Wikipedia has them listed as a rap/rock band; another source says nu-metal; another says emo rap. Whatever genre one wants to classify them in, one thing is certain: Hollywood Undead keep things interesting. Formed in Los Angeles in 2005, Hollywood Undead blew up on My Space and subsequently released their first album Swan Songs, which peaked at #5 on the US Top Alternative Albums, #3 on US Top Hard Rock Albums, and #22 on the US Billboard overall charts, eventually going platinum. Popping up on various charts like that solidified their prominent place in the current genre-bending playlist culture. Going strong since 2011’s American Tragedy went gold and came in at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 and 2013’s Notes from the Underground hit #2 online, as of 2019 the band’s total streams have surpassed 1 billion.
The band is currently releasing their sixth studio album New Empire, Vol. 1 (yes, there will be a Vol. 2 closely following, but not released simultaneously) on Valentine’s day 2020. The band’s current lineup consists of “J-Dog” on vocals, guitars, and programming, “Funny Man” on vocals, “Johnny 3 Tears” on vocals and bass, “Charlie Scene” on vocals and guitars, and more recent member “Danny” on vocals, guitars and bass.
A very enthusiastic Johnny 3 Tears, who is “always busy because if not that’s when the trouble starts” as he put it took some time out to discuss the band’s new album release. He is super excited about the album as well as other tidbits such as constantly writing music, why the album is coming out on Valentine’s Day, how the band writes, and the merits of dark sci-fi movies.
Hollywood Undead obviously touches on a lot of dark themes within their music. For Johnny 3 Tears, this is a career requirement. He believes it is the musician’s job to dredge their psyche deeply. He states, “A lot of our albums are about introspection and stuff. I think that’s the only way to write music in my opinion. There’s emotion coursing through me. I think it’s the responsibility of a musician to get uncomfortable and to dig deeper than the average person can or would be willing to. You have to say the things that you might be committed for saying if you said them on the street. We’re all fucked up, so you have to dig that up. If you’re not doing that, I don’t know why the fuck you’re writing. For me, it’s a responsibility to dig deep and push boundaries and say things other people don’t want to say or can’t say. When I sit down to write it’s like ‘Alright, time to get Freud and shit.’ Music is communication. If you don’t have anything to fucking say, people will know. Otherwise, you get stuck in the same pattern of writing songs and you get too comfortable, so we definitely try to push the limits. It might be uncomfortable at first, but you can’t say ‘this is not in our repertoire this is not what we do.’”
Along these lines, the video for the first single Already Dead features the band in a some kind of creepy organ harvesting operation scenario that is fit for a horror movie. 3 Tears explains that the band is indeed horror fans, as one would surmise from watching this video, and he especially loves “dark sci-fi” films, even the horrible Red Box indie ones. “They’re just so fun. That’s definitely a big part of our movie watching outlet.”
On New Empire, Vol. 1, for the first time Hollywood Undead used one producer, a man by the name of Matt Good who is known for working with Sleeping With Sirens and Asking Alexandria among others. This is how the vocal cameo from Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens on the track Upside Down come about. It is a collaboration that is angry and uplifting all at once. 3 Tears tells us that working with Matt “added continuity. We were fans of the Asking Alexandria record he produced. He’s like a musical encyclopedia and really created a fun atmosphere for us. We had such a good time that I can’t wait to do another one.”
Contrary to what one might assume, there is not really a significance to New Empire, Vol. 1 being released on Valentine’s Day. 3 Tears explains that he dislikes the Hallmark holiday. “Valentine’s Day is like the worst holiday because every year I forget. There should be the major holidays and that’s it. All these little random holidays… there’s a lot of love in the air who doesn’t love love?”
Additionally, the recording took place in two intervals amongst a marathon of touring with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Stone Sour, and Cypress Hill. Even with all of this going on, 3 Tears explains they approached New Empire, Vol. 1 “as if it was the first time we sat in a room to write music together. After 15 years, that’s difficult to do, but it was our goal, nonetheless. We asked ourselves, ‘What do we have inside of us we haven’t tapped into or spoken on?’ And the time really helped. As soon as we’re done writing an album, we’re already writing the next one so we’re always recording music, but as far as the final product, we’ll take the songs that we think are worth doing and we’ll bring those in. With time, we didn’t let anything slip through the cracks. For a band like ours to put together 18 tracks, we feel like nothing is missing, and we get to release two albums, which we’ve never done.” 3 Tears assures us that the second installment will be out in a few months.
Many bands do not like writing while on the road, but 3 Tears feels differently. “Every artist has their own way of writing. Things work for you that don’t work for someone else, but we do write on the road because it gets so fucking lonely so I think it is good to write on the road because you can channel that into the songs. When I feel like writing, I try to capitalize on it, so when I don’t feel like writing, I don’t have to, because that’s when you write shit. You’re not going to like your music if you’re forced to write it and that’s not a good place to be. When I feel like writing music, I write it and when I don’t I don’t. That’s the only way to get good material.”
However, his ability to constantly be writing has a down side: “For me it’s hard to turn it off. I’m kind of with my head in the clouds and it’s kind of involuntary, I’ll read the news and something comes to me it’s just there all the time and it’s hard for me to avoid. For example, I took my family to Disney World a couple weeks ago and I got in a lot of trouble for thinking of a song when they wanted to go on a ride or something. It’s something that’s involuntary it’s always right there in front of me.”
Even with the ability to constantly be writing, he explains that “Not everything is going to be great, so you have to get everything out. I think it was John Lennon who said sometimes you write a dinkery doo. And he’s one of the top song writers in all of modern music. If he writes shit songs that makes me feel a lot better even if I’m nowhere near his league. Not everything you do is going to be great, so you have to sift through things. A lot of time the tracks we’re not using we’ll save so we can pull things from it that we like and can use later. That’s why we just track as much music as possible.”
This ability to always be writing also means that 3 Tears writes music other than Hollywood Undead material. “I write other music even though Hollywood Undead is my focus and my first love, so when we’re writing as a group it’s for Hollywood Undead and a lot of the stuff I write on my own is too, but a lot of it is stuff for myself. When we get together is when we really focus on Hollywood Undead. And the other guys bring stuff they have been working on. For New Empire, Vol. 1 it was our opportunity to disregard expectations and say, ‘Fuck everything we’ve done. Let’s pretend we’ve never made a record before and do something different.’ We have a great foundation. We just decided to build something else by finding subjects worth writing about.”
As far as explicitly discussing the meaning of his lyrics, however, he would rather let the music do the talking. “ For me, I would rather not explicitly discuss those things because as I said they are uncomfortable things you wouldn’t normally tell anyone unless they have a degree in psychology. Also, I want people to be able to relate in their own way. Take Anthony Kiedis, for example, his lyrics are really abstract lyrics. I have no clue what he’s referencing, but I take those lyrics and apply it to my life and that is what I prefer people do.”
As far as dealing with fan expectations, “I don’t want fans to ever get comfortable with us. I mean, they don’t know what they want so you have to show them what they want. Many fans act like they want the first album over and over again, but if you did that then they would say you have gotten stale and complain about that. So, you can’t please everyone and I want our fans to expect something different. Music has to constantly grow, and push boundaries. It’s not hard writing a great rock track–it’s actually the easiest thing to write, but that’s a cop out. We don’t want to be another active rock band. In many ways it’s good we’re not a strictly heavy band because then people would expect certain things from us. We’ll always change and evolve. Music is a living thing. As with any living thing, if you don’t grow, you die. Plus, when people hate us they really hate us. We’re very polarizing.”
Check out Hollywood Undead on their European tour coming up with Papa Roach. After that they will be in the States with Bad Wolves.