Within the realm of guitar playing, many different approaches exist. Some favour a more technical edge, while others prefer a more simplistic temperament. Above all though, guitar sounds should elicit an emotion from the listener and affect them in some way. Playing technical parts is all well and good, but if they're played for the sole sake of showboating then they have no place in the public forum.
Issued on October 11th, 2011 through Prospect Park Records, "American Capitalist
" is the third Five Finger Death Punch
album. Previous albums "The Way Is The Fist
" (July 2007) and "War Is The Answer
" (September 2009) charted at positions 107 and seven on the Billboard 200 chart respectively. The pair also achieved gold certification in the United States, shifting 500,000 units.
The record was cut at The Hideout in Las Vegas, Nevada with producer Kevin Churko, who helmed Ozzy Osbourne's 2010 full-length "Scream" and additionally provided bass on "American Capitalist". Previous bassist Matt Snell was dismissed in December 2010, with new bassist Chris Kael being announced as his replacement in June 2011. Including Kael, Five Finger Death Punch's lineup consists of Ivan Moody (vocals), Zoltan Bathory (guitars), Jason Hook (guitars) and Jeremy Spencer (drums). Lead cut "Under And Over It" was given the music video treatment by director Ethan Emaniquis.
As well as being released in standard format, "American Capitalist" has also been issued in a limited-edition deluxe CD format complete with special packaging plus a second disc containing a number of exclusive remixes, including one for "Under And Over It". Meanwhile, the iTunes version includes the bonus track "The Tragic Truth".
On August 8th at 19:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Jason Hook to discuss "American Capitalist".
Jason Hook: Hello? This is Jason Hook.
UG: Hello Jason. This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com, calling for the interview.
Oh yeah, yeah.
How are you Jason?
Very good. Where are you calling from?
Wales? Unbelievable. Awesome.
Bit thrown off by the accent?
No. I just remember that my friend helped set this up, but forgot where the call was coming from.
Would it be alright if we began the interview?
Could you provide some background information on writing and recording 'American Capitalist'?
We jumped in right away. When we finished up the touring cycle for 'War Is The Answer', we all agreed that it would be better to push ourselves and dive right back in and go to work on another record rather than continue to tour on 'War Is The Answer' for 2011. I think that the public - in this day and age - are anxious to consume all the time. We all live in an era of consumption, and the faster, quicker and more frequent things can come the better. Having said that, we decided to go right back in and write another record. Even though it may seem premature, we'd rather push ourselves and shorten the gap between releases. We took a week off, and then we started writing. It was just basically everybody at their home studios cramming ideas on their systems, just getting together a couple of times a week, comparing notes, and sending the music back and forth. When we finally had a handful of tracks, we'd go and record them with our producer Kevin who's also in Las Vegas.
Were you fully involved in making 'War Is The Answer', or did you join Five Finger Death Punch midway through the process? You joined the band in 2009 I believe.
I co-wrote that record. From day one I was working on that record, and was very fortunate to have come into the band when I came into the band because I very much had my heart set on applying my creative input and my engineering and recording skills into the project. I was fortunate to be able to join just at the beginning of that record. We did a couple of months of touring in Europe, but then the first thing on the agenda was to come back and start working on a new record. I was really anxious to get started on that, so yeah, I was there for the entire record.
What is your take on the album's title? 'American Capitalist'?
"We don't like things that are safe, and we don't like things that are risk-free."
First of all, we like to pick titles that are slightly risky. We don't like things that are safe, and we don't like things that are risk-free. The title of 'War Is The Answer' made everyone perk up and scratch their heads, and think "What are these guys trying to say? War is the answer?". That's an awesome, bold thing to say. "Why did they decide to say that?" Everybody has a different definition of a capitalist. The word "capitalist" is taken from capitalising things. People that are capitalists are - and this is for your reading audience - people that take advantage of opportunities, opportunists. They work hard to make sure that they can extract the most out of their given situation. Successful people, driven people, motivated people, competitive people. When we use the phrase "American capitalist" it really explains who we are and what our personalities are. We don't just like to fuck around; we wanna divide and conquer every step of the way because we want success and we don't really hide that. We wear that on our sleeves, and anybody who's interested in that type of mentality or anyone who's interested in pushing themselves a little harder, we'd suggest for them to come onboard. When you fight for something and you get it, it's really the best feeling out there and that's capitalising on a given situation. That's why we called the album 'American Capitalist', because we want everyone to realise that success isn't a negative thing. Success is a positive thing. I hope that I have fuckloads of money, and then I can have fuckloads of freedom and options and security, and all the things that we all want. American capitalists.
'American Capitalist' is a title that can be taken in many different ways.
We're looking at it as a positive thing. We encourage everyone to come onboard. We take a lot of shit, but we fight. We fight hard for what we're doing and we're very serious about it, and we're hoping to capitalise on every opportunity that we've created by working hard.
Do you feel that it comes with the territory? When bands who play this type of music achieve gold records, there always seems to be a backlash from certain quarters.
Yeah, sure. We're all living through it for the first time; we just got two gold records for the first two records that we released, and so obviously something's working. We don't look at that as an opportunity to get soft or lazy, but look at it like those records should've been platinum and we mustn't have worked hard enough (laughs). We look at it like "Nice, we've got a couple of gold records. But the best is yet to come". I don't mean to sound cliched, but our best effort is still yet to be released. Those records were recorded and done years ago - we basically put them in our back pocket, and we're not even thinking about those records. The fact that they actually went gold is like "Oh, they went gold? Cool, but wait til we get the new stuff done".
Since you've toured the world with Five Finger Death Punch now, is there a synergy on 'American Capitalist' that wasn't there as much on 'War Is The Answer'?
I don't know. It felt very familiar to me. I think that one of the things that helped was Ivan our singer was living in Denver during the last record, and I was living in Los Angeles. We had to travel into Las Vegas, but right now we've all moved to Las Vegas. I just bought a new house, Ivan just bought a new house. We all live within five to ten minutes of each other, so it actually makes it easier to come together to work and also have some sort of peaceful separation at the end of the work day or at the end of the work week. We can be at our houses and enjoy our pool and relax, whereas during 'War Is The Answer' we were all living together at the studio. We didn't get those on and off type releases that sometimes are needed during recording.
What's the attraction of Las Vegas?
That's a very good question. I lived in Los Angeles since the late nineties and Los Angeles is truly an amazing place to go, especially for opportunity and business and industry and the entertainment industry in general. When Death Punch started to take off though, it became evident that we were never really home. With popularity comes demand, and with demand you're touring non-stop. It didn't make a lot of sense for any of us, because I know that the rest of the guys were in L.A. as well. Right now the real estate market in Las Vegas has been hit the hardest out of the whole country, so the houses that you can get here are less than half of their original value. We all secured these incredible homes and paid almost nothing for them, so that was part of it. Another part of it was that I was paying half the price that I was paying for my mortgage in Los Angeles. The other part of that is because we're not home that often, it really doesn't matter where we go home to as long as we're comfortable in our homes. All the industry is here, all the parties are here, the weather is good, there's less traffic, you don't have to pay to park anywhere and places are open twenty-four / seven. It's only three hours from Los Angeles, so if we have to be in L.A. for some God forsaken reason. It's still accessible as far as... If you're flying it's a forty-five minute flight, or it's a three and a half hour drive.
What's working with Kevin Churko like?
Kevin Churko is really the industry's best kept secret, in my opinion. He's an amazingly talented guy. He's one of these guys who has a very calm personality and a very good work ethic; he's a hard worker, likes to put in long days, never complains and never gets emotional. Yet he's always focused on the goal of completing something to the best of his ability. I've worked with producers where it's obvious that they're focused on getting paid, and the end result of the product is secondary. Kevin cares about what he's doing and he's got an extremely well developed shit meter, so he pushes us to do our best even more than we do ourselves, which is why he sits in with us so well. He's also a multi-talented guy who plays guitar, plays bass, plays piano, everything. He's just one of those guys who really adds those different flavours when you're not around, so it's really nice to have. Somebody who can add to what we're doing already.
The fact Kevin plays bass came in handy for 'American Capitalist'.
"We all live in an era of consumption, and the faster, quicker and more frequent things can come the better."
He plays bass on 'American Capitalist', yeah. I'm glad that he played on bass. Obviously we went through a bass player change during the record, and we didn't really have a bass player. We were auditioning bass players during the recording of the record. Originally I was gearing up to play all the bass on the record myself. I played bass on both of my solo records and I have no problem playing bass on stuff that needs bass, but I'm really glad that I didn't have to.
Why was previous bassist Matt Snell fired?
We sort of agreed contractually not to get into too many of the details just so that everybody can be left in peace. All I can tell you from my perspective is that there's two types of people in business: there are people that go with the flow, and there are people that go against the flow - that's really the difference between the four of us and Matt. It just seemed like every choice that was made was seemingly against the flow, and after awhile it becomes too difficult to operate with that type of energy in the mix.
How did Five Finger Death Punch come to recruit Chris Kael?
We got lucky. Chris lives in Las Vegas, so instantly there was a convenience factor. Had we found the right guy living elsewhere, we would've taken him from anywhere in the country. At that point, it just becomes about finding the right person. We were lucky that we found the right person, and he's local. When you're looking for a band member, you start asking around anybody that you trust. Somebody mentioned him to me, but for some reason it didn't register - I didn't make a note. We were auditioning guys that we knew from other bands, friends of ours, referrals, people that flew in. I had forgotten that one of our road crew members had mentioned that he had a friend of his who wanted to try out. I was like "Oh cool, cool", but I sort of got lost in the thick of making a record and auditioning, blah blah blah. It turned out that at the very end of the audition process we'd already looked at maybe ten guys. Chris hit me up on Facebook, and he was the one who reminded me. He said "I don't know if so and so mentioned my name to you, but I live here and I think I'd be great for the band. I love metal, and I love your band". I thought that was a little interesting coming through Facebook, because you never really know who is hitting you up via Facebook and whether they're real or they're not real. I think I said to this guy "Anyone can come and audition, but can you sing? If the answer's no, then that's where we'll continue to look. We need someone who can cover all of Matt's vocals. Not just vocal harmonies and melodic singing, but the screaming, the shouting and the aggressive stuff too". He said "Dude, I sing everything. I used to front my own metal band", and I was like "Really?". That got my interest right away. I said "Well send me something with you singing on it", and so he sent me an mp3. All this was happening without us meeting - this was all through Facebook. He sent me an mp3, and I listened to it. I said "That's the guy. As long as he can play bass, everything else is perfect", and beyond that it turns out that he's a super nice guy. He does martial arts, he's married, is focused, is healthy, has no alcohol problems, is a hard working guy and is talented as fuck. I think that everything happens for a reason. I hate to sound cliched, but it's like somebody sent him to us (laughs).
There was controversy regarding a Musician's Institute flyer asking for bassists to audition for Five Finger Death Punch. In your own words, what happened there?
The flyer? We were scratching our heads over that as well. Obviously, somebody did that to try to humiliate us or embarass us. What I can tell is it was absolutely 100% a fake. We never did really figure out where it came from, but a lot of the people who do those types of things on the internet do them because they get off on them. They get off on the attention I guess, and it's so easy to do that. It's so easy to create something, and leak it to Blabbermouth or whatever. There's legions of people out there who get off on creating problems. It ended up being something that was... it had nothing to do with us. It was 100% fake, but I guess it still leaves people wondering "I wonder if they really did that, or if it really was a fake?". We have to deal with that, even though we had nothing to do with it. I can tell you that it was just really a rough week and we were all very pissed off about it, but we had nothing to do with that.
Were there certain aspects of the flyer which pissed Five Finger Death Punch off? Certain criteria?
I don't wanna give the criteria any more attention than it got back when that flyer came out, but there was stuff that seemed obviously ridiculous like "No-one over six feet tall". I mean, what the fuck is that?
And there were references to image as well.
Somebody was trying to create it to look like we were looking for a runway model, and not a bass player. We ate that one and we paid the price for it, but again I don't wanna draw any more attention to it than it has been given already. It's something that sucks though. We didn't really have anything to do with it, and there's nothing we could've done to fix it.
Musically speaking, how would you compare 'American Capitalist' to previous Five Finger Death Punch albums?
We made a conscious decision to make it heavier. It's a difficult thing because we all love heavy metal music, but for some reason we also dabble in some of the more melodic flavours - that's always gonna be a part of this band's music. It's not realistic that we're just gonna be one-dimensional - it's going to have those other elements. I guess that the goal is to try to have a balance where it doesn't stray too far one way or the other.
You said the best is yet to come. Thus far though, of the three albums is 'American Capitalist' is the best one?
I think it would be very cliched to say this is our best record. Everybody seems to be more emotionally attached. It's very typical to have somebody that puts a year's worth of work into a record... Obviously there's an emotional attachment there but I don't think that that's a fair statement to make, that this is by far our best record. I think it's a continuation, you know? This record and 'War Is The Answer' could've easily been a double-album.
So there are a lot of similarities between 'American Capitalist' and 'War Is The Answer'?
There are a lot of similarities, yes. I think anyone who enjoyed 'War Is The Answer' will look at this record and think it's almost like C and D.
But having said that, 'American Capitalist' isn't a simple rehash of 'War Is The Answer'?
"I hope that I have f-ckloads of money, and then I can have f-ckloads of freedom and options and security, and all the things that we all want."
No. We basically just let ourselves be who we are, and do what we do. We don't feel like we're in competition with ourselves - we're not trying to outdo the last record. If people like this one then great, but if people don't like this one then that's great too - it doesn't matter. We do what we do, and let the cards fall where they may. Personally it's nice to hear fresh Death Punch material - it's nice to have twelve new songs from the band that I really enjoy. That in itself is exciting for me, and then eighteen months from now we'll have another twelve new songs (laughs). Hopefully they just make up one new stew, instead of trying to compare one another. It's like an unfolding memoir of who we are and what we do.
How would you describe your guitar playing on 'American Capitalist'?
My guitar playing? It's fucking shite (laughs, imitating a Birmingham accent). I had to say that. It's fucking crap... no. I have very specific views on guitar playing. Obviously the word shredder comes around and people like playing fast and all that shit, but for me personally, when I'm writing and recording it's always about trying to lean on an emotion - and that's really all it is for me. I'm trying to use the instrument to lean on an emotion, an emotion that will hopefully transmit to the listener. It's never about self-indulgence. It's never about me trying to get my rocks off, or trying to impress myself with some sort of technical crap that I just learned. When I was younger all the guys around me were trying to do these sweeps and these impossible exercises, and it improved their fingers but it didn't sound musical and it didn't do anything for me emotionally. I'm only looking for a feel. I don't care about guitar, and I don't care about impressing guitarists. I'd rather have everything that I write or record generate that feeling, whether it's "Fuck yeah, I wanna crash my car" or "Fuck yeah, I wanna slit my wrists" - whatever the feeling is. People like music because it evokes a feeling, and if it's really strong hopefully people will pay for it instead of stealing it (laughs). That's all it is for me. I'm looking for a feeling. There's a lot of similar guitar solos that I did on this record that aren't even guitar solos. The first single off of this record is called "Under And Over It", and that guitar solo was deliberately simplified because that is what I felt the song required. I remember very specifically reading about Eddie Van Halen talking about his "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" guitar solo, that whole simplified thing. Here's Eddie Van Halen - this guitar wizard - playing this fairly simplified thing, and his explanation was "That's just what my brain and my heart told me to do there. That was something that it seemed to call for, melodic and simplified. Everyone in this band is like "Dude, you're a guitar hero. Why aren't you playing some blazing solo?" "Well, because that's not what this needs". That's where I am with my songwriting and my guitar soloing. I'm just looking for what fits emotionally, at the risk of sounding corny. It's whatever the song requires, whatever's gonna trasmit an emotion or feeling to the listener. All the shredding stuff - and believe me it's in there - is also designed to excite. Like I said, things are very melodic and then go into a blazing session that's just designed to kick ass. It makes you feel excited at that moment of the solo, and not to impress anyone or any guitar players at least.
Five Finger Death Punch has a mascot in Knucklehead. Is he the band's equivalent of Eddie The Head or something?
Yes, and he makes an appearance on the third record. That's interesting because I was looking at a bunch of artwork yesterday and this morning. Our beloved Knucklehead makes an appearance, but in a very different way this time.
Thanks for speaking to me Jason - have a good morning.
Thank you very much.
Take care. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray
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