There are few musicians around who can put co-creating two iconic bands into their professional portfolios. Ross the Boss is one of them. Both, the NYC punk rockers The Dictators and the heavy metal stalwarts Manowar achieved their early successes thanks to his significant input, but these days the guitarist goes solo, focusing on his traditional metal outfit, named after himself. "By Blood Sworn" is the third effort of the Ross the Boss group, written and recorded with a new, very strong line-up, and with the band promoting the release on their current tour, I thought I'd kick off the chat with Ross with some questions about it.
It's been six months since your new album was out. Are you satisfied with the responses from fans and press?
Yeah, you know, in the age of the internet we've received nothing but tremendous reviews and accolades for the album. What's the greatest thing I've heard about it, it just keeps growing on people and people just love it which means we've succeeded as songwriters, you know? We've succeeded in doing our job. I think it's a tremendous album and I listen to it all the time. It's my 31st record and I'm quite proud of it. I really am. I think the way we went about it, everything just worked, how great Mark was and Mike and the whole thing was just a great process, from start to finish.
So, why did it take eight years to make it?
Well, that's a good question... Here's what happened. So, it was 2011, I had a German band for "Hailstorm" and "New Metal Leader", lovely boys, I love them a lot. But the thing is, I thought I needed a band more close to me in New York City, you know? And it's just like everybody's in Germany. I mean, love them so much but why do I have to take a plane to go rehearse? You know what I'm saying? So, I'm looking around and all of a sudden I get this call from Stu Marshall and Sean Peck, Stu is my mate, he lives in Australia, and he goes, "We're putting a band together and we want you to play guitar. We asked K.K. Downing, but he's retired and we want you. We got a name of the band, we got artwork." And I go, "That sounds pretty good!" So, all of a sudden there's a band that wants me and they didn't want me to be a leader, they just wanted my input and they wanted my guitar, they just wanted me to be a member of the band. So, they sent me the demos and I decided to do it and Death Dealer was born. So, I did two records with Death Dealer, it was 2012 and 2015 I think, "War Master" and "Hallowed Ground". So, you know, that's what took me so long. And then in 2015 I was invited to play the Keep It True festival and since I played the festival, everything just exploded, everything went berserk. So, that's what led to the rise of the third Ross the Boss record, because AFM, my label, came to see us in Hamburg and they go, "We're picking up your option, third record." So, that's what led us to this, that's what I did in the time off. So, let's face facts, since 2008 I've put out five metal records. It's "New Metal Leader", "Hailstorm", "War Master", "Hallowed Ground" and the new one. Five metal records in 10 years, that averages out to one record every two years. And so that was the delay between the second record and the third record.
The album sounds old-school, you've got acoustic drums on it and the overall feeling is kind of vintage. How did you achieve that?
Well, starting out, we wanted to have that feeling. I didn't want a drum demo record because everything that I was hearing in metal, it's the same thing. I mean, I'm hearing all these metal bands putting out the same sound and you know the triggered drums, you know it's totally triggered, fake. I wanted a real record. I just wanted a record that spoke of my past, but shown the promise of the future. And I think we've achieved that. I think that we have a beautiful record that shines. I think it's a testament to what the old school was, the greatness of metal that pushed out all these bands like Blind Guardian, Helloween, you know, the bands that I influenced with Manowar creating power metal. I think the record just smacks and every time I listen to it I hear something greater. And the band is just so great, I'm so happy with it. I've made records that I'm not happy with, believe me, on major labels with huge budgets and this one is just very satisfying to me at this point in my life and it's just a great thing. I mean, I just can't even tell you how happy I am with it.
You re-recorded three Manowar tunes for the limited edition of the album. Why those three?
It's because I was really not happy with the mixes on the original records. I was happy with "Hail and Kill" on "Kings of Metal", I was happy with that, and the fact they re-did it, I think it's just ridiculous. There was no reason to redo that. But "The Oath" and "Each Dawn I Die", to me they were bass mixes and I wanted to hear those songs with guitar mix. Now we hear it and that's how good they are.
As far as I know Mike Lepond wrote some of the songs on the album and you co-wrote some of the tracks. Was it easier for you, to work on the material with another songwriter?
Yeah, we came off the road and we decided to write the songs and I had all these ideas and Michael is so freaking talented, he was able to take the ideas and shape them and put them into different light. So, we worked up about eight tunes and we made great demos and my nephew Lance who played on the record made great drum machine records, so we had a good sounding demo. And then I go, "We need more songs!" And I asked Michael, I said "Mike, what you got?" So, he brings in this riff and it turns into "Fistful of Hate" and he comes up with another one and it became "Devil's Day". And I said, "This is just stunning, these songs are great!" And he assisted on every single song and together we really came up with a killer record. And people tell me that it just keeps getting better, which it does.
You did a video clip for the title track, which includes some scenes with warriors. Were they taken from some movie or filmed specifically for the video clip?
No, no, we purchased Viking fights, if you go on the internet, you can get that. They have the watermarks on them and if you pay for them they take the watermarks off. So, we were very happy with it. You know, we didn't have a lot of money for the video, but I think it was a great idea.
As the boss in the band, do you take care of the lyrics as well, or is it Marc's job to write them?
Our singer did it, Mr Marc Lopes. I mean obviously he's the next voice in rock and roll, his singing is amazing. He worked his fucking tail off on the record. I mean, he worked, he produced, he came up with melody hooks, you know, he was just absolutely magnificent in the production and his work ethic was just absolutely great. I think the record just speaks for itself. I just keep listening to it and I just keep loving it more.
It's the third time you've got an eagle on the cover art. So, is there a story behind it?
No, the eagle, it's been with me for years. I was the first one in Manowar who had an eagle tattoo, before I put the flag in there to piss everyone off. Then Joey got the eagle... So, with the first record, the eagle was there looking down on them, like a general, we had it on "New Metal Leader" and "Hailstorm" and we kept it going. I think it's a great symbol of power and dedication.
OK, enough about the album. Do you ever regret leaving Manowar?
I didn't leave, I was asked to leave. So, that's the premise of the whole thing. I never left the band. Joey wanted control of the money, he wanted control of everything even though we started the band together. These things happen. But that's the true story, I would have never left my band. I know it's a hard thing to swallow, but I was asked to leave.
I've read somewhere that before your departure you had some disagreements with Joey, including one about the song "Pleasure Slave"...
Yeah, that song I never liked. But that didn't lead to my departure. I just told them I thought that was a pile of shit. I said, "Joey, the riff, the music is not bad, but these lyrics are offensive, they're offensive to women, are you serious with this?" And he goes, "Yes." I go, "What? Are you out of your fuckin' mind?" And the more I said I didn't like it, the more he pushed it, you know, just to be a prick.
Did you listen to Manowar albums they recorded after you left?
No... I mean I heard the song "Warriors of the World", I heard the Elvis kind of thing that Eric did, but we were always going to do that anyway. We were planning that right from the beginning of the band. But I've never sat down and listened to a whole new Manowar record. I have no time for that. I'm sure they're good, people say some of it is good, but no, I don't listen to them.
So, you've got three albums out with the Ross the Boss band, but most of your setlist are still Manowar songs. Why don't you play more of your own stuff?
You know, Manowar is an iconic band, that I started. We're weaning ourselves of the whole thing, we're cultivating our own audience with the new songs and new albums but that's the price I pay for being in an iconic band, I don't see anything wrong with it. I mean, it's like a member of Iron Maiden tried to do what I'm doing. I mean, what is he gonna play? If he doesn't play "Run to the Hills" people are going to be fuckin' throwing bottles at him. It's an honour playing the music and we do it justice. Every night we go out and play our fucking hearts out. And you know, we play it the way it was meant to be played and slowly but surely we're weaning ourselves of that. Last night we played 17 songs and 5 were new. Nothing happens overnight in heavy metal. Heavy metal is like a dinosaur. It's big, it's fucking huge but it doesn't move fast. But when you start to move it, it never stops, you know? And that's what it's doing now, it's starting to move for us.
A question about Manowar beginnings. Whose idea was it to wear the fur clothing?
Ha-ha! Well, that's a good question. Back in those days we didn't have a lot of money, but we also didn't want to look like the other bands. We didn't want to look like Judas Priest, we didn't want to look like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang and all those bands... Which is a great look, black leather and studs. I still think it's an awesome look, but we didn't want it for us, we wanted to set ourselves apart from every other band. And so we said, "What can we wear? Maybe animal skins would look a little different?" and that's the way we chose it, you know? There was really nothing else to wear, ha-ha!
There's a lot of young bands that have become very big in the recent years and many of them are extremely good technique-wise, but they don't have good songs...
Well, they won't be remembered, I can tell you that. They won't be around in 20 years, I guarantee you. People are still singing the songs I wrote in 1982. You can't really be remembered without great songs. Look at The Beatles. I mean come on! It's all about the songs and music. That's all it's ever been about for me.
What's going on with The Dictators? Is the band still active?
No, we played our last show a year ago in Berlin. Berlin was the last show The Dictators, New York City played.
You've been talking about doing a blues album for years...
Yes, that's one thing that I really would like to do. But deciding on the singer, deciding on the way I'm going to do it... It'll hit me sooner or later, what I have to do, but there will be a blues album. Absolutely. I just don't know how it's going to be, what it's going to be, but I always wanted to do it. I mean that's the kind of guitar player I am, you know, starting out, that's what I was.
OK, last question. You've got some classical training in music, you played violin and piano, but what made you pick up the guitar?
Well, what made me pick up the guitar was watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, watching all the girls fuckin' flipping out over these guys and flipping out over The Rolling Stones and The Doors and all these guys and I thought, "Wait a minute, if I keep playing violin this ain't ever gonna happen to me! I gotta make an agonizing reappraisal of the situation." So, I actually did that. I told my grandma, "Grandma I want to play guitar." So grammy, she walked me down to the Palomba Music down on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx and she bought me my first acoustic guitar. It was an Aria acoustic guitar and I played it and played it and played it and then I took like two lessons and then all of a sudden I got better than the teacher. So, then I stopped taking lessons and I just went on teaching myself. Then I got into 1967 and listen to this one year, you got Eric Clapton, you have Jimmy Page, you have Jimi Hendrix, you have Peter Green from Fleetwood Mac, you have Carlos Santana, you know, it was the year of the guitar player. And then all of a sudden 1967 became 1969 and I heard Black Sabbath. And the first time I heard Black Sabbath, that changed my shit, that was it. Once I heard the tritone, that was it. That was magnificent. So, I figured, heavy rock 'n' roll, heavy guitar music, that's the way to go...