Mouth For War - Five Finger Death Punch Come Out Fighting
Five Finger Death Punch's Zoltán Báthory and Ivan Moody on booze, beatings, enteraining the troops and the American way
This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer #250.
Nine times out of 10 when you go to a rehearsal space you’ll find yourself in a room that’s barely big enough to contain the whole band, let alone any visitors. There’s a 50/50 chance it’ll be soundproofed with old mattresses that carry a vague aroma of damp dog, and slightly greater odds that you’ll be able to hear the horrible indie band bleeding through the walls from next door. Clearly we are not dealing with that kind of band today.
We are dealing with a one in 10. Their name is Five Finger Death Punch. Let’s have a poke around before they arrive, shall we? Say hi to the crew, guitar techs, drum tech, soundman, a nice guy, Buddhist, sitting outside this vast warehouse in the Palm Springs desert, under the shade of a tent that bears the band’s logo. By 10am it’s 106˚ here, but thankfully there are industrial fans inside to cool the place down a little while we check out the stage set-up, all skulls and gargoyles and brass-knuckles and grenades and guns and bullets… Oh so many bullets. The mic stand alone looks like it could take on a small army.
And that might be a problem, boys and girls, because doesn’t it seem, on the surface at least, that 5FDP are a little too into this whole war thing? War Is The Answer and fuck yeah, isn’t America great?! Let’s bomb Syria for bombing Syria and then have a pop at Iran just for a laugh. Coca-cola and Armageddon! Have you seen the Pride video for Christ’s sake? While the band’s rise to success has been nothing less than astonishing – their last album, The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell, Volume 1, hit the Billboard charts at number two – isn’t it possible that they’re just a bunch of knuckle heads who got lucky? Sure, they can knock out a tune, great thumping, fist-in-the-air, sing-along anthems, but so could Gary Glitter.
It’s one thing to attempt a courteous interview, but quite another to endorse a band with a collected IQ that perhaps fails to reach double digits. The band – frontman Ivan Moody, drummer Jeremy Spencer, bassist Chris Kael, and guitarists Jason Hook and Zoltan Bathory – are disarmingly nice when they arrive, easy company, all smiles, but that could soon change. Some bands throw a hissy fit when you question their motives or their lyrics, so it’s probably best to start off with some easy ones. Ivan’s up first and we’ve heard he doesn’t talk much, doesn’t like doing interviews. Which is a good start.
IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SET TO BECOME ONE OF THE BIGGEST METAL BANDS IN THE WORLD. YOU EVEN HAD TRIVIUM AND KILLSWITCH ENGAGE OPEN FOR YOU LAST YEAR. WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?
Ivan: “Higher and higher, further and further. Why stop now? It took us so long to get here and I’ve always said that we didn’t come to lose.”
HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR STAGE SHOWS AND WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELVES TAKING THEM? ARE WE TALKING RAMMSTEIN AND KISS?
“It’s funny that you mention Rammstein, that’s really our goal. I want to have production like Rammstein, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what we do as individuals on stage. I just saw Social Distortion in Vegas and they probably had seven lights, the whole stage was like a punk rock stage, and it was great! It comes down to the band and the crowd reaction. You can have million dollar stage set-up but if you suck people will tell you about it.”
YOU RECENTLY SPOKE ABOUT HAVING ALCOHOL PROBLEMS. HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH THAT NOW, AND WHERE DID IT STEM FROM?
“It goes way back in my family. My grandfathers were massive alcoholics; one took his own life and the other died from alcohol poisoning. In my family it was never looked down upon. I never quit, but I’ve weaned myself off the excess of drinking. I got tired of waking up and not knowing how I got to my room, or where my shoes were, or why I had a black eye and my bandmates wouldn’t talk to me. It started interfering with my every day life.
"The guy who talked me out of drinking so much was Jonathan Davis from Korn. He pulled me up on his bus one night and basically told me that I had the opportunity to be something bigger and that there were millions of people listening to me, so now was the moment to get it together. He told me that he loved what I did with music and on stage, and that was really an honour, but he told me to quit the sauce. I started crying.”
WAS THAT THE MOMENT YOU DECIDED TO GET IT TOGETHER?
“Absolutely. Jeremy went into rehab and that was a big eye-opener for me. We were up at his house one night, drinking and being stupid, and he was laying out on the patio and I didn’t notice that he’d fallen asleep. All of a sudden I realised he’d stopped breathing and I had to shake him awake! He’s one of my favourite people on earth and the moment I thought about losing another person to such an idiotic thing… When JD pulled me up on his bus it was a real moment for me because I grew up on Korn and almost idolised them to a degree.”
DO YOU EVER GET TIRED OF BEING ASKED YOUR WORLD VIEWS?
“I don’t, but my grandfather told me a long time ago, there’s three things you should never talk about in public: religion, politics and aliens, because everyone’s opinion will be different.”
BUT YOU DO TALK ABOUT IT. YOU SEEM TO HAVE AN AWFUL LOT OF SONGS ABOUT WAR.
“There’s always been war, it’s in our nature.”
AMERICA’S STARTING MOST OF THEM!
“Let’s be clear about that: American politicians do a lot of that shit. Americans ourselves – the people who live and work their asses off – don’t get to make those decisions and we don’t hear about it until after it’s done. If anybody in the world thinks that we, as a society, promote or embrace that kind of mentality, they’re lying to themselves. I hope the world understands that it’s not us, it’s the people who are in power. We want to apologise to the world! But we can only do so much, and I believe that there will come a time when there will be a revolution in this country, when the politicians are gonna have to change their ways. We’re not going to take the corruption any more. It’s not like it’s not on the ‘to do’ list, it’s just that we’re trying to do it correctly.”
DO YOU THINK THAT COMES ACROSS? ON FIRST GLANCE AT THE BAND IT’S ALL ‘WAR AND AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!’
“Well the title, War Is The Answer, is tongue-in-cheek. At the time we’d just gone over to Iraq and it just seemed like it was so out of our hands. That’s why I always promote the military, because I have a serious respect for somebody who, whether they believe in the politics involved or not, is willing to give their life to save the most basic freedoms for the rest of us. But when you’re lied to and told that you’re doing something like that, and then come back and find out the whole thing’s a façade…
"Both times we went to Iraq and Kuwait, we got the same feeling from all the soldiers: we didn’t sign up for this, we just came because we thought this was our duty. When they come back they’re all just heartbroken. There’s a lot of corruption in politics and it’s not just America, I get tired of hearing that. It’s not like the rest of the world is perfect and it’s just America fucking everything up. We have just as much respect for other cultures as anybody else, but it sometimes feels like we’re pissed on because of the decisions in Congress. We can’t overthrow the place, but it’ll happen eventually.”
HOW WAS IT PLAYING TO THE TROOPS?
“Amazing. It was one of our best experiences as a unit. Me, Jeremy and Jason were drunks at the time and when we went there for three and a half weeks there was no liquor allowed so it was a real chance for us to get to know each other again and to dry out. It was an honour to meet those men and women who are there sacrificing their lives for something that some of them don’t even believe in.”
DO THEY MOSH?
“Absolutely! We had the military police tell us, ‘No moshing’ and they were just standing there, they couldn’t move, so I went over to the MPs and said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to let them move around a little bit!’ He goes, “OK, fine, a couple of songs,” and the next thing you know there’s dust everywhere and so much energy! Once he gave them the word, they were all over it!”
PEOPLE ACCUSE YOU GUYS OF BEING TOO MACHO. DOES THAT EVER GET YOU DOWN?
“Macho, huh? Fuck, that’s ridiculous! I don’t even know where to go with that. I never considered myself macho and I grew up anti-jock. I can see as an outsider you might perceive that, but at the end of the day that’s not who we are at all.”
YOU’RE VERY MUCH INTO MARTIAL ARTS, THOUGH. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU’D COMPETE IN?
“No, the last time I got in a real fight I had 27 staples put in my stomach, 13 stitches in my throat and another 17 in my back and my arm. I got stabbed in a bar fight in Vegas. I went to practice four days later and I couldn’t sing, and the guys told me that if I kept being that way then they were gonna have to let me go. That’s the other reason I admire those who do martial arts; I don’t have the patience they do.
"My bodyguard, John, trains navy Seals, he’s a fucking assassin, but he’s the most calm and tactful person you’ve ever met in your life. I’m not that guy. People see me on stage and that’s my temperament. That’s why I love what I do because I don’t have to be that angry on a daily basis, that’s why that macho thing kinda threw me. It’s not who I am, it’s somebody I left in a closet a long time ago. That would be the same as saying that about Phil Anselmo. What’s macho about it? It’s a source of release and it was either that or prison. I’d rather be here.”
IT SEEMS THAT YOU’RE OPEN TO DISCUSSION RATHER THAN BEING ‘FUCK YOU IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT’. IT’S A PLEASANT SURPRISE.
“If you really listen to my lyrics and not just let it go in one ear and out the other, you’d be surprised. It’s my job to open my chest and to let the world know everything about me. I think the closer I get to my heart, the more it’s relate-able.”
DOES THAT ALSO LEAVE YOU VULNERABLE, LIKE SOMEONE READING YOUR DIARY?
“Yes, and that’s the reason I don’t do a lot of interviews. I feel like just about everything I have to say is on that album. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have anything to myself, so I leave that to Jeremy and Zoltan. You’re gonna have fun with Zoltan!”
Indeed. With a name like Zoltan Bathory you’d be forgiven for expecting to meet a wizard, but he’s Hungarian and just has a cool name. He breaks the ice by joking about his accent: “I said I’m a Hungarian not a hung Aryan!” and it’s difficult not to like him immediately. He likes to talk and, having been totally thrown by Ivan, we’ll not make the mistake of approaching him like we might be dealing with the village idiot. Which is probably just as well since he turns out to be a genius. And possibly a wizard!
MOST BANDS SEEM TO BREAK EUROPE FIRST BUT YOU DID IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Zoltan: “I don’t know why, but from day one there was an instant connection. I guess, if you look at the art of war, you don’t move away from the water and the resources, and this was our place. Now that we have so many fans in America I feel like the band is stable and now we can go away and stay in Europe for a year and we’ll still have the fan-base here.”
DO YOU THINK IT’S BECAUSE, FROM THE OUTSIDE, THE BAND COMES ACROSS AS VERY ALL AMERICAN AND OVERLY PATRIOTIC? AT FIRST GLANCE, THAT’S WHAT THE *PRIDE *VIDEO IS.
“That could be part of it. The first record was more European-sounding, I mean, I’m European, I grew up there, but now it’s a more American sounding band. And you’re right, on the surface when you look at this band you may look at it that way unless you read the interviews and get to know us. I was asked so many times, ‘What is this war thing?’ I’m into Eastern philosophy so I look at war in a different light. A Buddhist monk is probably in the biggest war you can imagine because he’s fighting the whole time he’s meditating. I’m a martial artist and life is war. Since you’re born you fight for something, even if it’s a social position. That’s just how we are.”
BUT ON THE SURFACE IT’S DIFFICULT TO TELL IF YOU’RE BILL HICKS FANS, OR JUST REALLY INTO WAR.
“As an artist, it’s not your place to pick sides. If you do, you’re preaching and that’s not your job. Your job is to push buttons and make people aware. You can nudge people’s perceptions so they’re like, ‘Let’s think about it this way or that way.’ For example, you mentioned Pride’s video and you see all this corporate advertising and your natural reaction is ‘Fuck that shit!’ But I’m not saying ‘Yay, corporate America’ or ‘No, corporate America’, I’m just pushing a button.
"If you take it one way, it’s about surviving and it’s natural that the strong survive. If someone builds a corporation in some way they become the alpha dog and it wasn’t a physical thing, like being stronger. Somehow he figured out how to get ahead, so is that right or wrong? Should he be condemned? It’s not my job to tell anyone how to live, and no one can tell me how to live or what to say. If I was into war in that gung-ho way, even then I’d have the right to do that. This right goes both ways. That’s what we do and many people don’t understand that yet. You have to understand sarcasm in the first place.
"A lot of people misunderstood what American Capitalist is about and capitalism is the closest to nature. I grew up in a communist system and I can tell you why it doesn’t work. The idea that you will stay in line and not want to advance won’t work, because we are by nature a certain way. The point of that record is that, within the system, this is a lesser evil, and it’s your job to be as strong as you can be.”
HOW DOES PART TWO OF THE WRONG SIDE OF HEAVEN RELATE TO PART ONE?
“It’s not a concept record, just a body of work. We had so much music that was dear to us – we couldn’t decide which songs to use. We called the label and said, ‘We have a good problem! We have too many songs!’ They said, ‘No, pick 12!’ So it was like, ‘OK, you fucking pick them!’”
YOU LET THE LABEL CHOOSE?
“No! We were being sarcastic! We wouldn’t do that. We’re actually an indie label band, we’re the only band on the label, and there’s three employees. We have full artist control.”
YOU HAVE A VERY DIVERSE CREW – A BUDDHIST SOUND-GUY, EX-MILITARY BODYGUARD… IS THAT DIVERSITY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“That’s the idea. When you put a crew together, that matters. Most of them have a serious education and a lot of them are martial artists. I would say I’m a Buddhist. Buddha prohibited his students from writing down his teachings because he was against anything organised; he didn’t want such a thing as Buddhism. I’m going by the original idea… it’s more of a path.”
THAT’S PROBABLY NOT THE OUTSIDE PERCEPTION OF WHO YOU ARE!
“Perception is interesting. Existence and perception are chained together. If you don’t perceive, technically, it doesn’t exist. By perceiving you make the world. I’ll never know what’s in your head or what you see, I’ll only know what I see. If you lost your perception then, to you, the world ceases to exist.”
HOW DID YOUR THINKING COME ABOUT? DOING ACID OR READING?
“Ha ha! I read millions of books and spent long years with monks. I seek knowledge and to understand what’s around me on a deeper level, so I’ve read everything from Einstein’s work to Eastern philosophy. Before the Aztecs there were Toltecs, a Mesoamerican culture, and they had knowledge of things like astronomy that today we’re like, ‘How the fuck did these guysknow?’ Then you read these books and compare them to eastern philosophy like Himalayan Buddhism or Hindi and the concepts and ideas are very similar. It wasn’t like ‘I’m gonna buy a book and then buy into the idea’ – I bought all the books and read everything I could.”
DOESN’T IT BOTHER YOU THAT THIS BAND IS SEEN AS STUPID WHEN YOU’RE CLEARLY NOT?
“To a degree it’s entertaining. I worked in the space industry for many years and I have worldwide patents in space and aviation.”
SO WHY MESS AROUND WITH ROCK’N’ROLL THEN?
“Because this is a vehicle. Music is a very, very deep therapy. It’s very meditative. And with music, everything that you create, you did not create! You never invented anything and you never created anything. Let’s take a cellular phone: the technology to make a cellular phone was exactly the same 20 million years ago and it’s exactly the same in the way that no one discovered America, it was always there.
"You didn’t discover physical laws, they were the same laws a billion years ago, you just came to understand them. And you didn’t write that song, you came upon that combination of chords. Those notes and rhythms were possible a billion years ago and we just stumbled across that combination. The potential to put those notes in that order was always there.”
DO YOU BELIEVE IN AN AFTER LIFE?
“Information and matter cannot be destroyed. All the information and matter you contain has to go somewhere. It fits Einstein’s idea of relativity, but let’s not even talk about Einstein. If we take today’s understanding of physics then we cannot destroy energy, information or matter, it transforms, but it has to go somewhere. So there is a form of afterlife, but it’s not like you sit up and go, ‘Oh, I’m a ghost.’”
THIS MUST BE THE FIRST HAMMER COVER STORY TO DISCUSS PHYSICS!
“That’s my point. Some of the people who read the magazine have never been exposed to that and maybe never question it. When something falls on the floor: ‘Oh, it’s gravity.’ Once it has a name you no longer question it. Most of the things in the world, we gave them a little box, gave them a name, and we’re comfortable with that. An artist's job is to go, ‘Is that really true? I’m not telling you what’s in the box, but is it what you think it is?’
"Take our album cover: it’s a typical metal record cover, but how many people really look at it? It has the angel/devil concept and there are two angels, both with machine-guns, which we did to push buttons in the God debate. One of them is Justice holding the scale and the other one is Liberty, but Justice is usually blindfolded. In this image Justice is looking at you and we blindfolded Liberty.
"The people who are there mentally will get it and some people will not think a fucking thing of it. You can give someone the key to the universe, but if they don’t understand then the key will be lost. I can give a caveman my phone and he wouldn’t know what the fuck to do with it. I can present lyrics, music and information and some people will get it and some won’t. At first people thought, ‘Knucklehead Americans’ and now they’re starting to figure it out.”
See, we told you he was a wizard!
5FDP's 'moderately muscular' Zoltán Báthory talked to The Metal Hammer Magazine Show backstage at Australia's Soundwave Festival martial arts, staying fit on the road and why you should never mess with their road crew.