Hollywood Undead’s Johnny 3 Tears Talks New Album, Working With Slipknot’s Clown + More
Hollywood Undead have just unleashed their new album, ‘Notes From the Underground,’ and one of the band’s vocalists, Johnny 3 Tears, recently took some time out to speak about the creation of their latest effort with Loudwire.
The rhyme-slinger also shares his thoughts on songwriting, shooting a music video with Slipknot‘s Shawn Crahan, the importance of getting to know the fans, what makes their live shows special and the evolution of their famous masks. Check out the interview below:
Loudwire had a chance to preview the first webisode for the ‘Notes From the Underground’ sessions and it looks like you’re just having a really ‘good time’ in the studio. Did it seem more laid back this time around for you?
That was all an act. [laughs] But yeah, you know, sometimes you get too comfortable and the more you’re in a band the more complacent you can get, so I think our focus was really on keeping it interesting and not getting too comfortable, but we try to keep it exciting which is where liquor and such comes in, you know. You never know what’s gonna happen, buddy!
With such a large group of guys and people contributing, is it difficult to pick and choose what’s going to make it to a record and does having such a wealth of talent in the band lead to an excess of material?
It’s a little more systematic than that. There’s typically just a few of us writing songs and the other guys bring in their thing and stuff like that, but if you saw us writing songs you’d think it was just a couple of schmoes that just sit with an acoustic and write and then we kind of build from there. At the core, I think we start a song just like anybody else, but I think we just build more around it as opposed to a more strict mentality that some guys have.
But we do write a lot more than we typically need, but in this day and age, it’s tough. There’s so many places you have to put songs to get your CD out. It’s not like you just make a record with 14 songs, stick it out, and that’s that. There’s iTunes and bonus tracks and foreign releases and EPs, so the songs always end up somewhere in other words.
The single ‘We Are’ is an anthemic track with a strong message. Tell us a bit about the genesis of that song.
I actually wrote that chorus before anything else and it was on standstill for a while. I wrote that chorus when we were on tour last year and at the time, I mean, I don’t know, I guess especially when you’re out on the road, you talk to a lot of kids. A large majority of our fanbase are 16- and 17-year-old kids and they get up in their 20s and stuff, and the vast majority of them I make it a point to speak [to] and get to know as many of them as I can. And I suppose I hear a lot about their difficulties in this day and age. It’s depressing. I’m older now and kind of out of touch with some of the things that present themselves. And I kind of got the idea from talking to kids as much as I could. They go through what they go through and I always find that inspiring. I think it’s one of the more difficult times in anyone’s life and that was what I wrote the chorus about and we kind of filled in the gaps from there.
I kind of got a smile out of the ‘We Are’ line, ‘You can see God when I take my mask off.’ Obviously, it’s fun for you and you take pride in writing some clever lyrics, but do you have a favorite lyric off this album?
There’s one song in particular, it’s called ‘Outside’ and it’s the last song on the record, and I think more so than any other song, that one, and it’s not just one lyric but the whole thing and the message, but to me it’s the best Hollywood Undead song that we’ve ever written. That’s my personal viewpoint, but it was one of the songs that we sort of wrote on accident.
We’re not one of those bands, not a radio band that’s ever going to get the artistic credit, not that we even deserve it. I’m not saying that, don’t get me wrong, but I think that was one of those artistic moments where we went, ‘Oh, we’re actually really good at this sometimes.’ Sometimes, we’re not, but like George Harrison said, ‘Sometimes you just write a stinkeridoo or a bad song,’ but that was the complete opposite moment where I went, ‘Sometimes we can do this well,’ and I think that whole song was that moment for me.
We’ve all had a chance to see the ‘We Are’ video, which is pretty awesome. What was it like getting a chance to work with Slipknot’s Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan, who directed the video?
Oh, it was gnarly. You know, one cool thing about it, it was really unexpected. There’s a group of guys who do music videos very consistently and we’ve worked with some of them, and they’re all very good, don’t get me wrong, but we wanted to do something different. And one of the guys had heard that Shawn had actually done some videos and that he might have an interest, so we just took a shot in the dark. We didn’t actually expect that to happen. And not only was he interested, he was excited. So that was pretty mind-blowing from the beginning.
The coolest thing to me was that he’s been in a band a lot longer than he’s been a video director, so to him, I think he understands the other side of it. You get a real feeling of comfort and he really listens to you. You can really tell, but he really gave us some artistic freedom too. On most videos, it’s kind of a cattle call and you do what they tell you to do and you leave. But this was much more of a discussion and he was very welcoming to our ideas. It was quite a thrill and the dude is certainly a very creative force. I’m very interested to see where his career goes as a director because he’s got a world of talent.
I heard that you shot that video at the abandoned Linda Vista Hospital. How spooky was that?
[Laughs] Yeah man, it’s just a weird, weird spot. It’s really really creepy and I know it has a really funky history. I know it was on ‘Ghost Hunters’ and I know those shows are garbage, but still. But, you know, there was like 60 people there so I wasn’t by myself. I don’t think you could pay me a lot of money to go inside alone cause I’m a chickens—. But when you’re there with a lot of people, it was fun. There were incubators lying around and spinal tap machines and a morgue where you could open the freezer doors. It really gave me the heebee jeebees, but it was definitely good for the music video.
Your fanbase is growing year-by-year. What are some of your favorite moments of interacting with the fans and getting that positive feedback?
When you’re in a band, there’s so many steps or little goals that you shoot for as time goes on and stuff. I remember when saving up to buy a guitar amp was one thing and I think at that point it seemed pretty unrealistic that you would actually get to have a relationship like this. But there are enough kids out there that are interested in what you have to say, and that’s the most gratifying part. To think that there are people out there who are identifying with what you are saying, I think that was kind of an unrealistic goal before it happened, so that fact that it has and that we’re in this position, to be able to do what we gotta do … You know sometimes, I’ll forget and it’ll just hit me and blow me away that I can write music and do what I always want to do, but there’s people out there who understand it and that’s one of the coolest parts. Just hanging out with kids after a show and hearing what they have to say. Man, I do that most every night we’re on tour cause I like ’em a lot more than my fellow bandmates.
Getting into the album a little further, ‘Dead Bite’ leads off this disc and it’s got that sick opening that sounds like a demented kid’s tale. Where did that song come from?
‘Dead Bite,’ I think that’s actually the only song on the record where we wrote the verses and then applied a chorus to it. Almost all of these, I think it would be safe to say we write a chorus and then work from there.
You know, there’s a lot of ups and downs as far as being in a band and it’s not always as fun as some people might thing, and it was a really good opportunity for the band to get stuff off their chest. So, straight up, it’s one of those songs that’s supposed to make the white kids roll around in their cars and be tough for a while type thing. It was a fun thing to make with the aggression, but not just screaming at the top of your lungs. Once we put words to it, it was a fun song to write.
Funny Man stated that he just directed a lyric video for ‘Up in Smoke.’ I was wondering, when you’re writing the music, do you take in all aspects of a song, like how it will translate live or what a video might look like?
I don’t. I’m always thinking about the songs and the record and that’s enough stress. But with [lyric videos], it’s like you just give Funny a joint and a cell phone camera and you’ll usually end up with something okay. I usually don’t have to worry about it too much.
I’m hearing some buzz that ‘Another Way Out’ may be a key track for you down the road a bit. Can you tell me a little bit about that song?
I think it’ll definitely be a single down the road. That’s a straight-up rock two-and-a-half minutes of go-time type of song. It’s really clever and really catchy and that song, in particular, we didn’t want to make it hard to understand. It’s one of those Andrew W.K. super-melodic moments where we just wanted to make a catchy song that people can just rock out to. Sometimes music doesn’t have to be complicated and that was definitely one of those moments. But it’s a fun song where simplicity is kind of bliss.
What new songs are you working into your new tour?
I know we’re going to add ‘Dead Bite’ and ‘We Are’ to the immediate run that’s in January. We start right when the record comes out. But we don’t want to do too much. I used to hate that when I was a kid and I’d go see a band and they would just play their whole new record that I hadn’t heard yet. That used to be a real bum-out. So we do it bits and pieces. We’ll do ‘Dead Bite’ and ‘We Are’ to kick things off. It’s a quick run. Then we’ll go back and rehearse and we’ll learn some more songs and add ’em as we go, so that way you never assault the senses of our audience, you know? God forbid they hear something they haven’t heard before.
I figure at three albums in, you’ve also got to be pretty loose and confident in the live show as well. Can you take me up onstage and tell me a little of the feeling you get performing with these guys night-in, night-out?
It’s a cool blessing to be able to rock out every day. We try to keep it as fun as possible, even in the darker moments. I think one of the cool things about our band, and what makes it different, is that we play different things during the set. We’re all multi-instrumental, so you’ll see one guy play bass the guitar the piano and whatever. We circulate a lot and I think that kind of keeps the show going and intriguing to the audience. But we certainly want people to come in and have a good time and feel like they got their money’s worth and that’s our number one goal.
With each disc, you update the masks a little bit. Can you tell us about the evolution of the masks as we head into the ‘Notes From the Underground’ album?
Every time we try and change them and keep them interesting artistically. That was always the focus of the masks was to have some sort of visual representation outside of a bunch of dudes with tattoos standing around. That was never something we wanted to buy into, so that’s why they were created.
We want them to evolve, but they eventually might evolve to us not wearing them at all. I don’t really know. We just kind of take it with time. But each time we try to step it up and make ’em cooler. We’ve got a guy, this guy named Jerry Constantine, who we work with and he’s a real genius. He helps ’em along and we make sure we don’t change them so much that their not familiar, but change them enough to where we’re stoked on ’em and kids could stay interested. So it’s one of those things. We take it as it goes and as long as it’s something that captivates us, we’ll keep doing it.