From an artist’s perspective, it is better to be loved or hated rather than have someone be indifferent about your work. It is the polarizing emotional reaction that separates one creator from another, and, after all, it is said that there is a very thin line between love and hate. In music there are many acts who trigger such feelings and that is where Hollywood Undead comes in. For 15 years now, they have given the proverbial and literal middle finger to trends, record label suggestions, and norms.
What some would consider career suicide, the exact opposite has been the case for the Hip Hop laden heavy Rock band who has pumped out album after album, toured all around the world, and amassed a highly dedicated following. Set to release their sixth studio album, New Empire, Vol. 1, on Valentine’s Day 2020, they return with some of their most striking music to date. Excited to be where he is and doing what he loves, Vocalist Johnny 3 Tears took the time to talk about his life in music, finding balance, following his own vision, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – For around 15 years, Hollywood Undead has been going strong touring the world, releasing new music, and building a massive following. How would you describe your journey as a part of the band?
Johnny 3 Tears – What you said sums up things. The truth is it’s obviously a rocky fucking road to get success in any band, not just us. You hear, “You guys are killing it,” but it’s like the stock market – there are constant ups and downs. You may end up at a higher point, but you’re just kind of along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself very blessed because I do what I love, and there are few people who get to follow their passion and make a living doing it. I count my lucky stars every day that I get to do this: I do it with my friends, and we’re still making music.
It’s a tough road, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I can’t tell you the amount of times we’re an inch away from calling it quits, because the industry is so tough or it’s hard to be away from home all the time. There’s a lot of work and hardship that goes into it, I guess that makes me appreciate it more honestly.
Cryptic Rock – The band has conquered a lot and come out on top. One thing that has truly stood out about Hollywood Undead is the band has stuck to what you want to do regardless of trends going on around you.
Johnny 3 Tears – Yeah, we definitely try to keep our integrity with the music. There are lot of people who love us, there are a lot of people who fucking hate us too. The key for any band is to do what you think is right, do what you care about. If you don’t love what you’re making it doesn’t matter how many people love it or hate it, you don’t have that integrity. The key is to make sure when you listen to your music you’re proud of it, then it can roll off your shoulder if you’re criticized because you know you care about it.
I think honestly we are a pretty polarizing band – the people who love us really love us, the people who hate us really hate us – and that’s okay. I’m just glad we’re not one of these bands that make the same shit everyone else does. That’s something I think we can wear on our shoulder: we’ve always experimented, progressed, and pushed boundaries. I can’t tell you the amount of times labels have said, “That’s not what radio is looking for, that’s not your demographic.” We said, “Well, fuck radio, fuck the demographic, because that’s what we want to do.” It does make for a lot of challenges, but at the end of the day I think I can look back at our catalogue and be proud that we always made what we set out to make.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Speaking of the music, you have your new album, New Empire, Vol 1, due out on Valentine’s Day. Your first album in three years, what was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Johnny 3 Tears – There were a couple of differences. You can really fall into a routine; you kind of find your pattern when you are writing music, you say, “This is successful, this works, I’m going to keep doing it.” We always try to put ourselves in some position of discomfort because I think that’s when you’re going to make the good stuff. You certainly can’t be happy, at least me personally, I can’t be content to write this music, it just doesn’t get my blood boiling in the same way.
On this album a couple of differences are we were all in the studio together from the beginning to the end. Typically the guys who write the songs go out, do their own work, bring it in, and everybody works on it from there. We didn’t write anything prior, we all went in raw and said, “Let’s see what happens.” In that regard this record is different. Also, we’ve never produced a record with one producer, it’s always been typically 2-4 because we like to encapsulate moments. It always makes the record a little less seamless, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are pockets of songs done by one guy and pockets done by another. That can kind of make it a little bit rocky, I like it but we wanted to try something new where the record was produced with the same guy all the way through. There was a couple of minor tweaks and it was kind of cool, it was a different experience. Like I said we were a little uncomfortable, which for me makes the best writing.
Cryptic Rock – Well the end result is very good – the music is heavy and the lyrics are tight. Never one to pull punches with your lyrics, there are a lot of different emotions in these songs.
Johnny 3 Tears – That’s one of the reasons I’m happy I’m in this band, in particular; you can kind of do everything. I feel bad for bands that are known for one thing: human beings have a vast emotional range, from day to day I’m ten different fucking people. I hate having to feel our music has to be angry, sad, or humorous. Whatever is there is there, we are allowed to travel down that road of introspection and that’s really important to us.
No human being feels one thing, so music is an extension of emotions. I feel like you’re robbing the music if you only write about one of those emotions. We’ll explore anything – good days, dark days. We’re far too multi-faceted to get pinned down to one thing; Hollywood Undead is really an amalgamation of all of it. I think that is one of the things that make us unique, maybe not better but certainly unique.
Cryptic Rock – There is no question. You mentioned how labels would tell you this is not what the market is looking for, etc., but Hollywood Undead has lived off your fanbase. You have a massively dedicated fanbase, perhaps one of the strongest around. Do you feel a close connection with your fans?
Johnny 3 Tears – Absolutely. It’s a different relationship than anything you have in life. Typically people you know you usually care on a personal level, but the fact that we’re connected through music is different. You go to Russia, you’re connected to a kid who doesn’t even speak a word of English. I don’t speak a word of Russian, and yet we have the thought that he cares equally about what we are doing as much as we do. They are the only people who care about what we’re doing outside of us; it makes for an interesting relationship.
A band lives and dies by its fanbase. You can have a hit, you can go on the road, you can have your 15 minutes or whatever you want to call it, but you don’t live off those things. That isn’t what is going to keep a band engaged with their fanbase that we live and die by. Our relationship to them is like family: we don’t eat without these guys, and even more importantly, we don’t express without these people. I would lose my position or platform to do what I love. I would still do it, I would do it to no one if I had to, but it certainly makes it more rewarding when people listen to you and care about what you’re saying and relate it to their own lives. Music gets me through everything I go through – that what’s I do, that’s what I turn to. I’m just stoked that people turn to us in those moments. I feel a great responsibility because of that.
Cryptic Rock – That has to be a very surreal feeling to have that type of connection with people.
Johnny 3 Tears – It’s everything. Music is the ultimate form of communication to me, it’s like no strings attached. You can say things in songs that if you said in a conversation someone would say, “Dude, this guy needs to go see a therapist.” But in music it’s okay, so you get to strip yourself raw. I think people feel these things who are almost afraid to feel them, it gives them an outlet for their own emotions. You can lay the human relationship more bare and take away the social strings that attach us; I can’t say this, I can’t say that because it’s not socially acceptable, well in music it is. I think that’s why it’s so important to so many people.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. Hollywood Undead has toured a lot throughout the years with many different acts. Known for your high energy theatrical shows, you have always showcased many different masks. Of recent you have not been wearing the masks. What led to this decision?
Johnny 3 Tears – I don’t think it’s a decision, I think it’s an ongoing thing; I don’t think we’re done with the masks in every sense. I think we kind of ran out of the creative ideas to use them in a way that we wanted to. We certainly don’t want to be a band that wears masks solely because that’s what we are. Obviously the music is number one, the masks were another outlet. I always found them visually striking, and we’ve always come up and brainstormed how can we make these things mean something to us.
There is more to it than, “Hey, I want to put this on because that’s our image.” If we can’t do it right I don’t want to do it at all. I’m not saying the masks are gone, we are not “done” with the masks. We just had to hit the pause button until we figure out how we can do this and have integrity with them, so it’s not just a prop but a part of the band. We just didn’t want to do it just solely because that’s what we’re expected to do.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable. You are hitting the road with Papa Roach in Europe. How excited are you for this tour?
Johnny 3 Tears – We’re stoked! We’ve know the Papa Roach dudes for a long time, the’re great guys. There’s always timing, you’re recording while their touring, but we were finally able to get it together with a band I really admire. They are right up there with the best lives bands I’ve ever seen; we’re going to get blown out of the water. That is something I’m not looking forward to, but hey, maybe we’ll learn something from them. Those guys bring it every day, it will push the envelope for us because you can’t coast with a band like that. We’re really excited!
Cryptic Rock – Europe is in for a great tour. You mentioned how it is a challenge to stay away from home, which has to be exhausting physically and mentally. How do you keep healthy being away from home?
Johnny 3 Tears – It takes work. One thing I personally stopped doing is snorting coke and drinking all the time. (Laughs) That’s what I used to do and it’s a great way to kind of put yourself out of it. You kind of medicate to the point you’re not in the moment, but then what’s the point? For me, I really concentrate on my health, my mental well-being. I don’t care if it sounds corny but I do a lot of meditating.
I definitely make sure no matter where we are, no matter how tired I am, I enjoy the culture and see the things that make up the parts of where we are. If I don’t, I feel like 10-20 years from now when we’re done I going to feel – We went to these places, I don’t even remember them. I didn’t even learn anything about them or myself. I always try and soak in everything I can possibly soak in, because we are really lucky to be able to go play music 6,000 miles from home.
You just have to really work on being in the moment and it’s hard when you have this life back home calling you back. Honestly, it’s impossible not to live torn in some respect. When I’m home I try to be as present as possible, and when I’m on the road I try to be as present as possible. You just do your best; it’s really coping more than being okay with it.
It’s a tough job, I don’t think people look at it that way. When you’re 21 and don’t have any kids or a wife or anything, it’s obviously a completely different world. As time has gone on, I have two children now and I’m married. Of course those are pulling my heart strings when I’m going, but you have to juggle both; it’s a challenge.
Cryptic Rock – Right, that has to be very difficult being away from your family. It’s good to live in the moment, it seems like nowadays no one is living in the moment. We are so consumed by social media and technology that no one stops to take a look around.
Johnny 3 Tears – It’s unreal. That’s part of what we wrote that song “Time Bomb” about – social media and the dark side of what this is doing and how damaging it is for society as a whole. It’s sad to me. Don’t get me wrong, I fall into the same traps. I catch myself and I will look at something on my phone and an hour later will go, “What the fuck was I doing?” It really is very much like a drug: with technology you go down these rabbit holes and it’s hard to get out of. I think young people especially today are facing challenges that we didn’t. Obviously we all have cellphones and there is this black hole of entertainment that you can go into and never come out if you really wanted to.
You have to be really contentious that these things are tools: they’re not meant for your face to be glued to eight hours a day. You walk around and people are bumping into each other all the time and don’t even notice because their face is in their phone. You go out to dinner and they are sitting there typing away; you don’t even have conversations anymore with people in real life. I think people almost panic now when they have to look someone in the eye and have to speak to them because they are so used to staring at a screen. It’s scary! It’s up to the individual to keep those things in mind, to use technology as a tool, but you have to be careful because pretty soon it might end up using you.
Cryptic Rock – Very true and a very serious topic. It is really the anti-social network.
Johnny 3 Tears – You are absolutely right. That encapsulates it better than any other statement I’ve heard. That’s exactly what it really is: it’s posting pictures of your fake life so you can avoid your real life.
Cryptic Rock – 100% accurate. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Johnny 3 Tears – Oh man, who doesn’t? I will be honest with you, I’m kind of chickenshit with Horror movies. I know later that night I’m going to start to think about it and it’s going to keep me up. With Science Fiction I’m old-school, I love the original Blade Runner (1982). Even the more cartoon-like aspects of the original Total Recall (1990). I love Philip K. Dick stuff. I love the short stories and a lot of these movies that came from his stories, such as Minority Report (2002). I love the Science Fiction flavor. I loved the movie The Edge of Tomorrow (2014).
I even love Fantasy movies. I love pretending I’m a wizard or some kind of druid character. That’s the way I avoid real life: I don’t use a cellphone, I just pretend I’m a wizard all day. I’m going to cast a spell on someone today, you better hope it’s not you. (Laughs)