For Frankie Kazarian it’s about creativity. Not just in the ring, but in the studio. The long-time professional wrestler is working on a new album with his band VexTemper. And if you’ve never heard of them, you’ve probably still heard them.
Kazarian, a bassist, convinced Ring of Honor to allow the band to record the entrance music for his tag-team. And for the last year and a half, with his partner, Christopher Daniels, The Addiction has been hitting the ring with a custom track. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before someone else in the locker room hits him up for one of their own.
But there’s a big difference between recording a single song and a seven-cut EP. As one might suspect with it being their first album, there has been a ton of trial and error. Luckily, his drummer’s house doubles as a recording studio. The man with the sticks also serves as the sound engineer and mixing genius. According to Kazarian, he’s a hi-hat wiz and a Pro Tools master.
Music is just one of the Kazarian’s creative muses. His other, of course, is wrestling. His career has spanned from WWE to TNA Wrestling, up and down the independents and currently in ROH. It was really his time working for Dixie Carter’s company where he gained the most notoriety. A dark cloud has been hanging over the organization for some time. Recently, another rocker — Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan — tussled with the owner in court over unpaid debts and control of the company.
Kazarian tries not to read reports online and to avoid the rumor mill. However, he keeps in contact with his friends in the locker room who keep him somewhat in the loop. He feels for them.
I caught up with the ROH star recently and picked his brain on everything from the state of rock (mainstream rock is dead) to investments in wrestling, to the TNA turmoil and rumors ROH could be appearing on the WWE Network.
Tell us about VexTemper’s debut album.
We just finished recording the vocals. We’re in the stage of getting it mixed and mastered right now. We’re having a lot of fun. Anybody that’s ever recorded or done music knows that the recording process can be long and treacherous. A lot of stops and starts — especially when you have five working-class stiffs like we are. We all have other commitments.
My job obviously requires me to be gone on the weekends which is when a lot of gigs happen. Unfortunately, we’ve had to turn down several gigs because of that, but we have had the opportunity to play a lot. Other guys in the band are all hard-working guys who have commitments to their jobs and family. But through all that we’ve been able to put together seven really kick-ass songs.
Wrestling as a career has a shelf-life, but music is something you can play until you’re on your deathbed. How far do you want to take this?
I have no delusions of grandeur. Especially when it comes to the music industry as we know it today. There really isn’t one. Record labels, record stores and physical album sales are a thing of the past. It’s all basically online streaming, YouTube and Spotify.
However, I’ll never put limits on what this band can or can’t do. I would be more than happy writing and recording new music every couple years and going out there and playing gigs. There’s still a population out there who like going to bars and hearing five dudes get together and jam and listen to rock n’ roll and heavy metal.
If we got signed by (music label) Nuclear Blast tomorrow, I would be thrilled. If we continued just doing what we do now, I’ll be thrilled. Like I said, I’ll put no limits on it.
When you turn on the radio and hear what passes as “rock” these days, what passes through your head?
There really isn’t a rock scene. If you go back 20 or 30 years and put on the radio, you’d hear bands like Guns ‘N Roses or Motley Crue. Nowadays, I find that rock radio is very safe, and they play a lot of candy-store packaged music that’s not going to offend anybody.
To find real rock and real metal, you have to seek that out yourself. You’re not going to find that on the radio like you used to. That goes hand in hand with what I was saying about the music industry.
I totally understand that rock isn’t the most popular genre of music, but it has a loyal fan base. It’s like wrestling. If you’re a wrestling fan, you’re a die-hard wrestling fan. People can try to sway your opinion on that, but you’ll have nothing of it.
Your band recorded your theme for ROH. Has anyone else in the locker room approached you about doing one for them?
No, not yet. Everyone really dug it when we did it. That song was called “Get Addicted.” If you listen to it compared to other VexTemper songs, it’s really different. It had to fit the feel and swagger that Daniels and I have when we come to the ring. It had to have a little bit of a greasy backbeat to it. Our other songs are really long, and there are tempo changes, drum solos … all kinds of stuff.
But, I wouldn’t be opposed to that. I have a couple ideas in my head. I have some songs that I could give to Ring of Honor just to use to promote pay-per-views. The sky is the limit, and as long as Ring of Honor is cool enough to let me do that, I will. I mean, the fact that they let me do this is super cool.
[ROH owner] Sinclair has been making major investments in the company. What type of confidence does that give you working for the company?
In the two and half years since I’ve been here, it seems like it’s been nothing but an uphill swing of momentum. It just seems that every month brings more news about expansion and growth internally. From a business perspective, the company is growing. From a wrestling roster perspective, it’s growing. Being a touring company, it’s growing. It’s refreshing, and it’s great to be part of. There’s an awesome vibe. Guys in the locker room thrive on that.
What are your thoughts on the rumor WWE was interested in streaming Ring of Honor on the WWE Network?
I heard bits and pieces about that and found it interesting. I don’t know if it was one of those “keep your enemies close”-type deals or trying to corner a part of the market before it has the ability to grow and come up. I don’t know what their motivation is. World domination in wrestling? It seems like that’s what they always want.
Ring of Honor is doing quite well standing alone and is very popular with an incredibly loyal fan base. Who knows what will happen or can’t happen. I think the mindset right now is that Ring of Honor is doing fine and growing at a rate everyone is happy with.
You wrestled for TNA for quite a while and still have a number of friends in the locker room. What is your take on the reports of all the turmoil going on there?
All I know is what I’m told from people that are in the know or things that I read — even though I try my damnedest not to read anything because you just don’t know whether it’s true or not. It seems like they continue to go through struggle after struggle. It seems like it’s one of those “when it rains it pours” situations over there, and now it turned into an ugly legal battle.
I just think “God, what must the roster be thinking?” Regardless of how much they’re told by management that everything is okay and they’re assured things are going to be alright… I know how it was when I was there. We’d heard these rumblings internally, and it’s our nature to be paranoid. You would start questioning things.
All I can say is that I really do hope they can come out the other side of this. If it takes a management shakeup and a creative shakeup to right the ship and get things back on track, then so be it. There are some very talented people there in front of the camera and behind the camera that deserve to be on a pro wrestling show. I haven’t watched the show or followed too closely, but when you’re in the business, you can’t help but to hear things. I’ve reached out to a couple guys that work in the office, and they seem optimistic.
It’s just unfortunate. It seems that’s TNA’s lot in life. Since day one, or at least since I was there, it’s always been “when are the doors going to close?” and “the place can’t survive.” We listened to that the whole time I was there, and they’re still hearing it. It just seems like it’s a little closer to reality now. I hope internally they can finally, finally, finally get their stuff together and focus on a quality wrestling show. Wrestling has taken a backseat to the garbage going on behind the scenes, and that’s unfortunate.
What was Dixie Carter’s management style when you were there? There are reports she hasn’t been forthcoming with talent about the perilous state of the company.
That’s a tough position to be in. Going back to the paranoid nature of pro wrestling, if things are bad with the company and you’re upfront and transparent with the talent and you tell them the state of things, wrestlers have a tendency to overreact and freak out and spread news that isn’t necessarily true. So, you don’t want that or mutiny amongst your company.
I can see wanting to keep certain things under wraps. But at the same time, if you’re constantly giving your talent misinformation that’s a quick way to break trust. That’s the last thing you want to do with your talent, especially in pro wrestling. Without talent there is no show. You can have the best production in the world and the best writers in the world, but without the talent, there is no show. You need to find that balance about being upfront with talent on things like pay and direction of the company while still keeping information that they don’t necessarily need to know at bay.
In my time with Dixie, if you had a question and directly wanted to ask her, if she had the time to give you, she would give you an answer you would think was honest and upfront. I don’t know if that’s still the case.
The company is very scaled down at this point. I don’t really know the inner workings of it. I think at this point it is time to start being upfront with your talent. This current situation has to be the final speed bump. They need to get through this and get on track. You can only deal with distraction for so long. It’s already put a lot of cracks in the foundation of TNA, you just don’t want it to crumble at this point.
And after that bucket of cold water… let’s end on a high note. When is your album coming out?
Yeah (laughs). I wish I could give you an exact date. I’ll be optimistic and say early next year. Toward the end of the year a lot of things take precedence like holidays and time with family. There’s a lot of other things to worry about than a couple of slobs out here in the desert putting out music. I’m hoping early 2017. As soon as I have a firm date, you’ll be sick and tired of hearing about it. Let’s just put it that way.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.