Interview: Jason Hook of Five Finger Death Punch on 'American Capitalist'
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't get away from Five Finger Death Punch right now.
Their new album, American Capitalist, sold more than 93,000 copies in its first week, landing comfortably in the No. 2 spot on the Billboard charts. And you can't turn on active rock radio for more than 10 minutes without catching the album's first single, "Under and Over It."
Ever the provocateurs, American Capitalist proves all the more potent as it arrives at a time when many feel America's longstanding capitalist ideals are being threatened. With rock music typically being associated with fighting the system, it's a bold statement to take a stand right alongside it.
In light of the controversy, the success of Five Finger Death Punch might be surprising for many, but for guitarist Jason Hook and the rest of Five Finger Death Punch, it's all just part of the plan.
GUITAR WORLD: How's the new material going over live so far?
Dude, we're the luckiest five fucks ever. It's awesome, what can I say? I know everyone goes, "Oh, the tour's going great!" But I can honestly tell you that the way this thing has exploded and the popularity of the band and the way it's increased ... it's all brand new stuff for us and we're really having fun with it.
And of course American Capitalist landed at No. 2 on the Billboard charts recently. Moving more than 90,000 records in one week is pretty impressive for any time, but especially these days when no one's buying records.
Yeah, we have a very specific strategy planned. War is the Answer came out a year and a half ago. We want to keep the cycle short. I think having one record every five years really misses the momentum wave. It's like surfing. You catch a wave and you've got to make sure the waves are timed right so you can stay out there and keep surfing. If you only get one wave and there's no more waves, you ain't gonna make it to the shore.
Terrible analogy, but you have to understand that the first single off the record, "Under and Over It," wasn't really a song that we would have expected to perform at radio because it's so aggressive, there's a lot of swear words in it, it says "Suck my dick" and all this other stuff. But we had a meeting with the label and they were like, "We 100 percent want this as the first single," and we were like, "Alright, fuck it. If that's what you like." Because we didn't know, it was like, "We like all of it, you guys pick."
We didn't expect that radio would embrace that song, but I like it because it's pissed off and it will probably resonate with our fans. If anything, we thought it'd be a strong live number, but that fucking song is No. 3 at Active Rock. For a song that heavy [metal growl], it's incredible.
The album's been generating significant buzz for some time now. Not just since its release, but really since you guys announced the album title. A title like American Capitalist couldn't be much more provacative, especially given the growth of movements like Occupy Wall Street in recent months.
Yeah, and that's what we're good at, man! [laughs] We make people scratch their heads. When we came out with War is the Answer, people were like, "What the hell are these guys doing? What are they trying to say with that?" We spent a year and a half answering that question, and now it seems so coincidental ... you know, we had the idea of American Capitalist months and months before we started recording the record, and now it seems so coincidental that we're now right here in the thick of the Wall Street protests and the economy in the state that it's in, and we're making a bold statement again.
You were still somewhat new with the band when you guys were recording War is the Answer. Do you feel like you were able to contribute more ideas this time around?
Yes and no. I made a very specific deal when I came into the band. I wasn't really needing money. I was touring around with Alice Cooper before I was in Death Punch and making a healthy living as a guitar player. I didn't want that, though. I didn't care about money. I told the guys specifically that the only way I would want to come over to the band is if I could be an equal partner in the creative department.
I have two solo records of my own and my true passion is writing and recording. That's all I really care about, it's not even about the money, I just want to be involved in the writing and recording. And they said, "Done!"
As you mentioned, before you joined the band you were a pretty in-demand session player. What skills did those years of being a session guitarist allow you to bring into the band?
I learned how to adjust quickly. You have to learn different languages, you know? Not just languages in terms of what to play, but effects, amp sounds, guitar sounds. You have to learn how to arrive at somebody's desired request quickly.
I lived through many difficult sessions where the pressure was on. I knew a lot of other session players and I would always ask questions and get tips and tricks. I was taking private lessons for theory. It's discipline, but I made some crazy cash. I did some film score stuff where the rate was like $400 an hour. But it was stressful, and once you're done with the job you're back on the phone trying to find something else.
It's work for hire; it's a service industry. You can never relax. I like the idea of the product industry like Death Punch where you release an album and it belongs to you forever. Also during that time I became like a recording junky. I spent all my money on gear and Pro Tools 24/7 tutorials and became pretty vicious at almost producing and recording engineering. So when I joined the band I was able to roll up my sleeves and go, "Now here's a project I can really apply all those things I taught myself to."
Talk a bit about the songwriting process for this record. I noticed there were more acoustic passages than usual. Were you writing more on acoustics this time around?
That's my fault. The way I work is that I get up really early before anyone else and I have that little quiet period where I go up to my studio with my cup of coffee and I pick up my acoustic guitar and start recording whatever I play. Then I usually put it away and work on something else and come back to it later. Anything that sticks out to me as insteresting, I kind of lift that section off of the recording and put it to a metronome, start building off that idea. That's how I do it, anyway.
It kind of eliminates the brain from getting involved in the heart. If you start to think about it too much then you'll actually cut the creative flow. You have to eliminate the brain part of it and just rely on the gut and the heart. So I would build up those ideas every single morning and then the three of us -- Jeremy, Zoltan and myself -- would get together in the afternoon at Jeremy's house because he's got this fancy electronic drum kit where we can sit down and toss ideas around in a very low-volume, civilized way.
There's no driving to a rehearsal studio where you've got band A and band B on either side of you blasting next door and people stopping you in the hall going, "Oh, Death Punch! Cool, man!" None of that bullshit. We write at home so we can be left alone where we can be comfortable. Everone's got their own Pro Tools rig and Jeremy's got the electronic drum kit, so we can work late, we can work early; it's really a cool process.
So we would bring all these ideas in in the afternoon and whatever we all got exicted about is what we would work on that day. I was bringing stuff in that I wrote in the morning, so naturally it was stuff I had written on the acoustic guitar. But I realized I had to go back and start working in the morning on the electric guitar because I was starting to have too many acoustic-sounding things that were having to be converted.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, "The Pride" has one of the heaviest intros you guys have ever done.
We like aggressive music and that's always the base for what we think should be the Death Punch sound. We try to get a base of hardcore-sounding stuff in there for the energy, but I think we have a blend of that plus the melodic, which maybe sets us apart or gives us a bit of an edge, because it's not abrassive all the way through.
It gives the listener's ears a chance to breathe.
Yeah, a bit of give and take.
When you're writing songs, how do you and Zoltan generally divide up your guitar parts?
On the last record, Zo kind of had his songs and I had mine. Because we were working so quickly it basically worked out that I didn't get too involved with his stuff and vice versa. But when it comes to live, we definitely have to sit down and work out who plays what part. It's a team effort though, there's no weird competitive thing going on there.
I don't care how it gets done, as long as it gets done on the record. If he's got a whole arrangement and the song created, there's no point in my sticking my nose in it just for the sake of it. We give each other that kind of space, and I'm really happy with the way it works.
Do you ever find yourselves falling into more of a traditional lead/rhythm set-up?
I don't know if many people know this, but I've played every lead since War is the Answer, so I guess I'm technically the lead guitar player.
American Capitalist marks the second-straight record you've worked on with Kevin Churko. What does he bring to the table that made you guys stick with him for this album?
Kevin is very hands-on. We kind of consider him the sixth fifth. He played all the bass on the new record, and he's just one of those guys that's a singer/songwriter and plays keys, drums, bass, guitar and sings. He keeps us focused on songwriting and he can fill in the blanks. Like, "Hey guys, I tried a little string arrangement for the one song last night, tell me what you think."
And all that little stuff is cool, and it's not that we couldn't do it, it's just so time-consuming. We might be writing another section for a song or we might need another song, so we're working on the new stuff and he's bringing the other stuff up to completion. His biggest asset, in my opinion, is his personality. He's a very calm and patient guy, and that makes for real easy recording in the studio.
Let's get to the gear you used on the new album. Talk about your studio setup this time around.
I'm a die-hard Marshall guy and I was using two or three different heads on the record -- a JCM-800 stock, a JCM-800 that I've recorded with forever which I just stick a Boss Overdrive in front of.
Then I have a Voodoo modified Plexi head that is like a gain monster for leads. And then I have the new EVH amp from Fender, the 5150 III. I have a tight connection with the guys at the EVH brand and I begged them to send me over a head and a cab to try out, and it turns out it's a monster amp. I love Ed Van Halen so much, I just couldn't help but having it.
Beyond that I was using a couple of ESP Kamikaze George Lynch guitars for leads because they're just shredder monsters, and then I used my good old Gibson Explorers for the rhythm stuff. Oh, and a Taylor baritone acoustic that they let me borrow that was just perfect for those weird B tunings. You know, acoustic guitars and B are a little gnarly.
So you're in talks with Gibson to have your own signature Explorer?
I've been trying to appeal to them for a long time about doing a signature Explorer. There isn't really anyone pushing that guitar like I think I could. Certainly everyone plays Les Pauls and SGs, but I think the Explorer could really be mine.
They had a flood down in Nashville that wiped everything out, then they had two raids when the Feds came in and shut them down, so it's been a bad couple of years for Gibson. Every time I would get it set up there was a disaster, you know? But I'm taking a last shot at it, and I think it'll go through this time.
And what would Jason Hook do to push the Explorer into new territory?
If you look closely at the three or four Explorers I've done, I scoop away the wood at the top frets for higher fret access, something that I saw Steve Vai do to one of his Strats back in the '80s. It literally looks like he just took a disc sander to it.
The Green Meanie.
Yeah! So I scooped out that area of the guitar so I could get up higher, and I also took a belt sander and beveled the edge that's under my right arm for just a little bit more comfort.
Beyond that, it's pretty stock except that I don't use a front pickup, so I ripped that out. I don't have a pickguard on there. I use conduit casing to run down the open channel to the toggle. The toggle's held on there by a jack plate. It's kind of an interesting, ugly beast.
The new album from Five Finger Death Punch, American Capitalist, is available now.
Photo: Gabrielle Geiselman