Interview: Hollywood Undead
Mon, 01 Sep 2008 17:00:15
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There's a small plaza at the corner of Franklin Ave. and Highland Ave. right in the center of Hollywood. A shirtless homeless man with tattered black jeans and about five teeth walks up to the front of the plaza's Starbucks. He pulls out a cigarette box and shines a toothless smile at Hollywood Undead's Johnny 3 Tears. "I've got a story for you," exclaims the homeless guy. 3 Tears peers through his sunglasses at him, "Yeah?"
"A long time ago, I had a silver ring. It was the most beautiful silver ring in the world. Are you listening?" he stammers with a crooked smile, something like a cross between Heath Ledger's Joker and Johnny Rotten.
"Yes, I'm listening. Go on," 3 Tears replies.
"Ok…my friend wanted this silver ring. So he stole it from me, but he gave me a joint after. Want to smoke it?" the homeless guy asks, clutching the cigarette box.
"No, I'm cool. Have fun with that," 3 Tears answers. With that, the homeless guy stumbles away, muttering to himself. This is Hollywood, and this is home for Hollywood Undead. Sitting at the table inside Starbucks, 3 Tears can't help but laugh. "That dude loves me. He hangs outside Subway all day, and I bring him books. I don't even know his name. I just call him, 'Bum.' I'm like, 'Hey bum!'" Charlie Scene and J-Dog laugh. It's a scene they know all too well. It's a scene that the six piece dissects and exploits on their A&M/Octone debut Swan Songs. The record is filled with coarse, violent and vitriolic raps about the city's seedy denizens and its fall from grace. In between infectious raps, Hollywood Undead inject flourishes of cybernetic keyboards into huge metallic choruses for a style all their own. It's a trip through Hell courtesy of some experts. Inside Starbucks, they sat down with ARTISTdirect and gave us an exclusive look at Swan Songs and much more.
Swan Songs doesn't sound like anything else out there.
J-Dog: We put a lot of work into Swan Songs. It was three years in the making. We're all proud of it. We think it's something new, and we're expecting big things from it.
Where do the songs usually start?
Johnny 3 Tears: Usually it starts with the music that Deuce [Producer, Singer] works on. A chorus will come in, and then different people will add whatever they can to the song. It's like alchemy. From there, we polish the song over time. Each song takes some time. We don't make a song in a day. It's a process. We'll make a lot of songs at once or one at a time. It's different each time.
You guys are really in tune with the music itself—more than most "rappers." Do you all play instruments?
Charlie Scene: The three of us were in a band called 3 Tears for awhile. Actually Deuce was the original guitarist, and I replaced him in the band.
Johnny 3 Tears: You did a much better job [Laughs].
Charlie Scene: Yup, I did a much better job…I added a lot of solos [Laughs]. All of us have been in tons of bands together and separately. We all play instruments, except for Johnny 3 Tears.
Johnny 3 Tears: That's not true. I play any stringed instrument that you put in front of me.
J-Dog: Yeah, right…The music comes together so organically because all of us have a really strong connection with each other. We've all been friends our entire lives. We all talk about the music together. Even though we all come from different musical backgrounds, I think we blend everything together really well—probably better than I've seen anyone else do. That's why everyone responds to our music so much. We don't try to make our music. We live our music. We don't try to be catchy. It's actually what comes out of us. It's very natural.
Charlie Scene: Songs will be about something that we actually did the night before. Then the next day, we put some of that in the song. We're delivering real experiences and situations to our audience.
Johnny 3 Tears: You're so insidious [Laughs]. We've known each other for our whole lives, and, because of that, we've shared all of the same first time experiences together. I think it forms a pretty cool bond in the sense that we can draw back from when we were five-years-old all the way to last night. It's all still relevant, and it flows.
Charlie Scene: I was with Johnny the first time he got laid. It was on his 21st birthday. I took him to Vegas [Laughs].
J-Dog: We have slept with a lot of the same girls, and that's not even a lie. Whoever reads this—you know who you are…All the way from A to Z [Laughs]
Johnny 3 Tears: That's not true. The other 25 letters of the alphabet are true, but no Z.
The band's one of the most honest reflections of Hollywood life since Guns N' Roses. You reflect the true essence of the city.
Johnny 3 Tears: Personally, I think we reflect it even more so than Guns N' Roses did. In that sense, I think every band that tried to do something about Hollywood glamorized it to an extent. We do the opposite. We try to un-glamorize and make it plain. It is what it is. It's not like, "Oh, this is rock n' roll." That's a side of it, but there's no glamour involved.
Charlie Scene: It's different from Guns N' Roses because Axl didn't grow up here. We grew up in L.A., and we know the city's underbelly. We talk about real life. In the rap stuff, we don't talk about bling or driving fancy cars. If we do, we're joking about it. We talk about real life, L.A. street idiots.
J-Dog: All of it's true. We don't over exaggerate the truth either, which people tend to do. Literally, Johnny and I went to jail last week—both for different reasons. It's not like a normal thing. It just happens. We're not a bunch of posers pretending we're crazy. We do what we do. All of us grew up out here, and we act how we want to act. We don't care what people have to say about it, unless it's a girl. Then we'll lie to try and get some out of it [Laughs].
You've seen the city change over the years, but there will always be a darkness to L.A. Would you say that's true?
J-Dog: In a sense, yeah. 10 or 12 years ago—people don't believe me when I tell them—every single night, you'd hear gunshots, 18th Street was jumping people, there were drive-bys and people were getting beat up. There were no clubs around here that anyone went to. Over the past 10 years, the city's been running all the trash out. They've been making Hollywood into what it was made to be—a glamorous city. It's changed so much that words can't even describe how it used to be. No one can even understand, until it happens again. It's going to happen again eventually, for sure.
Johnny 3 Tears: The real nasty part is the seediness inherent in the glamour. I think rich kids who do this shit are grosser than the ghetto kids are. At least the ghetto kids have an excuse—that's where they're from. Rich kids come out here from wherever. They do a bunch of drugs and nasty shit. Then they go home to their parents in the morning. To me, that's a lot grosser and more degrading than a bunch of bums or some shit like that.
J-Dog: We live in L.A. Even if we wanted to, we wouldn't have been able to get out of here. Besides all the people that come and go through here, we've been here our whole lives. It's in our blood obviously.
Johnny 3 Tears: I was thinking about moving to the Inland Empire, but I can't.
There's a certain charm to L.A. because it can destroy people or make them. You guys talk about that a lot.
J-Dog: It's not something you can hide. People don't understand. Hollywood just has a new face. The town basically got a facelift with all of the remodeling and clubs that they've opened. All the nasty shit is still here. It's just covered by all the new stuff. Everything is still here; you just don't see it.
Johnny 3 Tears: It's a different social veneer painted over what's always going to be there. What it's always going to be is unavoidable. It's not even the people from here, but people from everywhere else that consider Hollywood one thing. They will always consider it that. No one is ever going to consider it Disneyland. It's always going to be fucked up.
J-Dog: There's so much shit people don't even see. There are gangs like White Fence, MS and AP. There's so much other shit that goes on as well, and people don't even know about it. When they think of Hollywood, they think of Paris Hilton. That's not our Hollywood. It's something completely different from ours.
"Black Dahlia" stands out. Did you guys grow up with that story?
Johnny 3 Tears: For us, I know why we wrote the song. It's based on our own situations with that. It's that classic story. You like someone so much, and then they leave and you feel like you could kill them. J-Dog titled the song. He's fascinated with old Hollywood. He does a magazine called Hollywood Land. He's studied how Hollywood developed into what it is. I don't even know what a Dahlia is [Laughs].
J-Dog: "Black Dahlia" is obviously an old Hollywood tale. It's about a girl who was brutally murdered and cut up. Anybody who has ever been in a relationship and gone through some fucked up shit—like we all have—sometimes wants to kill the other person in the worst way possible. People are just scared to say it. So we did a song about how everyone really feels but doesn't want to say.
Johnny 3 Tears: That's an emotion a relationship can bring out. I've never felt like stabbing someone's eyes out until I went through that experience. We just made it as graphic and real as possible. It's a real love song.
You cover a spectrum, because you have dark songs like "Black Dahlia" and then catchy, club banger-style songs like "Undead." The video is great, by the way.
J-Dog: Did you enjoy those naked girls?
All of a sudden, we're joined by a fourth member of Hollywood Undead. Funny Man bursts through the door and makes his presence known.
Funny Man: Yo, yo, yo, what's up?! It's the Funny Man!!! I just got back from some lunch.
Johnny 3 Tears: Rick, ask Funny Man a question.
Charlie Scene: Watch how hilarious this is going to be.
Funny Man: Come on dude! Don't put me in the spotlight.
Johnny 3 Tears: You walked in yelling, "I'm Funny Man, dude!" You have to answer a question [Laughs].
Funny Man, what's your take on the "Undead" video?
Funny Man: There's a lot of T & A [Laughs]. I like it. It's cool. I don't really have a take on it.
J-Dog: What happened with you personally at the video shoot?
Funny Man: Me personally, I just got way too drunk. I couldn't function very much. I got in a lot of trouble.
J-Dog: Doing what?
Funny Man: Getting drunk.
J-Dog: What'd you do when you were drunk?
Funny Man: What did I do? I don't remember.
Johnny 3 Tears: You had the crew threaten to leave the video. Your mom cried afterwards, and your dad almost beat the shit out of you [Laughs].
Funny Man: That's not true! He's a hundred miles away.
J-Dog: He squirted the director with a super soaker, and he almost hit someone with a mic stand. His mom started crying. He yelled at an old Asian man. He broke a beer bottle.
Funny Man: I don't remember shit!
J-Dog: He did a kick-flip on the floor and landed on the ground. He had never landed one before.
Funny Man: Never.
Johnny 3 Tears: Landing them is better when you're buzzed, bro.
Charlie Scene: Well, the video was a collaboration between the band and director Jonas Akerlund. We got together and came up with some ideas. I think it turned out really well. It depicts what we wanted it to. It's a real raw video. It was awesome working with Jonas. We look up to him as well.
"Paradise Lost" is a solid closer. What's the story behind that song?
Johnny 3 Tears: Deuce and I worked on that song together. It's my thoughts on Christianity and the Western World. It's a little more serious than most Hollywood Undead stuff is, but we wanted to make a song of that magnitude. That's pretty much it. The Midwest and the Red States have this blind belief in everything. Everyone else is struggling to fix the world, while they're just trying to hold it in place where it shouldn't be. They're just martyrs for whatever they believe. I have strong disagreements with the whole thing. Not with Christianity, but what people do as a product of that. We wanted to make a song that impacted people to look in a different direction around them instead of upwards.
What's up with "Sell Your Soul?" That's more of a rock tune.
J-Dog: Da Kurlzz had a vision out of nowhere of doing a heavier song, and Deuce stole it [Laughs]. I'm just kidding. They just wanted to make an in-your-face heavy song with crazy drums and live guitar. Deuce came up with an idea. I went over to his house. We worked with Danny Lohner [NIN] on that one. He helped produce "Undead" too. We collaborated with him on that track, and he really brought it to life. It's one of my favorites.
What's the Hollywood Undead live experience?
Funny Man: Well, I pretty much steal the whole show. People only come to see us because I have great dance moves.
J-Dog: His whole body is an instrument.
Charlie Scene: We played the Virgin Mobile Festival. There was thing called "Book the Band." Fans could go online and vote for a band they wanted to see, and we won, no contest. It was awesome. We saw 2000 kids singing every lyric. It's fun playing in Hollywood Undead because a lot of us used to sing and play guitar simultaneously. Now, we just have microphones. It's a lot of fun running around onstage. Everyone is a frontman in his own way. There are five frontmen in this group and one dip shit.
Johnny 3 Tears: Which one?
Charlie Scene: Da Kurlzz, bitch! Print that.
Johnny 3 Tears: It's cool because every song is interchangeable for everybody in the band, so there's never a dull moment. We're doing pickup lines, and it's a lot of fun. I have just as much fun helping with other people's parts as I do with my parts. It makes it a group experience. I think the audience enjoys that more.
Charlie Scene: Live, I think our songs come to life. J-Dog plays keyboards and a little guitar. We also have a drummer. I play guitar. Da Kurlzz plays extra percussion. It's a lot of fun. Songs are even better live than they are on the album.
Well, it's fun style at the end of the day. Kids could bump this in the suburbs.
J-Dog: I'm sure the second this stops being fun for any of us, we'd just stop doing this. We started this for fun. We're still having fun. I don't perceive us not having fun. Everything we do is fun—from playing to recording to hanging out. We want to make good music and have a good time, like everybody wants to. It's like we're not trying to do what everyone else is doing by making music people will like. We made music with the intention that we would like it, not even with the intention that anyone else would like it. We thought people would think it was retarded. We didn't give a fuck and we did it anyways, and they love it now.
How actively involved are you with your MySpace page?
J-Dog: Johnny 3 Tears is bad with computers. He types with two fingers.
Johnny 3 Tears: I'm good with engines though [Laughs]. I have a Jaguar. If you're single or married, keep that in mind. I don't give a fuck. I have a Jaguar.
Charlie Scene: We can't wait to go out on the road and tour, and meet everyone that's supported this band.
Johnny 3 Tears: It's the dream we've all wanted to accomplish. It's been three years doing this.
J-Dog: All of us are excited to go on tour because it's something we've never done before. We've all been in bands since we were like 16. There's nothing in this world that I think anybody in this band would want more than to do that. It's been our goal since we were little fucking kids. Now I'm a grown man, and I still have a little kid mentality. I have a Jaguar too.
Johnny 3 Tears: He borrows mine [Laughs].
Where did the title Swan Songs come from?
Johnny 3 Tears: We came up with Swan Songs because there's an irony to it. A swan song is supposed to be the last noise a swan makes before it dies. Even though it's our first record, I thought that it would be cool because of the irony of it. In all honesty, I never know what's going to happen with us, so I thought it was a fitting title. It's very complete, representing the lifespan of something. If we never made another record again, I think we would've done something that most bands haven't done; even though it's only a 14-track record, but it covers a lifetime. If it's over now, it's over now, but we plan on making more records no matter what. It seemed suitable. We'll see.
J-Dog, what's the deal with your magazine HollywoodLand?
J-Dog: Funny Man, my friend Science and I came up with an idea for a magazine. We just sat there one night. We drank some wine, got shitfaced and talked about a magazine. It's closely related to our band because there's nothing in Hollywood that we've seen that's not censored. Everything in Hollywood is about advertisements, censorship and how to get really popular. I wanted to make a magazine about real Hollywood, and no one could stop us from doing it. We started taking photos and interviewing homeless people and people who work at porn shops. We have free reign. It's been a year in the making, but it's going really well. It's an on-paper version of our band. I don't like censorship at all, so I'm just going to put it out on my own.
This record's been a long time in the making. You must be thrilled it's finally coming out now.
Charlie Scene: Unfortunately, our last label would've had to censor the album to release it, but I'm not going to let some fucking lawyer write my lyrics. No one's going to tell Charlie what to do.
Johnny 3 Tears: We waited a year to release this record as opposed to releasing it the easy way by censoring it. Our last label said, "We'll release it now on schedule if you take off these songs and change a few of the other ones." It wouldn't have been that hard, but we chose to wait it out. A&M/Octone came along eventually and decided to put it out un-cut. However, we still sat on our asses for a year and got fat. I used to look like Brad Pitt and Paul Walker. I did that for the kids. I waited. That's why I'm a fat fuck who eats Domino's twice a day. I'm doing this for the kids.
J-Dog: Buy our record. I can't afford my gym membership.