Q&A with Jason Ward
Sheila Rene': So good of you to call Jason.
Jason Ward: My pleasure.
SR: Well, the first quiz starts with all the song titles using the logo font of different metal bands. I couldn't come up with all of them.
JW: We should have a contest to see how many fans get them right. Something like the first fan to get all of the right wins something.
SR: What happened with MCA dropping you?
JW: It's been really rough to get through being dropped by them. I didn't find out until we were on the road. It was really disheartening. We were out with Megadeth and Korn which I thought was a pretty cool feat to pull off. We did that ourselves. MCA didn't get that tour for us. We're good friends with Megadeth and my hat is off to Dave Mustaine. He gave us that tour on the merits of the content in "Drift" alone. There aren't too many people in the biz who have that kind of integrity. To be out on the road with a high profile tour like that and then drop into record stores in the area only to find that MCA hadn't even bothered to stock them, was disheartening. The executives at MCA lied to me boldface about how they were going to handle this album.
SR: When I talked in '95 with Ed and we called it the "D syndrome"...dropped, divorced, etc. You just refused to let anything take you down.
JW: Yeah, we're still fighting the good fight. It almost sounds like a carbon copy of the last time. Every time we've made a record over the four years, it has been our last record, but we're still here.
SR: How does it feel to be back on your first label, Metal Blade?
JW: At this point I'm happy we're back at Metal Blade. Brian Slagel is someone who gives a shit about the band and in the end, I don't think I'll ever do another major label record. I think they're all a bunch of knuckleheads.
SR: Mr. Metal and his staff of Darkness. That's all you need.
JW: Absolutely true.
SR: As a group when you did Drift did you guys sit down after the tour and evaluate everything?
JW: It was a little different from that. We all knew in our hearts that we had a good record. We were very happy with Drift and the way it turned out. It was a deep album and we got what we wanted to do out emotionally and musically. We said what we wanted to say. We were more disheartened by the fact that the music industry decided to leave us out in the cold again. I think we were all wondering if we wanted to put ourselves through it again. Make another record, have promises made and nothing came through and in the end being in that same boat where you know you did all you could to make it happen. When we started talking to Slagel we got that good feeling again. He was the first guy who ever gave us a break.
SR: That was way back in '86.
JW: Yeah, we get the feeling that he really cares about the band and it's not strictly a business decision with him.
SR: He has signed and re-signed so many of my favorite bands like Sacred Reich.
JW: Those guys are good friends of ours. As a matter of fact, I just saw them perform last night with my good friend, Nick Menza of Megadeth.
SR: You toured with them in '88 and '95. Then you know they're new album is out. Any chance of a three-peat tour?
JW: I'd love to do some shows with them and I don't see it being out of the question. I know those guys like touring with us and we have a really good working relationship with them. I'd love to tour with them. I'm sure Nick would enjoy it too. We had a blast on the last tour.
SR: I just love Dave Mustaine. I drove to San Antonio recently to talk to Mustaine and Menza.
JW: There are a lot of folks in the biz who seem to talk badly about Dave and as an artist he has been thought of as being temperamental at times. I have so much respect for that guy. He writes great music and he's an awesome guitarist. In the end, he gave us a great deal. He has never coped the rocker attitude with us or asked for $10,000 just to tour with him. A lot of that goes on in this business, but not with Mustaine.
SR: He's definitely one of the most misunderstood artists around.
JW: People who talk about him like that don't really know him. They can't even fathom being him. I have nothing but admiration and respect for those guys.
SR: Did Bill Metoyer work mostly as the engineer on this album?
JW: Not to take anything away from Bill's expertise, but yeah, for the most part he did. We took it upon ourselves to produce. When we were going into make this album we were very protective, for the first time, of not letting the label get too involved. With MCA they were always trying to tinker with our songs and trying to be the big label. On this album, Brian called us and said here's your budget. Call me in a couple of months when you're finished and we'll send Metoyer out when you're ready to record. He had not heard the material but just did what we needed him to do in the studio. We were really focused on what we wanted on this record as far as the sound and songs went. He was able to accommodate us. He's a consummate professional and that's the reason he's on so much of the Metal Blade stuff.
SR: Even back in '95 Ed said this band was a very well-run machine.
JW: Between the two of us we handle the writing and arranging of most of the material. Ed has given me the room to put together the stuff he's doing. I think it has focused his playing a lot more. The solos are more memorable. I give him a lot of room to be experimental with sounds and I think, personally this has been his personal best.
SR: You get credit for the arranging.
JW: Yeah, I wrote the music composition on about ten songs on the album. Everything except ""Fork-Boy" and "Hallucinational" which Mike Gilbert wrote. "Lucky Day" was written by Mike Carlson. As far as vocal material, I came to the table with a full plate. I had an idea of where the music was going, right off the bat.
SR: The only thing that bothers me is the low mix of the vocals on "Final Step" and I love the lyrics here.
JW: Actually, it's funny you mention that because we noticed it after we had mastered the album. It's just one of those things. I'm not sure if it was something with the tapes or the way it was mastered. It was something that the band definitely noticed. I'm glad that it was only a small part of the record. If I could go back and do anything over, it would be to remix that tune a little.
SR: The thing I noticed first was the lyrics. You want to remember them so you can sing along. ...Abused confused/Fought the blues no shoes/Still I walk...No place no face/Broken grin hollow within/Still I walk...
JW: Yeah, that sets up the whole record. If you follow the lyrics along, the whole record tells our story of the last few years. It speaks to a lot of things that we had going through our heads. "Final Step" is our "to be or not to be" song. Here we are making a footstep forward. Do we continue to be who we are, Flotsam & Jetsam, the sum greater than its parts. In the end do we continue to follow our God-given talents? That's where the title of the record comes from..we are five different guys and our band name has never fit five individuals better than it fits us. Every song continues on that path. "Hallucinational" speaks to some of the relationships we've had over the last couple of years. We've had some divorces in the band, and some business associations break down. That whole chorus...You've seen the horns and tail/Can you be hallucinational. Who's f**ked up here? At that point you have so many different relationships you wonder if it's you or them.
SR: This album is full of surprises.
JW: We tried to throw in as much interesting guitar as we could. That's our forte. We're a two lead guitar band and we try to do as much Iron Maiden double E stuff as we can.
SR: You speak to your fans about being careful when they start experimenting with booze and the like.
JW: It's no so much that a lot of the material is directly related to drugs, but it's something I wanted to address. I've done my share and so have the guys in this band. At the same time we've also had members who were completely drug free and to me there was a lot of similarity between our lives. A lot of times you hear people blame drugs for the reason their life is messed up and why they're not happy. I find that with the demographics of this band that regardless what our lifestyles were, we wound up being in the same boat on a lot of the things that were buggin' us.
SR: I loved the Drift album for all the layers and textures and it still rocked.
JW: That's a really deep record for us. I wrote a lot of that material right after my brother died. Some of those songs were definitely dedicated to him. For me, being one of the main songwriters in the band, I think it set a sullen mood for the album. It's definitely some of our darkest work. There's a difference in that album and High, which I think is angrier and more up-beat. It made for some soulful moments. What I tried to do on High was to carry some of that soulfulness over to music that's coming from a different angle.
SR: No keyboards here on this one. Just full-on rage.
JW: I opted to do that because the material I was writing was a lot more guitar oriented and I wanted to get back to that. I wanted Ed and Mike to really play on this record.
SR: I love the party sounds throughout the album.
JW: That was my idea. I wanted to do it on the whole record but the guys thought it might be overkill. The reason I did it was that a lot of these songs such as "Final Step" and "Monster" were written when I was going to parties and being a nut over the past year. A lot of times I found myself sitting among 20 people in my living room and I would just recluse-out into my own world to write. That's how we started and finished the record, the same 'ole knuckleheaded guy writing songs on my acoustic guitar. The sound starts with acoustic and ends with acoustic.
SR: I think "High" is going to be my theme song for the rest of the year. I love it.
JW: Thanks. (laughing) It's like the old national anthem for alcoholism.
SR: How did "Fork Boy" make it onto the album?
JW: My brother used to be in the band, Lard and it was one of the songs they used to do. I never got a chance to record with my brother when he was alive. I just felt it was appropriate since we were looking for one more song to record. It just seemed to be a cool thing that I record a tune that he was part of. In a way I got to record with him on that song. If in no other way but in my heart.
SR: I'm a little disappointed in Metal Blade. They don't have anything on their site on this new album.
JW: We've been getting on them a little bit. They do their best to keep up the promotion. We're doing our share. We have our own website up which was done by a fan, Steven Marshall. He set it up just as we were getting into the studio. We can't thank this guy enough. Of course, the snail mail for the fan club is noted on the CD booklet.
SR: I love the cover. A flatline picture suggesting that if you do too much of anything baby, you're gone.
JW: (laughter) That sums up the whole record..to be or not to be. For us it's one more shot at being to be. Hopefully, we'll be around for another five records.
SR: What was the most fun about doing this album?
JW: For the first time having total and absolute control over the songs that I was involved with. I didn't have to worry about it being over-the-top for the suits at MCA or really stepping on anyone's toes. We just did it the way we wanted. We were all on the same page.
SR: You're traveling with a lap top aren't you?
JW: I don't have a lap top yet but I do have one at home. I'm thinking about trading it in for something I can take on the road.
SR: Any numbers in as to how it's selling?
JW: I'm expecting some numbers from Europe since it has been out there since May 20. The press response over there has been unreal.
SR: Tell me about some touring you have planned.
JW: We leave July 20 to join up with Testament. It isn't confirmed yet but that is the plan. Either way we'll hit the road in July headlining or with Testament. From there we're going to Europe in September and do a couple of weeks. We'll come back and do another eight week tour of the States.
SR: I'll monitor the tour dates so I don't miss you in Austin.
JW: Drop me a line anytime and I'll stay in touch with you.
SR: Who's the guy who cut his hair?
JW: That Mike Gilbert.
SR: Tell him he gets 50 lashes and he has to grow it back. The back of the booklet, last line says: Lesson learned. It's okay to be metal.
JW: (laughing) Yeah. We took the head-on approach of what we've been hearing the last few years about metal being dead. It's just so ridiculous. Some jackass at some label tried to separate the music industry into all these little sub-divisions. It's bullshit! I've said it before and I'll say it again, anybody who's listening to White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails on radio and calling it alternative music is a jackass. It's all hard rock and heavy metal. The good material will filter its way to the top and the rest won't. There has never been a difference so we've just forged on in our own style.
SR: The Blues guys don't ever quit.
JW: Some of the acts out there get so caught up with the business end of music and I think you almost can't help it when you get to the point where you're making so much money. What's been important to me is that I'm never going to write music for any other reason other than to express what I want to say musically. The minute you think you have to write for a certain strata of people, then you've lost the battle.
SR: I've really enjoyed talking with you Jason. I can't wait to see you play this great, new album. You're fans are going to love it.
JW: Over the last year alone, we've been on the brink of whether we're going to be a band or not. Even at this point there may be some indecision on the part of some of the members..whether we tour some more down the road. In the end, what's pretty cool is that we're still able to do our style of music. The fans have written us such inspirational letters about the fact that they appreciate our doing the music that is true to our form.
SR: One last message for your fans.
JW: I can't wait to get back to touring. Every time we go through Texas I wind up having a bad hangover but a good time while I'm there. I just want to thank every fan who has stuck by us and supported us. They haven't given up on us at all. We can't wait to get back on the road and to continue to deliver.