Five Finger Death Punch’s Jason Hook Talks ‘Hired Gun’ Documentary
Who is that guy (or gal)? You've seen them play with a number of your favorite acts, often flanking the vocalist but doing such a great job that they garnered your attention. Pretty frequently, the omnipresent background player is what's known as a "hired gun," a stellar musician brought in to help accentuate the live show or the studio recording. And thanks to a new documentary called Hired Gun, these players and their stories get a spotlight.
Five Finger Death Punch's Jason Hook was what you would call a "hired gun" prior to landing his current gig and he serves as an Executive Producer on the film, which is receiving a nationwide screening tonight (June 29). Hook spoke with us about how the Hired Gun film came about, some of the participating musicians in the film and what were some of the lessons he learned is being a "hired gun" and trying to fit what each artist is looking for. Check out our chat below.
I know you have an Executive Producer credit on this film, so tell me a little bit about where this film started and how you came to be involved with it?
I met the director Fran Strine about four years ago on a Five Finger Death Punch tour. We had hired Fran to be our tour videographer and somehow Fran got stuck on the bus that I was on and one night we were on a very long drive and started talking about our mutual love of music documentaries, specifically the things like Behind the Music. Remember the VH1 Behind the Music, the television show? It turns out that Fran had directed a few smaller documentary-type things and I was kind of looking to do something in the documentary field, so we said why don't we try to do our own and do it together. So I had saved up a little bit of money and I was like, "I'll finance it and we'll do it together."
Then we started tossing around what would be a good topic, and we tossed around a few ideas and the topic of "hired gun" came up because Fran had toured with a bunch of bands and knew a bunch of musicians and so have I and a lot of guys are friends of ours. I thought that would work great because I knew we could instantly get our hands on good content. Guys like John 5 and Phil X and Jason Newsted, these are all guys that we knew. Eric Singer from KISS, these are all friends of ours, and so we started thinking of it like that and that would be good cause we could get some good content. Fran had some really expensive camera that he wanted to use, like a 4K Reg camera and we were like, "OK, this could work."
Little did I know, four years later, how much of a task it is to make a movie. Now there's hundreds of people involved and it's going theatrical and it's going to be converted into 26 different languages. It's turned into this massive, global thing. But it's cool because I believe if you're going to do something, do it all the way. Be extreme. Do something and strive to be great, not just okay. So I hoped that it would turn into this, but the only difference between this and reality was that we didn't know what we were doing, so there was a lot of a learning curve along the way. But here we are, it's coming out [tonight] in 400 theaters nationwide, one night only, Hired Gun, the rock documentary.
Speaking of music documentaries, what are some of the ones that have struck a chord with you over the years?
Oh my god... Well, I saw Rolling Stones 25x5. I love the Eagles' History of the Eagles. That was pretty f--king brutal. You name it. I just saw the Beatles touring documentary for Ron Howard, which was really great because nobody's ever really dissected that part of their lives. Everyone has examined their records and personal lives to death, but nobody ever really went into what the touring was like because their big American visits were such a short-lived period. And I really relate to it because John [Lennon] says something in the movie that stuck out to me. He says, "What people don't understand is that everybody wants a little piece of you." I'm not talking about a piece of you sexually. The guy in the elevator wants to say hello and can I get a picture, the guy in the cab wants you to sign something or take a picture. Everybody wants to engage. And I can relate to that. You can't explain it to somebody, but being on tour, especially in Five Finger Death Punch, it just takes and takes and takes, and you can't be s--tty to anybody because they're excited. But I really related to that part he said.
Other movies that I've loved, I just watch every single thing I can get my hands on. Amy, 20 Feet From Stardom, Wrecking Crew, Muscle Shoals, you name it. Anything that breaks down what was really happening when you weren't supposed to know as the public, but now you can know because the documentary will show you what's really happening, to me, that's f--king magic, you know?
Looking at the lineup, there's some great people in this film and musicians I've long admired. In addition to the ones you've mentioned, Kenny Aronoff and Liberty Devitto are favorites of mine. In seeking out the talent for this film, did you have someone you felt was a "must get" for the movie?
Well, for me, there were several. I grew up being a huge KISS fan to demented levels. And when I played for Alice Cooper, it just so happened that Eric Singer was also in the band, and Eric, as you know, is in KISS. So we became friends, and so when we plotted out this movie, I really wanted to get KISS in the movie. I don't know how we're going to do it, but if I can get Eric to tell a story ... and Eric's a talker. We interviewed Eric for four hours and I don't think anyone took a piss break or grabbed a drink or anything. He just goes and goes and goes. But I had to get approval from Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons] and Doc [McGhee] to use the segment and they were very helpful and generous. And Eric's role in the movie is more of a celebrity chime-in. We tracked a lot of guys and their stories and then we had guys who were super accomplished reflecting on those stories or giving their stories about where they are now as opposed to where they were a younger hopeful. God bless Eric, he was one that I definitely wanted to talk to.
And then we were very fortunate to be able to talk to Liberty. We spent days with Liberty. We went to New York and spent some time with Liberty and his story is unique because he spent 30 years with the same gig. You never hear of that and that's so rare. There's basically three guys that make up the skeleton of the movie. It's myself, having gone into the hired gun field and then leaving that field to pursue being an artist and then finding success as an artist in Five Finger Death Punch. So that's a unique story. Rudy Sarzo is the guy who's had just about every gig you can think of, including the Ozzy Osbourne gig where Randy Rhoads was killed in the plane crash and he walks you through in detail what happened that day, what it felt like and all the experience and how horrific that was. Being in Quiet Riot, being in Whitesnake ... he's just had so many gigs. And then the other main story is Liberty, so it's the three of us that make up the skeleton of the movie and the contrast between our three unique paths.
You played with a number of acts before joining Five Finger Death Punch. I'm curious, in this hired gun role, how much research do you do not only learning the music but trying to find out the personalities before you go in to try out for the role?
That's a good question. I'm the type of guy where preparation creates confidence. And so I would over-prepare. I would try to gather as much intel going in as possible, just to eliminate ... you don't want to be surprised by anything. The more you know about somebody's favorite restaurant or the musical director drives the same car as you. Researching bootleg videos just to see how they would do live endings, how the show runs. ANYTHING you can find out to make the transition easier. If they pick you to be in the gig, you want them to have the most seamless transition possible and they have to see that in the audition. You want them to see the lack of pain that they're going to experience by picking you. That's what they need to know in an audition. So I would do as much recon and gather as much intel as possible to increase my chances.
Running down the list ... Bulletboys, Hilary Duff, Vince Neil, Alice Cooper are just some of the people you played with prior to Five Finger Death Punch. Are there lessons learned from any of these experiences you brought forth and use today with FFDP?
I learned how to be a professional, cause my background was growing up in hard rock and heavy metal bands where all we would do was drink beer, go to strip clubs and be reckless. My background is being in rock bands. So, when I moved to Los Angeles, I absolutely made a promise to myself that I was going to work making music and nothing else. I was not going to work at Starbucks or Home Depot or any of that s--t. So I got offered some of these other types of gigs and it was foreign to me because I was used to being a one-dimensional loud and proud rock and roll guitar player.
I was actually asked to be in Hilary Duff's band because they were specifically looking for a superstar rock and roll guitar player to be a part of their stage show. So I was sought out as someone they were looking for. They wanted tattoos and someone who could shred and someone who would run around and be exciting, but playing that kind of music was foreign to me. The equipment part was rough because I came from Vince Neil's band where I was playing a Marshall and a Les Paul and an overdrive pedal to now having the Hilary Duff gig where I have all these f--king jangly and sparkling clean sounds and all these different textures and effects and stuff to recreate her records. That part caught me off guard. And I knew right away that I had better become more familiar with different types of equipment and have all that knowledge so I'd be better prepared next time. So that threw me for a loop switching gears to a pop band, but I'm back in a heavy metal band and couldn't be happier.
With all the interviews you've done, I'm sure there's a lot of shared experiences with these musicians, but was there anything that surprised you from someone's experience with being a hired gun?
Well, yeah, actually. We had this crazy idea that we were going to get as many as these Hired Gun people, the cast members, together in one place in Hollywood and do a jam. This is a massive task on its own, never mind filming and recording it in the context of making a film, but getting everyone in one place to jam. It wasn't my idea because I know how difficult those things can be to organize, but we did it and we filmed and recorded everything and there was the guy from Night Ranger jamming with the chick from Pink's band and I'm jamming with Liberty playing old Billy Joel songs. I'm from Five Finger Death Punch. It was just the craziest, cross-matching hybrid that you can think of. The guy from Ted Nugent's band is playing with the guy from Bon Jovi and it was just the craziest thing. That was something that really was something else and I imagine at some point all that bonus footage and all that content will be released in some capacity.
But one thing that I will always remember and surprised me is Kenny Aronoff, who is really a legend in the field of the hired musician, he is a legend. He's had so many gigs and done so much work, and in between takes and we're doing this jam, he puts headphones on, gets out his staff paper and he's charting music for the gig he has to go to tomorrow. [laughs] This f--king guy, he's not a young chicken, but he's still hauling ass, working his ass off hustling gigs. I remember seeing that and thinking not only do I have mad respect for the guy because he still hustles and can still retain stuff from just jotting it down like that, but it also made me appreciate what I have with Death Punch because we've played the same 12 songs for 10 years now give or take, so there's not a lot of work left involved. We're not having to work for every dollar. We have our core set and go play it around the world and we're taken care of, so it made me appreciate what I have and respect what he does.
And having put so much time and effort into it, what was your thought on first seeing it as the final product?
Well, I've seen the thing like 500 times. We had to wrestle it and wrestle it into shape in order to refine a stone into a diamond. But you can really do me a big favor here and mention the editor's name because the editor calls and always goes, "Man, I thought they were going to mention me and I worked so hard," and they never put the editor's name in and he's a f--king genius.
The editor's name is Tim Calandrello and he's an L.A. guy and will certainly appreciate this. And I found him because he did the Foo Fighters' Back and Forth movie, for which I believe he won an award for, and Tim, when we approached him, he said, "I would love to do this but I charge somewhere in the ballpark of" and the fee was astronomical, so we passed on him. And we went through a couple of more editors and nobody was really doing a good job and and I wasn't happy with what I was seeing so I was like, "Well, what about that Foo Fighters guy. Can we just get him as a consultant? We can't afford him, but maybe he can look at our film and say this is what you should do and this is what you're doing wrong."
And we got Tim involved and he said, "You know what, you're onto something that is so good here and I'll just finish it for you cause I can't stand to watch something this good get f--ked up." (laughs). I call him Gretzky cause he really is our star forward. Editing is an art form. It really is about the flow and the humor and how everything ties in and gets you from scene to scene with a beginning, a middle and an end. It's not just software. Anyone can get f--king software. He's a journalist. So he wrote the whole movie out on sticky notes and pasted around the room so he could see scenes and pick them up off the wall and move them to another part of the wall. He did a fantastic job and you've got to mention his name.
Absolutely, consider it done!
Our thanks to Jason Hook for the interview. The 'Hired Gun' documentary will be screening in theaters around the U.S. this evening (June 29) with the help of Fathom Events. Head here to find the closest theaters and ticketing information.
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