Interview with Zoltan Bathory of Five Finger Death Punch
Band Photo: Five Finger Death Punch (?)
Five Finger Death Punch is the rare heavy metal band that has had consistent radio success in the past few years. As heavy metal has trended toward the extreme recently, bands like Five Finger Death Punch are much rarer and they get put down more often by the troo metal fans as pale approximations of real metal. But Five Finger Death Punch guitarist and founder Zoltan Bathory just won the Dimebag Darrell Shredder Award at the 2010 Golden God Awards, and for the leader of a band named Five Finger Death Punch he has remarkably well-grounded opinions on how the band fits into the metal landscape, among other things. He was kind enough to take an hour out of his day to chat over the phone with Metal Underground, and the below transcript is what he had to say.
Bloodofheroes: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today.
Zoltan Bathory: Of course!
Bloodofheroes: Talk about where the name of the band came from.
Zoltan: [laughs] I am a big fan of Chinese and Hong Kong [style] kung fu movies. Actually I was watching “Kill Bill,” which kind of has that vibe, and in the movie there was a five finger death lotus punch or something like that, and I said “that’s fucking stupid, that should be a band name!” It is a band name that if you hear it, it is like “Who? What?” And all the good band names are taken – if you call your band Anal Cunt you’ll have a hard time selling your stuff in Walmart.
Bloodofheroes: What is your favorite kung fu movie?
Zoltan: Lately I am into new “Crouching Tiger” stuff and all the new-school kung fu cinema. In the old ones the wire work was pretty comedic, but the new ones, I really love the photography and fight scenes. And even the scenery is amazing, I am stimulated by visuals.
Bloodofheroes: You’ve toured with some pretty big bands – which ones were the best to tour with?
Zoltan: Every tour is different - sometimes it happens that bands go on tour and don’t get along, but we have been fortunate and that hasn’t happened. We did a bunch of tours with Korn, they were pretty good. But Disturbed was probably the best, we talk to them even when we aren’t on tour, and the friendships are there.
Bloodofheroes: Which bands draw the best audiences?
Zoltan: If you aren’t counting festivals - I was floored by Rammstein at festivals, their vibe is amazing – the Mayhem tour we just did, we were exposed to an average of 20,000 people every night for a month and a half, which was amazing. Lamb of God was really cool on the England tour, and Korn exposed us to a different audience. But Disturbed had a similar audience to us. We are heavy but not extreme metal. We are heavier than what was heavy metal in the 1980s, but by today’s standards we are a melodic heavy metal band and so is Disturbed, and so when we played with those guys the whole place was into it. But Festivals are cool, because people will hear of you that would never had considered you before, like you are playing with Snoop Doggy Dog or Kid Rock, and they are just thinking “what’s coming?”
Bloodofheroes: Five Finger Death Punch has had a lot of success with singles – when writing, do you set out to create strong singles or do they just happen during the writing process?
Zoltan: I guess the easy answer is how it all happened. When we started we didn’t have label, manager, producer, anything. We did the first album ourselves, and when you don’t have all that stuff you don’t think about radio hits - we just played music we liked. Once it was completely done it got picked up and “Bleeding” became a Top Ten single, even though people thought Five Finger Death Punch never had a chance. A couple DJs liked it and played it and it slowly caught on, and then active rock radio picked it up. We are one of the heaviest bands on the active rock radio stations and we definitely have the metal edge. We are kind of carrying the flag somehow into that format and because of that all the other singles we released got a shot on radio. We are happy radio is a little heavier and the audience is ready for it. We are almost a gateway to fans that aren’t ready for music that isn’t as extreme. We just kept writing the music and it kept getting picked up, but the radio industry doesn’t work like that – if you could automatically write a Top Ten single then everyone would do it, but we are the only non-major label band in the [Billboard] Top Ten.
Bloodofheroes: Your songs tend to be in the three-to-four minute range – any thoughts of doing a longer Maiden-style song at some point?
Zoltan: The thing about a record, the ideal of songwriting, some people say, like classical musicians, tell a story with just the music. Or take the Beatles - they wrote a song that is short but is a song that you will remember until the day you die. But our songs, we don’t follow an actual formula. On our records eight to nine of the songs have a certain structure and run three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half minutes. It is a pace thing I guess, I like to conclude a song within that timeframe, why keep going if the song isn’t doing anything anymore? Songwriting is sort of an art for me, but the interesting thing for me is “can you write the song that can change somebody’s mood?” You don’t have to have a straight beat and riff - just by the fact that I change the drums so it is ahead and pushing the beat and will cause anxiety, if the drum is right on the beat it is more militant, but being behind is a more relaxed feeling. All these things create a feeling of a song that you give to people. You have a verse and a chorus, is it going to be a laid back or up-beat chorus? There is more to songwriting than just A-B-A-B stuff. Ivan [Five Finger Death Punch singer] wanted to have an instrumental, so we dabble in that stuff, but the game is if we can write the song in the time frame and have power and dynamic changes. There is a format to everything - if it is shorter you won’t be satisfied, but if it is longer you have to sit through it. The idea is not that you write ten radio songs or a cookie cutter, that’s not the point.
Bloodofheroes: Rumor has it you guys will be recording a new album later this year – what is the focus this time?
Zoltan: Basically every time we write it is a specific thing. Our singer isn’t present when we write - he doesn’t play an instrument and we all trust that we know what we are doing. Ivan goes away, the musicians write and we feed him complete songs and he does the lyrics. But when we get together no idea is a stupid idea and anything goes. We write everything, and when we have a bunch of stuff we’ll see what is good and what isn’t. But the band does have boundaries, we aren’t going to do a jazz record or sound like Meshuggah, so we have these loose boundaries we operate between, some good riffs and maybe a solo, but there is no preconceived idea. But when it comes to lyrical ideas it is up to Ivan. The goal is to write songs we are happy with and I would listen to. People that critique music says “it would have been great if…” but we didn’t invent heavy metal, and pretty much every riff you can come up with somebody already played it. So it is impossible to come up with something new, but you can still write good songs. You try to stay away from stuff that somebody did, but for us it is pretty much trying to write something that is original and sounds like us and that we like it, and we just have to hope that the audience likes it too.
Bloodofheroes: Congratulations on the 2010 Dimebag Darrell Shredder Award at the Golden God Awards – how did it come about, and what does it mean to you?
Zoltan: The Golden Gods, it is the same thing in Europe as it is here. Revolver and Metal Hammer are owned by the same publisher and it the same thing where they put up the nomination list. It is almost like the Grammy [Awards] where they pull the top few and then it is a public voting thing. That is the only way to do these things, because there is no judge of who is kick-ass. It is an honor, thank god Yngwie wasn’t in the running this year [laughs], and it was special getting it from Vinnie Paul. It was pretty amazing for me because Dimebag was a life changing experience for me. When I saw him in the 1990s in Germany I wasn’t familiar with Pantera but I was like “Holy shit I have to relearn everything I know about playing the guitar!”
Bloodofheroes: How was the whole “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Experience?
Zoltan: [laughs] That is a strange scenario man! Usually for shows it is “the bigger the crowd the better.” We can walk out in front of 90,000 people and it pumps the band up. But the TV environment is so alien - there is no crowd, just some general guests. You are removed from your element, and the success of this band is live. To go back to it we are back to sticks and stones, we are just making noise and it is a tribal experience. Bands that take their audience as a part of this are good. People don’t say “I saw this band,” they say “I was there.” And for us it is extremely important. The crazier the audience gets the crazier the band gets. And on TV there are cameras and crew and some audience, but it was an interesting scenario. It was exciting at first, we weren’t nervous but we had to pay attention for cues, do that and go here and play this now, but it is awesome to get the exposure – we are named Five Finger Death Punch and we are on “Jimmy Kimmel!” Hopefully there will be more of that coming.
Bloodofheroes: You are hanging out on a nice summer day, having some beers – what is on the stereo?
Zoltan: Probably Killswitch Engage. I am big fan mainly of metal mainly, but at the same time it really depends. If I am having a beer it will probably be heavy metal. I love people that can really sing or who are great songwriters or there are some composers I respect, but probably Killswitch Engage. Demonhunter, I love that band, especially the older records. More melodic stuff also, I do listen to Iron Maiden and Accept. One of my favorite records is “Killers.”
Bloodofheroes: If you want to leave the Metal Underground readers with one main Five Finger Death Punch idea – what would it be?
Zoltan: I guess I’ll do a sidetrack on this one [laughs]. With the name Five Finger Death Punch and the album names, the general misconception is this is a tough guy metal thing, the whole idea of being a complete bonehead, but that is a complete myth. But if I break it down to what it really means it doesn’t have to be bonehead stuff, that isn’t the idea. If you take a Buddhist monk, he is the symbol of peace sitting on top of the hill. But in reality he is in full-on war with his consciousness. You are at war for recognition or a job or something, and the whole idea behind our content is that we didn’t make the rules. The lion eats the small deer and the sick deer, is that evil? No, it is the way of nature, but as a person you have to recognize it. You have to stand on your feet and recognize it. Will you be the deer or the lion? The tough guy doesn’t start fights, the tough guy survives adversity. That is why we support the troops. Whatever you think of the war, these guys have the balls to do that, and that requires respect. So that is the idea.
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