Late last month, American rockers Hollywood Undead released their new album New Empire: Vol.2. The recording isn’t the only thing that is keeping the rockers busy throughout lockdown as we found out when we recently spoke with frontman Johnny 3 Tears.
From planning a Hollywood Undead house party, working on new songs, to running his own Cannabis business, Dove & Grenade, you’d think the frontman wouldn’t have time to sit around. However, as we found out when we spoke to Johnny following the release of the album, he likes nothing more than to lounge around in his joggers reading a good book.
Hey there, how’s it going?
Johnny 3 Tears: “I’m good, thanks!”
I saw an interview recently where you said you were a hermit so you must be happy to be staying inside?
“Yeah, definitely a hermit. Fuck the outside. What’s out there for me? Nothing! Sure, it’s nice looking through your window when it snows. Oh, that’s nice then, if you go out there, it’s not so nice.”
So how are things with the band at the moment?
“Good man, just busy with the album. Writing some tunes, you know, there’s not too much going on because, like everybody else, there’s some fucking invisible disease outside bro. A virus, I don’t know what it is. Luckily, I’ve not left my house in the past few months so, by the time it’s over, it’ll be the first time I go out of my house. I won’t know anything has changed. Hopefully, people learn something from it too like how fickle life can be and will start to treat each other with a little love and dignity but I highly doubt it when I watch the news.”
Speaking of change, we spoke to Hatebreed recently and we were talking about how their sound had changed over the years and how important it was to write not so much to keep the fans happy but to keep themselves happy. In terms of Hollywood Undead, your sound has changed from your early days, can you relate to that?
“Absolutely. You get messages every day, ‘I wish you do a record like this one again.’ ‘I wish you would do a record like this one.’ ‘Why don’t you write songs like this anymore?’ and I want to say because I don’t fucking want to! Why would I? If I wrote the same song twice it would just be a watered-down version of the other one. So, a band’s first concern should always be doing what they think is best. If you do, there’s always going to be people who don’t like it and people love it. And if you’re following the people who don’t like it, they’re probably not going to like the next thing anyway. If you leave the studio after recording and go this fuckin’ thing is banging, that’s great. Let the cards fall where they may after you know?
Someone’s going to hate it and someone’s going to love it. The other thing is that you’re going to change over time as a human being. If you don’t, something’s wrong with you. Music is based on emotional experience so your music will change with it.”
What about the new record then? Is it inspired much by current events?
“We don’t really plan much, we go with what’s happening in that moment. We’ve never gone into the studio and said ‘let’s make a record like this.’ Art is supposed to come spontaneously, that’s the way I look at it. Now, when I say inspired by what’s going on at that moment, I don’t mean what’s happening necessarily exterior to you right then. What you are feeling at that moment could be because of something that happened a long time ago but I write what I’m feeling at that moment. Also, there are times when you can see a direct correlation between the state of affairs in the world and what’s coming out musically. So, you know, if a ton of people are suffering, even if you’re not, you’re going to feel suffering because we’re all connected in some way.”
So, can you tell us a bit about the new record then?
“I’d say this one is really eclectic and I definitely think the songs are deeper. On this record, more ballad-based songs made it to the album. With the first one we really just wanted to come out swinging so that one was pretty heavy all the way through and you have that more, I guess, aggressive nature to those songs. This one is probably more of the introspective, more of an exploration. We did keep a couple of heavy tracks for it though so people aren’t completely thrown off and think I turned into a bitch overnight (laughs).”
It’s the second album of the set, what was the thought process behind writing two albums? Did the idea start out as two albums?
“No, it just happened naturally. We just started writing and just kept going and going so we were like why stop? We ended up with a lot of songs and usually, we write a lot of songs and trash a bunch of them because they’re shitty. However, this time, we were left with quite a few songs that we all wanted out there and, with record labels, it’s really tough to get any more than twelve songs on an album but we didn’t want to throw a bunch of them away. So, you know, we just said well, let’s do a double record.
Now, originally these records were going to come out much closer together but then COVID hit about three weeks after the release of Volume One so everything got shelved. The record labels were gone, you know, no one was in their office. We bided our time so we could release Volume Two but they were never intended to be released nine months apart, they were supposed to be kind of back to back. Bands used to do this stuff and I don’t want people to think we were being grouchy by making them buy two albums, but then my thought process was that nobody really buys records anymore so why not? I understand that that’s kind of fucked up to be like, hey, here’s two albums, but since 95 percent of people stream music anyway, it’s not going to cost them anything. So I was like, fuck it, let’s put two out.”
As you said, the first album was heavier then you’ve gone more eclectic on the new record. Is there a common theme running through the two albums linking them together?
“I think so but they’re also all over the place because, as I said, you just writing on what you’re feeling or what you’re thinking at the moment, but I definitely think the record, and this sounds cliché, was a bit darker than usual. It’s really either sad or really aggressive. I guess the common theme would be that life is pretty fucked up and this is how we deal with it.”
Going forward have you thought about the possibility of there being a third in the series or is that it?
“Well, the plan is to start writing a new album and when spring rolls around we’ll see where we’re at. I don’t like concept records and stuff like that because those kinds of records are for people who don’t have anything to write about (laughs). I love Led Zeppelin and I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Yeah, Tolkien, he’s the man. I’m talking about the books though, the movies were cool and there are some great aspects in them but the books are the books, the magic is right there. So, I love Zeppelin, you know, ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ or whatever they would write about as I always thought that was really cool. I think that you that if I was to go to the studio and start to write some The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or some other CS Lewis shit, you’d know my gas tank is empty (laughs).”
Before that though, the album is out and you’ve got the house party coming up at the end of the month…
“Well, the idea was first they wanted to do a live stream and I wasn’t into that. At first, I thought things would be back to normal in a few months and we’d be back out then you put two and two together and everyone is saying we don’t even know when you’re going out again. So, in my mind, I started to open up to doing a live stream. I don’t want to not play live with the boys for a year, that’s pretty fucking miserable. We talked about it and thought it would be cool to go back to our roots. We started out playing shows at house parties. We wouldn’t get paid but they gave us free beer and we would play in your fucking living room as long as you didn’t mind it getting completely wrecked and we did that a lot.
So we’re thinking about concepts and I was like, let’s do it like we used to and, instead of a big stage, with a big set-up and all the lighting let’s literally build a living room, one that we’re allowed to mess up. So, that was our whole vibe, getting back to the roots doing something maybe a little bit more organic than just, you know, just playing a normal show. Also, we wanted to have a different experience that we couldn’t create on the road or on a live setting unless we could afford to build a living room and break it up every night. That would be pretty cool too but I don’t see that happening for Hollywood Undead. That would definitely be a lot of fun though. Invite everybody up and they can do what they want, piss on your mom’s couch, whatever you want! (laughs)”
Interestingly that leads me into my next question. We’ve seen a lot of American movies and teenage house parties and things like that. Do you remember your house parties?
“Oh yeah, I went to a lot of them but I never had one. I was smarter than that. Sure, I’ll go as it wasn’t my problem. The thing is, I remember that whole time period because life is confusing when you’re young but there’s also so much less to worry about and sometimes I miss that. You’re not concerned about your career, your kids, or your wife, or any of these things that come along later in life. Kids are full of, they have a lot of angst and a lot of emotions, and I understand that because I was there but I always tell them to enjoy it because, eventually, the worries aren’t in your head. They’re there in real life. You don’t even know what’s coming you because, all of a sudden, you’re working 50 hour weeks and it’s all going to get flushed down the toilet (laughs).”
Another aspect of your life is Dove & Grenade…
“It’s weed bro! Cannabis. We started out and we were just growing it and selling it illegally. I can say that now because I don’t do it anymore. We learned that you can make a lot of money from doing that but you could also get into a lot of trouble so don’t do it. We started to get legalized as soon as we realized that we can get into this thing and not go to jail for five years or so. We got a license then we started really growing and making products and all that stuff. We came from what’s called the black market and then went into the legal market and we’ve been doing that ever since. We’ve been doing that ever since, so our time is usually divided between Dove and Grenade and the band, obviously more to Dove and Grenade at the moment. It’s cool man. If you like that kind of work, in that kind of business, it’s cool and I like it. It’s really rewarding and it’s fun for me.
It’s kind of rock n’ roll in its own way. I look at it a lot like the Wild West, you know? The laws and all these things are changing. There’s probably only about 10 or 20 percent of the market that’s actually been tapped into so it’s exciting in that sense because you don’t really know what the fuck is going to happen.”
I guess even legally there’s a lot of kind of grey areas in that area. What are the challenges you’ve found even going legal?
“The government don’t know anything, most of them are jackasses. There’s a lot of arbitrary stuff going on that you’re just like the reach codes and stuff like that or be compliant as they call it. That’s always a mission to keep up with those things. But yeah, you’re paying taxes and they’re very high in the cannabis world because they don’t want to give you any write-offs as they see you as a drug grower. They don’t like you even though they take shit tons of your money. You’re definitely seen as a second-class citizen.
It’s just interesting because no one really knows what’s going to happen from day-to-day. You always have to stay one step ahead legally because they’ll come in and shut you down. There’s a lot of regulations and you have to really stay up to date with those things but I’ve always found that kind of shit really interesting. You’re also creating a business on your terms as opposed to someone else’s. That makes it a lot more fun than just taking orders from some Joe Schmo.”
Do you remember the first time you ever got stoned?
“Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was horrible. I remember I was with this guy Manuel and I honestly don’t remember the other dude’s name, but I was the third. The one kid was older so we went to his house and he had this like a den-type thing and his parents were not around and we smoked. I couldn’t even stand up and I really didn’t like it. I was just hoping it stopped. I remember I finally fell asleep and when I woke up I was walking home down the street and I tried to look at a license plate and I couldn’t read it. It was like I was dyslexic or something. After that, I felt an immense amount of guilt. I thought I would be disappointing somebody or something like that.”
Onto the video for the new single. You went with a retro-style video game. Did you play video games as a kid?
“Well, we didn’t have any money so I had to go to other people’s houses to play them and stuff. It’s a big part of your life growing up playing Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Yeah, those kinds of games. Nowadays, a lot of the younger kids are like these graphics suck because they’re used to the graphics they have now, which almost look like humans it’s fucking ridiculous. I do like the really cool advancements. I love games like Final Fantasy as I’ve always been an RPG guy. So the fighting games were never my thing, but you can’t look at those images and not get nostalgic about being in the liquor store in your buddy’s house and stuff like that.
I remember when there were big arcades and stuff and it was really social. You’d hang out with your buddies, grab a slice of pizza and just play video games and hang out. Nowadays, the kids are all sat in their rooms on the internet playing games and, sure, they’re talking to their friends but it’s not the same. It’s more social.”
And on that note, I think we can wrap it up nicely there. Just to finish, what else is going on in your life?
“Well, I read a lot. I play my guitar. I’ll pace endlessly not wearing any pants. I am at the moment but I’ve not worn jeans for so long. These days I just wear slacks covered in food and boogers! I don’t care though as nobody will see me. I’ve basically been deteriorating (laughs).”
It’s all good, I’m sat here in Star Wars joggers…
“Awesome, you got me beat there bro! Thanks for your time and hopefully we’ll get to hang out and play video games soon!”