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FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – A Hungarian Nomad in America

(Az interjú magyar változata ide kattintva olvasható.)

One of the biggest metal bands, Five Finger Death Punch, is set to return to Budapest Papp Laszlo Sportarena on July 9, much to the excitement of Hungarian fans. In anticipation of their concert, we had the opportunity to chat with the band’s founder, Zoltan Bathory, at Sweden Rock Festival, where he proudly talked about his Hungarian roots, which he credited for playing a pivotal role in his success. He also shared with us some of the band’s most memorable moments and gave us a sneak peek into what they have planned next.

Text: Daniella Kiss – Photo: Trish Sterling

Congratulations on your latest single “This Is The Way” hitting number one on the Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart. This is the band’s 15th time topping the chart. Do these kinds of achievements or milestones hold the same significance for you now as they did at the beginning of your career?

Well, it’s obviously a milestone. Reaching number one on a radio chart still matters and feels good. When this happens, it’s always like getting a gold medal. Topping the charts is interesting for us because we hold the record for the most consecutive number one singles in the world, so now it has become a game for us. It’s not just „wow, a number one single,” but „OK, let’s keep beating our own record” (laughs).

What have been the most memorable moments or milestones for you personally throughout FFDP’s career?

Well, I don’t really look at the achievements that way. The whole success with the band is a miracle, so I don’t isolate moments anymore. In the beginning, a huge milestone was when we played the Wembley Arena for the first time and sold out. Then we sold out Wembley twice in a row, which was also a big deal. Playing giant festivals with 100,000+ people was another milestone. Additionally, the first time I came back to Hungary was an amazing moment for me personally.

There are a lot of these kinds of milestones, but now, especially considering the band has been around for 19 years, I see it as a whole picture instead of individual moments. Listing all the milestones would make a long list (laughs). There are definitely many memorable moments. For instance, we used to play, and still do, secret shows for the US military in the Middle East conflict. We flew into all kinds of places, like Iraq in the middle of the war, and played many shows there. Other times, we went to secret military bases, playing shows nobody knew about, so we’ve done lot of these crazy stuff. We got to see and experience a lot through music that would have been impossible otherwise. When you have a lot of these moments, they start to become one big picture instead of separate moments and achievements.

Speaking of achievements, your upcoming show in Budapest just sold out and moved to a way bigger venue. How does it feel to receive such an enthusiastic response from your home country? Does playing in Hungary hold a particular importance for you?

Yes, absolutely, especially since Hungarian people used to have the mentality of „if I can’t have it, neither can you.” In older generations, there was a bit of bitterness about other people’s success, which I hope has disappeared. The communist era really hurt society, negatively affecting people’s mentality. Many people, including my parents, couldn’t really understand what I wanted to do in life. They were part of that generation, so it was such a strange and alien thing to them that I wanted to become a musician.

Though that generation is still around, I was happy to see national pride and celebration of my success when we came back to Hungary for the first time. I didn’t experience any hatred, which I kind of thought I would because of our cultural envy and jealousy. I was happy to see that it didn’t happen. It might be happening without my knowledge, but I didn’t see or experience it, which was great. I only saw a country that was proud and people who thought, „OK, finally somebody did it, somebody broke the curse, somebody broke out of here and actually did something on an international level in music.” When we were growing up, we were told that was not possible because nobody had done it before. But it finally happened, and I felt a sense of pride, which felt good. I want to tell everyone at home, „Guys, if I could do it, you can do it too.” I hope my story can inspire some people. Hopefully, a lot of people now think, „OK, that pessimistic era might be over, and it’s possible to make it from Hungary. You can actually do it; it is a real possibility.”

Also, when it comes to how the world, especially the West, views Hungary, I think they don’t necessarily know what’s happening there. I still get questions like „Do you guys ride horses?” Horses?! WTF! They have no idea about Hungary, maybe they know Attila the Hun, but that’s about it. I feel like when fans see a band they like and realize one member is Hungarian, it changes their relationship with the country. They start to explore and discover things like, “OK, so there is electricity in Hungary because he plays an electric guitar.” It may sound dumb, but many people are unaware of these basic facts about my homeland. So, I feel like my success can help change how people view the country and what’s happening there. I can be of service in that regard. Experiencing national pride about this has felt really good.

Can you share some experiences from your upbringing in Hungary that have had a lasting impact on you? Something without you wouldn’t be where you are today?

When I was growing up, I always said, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to go to America and be in a rock band and tour the world.” It seemed like an insanely impossible dream at the time; we didn’t even have passports to leave Hungary. Even though this was such an impossible dream, I wouldn’t accept that it couldn’t happen, and that determination definitely shaped my personality. Growing up in such circumstances made me resilient, like I was built for war, so to speak; I was prepared to fight against limitations. Additionally, we had a really good education, pretty solid compared to the rest of the world. The combination of determination and a solid education was a massive part of my success.

There was a lot of friction and many obstacles against me making it. I grew up that way. As a kid, I kept busy every day—after school, I attended extra classes like science and judo. I realized early on that to break out, I needed to be stronger, faster, smarter, and the best I could be to compete.

Another factor that had an impact on me was Hungary’s historical nomadic lifestyle and lack of resources. When you don’t have resources, you have to become resourceful, which I believe shaped our thinking differently. Hungary generally lacked resources, so people had to figure things out on their own and be innovative. Many scientists and intelligent individuals have emerged from Hungary due to this necessity. The nomadic mindset means starting the journey and figuring things out along the way. It’s about learning how to do things and gathering resources as you go. In Western societies, if you propose building a rocket to go to the moon, they’ll make a detailed list of everything needed to achieve that goal. In contrast, someone from my background would say, “Let’s see what we have in the garage and what we can build from it, and how far we can go with what we’ve got”— a very different approach.

I feel this way of thinking, the nomadic “figure it out as we go” mentality, set me on my path. I thought to myself, „I’m just going to go for it.” When I went to America, I didn’t speak English at all. I had a Hungarian-English dictionary and thought, „I will learn the language one way or another.” If I hadn’t grown up in Hungary, I don’t think I would have had that resilience, grit, and determination. Hungary gave me those qualities, along with education and a nomadic way of thinking that led me to become someone who could succeed. I felt like I had seen it all, so nothing could faze me; if communism didn’t break me, nothing else could. So, that was my attitude, and that kind of resilience comes from being Hungarian.

Another lesser-known fact about Hungary is that it is a warrior nation. Europe often overlooks this, but Hungary was a crucial barrier against Eastern invasions for centuries. The Ottomans and other invaders never breached the Danube; our country stood as a wall. Hungary was always at war, fighting for 800 years, except for a brief period under King Matthias. This warrior spirit and resilience is still ingrained in our people. As a history enthusiast, this heritage fueled my determination. I felt, „No one can stop me. There’s no turning back. I’m going to push forward as far as I can, and there’s no retreat.” This attitude certainly came from Hungary. I believe if I had been born comfortably in America, I might not have made it. I wouldn’t have been resilient enough to push through challenges and succeed.

FFDP is known for high-energy live performances. What’s your favourite part about performing live, and how do you keep the energy up night after night?

Well, there’s a big difference between recorded music and live music. Recorded music is something you listen to on your phone or at home and you enjoy it, which is great—that’s what records are for. But when you come to a live show, you’re not just there to listen; you’re there to experience and that’s a big difference. I always say that I don’t want people to see the show and say “I saw this band.” I want them to say “I was there.” There’s a huge difference between the two.

Our band aims to create an event that truly feels like an event where something crazy happens.The first time we played Download Festival, we actually caused a riot. The organizers had to shut down the festival for half an hour. It was absolute mayhem. Police officers came on stage and said “Hey guys, the food sucks in England and in jail it sucks even more, so you either help us disperse the crowd or you’ll experience the worst food.” So, we helped disperse the crowd. The whole thing happened because we asked the people to crowd surf up to the stage to shake our hands. There were 120,000 people in attendance, and within 30 seconds there were probably 5,000 people in the pit, overwhelming security—it was insane. But when somebody talks about that show, they’re gonna say “Bro, I was there when Five Finger Death Punch shut down Download,” and that’s what we want. Our goal is to always put on a show that gives you an unforgettable experience.

We want to create a sort of tribal environment. Music is a vibration that changes you, making you react. When 25,000 – 30,000 people experience the same thing, they get synchronized. Everyone vibes the same way, moving together which is powerful. During a show, you’re not thinking about everyday worries like whether you closed the garage door or left the stove on. Our band wants to take people out of their everyday lives and put them back into nature.

Think about the word “apartment.” It means to be apart. Our society lives in apartments, meaning we live apart. Originally, we were tribes—hundreds and thousands of people living together, with children educated by the tribe. Living with the tribe shapes who you become very differently from living in separate apartments, where everyone you know is a stranger. We have a very different world today. I feel like music is the only connecting element that can still bring back this original feeling of togetherness. The fire people used to dance around has been replaced by the lights on stage, but it’s the same thing. At least during a show, people get to experience that original, almost genetically embedded feeling of togetherness. That’s what the show is about. The goal has always been to give people an experience that makes them say, as they walk home from the show, “That felt good.” For us, it’s about feeling alive for a minute. To me, that’s what’s important about live shows.

Although it’s impossible to put on a record that feeling and energy, have you thought about releasing more live albums in the future?

Well, we did some, but you lose that feeling of the person standing next to you. You look around and see tens of thousands of people in the same mindset, the same vibe. That’s why I think live music will never disappear—you can’t download that feeling. Personally, there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of performing. When you’re up on that stage, putting out energy and getting it back from tens of thousands of people, there’s no drug that can give you that feeling. When you’re up there, moving to the music and seeing how it affects people, you realize you can’t replace that feeling with anything else. Live music will never go away because there’s no virtual experience that can replace it. It’s just one of those things.

What can fans expect from FFDP in the near future? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re excited about?

This year we’re on tour in Europe, and after that, we’ll have about three weeks off before heading back to the States. We’ll be on the road until the end of the year. We have a big tour planned and we’re bringing Marilyn Manson and Slaughter to Prevail with us. We’ll likely take December off—I have my snowboarding ritual to attend to, which is important to me (laughs). Then in January, we plan to start recording a new album. Our goal is to finish recording it by March, aiming for a release later in the year.

As for collaborations, we’re really interested in doing more. We’ve had a lot of fun with the ones we’ve done already. With nine albums under our belt, we want to entertain ourselves and challenge ourselves creatively. We often discuss new ideas within the band and think about bringing in other artists to do interesting things we wouldn’t normally do. That’s where we’re headed creatively. So, that’s the secret information I can share with the Hungarian fans for now.

Hammerworld no. 355
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