Here’s a Snakepit trivia question- which band (past or present) has been featured the most in interrogations within this magazine’s history? SLAUGHTER? VIRGIN STEELE? EXCITER? HOLY TERROR? SACRIFICE? Give up? Why of course it would be the US traditional Power Metal warriors that you are currently reading about now, JAG PANZER. Each album since their return with Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin on vocals has been on the stereos and playlists of readers and writers alike- and “Mechanized Warfare” would be no exception to this distinction...as the album bleeds Metal through and through. There can never be enough JAG PANZER exposure, especially considering the thousands of people who’ve yet to comb the record stores with the intention on buying such stellar material from “Ample Destruction” to “The Age Of Mastery”. Read on as I spoke with guitarist Mark Briody mere weeks before their triumphant set at Wacken about a number of topics from old to new...|
=Mechanized for Power=
After working for a long time on your previous effort “Thane To The Throne”, how were you able to compose and record “Mechanized Warfare” so quickly? Did you gain a burst of inspiration based on the worldwide acclaim for that concept record?
“The approaches were so different and that’s the only reason we were able to. “Thane To The Throne” was approached as if it were a movie soundtrack. We had a band meeting and decided if everyone could imagine the coolest motion picture version of “Macbeth” and think about what kind of music you’d want to hear behind it if it was a Heavy Metal soundtrack. That’s sort of the way we approached “Thane...” which is completely different than the way we approach songwriting. We decided that we weren’t going to do a fast double bass song as we couldn’t find a place for it on the album. Right when we were done mixing “Thane...” I just had some things I wanted to do- I didn’t have any riffs written for a fast double bass tune but I wanted to work on one, so I did it right away. I think I had two songs written before “Thane To The Throne” hit the stores.”
Did you gain a burst of inspiration based on the worldwide acclaim for “Thane To The Throne”?
“I don’t know- for everyone that loves the record you can find someone that thinks it sucks. It depends on what websites you check out. We are enjoying ourselves working in studios we dreamed about as kids- especially Jim Morris at Morrisound Studios.”
When you work on the material do you have everything planned out before you go down to Morrisound- because some of the production is done locally before you go to Florida, correct?
“We do a ton of pre-production on everything before we record it- some of the tracks have been demoed up to ten times before the final recordings. Then we decided how we are going to record the material- some of the material gets recorded in Colorado, we do the drums where the drummer lives in Arizona, as well as what we are going to leave for recording in Florida. We really look into everything- are there good studios in a certain state, are the flights cheaper to those states. We do more pre-production of our material than any band I know, probably any band at least in our genre.”
Does Jim have any input into the songs or is his role relegated to the mix down stage of the album?
“The initial pre-production process Jim has no input but when it comes to the production he has a ton of input. We send him our pre-production tapes and he forms a lot of ideas as to what he wants to do, so it starts from day one with him. This creativity carries over into the mixing process.”
Most of the critics have noticed the variety contained on the new album- from the speedy numbers like “Take To The Sky” and “Frozen In Fear” to the more epic styled songs like “Power Surge” and “All Things Renewed”. Was it important to showcase the depth of the band’s songwriting on this effort?
“I think that’s a fair statement but to be honest we didn’t approach this album like that. We approached this album as an old school record- the way we did “Ample Destruction” which was just telling everyone in the band to play what they wanted to play, tell us what you want and we shall do it. The first thing out of our drummer’s mouth was ‘double bass’- then Harry was telling us he wanted to scream because he felt he didn’t scream enough on “Thane To The Throne”. He wanted people to know he could still hit the high notes- so the album really satisfied everyone’s tastes which made for a varied record.”
Is Harry an avid fan of anything airborne- as he has covered the topic now a couple of times with “Iron Eagle” from “The Age Of Mastery” and the opening cut off your new album...?
“Yes, he’s been wanting to fly a plane since he was a little kid. It’s something he’ll never do unless they open up pilot training for Metal singers. There’s probably some IRON MAIDEN influence in the subject matter of “Take To The Sky”, similar to “Aces High”.”
I also noticed some reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne in the song “The Scarlet Letter”...
“Actually, that song wasn’t based on that story. It’s like our secret IRON MAIDEN song- it contains musical references to a few MAIDEN tracks- and lyrically it’s a little twist on the MAIDEN character “Charlotte The Harlot”. We had fun with this record- it’s a change of pace from “Thane...” which was a much more serious undertaking.”
Were there any new influences to spur on the slightly off time guitar/ drum sections within songs like “The Silent” and the triplets on the chord changes of “Power Surge”?
“No, I think it’s a matter of establishing what the vocals were going to do early on. We would see how technical we could get on the instrumentation without ruining the vocal parts. It’s something we’ve talked about trying and we did it for the first time on this record. It’s a conscious effort to hold everyone’s interest. There have been some tracks in our past that had really good vocal parts but then as a rhythm guitar player you may be let down with the riff that’s behind it. So on a few tracks we tried to see how spicy we could get the rhythms without ruining the vocal tracks.”
Do you think there is a major difference between the way you compose music as opposed to your other guitarist Chris Broderick?
“Yes- I think I approach it vocally, he writes everything for a cool guitar feel. He believes Harry does a good job vocally so that’s his department. I try to look at it from all parts, most of the time Chris believes he was a closet drummer so that’s why he envisions technical guitar parts over these complex drum parts.”
You will be playing Wacken and the Milwaukee Metalfest this year- but had to turn down an offer to tour with ICED EARTH in Europe again (the second time in the band’s career) due to Harry’s lack of vacation time. Do you think this inability to tour the world consistently hinders the band’s chances at more widespread success?
“It was actually the birth of my twins being due that caused us to turn down the ICED EARTH tour. Harry’s lack of vacation time is occasionally a problem, but it wasn’t a problem this time. I think that was an assumption from the label’s standpoint. Harry’s wife is also expecting a child soon in a couple of months. I figure people will understand- so we will look at a tour sometime next year. Harry is able to carry over vacation from year to year so he’s had some time to tour. A lot of people bring up the issue of lack of touring for us, but in reality we are not a big touring draw. If you compare our record sales against the touring for some reason we are not a big tour draw. In festivals we get a really good crowd, I can’t really explain it. Then from there if we do a tour we don’t get a really big turnout, it’s tough to understand. I don’t know if it’s our fan base isn’t the type to go to live shows or what.”
How have you viewed the band’s performances at the prestigious European festivals like Bang Your Head in 2000 and Wacken in comparison to the Festivals like Ultrasound, Progpower and Powermad in the US?
“They’re totally different. Doing Progpower or Powermad, it feels like I’m playing to my friends. I know many people there at those shows and I’ve known them for so long that it’s a real intimate setting. Milwaukee and November To Dismember are a totally different experience. A lot of people at those shows are into a different kind of Metal and not interested in JAG PANZER, so you have to win them over which is cool. Europe is great because at these festivals there are thousands of people who really want to hear this kind of music. You don’t get a lot of people buying an $80 Wacken ticket just to come hang out, they want to hear the music. You see everyone paying attention when the band is playing, and that’s a very good thing.”
Knowing that you post frequently on the Metal message board community what are your thoughts on this communication medium? Has it taken the place of regular mail correspondence and do you think it’s created a new revival of old school fans rediscovering the greatness of the scene?
“Yes, definitely. It’s taken the place of regular mail. In the old days I would get regular mail from all over the world and I would talk to the fans about all the new bands we were just discovering, what’s cool and what’s not. The internet completely handles that now. Back then I used to hit the typewriter and write back those people that wrote us. Today it’s just going to the message board, answering messages and talking about Metal. It’s a huge medium for discovering new bands and checking things out, like the other day I heard this new track from OCTOBER 31. It’s so cool to be able to hear something new and fresh right when it’s done.”
Do you think the record companies are ever going to be taken out of the mix completely- as we all know what happened with Napster. Do you foresee within the next three-five years the bands taking control of all aspects of promotion/ distribution, thereby avoiding record companies?
“If bands can still do everything themselves and do everything that a record company normally does, it’s possible but I’ve yet to see it done successfully in the Metal realm. I know some bands in the Colorado area that do try it but they aren’t Metal bands. It’s tough to be able to keep up with distribution and promotion at the same time like a record company can do.”
How do you view the Metal scene in 2001? Do you have any suggestions for bringing America back to the point where Metal is respected as a worthwhile genre and not viewed as just an angry movement that appeals to the youth?
“The first suggestion I have, and this really pisses me off, is that there are so many people in America that are genre biased in Metal. I run into this every day- I was suggesting to a friend of mine to listen to TIAMAT’s “Wildhoney” as I really love that record, and he said he wouldn’t because he is strictly a Power Metal guy. It wasn’t going to cost him anything- I was going to give him a link to an MP3 so that he could listen to a couple tracks off the album, it’s really cool music. Yet he won’t listen to it because it’s not Power Metal. I know people that won’t give JAG PANZER the time of day because they are normally into Black Metal. To me the whole attitude is quite silly- you might very well have your tastes lean 99% towards Power Metal but to close your minds off to other forms of Metal is stupid. Unfortunately I see this happening far more in America than I do in Europe. You go to Wacken and you see a lot of different people going there to watch a lot of different types of bands. You’ll see guys with their jackets having back patches from ENTOMBED to CRADLE OF FILTH to GAMMA RAY. I don’t know what the deal is in America but everything is very genre specific.”
Then there are other boards like Perpetual Motion where the posters are very critical and aware of the fact that band members are posting on them. Do you think that other posters aren’t as critical of JAG PANZER on that board because you do post frequently on there and are afraid that you won’t be able to handle what they have to say?
“I think some people will suppress their opinion or at least alter what they were going to say about the band. I get the other side of the coin on other boards though- the people that will really hassle me because I’m in JAG PANZER- all kinds of people saying that we suck. I don’t take offense at all when somebody doesn’t like my band or a particular album we’ve done- but I think I deserve the right to respond to what they have to say. Sometimes that paints me in a negative light, but if somebody says they don’t like JAG PANZER because they think Harry can’t sing, I will respond that he is hitting all the notes right. If different people have different criteria for how the song should be sung, I’ll let them know that Harry is in tune.”
Oh yes- I remember your performance at Powermad 2000 and it was amazing to hear Harry still hitting all the high notes, especially at the end of “License To Kill”. Some singers dream of being able to sustain those high notes for 15 seconds or more 15 years down the line from when the song was originally recorded.
“If people say they’re not into us, that’s cool. I just like to go to the boards to chat about Metal. I don’t go there and say ‘Buy our album!’. I might be onstage for one gig but the next show I may be in the crowd along with the fans.”
Do you take into account what the fans want out of JAG PANZER musically versus what the band wants?
“No- it’s nice PR to say that we are doing this for the fans and taking into account what they want musically but in reality I have to play what I want to play. It may sound selfish but I have to be honest with myself and play what I feel. If I listened to the fans all the time we might have had ten different styles of albums on the market. If we had to play the set list that people wanted we’d have to play at least 50 songs. I’ve gotten 47 emails from people requesting material to be played at Wacken, and out of the 47 if we listed all the material it would be 25 songs.”
And I’m sure overseas more people are requesting material off of “Ample Destruction” versus hearing material off of the newer album.
“Right. We’ve even done shows where we’ve played a ton of material off of “Ample Destruction” and you still get people that complain. Sometimes people say they want to hear these five songs off of “The Age Of Mastery”.”
What are your thoughts on the American Metal magazines versus the overseas counterparts- and why is so much more value placed on Metal journalism in Germany/ Greece/ Japan versus domestically?
“Both have well run magazines that cater to their particular markets. It’s fortunate for Europe but unfortunate for America that in Europe there is no age tag attached to following the Metal scene. You go to Wacken and you will see guys in their 50’s there- it’s just a form of music. Unfortunately in the States Metal is marketed to young people so all the marketing in terms of coverage and advertising has to cater to that age group. As a result US magazines don’t have a lot of the content that the European magazines have. Metal Maniacs has magazines to sell and salaries to pay- so they have to fit a certain demographic and I bet for them it’s 18 year olds- so that is a big difference. I prefer the European Metal magazines although I do respect what the American magazines have to offer.”
Right- it seems the European Metal magazines place a lot of value in the record reviews and the live performances of bands and I don’t really see that importance in the American magazines...
“The weird thing in American Metal magazines that I don’t understand is the tendency to focus on how many albums a band is selling. Which I find strange in the underground scene because if that’s the case then you’ve just crowned METALLICA the greatest Metal band ever.”
Do you think there are also too many records being put out on the market for the fans to truly have enough money to buy the great ones from the average and poor efforts?
“Yes- it’s not like in the 70’s when I was a kid or even making it through the 80’s. The records were more expensive- vinyl wasn’t cheap and the recording studio costs weren’t cheap either, based on the economics of the time. To come out with a record back then you had to have a lot of personal financing or be very good musically to have someone back you. Today anybody can come out with a record and it kind of floods the market. I hear bands all the time that have very good potential but are just not ready to make an album.”
Should the scene move back to the days of the old tape trading/ underground where you made more demo tapes while you worked on increasing your following in a live setting and perfecting your songwriting?
"Yes- I think a lot of listeners need to be more critical. People send me stuff all the time or are pointing me to new bands that they say are the greatest or are the hottest new acts of the year. Sometimes it's very good but most of the time it's very promising but that's all I can say about it- the drummer just isn't good enough yet or the vocalist isn't hitting the notes- but maybe he can hit them in another year or so."
You have a live EP that you are working on with another US label, King Fowley's Battle Zone Records. What older songs will be appearing on that recording and how did you get Century Media's consent to have another label release this product?
"We've been recording shows recently and we also have plans to record the show in Europe. We want to have a couple of older songs appear on this, we want to do something that is a real honest release. It's got to be a clear recording that we are happy with and King is happy with. As far as Century Media's permission- we've been bugging them forever and they want to do it in the future. We really wanted to do one- so the compromise was to do three-four songs, and we agreed to let King release it because he is Mr. Underground in the states, he has all the old school values with trading songs and we figured he's into it."
Do you keep in touch with other local bands in the Colorado Metal scene such as THE QUIET ROOM and SILENCER, and have the turnouts improved as a result of your wider spread fan base when you play in your home area?
"Yes, we keep occasional contact with people like Keith from SILENCER- we played a show with them in April and I really like their new material. I haven't talked to THE QUIET ROOM in a while but Chris B. talks to them all the time. We've got a pretty good rapport with all the other local bands. We don't play out often in our local area."
What are some of your favorite Metal albums of all time and two albums that you would consider as very underrated?
"The best albums of all time in my mind are the two Dio did with BLACK SABBATH- "Heaven And Hell" and "The Mob Rules". I wouldn't change a note on either album- Dio's vocals are great and the range in the music is incredible. They do everything from really soft stuff in "Sign of the Southern Cross" or the middle of "Country Girl" to very heavy thunderous things like "Falling Off the Edge of The World" and "The Mob Rules" and they do it all with a ton of melody, but it's never wimpy sounding melodies. As far as the most underrated- SAVAGE GRACE "Master of Disguise". I thought WARRIOR "Fighting For The Earth" was a great record, everything that ARMORED SAINT does is underrated. BLIND GUARDIAN is underrated in the sense that they should be selling as many records as say JUDAS PRIEST."
What's the best concert you've personally viewed in your lifetime?
"You are going to laugh when I tell you this- KIX (laughs). I got dragged to that show as I absolutely hated that band. I don't like any of their recorded material- I think it was in 1984. I went to see them in a small club in Orange County, California and they were unbelievable. It was intense energy- they opened up the show with this whistling like a bomb was coming in and you saw this sparkler coming down. All of sudden the lights go off and all the band had jumped on stage on these mini-tramps and it was 90 minutes of non stop action. The show was immaculately timed- I still don't like their music but the show was incredible."
If there is anything you could change about yourself what would you change and why?
"I think I'd change my focus- I tend to be unfocused. I'll go off on a tangent, start going off on computer graphics, start reading up on it and then not touch my guitar for four days. Or go off on some Blues records and listen to a ton of Blues artists when I have to get prepared for a gig in the coming days."
Tell me more about the story behind skipping school to go to the record store and buy a WITCHFYNDE album? What other NWOBHM artists captivated your ears in your youth?
"(laughs) I had a job in high school working at the school district administration office. I was responsible for their employee data base. I was a little junior data base analyst at this stage in my life. Which made me privy to certain exclusive information- such as if you were in high school and you skipped school you were supposed to make up double time. You could do it a certain amount of time before they contacted your parents. I knew how much you could do it- then I saw a memo that said they were going to do away with this, so that if you had time it was gone. I had gotten WITCHFYNDE's "Stagefright" album and I thought this was unbelievable. So I called up Wax Trax in Denver and asked them if they had any WITCHFYNDE and they said they had the new single and I said I was there. So the next day I went and bought it, I thought school could wait. When "The Number Of The Beast" came out the Denver store got it in on a Friday instead of a Monday and I went to the record store over school again. When "Heaven And Hell" tour tickets went on sale we'd skip school to wait in line for tickets. They had a camera crew there filming the line and I hoped my parents wouldn't see me in line and know that I was skipping school."
How had you discovered the underground back then?
"I was vacationing out in California. I went to a record store out there and I was looking for some rare SABBATH stuff with Dio or an import RAINBOW album. I saw a magazine there called The New Heavy Metal Revue and it was a magazine Brian Slagel put out before he had formed Metal Blade. I looked at the magazine, read some of the articles and I saw he was talking about some band in reference to IRON MAIDEN with Dio. I thought that was cool because between those bands they recorded some of the greatest albums ever. So I bought the magazine and I started reading about bands like TYGERS OF PAN TANG and ANGELWITCH- and there was a back page ad for a record store called Oz Records in Woodland Hills, CA. I asked them if I could do mail order- I was a kid and I didn't have a credit card but would they send it C.O.D. I found out it was Brian who was managing the store so every time I got paid from my job I'd call up Brian and see what he would recommend. So that's how I started my underground obsession- I had a huge NWOBHM collection that unfortunately got stolen in 1984. We had a warehouse in California and somebody broke in and took all my albums outside of my IRON MAIDEN 12 inches. I'd spend my whole paycheck on albums- I'd get all the DEMON stuff, Bernie Torme, FIST, really obscure stuff too. I couldn't get enough of it. It was the greatest music I'd ever heard- then Brian formed Metal Blade and I thought that this had to be the best Metal label in the world."
Have you relinquished part of the leadership role that you took when putting the band back together during "The Fourth Judgment" part of JAG PANZER's career?
"Oh yeah, definitely. Creative-wise for "The Fourth Judgment" I said that I had to do everything because "Dissident Alliance" was unlistenable and I had to do everything, and everyone else thought it was cool. So then on the subsequent albums I decided to write mostly everything but now everyone gets equal input as far as the direction and the songwriting."
Speaking of "Dissident Alliance" I remember reading a post on another message board from Dean of SKULLVIEW where he stated he doesn't listen to any more JAG PANZER records as a result of that album. Is it fair for people to make that move and dismiss all your future efforts based on one direction change on an album?
"I guess it's got to come down to the individual situation. On one hand it's really cool that Dean is sticking to his guns on the US Metal scene, because it's really rough here in the states. There are bands that will change their style at the drop of the hat for a bigger paycheck. I don't want to support those kinds of bands either as it's not honest music. Then on the other hand there are individual cases- I don't think "Dissident Alliance" sounds like PANTERA despite what everyone else says. I guess as a guitar player I know how Darrell plays and I don't sound anything like Darrell. It's such a completely different style than what I play. There's no attempt on that record to play music for money."
If you have the chance to talk to any Metal musician past or present, who would you choose and what would you talk to them about?
"I'd say Ritchie Blackmore- I'd ask him if he could please get Dio to sing for BLACKMORE'S NIGHT (laughs). If he did he would make the best music ever. I don't think the singer he has now in there is bad, she's not Dio though. If he would still keep talking to me after that comment, then I'd start asking him some dumb stuff like how he came up with the riff in "Rainbow Eyes" and what it was like to write "Kill The King". I'd ask a bunch of fan boy questions."
Have there been other offers on the table for JAG PANZER to do tribute appearances or was "Children Of The Sea" the only JAG PANZER tribute appearance we will ever see?
"No- we get them all the time. We are only interested in doing any that are a really honest tribute. I have no desire to do them just to get our name out there. We got asked to do a SAVATAGE tribute- now SAVATAGE is great, especially albums like "Sirens" and "The Dungeons Are Calling", but they weren't an influence on us. That's not a slam against them- it would feel weird for us to do a tribute towards them. We got asked to do a VENOM tribute- I didn't like VENOM as much as the other NWOBHM bands. We didn't feel right. If people called us up asking us to be on an ANGELWITCH or WITCHFYNDE tribute- we would be right on it. If they wanted us to do a DIAMOND HEAD one- we'd say no because we don't like them as much as some of the other bands. I'm one of the biggest BLIND GUARDIAN fans in America- but they don't influence my music or the band."
What are the short term and long term goals for the band?
"I guess both goals are to try to get as many people as possible just to listen to us. If they listen to us and don't like us, that's cool. When I compare our album sales to other bands in our genre or even other bands on Century Media, I get in my mind that there are a ton of people that haven't heard JAG PANZER. Maybe that's an ego thing- maybe they've all heard it and don't like us..."
Well to me you guys should be up there in sales with ICED EARTH and NEVERMORE...
"Yes, I think so."
I think the quality in terms of the artwork, the production, the musical presentation is of a similar cut as those two bands...
"I don't think I'm being unrealistic if I say that maybe one in four JUDAS PRIEST fans might like what we do- or maybe one in four IRON MAIDEN fans might possibly like what we do. We don't sell 1/4 of what those bands sell, maybe 1/40th of what they sell. To me there are a lot of people who haven't heard us or heard us properly- maybe they heard a bad MP3 or a "Dissident Alliance" track and thing they are not interested."
Would part of the problem be that many people view traditional Metal bands as sort of an 80's movement?
"I think so. If some of the people heard our music without knowing the name of the band and nobody told them what genre it was, here is a song, please listen to it- I think a lot of people would like it. I think we have good substance in our music."
Final thoughts for the Snakepit readers?
"I don't know- anything I say would come across so cliche- Snakepit kicks ass!! (laughs). I think it's a great magazine- one of the benefits in doing festivals is to run into people like yourself or Heinz when you'll have a new issue of Snakepit. So I have something I can read on that long flight home."
Live pics © Nico Wobben - Nico's PhotoPit, taken at Wacken Open Air 2001.