Hollywood Undead’s Johnny 3 Tears Discusses the Power of ‘Five,’ Taking Control of Career + More
Time flies, but one constant over the past decade has been the continued growth of Hollywood Undead. The band will release their fifth studio album, aptly titled Five, on Oct. 27 via their own Dove and Grenade Media along with BMG. The disc is arguably the best representation so far in their career of what the five-piece can do in a variety of styles, keeping listeners engaged while never letting things get stagnant.
We recently had a chance to chat with Hollywood Undead’s Johnny 3 Tears about the Five album, what went into the creation of the disc, his thoughts on some of the album’s key tracks and coming up on the milestone of 10 years since the band’s first release. Johnny also beams about getting a chance to collaborate with B-Real on the new disc, talks about the album’s eye-catching cover art and teases their tour with Butcher Babies this fall. Check out the chat below.
Great album! I had a chance to kind of sit down with it and I’m loving the energy. Sounds like you guys are in a good place right now.
I appreciate that bro. That’s always good to hear, because you don’t really know because you don’t have an objective viewpoint. Whenever we first start putting it out there, I’m a nervous wreck for a month. It’s good to hear. I obviously appreciate it. We put our all into it as we try to every time and we’re all pretty stoked with it. Things look good and people seem to like it. There’s going to be people who hate it, of course, but that comes with the territory. But we’re happy with it and that makes me very happy that you like it.
The band has been very prolific with five albums released and coming up on 10 years since the release of your first album. This seems like a good time to reflect. What does it mean to you to be hitting these milestone years now as a band? It just seems like you guys just started yesterday.
It’s partly cool because, hey, we’re still going, we’re still doing it. I love music, so that’s what I would love to be able to do. And then it’s also depressing because that means I’m getting old. There’s two sides. I have a kid, she just turned eight and I’m happy because she’s this cool little girl and she’s awesome and I hang out with her but I’m also depressed because that means eight years went by and I’m that much closer to death. There’s parts of it like, wow, 10 years, we’ve been together for 12 years, and 10 years since that first record.
That’s really cool and the base that we have, we’ve had very interesting things happen throughout our career as any band would. And some of those things would tear other bands apart or whatever and we’ve always had a fan base that kept us going and kept us confident and kept us doing what we do. We’re very fortunate in multiple aspects in that sense. And the most fortunate one is that I still enjoy doing it.
We’ve always kind of promised ourselves, if we ever stopped having fun doing what we’re doing or it became mundane or it became a chore we would stop and we haven’t hit that day yet. I’m still really happy that I get to the studio with those guys and support those guys and still call them my best friends. That means more to me than probably any other aspect of it. We’re very happy about the whole thing.
Album number five is named Five. Beyond the obvious, you’ve made a point of what Five means for you. How big are you on numerology and looking for these symbols that strike out to you?
I’m obsessed with it. Some of the other guys think it’s like witchcraft, but to me, I find the whole thing fascinating. Especially once you go throughout history and how much these things have meant as far as parts of mathematics and science, in ancient sciences too. These guys were using numerology long before typical mathematics or the universal mathematics we use today.
I think the whole thing is interesting. There’s obviously a power in symbolism, whether you look at the cross or political symbols. I love symbolism on top of the numerology. It was fitting and I was super into the idea. Some of the other guys were just like, “Whatever.” They think it’s weird. But hey, I got my way.
You’re starting your own imprint this time, Dove and Grenade Media. Can you talk a little bit about the freedom that brings and what it meant in terms of bringing a more hands on approach to this album?
It’s kind of the same old story that most bands that have been through the major label system will tell you is there’s great things about it. They’re the best at getting you out there, promoting the band, putting you here, putting you there. It’s a trade off and you sacrifice some of the control that you have. For instance, if we’re recording a record, you’ve got to have everybody at that label in there at different points during the recording process saying, “We like this, we don’t like that.” They’re very territorial. But in your mind, what right do you have to say what kind of music a band should make? But at the same point, they’re paying the bills so you can’t really say much because if they stop, you’re not going to have a studio at all.
That sort of relationship we had with our labels in the past could be pretty strenuous. I’ve had a lot of good experiences too. I know a lot of guys at Interscope, at A&M that I still talk to, that I’m still friends with that are great people. But for us in the way in the way we want to do what we do and being able to it be completely on our own creatively without having to satisfy anyone, it allows you a lot more freedom. And honestly, I think we write better records that way anyway because that’s how we wrote our first record and that’s how we wrote this record.
It just allows us to have that much less pressure and we don’t have to go, “The A&R guy’s coming tomorrow so let’s polish up this mix, let’s do this and that.” It’s like you’re getting checked in on constantly. That relationship isn’t there anymore and that just allows you more freedom to do what you think is right for the band and what you think … It gives you a relationship directly with the fans and there’s not some big deal between a record label or these people or those people to get it there and it’s more immediate.
The relationship is better between us and the people who actually listen to our music, not some dude in a suit who does this for a living. There’s that part of it that allows you more freedom. We’re excited about that part. It’s a lot more work, I have to confess. You realize how much work labels do when you don’t have one. Or at least in the traditional label sense.
That part I found really interesting as well. The record industry is one of those things that you know probably better than even me, is constantly changing and constantly morphing and keeping up with it is very difficult from record to record. So many things change in the way you launch a record. The way you put a record out now is completely different now than when we released one two years ago. It’s a revamped system. And I expect on the sixth record, if we are that lucky, there will be a completely new way to put music out. It’s crazy in keeping up with it all but it’s a lot of fun and I like it, I enjoy it.
Getting into this album, “California Dreaming” is the lead single. I’m an LA resident as are you. I get the difference between the public perception outside of L.A. and the reality. I’m just curious, was there any incident that sparked this song or points of references that you want to make sure you get across?
I think for all of us, my whole life has been defined on some level by some of these things. Me and J [Dog], we grew up on Highland and Franklin, which is about three blocks above Hollywood Boulevard and the center of Hollywood. Now this area is unrecognizable now. We wrote part of the verse track, it’s like this used to be our city and now, it certainly isn’t.
We always kind of felt that we’re the outsiders now. And there’s a huge aspect of that in that song where we grew up here, but this belongs more to other people than to us. I think that’s a big message in the song.
The interpretation of what California and what Hollywood is, you see the polarization now and the disconnect from the world of entertainment to reality and I think that disconnection is growing bigger and bigger every day and you see that especially in politics and these sorts of things. Not to get into those things, but there’s a separation between Hollywood and reality is growing more and more.
We’ve already written songs based on this subject. It’s odd enough because it still is a sticking point to me enough to go, “Hey, we need to write another song about this.” Or it inspires me or us to go down that road again. We’ll see how this whole thing develops. And I love L.A. and I love California, I love these places that I grew up. Obviously, there’s a huge sense of nostalgia. To be completely honest though, the majority, I don’t even recognize anymore.
“Whatever It Takes” is an anthemic song for you guys and I love the boxing video. If you want to talk a little bit about the song and how it came about and also your thoughts on how the video turned out.
This song for us, it’s an anthemic track. For us, it’s very personal because the difficulties we go through, not just professionally but personally every day and what it takes to overcome those things. We love the idea of the track and then what was cool is it kind of developed into something that I think everybody needs that message every day. To hear something like that, whether it’s us or something else to get them off their ass and go, “Okay, I can take anything on as long as I work hard at it and keep my head up.” I love writing deep, depressing music, but I also really enjoy what that song is supposed to be.
Then with the video, the guy in it, his name is Sean, he’s a professional boxer actually. He’s a big fan of the band and he was wondering if we would give him a song to do to walk out to. We took it one step further, we said, “Why don’t you just do the video with us?” It was cool because we got to hang out with this professional boxer. The whole message is he grows up getting bullied and he fights back and ends up being the world champion. I think it’s good and it’s applicable to everybody. And even now, when I listen to it, I get jacked up. I’m like, “Alright, let’s do this.” That’s really what we were trying to do and hopefully send a positive message our own way to our listeners and stuff.
I definitely want to hit on “We Own the Night” as well. That feels ready for rock radio right now, and it’s got a cool haunting organ thing to it as well. If you want to talk a little bit about that song came about.
That is very specific. One night, after the studio, we were out getting drunk, I’ll be honest. And we went down to Hollywood Boulevard and which, to be honest with you, I don’t do very often anymore. I used to live down there, pretty much, but all the bars are different now. Anyway, we were doing it. We were walking around and we really wanted to write a song about the nocturnal qualities of the city.
It’s weird because you can be in one spot and it’s a different world than that 12 hours later, it’s completely different. You’ve got everything going on, there’s the bank and there’s the supermarket and everyone’s doing their normal thing, and then 12 hours later, instead of selling food they’re selling crack and all these other things.
It was a take on the nocturnal aspects of our lives and we thought it would be cool to tell that story. We’ve always been on the darker side, subject matter wise with music. I suppose that’s just the way we are. It was our take on those things. I never liked “party music” you know, “Let’s party all night.” I’ve always looked at the other sides of those things. It’s just a take on that activity and where we were at at that point.
Obviously, you guys are a rock band. But I think, if there’s a song that you have done that would ever cross over and hit all sorts of different genres, “Nobody’s Watching,” to me just sounds like it. I just wanted to get a little more on that song as well. If you want to talk a little bit about how that came together.
We have to be careful. I’ll be honest with you, I think there’d be a lot more songs like that on our records because we’re pretty complete as far as music goes and what we listen to and stuff. Not only is it inspired by different kinds of music but we’re inspired to write different kinds of music. But there’s only so much we can do in the world or the confines of Hollywood Undead. Unless we want to go completely in that direction and then you’ve got your fans all pissed off, which sucks. You’re supposed to tiptoe between, but hey, we have to make the fans happy, we have to make ourselves happy and we also have to push ourselves forward and challenge ourselves.
I think that was one of the songs on the record where we said, “Look, let’s put something out, let’s make something we want to make. We won’t overdo it, we won’t put a ton of these on the record,” because, like you said, in the traditional sense, we’re a rock band. There’s only so much you can get away with. We wanted to put a couple ballads on there because we write those for every record.
Like I told you before, the record labels were always like, “Eh, this isn’t you,” which is annoying, because you think we get to decide what we are, but you don’t. So this is one of those first opportunities where we said, “Hey, whatever we write, we’ll decide in the end what goes on without someone else telling us.” And the band just chose.
Typically, that song wouldn’t have been able to make it, but we’re pretty proud of it. That’s one of the cool things and that’s one of the products of being able to do our own thing and this song, once again, is meant to … When you’re a musician, everyone’s affected by everything that goes on in the world on some level or another unless they’re just completely out of it. And when you write music, you can’t help but be touched by those things because you’re thinking about, I want to write a song. Some of them just hit you and sometimes you look at it and go, “I think now, more than ever, no matter what side of the spectrum you’re on or where you’re at in life, we need more music like that.”
There’s a lot of challenges happening and challenges ahead. We just want to inspire people to feel good about themselves and do what they think is right and be kind to each other and all those corny, cliché things that people say every day. For some reason, we still need to remind one another all the time. That really is what that song is about.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about this. I grew up listening to B-Real of Cypress Hill, I’m sure you guys did as well. How cool is it to get B-Real on a song for your record?
That is f–king awesome man. Rap was huge in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but there’s very few people as identifiable as B-Real that are just timeless. His style, his tone, Cypress Hill’s production, they really brought out the organs and synth and stuff into hip-hop at that time. At that time, Sen Dog and the combination of B-Real, the high pitched tenor and then the baritone. Everything about it is so identifiable.
You get a legend like that who not only wants to do it but likes the band and stuff. He has a podcast. We’d done a show maybe four years ago and we talked about it but we weren’t exactly sober, as you know. If you’re on B-Real’s show, you’re probably not. We kind of let it go, we forgot. And then they came in on the cycle and he was free and he wanted to do it and we were super stoked to have him and it’s definitely one of those surreal things. There’s not a lot of people I would want on a song outside of him that we could have gotten. Obviously, the honor was all ours.
I wanted to ask about the album cover. I thought it was very striking with a little girl carrying the flag. If you want to talk a little bit about capturing that shot and why that became the album cover.
Like you said, it stuck us. We did a lot, we had to do a bunch of photo shoots and stuff. I think there’s always been an appeal for us as a band that wants to stick up for kids. That’s a big part of our music and that’s a big part of our culture. I think a lot of that has to do with how we grew up. We kind of raised ourselves and that has always been a big part of our message. Kids need leadership and kids need someone to defend them when they don’t have someone of their own to do that.
Because I think we’re so heavily influenced by our own upbringing, we really want to make them feel like they’re a part of us and a part of music and know we acknowledge them or acknowledge the people who need that message. That has always been a big part. That’s why we always incorporate that. With the kid, we couldn’t send a better message. It’s this little kid in a Catholic school girl outfit with a mask on waving a Hollywood Undead flag in the middle of Beverly Hills.
I think that pretty much defines our band. As far as an image goes, I couldn’t think of anything better. That’s how that happened and we were really, really stoked and the minute we saw that photo, I was like, “That’s it.” Very rarely do I look at a picture and get that kind of feeling from it. We were really, really happy we captured it. Hopefully, when people look at it they see the beauty in it and the juxtaposition of the image and get as much from it as I did. Because I could look at it for five minutes and get something new. I love it.
How excited are you to get out and play these songs? Is there anything in particular that you just can’t wait to see get out there in front of an audience?
Obviously, it’s always fun after a full cycle of playing the songs that you’re limited to playing to have something new to bring. We’ll do that with stuff off the record that’s more obscure sometimes, just for the heck of it. But it’s always fun when you have a bunch of bangers. Our live set isn’t dictated by what’s a hit or what isn’t, so on and so forth. We keep our set up tempo and that’s the kind of music I like to go and see.
There’s a song called “Renegade” off the record that I can’t wait to play live, “California Dreaming.” It’s always fun getting out there and playing new music and seeing people respond. It’s interesting when someone you’ve never met and you don’t know is singing along to the song that you wrote because it shows that there’s this invisible line of communication or a relationship between us and them. I just love that so much because otherwise, I would never know at all because they live 5,000 miles from me and some don’t even speak English. And there’s something really special about that relationship.
Anytime you reignite that and get to fuel that again, see that again and share that with someone they’ve never met, I love it. And that’s why I love playing live. Playing new material obviously is so rough, but fun for them. We’re super excited.
You’ve got dates with Butcher Babies this fall. What’s the relationship there?
It’s funny, that song I just mentioned, “Renegade,” we wanted a very heavy guitar tone and that’s not our typical style. We called Henry [Flury], who’s the guitarist of the Butcher Babies, a friend of ours, and brought him into the studio and said, “Hey man, do you want to lay some guitar down?” That’s the song, “Renegade” I just mentioned I can’t wait to play live. That’s really exciting.
We’ve known Heidi [Shepherd] and Carla [Harvey] for years and years. I used to see them all the time out in Hollywood and stuff like that. We’ve had a personal relationship for a while, so to be able to get together and play some shows together and all that stuff is great. Henry’ll come out and do the guitar for “Renegade” when we tour. It’s going to be a lot of fun. When you bring a band out, I don’t really look so much at the music as much as them because you’ve got to sit with these guys for two months straight. I’ve been out with some real a–holes. They’re wonderful people and I like their band. You kind of get the double whammy.
Hollywood Undead, “California Dreaming”
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Hollywood Undead, “Whatever It Takes”
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Hollywood Undead, “Renegade”
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