Hollywood Undead: Undead Rising

“I used to get your magazine imported,” Johnny 3 Tears tells us, by way of introduction. “I’ve been waiting a long time to see myself in here.” He doesn’t come right out and say it, but the Hollywood Undead vocalist obviously feels that his presence in Metal Hammer is long overdue. As well he might, because on November 29 last year, his band headlined the prestigious Brixton Academy, despite never having much support from the media. The gig prompted a delirious response from those in attendance, and was a night that Johnny says he’ll “never forget”.

Hollywood Undead have almost three-and-a-half-million followers on Facebook and in June will make their third Main Stage appearance at Download. So why has it taken our world so long to acknowledge them?

Let’s start at the beginning. Hollywood Undead were conceived a decade ago in Los Angeles. They were, says Johnny, a band that “didn’t just want to write another bunch of four-chord songs”. Instead, they focused on creating an amalgam of punk, metal and hip-hop./o:p

The release of debut album Swan Songs was delayed when the now-defunct MySpace Records refused to put their name to songs that contained such extreme profanity, and the band instead signed to Octone Records. They toured with bands such as Avenged Sevenfold and Asking Alexandria, enlisted the production skills of former NIN man Danny Lohner, and had a video (2012’s We Are) directed by Slipknot’s Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan.

Despite this acceptance by some of metal’s most respected figures, many music fans still view Hollywood Undead with suspicion. Just take a look at our review of fourth album Day Of The Dead (below) for proof of the negative reactions they provoke.

Hollywood Undead: Day Of The Dead

One theory is that their appropriation of hip hop culture has muddied the waters in the eyes of many rock purists.

“Hip hop culture is just such a huge part of the LA landscape,” Johnny explains. “So we looked toward rap bands. But I think that we have more in common with someone like Nine Inch Nails or, if you have to look towards rap, the Beastie Boys, who started out as a punk band. I think the comparison to rap music dies there for us. If some kid says, ‘This isn’t what I’m used to!’ I don’t give a shit. If someone asks me, I still just say we are a rock band.”

Of course, in reality, you get the feeling that Johnny does give a shit. When asked why he feels Hollywood Undead have been ignored by the UK press, he starts by expressing the pride he feels in being able to achieve success on their own terms.

“You know what’s cool about our band?” he begins. “It’s about fans. Our connection with people is solely down to the music; it’s not because we have some massive single or because they’ve seen us plastered all over the press. That connection is genuine. Those people don’t feel like they need to pigeonhole what they listen to. I feel sorry for someone that feels the need to understand music like that.

“I mean, I get it, you have to sell magazines and we’re a weird band to put in a box. It might not sit right with a lot of people; we’re kind of on the cusp of what you’d expect from a magazine called Metal Hammer. There’s rules, and it isn’t just you guys. The British press in general have ousted us for so long, which is why I was so stoked when we got this interview. Because I’ve been asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How come?’ for years now.”/o:p

The nature of their output might have something to do with it – the rap-rock explosion of the mid-90s was polarising, and there are a lot of people that would consider a revival of that style to be niche, or irrelevant in 2015. But, more pressingly, it may be a lyrical problem. Some of Hollywood Undead’s verses and choruses drip with homophobic and misogynistic slurs.

“The truth is a lot of that is American slang,” offers Johnny. “Over here, it would be the same as calling someone an asshole. When we say ‘faggot’, we don’t mean, ‘Oh this guy is gay and we don’t like that.’ We aren’t condemning anyone’s lifestyle. I just think maybe people who aren’t familiar with American culture might not quite get that. It’s got us into trouble in the past and we have tried to tone it down, but people are very oversensitive these days. It’s almost like you can’t say anything sarcastic or you can’t joke.”

That seems more niche than just ‘American slang’, though…

“I think people are just much more socially aware of it over here,” Johnny counters. “They know that when I say ‘bitches’, I’m talking about guys. I don’t mean women! It’s a term for coward or punk. I would hate people to think that we have a problem with anyone in that way.”/o:p

But surely he appreciates that there will be people from outside of his culture that don’t understand the context or the intent, and take it totally at face value? Is that not a concern?

“I’ve worried about that a lot of times, yeah,” Johnny shoots back. “When we released our third album, Notes From The Underground, there was a song on it called Kill Everyone. That song nearly got pulled from the record because we didn’t want kids to take that stuff seriously. But where do you put the filter on? Because I got into music to express the lifestyle that I knew, and we have had experiences growing up in LA that a kid from the suburbs would never have. Does that mean we are condoning it? No. But we have songs about love and life that everyone can relate to, and I’d like to think that people take that element of our band seriously.”

All signs point to the fact that with or without your – or even our – say so, Hollywood Undead are only going in one direction.

“I’m very much in favour of a rock resurgence and I would love us to cross over, just to show people that are spoon-fed the same dross that there is an alternative,” Johnny says. “Rock and metal is in a really bad place in terms of its commercial appeal; most kids don’t even know what rock music is these days. That is a sad, sad state of affairs. Then you get these kids from the Disney Channel selling out 100,000-capacity arenas and they aren’t even singing? That’s the sad truth. If we can be a part of bringing rock back to the level that it used to be at, then, of course, I’d be very proud to do that.”

Finally, that’s something that we can all manage to agree on.


Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.