Coming up on 30 years in the wrestling business and currently celebrating two decades in the music industry with his band Fozzy, Chris Jericho is someone who’s quite literally done it all. (Your mom even saw him on Dancing With The Stars and probably texted you about it.)
The actor/musician/youngest AEW world champion in history can now add another accolade to his ever-growing list: Christmas song performer. Jericho recently released a hard-rock version of the Kinks’ holiday classic ‘Father Christmas,’ with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Juvenile Diabetes Research Funding. We caught up with Jericho from his home in Tampa, Florida, to discuss ‘Father Christmas,’ CM Punk’s return, Donald Trump Jr., and much more.
Just like you, I love the Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” It’s been covered numerous times, but I never get sick of it. However, this cover isn’t credited to Fozzy; it’s credited to Chris Jericho & The Christmas Helves. Can you tell me who the Christmas Helves are?
A mysterious band of musicians who work in a very cold recording studio. [Laughs.] Fozzy has been busy writing and recording our new album, so they didn’t really wanna do this. So I just said, “I’ll do it myself, it won’t take long.” I had some friends of mine in Tampa, really great musicians born out of the early-’80s heavy metal scene, so we banged it out in two days. It just so happened that [Fozzy] signed with Sony Records recently, so we approached them with the idea of a Christmas release, and here we are. I did check to see if there were other versions of this song; Cheap Trick has a good one.
I’m glad you mentioned Cheap Trick, as I think their version was the definitive cover until yours came along. A lot of punk bands have taken a crack at this song, but your version has a bit more of that metal feel to it without being super over-the-top or campy. You also took the opportunity to update the lyrics — the original song references the Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin, but you reference Stone Cold Steve Austin.
I actually sent it to Stone Cold Steve Austin; I’m not sure if he listened to it, but I had to get that name-check in there. That’s how you can tell someone really listened to it. It’s cool if you get it, but it’s fine if you don’t. It’s just great rock ’n’ roll tune. The Kinks are very underrated in terms of legendary bands like the Who or the Beatles. I love the Kinks. Aside from the Stones, I think the Kinks had the best output in the ’70s. Obviously I’m a metal guy, I’m gonna sing it with more of a metal attitude, that’s just the way my voice sounds. You could make it punk, you could make it classic rock, but I wanted to put more of a metal spin on it.
All the proceeds from this song are going toward Juvenile Diabetes Research Funding. What is your connection with JRDF?
Two of my kids have type 1 diabetes, just diagnosed over the last three years. It’s a disease that everyone knows about but no one really knows. It’s every minute of every day, checking your blood sugar constantly. It’s not like you just have to avoid sugar or something. It’s a real balancing act. You have no idea how much goes into it until you’re in it. It’s one of those things I’m very involved in. I don’t know if we’re going to raise billions of dollars from a cover of a Christmas song, but anything we do make, I thought we’d just put it toward a good cause, that way we can give a little back and do more than just put money in Chris Jericho’s pocket.
Given that Fozzy started off as a cover band, do you think this song could lead to a full Christmas covers record?
It’s funny, because my daughter was like, “You just did one song?” But my opinion is, how many good Christmas songs are [worth covering]? But if this one does really well, maybe we try another song. Maybe I’ll write my own Christmas song.
You’ve mentioned before that you never want to hear Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ ever again.
It’s the most annoyingly catchy song you’ll ever hear in your life!
On the flipside, what songs are on Chris Jericho’s holiday playlist?
Stryper has a pretty rockin’ version of “Winter Wonderland,” and they actually have an original Christmas song called “Reason For The Season” which we thought about covering a while back. Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” is amazing. But aside from those, what other good Christmas songs are there?
There’s Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You.’
I’ve never heard that song in my life and I probably never will.
You’ve never heard that song? C’mon.
Dude, I’m sorry, I’ll lose my rock ’n’ roll credibility if I say I have. But maybe I’ll start working on a hard-rock version of ‘Wonderful Christmastime.’
You have a whole year to get it done for Christmas 2020. We can start calling you Christmas Jericho.
What are your family’s traditions at this time of the year?
When I was younger, Christmas was the biggest thing. As you get older, it’s not as special. But when you have kids of your own, it’s the coolest holiday in the world. My kids are teenagers now, so it’s still fun. Everyone opens their presents one at a time, one round of presents each, so everyone knows who got what, and everyone can enjoy it for a few seconds. It’s not just present-present-present-present. That’s the biggest thing at my house. We’re also big stocking people. When I was a kid, some of the best stuff we got the whole year was in the stocking. So I’m a stocking guy.
I’ve really enjoyed AEW Dynamite thus far. A lot of your character work on this show has felt like a direct callback to WCW Chris Jericho, from your temper tantrum at ringside to calling Tony Schiavone “Skee-A-Vone.” Are these conscious decisions from you for a nostalgia rush or are they accidental?
It’s not nostalgia at all. It’s like the Stone Cold T-shirt line in ‘Father Christmas’: If you get it, cool. If you don’t, that’s fine. The reason I threw that temper tantrum was because it was the first time I had lost in AEW. I had to respond in a big way.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a band like Iron Maiden or AC/DC having riffs in their songs that sound like other riffs. If you wrote it, then it’s okay to refurbish it for what you’re doing now. I have a 30-year history in the business, so for me it’s fun to throw things out there from the past, and the people that know it, know it.
Regardless of the company people work for, there are still character relationships that go back decades — like when you stared down Dean Malenko at Full Gear, for example. The question I really want to ask is will I ever hear you say “Stinko Malenko” again on live TV?
It was the best feud in WCW in 1998, or one of them. It was a cool full-circle moment. The environment of AEW is conducive to that. It’s okay to reference something that happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It’s like a Star Wars or Avengers-esque universe we’ve created. So why not focus on that? Now once again, I’m not a nostalgia character. I’m always evolving for that reason, to not become a nostalgic act, but I think it’s okay to tip to your past every once in awhile and let long-term fans know we’re in this for a reason. There’s lots of easter eggs in stuff that I do. After doing this for as long as I have, I really appreciate the fact that there’s people who have been there for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. So let’s continue to do those things you mentioned. It’s like reading a great comic book.
Speaking of people from your past, your former co-worker CM Punk returned to the greater pro wrestling sphere last week as a commentator for WWE Backstage on FS1. Do you have any thoughts?
It’s a long time coming. We knew there would be a Mötley Crüe reunion and we knew CM Punk would come back to wrestling. It was just a matter of time. I think he came back with more of a sigh than a scream. It seems kinda funny that he came back on a show that drew 150,000 viewers where it could have been 5 million viewers. But if it’s part of the process to slowly wean him into the wrestling business, then good. The WWE sure needs him. You need stars in the business. Good for him for coming back. I just think it was not as big as it could have been or should have been. He’s back for the first time in five years and no one really cares. But I’m sure it will lead to more. I don’t see how it can’t.
Are you disappointed AEW wasn’t able to sign him?
I’m not disappointed. I know there were some conversations, but Punk’s his own guy. Could we have used him? Yes. Does it hurt us to not have him? No, not at all.
Your Talk Is Jericho podcast has been in a lot of headlines recently because of your interview with Donald Trump Jr. You got a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, from the internet. Did you take any of that feedback to heart? Will it impact your decision to have any more polarizing guests on in the future?
Absolutely not. My response to anyone who was offended by me having him on is just don’t listen. It’s the same thing when people get offended when I have flat-Earthers on or people who think they’ve been kidnapped by Bigfoot or something along those lines. It’s not an insult to me if you don’t like the topic I have. I have over 600 episodes; not every episode is going to be for everybody.
I’m not a political pundit; I’m not a very political guy. But I figure if you’re gonna do a political episode for the first time in 600 episodes, it might as well be with the son of the leader of the free world. It proves that my show is always what I say it is: It’s not a wrestling show, it’s an everything show. If you don’t like the guy, it’s fine, don’t listen. We have two shows a week and I don’t expect everyone to listen to every single episode that I have.
I didn’t know what to expect from Trump Jr.’s episode in the ratings, either. Was it going to tank? Was it going to be the biggest rating I’d ever had? It did a good rating — not a great rating, but a good rating. It shows people will listen to a political show from Chris Jericho, but it’s not something the whole world is waiting to hear, and nor should they, because I’m not a political guy.
Do you think you’ll give equal time to figures from other political parties on your podcast?
Yeah, I was working on getting Andrew Yang on and then he dropped off the face of the earth, so maybe his people got mad I had Donald Trump Jr. on. I know Andrew’s a big wrestling fan, so hopefully we can work it out. But like I said, I just like having interesting people on my show. Interesting people are interesting people, whether I know what they’re talking about or not.
You compared people getting mad about Donald Trump Jr. to people getting mad about flat-Earthers or someone kidnapped by Bigfoot. Obviously, those two situations are a little bit more farcical and laughable to most people. But Donald Trump Jr.’s opinions can have strong aftereffects in the real world. Are you personally lumping him in with the flat-earthers and the Bigfoot truthers, or are you someone who sees more value in what he says?
America is such a polarizing place right now because of who’s in office. I’m not a political guy. I don’t even really know what my opinion is. To me, from a journalistic integrity standpoint of it, to have the son of the most powerful person in the free world was something I couldn’t turn down. When I was talking to him, did I agree with everything he said? Of course not. Did I agree with some of what he said? Of course I did. Did we edit some stuff out that I didn’t think was good or right? Yeah, I did.
I still get lumped in sometimes with wrestling podcasts, and that kind of bothers me. This year, for the first time ever, I got nominated for an IHeartRadio podcast award in the pop-culture category. To me, that was like, yes, that’s what I’m looking for. My competition in this business isn’t Steve Austin or Jim Ross, who are great at what they do — my competition is Joe Rogan, Adam Corolla, Chris Hardwick. Those are the guys I want to be compared with. Those are the types of guests I want to get. This was a step in that direction.
Final question: For everyone currently assembling their Christmas lists right now, are they able to put a new Fozzy album on it? Or do we have to wait until 2020?
Well, the album is called 2020, so it’s gonna be released in 2020. We’re on Sony now, and it’s different. Before, you’d put together the album, they’d pick a single, the album would come out, the single would come out… Now, they just want another single to keep the momentum going. It worked, because we just had our fourth consecutive top 20 [Billboard mainstream rock] single [‘Nowhere To Run’]. I just heard two more new songs that we’re gonna record this month, and we’re probably gonna start recording more and more often. So I think we’re gonna be looking at a late spring release. So you won’t have a new Fozzy album for Christmas, but you might have a new song. And if nothing else, you have ‘Father Christmas.’