The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Take 5 With Ross the Boss

Photo by Katja Piolka

Though it's been two decades since he's called Manowar his home, legendary guitarist Ross the Boss returned to the band he helped found a few years back at the Earthshaker Festival in Germany where he gave a guitar clinic, hung with fans and of course, took the stage with his former bandmates including a band alumni version of "Battle Hymns" that has to be seen in its bombastic glory in order to appreciate the moment.

Coming out of Earthshaker was a renewed interest in power metal for Ross the Boss. Though continuing to crop up with beloved punk pioneers The Dictators as well as Manitoba's Wild Kingdom plus his other bands such as Brain Surgeons and The Thunderbolts, Ross the Boss returns to the metallic crunch he made a name with during the eighties on Manowar classics such as Hail to England, Into Glory Ride and Battle Hymns.

His debut solo album New Metal Leader yields some of the classic Manowar sound that Ross peeled wicked riffs and solos upon, while changing the album's scheme along the way to straightforward rock, melodic rock and even a flamenco-based power epic. The fans have reacted strongly to New Metal Leader as The Boss (not Bruce, I assure ya) is back on the prowl. From a batting cage in New York, Ross the Boss took some time out to chat with The Metal Minute...

The Metal Minute: I want to start with the Manowar years. Manowar’s historically been more of a phenomenon in Europe, South America and Asia as opposed to the U.S., even though you guys are one of the heaviest metal bands from this country. Did it feel like a major fight trying to develop an audience here in the States?

Ross the Boss: You know, I think a little bit of it was our fault and a little bit the fault of the media here. We didn’t tour as much as we should’ve back in the early days when there was that buzz going on with the band. We should’ve definitely toured more in the clubs, just gotten a small truck, go in and do our thing, and expose people to the talent of our band, not necessarily the equipment of the band! (laughs) Yeah, Europe was more of a bigger audience, obviously.

MM: That 2005 Earthshaker Festival where you played with Manowar onstage including that awesome all-alumni rendition of “Battle Hymns” to me would appear to be a sort of catalyst for you doing some more power metal, which leads us to your first solo album New Metal Leader. Put us there at the Earthshaker Fest from your perspective and what it did to inspire you to do this album. I’m sure the fans’ reaction to you was worthwhile...

RTB: It was cool to reunite with the band; it was definitely a cool vibe. There was a great audience, we had that Manowar fan festival thing for about four days, we got to meet all the people from around the world, so it was great. The fans’ reaction to me was cataclysmic, it really was. This one guy just got on his knees and bowed to me like I was the pope! (laughs) I said ‘Get up, man, I’m not the pope!’ That’s exactly what I said to him! It was unbelievable. It was heartfelt, truly heartfelt.

MM: In general I’d say New Metal Leader is a drift back to the vintage Manowar sound, pre-Fighting the World with a few surprise tunes here and there. I definitely feel the Battle Hymns, Hail to England and Into Glory Ride essence on this album.

RTB: Yeah, but it wasn’t an attempt to recapture that sound. It’s just the sound that I generate and it’s the sound my new group generates. I mean, it’s real drums, a guitar player who plugs right into the amp; there’s no effects. We have solid bass playing. If our sound harkens back to that sound you’re thinking of, yeah, that might be true since I’m one of the guys who helped make it. We knew this album was going to be a different thing. It obviously has to be a little like Manowar; my logo and the artwork does touch on the Manowar era, but it’s not Manowar II, I’ll tell you that! I didn’t want anything to do with that.

MM: You throw out some curveballs on New Metal Leader such as “Constantine’s Sword” and “May the Gods Be With You,” which is more of a power rock vibe, then you’ve got “Matador,” which has a rock epic feel with some flamenco in there. Were you out to show your fans there’s more dynamics to Ross the Boss by changing things up on this album?

RTB: We wanted to just put a diverse bunch of songs that would showcase the band, especially the songwriting skills of the band. That’s always the thing with Manowar, each song was different than the next. I mean, we didn’t do “Hail and Kill” and then “Son of Hail and Kill,” you know? (laughs) It’s like with some bands, you listen to one song and then afterwards it’s the same song but not as good and it continues for the rest of the record! In this band we change up keys, we change up approaches, tempos and singing styles. My favorite thing was “Matador” and the flamenco. I’ve been dying to do something like that for so long and I told the band, "This is the song! I’ve got the idea, I’ve got the riff, that’s what we’re doing!" The guys, Patrick (Fuchs) and Matthias (Mayer) were like, "What?!? This is disgusting! That sucks!" Then every day that went by, they were like, "Actually, that’s kinda good! It’s getting better." Unbelievable! Then Patrick adds his vocals to it and then we have the title and the subject. So then it was like, "Wow, this is unbelievable! This is the best song on the record!" It went from shit to hit! Seriously, I’m very proud of it; it ‘s a cool vibe.

MM: The Dictators were obviously an institution at CBGB’s. What was it like playing with The Dictators during CBGB’s final weekend? I’m sure it was quite a moment...

RTB: That I can say was truly an emotional weekend for us. We had played there so many times. I must’ve played there 50 or so times in my career, and Hilly and the Kristel family was always so gracious to have me there. If I needed a gig, I had CBGB’s, even to all of my projects besides The Dictators, even to all the groups around town. They were friends to a lot of original music and that was a very, very emotional weekend for us, especially that last song we played with Tommy Ramone—the only surviving Ramone from the original group—and Tommy’s singing “Blitzkrieg Bop.” He came up to us and said "Look, I just want you to know we all loved The Dictators! Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee, we all loved The Dictators. We idolized them and we were so influenced by them and maybe they didn’t get all the credit they deserved in the history books," but now we are! It was truly an emotional weekend.

Then when the song was done as it was the last punk rock song to be played on that stage, it was like, "Oh, fuck! This is weird..." It was haunting. We miss Joey so much. After the Ramones were finished, he was such a scene maker. He would keep our scene together, he would have his gigs and birthday bashes, he would jam with us. He just kept the whole scene together because everyone loved him so much. He’s truly missed, I’ve got to tell you. Joey Ramone is truly missed. He was a sweet, sweet man. You know Andy (Shernoff) our bass player and songwriter, he was in Joey’s solo band and he wrote songs for the Ramones. He was at Joey’s bedside when he died. The whole thing is just too much. It’s hard for me to talk about it, it really is. The fact that I’m still alive and the fact that all of us are still alive, it’s makes you realize how lucky you are to have good health.

Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute

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