In the world of interviews, nothing goes to plan. Sometimes you will get to the venue to interview the singer and you will interview the guitarist. Or you get a text saying you are no longer interviewing the singer but instead you are interviewing the drummer, and thus have to sit in a kebab shop looking up their Wikipedia article to find out some facts about them.
In July, I was due to interview Rich Ward (aka The Duke) of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy fame at 6pm via Skype, but as the time went on I thought my interview was never going to happen. As I was about to pack up I received a text from Rich saying he was running behind due to other interviews overrunning and that we were still on. After some Skype problems the interview finally started, much to my relief. Rich Ward was an absolute gentleman, he was apologetic for running late but extremely grateful and appreciative that I made some time to speak to him about the new Stuck Mojo album, something that he was clearly passionate about. I really enjoyed speaking to Rich and he’s definitely someone I’d love to interview again as I had so many more questions to ask. For the twenty minutes we had, I conducted one of my favourite interviews of the year.
Jack: Hi Rich, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. How are you doing?
Rich Ward (Guitar/Backing Vocals): Fantastic! I’m starting rehearsals for the Stuck Mojo tours that are coming up and get some songwriting done for the new Fozzy record so I’m staying quite busy.
Jack: This album has a new line-up, first up you have Len Sonnier join the band on bass. How did you first meet Len?
Rich: I met him as his band that he’s been in for quite some time opened for Fozzy last summer, and I remember watching them and thinking they were brilliant! When we were in need of a bass player and we knew that was going to happen as Corey… when we put together this reunion line-up, this was a year and a half ago as we did some shows around in the South-East just as a way to commemorate the release of our first release Snappin’ Necks. Soon thereafter Corey got an offer to join a band called Saint Asonia so that then vacated the spot for the bass position in Stuck Mojo. We actually recorded the album actually without Len as I had not made that connection with, as his band was busy and I was trying to figure out who I could find to figure out who could fill that final piece of the puzzle. So Steve Joh who at the time was the head of A&R at Century Media, said “what about that guy that plays for The Piece and the Chaos, that band from Beaumont, Texas who opened for Fozzy,” because Steve Joh had been at that show. I forgot how great he was and I called him up and we hit it off fantastic. It was literally one phone call later he was at the band and it was a bromance to last forever.
Jack: You discovered new vocalist Robby J because of a YouTube video. How did you find him? Were you looking on YouTube for vocal covers when you found him or did you find one of his other bands?
Rich: It was one of his other bands, it was very much by chance because at that point we weren’t looking for a singer. We just decided the night before we weren’t going to carry on with the reunion line-up and we were kind of in limbo with what to do and I got a tweet from a guitar player from Canada who said “you’ve got to check out my band, I think you’d really like it,” and the singer of his band was Robby J! It was quite organic and by chance that I came across it as this was a local Montreal band who had no international presence and they hadn’t even made an album. They had made one demo with a few songs and one video and so this band was very much in their infancy and it was a one in a million chance. It was the very cliche “needle in the haystack” finding.
Jack: You just released your new album called Here Come The Infidels, which is your first album in eight years. How did it feel to be writing and recording Stuck Mojo material after all this time?
Rich: Well it’s great, I have a real passion for Stuck Mojo because it fulfills two of my basic food groups which is super loud and aggressive and the other part is super offensive, which I love in rock ‘n’ roll! I love a band who takes a stand, that is counterculture and walks against the tide. I think some of the most brilliant artistic statements are made when it is not done so in popular opinion or under the guise of some political movement that happens to be in favour. I also really love the sound of Stuck Mojo which has blended rap vocals with barky vocals and melodic vocals under heavy riffs. It was also my first original band that I was ever in so I’ve always been really passionate about it and I’ve always wanted to carry on with it.
Jack: Do you ever get nervous about the fan and critical reaction to an album you write?
Rich: No. I always write records from a place of pure motives, meaning that is songs that I believe in wholeheartedly. I don’t make records quickly, I spend a lot of time in the writing process and there’s a lot of revisions so I do the first draft and then the second draft. All the songs go through a lengthy process where they organically evolve. I don’t like the idea of writing a song and then say “okay it’s done, lets record it!” I always like to give it a little time to breathe, step back and look at it objectively. This is because ultimately I’m a music fan and that’s why I play guitar. Because I love Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple, and Rainbow. I grew up as a fan and my passion lies in making music that speaks to me. I kind of equate it to being a chef. I don’t cook for other people’s pallet, I cook for my own pallet. It may not always be what everyone wants to eat, but ultimately when I’m cooking for something I want to sit down and enjoy. I recognise that there are a lot of people who enjoy the same style of food that I make and hopefully that’s true. But when I’m making a Stuck Mojo record I never think for one second whether I think it is going to be successful commercially or whether I should tailor it towards a trend or the pallet of mainstream music, I make records for me. I make them to represent who we are as a band because once you stray outside of your music being a true representation of who you are as a person and a player, an artist and a musician, then you are playing a role and are faking it and I’m not interested in doing it. I want to make music that is a true representation of me as an artist.
Jack: You worked with Andy Sneap on the album who in your words is the best metal producer in the world. Why is Andy Sneap the best metal producer in the world?
Rich: I’m going to caveat and say he is the best music producer in the world for what I need. He may not be the greatest metal producer in the world for Of Mice and Men or Motionless in White or some other band, that’s up for them to determine. I just know what he does speaks to me and it is a perfect match for what I do as a songwriter and as a musician. Being in a band is about chemistry and it’s not different from being an athlete and being on a team; so just because you’re a great player it doesn’t mean you’re going to play well and win championships with the team, it matters how well you play with those team members. Andy and I have known each other for some time and work amazingly well and obviously he has a track record of lots of success outside of working with me. He’s worked with Testament, Exodus, Accept, and Megadeth, he’s made amazing albums with so many bands. He brings those same talents to what he does when he works with me. But our relationship is different because Stuck Mojo was one of the first bands that became part of his roster of early bands he worked with in the mid-late 90s and I’ve maintained a great friendship with him over years. Our relationship is not just about music and there’s also a friendship there which I really feel works in the studio, respect and camaraderie are a big part of the creative process.
Jack: The album has been described as “an overwhelming lyrical rebuke against leftist, authoritarian, fascist dogma which makes Here Come The Infidels a 41 minute and 18 second push back against the social justice movement”. What is it that aggravates you so much against the Social Justice movement?
Rich: Because it is making an assumption that just because you disagree with a perspective, that means your perspective needs to be forced on everyone else. I’m a classic liberal, which means that I don’t know what is best for everyone else. I don’t want to tell Muslims or Buddhists or Christians or Hindus or Jews how to live their lives. They should choose how to lives their lives and how they want to raise and educate their families, it should be none of my business.
The idea that we want to manufacture societies and socially engineer neighbours because we think they should look a certain way to represent certain viewpoints I just think it is arrogant because as we’ve learnt over time, governments make huge mistakes. It wasn’t people that were responsible for slavery, that was governments. It was what was legal and what the government, the law of the land decided. We can look through history, not just American history, but all over the world and we can see that with great power and with what large oppressive governments that terrible things will happen.
I like the idea that if someone wants to be in PETA and work for the protection of animals, I respect that. But if someone like Ted Nudget wants to go hunt Bambi, I don’t personally hunt and it is something that I abhor and I don’t like the idea of seeing someone hold a lion’s head after they’ve killed it, it makes me sick to my stomach. But the idea that I’m going to go onto the internet and threaten that person and their families and try and threaten and scare them into modifying their behaviour, that makes me even more sick! I think the social justice movement has done more to try and separate us into these groups where we war against each other instead of accepting each other for the decisions that we think are best for us.
Jack: That’s interesting. So would you say that people are too easily offended in 2016?
Rich: Well absolutely because the whole point of the social justice movement is to validate feelings. It’s to say your feelings are justified, now we have to do something about it. That’s the perspective of a two year old right? Only children say “my feelings are hurt, now you have to validate them and do something about it!” It’s okay to have your feelings hurt and it shouldn’t be society’s responsibility to meet the needs of all hurt feelings.
The truth is I don’t want to hurt my neighbours feelings and I don’t want to say things that would be offensive to them. The reason that I don’t draw cartoons of Muhammad is because it would hurt people’s feelings. I don’t want it to be illegal, I don’t want the government to dictate what we can and can’t express because it might hurt somebody’s feelings in the same way I don’t have any problem with King Diamond singing satanic lyrics in heavy metal songs. You don’t have a right to not be offended and I think we’re getting into this place where everybody gets a vote on what is proper and what is improper.
Let’s face it, when we start talking about things like gay marriage, we’re the dumbasses that decided we would allow the government to dictate who could and who couldn’t get married right? When did that ever become the decision of the government to make those decisions, that should be between us and our partner? It should be a civil ceremony that has no bearing on the rule of law and yet we had these huge protest rallies and stuff to tell the government, “hey we should be allowed to express our love in anyway we want,” of course you should! But you guys are the same dumbasses that want the government to tell other people what we can and can’t do. So you can’t have it both ways, but you can’t have that freedom over there shut down and think that’s the place we’ve come from.
Of course the most dangerous part about it is that if you say something that someone doesn’t like, they get to call you racist, or homophobe or a bigot. That’s the worst part of all of this, instead of us being able to sit down and say “I disagree with you but you have a really good, interesting point,” where we can have a civil discussion where let’s face it, most people when it comes to immigration or whatever kind of religious freedoms. We probably agree with around 60% of things and there’s probably only things on the fringe we probably disagree with. But we spend all our time fighting about the things we disagree with and I think social media and this social justice movement has empowered the idea that we should fight as it makes us feel special. It puts us in this place where it is unearned moral superiority.
So I can say that Donald Trump is an asshole and all of a sudden everyone pats our back on Twitter and goes “yes he’s an asshole!” and all of a sudden you feel good about yourself. But you didn’t do anything, you didn’t earn that moral superiority other than just typing something. You didn’t go to Somalia to work in a soup kitchen to feed starving children and you didn’t work in a hospital to help kids with cancer, you have no actual skin in the game, you’re not trying to help your neighbour who lost his job. You’re not a productive part of trying to make the world better, you just want to sit on Twitter and Facebook and just call people names, and that’s what the social justice movement has become.
Jack: Let’s talk a bit about your history. You’ve been around since 1989 and at one point in your career you played around 280 shows a year which is an insane figure. How did you stay fit on tour for this amount of time?
Rich: When you’re on tour, if you’re an opening band you’re doing a 45 minute set or if you’re a headline band on average you’re doing a 90 minute set or maybe two hours and then you have a lot of time left in the day to either get into trouble or be productive. So we just as a band starting getting into fitness and that was part of our mission statement which was to be better than every other band. So we started exercising, lifting weights and starting to eat healthy so we started taking a different trajectory than the standard drink until you black out and all those things that kind of come along with it.
Because when you’re in a band, the thing they want to give you at the club is free beer and then obviously drugs and your ego starts to play. Once you start to marry ego, narcissism, drugs and alcohol, it’s no wonder that bands can’t stay together and why musicians end up overdosing or saying crazy things on stage or falling down drunk; it’s a dangerous cocktail and we decided that we as a band we were going to take a different approach to it as we wanted to be the strongest and fittest band.
Because like any athlete… I will tell you that when on stage after about 60 minutes when I start getting tired and fatigued from moving around and really being part of the show and putting everything into it. The first thing that starts to happen is your hands start to fatigue, so I start to lose dexterity in my hands. The fitter I am and the better shape I am, the more sleep I get and if I treat myself like an athlete; then I can play a set without any of that stuff starting to come into the play. The other part is when you start becoming tired, you start becoming mentally aware of that exhaustion and it takes your head out of that connection with the audience and that being in the moment connecting with the song and connecting with the audience. I’ve also tried to be as best as I can be because as it’s not always the most talented musician whose the most talented that’s successful in this business it’s who wants it the most. You see it in Hollywood, you see it in all lines of work. Those who are the most committed and are willing to do whatever it takes will be those who will be the most successful and that’s something I’ve always been conscious of.
Jack: In the past you toured with Pantera, what are your fondest memories from touring with that band?
Rich: Well at that point in time I thought they were the greatest metal band on the planet. I just thought they were untouchable by anyone, as players, chemistry, songs, they just had all of it because they came up in that late ’80s era where there was still a huge emphasis at that point in musicianship. So they came up with Van Halen, ZZ Top and you know Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer. So they had all these interesting influences but they were influenced by great playing so they had all this musicianship and all the chops that come with that; and then this perfect marriage between the old world of heavy metal and this new explosion of super aggressive riffing that was starting to be. You could start seeing with bands like Sepultura and some of the other bands of that era. They were just lightning in a bottle, every night I would watch them and think I was watching something that could probably never be recreated and that would probably never happen again, they were just four amazing, individual musicians who would play like a tank. It’s the perfect engine and you know they would watch us from side stage every night and it was just…
Rich: Yeah it was mind blowing looking over and watching all four members of Pantera, watch every moment of every song we played and root us on, come out on stage with a platter of shots and treat us like they’d known us our whole lives and it was amazing. It also reminded me to treat the bands that you play with with respect because I remember how much it meant to be to have those guys check with us. “How’s everything going guys, are you doing okay, are you getting everything you need? Let us know if you need anything?” They literally treated us like we were guests in their house and I will never forget how at ease that put me; because when you’re an opening band on a tour it’s a very interesting place to be in because you want to do your best but you have to be very respectful knowing you’re on somebody else’s bill. You’re there at their permission, so they taught me a lot of things on how to respect bands that open for you and at the same time taught me that being a band is more than just being a great group of musician, it does come down to chemistry. Which is why when you saw Damageplan, as much as I thought that was a great band, the chemistry wasn’t the same and it will be true for a lot of other bands you see. Led Zeppelin are one of the greatest bands of all time and then Paul Rogers, one of the greatest voices of all time, in The Firm you’ve got Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers in the same band and it just didn’t work for me. It just always reminds you that chemistry is important and how do you work together as a team and Pantera was the greatest example of that.
Jack: Rich, thank you very much for your time.
Rich: Jack, thank you so much and take care!