Whether in a 20'x20' wrestling ring or on a 20'x20' stage, Chris Jericho has been entertaining audiences for 25 years. He's held practically every major wrestling championship in his career, while simultaneously pursuing his lifelong dream of rock stardom as the frontman of the hard rock band Fozzy. Fozzy released their sixth album, Do You Wanna Start a War, last summer, followed by a busy schedule of festivals and club dates, continuing now with a European tour that runs for most of March, which kicked off last night in Belfast.
We caught up with Jericho backstage at a Fozzy show in St. Louis late last year, which happened to take place the night of the Ferguson grand jury announcement, and the city was on edge. Without getting into the underlying incident, we began by talking about whether having a microphone on a stage makes him feel obligated to address current events, before transitioning into lighter fare, including his lifelong Beatles obsession, how his band has had to fight especially hard to gain the respect it has, and how he was first introduced to the world of heavy metal.
AllMusic: The eyes of the country are fixed on St. Louis tonight. Do you feel compelled to address that from the stage? There's obviously a lot of tension here in town.
Chris Jericho: No, people don’t come to a rock show to think about politics or think about heavy issues. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, you’re still talking about someone that died, and there’s a real polarizing thing going on, and it’s just happening down the road. We don’t know if there’s going to be some kind of riot breaking out, I’m surprised people even came out tonight. It’s one of those things, you always say “10 or 10,000,” and tonight, there might be 10. The point is that when people come here, they’re coming to escape, they don’t want to know what’s going on out there, and that’s our type of band. Maybe if you go to U2 or Pearl Jam you’re going to hear about that sort of stuff, but not from me, I want people to come in and have a great time and forget about what’s going on in their lives, in the news, ups and downs and whatever.
We've been through situations like this before, we played in Paris four years ago when there was a big government uprising about taxes and social issues, and there were riots in the streets, people burning down buildings, semis blocking off roads so you couldn't get by. Lady Gaga had a show in Paris that she cancelled that night, and our dumb asses still showed up and played. We had 450 pre-sold tickets, zero walk-ups, and I think probably half of those 450 showed up. But still, it’s the eternal thing of "the show must go on," and that’s the way we feel about tonight, as well. We’re keeping an eye on what’s going on and if things get really crazy, we’ll bolt out of town as quickly as we can and make sure everybody gets home safe, but for right now, we just want people to have a good time.
AllMusic: When I talk to bands about touring in places like South America, they'll tell stories of being escorted in and out of venues by armed guards. Unrest is just a fact of life in some places.
Jericho: But that’s South America. I got kicked out of Brazil last time I was there by the Brazilian army because I kicked a flag within the WWE ring. That’s the third world; this is America, the greatest country in the world, and it’s a very polarizing issue. You see these things once every while, whether it be the Rodney King thing or whatever it may be, this is something that could turn volatile no matter which way it goes, because people are coiled up and ready to blow. For us, we just want people to have a great time and forget about their troubles and problems and the outside world, and that’s what we do best.
AllMusic: On to music. Can you recall the moment when the switch flipped for you and you became interested in music?
Jericho: The first band I was ever into was the Beatles, and not just into them, I knew everything about the Beatles. I was probably eight or nine years old, there was a show called The Heroes of Rock and Roll, Jeff Bridges was the host, it was kind of the history of rock and roll, and the Beatles section blew my mind. This was in the early eighties, so it was long past their time. Then what really got me into heavy metal was I had just started at junior high school, and being a Beatles fan back then was kind of uncool, all the chicks in my school were wearing Ozzy shirts, or Priest or Maiden, those three-quarter baseball shirts, and I said, “If I’m ever going to get a date or ever talk to any of these chicks, I’d better start listening to heavy metal,” so I went to a comic book shop that I used to go to and I bought Blizzard of Ozz for two bucks on cassette, and I put it on and I remember when “I Don’t Know” came on, just that riff, the groove of it, that was one of those moments for me. I think the other moment was there was a guy who sat in front of the drugstore right down the street from my house, Brad, he was the Yoda of heavy metal, he would always tell you what bands to go check out. Back in those days, there was a new band every week coming out, so he’d tell you who to check out.
AllMusic: I was going to ask if you had a musical mentor, it sounds like he was the guy.
Jericho: He was the guy who said, “You have to check out this band, Metallica,” so it was before Master came out, it was when Ride the Lightning was out, I bought it, I remember taking it home, looking at the back and seeing James Hetfield and thinking, “That guy looks so cool,” and putting it on one of those giant old-school record players that was almost like a big desk where you lift up the top and put it on, probably from the sixties or seventies, and hearing that harpsichord intro of “Fight Fire With Fire” and saying, “What the fuck is this, this is not heavy, what is this?” And then it comes in, and you've never heard anything like that before. So when that came on, I said, “I love this band.” Then I went back and looked at Kill Em All and saw they had zits and teenage mustaches, they basically looked like I did, so that was how Metallica came in, and Maiden was there, too. That’s my musical upbringing, based around those three bands: the Beatles, Metallica and Iron Maiden, with some Ozzy thrown in.
AllMusic: You've been onstage in one way or another for 25 years now. Were you always comfortable in front of audiences or did that take a while to develop?
Jericho: I started playing in bands when I was about 12 or 13, and you just play in front of your friends or whatever it was, and I was always very creative, made my own comic books and wrote a play when I was in grade five, and I was in the school play when I was in grade 12, so I was always involved in that sort of thing. I was never really afraid of being in front of a crowd. I was in Oliver! and sang, I was Bill Sikes, so I was the heel and singing, that’s when I was about 16 or 17 years old, so I was singing in front of a crowd with no accompaniment, you can’t hide behind distortion or amplification, and that’s when I started really getting into that side of things.
AllMusic: What was the play about that you wrote?
Jericho: It was a play about a vampire and vampire hunters, and at the end of the play the vampire hunters actually kill the vampire by putting a cross on him. I had the guy who was playing the vampire rigged up with ketchup, so when I put the cross on him, he was like, “Ahh!” This was in grade five, grade six, killing vampires in front of parents.
AllMusic: Do you have somewhere specific where you like to write, do you have to be in a certain headspace?
Jericho: I just deal with the lyrics, and I go off song titles. I’ll see a phrase or hear something and write it down as a title, and when it’s time to write lyrics, I’ll look at my song titles and something will jump out and I’ll say, “Wow, I’m going to work on that one.” I was always like that, I’d go get an album, look at the back, read the song titles, and be like, “I like that song best already,” before I ever heard it, because I just liked the title of the song. I specifically remember Somewhere in Time, when that came out, there was a song called “Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner,” and just reading that, I was like, “I love that song, I don’t know what it’s about, I don’t know what it is, but it’s so unique, what a weird-sounding title.” I always try to come up with titles I've never heard before that if I was reading the back I’d go, “That one is my favorite,” like “Do You Wanna Start a War” or “Brides of Fire” or “Witchery,” interesting things like that that make me think, like “One Crazed Anarchist,” what could that mean?
“Do You Wanna Start a War” came from when I was listening to my iPod on shuffle and I had the Green Day song “Holiday” from a live record that they’d done, and at the beginning he says, “Do you want to start a war?” and I was like, “Wow, rewind that…” I just thought, “That’s the coolest name for a song title, but I don’t want it to be about a war with guns and knives and bombs, I want it to be a war with things that oppose you,” I wanted it to be like the ultimate anthem for people at a live show, people to be singing and cheering it, start a war with things that are bringing you down. That was pretty cool.
The other one was “One Crazed Anarchist,” that was the name of my theme song that I had in WCW in like ’97, ’98, and it was a really lame, shitty-sounding song, and I just found out about a year ago that that’s what it was called, and I thought, “Wow, that’s the coolest name for a song with the worst song attached to it, I need to rescue this title and make it good.” “Brides of Fire” is from when I interviewed Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden for my radio show, and he was talking about his song “Bright as a Fire” but I thought he said “Brides of Fire,” and I said, “That’s a song title.” You just never know where you’re going to get the inspiration.
AllMusic: Does being the frontman mean you get to dominate the music selection on the bus?
Jericho: I just sit in the back and put my iPod on shuffle, and I have everything in there. That’s how we came up with the idea to do “S.O.S.,” the ABBA cover, is we had just done a show with Anthrax in Austria, we were listening to music on shuffle and that song came on and we were looking at each other like, “This song is so heavy, it’s so dark, it has a really cool Dream Theater thing,” and that’s how we came up with that idea. You just never know where your influences are going to come from, and that makes a perfect heavy song, to the point where I think it might even be a single. It’s pretty cool when you find an ABBA song and you’re like, “What?”
AllMusic: You mentioned your love of the Beatles, so you might appreciate that I often suggest that "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" was a harbinger for metal.
Jericho: I agree. When people say “What’s your favorite Beatles song?” I always say that, because I think it’s the first metal song of all time. It’s a Sabbath song before there was Sabbath, it’s such a heavy song, so dark, it has that real cool jazz bass part. The Beatles were so far ahead, everything was great, they’re so amazing. Then you throw in “Revolution” and “Helter Skelter,” that’s the trifecta of pure heavy metal tunes in 1968.
AllMusic: Is there an album where you love every track except for one?
Jericho: When the black album first came out, I was not a fan of it at all, I didn't like it. Now I like it, but I’m still not a big “Unforgiven” fan. I can listen to that record all the way through, and when “Unforgiven” comes on, it kind of bores me. I don’t know why, I just never really got into it that much, and the fact that they did part two and part three, they’re all good songs, but it’s like, what, are you going to do “Battery” part two and three? It’s like Ace Frehley, “Fractured Mirror,” “Fractured Too,” it just becomes a thing.
AllMusic: Do you have any favorite Metallica deep cuts?
Jericho: “Bleeding Me” is a great tune, they should bust that one out. That’s the best, for me, off of the two Load records, that’s such a fucking brilliant song. I think those albums as a whole are underrated, because when they came out, people weren't ready for it, and I know as a big Metallica fan, the fact that they cut their hair and changed the style, it was too much, but going back and listening to it now, I’d say probably 90 percent of those tunes are really good. I’m still not a “Mama Said” fan, and “Ronnie” is OK. If we were in Lynyrd Skynyrd it would be a great tune, but it probably should have been regulated to a B-side. There’s a lot of good stuff, like “Ain’t My Bitch,” “2x4,” “Memory Remains,” “Fuel,” “Carpe Diem Baby.” I also like “Cure” and “Thorn Within,” there are some good tunes on there, for sure.
I’m the same way with St. Anger, too, I think there’s probably five or six of their best tunes on there. I don’t care how they sound production-wise, but the riffs and the songs, “Some Kind of Monster” is one of the best fucking Metallica riffs, it’s so heavy, it’s so amazing. The fact that they weren't doing solos on a lot of that stuff was kind of weird, “Invisible Kid” sucks, but the rest are pretty good. “Sweet Amber” and “All Within My Hands” are cool. I’m one of your dream fans, I’ll find something good about anything, like I love The X Factor by Iron Maiden, which people still yell at me about, and I don’t fucking care. Virtual XI, not so much. But the first Blaze [Bayley] one, I can listen to all the way through and really feel it.
AllMusic: You're about to go onstage. Do you still get giddy about being able to do this?
Jericho: Always, and we've been doing it for a long time. Like I said, just the fact that we've been able to do this for over 10 years and that the band continues to grow, like seeing Do You Wanna Start a War debut in the top 50 on Billboard, and not just because the numbers game is down, we sold double the number of records we did for the last one, and in this day and age, the bell curve, if you can sell 40 percent less than your last record, that’s the norm. We sold like 40 percent more. There’s obviously going to be a bit of a prejudice because I’m in the band, “Is this a wrestling thing, is this a novelty,” and we've had to work twice as hard to get respect, but when we get it, we've got it for life, because people know it’s the real deal, and we go through the fire to deal with it every day, and I don’t care, if you don’t like the band, I don’t care, but just listen to one song, and if you still don’t like it, then move aside, and let other people who like it get a better seat.
It's the same way with Jared Leto, and I love it. He won an Oscar and sold out the Hollywood Bowl, there’s no problem with that, they don’t look at them as the acting band, you don’t expect him to do a Shakespearean soliloquy halfway through. Bruce Dickinson is an airline pilot, you don’t expect Iron Maiden to sing about small bags of peanuts. When we put on our show, it’s an energetic, entertaining, fun show, we want to be Van Halen in 1979, where everybody’s having a blast. 10 or 10,000, I don’t fucking care, when I get on the stage, every show is Madison Square Garden, and when you think that way, the next thing you know, you’re playing Madison Square Garden. I've been through this before, I did it 15 years ago in wrestling, you work your way up, you can see the momentum, and sometimes there’s setbacks, but if you’re good at what you do and if you believe in yourself and you have a great, loyal fan base, you’ll always get better.
AllMusic: The goal in wrestling seems like it can be a bit more cut and dried: to win the title. There's a lot of ways things can go in the music world.
Jericho: It can be, but not necessarily. For us, the coolest thing has been two things this year: one was playing the main stage at Download. It was our third appearance, the first one was the fuck-all stage, then we’re playing the semi main event stage, then we’re on the main stage. To be on that main stage was like, “We deserve this,” and to have 40,000 people there at noon to see us, and to be top 50 on the Billboard chart, I was so honored and excited by that, because it means something to me. You could say that’s only one week and people put too much stock in that, and maybe so, but the top 50 is something you can never take away, and because we’d sold almost double the amount of records, we deserved to be there, we worked our asses off, and that was really cool.
Chris Jericho knows 1,004 wrestling holds and he once wrote them all down. Chris Steffen is just shy of this total.