Apply Yourself & Don’t Bullshit – Hollywood Undead (Interview)

Hollywood Undead's Johnny 3 Tears provides an insightful look into what drives the Californians to make their evocative brand of Rap-Rock.

 The large padded doors were closed tight.

Tthere was a serene kind of peace and the faint smell of Brut in the air-conditioned room, and I remember E began whispering in the dark, ‘All the rides are over and done, it’s late and no prizes are left to be won’. I tell you, Fire Eyes really had a special way with words and I guess the sentiment in those drooling Dilaudid diluted lines was kind of how we were left feeling at the end of the Hollywood Undead show – empty, and unsure of what lay ahead. For a short time we had been lifted from our monochrome lives and filled with colour, music and all the fun of the fair, but now for us the show was over. The fair was moving on, the music had ended and we were left with just the sweet beautiful techni-coloured memories.

Perhaps the best memory of all was our short conversation about life and the American dream with Hollywood Undead band member, and star of the under-rated movie Highway to Havasu, Johnny 3 Tears. Now the dust has died down and the party has left town, it’s time to share that beautiful memory. Affable as he is, this tattooed mountain of a man looks like he could hold his own in WWE so we kept things sweet and polite with jet lagged Johnny.

How’s the tour going so far?

I’m finally getting over the jet lag. You don’t sleep for a few days. We went right into it and played a show the very day we got here. It just tears you up but now we’re good.

 

People have been queuing for hours outside the venue tonight…

Our UK fans are pretty diehard so it’s fun for us, we like coming here.

 

Your track ‘California Dreaming’ is a very different take from the Mamas and the Papas song of the same name. Was the inspiration the LA riots or situation in the USA now?

I’ll admit theirs is the best song! It was definitely current. The riots never came to mind to be honest with you, although I remember that when I was growing up because I lived a mile from where it all went down. I think I was 8, something like that, and we were all in lockdown and you couldn’t leave the house. It was pretty crazy. California Dreaming is more of a social statement, I think, in general rather than just the US. It’s about this imagery that people have about California and what it creates in people’s minds about what it is. Growing up there, I think we’ve seen the other side of that. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of tragic, the whole thing. I mean people move there with all these big dreams and the reality is so different from what people say. We inserted the violence and all the things that come along with it that I guess they don’t know about. The chorus is how someone would think about it and the verses are explaining the reality.

 

Is the American Dream over now?

I think it’s changing. I think that the American Dream is a perception. There has never been one dream and the dreams have changed over time. I think that the American Dream is alive and well and it’s evolving into something else. I think people have to get over the hard-line approach to how things are because nothing stays the same forever, and you can see that in great societies in the past. Anyone who’s convoluted enough to think that America is the one society that’s going to stay as it has been is confused, even if I wish it could. I always thought of the 1950s as this romantic era when everything seemed to be perfect. I used to love watching the old Twilight Zone stuff and that era in time seemed fascinating to me but it’s never going to happen again and the 1990s seem like a distant memory now. I don’t think people should think that the dream is over; it’s just changed like everything else.

Speaking of the 1950s, whenever I go to the States, all the original 1950s buildings are being torn down for new ones. Do you think that the USA takes its heritage seriously?

It’s however they make more money. I think that American heritage is confusing because there are so many heritages all at once. I’m Irish, well I’m not personally Irish, I didn’t grow up in Ireland but my grandparents came here in the 1940s or something. They thought of themselves as Irish and they had that cultural impact and that impacted on my parents a little bit but it wore down and by the time it got to me, it’s nothing, it’s all just triviality. There’s no one identity. American culture is really a blend of all of those cultures into this one streamlined thing. I grew up in Mexican neighbourhoods so that was a big part of my upbringing. The Mexicans who started coming to the States were very, very Mexican in their heritage and their culture. The kids I grew up with who were third generation Mexican, they didn’t even care. It’s sad because you want to hold onto the nostalgia of the past but I find that the harder you hold onto those things, the quicker they slip away.

 

Following the election, do you think that the USA is more polarised than ever?

Oh god, I’ve never seen it like this. I mean, I’m not really old enough to say and I know there was some of this during Reagan’s administration, especially between the young and the old but I’ve never seen how divisive it can be before. Disagreements with politics have happened forever, that’s what politics is about. It’s sad because it’s a two-party system so no matter what, you’ll disagree. I agree with both sides on different things so I can’t really identify as one but if you do, the animosity for the other side is palpable. It’s a little weird because you know, someone is pro-life and someone else is pro-choice, that’s a huge disagreement, but now these two people want to kill each other. Obviously it’s a big issue to people but now the rhetoric that goes between the two is more violent and nuts, you know. It’s like a political civil war between the middle of the country and the coasts. How it all ends up, I don’t know. With the media and the way they cover it, a lot of it is so bombastic and such bullshit that it’s really hard to know what the reality is, what the truth is. You can see both sides just lying through their teeth about the other. If you’re not smart enough to go, hey I might need to look into this more, then you have a bunch of people believing lies. The media knows that and they’ve been doing that ever since they’ve existed, that’s not a new thing. It’s a little scary to be honest but we’ve been through worse and so has everybody else, you always come through and hopefully the optimistic viewpoint will be the one to come out of it, in a better place, a more united place, but who knows what’s going to happen to get there.

 

Do you write lyrics to challenge people or comment on the current situation?

I would say predominantly it’s just what’s occurring to me. I’m not setting out to change people’s minds or do anything like that but if something’s important to me, I do like to make it important to someone else. Typically it’s just your own concerns, I suppose, I really try not to get political with music. To me, music is the universal language. It’s one of the very few things that everybody loves. I’ve never heard anybody say they hate music. I wouldn’t want to destroy that or make someone think that they can’t like this because they like that. I don’t want music to become that because it’s one of the last safe havens that people have from it, so I would never rant about what I believe in case someone else doesn’t believe it. Music is a safe zone and a release for everybody. I try to leave my personal viewpoints out of the picture.

 

Do you think there can be a problem when people don’t see the nuances in a song? You’ve got a song referencing knives for example; do you worry about people taking things the wrong way?

Oh yeah, especially with drug stuff because we’ve talked about drugs. We’ve always talked about drugs in retrospect in a very negative manner. Personally I certainly wouldn’t want to glamorise that. We get kids saying they’ve always wanted to drink with us. I’ve painted this picture of someone who drinks and that’s my fault. I’m not saying drinking is bad or anything like that, two people sharing a drink is a nice bonding experience, but I don’t want it to be part and parcel of the band. So drugs have concerned me, and violence too, but then you have to ask yourself, if I don’t want to impart that, do you not talk about reality? This is the reality and if you talk about reality, those things are part of it, huge parts of it in fact. So you have to decide, ok am I going to write peachy music that doesn’t mean anything solely to save someone from something that they’re going to get somewhere else. We’ve always taken the road that honesty is the best policy. I would certainly tell any kid that I ever talk to that snorting coke is bad, it’s not a good thing, and violence is not a good thing, but if it comes across in the music that way I guess it’s a casualty. If you don’t talk about those things then we live in Pleasantville and not the reality that we’re all in.

What is your favourite tattoo and why?

That’s easy, I’ve got my daughter’s name tattooed right there, she’s 8, and I’ve got my wife’s name, those two are my favourite. I started getting tattoos when I was about 13 so it’s been quite a while, sadly. A lot of mine, I can’t remember exactly how it all happened. I was inebriated for quite a few of them.

 

We have to ask, how did the masks start and how important are they to the band identity?

A big part of it was that a lot of us were in bands in the same scene, we were making music and we didn’t really want anyone to know who was doing it so it was a kind ofunderground type thing. Then when the labels started becoming interested and stuff, we were wearing the masks but it wasn’t continual or anything like that. For us it’s another chance to do something. We’re going to work with this guy, his name’s Jerry Constantine, a movie effects guy, He builds these really cool animatronic stuff, so we’re going to work with him and it’s all handmade with clay. For me it’s always been a cool visual aspect to the band but it’s not something we’re attached to in the sense that we have to have the masks. Masks are scary, anything with a sense of the unknown is scary, but we’re not trying to create a fear thing; that had nothing to do with it, it’s more of a canvass. You’re only going to make a record every couple of years. We make music all the time but someone else dictates how and when you release it. The masks are an opportunity to do something because we don’t have control over a lot of other things, nobody in bands that are signed to labels does.

We’re on our third label now, well technically it’s two, but when we finished our first record, they didn’t let us release it for two years. They kept sending us back to the studio. We didn’t think about it when we were kids. They offered us money and we’d never had any money. When we finished the record, we were like, it’s not up to you but they were like, yes it is, this is a lawyer and this is what happens! It was a harsh reality to come to grips with. You make music and you have to satisfy these people who aren’t musicians who think they know best because this is on the radio and all these things that had no bearing on what we thought. It is really frustrating. We’re happy now, we have our own label and so we have a lot of the creative control but we went through four albums of major label disasters. The records did good [sic] but dealing with them is a pain, they’re fake.

the reality is so different from what people say

 

Do you enjoy touring?

I like the studio more because you can do anything. Touring has its ups and downs but I try not to complain too much because I’m very lucky to be doing this. I miss my family but at least now you have Facetime. I can’t imagine what it was like 20 years ago, having to go to a payphone to call your kid but people did that so I keep it in perspective. It’s a big part of me and enjoy being with my friends and music is a big extension of myself. It’s sweeter when I go home so I try to stay positive. The coolest thing is that no matter how bad my day is, I get to go on and play. It’s therapy and it’s free! There’s something that cool about people you’ve never met who share the same passion as you for the same thing. Music really can break down almost any barrier even if it’s just for a short while and everybody hates each other outside of the concert, right there everybody’s in it together. I really enjoy that experience, the reciprocal energy that I get. We’ve been touring for ten years now and a lot of our songs we’ve played like two thousand times but the audience make them feel new when we play them again and that experience is pretty cool. I like clubs like this (Koko in Camden), big enough to have a good gig but small enough to see the guy at the back of the room, it’s a real shared experience. Very big gigs are a little odd, it’s like you’re in a box looking down and you don’t get the reciprocal energy.

 

What advice would you give to younger bands?

You got to work. The thing is, with music, it’s very competitive and if you’re not working someone else is. There aren’t any days off. One of the only reasons we lasted as long as we did is that of all of the bands on the scene that we came from, they weren’t playing on the weekends; they weren’t doing these things. We were just this band that always worked and was always trying to get better. If you’re not going to do that, don’t bother because someone else will. It’s all about dedication and honesty, people have a sixth sense for when you’re BS-ing them so when you write songs, before you think of the melody or the chord progression or anything else, make sure you’re talking about something that’s real. So I would say honesty and hard work, like any other industry, are the most important factors. It’s about applying yourself and don’t bullshit!

Apply yourself and don’t bullshit, with those poignant words we thanked Johnny 3 Tears for being so generous with his time and walked back to witness the sold out show which certainly proved to be 100% application and zero bullshit. The attack had been duly delivered and I tell you, the Hollywood Undead really took care of business.

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