Hollywood Undead have recently released their new album New Empire: Volume 2 via BMG/Dove & Grenade Media. We caught up with Johnny 3 Tears via Zoom, to speak through some of his most personal tracks yet. Reporting that he tested positive for Covid-19 twice, having been tested prior to filming some music videos we also chat through the current global pandemic. We speak through the craziness that is the internet, and the true meaning behind the dove a grenade.
Victoria Purcell (VP): How has your year been?
Johnny: Like everybody else, it’s been pretty interesting…. the weirdest one of my life. I guess it hasn’t been so bad, I always try and make the best of any situation I’m in, so I just worked on music and started doing new things, I made the best of it. I can’t complain a lot of people have it a lot worse, so I’m not going to bitch about it.
VP: Yeah, it’s been a really strange year, we’ve never experienced anything like it in music, not being able to play or attend gigs within 9 months!
Jonny: It’s going to be a whole other year, so it will be 18 months by the time that we play again.
VP: There’s talk in the UK of mass testing on the entrance of festivals, and a vaccine has just been released. How quickly things can happen, we don’t know. But we’re just holding out hope for Glastonbury and Download.
Johnny: Yeah but you know that the thing is that half the people won’t get the vaccine because they won’t trust it. So that’s going to be the real issue and I think 80% is the number that I read for things to go back to normal. I just don’t see 80% getting the vaccine that doesn’t have any [medical] history what so ever. But I know I’m not, so I won’t be over there anytime soon.
VP: Well, I actually have Covid right now.
Johnny: You know what I’ve had it twice!
VP: Oh right, so you can catch it twice then?
Johnny: Yeah well it takes a certain amount of time, once you have the antibodies they say it’s about 90 days until you can catch it again. But the only reason I know is that we filmed some music videos and prior to each music video you have to get tested since everyone is going to be in a space together.
Both times that I had it, I never noticed anything different. But then tests can be faulty too, so maybe I didn’t, maybe it was a false test, but I never got any reaction to it. I think roughly 50% of the people are a-symptomatic, that’s what makes it dangerous because they don’t know they have it, so thus the situation we’re in. Who knows what the fuck is gonna happen.
VP: Yeah it’s really hard to predict. In the UK we’re currently in what is called a 3 tier system. At the moment the UK is debating if a scotch egg is classed as a meal (as you can go to the pub if you have a meal, but you can’t go to have alcohol on its own).
Johnny: From what I’ve seen every implemented system in this stuff is completely contradictory to other things and I think that’s why people have such a hard time listening to them as they contradict themselves all the time.
I went to a restaurant in LA and you could sit at the table and not have a mask on but if you get up to go to the bathroom you have to wear it. I was like this all seems so dumb. But if you want to go out to eat you gotta follow the rules. I don’t know the whole thing is just fucking nuts and I don’t think anybody really knows what to do, so I don’t blame them as they are just trying to sort it out themselves. But you know when something happens that’s unprecedented like this, it’s never happened at least while anybody is alive today, so it’s kind of a learning curve.
VP: Do you think that it will have any lasting effects on the music industry?
Johnny: I’m sure some things are going to change. You know I have a lot of buddies in bands and they have to tour to make a living, they’re club bands and that’s what they do, a lot of them have kinda broken up and they had to get jobs. I know a lot of those bands are not going to get back together because you have to start a new life almost, so it’s definitely going to affect some people in that sense.
And then even for me, I work in a whole other field, I work in the cannabis world and I’ve dedicated my world full tilt to that, so when they go ‘oh it’s time to tour again’ I don’t know where I’m going to be at. I might be like ya know what I’ll pass. You never really know.
VP: Will music always have a presence in your life?
Johnny: Yeah no matter what I’ll always write music, that’s pretty much who I am. I’ve never had to tour to make music, so it’s kinda one of those things, you don’t know where the cards are going to fall and no one really knows, so I can’t say one way or the other. But it’s definitely going to alter, maybe not the music industry as a whole, but it’s definitely going to alter a lot of musicians’ lives, which will alter the music industry, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.
VP: Yeah true, so let’s talk about some new music and focus on some positives. One positive of course is that so many artists have been able to create new music during these times. You are set to release a new album New Empire Vol 2, which would you say is your favourite track from the album?
Johnny: I like ‘Idol’ which we’ve already put out, that was probably my favourite track but then there’s another one that’s probably a close second called ‘Monsters’. With an artist called Killstation, that I am in love with sexually and musically. He’s awesome. That track is probably the deepest track off both volumes. It’s the most vulnerable across both albums and touch upon subjects that are, ya know, are a little near and dear to the heart, things that you would typically not tell other people. So I would say in that sense it’s definitely one of my favourites, it’s one of those things that I think we’ve avoided talking about on any record and you get older and you go ya know what, I don’t care what other people think of me anymore so I might as well start saying what I really feel. FUCK everybody.
VP: Yes, I feel as you get older your perception does change on those sorts of things, and it’s easier to let go of insecurities that you had in your 20’s…
Johnny: Yeah I mean social norms, you just turn into one of those grumpy old men who will complain at a restaurant, although I’d never do that as I’d feel embarrassed. Now I’m yelling at strangers, ya know honking at everybody, picking my nose in the car, I don’t give a fuck.
VP: I think teens and 20s is the time when some are a bit more paranoid with what they look like and what people think…
Johnny: Yeah, look at me! I’m dressed like a bum I’m wearing sweat pants in the middle of the day, I don’t care. I’m like George Costanza on Seinfeld, I stopped giving a shit.
VP: When Hollywood Undead was first introduced to the UK, everyone was amazed at your mixing of genres. That party, drugs, alcohol vibe was definitely there. If you look back to the start and look at today, it’s completely different, the focus has shifted, the band has changed so much, this album does feel a lot more personal.
Jonny: I think your perceptions change so much over 15 years. I think when your 20, your life, it’s so confined to your own little world. You’re not worried about anything else, your not worried about what’s going on in the world, or other people, or things of that nature so everything is just so introspective.
As you start getting older and start accepting hard truths or, ya know, you get your heart broken for the first time and you’re like ‘oh shit this sucks’, or some of your friends die, whatever the case may be… you start realising that life isn’t all fun and games and I’m not saying that you have to take it completely seriously, but I think emotionally you start broadening your horizons, and if you’re a musician that’s obviously going to affect your music.
VP: Are you one of those bands that have had to go t-total at a certain point, or do you have a balance with that party lifestyle?
Johnny: I still haven’t found a balance, I just stopped talking about it. I think I need like an army of therapists in Vienna, I need to go to like the apex of psychiatry to figure out how to balance. Someone needs to shock me ‘zzz… don’t drink’, ‘zzz… stop doing drugs. But until someone does no balance.
VP: It’s hard, at least you are honest about it. As I feel like sometimes after about 10 years, bands start preaching the t-total thing at shows. [100% respect to those who need and want to do that though, for some it’s a real struggle, even a matter of life or death].
Johnny: The thing is I never liked that kind of stuff because I congratulate anybody who takes that step, but I think that the reaction to telling people what to do, is the polar opposite of what you want it to do. That’s why kids will rebel against their parents when you live in a very constrictive environment, those kids are usually the ones who go the most nuts later on in life, and I don’t think I’m in any position to tell people how to live their life. Of course, I would suggest not doing those things, that will cause you a lot of hardship. But to tell people what to do is not my position. I’d give them advice if I could but telling people how to live, you don’t get results that way, in my opinion.
VP: Going back to the track ‘Idol’ you have recorded that track several times with Tech9 and Ghost kid…
Johnny: Yeah and a third time with Kurt 92 who is a Russian rapper, that song is going global! We’re trying to get a Chinese guy now.
VP: So what’s the thinking behind getting so many artists recording the track with you?
Johnny: Well Ghostkid I was a big fan of, I did one of his songs, this is actually a Ghostkid hoodie [currently wearing]. I was a big fan of his and we wanted to work on a track, and then one of the guys in the band, Jay, loves Russian rap. I mean like loooves it, he doesn’t just like listen to it when he is in Russia. Like he sends me Russian artists all the time, he just loves their music. So when we got Ghostkid, and that was an artistic decision, he was really into getting one of the guys from Russia.
It was fun for us because sharing a song with someone that is thousands of miles away and has a completely different life, I thought was really intriguing, as opposed to us working with artists all the time in the US and some of them live down the street from me. Plus it’s such a different flavour, someone who comes from such a different culture is going to add something to the song that wouldn’t occur to me or someone we typically work with so it was kind of exciting in that sense to see what they added and we really liked doing it too, so hopefully we get to do it again.
VP: Yeah it’s interesting to see a different take on the track with different people from different cultures and backgrounds. What do the lyrics of that song mean to you?
Johnny: It’s funny because it’s exactly what we were just talking about, and this is something that you don’t really realise after some time too – a lot of young people really look up to the musicians they listen to. I’ve never felt that I was a good example to anybody, and I wrote a song basically saying “I’m not your Idol”. It’s basically saying ‘you don’t want to be like me’, and that was kind of the message of the song. Because I always thought it was interesting how people idolise the wrong people, all the time. I don’t know who to idolise, there are people that I idolise but none of them are really musicians. So if you’re looking for a way to live your life or something like that then I think you can find many better places than me.
VP: But Still, there are still fans who will still idolise you despite that.
Johnny: Yeah those are all the messages that I got when the song came out ‘I don’t care what you say, you’re still my idol’ – I was like alright well fuck it.
VP: You recently released your video for ‘Heart of a Champion’, and Chalie and Danni sing on it “I’m crossing out names, no one is safe, I’ll leave a rose on your grave, Go, it’s the dove and grenade”. The dove and grenade is the band’s logo! What does it symbolise?
Johnny: Well originally we thought it would be cool to have a contradiction of the music which is kind of the deep apathy and the darker sides of the human spirit and the other side of the band was just kind of fuck it all, who cares. And the dove is kind of the symbol of the deeper side and the grenade is the side of fucking everything up. We thought of two symbologies that we could all get on board with that represented both and that was kind of how the dove and grenade was developed. So it’s always kind of been our motto.
VP: That makes sense. Perhaps earlier Hollywood Undead was more the grenade, and current Hollywood Undead is more of the dove.
Johnny: Right! Yeah that’s true.
VP: I feel it’s important to have both of them elements because like what I was saying earlier about some bands preaching after 10 years. Some fans want to feel that they are allowed to come and party [and vice-versa] and that know that what they want to do is normal. That’s one of the most important things about going to shows, feeling accepted.
Johnny: I think the dichotomy of the human personality is represented in both those things too so, if someone lives their life on one side at the exclusion of the other, you’re going to be miserable. It’s very cliche but you can’t have the sweet without the sour, you don’t know what pleasure is unless you have felt pain. You can go down the laundry list of examples, but at the end of the day, I think if you live one way at the exclusion of the other, you’re going to end up being miserable. And I’m saying that in both respects.
If you just live your life like nothing matters and everything is a big party, then your never going to maybe get to experience the other joys of life, whether it’s having kids or having a good career, or whatever else the other side brings. So I think finding a balance, going too far down one road is always dangerous for any person. There’s a saying I like ‘with moderation you have to be moderate’ – Even with moderation people will live to this point where if they disagree with something, they consider it evil. And it’s like I don’t think that’s the way the world should work.
You see that in politics all the time (especially in the past five years), it’s sad to watch. People go ‘oh this person doesn’t believe what I believe, they are evil’. But they can’t just disagree anymore, I think you see that a lot in society, where 2 people believe opposite things, and instead of trying to learn something from another or try and understand or maybe try and understand why someone is a certain way, you just write them off as an evil bastard and that you are right.
The funny thing is that more often than not in my life I’ve probably been wrong, so if I live that way assuming that everyone else is wrong then it was [actually] my fault, and you don’t really realise that when you are living without respect you someone else’s lifestyle or someone else this or that.
How do you know that you are not the one doing things wrong? So it’s just about keeping an open mind and, ya know, music is a great expression of those things, and I wouldn’t want to leave out one kid of music and then you’re leaving out a whole other aspect of personality, your humanity or whatever it might be.
VP: Yeah I think that it’s important that you mention that, and it kind of goes back to what we were saying about finding balance. You get a lot of people on the internet these days who are very much ‘we’re all going to cancel this thing because you made one mistake, and we’re not going to even give you a chance to apologies’.
Johnny: Yeah! Ya know it’s fucking crazy and dude it’s only a mistake to you, maybe it wasn’t a mistake to them. I saw some shit that tripped me out, so this girl was like celebrating that she had lost a bunch of weight and she was like 300 and something pounds, and she had gotten down to 150 whatever it was and she had finally run a mile, after like 4 years, under 10 minutes, and someone went on there saying ‘you’re shaming me because I’m overweight’. So you can’t even celebrate your own successes without someone taking an attack on their lack thereof, and it’s fine, whoever you are is fine, but now you can’t even be ok with yourself because it might offend someone who isn’t like you and it just keeps going further and further. I stay off the internet now, because it’s just a breeding ground of shit and there’s nothing positive going anymore and I’ll go check sports scores and stuff like that but after that, the twitter all that stuff, the Instagram, I’m just like dude there’s too much shit on there that if you start reading, you’re going to be in a bad mood by the end of the day, so why bother.
VP: Yeah it’s a bit of a vicious cycle really because there’s a lot of outlets out there enticing people to get into those type of conversions purely for the engagement. It’s a tricky one, there’s a lot of media outlets that don’t set a good example for it…
Johnny: Well they benefit from it, so you know clickbait or one of those terms, if they post out articles all day on cute little puppies playing or somebody saved a cat from a tree. But if it’s a neighbour helped another neighbour fix a tyre, nobodies interested in reading that. Its morbid curiosity the more horrible the headline, the more reliable they are to click on it. The media they are giving people what they want, people need to think ‘what am I really interested in’, and ‘am I really interested in arguing with people on the internet or am I interested in leading a good life’. The internet has become a world unto itself. You have your life and then your internet life, and that to me is fucking nuts.
VP: Do you feel the bands message has changed over the years?
Johnny: I wouldn’t say that there’s really a message because we’re not really trying to purvey a way to live or be. The point is, I think when you introspect and you talk about maybe what you are feeling, the whole goal is that there is someone else feeling the same way and when you find a subject you can relate on with one another that’s what makes music magic. You can speak to someone on the otherside of the world who’s felt the same things as you so I wouldn’t say it’s really about sending a message, as much as letting someone know that we share a common ground or common message.
VP: If things go back to normal next year or beyond, do Hollywood Undead have any plans to come back over to the UK, and what are your plans going forward?
Johnny: Yeah we’re gonna go back, of course, everything is so up in the air, so I can’t say when it will be, but I definitely can’t wait to get out there again. I love playing in the UK, it’s always one of the highlights of any tour we do in Europe, so I wish I knew an answer honestly. I stopped asking because even the guys who run the whole show don’t know. Live Nation doesn’t know, my booking agent doesn’t know. So I’m just like when it happens it happens because if you keep waiting for it, it starts to drive you a little crazy. So I try and be in the moment, do what I have to do right now, and when I finally get the call ‘ yo we’re going to Europe again’ then I’ll be ready to go.
We’re definitely going to start writing a new record here, we already started kind of writing skellingtons at home and I think in the spring we’re getting back in the studio and do a whole other record. That will come out next year at some point. At this point all we can do is write, so that’s what we are doing, we’ll see what happens.