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Interviews Jag Panzer

Interview with guitarist Mark Briody, vocalist Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin, drummer Rikard Stjernquist and guitarist Joey Tafolla

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: March 19, 2016


All pictures by Luxi Lahtinen

Jag Panzer hardly needs an introduction. The band is one of the most legendary names in U.S. Heavy Metal and Ample Destruction, Jag Panzer's debut album released 32 years ago, is hailed as a true classic. The band has seen many different lineups over the years and somewhat surprisingly the current group contains three of the five members that recorded Ample Destruction. Jag Panzer shows no signs of slowing down and the guys plan to start recording their 10th studio album, titled The Deviant Chord, before the summer of 2016.

The Metal Crypt met almost the whole band on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise (70000tons.com) and inquired about what they have been up to, the band's first appearance on the cruise, the right band chemistry, the social media generation and so on. You also want to know what Black Sabbattak is all about, don't you? If so, read on...

70K CRUISE EXPERIENCE

Luxi: Since this was your first time on the cruise what expectations did you have? I think you have some friends who have been on this cruise before and they have been telling you stories about their experiences, right?

Mark: Everybody told me it was unbelievable. Every single musician I know, from Jon from Iced Earth to other bands said, "You've got to do 70,000. You have to. It's a must do." We've wanted to do this for years. Every year we say, "I hope we can do 70,000, I hope we can do 70,000" so it was really exciting for us to do this.

Rikard: If anything it exceeded my expectations. I certainly expected it to be very cool and so forth, but it's been even greater than that. So it's been pretty amazing.

Mark: Yes, there are always gigs that as Metal musicians you dream about. These once-in-a-lifetime gigs like Keep It True, Bang Your Head, Wacken and this is definitely one of them. We're very happy to be in this place.

Rikard: To be on this particular cruise with bands we've toured with is forth pretty awesome, getting to see Iced Earth, HammerFall and Gamma Ray. These are bands that we spent a lot of time with on the road and became good friends. Unfortunately, when the road's over you kind of go your separate ways. I saw Henjo and Kai the very first day and it had been almost 20 years since I last saw those guys. We all just hugged and it was like the tour ended yesterday. It was that kind of camaraderie. It's something you can't really put your finger on but it's amazing when you see people that you haven't seen for that long and you still have that connection. You have a common thread and it's almost like going to war together. You're going to be friends for life, you know, so that's pretty amazing.

Luxi: I actually missed yesterday's set because I was getting a little bit drunk and it bugs me quite a bit now I can tell you. I was wondering if your sequencing was different between sets?

[*laughter*]

Harry "The Tyrant": Yes, it was. 4 songs were the same but the rest were different. That's what we wanted to do; two completely different shows so people could really experience the band. We've got so many standards it's hard to pack them in 45 minutes or even an hour and a half.

Mark: Yes, we picked a few songs like "Warfare" that I think people want to hear at any show. We did that at both shows but yes there were lots of different songs last night.

Luxi: Did you try to concentrate on your older material in one set and newer stuff in the other?

Harry "The Tyrant": We pretty much mixed it up. Joey wasn't involved with The Scourge of the Light but he really enjoys the song and he likes playing the lead on it and we think that makes a powerful statement. That was the one song that we did that Joey was not involved with but basically we did all the Joey-era stuff; The Fourth Judgement, Ample Destruction, Shadow Thief, songs like that.

Rikard: We also have those tunes that we did during the Century Media years that became big festival tunes like "Iron Eagle" and so forth. We played that both nights because people love singing along as well as "Chain of Command" which is another audience favorite.

Mark: Yes, we like to make the audience part of the show.

Luxi: Yes, that's always very nice when the fans get involved with the show.

Mark: I played my guitar in the audience last night and they grabbed my wireless.

[*everyone bursts out laughing*]

Rikard: I think there's a certain responsibility you have as a band that you want to play the music you want to play but you have to consider the fans. I think it's pretty selfish if you don't because I know I get a little upset when I see a band and you just hear all the new stuff. There's nothing wrong with that, but you want to hear "The Number of the Beast." You want hear that kind of stuff.

Mark: We remember when we were kids waiting six and seven hours in line to get Iron Maiden tickets and we're waiting for the show and wanting to hear certain songs. You have to keep the fans in mind.

Rikard: Mark does a really good job in that he'll ask fans online, "What do you guys want to hear? What do you want to hear on this cruise?"

Luxi: Yes, that's always nice. I am sure the fans appreciate it if you ask their opinion about the songs they want to hear...

Mark: I make the fans work, too. Before this tour I asked fans, "What do you want to hear?" And a couple of people said, "I want to hear 'Let It Out' from The Scourge of the Light." And I asked them, "Why? Why do you want to hear that? Tell me why." And so they did. Okay, it's on the list.

Luxi: Do you have some mandatory Jag Panzer songs that you'll play every time? It's no surprise that the fans always want to hear some certain, mandatory songs, just like you just mentioned Iron Maiden playing "The Number of the Beast" in each of their shows.

Rikard: They should play that every time.

THE DEVIANT CHORD

Luxi: So I was reading somewhere that you have a new album in the works called The Deviant Chord?

Mark: Yes. We're about a third of the way through the writing and I have about a hundred riffs recorded. As soon as we get back I'm going to start getting them arranged into songs and everything. We hope to have everything written by mid May and then we're ready to go in the studio.

Rikard: Yes, we've already decided where we're going to work on that and we've already made plans on where we're going to be tracking it and all that good stuff. It's well into the process of getting it done.

Mark: I'm very happy with the songs so far. Harry was in the studio a while back when we were working on a song and it came out really good. I'm very happy with it.

Luxi: Have also been demoing this stuff, just to get an idea how it sounds in general?

Mark: Yes, we always demo everything.

Rikard: We have two new songs that have been demoed completely.

Luxi: Any song titles for them yet?

Mark: Well, we always change things up, right until the very end.

Rikard: I'll tell you this; when I get files from Mark [*laughter*] they're completely ridiculous. I think they've been like, "The Big Bear", I think we've had...

Harry: "The Tyrant", "Monkey Jam 3,000"

Rikard: Yes, "Monkey Jam 3,000." They're ridiculous working titles but at least that way we all know what we're talking about.

Mark: We give them ridiculous titles for a reason.

Rikard: Mark gives them ridiculous titles and it's pretty funny.

Luxi: So May, 2016 will be the month when you start recording this new album?

Harry "The Tyrant": Yes, we're shooting for May.

Mark: Yes, probably May or June we'll be in the studio recording it.

Luxi: What can you tell us about the musical direction of this new album? Are you already comfortable saying the fans can expect a solid Jag Panzer record without fear that you have run out of ideas or anything like that?

Mark: Well, we never plan a sound in advance, ever. We just do what we feel should sound good. This last song we demoed sounds like something off our Thane to the Throne album but we didn't do that on purpose, that's just the way it came out. That may be the only song on the album that sounds like that. We treat each song as its own individual thing with input from every band member and we just let it take its course however it sounds.

Rikard: I think it is really pretty amazing the way songs come together. When we get together to record and everybody gives their input, which really molds the song. It's a pretty amazing process. It is great for me as a drummer to be in a position where I can provide input and it's taken just like anybody else's. Mark and I swap files and I'll lay drum parts down and out of that comes other ideas of, "Wow, what if we did this? And what if we added something else extra onto this?" As Mark said, it isn't really that we have a direction where we say it's going to sound like this or that and at the end there's times when we're surprised by the outcome.

Mark: And we're excited to have Joey Tafolla on the new album because I think of the classic Ample Destruction Jag Panzer sound. A huge part of that is what Joey does on the guitar. It's huge. So he's going to be great on this album. His playing sounds amazing now and he's always a good writer so we're excited.

Luxi: So basically each of you are in an equal position to contribute Jag Panzer's songwriting?

Rikard: That's correct.

Luxi: These days do you work with new stuff by recording at your home studios and sending files back and forth?

Mark: Yes.

Luxi: Back in the day there were no computers or digital technology around that would have helped people get their shit together easier and faster, so band members had to arrange rehearsal session together - the old school way...

Mark: So we've done it both ways [*laughter*].

Rikard: I have to go back to a previous comment about something. It's interesting because as there have been different guitar players in this band you can tell how that has colored our sound. When Chris Broderick was in the band and we did a lot of releases with him through Century Media, they definitely had a tone, a vibe, I guess is the best way to say it. There was a different element and some people didn't care for it, they preferred the Ample Destruction mix. We've noticed now with Joey coming back and the shows that we've done, people have commented that there is a chemistry that wasn't there before. I think it has everything to do with the interplay between Mark and Joey and how they play together. And of course the stuff that Joey adds is just very unique. That's not what Chris did in the band. Chris was a phenomenal player and obviously had a great stint with Megadeth and his new band is great, but that did color our sound to a certain degree. It had a different vibe as a band. Not good or bad, I loved that time, it was great but I have to say it does feel very different now that Joey's back and that interplay between Mark and Joey is pretty amazing.

Luxi: Sometimes it's amazing how people find this chemistry in a band when they work together. I mean the ideal situation is when everyone knows and agrees how the band should sound and there are no big arguments about the certain musical direction...

Harry "The Tyrant": Yes, I agree. There have been many times when I've approached Mark with three completely different vocal lines to lay on the song. Or I'd say, "Here's your pre-plotted vague direction of what you thought or you might see or hear, or envision for the chorus of the bridge. And here's my take. Here's the first thing that I thought of." So I'll do his version if he has something pre-plotted out. For the last couple of albums he just says, "Okay at this time I'm planning on this to happen, at this time I'm planning on this to happen." But it has changed around. I'm saying, "Well you know what I find is this part that you deemed as the bridge is a better chorus." And then he'd be saying, "You know what? Yes. Now that I hear that, it works better." And so it's that creative input instead of just saying, "You know what? I really envision this bridge to be a bridge and so let's just try to work it out." It's not that way, if it sounds good we're all fans of our own music, which is kind of weird. And so we all just say, "Hey, whatever sounds best to everybody in the long-run is the direction we go."

Even when we might have a title for an album and we'd like to gear the material in that direction and stuff. There have been times when we've planned on having a title track on the album and it just never happens. We get to the end of the album and we've got 10 or 12 songs and we still don't have the title track. It just didn't feel right; maybe the title of the track just never matched the mood of the music. We don't have a future idea of what the album's going to be about. It's always pretty vague and open and what happens, happens.

Rikard: And I think we really like The Deviant Chord. That could mean a lot of things. And we like titles where people have to read into it and it may mean different things.

Joey: Fans make up their own meaning.

Rikard: Yes, they make up their own meaning. What does it mean to you? And I think that's important, too.

Luxi: Exactly. Will The Deviant Chord be a concept album?

Harry "The Tyrant": Probably not. Not with the songs that we have down already. If it starts gearing that way then sure we might direct it, but I don't see it.

Mark: We'll just have to see how it goes.

Harry "The Tyrant": Our intention right now is not to make a concept album.

Rikard: I think that one exception that we did was Thane to the Throne because we went into it after deciding we were going to do a concept record based on Shakespeare's Macbeth. That was a tough process, wasn't it? I mean it really was a tough process.

Harry "The Tyrant": Everybody threw me just a ton of great songs and I encouraged everybody to read through the book so they could get the mood and then write their songs based on that. But the arranging basically came to me because I had to build a readable story that followed everything. And so we came out with a big song at the end just because...

Rikard: It didn't fit in so we had to cut [*laughter*].

Harry "The Tyrant": We had everything that was left from the other songs in the story and we kind of just put it all in that one final song "Tragedy of Macbeth" to kind of tie everything together.

Luxi: Concept albums are really hard and time-consuming to make. You need to a certain flow and that's really difficult...

Harry "The Tyrant": The music and the lyrics have to display the mood. And it's not your mood it's somebody else's. You've got to do your best to try to display that and do the original justice. That was a little difficult but it was really cool when it started coming together. We were just like, "Oh yeah." I did a lot of shuffling around. I'd say, "Well, Mark you know song three works really best for this."

And then all of a sudden we'd get to it and then I'd say, "You know what? Song three works best for part seven now." So we'd shift it around and then we got to a point where we're like, "Well, we have to ditch this song because I can't find a spot for the emotion from it. Can you guys write me another song based around this kind of mood?" And so they popped it out and that was the one deciding piece to fill out the whole thing and it was pretty fun. But I think that was our longest, most thought-out project ever because it wasn't our thought, it was somebody else's. We had to make sure that the arrangement was just perfect and still stay true to our sound and to what the fans expected of us.

But we never went in like Dream Theater saying, "Okay, we're going to make a Rock opera out of this. And when we tour with this it's going to be like a Rock opera. We're going to have guests and we're going to be sitting back like a band, and we'll basically be playing the theme." No, we just made a whole bunch of songs and we wanted each song to be strong enough that if we needed to pull one song out to play it on our tour, it didn't need the other songs around it. It could be strong enough to stand on its own and that worked out pretty well. Almost every song on that album is strong enough to stand all by itself.

ABOUT THE RIGHT CHEMISTRY

Luxi: Okay, the next question is for Joey. You played on Ample Destruction which is a classic Heavy Metal album, one of the best Metal albums of all times, I have to say. So how do you feel to be back in this band?

Joey: It feels good; I'm not going to lie.

[*laughter*]

Luxi: And you found this, let's say "optimal chemistry," right away with these guys when they asked if you would be interested in joining the band again after so many years?

Joey: Right, sure. There's always been chemistry between Mark and me no matter what. Every 15 years we find it again. I'm glad we found it with Ample and we found it with The Fourth Judgment. Just being in the band right now there's chemistry. I've said this before in interviews so it's not new but it's the truth. I feel that I bring out the best in the band. They've had a lot of great guitar players in the band but I feel like I bring the best out in the band and in the same respect the band brings the best out of me. I play the best when I'm with this band and I've done a lot of recordings other places but this is where I play the best.

Luxi: Now this reminds me, you also have this Black Sabbath tribute band called Black Sabbattak with no less than Vinny Appice on drums. How did you decide to do a tribute band with him in the first place?

Joey: Yes, Vinny Appice. You know, I was looking for something to do on this side of the road. I have a couple of projects. I have one where we do a Randy Rhoads tribute. It is just something to keep our chops up. It's fun and I play gigs with them once in a while and I had the same thing going with a Black Sabbath thing. I had a drummer who couldn't make a gig and so I have a friend who knows Vinny, Andy Banks. I said, "I need a drummer," and he called Vinny and Vinny said, "Yes, I'll sit in for the thing." Vinnie liked doing what he did. He said, "Let's do this some more." So that really was not even planned.

Luxi: Up next, I have a question for Harry about your vocals. First off, you are commonly hailed as one of the most gifted vocalists in the whole Heavy Metal genre due to your wide vocal range. However, aging is always a problem and many vocalists, like Rob Halford for example, have some trouble reaching the high registers as they age. How do you keep your voice fit?

Harry "The Tyrant": Yes, well I have always sung kind of high. Even my talking voice is almost sometimes like a girl [*laughter*] up in that pitch range. My natural timber is always up high. My thing is "if you do not use it, you lose it." There was a period of my life where I was not doing much with Jag Panzer and I was not in Satan's Host or Titan Force and I was not doing much of anything. I was just doing my day-to-day job and I was not singing in any side bands or any cover bands. I had to struggle to get back to where I am today. During that struggle I realized that the more you use something, the more you start to get to know it well. You know your instrument well and what you need to do to get there. If you do not use it, if you sometimes do not stretch your limits beyond your own ideas, then you are never going to do anything beyond what you think. I forced myself to get into a band that was doing other melodic groups and stuff like Skid Row, singers that I thought were out of my reach as far as range. My goal was to try to emulate them perfectly, to try and sound as much like them as I could, kind of like a ventriloquist. In doing so I found some parts of my voice that I never knew. Then I got into Titan Force and Satan's Host again and they stretched my limits because they were like, "You can do this, you can sing higher, you can do this, try these Death Metal vocals. Try to do something that Danny does or somebody else." I had never tried that before. And in trying those things and thinking out of the box I started becoming more familiar with the different fine, tiny muscles in my throat that I never really activated before because I was just doing myself. I was not trying to emulate anybody else. I found out that with a lot of other drummers and guitarists and stuff that have been in this band or other bands, they say, "Man, I got into a slump to where I was hitting a plateau and I was injuring myself. I was getting blisters all the time or I just can't get past this one string." You start doing other people, other styles that you think are beyond you, that you think you are incapable of doing and then something clicks and now you are on a different plane. That is my take. I am always a learner. I never say, "I am comfortable where I am at." I always need to keep growing.

Mark: This is something I have to say about Harry's voice. I am always amazed by how he can make his voice sound like he is just screaming from the bottom of his gut but the volume coming out of his mouth is in perfect control. And that, I think, is one of the reasons he maintains his voice so well, he is not blowing his voice out. When he sounds like he is screaming and his balls are going to come out of his nose, the volume that is actually coming out of his mouth is not that loud.

Harry "The Tyrant": It is just a little louder than when we are talking.

Rikard: Yes. He has extreme control of his voice. As a matter of fact, we were at the hotel bar right before we boarded the ship and they had a karaoke night and so we were like pushing Harry to go up and sing a bunch of Journey's stuff. And he goes up on there and we were like, "My God." He goes up and sings, what was it? "Open arms"?

Harry "The Tyrant": "Open arms", yes.

Rikard: And just absolutely nails it.

Harry "The Tyrant": Then we did "I Want to Know What Love Is" by Lou Graham.

Rikard: So we really get a kick out of that because Harry jumps up there and just absolutely nails it and that was pretty cool.

Harry "The Tyrant": In order to be the best you can be, you've got to be an eternal learner. You cannot ever be comfortable because that is when you either plateau or start decaying. You've always got to say, "Man, I have not gone there yet. What if I try to go there?" It is difficult at first but you will find that you are developing a new technique and now you can incorporate that into what you are doing and you have expanded your vision.

Luxi: Besides recording a new album this year, what else have you planned? Any festivals in Europe, perhaps?

Rikard: We have some shows coming up, I know that. We have some shows in the States coming up. We're playing the Ragnarok festival. I think we will be playing in New York, so we are going to be doing some one-off kind of shows around recording. I think that keeps things kind of energetic and fresh.

Mark: Then we record and after the recording, we make plans.

Luxi: Obviously one of your plans is definitely to tour after this new album is out, right?

Harry "The Tyrant": That would be nice.

Luxi: I mean, it always helps the promotional aspect and stuff, you know.

Harry "The Tyrant": We have been asked to go to Brazil and Argentina and Portugal and all these different places, you know, so...

IS TODAY'S MUSIC JUST BACKGROUND MUSIC?

Rikard: I think it is interesting you bring up that point. As a band today the only way you can truly make any type of income is by playing live. We were joking earlier that you get these statements from the publishing company and they come to you with this huge book, like an encyclopedia. You think, "This is going to be a really great check." And you look across on what the payout is and it is $.0001 and you get to the bottom of the statement and it is 23 dollars.

[*laughter*]

Joey: And 17 cents. Do not forget about the 17 cents.

[*laughter*]

Rikard: That was the last five pages, the 17 cents. It is a little bit discouraging when you see that. I will say this right now, I don't know, Spotify is a Swedish company and I am a Swedish guy, and he keeps making these statements that he is saving the music industry. I have to vehemently disagree; he is doing everything except saving the music industry. He is destroying it one streaming service at the time. There is this whole notion of renting and leasing music. People do not own it anymore. And the way people consume music, it is almost this very kind of tertiary, "Oh, this is what I listen to when I work out. This is what I listen to when I drive." It is almost like a soundtrack to their life. It is background music. It is not something that is for me and Mark and Harry and Joey. I remember as a kid when Piece of Mind came out and I got the record. Me and my brother and my friends sat down; we started it at track one and we sat and just listened to it. We flipped it over, nobody said a word, and we listened to the whole thing and at the end we all said, "Fuck, that was awesome. Let us listen to it again." And it became something that was a bigger part of your life than just a soundtrack. That is the part that I get so dismayed about. Technology is so much better and the access to music is gotten so much better it has almost pushed music into the background as far as what it really means to people. And I do not think that is the case with the people on the ship. This is the exception, this is not the rule, but let's face it; this is a very small part of the music community. It is pretty sad the way it is going.

Luxi: People do not seem to enjoy music like they did back in the day. People don't listen to the whole album from start to finish anymore and really focus on it. Now they are taking one song from here and another song from there...

Mark: Yes, listening to eight seconds of it and then, skip, skip, skip.

Joey: The other thing is social media. Back when we were growing up, when would you ever have the chance to contact Jimmy Page or Steve Harrison online and become Facebook friends. I think people get confused, "Why do I need to go and see a show or buy a record? I am Facebook friends with the biggest people." But they are not really speaking with them and probably not even getting messages back from that person.

Luxi: [*sarcastically*] But they are on their friend's list and other people go like "Wow...!"

[*laughter*]

Joey: It changes the perspective.

Rikard: But I think you are right, it does change the perspective entirely.

Joey: I think it hurts the live shows too because people think, "I am friends with this guy; I do not really need to go and see him." There is no mystery anymore. They see the pictures, they like a picture, they make comment and they might even get a comment back from somebody who is not even the artist.

Luxi: Yes, that is true. I think I have to cut this interview off now because there's some other journalist coming right after who would like to interview you. Thanks to each of you for your time and enjoy the rest of the trip!

Rikard: Thank you for the nice conversation with us.

Other information about Jag Panzer on this site
Review: Mechanized Warfare
Review: Thane to the Throne
Review: The Era Of Kings And Conflict
Review: Decade of the Nail-spiked Bat
Review: The Age of Mastery
Review: Casting The Stones
Review: Mechanized Warfare
Review: Ample Destruction
Review: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Review: Thane to the Throne
Review: The Fourth Judgement
Review: The Scourge of the Light
Review: The Deviant Chord
Interview with Mark Briody (Guitar) on September 11, 2004 (Interviewed by 4th Horseman)
Video: Iron Eagle (Live at Bang Your Head)




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