Hollywood Undead were born in the underground. They survive there, they thrive there, and they’ll die there. Ever since they clawed their way into the mainstream with their 2008 near platinum-selling debut Swan Songs and its acclaimed 2010 follow-up ‘American Tragedy’, the masked Los Angeles collective—Johnny 3 Tears, J-Dog, Charlie Scene, Danny, Funny Man, and Da Kurlzz—never lost sight of where they came from. Their third full-length album ‘Notes From The Underground’ emerges directly from that same place behind the curtain, underneath the veneer, and inside the darkest heart of their city. These are their Notes scribed in tears, blood, and truth. Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with J-Dog (aka Jorel Decker) to discuss his musical roots, the creation of their pummeling new album and what lies in store for Hollywood Undead in 2013!
Hollywood Undead has been working overtime the past few years and the had work is paying off in spades. Going back a little bit, how did music first come into your life?
When I was younger, I started listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop. I had two older sisters, so they were the ones who turned me on to it. I was listening to that for quite a while and as I started getting older, maybe around 15 or so, I started listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I mean, I wasn’t a hippie or anything! [laughs] I wasn’t smoking a lot of weed, I just got really into it. From there, I started getting into punk and then into metal. It really just evolved over time.
You have surely experienced many ups and downs along the way. What has helped to fuel your creative fire as an artist?
Playing with other bands, a lot of times you see that people get bored of being on the road or what they are doing. When you tour with the bands you really like, you can’t help but be inspired. This is especially true when you see a lot of up and coming bands that are really, really good. It inspires you to start doing new stuff and experiencing new things.
You have a brand new album out titled “Notes From The Underground”. How did you guys arrive at that title and what does it mean to you personally?
I think it was Johnny 3 Tears who named the album. He is really into literature. I think that is something everyone will realize if you listen to his lyrics. What it means to me personally is that even though we have had commercial success as a band, a lot of us in the band still feel like we are underground. We are still not a household name and we don’t exceed expectations by selling out stadiums or something like that. We still are an underground band in many ways and a lot of things we do are still underground in that sense.
Did you have any particular goals in mind when it came time to enter the studio and create this new album?
Not really. This was a record where we felt like it was a ll a lot of fun again! With our second record, “American Tragedy,” we had what is known as the sophomore curse. It is a point where you could just bomb and your band is done. It could have been a case of “Ok, that was fun while it lasted but no we have to go out and figure out what we are going to do for the rest of our lives.” Thankfully, “American Tragedy” did pretty well, so when it came to this record, I feel like a lot of that pressure was off of us. I had more fun recording this record than the previous album because it felt like our band was brand new again. It is good for us to be doing things from the “doing it fun” aspect, as opposed to worrying about what people are going to think about it.
It sounds like you are all in a pretty good place creatively then. Is that a fair statement to make?
Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent! When there is less pressure on an artist, the creativity flows a lot more readily.
What can you tell us about the writing process for “Notes From The Underground”? Are you guys doing anything differently these days?
It was a similar approach. What we have done in the past is that different members of the band write different styles of songs and then we come together collaboratively. We have a few home studios to work out of, so when it is time, we just get together and go from there. It has pretty much that way from the start and with so many writers in the band, I really can’t see it changing.
If you would, talk a little bit about the producers you worked with on this record and what they brought to the project.
There are a few different producers on this record. Some of them we have worked with before like Griffin Boice. He has always provided us with a pretty solid setup to work with. We also worked with S*A*M* & Sluggo, who we also worked with on “American Tragedy”. Those guys are originally from New York but are now based out of Los Angeles. I also produced a few songs on the album myself. In the past we worked with Danny Lohner again. He worked on our first record but not the second one. He was awesome to work with and I can’t stress enough how talented he is.
Looking back at the process of making the record, what did you find the biggest challenge to be?
To be honest, the biggest challenge is working with each other. Everybody in this band always has different opinions of what is good and what is not good. That has always been an issue. Once the record is done, we will have twenty songs and we have to fight amongst ourselves are better or which ones are more worth doing. So yeah, literally working with each other is our biggest challenge. It is all about understanding each other and we have that down pretty good now.
What are your personal favorites from the album?
There is a song called “Outside” that I am really into. “Dead Bite,” which was the first one we released to radio, that song is awesome.
You guys had the opportunity to work with M. Shawn Crahan from Slipknot on a video. What was that experience like for you?
That guy is seriously fuckin’ cool! I had met Corey Taylor and Jim Root from Slipknot a couple times in the past but meeting Clown was awesome. He was way cooler than I had expected. It is a real trip to see him on stage doing what he does and then see him working in a different way directing our video. It was almost like seeing two separate people. It just goes to show how talented he is and that he can handle so many different aspects of his career and do it so well. Working with him was awesome and the video is really fuckin’ cool.
Do you feel there are any misconceptions about the band at this point?
I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of misconceptions but the one thing people do focus on our masks and tend to blow us off right away. They blow us off right away and might say “Oh, I am not into this band.” They really don’t give us the chance. Once people hear us, they say “Oh wow! You guys are much better songwriters than we ever expected!” So, I would say although it isn’t a misconception, we do have a lot of people judging us on our appearance before they hear our music.
How do you feel you and the rest of the band have evolved since starting out?
It has been a long road. From the time Hollywood Undead started writing music to the time we started touring has been a long, long road. That being said, we have grown a lot along the way. We got into the groove of what you are supposed to do. We had the opportunity to see a lot of bands that had been touring a lot longer than us and a light went off, like “Oh shit! That’s how they do it!” Once you have been touring for ten years, you obviously can’t do the same things you have been doing forever. It was cool to learn that early on and I think it will help us in the long run.
What is the best piece of advice some of those bands have given you along the way?
People tell us to party less but we don’t really listen! [laughs] They will say “Uh, you guys might want to cool it. You aren’t really supposed to do that for ten years!” And we are like “Well fuck! When ten years comes, we will worry about it then!” But seriously, right now we are just enjoying ourselves because we realize that any of this could go away at any moment. Our band could disappear tomorrow for all we know, so why not enjoy it while we can. So many bands come and go, we could be that band. We live for the now.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to someone looking to make music a career like you are doing currently? As you said, it isn’t necessarily a short trip to success.
Honestly, when you make good music, people will listen to it. A lot of people don’t take the time to write songs that are worthwhile. They might say “Well, no one likes my band.” Well, maybe you should write better music. It is kind of a fucked up thing to say but it is the way it works.
The new year just kicked off. What can we expect from you guys in 2013?
“Notes From The Underground” is in stores on January 8th. I am looking forward to that but most of all, I am looking forward to getting back on the road. It has been a year since we toured. We have done a lot of one-offs but we are really looking to getting out there and seeing the cities we haven’t seen in forever and seeing our fans respond to the new music.
Thanks for your time, J-Dog. We will be spreading the word. Keep up up the good work, brotha!
Thank you, man!
For the latest information and tour dates, visit Hollywood Undead’s official site at www.hollywoodundead.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.