Interview with Free Reign’s Justin Chapman

One of the toughest metal bands on the scene today has to be Free Reign, who are comprised of three members of the US football team, the Dallas Cowboys – Marc Colombo (vocals/right tackle, #75), Leonard Davis (bass/right guard, #70), and Cory Procter (drums/center and guard, #71) – and are rounded out by up-and-coming shredder Justin Chapman. The group recently released their debut offering, ‘Tragedy,’ via Riot Entertainment, and have already made big fans out of several renowned metalheads, including Zakk Wylde, who praises, “FREE REIGN kick ass! These guys will pound you into submission, check them out now!” Chapman recently discussed the guitar and what it’s like being in a band with some truly hard-hitting gentlemen.

Justin Chapman

Photo Credit: Ronnie Baker

When did you start playing guitar?

I started playing guitar when I was 14 or 15. My dad played guitar a little and he bought me an electric for Christmas.

Early influences?

My early influence was Metallica mainly. I sat in my room after school and played Metallica songs for a long time.

How about some background re: Free Reign?

I wouldn't say that there's much background info on the band to say, other than…I met Marc and Cory for the first time at a House of Blues show of theirs in Dec. ‘08. And I've know Leonard all my life. Leonard gave Marc a CD of my old band, Black Picket Fence. Marc liked it a little bit and asked me if I wanted to be in the band with him and the guys. I was like, “Hell yeah!” But still, I asked him if he thought that would be a good idea for them bringing a shorter, non-football player guitarist into the mix. He said he didn't care about that and he thought what I could bring to the band would be well worth it. Since the start, we've struggled getting together to practice as a full band a lot of the time because of conflicting schedules, and on the first full band practice I had with them, I was like, “Man…we're doomed!” But those guys are dedicated and they stuck with it and they practiced all the time individually. I've never seen musicians improve that much over a short time like that. After all, they're pro football players, they have a high level of discipline and dedication to start with. We still have a ways to go, but with us constantly increasing our skills and abilities, I have faith that our next album will be much improved. 

Let’s talk about the new release, ‘Tragedy.’

The new album…there's a lot I can say about it, but I'm actually somewhat satisfied with it. I'm pretty happy with the way “Tragedy” and “In Your Head” turned out. I'm not happy at all with “Last Goodbye” and “All In Vain” though. Those two are basically demo songs that we recorded when we first got together and we stuck them on the album. At the last minute we decided to go in the studio with producer Alex Gerst. And before we had a chance to re-record those two songs, the guys had to go to training camp. One day, I would like to at least re-record “All In Vain” to the standards that I initially intended for it. I think the “Tragedy” EP is a good starter for us, it kind of shows everyone our progress and the direction were headed musically.

What is your guitar set-up? 

My guitar set-up is always evolving. For years it has consisted of a 7-string guitar, half stack, and a giant board of pedals and switches. But last year, a friend of Alex Gerst's, Dan Rivera, helped me improve my rig. He got me hooked up on a stereo rack set-up consisting of a guitar preamp, power amp, effect processor, and a MIDI pedal board. Then to top it off, Krank provided us with Krankenstein heads and 4 X 12 cabs that are pretty kick ass! I like to use a lot of effects, and now with my new set-up, there's endless combinations that I can create and use, and with a much smaller pedal board.

Do you still practice?

I don't follow much of a practice routine. I'm basically a self-taught guitarist, so I'm not very disciplined. After my previous band broke up, I put the guitar down for a while, which was a big mistake! But now, since this project has started, I try to practice everyday and have been working hard to improve my skills.

What do you think of modern day rock guitar, and who are some of your fav guitarists? 

I think modern day rock is pretty strong, but I'd like to see it stronger! There are a lot of talented bands out there, and a lot of them that have that “modern” sound. That modern sound, to me, consists of a lot of kick drum, screaming vocals, heavy guitar (low tunings), and guitar solos. Some of my favorite modern guitarists are Paul Waggoner of Between the Buried and Me and Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold. I like the lead playing of both those guys and I like the different musical elements and styles that “BTBAM” put in their music. I believe that multiple styles will continue to infiltrate the future of modern music. The future guitarist will have to be well-versed in several forms of music to be able to compete. Unfortunately for me, that means more practice!

What advice would you give to other guitarists?

The only real advice I would give to other guitarists is practice.

What do you have to say to those that may view football players playing heavy metal as a gimmick?

For people that say pro football players in a rock band is a gimmick, I would say I would think the same thing myself. Football players need to stick with football and musicians need to stick with music! But, these guys are dedicated musicians, and if they're capable of doing both, why not!? And look at Kiss! A lot of bands use a gimmick. You almost have to have one to get your foot in the door these days, sometimes bands need all the help they can get. I've seen bands that are super talented not get anywhere. But, you can't rely on that gimmick to carry you all the way. That gimmick doesn't make the music. Football has got us off the ground, and now it’s up to our musicianship to keep it going.

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