Fans already know Five Finger Death Punch’s adrenalin charged music, but we wanted to know a little bit more about life on the road in a rock band. Maine Music News caught up with Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Jason Hook backstage when the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festivaltour stopped in Bangor, Maine, July 17th.
MMN – We are just days away from the release of part 1 of your new album The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell. Chris Kael shared the process behind the recording of it when we chatted a few weeks ago. Can you talk about some of the new directions you are going musically that you have not gone before?
JH – We feel like we had more freedom as far as not adhering to any guidelines as far as making records go. Obviously, we had to do 25-26 songs. There is a segue that I did that is 1 minute 15 seconds. It is a little acoustical bit that does not do anything other than get us from one song to the next. That is different for us. There is another instrumental spoken word piece called “Diary of a Dead Man” which is the last song on the first volume. You will hear that in 13 days.
MMN – So for your fans, that was a huge departure?
JH – I don’t know of anything that we do that is really a departure. Anything we do is still us. We will never really depart from what we are. When you have to make a 10 song record, we talk about what we want a record to be. Do we make it heavier or do we make it more potent, and aggressive? Do we stay balanced in regards to the other records as far as melodic radio stuff? We didn’t have that conversation on the eve of this record. We didn’t know we were going to make two records either. For the other records we did, we talked a little about what we wanted it to be like when it was done. Obviously, War is the Answer and American Capitalist. Conceptually, that pushes Ivan off in a direction lyrically. For this one we decided to just start creating and let it be open and free. The thing I like about this record is it ended up being pretty heavy and potent when we just did us. I know that personally I write the more melodic stuff. I didn’t want to be that guy on this record. I wanted to keep it more aggressive for my side.
MMN – You didn’t want to be that melodic guy?
JH – My background is more of a classic rock background, not so much heavy metal. These guys all talk about Testament, Slayer, and the classic albums from these bands. I wasn’t that guy. I was listening to Kiss and Van Halen. So naturally when I am thinking of songs, I am thinking of that kind of melodic structure, not so much the anything goes heavy metal thing. But, I like the blend. This band has a nice blend due to the combination of everybody’s background, history, and taste. That makes it so when we shit it all out we get the new sound of the combined.
MMN – What is your favorite song on the new album?
JH – There is a song called “You” that I really like. I think it is the third song. You never know how these songs are going to turn out. We start by writing tracks, music. I have a sketch of a song. It starts like this, then it goes like this, then the chorus goes like this, then that’s all I have – it’s a sketch. Then we build it up musically in the studio and try to make a completed song, A to Z. Then we hand it off to Ivan. Then when he starts to add his bit to it, that’s when we all go, “oh, that one’s going to be awesome!” But we never really know. We like the music anyway. He turns them into these little gems. That one came back and it was a standout track.
MMN – How is it going out on a tour like this one after you guys had your own tour last year?
JH – Variety is good to keep it fresh for everybody. In my opinion, this tour is the vacation tour – big venues and many of our friends are traveling with other bands. Catering is always tiptop. You have a lot of people, sun, music, motorcycles. It’s loose, it’s cool, I love this tour. There is energy, a backyard party, which you don’t get when it’s an 8 o’clock doors in an arena at nighttime. It’s a different vibe. This is really like a party, a backyard barbeque.
MMN – How cool was it for you to open up for Kiss and then get to watch them play from the side of the stage?
JH – Here is a little trivia that not too many people know about. I played with Alice Cooper. Before Alice, I was in Ace Frehley’s band for about a week. My very dear friend Anthony Espozito, bass player for Lynch Mob, was Ace’s best bud at the time. Anthony called me and said that Ace wanted to put together a band of sober people and I was the first person that he thought of. I flew to New York, hung out, and jammed with Ace. We had Scotty Coogan from Brides of Destruction, Anthony, Ace, and myself. I spent a couple days at Ace’s house, showering in Ace’s shower thinking it was so fucking surreal. We worked on some of his new material, jammed on some of the old Kiss stuff, and I was in heaven. He is my idol. I have an Ace Frehley tattoo on my leg. Then I flew back to LA, and a couple weeks later Eric Singer called and mentioned that they needed a new guitar player for Alice’s band and was I interested. So, that was that. I put myself in Alice Cooper’s band and had to call Ace and say I’m sorry, I’m going to work with Alice Cooper.
MMN – Crazy how it comes full circle years later that you are standing on the side of the stage watching a Kiss show in Europe.
JH – I gets weird, right? So now we are opening for Kiss in Europe, and I am shooting the shit with Paul backstage. Eric, he is this little shit disturber. He grabbed me hollering “Jason, Jason, come over here” and drags me over to Gene and says “Gene, ask Jason what I told you to ask him earlier.” Gene looks at me and says, “Why do you like Hitler so much?” My jaw drops, and I just stared in disbelieve and said, “I don’t like Hitler.” I study world history. I specifically study military history, the great wars, World War I, II, Vietnam. When I was touring with Eric in Alice’s band, I would always be watching some old black and white documentary on D-Day or whatever. They would always stick their head in my bunk and go, “What the fuck are you watching these Nazi films for?” I would respond, “It’s not Nazi films.” So they would make jokes. They think am this neo-Nazi nut. I’m going on the record “I study military history.”
MMN – Regarding being out on tour with someone like Alice Cooper with so much going on stage, all the choreography. How do you make it all look so smooth?
JH – Joining the Alice Cooper band was the hardest thing I have ever done. He does not talk to the audience. He plays an hour forty. That is a lot of music. I’m talking we are standing up there getting ready to start and when we start playing the first song, it’s off and running. It does not stop – there is music going the whole time. Just coming into any band and having to absorb and memorize material is like memorizing a script. But this script was thick! I am the new guy, and the rest of the guys know the core set – “Eighteen,” “Poison,” “Welcome to My Nightmare,” all the core songs, “Schools Out” – they know all those songs. I don’t! So I’m trying to catch up and memorize all this stuff, and Alice would come in and say “I think we should play ‘Nurse Rosetta’ this year.” I’m going, what is that? Or he says “let’s bring back ‘Black Widow’.” I’m going what the fuck is “Black Widow?” So not only am I trying to memorize the core set, but now I’m told we are going to try a few new ones tomorrow. I’m cramming, trying to learn all the new ones. Then he comes in in the morning and goes “you know what? ‘Black Widow’ is not going to work, we should do something else.” I’m sitting there going I was up until six in the morning cramming this shit for nothing! That was a really hard gig.
MMN – How long were you with him?
JH – Two years.
MMN – When did you feel like you were caught up?
JH – Probably after the five month mark I felt comfortable. When I joined the band, he was designing a new show. He had a theatrical show designer, Rob, who would come in and think about lights and movement and what happens where and you need to come over here by the end of the song and you meet him in the front and you guys do the thing and the lights go off and the curtain comes. He is putting the show together. I had all of that on top of it. It was a nightmare. It was a lot to absorb as the new guy.
MMN – There seems to be a very strong military connection with Five Finger Death Punch. Let me mention, I am a 9-year veteran of the Air Force, so first and foremost, THANK YOU. However, where does the connection come from?
JH – Let me tell you how it started. On our first trip to Europe, we were playing these small rock clubs, maybe 400 people. We spent a couple of weeks in Germany, and at every show somebody would mention that there were a handful of guys here from the military that want to say “hi” to you guys. Every show, there would be groups of 4-6 guys. We started to realize when they told us “Dude, I jam your shit in the iPod every day we go out.” We started to realize that our high-energy, high testosterone driven music was resonating with the military guys. So that is where it started. After talking with them night after night we realized that whatever we were doing was a big part of what they were doing. They were really loyal to us for the music. That was the beginning.
It transpired to us getting a call from the agency that books talent for visiting Iraq and playing for the troops. They contacted us, and we were like absolutely 100%. It turned out that they were asking for us. Apparently, the military was booking many country acts and the troops were going fuck the country, get Five Finger Death Punch. So they got a hold of us, and we said absolutely we will go. We spent three weeks in Iraq going to all the bases doing concerts for the troops. That is where it really leapt forward, and we realized our impact on them and the rapport we have.
I’m infinitely impressed with those men and women. People don’t realize the conditions over there are brutal. We were their “distinguished guests,” and I felt dirty the whole time I was there. The sand is always blowing in your eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s hot as a mother fucker. It’s brutal. I am impressed. I have met a lot of really cool guys. Guys that have been shot a couple times – they are showing me I got shot over here and two years ago I took a thing over here. How can you not be impressed with that? We complain because we don’t like the bus or I don’t want the bottom bunk this year. It’s really a reality check. All those guys are so cool. When you can make somebody feel great, you get addicted to that. It feels great to make someone feel great. There is an exchange there that everyone is getting off on. It’s fun. It’s fun for everyone.
MMN – It was just announced that you have another headlining tour lined up for the new album. How did you pick the bands that are opening for you?
JH – The process starts with a conversation. Who is available is a big factor. Just because we think someone is good for the tour does not mean they are not already out touring. Who makes a good match? We are thinking about our audience because they have to want to buy a ticket and sit through all of those bands. We want to line it up musically and stylistically so they are enjoying the show all the way up to our set. Gemini Syndrome is a relatively new band, and there is a lot of hype and buzz about those guys. We know them. Our producer, Kevin, did their debut record, and I’m not sure if it is out yet or not but they are a really great band. We made friends with those guys so they were definitely one of our first choices. I would expect they will do big things.
MMN – I think that covers it, Jason. Thank you very much. You have been very generous with your time and your stories.
JH – Thank you guys, and enjoy the show.