Chris Jericho is the frontman for the band Fozzy, set to release their seventh album, ‘Judas,’ this fall. He’s also a comedian. And an actor. And the host of a popular podcast. And a New York Times bestselling author. And, as you know if you’re coming to this interview by way of our pro wrestling portal, arguably the greatest WWE Superstar of all time.
For a guy who become a Jericoholic the day he tore the ring announcer’s jacket on Monday Nitro in 1997, sitting down with Jericho in Fozzy’s dressing room at the AT&T Center during San Antonio’s River City Rockfest 2017 felt a bit like a Catholic meeting The Pope. He was a conspiracy victim. He was the Ayatollah of Rock n’ Roll-ah. I discovered his band, Fozzy, when they released their self-titled debut back in 2000. This is when they were still mostly a cover band, built on a funny, Spinal Tap-inspired mythology. Jericho wasn’t Jericho then, he was “Moongoose McQueen.”
Between stints in the studio, Jericho returned to pro wrestling regularly to become lots of things. Y2J. The King of the World. The Best in the World at What He Does. The first-ever undisputed WWE Champion. The guy who beat Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night. To describe Jericho is to reference a stack of flash cards listing his nicknames, memorable moments, side projects, accomplishments, and on and on. To his fans, he’s a little bit of everything. He’s a pro wrestler, sure, but he’s more of a cultural Lawnmower Man, popping in to do whatever he wants whenever he wants to, and to be good at all of it.
He did the interview reclining in a chair, shirtless in black jeans, with a towel around his neck like a scarf. It was perfectly Jericho.
With Spandex: I was happy, I got into the festival in time to hear you covering “Hot For Teacher” with Kyng.
Chris Jericho: That was cool. That was fun. We’ve been talking about that the whole tour, and then it was really cool [to play it]. There was no monitors onstage vocally, so I couldn’t really hear when I was standing on the thing. Thanks, dude. That’s why I took the microphone off the stand. I just wanted to wander around with it. But those guys were great guys and we just finished a tour with them. We’ve been out with them for the last month.
And sometimes when you go on the road, you meet other bands and you get along with some of them, and some of them you don’t, but they were like brothers right off the bat. So it was great to able to do that with them and tour with them, and hopefully we’ll do more with them in the future.
Touring with them was almost like … they’re like Black Sabbath in 1978 and we’re like Van Halen in 1978, so it’s perfect match. Take that to 2017, and it’s a really good bill for the fans. It was a blast.
I read the new album’s coming out in September?
Tell me about the new album.
Originally, it was going to come out in May but we didn’t finish it on time, and you don’t want to rush something like that because an album lasts forever. So we got the single [“Judas”] done; we knew the single would come out before this tour. What we didn’t know is how huge it would blow up.
It’s been in my head for a week.
Thanks, dude. And a lot of people are saying that, “I’ve never listened to Fozzy, I’m a huge Fozzy fan, and everything in between. And we just can’t stop thinking about the song.” I think we’re at 3.8 million views and downloads today, and it will be a month on Tuesday, so we should hit 4 million by then. A million views a week; not bad.
And it keeps climbing, too.
It keeps climbing. And mainstream coverage … I just got a call from TMZ yesterday that wanted to do a story on it, and I was like … I didn’t bang Ariana Grande behind the Caravan, and I didn’t punch Jay Z in the face. It was like, “No, we want to talk to you about ‘Judas.'”
When you get that sort of attention … we’ve never had it before. That’s where you know you have something special and something cool going on. And so the record will be more of the same. If you like “Judas” you’ll like the other songs on the album. We focused a lot on what’s best for the song – which always should be the way – but this time it was like, someone said, “Well, ‘Judas’ there’s no guitar solo.” Well, it didn’t need one. There’s a little musical interlude there, but …
So, if the solo didn’t fit, don’t have one. If the song sounds better at 2 minutes and 45 seconds than at 3 minutes 45 seconds, then cut it. “It’s such a short song.” Well, the Beatles made a career out of two-minute songs, so it’s not that bad. It was all based around that. So, if you like “Judas,” you’re going to like the rest of the record.
And if this was 1987 with a Hysteria when there were 6 or 7 singles from the record, this one has the potential for that as well. There’s so many good songs. I know a lot of bands say that, but we’re arguing with our team – record company, radio guys, management, band guys – what should be the first single? What should be the second single? It should be this … There’s 4 or 5 songs that keep getting thrown around. It’s a good problem to have.
This will be your seventh album, right?
I know every time … you guys have evolved probably more than any band I’ve seen recently. You guys started off as one thing and you just keep kind of growing. I know “Sin and Bones” fuckin’ ruled, and you guys keep getting better every time. Do you attribute that to work ethic, or …
A lot of that, and also, too, not having any rules for ourselves. Our favorite bands are I really think the greatest bands of all times; everybody’s favorite bands … Zeppelin, U2, Guns N’ Roses, the Beatles. Let’s just go with the Beatles. How many different styles of music did the Beatles play but it was still Beatles? Bowie, Madonna even, Metallica, they did a little detour through the ’90s. And you want to evolve because there’s only a few bands that can do the same style. One is AC/DC, the other is Slayer. That’s about it, and that’s great for those bands but we always wanted to be like our heroes.
You listen to a U2, there’s hard, hard rock songs, there’s weird ethereal synthesizer tracks. The Beatles are the same, and Guns N’ Roses is the same. I think a good song is a good song no matter what genre it is, and if Rich Ward is on guitar and Chris Jericho’s on vocals and Frank Foster’s on … drums, Paul’s on bass, and Billy’s on guitar, it’s going to sound like Fozzy, I don’t care of it’s a thrash song or a polka.
I kind of want to hear you guys do polka.
[laughs] We have before. So, that’s kind our motto, and if it’s a little bit outside the box, then so be it. Like I said, especially when you hear something like “Judas” where everything’s so hooky, but it’s dark and it’s dirty and it’s got everything what Fozzy is all put together but in a new way that we’ve never done before.
One of the reasons that I’ve been a fan of you for so long is you do so much. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen somebody do as many things at once as you do. You did comedy with The Groundlings, you’ve done movies, you’ve done TV shows, “Nothing to Report,” you tuned the pen click from the racism episode into a catchphrase in pro wrestling. How do you not only live a dream, but live all of them at one time? How do you manage that? Don’t you ever get to stop?
You never stop, for one, because I don’t have a 401(k), I don’t have a retirement program. This is what I do, and I don’t know what my job is … what bookings I’m going to next week, next month, next year. It’s a little bit more scheduled doing the WWE, but if I’m not in WWE I don’t have a steady job. You have to have a lot of different things. And I decided years ago that I wanted to brand Chris Jericho. I’ve never just been a wrestler; I’ve never just been in a rock and roll band; I’ve never just done one thing. It’s always been a combination of many things.
Even my podcast, “Talk Is Jericho.” When I first started it, my boss insisted it had to be wrestling. I was like, “Then you’ve got the wrong guy. I’ll quit tomorrow.” “Well, those other shows won’t draw.” And I said, “I think they will because my fan base is so attuned to what I’m doing that they believe in my decisions. And if I am involved, you know it’s 100 percent and you know it’s real.” I don’t do something because I’m told to do it. I don’t do something because I’m forced to do it. I don’t do something for money. If I feel that it’s right, I’ll do it. If feel that going back to the WWE is good, then I’ll go for it.
When the time is done … I left the WWE this year at the exact right time. A week longer or a week shorter would not have worked. But the ending was exactly where it should have been and any longer than that would not have been good. And trust me, I know. Fans were like, “No, no, no.” Trust me, I know how it works.
And the same with Fozzy. I knew that last year it was the right thing to do to take the whole year off, be completely underground, and if you can come out with the right song, it’s going to punch everybody right in the fuckin’ face and open up a whole new set of ears and doors, which we did.
Like “Talk Is Jericho,” I’ll have Hulk Hogan on. No brainer; it’s going to do a million downloads. But what happens when I have my high school friend SpeeWee on that no one knows, has zero social media presence. Well guess what? He’s such a nutter that people loved him. Now he’s become a character and now we’ve got 250,000 downloads for him. “Talking Shop” — three or four guys getting drunk, sitting around making up silly voices and not paying attention, interrupting. It’s such a clusterfuck. It’s the hardest show to listen to. I’m mortified when I listen to it. The one we did from China did over a million downloads.
So I think people trust Jericho’s judgment and if I do something they know it’s 100 percent real, and chances are they’re probably going to like it. I’ve had a few failures along the way, but not many. Most of the time if it’s under the Chris Jericho umbrella, people will check it out.
You mentioned picking the right song, taking a year off. Does taking time away from music give you a different perspective on it when you come back to it? Do you feel different, or does it give you …?
It’s funny because you can’t do both at the same time, and I don’t. It’s either wrestling or music. So, with WWE, I was so ensconced with the WWE for a year and a half, and it was really great stuff and it was really good. And then when it was time to leave, I was like, “I’m kind of sad to leave. There’s a Japanese tour coming up; I’ll do that. There’s an Australian tour; I’ll do that.”
But then, once you make that transition over to Fozzy … this tour has been so great for us … wrestling seems like a lifetime ago. And to think that I have to actually go to Japan and wrestle, it’s almost like … mentally it’s like, “Okay, cool. I love Japan but I don’t want to do more. I want to do more Fozzy. I want to go to Japan with Fozzy, and go to Australia with Fozzy.”
Mixing the two worlds is very difficult. It’s like everybody comes up when we do autograph signings, “Can you put me on the list?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because you’re not on the list.” “But I want to be.” “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t work that way.” As ridiculous as it sounds, that’s Chris Jericho, the character in the WWE. Or even at the end of the Fozzy set now, I’ll put the crowd on the list, which they love.
But it’s not something you can just do, like “Hey, Paul McCartney, sing me a song. Hey, Jim Carrey, tell me a joke. Kevin Hart, do a wacky …” It doesn’t work that way. You have to be in the mindset for it, the mood for it. So, I’m telling you right now if you come up to me and you want to be on the list, I’m going to say ‘no’ because I can’t. “Tell them I’m on the list.” I can’t because it’s not right. And as stupid as that sounds, like snobby artists, it’s the truth.
Chris Jericho the wrestler and Chris Jericho the musician are completely different people.
It’s a character; I have to get in character. To go on stage today, I have to get in character. That’s what it is, you’re larger than life. And whether you’re in wrestling or music or a standup comedian or dancer or whatever it may be, you have to get into that character to get into the mode where you’re connecting with the audience and where you’re having them want to pay money to see you play or see whatever it is that you’re doing.
It has to be larger than life … for me. I can’t go onstage like those guys that are just like … Kyng, an awesome band, they walk onstage in the same clothes that they wake up in. That’s their thing. I could never do that. I did it today because there’s a guest thing, but if had a Fozzy show wearing this, I would feel like I was naked. I’d rather be naked. I’d rather take my fuckin’ pants off and just stand there naked because at least it’s something different. I don’t look like the people in the audience, and you don’t want that. And that’s not being … that’s what people want to see. That’s the Kiss feel, the Gene Simmons rule, “Always look like a star. Always dress like a star. Always be a star.” Because that’s what people are paying to see and I believe in that.
Even AC/DC … the most popular guy in AC/DC wears a fucking schoolboy outfit onstage. The biggest gimmick of all time, so don’t tell me me AC/DC … ever.
If you’re doing so much, and so much of it relies on you being a character and being larger than life in so many facets, how do you come down from that? When you just get to be you? Or is “you” larger than life at home when you’re by yourself? Can you turn it off or does it keep going?
Yeah, absolutely. It doesn’t keep going. You have to get into it. It’s like acting. When you drop into a character and then when you’re finished with that character, it might take awhile to get out of it.
I guess you’ve been doing them all for quite awhile now. You’re probably used to it.
But it’s my job. If I was my character at home I’d be hard to deal with, you know what I mean? And even backstage, you can’t act like a dick. When you’re onstage or you’re in the ring, if you’re heel find a backstage … that stuff doesn’t fly. There’s no room for attitudes and prima donnas. You look at a festival like today and there’s 30 bands here.
Def Leppard’s here. There’s not a bigger band than Def Leppard unless you’re called U2, maybe … maybe. Just to be here in this arena, they’ve gone out of their way to give every band a dressing room. What a cool honor. A lot of times at those festivals, only the big bands get dressings rooms. So I’ll sit in the dressing room all day long and be happy with what we got and just enjoy the moment because … I wanted to be in a rock and roll band when I was 12 years old, and here I am in a fucking dressing room in an arena, about to play a show with Def Leppard … not starting off the show; in the middle of the day. Not a bad place to be. You can’t take that for granted. That’s just a great honor and all the guys in my band feel that way. There’s no prima donnas or assholes in Fozzy … in the band or on the crew. And if you are, you’re gone because this is not the place for that.
Because when James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich are really nice guys, and Slash and Duff are really nice guys, and all the guys that I know … Chad Smith from the Peppers that are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, selling out arenas and stadiums. And when they’re cool, there’s no reason for anybody else to be a dick. You go into Chad Smith’s dressing room – he’s got his own dressing room – you know what he has in it? He’s got two bottles of water and two packs of American Spirit cigarettes. I was like, “Is this all you got?” He was like, “It’s all I want.” “You don’t want a bottle of …?” “I don’t drink any wine.” “You don’t want any food?” “Eh, I’m not hungry.” As long as he’s got his two packs of cigarettes and two bottles of water, and it’s a big room like this and that’s it, that’s pretty cool. If I was in the Chili Peppers, I would have Lobster Thermidor just because I could. But he’s like, “Aw, fuck that.” So that’s the type of vibe …
I had William Shatner on my podcast, and he showed up … he called in, and I was like “Oh, he’s going to cancel.” He called in to tell me he was going to be 10 minutes late to the studio. Shows up by himself. I’m like, “Don’t you have an entourage or a publicist?” “Aw, that’s all Hollywood bullshit. I got rid of that years ago.” And he’s, like, 83 years old, drove himself there, he was late so he called in, did the fuckin’ show and left. And I was like, “Man, that’s pretty cool.” Because, once again, you don’t get bigger than that.
It’s the middle guys that always kind of have a little bit of an attitude, but the top guys that have been around are always very nice, and that’s what we should be.
You mentioned in the Washington Post, and you mentioned earlier in this interview, where you know when to leave when you’re doing a project and you know when to come back. And you mentioned in the Post that if you never wrestled again you would be okay with it. Is that something that kind of changes day to day, or is that just …? Is it because that last run was so spectacular? Because honestly, as a Jerichoholic from the Nitro days, I think that’s the best work that you’ve ever done.
Thanks. I might go more for the Shawn Michaels 2008 feud because it was more serious and real, and people believed it. So, it was a little more diabolical.
The Festival of Friendship got real, though.
It did, and that was good. Like I said, to me, it’s not for me to decide; it’s up to you or to whoever which one did you like better. But those are definitely the top two.
But to answer your question, it’s not something that I … people ask me the question, I haven’t said “no” or “yes.” I said, “If I never had another match again it wouldn’t bother me … if I never did.” If I did have another match, it would be fun but, like I said, as long as I can continue to be creative and perform at the highest levels, I’ll go back to wrestling until I’m frickin’ 90 if they’ll have me. But the day I go out there and feel that my work is not up to snuff, or that I’m just there to be there, I’m gone. I will be gone before the show; I’ll just go.
And like I said, for this one, I knew that it was time to go because you get to a certain level, then you turn baby face, and then that’s where you start having problems, because with the baby face you either win the title and you’re John Cena, or you start going down through the ranks. And that wouldn’t work for me, for this character, with the Jericho character. I’ve always been better as a heel. That’s my wheelhouse.
And then people start liking you, so you switch, but then it’s only a short amount of time when that stuff that they loved you doing as a heel, that they love as a baby … “It’s just a parody of himself.” And I don’t want to deal with that shit. I don’t want to deal with the hardcore fans and stuff like that. I had fun with it, I knew it was time to go. I have people saying, “When are you coming back to wrestling?” It’s been 3 weeks.
I’ve missed you, man. The show’s not as good without you on it.
After 3 weeks? Like I said, with the way Fozzy’s building right now …
Yeah, you guys are blowing the hell up.
… Blowing up, and with “Talk Is Jericho” and all these other things that I have going on … I’m doing a pilot for the Travel Channel, and doing something for AXS TV. If the opportunity arises, fine, but I’m not a guy that’s going to come back and work just TVs or just … I won’t do it.
You’re not going to be the part-timer who shows up at WrestleMania?
No, I won’t do it because that’s not the way it should be. When you’re there, you should go on the road. That’s how you help guys to learn. That’s how I got better. This whole year I got way better because of working with the younger guys, who then were learning from me as well. They need that. And it was a great year with just an awesome locker room, great people, lots of fun. I had as much fun out of the ring as I did in the ring. And in 2015, all I did was live events. I didn’t do TV at all. It’s like the anti-type Brock Lesnar. I wouldn’t have a problem doing that either. Maybe I’ll never go back on TV again. Maybe I’ll just do live events.
The good news is for me I can do what I want and they’ll take whatever Jericho I can give them, so there’s no reason for me to have to decide. When the time comes, when this album cycle is done and then Fozzy take another break or whatever it is that we’re doing, I’ll weigh my options. I’ll see what’s going on, I’ll see who’s around, and then we can go from there. And if not, like I said, it’s not a threat of like, “I’m gone.” But if I never had another match it wouldn’t bother me.
Since “Judas” is blowing up and you guy are really starting to get recognition, how big do you think Fozzy can get? Do you think you guys could ever be a U2?
Yes, and if you don’t think that, then just fucking quit right now.
Like, if you don’t want to be the champion, don’t think you can be the champion, why are you … ?
Yeah, if you’re like, “Well, I wouldn’t mind …” No, no, no. Yes, we can be U2. We need a lot of circumstances to happen and a lot of ducks to be in row for it to go. But when you’re talking songwriting and performance, there’s no band at any stage that can beat us in a live setting. There’s no band. There’s no band. I don’t give a fuck if it’s Metallica, we will give them a run for their money. Obviously, it’s their crowd, but we’ll get their crowd like no one else can.
Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with Linkin Park, where they keep trying to change their musical style and they’re angry at their fans who want to just do Hybrid Theory over and over again?
Yeah, and the thing is … I heard their new song. You have to be … it’s not Linkin Park to me. It’s become a Demi Lovato song. Because I heard it on Hits 1, and it was like, “Who is that?” They said Linkin Park and whoever it was with. It was like … it still has …
Like I said, if you’re looking at Bowie, or Dylan, or the Beatles, they changed their music every album. Every album was different, but they still had elements of what brought them to the dance and what makes them cool. If you’re doing … any song that we have could be in our set. If it’s really strange, like “New Day’s Dawn” or “Broken Soul,” or if it was like fuckin’ “Wormwood” or “Storm the Beaches” — like a 14-[minute song] … it still would fit with “Lights Go Out” and “Judas” and “Enemy” and “Sandpaper.”
You can’t do that complete 180 and expect people to just jump at your feet. So, I can see why people would be mad at Linkin Park for doing that. And they should have expected it because if you’re taking the chance to piss off your hardcore fans in the hopes of getting new ones, then deal with it. But don’t be mad at people if they don’t like your new song.
I went to Germany two years ago and interviewed with [someone who asked] “So, I listened to ‘Do You Want to Start a War.’ I do not like it as much as ‘Sin and Bones.’ Why is this? Why is ‘Do You Want to Start a War’ not as good as ‘Sin and Bones’?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, dude. I’m sorry. I like it. If you don’t like it maybe you shouldn’t have even come to the interview. I don’t know what to say.”
Like I said, for us, we know what we bring to the table. We’ve got years of experience. We know how to work a crowd. Now with these songs that we have stronger than ever, along with the kind of cornerstone tunes that we already have … Yesterday at the side stage at Rocklahoma I posted a video on Instagram, it looked like 10,000 people chanting “Fozzy.” You could see the main stage in the background and right before we went on, 10 minutes before there was nobody there. I was like, “Aw, this is gonna suck.” And I walk onstage and, “Where the fuck did these people come from?” And then after the show was done, they were gone. So, that’s the reputation that we have and then throw in a legit hit song like “Judas,” the sky’s the limit for us.