Good evening! A very special treat for you tonight rockers and rollers...
Formed in 1981 by guitarist Mark Briody, vocalist Harry Conklin, bassist John Tetley, and drummer Rick Hilyard and heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Jag Panzer exploded on the metal scene with their debut album "Ample Destruction", which was released in 1984 with the addition of lead guitarist Joey Tafolla. Although they never received the commercial and critical success they more than deserve, the band has persevered, releasing 10 amazing studio albums over the years that have heavily influenced and inspired the power metal scenes in not only America, but Europe, Asia, and South America. Their latest album, "The Deviant Chord" was released on September 29th, 2017 and is a testament to the artistic prowess, strong songwriting, and the pure talent Jag Panzer has been known for all these years!!
I recently sat down with founding member Mark Briody at the Trinity Brewing Company in Colorado Springs to enjoy some brews and discuss the band's history, the release of their brand new album, "The Deviant Chord" (see my pairing here: http://brewsandtunes.blogspot.com/2017/10/october-10th-2017-one-naked-ear-and.html), and heavy metal in general.
B&T: So brand new album out, "The Deviant Chord. Can you tell me a little bit about putting this together? This just came out last week?
MB: Yes, September 29th. It took us a couple of years to write it. I'm a slow writer and I like to throw away anything that isn't good. For this album, we had a meeting as a band. It was really, really important for us to have a lot of variety on this record to completely cover the spectrum of metal. We wanted to cover a lot of ground with different tempos, different key signatures, different time signatures. So that added to the length of the time writing it. We are pretty happy with it though. People seem to like it.
B&T: Yeah, it's a wonderful album. I probably listen to it 3 or 4 times a day since it was released. I'm kinda obsessed with it. I've been telling a lot of people about it. I read in one interview you did that the song "Foggy Dew" is a traditional Irish song I guess your father used to sing, right?
MB: Yeah, he used to sing it all the time. He had a great voice. My mother couldn't sing at all. They gave her crayons during choir class. Hence my average, mediocre singing voice. He was a very good singer. He used to sing all the time. And "Foggy Dew" was something he would sing several times a week. So I liked the song for as long as I can remember. By the time I was about 16 or 17 and learning how to write songs, I had that arrangement in my head. I would hear my dad sing the melodies and I would think "this could be a metal song". So I've had the rough arrangement for years in my head so it was really trying to find the right album to put it on. So for this record I actually just recorded an instrumental version of myself and sent it to the other guys and didn't even tell them it was a cover. "What do you think of this music?" And they all liked it so I told them it was actually a cover. They all gave the green light to do it.
B&T: Well, it's a beautiful song and you guys do a great job with it. There's a bit of a Thin Lizzy vibe to it and not just because it is Irish, but also with the dual guitar work. Were you going for that?
MB: Yeah, Thin Lizzy is definitely an inspiration. Irish music was music I heard as a very, very young child. And Thin Lizzy sort of bridged the gap for me with the dual guitar work because I was a big Thin Lizzy fan when I started playing guitar. Eventually, Iron Maiden became my favorite band so Thin Lizzy was definitely a stepping stone for me.
B&T: Who influenced you in your early years and how did you get into music? What was the inspiration to become a guitar player and a keyboard player?
MB: Our singer Harry was... well 3 of us, John, Harry, and I have known each other since we were 6 years old. And Harry always sang. So I think I was about 13 or 14 and he got a job singing with much older guys like 18 year olds, high school seniors. I liked to go support Harry and watched one of his gigs and the guys he played with weren't handsome guys, but they all had pretty girlfriends. And we talked "and we should try this!" That was really the sole inspiration [laughs]. So we started originals pretty early on. We were playing clubs when we were still in high school. These were the small clubs in little towns in Colorado. They didn't allow originals so we would play an original and call it like "B-side of Black Sabbath's Paranoid Import". We were recording originals at the time as well. I didn't anticipate a record deal. I thought our music was probably a little heavier than anything around so I didn't make any kind of deal. Then I discovered the New Wave of British Heavy Metal... "oh, maybe our music isn't too heavy! Maybe there is a market for this." That was a huge eye-opener for us... Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Demon. As far as a group, I guess our biggest influences were Thin Lizzy, UFO, Rainbow, Black Sabbath with Dio, Uriah Heep, Rush. We don't really sound anything like Rush, but Rush was always a huge band for us. Oh, Budgie. We used to play "Impeccable."
B&T: What do you listen to now? Are there any local bands that you like or what do you listen to nowadays?
MB: I listen to about everything. I still love the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I'm a huge Iron Maiden fan. Later bands: Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Gamma Ray.
B&T: Are you going to be touring to promote the new album? Do you have any gigs lined up right now?
MB: We actually are getting a ton of gig offers, but it is really a matter of making something work. We have a lot of tour and show offers coming in so just trying to get one that works.
B&T: Do have plans to tour the States at all?
MB: We'd like to get everywhere as long as we can make it work financially.
B&T: It seems now with digital music, it has become even more complicated and tricky for bands to make money now.
MB: It is. It's hard. Our first 3 albums with Central Media, they would bankroll anything. Like Wacken. We'd get offered a certain amount and they'd cover the rest. It was great. Those days are long gone.
B&T: Joey is still in L.A., right?
MB: Yeah, and our drummer Rikard is in Phoenix. Our bass player is up in Golden so he's an hour and half away. Harry's about an hour east. So I'm the only one in Colorado Springs.
B&T: So did you record the new album here? Where did you record the new album?
MB: We've done the past 7 Jag Panzer albums the majority of it in my studio here. And then we'll do drums somewhere else. We did drums down in a studio called Clamsville owned by a jazz drummer in Phoenix. He has a specially built room just for drums. Joey did leads in his place. So with this album it was really just Harry and I at my place. All the keyboards at my place as well.
B&T: Now that brings up another question... with Joey so it had been 20+ years since you've recorded with Joey. So what was the impetus for Joey coming back to the fold.
MB: Well, he came back when we got the offer to do Keep It True [Festival], which was 3 years ago. We did Keep It True and then we did a couple shows in Greece. So he came back just for those shows and it went really well. Not only did it go well on stage, but we got along really well. We liked hanging out and we had really good chemistry. So we followed that up with some more shows in San Diego and Chicago, 70 Thousand Tons, and New York City. We decided let's do an album with this lineup. We have good chemistry and chemistry is everything when recording an album.
B&T: Do you foresee doing more albums with Joey?
MB: Yeah, we think so! I could see a couple years from now. I don't like the album a year thing. I think we did it once. I don't like it. I don't like rush the songwriting at all. I'm a slow writer anyway. I hate being rushed with it. I'll spend a month on 1 song if I have to.
B&T: You've been rereleasing and remastering albums, correct?
MB: Yeah, 5 years ago we signed a reissue deal with High Roller over in Germany just for our first EP and the original demos, "Ample Destruction", "Shadow Thief", which was our demos after "Ample Destruction", and "Chain Of Command". So they bought the rights to all of those for 5 years. They did a fantastic job. I transferred all the original albums from the analog masters. They paid a mastering engineer, a talented guy, they paid him to remaster everything. It's the best sound quality these records have ever had. They used the original covers. They did deluxe packaging. They did posters with it. They did a really, really great job! The initial run sold out pretty quickly so they ended up doing 3 other additional runs. So the 4th and final run came out a couple of weeks ago.
B&T: What gear do you use, both guitars and keyboards?
MB: That's a good question. My main live guitar is an ESP EC1000... sort of your higher end of the import series. It is a single cut... kind of a Les Paul shape. It is a good guitar. I play that live and used it on the record. I also used my Les Paul on the record. Also used my Telecaster on the record. I used my Strat the record too. I tried to mix it up with lots of different guitars. As far as an amplifier, my own personal amplifier, I have an Engl Powerball and I have an EVH. I used both of those on the record. Live, I use whatever they get for me. All I ask for is a tube amp. I can usually go with any tube amp. Keyboards... I switched to all software-based keyboards years ago. I have a Fatar Master Keyboard. I like the Native Instrument Suite a lot. I use Contact for any sample-based. I'm also a big fan of Omnisphere. I'm a big fan of Alchemy. I actually love software synths. We don't have a lot of synthesizers in our music, but I really love them. I've always been a big fan.
B&T: In terms of writing, how does that work? You're the primary writer, correct?
MB: All the songs start with me... in this era of Jag Panzer. I'm not a good drummer or bass player, but I can get by. So I will do a demo of all the songs myself playing all the instruments. And then I'll send it out to my band members and they'll hassle me about my weak drumming and bass playing and then once we get past laughing at my drum skills [laughs], we start talking about the real songs. And then Harry will come in on vocals and he usually has some arrangement ideas like, "hey, can we change this? Extend that? How about we move this?" He writes the lyrics. I'll write a vocal melody, but I won't let anybody here that. I'll hide it, mute the track. Harry will come in with his own vocal melody and 90% of it is better than what I had. Then Harry and I will release a whole set of demos of the rest of the guys. We get more input from them. At that point, we start getting arrangement input from the other guys. Then we'll do a 3rd set of demos and Rikard will play drums on it. We get the comments again and suggestions. There are a few songs on there where we got to 5 stages of demos before everybody said, "okay, we got it". And sometimes it is really little things.
B&T: So it is a very collaborative process then.
MB: It is. Although all the songs start with me, it was definitely a team effort.
B&T: Has it always been that way? Has it always been collaborative like that?
MB: It changes album to album. With Chris Broderick [ex-Nevermore, ex-Megadeth, Act of Defiance], I'd deliver half the songs, he'd deliver half the songs, and we pretty much went right into the studio. And we got some good material out of that era so I wouldn't say one way's better than the other.
B&T: Do you have favorite festivals you guys like to play?
MB: Keep It True is always great! They put us in this little village. Any of the European festivals are great and treat you right. It is amazing how well they treat the artist. So that's a great festival. Bang Your Head is awesome. That's about 25,000 people. They put the American bands in a bed and breakfast about 20 minutes away. So that's a great show. Wacken's great... very, very well-organized. We played the Rock Hard Festival. It backs up against a river, which is really cool. Lots of cool festivals in Europe to play.
B&T: I know you've played with a lot of amazing bands over the years. Are there any particular bands that you've played with that really stand out for you?
MB: I think the ones that stand out are the ones that were best to work with. The ones that were really, really nice guys... definitely Iced Earth! Gamma Ray was great... great guys! Hammerfall is great! Helloween as well! These are bands that they all share the idea that it's just important that the audience has a good show. We've played with bands in America where they have the attitude that they only care that they have a good show.
B&T: Do you do anything else besides Jag Panzer musically? Do you have any other musical outlets?
MB: No I don't. You know played a bit with some other guys locally. They were good players, but I thought it was a disaster. I left that. I'd play in a Celtic punk band if someone asked me... like Flogging Molly or Drop Kick Murphys. I'd do that. I like that kind of music. So Drop Kick Murphys, if you are reading this and you need a guitar player. [laughs]
B&T: Tell me about the album cover and how that came to be and the artist.
MB: Well, I always wanted to do a mad scientist theme. Tesla had his famous laboratory about 5 miles from here. So we grew up hearing stories of Tesla. Back then they called him a mad scientist. He knocked out the power grid of the whole city with his lightning experiments. So that always fascinated me. So I always wanted to do a mad scientist theme. Couple of the guys in the band said "can we do a Jekyll and Hyde thing as well?" So that was the decision. 1800s mad scientist theme. And I insisted that we give a nod to Tesla on the cover so that's the lightning. Finding an artist proved much more difficult. I went to ComiCon and I started talking to artist and much to my surprise none of them would be hired for art work. And I'm thinking "why are you here?" I did that for 2 years in a row and it was a terrible experience. So then I just started looking on the Internet for artists. I found some stuff I liked emailed a couple guys and they emailed back and I instantly didn't like them. And then I saw Dusan's art work who we hired for the cover and I was blown away. This guy is great! He had a reasonable, fair rate and he is cool! I exchanged emails with him. I told him what I wanted and he sent me a rough sketch and we went from there. The idea was initially based in the band, but that cover art work is all him. I did all the inner sleeve photography. I actually took all the... I didn't want to use CGI. I love CGI. I'm a fan of it, but with the graphics on this, I wanted no CGI. Tammy took photos of everybody's heads and we just kept experimenting. We tried to wrap the photos on laminated paper in jars with food coloring. So that took a couple of weeks of experimenting. I went to the print shop every day. "Here. Laminate my dismembered head photo." I took all the gear off my desk and set up lights and had a "photo session." I had a very specific guy I wanted to do the layout whose name is Carston. He does the Iced Earth records. We also put some Easter eggs in there. There are some math formulas. One of them is a vibrating string and the other is energy distribution after a drum is hit. The text of our names and of the song titles is Einstein's handwriting. One guy does the Einstein font. He has permission from the family. So I had to e-mail him and pay him for the use of the font. I really wanted to make it an interesting layout.
B&T: How long have you been with SPV Records now?
MB: It was a 2 album deal and this is our second album so we're done.
B&T: So Jag Panzer has been around for 30+ years now. '81 was when you first formed originally?
MB: Yeah, we did our first demos when I was 15. My mom drove me to the studio.
B&T: Looking back, would you change anything you've done or the way you did things?
MB: Yes, well, there's one thing I would change. After "Ample Destruction" came out... initially it was a slow starter, but after about a year it really pick up with a lot of interest. And we had major labels come out to see us. We had a guy from Atlantic Records come out one time. We had a guy from A&M. We had the next album written, which today is known as the "Shadow Thief" that High Roller did and we had some great offers from indie records like Combat Records wanted it, but we held out for the majors that didn't happen. In retrospect I would have... we should have set a date saying, "If we don't have a major deal by this date, we're gonna release on Combat. Because that would have put us on tour. We didn't get on tour until the '90s that was really late. We were always poor. Our very first demo, we had to come up with $100 each and a couple guys were short. So I drove them to the blood bank right before a recording session. [laughs] We clearly had to come up with money to do all this stuff, which is good. We clearly know how to stretch a buck. We did this whole thing with about a third of what most bands get for a recording budget.
B&T: Is there anybody you would like to tour with now that you haven't toured with?
MB: I'd like to go out with Sabaton just because I like their music. I actually love Sabaton. Half my workout when running is a mix of Sabaton. They draw a huge crowd so that would be a great show.
B&T: A lot of kids are discovering older heavy metal bands. Are you seeing that as well with your music as well?
MB: Oh yeah, absolutely! I see younger people at our shows and they talk to me and their first exposure will be "Casting Stones" or something like "Mechanized Warfare"... yeah, I think that's really cool. We have a certain part of our fan base whose whole initial start with the band is was our mid-period and that's what they are fans of and they sort of ... I see them argue online with the old school "Ample" guys. "Age Of Mastery" is the hot new album for some reason. In the band, that's our least favorite. We like all of them. We played on them, but among the band members, that's probably our least favorite.
B&T: Do you have a favorite song to play live personally?
MB: I like to play "Black" from "The Fourth Judgement" because I can play it without having to look at my guitar. [laughs]
B&T: Will we see a live Jag Panzer album come out in the near future?
MB: I'd like one. But that's tough though. Getting a live mobile unit to a show is expensive. Those are custom trucks that are grounded... expensive.
B&T: So Mark gets home from a long day of recording or touring or whatever, what beer do you crack open and what album do you put on?
MB: Oh, I put on some Kate Bush! I'm a huge Kate Bush fan. As far as beer, I'm a wheat beer fan. I would crack open a local wheat beer. I like Gristles Bee Hive.
|"The Deviant Chord" released September 29th, 2017
|"The Deviant Chord" inner sleeve
|Left to right: Mark Briody, Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin, and John Tetley