STUCK MOJO GUITARIST RICH WARD EXCLUSIVE METALSUCKS.NET INTERVIEW!
Fresh off the heels of independently releasing their new album “Southern Born Killers,” rap-reggae-rock pioneers Stuck Mojo are back in the game with a new singer and a great new disc. MetalSucks.net sat down with Stuck Mojo guitarist / songwriter Rich Ward to discuss such topics as the band’s decision to release the entire album for free download, the current state of heavy metal, Rich’s love of Swedish Death Metal, new frontman Lord Nelson, and the band’s plans for the next year. Enjoy.
How is everything going right now with the band and the new record “Southern Born Killers?”
It’s been an amazing process. I went from a musician who toured full time for a living making one or two records a year depending on how busy I was. Stuck Mojo has always been the #1 band, but I have a side project I do called Fozzy, and I just put another record out with them last year. Through all that stuff the priority has been always to make the music for the folks, and then turn all the music over to a record company who would distribute, and sometimes even decide to market it and promote it. But this time with this new Stuck Mojo release we decided the course of action would be to release it ourselves and sell it only through mail order, and now I have become the world’s busiest mail order clerk. (laughs)
You guys have attracted a lot of attention by making the album available for free download. Are people buying in addition to downloading? Can you talk a bit about your motives in making the album available for free?
It’s been amazing. I really thought that we would sell ok because a lot of people nowadays, they live on their mp3 players or they put their music on their home computers and play it. So I figured we have two options here; either we give the music away for free, or if you’d like to support the band with the music if you buy the album mail order directly from the band, you know that the money goes straight back to the guys that created it. It goes to pay off the recording costs and to basically allow the musicians to actually receive a few dollars per record as opposed to zero cents per record. Even though in our past record deals we were supposed to receive as a band about one dollar per CD, that’s before recoupment cost of production, recording etc, and bands never see any money unless you’re into literally multi-platinum sales… bands never see any money. What I just said, maybe it’s like the honor system that we used to have years ago where you go into the club house at the swimming pool and they’d have a box of candy bars, and you know, it’s not a vending machine, just a hole you put some money in. And it felt like it was the right thing to do. And to give it to folks if they believe in the band, they believe in the product, I believed they’d buy it. And I didn’t think they’d buy it by the tens of thousands, but on the route that we’re going right now it’s headed that way. Which is incredible, because my plan was to package it all up here at the house and send the product out and just take care of the bulk of it for the first couple of months, but I’m literally sitting on the floor of my office and it’s literally stacks of envelopes filled with CDs. I’m numbering them and trying to give a personal connection with the fan-base, making them feel like they didn’t just support the band but they’re building a relationship with some musicians who are really passionate about what they do and really appreciate the support that they’re getting from the fans.
Does the lack of audio quality on mp3s bother you?
Well, it used to bother me quite a bit because I’d spend so much money and you’d sit there – and this wasn’t much different, we flew to England to track drums and bass with my buddy Andy Sneap who’s doing the new Megadeth record. He was a groomsman in my wedding, we’re best buds, he’s spent Christmas and New Year’s at my house many, many times — but still, it’s not like it’s free (laughs), you know just to get studio time at his studio it’s expensive, and his rate isn’t cheap, it’s expensive. So we did that, and we mixed at the biggest studio here in Atlanta with the Producer Shawn Grove… he mixed the past couple of Sevendust records and Collective Soul. We spent the money. He’s amazing. So I made sure that I spent the money on the product. And I spent months and months of doing the things that it takes to make a great album. And yeah, when you take all of that into consideration and squash it down to 96k, you say hmmm, because of the washy cymbals and noise and stuff. But what I hope is that the song is good enough to the point where people enjoy the song. And maybe those people don’t have as discerning an ear for that kind of stuff. I think that the majority of people who listen to music are casual listeners who enjoy a great melody, a good rhythm, a good riff, or whatever it is, and at some point, if people are really concerned with audio quality those people are not going to nitpick over spending $12 + $3 shipping to get a good copy of the CD. If they don’t mind having the downloaded version, and having it compressed and sound a bit odd, then they can get it for free. And now I’m ok with that because I ultimately recognize that once the album got out into people’s hands it’s gonna be free anyway. I’d rather be the guy who gives it away and says, hey, this is my music, I wrote it, I spent $40k recording it, I’m going to be the guy who gives it to you and at least I will be in charge of the destiny of my music. Other than, you know, some guy at a record company who we send a copy of it to, and he makes copies for all his buddies, and then before the album ever gets out it’s up on the net. I felt like there was a bit of pride and integrity involved in knowing that through every step of the way I controlled the destiny of the product. Whether people got it for free or not, it was still the creators who offered that option, that still, as I said, it kind of gave it a sense of “it’s ok.”
How soon do you see CD’s being a thing of the past and how do you think the Internet will affect music sales and the way music is marketed and distributed?
Yeah… (hesitates)… it seems to reason that CDs are probably not going to be around 10 years from now… probably won’t. It’s gonna be up to us as musicians to figure out a way to deliver a product that people actually can hold in their hands. I got my first records in the late ’70s when I was a kid, and I loved having album sleeves and I enjoyed actually looking at the album covers, especially if my favorite bands like Iron Maiden and Priest had interesting album covers. There was something cool about it. But now I’m offering the first few thousand folks that ordered a copy of the CD, I give them a free DVD, that obviously makes it a better package. I say, hey, you get the music video for Open Season, and you get the “making-of” that, plus you get interview footage. You know, it really is prudent to us as musicians to try to figure out a way to make the fans of the band feel like they’re getting something for their money. And if truly all they’re interested in doing is downloading music and just having it to put on an mp3 player just to listen to casually… I hope, I believe that there are true music fans out there that want more than that, and if it turns out that it’s just bands like Stuck Mojo and just bands like, oh, I don’t know, some of the European bands — whether it’s In Flames, or whether it’s Hammerfall, or even underground rap groups that people really enjoy — maybe it’s just going to be kind of the subgenre bands that have real loyal followings that still exist in a real format, and maybe it’s just that pop music becomes…. Because let’s face it, people who are fans of pop music are generally just fans of songs. They’re not necessarily a fan of an album or a fan of that artist, which is why artists are so throwaway these days. They put a record out and people go crazy over it because of the single, and three or four years later you never even heard of that group because no one cares. Hopefully there are real musicians putting out real music that has substance to it, and that there is a sense of integrity behind the music. Maybe those types of bands will still be able to put out product in some shape or form. Maybe there will be some kind of hard drive fashion where there’s a small little zip drive that the album is on and you get video footage on it… maybe the media it comes on changes… maybe there can be fold out posters or booklets so people can actually see thank yous and liner notes, and why that song was created, and who was the guy who played keyboards on track #4. I think the real fans of bands want to see that. I know that I do. So, I’ll just put it in the hands of those in the music industry to continue to work hard and put out a product that people will believe in and will want to support.
So do you think that the industry will shift towards bands making more money from tour-based income? Because, like you said on your website, all the musicians you know are eating microwave burritos three times a day, and with record sales tanking it seems like that’s less and less of an income source.
Yeah… I always made the majority of my money touring. Always. It was always great because from the very beginning we started off in a van and we stayed in a van for multiple years. So when we started really doing well and we were selling out every night and we were able to start playing bigger venues and getting big guarantees, we didn’t say “Well, we should spend all our money on a bus, and 18 crew guys to wash our ass and do everything.” We just said “Hey, we’re already used to roughing it.” I was always the driver of the band anyway. When we were done with the show I’d get in the driver seat and I’d drive to the next place. So we always were able to make money because we never spent it. We would put it away. We were all living in big houses and had nice cars, but touring was how we paid our rent and how we drove our pretty cars. We were able to do that even though we literally made zero dollars off albums. I mean, zero. So really you’re talking about touring and merchandise as a big part of it. And I’m now finding that if I had been a little smarter on the way that I had recorded this new album and cut some corners… it’s public knowledge that I recorded this album twice with two different vocalists, so that added quite a bit of extra cost to making this album. So, with that in mind, if I had saved a little bit more money in the recording process, the guys in the band would have at this point been making really good money. We’re just now starting to get into profit margin. All the expenses are covered. So we’re saying oh my god, we’re really to the point where every guy in the band is starting to see a little stream of income off this album. And it’s done. And sales are still coming in, a good steady stream. We haven’t spent one dime on advertising. And it’s all been word of mouth so we’re really pretty happy about that. And it’s allowing us to take some time, get into rehearsal, really knock these songs around and prepare a show. Once again, we’re gonna be playing small clubs. I’m realistic that at some point we’re gonna have to earn our keep. We’re not on a big label where there is some kind of advertising budget, and without having product on shelves you can’t do co-op advertising with Best Buy to promote your concerts. So we’re gonna have to play small rooms… but I’m bringing video screens, I’m bringing full pyro rigs for rooms we can do it in, and full production, lights and PA. And we may lose money every show. But I wanna give people the feeling once again that they got VALUE when they spent 10 or 12 dollars to come see Stuck Mojo in a small club, that they got destroyed and blown away and felt like here’s a band that really cares about the product, and they care about the music, and they care about the fans. And maybe that will continue to create an environment where our audience can grow with us and will continue to be a part of a little microcosm success story.
You guys just had your first show with [new lead singer] Lord Nelson this weekend? How was that? Did the crowd receive him well?
It was awesome. Absolutely. My thought was that we were gonna be in a little bit of trouble, because we’re talking about Macon, Georgia, which is just about an hour and a half outside of Atlanta. This is an area where we’ve played multiple times… they were familiar with the original lineup. We started in Macon in maybe 1993. We were a band that always sold out in Macon. It was like our second home, because it was so close. And I was a little afraid that when we walked on stage, some folks who were just casual fans of the band, when they walked in the door would go “who the hell is that?” You know? If they were Internet nuts they’d get on there and check stuff out and they’re always looking at the metal blogs and stuff, but maybe they don’t even know. So I’m thinking, ok, I don’t want Lord Nelson addressing the crowd about it, it’s my job, I’ve been here for years, I should be the one introducing him. We didn’t even acknowledge it. We went out and played. The last show we played with Bonz, as a band, was August 15 in Macon, Georgia. The first showed we played with the new band was the exact same venue basically 6 months after, and this show was better. And I’m not talking about us as a band; take that completely aside. The audience reaction was better than the last gig we played, and it was so over the top and people loved Lord. They were all over him, and they just thought he was great. And there was no need to address the crowd about the situation, because they all knew already. They knew, and if they didn’t know, they didn’t care, there was just some magic in the air and it was good and it was positive energy. We’ve always been one of those bands that’s been a little misunderstood, and it’s partially our fault – we’ve put out a lot of aggressive imagery, and we tackle some controversial issues, and do some things that push some buttons, but at the end of the day we’re just regular old blue-collar Joes that enjoy the simple pleasures in life. We don’t have any… don’t want to change the world, don’t want to start a revolution, we just have some thoughts on some things and we blow them up with big air guns and put them on steroids in order to exaggerate the point, to really hammer the thing home. But when we play shows, it’s all about the vibe, and it’s all positive and it’s all good, and it’s fun natured. Lord Nelson envelopes that a lot more than the previous vocalist who is a lot more aggressive. Lord is just a little more laid back. His delivery, his style, is a little bit more open arms and I think the chemistry with what we’re doing had a little better synergy to it, and I believe that the folks in the audience felt that. Not to take anything away from the old lineup because it was powerful in its own way and it was great, but this had a little bit of a different energy to it and I felt folks really responded well to it. I was real surprised. I had a little guard up, thinking ok, this could be weird.
I wanted to ask you about the lyrical content of the song “Metal is Dead.” You definitely seem to be trying to say something there, so is that aimed at any one particular band or just the current scene in general?
It’s definitely not aimed at any one specific person or one specific band. I have to claim a little bit of ignorance in that I really don’t follow a lot of new music for that exact reason, that it seems that heavy metal music has really turned away from what was special about it when it first started to form in the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s. Today’s heavy metal reminds me a lot of glam rock, in that it’s all fluff and no stuff. Even though glam rock was all about the chicks and the party, this generation of heavy metal artist, it’s not that it’s the same methods, it’s just kind of phony to me. If you look at it, everyone’s got these hip outfits they bought at Hot Topic and they wear black nail polish but it’s gotta be chipped slightly. It just seems too worked on. And the music is so digitally “fixed.” I’ve done enough records to know what auto-tune sounds like. I hear all the guitars being fixed — and I’m not saying I don’t do it. As amazing a producer as Andy [Sneap] is, he knows that we could re-track it a few more times. It’s just that technology is there, and you wanna say “Do you wanna do it again or do you wanna fix it?” So yeah we’re all guilty of it. But the difference is, when someone sings a chorus, and there’s one bum note and you fix the one note. You know they did it in the ‘70s and ‘80s too, they just used analog pitch and time machines to do it. But the difference is I hear it on every fucking note. I like P.O.D. I think they’re a great band. I dig the fact that they do this Christian rap-rock thing. The rapper is great, man.
I think that band in particular owes a lot to you guys, as far as influence.
You know what, I’m honored anytime anyone says “Dude, I really liked what you did. You guys came out 10 years before us and it was cool to listen to you guys.” I don’t know them personally as guys, but I will tell you that as much as I like them, I hear the producer tune every freakin’ note. I hear it in every note. The guy’s probably a good singer. Leave the bum notes alone. Let it be organic.
Yeah, that’s Howard Benson [P.O.D’s producer], that’s what he does.
Yeah, and that just once again shows you how out of touch I am. Howard Benson could be George Benson. I don’t know! (laughs) My whole thing is great musicians… it’s why I’m a huge fan of Dimebag, it’s why I’m a huge fan of Zakk Wylde, and Hendrix. It’s why I’m a huge fan of real musicians that play real instruments and really care about the song and the structure and the attitude and the vibe. And Hendrix hit tons of bad notes, but they were the right bad notes, and sometimes it’s just ok to leave ‘em there. And so when I mean “Metal Is Dead” is has more to do with the overall complexion of it. The spirit of it is done. A lot of these band guys, and I’ve toured with ‘em, but these guys… we’re animals, and so part of us are sacral beings, so yeah we love women and yeah we like to party. But when that supercedes the desire to practice your instrument and to write great songs… It’s just like the American Idol experience –- they just wanna be famous. You know, all these kids, they wanna be in a band, they wanna be an actor, actress, whatever. “I don’t care, as long as I’m famous! I’m gonna buy a $400 Ibanez and play through a little Pod. And I’ll right some duh-dunh-duh-duh-duh-dunh-dunh riff, and I’ll get some singer that screams about how he’s upset about how his parents made him do his homework.” And all of a sudden you’ve got this angst and you get a producer to fix everything. And they do it cause they want the fame and the chicks and the glory. To me it’s so boring, it’s lame. And that’s what the song [“Metal is Dead”] is about. And I’m not saying that there are not real players out there cause there are, there are people that really care about metal. It’s just that a lot of the ones at the top of the game, are the ones that, you know, are some of the younger groups. And it’s not necessarily their fault – I remember being 19 or 20 years old and standing in front of the mirror before a show thinking “Damn I look cool, I’m gonna get chicks,” instead of sittin’ in the van warming up for the gig, you know working on my natural minor scales or whatever. And not even that that’s what it’s all about. There’s that fine line between doing it for pure motives and doing it for self-serving egotistical motivations. I would just want this song to kind of be a call-out to real people who do it for the real reasons and whose life is passionate about music.
You may have already answered this, but are there any current bands or musicians that you’ve noticed that you do like, that you feel are doing their thing their way?
Yeah, I love this band Symphony X. Russell Allen’s [Symphony X singer] voice… he’s one of these guys who just has this amazing throwback to late ‘70s kind of Joe Lynn Turner, Dio, Graham Bond, or even Lou Gramm from Foreigner. Just an amazing blues voice. I love him. I love his playing, and I think they’re an amazing group that are not afraid to change, try new things, they don’t apologize for it. They add extra keys and add more melodies, and they don’t apologize. They just do it cause that’s what they do. And I tell you, I love Mark Tremonti. I think Mark Tremonti is one of those guys, who you know, because he played in Creed and because of the baggage that came along with the vocalist in the group and some of that bad stuff, he got a bad rap. But that Alter Bridge band is an amazing group and Tremonti is an amazing guitar player. As a matter of fact, one of the true guitar hero-esque guys that is out there who’s not getting any love because he played in Creed. But he’s the real deal, he’s a great player. The singer Myles is just an amazing singer. The drummer can play, the bass player can play, and they do it up. I love Audioslave. I think that that’s the best rhythm section in the world playing bass and drums. As much as their politics and my politics probably sit on opposite sides of the universe, I give it up, brother! They are just as killin’ it as John Paul Jones and John Bonham in my book. There are plenty of guys out there who when I listen to their records I think amazing, good for you. And I even like the new Maiden record. There is plenty of good stuff out there that I love. I wish I had more exposure. What I don’t have is, when I first signed to Century Media, my A&R guy, he used to give me discs all the time of new and upcoming bands. He gave me Machine Head Burn My Eyes before it came out, and Demanufcature [Fear Factory] before it came out, and the Strapping Young Lad record. It was great to have someone feeding me new material. And now that I’m married, and I’d rather watch 24 and The Shield than listen to new music sometimes, my hunger for actually going out and finding new groups -– and maybe it’s because I’ve become a bit cynical about it -– but it’d be nice to be exposed to more groups. Because I know they’re out there.
Especially now. There’s really sort of a renaissance so to speak of guys who can actually play, which to guys like us is thrilling.
Absolutely. And that’s what I need. As I told you I’d love to have it filtered down to me, and somebody to play the stuff for me. Man, I heard this band called The Haunted. I got it from Sneap when I was at his house. And man it sounds brutal! And I know that or at least I heard that one or more of the guys came from that group At the Gates. And I love At the Gates! I thought that Slaughter of the Soul album was amazing. I still listen to it at the gym when I’m training! I love Testament. I thought The Gathering was one of the greatest metal records of the early 2000s. There are plenty of records… I like Bruce Dickinson’s solo records, I think Halford’s solo records are great. I’m sure there’s a million other albums I’m forgetting just based on the fact that I listen to the same four or five Journey records all the time. (laughs) I get so much grief from the other guys. They’re like “Dude, you listen to Thin Lizzy? What’s wrong with you?” I say “ Dude, nothing’s wrong with me!”
What’s in the near future for Stuck Mojo? Tour? Festivals? What’s next?
We won’t be doing the summer festival thing in Europe this year because we missed the timing on it. They start booking that stuff in December and January and we did put our name in the hat for a few, but the problem also becomes without tour support it becomes difficult to do those things. We always did ‘em, because Century Media was able to put in a little bit of cash to make it easier on us, because you have to play club dates in between the shows on the big weekends. But the problem is no one goes to club shows in the summer in Europe because they spend all their cash on the big festivals.
Right, and every band is trying to do the same exact thing, touring in between.
Exactly. And it’s very difficult to do summer tours, so it’s really helpful if you’ve got some tour support to make that happen. But we’re gonna be doing an East Coast / Midwest run in April and May. I think the first show is in Spartanburg, South Carolina on the 13th of April. And that will last for just under a month. And then -– I know it seems bizarre –- but we already started writing music for the next Mojo record and we want to try to have it done and recorded and released by July 1st. The old school putting out two records a year kind of like Kiss used to do. That’s our goal. If the quality of the material is not there we won’t do it. Maybe if we end up with 6 or 8 great songs, maybe we’ll put out an EP and sell it for really cheap. But that’s our goal is to have something out by the summer, and then we’re going to Europe in September and October. Right now the tour that’s been offered is 9 weeks. And we’re kind of putting the dates together now. So who knows, it may turn into 7 weeks or 10 weeks, you just never know with this stuff. And then we’re going to Australia in November. So those are the planned tours. Everything else… we’re probably going to do another Duke album as well in between, but we’d do it with the same Stuck Mojo band, and even have Lord Nelson do a lot of vocals on it. And it will be like Stuck Mojo lite. Kind of all the rock jams that are not heavy enough for Stuck Mojo, do it under a different moniker. And just kind of write and create and record as much great music as we can. I mean I spent my life savings on building a studio and I’ve become a pretty good producer and engineer. After working with so many great ones, I just stared over their shoulders for so long that I’m putting my name in the hat and I’m gonna try and record as much as I can, and that’ll be the goal. If by December of this year we’ve got two more records out and have done three or four decent tours, then it definitely will have been a successful year for us.
Cool, well thanks for taking the time to take to us.
Really my pleasure. I really appreciate it. It’s been nice, because I’ve done all these interviews for political online zines and blog sites that it’s nice to speak music. It’s great that you guys are there, because there needs to be a source. I go to Brave Words, and I go to Blabbermouth, but there’s not a lot of really great sources from people who are true fans who really can introduce new music to people and get people excited. I mean, I’m sure that there are, but if you’re not diggin’ too deep, there’s just not a lot of ‘em that are out there screamin’ for attention, so I really appreciate you bein’ a resource for us and for other groups.