Jag Panzer are one of the most underrated heavy metal bands of all time. Instead of making a luxury living out of their music they remain simple human beings and it's because they can't stop loving this music that they are still active giving a handful of shows and releasing music just to please themselves and their fans. As they're visiting Athens and Thessaloniki for two shows we had the chance to talk with Mark Briody, who proved to be a rather friendly guy as we discussed about everything regarding the band's history. We talked about the album that made them legends, their special bond with the Greek audience, the new material he's working on, his favorite power metal albums, why he thinks they never got as big as they should and of course about Harry 'Tyrant' Conklin in this really interesting interview.
Firstly, let's talk about the band's status at the moment. What happened with John and how is he doing? When will he come back? Who's replacing him for the upcoming shows?
John got out of his car during a winter storm, slipped on some ice and fell into a ditch and tore his shoulder out completely. He had to get his whole shoulder reconstructed, so no bass playing for six months, no touring for I think eight months, I think he is about to start playing in about two months, so he’s gonna do our shows next years.
I guessed that it had something to do with the problem he had and made him perform in your last visit here sited...
No. That was also an issue. That was an ankle issue, he got that fixed too!
(laughs) He has a new one, you'll see him next time (laughs)! We have Aric Avina, bass player from Benedictum, he plays bass with us. He played bass at the Bang Your Head show, he did great job, so he'll be joining us for these shows as well.
So where are we, regarding with the new album?
I think I have six songs done for it, so I got a few more songs. I'm a slow songwriter, I like to put a lot of time in these songs, so maybe I'll be done writing this December.
When do you think that it's going to be released?
Once I'm done writing, I'll talk to SPV and see when they want us to get in the studio, when they wanna release it. I don't want to send anything to the label before the whole album is ready.
And how does the new material sound like?
It's hard for me to say. Harry thinks they sound kind of like "Thane To The Throne" a little bit. That's what Harry thinks.
That's good news... (laughs)
Harry is the only one that has heard them, because he comes and works with me. Bass player, drums and lead guitar play many things when we come to complete songs and they change all my thoughts around, make them better! (laughs)
The setlist last year was almost perfect for your old / die-hard fans, but included no songs after 1997. Should we expect any differences this time around?
Yes, we're gonna play a few newer songs (laughs)... I don't wanna say what they are, I want it to be a surprise, but yeah, there's some newer stuff. There's still the old classics, that we have to give to the fans, so there's a lot of them in the set, but we threw in there and some new songs.
Let's go back for a little, shall we? What happened after "Ample Destruction"? Why did you never get the chance to record a second album?
Back then we had a lot of major labels in the U.S coming out to see us and calling us and we also had some independent labels like Combat who wanted a new album. We were stupid kids, like 19 years old, and we thought 'we got to get on one of these big labels if we're gonna have any success', so we turned down a lot of deals to come up with a second album we really should have taken. So, we were like 'should we get that offer? No, we got to wait for Warner Brothers, or Capitol or somebody else'. That was some bad mistake we made, 'cause we had a new album, it was pretty much written. Now it is out as "Shadow Thief" on High Roller Records, two years I think.
In 1981 you sounded almost like a hard rock band...what happened in between 81 and 84 when you transformed into a heavy metal band?
New Wave Of British Heavy Metal happened! (laughs) Harry showed me how to play guitar, we just lived a few houses apart, so he taught me some Kiss songs. We were playing Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Ted Nugent and Foghat. It was ok and that's what original songs were like, hard rock. Then I heard the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and I completely changed the way I write songs.
What are your feelings every time you hear "Ample Destruction"? What do you think of this album? What do you remember from those days?
I have some good memories out of it. My favorite memories were when we recorded it in the winter. It was cold, the studio had a wood-burning stove and anybody that recorded had to go collect firewood (laughs)... I remember Joey Tafolla, cause he's from California, he wasn't used to that weather. He was freezing cold and he got his arms full of firewood and was like 'Do we have to collect firewood?'. It was stupid, we should have the guys that didn't play to gather the firewood, but we made it whoever was playing that day had to do it. Harry would always show up early and get all of his, sometimes even in advance (laughs)... But, we had fun doing that record, it was so fun time. I think this record is probably a little a bit overrated (laughs)... I'm very proud of it, but I like "Thane To The Throne" better, I think I like "The Scourge Of Light", "Mechanized Warfare"... I mean I like some of the later albums a little bit better. I still love "Ample Destruction", it's very important to me.
"Ample Destruction" is considered by many as one of the best power metal records of all time. Which are your favorite gems of the genre?
For me, the best power metal album is Blind Guardian's "Nightfall In Middle-Earth". I think that's an incredible album. Going back much earlier, I think Warlord's "Deliver Us" EP is... I don't know why people don't call that power metal, because I think that establishes what we call today power metal. It's a very epic record... "Lucifer's Hammer", "Deliver Us", those are very epic songs. So, I think probably those two records. There's lot of good power metal records, but I think those two are my favorite.
Do you think that not being able to make another album back then stopped you from being a more popular band? Why in your opinion "Chain Of Command" did't get you a proper contract with any label?
Probably, I think so. Because, our biggest problem was just getting people to hear our band. We're almost unknown here in the U.S., except for the underground. At least, I think more people would have been exposed to us. I run into people all the time, just here in my town, that like heavy metal, and not Jag Panzer -'I've never head you guys'- and then they listen: 'Wow, you guys are great, I like it'. See, that's always been our biggest problem.
What about the "Dissident Alliance" era? How did you come up with such a radical change in the music approach?
The way I look at it is that Jag Panzer is always five musicians; it's not Mark Briody's Jag Panzer. Everybody in the band gets equal input and that’s just what the band sounded like at that time. That's all I can say, that's with us five together, with Daniel (Conca) singing Chris Kostka on guitar. That's just what we sound like. I could have said, 'Υou need to sound like this', 'you got to try to be like Harry', 'Υou got to do this'. I never wanted to do this in the band, I think a band should have a natural sound.
Even if you didn't like it?
I liked it, because it was playing with my friends. That's what Jag Panzer is to me, playing with my brothers, so that it was for me. I know, I know, most people don't like it, but from my point of view, it's just making music with my friends.
And then it is 1997 and "The Fourth Judgment" comes out...a really mind blowing album. How did you manage to get the band back together and find a label and succeed when 10 years before you failed?
Well, you know, at that time I didn't know if any labels would be interested, so we recorded just for fun. I had written the songs and I thought that Harry would sound really good singing on them. We didn't have a vocalist at the time and I wasn't even thinking about getting Jag Panzer together with Harry or anything, I just thought these are some good songs and Harry would sound good singing on them. I always kept in contact with them, we've been friends since we were kids, so, I said 'why won't you come sing on this?'.
So, he came and listened to them and he really liked them and he worked overnight. I think he stayed up all night, he came up the next day and laid down those demo tracks. So, the demos' sounds came out really good, I was very happy with them, but I still wasn't sure there'd be any label's interests but you know...that was fine. I just liked playing the music. So, I sent the demos out to different people and then labels started contacting us. I knew a few people from Century Media, I knew them earlier. I liked them as people and I knew they were really passionate about metal so I took the Century Media deal.
When I grabbed my copy of the album and heard the violins in the beginning of the album in "Black" I got goosebumps and right away I knew that I had a monumental album in my hands. How did you come to adapt the use of the violin in the first place?
Well, that's a good question but you know, if you think about it, if you listen to "The Crucifix" from "Ample Destruction", there is a violin part in the beginning except its play is on a synthesizer. If we had known a real violinist back then, there would have been a violin on "Ample Destruction" just on that part. Because, first of all, I love the sound of a violin, I think it's a very emotional instrument and it's got a dark quality that I think it fits well in heavy metal and frequency wise it just sits above an electric guitar so it works really well in a metal mix. I don't want them in every song and we don't have a violinist in the band, but I think in certain spots it fits really well.
Were all the songs -except of course "Shadow Thief"- new or were there ideas from the past?
Um... Just a few riffs...well, yeah there are some older songs on "The Fourth Judgment" obviously, like "Shadow Thief", but maybe one out of ten riffs or one out of twenty or something they were older. Most of it was pretty new. It takes me a while to write a song, but once I get a melody in my head I can combine the pieces together, and that's how I write. So, I don't really keep a lot of riffs around. I mean if something is good enough to make a song, I'll try making it a song right away.
After hearing "Shadow Thief" in "The Fourth Judgment", in "Age Of Mastery" we had a bunch of oldies but goodies among the new stuff but... is "The Moors" one of the best Jag Panzer songs ever?
Oh, I love "Τhe Moors". It's a very controversial song, because I have people that tell me they love it and every time we play it live, I will always have one person tell me that they hated it. I mean at least in every gig will people say 'Oh that's horrible! Why do you play it?' and I'm like 'Really? That's one of my favorite songs'.
We were talking about to do it on this tour, but we're not (laughs)... I like it, because it's so unusual. I like it because Harry worked really hard at the vocal arrangements, there were lots of vocal layers and counterpoints and I think it's a really cool song. It's the only Jag Panzer song without a guitar solo. The only one.
Now, let's talk about "Thane To The Throne". It's kind of radical opinion, I know, because everybody is worshiping "Ample Destruction", but I think this is your magnum opus so far...a great concept album which in terms of progression and overall music craftsmanship is a step beyond everything else you've done so far. Do you agree?
Yeah, I agree. I love "Thane To The Throne". I'm proud of all of our records, but "Thane To The Throne" is really special to me, because we all worked so closely together. I mean Chris Broderick contributed a lot of material to that, Harry came in and had four-five versions of vocals for each song. I mean it was just crazy how much work. John was coming in with like 'I have this base line or we could do this' and Rikard with drums. He did his drums after the vocals because he really wanted to make sure he worked around the vocals and enhance the vocals as much as he could with the drums. So, I' m really proud cause everybody really worked together well on that record.
I keep thinking about all this great music and I wonder if we're going to hear any songs from that album played live. I want to hear "The Tragedy Of Macbeth" please... (laughs)
I think you might (laughs)... I think there is a good chance you'll hear some of the "Thane To The Throne" live. Joey sounds pretty good playing "Thane To The Throne" stuff.
I really want you to re-record "Out Of Sight Out Of Mind" with the proper production. Is one hell of a song... It has this haunting melody and this great solo with the solid rhythmic backbone. Well will you at least consider it?
Oh that's another song that...for every person that tells me they like it, someone else will say 'That sounds like a pop song, I hate that' (laughs)... I like that song, cause it has a guitar part that Joe wrote, that comes in on the happy like a reggae song, which is really, really different for metal. I'm not sure I've ever heard it in another metal song. I'm sure some other metal band has done it, I just never heard it. So, it's got some cool different parts to it and I like Harry's vocals to it. Yeah, I like that song a lot...A lot of other people don't like it though.
Which is your favorite guitar player that you have worked with Jag panzer?
Oh, that's a good question. I don't know. I like them all for different reasons. Joey Tafolla, the first time we worked with him was at a practice session. It was funny because we advertised for a lead guitar player and this guy calls and he sounded like he might be ok, but the guy couldn't make the audition so, he called Joey, he didn't even know Joey but he had a friend that knew Joey and he says 'Hey, you don't know me, but I have an audition for this band, you wanna take my place?'. So, Joey comes to audition and we don't know who he is. We're like 'I thought this guy Dave was gonna audition' and 'who is this guy Joe?' and he plugged in his amp and he was warming up with "Highway Star" and I was like 'Oh my God, he sounds great' and then he played the solo and I went like 'Wow'. I've never heard a guitar player playing like that. I mean, Joey is like a modern metal Blackmore, which is really cool and Joey and I like a lot of the same music. We're huge Dio fans and Rainbow and Sabbath with Dio. So, that's what's really cool about working with Joey.
Working with Chris Broderick...it was like having Paul Gilbert in your band. I mean he is an amazing player. I'm a big fan of technical guitar playing Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai and Chris could play all of that. Anything I've ever heard on guitar. 'Hey have you heard that Steve Vai thing?', 'Oh this?' and Chris would play it. And Chris is a very nice guy. He is really cool guy and a life-long friend of mine so, it was cool having a guitar player like that in the band. Christian Lasegue... him and I worked really close together writing a lot of stuff and again he's a great songwriter and his playing...He actually reminds me of Adrian Vaderberg a little bit. He's got that very soulful playing, he's got great bands and I think he is probably the most underrated guitar players we've ever had and we had some really great guitar players in the band.
Did you hear Chris Broderick's new album with Act Of Defiance?
Yeah, it sounds exactly like Chris to me. That's exactly the kind of music Chris loves and I had a big smile on my face, because it sounds exactly where Chris used to tell me he likes. 'I like this kind of music, I want vocals like these'... and he knew that Jag Panzer wasn't gonna sound like that but that was the kind of music he loves. He would listen to Meshuggah all the time on tour and so I like Act Of Defiance because it sounds like Chris to me.
Why did you choose to be just the rhythm guitar guy?
I played some solos on "Ample Destruction" and it's just not fun to me to practice lead guitar three or four hours a day like those guys do. I can play solos if you ask me to play lead, I can do it ok, but I don't like to spend that time, to spend hours and hours. Chris would play like...ten hours a day, super-fast and clean, perfect cool parts and it's something I'm not interested in doing myself.
There was a big period between 2004 and 2011 that you didn't release any new material. Why did that happen?
Chris had left for Megadeth at that time and I had some songs written, but with him in mind, because I was really familiar with how he played guitar and I like to try with people in mind. So, after Chris left I scrapped everything I was working on and then started writing the new album with Christian Lasegue, so I scrapped a lot of songs again. If I work for a couple of months and it's just not what I want, I get rid of lot of stuff and actually most of the times the delay is my fault, cause it's taking me too long to write, there's a bad year and then we negotiate with different labels. All I cared from record labels is that they pay for our recording sessions and try to get the album out and since we had a lot of different labels interested it took us some time, but I'm the one to blame mostly for the delay.
Let's talk a little bit about the disbandment in 2011.What really happened back then? My guess is that Satan's Host played a major role...
Yeah... I don't know... we still really don't talk about it a lot... I don't know really what to say. Harry and I are friends no matter who sings in the band. He does his own thing (laughs)... it's hard to say. I'm glad I'm working with him now and we really don't talk about it. He just does what he does (laughs)...
The tyrant has such a strong voice. I consider him as one of the best singers of all time. Every time I see him live with you or Titan Force he blows us away...is he giving you the freedom to write whatever you want knowing that he will manage to sing it?
Oh exactly! With him singing, I don't worry about the vocals at all. I never write anything and think 'how will the vocals should sound?' or 'can he sing this?'. With his vocal range Harry can sing everything I write, so I don't have to worry about it. I mean anything I can imagine he can sing it. He is great singer for a song writer. I think that Harry is way underrated singer. I was on facebook the other day and I looked something like the top ten power metal singers and I immediately jumped at the first three and I was thinking 'how come Harry is not at the top?'. He was not even at the top ten and I was just thinking 'What are these people talking about?'. I don't get it. To me, he is an absolutely amazing vocalist and people that work in the industry, managers and producers, they say the same thing. He's got a great voice, but I get disappointed, because I read lists a lot and I see many people don't even put him at the top ten. That doesn't make any sense to me...
Do you think that Jim Morris have played a significant role in the development of your sound?
I don't know if I would put it in that way, but for sure Jim is a great guy and super talented. I think we had defined our own sound before we start working with him. What Jim did the best is that he helped us get the best out of our ideas. Especially, how the violin should work with the guitar. I had tried it before myself and it was a huge failure. I just couldn't get it to sound like how I had it in my head and Jim Morris gets it in something like ten minutes. Jim Morris with Harry, the two of them laughing and joking all the time...Jim just brings the best out of everybody and you can hear that in all Jim's records. His work with Iced Earth is amazing.
Ok, now it's time for the one million dollar question. Why Jag Panzer did not make the commercial success that they deserve?
Well, I think in the eighties we weren't pop metal enough. You know, the labels wanted Bon Jovi or bands like that and later on they wanted Faster Pussycat or bands like that and we never really fit in the trend, because we never really care about the trends. We were here in Colorado, we were not in L.A. or New York. We are just here in Colorado and we just get together and play the music we like.
I think that Manilla Road is the same way. I don't want to speak for them but I love that band I don't think that anyone ever sounded like them and I think they are just like guys that really want to play good heavy metal and they just don't really care about everything else that you had to have to make it. You know, an image consultant and hair and all that (laughs)... I certainly never cared about that and I don't think that anyone of my bandmates did either. We never became big rock stars, but we put out some great records and to me that means a lot more.
The Greeks love Jag Panzer, so why do you think there is such a bond? Which was your most memorable appearance here?
I think Greek fans really-really listen to heavy metal. Every time I'm in Greece I can talk to people about the Angelwitch album, I can talk to people about Warlord and Ostrogoth, with just anybody. I can talk to people about metal because they listen to metal and you don't see that in the U.S. at all. So that’s that really cool that people love heavy metal in Greece and they are passionate about the music.
I remember the first time that we were supposed to play in Greece, but the promoter didn't bring us here and we were so disappointed, because everyone kept telling us how great is to play in Greece. So, when we finally got there and we got on stage it was amazing. It was totally cool. We played gigs in the U.S. and it's cool to play there, but only the guys in the first rows are singing along and that's about it. In Greece you see people like all the way back singing the songs and it's really cool. It's one of the best feelings being on stage and seeing that.
I see you are quite active in facebook, but apart from heavy metal songs, you also post pop songs and AOR and '70s rock. Could you say that you are a fan of music in general?
I like all genres of music and I mean everything. I think that for every genre of music I heard in my life there is at least one song that I like. I just want to hear a good melody, but most of all I want to hear somebody sing like it really means something and comes from the heart. You can get that in any kind of music. So, my favorite kind of music is heavy metal but I like all different kinds. I like pop, I like some country... I like a little bit jazz, but not too much (laughs)... but there are a few good songs. I like all kinds of music and I listen two or three hours of music every day.
And when it comes to inspiration, where do you think it comes from when you are writing a new Jag Panzer album?
I try to hear a song in my head that I would like. I hear this kind of melody in my head and I'm like 'that could be a great song' and then I try start working out the song in my head, like it's something I'd like to hear myself. Then I think I'm thinking what will possible work well for the band, so in general what inspires me is that I want to hear really good new music.
Is there any good music that you recently heard?
I haven't heard any new metal for a while. Other than the Act Of Defiance new album, I haven't heard any new metal album for a year, because I've been writing. I try not to listen anything new from metal when I'm songwriting. I can listen to new pop and everything else, but I haven't heard any new metal for a while...
And which band you should probably consider to be your all-time favorite?
Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio I think. "Heaven And Hell" and "The Mob Rules" were just amazing and I mean amazing from the first day I heard them and there're still amazing to me. I heard "Falling Off The Edge Of The World" before this interview and I was thinking 'what a great song'. I'm a huge Iron Maiden fan too but I think I've got to go with Sabbath with Dio.
And you did this great cover to the "Children Of The Sea"...
Yeah... I'm not really happy with that, but it was ok.
What? Why are you saying that? I think you did an excellent work there.
We just got off from a tour and I mean just got off stage and we got into this little van and we drove for six hours to the studio. We didn't have the time to take a nap or take a shower and we got in and record it right away. It sounds good. We played it in our tour, we played it reasonably well in the recording (laughs), but I think it could have been a lot better. I think that there are some other bands on the album that did better job on their song. I think we could have done it better if we had taken a little sleep. But it's ok...
Last question. Are you a pizza expert?
(huge laughs) I love pizza, I can eat it every day. I've got to google 'pizza' in Athens and Thessaloniki to find a good place. I don't know if I'm an expert, but I love it. I have it all the time, I have it all over the world. I mean, every place I'm at, I get a pizza!