I first met Five Finger Death Punch when they played the Epicenter festival in September, 2011. I was covering the festival for Metal Hammer but there would be a slant towards FFDP, who were just about to release their American Capitalist album. Limp Bizkit and Staind were the headliners on a bill that also included Buckcherry, P.O.D., Puddle of Mudd and a relatively new band from the UK known as Asking Alexandria.
Typically I just cover the various sets and throw in bits of flavor from the day, but FFDP made themselves available for interviews, so I met with guitarist Zoltan Bathory and singer Ivan Moody before the show and met the other guys — guitarist Jason Hook, bassist Chris Kael and drummer Jeremy Spencer on the bus. Although even back then, they were getting a fair bit of slating for contriving tough guy attitudes, in fact, each guy was genuine and completely down-to-earth, which of course made my job incredibly easy, as I could ask any questions I wanted without fear of ending the interview prematurely.
Less than a year later, I covered the band again at a show in Pomona, this time meeting with Jeremy for a twenty minute interview. We sat in their dressing room in the Fox Theater on a sunny afternoon and at the tail end of the chat, Jeremy mentioned that he had recently gotten sober, having relapsed after a period of sobriety. Getting sober is hard enough for people who live relatively anonymous lives, let alone those who live high profile lives in an industry where substance abuse is as prevalent as exercise.
I’ve run into Jeremy a number of times since then, and I had always wondered how he had fared with the increasing successes of his band, and all the pressures that that sort of momentum could create. This past year, Jeremy answered that question in the form of his autobiography, Death Punch’d: Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem (Harper Collins). I decided to circle back with him and talk a bit more about his sobriety and life in one of the rising heavyweights in heavy metal. The band have recently returned from a brief tour of Japan and are enjoying a bit of time off before the holidays.
I caught your last US show when you guys played Knotfest. How did that go for the band?
It was good, but it was a little weird too, because before that we’d been doing our stage show, with our huge amount of production and then we had considerably less space during the Slipknot festival, but the crowd was really great. It was a huge crowd.
You’ve headlined your own tours and in fact your own festival tour as well. How did it feel to be a part of Slipknot’s gig?
It was really cool. I definitely wasn’t expecting that big of a response. L.A. is usually a tough place to play. L.A., New York…that’s how it goes with those big cities, but this was really cool. Everyone was excited to see the band and there were some crazy mosh pits and it was just a great night.
With most rock biographies, the authors are writing about events that happened far back in the past. In your book, you’re referencing very recent events. Did the writing process open up any fresh wounds?
Yeah, some of it did. When I’d read what I had written for that day, reading about things I had put my parents through made me sad, and just seeing the way that I’d treated some people. It was a gross feeling, but it allowed me to process everything and contact everyone and make peace with all of it. Overall it’s been really positive and writing it was a very therapeutic exercise for me.
Well, writing about the final episodes before I went into rehab both times were pretty intense. Like the story in the Mandalay Bay, where my heart started skipping beats. That was scary and that was real and I was thinking, You’re an idiot for doing this. Why are you doing it? It was a relief that I pulled through and I knew it was time to fix it because that last episode had to be the final one. I’m just glad I’m here talking about this now because I could have done a lot more damage.
When someone writes about illicit experiences regarding drugs and that sort of thing, you have to involve other people, who may or may not want to be identified. Did you have a strategy for how you were going to handle some of the people involved in your stories?
Yeah, it wasn’t about throwing people under the bus. It was about my story and my perspective of those events. I had to give some of the details to serve the stories, but I really went out of my way not not say anything that I thought would damage someone unfairly. In some cases I spoke to the people involved and got their permission to use the story, with others I changed their names to protect them.
You’ve been through recovery twice now and as part of that process, there’s a certain fact-finding process where you arrive at some hard truths about yourself and how you contribute to your own problems. What has recovery revealed to you about some of your own weak spots?
You’re certainly forced to deal with all the issues you may have had, whether you used or not. Being sober now, I can’t get away from it, I’m forced to deal with every feeling. I handle some better than others but I think I’ve grown into a person that I like and that I’m comfortable with. Before I would just mask anything I wasn’t comfortable with with chemicals, but now I’m forced to really live life and I like it, man. It’s a cool feeling.
Is there anything you’re doing now as a sober guy that you weren’t able to do when you were using?
Yeah, now I can take a breath and not react in such a negative manner to things. I’m able to process things more maturely. I usually try to observe the philosophy that the first thought is wrong. (laughs) If I’m fired up about something, I’ll sit on it for a minute and process it properly, rather than fly off the handle and make an enemy with someone. I’ve also learned how to just let something go when it’s not with the energy.
You guys in the band are all bona fide, alpha male personalities. How has your recovery affected your relationships with the other guys in the band?
At first I didn’t know how to deal with experiencing everyone’s personality sober and I was all over the place for awhile. I was a fiery guy and I was angry and just feeling everything and not really enjoying it or enjoying them, and I don’t think they were enjoying me much. I even heard stuff like, “It was better when you were using! You’re an asshole!” (laughs) But now that I’ve had time to live with it and grow and experience it, we get along great. Everyone appreciates where I’m at a lot more than they did when I was using, that’s for sure. It was an adjustment period, no doubt about it.
Five Finger Death Punch has always observed a heavy touring regimen. What do you guys do to blow off steam on the road?
There’s always stuff going on. I’m always working on some project or handling some business. I’m always on a computer, I’m always on the phone, or I’m working out and just trying to stay healthy. Sometimes on the road it catches up to you and no matter how hard you start out working out, you’re just so fried from everything that you don’t want to work out anymore and you’re eating crap food… But if that’s the worse thing that happens when you’re out there, that’s a lot better than how it used to be. But I’m pretty grounded and we treat this as a business and we’re pretty fortunate to have a successful business. We’re selling a lot of records today and (other) people aren’t selling a lot of records, so we’re very fortunate. We don’t take it for granted. I’m just excited to wake up everyday feeling healthy, feeling good and not feeling rotted from the night before.
You bring up a good point about the business component of the band. What’s the most important component of your business model? Is it the records, touring, merchandise?
Obviously everything’s changed with the Internet and Spotify. It’s altered the way things work. We’re a band that tries to cover every area. We take social media very seriously, we try to interact with fans online all the time and we’re staying in people’s faces as much as we can, but we treat it all equally important. We take our stage show to the extreme, we do the best that we can on records and we’re always writing and recording or touring. It’s just what we do and we take it very seriously.
Dave Grohl recently joked that back when he started the Foo Fighters, if he had known that the band would last more than five minutes, he might have come up with a better name. Have you guys ever felt the same about Five Finger Death Punch?
I was one of the guys in the group who was like, “Are you sure you wanna call it that?” (laughs) I was really unsure but I thought, What’s a cool name? What’s a “Stone Temple Pilot?” The music is what makes it cool and I just roll with it. It’s stuck now and everyone’s into it, so what do I know?
Tell me about the evolution of your onstage persona, because as the band has grown, your solo has become one of the live show’s signature pieces.
I’ve always tried to give maximum energy and I’d always fling my body around, doing the windmill with my hair and stuff. When I chopped my hair off, I couldn’t really flip my hair around anymore, so I had to adjust to giving big energy without doing that stuff. Finally it had just taken such a toll on my back and my neck, that I knew I had to do something else that was visually stimulating and that incorporated more drumming, so I started changing costumes for the drum solos and wearing masks and just keeping things visually stimulating.
Where do you personally want to grow, creatively?
I’ve always loved creating, whether it be metal drumming with Death Punch or a different style of music. I always love to create and I have some other things that I really want to do that I can’t really talk about just yet, but you’ll definitely hear about them when they happen. So there are things in the works that will be revealed. But I’m always trying to push myself to grow with things that stimulate me. I always come back to double bass drumming though, because it’s something I’ve always loved to do.
What’s been the biggest challenge that has accompanied the massive success of the band?
We’re outnumbered now. Everyone wants our time, but we only have so much time to give, so we’re pulled in a million different directions all the time and we just try to please everyone and do what we can, while still keeping some privacy for ourselves. But that’s a great problem to have. We’ve worked hard to get to a place where we can headline arenas and now it’s happening, so it’s been a dream come true and it’s something that we’re learning to do with. It’s way cooler headlining arenas than not, I’ll tell you that. We’ve had it both ways and I love it like this.
With all these quality problems come the sort of problems that can shatter a band. How do you guys diffuse the inevitable tensions that arise in such a high-pressure dynamic?
They’re there and some days are better than others, but there’s a mutual respect there. We’ve learned where the boundaries are with each other and we do treat this as a business. It’s a great business and it’s a great life, so we don’t want to jeopardize that and we realize that just by communicating and working through stuff, giving each other some space, things always work out. Even if you’re feeling like, I hate this guy! I never want to see him again!, it passes.
Where do you see the band’s sound going next?
I’m not sure. We always try to do things a little differently than the time before, but without being drastically different. We are who we are and I don’t see us doing something so left turn that people are going, What is that? I just don’t see that. We sound like what we sound like and I’m excited to see where it goes, honestly. I love making new records, and feeling the energy, seeing how everyone has grown and all that. We do try to push ourselves and experiment a little here and there. We have to keep it fresh for ourselves.
Even though you’ve still got two relatively recent releases on the shelves, you’ve all come out and mentioned working on new material and a new album on the horizon. So what’s up with the next record?
We started recording already and we did a couple tracks so far. After the holiday break we’re going back in the studio for the long haul and hopefully have something out by summer. Obviously we’ll be touring in the spring, so if we can finish by spring, it would be great but we’d like to get something finished by summer and get something out by the end of the summer if we can.
What’s the vibe on the new tracks so far?
I’m digging it, man. It’s actually more brutal, with more extreme dynamics. There are some really mellow parts and then some really brutal parts. So we’re running the whole gamut of sounds.