Jason Hook is a man of great humor and temperance. In the midst of a head-cold, up early from a wedding party the night before, and still without his morning cup of java, the new lead guitarist for Five Finger Death Punch was good natured about taking my call. While 5FDP has been making a name for themselves with their debut CD, The Way of the Fist, Jason has been busy in his own right, releasing the critically acclaimed instrumental CD Safety Dunce, which won ‘Best Instrumental Album’ at the L.A Music Awards in 2005. Jason was also lead guitarist on Along Came a Spider, last year’s newest release from rock legend, Alice Cooper. From Cooper to Death Punch, it’s clear Jason has a dark side, and one listen to his solo CD and the new 5FDP album, War Is The Answer, it’s also clear that the man can grind his axe.
As 5FDP prepares for the September 22nd release of WITA, and subsequent Shock and Raw tour, I dialed up the band’s newest member. Sick, half-awake, and perhaps a touch hung-over, Jason Hook took the time to talk with Metalholic about his arrival in Death Punch, his solo work, Quentin Tarantino, war, tattoos, staying healthy on the road, and of course, the new CD.
Metalholic: You went from your critically acclaimed Safety Dunce CD, to working with Vince Neil, to touring and recording with Alice Cooper on Along Came a Spider, to 5FDP. How did you end up with the gig?
Jason Hook: I’ve known Jeremy (Spencer, drums) for 15 years, he was my roommate back in L.A., and we’ve played together in other bands. While I was out touring with other artists he hooked up with Zoltan (Bathory, guitar) back in L.A. and started putting this whole project together. So I’ve been following the whole Death Punch process from the start. I would come off the road and Jeremy would play me these demos that they were working on, and it was cool stuff, but in the very beginning stages. They were looking for a singer and they finally found Ivan (Moody), and that’s when things really started to get serious. People started to take notice, and it wasn’t too long after that they got their record deal. I was there for their showcase and the local shows, and I sort of became friends with them that way. So when it came time for them to switch to a new guitarist, I was the obvious choice because of my relationship with the guys.
MH: You are in effect the band’s third lead guitarist. Without courting controversy, what happened to your predecessors?
JH: It’s funny, because Jeremy makes the joke that as far as Death Punch he is in the band’s Human Resources Department. He’s brought in all the guitarist players. Darrell (Roberts), the guitarist before me, I just think he maybe didn’t fit the personality of the band.
MH: You’ve seen the band blow up with the impact of the first album. How was it for you to come in and record and perform on the new album?
JH: I was working with Alice Cooper when this happened, and I sort of made it clear to the guys, if I’m coming into this thing, ‘I don’t need a job. I don’t want to be treated as an employee. I have a job. If I come into this thing, I want to come in as a partner.’ They were on the same page, so it really worked out.
I’ve been recording and writing for years, so it was sort of easy for me to come in and take the reins. Literally, Zoltan would be like, “you take this song, I’ll take that song,” and we’d be in two different rooms working on the computer doing up demos.
MH: War Is The Answer has a more eclectic mix of songs on it than Way of The Fist. The first single, “Hard To See”, slows the band’s sound down a bit. What is your take as a listener from the first CD which you weren’t a part of to the new CD?
JH: The new album is a little bit more mature. There’s certainly some face peeling metal on there, but we branched off in some slightly different directions. There’s an instrumental on there. There’s more poignant lyrics. There’s some different flavors on on War is the Answer. There’s some strings. We brought back an older song called “Far From Home”. The first album is very direct as far as– metal assault.
MH: You mentioned the instrumental on the CD, and given your own instrumental CD, I wondered if that was your brainchild.
JH: Oddly, the instrumental was something that Ivan was pushing for, ironically. Having done many instrumentals before, I figured there was an area I could help. In fact, we cannibalized a part from a track I had for my second solo CD. The song is called “Canto 34?
MH: Where does the song title, “Canto 34? come from?
JH: It’s actually the title of the last chapter in Dante’s Inferno. Zoltan and I tossed around title ideas for a while. It’s an instrumental so it can be called anything. Originally it was going to be called “Labors of Conflict”, but we scrapped that.
MH: You also have a cover song on the new CD, which I think was a surprise to most people. A Bad Company song. How’d that come about?
JH: Death Punch had been playing that live on the last headlining tour in 2008. Some radio people had been asking the band to record the song [“Bad Company”], because it’s a really special version. I never really got on board with the idea. For a metal band that’s really an odd song to cover. But after listening to it and laying the guitars down on it, I realized right away that for some freaky reason it really works great. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album now.
MH Do you feel you’re being on this record has altered, enhanced or changed the overall style of the band’s sound?
JH: I think so. I think that was deliberate too. Jeremy pulled me into the band in part because I know he told the band ‘Jason has a very good song sense and a good commercial ear.’ So they really gave me a massive role when I stepped into this thing, and that’s rare, and I very much appreciate it. It’s really all I ever wanted was to get into a cool, hungry band and work hard. Zoltan who is sort of the primary writer in the band gave me a lot of free reign. And I could even see it when we were working on new songs for the album that there were new flavors that weren’t really part of his vocabulary, but he was a trooper. He let me spit things out there and we would try them. So I definitely had some influence. I think I put more solos on this CD than they had on the last. I think there are only solos on like three tracks from Way of the Fist, like “Ashes”, “The Bleeding” and I think “White Knuckles”.
MH: Some hardcore traditionalists are going to start the “sell-out” war cry with this CD. Like progression and growth are synonymous with crossing over to commerciality. Thoughts?
JH: Personally, I don’t care, because it’s a challenge to make yourself happy, and it’s a challenge to get a band together and get to this stage, and keep it together, and keep the label happy, and keep moving forward. It’s a fucking challenge. So all those people can suck it. I don’t care what they think, cause at the end of the day we [5FDP] are on the hook for the record. And at the end of the day you can call me every name in the book, but I’m still here standing and I’m still here releasing music that people will hopefully buy. I don’t think people really understand how difficult that is. We have to do things that come naturally, and there a few of these pieces of music that came up, and mind you Zoltan, when we first started writing was picking up his acoustic guitar and saying what about this idea and what about that idea? And I’m like ‘they’re all cool, but they’re all mellow.’ They were all great pieces of music, but we should write some metal, no? Being creative became akin to being one dimensional, so what wound up on the record is honest. That’s what I want to clarify. Whatever is on this record is whatever we were feeling and whatever we were writing, and we weren’t trying to cater to any need or any fear. We just did what came and what was honest. And if you do what is honest then you can rely on that for the next record. If you do something that’s contrived or fake or you’re trying to outguess your audience then you get stuck.
MH: Tell me about making the video for “Hard To See”.
JH: The guys in the band were specific about not wanting to do a boring performance video. They wanted to have some element of a story line. We got hooked up with a director through the label, and he put together a story line, and we just showed up one day and got dirt poured all over our heads for about four hours, which was new for me. I was like, who fucking wrote this treatment? (laughs) I’ll kill the bastard. Dumping dirt on us for four hours, getting in your eyes, your nose, your mouth. So that was interesting. Each guy had their own individual parts in the video, and there were several different stages set up in the warehouse where we shot it. In the first set up we were supposed to be underground rattling the dirt from below. And one of the stage set ups was we were in a graveyard I guess, beating up bad guys. To me it was a little hokey but…
MH: Well you got out of beating up the bad guys anyway cause you were busy wailing the solo.
JH: That’s right. I’m glad you pointed that out. Videos are a different animal these days. Back in the 80s and 90s when bands put out a new video it was like putting out a new record. Premiere video. The internet wasn’t really around back in those days. Now you can get videos done for much less and they sort of live on YouTube, and they don’t really command the attention they used to. So we’ll probably do two or three more for this record.
MH: Is Quentin Tarantino like a massive influence to the band’s style? The band’s name, certain songs titles. You guys could be a soundtrack for his new movie Inglorious Bastards all by yourselves.
JH: I am a big fan of his. I’m heavily influenced by films anyway. Especially as far as instrumental music. I don’t know why, but it really moves me as far as like a film soundtrack. I have a massive movie collection. The more disturbing the better. I still haven’t seen his new one and I’m dying to see it. I hear it’s great. But no it’s not a conscious thing by the band, it’s merely coincidental, but for me personally, I’m a big fan.
MH: Seriously, there seems to be a common theme of anger, aggression, war, fighting, military and solidarity running through both CDs. Is there some catalyst or intent for this?
JH: War is like the scariest thing ever. It’s the ultimate test. It’s conflict. It’s real. It’s life and death, and it’s somebody trying to kill you before you kill them. The ultimate terror, and bravery. It’s all one package.
I’m sort of a military enthusiast. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m all about military history and documentaries, and war movies and stuff like that. I’m fascinated with the whole thing. And to come into this band where they sort of have the same interests was sort of a cool thing for me. War is The Answer, we picked that title because that’s how we feel. It’s about what we’re trying to do in music. We’re very serious about what we do and we’re very hard on ourselves, and it’s almost like the military in a way. You have to be very extreme with your effort. So, sure, I would say the titles, the lyrics, and the imagery is all deliberate.
MH: The album cover art for War is The Answer sort of reminded me of an old animated cult film, called Wizards. You being a movie buff might remember it, but tell me a bit about the idea for the new cover art.
JH: It sort of started with the Uncle Sam thing. The old ‘We Want You’ recruiting posters. Then we agreed be should use our mascot, the sort of skull face guy as Uncle Sam. And then you’ve got the war and the bombers and all that in the background. That’s sort of how that whole thing came together.
MH: Tattoos. There seems to be an obsession in the band with tattoos. What’s that all about?
JH: I don’t know. I think it’s one of those things where once you get one tattoo it’s game over. It’s just really fun and refreshing to fuck your body up like that. (laughs) We’re always getting new ones. It’s kind of crazy. Jeremy just got his whole right arm done, and I was kind of jealous. Like god damn, I really want to get some more work done too, but I just haven’t had any time. Zoltan and I were really working on this record the whole period. Everybody else came in and did their parts and then got some time to themselves. And Zoltan and I have been there for the whole thing from A to Z. I don’t mean to downplay the other guys efforts, I’m just saying there’s so much extra guitar stuff that has to be done with added bits, and layering and solos and such. It’s a lot of work. But I want more tattoos, and I’ll get them. I will. (laughs)
MH: For the first album, 5FDP toured non-stop for like two straight years. With the new CD coming out on the 22nd you guys will be kicking off the Shock and Raw tour with a record release party in Las Vegas on the 18th, and then it’s non-stop touring again. How are you feeling about that?
JH: I’m feeling excited. We’ve done some touring up to this point but it’s been mostly flightage [overseas]. We did some shows in Japan, Australia and Europe, and all that was great, but to headline in the states means that we can bring our full crew, our full production. So for me I’m really excited about it.
MH: What do you guys do when you’re on big tours like this to keep yourselves healthy?
JH: You have to pace yourselves, and you have to really listen to your body. Probably the biggest adversary is alcohol. Alcohol really beats your body up. It effects your sleep. It effects your immune system. To do that sort of aggressive drinking every day; that’s where you’re going to run into problems. So we just try to be aware of limiting the alcohol.
MH: I believe you have a second solo CD you’re getting ready to release.
JH: Yes. Right before I hooked up with Death Punch I was working on a second record with Jeremy and it’s been sort of laying in the wings for quite a while. I was just about to put the finishing touches on it and release it, but when Death Punch came along I just got so busy. It’s still there ready to go, and my hope is to get it out by the end of the year. It’s going to be tricky with being on the road, because I still have to do artwork and packaging. When you’re traveling around it’s hard to get that stuff done. So I may have to wait until we break late in the year and then have it out in like January. I’m really excited about it. It’s nasty. Zoltan co-wrote and played on it with me. Alice Cooper’s on there. When I was working with Alice I cornered him and I got him to record something on there for me.
MH: So this one is not completely instrumental then.
JH: This one’s slightly different. There’s a lot of narration on it. I have a song on the CD called “Serial Killer” and it’s got real interviews with serial killers taken from their jail cells about how they would hack and kill people. It’s fucking dark. And the music is sort of a ballad. People are probably going to get pissed off at me because there’s a lot of dark shit on there, but the thing is, if you don’t make something that’s compelling it will just go unnoticed. So I like pushing the envelope.
MH: Since it’s that time a year I have to ask, are any of you guys fantasy football geeks?
JH: Those guys are for sure. I’m not so much the sports guy. But Jeremy and Ivan are diehard football fans. Me, not so much.
MH: Jason, thanks for taking the time to speak with Metalholic. I know our readers our dying to get their hands on the new CD and see you on tour this fall.
As soon as I hung up it occurred to me, I forgot to ask him, if War Is the Answer, what is the question?