“We’re in Bay City, Michigan for the first time. It’s like 100 degrees out and 100% humidity, so it’s gonna get nasty out there. We’re having the time of our lives though. We’re all sweating with everybody and there’s a lot of energy. Papa Roach have been good friends of ours for a long time, so have Falling in Reverse. We’ve also gotten to know the Bad Wolves guys really well too. So we’ve got a nice camaraderie going and we’re having a good time…”
An overtired, exhausted Johnny 3 Tears jumps on a call from the middle of his tourbus somewhere on the road in Michigan, USA. Despite the exhaustion from the heat and playing outdoor shows every night, the man looks and sounds pretty stoked to be where he is. Although he did initially mistake me for being British, but we’ll let that slide. We’re used to being confused for our UK counterparts!
Emerging from the COVID ashes and straight into their first US tour across the country, playing with a stack of friends, yeah, you could say Hollywood Undead are living the good life. That’s not to say they’ve been in a lull the past two years. The nu-metal slash rap rockers unleashed a double edition of New Empire, which featured a slew of collabs from Kellin Quinn, Benji Madden, Tech N9ne to Spencer Charnas and Papa Roach legend Jacoby Shaddix jumping on for the band’s biggest collab in recent times, ‘Heart of a Champion‘, which hasn’t seen the light of day on this current tour as yet:
“You know, it’s funny that we haven’t actually played ‘Heart of a Champion’ on tour yet. It’s kind of tough though because when you’re a singer, especially when you have to work as hard as Jacoby, it’s really tough getting on there before your set because you warm up, and you have to go through this whole warm-up process before. That kind of makes it difficult to jump on a song beforehand, but we’re hoping to pull it out of our hat a couple of times on this tour.”
Johnny reassures us that the band have zero plans of slowing down anytime soon though. With their eighth studio album out this week, Hollywood Undead are preparing to become mainstays in the current nu-metal scene as we know it. Especially with Hotel Kalifornia being presented as their most pressing, emotional record yet, the prospect of dropping an album whilst on tour is huge:
“I love releasing records because it’s the one thing you only get to do every so often, maybe every two years. You only get that day, once every two years. It’s always really exciting for us. We put a lot of work into our albums, writing, getting the material together and going through that process, it takes such a long time. It’s such a relief to finally have it all done and be able to present it instead of just tell people about it, you know, so fans can actually hear the whole thing. That’s probably the most exciting part about being in a band, is record release day.”
With the melting pot of hard rock styles that go into their records, everyday’s gotta be an exciting moment for Johnny and his fellow bandmates – Charlie Scene, Funny Man, Danny and J-Dog. If you’ve never tuned into a Hollywood Undead album, allow me to briefly sum it up. Think of it along the lines of whirl of 2000s nu-metal, pop and rapcore. It’s quite the dynamic, and while we wonder if their creative process remains stagnant, Johnny reassures that is not the case:
“Honestly, it’s different for every album. It changed a lot on Hotel Kalifornia more so than probably any record. From start to finish, it was everyone together and I think it really shows in the quality of the album you know, with COVID going on around us, everybody was so excited to get back in the room. It really added a lot of energy to the sessions and we were just pumped to work together again.
Every album we write is probably written differently than the last. I don’t think we’ve ever had the exact same kind of process especially because being the kind of band we are, we don’t try and write one particular type of song. A lot of it is kind of all over the place as far as the creative process goes, but this one, it was everyone in the same room from the beginning till the end and I think it shows on the record in a very good way.”
Honestly, the real highlight of this album is the band’s homage to their home state of California as a means to uncover their truest, most authentic selves for the world to see. As outsiders watching LA through rose-coloured glasses, we see many representations of Hollywood and the Golden State on many media formats. Even though much of this is quite fabricated through the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, listening to this album is quite the intense, introspective journey. I love that there’s so many stories you can tell about LA in California even today, even if most of us tend see the glossy version. For the guys growing up around this, it was extremely important for them to tell the Calfornia story from their perspective:
“Los Angeles is probably, culturally, the most important place in the world in the sense that you have the whole of the tech industry, the entertainment industry, and all these massive things that are very potent in what people think and how people view themselves in the world. We wanted to kind of call out what we see as the dichotomy of what California really is. You know, California is a beautiful state, there’s a lot of wonderful things that come out of it. But there’s also a horrendous issue with homelessness and drug addiction and a lot of the things that someone from an outsider’s perspective doesn’t have the opportunity to see those things.”
Hotel Kalifornia’s leading single, ‘City of the Dead‘, released last month does an outstanding job in demonstrating these elements. By using inspiration from film legend Tim Burton, and ironically other pop culture references like The Hunger Games, Hollywood Undead are all about being as honest as possible. They’re shedding light on the city’s issues that need to be made more aware of:
It’s certainly the land of the haves and the have-nots and I don’t think that picture is painted accurately in most media formats. There’s a lot of poverty and there’s a lot of drug addiction, and there’s certainly a very, very dark side to California that we wanted to paint that picture for you as vividly as possible. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but to bring awareness to the fact that this isn’t paradise and we have some shit we have to deal with, that’s for sure.”
This record saw Hollywood Undead come full circle, recording back to where they began in the 2000s in a roughened-up corner of Hollywood. Hotel Kalifornia also allowed the band to dig deeper lyrically this time around, and for Johnny himself attend a more philosophical approach to songwriting:
“‘World War Me’ is a song that I really, really care about. I love the existential questions that bring up the two halves of the person, the yin and the yang. It’s kind of that war in someone’s head of trying to be somebody but you have these other urges that drag you into action. That’s the story in a lot of people’s lives. Most people want to be good people and honest people, vying for the attention of the mind. I’ve always just found the subject matter fascinating. I love the philosophical approach.
But my favorite song right now is a song called ‘Hourglass’, which is about our childhood growing up in Hollywood. Our producer has a studio in this ghetto area of Hollywood, and it was literally a few blocks away from where some of us grew up. It was fun, because we were kind of right back where we started. That’s where we first started recording in our bedroom. It brought a lot of those elements from when we first started out to this album. So we wrote that ‘Hourglass’ about those days, figuring ourselves out as kids, the struggles of making music and just survival in general.”
I personally feel so inspired hearing about artists coming to a full circle moment in their music. The journey that a lot of artists go through in their careers, from meeting expectations, giving into societal pressures to finding that balance of keeping that passion alive. That notion is really what keeps the California dream alive, and it appears it’s what keeps the Hollywood Undead boys pushing forwards. Reaping the rewards that are out there, like opening up open-air concerts for Papa Roach and Falling in Reverse.
So what’s left in the can for these Undead boys, you ask? Johnny was pretty open about the band’s forthcoming plans to wrap up 2022 with a bang — a huge collab is on the way and potentially, a visit Down Under:
“We’re working on a song with some artists and you would certainly know who they are. That’s the thing I’m looking forward to most is some of the collabs we have going on, working with other artists, making new stuff and getting new people involved has been really fun for us, especially since COVID. But we were actually just talking to our manager today about heading over to Australia with maybe Papa Roach and others, so hopefully we’ll be able to come out there and see you guys soon!”
Let the CHAOS unfold.
Interview by Tamara May @citylightstam
Hollywood Undead will release their eighth studio album, Hotel Kalifornia on August 12 through BMG. Pre-order here
Hollywood Undead – Hotel Kalifornia tracklisting:
2. World War Me
3. Ruin My Life
5. Go To War
6. Alone At The Top
7. Wild In These Streets
9. Lion Eyes
10. Trap God
11. Happy When I Die
13. City Of The Dead