Five Finger Death Punch's Jason Hook on American Capitalist, Playing For the Troops, and Spending the Night in One of Saddam's Palaces

Most bands aren't used to soldiers moshing with M-16s and spending the night in one Saddam Hussien's palaces. But Five Finger Death Punch isn't like other bands.

Up on the Sun spoke with guitarist Jason Hook about his favorite tracks off the new album, a night in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, and performing for soldiers overseas.

5FDP has a style that is direct, calculated, and severe, much like the origin of the band's name. In 2005, Hungarian born guitarist Zoltan Bathory decided to name his musical project after the "Dim Mak" -- The Death Punch -- a move in classic Kung-Fu cinema. Six years later, Bathory, Jeremy Spencer (drums), Ivan Moody (vocals), Jason Hook (guitar) and most recently Chris Kael (bass, who replaced Matt Snell in late 2010) consistently provide their fans, dubbed "knuckleheads," with the rowdiest metal they can muster.

Moody states, "I think everyone has their own personal battles whether they're religious, political or family-oriented...Mankind is nothing but a cluster of opinions and nobody knows the real answers; nothing is 'for sure.' However, you can move, even change people through music. That's the power of art."

Up On The Sun: So you guys are headlining at UFest next weekend, then at the 48 Hour Festival in Vegas, and you guys are doing a tour to promote your upcoming new album this fall. Are there any locations in particular you are excited about playing?

Jason Hook: On the whole tour? You know, we've been so wrapped up making this record that I haven't really been thinking about any of the touring. And I'm sort of notorious for not looking at the schedule. My thing is that if I get to the airport and make a flight than I'm good to go [laughs].

Last year you guys did a USO tour, and I know you are hardcore military enthusiast. Did it ever appeal to you to join the forces?

Well, I'm Canadian for starters, so that's out. And they don't want old guys like me. But when I was younger...well I'm most fascinated with it because I think it's so scary. I'm drawn to it because it's almost unbelievable the things they are expected to do as a job. I developed an interest in it beyond the age limit where I'd be eligible doing active duty. So the answer is no!

Your band stayed at one of the palaces formerly owned by Saddam Hussein. How was that?

It was surreal -- you know Baghdad isn't really on the regular heavy metal circuit. So it was surreal for us as far as...just being in Iraq period was very different from the type of traveling and shows we're used to doing. So all the palaces that Saddam had are now occupied with the US, and he had this distinguished guest house. When I say palace, it was several houses around a lake, so it was like his, distinguished guest facility. So we stayed there.

It was pretty incredible. It was all decked out with gold and marble and stuff like that, but I remember specifically there was a telephone in each guest room, and the guy showing us around said that the phones were hardwired to the state and free of charge, so if you feel like you wanna call home feel free to use the phone. So I'm calling everyone back home just saying, "You'll never guess where I am right now." It was pretty awesome.

During some of the performances out there when the soldiers were moshing, I heard that they didn't even take their weapons off.

It was crazy! They were so excited! I had a talk with a few of the guys and they were like, "they seem to send us a lot of country music! I guess they assume that especially some of the guys from the south everyone's into country music." But the fellas explained to me that they are all high-energy, testosterone driver warriors that they want heavy metal, so they were so excited we were there. They were just moshing and stage diving and the whole nine yards. I remember at one point there was a lineup of military police along the stage just to keep them in control.

No issues with a weapon discharging then?

No, thank God! [Laughter]

How has the album coming out this fall, American Capitalist, evolved from War Is The Answer? What is the albums concept?

Well, I feel like we just finished War Is The Answer. It was released at the end of September '09, and we started working on this record like December '10, so we shortened the gap. How has it evolved? I feel like this could be side three and four of War Is The Answer. I don't think that people are going to hear a lot of change. I think that...we kind of had a discussion before started about what we wanted to accomplish with this album, and I think we were all adamant about wanting to stay in a heavy zone with a high percentage with the aggressive material. Um, but, you now, not too much has changed as far as us personally.

So it's more of less just a different perspective from War Is The Answer.

Well, if we're talking conceptually, The American Capitalist thing came about through one of our conversations of who we are as a band. We are very hard-working and uh, and we enjoy the business side of our business you know? And, I think a lot of people might be confused as to what "capitalist" is, so to clarify, anybody who is taking advantage of an opportunity in front of them are capitalizing on the opportunity.

In our situation, because we've had a little success with this band, we want to keep pushing it, or capitalizing on the band's success and make it grow and expand. And so, it's more of a mentality thing that we're talking about in American Capitalist. America is a capitalist power; every individual in the country is free to go out and work as hard as they want and get as much as they can. There are no limitations set, besides taxes, but as far as what you are able to go and try and create for yourself it's wide open. We're just trying to encourage and inspire people to take more of a driver position rather than a passenger position. It's more of a positive thing you know? We're trying to send the message to, it's kind of cliché, but to be all you can be, winner takes all...to be successful, to be powerful. It's a statement about our mentality and not so much about a monetary greed thing or money. You dig?

It's a solid perspective for the album. I saw the cover art for the album this morning, and it's pretty kick ass. How did the band go about choosing that particular art?

Well, we are a recurring theme with the "knucklehead" character, which has become sort of our face, logo, icon, recognizable graphic. So last year we made a bunch of these latex Halloween masks, and we made one of the knucklehead character. We got such a kick out of it that we knew we had to use it in a photo. And then we talked about American Capitalist and then this retro picture from the '60s I think that represented corporate America booming in that era. So we had this idea to do a classic photo, but then it turned into more of a modern photo with a classic comic book strip theme. I personally am not very hands-on with the art work, so I just see things come up and say "oh, that's cool" or "oh I wouldn't' do that". But I saw that and thought we should go for.

The first single from the album, "Under and Over It," sold something like over 30,000 units on the first week alone on iTunes? Will you be playing many songs from the new album on any of the tour dates before your album supporting tour, like here in Phoenix this weekend?

No. We are playing "Under and Over It" and will be working new material into the set. But I think what we're doing is we're going to, go on a headlining tour in the middle of October so at that juncture we'll have a new set learned and rehearse.

What musical influences do you have that may surprise your fans?

I grew up with different influences than the other guys I think. I was listening to '70s rock growing up...I loved Deep Purple, I loved KISS when I was growing up. They were dietary stables. And then when the '80s came around, it was like, Eddie Van Halen became my god, you know? So I come from that old blues/rock wall, and than a little bit of flash from the '80s when it comes to guitar playing. But I think that even a lot of music that's not very in vogue now, I think whatever I extract from that stuff is a wave of flavor that adds to the music. You know, if everyone grew up listening to Iron Maiden, you wouldn't have those different styles.

UOTS: Well, I feel you guys have a really unique sound. The other guitarist, Zoltan, grew up in Europe and was very much influenced by classical music, so having that wide variety of influences makes Five Finger's music quite distinctive.

JH: Yea, I think...um, I'm just realizing that as far as watching how the four of us (Ivan, Jeremy, myself and Zoltan) working on song-writing goes, I will throw stuff in there, and they are like "wow, we would've never thought of that," you know? So those flavors do come into play. Jeremy has a great song-stance; Zoltan has a great aggressive "riffy-rhythm sense," and Ivan has great-story-telling stance. It's a great package.

Five Finger Death Punch will be playing at UFest at Firebird International Raceway this Saturday, September 10.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise