Special report by Greg Prato
Remember the good old days of double albums? No, not double live albums…double studio albums, such as The White Album, Tommy, Physical Graffiti, The Wall, etc. It seems like the '60s and '70s was when the format was at its peak - save for a few subsequent blips here and there (most notably 1991's Use Your Illusion I & II). But now, FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH is going the double disc route…well, sorta.
Instead of issuing two albums on the same day, a decision was made to hold off on the second disc until a later date, so on July 30th, The Wrong Side Of Heaven and The Righteous Side Of Hell, Volume 1 will be unveiled. Recently, guitarist Jason Hook spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about the impending first volume, the somewhat distant second volume, tour plans, and how he recently crossed paths with a metal god and a spaceman.
BraveWords: How did the idea come up to do a two-volume album?
Jason Hook: "We had great momentum right out of the gate - we were writing like madmen. What we did differently on this record…when we came into 'album four,' we didn't think it was going to be a double album. The idea was just we were going to try to make album four. I remember at the beginning of the American Capitalist sessions, we didn't really take any time off - we came right off of the tour, maybe rested for a week and a half, and then we had already scheduled, 'Let's start writing together on Monday.' And I remember Zoltan (Bathory), myself, and Jeremy (Spencer) getting together on that Monday and really having nothing prepared. So we were kind of looking around, going, 'What have you got?' 'Uh…I really don't have anything. What have you got?' Records can certainly be made that way, and we've done it that way in the past, but I remember thinking after the American Capitalist record, 'I really don't want to do that again. I'd like to prepare.' It's kind of like taking a test - when you study your ass off and then you go in to take the test, you feel confident, you feel strong. But if you partied all week and then woke up, and went, 'Fuck, I've got that test today!' So I brought this portable studio that we took on the road last year and we called it 'Frank's Dong.' Every day on tour there was a sign on the door - 'Frank's Dong: Do Not Enter.' I'm pretty sure that any other band that saw that sign on the door wouldn't want to go in. So we had this portable Pro Tools studio that we took with us and Jeremy had an electronic drum kit. We would have the guys set this up every day and we would literally go in there an hour/two hours a day, and just jam and record all of it. We'd start to edit together skeleton ideas of what could be songs. When we arrived at day one of the fourth record, we pretty much had eight/nine/ten songs sketched out. And those songs, we tracked them right away, because they were the only things ready, and I was like, 'Holy fuck. We've already got eight or nine songs. This is killer! What should we do?' 'Well, you guys should keep writing. You never know if you stumble onto that gem, or you're so far ahead of schedule now that…let's just keep going.' 'Good idea!' So Ivan [Moody] starts working on lyrics for the first batch, and then we just start writing and writing. Before you know it, we're at 19 songs. Typically, what we would do in that scenario is you would try and isolate kind of a 'stinker batch,' y'know? That batch that isn't strong or the batch that everyone agrees isn't good enough. But we were having a hard time eliminating or finding these songs that we wanted to eliminate. Then, the conversation turned into, 'What if we did a two album release, like GUNS N' ROSES did? Like Use Your Illusion. Who's done that?' So our original idea was to do two records on the same day - two completely independent, two isolated barcodes. Just, 'It is what it is. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. We don't care. We like the statement that it makes. And that's what we want to do.' So The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell was going to be the title that was going to live separated down the middle on both CD's - they would have to be put together to complete the title. So it was like a package. Disc one would be The Wrong Side of Heaven and disc two would be The Righteous Side of Hell. The label and the management - over many meetings and many phone calls - begged us, 'Please don't release these on the same day. It makes our job a nightmare.' Because one song has to go to radio, what's going to happen with the next song? It's going to confuse everybody. They were begging us, 'Please, stagger the records. We can do a much more effective job marketing these records if you stagger them.' So we decided, 'If we're going to stagger the records, we should probably put the full title on both jackets, and call them Volume One and Volume Two."
BraveWords: I was impressed with some of the special guests on the album, including Rob Halford.
Jason Hook: "Lift Me Up was one of the initial songs that came in from Frank's Dong. It was one of the first songs that we tracked. Everybody liked the energy, and somebody spat out that it reminded them of an old JUDAS PRIEST song - that kind of pumping, driving groove thing. And then somebody says, 'Imagine if we could get Rob Halford to sing on this.' We're all kind of chuckling, going, 'God, that would be awesome!' Then the chuckling stops, and everybody goes, 'What if we could get Rob Halford to sing on this?' You make a phone call to the management office, the management office says, 'We know Rob, no problem. We'll get a hold of him on Monday.' So now, it's in motion. Monday comes, and 'I talked to Rob and he loves the track. He would love to sing on it.' Before you know it, he's on a plane and he's at the studio and we're all saying hello and meeting him. He nailed it. The song was #1 at Active Rock Radio for three weeks in a row, and we all got a very nice email - he sent an email to the management office and it was forwarded to everybody in the band, saying it was the first time he had been #1 on any charts, surprisingly, and that he was very proud of us and happy to be involved."
BraveWords: And how did covering LL COOL J's Mama Said Knock You Out come about?
Jason Hook: "That was an idea that had been floating around for a long time. We always thought we could make some kind of heavy metal song out of that, but it never surfaced until obviously, the fourth record. It was one of those things where we just worked it up and it ended up coming together pretty cool. I think it was Ivan's idea to get TECH N9NE on there. Tech N9ne is one of our favorite rappers - he's really very cool, very edgy. He came in and did a spectacular job on that song. Really gave it a fresh sound, in my opinion."
BraveWords: As far as the second volume of The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, when is it coming out, and will it be similar or different to its predecessor?
Jason Hook: "There is no hard release date yet. But it's scheduled some time mid-November. We knew that people would be waiting to see, 'Is it going to be like the flipside feel-wise?' And we didn't want to do that. We wanted to shuffle the deck evenly, to have the same amount of potency per record. So that we didn't divide people, like, 'I like the second one,' 'I don't know, I hate the second one.' Certainly, there are going to be people that make their choice, but we wanted to make it as hard for them as possible."
BraveWords: What can fans expect from the upcoming tour?
Jason Hook: "We're going to be learning about five songs off the new record…sorry, I think we're going to try to learn one song off the unreleased number five, and then we're going to learn four songs off the new one. We had the conversation that we have been pretty much using the same core set of songs since day one. We were talking about, 'Why don’t we really try to freshen up the set?' Obviously, we have a legion of diehard fans that have seen us five, six, seven times, and we just talked about, 'We should probably try to really learn some new songs or songs we haven't played yet, to keep it fresh for the fans.' Whether that winds up being the best idea or not, I don't know. But that's what we're going to try to do."
BraveWords: What do you see in the future for 5FDP?
Jason Hook: "After doing two studio records, we're certainly not in a hurry to get back and make recordings. We're probably going to tour our asses off. We're talking about really trying to address the foreign territories, like Japan, Australia, South America, certainly Europe and the UK, and kind of work those areas a little more. And then after that, we'll probably take a good holiday, and maybe work on another record. But it won't be for probably another three years. Just touring, touring, touring."
BraveWords: And lastly, I recently came across a video of you jamming with Ace Frehley and MASTODON's Bill Kelliher - how was that?
Jason Hook: "Dude…I have an Ace Frehley tattoo on my calf! Ace is my hero. What can I say? It was awesome…hail to the king. My parents were like, 'Who would have known that little Jason with his bedroom plastered with KISS posters would be jamming with his idol one day?' I think my parents got more of a kick out of it than anybody."