An In-Depth Interview With California’s Rock Band, HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD On Their Much-Anticipated Sixth Album and Much More!
This Friday, California’s own Hollywood Undead will be releasing their much-anticipated sixth full-length studio album, New Empire, Vol. 1 via Dove & Grenade Media/BMG. Produced by Matt Good (Sleeping With Sirens, Asking Alexandria), the record is comprised of nine high-energy tracks that showcase the band embracing a heavier, hard-rock sound with this effort. You may also recognize guest vocals from Kellin Quinn (Sleeping With Sirens) on “Upside Down,” and Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden on “Second Chances.”
“This album is our attempt at re-imagining Hollywood Undead, not just a new sound for this release, but a new sound for the band altogether. Our goal from the outset was to make music that stands alone from our other albums, yet seamlessly fits with what we’ve made before. Building upon the old to create a new sound and a New Empire,” explains Johnny 3 Tears (vocals, bass guitar).
Hollywood Undead also recently announced their massive, 20+ date European co-headline tour with Papa Roach, launching on February 16 in Barcelona and wrapping upon March 18 in Copenhagen.
Since the release of Hollywood Undead’s RIAA platinum-certified 2008 debut album, Swan Songs, their distinctive and infectious music has incited a cult audience of millions of fans, resulting in sold out-shows across the globe, in addition to receiving nods in the press from the likes of Consequence of Sound, Billboard, Alternative Press, Rolling Stone, and Revolver. The quintet has also garnered massive mainstream appeal, with their 2011 sophomore record, American Tragedy,going gold and hitting #4 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Their 2013 full-length, Notes From The Underground, seized the #2 spot, and in 2018, Hollywood Undead crossed 1 billion total global streams across their catalog.
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Learn more about Hollywood Undead in the following All Access interview-
Happy New Year! When it comes to your music, what are you most excited about for 2020?
Releasing the new album (New Empire, Vol. 1). It’s always the most gratifying, just because we work hard to write the songs, and you only get that one little moment where you get to release an album. I would say record release day is something I look forward to the most. We’ve been a band for 15 years and this is our sixth album, so it shows you how rare it is we get to put them out. I would definitely say putting out a new album is the best part.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this group together? Do you find that your band name still represents you and your music today?
No, I don’t think I’ve ever once thought about that, and I don’t even think about it now. I think Hollywood Undead is one of those things I’ll always do as long as we have an audience that cares about the music and as long as we want to do it. I’ve always had the attitude that we could be together for 10 years, or we might quit tomorrow. I just don’t know. I’m kind of along for the ride, and we let our instincts take us where they may. You just really never know.
Hollywood Undead has always been more for of a movement for us than anything else. We were in a lot of bands together for a lot of years prior to Hollywood Undead, and [the name] sums up our formative years that kind of made me who I am today. Although I may not be exactly the same person I was when I started in the band, it laid the foundation for who I am today. I have far too many memories and special moments from my life associated with it to any feel any distance from it.
How do you think your hometown has influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group?
LA is fascinating in the sense that people from all over the world obsess over it. It’s partly because the entertainment industry is based there, and there’s no city that’s like it in the sense of the cultural mixture, the size, and the different things and properties to it. There’s a lot of bands that come to LA for success, but we’re from LA, and we grew up in the very city that people move to in order to find these things. One of the things that we’ve always dived into is the juxtaposition of what Hollywood really is. You have this one side where people go to chase these dreams. On the whole other side – it’s just a matter of blocks from Hollywood Boulevard to some of the worst areas of the city. The juxtaposition between the two – people look at the city as an aspect of success, but growing up there, all we really saw was failure. We’ve always enjoyed telling the darker side of stories about what Hollywood and LA really are, and not what someone might see from a distance. There’s certainly underbelly aspects to the city that we’ve always been in tune with and been a part of that most people don’t know about or think of when they think of the city as a whole. Obviously, Compton and South Central were popularized by N.W.A., but I think people don’t understand that those things actually happened, and it’s not just entertainment. The darker side of it where we grew up, and the things I know about are much different than the perception of the city.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming sixth studio album, “New Empire, Vol. 1.” After 5 albums under your belt, did anything about the process of putting it together surprise any of you?
Yeah, it was very seamless. Writing records is kind of an up and down process for us. Some are more difficult than others, so you never really know what to expect. Some records come really naturally, some take a lot of forced work or unintentional digging. I think there’s definitely times when writing an album is the most amazing thing in the world. Then there’s times when it’s the most frustrating, introspective process because you can’t uncover these little stones to find out what’s there because you have to be honest first and there has to be a story – something you’re trying to convey to someone else. Sometimes those things are hard to find. I think with this record, I was a little bit surprised because everything came really naturally, and sometimes you wonder as time goes on and you release more and more music, you think things will be more difficult to create. This was actually maybe the easiest or the most therapeutic process we’ve had where there was no real conflict within myself. Everything was there for me and I was really happy.
What was it like going into the studio to record the songs on this album? Can you pick out a couple favorite memories during the process?
We were in the studio with a lot of other bands in the same building. That’s kind of how Benji Madden and Kellin Quinn ended up on the album. I’d say the camaraderie we had with a lot of outside sources was special; we’re normally pretty isolated and only spend time with each other and who’s ever producing. This was cool because at the studio, there was this public kitchen that we’d all hang out in, and that kind of helped because you can get your mind off of what you’re doing for a little bit. So when you go back to recording, you see things differently. That was definitely cool.
As far as the process, there wasn’t anything crazy that happened. We’ve all been friends for a really long time even before the band, so just being able to sit with the guys and do what we do after all of these years and really see each other’s value is my favorite memory. I think we’re much stronger and those kinetic relationships are much better than they have been at any point. It’s very rewarding because they’re not only my band-mates, but my best friends. You hear these horror stories that happen between bands: the falling outs, the arguments, the ego-driven conflict, etc. After all these years, being able to be at complete peace and write songs with my friends like we did 15 years ago still, that was the best part.
How did you go about choosing “Already Dead” to be the lead single? What was the inspiration for this track?
“Already Dead” is an ode to the title of the record. It’s about breaking down everything to the foundation. The term “you can’t kill me because I’m already dead” is a commonly used term, but to us, once you get down to that foundation, no one can really do anything to you, and you can build yourself up again. There’s something very empowering abut that whole process, so along with the new empire, it’s about just taking it back to year zero and seeing what you make from there rather than just building up years of what came before. “Already Dead” was really just based on that story and reflection of everything we’ve been through, and maybe just absolving it and trying to start new. “What would you do if you started again today?” Obviously, none of us get to do that in real life, so it’s kind of fun to live in a song where you can.
As far as it being the first single, it was just a song that out of the gates would tell the story that preludes the record and suited that purpose better than most songs.
Generally, how does this group go about writing your music? Do you write together or separately? What is the first step in your music-making process?
Actually, it’s both. I’ve definitely written at home and come to the studio with something already there. That’s always been something that we do. This record was the first album not only that we worked on with one producer, but that we wrote completely in-house from beginning to end with everyone in the same room. We’ve never done that typically. In the past, people would write at their home studios and then bring the songs in and we’d work on them together from there, or we’d be bouncing around from place to place. Beginning to end, we wrote everything from scratch in the studio, which at first I thought would be challenging with some demos and skeletons and stuff to come in with, but it wasn’t and that fortunately worked for us.
When you first write a song, everybody’s different, and I definitely have a process that’s unique to me. A lot of people write music first, but I always write melodies first without any music because music is a booster and is there to underline [the melodies]. To me, if you can write a hook with nothing but a melody to it that’s catchy and that fits, then it will only be better when it’s bolstered by the music itself. I kind of write in a gospel style where there is no music, you write the vocal part and maybe a harmony or two, layer it, and that is how I start. Then I build music around it. How I’ve seen it is that most people make the music and then build the melody around it, but everybody’s so different when they write and it’s a very unique process to the individual. As long as it works in the end, it works, but that’s my style.
How do you feel that this band has grown through the years? What has remained the same?
We’ve evolved as people, which is obviously what music is all about, so the music has been carried along by our own involuntarily maturity. I hate to think of myself as anything mature and I’m definitely not excited about “growing up,” but naturally that kind of naturally drags the music along with you. You’ll never be able to mimic the headspace you’re in as a 21-year old kid when you’re in your mid-30s sadly, so it’s a different set of problems and set of emotional capacities and different issues. I try to stay true to that and stay honest with myself about what I’m going through now as opposed to what I went through then, and my job (if you want to call it a job) the way I look at it, is to appear to the darker angels of people’s nature and the things that they may not be able to say. There are things that I say in songs that if I said it on the street, they’d want to commit me and think I’m crazy. When you put it into music, they say you’re a genius. It’s a strange juxtaposition. I like to say the things that are on my mind that maybe I couldn’t say in a regular conversation, unless you’re taking to a therapist, and put them into a song. I think a lot of people have that same issue, that repression.
We’re still the same guys in a lot of ways. When we’re all in the same room, nothing’s changed. We’ve worked with some of the same people – our booking agent, our business manager – they’ve been with us since day one. When they see us in a room or I’m with those people, I don’t feel any different. There are those involuntarily gradual differences that happen over time, but I’d like to think of myself as the same person. Maybe just a more polished or better version of myself.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
I’m a studio rat for sure, there’s no question about that. The thing is with the studio, I can be there for 12 hours a day. When you’re touring, you’re on stage only 1-1.5 hours per night, and then you have all this time. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certain things I love about touring, especially if you’re someplace interesting. It’s always cool to culturally absorb other things and go walk around and see the old churches, or whatever the place we are in has to offer. But I love the studio because I can work incessantly and it’s so much fun – antagonizing myself and writing more. Playing live is certainly rewarding, but not as fulfilling to me. I also love meeting fans in different parts of the world, and it’s one of the coolest parts about being in a band – having a relationship and connection to these people so far away. However, I prefer the studio.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for this band?
It’s always nice when your voice feels good, because you have good days and bad days. It’s a lot like sports – sometimes you’ll go 9/10 from the three-point line, other days you’ll go 0/10. That’s how I’ve always kind of thought of it. There are days where you feel really good, and there’s days where you feel really, really bad. So for me, it’s where I feel good physically or when my voice is strong. I’ve only had one surgery on my throat to remove nodes, so I’ve had issues throughout time. When I feel strong, because I know what it feels like not to, that’s the best part. Also being up there with my bros and having a good crowd gives you that energy. When you’re playing a song for the god knows how many time, you really need that energy from the audience. When they’re there and they feel it, it feels like the first time we ever played the song. That reciprocal relationship between us and the audience, feeling good myself, having that confidence, and knowing that I’m doing a good job is what makes for an ideal show.
Where are you excited to head to this year? Do you have any 2020 dates scheduled yet?
Athens, Greece. I’m a history buff, or consider myself one. I’m obsessed with Ancient Greece. Democracy, and so many aspects of our culture, politically and socially, come from there. Greece isn’t’ a market that people go to often. Papa Roach have toured for 20 years and they haven’t even been to Athens, so I’m looking forward to it in a way I can’t even express. I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched on ancient Greece, so to finally be able to experience it in person is a dream come true to be honest. I not only get to go see the Acropolis, but also play a show to a bunch of cool Greek people, so that’s very exciting to me and what I’m looking forward to the most.
Our 2020 European tour with Papa Roach kicks off February 14.
What musicians have really been inspiring you all since you first started making music?
Songwriting wise, Brian Wilson or John Lennon. Even though they’re so far from what we do, they’re definitely the basis for songwriting. Those are the guys that I would look to. In a modern sense, I would probably say Trent Reznor because he took that and shifted it more towards more what we do, so that combination somewhere in there I would say inspires me most.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
The record is definitely a shift, and we tend to shift back and forth and go in new directions. I think for us, we write our best music when we’re uncomfortable, and I like the idea of our fans never knowing what exactly to expect from our albums. Obviously, some people get upset about that, and they want you to write records like ‘this record,’ or write songs like ‘this song,’ but I don’t think we’re ever going to apply that. So, I’d like to think that our fans are okay with never knowing what to expect, because I don’t know what to expect either, so I hope people enjoy it. And if they don’t, who really cares?