June 04, 2012
You know why you don’t see any heavy metal acts on American Idol or X Factor? Because metal doesn’t sell shampoo. Fresh-faced, heroin-free go-getters who look good in J. Crew? They sell the shit out of shampoo, but metal…not so much. When Five Finger Death Punch’s third album, American Capitalist, entered the charts at number 3 last fall (behind the Midas-throated Adele and pop-goth idols Evanescence), the Vegas-based quintet slapped the music industry into the realization that the thirst for heavy music in this country is far more profound than anyone had understood.
The first single from American Capitalist, “Under and Over It,” stormed into the Billboard Hot 100, Rock Songs, Alternative Music and Heatseekers Songs charts before the album was released, and when the record finally dropped, almost 100,000 copies flew off the shelves in the first week alone, due not to the hype, but to the hook-heavy riffage that propels the band’s truly massive sound. Singer Ivan Moody alternates between clear, soaring vocals and guttural snarls, while the band deliver a heavy, straightforward attack that owes as much to Pantera as Black Sabbath. Five Finger Death Punch (joining Moody are guitarists Zoltan Bathory and Jason Hook, drummer Jeremy Spencer and bassist Chris Kael) have attracted a certain level of derision from extreme metal fans who claim the band aren’t heavy enough, while more vanilla-inclined rockers decry their sound as too harsh, but beyond the haters, 5FDP are paving the way for a new wave of American heavy metal.
The band supported American Capitalist with the “Share the Welt Tour,” scouring North America for the latter half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. Touring is the band’s preferred milieu, as 5FDP thrive on their connection with their fan base, whose loyalty flirts with religious extremity. And the devotion flows both ways. At last September’s Epicenter festival in Anaheim, California, Moody stopped the band in mid-song when security attempted to eject two teenage girls for unknown transgressions. With a limited set time and ten thousand paying fans expecting loud music, this was no small gamble on Moody’s part. 5FDP had a rapidly-shrinking window in which to either earn a couple thousand new fans or to stand up for two current ones. It was a no-brainer: the band sat down and refused to play until the girls were finally released back into the crowd and only then did they resume.
Recently 5FDP pulled out of arguably the biggest music festival of this generation—the 2012 Download Festival in the UK—a three-day maelstrom of hard rock and heavy metal combining over 100 bands and over 100,000 fans. Instead, the band opted to strike out on their own, partnering with UK-based Metal Hammer magazine for the 2012 summer Trespass America Festival tour—a 25-stop campaign featuring seven bands, including iconic veterans Killswitch Engage and Trivium, as well as up and comers God Forbid and Battlecross.
Trespass addresses two fundamental problems with large-scale summer music festivals. First, the bands share one stage, relieving fans of the burden of choosing between two or more bands playing concurrently on different stages. At this year’s Download, there are so many different stages and set times that logistically, fans will only be able to see a select few bands on each of the three days. Trespass gives fans the opportunity to see all seven bands from the comfort of their single seat.
Nearly every music festival gives the headlining acts full production, allowing them to set up the stage as they normally do when they headline, complete with full lights, sound and effects. The early bands, however, are allotted much smaller space and shorter time slots, allowing them the barest of stage dressing and sound support. This is the second limitation that Trespass has eliminated—each of the seven acts will receive full production for their set. Each band can play as loudly as they’d like, with as much lights and effects as the stage will hold, effectively giving the audience seven headlining shows as opposed to one or two.
The festival kicks off in Broomfield, Colorado on June 13, ending at the Hollywood Palladium on August 28. TNB Music had a chance to catch up with 5FDP just before the massive Trespass America was announced, sitting down with award-winning drummer Jeremy Spencer to discuss the band’s explosive rise to fame, their relationship with their fans and the band’s recent tour of Kuwait. Wait, what? Kuwait?
You just got back from Kuwait. Tell us about that.
It was incredible. We went to Iraq in 2010, as it’s the least we can do to give back to those guys, because they’re over there sacrificing their family lives and they don’t get a lot of entertainment, so they were stoked when we got there. I love everything about it, minus the twenty hour flight, each way. But once I shook that off, the shows were great and meeting all the troops was really cool. It’s something that we’ll end up doing again, because we get great feedback and it means a lot to them. It’s awfully tough to travel over there, but we like to do it when we can, so maybe we’ll be back in another couple years or something.
Last time I saw you guys, American Capitalist hadn’t dropped yet. It eventually entered at number 3, selling 91,000 copies that week. How did that feel?
It was incredible. We were always joking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if nobody else released anything that week and we snuck into the number one spot?’ But then it almost happened! We lost out to Adele, who’s been selling so many records and beating everyone, and then Evanescence came out that week, and they’re a pretty popular group, so we ended up in third, but I’ll take that. We’re extremely humble and grateful. It’s weird to see all these pop artists, country artists and R&B artists beneath us on the list, so it was great company in the top ten. We got to do it once and if it happens again, it would be incredible.
How have things changed for you guys since attracting the attention of traditionally mainstream outlets?
Well it’s opened a lot of doors, as far as awareness of the band. People are discovering the band and now a lot more people are showing up at the shows. We’ve had a good run at radio here and we’re really grateful for that, because if you’re going to have a career in music these days, you need to have success at radio. We’ve been really fortunate in the support we’ve got from radio. But we’re also so wrapped up in our cocoon that you don’t really see it until you get away from it for a second to appreciate all the stages we’ve grown through and the heights that we’ve achieved, so it’s really cool.
So is the biggest change in the people? The fans?
Yeah, we’re getting recognized a lot more. You’ll be sitting in a McDonald’s or something and someone will come up and say, “Whoa! You’re from that band!” But that’s cool. It’s something that we’ve always dreamed of, but you never really know if it’s going to happen. But now it’s happening and it’s exciting.
Is it what you thought it was going to be?
Well I didn’t exactly know. As far as the fantasy goes, some of it is happening and some of it’s different, but I’m enjoying the ride, man. I wouldn’t change one second of it. There are highs and lows like everything else, but what a cool life experience.
A lot of readers underestimate how hard it is to be on the road.
Yeah,I imagine a lot of people at the end of their eight hour work day, they go home and lay down on their couch or whatever, but we get in the bus with each other and ride to the next state. It’s a little challenging, because we’re older and set in our ways, so after a certain amount of time, the way someone eats their cereal will annoy you. You have to learn how to process things and understand what it really means, and you’ve got to have a sense of humor, which we all seem to have. There’s times when we want to get away from each other, but that’s natural. This is great though. It’s like camp and we’re little kids in the candy store, having a great time. We have a great opportunity here. Things are going well and I don’t want to say that we should be role models, but we’re in a position of responsibility and we don’t need to be the rock and roll cliche, you know what I mean? I’ve certainly tried it, and it’s fun for awhile, but that’s not a smart way to live, or a healthy way to live. I like to be alive man, to enjoy this thing.
You guys have already started songwriting for the next album?
Yeah, we brought a little portable studio out with us, because we have a lot of free time on our hands, and rather than putting that energy in a dark zone, we want to put it in a positive zone and get some work done. Why not? We’re going to have to write a record at some point and we like making music, so anytime we get inspired to put down an idea we set up the portable studio in one of these rooms and throw down some stuff.
Can anyone jump in?
Yeah, we’ll jam around or someone will bring something in, but there’s really no set way. It usually goes through everyone’s filter and doesn’t make it onto the record without that happening. That’s pretty much the Death Punch thing.
How important is it to you to address the fans’ expectations when you’re writing music?
I don’t want to sound selfish, but I think that we make records for us. We make records that we care about and that we get off on, and if that happens, we’re lucky enough to have a fan base that gets off on what we get off on, so that’s kind of how that works. There are certain things that I want to feel when I’m listening to a record. I don’t want ten songs in the same style, like AC/DC. They’re incredible at it, but I like to have a journey–a whole roller coaster ride of emotions when you listen to a record–I like emotional ballads, and I also like stuff that tears you a new asshole. To me, it’s whatever I’m feeling at the time.
At Epicenter, you guys stopped the show when someone got kicked out, which revealed your unique bond with your fans. What does that mean to you?
Well it’s everything because without your fan base, you don’t have the ability to have a career. We make music for ourselves, first and foremost, but we have an audience that appreciates us, so you want to give back and make sure they’re taken care of. We were all fans at rock shows, we know how it goes. Sometimes you get a little over-aggressive, but it’s all in good fun and for the most part, most people help each other out, but there are always a few people who maybe drank too much or did too many ‘roids or whatever, and they’re having a bad moment, and that’s part of the deal. So Ivan’s gonna look out for people. He doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. We don’t want their experience at a Death Punch show to be an injury. If you can blow off some steam and leave here positive, that’s cool.
To me, there are two kinds of music–good and bad. I like songs that get right to the point. I’ve gone through phases with progressive stuff, where it’s all over the map, and I like that too but for the most part I like songs with hooks and memorable topics. Songs that I can relate to. I think a lot of people can write something that confuses someone, but try writing something that has an impact on a lot of people. Once you’ve done that once, then come back and talk about how cool it is to be confusing (laughs). We have a joke where we’ll say, “Oh, you threw in a bar of five there. Wait ‘till the audience gets ahold of that…” (laughs).
Do people pick up on that stuff?
All I know is that I watch people’s body language. They’ll be bobbing back and forth and then you’ll see a band throw in an odd bar, and suddenly they’re all confused. “When do I put my foot back down? Where’s that beat that we had?” To me, if you can bob your head up and down to it or pump your fist to it and it’s working, stick with it. It doesn’t have to be calculus.
So you’ve got the expectations that come with success. Does that put a weight on you guys at all?
I noticed that during the making of American Capitalist, I felt a little pressure because we had just come off two gold records and everyone was watching to see what’s the next move. We were really critical on ourselves and I’m really happy with the way it turned out. We released the first single, “Under and Over It,” and it was received really well on the radio—top five—and I was a little relieved. Now I just look at it as if we write something that’s honest and that we believe in, that’s all we can control, because the climate in the music industry changes and tastes change and you just have to stick with whatever you like and if you’re into it, that’s all that matters. Everything else is a bonus.
Where was the studio pressure coming from? Within or from the outside?
Well, I felt that people were expecting a lot out of us. I know I was personally expecting a lot out of us, so I probably fed off my mind and whatever I was feeling from the outside, but once we started rolling, we had some songs that had to go through our filter a lot to get reworked but at the end of the day, I think what we came out with was a solid third effort, and it was well-received, so I can’t complain. And we get to keep going, so that’s all I can ask for.
Will it be possible to approach the new album without a mindset of, “How are we going to meet expectations?”
I’ll have to remind myself how this process worked the last time, but at the end of the day you just have to keep your head down and keep focused on what’s coming out of you and if you’re into it. If it feels right in your gut and your head and your ears, that’s all that matters. Some people aren’t gonna like it. That’s OK–it’s not for everyone. If they get off on dogging your music and hating on it, hey, I understand. It’s an adrenaline rush for them and it’s an outlet, so cool, but I don’t really get wrapped up in hating on bands. Like I said, to me there are two kinds of music, good and bad, and if I don’t like it, I don’t listen to it.
Photo courtesy of Kaley Nelson