Hollywood Undead Talk "American Tragedy," Darkness, Movies and "Hear Me Now"
Wed, 26 Jan 2011 11:31:30
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If he were alive today, William Shakespeare would probably be a Hollywood Undead fan.
The band's second album, American Tragedy [due out March 8, 2011], encompasses everything that Billy boy excelled at. There's comforting nihilism a la Hamlet in the systematic industrial assault and battery of "Been To Hell," while "Comin' In Hot" is a rousing, raw, and raucous club anthem that could be the perfect soundtrack for any Midsummer Night's Dream. The album's first single, "Hear Me Now," brandishes a timeless arena rock spirit while maintaining the band's gritty gutter attitude. American Tragedy covers an entire range of emotions, feelings, and thoughts like all great artwork. The band builds off of the hybrid they created on 2008's Gold-selling Swan Songs, while traveling down a simultaneously darker and more divine road. Hollywood Undead have crafted one of the most important records of the year thematically and sonically, and moreover, they've made a new classic. The Bard would approve…
Right before Hollywood Undead hit the road with Avenged Sevenfold, Stone Sour, and New Medicine for The Nightmare After Christmas Tour, J-Dog, Johnny 3 Tears, and Funny Man sat down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about American Tragedy. They discuss the stories behind "Hear Me Now" and "Been To Hell," where they've gone on American Tragedy, being reactionary, and so much more in this in-depth conversation.
Is there one cohesive vision to American Tragedy?
Johnny 3 Tears: The whole idea was to make a comprehensive record. As most people who listen to us know and those who don't may not know, there's more than one side to Hollywood Undead and the kind of music we write. Finding the perfect blend is the toughest part. That's what we tried to do with American Tragedy. We put enough of our last record, Swan Songs, on American Tragedy, but also push the band forward at the same time. That was very important to us—as we do consider ourselves artists. We wanted to artistically move forward and try to do something different than we did last time, but make it as interesting as possible.
Funny Man: It's about our friends reaping all the benefits like the women [Laughs]. We were in Las Vegas last night, and my buddy got some girl because of Hollywood Undead.
J-Dog: That's true. When we're on tour, our friends will visit us, and they'll use our band more than we do. I think it's because we're just a bunch of pussies who are scared of girls [Laughs]. That's what it comes down to.
Johnny 3 Tears: Shut the fuck up [Laughs].
J-Dog: Yeah, I guess we want to make another record so our friends get laid even more. That's the real influence.
Do you feel like Hollywood Undead went down a darker path for American Tragedy?
J-Dog: On this record, some of the songs definitely got a little darker and heavier. To a degree, that was our direction. We're all in different states of mind than we were during the first album. The same attitude that fans liked is still there in the new music, but I feel like we became better at everything we do so it evolved more.
Was there a pronounced lyrical evolution?
J-Dog: Our lyrics definitely got better. We're all very unhappy individuals, no matter how you spin it, so our lyrics got pretty dark.
Funny Man: I'm always happy. That's why they call me, "The Funny Man" [Laughs].
Johnny 3 Tears: I can only concur. When you're writing a record, you can't isolate yourself from the world. There are bad things going on that everybody's affected by. Whether you're a musician, a store clerk, or whatever else, you're not immune to that. I think the record's darker turn was involuntary. It wasn't like we sat there beforehand and said, "Hey, let's a make a darker record." You can't help but reflect on the state of things, the band itself, where we're at, and where the world's at when you write music. That's what music is. At the core of it lies how you feel and how people feel around you. Whether you want to or not—voluntarily or involuntarily—you absorb that stuff when you're writing music.
Would you say this band's reactionary on a macrocosmic and microcosmic level?
Funny Man: That was some far out shit.
Johnny 3 Tears: I wanted to see if you blew Funny Man's mind for a second with that question [Laughs].
Funny Man: Totally…
Johnny 3 Tears: "Reactionary" is the perfect term to describe how we write our music. It's instant dissatisfaction or satisfaction. When the band is happy about what's going on, we write happy music. When we're not, we don't. You can't help that. The songs aren't planned out enough to the point where we can write a certain song no matter what. Everything is sort of based on what's going on at that moment. Everybody's lives in the band dictate what songs are written.
J-Dog: If our pockets were lined with money and we were all super happy and excited, we'd probably write something like a Beach Boys record [Laughs].
Johnny 3 Tears: Brian Wilson is the craziest fuck on the planet. He was never happy! He wasn't feeling any good vibrations…
Funny Man: The guy had to have a box of sand under his piano in order to write song so he could feel like he was on the beach.
Johnny 3 Tears: We use a box of broken glass instead like the Indian people did.
J-Dog: Johnny 3 Tears lays on spikes, I stand on broken glass, and Funny Man breathes fire. That's how we write music.
Funny Man: We're like The Wildboyz (TV Series).
Johnny 3 Tears: I fucking love The Wildboyz.
Funny Man: "They're wild boars; we're Wildboyz!"
Johnny 3 Tears: Rick, you blew Funny Man's mind too much with the "Microcosm and macrocosm" question.
J-Dog: You tripped this guy out. He's on Mars now; you can't bring him back.
Johnny 3 Tears: You can't do that to him [Laughs].
What's the story behind "Hear Me Now"?
J-Dog: The song is a little bit of a departure from what the world is used to hearing from us. We had experimented with some new sounds and different ways of writing songs. Technically, when we wrote "Hear Me Now," it was about what various people in the band were going through at the moment. It could mean something different to everyone because we have so many writers on each song. Everyone wrote his own part and based it on what he was going through in his own life. It's a deep song. It's about someone going through some tough times, getting dragged through the dirt, and where you come out in the end. It's like taking a look at yourself and realizing what you've been through. Everyone's been through some hard shit recently. I feel that song reflects on that. Anyone can connect to it.
Can you delve into "Been To Hell?" What does it mean to you?
Johnny 3 Tears: It's a macrocosm for this guy!
Funny Man: "Been to Hell," shit…I haven't really been there so I wouldn't know what to say [Laughs].
Johnny 3 Tears: It's definitely a Hollywood song. In a sense, Hollywood Undead actually represents "Been To Hell." Title-wise, it's about the people who come in and out of Hollywood. It's a focal point of the world for all the wrong reasons. People care more about Hollywood than they do about Washington, D.C. where laws are made and things are dictated throughout our lives. The general public give more of a shit about what's going on here, what movies are being made, etc. People move to Hollywood hoping to advance their lives in some sense. They want to make music, or they want to become actors or actresses. Time and time again, they fail. They come here trying to realize their dreams and they learn that isn't the way it works for everybody. I'm commenting on it from an observant standpoint seeing it for so many years. The majority of these people don't make the cut, and they usually pack their bags or look for a different life that wasn't what they dreamed of when they came there. You're a bartender, a street cleaner, or whatever the fuck you do, and it wasn't what you came here intending to do. Or, you shell off and go home. It's our observation of that lifestyle. These people get off the bus here and things don't exactly work out how they thought. I understand it must be heartbreaking for those people. However, it's kind of a fuck you to them in the sense of saying, "What'd you think was going to happen?" That's how I think of it.
Funny Man: Shit, I still haven't been there, but I'm sure it's hell [Laughs].
J-Dog: It's exactly what Johnny 3 Tears said. You can't sum it up any differently than that. Growing up out here, you see people come and fail. What pisses us off is a lot of these kids have strong financial backing from their parents. They don't know what it's like to not have financial security. We worked our asses off to get to where we are everyday. We're playing in a band, this is our shot, and we're doing whatever we can. These kids our age come out here, they got hooked on drugs, they go out and party, and they're trying to get laid 24-7. They totally lose the focus on why they came out here, and they go back home to their parents. Some people aren't rich, and they go back home to nothing. The majority of them don't have to worry about struggling. We've been here. We know what it's like to live in the shit—basically hell. We'd thought we would tell our own story about it.
How important is storytelling for you?
J-Dog: I think all of us are a bit weird, and I guess most artists are fucking nuts to an extent. I live with Johnny 3 Tears, and he tells me weird shit all the time [Laughs]. All of us are very strong personalities, so I don't even know if we're "telling stories," we're just writing songs.
Funny Man: Tell it like it is!
Johnny 3 Tears: A good song, to one degree or another, will tell a story. Everybody tries to do it, and some are less or more understandable than others. There are a lot of songs out there that I really like, and I have no fucking idea what they're about. I think our approach to it is a little more direct. Everybody's telling a story when they write a song, we just tell it so that you get some emotional purpose behind it and you know if the song is happy or sad even if you don't understand the whole concept. There has to be some level of duplication for listeners where they go, "Okay, this is what this band is talking about." Obviously, we tell stories, but I think we're just a little more direct and honest. There's no shame in not being obscure like some people are. Sometimes, I think, "Hey, that's a great melody, but what the fuck did that guy just say?" We like people to understand what we're talking about. It's what makes us different from other bands. When you listen to one of our songs, at the end of it, you're going to say, "I get what these guys are saying." I don't like listening to music and afterwards saying, "That was very beautiful, but I have no fucking clue what happened."
If American Tragedy were a movie, what would it be?
J-Dog: I'd say it's like Dances With Wolves mixed with Gangs of New York and The Last of the Mohicans. It's really like a Daniel Day-Lewis movie dashed with a little bit of The Big Lebowski here and there. It pops up every once and a while. Jeff Bridges is kind of like Charlie Scene anyway. I don't know what to think of him.
Johnny 3 Tears: I have a good one—Reservoir Dogs. It's so heavy, but there's a huge comedic aspect. There are six guys who are all so different personality-wise doing the same thing. That reminds me of the band because of that. There are these funny parts but, at the same time, people are getting killed. As horrible things are happening, somehow we manage to make light of it all and still have a good time.
Funny Man: Let's party!
Johnny 3 Tears: Funny Man thinks it's like Shrek. He loves the green monster.
Funny Man: I was just at Universal Studios last weekend!
What are you guys listening to right now?
Funny Man: Wiz Khalifa, man! For real, that's what I've been listening to. He's like the new Snoop Dogg.
Johnny 3 Tears: Say something more obscure…
Funny Man: He is obscure.
Johnny 3 Tears: No he isn't; he's huge!
Funny Man: Whatever, I've been listening to him since before he got big [Laughs].
J-Dog: He runs the fan club, "The Wiz Kids" [Laughs]. The only two artists I've been listening to are Suicide Silence and this new white rapper, Yelawolf.
Funny Man: I saw Yelawolf on The Strip in Vegas. He was playing guitar and kicking beats the other night.
Johnny 3 Tears: I like The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and The Sleeping.
You guys do what Korn did for a new generation.
Johnny 3 Tears: That's what it's all about, man. A lot of people think music is a response to what you're feeling. However, a lot of music is a response to what other people are feeling. You're surrounded by people all the time when you're touring. You meet fans, you see what they're going through, and you can't help but absorb it. It's part of your music, and there's a crucial relationship between the band and the people there to see it. If that relationship isn't there, that's when you cease to write good music. When you put that cut-off point between you and the listener, you're fucked. That's why we talk to fans so much. That relationship is extremely healthy as far as writing music goes because you get to know the people who are listening to it, and it's very important
It's as therapeutic for them as it is for you
Johnny 3 Tears: Exactly! If you're just writing music for yourself, I really don't think you should be writing music. That's when you turn into the closet musician who doesn't care what anybody thinks. I'm not saying you should care what other people think, but that relationship between the person making it and the person listening is very fragile. You have to treat it like it's important. What makes a band special, is the crowd there to listen to it.
Are you excited for American Tragedy on March 8th, 2011?
Stay tuned for video of this interview soon.