Zoltan Bathory Talks Five Finger Death Punch’s New Album, Ivan Moody’s Battle With Alcohol, And The Value Of Major Stage Shows

Posted by on July 30, 2013

zoltan ffdpFive Finger Death Punch is under a lot of pressure. First, there’s the pressure of following the success of their past albums with not one, but essentially TWO new albums (the first part out now and volume 2 slated for November). Then there’s the weight that comes with getting promoted from Mayhem Fest openers to co-headliners. And as if that wasn’t enough, the band’s lead singer Ivan Moody recently went public about his addiction to alcohol.  

Yet as he walked into Mayhem’s press tent area in Camden, NJ, guitarist Zoltan Bathory’s enthusiasm and cheerfulness beamed throughout the entire room. While many in his shoes would’ve rightfully look worn out or even frustrated, the Hungarian-born guitarist came off as the most easy going, approachable man in the crazed room. It was during our chat at the tour’s stop in Camden, NJ where Bathory opened up about the making of The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, how he came to realize his singer needed help in his battle with alcohol, and what it’s like to be a veteran of Mayhem Fest.


What inspired the band to split it the new album, The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, into two parts?

Well, we went into the studio coming home from the road and had a little bit of a head start this time. Usually we’ll go to the studio and say “okay, let’s make an album.” But this time we had a studio out on the road, so by the time we hit the studio we had seven or eight frames of songs. We were like “okay, this is going somewhere,” so we had a jumpstart. The way we write, we write the music first and then we give it to Ivan [Moody, singer]. So by the time he gets the songs, it’s almost a done song anyway. So we were just writing, writing, writing, and started with those seven or eight ideas, and we ended up with sixteen or seventeen songs by the time Ivan came to the studio and started to work his magic on it. By the time we looked back, we were like “fuck, we have twenty four songs.” It’s a good problem to have, actually. The idea was “Ok, here are the best ten or eleven, and the rest are going to be bonus tracks or something for foreign releases,” because people don’t know, but once you’re done with the record, you may say “okay, done!” but the label will say “No, no, no, you guys need this this and this,” and we’ll be like “fuck, really?”

Especially now with digital stuff, you need to offer as much content as possible.

Yeah! Every single store, iTunes, everyone wants something extra, something exclusive. It’s like “Dude, I just wrote a fucking record. You want me to go back and write five more songs?” [laughs] And nobody thinks “Let me write a shitty song that’s not so important.” The iTunes extra can’t be some shitty song [laughs], nobody thinks that way. So we had twenty four or twenty five songs, and we were like “Ok, what’s the best ten?” And then the internal arguments started. “Oh no, no, no, we have to have this one,” or “no, no, no, we need to have that one too.” So we thought that this was the best material that we wrote to this day, so how could we not use it?

So we told the label that we had a “good” problem, that we had twenty four fucking songs [laughs] and that we’ll probably have to release it ]as a double record]. The label said “No, no, no, it’s not going to sell. Pick eleven songs!” And we were like “Ok, we’ll make you a deal. We’ll send it to you and you fucking pick the eleven songs!” So they come back two weeks later, and were like “Oh shit, well… I see what you mean now!” [laughs] That’s basically how the label came to realize that we got to keep all of this. [However] you can’t just give 24 songs. I don’t know how you listen to the albums, but I take three months to really listen.


Also, with the digitalization of music, there are shorter attention spans in music now. That’s why bands opt to just do EPs.

Yeah. The delivery system is different, and the information you get today is one hundred times more than someone got 40 years ago. Bands can’t disappear anymore for two years. By the time you come back, people are like “Who? Did you know that numerous countries disappeared and the economy system collapsed while you were gone? Where were you?” [laughs] “We were in the studio, I didn’t notice! What happened?” [laughs]


Well, like you said, twenty four songs is a lot to take in even separated. How do you hope fans will approach the new material?

Basically, that’s why we did it the way we did it. It was important for us for people to understand that it’s one time capsule. A record is a time capsule with who you are, what you are, and what you are doing. So it was important for people to understand that this was one story, but a lot of these tracks are very dear to us, so we don’t want them to just disappear in the mix. Originally, we were going to put it out at the same time, and the title was The Wrong Side of Heaven [for one disc] and The Righteous Side of Hell [for the other].


That’s really cool. Hard to say five times, but really cool! [laughs]

Yeah, right? I can’t even say it in the same fucking sentence [laughs]. So the idea we had was this ancient idea of good and evil, and we have our own opinions about fictitious and environmentally effected creators. But it’s whatever you think is good. Another guy is going to go “what the fuck is wrong with you?” and vice versa. So we wanted to make that the theme of the album, separate this heaven and hell thing, even though it’s for of ridiculous, but that’s what people understand. For thousands of years, this is their idea of good and evil. So you need to pose your answers and explanations in context that people understand. That’s why it was done that way. So that was the idea, but then we said to ourselves “You guys aren’t Guns N’ fucking Roses! Who do you think you are?!” [laughs]

But so the real answer is that twenty four songs is a lot to digest, so we separated them, and gave you three or four months’ breathing space. Once we decided that one will come out on July 30th, and the other one comes out somewhere in November, you will have enough breathing space to get familiar with the first one, and the second one will come out soon enough to understand that it’s part two, but not too far out. So this we got to connect, but we had to put the titles together, and that’s how the unpronounceable title came about, along with Volume 1 and Volume 2.


And as if that wasn’t ambitious enough, you have a lot of big names making appearances on these albums (including Rob Halford, Max Cavalera, Jamey Jasta among many others on the first volume alone). Where did the idea for all these guests come from?

That actually wasn’t really planned. We didn’t go into the studio thinking that way, even though it’s completely normal in the hip hop world to do it that way. Once the record was done, we were actually listening to random tracks for the separations sake, like what track comes first, what comes second [etc.]. The record has to flow. We’ve always made records that way because we started this way, and always sounded this way. Of course, you develop some, and you change a little bit. It’s kind of like how we can play a ballad and a stupid heavy song on the same album. It’s okay, because it’s what we always did. It’s not like “let’s try to do this.” So for us, it’s okay but you can’t have all mid tempo or slow songs, and you can’t have all really heavy songs. It’s a journey of ups and downs, and that was the idea. To make two fully listenable records that flow.

So as we were listening to “Lift Me Up”, someone said something like “that kind of sounds a little like Ozzy, or maybe Judas Priest. It has little bit of this 80’s feel to it” Of course, we’re always going to have a gruffier sound than the 80’s stuff. But this one was a little more 80’s than most of our songs, and Ivan was like “I heard in an interview that Rob Halford said that one of his favorite new bands was Five Finger Death Punch.” So that’s how it came about. It was a long shot. I mean, he’s a Metal God, probably busy destroying non-believers and striking them down with lighting or whatever Metal Gods do [laughs]. But we reached out because hell, it’s Rob Halford, he’s one of the guys that started the entire genre. And we got a call back a few days later saying that he loved it, and he was going to come down and record it with us. He didn’t even record it from wherever he was. He flew down to Las Vegas to record it with us. And here I am, sitting in a studio with a Metal God in a booth, and I was like “Dude, if lighting strike me now, I’m good! Bucket list is filled out!” This kind of experience is really rare, and something to be cherished.


Was that a similar way of how the Max Cavalera collaboration came about? Though I know you’ve been friends with him and have toured with Soulfly.

Well Halford was the first one. Once that happened, we were like “You know what, this was so much fun. We got to hang out with him for a couple of days.” I mean, I was driving my car [with Halford in it] at 40 miles an hour screaming out “People, get the fuck out of the way! A METAL GOD IS IN THE CAR!” [laughs] But we got to hang out with him, and we just had such a good time. And that’s when the idea sparked. We were like “what if we keep this record with eleven songs, and then put a bunch of bonus tracks on it with collaborations?” We were giving something extra to the fans, so it didn’t become like “here’s a gimmick, let’s collaborate.” Instead, it would be like “here’s a record, AND here’s three or four extra tracks with guest vocalists.” Anyone can get another instrument in a song. I can get a tuba into a song if I wanted, but you can’t get the sound or texture of another vocalist. Nobody sounds like Rob Halford, and when you listen to Max Cavalera, you just know it’s him. And Max, we worked with him before. He’s come out on stage to sing a few songs before. Jamey, the same story. All of these people, we were friends with, and we just started calling them up.


Was there anyone that you tried to reach out to, but just couldn’t make it happen?

There were some ideas, but they were either touring or you get greedy and go “Hey, let’s get James Hetfield!” [laughs] That’s not gonna happen. But that was on the list, like “Oh fuck, that would be awesome!” That’s a wet dream for any musician, to have a track that you wrote and have a voice that you grew up listening to on it even for just a second. So there were some ideas on the list that we knew were just impossible. Rob Halford worked I guess because he likes the band. That’s good enough on its own; to get the stamp of approval by someone you grew up listening to. So we have some more guest vocalists on the second album as well. Both records are done, and the only thing that is going on right now is [the recording of some more] appearances… that I can’t tell you yet, even though I’d fucking love to! [laughs] But we’re recording that right now.


I hope you don’t mind if we switch over to a more personal subject. In the latest issue of Revolver, Ivan admitted that his alcohol issues took a huge toll on the band. You also addressed in the interview how his struggles were effecting the band. At what point did you realize that Ivan had a problem?

Well, I was sitting in [our bus’] back lounge, and I picked up my phone, called our tour manager and asked “Um, was that your printer that flew by my window?” [laughs] This actually happened! He [the manager] was like “Yeahhhh, Ivan was angry because I didn’t print out something. So he threw out the printer.” There were some event that were fucking hilarious. I saw the printer flew by [the window], and I was like “Are you fucking kidding me? What the fuck was that?” [laughs]

When somebody has an alcohol problem, you can’t miss it. Especially when… there are drunks that are funny and drunks that are “arrgghh!!” And he was the second kind. The thing that saved it though was, believe it or not, he can literally drink insane amounts of alcohol and you can’t tell if he’s drunk, until he says stuff and it makes you go like “what?” He could do this interview with you right now, and he’d say things to you that you’d make headlines out of, like “Holy shit, he really said that?” [laughs] And you wouldn’t know that he was drunk. He never dropped the bomb. He always cames on stage and delivered what he needed to deliver. He never missed a show. So it was a really bizarre scenario. The problems that we had to deal with were off stage. On stage, he does fantastic job, he’s extremely charismatic, he has the crowd, he has communication going and stuff like that. But off stage, he’s not completely there.

He’s much, much better now. It only effected inside the structure. A lot of bands have this problem. Thank God that it’s not hard drugs, or something that is really hard to deal with.


And the fact that he’s facing his issues now.

Yes. He has responsibilities. He realized what had value in his life, and he’s pulling it together. Obviously, it’s an addiction, it’s an illness. Even if you completely dry out, you’re still an alcoholic. You’re just not drinking. A lot of bands have this problem. And in this environment, you have triggers all day. I don’t have any addiction other than martial arts. But there are triggers, though. Everyone around you is partying and drinking, and it’s really difficult for you to stay on the bus and not do it with them. And you’re being invited on a daily basis, like “Hey man, let’s do this!” So for somebody with an addiction, and almost any band you talk to probably have at least one or two guys with this issue, that even if they’re dry, it’s still like “Fuck man. I want to go and party!”


Well, it’s great to hear that he’s doing good.

Yeah, he’s doing good.


It’s pretty remarkable to think that this is Five Finger Death Punch’s third Mayhem Fest.

Yeah, third Mayhem Fest! We kind of grew up with Mayhem Fest because we were at the first [one in 2008], on the side stage, towards the porta potties, no showers. It was rough. The funny thing is, everybody thinks “Well, because of how the band blew up, that it happened relatively fast,” but it happened fast because we adjusted while the world changed. Shit happens and it happens fast. So it’s not like we didn’t earn it, or we didn’t work for it. We used to play and tour for 320 days a year, and we used to have a month off. The organizer [of Mayhem Fest] noticed that we had some massive crowd reaction. And then we got to open for the main stage [in 2010], and now we get to co-headline. So we kind of grew up in the cradle of Mayhem.

And there are many factors to it, like the stage show. I’m a fan of a lot of bands that have very musical and sophisticated, but that’s just one aspect of music. You have to connect with people. Even if it’s really artistic, it may not connect with people. Connecting with people is also a form of art. Writing a song that can touch the hearts of millions of people is probably more difficult to do than writing a song that is really difficult to play. You don’t want to be a three chord thing either, but you have to find a balance and speak the language of the people. At the same time, you can’t do “well how about making this 7/8 part go into 11?” And when you leave the visuals on the sidelines, you’re missing a lot. People are visual in general. In life in general, you see things first. You rely on your eyes mostly for input. But the opposite is really respectable, and we’ve done so a million times, but once we were at a position where we could do a loud show and we could be a little distinct, we pissed off every accountant we’ve ever had because we’d blow all the money on production. This was what we wanted. Look at bands like Rammstein or Iron Maiden. Those were the bands where you were like “Holy shit!”


Especially now in a tough economy where people are really picky about what bands they buy tickets to see live. You want to give them as much of a show as you can for their buck.

Absolutely. If you keep doing that, if you keep investing into that, they will come back because they know, like “How many times can you see the same show and production?” Again, not to talk shit on any band. We just keep building [our production show] because we were influenced by those guys. Still one of my favorite bands to watch is Rammstein. I’m still like “Holy fucking shit!” That’s why we keep adding stuff, and pissing off more accountants [laughs].

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