The number five holds a deep significance. We have five senses. Five points adorn a star. Five represents man in theology. For the five members of Hollywood Undead—Johnny 3 Tears, J-Dog, Charlie Scene, Funny Man, and Danny—the digit perfectly encapsulates their fifth full-length offering—FIVE [Dove & Grenade Media/BMG] recently released. Offering quite a diversity of sounds and styles the album marked also the bands 13th anniversary.
“We’re five brothers, and this is our fifth record,” affirms Johnny 3 Tears. “Nothing gets to the essence of the music like this number does. Numerology has a lot of power. When we said Five, it just made sense. The fact that we could all agree on one word codifies who we are. It also nods back to ‘No. 5’ from our first album, because it was our fifth song. Moreover, it hints at this secret society of fans supporting us for the past decade. The number is significant, and this is a significant moment for us.”
The masked Avengers returned to the UK recently, this time headlining in the largest of the Manchester Academy venues. I was able to have a chat with Johnny 3 Tears ahead of their afternoon pre-show soundcheck.
ANTIHERO: The band brought out the most recent album back in October of last year. How do you feel that the band has moved on since Swan Songs?
Johnny 3 Tears: In the general sense, there’s a lot of parts of me that I’m surprised we’re still doing it. I think anybody … No one thinks that far ahead. So, to be doing it over 10 years later is … I’m just surprised in that sense that we’re still here doing it. I just leave it at that. I just kind of ride it, and when it ends, it ends. If we’re still enjoying it, we’ll keep doing it. The day I stop enjoying it, I’ll be like, “Okay.”
ANTIHERO: This is the larger academy of the four. All different venues, but you’re doing the larger one. What sort of level are you guys at, generally, in the States, and other countries? Does it vary?
Johnny 3 Tears: Yeah. Like anyplace … It’s market to market. If you play a small market, there’s probably … Yeah, we do about the same size everywhere. For the most part, we’re about the same size in Europe, as we are in the United States, same old.
ANTIHERO: The band has already released four videos from the album. I just wonder, do you have plans just to tie in numerical sort of thing. Do you have plans to do a fifth?
Johnny 3 Tears: Oh, yeah. We’re trying. What we want to do is a video for every song. It’s tough these days, though, to get funding for that kind of stuff, because there’s no MTV. None of those things exist anymore. So, it’s basically a giveaway. So, getting a label to fork over the money is always a pain in the ass, but we’re trying. Yes. Definitely a fifth, definitely a sixth. Hopefully, the whole record, because I love that videography sequence of getting everything. It’s cool to me, but there are definitely some challenges, but we’re trying.
ANTIHERO: So, just do this for fans, as well, before the tour?
Johnny 3 Tears: Yeah. Kids like me, I used to love … I don’t care anymore, but when I was young, there was still MTV and stuff like that. So, I would sit there. If I knew a song was in the top number or something, I would wait to watch it on TV, and stuff like that. So, whatever makes them happy. We kind of do it ourselves. We write all our own videos. We work with the director and co-direct all our videos. So, it’s cool for us to have another avenue to make something.
ANTIHERO: So, this album’s come out, even with over the course of five releases, sound-wise there’s a whole lot of mix of different things going on. How would you label Hollywood Undead? It’s not something that’s easy.
Johnny 3 Tears: No. If people ask, I just say, “We’re a rock band,” because we are. Technically, our progressions … We use some different programming and different things like that, but I would always just say, “We’re a rock band.” I would certainly say that over rap, or industrial, or anything else, but we just like to try new stuff. The reason I like being in Hollywood Undead as opposed to the bands I was in prior, and stuff, is it’s kind of an anything goes. We never say, “No” to … If we try something … Literally, there’s some crazy shit we’ve done that we would never put out, because it’s like, “Okay. It’s too much,” but the cool part is, if you have an idea, if you want to play flamenco guitar on this song, we’ll do it. We’ll see.
I think most bands have this set standard. This is our sound. One of the reasons I like it is, because we can kind of do whatever we want, and get away. It probably holds us back in certain ways. I would definitely say it’s held us back because we can’t tour with these kinds of bands. They’re always packaging themselves.
They work with each other a lot. There’s no one we can do that with. So, the scene is definitely … We’re not like those bands all share the same group of fans. Warp tour bands, or these big touring package bands, they work with each other, and we don’t have anybody to do that with. So, I certainly think, in that respect. Then, people hearing. It’s just too different. “I can’t play this. It’s too different.” So, I definitely think it’s had its disadvantages for us, but I’d still rather be able to go in the studio and make whatever the fuck I want, and be smaller.
ANTIHERO: You and Hollywood Undead have quite of crossover of fans? You must see a complete range of people, at your shows.
Johnny 3 Tears: Yeah. You’ve got the gothic kids. Then, there are military guys, buff dudes. It’s very eclectic. We got pop fans.
ANTIHERO: There’s some more sort of commercial elements.
Johnny 3 Tears: We have some pop stuff in there. I think once they come to the show, they go, “Okay. Maybe, this isn’t what I was thinking.”
ANTIHERO: You’ve got your own stage image. Do you come alive, when you put on the stage persona? Is that totally different from who you are? Are you really just a quiet guy?
Johnny 3 Tears: No. There’s definitely a freedom to it. One of the things I love about playing is, sometimes, I’m miserable, during the day. Like anybody else, you have a bad day, but right when you play, it’s a different thing. No matter how hard a day can be, or miserable I am, or being away from my kids, like that. When we play, it’s a freedom that I’ll never … I would have quit a long time ago if it wasn’t for that hour that you get to feel that adrenaline, and that rush. It’s like therapy. I wouldn’t say it’s any different, but all the things that, I guess, walking around during the day I can’t do, I get to do, all of the sudden. So, it’s … You get to act nuts for a while, even though we’re all nuts, pretending we’re not. I get to, for a little bit, let that go.
ANTIHERO: Define that stage persona. It protects your own sort of identity off stage. You’re not going to get mobbed so much. People stepping on your toes, when you’re out trying to have some private time.
Johnny 3 Tears: I don’t know. I’ve never looked at it that way. We’re not at that point, where I think anybody’s going to hassle us, or anything like that. I mind my own business. People mind their own business. I’m relatively … I kind of coast through the day and I don’t bother anybody. No one bothers me, but on stage, it’s a whole different thing.
That’s really all it is, kind of a catharsis that I feel very fortunate that I have. I think all these people that go see a therapist if they just start a band, they’d get something more, and they wouldn’t have to pay 100 bucks an hour to a physiatrist.
ANTIHERO: Does it annoy you that people all the time talk about the guy that’s left.
Johnny 3 Tears: No. I get it.
ANTIHERO: People are like just focusing on the bands past rather than the future there have been subsequent records, other albums? To an extent, do you not find that frustrating, and that the rest of the band have moved on?
Johnny 3 Tears: I understand a fan’s perspective. Bands are near and dear to them. So, when someone’s not in it, it’s kind of like, “Oh, my parents got divorced type thing.” Kids really, really care about that stuff. So, I don’t give a shit, but I’ll always take the time to be like, “Look.”
A lot of our fans, you’ve got 18, 19-year-old fans. That’s how old we were when we started. When I’m looking back now, I understand even more, because the thing is you don’t understand, when you’re that age is that life changes, and people change, and things change involuntarily. There are certain things that happen that you obviously don’t want to happen that happen. It’s hard to explain that to a kid, because kids, I don’t think, have gone through that, yet. Sadly, they will. They will realize, “Hey, man. There are things out of your control.” As you get older, you kind of have to learn to go, “All right. That’s just what it is.” That’s kind of what happens. Sad, but true.
ANTIHERO: The band has been on tour with some big names. Just wondering when you play on the Stone Sour or Avenged Sevenfold tours, do those guys … Do you mix with those guys? Do they share their experience, their wisdom with you, or is it you guys just want to prefer to learn from your own experiences?
Johnny 3 Tears: Well, the Avenge dudes for … We party. There like us, kind of. We have a lot in common, I guess, especially at those time periods. No. They’re just friends. That’s kind of the way I looked at it, but those dudes have done it on such a big level, for such a long time. There’s obviously a respect factor. I look at them. It’s something I wouldn’t say look up to, but the way they handle what they have to do, especially now that Corey Taylor is …
ANTIHERO: I was going to say, would he not be popping over and giving you the benefit of his wisdom and experience…
Johnny 3 Tears: No. He was … I guess we never asked for it, but he’s always … One thing I like about both those groups is I met … I won’t mention them, but bands, they’re pricks. They’re so egotistical, and too many people have told them how cool they are, now that they believe it.
Those guys are down to earth, normal dudes. One thing, especially, with Avenged Sevenfold that I always thought was really cool is, even when they’re playing arenas, and they’re doing huge things, they’re always kind to their fans. You just don’t see that very often. You see this annoyance, or, “Oh, no. It’s too much.” I never saw them do that once, in all the months we toured with them. They’re always kind to the fans.
That to me is the most important thing because I think as bands this is what you want. Then, you get there, and you forget that. That that’s what you wanted. So, it’s like, “Yo, man. You better, even if you’re in a bad mood. I get it. People have bad days,” but I always saw them. That taught me something because we toured with them way in the beginning of our career, and you definitely go, “Oh, man.” It’s good to be good to your fans. You don’t have act cool. Being uncool is the cool thing to do. So, I always respected those guys for those qualities.
ANTIHERO: Career lows, or highs, anything that stands out?
Johnny 3 Tears: Shit, man. I had a lot of career lows.
ANTIHERO: Let’s focus on the positive, then.
Johnny 3 Tears: I’ll be honest, one of the things, a high for me was … That was a trip, I mentioned before, was the first time we went to a non-English speaking country.
Johnny 3 Tears: This is 2007, 2008. Back then, I think we went to Germany. That was my first time, I’ve even ever left California, not just the US, but I’ve never even left California. I never left really LA.
So, we went there, and to see people who couldn’t speak fluent English know your songs. That was such a bizarre thing to me. Going through that experience, where you really realize that you’re meaning something to someone else, besides yourself. When people write songs, they always mean something to them, but these guys couldn’t even speak fluent English, and they’re singing our lyrics. That blew me away. That was when I was really like … That was enough for me. If the band broke up, at that point, I would have been happy with that.
ANTIHERO: How do you view the band’s musical legacy? Was each album really just a step along the journey, or anything that you think looking back or listening back could have done that a little bit differently?
Johnny 3 Tears: I’ll listen to other records, and I’m like, “Ah.” I cringe, because … I think every band will say, “Oh. I listen to my first record. It’s horrible. It’s like this,” but you don’t want to change that experience, because that’s who you were, at that point. I’m not the same person today that I was when I was 19, 20, obviously. I wouldn’t want to be, but I’m glad that I got to be young, stupid, immature, and all that. So, there are definitely things I look back, and I’m like, “Oh. That’s horrible,” but I wouldn’t change them because then I’d be changing me.
ANTIHERO: Any hobbies or interests outside of music? Obviously, you mentioned you’ve got family, and that.
Johnny 3 Tears: I work a lot in the marijuana industry, in California. We all do. We do a lot of stuff in that world. That’s kind of what fills my time, outside of the band. Then, I’ll read. I love … I read a lot. I’m a bibliophile and take care of my kid. That’s it.
ANTIHERO: Just a couple more. The most inspiring musician that you’ve worked with?
Johnny 3 Tears: Inspire. Danny Lohner. He was a guitarist for Nine Inch Nails for a long time. He produced stuff on every record we’ve done, but that guy is just … We’ve been in the studio for 10 hours. I’m done. This guy is a machine. He just keeps going. He’ll be sitting there falling asleep. That makes me like, “Okay. If this guy can work this hard, and he’s 10 years older than me, 15 years older than me, I should keep going.”
ANTIHERO: What in your life are you most proud of, career-wise, musically wise?
Johnny 3 Tears: One of the … What we mentioned earlier, just still being here. There are all kinds of disappointments with the whole thing. Everybody has them, but the fact that we’re still here. I still actually … We are all still best friends. That’s a big accomplishment to me because you see bands, all the time, that they won’t even talk to each other, and … We still hang out, and we still all really get along. I still enjoy writing music with them. That alone is, like I said, it’s not … It’s cool. We’re never going to be the biggest band in the world, but I get to do this. How could I complain, when so many people would want to be in the same position?
ANTIHERO: Sure, you’ve done many interviews, but who would you like to sit down, and interview with you asking questions?
Johnny 3 Tears: Trent Reznor.
Johnny 3 Tears: I have so many questions I’d love to ask that dude.
ANTIHERO: He’d be an inspiration and a musical hero then, to you?
Johnny 3 Tears: Oh, yeah. He modeled a lot of our sounds we … Especially the chaotic parts. The Downward Spiral, and stuff he did on his second and third record, that was kind of what made me think, “Okay. Music doesn’t have to be this way.” When you’re young, all you know is what you’ve heard, or what you think. Then, he kind of changed everything that I thought was the way this was supposed to be. I listen to the Beatles, and they’re just so by the book. They wrote the book, but they’re still by the book. Trent Reznor said, “No” to all of it. That made me like, “Oh. I can do that.”
ANTIHERO: Okay. Great. Thank you for taking the time to chat to me today.
All Photos © Christopher James Ryan Photography