Five Finger Death Punch’s Zoltan Bathory considers the group’s just-released new version of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue on Black” — featuring Shepherd, Queen’s Brian May and country star Brantley Gilbert — to be a “unification” project in the music world.
“We feel like it’s a multi-dimensional, multi-level effort unifying the different genres,” the guitarist tells Billboard. “There was a time when music was always a unifying element, when the genre didn’t matter — a good song was a good song. This segregation in musical genres came later, and it’s still pretty segregated. I think music has to regain this place where it’s unification. So for us it’s an honor to have this record with these people and have hard rock, classic rock, country all together on a song. It’s not too far from each other but still far enough so it’s definitely a representation of different genres coming together.”
FFDP had initially recorded Shepherd’s 1998 hit for its most recent album, last year’s And Justice For None. The new version — whose proceeds go to the Gary Sinise Foundation benefitting first responders — came together when Chris Nilsson (10th Street Management, part of the management team for FFDP) brought in Gilbert through his relationship with Scott Borchetta; Dan Waite (Eleven Seven Music, European managing director) brought in May; and Jackie Kajzer & Konstanze Louden (10th Street Management, part of the management team for FFDP) brought Shepherd on board.”When (May’s) solo came in everyone just stopped and went, ‘That’s Brian May!'” Bathory says. “He has such a distinctive tone. You know it can only be him.”
Shepherd, meanwhile, is flattered to have yet another rendition of “Blue on Black” in the world. “My goal as a writer is to write songs that stand the test of time and have many different lives,” he explains. “We had a great run with that song. It was a massive hit for us. That it can still be a massive force to be reckoned with 20 years later is exactly what you want as a songwriter.”
Bathory says FFDP originally chose to record “Blue on Black” at the behest of frontman Ivan Moody, as one of his go-to karaoke songs. “The song is not typical; It’s a kind of song that crawls under your skin and get stuck in your head,” Bathory says. “There are songs you hear and go, ‘Oh, that’s a hit,’ and there are the sneaky ones, and this is one of the sneaky ones.”
The charity element of the single, meanwhile, is part of FFDP’s long-standing commitment to military and first responders, who are also saluted in the accompanying video. “It’s a pretty heavy video; we’re trying to portray their life,” Bathory says. “Compared to them we’re just citizens. We’re living our lives. These fire fighters and soldiers and first responders are out there risking theirs. It’s close to our heart. So with different artists from different genres we can also bring a unified awareness to this cause.”
FFDP — including new drummer Charlie Engen, after an amicable split with Jeremy Spencer — is currently off the road until a short July run of U.S. dates, but the group isn’t entirely resting. New material is in motion, according to Bathory, who predicts it will blend the dark, heavy attack of FFDP’s early albums with some more contemporary touches. “We have various ideas, song and bits and pieces around,” the guitarist says. “But we’re talking about maybe bringing in elements, bringing in sounds that are sort of new and unusual, so kind of making it an experimental album. But if we bring in some electronics, we’re not going to make it sound nicer and poppier; It’ll be more like, ‘How do we use electronics to make the music even heavier?’ So there’s two possible directions we’re talking about, but everybody’s mindset is into, ‘Let’s make something more robust’ and figuring out what that’s going to be.”