Jeremy Spencer Pounds Five Finger Death Punch
All of Spencer’s hard work and dedication finally paid off in February 2005, when a fateful classified ad put him in touch with guitarist and kindred spirit Zoltan Bathory. “It’s one of those stories — like M...tley Crüe — where we met through an ad just wanting to make songs that we liked,” Spencer says of the duo’s instant chemistry. “We weren’t getting the music that we wanted to listen to, so we just kind of did what we wanted. It turned out that we had learned so much from our pasts that it was pretty much dialed in and focused. We started tracking the first record before we even had a band.”
Embracing the (then) newfound power of social media, Spencer and Bathory began to share their vision — big, beefy metal songs, succinctly written with ample space for catchy melodies. “[The music] had hooks and it was pleasing to the ear and everyone who heard it gave positive feedback. We started getting a fan base on MySpace before we had a label or management or anything.”
The band was christened Five Finger Death Punch — an homage to Uma Thurman’s coup de grace martial arts move in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part opus, Kill Bill — and Spencer and Bathory began to flesh out the remainder of the group. They identified their ideal vocalist in Ivan Moody, a Denver native who possessed the ability to deliver a tough, guttural growl as well as triumphant, soaring melodies. Following a mere handful of shows, Death Punch’s grassroots following had grown to the size of a small army.
When it came time to sign with major label Prospect Park, Spencer and his bandmates had earned the rare privilege of maintaining full creative control over their sound and image. The Way Of The Fist, Death Punch’s debut, was self-funded and self-produced, with Spencer even handling editing duties in Pro Tools — a skill he picked up by creating his own collection of double bass–based drum loops called Extreme Metal Loops.
“Zoltan was showing me demos and I noticed that the drum source he had was wasn’t exactly amazing,” Spencer says sarcastically. “He used a combination of hip-hop loops and rock loops and he was like, ‘There’s no metal loops out there with double bass — you should totally make one of those.’ So I took a shot at it. It was a great learning experience for me. It still continues to sell to this day and I’m very proud of it.”
Go For Two
For Death Punch’s sophomore album, the band tapped producer Kevin Churko — an understudy of the legendary Mutt Lange — to help bolster their already formidable sound. The collaboration proved to be a match made in hard rock heaven, as War Is The Answer debuted at #7 on the Billboard charts — a testament to Death Punch’s growing mainstream popularity. Songs like “Far From Home” and a cover of Bad Company’s (ahem) “Bad Company,” enjoyed phenomenal success at active rock radio, peaking at #2 and #1, respectively.
At least some of this success can be credited to Spencer’s, dare we say, pop sensibility behind the kit. “I try and make drum parts hooky and catchy — kind of like a lead vocal. The song is always the most important thing and I just try to enhance what’s there. I never try to be a hot dog or show off. Sometimes it requires it — and that’s when I go to town — but for the most part, I just want hooks. You’ve got to have cake — you can’t just have icing. To me, Dave Grohl is the greatest hard rock drummer ever, because he really focuses on the song. ”
Having a successful record means a long tour cycle, and Death Punch spent the majority of 2009 and 2010 promoting War Is The Answer — including a ten-day trip to play for troops stationed in Iraq. “It was probably the best tour I’ve ever been a part of, because they don’t get entertainment,” Spencer says solemnly. “They’re out there, sacrificing under brutal conditions that nobody has a clue about — they think they do through the media and stuff, but when you really see it and you’re there, it’s an eye-opener. One of the planes we were in got shot at once or twice — and that’s customary for that to happen over there.”
When Death Punch takes the stage, it’s all-out war, and Spencer keeps a vigorous workout and stretching routine to ensure his body will live to fight another day. “It’s almost like glorified yoga,” he explains. “I get these hard foam rollers and I roll my muscles out on those — it keeps all the knots out and keeps me loose. I don’t warm up on a [drum] pad because you’re basically using your muscles the same way that you do in the performance — I think you need to counter the damage that you’re doing and work the opposite muscles to balance yourself out.”
In regards to tuning his tubs for the stage, Spencer likes ’em loose. “I’m a just-above-the-wrinkles guy — I just like the feel of it. I like low, beefy, ballsy sounding drums, but I use triggers to get that high-end click to cut through — especially on the kick drums. I play off the triggers too. I don’t kill myself all the time. You’ve got to pace yourself. The people that do what we’re doing at that intense speed … you’ve got to kind of learn to play off the feel of the sound. I’m not fully slamming. I don’t hit like Dave Grohl. That just doesn’t really work for Death Punch.”