It’s time for Hollywood Undead to rise again. The rap-rock band is releasing its sixth full-length studio album, New Empire, Vol. 1, today via Dove & Grenade Media/BMG. And the project represents a fresh start for the quintet, which formed in 2005 in Los Angeles.
“In the past, we have built on what we had done on the previous album — little transitions and little progressions,” says vocalist-bassist-guitarist Johnny 3 Tears, who recently moved from his native L.A. to Nashville for a change of pace. “On this album, we tried to pretend we had never made a record before. We made a concerted effort to take it back to ground zero, as if we just got a record contract. Like, what would we write had we never released any music? New Empire is the product of that outlook.”
Produced by Matt Good (Memphis May Fire, Asking Alexandria) and featuring guest appearances by Sleeping With Sirens’ Kellin Quinn (on the song “Upside Down”) and Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden on “Second Chances,” New Empire, Vol. 1 showcases a heavier hard-rock sound for Hollywood Undead.
“I consider us industrial hip-hop — an amalgamation of Nine Inch Nails and the Beastie Boys,” says Johnny 3 Tears. “There are rock elements, but it’s more geared toward industrial sounds. We use a lot of 808, a lot of programmed beats along with live drums. But it’s all open to interpretation.”
Those sounds, combined with rapped lyrics, conjure nu-metal comparisons on the album, which also houses lots of layered effects and big choruses. So far, three singles have been released — including leadoff track “Already Dead,” which features creepy keyboards that sound straight out of Halloween, and the latest drop, the guitar-heavy “Empire,” which acrobatically bounces between the band members’ shared vocals. (The act comprises Johnny 3 Tears, vocalist Funny Man, vocalist-guitarist Charlie Scene and vocalists/multi-instrumentalists J-Dog and Danny.)
While it may not be apparent on the surface, legends like Tom Petty, John Fogerty and John Lennon and Paul McCartney are all major influences on Johnny 3 Tears. “As far as songwriting, I’m pretty old school. There aren’t a lot of new bands that I get inspired by,” he says, noting that Hollywood Undead doesn’t particularly like setting rules when it goes into the studio. “Musically, we’ve always been all over the place. There are no instrumentation rules, we don’t use certain progressions, and we kind of allow ourselves to get away with anything.”
With the two-volume New Empire (Vol. 2 is expected later this year), the band tried to rein itself in, sticking with just one producer and making sure the whole group was in the studio together from start to finish for the first time ever. Because of that, says Johnny 3 Tears, Vol. 1 “flows better than any record we’ve ever made.” (New Empire, Vol. 2 will lean more heavily into hip-hop and feature some ballads.)
He also notes that the band is more self-aware and socially conscious these days about its lyrics, which in the past have included extreme references to violence and offensive slang terms.
“I still disagree with censorship,” he says. “But we said things on our first record that, if I had known how upset it would make some people, I definitely would not have said. We were young and angry and didn’t mean what we said to be taken literally. But you have to take into consideration that someone else might take it literally and people might actually get hurt. And I don’t mean offended; I mean hurt. Don’t get me wrong, the envelope still needs to be pushed — but you also shouldn’t go out of your way to [offend] someone. There’s certainly some regret there.”
Despite that, Hollywood Undead’s debut album, 2008’s Swan Songs, is its best-selling record to date, having been certified Platinum by the RIAA. Meanwhile, 2013’s Notes From the Underground is its highest-charting album on the Billboard 200, reaching No. 2. The act also boasts 1.7 billion streams and counting across its entire catalog, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.
The quintet, which has toured with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Skrillex and Cypress Hill, will head out on a 20-plus-date European tour with Papa Roach that starts Feb. 16 in Barcelona. In May, it will play a string of U.S. dates that includes festivals and headlining shows. Indeed, 15 years deep, Hollywood Undead shows no signs of slowing down, even though Johnny 3 Tears thinks it’s “unimaginable” that the band will be around for another 15. “But,” he concedes, “the fact that we’ve already done 15 years was unimaginable to us 10 years ago, so…
“As long as we believe in what we’re doing and feel our music maintains the same level of quality, I guess we’ll just keep going,” he continues. “I don’t want to be in a band that forces out music that isn’t good just to put out albums. If the quality of the songs is 100%, who cares how old you are or where you stand in the hierarchy of music?”