve o’clock in the afternoon and 30,000 people were there. And the band before us - I swear to God… 500 people were there. And Soundwave this year… We played earlier in the day… In Melbourne there were 8000 people, in Sydney there were 10,000 people. The band after us? 1000 people, 500 people. So we realised we’d become a kind of destination band. People were following us. People were saying, ‘OK, we’re gonna make sure we see Fozzy, we’re gonna make sure we see Bullet For My Valentine, we’re gonna make sure we see Metallica… Those are the bands we want to see for sure.’ And once you start getting people to make those kind of choices, that’s when you know you have something good going on".

“This year we were clashing with Alice Cooper and Trivium…” he continues. “We were like, ‘Who the fuck’s gonna come ‘n’ see us?’ And lo and behold, same thing; 8000 people there. So when you start getting that confidence and that momentum, there’s nothing better in the world.”

Through the relatively cold medium of print such eager stat-sharing and comparing may come across as boastful from Jericho - the equivalent of whipping your band out and seeing which one’s bigger -  but the passion in his voice tells a different story. The man is clearly excited and genuinely overjoyed at where Fozzy is heading. This is backed up by their work ethic; likely another contributing factor to their rise and rise.

“Whether there’s 10 people there or 10,000 we never blow off a show. You have to have that. I’m a big Kiss fan and I remember reading, when they were first starting out playing to 30 people in a warehouse, they would pretend they were playing Madison Square Garden. I mean, we had a show in Nashville and it was just ‘one of those nights’ where there was like 100 people there and instead of being, ‘Oh fuck,’ it’s the opposite… There’s a hundred people here, and we’re gonna give them the show of their life. I want every person in this place to think they’re at Madison Square Garden, and to think, ‘Holy shit, this is the best show I’ve ever seen’. It’s the same thing with wrestling; sometimes there’s 1000 and sometimes there’s 15,000… That’s the way it goes sometimes. But you never punish the people who paid. You give everybody a great show. And once you get that reputation people will start spreading the word and the next time you come to town there will be 200 people, 1000 people…”

Fozzy will be touring alongside Steel Panther. With album titles like Feel the Steel, Balls Out and Hole Patrol, when the group’s lyrics don’t see their tongue elsewhere, creatively it is very firmly in cheek. I ask Jericho how he felt being an inverted commas “serious band” playing alongside a group renowned for their profanity and humour? “Well, I wouldn’t really say that we’re serious. I’d call Slayer a serious band for example,” Jericho says. “For us, we have one rule when we play a show and that’s for people to have a good time. I have no problems telling jokes on stage… We have fun. And the best bands always had that. Kiss has that. Metallica, you know? Hetfield would be cracking jokes or they’d play the Charlie Brown theme between songs, so you have to have that element of fun. That’s why I’m really excited for this tour; people are gonna go and have fun. And sometimes it’s almost a dirty word in rock ‘n’ roll. But not at a Fozzy show… You’re gonna go and have a fuckin’ great time and whether you want to or not you’re gonna leave with a smile on your face and chicks are gonna be dancin’ - they’re gonna be flashin’ their tits - and you’re gonna be drinkin’ and… That’s what you want! That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.”

With the grand spectacle that is Wrestlemania XXX on the horizon for April 2014, I was interested to hear if the man was at least a little bit tempted to cast Fozzy aside for a few months to get a spot on the card? “It’s all Fozzy right now,” he says. “If the WWE wants me to come back AND if the schedule works out then I’ll do it but you know if I never wrestle again, I’m not gonna be sad. Just because it’s Wrestlemania XXX, it doesn’t matter if I’m there or not… I mean I’ve wrestled in 15 Wrestlemanias so 30, 21, 29… It doesn’t matter. But would I like to do it?” he says, pausing for a good five seconds to ponder. “If the opportunity is right and the storyline for the match was right, sure I’ll do it! But it’s not like I’m gonna be making any calls like, ‘Please, please, pleeeeeease put me on Wrestlemania XXX!’ My schedule fills up pretty quickly and as of right now there’s no WWE dates on that schedule… But we’ll see what happens.”

Not even, I venture, if WWE head honcho Vince McMahon and the creative team offered Jericho a final solid run with one of the company’s top belts? “I dunno, man. I don’t need that,” he reveals. “Fans like to say, ‘Jericho deserves one last run!’ But I don’t deserve anything. I’ve worked my ass off for everything I’ve gotten. I’m very happy with all I’ve accomplished with my wrestling career. If I go back it’s because I want to, not because I want the title, or I’m in the first match or anything in between. If I’m not into it 100%, it’s not going to work, do you know what I mean? My fans are amazing and the fact that they’re rallying - I love them - but to me, as a professional and as a performer, I don’t need that so… That’s not to say I’ll never go back, but if I do go back and lose a match or two… Don’t freak out. It’s not the end of the world!”

Whilst the question of whether Jericho will don the wrestling tights again or not is uncertain what is clear is his passion and commitment to Fozzy which shall not doubt continue to be on display this December. “This tour is the last one on the cycle and after that, we’ve already started writing new music, so yeah, new record out next Summer,” he reveals.

 

The amusingly-titled Spreading The Disease (or S.T.D.) Australia Tour with Fozzy, Steel Panther and Buckcherry begins Friday 6 December at Brisbane Riverstage followed by Hordern Pavilion in Sydney (Dec 7), Melbourne Myer Music Bowl (Dec 8), Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre (Dec 10) and Perth Metro City (Dec 12). For more info and tickets head to http://www.soundwavetouring.com/artists/steel-panther-buckcherry/