Fozzy's Rich “The Duke” Ward Discusses the Band's New Album, 'Judas'

(Image credit: Official Press Photo)

Fozzy has always been a band focused on two things: a heavy groove and a good time. And when you have two high-energy performers like Rich “The Duke of Metal” Ward and Chris Jericho in the band, those grooves and good times come easy.

Ward is known for being one of the most prolific and underrated guitarists in rock and metal today. He’s created his own signature style of heavy riffs, melodic choruses and what’s become known as The Duke groove.

Fozzy’s new album, Judas—set for an October 13 release—is the follow-up to 2014’s Do You Wanna Start a War and reinforces the idea that the band is hitting its stride. Songs like the title track showcase Jericho’s enaging vocal delivery along with the infectiously familiar, in the pocket groove of Ward and drummer, Frank Fontsere.

Tracks like “Weight of My World” and the groovy “Drinkin With Jesus” follow a similar pattern, highlighted by the band’s inspiration and self-reflection.

I recently spoke with Rich Ward about the new Fozzy album, songwriting, gear and more.

How would you describe Judas in terms of its sound and how it relates to some of the band’s previous work?

I think the majority of people who hear it will see this as a big rock record with big guitar riffs and catchy melodies. The one strength about Fozzy is that we’re always able to stay relevant. We have an eclectic set of influences that make this band unique.

What was the writing process like?

We usually start with a blank sheet of paper and then Jericho starts sending us song title ideas followed by sheets of lyrics. I practice every day for a few hours and if I find something that seems interesting, I’ll record and catalog it based on something that would be influentially relevant to the sound I’m coming up with.

So, if Jericho sends me lyrics that have a dark, moody vibe I’ll go into my catalog to see if I can in a nice companion for it. Other times, it will be just us all in a room coming up with ideas collectively. A lot of stuff on this record was a real collaboration with our producer, Johnny Andrews.

We worked with him on a few songs on our last album. One of our goals going in was to have someone who was more involved in the process. Not just in creating sounds but also having a creative seat at the table. Johnny was the MVP of the studio.

Let’s discuss a few songs from the new album, starting with the title-track, “Judas”

That song has a great riff. As soon as I recorded it we all looked at ourselves and said if this comes off as good as it is right now, it will be the single of the record. It has such a classic, head banging groove and for us, that’s where we’re at our strongest. Our drummer, Frank Fontsere and I are at our best when we’re laying down pocket and that song plays right into the sweet spot.

Jericho really connected with the lyric in telling the story. The songs that stand the test of time are the ones where you hear an emotional connection in the delivery of a lyric. “Judas” is that song.

“Drinkin With Jesus”?

Johnny and I both loved those great, mid to up-tempo, hard rock songs from the late Seventies, like The Kinks and The Who and the idea was to find that riff. I remember sitting there with a metronome playing and recording various riffs for two hours until we found the one where everyone nodded and said, “Yeah, that’s the one!”

The lyric is great because the idea behind it is that you’ve alienated everyone in your life and made so many stupid decisions. Now, you’ve basically found yourself drinking by yourself and talking to Jesus about how you’re going to get yourself out of this mess.

A lot of bands write about pointing the finger at other people for being wrong or blaming someone else, but I like songs like “Drinkin’ With Jesus” [and even “Judas”] where the idea is one of self-reelection, taking inventory of your life and then deciding how to make improvement. Those kinds of therapeutic themes run through this record.

“Weight of My World”?

My band, Stuck Mojo, opened for The Prodigy back in 1998 and I remember thinking they were one of the coolest bands I had ever seen live. For this track, there was this idea of capturing the punk rock spirit of my late Seventies idols mixed with a good modern guitar approach and revolving it around a Prodigy-edged drum approach.

What’s your current setup like these days?

I have to tell this story so you get the full perspective. Back in the late Eighties, everyone was using racks filled with power amps and tons of effects. I had all of that too and thought it was the best. Then I went to see Zakk Wylde play with Pride and Glory at a club and remember seeing him pull-up outside in a van with just a few guitars.

I later found out that he was going to use the opening band’s amplifiers. I was in the front row and watched him walk out, set down his own pedal board and plug into a JCM800 and a stock Marshall cabinet. When he started playing, it was one of the most prolific moments of my life. All of the magic was in his hands.

I also realized that the best classic tools to use in rock music were a Les Paul and a Marshall. It was a combination that really resonated with what I wanted to hear out of the guitar and suited me best as a player.

The mid-Seventies Les Paul has been my go to and the reason is because of the sandwich body. It’s two pieces of mahogany with a slice of maple in between. It has a bright and aggressive sound and is the perfect tonal combination. Almost all of the guitars I play are mid-Seventies Les Pauls played through a JCM and a checkerboard Marshall cabinet with Greenback speakers.

What excites you the most about the new Fozzy album and this next phase of your career? What are you most looking forward to?

I always go back to that scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” where Yoda tells Luke Skywalker to pay attention to where he is now and not to be looking toward the future. That’s my motto in life. To keep things in perspective, live in the moment and be the best Rich Ward and bandmate I can be and put on the best show for the fans.

We have a really loyal fan base and are blessed to have fans that have been supporting us for years. It’s always nice to do things the way you want to do with your best friends on the planet. Being in a band is a team sport and requires a huge group of people all working together to succeed and right now, everything is clicking!

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.