INTERVIEW: Zoltan Bathory of FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH (February 2012)

Five Finger Death Punch just might be the hottest American metal band in 2012. With its most recent album, American Capitalist, debuting last fall at number three on the Billboard Top 200 and singles “Under and Over It” and “Remember Everything” burning up the airwaves, the group continues to reach new heights. Live Metal has supported the band from the beginning, and guitarist Zoltan Bathory recently took time out from planning the group’s summer activities to talk to Greg Maki about the new album, his perspective on Internet haters and more.

LIVE METAL: To start off the year, you’ve had a little bit of a break from touring, but knowing you, I’m sure you’ve been busy. What have you been up to the past couple months?


ZOLTAN BATHORY: We’ve been planning, pretty much, for summer. We want to put on a big, big, big event for the summer, and these things take a lot of time because you have to assemble a good lineup, the perfect bands, and then you have to figure out production. Believe or not, but these things take a long fucking time. You have to really start hammering away months and months prior. So the last couple months have been us planning, talking to bands, looking at who’s gonna be on the big summer tours and starting to design the production for it.

Are you starting to get that itch like you want to get out there and start playing some shows again?

When you’re on the road for six weeks, when it’s a proper tour, you’re like, I kind of want to go home now. Week eight, that’s when you start to get tired. Week nine, you’re contemplating killing one of your band members. Week 10, you probably start buying up weapons. Eleven, you’re plotting. (laughter) Just kidding. When you’re on the road, you kind of want to go home after a while, just because you want to sleep in your own bed. But once you’re home, you give it three days and you are itching. If it’s three months, you’re really itching. The grass is always greener on the other side.

You don’t have too much longer to go before you head out on a West Coast and Canadian tour. You’ve got Soulfly coming out with you. That’s got to be pretty exciting. Do you know Max (Cavalera) already and were you a big Sepultura fan?

We’ve played with those guys a couple times here and there. Everybody’s a big fan of his work. I guess we are sort of in a position that we play for pretty big crowds and we can decide what kind of bands we want to go out with. You want to expose bands that you like or you think people should be aware of or should listen to. We thought it was a great package. As I said, everybody’s a big fan of his work, from Sepultura, Soulfly—it’s gonna be awesome. It’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.

Pretty much ever since Death Punch started out, your live show has gotten bigger and bigger. How important is that to you, to give the fans more than just the music?

The visuals can’t take the place of music. You have to have music, you have to have CDs done that people collect. So music is always number one. But I do believe that if you put on a big live show, you’re kind of generating something that people want to experience. It’s not the same old thing of a couple guys jumping around with their guitars onstage; it’s much more evolved than that. You get a scenario where you become sort of a show band, like Rammstein or Rob Zombie. There are few bands—Slipknot—who, wherever they play, they bring a big show that you just have to see. There’s a big difference when you’re talking about an event and you say, “I saw Slipknot,” or when something crazy fucking happens and you go, “Man, I was there when that happened!”

There’s a big difference because one of them is just seeing an event and another one is when you’re talking about an experience and it’s important that you were there. I think those bands who are putting up big live shows, they generate these situations. They’re not just the music, but other sensory experiences. I think it’s very important. It’s probably, I would say, one of the key elements of survival today in this industry. Bands are just not selling records. Downloading is killing everyone. The fight for survival is just that much more vicious, and it’s just that much more difficult for everybody. So I think it’s absolutely important.

At the show I saw last fall, I was a little surprised that only two new songs were in the set list. Are you gonna be adding more for the shows coming up?

The thing about that, especially when you come out with a new record, is you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t, because now we have three records, and we have plenty of material. So any given show we play, there’s gonna be somebody complaining about some songs that we didn’t play. It’s just what it is.

Basically, we have to assemble a set that makes sense. You have to really look at what happens and when it happens, and it is important. You can’t put three slower songs next to each other because you don’t have time and it creates a hole in your set. It’s really a sensitive thing, what song comes after another, how the energy goes. You have to know the reaction of the crowd. You have to know where it’s going energy-wise. So when we assemble these things, that’s always a question, what songs we can and cannot play because of the distribution of the songs and the distribution of the energy. And then when you have a new record, people don’t know it yet. People want to rock out to the songs that they already know and love, and when you’re putting in a new one, it’s kind of like a mixed bag. The hardcore fans, of course, they want to see it, they want to experience it because it’s new. And there are fans that just don’t know the songs yet or they don’t have the record yet. You have to consider that because if you’re playing a song that’s not familiar, it’s not gonna get the reaction. The reaction is contagious. You want to keep the show crazy. You want to keep it high-energy.

Right now, we’re thinking about throwing “Remember Everything” into the set, but if you put in “Remember Everything,” then I have to take out “Far from Home” because both of them are kind of similar speed ballads, and two ballads in the set is maybe too many. So you’ve gotta decide which one you’re gonna play. “Far from Home,” we can play it a cappella and the entire audience sings it, and it’s such a powerful moment. So how are you gonna take that away from the crowd? But at the same time, if I put in another slow song, I’ll have two really slow ones in there.

I don’t know yet how it’s gonna pan out. We’re planning the tour now, what songs we’re gonna play. It’s very possible we’ll throw something else in there from the new one. It’s still a question mark.

Speaking of “Remember Everything,” the video for that just came out. It’s more of a short film than a typical music video. Whose idea was it to do it like that, with the band members only showing up in cameos?

Well, the complete story of how these videos happen, people don’t really see the other side of what really happens from our perspective. The platforms for videos kind of went away. There is no MTV, at least not playing music videos. So to make a good music video became an expensive thing that doesn’t necessarily make much sense anymore. From our perspective, we have to make a video and it’s gonna be expensive. We didn’t want to make another video with us jumping around and guitars, pretending to be playing. You have to do it, but it’s kind of annoying. It’s not cool.

Even our previous video, “Under and Over It,” when that happened, we didn’t really want to shoot the video. The label was saying, “You guys have to shoot the video.” So we were like, “Fuck it. We’re gonna just party and record it.” So that’s how that whole thing happened. We kind of made fun of a bunch of things. We were like, “Let’s just have fun with it.” Then this came up, we were like, “We really don’t want to shoot another video.” So we came up with the idea of what if we’re not in the video? Let’s make a story, let’s make a little movie. And that’s what we did. It was kind of the whole band’s idea. The director is basically a movie/TV director, so he was the perfect guy.

You mentioned the last video, “Under and Over It.” From that song and some comments you’ve made in interviews over the past few months, you’re really confronting the haters that you usually find on websites hiding behind screen names. Do you take that kind of thing personally or are you just having fun with it?

Let me tell you a story about that. First of all, it’s kind of ridiculous. I’m doing what I love to do, and the kind of music we play is the kind of music we love. So anybody who has a problem with that: Do you do what you like to do? You can criticize something, and you can have artistic opinions. You have the right to go ahead and write your own music the way you like it.

It just happened so that somebody sent me an interview or something that was on one of these websites that gets all the talk. So I’m reading it, and first of all, it’s comments on something that is sort of out of context. I’m reading these kids posting shit like, “These guys should die!”—just the stupidest fucking thing, right? While I’m about to shut this down because I’m like, this is stupid, I get a phone call from my tour manager, Brandon. He tells me that some lady knocked on his door and asked him, “Are you Brandon?” He was like, “Yeah.” “Are you the tour manager of Five Finger Death Punch?” He was like, “Yeah.” And the lady broke down crying, hugged Brandon and handed him a letter, and says, “I want you to have this. This is a letter from my son. This is the last letter he ever wrote, and he sent it from Iraq. After he wrote this letter, the next day, he was killed in action.”

This soldier sent this letter to his mom, and it was more important to her to give it to us. The soldier wrote in his letter how happy he was that this band he just saw—he met us, he came to the meet-and-greet in Iraq. He was saying how difficult life is over there, but that we came over and played a show and met them and shook their hands, how much it meant to him and how much it made his life easier and gave him hope and helped him forget about the day-to-day shit he had to deal with. He basically said these things in the letter and how they’re not completely forgotten. There are bands, there are people who didn’t forget and people that are supporting them. And the next day, this guy got killed in action. And his mom brought this letter over to my tour manager; he framed it and it’s on his wall.

Now, tell me again that I give a shit about some people talking shit to me on the Internet. These are the things that matter. These are things that are important, and do I really care about some people that never accomplished a goddamn thing in their lives talking some shit? Even though I didn’t really give a shit before, now I really don’t give a shit. Go and do something with your life.

That song that you referred to was (vocalist) Ivan (Moody) lashing out. There are things so many times that because you read it on the Internet, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. I saw interviews before I never gave. Shit happens. People will say anything for attention. Back in the day when you had printed magazines, a magazine can’t afford to say things that are inaccurate because they can get sued. On the Internet, you can say anything. So that’s what the song was about. It gave us a good theme for a song. I think it’s a good song, so we win.

The new album is “American Capitalist.” Especially considering your background and where you come from, what does that term, American capitalist, mean to you?

Every time when you take a rock band, you’re gonna have the assumption that these guys talking about capitalism or anything is gonna be a lashing out at the system. Yes, there are problems, there are issues in politics that are not cool or even acceptable. There are those, but does that mean the whole world is corrupt, everybody’s an asshole? I don’t think so.

When you really think about it, everybody in this country right now is trying to be successful one way or another. If you work hard, you’re working on whatever you’re working on, and after years of toil, maybe your company grows that you start to have employees. And then maybe you have a company finally that you have many employees. You become “the man.” Now, because you’ve worked hard your whole life and you’ve built the company, it’s OK to say, “Fuck this guy. He’s ‘the man.’ Let’s tear him down.” That doesn’t make sense. Everybody’s trying to be successful. Everybody’s trying to do something right.

So “American Capitalist” was the idea of this. It was the idea of where did this stupidity come from that success nowadays is being toned down? Even if you’re a band, if you’re successful, automatically you’re called a sellout. If you build a company and are successful, you immediately gain a bunch of haters. And everybody wants to be that guy. Everybody wants to own things. They just don’t want to work for it.

So “American Capitalist” is sort of playing with these ideas. Every song has, obviously, its own theme, but these ideas are reoccurring and coming back and forth on the entire record.

It also has the aspect of Survivalism, Survivalism in an urban setting, Survivalism in modern civilization. I’ve been misquoted so many times about that—the lions and all of that shit. What I said about that was you can choose to be the lion or the zebra, but really what I am saying is in nature, the lions maul the fucking zebras. That’s just what it is. Nobody complains. It is what it is. That’s what I’m saying. It’s been turned inside out. People lifted lines out of it and made it the stupid headlines.

But I really do believe there is a Survivalism in urban settings that’s really, really similar to the way nature works, and capitalism is kind of the closest to nature in that sense. You can’t be a communist; you can’t go to the animals of the wild and say, “Hey, tiger, you have to make up with the bunny. I know that want to maul him, but you guys have got to be equal.” The other systems won’t work because it’s unnatural. Capitalism—is it perfect? No, but it’s the closest thing you’ve got to nature. There’s nothing wrong with success. It’s OK to achieve things.

This is the second album you’ve done with Jason Hook in the band. How did the increased familiarity between the two of you play into the writing and recording?

I’m a big fan of Jason’s playing. When we got Jason, we already knew him. (Drummer) Jeremy (Spencer) played with him for long, long years, and I played with him a little bit on his solo album. He was, both personally and musically, the perfect match. It sort of came to a working relationship, how we work. We’re very close friends, but we also have a mutual respect for each other’s playing and what we do best. Jason, for example, is an awesome, awesome lead guitar player. He plays awesome leads. I’m not gonna compete with that. I’m gonna go, “Jason, do the leads,” because he’s so fucking good. When it comes to the meaty, heavy, heavy rhythm shit, that’s my specialty.


We sort of coincide in the music. It’s just so much easier to work with somebody that is not competing. There are no egos, none of that shit. We’re both on the same team. We want the best for the songs. Whoever comes up with the best idea, that’s what goes. And that’s pretty much the happiest way to work with other musicians.

I will say this: Bands that are out there trying to get somewhere and struggling, sometimes you have to really look at what’s important and not important. And keeping your personal relationship healthy with your band members is actually much more important than maybe a stupid part in a song. You have to look at it like you’re gonna write many, many more songs. If you start to bicker and argue about little things when you’re writing songs, you end up stepping on egos, you end up hurting people, you end up arguing, you end up not liking each other. Eventually, your band will suffer or break up. So I think in our careers, in our long years that we’ve been doing this, even before this band, that’s what we learned. You have to pick your battles.

Chris Kael, your new bass player, came into the band after the album was done. You’ve gotten to play a lot of shows with him now, so how long did it take to get comfortable playing with him, and what does he bring to the band?

We got him after the record was done, and the reason for that was we just came off the road and started to plan and work on the new record, and that’s when we parted with Matt (Snell). We didn’t want it to become sort of a media circus. When something like that happens, everybody’s calling and not just press. So we kind of left it alone and just concentrated on the record. So that’s why he came into the band after we finished the record.

We didn’t do wide-range auditions, so to speak. We consulted a couple friends. That’s what you do generally because you want to make sure you have the right guy. And he was the right guy. Very humble. He knew our drum tech really well; they grew up together, so that’s how we knew him. He’s a really hard-working guy. I’m really happy with his stage performance. And personally, we all get along really well.

Just recently, the band got four Golden Gods nominations, and you’ve gotten other awards and nominations over the years. What does that kind of recognition mean to you?

It’s always an honor to get these things because you need some sort of recognition. So it’s an honor to have the nominations. But after that, it’s pretty much gonna come down to your fans. It’s a public voting system, so winning or not winning an award is like how hardcore your fan base is, and on that level, the Death Punch fans are fucking crazy. For us, first and foremost, it’s always gonna be about the song and about the music, about saying something that’s connecting to people, about our personal connection to the fans, and these things, they’re the gravy.

This band’s been around for five years or so now. Where do you see yourself in another five years?

We’re always trying for bigger and bigger live shows. We have material already for the next record. So basically, it’s writing records and trying to build bigger shows, build more excitement, build bigger, bigger and crazier things.


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