They don’t call it “hard rock” for nothing. The bands profiled in this month’s cover story all had to struggle to deliver their artistic statements. Fozzy—on the outside, a seeming pop-culture sure thing with a famous wrestler at the helm—had to overcome early missteps, regain respect, and rebuild an audience. Otherwise went the independent route for years before signing a record deal, but then had to carefully balance their restless and diverse creativity within the confines of what it means to be a commercial act. Finally, Josh Todd & the Conflict became a side project of a more-established hit maker, because the bigger band was, for various reasons, stalling the release of new music—a frustrating position for any ambitious and productive musician to be in.
Happily, everything turned out wonderfully for all—if you want to cut to the chase. But the creative skirmishes provided us with a chance to share some real-world insights on career challenges, avoiding clichés, developing individual styles, writing riffs, and constructing tones.
Buckcherry vocalist Josh Todd and guitarist Stevie D started a side project—Josh Todd & the Conflict—because they didn’t want to hold back their creative surges until the next Buckcherry album could be organized. Produced by Stevie D and Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz, the project’s debut album, Year of the Tiger [Century Media], afforded the two Buckcherry veterans an opportunity to explore a few different musical landscapes—such as “Rain” (which percolates with some blues-gospel-styled vocals, stuttering percussion breaks, and caterwauling guitars) or the title track (which could have been released in the first era of British punk).
What gear did you use for the Year of the Tiger sessions?
For Buckcherry, I use mostly vintage Les Pauls and SGs. For the cleaner bells and whistles with some chime, I would use vintage Fender Strats and Teles, and everything would be plugged into vintage Marshalls or Fenders. But for Josh Todd & the Conflict, I took a whole new approach, because we wanted a sound that was a bit reckless and big, but still bare bones. You know, not tons of reverb, and not too slick—a punk-rock spirited album. So my jumping off point was ’70s punk rock and Steve Jones. He used a Norlin-era Les Paul Custom in the Sex Pistols. So I have two ’74 Customs, and while I know that Norlin-era Gibsons are not the most sought after guitars in the vintage world, they just sound meaner to me. So that’s where I started with the guitars—although I just developed a signature model with Sully Guitars. It’s called the ’71 Trella, and it has a Fender scale length, a mahogany body with a maple cap, and an ebony fretboard—kind of what I like in that mid- ’70s Les Paul Custom. We tune down to C, so I use Dunlop strings, gauged .010- .056. I want to get my shred on, but also I need something a little thick around that bottom end.
For the amps, I have a signature amp with Carol-Ann, and it has a high-gain channel. So I went there. Then, I went to the Bogner Uberschall, and I mixed that in with a Marshall Silver Jubilee. That’s kind of the meat and potatoes of where the guitar tones started. I also brought in some pedals, of course. I used the DigiTech Whammy, a Keeley Chorus and D&M Drive, and I like the Electro-Harmonix POG as an octave pedal, because it tracks better than any other octaver. For some leads, I used a Klon, and for others, I just dimed the gain on the amp. That often seems like the better way. It’s cleaner. A lot of overdrives are a bit too much in their high-gain settings. The tone starts collapsing, in my opinion. We also had some fun on the song, “Rain.” I went after a “Brian May spirit,” and dimed a Pete Cornish Treble Boost into a Vox AC30, which was also dimed. Then, I grabbed a Guild Brian May Signature guitar, and I played the solo with a sixpence—just so I could cop that Queen vibe.
How do you typically come up with riffs for songs?
I try not to pound square pegs into round holes. I feel like you have to listen to where you’re at, and what sounds natural to the song. And you have to be flexible about how a riff actually sits in the track. Let’s say you write a riff at home, but when you bring it into the studio, it’s not quite there. So you have to be flexible with your cadence, your phrasing, and maybe even your note choices. If it doesn’t fit, then use it for something else. Write something new. I’ve written with a lot of people, and the younger they are, the more stubborn or married to their ideas they become. Flexibility is key for the flow of a great song.
Do you have a process for determining whether a riff is awesome and album-ready, or simply not useable?
I think inherently you know if a riff is working. When you’re listening back, and it’s just not popping, it’s not jumping out at you, or it’s not making you feel like, “Oh, man, this rules!” If it’s not making you totally happy immediately when you’re listening back, then you have to start tweaking. And the longer you tweak, the less likely it is that it’s good. The best songs and the best riffs were written fairly quickly.
Is it possible for guitarists to develop an approach to soloing that references the past, is true to the player’s personality and influences, and yet sounds fresh and modern?
I can only speak for me. I’m playing all day. So I’m constantly striving to learn new things. Like, I’ll still listen to guys like Angus Young and Eric Gales and others, and I admit that I swipe moves from all of them. Sometimes, I’ll practice their patterns while I’m watching TV, and, over time, I learn how to make those licks mine. I switch up a few notes, or I’ll add a note to the pattern, or take out a note. When I’m actually laying down a solo, I want to sing it first. My idea is to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it’s usually all over in eight bars. We don’t do anything like Joe Bonamassa, where we get to build, meander, explore, and improvise. Still, whatever you play has to be honest. Like, two singers can sing the same line, but if one is really believing it—he will present it better, and he will sell it better. It’s the same thing with guitar. There are certain things that rock and roll guitar players have done a million times, but it’s just the delivery. It’s in the hands. It’s in the vibrato. Licks have all been recycled in one way or another. For example, there’s a new guy out there named Jared James Nichols, and he is playing really melodic, and really bluesy. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but he has put his own thing on it, and he really loves what he’s doing. You can hear that, so it’s seductive—even though there’s a whole encyclopedia of licks he’s referencing.
Founded by two brothers—vocalist Adrian Patrick and his guitarist brother Ryan—in 2003, Otherwise started out with something to prove. And the recreational MMA enthusiasts definitely took a fighting spirit and a never say die attitude out into the musical ring—a palpable force of energy and passion that you can actually feel in the video soundtrack to the song “Angry Heart” from their recent release, Sleeping Lions [Century Media]. But the Patrick brothers aren’t simply young warriors looking to make their mark in the hard-rock community. The Las Vegas natives are also focused on giving back. Ryan, in fact, founded a nonprofit company, Life By Music, to get musical instruments into the hands of as many kids as possible. And one of Ryan’s proudest accomplishments is that his photo—hair flying and tongue sticking out—is displayed at the theater of the Las Vegas academy where he studied guitar.
“It’s such an honor,” he says. “But it’s inspiring, too, because I can tell the current students, “I was once in that same chair as you are, and now I’m a recording artist. That’s great, but I’m still learning.”
So how exactly did you start on your guitar journey?
I went to the Las Vegas Academy of Performing Arts, and I trained in classical guitar and jazz studies under a gentleman named Bill Swick. I’m so grateful to him—he’s like my guitar dad. He accepted me into the program when I couldn’t read music. You see, the girl I liked in middle school was going to the academy, so I was like, “Hey, I’m starting to pick up guitar. Let me audition.” I covered the Smashing Pumpkins version of “Landslide” for my prepared piece. But when we got to the sight-reading part of the audition, I said, “Look, I don’t know how to do that.” I left the audition thinking I was just going to go to my regular high school, and a few weeks later, I got the acceptance letter. It was one of the coolest moments of my life. And Mr. Swick taught me day in and day out for four years straight. The knowledge he gave me was just incredible.
What guitars made the scene for Sleeping Lions?
I used a ’69 goldtop Gibson Les Paul that belonged to Bob Marlette, our producer. I also played a Fender Strat, and it was kind of my secret weapon. I’d never recorded with a single-coil guitar before—I usually play Les Pauls or SGs—and it changed a lot of the tones on the record. It was really cool to switch it up, jump on the Fender train, and get some twangy tones out of that beautiful Stratocaster—even though that chugging creamy low end of a Les Paul is what had established the Otherwise guitar sound.
What about amps?
Most of the record was recorded with a Bogner. My live sound is actually a Rivera Knucklehead. I’ve been rocking that one for a long time. It’s my road dog. I just got set up with a Line 6 M13, so now all of my effects are digital—which is something I’ve never done before. But, in the studio, the Bogner seemed to be cutting through a little bit more than the Knucklehead. It also added a bit of a richer sound to our heavier riffs. It just sounded more massive. Bob wanted to work with some other options—like a Fender Jazz King. But I was like, “Dude, I don’t know, man. That’s like way, way on the other end of what we do live. Let’s work with this Bogner.” And, you know, I ended up falling in love with the Bogner.
What tunings did you use for the album?
This record probably has the most diverse tunings we’ve ever used. We recorded a song in B that I played on a Danelectro baritone that we ran through an MXR La Machine to get this gravelly low, roaring electronic sound. I actually played with the baritone on my lap. There are three songs written in standard tuning—which I don’t think we’ve done since our first national release. Then, we have songs a full step down, and a half-step down.
It was interesting, because the tuning of each guitar prompted me to write different parts. The Strat was usually tuned a half-step down, and the Les Paul was a full-step down. So if we were playing, and I wasn’t feeling it, I’d change guitars. I’d also switch if we found my brother was pushing his vocal range on something. Rather than changing the chords or transposing the song, I’d just grab one of the down-tuned guitars to see if it helped lift up his vocal approach. Or maybe if something wasn’t bright enough, I’d try standard tuning. Sometimes, we’d end up doing a song in standard that was originally written a whole-step down. The other benefit was that we had these different tonalities to the songs. It wasn’t a vision or a plan, it just ended up that way.
There’s so much music out there now, so given your own mission statement, how does a band break out and really get people to listen? Do you join a community and feed off the shared audience, or do you take a chance and celebrate your uniqueness—which risks putting the band outside of a typical fan base?
That’s the frustrating thing about being a mainstream heavy act. We get categorized into this genre called “active rock,” and that’s kind of where you have to live. Of course, I’ll pay respect to the community, but, like many artists, there are parts of this band that are not active rock approved. So it’s tough, because we want to rock, but we don’t want to alienate some fans, and we want to get played on the radio. We’re a heavy band, but we don’t consider ourselves a metal band. We always like to believe that we’re descendants of the hard-alternative scene of the ’90s.
But it has come to a point in this day in age that artists will be told, “You guys have to have a package. You’ve got to market it a certain way.” And, not to discredit anybody’s success in the industry, but from our understanding, bands develop very concise products that become digestible for the common listener to enjoy. But we don’t have costumes or wear makeup. We’ll play a song that will start a mosh pit, and the next song will bring tears to your grandmother’s eyes, because it will remind her of her youth. We want to stay true to what we want to do. But we definitely have a label, and they’ll say, “Hey guys, this is what it is. This is what we want. This is how we see it.” We’re like, “Okay, we can do that. But we also want to experiment and push the boundaries.” That’s what we did on some songs on Sleeping Lions with the electronic elements and the different tunings.
I guess we’ve never been happy with where we are. We want to push our own boundaries, and not be typecast as a certain kind of band. So we come with a bit of resistance to convention, and I think that we sometimes pay the consequences of not being in the good graces of certain business people for that stance. I don’t want to make it look like I’m pissed off at the industry, because I am not. I am f**king grateful. I’m excited and stoked about this record. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are some interesting hoops you have to jump through when you’re a professional. Until you get to that level where you’re up on the top of the mountain, and you can do whatever you want, there is definitely some diplomacy that has to take place.
Is there anything surprising you may have learned since becoming a professional musician?
Just that a huge part of being a performer is having confidence in your showmanship. As for me, I can promise you’re going to feel the chords I’m going to play, because I’m going to play them with every part of my body and soul. I’m not saying that other guitar players don’t do this, but I have a philosophy: I feel like I’m at war. Even if I’m just making a bend, I promise you that bend is going to sound like the sky is ripping apart. Now, that’s not the hardest thing to do, technically speaking. It’s easy. It’s simple stuff. But it takes a lot of heart to really lay it all out there.
Rich Ward co-wrote every track on Fozzy’s new record, Judas [Century Media], and it must have made him feel like a conquering hero after all the band’s ups and downs. After seven studio albums, the band is finally a bona fide smash hit. But it doesn’t take much to get the generous and gear-obsessed guitarist and producer talking about how reverence for “the masters” has changed, rather than his own band’s commercial ascension.
“It was sad that Allan Holdsworth passed almost unnoticed by the major media,” says Ward. “There was a moment in the ’80s, where he was always part of the conversation for everybody who was into guitar. We used to celebrate genius. For example, you rarely hear about Steve Lukather in conversations these days, and yet, if you put Steve onstage with your average guitar player, he would send them home crying. I saw Toto play last year, and he’s still playing better than everybody. It’s not my place to tell other people who they should acknowledge, but I think we’ve gotten too tribal about things. We’ve turned into a society of cliques where if you’re not in, then you’re tuned out.”
Fozzy’s video for “Judas” logged more than ten-million YouTube views. That’s crazy, right?
It is insane. But that has always been my preconception for the way things are supposed to work in the music business. You just try to paddle as fast as you can to keep the momentum up from the early records that your fan base liked. And here I am—seven albums into this Fozzy band—and it’s just now starting to catch fire. But I will embrace it for all it is, and love on it like this is the way it’s supposed to happen.
It is interesting, though, that the band had such a slow burn. Vocalist Chris Jericho is a huge wrestling star, and he loved promoting the band, so you’d think all of the publicity around Fozzy would have blown things up from the get-go.
I think we inadvertently made some crucial mistakes early on. My priorities were with my other band Stuck Mojo, and Chris’ priorities were with wrestling. And when the band first formed, we were a covers band that was doing basically what Steel Panther is now doing. We were dressing up in costumes, and the band was called Fozzy Osbourne. It was a really fun, cool party band, and we didn’t really think of it beyond that, because we all had our number one love and priority someplace else. Unfortunately, we also played on WWE Raw, where Chris is a villain, and we kind of tarred and feathered the band’s name by performing as “bad guys” on the show. Those wrestling fans take it super seriously. They were booing us before we even started playing. And I feel like we’ve spent the last 12 years undoing the first few years of our career. But there will always be those people who say this isn’t real, because Fozzy was a joke band wearing costumes playing Krokus and Twisted Sister covers, and their frontman is a wrestler who plays characters on TV. We never thought we deserved anything—we just wanted a chance to earn our respect and earn our spot. If now is that time—awesome. I play guitar for a living. That in itself is pretty amazing.
So how do you transition from a fun cover band to serious original outfit that can compete in the commercial music industry?
That’s the other thing. Normally, bands have a sound based on their influences and years of banging it out in a rehearsal space. We never quite had that moment. And when we could no longer fall back on the idea that we were a cover band, we had to talk about who we should be as ourselves, so to speak. It was simple things, of course, such as realizing we had to rehearse as a unit more. We also had some chemistry from playing together. But we knew we had to be taken seriously on the merits of what we do. So our first record as an original act had guest stars such as Zakk Wylde, Mark Tremonti, and Marty Friedman, and there we lots of guitar solos. We thought that was a good first step to earn the respect of the guitar community. Of course, we immediately lost 50 percent of our fanbase because Fozzy was no longer fun-loving Chris Jericho playing a character and doing covers.
Wow. That must have been depressing.
Well, at least we were making musical decisions based on what we wanted to do, and Megaforce—our label at the time—gave us the freedom to make the records we wanted to make. Maybe somebody should have said, “Here are some career things to think about, fellas,” because when you give musicians carte blanche to make the records, they might not be thinking about how that music can turn into something a large audience of people will buy. It’s a learning experience. But, that being said, my focus has never been about where I am on the Billboard charts. I’m still that kid who stands in the mirror listening to The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden and tries to learn how to play every note.
What was the rig you unleashed on the Judas sessions?
The star of most of the rhythm tracks is a 1976 Gibson Les Paul Standard. The ’76 is my favorite year of Les Pauls, and the reason is they have maple necks, so they’re a little brighter sounding. We detune to drop C, and when you start dropping down the tuning on a Les Paul, they’re notoriously on the darker side of the spectrum, so having that maple neck is really nice. Also, the mid-’70s Les Pauls have a slim-taper neck profile, and as my hands are kind of small, it’s more comfortable for me. I feel like I have better control. I think for metal riffing they’re the perfect balance—especially as I’m still that classic-rock guy who loves the tonal profile of a Les Paul through a Marshall.
I cut my solos with different guitars, though. I have a Charvel USA model that has a nice mid presence that cuts through the mix, and a Dean Tracii Guns Signature NashVegas. I put a mini Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck stack in it, and it sounds amazing. I learned a long time ago, when you’re tracking lead stuff, you need to find something that has a separate tonal profile from the rhythm guitars so that the solos can live in their own space in the mix.
I’m an SIT guy, and I use a .058 on the low string. I’ve experimented with string gauges to the point where if I use anything lower than a .058, the guitar gets too dark sounding for me. When I think about guitars, I think about my heroes like Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young, Randy Rhoads, and John Sykes, and they had this brightness to their sound—a cutting tone that had a certain aggressiveness. So I try to find that balance between string tension and touch. For example, I’m often lightly palm muting when I’m hitting chords in order to keep the vibration of the string so that it’s not warbling out of tune, but is still hitting the guitar hard enough to push the pickups. That’s a bit of an art in itself.
For amps, my Marshall 1987X plexi reissue is my non-master-volume “headroom amp,” and I put a Tube Screamer in front of it. It’s big and open sounding. It’s usually not the star of the show, because it doesn’t have enough gain, but it plays a nice supporting character. It’s the “Malcolm Young.” It really is a great rhythm sound. But my primary amps are a Marshall JCM800 and a Splawn Pro Stock. A lot of times, it will be the JCM800 in the left speaker, and the Splawn in the right speaker, with the 1987X mixed in somewhere. I’m a big fan of Steve Vai and how he orchestrates guitar layers, so I also used an EVH 5150 III, a Friedman Brown Eye, and a Diezel to create different textures. The trick is always how to get all of the parts heard. It’s like how they recorded a lot of vocal harmonies in the ’70s. It wasn’t one singer stacking every note. They’d put four people singing harmony together, because the distinctly different voices would create interesting blends. So that’s what I’ve really tried doing— finding guitars and amps that work well together and have them all in the same room. I do use one cabinet for all the amp heads, though. It’s a checkerboard Marshall straight-front cab loaded with mid-’70s Greenback speakers. For miking, it’s nothing fancy—just a Shure SM57. I figure if that mic was good enough for Back in Black, it’s good enough for me.