Tim “Ripper” Owens recently released a new EP, Return to Death Row, under the moniker Ripper. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea spoke with Tim about the making of the album, the recent Bowl for Ronnie charity event, working with Jamey Jasta, KK Downing, and more.
I’m excited to talk with you about the new EP, Return To Death Row, but you’re also fresh off this year’s Bowl for Ronnie, which is an awesome event, raises money for the Ronnie James Dio Cancer Fund, and the first time it’s made a return since 2019. So to start things off, why don’t you tell me about your evening bowling for Ronnie?
It was good, it’s always fun, I think I did it the first year they had it, and then every other year, I’ve been on the road touring, so this one happened to work out that I was around. I love doing anything Wendy asks me to do, or an event that she has, because Wendy’s an amazing person, and the money she raises for the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund and cancer research is fantastic, and all she does for Ronnie’s legacy also. Ronnie was a friend and an amazing guy, so it was a fun night. I did it with my bandmates, my other singers in The Three Tremors, and we won the event. It was even funnier because I’ve been in the event twice, and both times, we won.
You bring good luck to the event then!
I do, I do.
So let’s dig into Return To Death Row, you’ve got six tracks on the EP, and they are six very powerful tracks. The opening, “Die While We’re Alive”, it’s just so heavy, and – there’s no better word for it – metal. You have this classic thrash rhythm kick it off, and then let loose with that classic Ripper voice. So what went into this strong opening track?
Well, I think that was the first one Jamey had sent me, and I loved what I heard right away from it because I got to sing like me, I use more of my powerful voice all the time. But if anybody knows my singing, they know that I can sing anything from classic metal, to an 80’s type metal, to hard rock, to operatic stuff, to hardcore, to power metal, so I have a voice that can hit anything a song will need, and that’s how I like to sing. I think that Jamey got ahold of me ten years ago and said, “Let’s do something a little heavier like you did with Jugulator with Judas Priest, you did with Beyond Fear, and we finally were able to do it. I think it was the perfect opening track. I grew up with bands that opened up with songs like that a lot, with Judas Priest we’d do it a lot, and bands always had these songs on their album – “Stand Up and Shout” for Dio, and “We Rock”, and…I thought it was the perfect opening track. It has that thrash element with the classic-style vocals going on, and it was the perfect one to go right out of the gate. We have a high note at the beginning that kind of shows, “Here’s Ripper”, and it just punches people right in the face.
Exactly, and that’s a great way to start off an album, punch them in the face.
It is, and the album has a bunch of different layers. It has, actually, three fast songs, which is unusual for me, I usually only put a couple on a record, but it’s got three fast songs and it’s got a little bit of everything.
And then it just continues on, the next track, “Embattled”, it’s also kind of that melodic thrash vibe. I agree that the whole EP kind of has a reminiscent of classic metal kind of vibe, but it’s still very modern and fits well in 2022.
Oh, absolutely, and I like to do that as well. I’m a big fan of rhythm guitars, and I’m a big fan of nice choruses, good choruses that you remember, and I think every one of these songs…you know what’s funny, because “Die While We’re Alive” is so heavy, and everybody tells me, “Man, I love the chorus”, so when you have songs like that. And “Embattled” was the perfect song to release first, we made the video, and it does have more of the classic vibe, but also like you said, it has a little modernness to it, and not as much speed as the other one, so it’s a great, great tune. Lots of hits and views, and it’s doing well.
I agree, and then another track off the EP, “Silent Cage”, I play bass so you really hit me with that great bass intro as well, which leads me into asking more about who is your current lineup these days for the band? Or at least for this particular EP?
Well, this EP, and hopefully we’ll be able to tour together as a band, and obviously we’re just going under the “Ripper” moniker, not Tim “Ripper” Owens. But Jamey Jasta and Nick Bellmore, they produced it, and Nicky Bellmore did drums, and Charlie Bellmore is on guitars, which is amazing, and Christopher Beaudette on bass. It’s just the perfect lineup, they all did such an amazing job, it came together pretty fast too, we really got it going and worked real hard and didn’t waste time on it.
Good stuff. I feel like I’m basically asking you for a track-by-track at this point, but one track on the EP that I really vibed with was, “Heroes Dare”, I love the melody, the harmonies in that one. You’re harmonizing with yourself, and it shows off your range as well. Can you talk about some of the ideas for that track?
Yeah, that’s my favorite as well. “Silent Cage” has been a lot of people’s favorites, and “Silent Cage” reminds me of a few years ago, I put a record out called A New Revenge with Kerry Kelly, and it’s really a straightforward hard rock record, and it’s so amazing, “Silent Cage” sounds like it would have been on that record. “Heroes Dare”, man, that one has a little bit of everything, the way the choruses role, and just makes you shake your head. I always approach songs…I give a lot of vocals, every one of these songs, I probably put twelve vocal tracks, because when I do the main vocal track, I double it and then I put a low one under it, whether we use it or not, we don’t have to, we can just use one vocal line and that’s it. And then choruses, sometimes I’ll do six tracks on it and harmonize it, and then I’ll do a bunch of other things and high notes and this and that, so I always like to do a lot of tracks, a lot of vocals for those guys. Because if you blend them all together, they sound fantastic. But that might not be what we want in the outcome, you might want just one voice or something. “Heroes Dare” had a lot of that, but yeah, it’s really a great song.
Absolutely, it’s a very powerful track. So what you’re saying with the multiple voice tracks is that you kind of ended up using more than one voice track that you experimented with in the end?
I really don’t experiment, I record it how I hear it and I put a lot of vocals down. I make the mix for myself before I send it to them, the vocal tracks, it sounds fantastic all blended together, but at the end of the day, that might not be what they want or what the track needs. The verse might not want that lower one, and we did use the lower one under a lot of it, but you don’t have to use it. But I like to always give more than enough to use, you know? Because the other thing is, you might not use the harmonies in the first chorus, you might use them in the second chorus. I also love when each chorus builds, and you hear that in this track, the second chorus is a little different than the first even though they were recorded basically the same, it’s just that you’re able to not use one of the harmonies if you don’t want it.
Just kind of layering and building as you go along. So working with Jamey Jasta on this, how did the whole thing get started? You said he had contacted you a while ago saying he wanted to do something for Ripper, but what made you guys get on this right now?
I think it’s been about ten years, at least, since he said, “let’s do a record, and let’s do it heavier”, and we never did, and then he put out Dee Snider’s record, and I was like, “Man, that is amazing, that’s the best I’ve heard Dee Snider…”, well, not the best, but the stuff I’ve liked the best since probably Twisted Sister stuff, it’s so good and I love Dee Snider. It’s such great songs and it sounded like Dee Snider when he was reinventing himself. Jamey called last year, we did an interview, and he was like, “Hey, let’s do that thing”, and I was like, “All right, let’s do it”, and he said, “Listen, it’s the 25th Anniversary of Jugulator, it’s the perfect time, you can put this thing out”. And that’s how it started rolling, he started sending me ideas and songs, I would lay some stuff down and send it back, it just moved really fast, and it was easy stuff to record and put stuff to, it all went so well. I’ve been friends with Jamey for a long time, and I know his work ethic and I know he’s a class guy, a great guy, so I was really looking forward to it.
That’s awesome, and it sounds like it was a fun collaborative effort.
It absolutely was! It was, I mean, he would laugh at me because he would send a song over in the morning, and they’d be in the studio working on stuff, and before even noon, his computer would ding, and I’d be sending my vocals already, and he’d be like “Jesus, man, Tim’s sending his vocals already!”, so it was a good time.
Nice. That’s funny you’re a morning person, too, a lot of vocalists don’t like to sing in the morning, they feel like they’re not ready to, but you just hop right on it.
I am a morning person, the older you get, the less you sleep, and I’m up by 7 without a doubt, earlier than that, I’ll leave for the gym by 8, and then I’m ready to get back and record.
What about on show days, you’re still up early and pushing it all the way to the end of the show?
Yes, I wish I wasn’t, I would like to sleep more, but my clock just gets me up, I just get up early and want my coffee and sit around in a hotel all day.
Listen, it works for you. I also want to make sure I don’t skim over any tracks on the EP since we covered almost all of them now, so the third track, “The Night (Take It Back)”, talk to me about what went into that track?
Yeah, that one I worked the most on to try to get the right feel for it. It’s a great track, that one out of all of them really throws me back to 80’s Thrash, the way the guitars are playing. Not necessarily vocally, because vocally on the whole record, it sounds like Tim “Ripper” Owens, I’ve always told people this when they say, “Well, you sing like this guy, you sound like this guy”, no, I’ve never heard a singer in my life that sounds like me. So it sounds like me singing, but the music is really a throwback, but I really wanted to get the vibe that I know Jamey wanted. I actually sent the song and then I redid some of the verses because I didn’t really get exactly what I wanted out of it. I wanted it to be a clear kind of verse that still had rasp at certain words, not just hard and raspy all the way through, so when you listen to that song, it’s got a mixture all through it. But it was fun to record, it’s really an old-school tune.
I agree, that kind of healthy balance between the harsher and cleaner vocals, a lot of classic vocalists do use that approach as well, but you do have a unique tone.
When you sing for other bands, that’s what they think. I make the KK’s Priest record, and it’s like, “oh, he’s just a Halford clone”. No, I’m singing heavy metal like I sing it, and there’s not a lot of singers who have…it’s not the range, but the range with characters that I have, with the heavy stuff up to the clean vocals. But when you sing with other bands, they think you’re trying to be like them or compare them, it’s like, that’s just not it. People don’t want to give it a chance, there’s probably people that haven’t even listened to me, really. There’s people that tell me all I do is cover songs, I’m like, I put out original records nonstop. Two years ago, I had about 5 records in one year with different bands. I put out records nonstop, so it’s people that don’t even follow my career or listen to me that complain about it. Hey, listen, you don’t have to like me, that’s not the issue, you can not like my singing because I don’t like a lot of singers either, but you can’t say that I’m a clone or that I suck, because neither one of those are true.
There’s definitely a lot of people who don’t bother to look anything up or see what artists have been up to lately, they know one song from a while back and they just pass judgment on that with no reason, but those are the ones you just…don’t pay any attention to.
For this EP, last but not least is the title track, so tell me what it is about that song that embodies the title, the full album, Return to Death Row?
It’s a play off the 25th Anniversary of the Judas Priest Jugulator record, we had a song on there called “Death Row”, so that was kind of the play on it. There’s even a little section in the middle where it slows down, the phone rings and I answer the phone, that kind of part was in the original “Death Row” from Judas Priest. It’s a great tune, because it’s basically just going back and forth of, well, this is death row, so one guy kills one person, but then it’s okay for you to kill them, what’s going on here? So it’s pretty cool lyrics, and it’s not a copy of the original “Death Row”, but it’s still a throwback and a nod to the original.
That’s perfect, and it completes the picture of that sense of being a throwback while still being very much new music, new vibe, new story. And you mentioned KK’s Priest just now, that’s a fairly new project from the past couple of years, how did that one first come about?
Well, you know, David Ellefson was doing a show at KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, and he asked Ken, “Do you want to jam with me at this appearance?”, and he said sure. And then they said, “We should get Ripper to fly in and sing”, but this was months before Covid started, so we got AJ to play guitar, who’s the guitarist in KK’s Priest, and we got Les Binks to play drums, and we did a show. It was very well-received, and it was a blast, and Ken was like, man, let’s do a record, and that’s how it started. I went back there in like January, February, I did a show with The Three Tremors in Birmingham, and KK came out to the show. We sat in his car and I listened to the demos, and I was like, this is perfect, man. A lot of people go, “God, that sounds like Judas Priest”, and I’m like, “No, it sounds like KK Downing”. KK Downing wrote Judas Priest songs for 40-50 years, what do you think it’s going to sound like? He’s only been in one thing, this is how he writes. And we did it, it’s great, we’re just about finished with a second one, and I like it better. It’s a little ballsier with the vocals, it’s got the Ripper edge, I like the more raspier, heavier stuff – it’s got the high notes, but it’s a little heavier record to me so far.
I love that phrase you just used, “The Ripper Edge”, it sounds almost like it could be an album title.
Yeah, I’ll have to trademark it.
Something else I do want to touch on a little outside your side projects, is Charred Walls of The Damned, that was a really cool band you had a couple of years ago, I remember digging the music as it was coming out. There was a couple of tracks like “Ghost Town” and “In A World So Cruel”, I thought they were such epic tracks. I’d like to ask you, what were your best experiences in that band, and do you think it will ever come back around again?
Yeah, I had a blast, Richard and I have been friends for years, since I was in Iced Earth and he was the drummer in Iced Earth. The recording was fun, it’s great to do, and especially the first record, it was really hard songs to go over live with people, because they were kind of crazy, and there was nowhere to breathe when you’re doing a live show. It was just fun and really good stuff, and my favorite record we did was the third one, I thought it was the best one. We recorded in Florida, I don’t go to studios often to record anymore, I usually just record my vocals here, but it was great time. Richard’s such a great friend, and a great guy, and an amazing drummer. I would do another one for sure, I had fun doing them, but it’s not only that, they’re just great records, so I would definitely do another one.
I think it would be cool to see that come back around again, but you definitely do have a lot on your plate now, plus you’re always working on other projects as well, making guest appearances in various bands. What do you think has been the most unique or interesting guest spot you’ve been asked to do?
Well, I’ve done a lot of interesting and unique ones. I’ve done operatic ones, and death metal ones, and hardcore ones, and it’s funny, I get to do all kinds of them. I did two records with a band called Pyramid, which is a progressive metal band, and this last one that just came out, called Rage, I wrote a lot of the lyrics and singing on that, so it was kind of fun, especially being progressive rock, which I don’t do. So that’s out there. I started doing a lot when Covid hit, because I couldn’t tour, so I figured what to do. I’ll tell you how I do it, because I’m getting ready to take about a month and a half off, besides singing some of the KK’s Priest stuff and starting to work on a full-length Ripper record, what I did was I would post on social media, “Hey, I have some time off, if you want me to guest on a song, you can email me and we can do it”. So I will tell you now, so readers can know, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. If they email me there, we can discuss it. I did about five records as a guest singer for bands in the year of Covid. But I love doing it because I get to sing on all these people’s projects, the price ranges are all different, depending on who, if we work it out, and it’s fun because the songs are so different. I just did Leviathan Project, Engineered Society Project, I did Held Hostage, I released The Three Tremors, and then amongst all the tons and tons of songs I did. So all they have to do is reach out to me, I usually don’t have time now that I’m touring again, I haven’t done it in a while, so now I feel that it’s fresh again to do it.
That’s great stuff, and I feel like that not only keeps you busy, but it also keeps your creative side flowing as well, working with different genres, fitting yourself into that but also putting, as we said, “The Ripper Edge” onto that genre as well.
It does, and people ask why I do that all the time, and I’m like, well, I’m a musician, I make my living doing music. They say, “Why don’t you do one band?” Well, if I did one band, I’d probably just maybe put a record out now and then, and then tour solo all the time. But it’s still hard, I have to make a living, and I make a good living now doing this as a musician. But I always tell people, you’re asking me why I’m singing on so many people’s projects, it’s like asking a mechanic why he only works on that one car or only fixes one thing on that car. Or why a chef only makes spaghetti and doesn’t make anything else. I’m a musician, I do music for a living, I love to sing for a living, it’s why I do it.
Exactly, you wouldn’t have chosen that as your lifestyle, career, your profession – anything, if you didn’t want to do it. It sounds like you have a lot of great stuff on your plate, touring coming up, and hopefully we’ll see some Ripper-style touring as well with this new EP. Can you just wrap things up with letting us know exactly what’s on the horizon for you, and what to expect from the new Ripper project, and your projects in general?
Well, everyone can go to martyrstore.net, and there’s all kinds of Ripper stuff on there, we have CDs, vinyls, cassettes, hats, shirts, stickers, posters, guitar picks, tons of bundles that are great. So you can go there and order. I’m working on KK’s Priest, so that’ll be coming out eventually here. Like I mentioned, the Pyramid record was released, The Three Tremors record is out there. If they’re interested in me doing some vocals, they can email me at email@example.com, they can get a Cameo. I’m just staying busy, doing my thing. Anybody can check me out on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. Just type in Tim Ripper Owens, they can find my official page and see what’s going on.
Good luck with all of your projects and prospects, and thanks so much for your time today.
Thank you, I appreciate it.
(Metal Contraband thanks Tim for the interview)