Chris Jericho: From Y2J to 'Sin and Bones'
WWE superstar on touring and the next big things in wrestling and metal
By Richard Whittaker,
6:00PM, Tue. Aug. 14, 2012
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be in a rock and roll band, and I wanted to be a wrestler." That makes Chris Jericho one lucky bastard, because he's managed both. In his day job he's a top star in the WWE: Y2J, the best there is at what he does. On the other, he's the mouth of classic metalers Fozzy.
Makes sense. Back when Fozzy was just a cover band headed by Jericho and his old friend Rich Ward of Southern fried rap metallers Stuck Mojo, Jericho was the ayatollah of rock-and-rollah, the cocky, smack-talking wrestler with a headbanging attitude.
Add in Ward, who Jericho calls "one of the pioneers of rap metal, but because of his tones and his riffs, he's a groove guitar player. he could be in Aerosmith in a second. He's got that vibe."
Tonight Jericho bids farewell (at least for a little while) to the squared circle as Fozzy's fifth album, Sin And Bones hits stores. This Friday he'll be joining the Rock Star Uproar tour with radio metalers Shinedown, Godsmack, Staind, and Papa Roach, and that will be taking his time – well except for a brief stop by the Staples Center in Los Angeles for WWE Summerslam, the big mid-year PPV event. There he and rising star Dolph Ziggler will be blowing out their big feud, as the best there is takes on the egotist with the skills to back it up.
Jericho has reached rare heights in the wrestling industry. Aside from having been crowned the first ever undisputed WWE champion, he is up there with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, being able to move sideways within the entertainment industry. Now Fozzy as a band is reaching the same kind of status that he gets in the ring, and that's perfect for Jericho. He said, "I've been playing in bands since I was 12 years old, and I'll be playing in bands when I'm 62 years old. It's just part of me."
Austin Chronicle: When you're thinking, 'OK, now's Fozzy time and now's WWE time,' how do you make that decision?
Chris Jericho: It's really a decision that's made for me. Back in the 2000s for the first three Fozzy records, I did the WWE and Fozzy at the same time, which was fine. But when we were doing Chasing the Grail, our last record, in 2009, myself and Rich Ward, my partner in crime, were thinking, 'We've really got to take this to the next level, because this record is great.' I left WWE when Grail came out, went touring for 16 months, did 15 countries and amassed an even bigger fanbase than we had. It was a real credibility gain for us. Then when we started doing Sin and Bones, as the singer I write the lyrics and I record the vocals, which takes about 15 days. Other than that I had about nine months of doing nothing, so that's when I decided to come back to the WWE, knowing that when this record came out that I'd be finished for whatever indeterminate amount of time.
AC: When the first album came out, you had pretty much instantaneous success, but you started doing original material, rather than just covers. How was that change?
CJ: We started as a cover band, and then we were offered a record deal right off the bat because of who was in the band – Jericho and Rich Ward. We were signed by Johnny Zazula, who signed Metallica and Anthrax. He signed us as a cover band, and we said, 'You do know we're playing other people's songs?' and he said, 'No, no, I love it, I love it.' Most bands start by playing covers, we started by recording them. Then in '04 we decided that we wanted to do our own stuff and all original stuff, so it almost feels like there's two versions of the band. There's the one that started in the early 2000s, and there's the new beast that started in '05 and continues to this day.
AC: How was it making that change?
CJ: The thing about us is that we just kept doing it and we never stopped. Love us or hate us, we're not going anywhere. And what happens when you keep putting out quality material and playing great shows, word starts spreading around. People will go, 'I don't give a shit who's in this band, I don't care how they started. We love this band.' When that starts happening, other people start taking notice, and them you start getting friends in high places, from Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society) to Marty Friedman (Megadeth) to Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge) and even to people like M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold) on the new record. These guys wouldn't be endorsing us if it wasn't good, and the next thing you know, people are making their own decisions. That's all we ask. I always say that they only people who don't like Fozzy who are into heavy music are the people who've never heard us. You just have a preconceived notion, and that's fine. Every band has to go through that, one way or another, and we just kept going.
We have a very successful business model that we use. We've never lost money on a tour, we've never lost money on a record, and we just keep getting bigger and bigger – which, after 13 years, there's not a lot of bands can say. You're already at the top, or you're done.
AC: How do you compare touring with WWE against touring with a band, just on a day-to-day grind basis?
CJ: It's probably harder in the WWE, because you're always alone and by yourself – least that's the way I travel. You have to arrange your own travel and arrange your own hotels and drive yourself. Whereas when you're traveling with the band you just get in the van and go. There's pros and cons to both.
I've been on the road since I was 19 years old, so I like being on the road, I enjoy being on the road, I understand the ins and outs of being on the road. So whether it's with Fozzy or the WWE, I'm comfortable. But it is more fun to travel with the band. You're with your buds, you have a good time, you relax, and when you're ready to be by yourself, you just go to your bunk, shut the curtains and you're fine. You don't have to worry about going through security or checking bags or getting rental cars. So that's one cool thing that's better about traveling with the band, for sure.
AC: So how much did you learn from Rich on that?
CJ: When we started with Fozzy, we were traveling in vans. That includes in Europe. The first tour of England, we were traveling in a souped-up Scooby Doo van that had nails in the back. We didn't start in a nice tour bus. We've paid every single due that a band can play, and probably double because of who was in the band and how we started. That makes it even sweeter now. I just talked to Rich last night, and they're on the way to Kansas City for Uproar, and I asked, 'How's the bus?' He said, 'It's the nicest bus I've ever been in in my whole career,' and that to me means something. We have worked our way up to that point. We weren't the band with a silver spoon in our mouths, that's for damned sure. And when we started Fozzy in '99, I'd already been on the road, around the world, for nine years, so I didn't have to learn anything. You just have to deal with it and go with the flow. You've got to have the right attitude, and never think of yourself as too much of a rock star. As soon as you do, the toilet clogs up in your dressing room and the floor is filled with piss water. That takes away your rock star vibe.
AC: So listening to the new album, Sin and Bones, what's the difference between it and Chasing the Grail, your last release?
CJ: I think it's the evolution of where the band has gone since '05. I think All That Remains was a good record. I think Grail was leaps and bounds ahead because there was so much more touring we had, done, being together as a band, knowing our strengths and weaknesses. That's why we ended up with Sin and Bones, because we know exactly what we wanted to do. Very heavy riffs, very melodic vocals and choruses. We figured out: That's what we do. That's what we do best. That's something that makes us a little unique from other bands, and it's something that's taken us as far as it has. It's really cool, because I've read 15, 20 reviews, and reviews are great, and you can take or leave them, but the majority are saying that it's the best stuff we've ever done, that it's the first time they've listened to the band with an open mind because of what we talked about earlier. It's like, OK, we've heard a lot about All That Remains, but they'll go away. Chasing the Grail, people are saying it's the best album of the year, but why? I'm still not going to listen to it, this is bullshit. Then Sin and Bones came out and they say, OK, I'm finally going to give it a chance. Oh my gosh, what have I been waiting for all these years?
We've finally, after all these years, found exactly what it is we do that makes us better than anybody else, that makes us unique. We've also got a lot of diversity: We love Metallica and Iron Maiden and Ozzy, but we also love the Beatles and Journey and Pink Floyd, those bands from the 70s like Stixx and Foreigner where everybody sang in the choruses, and we're implementing it. We've done things our own way our entire career, so fuck it, we're going to continue to it our own way. If people like it, great. If people don't, then just step aside and let the other people enjoy it. This is the real thing. This is going to continue to exist, so come aboard and join the party, instead of trying to be so stiff-lipped about it.
AC: How much pressure does that put on you, knowing that this run against Ziggler will be the last memory of people in the ring for you for a while?
CJ: These guys needs guys to work with. Once again, that's sounding egotistical, but after 22 years of being in this business, there's nobody in this company who's been in the business longer – except for Undertaker. I've been wrestling longer than Kane, I've been wrestling longer than Triple H. I didn't request to work with Ziggler. At first, I thought it was Sheamus, than I was supposed to work with Daniel Bryan, and then they just told me, OK, you're working with Ziggler. I said, 'Great.' I will work with anybody, and I will do the absolute best I can to help that. I've been through this before.
This will be the third time that I've left, and this may make people mad, but I've never been just a wrestler. I'm an entertainer. I do a lot of different things in that realm. I don't put myself in a box when it comes. So when I get a chance to work with a guy like Ziggler, I know what I can do with him. I know how good he is. He just needs somebody to help him. And when I'm putting together matches or doing promos with these guys, things that I just see as basics, they still haven't figured out yet. That's not a bad thing. That's just the experience difference, and that's why I can help, and I think that's why I can come and go from the WWE for years to come.
I'm in the best shape of my life. I feel great. I'm enjoying this run, and if I didn't have a tour and a record coming out, I would stay. It's not like I can't wait to leave – in fact, it's the complete opposite. I'm a little sad to leave, in one way, but super-excited by the reason why I'm leaving.
I like the idea of passing the torch along and passing the experience along. That's the way I was trained. I grew up in Japan, and that's how they do it. Old guys teach the young guys, and that's the way it is. The business is more important than any single individual, and I've always felt that way. Haven't always been treated that way, but I've always felt that way.
AC: If you had to pick a wrestler and a metal band that you think are the ones to watch, who would you say?
CJ: Avenged Sevenfold is only starting to realize how good they are. I think they'll be the next Metallica, and I think they're well on their way. They're at where Metallica was at with Master of Puppets. They're going to hook up with some producer who is going to make them even bigger. I think Bullet for My Valentine is another band that's growing. Their singer and guitarist Matt Tuck is another guy that gets it, that understands that it's not always about how fast and heavy you can be, but about how you groove, and catchy beats and catchy choruses.
As for future guys here, Ziggler's one of them for sure. The Miz is another. I think Damien Sandow, against anything that I expected, has been doing great, and I think he's got a great upside. I think there's quite a few guys where things are looking up, because the WWE is a talent-driven business. Guys are going to come and go, but the ones who are going to stick are the ones who are going to be carrying this company on their backs in the future. There are some good prospects here, and that's why I'm excited about the prospect of coming back.
Fozzy's new album Sin and Bones is out today on Century Media. Chris Jericho performs tonight, Aug. 14, at WWE Smawckdown at the Frank Erwin Center. Fozzy returns to Texas as part of the Rock Star Uproar tour: Sept. 15, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands; Sept 16, Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas.