David Lee Beowülf
Excuse me while I cough, there’s still a lot of smoke and debris in the air up here in New York City… Hey, I got to speak with Mark Briody, guitarist, founding member of Colorado’s power metal maestros, Jag Panzer! Jag Panzer, named after a breed of German mobile artillery, are responsible for one of the best metal albums of the 1990s, a magnum opus called Thane to the Throne, a classic concept album presenting Shakespeare’s Macbeth that’s really, in this writer’s opinion, a full production worthy of at least a shot at Great Performances. The band’s been around since the dawn of the Age of American Heavy Metal (1980), and have a new album called Mechanized Warfare out on Century Media. Their brand of metal is that classic, over-the-top power metal, meaning excellence in musicianship, songwriting, and heaviness metalicus!
How’d you come up with the name of band, were you all building plastic models of German tanks, or what?
Now that would have been cool! No, we just went to the library and saw this close up of this tank and it looked so awesome, so heavy…
Yeah, and we couldn’t agree amongst ourselves on how to pronounce it, so we just dropped a letter and made it sound like this… [Jag as in “jag-uar” Panzer instead of the correct, German “Yag” Panzer.]
Hey, that’s a cool song your band performed for the Colorado Avalanche. Catchy, “Another Cup Coming,” eh? The melody is awfully familiar, though… What’s the team think?
I don’t know, we haven’t heard from then, we got a lot of airplay around playoff time, but we never got an official word from the team.
What’s Judas Priest think?
I think if we were going to release it we would’ve heard something from them real fast!
Thanks to a tip from Century Media’s publicity, I also got a chance to hear “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. Are you a cover band in addition to being an excellent true metal band?
We just do the cover stuff for fun. We did “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath. We did “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” years ago.
I’ve heard Slayer do “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida.” It would be interesting to hear another metal band’s variation…
I’ll throw it on the Web site! We just figure that if we don’t have anything to do on a weekend, we’ll just go into the studio and record a cover.
Your Web site is pretty darn informative. According to your bio, you have an affection for Vikings?
I grew up in a football household and…
Oh, the Minnesota Vikings…
…the Broncos sucked when I was a kid, they just sucked. And the Vikings had the purple people eater defense and the cool looking colors, so I just latched onto them.
Did that cause any problems in your family?
None. I’m a Bronco fan, too.
You’ve included in your bio — again, I give praise to your excellent Web site — that you’re into songwriting. How much of the writing do you do and tell me about the creative machinery behind a Jag Panzer album/song.
It depends on the album. On the last couple of albums, I’m writing about 50% — maybe 60% — of the material. We write tunes a really, really weird way. I’ll come up with a vocal melody first. Just driving in my car, I won’t have a guitar or anything. If I can sing that vocal melody for a straight day, I figure it’s good enough to work on and I’ll go into the studio by myself and I’ll lay down a vocal line and I’ll start building a song around that vocal line. Then I’ll mute the vocal and give our vocalist the whole song and I’ll see what he can come up with. Nine times out of ten, he can come up with a better vocal line than what I came up with. Then we’ll get together, just us two, and we’ll hash it out, throw some ideas together, then we do another complete demo with just us two then I send it to our drummer. And he usually scratches my drum parts completely and then he sometimes has different vocal ideas. So then we do another demo with the three of us and then we get the bass player involved. Lastly we get our lead guitar player involved. Then when we’re done with our demos we send it to our producer who usually has a couple ideas, too. By the time we get ready to record an album, some of these songs we’ve done fifteen times as demos.
Do you all live in the same area?
No! Our drummer lives in Phoenix…
Ah, you’re more of a modular, spread-out band…
Yeah. I just throw songs on our Web site, and e-mail the link to our drummer and tell him “download this song – work on drum parts!”
How did the band get together, then? Did you all live in the same area at one time?
At one time we all lived in the same area. Three of us have known each other since we were five years old. The drummer’s been in the band for twelve years so, other than our lead guitar player, we’ve been playing together forever. There was a period of about three years where we rehearsed every single day, Christmas and everything. I wouldn’t recommend what we’re doing now to the average band, but it works for us because we’re just so tight with each other. I know how our drummer plays, I know how our bass player plays.
That’s fascinating, because a great way to break up a band is to have the various members leave to go get jobs far away or something like that. But you’ve stayed together. Now, the band’s been around for a really long time actually, I noticed that you’ve got songs from the early 1980’s…
We did our first album recording session — I don’t think I was old enough to drive, I was fifteen and my mom would drive me to the studio. We’re starting to make a little money from the band, but we’d be eating Ramen noodles if we tried to live off it, we have day jobs. We don’t have anyone in the band who’s unrealistic who says, “if we’re not millionaires next month, I’m quitting.” Everybody just enjoys what we’re doing.
So Jag Panzer’s been kicking around all these years. You first came to my attention, and I’m nobody, in a fanzine I bought outside an Iron Maiden show, called The Ultimate Steel Dissector and the writer was just heaping praise on your band.
I don’t even know these people!
Well, this was a guy who just loved metal guitars… I traded him an Ink 19 for his magazine… After I read it, I kept your band in the back of my head as one of the bands I’d like to hear. So finally I got ahold of Thane to the Throne, an amazing album, and said to myself, “wow! true metal guitar gods!” Macbeth is my favorite work of Shakespeare. What was behind that album? Have you been in touch with any Shakespearean societies regarding the album? What’s the feedback been in general?
We wanted to do a concept for years… And the first thing you think is “let’s write our own concept.” We started thinking about other bands we’ve known, and we’ve seen it happen a hundred times: the singer thinks he’s got a cool concept, he’s asking for slower songs. Then the guitar player comes in and wants to play a lot of fast songs, so the singer goes, “OK, I’ll change the story,” and to me that is just so lame. I mean, changing things just to fit? “Oh, you have a bell in your song? I’ll just change my story!” Well, we didn’t want any of that, so we thought we needed to take a piece of literature that’s pretty well known, that’s universal, but has emotions and themes that can adapt to metal. And once we picked Macbeth, we decided to approach it like we were scoring a film version, you know, let’s try and have some real pacing, some nice flowing songs, that’s how we approached that album. It was very controversial for us. That’s the one album where a lot of critics did not like it at all and some love it.
I can’t understand not liking it at all.
And I got close to 200 interviews about this new album and a guy would get on with me and say, “…considering the failure of Thane to the Throne… The new album is great.”
Well, excuuse me.
The next guy would say, “how could you follow up the masterpiece of Thane to the Throne with this?” And it would be the opposite.
Since I haven’t talked to you before, I have to ask some Thane to the Thrown questions… I think the album is fantastic. I played it for my father, who’s been into Shakespeare all his life, and he was impressed. It is a film score. Have you performed it in the Globe Theatre?
I don’t know how we sell in England, probably under ten copies…
How about the replica Globe at Bush Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia?
The English press has been traditionally unkind to us.
‘Coz, you’re Americans, those bastards! And it may be that you’re named after a WWII-era German tank.
Yeah, that doesn’t help either…
How did you set up the choral backing? The album is clearly of opera quality – and demands a full stage production, have you considered or have you toured and performed with the vocal groups?
Actually, our singer and producer are both trained in choral arrangements. When I’m writing a song, I’ll just do it with a keyboard, and it sounds lame, but I’ll just do it to get the idea across. And I’ll usually get it only about 80% right and these guys, our producer Jim and our singer Harry [Conklin (Tyrant)] will get in there and they’ll get a piece of paper and start scripting choral parts! I’ll call up everyone I know who sings, like I had my brother-in-law in here last time and this other girl in town who sings… So we cram five people that sing into the studio to sing and we overdub forty tracks of it. And we say, “ok, you five people are going to sing this part this way” and we practice it a few times, then they change lines, and … It takes all day to do a song, but it ends up sounding like a big, cool choral arrangement.
Well, the album is of opera quality. I wrote an article a year ago about the future of opera, and it is metal. Thane to the Throne belongs on the classical music shelves and the metal shelves.
Tell me about the new album, Mechanized Warfare. What about a tie-in to the name of your band?
No tie-in on the new album to anything. After Thane, we’ve really… We’ve never wanted to be one of those bands where you know what we’re going to do next. Bands nowadays… You know what their next album cover’s going to be! So we didn’t want to do that, figuring that since Thane was our biggest seller, the most unpredictable thing to do would be to put out an album that has no concepts. This album has no tie-ins to anything, not the title of the album to the titles of the songs, the covers not tied into the title, the anti-concept album. Don’t even look for a concept. Nothing conceptual. We told our singer to write about anything he wants. He did some really serious stuff, and wacky stuff, like the song “Unworthy,” it’s about someone he had known who put everything in his life into his religion. And when he needed his religion, it didn’t provide any answers, and he freaked. Then there’s “The Scarlet Letter,” which is about a hooker named Charlotte. He did it because he wanted to do a tribute to Iron Maiden and their song “Charlotte The Harlot.” Instead of paying tribute to Maiden in the typical way, by covering a Maiden tune, he wrote a song about one of their characters and we make the beginning of it sound a little bit like “22 Acacia Avenue.”
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with throwing in great riffs!
Yeah, I thought it was cool!
So tell me: who are the metal guitar gods these days, other than Jag Panzer?
I think the lead guitar player in our band, Chris [Broderick], is as good as anybody. We’ve played with many bands with supposed guitar gods and they’d be over getting tips from him. I think he’s as good as anybody else. Bernie Offermann, who used to play for Angel Dust, he’s the new Helloween guitar player, he’s an outstanding guitar player. Andre from Blind Guardian is fantastic. Those are the guys who come to mind.
What’s the crowd at a Jag Panzer show like?
It’s really weird. We seem to draw a really independent audience. I watch other bands play, and they have people of roughly the same age group, where our audience has people from 12 to 50. We get attorneys and junior high kids. It’s the complete gamut of people. Especially in Europe. We’ve played festivals over there the last three years. We’ve played with Scorpions, Motorhead, Helloween…
Are they into Jag Panzer?
The bands? Sadly, most people in other bands just don’t get a chance to hear anyone other than themselves. Occasionally, though, we played Milwaukee Metalfest and the drummer from Primal Fear came up to us and said “I’ve got all your last albums” which was very cool. Touring is usually opening up for someone and paying before a pretty rabid 200-300 people. So it is actually pretty cool. The Midwest is really, really good. We did Cleveland and did 700 people. Detroit was good. We did New York with Iced Earth a couple of years ago.
What kind of women show up to a Jag Panzer set?
Do you want women to show up?
Um, our wives show up.
What’s it like in your hometown?
Are you hated or just not paid attention to?
Living here’s awesome, Colorado’s beautiful. But I’m doing backflips trying to get a review in the local newspapers. I met with the guy yesterday – like I had to have a meeting with the local music critic – and he just did a two-page spread on a buddy of mine who plays funk bass and just came out with a demo.
I said, “cool, you did the article on him, he’s nice guy, but let’s be realistic here, we’ve been around twenty years…”
What about the Judas Priest swipe, er, “Another Cup Coming”? It’s getting airplay, right?
Up in Denver, but not my hometown.
Those people suck! So, let’s wrap this up: when will Jag Panzer be on the road again?
It’s probably going to wait, my wife and I are having twins any day. Our singer and his wife are having a baby, too, like in December.
So you’re too busy having kids to worry, but there will be something.
I recommend picking up the band’s catalogue and regularly checking their Web site for more MP3 files!