Jason Hook talks about his new Epi Explorer and how to survive in Five Finger Death Punch
Epiphone welcomes Five Finger Death Punch legend Jason Hook as the House of Stathopoulo's latest Signature Artist with the release of his Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Jason Hook "M-4" Explorer Outfit. Hook spoke to Epiphone.com on the eve of the release of the FFDP's, new album, And Justice For None, as well as the Netflix release of his first feature length documentary, Hired Gun, ("it's trending in the Top 5 now!") which chronicles the lives of the men and women who back up the world's biggest celebrities. Hook served as the film's Executive Producer, which stars Hook along with Rob Zombie, Steve Vai, drummer Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel), and Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy). Hook was born in Toronto and began taking guitar lessons while still under 10. After moving to Los Angeles and building up his reputation in the studio and on stage backing up Mandy Moore and Alice Cooper, Hook joined Five Finger Death Punch in 2009 and for the last decade, his fiery chops have defined the sound of the band. We spoke with Hook about what it takes to gear up for a new tour, and how to design your very own Epiphone signature guitar.
Congratulations on your new Epiphone Explorer, Jason. Have you been using it in rehearsals for the new tour?
Oh yeah. It's a rock solid guitar. It totally meets up to my expectations. It sounds great. It has all the same hardware, the same pickups, same wood, fretboard, frets... but it's less expensive than the Gibson. And that part is exciting because even though I'm incredibly proud of the Gibson, our demographic is made up of younger kids. Not everyone can afford the Gibson. I noticed that when we released it. So, I'm really excited now that I'm coming out with another guitar that's going to be at a price point that's more user friendly for families and to our fans. The process was pretty easy actually. We kind of modeled it after the specs that were on the M4-Sherman. The only thing that's different really is the paint scheme. This time it's red with white stripes as opposed to white with olive stripes.
When it comes to the guitars you play, are you detail oriented or more practical? How hard was it for you to settle on what you wanted your signature guitar to sound like?
I'm super picky and insist on my happiness (laughs). I'm always playing around with my guitars. I'm always changing things around. I'm a bit of a mad scientist. And of course, it was a dream to have a signature guitar. You can have your cake and eat it too! There's nothing better than to have someone build a guitar based on your personal specs and desires. That's awesome. So that's kind of how it wound up. I've always been a fan of Epiphone.
What are your earliest memories of seeing guitars and thinking you might one day be a musician?
I grew up in Toronto. I'm Canadian. And in downtown Toronto on Queen Street there was a shop called Steve's Music. And I used to beg my Dad to take me to Steve's Music because they had wall-to-wall guitars. It was the only place you could actually go see real guitars in person. It was like going to Mars. There was no internet or Sweetwater Music back then. So, going to Steve's was a big deal. And back in the 70s and 80s, the guitars were all Les Pauls. That was what I grew up doing, was visiting Steve's Music.
Who was your favorite guitarist at that time?
I was all about Ace Frehley. That's all I cared about was KISS. I just loved Ace's playing and his melodic approach and rhythmic approach. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I couldn't get enough of it. I had so many Ace Frehley pictures on my wall, my Dad started calling me "Ace."
Do you still revisit your favorite Ace solos and music you loved as a kid as a way of clearing your head before a tour?
It's funny that you ask me that. I almost have to do that to get my head screwed on right. Because I'll tell you: when you reach a level of success like we have, it doesn't feel that special or that magical when you're in the band. I hate to burst the bubble but I feel like it's a lot bigger in the public's mind than it is in the band's mind. It's cool that it's big for them, but you don't feel the same magic when it's you.
But you need that magic to keep the band from getting stale.
Right. For Five Finger Death Punch, making new records is helpful because that means that every so often you have to learn something new and stuff it in the set. That helps keeps it fresh. If we play the same show for too long, we start to just lose interest in it. And also the band starts to complaining, too! So, that's one of the things we're doing now. We're learning a bunch of new songs to satisfy both of those needs. We're talking about opening the show with a brand new song that isn't released. We've never done that before.
Is songwriting easy for you or do you have to sort of wind yourself up for the process?
It's a bit of both actually. I'm a terrible self-editor. I kind of scrutinize everything that comes out of my fingers. So typically what I'll do is I have a guitar in pretty much every room in the house. Sometimes I just want to pick it up and play and I always have my iPhone voice memo app open and if I stumble on to anything, I just make a quick recording of it and then I put the guitar down, turn the phone off. What I end up with at the end of the month is all of these ideas that you kind of hear fresh because you don't really remember coming up with them because they happened so fast. But then you can go back and review them a month down the road with fresh ears, you know? And the ones that leap off the page as special, I'll just import them into Pro Tools and start to build up a track around the idea.
You're an old hand at touring. But is getting ready for a long tour easy for you or stressful?
It's always stressful for me. The transition from being off for a while to going out on the tour. I'm a bit of a hoarder and I get separation anxiety from all my gear and all my stuff. I keep thinking: 'I'm going to need this mp3 recorder. I should bring this microphone. What happens if I get bored—-I better bring this book!' And I end up with all this stuff. And then I have to go through it all again and whittle it down to half the amount of stuff, then whittle it down to a quarter of the amount of stuff. I don't know why it stresses me out. Once I'm out there I'm fine. But if you add to that having to learn new songs—and in my case I have to learn the solos and the songs—it stresses me out when we're getting ready to tour, you know?
How quickly do you move away from the studio version of a song and begin to embellish your solos and your approach?
Oh pretty much right away. We make our records in the studio. We bring in really, really rough ideas and sketch them out on the spot. We are never really that well acquainted with the parts. It's only when you go back and learn it later that you go: 'I would have never done it this way had I spent another week on it.'
And now on top of all of that you're a filmmaker, too!
Right. My very first documentary, Hired Gun, just came out on Netflix. It's basically a documentary about musicians who play for celebrities—and some of the horrific experiences they have. I took four years to make that movie and it's trending Top 5 on Netflix now. It has KISS, Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Ozzy, and Metallica. It's pretty wild. Check it out.