Q&A: Wrestling Legend Chris Jericho On His Collaboration With Death Metal Greats

Photo by Jorge Bueno Rios via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Jorge Bueno Rios via Wikimedia Commons

Chris Jericho is one of the most decorated professional wrestlers ever: a six-time world champion and the first-ever undisputed WWE champion. He was ranked the promotion’s greatest ever Intercontinental Champion. Jericho is also one of the most vocal celebrity metal fans on the planet as well as a metal musician who has toured the world repeatedly with his band Fozzy.

Jericho’s latest project, however, might be the only one that could earn the extreme moniker; a digital EP from the group Blood Divisions that features Dave Austin (Nasty Savage), Ralph Santolla (Deicide and Iced Earth), Terry Butler and Greg Gall (Six Feet Under) and other guest musicians.  The EP — which will benefit an animal charity — includes a cover of Nasty Savage’s “The Morgue” and a cover of the Scorpions classic “Top of the Bill.” The wrestling legend known as “Y2J” talked to Decibel about this unlikely collaboration and the ties between metal and wrestling. 

How did this project come together? Did you have a relationship with Dave Austin?

A good friend introduced me to Dave years ago. I was a huge Nasty Savage fan growing up in Winnipeg. Fast forward and Dave wanted to re-record “The Morgue” with new arrangements and wanted me to sing on it. The new arrangement made it into this nine-minute song. I wondered what they planned on doing and he said : “We’re going to get some of my friends to come in and play guitar solos.” He said he’d be getting guys from Iced Earth, Obituary, Six Feet Under and Dark Angel. And I was like are you kidding me? It became this Florida All-Star death metal project. Once you get Jericho involved I get out my P.T. Barnum. I said we’re going to make this big. I called (Metal Blade founder) Brian Slagel; he was a huge Nasty Savage fan. We sent him a track and he wanted it. It became this special tribute to the Florida death metal scene.

How did you get to know Brian?

We met through the scene and through mutual friends. We went to the Metallica 30th anniversary show at the Fillmore and became closer friends there. We both love hockey and love metal. We were talking about the new Iron Maiden record last night. He’s another guy who followed his dreams and is now doing great. He was the only guy I thought of for Blood Divisions.

You’ve talked a lot about your love for classic metal and metal in the 80s. Were you also a fan of more extreme metal like Obituary or Cannibal Corpse?

I wasn’t when I was growing up. I was a bigger fan of technical and progressive metal. I loved Nasty Savage’s second album (Indulgence). It was so weird and it doesn’t make sense with the tempo and time changes. It was like a more technical, thrashier King Diamond. The vocals are unique; no one sings like Nasty Ronnie (Galletti). They were way ahead of their time and I loved it. And I loved a lot of the other Metal Blade band albums at the time.

Were you in the studio when the A-list of guitarists showed up?

No, I was in the studio with Dave. We also did Scorpions “Top Of The Bill.” I laid down the vocals before all the solos were done. I became sort of the executive producer knowing how special this would be. Once Dave started putting out feelers everyone wanted to be involved. I didn’t get to see them (the guitarists) lay down their stuff but it was even better than I expected. 

How did your approach your vocals on both of the songs?

I can’t sing like Nasty Ronnie. I wanted to do Chris Jericho’s version. For some of the verses I wanted a Kill Em’ All vibe. Nasty Ronnie sings very staccato so I did that with some power. There are also some really high parts. I had (both covers) banged out in about an hour-and-a-half because I wanted both of these tracks a little raw.

The proceeds go to the Rock and Rescue Foundation (an organization benefitting rescue dogs).

That was Dave’s choice. He’s just doing this as a hobby. He’s not a full-time musician anymore. When you get all of these guest stars how do you get paid for it? And the best way is that no one gets paid and we donate all the proceeds to charity. That way everyone feels good about it. No one is saying: “Where is my thousand bucks?” It actually got us even better names when we got guests.

Are you a dog enthusiast?

(Laughs). I have three dogs, three cats, three guinea pigs…it’s a freaking zoo in here. I’m definitely down with it.

There’s a strong connection between metal and wrestling fans. Some people are passionate about both. Why is this – the pageantry?

I wouldn’t say the pageantry. I think wrestling fans and heavy metal fans are outside of the box. It’s not the mainstream. Football or pop music are cool things to like. If you like metal or wrestling you are part of this exclusive club; you can be instant friends. You can meet someone in the middle of the jungle and if they like Black Sabbath you’ll have something to talk about.

The reason I was attracted to it was the individuality, the aggression, and the electricity. I can look out a stage and pick my favorite guy in the band. I can look at the ring and pick out my favorite wrestler. If I’m watching a team sport I don’t know who is who. They are both hard-hitting forms of entertainment, especially live. They are contingent on the crowd. There’s a similarity between a heavy metal show and a good wrestling match.

At the same time, it seems like wrestling has become more mainstream. Grantland is writing about wrestling. SummerSlam was all over ESPN SportsCenter.

It’s about time. WWE sold out three nights at the Barclay Center (in New York) last week. Tell me any other sport that ESPN covers that does that. Tell me any other form of entertainment that could do that! There’s still a little bit of a stigma to it. If you had any other event that drew 80,000 people a year like Wrestlemania you’d have every reporter from every affiliate. But there’s a stigma because there is one step in reality and one in fantasy. A lot of people can’t get over that it’s not real. Well, of course it’s not real. It’s wrestling.

But it’s definitely real in the sense that people get concussions and take risks. You’ve been seriously injured.

Exactly. It’s show business and a live stunt show. You can debate it till’ the cows come home. Some people don’t get it just like some people don’t get metal.  We played Heavy Montreal and there were 60,000 people there and I didn’t see one television camera.  If Bruce Springsteen headlined the festival everyone would cover it.

The late Roddy Piper wasn’t just a pop culture icon but was beloved by the metal community. Paul Baloff wore a Piper’s Pit shirt on the back of Bonded By Blood.  Did you have any thoughts about his life?

I don’t think Roddy was a metal fan at all. But he was a good cat and a cool guy. He would probably appreciate that Baloff wore a Piper’s Pit shirt on a Exodus record. I don’t think he cared about anyone’s vocation. If you were a Roddy fan he’d appreciate that. He always held the fans in high regard.

Between Blood Divisions, Fozzy, wrestling, writing and a podcast how do you manage to keep your sanity?

You have to have commitment and passion. I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. And it’s not like I do all these things at once. If I have some time off from Fozzy I do some wrestling. When the schedule is filled I just don’t have time. You just have to love what you do.