On Thursday, exactly one year will have passed since Jason "Gong" Jones auditioned to be the new singer for Drowning Pool.
"I'm still waiting for them to tell me it's an April Fool's joke," Jones said just days before the band begins its first North American tour since frontman Dave Williams died of a heart attack on August 3, 2002.
The tragedy could have ended Drowning Pool, who listened to hundreds of demos and auditioned five singers before deciding Jones was their man (see "Drowning Pool Hire L.A. Tattoo Artist As New Singer"). The singer, who was first introduced to the band by Snot/ Amen guitarist Sonny Mayo, remembers how excited he was the day he tried out for Drowning Pool. Strangely, he wasn't nervous at all.
"I had a dream before I got there that I was talking to [bassist] Stevie [Benton], which is weird because I had never met the guy," Jones recalled. "I dreamed I had already auditioned and I said, 'What's up? Do I have the gig or what?' And he said, 'Dude, you've had the gig.' And I was like, 'What the hell?' So when I went in I was pretty confident. When you dream some weird sh-- like that, it's usually a good sign."
The tryout wasn't easy. Not only did Drowning Pool ask applicants to learn their material, they insisted that everyone come in with two new songs written in the band's style. But as soon as they plugged in, Drowning Pool and Jones immediately connected, and by the time they had finished running through a handful of songs, Jones was told to go back home to Los Angeles, collect his stuff, and come back to Dallas right away.
He overcame what could've been the biggest hurdle — trying to live up to Williams' legacy — by not even trying. "I realized I can never replace Dave," he said, "so I kept it out of my mind. Dave was Dave, I'm me."
Jones sounds right at home on the grinding grudge-rocker "Step Up," the first single from the band's upcoming Desensitized, due April 20. Drowning Pool wrote the song three months after Jones joined the band, and unlike the rest of the new disc, which is more straight-up hard rock than 2001's metallic Sinner, "Step Up" is driven by the kind of surging, adrenalized riffs that propelled the 2001 hit "Bodies."
"We needed to start with something that had that same kind of trip," Jones said. "Basically, [guitarist] C.J. [Pierce] came in with the riff, and we organized everything together, then I opened my mouth and sh-- just started pouring out."
"Step Up" was written about someone who meddled with Jones and suffered the consequences. For legal reasons, the singer can't discuss the details, but rest assured, whatever he didn't get out from the incident, he vents through the song. "It's cool, because now that person has to hear it all the time. ... That is probably the most therapeutic song on the record."
For Jones, being in Drowning Pool is the first really good break following years of hardships involving drugs, alcohol and missed opportunities. When he moved from his hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Los Angeles, he had visions of becoming a star and living the high life, with the emphasis on high. Instead, he lived in a van for 18 months and was arrested several times. Eventually he got a job as a tattoo artist and was allowed to sleep in a band's rehearsal space, but he was still living hand-to-mouth.
"People were like, 'Look at this f---ing homeless guy,' " recalled Jones. "It's a struggle, man, and a lot of my songs are about the struggle."
But now the struggles are in the past. Drowning Pool are playing on the Headbangers Ball Tour with Hatebreed, Drowning Pool and Unearth (see "Hatebreed, Damageplan, Drowning Pool Taking 'Headbangers Ball' On The Road"). "Step Up" was featured as the lead track on the soundtrack for "The Punisher," and Jones was invited by ex-Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody to add vocals to a song called "The End Has Come," which also features Godhead frontman Jason Miller (see "First Song From New Drowning Pool Lineup On 'Punisher' LP").
"Ben is cool, bro," Jones said. "I was hanging out with him ... and he went, 'Dude, I've got this song that needs something heavy in it. The bridge needs to be heavy. If you wanna do it, it's yours.' And I went, 'Hell yeah.' I did the whole thing in one take."