As one of the pioneers of U.S.-based trad/power metal, Jag Panzer have gained a loyal underground following over the years. Metal-Rules.com sat down with guitarist Mark Briody to talk about various topics. The latest Jag Panzer album, THE DEVIANT CHORD, was released after a long break a few years ago; these Colorado metallions never surrender, even if the band takes a long break. What’s more, each of their 13 albums stand proudly with quality.
Interview and pic by Arto Lehtinen
I think its 22 shows and this is our last show.
Joey Tafolla is still part of the Jag Panzer line up, but he’s not on this tour?
No, no. He has to get a certain amount of money that he needs to make a show. It’s a ridiculous amount. It’s not what we make, so he can’t tour.
Is Jag Panzer more of a weekend band for you nowadays as you have a normal day job?
I still have a day job, but I did four weeks of Europe shows. It’s a lot. I still do a lot of shows.
When you re-activated in the mid-’90s, you toured with Gamma Ray and Iced Earth.
And HammerFall. We’ve done two tours with Iced Earth, the Helloween tour.
How was the tour with Gamma Ray, because they’re more like straight power metal stuff whereas your roots are in the old school heavy metal stuff. I guess the climate was quite different in the ’90s.
Yeah, it was a little different. It was fun, though. Gamma Ray was great to us. HammerFall were on that tour and GLORY TO THE BRAVE just came out. They were huge! They were getting almost a bigger crowd than Gamma Ray. It was cool. We got respect from the fans, and they know our music is a little different.
You have played with different bands, even death metal bands. What kind of reception do you usually get from the audience?
By the end of the show, it’s always pretty good. I think people see the whole band on stage, we have fun and want to be there. Sometimes when we play…we played with Danzig…they didn’t like us. Just one show -the first song, they hated us. Then by the end of the night, they liked it. Their thought was this is not what they want to hear. That’s what we always go for by the last song, is people are still there watching and the people like the show.
How was Danzig? Did he talk to you at all?
No, no. He didn’t talk to us. I can’t even tell you how he was.
Yeah, it’s probably a little more underground there. In the United States, it’s so big. We did six shows in America last year. East Coast one and it would take nine, 10 hours to go from city to city. Over here I think our longest one was six, most of them are only three-hour drive and its four-hour drive. If you play our state, Colorado, I think you’re not going to get anywhere. Where you’re going to play, it’s going to be 12, 13 hours to get to another city.
Which is the biggest metal trend right now in the States?
The biggest – it always depends on what you consider underground or not. One of the biggest new metal bands is Sabaton because I saw them in Colorado about an hour from where I live. It was 1,500 people. 1,500, yeah, which is a good crowd for Colorado. I saw Sabaton and Blind Guardian break in. Ghost was 4,000 people, with no airplay and no airplay for Sabaton. I wouldn’t really call Ghost underground heavy metal, but they’re still kind of an underground band in America.
What about Jag Panzer in your home state ?
Like 200 or 300. It’s okay.
Has it always been the same like in the ’80s?
Your latest album THE DEVIANT CHORD came out a couple of years ago.
Yeah. About year, 10 months ago.
The album before that was 2011’s SCOURGE OF THE LIGHT. That’s a six-year gap. So by now you must have started writing for the next album.
I have about two songs working right now. We’re going to record the ProgPower set for a live album so we’re focused on that as well. I’m the sole song writer. Actually, I’m not alone, everyone is writing. I’m always writing.
You said in some interview that this is not your solo band, you’re working as a unit.
Yeah, always. Yes.
I usually start by writing the whole song and then Harry will come in and he will make some changes. Then I will do a demo and we’ll send it to the rest of the guys. Our drummer would come in next like, “We have to change this. Can we extend this part a little bit more? Can we move this around?” What’s great is when everybody has ideas to change the song; they’re trying to make the song better. When Rikard says, “I have an idea for drums”, it’s to make the song better. It’s not because he wants to play some crazy drum solo.
I believe you guys live in different parts of the States?
I live about… If I were to drive to my band mates’ places, it would be about 14-hour drive.
Do you share your files by emailing or something?
Yeah, Dropbox. We have it in Dropbox and email.
Do you ever get together to rehearse the stuff?
How does it work when working on new songs?
Everybody has to learn on their own. We’ve been playing together for so long…I’ve been playing with Rikard since he was 16 years old. I know exactly how he drums and how he plays. Harry and I have been playing together since we were teenagers and have known each other since he was six. I know what’s going to happen vocally. It actually works pretty good. In fact on this tour people kept saying, “You guys are so tight, you must rehearse a lot”. Yeah, very well. I can just get a glance from these guys on stage and know what’s going on.
When you’re working on new songs and sharing the files, if you don’t agree about some parts of the song, how do you communicate?
We were very honest with each other. We often use a messenger with everybody included and people would just say their piece like “We kind of like that one more” or something. People would tell me, “I don’t like the harmony guitar part you’re playing right there”. If one person doesn’t like it, I’ll fix it. Everybody wants the song to be the best and nobody gets mad. Never had that around, people change a lot of stuff.
I don’t know. Actually, I haven’t talked to him for four months. I don’t know.
He was involved in the previous album.
Yeah, it’s a good album.
Did he come up with some ideas for the album?
Yeah, yeah, a lot of ideas.
You have been with Century Media for a long time.
And with Pavement.
And Steamhammer. What is the biggest difference with those labels?
Century Media was…we were one of those smaller bands on Century Media. They were great with us because I could call up Century Media and I could talk to the president and he would be great. With SPV I only have one person to talk to and I don’t think he likes Jag Panzer. It’s very weird to me. With Century Media I have like 10 people I can call. I can call an A&R person, or promotions, or even the president. It was really cool. I liked being on Century Media, because it was probably a good fit for us. It was just that we’re more traditional metal and that’s not really what they do.
When you got the deal with Century Media in the ’90s, they had a Finnish band like Sentenced.
How long deal do you have with Steamhammer?
I think we have one more album, I don’t know. The album might be an option.
I might like to do that. I have to think about it. I have to get in the business frame of mind, so not right now.
When you released the first album, AMPLE DESTRUCTION. What was the label name?
I guess you have learned something from the business over these years.
Yeah, yeah. The deal we signed with Century Media was terrible. I liked the people of Century Media, they were great, but the record deal was horrible. I signed it, it was my fault. Now I have a better deal with SPV. I don’t know if we’ll go independent, but if we sign with another label it has to even better deal. I just want it to be fair. Recording contracts are always very, very unfair to the artist.
Do you have any idea how many times AMPLE DESTRUCTION has been re-issued?x
I have seen Banzai somewhere.
I have seen a couple of reissues of AMPLE DESTRUCTION. You have about 13 albums by now, but AMPLE DESTRUCTION always pops out for some reason. CASTING THE STONES is a great album, in my opinion.
Yeah, that’s the only one that’s never been reissued. We keep asking companies because, we have a great record company that just reissued THE FOURTH JUDGEMENT, and will do MECHANIZED WARFARE next year. I said, “Do you want to do CASTING THE STONES?” and the answer was “No”.
Everybody thinks they don’t understand the songs. I’ve had record companies tell me, “We’ll release them all, but not CASTING THE STONES, because it sounds like you guys were trying to be Dream Theater”. I’m like, “What?”
Do you still have rights to all your albums?
No, not to the ones on Century Media. I have everything else, but not the new one on SPV, but I have the chance. The ones on Century Media, we do not. Century Media will license it. We’re really cool about that, but no company wants CASTING THE STONES. We do a couple of songs on this tour and everybody knows the music, they like it. I don’t understand.
Maybe you have to form the “Jag Panzer Music Limited” company and start doing it on your own.
That’s an idea; I was thinking of that. I did ask Century Media, “Can I license myself? They said, “Yeah.”
Which album is closer to your heart?
THANE TO THE THRONE. I don’t like the packaging and the way it works as much, but I love music. I like all of them but that one is special to me.
What do you recall of the old days recording AMPLE DESTRUCTION? What kind of memories do you have? I guess you were excited about getting into the studio.
It was recorded in the guy’s basement and he had no heat! He had a stove to burn wood, so band members would have to go get wood. The recording was in the snow; people would come in with wood. You had to start the fire before you could record. It was fun and we recorded fast. We did a whole lot in a few days.
USA power metal was quite huge in the ’80s with Jag Panzer, Helstar, Crimson Glory, etc. It was more on an underground level, but still big. What do you remember?
AMPLE only got average reviews when it came out. Even in Metal Forces, that was the best magazine in the world. I think they reviewed like 30 albums a month and we were something like number 17, right in the middle, and gave us an eight out of 10. I tried to give AMPLE away to European record labels, I sent a copy to Music For Nations and Neat Records. They all said no. I said it can happen for free but “No, we don’t want it”. Nobody was interested. They said it was too heavy. It was weird.
Is this one of the reasons you split up after AMPLE DESTRUCTION? Harry went on to Riot and Titan Force.
It took almost 10 years and then you released an album with a different singer.Was there some kind of issue with Harry?
No, no, I was happy for him. I love Riot. I’ve been a Riot fan since ROCK CITY. ROCK CITY, NARITA and FIRE DOWN UNDER. I thought it was cool. Harry and I have been friends since we were “this big” and we were trying to be in Riot. I thought it was great.
RIght now Harry’s very busy with this Tremors thing (with Sean Peck, Ripper Owens). Do you ever have a schedule conflict now?
No. Sean is for The Three Tremors. He knows that Harry tours with us and Ripper has several projects. He’s very good about the schedule.
Is Harry trying to keep his voice sharp by doing different productions when Jag Panzer is having a long break?
It’s good for him to sing with different people, whatever he wants. It’s good.
At some point I guess you split up?
Yeah, yeah. I think 2013 or ’12, somewhere around. There was just nowhere to go. I just wanted to play and do gigs and move forward and go wild. We tried to get tours over here and we couldn’t find an agent, there was just nothing at all. All of a sudden we started getting all these shows offered to us like Bang Your Head, Keep It True and 70,000 Tons of Metal.
I don’t know what happened. Then we said, “Let’s get back together and do more shows”, so we did. Let’s just do another record and tour.
You were about to quit and give up the whole thing?
Yeah. I was still playing on my own; I play my guitar every day. I was spending so much time just doing business work, life. Things involved in releasing AMPLE. It was terrible to do that, but then I couldn’t go out and do a gig or a new album.
You have never given up.
No, it’s in my blood.
I guess he’s one of the most well-known guys coming from Jag Panzer.
When he decided to join Nevermore, were you happy for him?
Yeah, yeah, the same thing as Harry in Riot. Chris is a great guy; he’s a friend of mine and he told me when he started playing with us, “I’m going to work really, really hard.” And he did, he was amazing. He always did all the songs. He always said if he had an opportunity to play his career, go hard, play for bigger crowds, then he would take it. That was very honest of him.
When he joined Megadeth, were you surprised?
No. I was surprised it took that long! I thought he was going to be in a huge band any time because he’s a great guitar player. He shows up for every practice on time, has everything balanced, and is very hard worker and a good guy. It took so long. I thought he would be in a big band sooner, so it didn’t surprise me.
Do you talk to him nowadays?
Yeah, about once a month. I talked to him right when he got off the Greece tour with In Flames.
Oh yeah, he’s with In Flames nowadays.
He was back for another leg with In Flames. I know he left the other day. Even when he was in Megadeth, we would talk. He’s a good friend.
When you start writing the next album are you going to ask him to at least make a guest appearance?
No. He’s always welcome if he wants to play and anything but I would never ask him. Chris and I, our whole friendship is built on – I don’t want anything from it, just to be my friend. He doesn’t need to play on a record, so it will sell more for me. I don’t want that. I’m just happy that he’s my friend. We just talk.
How did he get discovered in the first place?
We had asked the guitar player from our choir, because I knew he was a good guitar player, if he wanted to play with us and he recommended Chris. I had never heard Chris play but I had met him before and thought he was a nice guy. Once I heard him play and blown away by it, I offered him to do a tour. I needed him to learn seven songs, so I told him to learn 10. I said there is no way he can learn 10 songs in a week. But then we came down to practice and we did all 10. I said, maybe he didn’t know what I meant by learning the song but no, he learned them all perfectly. Then he said, “I learned the other eight for the tour.” I said, “You learned 18 songs?” “I also learned some more that you also played previously”. I said, how many Jag Panzer songs did you learn this week?! He said, 25! He’s crazy. He said he was up like all week, day and night, just working on. Doing like 25 songs. It’s crazy.
What’s the next thing for Jag Panzer?
Okay, all right. I appreciate this rapid interview. This is fun to do! You have supported Metal Rules for a long time.
Yeah, I love Metal Rules.
I guess you have mixed some CD from Metal Rules as well.
I’ve got a Metal-Rules T-Shirt.
Me too. Anyway, I appreciate your time, thank you.
Okay. Thank you.