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Exclusive! Interview With Rich "The Duke" Ward of Stuck Mojo, Fozzy

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Sunday, August 7, 2005 @ 11:35 PM


My Kung Fu is Good: Sti

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Rich Ward is the guitarist from Stuck Mojo who also plays guitar for Fozzy (with Chris Jericho) and recently put out a solo cd on Spitfire Records called, My Kung Fu Is Good.

Rich got his nickname, “The Duke” from the German Kerrang! which wrote, “If Michael Schenker is the king of metal guitar… then Rich Ward is the Duke!” Or something like that. But the name stuck among his friends.

Recently, I got to speak with him for KNAC.COM. He is perhaps one of the, (if not the) most-enthusiastic musicians I have spoken with. He has a lot to say and says it very frankly. He covered a lot of ground, from why budding guitarists should learn classical, to record companies to problems in Stuck Mojo. He’s also got to have one of the best cell phone plans in the world, as we spoke for over 90 minutes…

KNAC.COM: Hey, Rich, how’s it going? Where are you?
RICH WARD: Not too bad, brother. I just got off a plane; actually my guitar player and I are in the car. We just got back from St. Louis -- we did a Fozzy gig last night and we leave tomorrow to go to England, so it’s a little bit of a routing snafu… it would have been nice just to go from one plane to another instead of this. Because Mike and I live in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, and the airport is in the southern suburbs of Atlanta, so we’re going to enjoy each other’s company for a nice little drive today. I’m glad you were able to make time for me for KNAC…

KNAC.COM: Glad you could take the time for us. So I’ve been listening to My Kung Fu Is Good and I checked out your website <DukeRocks.com> and noticed you have a blog…
WARD: Yeah, I was a little bit more active in updating it before the spring tour started -- we’ve been to Europe twice this year and did a couple of lengthy tours and in all honesty, I just need to get a laptop and take it out on the road with me. Right now I just bought three desktops, so I’ve got three MACs at home and all I need is a huge suitcase to carry them around and maybe another suitcase for the generator of course. But yeah, it’s rare for you to get that much feedback from any artist who takes that much interest in their own site.

KNAC.COM: I don’t think I’ve ever come across an artist who has written their own bio…
WARD: Well, I’m a fan first and foremost. I had the posters on the wall when I was a kid and I bought all the records and that was the inspiration for learning an instrument and for me a fan I know what I would want, from people that I looked up to. It would be really cool if there was a website that I could go to where I could ask Steve Harris questions, or ask Billy Joel what it was like to record 52st Street. I really would like to know these things, so for me it’s like… a privilege to be a part of giving back to people who have helped me have a career. There just seems to be a bit of a disconnect between a lot of artists and reality. The folks that we don’t make time for are very often the ones who allow us to do what we do. And we can all say, intellectually, “We know it’s all about the fans!” But it’s convenient to say that and rarely does anyone do anything with that. You don’t see a lot of artists who make that connection -- FOR REAL. Other than just saying a fancy slogan, “It’s for the kids!” Right, you know? So I try…

KNAC.COM: Tell me a little bit about the transition from Stuck Mojo to Fozzy to “The Duke.”
WARD: Well, I mean I was doing Fozzy when Stuck Mojo still existed. But I already knew-- I’ll give you the exact moment when we knew the band was over. We did support for Sevendust in ‘98. It was Sevendust, Clutch, Stuck Mojo and Ultraspank. And we were touring – I think it was September or October or ‘98. I said, “I don’t want to do this tour, we shouldn’t do this!” I fought tooth and nail NOT to do it…

KNAC.COM: What were your reasons for that?
WARD: First of all we’d be second in a long line of bands, and then we’d be playing smaller venues -- a lot of the same venues that Stuck Mojo was packing out on our own. I knew we were going to take a huge hit financially and I rarely make decisions musically as far as business, but for morale, you know? We put out our biggest-selling record, we did a headlining tour of the States, we did a headlining tour of Europe, opened for Pantera on a number of dates… we were hot, man, the band was doing really well. The downside of it was that the band still wasn’t making a lot of money. We were still on that crux of success and struggling to get out of lower-middle-class of rock bands that signed with a small indie label. On the Sevendust tour we found out that when were shopping to major labels that Danny Goldberg of Mercury was telling us he wanted the band and there were other people that were really into Stuck Mojo. You know, people who were higher-ups, not lower-level A&R. And, well, it wasn’t it. All those deals ended up going away because Century Media was asking a little bit heftier up front price than these labels wanted to spend… so, going back to your question, this tour, for us, to go on second, playing in front of houses that would be half-full and the ticket price was basically twenty-five bucks. And our fans, just guys are Stuck Mojo fans, they didn’t want to spend twenty-five bucks to come see us play for thirty minutes; and Sevendust fans and Clutch fans were showing up at ten o’clock after we’d already played.

So, we were already playing in front of our own audience who just had to pay an elevated price to see us play. Morale was down in the band. And Corey and I… Corey Lowery, who eventually went on to play for Stereomud, he and I were talking about leaving and putting our own band together. I remember that we were in San Diego and he and I went for a walk, and we were talking about, “We need to call Donnie Hanby,” who at the time wasn’t in the band, but later played in DoubleDrive, “we need to put together a cool melodic heavy-rock band!” And I was doing Fozzy for fun but then Corey got the offer to go to Life of Agony, and I said, “Okay. I just gotta figure something out.” We were at this place where things were starting to fall apart. I knew that I didn’t want to play in Stuck Mojo anymore, but it was my source of income.

I didn’t even think and it wasn’t even a consideration that Fozzy was a reality at that point for me because it was a cover band and we didn’t have a record deal and nor was that the plan. Chris Jericho, a buddy of ours; we would get together and play Maiden covers for fun and kinda butcher those songs and have a good time. And everything was kinda falling apart all around. So, what I ended up doing was kinda what I always end up doing which was just work frantically. I wrote a bunch of songs, kinda put together a side-project on the downlow, which I was then calling “Sick Speed.” And I asked the guys from Stuck Mojo, “Hey, I got this new material. I’m gonna start a new band. I’m telling you this is what I’m gonna do and you’re either with me or you’re against me, I’m just saying. If you’d like to play in this group, here’s the tunes, check ‘em out and I’d love to have you along if that’s something you’d want to do.” So that’s kinda how the band split up. In all purposes… everyone was more interested in doing the music that-- it was a weird spot. Bones was drinking a lot, he was unhappy, and he was unhappy for the same reasons we were all unhappy, he just found his comfort in drugs and alcohol and the rest of the band found our comfort in working our asses to death trying to write new music and trying to dig ourselves out of this–what we considered--a hole. It wasn’t a bad spot to be in, looking back at it. We just had higher expectations than where we were at. I know that was a long roundabout answer, but I’ll be glad to elaborate on anything for you, if I didn’t cover it right…

KNAC.COM: No, this is good, let’s keep going. So, Fozzy…
WARD: Okay, well-- what ends up happening is I still got Stuck Mojo together at this point. We’re doing shows here and there I’m trying to do this side-project and get legs going on this… and then all of a sudden this funny comedy troupe that plays eighties metal covers and stuff on stage, we start to get such a buzz because of Chris’ popularity as a wrestler and he’s got three dudes playing with him that are badass hired-guns -- good players -- and we started getting offers from record companies asking us to do an album. We thought it was hilarious. You know? Like why would anyone give us money to record songs that – you know, Fozzy was basically a jam-band for friends. But at the time that we were offered the deal, it was good money, more money than I ever got for doing a Stuck Mojo record, so I decided to take it seriously. I said, “I’m going to write a couple of good originals… to give the band some credibility. I’m going to re-do these covers, with a lot of extra guitar… try to make ‘em our own to make ‘em more aggressive.” And I’m really proud of that first Fozzy record. You know? It’s a cool record. Even if you’re not a fan of that early ‘80s genre, I think there’s some good guitar playing on that and I think Chris did a good job, for a guy who is a professional wrestler to go to recording albums… I have to give it up to him. He’s a great entertainer. So Fozzy grew legs. I started making money doing Fozzy so I said, you know what? “I’m done with Mojo.” I no longer had to worry about making a living and I don’t have to go tour with band and I transitioned into Fozzy which became my income maker… and working on Sick Speed which basically became this record- The Duke.

I wanted, from the very beginning, I wanted to call it a band. Not a solo project. Frankly, because I didn’t think that I had the goods to carry it as a solo guy. You know, I’ve never fronted a band before, I’ve always been a guitar player… I was confident that I could sing and I was confident that I could play the songs, but I was so nervous of taking that arrogant step of saying, “I am The Duke!” You know, there’s a stigma to that -- “All shall bow!” and I was afraid that my fans would go, “Oh, well. Look at Captain Fancypants over here. He’s calling himself an artist now. He thinks he’s so great…” I was real nervous about doing that. I gave it a band name, we played around, we played some shows. We did pretty well, but I just didn’t have the right lineup. I went through several lineups and… I even released a record, which was a collection of demos and did a tour of Europe… but it never caught wind because I could never keep a steady lineup. I would have different guitar players, different bass players… it was literally a revolving lineup of people and when we started looking to the industry and the fans and they couldn’t really get behind it. The only constant was me and the drummer, who was also in Mojo. I finally said screw it, and decided to do it as a solo record. I mean, I’m the only one I can count on. I’m writing the songs, I’m paying for the recordings… and this was really something that was really being pushed on me by management for a long time. So I finally said, “Okay, I’ll do this.” And like I said, there’s a difference between fronting a band and making a band. So you can feel like you can lead a band and play… I felt like I finally had a grasp on it. I found a whole new group of guys -- all guys who were better than me as musicians; I mean the baddest of the bad. Guys who could easily be the back-up band for Steve Vai… for Don Henley… real player-players. And because of that, I was really able to push the boundaries of this record. So Sick Speed was really more of a melodic rock band, same kinda cool vocals and singer/songwriter-y structure—but with a new band that was really able to utilize their ability to color and texture the music. It had a lot more depth and dynamic. Using keyboards more, using dynamics and guitars, not just standard rock guitars, but jazz and classical… being able to bring that type of knowledge into it. It helps me to bring my ideas to life. And I was able to maintain the Fozzy at the same time, so here I’ve got my melodic rock ‘70s thing with the Duke, and I can use my heavy ideas for Fozzy. So it worked out and became kind of a cool balance.

KNAC.COM: You mention the melodic ‘70s thing... Your publicist is calling this cd “blue-eyed rock.” Kind of a spin on the “blue-eyed soul” tag that Hall & Oates or George Michael have gotten in the past.
WARD: Absolutely.

KNAC.COM: I hear that… I hear some Everlast on here. I’m hearing Tony C. & The Truth… there’s a lot of different things going on, but it’s those things that stand out from as surprising from a heavy guitarist… I would say it’s retro but very new-sounding. Does that make any sense?
WARD: Oh yeah, yeah. The use of piano in there… the guitar solos, maybe? Modern pop is a little homogenized as in it’s a formula. In the ‘70s, there were no rules, other than trying to do something that no one was doing. It was a time of exploration, pushing boundaries, trying to create an imprint of who you were as an artist. I love Michael McDonald, I love ‘70s Hall & Oates… I love Journey and Genesis and Queen and Supertramp and all of that era. When I was really young, my babysitters had those records and make me listen to REO Speedwagon… Hi Infidelity… I love that record. I still listen to those records. You know? I just have-- there’s something about that era that is – for me -- it’s great drummers, great bass players, great singers, great songs! It was a great total package. And everyone really made an effort to be their own entity and their own group. That spirit. Obviously these songs have big hooks and I want them to be catchy songs, but I don’t want to run with the formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-double-chorus-out. I want to interject some things. Not a lot of groups are using pianos these days. Coldplay and Keene and some of these Brit-groups are using it- but not a lot of American rock groups using a piano as a writing tool. And not just doubling chords and… like I said, I may be way off base when I say that it has a definite ‘70s feel, I just, for me, that’s where my passion lays and that’s the kind of spirit that I’m trying to bring to the record. But it’s really up to the listener to try to determine what the album is to them. I know what I want. At least from the beginning stages, obviously. The recording process is very organic, so I try to develop… everyone in my band has complete carte blanche to go in and try new ideas. That’s the great thing about having a band you trust, because at any time someone might come up with a great part that’s just dynamic and changes things just enough where I might have to change the melody a little bit. So I may have the blueprint or know the spirit I want to bring to it but it’s an organic thing that develops until the mix is done. And then I listen back and hopefully the end product is something that I can go back and listen to and like and be proud of.

KNAC.COM: “At This Moment” really stands out to me, and has a total Journey-ballad quality to me. I really dig it. It’s also… it would not be out of place on American Idol. Totally a get-your-lighters-out thing happening there…
WARD: That’s weird. I completely feel the same way about it. It’s the funniest thing that like, I’ve had this discussion with a lot of people. I don’t want to be presumptuous where I think that I know it all. When it comes to recording and writing songs, I rarely allow other input into – other than the band guys – but I don’t like having guys from the label, record company guys or management guys telling me what they like and what they don’t like. Let me say this: I don’t mind the criticism, and I don’t mind the input. I’m not afraid of it. But it will have no bearing on what happens. Which is why I have chosen labels who like and respect what I do. People might say, “I don’t think Spitfire is the right label for The Duke.” Well, it sure was. Because every other label that was interested -- I’m not saying I had offers -- but the ones who were interested all said, “That’s great, BUT it would be really cool if…” And I just do NOT ever want to put myself in that position where I’ve got the two guys sitting in the back of the room going, “Man, that’s killer, now if you put a little more acoustic guitar in there it would really kick ass!” I just don’t– that’s my biggest fear.

So, going back, I think “At This Moment” could be the song of the album. But no one at the label, no one in marketing, no one in management thinks that way. They have to understand going in that this is my record. Marketing, management… I’m not going to pretend to know more than you guys do. I won’t assume and push that part of it on to them forcing them to release the songs as singles that I think should be…so that’s the boundary which I’ve created with that. I agree with you, yes. I don’t think “Show You The Way” is “the single”-- a lot of other people who are involved think it is, so that it a tough compromise for me to make. I’ve never had a radio hit. Most of the songs I hear on the radio don’t connect to me at all. I can intellectualize why those songs are on the radio, but I don’t feel it. So maybe I don’t know what the hell should be on the radio… I could be humble enough to say, “At This Moment” is a classic, and people would like it if they got a chance to hear it… it could fit in on Triple A radio, but if everyone else thinks I’m wrong, well half the stuff I hear on the radio anyway blows, so what do I know?

KNAC.COM: Dude, don’t get me started about the world of mainstream radio. No one writes songs: they write hits and commercials. They actually have focus groups listen to records. Does that make any sense? Focus groups are for peanut butter. “Whaddya like: creamy or crunchy?” How the hell are ten people at the mall going to pick out what I’m going to like in my part of the world. That song is great. Sounds like a love song, or maybe something written out of a lot of pain… maybe it could be a great song to play as a first dance at a wedding…
WARD: Well, that’s nice of you to say. I appreciate that. Hopefully this record will grow some legs to garner enough spins that or sales that I would be able to assert myself more into the position of being able to say-- you know something, when these booking agents start planning shows… this happened on the last tour. Our agent booked us shows in Germany. “Oh, it’s gonna be great in Germany!” And I’m like, “It’s not -- it’s gonna blow! I’m telling you this is the wrong tour for Fozzy. We should not be playing Germany, we should be focusing in on other places….” You know that Germans, it’s different. They’re very intellectual and they don’t get the jokes that we get, so Fozzy, even though the new record is a bit serious, it does have some humor in there… I don’t think the Germans are going to get it, and they won’t be into it. They’re into serious metal. They still think like, Hammerfall kicks ass. And fair enough and that’s why Hammerfall and Manowar are selling out arenas so there’s a good chance that Fozzy may not be the band for Germany. And we went, and we played for DOZENS of people! And I made sure to let everyone know that the Duke was right on that one and maybe they’ll listen to me next time. [Laughs]

So, I don’t have any problems if the record company puts out, “Show You the Way” and it has to be the single that they think is going to catch on and all that. And if it doesn’t, I’m going to make a little note of it. Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of having twelve hit records to prove everyone that they’re wrong. The Duke album is literally my twelfth release, worldwide. It’s like… at some point after twelve records, people ask me, “Doesn’t it bug you that after twelve records you’re still driving a used Ford Explorer?” And I say no. It doesn’t, because I’m damn thankful for what I’ve got. It’s all relative. This guitar player Mike -- who plays with The Duke and Fozzy -- he went to college, got a degree, plays guitar just as good as anybody I’ve ever seen… could possibly become a guitar hero with the right breaks -- and he’s certainly a better guitar player than I am, BUT, never done a record. Never really played in front of large groups of people. And why? I don’t know. I’ve met tons of guys like that all over the world. You know guys like that -- everyone does, right? So I am grateful for the success that I have had and try not to complain about it too much and keep my expectations low for the success and high for myself so I continue to make better records each time.

KNAC.COM: Well, for my money, this is a total wedding song, “At This Moment.” But given a label like Spitfire and the way things work today, how does any single get a chance to get to radio when some of these labels are paying a hundred thousand bucks ($100,000.) to get “spins” in the middle of the night? How does Spitfire promote The Duke record and – if you could – what would you do to help promote it other than playing and doing interviews?
WARD: I would put every dollar I have into moving “At This Moment” and “Used To Be,” which would be my second track, and move it to Triple A radio. I’d put everything I have into that. The thing about it is that -- they talk about “reaction radio.” Excuse me, there is no “reaction radio.” You just said it. Everything you hear on the radio -- mainstream commercial radio… we all know what I’m talking about -- everything you hear on the radio is there because someone paid to have it there. It’s all about what it looks like financially, for the label, for the stations. I actually heard that it costs two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars ($275,000.) today -- right now -- to get FOUR WEEKS. That’s the average. So, yeah. I realize that Spitfire, even if they had that kind of cash, they would not spend it. They have the independent metal mindset which is, spend as little as you can and try to make as much money as possible, based on whatever they set their sights on. Ten thousand, fifteen thousand copies… same business model as Century Media and Nuclear Blast and all these indie metal labels have. If we can sign this band and put “A” into the project, all we have to do is sell “B” to make this amount of profit. And that’s all they really look at. I don’t think the people that work at Spitfire look at it that way -- they’d love to have a successful act—it’s just the guys with the wallets who are not throwing that money around. And they have a formula and that’s how they’re staying in business because it’s working. They sign ten bands a year, all those bands make me twenty or thirty-thousand bucks a pop each, and then with that money, they’re able to sign the next dozen bands. And that works for them.

But back to what you said. If I had the equity built into a house, I’d get a mortgage on the house and move this thing to radio. I’d spend the money. Anyone who’s seen me live-- go look on websites at reviews of the UK shows we’ve just done. I can sell the deal live. Without being arrogant, there are very few frontmen who live on this planet today who can. A lot of these magazines just fuel that phony freaking façade or that look that everyone strives for. That’s not what music is about and unfortunately today’s society, because we live in a real visual age -- it has become more about that. Anyone who’s seen me knows I can do it. I got a badass band with me on stage and I can rely on them to do their job while I do my job. Because I’m passionate about it. I believe in it. I do what I want. I don’t have board meetings where I sit down and people say, “You know Rich, you really should consider…” I don’t listen to any of that. No one’s paying me enough money for me to hear any of it. And even if they were, still, there are no guarantees in life. I’ve had a lot of people sit in my tour bus and tell me – like I told you before about him -- I had Danny Goldberg and his assistant tell me that they wanted Stuck Mojo and they could have us out on tour with Korn and KISS and this and that. And I was weeping thinking, “Oh, my God… this is it!” And it fell through. So from that point on, I decided that I will never listen to any more bullshit from anyone that works at a record company again. I refuse to go through the emotional rollercoaster. I’m just going to be the same guy I was ten years ago. People have asked, “Why would you admit that you were influenced by REO Speedwagon?” They view REO as a cheesy pop band from the ‘70s, but you know what? I fuckin’ like ‘em. And that’s all there is to it. I love that late ‘70s Journey. I dare anyone -- any guitar player -- to say that Neal Schon is a daisy. I dare ‘em. Yeah, a lot of these guys talk this shit. This is music and I’m passionate about it. I come from an era where there was a pride and integrity about musicianship. Some of my heroes are Paul Rodgers and Freddy Mercury and those are the guys who… the great rock frontmen. Peter Gabriel… get outta town, man, that guy will school ALL of you guys! And the other part of it is, I can do the “aggro” thing because I want to put on a show. Even if I’m doing aggressive music, there should be some kind of uplifting vibe or edge to it. So you can still play aggressive bar chords and cool riffs and still make people feel like they experienced something… and that’s what’s beautiful about being humans rather than apes because we are capable of emotions that go beyond just instinctual emotions. Most heavy metal really just draws from two: fucking and fighting. NO disrespect to it because I love metal too, I just like to have… I like to temper it with some joy and a spiritual vibe and a little bit of something else. I just feel like that’s what music is. I want to give people more. If they’re paying fifteen bucks to get into the show, I don’t want to give them the same show they saw when they went to see DevilDriver. Or whomever. Everybody nowadays is-- it’s about a formula going back to what I said earlier, in metal it’s the KillSwitch Engage formula. Get some badass types up there and rip on the low string and everybody in the pit punches each other and everybody talks about how they got a black eye at the show last night. Fair enough, man, but it just doesn’t speak to me anymore. And I’m really trying to – I’m not trying -- I am presenting a product for metalheads and rock fans alike who are looking for something that goes beyond just apes swinging from a tree and throwing shit at each other.

KNAC.COM: So, when you make that transition, is it safe to say it’s a personal transition? The music, the lyrics?
WARD: Absolutely. It was a real combination. I wrote this record over a three-year period of time. So that made it easier for me to go to the well over and over for thoughts and feelings. Things that I was going through. I went through a divorce, loss of band mates, thought-form changes… big changes in my life where I wasn’t sure about playing music anymore. I was thinking about getting out because it wasn’t fun anymore putting up with all the phonies and just the business side of things. If you listen to “I Give To You,” it’s about the music and its not about our egos or being in rockstar heaven and all the trimmings that go with it. It was just about the simple pleasures of playing music… and the whole record is very personal that way. There’s nothing to read into…

KNAC.COM: The song “Summer,” for example?
WARD: Yes! That song is a huge personal… I turned 30 years old thinkin’ this is a young man’s game and I’m moving from the summer of my life and I can’t eat Wendy’s three times a day without turning into a fat tub of lard. And my knees didn’t hurt as much after the shows back when I was 21 years old. The realization that we all get older and how time… doesn’t wait around for anyone. Cliché, yes, but fortunately for me I was becoming a better songwriter and a better player and a better person. I was coming to these epiphanies of how wasn’t about me and a thousand kids every night telling me what a good guitarist I was. Some of the lyrics in that song, “Summer,” was written by my drummer -- the only thing on the record that I didn’t write -- he wrote about his father, Frank, he wrote that lyric and handed it to me and said “I really would appreciate it if you could incorporate this into a song.” And it was really moving, he wrote a lyric about his dad dying and it was really special and I thought it was a cool thing to be able to incorporate it into a song. And once again, summer is about change; transformation, evolution. The album is about that as well; it’s a struggle for the guys in the band to not be moss on a log. Seriously. I’m a metal guy… I mean I’ve played metal for the last ten years. Writing this record was a challenge -- it wasn’t comfortable at all. It really took a lot of work. My drummer: same thing, he’s from Stuck Mojo and he just hits the drums too hard sometimes. Every night after The Duke gigs, we would have to go to him, “What would Stewart Copeland do?” Anyone can crush a snare drum, and don’t give up that identity, but let’s push ourselves. And let me tell you the payoff: the payoff is that I’m a better guitar player for Stuck Mojo by being a more dynamic player with The Duke. And vice versa. For being a badass metal guy in Mojo and Fozzy, it makes me a better melodic songwriter for The Duke. It really does. It goes both ways. I’m not getting soft, I’ll still kick those kids’ asses. You know? I’m not worried about proving anything to anybody. But what I will tell you is that when they hear the next Stuck Mojo record or they heard the last Fozzy record, the reason these albums are getting better are directly proportional to my efforts to push myself as a musician and not just push myself as a riffmeister. Same thing with a guy like Zakk Wylde – there’s no mystery as to why this guy is a great songwriter. He’s a great piano player, he’s a great acoustic player, lap steel, banjo -- because he wants to be more than just a riffmeister. Thank God that he is one of the greatest out there, but he is great because of all the other things. Randy Rhoads, classical upbringing; Neal Schon, blues guy – came from playing with Santana! There’s no mystery as to why the greatest guys out there are the way they are! It’s not just because they bought And Justice For All and only listened to that for fifteen years!

KNAC.COM: Or sat around listening to Van Halen 1 practicing hammer-ons?
WARD: Thank you! That’s exactly right! Eddie Van Halen is a God, and the sum of his experience is from listening blues and jazz and classical and being open to all different styles of music. Thank God as I got older that the wisdom came so that I could see that. I’ve said this before, but this whole band was the catalyst of Zakk Wylde saying, “You know, bro, if you’re stuck in a rut, put your electric guitar down and pick up an acoustic and play it for no less than six months. Don’t even mess with your Les Paul -- leave it alone. It’ll strengthen your hands, it’ll increase your speed, it will enhance your songwriting…” And it did. He was exactly right. Here I am sitting on my front porch playing a bunch of songs one day, and I started looking at the way I write differently. It’s about a desire to grow as a person and a musician.

KNAC.COM: Was that part of having the female backups -- especially on “Summer?”
WARD: Allison Irby. She’s 17 years old… still in high school and she’s just an amazing singer. She’s a very experienced R&B singer and she’s done, like, Broadway shows that have played around the US and even in China. She has a tremendous amount of experience as a singer. Her mother is her manager and pushes her real hard -- one of those JonBenet types who brings her around to all the performances. And it really has helped her. She sings in the choir of her church, she gigs around Atlanta as a solo R&B singer, and my manager Mark has a relationship with her mom in that they both work in the Atlanta music scene and so on. And Mark said, “You have got to hear this kid sing!” And her mother mentioned to Mark that Allison wanted to be more like Tina Turner, that she didn’t just want to be a stereotypical R&B singer, she wanted to bring the heat. And asked me if I would be interested in writing some songs for her. I thought that was an interesting proposition and had her guest-sing on the Fozzy record, just to see how she would do. Trial by fire, just to see if she could cut it: here’s the music, here’s the melody… and she freakin’ blew the doors of the place! We were all flipping out, so I told my manager that I wanted to work with her. So I started working on some music that had some second vocal parts -- and of course I worship the Eagles, that’s another group I really respect - and thought, man, wouldn’t it be cool if I brought in some female vocals to bring in some texture to the songs that call for it. Not force it, but pour it over where it works. What we call in Atlanta, “Blackups.” Old soul rock and roll…

KNAC.COM: You mean as in, “black it up a little?”
WARD: Exactly! That’s an Atlanta thing, kinda phrase I stole from black musicians around here. I had another singer come in, but it was Allison who came in and turned it all around. I really think she’s going to break out one day and be huge. She is a truly amazing and gifted singer.

KNAC.COM: Did she have any idea about Stuck Mojo or Fozzy? Had she heard your music before or was she like, “Who are these metal dudes?”
WARD: She had no idea. Which was great, really. Plus, she’s only seventeen, all she talks about is getting a car or an SUV and what type of wheels she wants on them. It’s so funny, I couldn’t even understand -- she’s really giggly and never been around a bunch of rock dudes with tattoos and stuff… but in all honesty, I don’t hang around a bunch of seventeen year-old girls either, you know? So it was very bizarre, and once again, I would have liked to have talked music with her, maybe, but, like we never had one conversation about how cool Aretha Franklin was. That was the one disappointing thing, and another indication about where we are. You turn on the MTV and there’s no emphasis on the art of music, it’s about a lifestyle. So I don’t blame Allison for getting into it, and she’s a kid. She wants to be a kid and that’s great and she should be. But it’s all marketing and… you know what I’m saying? When you’re younger you don’t see through it.

KNAC.COM: What were you thinking about when you were 17?
WARD: Oh, I was just thinking about learning about how to play the whole Number of the Beast album backwards and forewards! [Laughs] In all honesty, I didn’t get laid until I was just two weeks before I turned 18. And I wasn’t ugly, I was just a nerd! All I did was play guitar all day long. That’s all I wanted to do. And the funny thing was that I refused to take lessons, because my stepfather said, “You need to take lessons!” But I didn’t want to learn classical -- I wanted to be “metal guy.” So I never did and he was right, I should have. All I did was play AC/DC and ZZ Top and Maiden and Priest and copped it by ear like most guys do. There were other things I was involved in but I always brought my guitar with me everywhere I went. Every scout trip, to the movies, and even when I was in my mid-20’s if I went to see a movie I brought my guitar with me. I am not lying to you. I’d go on first dates with girls and have my guitar in my gig-bag and sit down and start playing. I was obsessed with it because I had this thing that didn’t want to NOT make it because I didn’t work hard. I could always accept the fact that I wasn’t successful because the music industry sucks, but I couldn’t take that I might fail because I didn’t do whatever it takes. PLUS, when you’re 18, 19, 20, 21… I wanted to be the best guitar player in Atlanta, to go up onstage and just smoke everyone. I wanted to be the greatest and I was going to do whatever it took to be that guy.

KNAC.COM: I just realized how long this is getting…
WARD: No dude, don’t sweat it -- I have five thousand minutes a month! I can just push dial and leave the phone on and still not have any extra charges! KNAC.COM: Okay, tell me about the artwork on the cd.
WARD: The initial thought was that I wanted to have a photo on the cover because I wanted to start marketing me as a brand. I think that’s important because as I get into producing bands and working with them, I want to build that Rich Ward as a brand. It’s important to me, building equity in myself that way, more important than how much fun money am I getting to do this album. Ultimately I’d like to be able to write material and songs for other artists, because I think there’s not a lot of artists out there writing great songs. I’d like to be able to participate in that. There’s a lot of talented players out there and I’d like to work with them and maybe use my experience to try to help them and still be able to remain in the music business and still keep it personal. I don’t want to come across as some kind of artist, either, so for the cover -- if I did some kind of fancy title like, “The Art of Zen” or “The Changing of the Inner Child” or–

KNAC.COM: “Introspection Avenue?”
WARD: Yeah… [Laughs] You know what I’m saying? I’d get so much crap and didn’t even want to go down that road! The thing is, this is a real serious and personal record, but if I come up with an album title with a little tongue-in-cheek kinda feel to it, so people know that I don’t take myself so seriously and that just because I’m going from metal dude to experimental singer/songwriter guy it doesn’t mean that I’ve changed. Once we came up with the title, the label and other people -- Ed Aborn who does all my web development – he said, “Let’s just keep it all white and clean and maybe a few Chinese characters -- that’s really the way to go.” And he designed it, and I really like it. But, they didn’t tell me what the record should sound like, so I didn’t… you know, no one called me and said, “We’re going to put a sticker on the front of the cd!” But they did. Who cares?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, “Featuring Rich Ward from Stuck Mojo and FOZZY!”
WARD: It could say, “Rich Loves Ice Cream!” it wouldn’t matter to me…

KNAC.COM: So what are your plans now?
WARD: We leave tomorrow to go to England for a few Fozzy shows -- the Download festival which is the old Donnington Festival. Maybe tour around and have some fun. I just got married a few months ago in England, flew my fiancée over and we got married there, so we’re going to spend a couple extra days there. Maybe bother the guys at the Spitfire office in London…

KNAC.COM: What are your goals with this record? Long term, short term?
WARD: We did a UK tour but here’s the rub: the record company doesn’t want to spend any money on tour support at all. Zero dollars. So for me to tour, it’s virtually impossible. As a new artist, solo from Mojo and Fozzy, the guarantees are low, not enough to even cover five dudes in a band. We’ll play shows, but there won’t be a tour. Unless the record starts to react at radio… like I said earlier, if I could do this thing my way, I would put money into radio -- lots of it -- and if it reacts to radio, then you have a built-in market. Then I wouldn’t need record company money to tour, I could use the guarantees to tour and be completely self-sufficient, which is the way Fozzy is. Mojo and Fozzy can tour anytime it wants to -- we don’t always make a lot of money but we always at least break even…

KNAC.COM: So Stuck Mojo is not officially done?
WARD: Mojo is not officially done. We actually played recently. Mojo is in the healing stages. Luckily for me the same band plays in every group. It’s the same bass player, drummer and guitar player, except that Mojo is a four-piece so I don’t have my extra guitar player for Mojo, but it’s the same group. So basically in Stuck Mojo what it came down to is can Bones and I co-exist in that I’m the nerd, the rock and roll boy scout and he’s as close to Axl Rose as they come. He’s completely self-absorbed and he’s completely over-the-top and the great news is that we’ve done a three-week tour of Europe, and we did a couple shows here in the States- and I haven’t seen sign one of the old Bones. We’ve gotten along great, we’ve had great shows, and no bullshit -- the kind of gigs we should be having. And the fans are into it because we’re having fun and not going through the motions. We’re back to where we should always be with Stuck Mojo. I’m so fortunate that I’ve got three bands, I’ve got two records out this year already, I’m going to put a third one out with Stuck Mojo in early winter or late fall, pending or securing a deal that I feel we should have. Once again I don’t need a lot of money, I just need a record company to let me do what I want and who will do the bare minimum it takes to promote it.

KNAC.COM: So, wait, if you can’t get tour support from Spitfire then how do you take this record to the public? You already pointed out that Spitfire doesn’t have the wherewithal to get radio, though they might try. So if you’re not out there promoting it, who will? Can you go out just by yourself, solo, with an acoustic guitar?
WARD: I will. I’m going to start doing those shows. I’m going to probably have to take my piano player and he and I will probably start doing duo shows.

KNAC.COM: Can you just walk into a radio station and tell them, “Hey, I’m Rich from Stuck Mojo and Fozzy… and I have a new record out -- can I play for you?”
WARD: That’s it exactly… these are the kind of things that unfortunately, my manager handles all three bands, the record company is single-minded and has never done any music like this. They’ve only done metal and hard rock, so it’s difficult for them to do anything with The Duke record and think outside the box and create these things. I told them stuff like this… just let me talk it up and let me sell it. Hopefully – when the record comes out… well, we are going to be touring in Australia. And the only reason we’ll be able to do that is because Fozzy is touring and will already be doing shows there. That’s in mid-September. We are showcasing the band and Eagle Rock and Spitfire are aware of it. We’ll see. We’ll be at the Atlantis Music Conference, and we’ll see what comes out of that. There is somewhat of a plan, but it’s diluted by the need to make a living and play Fozzy and Stuck Mojo shows. If I could only focus on this, it would be a lot easier to do this.

KNAC.COM: Well, dude, I dig the record. I really hope you get some response from it.
WARD: Well, I am going to try and do what I can to help promote it. I hope people will check it out. People who like me in Stuck Mojo or Fozzy may not like this, you know? But maybe people who like metal and rock and like what I’ve tried to do… well maybe they’ll give it a listen. And Eagle Rock has been far behind it. Unless somebody from Lava/Atlantic comes up and says…

KNAC.COM: Lava/Atlantic, huh? The have some cute girls who work there…
WARD: Yeah, well, I think they have a great track record with breaking bands… I just worship that label because they’ve got this great band from Wales, Skindred, and I’m just crazy about them. I think they’ve had a lot of success doing what they’re doing. Wind-Up is another one… and like I said, you give me the opportunity to go out and do what I do, I will close the deal. But it’s a one-day-at-a-time thing. That’s why I spend so much time writing for my website, I’ve had a very loyal fanbase that has stuck by me. I think everyone on my street-team has my number. I got fans calling me in the middle of the night going, “We’re listening to--” whatever. It’s funny…

KNAC.COM: Will you put up songs on the website? Or do you have a MySpace site?
WARD: Working on one… but anyone that wants to can check out the site -- we’ll have the song samples up there to listen to.

KNAC.COM: Well, I guess that cover it then. Thanks for the chat, Rich. Any final thoughts?
WARD: Nothing more than to say thanks to KNAC for taking the time with me. I’m just anxious to get out and do my thing and hopefully maybe people will check it out.

Check out “My Kung Fu Is Good” from The Duke at www.DukeRocks.com.


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