Updated: Oct 19
Article by Melanie Macpherson and Photos by Mac Ulmer
As I scramble to get away from a busy classroom full of grade 5 students, I keep my eye on the clock. Only 10 minutes until interview time. I wanted to be out a lot earlier, but so far this Friday the 13th has not been going my way. I make sure my substitute has everything in hand then grab my laptop and notes and head for an unused office that I’m hoping will be quiet enough. By the time I open my computer and load Zoom I’ve got 1 minute left. I start the meeting and no more than 5 seconds later, THE Jason Hook is waiting to be admitted. Without a second to spare for nerves, I’m in a Zoom call with one of Canada’s greatest exports; songwriter, guitar god, record producer, movie producer, and the mastermind behind the exciting new band, Flat Black.
Hook’s most recent project is the reason we’re here. As the opener on Godsmack’s North American tour, Flat Black is set to make some serious waves this year. Hook joins me from somewhere inside Calgary’s Saddledome, where he’s preparing for a Friday night show in this “rolling train of music awesomeness”.
“Godsmack has been super gracious and what an opportunity for a brand new band. I make jokes to people that when we started this tour we had zero monthly listeners. Who extends an arena tour slot to a brand new band with no album and zero monthly listeners? So make no mistake, we are beyond grateful and we are very lucky. And Sully and Robbie and Tony and Shannon have ended up being really cool to us and very friendly. It's just been awesome. Godsmack delivers a fucking good show. It is no joke. Sully is like The Merlin with the audience and he's a seasoned veteran. He's really good. I have become a newborn Godsmack fan. I mean, the guys are so lovely as people … but their show is freaking phenomenal. I know there's only a few days left but I would strongly encourage anyone to come out and see this. It's not to be missed.”
Touring with Godsmack since August, Hook is excited to be back in Canada. When I asked if touring in Canada feels any different to him, the proud Canadian responds,
“Fuck ya it does! I live in Vegas. And I will admit, I do miss the Canadian seasons, you know, hot and cold. Vegas is like living on the moon. It's dusty and deserty and tumbleweeds and hot. It can be brutal. This is gonna sound really funny, but there's something about the smell of the air in Canada. Is that possible? It just smells good up here.”
Hook has worked as a touring musician for most of his life, working with artists including Mandy Moore, Hilary Duff, Alice Cooper and Vince Neil. Then after years touring as a member of Five Finger Death Punch, Hook went his own way in 2020. It doesn’t sound like he has any regrets at all. I ask how it feels to finally be doing his own thing.
“Well, that's pretty amazing, actually, it's a lot of pinch me moment stuff happening. You know, there are so many bands out now. It's so competitive. Yes, I do have my history. But I didn't want to lean on my history at all to get people interested in this. It has to stand up on its own. And that's very fun for me to put stuff together to try to blow people's minds. That's a whole challenge on its own.”
I impulsively ask if he worries that Flat Black will constantly get compared to ‘the old band’, and Hook is very candid.
“I don't choose to make worry or fear my rudder in life. You know, like fuck it. And I guess the upside for me is, if somebody's comparing Flat Black to the old band, that's okay, too, because I had a heavy hand in what happened with the old band. So if you're hearing similarity, it's not like I'm ripping them off, because I did that there, and now I'm doing this here. I'm just doing what I do. And actually I hope that their audience embraces Flat Black. I met a lot of those fans over a 15 year period and they're close to my heart. I certainly would love their support. So let's hope that they draw the comparison in a favorable way."
I question if this feels like starting over and heading in a new direction or if this is just the next logical step in one big journey.
“It's all part of one big journey. I wouldn't say that this is me, pointing myself in a different direction. I think one of the reasons why Flat Black is working is because I didn't change my role. I recognize what my strengths might be, and that's playing guitar and writing songs. So it's not like I said, I'm gonna give acting a shot, or I'm gonna become a figure skater or anything like that. I'm doing the exact same stuff.
But there is that sort of honeymoon phase of everything's fresh, brand new. Everyone's in a good mood. Everything is delightfully shocking and all pinch me moment type stuff. And we're definitely you know, under the ether of that at the moment. Being out with Godsmack has just been incredible. This our first tour ever and we're playing in front of arenas that are two thirds full every night which is pretty amazing.”
We discussed the creation of Flat Black at length. Hook knew what he was looking for when he started putting this band together from the ground up. But it wasn’t easy to find.
“I used to tell people in the very beginning ‘I want to build a race car’. It has to be streamlined, fast, exciting, loud, aggressive, colorful. But it's very difficult; just because you have a vision doesn't mean you can go find those people. I was very lucky though. I got our drummer Rob (Pierce). He's the first first guy I picked for this band and he's just an incredible talent, and then the singer was second. We spent two years looking at singers, Rob and I. Two years! That's how difficult it was. The singer is sort of your make or break component. If it's not world class, then how can you expect the world to support it? We got very lucky with Wrex”
Wrex’s real name is Wes Horton, and he is a powerhouse vocalist; truly a world class find. The fourth member of the streamlined group is Nick Diltz on bass who rounds out this race car perfectly.
In 2016, Hook produced a documentary called “Hired Gun”, a candid look at what life is like as a session or touring musician working with some of the world's biggest acts. A recurring theme in the documentary is that of the hired gun being expendable and having no voice in decisions. So with that idea in mind I had to ask… is this Jason Hook’s band or is Flat Black a group of equals?
“It's a viable question. I was very adamant about making it a band. I think I always liked the feeling and the camaraderie and the bonding of a band provided that you have the right people and that we're all friends and so instead of me coming in as some sort of dictator overlord. I just don't like that situation for me, and so you have to assume that it would be very selfish of me to behave that way in this and I probably could. I didn't want to though. I want everyone to like being here and be comfortable here and feel fulfilled here. I don't bogart anything. I've tried to push my guys out in front of me. That hasn't always been the case with bands I've been in and so I'm trying something different.”
It's been a thoroughly enjoyable interview that ranged through everything from Hook’s love of Swiss Chalet to trying to act cool when hanging out with Kiss. It even included some good natured teasing over my tech skills (a big thank you to Jason and his “extremely attractive and talented Tour Manager” for saving my bacon), and my embarrassingly spotty knowledge of Canadian rockers (I did my homework, Jason, I promise). Long after the interview was supposed to be over, I had one final question. What’s it like to work with Corey Taylor?
“Well that's another one of those relationships where you kind of have to play it cool, but look, the guy is just an incredible presence. He and his wife are just two of the most beautiful, generous people that I've met in a very long time. For whatever reason, we befriended them at the beginning of this whole journey and I can honestly say he was extremely supportive, and just the friendship that I really needed at that moment. And a musical Goliath. He's very different than I am, you know, he can just shit out greatness where I have to work hard at it. He offered to co-write some stuff when I was all by myself. And that gave me confidence and made me feel good about myself, and so it meant a lot to me. I'm very proud of the song that made it to the record and I can't wait for everyone to hear it.”
Hook makes sure I know that the next single ‘Justice Will Be Done’ is out in a few days, and we’re going to see the first major radio campaign in January, setting up presales for the album release in March. I thank him. We say goodbye. I walk back to class. Then go on teaching grade 5s who seem unable to think about anything but the big soccer game after school, and it all seems just a little surreal.
Sunday, I meet up for a pre show dinner with my photographer Mac. We plan out our night, then head to SaskTel Centre for the big show. Since we arrived early I have plenty of time to wander and scope out merch tables. The Flat Black stuff looks really cool. I settle into my seat, make some new friends, and then it's time.
Flat Black takes the stage and proceeds to give the quickly filling room a knuckle free backhand to the face. With just enough echoes of FFDP resonating through Hook’s clean, intense riffs to make brand new songs feel familiar, the crowd warms up very quickly. The stadium may only be about half full, but after just one song, every person in the place is paying attention. The songs are fast and aggressive and designed for a stadium crowd. Wrex produces brutal growls and screams as easily as he belts out the clean melodies, and the whole band looks like they are having the time of their lives. There's no ‘too cool’ to smile stage presence for these guys. Now don’t get me wrong, they are cool as hell, but they also look happy to be here. The audience definitely responds. With the last echoing notes of ‘It’s Your Lack of Respect’ hanging in the air, Flat Black throws picks and sticks to the crowd and walks off stage.
After a short break, the relative quiet is broken as I Prevail takes the stage. They strike with a punishing assault on our ears, in the best possible way. Not conforming to any easily identifiable genre, I Prevail picks up the gauntlets thrown down by the nu metal bands I grew up with in the 90s and uses them to grab the audience by the throat. With a searing blend of rap, screams, autotune and pop punk vocals, the two lead vocalists weave through and around each other in a wave that hits like a ‘Hurricane’. With blistering speed and unfiltered energy, I Prevail brought the night to a whole new level of intensity. The crowd ate it up, particularly the under thirty crowd who grew up with I Prevail the same way I grew up with Godsmack. Even as a representative of the older portion of the crowd, I knew enough songs to sing along for a lot of the set. I Prevail goes out on a heavy note with one of my favourites, ‘Bow Down’, and then they too are gone.
By now the stadium is packed, the anticipation for the final band is palpable. Earsplitting blasts tear through the air as fireworks fill the stadium, a massive curtain drops from the ceiling and Godsmack appears on stage. And as the ashes fall, ‘When Legends Rise’ says it all. With new songs like ‘Surrender’ mingled with classic nostalgia pieces like ‘Voodoo’ and everything in between, Godsmack packed 25 years of iconic music into a single set. With fireworks, an insane light show, pillars of fire reaching to the ceiling, a confetti blizzard, a grand piano and the ever awesome double drum battle, Godsmack’s performance is everything a rock concert should be; over the top, epic and aggressive while somehow being heartfelt and personal. After a 3 song encore including ‘Scars’, ‘I Stand Alone’ and ‘Bulletproof’, the night is over and the clean up begins. My heart goes out to whoever has to clean up that confetti.
The show was incredible from start to finish. Most of the people I spoke to, before the concert started, had never heard of Flat Black, and had no idea what to expect. As I walked out of the stadium and across the busy parking lot I saw a lot of Flat Black t shirts. I think they made a huge statement tonight and won over a lot of new fans. Singing ‘Halo’ quietly to myself, I unlock my car, climb inside and head for home. Tomorrow morning will come way too early, but it was worth it. I can’t help but wonder just how big Flat Black is going to get; it's sure going to be wild to watch where this goes.