Totally True Memoirs of a Metal Producer: Five Finger Death Punch’s American Capitalist
Now, Five Finger Death Punch was my kind of gig.
Don’t get me wrong. Their music is drek. In fact, it’s more than drek — it’s the culmination of every dreky trend in popular music since about 1980: Bon Jovi, 3 Doors Down, Saliva, and Alan Jackson all rolled into one. (I shouldn’t be mean to Bon Jovi. He owes me money.)
But they’d just had their first platinum record, they were hungry for a second, and they were willing to pay me top dollar to get me into the studio immediately because of my stellar track record and the fact that I’d worked with all their favorite bands: Poison, Limp Bizkit, Atreyu, Attack Attack!, etc. They even wanted to call their record American Capitalist. I accepted the job immediately.
Four-fifths of the band arrived at the studio around 10 a.m. For about fifteen minutes, we were chit-chatting, get to know one another, discussing the band’s “vision,” that sort of schmegegge, when their singer, Ivan, burst through the studio wall like the Kool-Aid man and shouted “ME PUMPED! ME DO THIS SHIT!” or something like that.
It became clear that he expected to record vocals immediately. I later found out that he usually wasn’t told the band was making a new album until very late in the process for just this reason. I tried to explain to him that we needed to record the music before we could record the vocals, but he didn’t seem to understand. I was going to have to keep him distracted for a few weeks. I tried to use the same trick I used on Sebastian Bach back in ’91.
“Have you already eaten a golden rose?” I asked him. He tilted his head to one side like a confused dog. “You mean you really don’t know? All the best metal vocalists eat a golden rose before they record. Dio, Dickinson, Halford-“
“Kid Rock?” he interrupted.
“Sure,” I smiled, “even Kid Rock.”
He ran out of the hole he’d just made in the wall screaming like he was a NFL player running out onto the field for a game, I assumed to go find his golden rose. I thought that would keep him busy for awhile, but he came back five minutes later.
“ME ATE A GOLDEN ROSE!” he announced.
“Ivan… don’t lie to me.”
“ME NOT LYING!”
He looked down at his shoes guiltily.
“Now go find a golden rose, for real this time.”
And he ran back out screaming.
An hour later, we were setting up Jeremy’s drums when Ivan came back.
“ME ATE GOLDEN ROSE!” he declared.
“Ivan, what did I say about lying to me?”
“ME NOT LIE! SEE?!?!” He opened his mouth to show me that he’d sprayed his teeth and tongue with gold spray paint. I was actually impressed that he’d thought to do it.
“Golden roses don’t stain your teeth,” I told him. He looked shameful for another minute, then ran back out again. This time it worked: we didn’t see him again for a month.
The rest of the band was okay, save for some typical rock star quirks. It was hard to get Jeremy to concentrate — I kept catching him in the bathroom watching ShtupTube and playing with his schmeckle. Every time I caught him, he’d smile sheepishly and say, “Hey, all rock stars wanna be movie stars and all movie stars wanna be rock stars, right?” He was also really into Fox News.
I don’t remember the name of the bassist. I just remember he’d replaced the band’s last bassist after seeing their ad on the wall at a Guitar Center. Ivan had apparently insisted they hire him, because he thought he was the octopus guy from that Johnny Depp pirate movie. He could play well enough so the band went along with it. I do remember him really liking Fox News.
I don’t remember the name of one guitarist. I think Zoltan did all of his parts anyway.
Zoltan gave me the heebie jeebies. We had a lot of good chats swapping tips about tax loopholes. But he was always carrying a gun. I asked him why. He said, “Because it’s my right as an American.” Fair enough. Anyway he was very into Fox News.
So a month goes by, they’ve just finished fixing the hole in the wall of the studio, and Ivan bursts right back through it again. He screams “ME ATE GOLDEN ROSE!” and offers me a scrap of paper.
It was a receipt from a Chinese restaurant called The Golden Rose.
“I’m very proud of you, Ivan,” I said. “Now we can record your vocals.”
He got so excited that he passed out and fell asleep for an hour, and then we finally started to get to work.
Unfortunately, Ivan’s lyrics were garbage. For example, this was the original first verse for the title track:
ME MAKE MONKEY NOISE
ME LIKE TO TWEET
ME HAVE SHINY BALD HEAD
ME LIKE TO EAT
After about two hours of conversation, it became apparent that Ivan was under the impression a capitalist is someone like David Draiman, who uses the caps lock on his keyboard all the time.
This was going to be an uphill battle.
So I sent Ivan off to lyric writing bootcamp with two of my closest friends, Frankie Fortune Cookie and Greta Greeting Card. They gave Ivan a rhyming dictionary and crash courses in platitudes, nonsensical comparisons/contrasts, endless repetition, and use of familiar phrases. They also shocked him with a cattle prod every time he said “me” when he should have said “I” — basically, everything a singer need to write lyrics that will appeal to the widest possible audience.
When he came back a few weeks later, Ivan had changed the lyrics of the title track to this:
I’m a red-blooded, roughneck son of a bitch
I’m a goddamned American capitalist
I’ve got a kill-’em-all, give-a-shit license to hate
I’m that one-shot, one-kill bringer of fate
It wasn’t the vast improvement I’d been hoping for — it turned out Ivan was really into Fox News — but it was good enough.
We finished the record, and, of course, it did go platinum. Ivan still sends me a Christmas card every year. They’re written in crayon, sure, but at least they make a modicum of sense.