This summer, Five Finger Death Punch co-headlined (with Rob Zombie) the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and saw its latest album, “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell Volume 1,” debut at number two on the Billboard charts (behind pop star Robin Thicke). And they’re just getting started. A full North American headlining tour is set for the fall, followed by a European run with Avenged Sevenfold, and “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell Volume 2” is set to be released Nov. 19. When the Mayhem Festival came to Camden, New Jersey, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down with guitarist Zoltan Bathory for a lengthy chat about all things Death Punch. In volume one of this interview, Zoltan discusses touring, specifically the band’s history with the Mayhem Festival and the ever-growing Five Finger live show. In volume two, the discussion turns to the new album and the challenges that came with it.
LIVE METAL: This is your third time on Mayhem. You went from the second stage to opening the main stage, and now you’re one of the headliners.
ZOLTAN BATHORY: We did grow up sort of in the Mayhem umbrella. Mayhem started that (first) year. Side stage, Porta Potties, no showers. If you got water, you were lucky. But that was the first year of Mayhem, and that was our first bigger exposure to bigger crowds. We had 10,000-12,000 sometimes front of the stage and just 30 minutes out in the sun, just fucking killing all. And because of the reactions we got there, this band just connected to people immediately, and that kind of won us the opening slot.
I remember John Reese, who runs the festival, coming over, and he says, “Holy shit, I’ve never seen anything like that before.” We were in New Mexico, actually, when it happened. We got hit with a torrential rain. It was just brutal. Imagine the hole in the bass drum. The rain was coming onto the stage, and on the hole that’s not big, enough water went into the bass drum that it was like a couple of inches. It was insane. The crowd didn’t go anywhere, and we didn’t stop playing until literally it became dangerous and our amps started to spark. But we wouldn’t stop. An amplifier dies, and we keep going. Then the second guitar dies, and we were like, “OK, well, we can’t play anymore.” And that was the day that those guys came over and were like, “Holy shit, man. What the hell was that?” It sort of was the door-opener for the main stage. That’s when they said they were gonna give us a slot there. So that’s how we got on the main stage.
Then what we did on that one was we pissed of all of our accountants. We blew all the money on production, whatever we had. So we showed up and we had a couple truckloads of material, and that’s a lot of shit for a band that’s opening on the main stage. If you remember, Lamb of God was playing right after us, and Randy (Blythe) was like, “What the fuck, guys?” (laughs) Because we showed up, literally, with a couple of trucks of stage gear and these rocket launchers, and we had two scissor lifts. We employ a lot of veterans as our bus drivers, guitar techs, whatnot, because somebody needs to take care of these guys. So we would have a couple of soldiers that were real Army Rangers, veterans, standing in a scissor lift coming up with the flags. It was a big show. So that was the second time Mayhem was looking at us like, “Holy shit, man.” They knew that this band brings a show.
Metal bands today can’t really afford all that shit. And the reason we can afford it is we blow all our money on it. We go home from these tours not making shit. It’s like, my life is now. Do I have to collect my coins for my older days? Probably, I should, but right now, this is the life we wanted. So let’s do it the way we want it to happen instead of looking at it like it’s a job, like you go, make a little money and put it in your piggybank. That’s not the idea. The idea is, this is rock ‘n’ roll, let’s fuck shit up. Let’s build the biggest stage we can, let’s blow as much pyro as we can, because once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. I can look back at my life and say, “Yeah, we did Trespass America, we had five trucks worth of lights.” That’s a lot of stage gear and lights. It’s happening right now, and I can look back at the videos, and fuck, man, we did that.
Rob Zombie’s a very visual show. Before that, I think they had Manson, Slayer, Slipknot a couple of times. All these bands usually bring a big, big fucking show, and compared to those bands, we are a new band. But because we have sacrificed, because we did all those things, we kind of climbed the ladder of getting to the ranks of bands that people come to see and they know that we’re gonna bring a show. And Mayhem knew. So they paired us with Zombie, because they knew Five Finger will bring five trucks worth of shit and they will bring lights and this and that and rocket launchers and whatnot, and it’s a good pair.
Is this the biggest stage you’ve done so far?
This is a little bit different. I would say Trespass America was bigger, but there was one restriction: We’re not closing the show. So we would do the same exact thing, but we would have video walls everywhere. Video walls, we don’t use like other bands. We don’t hang it behind us. We stagger them in a way that when a picture comes together, it creates almost a 3-D environment. I don’t want to project fire behind us—like, “Woohoo, they’re in hell.” It’s ridiculous. We would project things that are visually pleasing but create some kind of an environment. We used to have that spinning logo, almost like it was a news broadcast. Or we would turn the whole stage into the Notre Dame cathedral. Because the walls were in different positions, we would project the walls of Notre Dame on it, and then, these video walls are mesh, they’re not solid, so you can shoot lights through them from behind. So we would project the Notre Dame cathedral and where the big windows are, we would put lights behind them, so it actually looks like you’re in a cathedral with the light coming in the windows.
But we can’t do that in a show where—believe it or not, as big as our show is, it has to come off stage in seven minutes. The set change is supposed to be 15 minutes, so I have seven minutes to get the fuck off stage, and those guys have seven minutes to get on stage.
How many people does it take?
About 40. So that’s what happens. But what you don’t see is, because I have so many people, I have so many trucks, so many buses—those are all employees that have to be specialists that are high-paid technicians, because that’s their job. When it’s loading time, they have to get on stage. Then when it’s done, they have to get off stage in seven minutes. So all that shit comes off in seven minutes, and you can’t do that with just a couple of people. And I have to have buses to carry all these people. So that’s why when you show up here, you have a convoy.
But anyway, this stage is about the same size, just with different elements, because we couldn’t do certain things because there’s a band behind us. On Trespass America, we were the last band. And even though we are co-headliners, there is a band behind us. So I can’t have heavy structures like video walls hung, because there’s no way that I can get it off in seven minutes. So that restricted us.
Another thing is we knew what Zombie was bringing. If you go and play with Rammstein, don’t bring pyro. You’re gonna look stupid. Those guys are gonna blow a million dollars worth of pyro, and there’s no way you can compete with that, so don’t do it. We knew that Zombie was gonna have the video walls and this and that, so we were like, OK, let’s do something different, because what’s the point of doing the same thing but ours has to be smaller because it has to be mobile? So we opted to build these big metal structures—they’re really heavy-duty metal carts. If you look closely, it’s almost like cathedral windows, but everything is made out of weapons. When you really come close to it, you see M-16 machine guns and grenades. From far away, it looks like a church. There is a point to that. I think if you make it out of cardboard or wood, you can tell. So when you look at the stage, I think you get the feeling that it’s robust. What gives that robust feeling is that it’s all sheet metal, heavy metal panels, and everything on that stage, there’s not a single piece of wood.
I’m sure you’ve probably thought about a full live DVD/Blu-ray. Is that something that might happen at some point?
Yeah, probably. We have a video crew with us. We realized that we played some insane shows. We did things that I wish I had footage of it. We incited four or five riots that we got our hands slapped for. Kansas City—National Guard, police, Marines and the security were trying to stop what just started. It was raining, and we had a crowd of 55,000 people. Anybody out in Kansas—guys, that was awesome. You never seen anything like it. It was a full-on riot. They picked up the sod, and all you see is mud and sod flying in the air—55,000 people covered in mud, falling over the barricade, and literally, I had National Guard standing on stage to at least stop them from getting on stage. That was beautiful. And I don’t have footage of it. You can find some shit on YouTube, but no professional footage.
The other one was Download. We used to do this “Come up here and shake Ivan’s hand.” In Columbus, Ohio, we had 35,000 people—35,000 people going into complete mayhem is beautiful. Thousands of people flying over the barricades, and security can barely catch up. It’s somewhat dangerous, because if you don’t get caught, you can fall hard. Since then, every time we go there, quadruple security. We have this stigma. Our insurance quadrupled, and anywhere we go, it’s like, “Oh fuck, these fucking guys are coming.” Organizers are always afraid, but we’re like, “We’re not gonna do it.” But then we do it anyway.
So we show up at Download Festival—same shit. We’re like, “Alright, let’s do this.” But there’s 90,000 people. It’s a much, much bigger crowd than is controllable. So in the history of Download Festival—there was something that happened like this in 1972 with Iggy Pop maybe—but other than that, we’re the first band—they had to pull the plug. They had to shut down the PA. Cops, organizers ran on stage. “OK, guys. A, you stop this and help us stop this riot, or B, you guys are done, never coming back here, going to jail. Which one is it gonna be?” So we’re like, “Can we toss a coin?” (laughs) We were like, “You know what, the food is bad in England as is. Jail food is probably worse. Nah, I’m on a diet.” I’m just kidding. So Ivan gets on the microphone and starts screaming, “Everybody stop! Get the fuck out of the photo pit!” There were 5,000 people in the photo pit in a minute. So that’s always beautiful.
But we realized we never had a video crew to document this. So now we have one on the road and record every fucking stupid shit that happens, and hopefully we’ll put it together. People don’t know us personally. And I don’t blame people for that—they go on the internet—“Who the fuck do these guys think they are?” Once you would see what happens backstage, once you would see what all of us are about and what we do, then you would understand. Fans, especially the hardcore fans that are close to us, they know us personally. They know who we are. They’ve been around for five, six, seven years and got to hang, got to talk. We make fun of fucking everything. It’s a comedy show. Maybe we should switch to comedy on the next record. Stand-up comedy—more like sit-down, I’m lazy. (laughs) We just make fun of everything. The more shit you talk, the harder we laugh at it. OK, and your point is? We are doing here what we dreamt of doing our whole life. You are typing shit on the internet. Awesome! We both have beautiful lives, don’t we?! You got to talk shit. Woohoo! Somebody can put on your gravestone “He was a great blogger.” In the second you talked shit, I already discarded you.
Anybody with an ounce of intelligence doesn’t have time for that. How does that come to your mind? I’m gonna go to this website, talk about a band I don’t like … What happens in your head and how did you get all this time? I get up, and I’m busy. I have two different martial arts trainings every day, then we do a million interviews, I get to play a show … I’m learning to be a pilot, navigating a boat. I don’t have enough time in 24 hours for the shit I want to do. Who are you? What do you do that you have this time to read about shit you don’t care about and then comment and go back and forth with this? How do you have the time for this?
Yeah, I want to put my energy into things that I like—positive things.
Right? But how I look at it, I don’t have time to read it. Sometimes I look at it and I laugh a little bit, and I’m like, “OK, people are as stupid as they used to be.” But it makes me think, “You just wasted your time writing that while I’m busy getting something done. So you’re already a step behind by doing that.” … If people know us personally, they would understand that most of the things they react to, either it was a sort of sarcasm or humor or joke or a point that we did purposely to piss off some people. And most likely, they just didn’t get the joke. Every single one of us has a college education or better. This is not your two-digit-IQ band. Nothing’s by accident. As every other band, we do stupid shit sometimes just for the sake of doing stupid shit. But most of these things are not accidental. Most of these things are figured out and thought out.