interview by: Roberto
Jag Panzer sets the standard in terms of musicianship and
originality for contemporary American power metal. The band first made
its mark in the mid-80s with the album Ample Destruction, but then
largely disappeared. Although some albums were released in the early/mid
90s, it wasn't until 1997's The Age of Mastery that the band re-established
itself as a group to watch. Since then, the band released 1999's Thane
to the Throne, a concept album about Shakespeare's "MacBeth."
2001 sees the band pushing to include more musical variety with the release
of Mechanized Warfare. I spoke to founding member Mark Briody on
the phone from his home in Colorado to discuss what it's like being in
a true metal band in the year 2001. Briody, with his Jimmy Stewart-like
voice and obviously warm and laid back demeanor, sounds like your cool
uncle who just happens to be in a kick ass metal band.
photo credits: Ted Banks
Maelstrom: One of the things I find noteworthy of your Mechanized
Warfare album is the variety of songs. This is in stark contrast to
many of the power metal bands coming out of Europe. Stratovarius, for
example, keeps making album after album of essentially two types of song
(not that I or any of their fans mind). What do you think of these approaches?
Does your approach put you at an advantage or disadvantage?
Mark Briody: Creatively I think it puts us at an advantage.
Sales-wise, I'm not sure (laugh). A lot of the bands that I think do the
same album over and over again, a lot of them sell more than we do! (laugh).
Creatively, from our point of view, all of us [in Jag Panzer] grew up
buying albums since we were 10 years old. Back then bands would do a different
mix each song, and eventually bands started keepin' the same mix, but
then maybe each song is different. Nowadays, God, I hear so many bands
that have got the same song, the same mix. It's something we grew up with:
to try to make everything different from song to song. We do make a conscious
effort: we look at key signatures; we look at tempo. We look at the mix
and really try to change things up.
Maelstrom: That's an interesting point about how bands that
do the same album over and over again make more sales. What does that
say about fans? A build up on that: What differences do you see between
European power metal and American power metal?
Briody: To me that shows there's definitely a media influence in the underground.
The underground metal scene I grew up with in the early 80s was purely
to get good music. I didn't buy any albums because I saw an ad anyplace.
Nowadays, particularly in certain European markets, a lot of sales are
driven by huge ad campaigns. It's really how much money the label can
throw into advertising. There's a lot of great European power metal bands,
but I don't necessarily think they should be selling more records than
us. (Mark pictured at left)
Maelstrom: Do you think [the success] can be explained culturally?
It's pretty obvious that power metal is a lot more successful in Europe
- metal in general! Is there anything that you can see that makes metal
more popular (if you agree)? And if you do, is there something cultural
Mark Briody: Yeah, I think so. One thing you can definitely
look at: you take some of the bands in Finland: Nightwish, Children of
Bodom, or you take Stratovarius, or you take Hammerfall in Sweden… Those
countries really, really support their bands. So when bands like that
release an album, they go to #1 on the charts over there.
Maelstrom: It's unheard of, isn't it?
Mark Briody: Right. Whereas American bands… I mean, I'd
think it was great if Iced Earth broke the Hot 100 over here! There's
a lot of benefits over there to going #1. You could have photographers
wanting to work with you; companies wanting to do endorsements; you get
a lot of major coverage. I think, although it doesn't translate to huge
sales to be #1 on the Finnish charts, I think the other fringe benefits
really, really help those bands. I think it puts the US bands at a disadvantage.
Maelstrom: Jag Panzer played Metalfest this summer.
Mark Briody: Right.
Maelstrom: Looking at the lineup for Metalfest, as opposed
to Wacken in Germany; there's a lot less melodic metal (at Metalfest).
Mark Briody: Yes.
Maelstrom: How does that affect you and what you're writing,
Briody: You know, it doesn't really affect me at all. I sort of just try
to write the metal that I want to listen to. You know, of course it would
be nice to be able to do huge crowds at shows here, but I don't really
ever want that to influence my writing. Because the next step from that
is "maybe I should write to get on the radio," or "maybe I should write
to sell a bunch of records." I don't even want to go there.
Maelstrom: The [guitar] solos on Mechanized Warfare
are exhilarating, yet tastefully done. It's clear that you could go off
on the kind of thing that Yngwie Malmsteen is famous for, but don't. Why
Mark Briody: We have a lot of people fighting for the spotlight!
(Laugh). Not literally, everybody gets along great, but we have a very
good talented and determined lead vocalist. I don't think it would work
well with him to have lead guitar all the time. By the same token we have
a great lead guitar player, so I think they both realize that there has
to be a sort of a balance there. Unlike in Yngwie, and he's clearly in
charge of the project: his name's on the record, people are buying it
to hear him. We stress the team effort much more.
Maelstrom: On your Thane to the Throne album, are
the acoustic guitar tracks played by members of the band? That (the acoustic
guitar) was really impressive for me.
Mark Briody: All permanent members. The only session musicians
are the string players.
Maelstrom: The inclusion of Gregorian chant was one of my
favorite bits on Mechanized Warfare. Will we be hearing more such
choral singing in the future?
Mark Briody: I think so. It was an interesting story behind
that. I initially had limited samples of Gregorian choir, and I played
them for the band members. And I think our vocalist assumed that we could
do anything Gregorian in my studio. I don't think he really understood
that I was playing a limited sample. So he wrote the vocal part in the
song; he wrote all these intricate Latin parts. We get to the studio,
and I said "how are we gonna do these?" So we had to invent our own little
Gregorian choir on the spot.
Maelstrom: You have a whole list of people [in the liner
notes to the album] who did the Gregorian chants.
Mark Briody: It's actually our producer, our lead vocalist,
and myself. (laugh)
Mark Briody: And we called ourselves "the Monks of St. Hubbins,"
which is a joke from "(This is) Spinal Tap."
Maelstrom: That's amazing, because you guys sound fantastic!
Mark Briody: It took us about 30 overdubs of the three of
us to get that sound.
Maelstrom: Yeah, sure. It sounds like more than three people.
I keep getting amazed at how well you guys play the guitar (and at the
musicianship across the board.) What is your musical background, Mark?
How did you learn how to play?
Mark Briody: I started taking lessons - picked up the guitar
- when I was 15. Our singer, Harry (Conklin), lived four houses up from
me. He taught me a Kiss song. Well, my parents made me a deal. They said:
"if you want our support and you want to keep playing guitar, you've got
to take lessons." So they signed me up at a jazz studio, and I'm not the
biggest jazz fan. It was a studio owned by Johnny Smith, who was Bing
Crosby's guitar player. So I had to do four years of really strict jazz
playing, which really made me a disciplined player. Our other guitar player
(our lead guitar player), Chris, has got a music degree from Denver University,
with a concentration on classical guitar, so he put in years of serious
guitar study also.
Maelstrom: Is it your experience that people aren't as inclined
to take you seriously when you tell them you're in a metal band? I'm not
sure if you'll be taken seriously as a musician. I don't know if you agree
or disagree with that.
Briody: Oh, I agree completely. We see prejudice on a lot of levels. I
see people saying we can't be serious because we're playing metal. I get
people in music stores who think "these guys are playing that old style
of music. What a bunch of losers." But I think every time I get someone
who thinks we're not serious musicians, if I can play them one minute
of [our] music, and they'll listen, I can usually change their mind. I
mean, the string players that we have play on our albums are professional
musicians; that's what they do for a living. Professional symphony musicians,
and even they're impressed with what we do, which is a great compliment
to me. (guitarist Chris Broderick at left)
Maelstrom: A friend of mine wrote in his zine: "The mainstream
market undervalues musicianship more than ever. The persistence of hip-hop
at the present commercial forefront also substantiates this, because that
is a musical style wherein musicianship and traditional performance value
is irrelevant to its performers, as well as its audience." How do you
feel about that?
Mark Briody: I would agree. There's mainstream hip-hop and
even mainstream heavy rock [where] there's really no emphasis on musicianship
at all. If you're looking for it, you can probably find some stuff that
Dr. Dre produces [that] probably has some substance to it musically, but
most of the stuff you hear on the radio is just…crap. It's guys who know
three chords on the guitar. I guess they got a cool look and look good
on MTV is why they're rock stars; it's certainly not their musical ability.
Maelstrom: So how does that make you feel as a musician who
takes his musicianship seriously?
Mark Briody: It's kinda disheartening. The only thing to
do is hope that things will turn around and people will start to see the
Maelstrom: Do you think that metal belongs in the underground?
Mark Briody: I think, particularly here in the United States,
a lot of people would really enjoy it if there was exposure to it. I don't
want it mainstream to the point where you're seein' bands on cereal covers,
or, I don't want Jag Panzer action figures. That has no interest to me
whatsoever. But, if our music could be presented to the average person
and they could make up their own mind whether they like it or not, that
would be great.
Maelstrom: Is it harder to write the music for a concept
album? I'm asking because a great many concept albums that I review are
terrible, but terrible in a way that distinctly says: "This is a concept
Mark Briody: Hahaha!…
Maelstrom: I'm asking because I think Thane to the Throne
is a good album, although it does sound like a concept album, but it doesn't
sound terrible, like so many of them do. Is there a certain process where
you feel, "oh, I have to write this song, but I'm limited in how I can
do it, because I have to stay within the context of the story"?
Mark Briody: Yeah, that's the way we did it. We imposed
limitation on key signature, we imposed limitation on tempo; we put ourselves
in a position like we were composing a soundtrack to Mac Beth. So we set
a bunch of limits. Now, having set those limits means the songs you write
better be good. If you impose and you can't write within your own structure
- I've heard a lot of concept albums [that were bad] - then it's gonna
be a bad album.
Maelstrom: What to you is a great concept album?
Mark Briody: Pink Floyd The Wall. Blind Guardian's
Nightfall in Middle Earth is a more recent, excellent concept album.
Maelstrom: What makes it work? Aside from what you already
Mark Briody: There's sort of an atmosphere and a flow from
song to song. And they don't work if you…I can't pick up Nightfall
in Middle Earth and listen to one song in the middle; it demands that
you listen to the whole thing through. To me, that's the sign of a good
concept album, something that holds my interest all the way through.
Maelstrom: Speaking of Thane to the Throne, it's curious
how your band went from a high brow album (a concept piece about Mac Beth)
and then followed it with a lower brow concept and presentation called
Mechanized Warfare. Why did you name the album that?
Briody: We named it Mechanized Warfare because we wanted an off-the-wall
name. The two words "mechanized" and "warfare" had both been used previously
to describe our live set. Our drummer (Rikard Stjernquist, right) plays
to a click track in the studio and live, so the live set tends to be very
tight, so we're called mechanized. So we kept that word in our mind. And
somebody ata a later show said the gig was like audio warfare. So we said,
oh, "mechanized warfare." We knew that was a military term, so we thought
"this might be cool for the next album."
Maelstrom: It looks like some sort of pseudo-Japanese cartoon
mecha stuff on the front.
Mark Briody: Yeah, we sort of gave the artist free reign.
The only thing we wanted were elements of different time periods in there.
We didn't want it to be obvious: "oh, it's a medieval cover," "oh, that's
futuristic." We wanted lots of different elements in there.
Maelstrom: Do you imagine that the events involving the terrorist
attacks on the US will inspire you to write more music or not?
Mark Briody: I think it will, 'cause that's what I like
to do. It's sort of therapy for me for anything. I think it's motivation.
So, yeah…it's hard to explain, but I think it will.
Maelstrom: How is Jag Panzer dealing with that, or are you
dealing with that at all?
Mark Briody: You know, there's a lot of anger when you turn
on the news and see people in Afghanistan rippin' down the American emblem
from an embassy. I'm thinkin' "we haven't attacked anybody yet." What
is this all about? So, really there's a lot of anger. It has an effect
on my daily life. I used to ride my bike through these trails by my house,
but unfortunately they all run through the Air Force Academy, which is
a military base, so it's closed now. I can't go jog on this other trail
now, 'cause it's closed. It sort of makes me mad there, also.
Maelstrom: Are you in the age range to be drafted, Mark?
Mark Briody: No, just out of it.
Maelstrom: How old are you?
Mark Briody: I'm 36.
Maelstrom: How does the last track on Mechanized Warfare
fit in to the rest of the album? That's the one that sounds like it's
on an old record.
Mark Briody: Oh! Hahaha…
Maelstrom: Why did you put that in there, and how does it
Mark Briody: We were mixing the song "The Scarlet Letter,"
which I think is song #5, and we heard just the vocal tracks. They didn't
sound metal at all. So our guitar player, Chris, went over to the piano
in the corner and started playing this ragtime piano part to match the
chorus. We thought: "let's just turn on the recorder and record this."
We put it at the end of this album because we wanted this album to be
so different from Thane to the Throne, so if we can throw a little
tongue in cheek humor in there, that's great, because there's absolutely
none on Thane to the Throne.
Maelstrom: Could you expound on that a little more? How is
Mechanized Warfare different from Thane to the Throne? Aside
from the humor part…obviously it's not a concept album.
Mark Briody: Right. Much more variation in tempo; much more
variation in key signature. Like the song "Cold is the Blade" has a completely
major chorus but doesn't sound happy. It was sort of a chore to get that
to work. Things like that: there's no big, major choruses on Thane
to the Throne anywhere.
Maelstrom: Speaking of the happy stuff. Is there some sort
of taboo in American metal that happy is not metal?
Mark Briody: Hahahaha!
Maelstrom: Because, again, you go to the European bands,
and it's so happy, it's so major chord-y.
Mark Briody: Oh, right.
Maelstrom: What is the basis of this sort of difference in
Mark Briody: You know, you're right. The American bands
don't go there. You don't hear Iced Earth do it; we don't do it. I think
that growing up, for me certainly, there was a distinction between metal
and hard rock. I didn't listen to Van Halen a lot, aside for the great
guitar playing. I would much prefer Deep Purple or something. The happiness
to me was more of a hard rock thing, and something I didn't want to write.
Maelstrom: When are we going to be able to readily find your
first album from the 80s? Why aren't we able to find it now?
Mark Briody: (laugh) (Bassist John Tetley below)
They keep mentioning it in the press releases, but I'm like: "well, where
can we get it?"
Mark Briody: It's somebody's fault between Century Media
and our ex-band members. Every month the story changes. Last month I got
a call from both band members who said: "hey, look, we're ready to do
the deal. It's Century Media's fault."
Maelstrom: Who owns the rights to it?
Mark Briody: The band members who played on it collectively.
The month before, I talked to Century Media and they said: "We can't get
the old band members to agree on a deal." You know, I don't know what's
going on. I'mhearing two different stories, and I'm hearing it all the
Maelstrom: You are an original band member?
Mark Briody: Uh-huh.
Maelstrom: Your band goes back to what, '84?
Mark Briody: Uh, no…'82. We were still in school.
Maelstrom: Harry Conklin (current singer) was in the band
at that time, right?
Mark Briody: Uh-huh.
Maelstrom: Now, refresh my memory. He left in the early 90s?
Mark Briody: He left in '86, and then came back in '96.
Compared to your vocals and vocal syntax on your previous album, Thane
to the Throne, Harry Conklin's (pictured at right) vocal melodies
and syntax are - I don't know quite how to put this to you, this is how
the way I think of it: they sound more committed; it's like they fit the
music more coherently. Can you kind of see what I'm saying?
Mark Briody: Yeah, he's a little more free-flow on the new
album. Because, you know, it's much more open structured lyrically and
musically for the vocals. So I think it's a little less rigid and a little
more…you, know, it would make for a more committed sound, because it's
certainly easier to pull off vocally.
Maelstrom: I think that may be something that people don't
necessarily understand, is that what he does is really hard to do. I've
noticed with your band, that with the singer, (again, you can compare
with European power metal) his vocal melodies aren't really catchy.
Mark Briody: Right.
Maelstrom: You don't hum 'em to yourself. And it kind of
sounds like he's singing narrative.
Mark Briody: Yeah.
Maelstrom: Why do you do (write) that? How hard is it to
Mark Briody: To me, it means a little more obscure melody.
Some of the happy European metal tends to sound a little sing-song to
me (laugh). "La-da-da-da-da-da…" It's catchy at first, but I know it's
something that personally I get tired of after a lot of listens. I think
our vocal melodies are a little harder to catch on to at first, but they're
something I think you can really grow with, and it stands up to a lot
of listens. It's a much more subtle vocal line.
Maelstrom: Now that Jag Panzer has firmly established its
style over the last three albums, what do you do think when you look at
(previous albums) Dissident Alliance, or even The Fourth Judgement?
Mark Briody: Dissident Alliance has abysmal production.
It's awful sounding. I can't even listen to it. That album prompted me
to build my own home studio because it sounded so terrible. I think that,
coupled with the completely different vocal styling of Daniel Conca versus
Harry Conklin, I think those two reasons is why everyone hates the album
Maelstrom: What were you trying to do on that album?
Mark Briody: We were trying to make music. There was no
interest at the time in the band, anywhere. We were just jamming in the
basement. Just 'cause that's what we like to do, regardless of whether
we have a deal or not. It was just jamming, and having fun with my friends,
when a little records company said, "you wanna come out with some of these
songs?" We said, "sure." In retrospect, it was a terrible idea, but at
the time, it was just making music.
Maelstrom: It's a lot different than your power metal style
now. It's more of a power metal style in the sense of Pantera. It's very
hard; it's not melodic; it's more tough guy.
Mark Briody: When Harry sings some of the songs sometimes,
just messin' around, it really makes them sound quite different.
Maelstrom: I bet it does.
Briody: The Fourth Judgement, I really like it a lot. It's actually
one of my favorite Jag Panzer albums. It doesn't sound as good as the
later ones, but it still sounds pretty good.
Maelstrom: Is there something in particular that you like
Mark Briody: The egotistical reason is that I wrote every
note on the album! (laugh) It's more like a Mark Briody solo record! (laugh)
I hate to say that, but I think subconsciously that's why I like it so
Maelstrom: Mark, have you managed to have this as a full-time
Mark Briody: No. We're starting to make money now, but it
would be, you know, livin' off of ramen noodles if this was my full-time
Maelstrom: What do you do?
Mark Briody: I'm a senior software engineer for a legal
Maelstrom: How does that job allow you to be in a band?
Mark Briody: They're totally cool. I've been here 13 years.
I have a ton of vacation time; they're very flexible about everything.
Totally cool; I have no problem with it.
Maelstrom: I think the last question I have for you is: how
did you get into metal?
Mark Briody: A way to get girls. I'm not the best looking
guy, and I'm bad at athletics, so I had to come up with some kinda angle.
(laugh) That's for being a musician. I liked metal since my older sister's
boyfriend played me "Smoke on the Water." I must have been, like, 10.
Maelstrom: Do you think that metal is really what girls like,
or is it what they liked back then?
Mark Briody: Well, they liked it in the 80s a lot! Hahaha!
Maelstrom: Did you ever have big hair?
Mark Briody: Uhhh, yeah, I guess so…The other guys in the
band had bigger.
Maelstrom: Hahaha! In terms of what, vertical inches?
Mark Briody: Yeah, you know, you hang upside down with a
can of hair spray.
contact Jag Panzer at www.jagpanzer.com
From left to right: Chris Broderick (g), Mark Briody (g),
John Tetley (b), Harry Conklin (v), Rikard Stjernquist (d)
photos by: Ted Banks
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