When Christopher Keith Irvine was born on November 9 1970, no one could have foreseen that he would go on to amass one of the most eclectic and impressive CVs of… well, pretty much anyone you care to mention. Today you know him as Chris Jericho, one of the greatest professional wrestlers ever to grace the sport, frontman of the increasingly successful heavy metal band Fozzy, actor, author, and host of the hugely popular Talk Is Jericho podcast.
It’s incredible that the young man who grew up listening to rock’n’roll and consuming professional wrestling on cable television in Winnipeg, Canada, has gone on to achieve iconic status in so many fields. “People often ask me when the music started getting a look-in after the wrestling,” he smiles. “The truth is, it was always there – I was always doing it. It’s just that I got recognition as a wrestler first. People would say when Fozzy started, ‘Oh, when did you first want to be in a band?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, I dunno, about 20 years ago!’ I’ve never been one to limit myself to one thing, I always wanted it all.”
It’s fair to say he got it all. We sat down with one of metal’s most charismatic characters, to find out how his story unfolded.
What are your memories of your childhood?
“Well, my father [Ted Irvine] played in the NHL, the hockey equivalent of the Premier League, from 1967-1977. So, my first few years we moved around a lot. We started off in New York City, St. Louis, and then ended up in Winnipeg in Canada, which is where he was from.
I had a famous father who was a pro athlete; that maybe rubbed off on me in a little bit of a way. But, I remember, I always only ever had two goals: I wanted to be in a rock’n’roll band and I wanted to be a wrestler, and I just worked on how to manifest those two things.”
How hard was it growing up in a country as vast as Canada?
“When you’re a kid, it’s not so much about what is around you, you don’t know what’s out there. That’s one of the things I loved about wrestling; you could see wrestling from Florida or New York or wherever, and then you start looking at rock magazines and seeing all these bands from around the world: ‘Wow! There’s a heavy metal band from Japan! I guess rock is this universal language!’ That’s cool.
There was also a big British influence in Canada, because we’re part of the Commonwealth and we’re brothers, don’t ya know! So, I would watch all these classic British shows on CBC, kinda the sister to the BBC. I remember watching The Goodies, then it turned into Monty Python and onto Fawlty Towers, so I just had this huge influence of British rock’n’roll and comedy in my life from 10, 11 years old. We just had a cool sense of a worldwide flavour where I grew up.”
How big an influence was your father on your life and career?
“Your dad is just your dad, right? I remember not really realising that it was a big deal he was a pro athlete until I got to about 16 or 17 years old! ‘Whatever, it’s just my dad!’ What was important was my dad’s attitude towards me, because when I expressed these goals I had with wrestling and with the band, he recognised that same thing he had been through. So, subliminally, it might have helped, but definitely, literally and figuratively, he certainly gave me a lot of support. Which made it easier for my mom to accept, too.”
When did music first come into your life?
“My dad was really into rock’n’roll – he had the big stack of LPs, and the Beatles were the ones that stood out to me. I became a huge Beatles fan by the time I was 10 years old, and I don’t mean I knew the words to Yellow Submarine – I mean I knew everything about the acid trips and who [inventor/friend] Magic Alex is and the concept behind the [music-hating characters] Blue Meanies.
That was the first band I really got into. But when I went to elementary school, nobody liked the Beatles! Instead, I just saw all the girls wearing the cut-off rock shirts with Maiden, Priest, Scorpions and Ozzy. He was the main one: Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy. So, I thought that if I was going to be able to talk to the girls then I needed to know what music they liked. I bought a cassette tape of Blizzard Of Ozz and it was a complete game-changer. Then I became a heavy metal fanatic.”
How about the wrestling?
“My grandmother was a really big wrestling fan, and I remember watching it with her. She passed away in 1978, so I was seven, I had been watching it that long. She loved the good guys and hated the bad guys, and I secretly loved the bad guys. There was a wrestler called Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, and she just hated him. I thought he was cool as shit; he had all the feathers and a jewel in his chin and I thought he was fucking great. That was kinda how that all started. Early on I loved music and I loved wrestling, and that’s just kept on being cultivated throughout my entire life.”
Do you remember your first wrestling match?
“Oh, sure. October 2, 1990 in Ponoka, Alberta. The venue was called the Moose Hall, there were only 125 people there, but it felt like Madison Square Garden or The O2, people screaming and going crazy. It was me and a guy I was training with, Lance Storm, who has also gone on to have a fantastic wrestling career. It was a 10-minute draw and I got paid $30 in a white envelope.
At the time I had been working in a deli for five bucks an hour, and I worked out that I got paid almost as much money in 10 minutes as I did in an eight-hour shift! I was rich! Hearing the crowd cheer and react, and getting paid to do something you love to do was the greatest feeling.”
How about the first gig?
“About 1989 in Winnipeg. My high school band was called Scimitar, the sword that Sinbad The Sailor uses, and the ‘T’ in the name was the sword on our logo. It was a battle of the bands; you had to play one original and one cover. Our cover was Peace Sells… by Megadeth. We were a three-piece band, and when the guitar was meant to come in, the cable fell out of the guitar and we had to stop and start again. The worst thing you could do! Never stop, you gotta go!”
The 90s was an incredible time of flux for both the music and wrestling industries. What was it like to be in the middle of all of that for you?
“It was certainly an interesting period. In the early part of the 90s a lot of my wrestling career happened abroad, and the music was changing a lot in the States. Honestly, if it weren’t for Pantera, there wouldn’t have been a metal band to hang your hat on at that time. I could kinda get with grunge, but when it became the nu metal thing, I just didn’t get it. Limp Bizkit? What the hell is that? I still don’t get it.
I was in places like Europe and Japan, though, where the bands I loved were still respected. You could still see Helloween and Dio and Maiden in arenas in Japan, for example, so I’m not sure in the early 90s I appreciated just how hard it was for metal bands in the States. It wasn’t really until Avenged Sevenfold came along that I really found a newer metal band that I understood.”
But wrestling really thrived in that era…
“It did. I joined WCW in 1996 and, it was funny, the main event scene there wasn’t great but the undercard was incredible. Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper wasn’t such a great match in 1998, but it drew big crowds, and under it was us – me, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Booker T, Rey Mysterio – having these great matches. WWE had a terrible undercard but the main event was Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels or Steve Austin or whatever. Those matches were incredible!
It took me a while to realise that my position was of a place where I was never going to break through, and that’s when I joined WWE in 1999, which is when I went to the next level. But wrestling as a whole was so popular from ’98-2002, it was a boom period. Those four or five years were like being in a heavy metal band from ’82-’88. You could do amazing things because the culture was geared towards it.”
You made your debut in the middle of one of The Rock’s promos as well…
“Yeah, it was before the millennium and I used the Y2K thing, changed it to Y2J, and had this clock counting down. The countdown ended while The Rock was in the ring during Monday Night Raw and I came out and interrupted him; it doesn’t get much bigger than that. It set the tone for my time in the WWE. I was one of the first guys to make the switch from the WCW, so it was a great start and it was indicative of my time in that company.”
Did you feel there was some suspicion towards you when Fozzy first came about?
“Oh, for sure. Because it was Chris Jericho the wrestler, people thought it was just a gimmick band at the start, and, to be fair, back then it kind of was. It all started because I met Rich Ward from Stuck Mojo backstage at a WCW show and we just hit it off. So, there was a little bit of suspicion, but that’s how Fozzy started. We were just doing covers but we wanted to do more and, not a lot of people know this, but our first record deal was signed by Johnny Zazula, who recently passed away, but who signed Metallica and Anthrax to Megaforce Records. Fozzy were the last band he ever signed.”
You certainly evolved from the more tongue-in-cheek, early incarnation of Fozzy
“Yeah, we were this kind of Blues Brothers thing. We had fake names and this whole backstory, a Travelling Wilburys-type thing [an 80s supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty]. We were sort of like the original Steel Panther; we did a kind of mockumentary thing that was on MTV, so we had a lot of steam straight out of the gate. We wanted to do more and we decided to start trying to write our own stuff; that gimmick rode its course pretty quickly. It took a long time to get people’s respect, but it feels like such a long time ago now.”
The UK really took to Fozzy. How big of a deal was it to finally achieve that first Main Stage slot at Download festival in 2014?
“Well, we’d played there a few times over the years, and I knew that we were pretty low down on the bill, but by the time we got onstage the place was fucking packed; there were 30,000 people there. It felt like we were making a mark and really getting to people.
Every Download experience has been better than the last – we have a great connection with the UK audience. I’ll never forget our first UK show was at Nottingham Rock City, and I walked out onstage and thought I had walked onto the wrong stage because it was so packed. I just couldn’t believe that many people had come to see us, and the UK has always been so good to us from day one, and we continue to build and build.”
How did the Talk Is Jericho podcast come about?
“I used to do a radio show on SiriusXM, and I’d play music and do 10-minute interviews. That show ended, and then one day Steve Austin called me to be on his podcast. The people that were putting it together were looking for other people to host their own shows.
I really enjoyed doing Steve’s, so I said, ‘Sure, but it can’t just be a wrestling podcast. I love music, comedy, the paranormal…’ You know, I’m curious, I want to ask people about all this stuff. That’s always been my model; if I find it interesting, I want to do it.”
How quickly did you take to it?
“Well, at first, I didn’t really know what they were. I thought it was some college radio thing, podcasts weren’t the known entity that they are now. Luckily, I stuck at it and got a foothold, eight-and-a-half years later, and I’ve been able to make a good go of it, and built up a great fanbase of people that trust my judgement and who I have on the show.”
You’ve had a few pretty controversial guests on as well…
“Yeah, I am not saying I agree with everyone on the show, but I am interested in conspiracy theories. I’ve had a few on the show, but it makes for a great story. I had a guy who believed he was attacked by a family of Bigfoot. Now, we can laugh, but he believed it, and for 60 minutes it was a riveting story. I like that side of things. If you think you’re going to be influenced by my show… you got a lot more problems to worry about.”
You’re a committed Christian. How much has your faith been a motivating factor in your career?
“It’s huge. Because, I don’t want to get too philosophical, but if all these achievements are just random chance, then what is it all for? I have to believe in something. What, I’m just such a cool fucking guy that all this just happens? I don’t think so. I have to believe in a higher power. I feel that knowing someone has your back and is pulling for you, and is guiding us, helps me to get to where I need to be.”
Did you still think you’d be wrestling in your 50s?
“I don’t know, man. Look, I never went into anything casually – I never went into wrestling to be the 716th best wrestler! So, looking back at all the hard work, I am pretty proud, of all of it. Fozzy just got certified gold for [seventh album] Judas! This band, a gold record…? After all these years there is still more to achieve, so, yeah, it’s definitely an achievement, but I’m too busy still looking ahead."
Fozzy's new album Boombox is out now via Mascot