"I wanted to be the Paul Stanley of wrestling."
Photo courtesy of John Raptis
In 1999, Winnipeg-born wrestler Chris Jericho made his WWF debut as millennium gimmick Y2J (the J stands for Jericho) with a high-top ponytail and a hologram jacket. He interrupted a vulgar rant by The Rock with Y2J’s countdown clock that proclaimed his arrival as the “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla.”
After trials with ECW, WCW, and leagues around the world, Jericho lion-saulted into the WWF to become the “undisputed” six-time world champion, which eventually led to stints in theatre, film and television, including appearances on crap like Dancing with the Stars and The Jay Leno Show.
But long before he built the Walls of Jericho, even before the Hart Brothers School of Wrestling, the young Chris Irvine was huge into classic rock and heavy metal. In 1999, he also met an Atlanta guitarist, Rich Ward, who invited Jericho to join his alt-rock cover band, Fozzy. What started as a joke (‘Fozzy’ as a goof on ‘Ozzy’) turned into a world-touring rock group with original songs influenced by ‘80s metal and alt-rock along the same ropes as Nickleback, Finger Eleven, and WCW’s Nitro entrance themes.
Last July, Fozzy released Do You Wanna Start a War, their sixth studio album that hit number 54 on Billboard in its first week: “Yeah. It’s doing really well. It’s the highest-charting record we’ve ever had,” Jericho says over the phone at midday from somewhere in the Midwest, nearing the end of a U.S. tour with Theory of a Deadman. Somehow, by the great graces of WCW, WWE, and all things Attitude-era, Jericho entertained Noisey's existence for this interview.
Noisey: Lately I’ve been interested in shared elements of performance between wrestlers and musicians. As the frontman for Fozzy, how did wrestling prepare you for rock and roll?
Chris Jericho: Well, actually, it was almost the other way around. I was playing in bands when I was 12. That’s when I first started in bands. But both are aggressive forms of entertainment contingent on energy and excitement. You express yourself. You get your aggression out. And both hinge on the reactions you get from the crowds. I love a good performer and I loved the great frontmen like Freddie Mercury, David Lee Roth, and I wanted to be that style of performer. I wanted to be the Paul Stanley of wrestling.
What do you mean?
Well, I used a lot of those rock elements. When I started wrestling, I was fairly small at the time, so I knew I needed to have the biggest character, the biggest personality, the most charisma. So I took those same qualifications and characteristics into the ring and then into the band. And then back into the ring.
That makes sense, since Jericho has this flashy, obnoxious, over-the-top rock star persona.
Yeah. I stole it from rock and roll. Entertainment is all about building a connection to the crowd. That’s what a great performer does, whether you’re acting, dancing, anytime you’re in front of a live audience, it’s important to have that connection. If you have that, you’ll always have a great show and always have a great fan base. So it’s very much about connection. Any performer needs a connection with the crowd.
It’s interesting that music inspired your wrestle attitude because in Fozzy’s early days, you guys had a phoney backstory and fake names and stuff that felt more wrestling-inspired overall.
Well, that was a while ago and we got that from The Blues Brothers, the idea of a fake backstory, and only for the first two albums. But we realized early on that if you’re gonna do anything, you gotta do it on your own. Actually, we were really the first Steel Panther then they took the idea and went to the top with it. We went in another direction, just being ourselves and playing our tunes. Every band morphs and evolves. That was in 2002 when we stopped doing that. It was fun at the time but it wore out … quickly.
Do you find that Fozzy fans are also wrestling fans?
No. We have fans that have no idea about wrestling. But a lot of people are wrestling fans and see us because they’re Jericho fans, but we don’t care. We just want people to come and check out the band. The wrestling thing can only go so far. You know, we wouldn’t be playing with Metallica or Slayer or Theory of a Deadman if we weren’t a great band. I don’t want people coming to our shows just to see Jericho if the band isn’t good, because then it’s like, ‘Oh great, I saw Jericho but that band was shit.’ You have to have great songs. And some people are still like, ‘Oh, Fozzy is a wrestling thing. It’s a novelty,’ and they come just to see Jericho, but then they hear us—and I get this all the time—they hear us and say, ‘Wow! I can’t believe Fozzy is so good.’ You just have to listen to us. This is not a joke. I want to be a rock star. We kick ass and we know it. And it doesn’t matter if I’m a butcher or a baker or a candlestick maker.
Can you tell me about your entrance theme?
I’ve had the same song since 1999 and that will never change. I love the attitude of it. When I first came to the WWE, I sat down with the music department. Introducing yourself, you need to always pick something that is indicative of what you are as a performer and you have to be really, really careful.
The WWE used Fozzy’s song, “Lights Go Out,” during Summerslam 2014, which was neat.
Yeah. Every pay-per-view they choose a hot song by a hot band for the first song of the show. So they picked the opening song from Do You Wanna Start a War. It’s the best song. It has the best attitude. It’s got great elements and lots of vocal twists and turns. Music really creates moods. If you’re feeling it, it can ramp you up! Music has the ability and power to take you places you couldn’t go without it.
Adria Young is psyched - @adriayoung