» Z. Báthory - F.F Death Punch
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Interview conducted May 20 2013
Interview published May 30 2013

Five Finger Death Punch tour Europe for a month in June, so vocalist Ivan Moody and guitarist Zoltán Báthory were sent overseas for 10 days of promotion prior to the tour and the first stop was in Stockholm, Sweden. The guys were jet-lagged since they'd just arrived from the States a few hours earlier, but yet in a good mood.

Metal Covenant hooked up with named guitarist for about 35 minutes with questions about the new albums, The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell: Vol 1 and Vol 2, due later this year and also about their future activities, tours, etc.

Tobbe: Okay. Let's begin with your new albums, Volume 1 and Volume 2. What's new about them and what are your expectations for these coming releases?

  • Zoltán: Well you know, we were in a situation when this is our fourth record, right. In every record we do, we progress somewhat. The first record was pretty heavy and I pretty much wrote the record by myself, like 95 percent. You have to start somewhere. Then we became sort of a real band and started to record the second and third album. That was the progression of everybody's writing. We even had a couple of member changes and everybody's influence was shaping the music to what it became.

    The first record is always your ticket in, to see if people like it or not, and the first record was extremely successful, so obviously that meant that we could stay around for a while and make a second record. The second record will be an answer to the question if this was a fluke or are these guys really good. The second was even more successful, so that sort of answer the question if we mean this and for the third record comes the question if we still have something to say. We did American Capitalist and it was even more successful than the previous one, so obviously we had something to say.

    Then comes the fourth record and that is the motherfucker, because this is what happens. We already have three records and even though there is progression, this is our sound. This is about the time people may get bored with what you do or you have to do some kind of a change or some kind of a progression. It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. If we don't change and just keep doing what we do, people are gonna go like "Okay, I've heard this three times before. Do I care for another frigging record of the same band". So you have to progress, but if you progress, where are you going? If we going to progress into maybe more commercial, then people would say "Oh, that's their sound now, they've got money and wanna do and whatever". If we go heavier then they're like "They're losing their commercial edge. They don't get radio time and this band is going down. They don't have songs now". So whatever you do people are going to think something's wrong.

    So for us, it actually came out in a really interesting way, because we said we can't really care about much and we just have to do what we do. So we kept on writing and writing and we were like "Just write everything that comes to us and then decide what ends up on the record" and we ended with 20 or something songs. So when we are looking at these songs, we sort of realize that there's nothing we wanna throw away. This is all good stuff, there were no fillers. We gotta put all out and that actually brought us a really interesting opportunity that this will take away that stigma, because we're not doing what we always do.

    So the fourth record is a double record and two things happen with this. One, it's interesting because this is a double record, which is not the norm. Second, when you have 24 songs, you can experiment, because if you have 10 songs and you experiment with 3, that's one third of the record and immediately people are gonna go like "Oh, they're changing their sound. What is that shit about?". So simply you don't have enough slots on the record to experiment, but when you have 24 songs it's enough material to "sacrifice" 5-6 songs and expand in directions that I normally wouldn't do, like covering a hiphop-song, which is very unpopular in these days. So we can do things that people will raise their eyebrows to, and we can do it because we have enough songs and enough slots for 2 records and people are not gonna question that we change. We won't change, we're just wrenching out. We are the same band, the same guys with the same music. We're not gonna play jazz fusion, it's not gonna happen. We are Five Finger Death Punch, but we can do these interesting things, so that's what this scenario gave us and that's where we are with this.

Tobbe: Do you really think this will pull through? You know, two album releases in this tight schedule. It's hard to promote both albums equally, because the second one will be released in like 4 months, so it's gonna be a long time from this promotion tour to the second record.

  • Zoltán: This is how I'm looking at it. Both of them are really strong and I can't even tell which one is the stronger, but I'm really confident that the first record is strong enough. For the first release we're on the road and when it comes to promotion, we talk about both records anyway. If we talk about the first one, let's say. We're starting a European tour and then we're starting an American tour, right. During these tours, the first record's gonna drop and we just keep doing our music and can still talk about the second. So even though it maybe is weird and kind of strange releasing them so close to each other, I guess that if the first record is really strong, you will have confidence in the second, you know. And the second, while we're talking about the first, we can talk about the second as well. We'll see, it may pen out.

    We don't think like how many copies it's gonna sell or any of that stuff, but again it comes back to the same thing, like sometimes being a musician, you have to take precedence over business, even though the record labels or whoever, doesn't wanna do these kind of business moves. For us it was like, look, we have this much material and we wanna release this much material. This is what we wanna do, this is what we wanna say. Opinion liberated us from that stigma of the fourth record, because as I said, it gave us enough space to experiment and do things that normally wasn't possible, so this way this band can progress into directions that we maybe wanted to experience. We're not changing or scaring fans.

Tobbe: I had a look at your itinerary and I read you had some shows later in the year in the UK and they will naturally follow these record releases. You also play the Sweden Rock Festival in this country in a few weeks and you're on tour over here for a month in June.

  • Zoltán: Yeah, basically this it what's happening and the reason we're here right now is because, when the first record came out it was sort of an organic explosion, if I can call it that. I produced and wrote most of it and then got Jeremy, and we put it together and then we got Ivan recording, the finances, we did everything, you know. So we had a record done and we went to a record label, which is a small indie record label that we partnered with. So we partner with that record label now, a traditional kind of label and we are the only band on that, so it's a complete indie story and it organically grew from there and just exploded. That record is a gold record today and literally I recorded the guitars in my underwear in my bedroom, you know what I mean, so that's a pretty funny story. It's totally opposite of what people mostly say on the internet like "It's a major label band, and pushed, and money, and radio.", but none of that is true, so it's the opposite.

    We were staying mainly in the United States. We were just touring and touring and we played every shithole and then we got to bigger and bigger places and today this band can sell out arenas. So in the States we have big stage shows, big lights, big everything, you know, and proper arena tours. We had to stay there and keep doing it and doing it, so we established ourselves to what we are right now, and right now we have come to a point where we have a really loyal fanbase, so now we can come to Europe or anywhere else. When we come to Europe, we can be here for a longer period of time and it's gonna be okay, because we have these fucking guys or fans that won't leave. This is a really loyal base, so we don't have to worry about stuff like "We're gonna go to Europe and we're gonna lose this", because today the world is too fast, bands are coming and going.

    So now we have the opportunity and we have the power to actually come to Europe properly. That was basically the whole idea, to establish ourselves. Now we're gonna come here and obviously do all these festivals. Then we go back home doing the Mayhem Festival and then come back here on an arena tour with Avenged Sevenfold. The whole set up is for us to come here possibly a couple of months later, maybe January, February and March 2014 for a proper arena tour with our stage. It'll be a headlining tour and we'll do it big, like we can do back home. That's the plan, but you have to build it, you have to commit.

    I think Europe kind of thought that we sometimes came and played a couple of shows and not really staying here, you know. I think it's the same thing with European fans, like it is with American fans, they didn't feel that this was their band. So in America, we have done it, but you have to be here, you have to play the shows, you have to meet the fans, you have to understand what you stand for, what you're talking about, why you look or speak the way you speak, all these things. If you don't have that contact, the fans will think you're a band from fucking far away. This is what we have to do and I think we'll see if we calculated right. Calculating meaning, we wanted to come here, but we didn't just wanna come here and do small shows. That's was not the idea. I think this was the right way. We have America now. People, even over here, know that if they look up our videos or DVDs or whatever or even on YouTube, you can see that those are big shows, so there's a demand, people wanna see that. So I think this is the ideal way to actually come to Europe.

Tobbe: So what songs will you play on this first leg?

  • Zoltán: Definitely we're gonna play the new single Lift Me Up, you know. It's definitely gonna happen. We'll see, because our schedule is so crunched. Obviously Ivan and I are in here in Europe and then the rest of the guys will come, so we'll meet up here. So there is not really time for rehearsals, you know what I mean. But everybody is a pro and we did this a million times. Maybe we'll play one more. For these festivals we'll probably do the more potent songs. Probably we'll play the songs that are most expected or requested, especially since most of these fans haven't really had a chance to see the band. It doesn't make much sense to play songs from a record they haven't heard yet, so we'll probably put together the most potent songs that they'll most likely know and also one or two of the new songs. Definitely one, the new single for sure. Then everybody gets what they want to see or what they like to hear. I think that's the plan with that.

Tobbe: And what about I.M. Sin? I totally love that song.

  • Zoltán: Yeah, it's on the heavier side. At least for a video over there, but yeah, I love that song too.

Tobbe: Let's go back more to your new albums. Rob Halford. It's rather unusual to have a guest vocalist on the opening track. They usually end up somewhere around track 7 or 8 or something.

  • Zoltán: Well, this was another thing again, you know. We don't wanna do or don't care what's the norm. I think it's a good position we have, to really do whatever we wanna do. It's funny though, the lyrics to the song is "we just do what we do", so we'll do what the fuck we wanna do, and that's actually the lyrics to that song. We heard somewhere, somehow, I think it was on TV, where he said that Five Finger Death Punch was one of his favorite bands. So when we wrote that song, I think maybe it was me who said that this sounds like old school Judas Priest, you know. That kind of clicked like, "Wait a minute, what if we could get Rod Halford to sing this since it's already kind of old school Judas Priest". We reached out to their management and originally they said "No, he doesn't have time and he's recording". But then Rob heard the song, because the management still passed it to him and he was, like the one who called us. You know "I'm singing on the fucking track", so he really liked the track. A week later he was in Vegas recording with us. That's kind of weird. You know, this is fucking Rob Halford, are you kidding me. He's in the studio, singing on our song, Jesus. It was very cool, yeah.

Tobbe: I love that. Then why did you pick that song as the first single? Was it a little because of Rob Halford's appearance?

  • Zoltán: Basically it came down to that we knew that we wanted to come up with a single that was a little bit up-tempo and heavier. In America, where the band is really popular you know, we have pretty serious radio play and we were the heaviest band on radio in, let's say, 2007-2008. We were the new band that broke into radio and we were much heavier than anything else popular on radio. But that also changed radio, because of us, other heavier bands could get on radio. So that actually pushed the spectrum to a lot heavier. But still it's rock radio. There are parameters of what they will play and what they will not play.

    So for us, obviously for you too since you've heard the record, there are plenty of songs that are these radio songs that could be big. But this is the thing. If we would have done that, it would again be just typical. We didn't wanna do something like "Okay, well there we go, here's another radio single". We wanted to do something that gets borderline and we knew that that song is a little bit heavier than what radio's okay with, you know. We wanted to come out swinging, because a lot of people already know us from hearing us on the radio. It's funny stories when it happens all the time they put us on a festival, because the promoters know it's on radio, but they don't know that the rest of the songs are really heavy, so they don't have a clue of that it's gonna be moshpits out of hell, right. It happens all the time. You know that most people who know us from radio have a perception of that this is a radio hard rock band and they don't know that it's actually much, much heavier.

    So we wanted to make sure that we came out with something that was not that soft, so we picked a couple of songs. The 3 songs that would come out first. We have heavy songs that would never make it to radio, so we had to pick 3 that could make it, but with another edge to that. So Lift Me Up was one of the songs and everybody listened to the label, management and us. It was kind of back and forth.

    You know what, this is also interesting because this is a push back, a comeback with metal. We're trying to push more metal to radio to begin with and what's better to do this with than with fucking Rob Halford, the Metal God, right? So it's kind of ironic that we try to put our song on radio and it's a little bit heavier and there's Rob Halford, who started it all. We thought that was ironic. So even though it's unusual for a band to start with a single with a guest vocalist, we thought "Fuck it".

Tobbe: What about the other guests, like Max Cavalera, Maria Brink, etc?

  • Zoltán: Everybody are good friends with us. It was only Rob we didn't know personally, obviously. Max have already sung with us before. He came out and sang one of our songs when Soulfly was supporting us on a Canadian tour. During that set we became friends and he came out and sang our song live, so that was kind of obvious to happen and Ivan loves Max. Ivan's a big fan, so we reached out for Max. Jamey Jasta, same thing, good friend of ours for a long time. We have toured together many times. And then Maria from In This Moment. Actually we just needed a female voice for our low piece and we thought "Just get Maria". She's a friend and she can do it, but then she came to the studio and we said "Sing these parts too". She ended up singing more parts than what we actually wanted and it then became a duet instead of the low parts we wanted, because it was so good and we wanted to keep it.

    And then the last one was Tech N9ne and today it's not okay to collaborate with anybody in hiphop. 10-15 years ago that was the norm and then we wouldn't have done it. Now, when it's not okay, when it's taboo, I wanna do it. That's the point, when you rebel, when you give that middle finger, because today this is a sacrilege. You don't touch hiphop, but fuck that, we're gonna and we did it. We had an idea to cover Mama Said Knock You Out. We thought it was the irony of Five Finger Death Punch, when people said Mama Said Knock You Out, it just kinda went hand in hand. LL Cool J was always somebody who was cool. Even metalheads are okay with him. Everybody's heard that song and everybody knows that one and people are down with him. He's cool, he's okay, right. He's an artist that everybody accepts. Then we made the song heavy and when Tech N9ne came it, we thought "Oh yeah, this is happening. Fuck it, Let's put it on the record".

Tobbe: If Five Finger Death Punch is still active in like 10-20 years, how do you think your music will progress in that time, in that long period?

  • Zoltán: Wow, that's hard to tell.

Tobbe: Yes I know, that's why I asked that question.

  • Zoltán: To tell you the truth. First and foremost, it's gonna be about the songs anyway. So even when we write something stupid or heavy, it's still a song. If we write a ballad or a mid-tempo song, it's always about the chorus and the right dynamics. It's always gonna be about the song. It's not impossible that our sound changes and we may end up experimenting with other stuff and bring in things. It's not that you keep up with the times because you wanna be fashionable, but you keep up with the times because you're being influenced by new things. So if some new thing comes in that I like, something that I think is cool, I'll go with that. Not because I wanna be relevant, it's because I like it. If I don't like it, it doesn't fucking matter to me if it's popular or not.

    There is a possibility that something new will happen that we may like and then we'll just go with that. Regardless what happens, it's always gonna be about the songs. Think about it, like The Beatles, how many songs did those guys wrote? So when it comes to writing songs, you have infinite possibilities and I think as long as you write songs and people care about them, you'll be fine. Maybe we'll make a fully acoustic record just with nice acoustic songs, I don't know. Maybe one day, we'll do one stupid heavy record. The songs are what matters. The instrumentation doesn't really matter. We did LL Cool J and that's a hiphop song. We made it sound metal, so if a song is good, then you can change the sound of it. I think that is what's gonna happen. We'll just keep on writing songs and possibly evolve with whatever is coming.

Tobbe: If someone reads this interview and never heard your band before, which album or songs should they begin with?

  • Zoltán: I would probably start with War Is The Answer. Once this new record is out I would start with that one though. But War Is The Answer is somehow the midpoint of our evolution. The first record was the heaviest one, but those are all my riffs, you know what I mean. I'm a metalhead and listen to the heavier stuff. Our other guitarist, Jason, is more of a hard rock guy. Our collaborations always come out great, and nice in ballads. I bring the metal stuff and he brings the hard rock stuff, you know. So that collaboration works. I think War Of The Answer is somewhere in between with my heavy shit and his hard rock stuff, so that is a great combination.

    Once the new one is out, I will go with that, because it's probably the most progressive and most complete record. With every record we say this, but every band says that, you know. If you listen to it, or if you haven't bought it yet, I'm sure that it's gonna leak and I'm sure it's gonna be on YouTube, but you'll see it's pretty much the best record, the most complete, the most polished. I think this is the one, you know. And the next one, these two come together.

Tobbe: Are there any songs you don't like anymore on three previous albums?

  • Zoltán: With Never Enough, it was the first time we actually worked with somebody. A producer and songwriters, so we didn't write that song to a hundred percent. It was a weird scenario. We were in a situation, our record was out, people wanted bonus tracks and what not, you know what I mean, but we only had one record. We didn't have enough material and we became a headlining band, but we didn't have enough songs, only 45 minutes. "Fuck, what were we gonna do?" We ended up going back to the studio and recorded a couple of more songs to fill up our live shows, instead of playing cover songs. They ended up releasing that song as a bonus track and also on the re-release. Even though the song became a big hit in the States, I was never really comfortable with that song. I always thought that, because it was another songwriter in there, it wasn't my vibe. I'm really keen on what kind of drums and what kind of feel a song has. And even if it became a big hit, like I said, I never felt completely comfortable with that song, because it just have a different vibe than what I would ever write really. A different feel. It was the guys who work a lot with Korn, so the beat was kinda pushy. That would be the only song I think was really never a favorite song for me.

    Everybody goes back to their records and possibly criticize songs. Another song, Walk Away, whose demo version I actually think sounded better than the one actually recorded. It had some magic. We recorded the song, it was kind of a simple song. If it just had been one of the tracks on the album, it would have been okay, because it had its purpose. But it actually became a single and we all thought that this wasn't representing us, because when it became a single, too much focus was on it. It sent the wrong message. This is not what we sound like. It's way too soft and light for this band, but the label picked this one as a single. I think it's a little bit on the light side and not representative. And people who hear us for the first by that song possibly say we sound like Nickelback and I go "We don't sound anything like Nickelback, but you've probably heard that one fucking song". So that's why I pick these two songs. One, because of the vibe and two, it shouldn't have that much focus on it, because it was just a track that was there for a reason, but really didn't was supposed to have that much focus.

Tobbe: What do you try to do to be different from all other bands around? There are millions of them these days.

  • Zoltán: Whatever we're doing is working. We are probably one of few bands in the States that can do gold records, with Avenged Sevenfold, Shinedown and Slipknot. I don't count Metallica and those bands that are institutions. They are not bands anymore, you know. So whatever we're doing works. We do look different and we get slack for it. A lot of people judge us by the looks. But at the same time, if it's dress code, I can look like every other metal band, but what's the point of being a black sheep amongst black sheep? So if I put on my leather pants and leather jacket, then I'm a good musician all of a sudden? That's fucking ridiculous. So we do look a little bit different and that kinda sets us apart. And we don't buy into that "We have to look angry again" on the pictures. We don't care about that kind of shit.

    Musically, it's just always about the songs. We just wanna write new songs. Everybody are accomplished musicians. I guess it's a perfect story. I don't think it's one particle or element. I think it's the full package. We pay attention to the merch, we work really hard. We can all play our live shows really energetic. We don't necessarily look like everyone else. Generally we write songs where the team and the lyrics are touching people, you know. We get 50 cents for that too and like "It's simplistic". I laugh about that shit. Have you ever looked at the lyrics sheet of a death metal band and what they really sing about? "Jesus Christ, and you're telling me something. Holy shit." You know, it's just, you can't understand because they go like awh awh awh, but if you really read the lyrics, it's like "Holy shit" sometimes, you know.

    I like all kinds of metal bands, but we don't write about mythical stories and what not. The stories are real, that connects to people, because they can relate. I'm not sure they can relate to the Black plague, or the crucifixions and the rotting flesh of Christ or whatever the fuck bands sing about. I actually love viking stories, but I'm probably one in a hundred or one in a thousand that like those stories. The general public don't give a shit, you know what I mean. So when they have their lyrical content, it will not connect. Ivan writes the lyrics and sometimes they're angry, but he's generally an angry guy, but his angst and what he writes about connects. I think the combination of all those things somehow is what makes it work. I don't think there is a recipe that you can copy or make, because if there was, then every band and every record label would definitely do it. Then they would just be stamping out band after band to be successful. It's everything, the personality, talking to friends online and offline, you know. All these things must happen to get it done.

Tobbe: I guess we're done. Thanks for your time. Good seeing you.

  • Zoltán: Thank you so much. Good seeing you too.

This is where the actual interview ended, but as I packed my gear, some chit-chat occurred.

  • Zoltán: So you've heard the whole thing?

Tobbe: Volume 1 like 5 or 6 times. I like it. I won't say too much because I'm gonna review that album eventually, so I won't tell. It's like you said, a bit different and I didn't read the names of the songs initially, so when Mama Said Knock You Out came, I thought "What the fuck!".

  • Zoltán: Literally we were in the studio. We're were talking about that doing this today is sacrilege. So we said "Yeah, let's do it", because we knew we'd love it.

On my way out I turned around.

Tobbe: Play I.M. Sin for me, remember that.

  • Zoltán: I.M. Sin is possible. We're talking about that. I love the song, but it's hard to decide, you know.

Tobbe: Totally, I know.

  • Zoltán: Watch You Bleed is another one that's also possible. This record is very energetic.

Tobbe: Yes it is. Do what you like. Play good songs. Thank you.

See also: review of the album The Wrong Side Of Heaven... Vol. 1

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