Rock stardom wasn’t quite what Five Finger Death Punch drummer Jeremy Spencer thought it would be. While the band was on a quick ascent to the top of the metal mountain, he was descending into a personal hell of drugs and alcohol. Partying became his life, taking over so much that he dreaded his time on stage doing the only job he had ever wanted. It took a trip close to the edge for Spencer to decide to turn his life around and get the help he needed. Part of his therapy included putting his story on paper, a story that recently was published in his book, “Death Punch’d: Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem.” Spencer pulls no punches and takes himself to task more than anyone else as he details what led him to where he is today. Now approaching three years of sobriety, he’s healthy and focused as Death Punch, supporting its two 2013 releases (“The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell” volumes one and two), gears up for a co-headlining tour with Volbeat and looks ahead to its next album. Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with Spencer to talk about the book, his sobriety, the tour and more.
LIVE METAL: Just last week, your book, “Death Punch’d,” came out. It’s obviously very different from anything you’ve done before. How did you feel opening up and putting yourself out there for anyone to see?
JEREMY SPENCER: At first, I was thinking, “Man, this is gritty. It’s gonna be out there,” you know? But I really felt good about it, because I started writing it just for therapeutic purposes for myself. I know that there are gonna be some people that don’t like what they read, and you can’t really control that. I just kind of needed to process some of this stuff that I hadn’t dealt with throughout my life, and it was a really good way to do that. So I’m proud of it, and I think that a lot of the stuff I’ve gone through, while it was negative at the time and did some damage, I think it was important that I went through it just, because it forced me to take a look at myself and issues I probably wouldn’t have dealt with had I been sober. So it’s a blessing in that way, because it’s kind of helped develop me to get to where I am now. I’m in a really good place.
It seems to have gotten a really positive reaction so far. How does that make you feel?
That’s excellent. I’ve received emails from people saying, “My dad read it, and he’s even gonna quit drinking now.” Stuff like that makes you feel good. If there’s stuff that’s in there that’s relatable that might help somebody take a look at what they’ve got going on and try to work on it, then I think that’s cool. I certainly understand the negative that can come with it and people going, “What do we need another rock ‘n’ roll book for, especially from this dude that’s in a band that’s been out like seven, eight years?” (laughs) But it wasn’t about an ego story, like, “Check out all the debauchery I did.” It was never about that. It was about me kind of healing some stuff that I needed to get out.
As you were writing, was it hard to go back and relive parts of this?
There were a few moments in there where I was reading about how I hurt my parents when I was younger, and that was tough to read. It definitely choked me up. I’ve reached out to them, and we’ve talked about all that stuff again, even though we lived it once already. I think everything is in a lot better place now. I think there’s been some healing that’s taken place. It’s just been a real positive thing overall.
As you said, you started writing this as therapy. When did you realize that it was good enough to be published?
Well, I started writing anytime I had downtime, right after rehab. Even out on tour, on the bus, I would write. I started compiling a lot of words. I would be reviewing my work, and it started making me laugh. I just thought it was kind of interesting, so I sent it over to my dad to get his take on it. He was like, “I actually think you have something here that could be a benefit to people, but if you release it in this raw form, you’re probably gonna be ostracized.” (laughs) “Why don’t you let me help you with some revisions?” So he kind of helped me, and then I sent it to management. They thought it was really good, so then they sent it out and actually helped me shop it and land the book deal, which I wasn’t really planning on happening. But it did happen, and I am really grateful.
You obviously have some talent for it. Had you written previously?
Not really. I wouldn’t say I was trying to write. I’ve written blogs and stuff like that but never really intended trying to do a full book or anything like that. So I would say no. (laughs)
I found one of the more surprising and remarkable parts of the story is how after the addictions took over when you were a teenager, you got clean and stayed that way throughout the whole period where you were struggling out there in L.A. trying to make it as a musician. How were you able to do that for so long?
I honestly don’t know. It was tough. I wasn’t considering really using during that time, but I was definitely depressed for a lot of it, because I wasn’t really working on issues I was having. I was just kind of living without using. They call that a “dry drunk.” I wasn’t in a good headspace. I was really depressed, and I felt really isolated. So I did struggle, and I think part of that was, after a while, I was like, “Man, how come everyone else gets to have a beer or party, and I have to take all this sober? I would just love to have a glass of wine. I think I can handle it now. I’m older. I was using when I was young.” So that’s when the thinking started, and then when I took that first sip, I went on the freight train downward real fast.
Do you ever play the “what if” game, like what if you hadn’t had that glass of wine? Or would something else have happened at some point?
I really haven’t thought of it like that. I think what’s supposed to happen is going to. But it’s been a blessing, because it’s forced me to look at a lot of things that I wouldn’t have looked at, for sure. Almost throwing your life down the toilet and having it come to an end definitely kind of shakes you awake and can get your attention. I really just felt like I was tired of living in such a horrible, dark place with all this great stuff happening. So I was like, all right, it’s time to man up and address this stuff. I’m really glad I did, man.
A couple other things from the book. The first time I saw you guys play live and met you guys was on the Family Values tour. At the time, I had no idea what the conditions were for the second stage bands—no showers, no water and all that. How hard was it to get through that?
It was pretty tough, but since it was our first tour, I was just loving it, man. I was just going with it. I didn’t really know that it was supposed to be better conditions. (laughs) But whenever you’re in Atlanta or Texas in August, it does get a little tough not being able to shower. That’s just part of it. That’s OK. We got through it, and I had the time of my life on that tour.
Another thing I found really interesting and I liked, I think you called it a “sermon” about how it’s about the song and you need radio play to survive as a band. Can you talk a little bit about that part?
I’ve certainly seen a share of negative comments about “This band is just a sell-out band. They’re fabricated. It’s a radio band. A major label put them together.” It was never like that for us. We’re on an indie label. It’s us and Korn; we’re the only two bands. We were the only band forever on this label. We made a record before we had any help at all. (Guitarist) Zoltan (Bathory) and I started tracking the record before we even had a full band. So we just did everything we wanted to do. I thought we made a record that was what I wanted to hear and what I wanted to play. It became obvious that after “The Bleeding” broke at radio, they were like, “We would love to play something else, but we can’t exactly play ‘Way of the Fist,’” because (laughs) it’s all double bass and F-bombs. They’re like, “It would be great if you could have something else to play.” It was this weird spot for us, but we just decided, “Hey, let’s write something that we like that could still work for what they’re asking for.” So we came up with “Never Enough,” which is one of our fan favorites, especially when we play it live. It sounds like Death Punch, yet it’s not brutal enough to where they’re not gonna play it.
It’s important these days to have radio supporting you, because it helps set up your tours and it just brings more awareness to everything that’s going on. It’s really tough to sell records these days. It seems like the bands that are having success at radio are definitely selling more records. But it’s actually not always the case, because I see some bands that have number one singles that sell 60,000 copies of their album. So it just depends on the situation. But I’ve definitely found that since we’ve had a lot of success and push at radio that a lot more people have heard of our band, especially when we released “Bad Company,” that cover. That’s when awareness of the band went way up.
If you could point to one thing, what would you say is the single biggest factor in you getting, and now staying, sober?
Just wanting to. It always comes down to that. You have to want to. Nobody can say, “Hey, man, you have a problem, and you probably need to address it.” It doesn’t matter what anyone says. You have to want to first and foremost. And then it’s not gonna be easy. There’s gonna be super-challenging times. But I really wanted to be sober, because I knew what I would’ve did if I don’t. If I party, I know the end result. When I relapsed the first time, I didn’t know, because I thought, “The first time, I was so young when I was using. I can probably handle it now.” But now that I’ve relapsed and saw where that was going, there’s just no way I could ever do that again; otherwise, I know that it’s over for me.
I went into treatment first and foremost, and then I hooked up with a therapist that I’m still in contact with daily. So that’s really helping me. I read stuff, and I do some mental exercises. It’s low maintenance, but it helps me get through, it helps me stay in a positive place, and that’s what’s really working for me. I’m not saying I have the answer, but I know what’s working for me right now.
What do you do to occupy all the time you used to spend partying?
I like to create music, and I like to create other things. I’m a creative person, so I’m always busy with some project. I try to take care of myself and work out and be healthy. Death Punch takes up so much of the time that there’s really no time to think about going to the dark side. (laughs)
You’ve got the big co-headlining tour with Volbeat coming up really soon. I understand that’s something the bands have been talking about doing for a while.
Yeah, the fans have been asking for it for a few years now, and it just never lined up until now. I think it’s perfect timing, and I think we have a great bill. We’re friends with Hellyeah; we’ve done a few tours with those guys. Nothing More is this really cool, up-and-coming band, I think. I really enjoy their record; I think it’s a cool, fresh sound. I think it’s going to be a really good tour, man.
This is really the first proper U.S. headlining tour since the new albums came out last year. Are you going to bring out the full production and everything?
It’s looking like there’s gonna be some cool bells and whistles out there, yes. I’m excited, for sure. And I know Volbeat’s gonna have some, as well. I think the fans are gonna dig this show, for sure.
Mostly, in the United States, you’ve been playing festivals for the past year or so, so you’ve had to stick mostly to the big hit songs, and you’ve barely scratched the surface of the new albums. Are you gonna be working some new songs into the set list?
Absolutely. I just got off the phone with Ivan, and we were talking about the set list. Yeah, we’re gonna definitely play some new stuff.
How different is it touring sober and healthy?
I love it, man. I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning. Before, I dreaded it, and I dreaded going on stage. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, man. I would be up on stage going, “Yes! There’s three songs left, and then I get to party!” I was hating my time on stage, and that’s just all wrong. So now, whenever the intro’s rolling, I get excited rather than dreading it.
You and the band are doing a really great thing with the “Wrong Side of Heaven” video, bringing awareness and raising money for veterans and PTSD. [Visit www.5fdp4vets.com for more information.] The band has a long history of being involved with the military. Can you talk a little bit about how important that is to you?
It’s very important. We get emails all the time, and we’ve developed relationships with a lot of military guys and gals. They always tell us how important our music is to them, and how they listen to it during battle or during their work, and how it gets them through. We started going to play for the troops a couple years back, and it was such an eye-opening experience and such a positive thing. They get so excited whenever they see us, because it’s like bringing them a piece of home. When we went to Iraq, they don’t really get a lot of entertainment there, so they were really excited to see us. I remember some of those mosh pits being insane. The soldiers were down there with guns on their belts, and I’m like, “Man, the safety’s on, right, dude?” (laughs) But it was really cool, man. We developed a really great relationship with the military. Anytime we get a chance to go play for them, we do it, because it’s a great time, and it’s a positive experience for both them and us.
Knowing how your band works, I’m guessing you’ve already started on new material for the next album. Am I right on that?
Absolutely, yeah. We just got out of the studio. We started a couple new songs, and after this Volbeat tour and a little break, we’re gonna probably get back in the studio in late winter and finish it up probably by late spring, and then hopefully have something out by mid- to late summer.
After the two albums last year, you guys set the bar really high in terms of both quality and quantity. How do you go about following that up?
Well, now we’re gonna do three records! (laughs) No. We’re just gonna do what we do. We always write what we feel at the time. You can’t get caught up in trying to worry about, is this gonna sell more or is this gonna be better. I’ve certainly gone through that already. After “War is the Answer,” following up with “American Capitalist,” there was a lot of pressure. It was self-induced more than anything, and I realized it’s a waste of energy to worry about that stuff. Just write the best songs you can that are as honest as possible and that you like to listen to, and the rest will take care of itself. That’s just kind of how we approach it.
How many days sober do you have now?
Well, I have to look on my phone. I have this app called Sobriety Keeper. I’m walking downstairs to look at it right now. Hold on one second. It’s a pretty good amount, though, I’m coming up on three years. … Yeah, let’s see—976 days.
That is great. Congratulations.
I’m really happy for you, and I’m excited for the tour coming up.
Yeah, thanks. We’re excited to get started.