This article is part of Guitar World’s series of interviews and features with artists addressing and raising awareness around themes of Mental Healthespecially when it comes to musicians.
After answering the classifieds, playing covers at local bars in Norman, Oklahoma, and a few personnel changes, Fist of Five solidified their lineup in 2006 with vocalist John Gates, guitarists DJ Windle and bassist Steve Jones. James Cyrus and drummer Josh Anderson. Their goal was to write good music and just enjoy the process. In June of the same year, the group produced and recorded their first album, broken rosesto separate amicably a year later.
Then time and distance did what they always seem to do: close friends lost sight of each other. They mostly abandoned the music scene and moved on to careers and families.
13 years later, the unexpected reappearance of a video for the song Cause damage on YouTube, combined with the power of the internet, caught the band’s attention. Text messages were exchanged. They decided to meet at Jones’ house to get together over a barbecue and a bonfire. Just like that, Fist of Five were back together.
Jones had a small home studio – a computer, microphones and Logic Pro – while technology allowed musicians to share ideas and riffs remotely. They met for practice sessions, started creating songs and decided to remix and remaster broken roses.
“This album was recorded in four days and was never properly mixed,” says Windle. “We thought, ‘Why not give it the love it deserves while we work on new material?’
“We called [producer] Sterling Winfield – we had actually broken up while we were working on new songs with him – and asked him if he could help out,” Windle adds.
“He immediately jumped on board. Sterling remixed the album in 2020 and Howie Weinberg remastered it. Things went from there. We wrote a brand new album and recorded it in three months.
This album is sparrows roadproduced and designed by Winfield and Sylvia Massy.
In mid-2021, ahead of their new project, Fist of Five released a video accompanying their cover of Dance. The original, written by Tony Arata, was recorded by Garth Brooks on his self-titled debut album. The ballad quickly became one of Brooks’ signature songs, its lyrics often interpreted as a message of combined melancholy for someone or something lost, and gratitude for what has been gained from the experience.
Fist of Five, with their aggressive metal take on the song – recorded with Schecter, Gretsch and baritone guitars through Marshall, Rivera, Wizard and Mesa/Boogie guitar amps and cabinets – were determined to give it a revamp.
“We sucked all the hope out of the song,” Jones says, “and that was our goal. In the original, people cherish the experience, move on, and see the brightness on the horizon.
“For us,” he continues, “it was about using the same lyrics, but telling the story for people who feel hopeless, who feel that this is the end and that there is no There’s no looking back on a happy memory. It’s become a song about tragedy, not glossing over and having a defining moment when everyone’s happy again. Things don’t always end well, and you do. see in the video.
It was a risky move to turn a legacy country song into heavy metal, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We expected people to rip us a new one for doing this to a classic,” Jones says. “Instead, we’ve received thousands of comments, 90% of them positive, from people who tune in, telling us this is what they’re going through. Years after a loss, they don’t still don’t have those happy thoughts.
Dance was the first part of a video trilogy that includes the acoustics can’t be finished and the recently released title track sparrows road, and which tells the story behind the new album. In 2013, Gates lost the woman he considered the love of his life. “Sam”, as she is called in the video, was the passenger in an automobile that was hit and thrown off the road by an oncoming car, whose driver ran a red light.
Fist of Five was halfway through recording at Massy’s studio when the album’s theme became apparent. Windle and Gates were out on a break when Windle came up with the idea for the trilogy.
“We all knew Sam; I had known her since the age of 14,” he says. “The group had a deep connection with her. We all loved him. John and I talked a few times about the album being about her while we were working on it, but it really hit the spot that night on the porch.
“I said to him, ‘This is your story.’ At that moment, it clicked for everyone. Dance became our mourning song, and the idea of the trilogy was built from there. The common thread of the videos – the worn Bible that appears in all three shorts – is, in fact, a gift from Sam to Gates: something she has had since childhood that she gave him with the request that he never gives up his passion for music.
Gates’ grief was so all-consuming it turned into a four-year battle for sanity. “Depression is such a deep hole that you’re just looking for a point of light to help you find your way — something to help you fight it,” he says. “I died with her. Losing her killed my heart.
“I didn’t work out. I couldn’t eat. I drank to try to erase the pain. I pushed everything back,” he continues. “I hurt people by pushing them away. I can’t say a big enough “I’m sorry” for that. I carried so much guilt over things I wanted to tell her but never had the chance. I told myself that I never wanted to love or be loved again.
“I never went to therapy because I was an idiot, saying I didn’t need it and I didn’t believe it. I’m not so stupid anymore. I thought anxiety was something people made up, something they chose. I was a fool to believe that, too. I put a label on something I didn’t understand, until I walked through it and realized how stupid and selfish I had been to think that way.
“I stayed in that dark place. My mother stayed by my side, a few friends watched me, but I was angry and depressed. As crazy as it sounds, I sat alone in my truck for hours and talked to the moon. And then I started working on myself. You never really get back to normal after losing someone, but you can get closer. It took a lot of hard work to get to the ground I’m on today. Even though it’s not entirely solid, it’s strong enough to stand on its own. There’s a saying I’ve been told, “Be yourself and let your wings grow, and take every step with faith. This is my journey as I continue to heal.
Today, with a new album to share, the A-list team of Massy and Winfield behind them, and a host of social media platforms on board for support, Fist of Five is re-energized and determined to create and promote his music. However, through their art, they also advocate for mental health by telling their stories, speaking openly about grief, depression and therapy, and working to break the stigma surrounding these challenges.
“People take supplements and go to the gym and talk about physical health, but we don’t do anything to talk about our mental health,” Jones says. “I started seeing a therapist twice a month about a year and a half ago, just to organize my thoughts and sort things out. I wasn’t depressed, but I wanted to take care of myself, and it worked. been a good thing.
“My wife and I became parents in 2019, and it was a very difficult birth. She’s been through so much, physically and postpartum; watching her inspired me to get in there and do something about it. is a great mother to our son, a great wife, and a great friend to me, but she was carrying the consequences of everything that happened.
“It was so intense it scared me, so staying ahead of the game by talking to someone seemed like a good idea. It’s preventative maintenance, and I think if more people were watching it this way it would help remove the stigma and more people would get help No one should have to feel weird or be afraid to go to therapy We should take care of our mental health before it does becomes a problem.
Jones continues, “We also need to take care of each other and normalize being comfortable asking how we feel and being honest about it when someone asks. I can do that. with my wife, my partner, but men should be able to talk to each other that way like friends. The key to our ability to work together is to be a rock to each other when someone in needs, and to be his daily support.
“If you fall hard enough, you’re going to break something, whether it’s your arm, your leg, or something inside,” says Gates. “And when we’re broken, it takes time to put together the pieces that make us who we are. Sometimes you have to explain each piece to someone so they can help you put those pieces back together. There’s nothing wrong, and there should never be a label, in getting help for it.
“For anyone reading this who is suffering from anxiety, depression or addiction, my heart goes out to you. I have been there and know there is finally light. Don’t push people away, because many of them will hold your hand to keep you from drowning – I’m so grateful for the hands that pulled me up Be you, take your time, take every step. is one small step, then one step back, there will be another step forward.
“For people reading this who know someone who is in pain, remember that the steps should be in their time. You can’t push it, and you can’t speed up their process. Be there, and they will eventually make that move. When we plant a seed, it takes a while to grow, so just give it time.
- the sparrows road The trilogy is available now via Bandcamp. the sparrows road The album will be released on March 11.