HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD have gone on to become one of modern US rock’s biggest bands with a slick fusion of rap and riffs. Having recently put out their fifth studio album V towards the end of 2017, the band are currently in the midst of a mammoth European tour, and so we caught up with vocalist/bassist Johnny 3 Tears ahead of a sold-out show at Manchester Academy to find out more about the creation of the record, life on the road, and what lies ahead in the band’s immediate future.
It’s been about two years since the UK last saw HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD – are you and the guys excited to be back?
Johnny: Oh yeah, I love coming to Europe, especially the UK.
You’re obviously here touring in support of the HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD’s fifth record V, which came out back in October – what’s the overall reaction to the record been like so far?
Johnny: Uh, it seems to me that people like it, but obviously if people don’t, they usually don’t come up to you and tell you. So I’m sure there’s some people that don’t, but fan reaction to music is about the last thing you want to go on. Usually there’s like key people and other musicians I ask, but I don’t really pay much attention to what they think.
This is also the band’s first release as a five-piece rather than as six. Did that have any effect on the songwriting process at all?
Johnny: Well, we never recorded as a six-piece. It’s not like everybody in the band writes and records, so it’s not like we missed anything in the studio.
There seems to be a real mix in terms of styles on this album; on the one hand you’ve got the big heavy rap-rock tracks like California Dreaming and Renegade, and on the other hand tracks like Bad Moon and Ghost Beach with loads of electronics and huge, almost-pop hooks. How difficult is it to find the right balance between these types of songs when you’re trying to write a record?
Johnny: I mean, it can be hard. For us; one of the reasons I like being in HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD is we don’t say no to anything, it’s very open, y’know – we’re not like a metal band who has to make metal or anything. We kinda do whatever we want, so that’s the reason I kinda like doing it. It’s kinda like, hey if we wanna put flamenco guitar on a track or whatever, we’ll do it. So there’s no real rules; as for finding a balance I think it’s more about whether a song is good to us or not, because we write a lot of shitty songs – hopefully that don’t go on the records [laughts]. But trust me, if I played you our unreleased songs you’d be like “Holy shit, those guys are smoking weed, taking acid, whatever”.
From your own perspective, were there any particular influences, both musically and lyrically, you had when writing parts for this record?
Johnny: Yeah, I mean, I don’t get inspiration from, I’m a reader, a big reader, so I get most of my inspiration from literature as opposed to music itself. But more than anything, your life should inspire you, just experience. I don’t get that whole attitude of “Oh I just heard this band, so now I wanna do this”, well then you’re probably just gonna make something somebody else has already made. When we’re in the studio specifically, I don’t listen to music because you’re subconsciously then gonna be influenced in some way.
Do you think that helps add to the unique nature of a lot of the material you put out then?
Johnny: Yeah, there’s a lot of different things that I find that are helpful with music. We’re kind of the opposite for instance. Yeah, we don’t listen to other music because then it can really affect the outcome, and we’ve done all kinds of weird crap, we used to write only at night, you have to kind of bring about a certain mood I guess. And you have to do that in different ways, and it’s all about where your mind’s at, and trying to get there. A lot of people like drugs for that – not me though. [laughs]
Are there any particular songs from the record that stand out to you as being personal highlights?
Johnny: Yeah man. I love Pray (Put ‘Em in the Dirt), I love Renegade, I love Broken Record. There’s definitely some songs I like a lot, but I like the whole record for the most part. There’s always some songs I could do without but y’know, we’ve never really put out a record that I didn’t like. But being in a band is kind of like being married really – you have to compromise for other people, which sucks. You know, sometimes your wife really wants to go see a movie you don’t want to and you just have to do it.
One of the big talking points of the album cycle so far seems to be the collaboration with B-REAL of CYPRESS HILL on the track Black Cadillac. How did that come about?
Johnny: Well, we’ve known him for a while, we’ve done his podcast and stuff. He’s an LA guy, we’re LA guys, so when we were coming up with an idea to do a collab, a lot of names came up, but B-REAL was the guy we wanted most because; not only because of CYPRESS HILL obviously, but because he’s from our city, the same neighbourhoods and stuff, so there’s a camaraderie there. So we were just honoured and happy to get to do it. He’s great – very talented dude.
Last week you put out the video for Your Life. What was it like working with Brian Cox to make that clip?
Johnny: Well Brian sucks. [laughs] Nah, it was alright. I like working with Brian, it’s cool working with the same dude over and over because you obviously get more comfortable. We co-write and co-direct all of our stuff so that’s good at some points and bad at some points because we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing. But you know man it’s fun, and it’s nice to have content to put out after the record. It’s like, touring’s great and everything, but when it’s just touring, I like having a more creative thing going too so that adds to that, which I enjoy. Something else besides just playing show after show after show.
On that note, you and HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD have just finished a big US trek at the end of last year too – how was that?
Johnny: Yeah, fuck that was long. That was a hard one bro. The last two weeks I was losing my fucking mind.
HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD have been airing quite a large chunk of the new album on both that tour, and then presumably on this one at the moment as well – how have people been reacting to the new material in that setting?
Johnny: So far so good I think. I mean, obviously there’s that period where people don’t know it as well as the other stuff, so you’ve kinda gotta get them into it, but yeah, it’s alright.
Do you feel like you’ve found those of the new songs that might stick in the set and become future staples yet?
Johnny: No, we’re still experimenting honestly. There’s a few, like we play Renegade, we play Riot, we play California Dreaming and Whatever It Takes. I think we’re gonna mess around with Your Life too, we’re gonna see. It’s kinda like, we mess with the set, so we’ll put a song in and see how it works and if we don’t like it. To be honest with you we kind-of look more for the songs that we want to play, as opposed to what people want to hear, because we’re the ones who have to do it every day. I mean, I can tell you right now, if it was up to me then Undead wouldn’t be in the set – we’ve played that song over 1500 times, but fans would not like that if we didn’t play it, so you gotta do what they want really. Kinda have to try and find that balance where you’re happy, and it’s fun playing new songs that you haven’t played a million times. And so we’re just still trying to get there.
That probably leads quite well into probably shooting down something else I was going to ask. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Swan Songs – are there any plans to commemorate that in some way at all?
Johnny: Yeah, that is this year dude, and that’s depressing. No, I think I’ll probably try and forget about it – the fact that ten years has gone by is scary to me, it’s not a celebration, it’s depressing – it means I’m probably gonna be dead soon. Who knows, maybe we’ll do a re-release, but what’s the point? That’s the one record we’ve put out that I don’t like that much, so for me it’s kinda like “Ugh”. I think when you’re writing your first record; every band I’ve ever spoken to dislikes their first record because you look back on it and there’s always so many things you’d have done differently. But y’know, I don’t dislike Swan Songs because it got us to where we were able to do what we wanna do, but I think when you’re really young you do and say and think a lot of things that you probably don’t in retrospect. Whatever though, it is what it is.
You’re heading virtually straight out to the rest of Europe after these UK shows – what’s next for HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD after the rest of that tour ends?
Johnny: Yeah dude, we’re here until towards the middle or the end of March, so we’ve got a couple of months over here. Then we go home and we’ve got some stuff to do back out there, and then we come back over around June time for all the summer festivals like Download and all those. You know though, the thing is I don’t think we’re doing Download in England this time, just Download France. But then again, they haven’t released full bills and I genuinely don’t know. It’s like, right before I came in here they told me we’ve gotta do some fucking show in Vegas that I didn’t want to. It’s like, really irritating man. [laughs] But yeah, we’re gonna be doing like Graspop, Download France, Hellfest – just a big run of them. Honestly that’s my favourite tour right there, because it’s nice out, it’s summer in Europe and you get these cool lineups like we’re playing with the original GUNS N’ ROSES and stuff like that, it’s awesome.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound Magazine who might be fans of HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD?
Johnny: I just wanna send my appreciation man. Without the continued support, people who care about our music, I wouldn’t be able to do this, so all I can do is say thank you. Like we really do try and keep that in mind how important it is, I learned that very young, actually from AVENGED SEVENFOLD because they were such a big band when we were touring with them and they were very very kind and very appreciative to their fans, and I learned from that point that it really is important because I think a lot of people forget that the reason they get to do what they do is because people like their music, so yeah, I just wanna say thank you and that we do appreciate it.
Five is out now via Dove/BMG.
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