When I first heard about Jag Panzer's popularity in the European heavy metal scene, it sounded a bit like the old "I've got a girlfriend, ... but she lives in Niagra Falls" story. After all, the last time the Colorado Springs--based band actually played here in town, 10 people showed up. (Not exactly a Headbanger's Ball). But then again, why shouldn't Europeans revere them? David Hasselhoff is Germany's pop culture equivalent of Michael Jackson. How much more evidence does one need in the argument for cultural relativism?
Jag Panzer isn't exactly riding the new wave of American, Limp Bisquick--driven hip-hop, thrash, punk and metal fusion either. Their sound, described in their press-release as "traditional," is traditional -- if by "traditional" you mean medieval and classical, fused with the proto-metal mysticism of Led Zepplin, Metallica-esque riffs with Rob Halford's screeches, Iron Maiden's driving bass lines, and the lyrics of a Ren fair freak who likes to play Risk. And this isn't even half of what makes them a complete musical anomaly at the beginning of the 21st century. For example:
1.) Last May, Jag Panzer released a metal anthem for the Colorado Avalanche (yes, the hockey team) called "Another Cup Coming" that got a lot of airplay on Denver radio stations. You can listen to the MP3 at www.jagpanzer.com.
2.) Just before Christmas each year, the members of Jag Panzer get together to record a traditional Christmas song. And no, it's not heavy metal. (This year they'll be recording "What Child Is This?")
3.) Jag Panzer's last album, Thane to the Throne, is a concept album based entirely on Shakespeare's Macbeth. The lyrics are all taken directly from the play, and the band thought of it as "making a heavy metal soundtrack" to the play. Included on the album is a classical fugue written by the band and performed by the world-renowned Moscow String Quartet.
4.) The band doesn't rehearse together, and they don't usually see each other until they go into the studio to record, or go on tour. All their songwriting is done via e-mails and MP3s.
The Independent recently sat down with Mark Briody, one of the founding members of Jag Panzer in the early '80s.
Indy: When did you first realize you had a big following in Europe?
MB: We did our first record when we were high school students in the early '80s. We went to Harrison. I didn't even drive then. My mom used to take me to the recording studio. Even back then we started getting letters from Europe. Everything was letter-driven in the underground metal scene back then. People sent flyers for tours. And even back then there was much more interest from Europe. We finally made it over there in 1996. The response was quite a bit better than we get over here.
Indy: I've heard stories of you guys getting mobbed by women in Germany, huge sell-out crowds ...
MB: [Laughter] Not by women! I mean we're a pretty well-known heavy metal band. We sell about 75,000 copies of our records worldwide, and any kid over there who's into heavy metal has heard of us. We're in all the stores and all the magazines. It's pretty common, for example, if we're eating at a Burger King over there, to get people coming over asking for guitar picks and autographs. It's a weird culture shock.
Indy: You guys play "traditional" metal. Is that why you have a bigger following in Europe?
MB: Three of us in the band grew up together, and metal back then meant: a really good vocalist, a really good lead guitar player, and sort of mystical, fantasy-based themes. And that started changing in America with bands like Van Halen. Europe didn't really go that direction. I don't mind a Van Halen CD now and then, but I can't motivate myself to write a song about partying at a beach.
Indy: Given your success in Europe, did the band ever think about moving there?
MB: Well, we moved to L.A. right out of high school, and it was disastrous. Here in Colorado Springs we do our own thing. There's no local pressure for us to conform to any sound. People don't even know who we are here, or what we do. We have complete artistic freedom here.
Indy: What is it like to go to Europe and play in front of huge crowds and come back to Colorado Springs?
MB: We jokingly call it Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp. You've got a tour bus and road crew, stage manager, etc. And it's a completely different lifestyle while you're over there. It's disappointing not to have much of a following here in the States. There's zero support.
Indy: When your first album, Ample Destruction, came out in the mid-'80s, did you guys feel like you had a shot at fame?
MB: We thought we had a real shot in '83 and '84. We had a lot of major labels coming out to see us. And then they started saying things like: "We wish you guys looked a little more like Bon Jovi." That was when we knew we were going to be pretty much underground. I write what I want to write, and play what I want to play. But I don't have a punk attitude where the music absolutely has to be underground. I mean, if people want to buy it, that's cool.