FIRST JASON “The First Slash Is The Deepest!” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

When first we saw Jason Voorhees’ distorted face erupt from the waters of Camp Crystal Lake back in  1980, he was not wearing his iconic hockey mask. In fact, he wasn’t even the real killer! There was no way that teenage actor Ari Lehman could have known that Jason would become one of the greatest horror icons of all time. And he also had no idea that someday he would mastermind a rock band based on the indestructible killer’s reign of terror.

In 2015, Jason still reigns supreme and Ari has created FIRST JASON as a musical tribute to him. I ran into the multi-talented Mr. Lehman at the Slayfest in Freeport, IL and decided then and there to get the story behind his association with the legendary monster and the FIRST JASON band. So it was that we hooked up at Camp Crystal Lake for the following “cutting edge” interview…(groan!)

Keep the lights on and grab your girlfriends! Not that that’s gonna save you…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks for talking to us, Ari! Let me ask you…what bit you first, the music bug or the acting bug? 

ARI LEHMAN: Hi Dr. Mality! I was studying Music from a very early age - Violin at age 5, Piano at age 7 so yes it was Music from the beginning. Even when I was on the set of "Friday the 13th" I had made up my mind to become a musician already, having acted in a film the year before and decided that Music was the best for me. Jazz Piano was my main interest at that time and I received a scholarship from Dr. Billy Taylor the famous Jazz Educator and Piano Virtuoso. 

WC:  When you were invited to play the part of Jason in the first “Friday the 13th”, did you have any idea that the movie would be so iconic and its effects so long-lasting? 

AL: Not at all! In fact the very reason that "Friday the 13th" was made in the first place was to make up for the losses of the previous film that the team produced, "Manny's Orphans" a Comedy about a rag-tag bunch of inner city orphans who win back their orphanage from the mob in a Soccer championship. Soccer was not very popular at that time so eventually the team realized that it was going nowhere. To cut their losses, Sean Cunningham decided to produce a Horror Film and called it "Friday the 13th", using pretty much the same group of people. I was thrilled to be cast as the "Monster" for the new project. Much later when the film spun off into numerous sequels, we all realized that this was going to be a longer ride than we thought at first. I am very happy that the fans liked Jason so much as to want to see him again and again. This year there will be a "Friday the 13th" TV series on The CW, and in 2017 there will be a new Feature Film from Paramount Pictures - so it's true JASON NEVER DIES!!!

WC:  What was the vibe on the set of the movie? Was it a fun shoot or was it pretty tense? I know the shooting conditions on movies like the first “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” were pretty grim.

AL: I had a great deal of fun working on "Friday the 13th". For the first few weeks, I was working with Tom Savini at a studio they had set up in Connecticut for the production. Being in his studio was like seeing the inner sanctum of Merlyn the Wizard…there were all sorts of special effects, weapons, explosives and masks. I learned a lot about how all of the scariest effects are created at that time. On the set of the movie we actually managed to have a blast! Most of the Cast and Crew were from the New York City area as we shot it in New Jersey, and they were happy to be away from the hot Summer city and in a bucolic woodsy campground setting. We worked very hard every day starting very early in the morning before sunrise. After the work was done, however, everyone went swimming in "Crystal Lake" to cool down and unwind. We actually stayed in those cabins during the time on set!  

WC:  Did you keep up with the Friday the 13th series after your appearance and what did you think of the character’s evolution? Would you have taken things in a different direction, maybe?

AL: Honestly I was not happy with Part 2 at all, but when Part 3 came out I felt that redeemed the series and did the character justice. That said, I do feel that all of the actors who played Jason did a superb job, and each one brought something new and unique to the role. Richard Brooker's interpretation is the real groundbreaking definition of Jason Voorhees, after which I feel that he keeps getting bigger and more badass. Kane Hodder and now Derek Mears also have pushed the envelope and made Jason even more of a Monster. 

WC:  What memories do you have of Betsy Palmer, who was your “mother” and who sadly passed away last year?

AL: I will always love Betsy Palmer deeply. She always treated me like a son, and we had many great times together. I worked with her at many Horror Conventions all over the USA. Both of us being Vegetarian, we would often get dinner together after the show and have a few drinks with the fans after that. She was an amazing storyteller, and could take control of a crowd with her beautiful radiant charming ways. I would watch in amazement as she would get audiences to laugh so hard they literally fell out of their seats. Also she gave me advice and encouragement that sustains me every day. She was a big supporter of my Music and when I was going to perform she would always take me aside and say "Knock 'em Dead Ari!, And Leave 'Em Writhing in the Aisles!!!" I Love Her Forever.  

WC: What are some of the other acting roles and experiences you’ve had? 

AL: I've been in many,  many Independent Horror Films as one can see at my imdb page of course. It's always fun and very often I am cast in some interesting roles. Doing Independent Films I have had some wild experiences as you may imagine. One time I showed up on a location that was an actual Funeral Parlor, as we were preparing for the shoot the actors were told to wait in another room - how surprised we were to find a coffin with a freshly prepared recently deceased elderly lady in it! We all had to wait in there for hours as the filming took place and it was very strange for us all. I am open to doing more film work and getting cast more and more these days… it's fun!

WC:  Do you ever feel you live too much in the shadow of Jason or does he seem to be an old friend? 

AL: That's a great question, in fact I see Jason kind of like a big Brother in a way, and interacting with the character as an icon of American Mythos has always proven to be a fascinating experience. They key to it, I feel, is to look at Jason from the eyes of the fans, and everyone has a different experience to relate to me about when they first saw me jump out of the Lake. Often they start out by just saying - "you scared the xxxx out of me!" hahaha it's fun...

WC:  When did you get the first idea for the First Jason band?

AL: When I was first on the Horror Convention scene, I had my World Music band, having toured for years on the Reggae/World circuit working for Interscope and Tuff Gong Records. Immediately I realized that the connection with music and Horror is Metal and Punk Rock. That's when I decided to form FIRST JASON, a band inspired by the Mythos of Jason, and providing a voice for the inner turmoil of the otherwise silent Monster's mind. I want to thank the fans for giving me time to develop a real Horror Rock sound, as FIRST JASON now has, and for being open-minded and open-hearted enough to accept me as one of the family of Rock Monsters.  

WC:  What are some of the musical influences for First Jason? I hear a lot of old school punk and some Alice Cooper, myself. 

AL: Yes,  certainly a big Alice Cooper fan from the early years on. I drew upon the influence of my friends REAGAN YOUTH, a seminal Punk band from NYC, whom I was friends with and got the opportunity to see live in concert many times. At that time I also saw BAD BRAINS, DEAD KENNEDYS and WHITE ZOMBIE too. Once I moved to Chicago, I met Nefarious, the Bass Player from MACABRE who worked in FIRST JASON for two years and had an influence by introducing me to the amazing musicality and virtuosity prevalent on the Death Metal scene. I feel that FIRST JASON draws upon both Punk and Metal as well as Funk and Reggae for these reasons.

WC: Tell me about the other guys in the band. What kind of background do they come from? 

AL: The drummer is named Bass Amp and he has performed professionally for decades on the Punk scene based out of St. Louis. He's a big fan of THE RAMONES and has gotten advice and lessons from Marky Ramone himself. The guitarist is named Eddie Machete and he is a "Shredder". Eddie studies with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai and he plays the Kirk Hammett limited-edition "Mummy" guitar onstage!

WC:  Do you write all the music and lyrics both for First Jason? 

AL: Yes, I write all the music and lyrics for FIRST JASON, with the one exception of the song "Dream Within A Dream" which has lyrics by Edgar Allan Poe.

WC:  You play the “keytar” which is unusual in this day and age. What attracted you to this instrument? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to it? 

AL: In fact,  it was Nefarious from MACABRE who urged me to bring my Keyboard skills to the band as at first I was only doing vocals. I felt that it did not look "Metal" to stand behind a Keyboard so I devised the Electric Machete, first by simply duct taping a Keyboard to a cosplay Manga sword, then getting a team of Special Effects artists, The Brothers Rich, to design and create a Machete for the Keytar. I now use the Roland Lucina Keytar which is so much fun to play that I recommend everyone try one out. Playing the Electric Machete completely empowered me to streamline the sound, and it innately gives FIRST JASON a unique and different overall sound. I am developing new techniques for the instrument and I've been called the Evil Genius of the Keytar by the top Keytar players in Rock, who are still trying to figure out what I'm doing! haha...

WC:  Could you see yourself doing lyrics outside the Jason mythos? 

AL: Yes, in fact we are going into the studio on Jan 11, to begin a new recording and I've written all of these songs outside of that specific mythos, however still keeping it dark and Horror Rock. The titles include - "When the Clock Strikes 13", "To Be A Monster", "Witch Camp" and the title track "Better Crazy Than Lazy". The album will be released later this year.

WC:  What’s the most memorable gig you’ve played so far?

AL: FIRST JASON has opened for many top acts, including GWAR, DOWN, MACABRE and CHIMAIRA, and performed at many of the top venues and festivals including the Whisky A Go-Go, The Viper Room, Phil Anselmo's Housecore Festival, Savage Fest and The Indianapolis Metal Fest. Later this month we are looking forward to performing in Denver at The Fillmore for Bourbon and Bacon Fest too! It's always a blast and an honor to perform at these great venues and festivals.  

WC:  Have you ever experienced any sort of paranormal or creepy event you care to share with us? 

AL: Well,  I have seen the ghost of the first Jason to wear the Hockey Mask, Richard Brooker, many times, and he has appeared in my dreams, very often to give me advice, all of which has turned out to be accurate. Richard always looked after his friends and I think he likes to visit us Jasons from time to time as well...

WC:  What’s the last release or CD you picked up just because you wanted to hear it? 

AL: The most recent MOTORHEAD album was terrific, and also I am big fan of the Australian band 12 FOOT NINJA who I recommend everyone checks out!

WC: In the history of First Jason, has there ever been a Spinal Tap moment where things went haywire that you could share with us?

AL: Well, one time I was onstage in Germany and the audience looked confused, maybe not knowing what to make of my Electric Machete. At that moment Machete himself, the great actor Danny Trejo, who was at the same event, jumped up onstage! He took one look at my Electric Machete and said "That's Badass!!!" opening his vest to reveal dozens of Machetes embroidered into the lining! The crowd went absolutely WILD after that hahaha! Many Thanks to the great Danny Trejo - what an superb actor and human being.  

WC:  Any last words for the Camp Crystal Lake Campers out there?

AL: To me, it is the fans of Jason Voorhees and "Friday the 13th" who keep the Mythology alive. I am deeply appreciative to them for all of their enthusiasm and support, and I will endeavor to do my best to bring more original content to the community. MANY THANKS FROM CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE!!! JASON NEVER DIES!!!