Interview with Ari Lehman of First Jason
First Jason’s ARI LEHMAN has the unique honor of having played Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th movie (1980). With over 20 years’ experience as a professional musician and recording artist, Ari created FIRST JASON specifically for horror fans, especially the fans of Jason Voorhees and “Friday the 13th”, and gave Jason Voorhees a musical voice. First Jason recently returned to Maine to take part in Horrorfest 2013 at Club Texas, in Auburn, Maine. After putting on a killer show (literally), Ari chatted with me for a bit. I saved it for Halloween, of course, because Halloween, horror movies and metal are a pretty awesome combination …
Horrorfest is an annual thing?
It has become something that we’re definitely very excited to be doing every year. We did one last year … no, we did one in May. So it’s become biannual. We’re gonna do one every month (laughs). First Jason is very excited to have performed here at Club Texas in Auburn, Maine. It’s always great energy. There’s a lot of love of metal in this region, the bands and the fans. Everybody’s just very excited and very enthusiastic. Encouragement is always appreciated. It’s pretty awesome.
So tell me about the piano-guitar thing … is there a name for it?
I call it The Electric Machete, just to be funny. Some people call it the keychete or keytarchete. Basically, what it is, it’s an analog synth that’s been duct-taped to a big sword prop, which I put a guitar strap on. It’s custom. It’s totally unique. We put it through guitar effects. What it is, is a keyboardist who was always jealous of the guitarists said “I wanna do that.” It’s so much fun to be able to perform and have that immediacy with the audience. When keyboardists play the keyboard on a stand it seems in some way they’re blocked from the audience. I’ve seen different things. There’s a band I love from Chicago and that guy, the keyboardist, he plays so that the keys are actually facing the audience, so he’s kind leaning over it. There’s a great band called Blue Felix from Minnesota, from Minneapolis. That guy plays on a stand that rotates around so he can actually spin. And Fishbone used to do that. You know, I just said, “Darn it all, just put it on something.” The way that came about is that the bassist from a great band called Macabre, which is a death metal band from Chicago, their bassist, who’s known as Nefarious affectionately, he is a great friend of ours. He was kind of a bit of a mentor to me at one point when he was on a hiatus from Macabre. He just kept saying “You gotta bring a keyboard in in some way.” He’s on my first album. It was basically done almost as a joke that I duct-taped it to a cosplay sword, or Manga sword. It’s developed in terms of the sound. I’ve gotten advice from guitar players and bass players and keyboardists, and developed the sound as much as possible. I play it through a Gallien-Krueger bass amp with four 10-inch speakers, so that makes it a lot of fun.
How did First Jason get started?
I’ve been a musician all along. Even when I was on the set of Friday the 13th, at age 14 in 1979, I was a musician already. I was already studying jazz piano at that time. I ended up getting into reggae/world-beat touring. I was on that thing in the 90s when that was big and fun. So I was part of that, and I got to go to West Africa. I was fascinated with that music. I wanted to learn African music and reggae music and Latin music. I ended up having my own band, which was a world beat project. But I was seeing some limitations there. And then, I was living in New York City with my wife and what happened was 9/11. The next day, we were together working as Red Cross volunteers, and it was like, whoa, nobody really wanted to hear my new take on Arabic music and north African this and that. Everyone was kind of limiting their love of world music. When they were out partying, that was the last thing they wanted to think about. They just kinda wanted to party and have a good time and put that all out of their minds. I moved to Chicago. One day someone sent me an email saying, “Did you sign this photo?’ And it was a photo of me as little Jason Vorhees. And I was totally unaware that anyone would want me to sign a photo. So I said “No, I didn’t sign the photo.” And he said “Well, I just bought this for $50 on eBay.” And I was like ‘”What???” Someone had been signing my autograph. So we got to the bottom of that. And eventually one thing led to another and I said, “Well, why don’t I become a part of this autograph-horror convention thing?” And that’s what led to me realizing these horror fans are into metal and punk. Back when I was at NYU, I listened to bands like Bad Brains, 24-7 Spyz, and Living Color. Later on, I was like, “Well, I think I should go in that direction.” At first, First Jason was doing a lot of covers. Misfits songs, Danzig songs, that kind of thing. And it was really Chuck (Nefarious from Macabre) who kinda said, “You don’t need to do that. Do your own songs. You got this skill; apply that.” And by creating that guitar and streamlining, we got a sound, eventually. One thing that I’m very grateful for; I’m probably benefiting from the indulgence of the fans, because I was little Jason.
You have something unique you can do, might as well go with it …
Absolutely. I would do it no matter what. Because I’ve been at conventions where some kid shows up and they’re just so thrilled to meet me. And as a performer, I always know that we should be where anybody’s willing to hear us. If someone’s willing to hear us, then I’m there. But it was a happy accident, perhaps. The fans indulged me and gave me time to get my sound together. I’m always eternally grateful for them. But I didn’t take that for granted … I kicked my own ass. If you go and you see Gojiira, or if you go and see Sepultura, which I’ve done, or you go and see Dimmu Borgir, Testament, Cradle of Filth … it’s just facemelting. You see these bands and you start going ‘Wow’ just at the virtuosity of it. I just said “Fuck, I wanna try doing that.” I didn’t know I would end up doing it as a duo and have a metal duo … (laughs)
All sorts of firsts going on here …
Yeah, it’s true. You know what it is with the metal duo thing … I’ve been advised, “Hey, stick with the duo because it shows off the pyrotechnics of the band, of playing bass and singing.” And then with Ryan, it’s also a great thing that he’s in the band -Ryan Adomaitis, the drummer- because he’s a very visual drummer. People love to watch him play drums, which is a great thing for me. Honestly, I like to really focus on the music, and I’m playing bass and singing and playing keytar at the same time, and I’m pretty absorbed with that, so it’s great if there’s other things to look at. We’re very happy now, because we’re coming out with our second album, called Heed My Warning. But I think that even the name of that album gives you a clue that we’re still kinda coming up with what we’re really gonna drop, and what we’re really going to expand to. I’m happy with the way it sounds.
Keep up with First Jason on their official Facebook Page or through the First Jason website. You can also order their first CD, Jason is Watching, on the site, along with some pretty cool and unique merch (like Jason’s Slasher Sauce hot sauce). But if you missed the chance to see First Jason at Horrorfest, don’t worry … Jason always comes back!!