Hollywood Undead formed back in 2005, and their story begins in ways similar to their peers from that same time. Friends got together, started their band, and put their music on Myspace. The music became a hit, leading to a pretty immediate following on the platform.
As the story goes, Hollywood Undead wrote their debut Swan Songs in a year, then spent the following two years going through the process of finding a record label — but not just that, one that wouldn’t censor the album. As you know, or can safely guess, the rest is history. They found a label, A&M/Octane Records (which was later sold to Interscope Records), released four full-length albums (and many other releases) via the label, and quickly established themselves as a major force in music as a rock band. Or a hip-hop band. Or rap-rock band. Whatever you want to call it — it doesn’t matter to them — their impact was undeniable.
Hollywood Undead has been around for fourteen years, which is almost hard to believe for this writer who once forced his mother to take him to a Hollywood Undead/Red Jumpsuit Apparatus tour in 2009 (unsurprisingly, she wasn’t a fan), and have never shown signs of slowing down or going anywhere. They’ve had a few member changes, like most bands that have been around for over a decade. They’ve also got a platinum and gold record — Swan Songs and American Tragedy, respectively — which is slightly less common these days. They’ve since left Interscope, have their own label (with distribution through BMG/MDDN), and dropped an EP, Psalms, at the end of 2018 with a sixth studio album done and ready to go.
A few weeks back on their tour with Cypress Hill, Xzibit, and Demrick, Substream had the chance to catch up with Johnny 3 Tears of Hollywood Undead and discuss the band’s tour, their new music, and more.
Substream: So we’re here and you’re doing a co-headlining tour with Cypress Hill. Which is surprising but it makes sense. How’d the idea for this tour come together? Did you know them beforehand?
Johnny 3 Tears: B-Real did a song with us on our last album called “Black Cadillac” and we had done his program called “Smokebox” a couple of times, so we had known him previously. They’re from the same area as us. We were big fans growing up, they’re the generation before, but we always had a lot of respect for them so it worked out.
It wasn’t something — it’s weird you know, our band is kind of between worlds so we’ve done tours with metal [bands]. We’ve toured with Avenged Sevenfold or All That Remains. I guess we can get away with it, it’s a little odd sometimes, but I’d much rather tour with rappers than rock guys. Rock guys are pussies compared to them. I don’t like rock tours, I don’t like rock festivals. I just don’t like the bands. There’s some that I like, like Avenged Sevenfold guys, I like them. It’s just not my vibe. I like the gangster shit more.
I think Cypress Hill transcends all cultures. Cypress doesn’t get the credit they should, they predate Tupac, Notorious, Ice Cube. They’ve done tons of big rock tours. That was when rap and metal would tour often. I prefer it because I prefer rap, I love rock music, but just none of the stuff that’s coming out now. I like a lot of classic rock. For the most part, I prefer the rap scene.
Hollywood Undead is currently on your own label right?
We’re on our distributor, but we have Dove and Grenade Media.
What lead to the decision to just say “fuck it, we’re doing this ourselves”
Interscope, it wasn’t a good situation. They want, obviously, the lion share of everything you do and they want to dictate how you do what you do, and I don’t think you should have both — I don’t think you should have either. We went so we can creatively how we can do what we want. It’s honestly not much different, we were never really heavily censored. We’re pretty good song writers, so usually they’re happy by the end of it. But we like not having to show our record to anybody before releasing it. We do what we do and it works for us.
The system itself isn’t as corrupt and the reason music became what it is and people started stealing music is because the major record label system. They started charging $20 a CD, which they charge $10 for now and still profit. So you know they were just gouging people to death and people got sick of it and revolted. What sucks is the artist bears the brunt of their crimes. I have no love for them. There’s nothing I miss about being on a major label. I’d rather be in business with lying assholes than lying nice guys.
BMG is bigger than Interscope, so they have all of the power and none of the bullshit.
If I remember correctly, from following along with you guys on Myspace, Swan Songs took a while to come out because you wanted a label that wouldn’t censor it or push you guys a certain way, right? So that label experience sounds like it, unfortunately, came full circle?
Interscope didn’t want to release it. It’d been a fucking year and a half trying to get another label, but at that point we owed Interscope a million dollars, and to find a label willing to take on that debt was tough. We went on A&M [Octane Records], who did some good things and some bad things, and then back to Interscope, and then we left them. We filled our major label contract, and we could’ve signed another big deal, and they give you a bunch of money upfront which is kind of what entices me into wanting to do it, but we were dumb once, we aren’t dumb twice.
How different has the experience in the band changed?
The music industry, regardless of what label you’re on, has changed drastically. I remember we used to do huge record signings at Best Buys — Best Buy doesn’t even carry music anymore. There used to be record stores, there used to be warehouses. From when we started to now, it’s been evolving ever since. How much the label plays into that is up to debate, it’s more about the consumer and how people consume their music has shifted almost wholly to streaming.
I love streaming because I can listen to all I want for $15 a month. That’s the cost of one CD. I can listen to whatever and bounce around. The way the marketplace works is all dependent on the consumer. People don’t realize they dictate how they hear music, how they hear shows. I just go with the fucking flow. This is my job; I love playing music, I love writing music. As long as I’m able to do that and we make a living and I’m able to go get my aggression out and save myself from being on medication because I get to play, however it works.
People don’t realize how much power they have. If people could band together and make decisions, the world would run how they want it to run rather than being fed what they want you to be fed.
Hollywood Undead last released dropped an EP, Psalms, back at the end of 2018. Your music has always been eclectic at times, and this EP seemingly had 5 songs from 5 different styles of music. How important is that to you guys to still keep things diverse?
Dude, honestly it’s not conscientious! We don’t say we need songs like this or songs like this. I think we just — if we feel like we want to do something, there’s no “We can’t do that” and I feel like a lot of bands go “Man, I’d love to write something like that but it’s not really our style or what our fans want.”
The first thing is we don’t think about what our fans want at all. That’s the last thing on our mind. Only because if you do that, you’re gonna start creating things your fans don’t like because you limit yourself. We stopped putting barriers there and we’ve written some bad songs because of it, but we’re like, “Oh that sucks” and you make a lot of mistakes in the process and we allow ourselves to.
In my opinion, I don’t know many bands that write songs as well as we do right now. I’m not being cocky. I think we’re really, really good, and if we’re good, there’s no need to be like “Oh we can’t do that.” So we allow ourselves to experiment, and in the process you make really good songs and bad songs. But, we don’t beat ourselves up over it. When I listen to Swan Songs, 90% of it is unlistenable to me because a lot of it were those same mistakes. I think a lot of bands will tell you that about their first album. You’re young and barely learning about composition. You look back and you’re like “God, I can’t believe I was upset about that.” I don’t think there should be limits about that.
I grew up in LA, and hip hop in LA was a huge part of the culture I grew up in. I think a lot of rock bands are suburban rock kids and we grew up in Mexican neighborhoods listening to rap, and I think that really effected us. We stay true to that and I’m not gonna sit here and walk around wearing spiked belts and boots like some fucking douchebag and pretend I’m some rock and roller, because I’m not. We do what we want to do, people like it, they don’t, I don’t care. We just do what we want to do, and we’ll keep doing what we want to do, as long as people want to hear it. And even if they don’t, I’ll still do it for myself — an old man, drinking bourbon in a room by myself, I don’t give a fuck. As long as I’ve got an 8-ball of coke and whiskey [laughs].
There are things our band could do that could make us bigger, but we don’t want to do that. I’d rather do what we want to do than format ourselves. We made a lot of mistakes in our career, and it is what it is.
Do you have any new music on the way?
We just finished recording an album. Our sixth album is mixed, mastered, it’s ready to go. It’ll be out this summer. Going to Europe, got some big fall tours. I just play Zelda till I’m told to go out of bed. All I’m thinking about is saving Zelda. I’m so in this game. We’ve got four dudes on this bus right now addicted to this game. I finally got a Switch, I’m all in it.
Having been around for so long, if you wanted there to be one thing people remembered Hollywood Undead by — what would it be?
My whole goal is to not make them remember us, we’re still there. I’d much rather be in their current mindset. If they think about us or remember this, I don’t give a shit what they think really. We’re connected to the fan base, I hope we effect them in a good way, and I hope we don’t dwindle in the past. I don’t care about stuff like that, I try to live in the present, rather.