"The new album has more musical variety than any of our other records"
The mighty Jag Panzer return with their new long awaited studio album, six years after “The Scourge Of Light”. We contacted guitarist and main songwriter Mark Briody to discuss about the making of “The Deviant Chord” and learn all the details behind its creation.
So, you’re a really morning guy.
[laughs] Yeah, I guess so [laughs]
According to your facebook timeline yesterday was a heavy metal day for you, right?
I’ve been doing this kind of interviews and the e-mail interviews like every single day, so when I’m doing the e-mail interviews I like to put music on at the background, so I thought that yesterday would be a classic metal day
Let’s start with the basics and discuss the writing process. Everything starts with you, right?
Yeah, everything starts with me. I usually try and start with the song in my head and then I go to the studio and record it and if doesn’t come out the way I want, I throw it away. I threw away many songs this time. I think it was 17 songs that I threw away for this record. But, once I record it and it sounds like what I hear in my head then I will do a demo myself, which is usually pretty bad… bad drumming.
I don’t know how to play the bass, but I try so I do a whole demo and I send it to Harry and then Harry will come over at the studio about a week later and we start changing everything. Harry has great ideas for music, so we switch things around, we change the key signatures, we change the tempos and then Harry and I do a demo and it gets a lot better. Then we send the demo to the other guys and they start calling us up to tell me that “I don’t know how to play the drums” and that “the bass parts are wrong” [laughs]… All kind of things like that. They all add their parts. We do this three or four different times until the song gets as good as we think it’s gonna get and the final version of the song use to end up being quite bit different from what I started with.
I’m a slow songwriter. I need to figure out how to do it faster
And how long did it take you to finish the songs?
Oh, probably about a year and a half. I’m a slow songwriter and this process is going back and forth. Sometimes it was two months for a single song. I need to figure out how to do it faster, it’s very slow [laughs]
Do you think that taking you so long to complete the songs might somehow affect the cohesion of the album?
No, it doesn’t. Because some of the songs I started a year and a half ago, but they weren’t finished a year and half ago. I mean everything had a final version probably in December and we went in the studio in January. So, it wasn’t that a song was completely done and then we forgot about it for a year, because that would affect the cohesion of the record. Everything we keep improving it and we do want a last final demo in December.
If we tried to mix our own record there would have been a lot of fighting and arguing
Did you produce the album yourselves this time or you had someone hired for the job?
We always work with a producer, because I think if we tried to mix our own record there would have been a lot of fighting and arguing. Everybody would have wanted to hear their own instrument loud or hear things different, so we always have someone else mix it. Most of our budget goes into drums. We do drums in a real drum room which has a nice hardware floor with a drum engineer. Everything else we record it at my house. Our bass player recorded in his house and Joey would record it at his own house. I do the guitars by myself, I do all the keyboards myself. Most of it was done at home except for the drums. Our producer did the drums and then everybody does their own parts and our producer mixes it.
So, when it comes to the recordings there’s no interaction between the band members and everyone is records his parts by his own?
Yeah, I think so. I would like the interaction. I mean, I’m happy with the way the records came out in the past. Probably the last five Jag Panzer record where done with no interaction, so it’s nothing new to us. I do miss the interaction though, but that would be expensive actually for a band like us. We’d have to fly everybody, we’d have to get everybody together, we’d have to book actual studio time for a week or so. We are actually on a pretty small budget.
For a small budget recording, the album -sound wise- came out really good I think Mark…
I probably would have wanted to do a theme album myself, but some of the band members not so much
Before we continue, please tell me this. Are we talking about a concept album?
No. The graphics are. I mean the graphics and the lay out is all like a mad scientist, a Jekyll and Hide theme. We grew here in Colorado Springs, where Nichola Tesla had his famous laboratory. In fact it’s only about three miles from were I am right now. They called him the mad scientist back then. He took out all the electricity of the whole town one time, so we all have heard these stories. He always fascinated me. I think he was a brilliant scientist and I wanted to do a mad scientist theme, so we did it with the cover and the photos. There are a few hidden things in the record related to that so definitely the lay out is themed. The music is not. I probably would have wanted to do a theme album myself, but some of the band members, not so much.
So, if it’s not part of a concept, I wonder how you came up covering this old traditional Irish song “Foggy Dew”? Is there any Irish blood in you and you wanted to pay homage to your ancestors?
Yes, I’m mostly Irish. I’m Irish and Scandinavian, probably about ¾ Irish. My father is all Irish and his grandfather came over from Ireland and my father used to like to sing the “Foggy Dew” and he was very aware about the Irish causes. He told me the story of the Eastern Rising for which “Foggy Dew” is about. So yeah, the Irish culture has always been a big part of my life.
The new album touches on everything we did, but it still sounds completely like Jag Panzer. I think it has more musical variety than any of our other records
You mentioned in our previous interview that Harry was thinking that music wise the new -under construction at that moment- album was probably more close to “Thane To The Throne”, but it’s not only that. There are more elements and songs that remind me other albums as well. But the final conclusion is that it’s sound exactly like how a Jag Panzer album should sound. What you believe about that?
It’s interesting you asked that, because I think if you ask each band member the same question you’ll get a completely different answer. I know Harry -cause I saw him a few days ago and his is coming by today - and he thinks it sounds a little like “Thane To The Throne”, but someone will go “what? It sounds nothing like ‘Thane…’” [laughs]. Some band member may thinks that’s maybe a little bit like “The Fourth Judgment”. I think it’s a bit like our whole career. It touches on everything we do but it still sounds completely like Jag Panzer. I think it has more musical variety than any of our other records, which I think it’s very cool.
I think that it’s easier to understand how a track like… let’s say “Salacious Behavior” is done. But what about the more complex songs like “The Deviant Chord”, with the atmosphere, the keys and all that?
I always like to do a song like that, ever since I heard “Heaven And Hell” and “Sign Of The Southern Cross”. Those two songs just hooked me on a big, long, epic song with atmospheres. The “Sign Of The Southern Cross” from Black Sabbath has a huge amount of atmosphere in it, It’s really cool. So, I always liked to do songs like that and we always put them last on the record, but for this record our drummer Rickard called me and said that we couldn’t put it last and that we had to put it at number three. I said “No, that’s crazy” and he said “No, no, you’ve got to trust me, we have to move it because it would give a different sound” and I think that he was right. It does give a different sound. I really like that song actually.
The use of the violin has stepped back in this album, why?
Yes. There’re still some violin parts in there, but we didn’t have a real violinist to use this time, so I had to play them on the keyboard which is really not what I want to do. So, I kinda took the violin back a little bit. I mean there’s still in there, but because it’s not a real violin I didn’t want to put it up front.
The part of “Black List” with the keyboard sounds really weird. How you came up with that idea?
It’s funny with “Black List”. I do press every day for this record and people really, really like “Black List” and some of my band members do, but it’s my least favorite song. I mean I like everything on the record, but it’s my least favorite and doing the press a lot of people loved it and I got two band members that tell me that this should be the next lyric video, but I said them “I’m doing the lyric video, so I’m doing what I want” [laughs]
Lyric wise where does the album stand?
There’s a lot of variety in the lyrics. You know, Harry’s got a few songs that tell stories like “Far Beyond All Fear”, which is about a team of man going on an expedition. He’s got a lot of songs… Well, Harry likes writing about the “brotherhood of heavy metal”, you know, you go to a festival… we go to these huge shows where everybody is cool, everybody is getting along. It’s a really cool environment and Harry likes to write a lot about that. “Fire Of Our Spirit”, for example, is about that
Joe Tafolla is one of my favorite guitar players in the world
Joe Tafolla’s performance is stellar! How you felt working with him again on an album?
Oh, it’s great. He is one of my favorite guitar players in the world. I mean he has amazing technical skills, but his sense of melody reminds me of Wolf Hoffmann from Accept. Melody-wise he plays some beautiful parts on the guitar and then he can play these screaming blazing solos. We had the same influences growing up, you know. Ritchie Blackmore and Black Sabbath with Dio and Accept with Wolf Hoffmann. Joey and I were always on the same page musically about what a song needs.
So his contribution had only to do with the solo parts or he had a more creative role?
Oh, no, no, his contribution was amazing. He and I were talk on the phone every day about the demos. He would suggest different guitar harmonies, he had a lot of suggestions for the vocal harmonies, he had some arrangement suggestions. So, he really-really added a lot to the songs
Are there any funny stories or goofs from the making of the album?
[laughs]There was a lot of stress, that’s for sure. Everybody was stressed [huge laughs]. There was nothing funny about this one. Everybody worked really-really hard on this record. I mean, our bass player was calling me up and playing me this completed part, which was just amazing and four days later he had completely changed it all. So, yeah…there usually is a funny story, but there was nothing funny about recording this record.
Everybody really had a lot of personal attachment to this music and that added to the stress
How come you were so stressed?
I think everybody really felt a personal connection to this music. We never demo this much and everybody was listening to the demos all the time. I could talk to anybody in the band and they would say “I went to ride my bike and I was listening to the demos” or “I was in my car driving all day and listening to the demos”. What was really cool was that everybody had suggestions about other people’s parts, which was great. I mean, Harry had suggestions about drum parts and our drummer had suggestions about bass parts and our bass player had some arrangement suggestions. I think everybody really had a lot of personal attachment to this music and that added to the stress when you get down to the final recordings.
I always do covers that I think we can do our own interpretation of the song
You have always done covers of songs that are not the “profound choices”, except perhaps the Black Sabbath and the Judas Priest ones. You’ve done a Jack Starr’s song, “Foggy Dew”, “The Wreck Of Edmund Fitzgerald” and back in the day “In A Gadda Da Vida” from Iron Butterfly. How you choose that songs and not perhaps a classic N.W.O.B.HM. tune?
Well, the two of them that I don’t really count are the Iron Butterfly and “Children Of The Sea”, casue other people asked us to do. For Iron Butterfly it was the record company that they were trying to find a band to do it for the soundtrack of “Less Than Zero” and they ended up picking Slayer. They had asked us to record a version, so we did that. And Century Media asked us to do “Children Of The Sea” so we did that also.
But the other covers… I always do covers that I think we can do our own interpretation of the song. I don’t really do a cover because I think it’s popular or I think someone else would like it. That doesn’t even come factoring at all for me. We had to add to the covers some musical expression like we did in “Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Foggy Dew”. Can we make this a heavy metal song in an honest way? Not just listen to it once and then go like “ok, let’s do a metal version”, but to do a seriously involved metal version of that song.
About Jack Starr’s song, “False Messiah” now. Jack is a great songwriter and I’m a huge Jack fan for years and that’s an amazing song that not enough people were hearing it. Not that Jag Panzer is a huge band, but I thought that if we were re-record maybe a few more people get to hear this great song.
We’ve been trying to do a live album for 15 years
Have you ever thought to do a whole album of covers or perhaps a live album?
A live album would be cool. I don’t know about a cover album though. I don’t really like charging for covers. I mean, I like maybe throw them on records once in a while, but I don’t think I’d like a whole album of it. I wouldn’t mind if we did covers, if we recorded them and then just putting them out for free on the internet. I mean, that might be kind of fun. But putting an album together, I don’t think so.
A live album would be cool though. We’ve been trying to do one of those for 15 years. It’s hard because the logistics of it. We’ve done shows that at first glance seems that it would have been great for a live album. Then they tell us “well, it looks like we will be able to record this” and when we get there we hear “oh no, the recording people can’t make it” or “they got booked” or “something happened”. It’s really hard or maybe the record company is not ready for a live album. It’s really hard to coordinate it. It’s frustrating for me trying to coordinate a live album, so I don’t know when that will happen.
We waited seven years for “The Scourge Of Light” and six years for “The Deviant Chord”. Are you going to keep up with that pace or we’re going to hear new material more often from you?
[Laughs]I hope to hear from us more often. I never planned it that way. We have to see how it goes. Hopefully there’s gonna be a record sooner.
I guess a 3-4 weeks tour is out of the question, right?
No! I think that’s possible. Everybody in the band told me that it’s possible. We have a manager and an agent now. It’s the first time we have one, so…
So are there any solid plans to do some shows and perhaps come back to Greece?
Yeah, there’re definitely some show plans. We got contact a couple of days ago for a really, really cool show. I can’t say anything right now but it was cool to get that e-mail. So we’re working on that…
Is it maybe Keep It True, or Up The Hammers?
It’s not Keep It True, I can tell you that. I love Keep It True it’s one of my favorite shows and I think it’s already booked for next year so we cannot play there.
I know that bands have to write for sales and write for money and I just never do that. It’s not fun
If you had the opportunity to be a musician for a living, would you rather take that chance or you think that it would be too much for you at the point you are now to be so much on the road and to have to write songs and do albums in a more regular basis?
I think it depends. If I had to change the style of music, I would not be interested in it. I know that bands have to write for sales and write for money and I just never do that. It’s not fun. I would have no interest to that, I would hate my job! I mean, I would call myself a professional musician, but I would hate it. So, I would love to play as a profession, but it would have to be the exact music we’re doing.
Which is your favorite song and which is the one that you are most proud of on the new album?
I think my favorite song right now is “Fire Of Our Spirit” because it’s got guitar solos through the whole thing. I always wanted to do that since I was a kid and I heard “Pack It Up And Go” from U.F.O.; I’ m obsessed with how Michael Schenker playing through the whole thing. I always wanted to do that and we’d never get it to work out. I mean I’ve played with some fantastic guitar players, world’s greater players, so I always had the talent in the band to do it. But it was always hard making it sounding right and making it work and we finally did it in “Fire Of Our Spirit” and that’s our next lyric video coming out in three weeks. For the song I’m most proud of – I always liked the epics- I’ll go with the title track “The Deviant Chord”. I think it has a lot of dept and emotion in it.
Most people here in America listen to whatever the radio tells them to. If the radio says that Slipknot is the greatest metal band, that’s what they think it is
I think that there’s quite a difference between the U.S. and the European metal fan base. Do you also think so? And why is this happening?
Yeah, there’s a big difference. U.S. has some great fans, don’t get me wrong. It’s a small following, but the small number of fans we’ve got in the U.S. are great is very cool. What’s so different about Europe–and I don’t know why it is- I think culturally in Europe everybody makes up their own mind about music. Most people here in America - the average person - they listen to whatever the radio tells them to. If the radio says that Slipknot is the greatest metal band, that’s what they think it is.
When I talk to people in Europe– and I like to talk to people about metal and what music they like- I hear lots of different opinions. I have one person who would tell me “I love Grave Digger, they’re my favorite” and someone may say “I like Hammerfall” and someone else may say “Gamma Ray” or Manowar and so on. Everybody have their own favorite and I think we see more unique opinions in European music fans.
In a conversation I had with a musician, he told me that the problem in the States is that there’s not a second division of bands. I mean, there are the A class bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden or Volbeat and Slipknot if we’re talking about more modern heavy stuff and then there’s the underground. Is that so?
Yeah, I would agree. Iron Maiden would play in my town here for ten thousand people and out of that ten thousand people the nine thousand don’t wanna hear to new heavy metal from anybody else. I don’t understand that. And I can’t understand it because I always want to hear new music. Because if I listen to a new great song it would be for the rest of my life. It’s great! I can’t understand not wanting to hear new music. I’ll go to big concerts, I’ll go to see Iron Maiden and talk to people and there’s a very little interest in hearing anything new. It’s like “Oh, we like Iron Maiden, that’s enough”.
I don’t think that anybody sounds like Jag Panzer and I don’t say that with any sort of attitude
Is there any new band that you like in particular and can you pick one -if there’s one- that you could say that “celebrates” music the way Jag Panzer does?
[Laughs] Nobody likes my favorite new band, because everybody likes them and people make fun of me. I love Sabaton! I mean, I really love their music. Every time I mention it people are going like “oh, you’re so trendy” and just laugh at me and say “you like the popular metal”. But, I like their music, really. I was just listening to “The Last Stand” this morning and it’s a great song. My band members, I don’t think they like it [laughs]. I like some underground band like Atlantean Kodex. I first heard them at K.I.T. and they are fantastic. As far as sounding like us, I don’t think that anybody sounds like Jag Panzer and I don’t say that with any sort of attitude. I hear our music at a certain way and I don’t hear that in any other band.
Ok that’s all. I don’t have any other questions. If you have any last thoughts you can share them with us…
Well, we hope to get back to Greece soon. The Greek fans are great, I love your country, it’s fascinating, always cool there and of course you’ve got “El Sorbo” chips which I love.
Thank you very much for your time and please try and stay away from rattlesnakes, ok?
Yeah, I think I’m getting close to get bitten…[Laughs]