Traditionally, the Day of the Dead holiday is all about remembrance.
Now, Hollywood Undead's fourth full-length album, and first for Interscope Records, Day of the Dead sees the genre-hopping six-piece reflect in a different way. The group—Johnny 3 Tears, J-Dog, Charlie Scene, Danny, Funny Man, and Da Kurlzz—collectively channels the kinetic aggression and wild humor that captivated millions on their platinum-certified 2008 debut Swan Songs, yet they couple it with a wiseass wisdom and sharp songwriting honed over the course of nearly a decade on the road. It's been quite the ride too.
Their most recent offering Notes From the Underground seized the #2 spot on the Billboard Top 200 upon its 2013 debut, while its predecessor 2011's American Tragedy, another top 5 entry, quickly approaches gold status. The boys have sold out countless headline shows worldwide and toured with everybody from Avenged Sevenfold to Stone Sour, while appearing at global festivals including Download, Rock on the Range, Rock In Rio, Family Values, and more.
However, at the start of 2014, the masked madmen found themselves in a rather precarious, if not familiar, position when their previous record label folded.
"We didn't actually have a label or a home that we knew of," sighs Johnny 3 Tears. "It affected the record in a positive way though. Everyone was a little pissed off, so we went into the studio with a lot more to prove."
"It's really similar to how Swan Songs came about," adds J-Dog. "We experienced this extreme frustration of being screwed over by everybody, and we filtered that into the music. We were like, 'Fuck everyone. Fuck radio singles. Fuck making the label happy because we don't have one. Let's just fucking do Hollywood Undead.'"
The band hunkered down at home and began tenaciously writing and recording what would become Day of the Dead. Teaming up with longtime producers Griffin Boice and Sean Gould, they literally created each song together in the same room—for the first time in years.
"We started using our old Hollywood Undead formula of writing everything as a unit,” J-Dog continues. On the last record, each of us spun off and did his own thing. Day of the Dead truly was a group effort. As a result, it's definitely different, but we pay homage to our old sound as well. We took a step forward, while looking backward."
"I feel like we cut out more rules on every record," says Johnny 3 Tears. "We let ourselves go a little farther, and we allow ourselves to write without walls. That's one of the reasons we have a wider variety here."
Shocked to life like a musical Frankenstein, Day of the Dead veers between an industrial metal stomp, a hilarious hip-hop bounce, a booze-fueled all-night dance party, and pensive street poetry etched inside bloody verses. By the time they completed recording, Interscope Records had inked a deal with Hollywood Undead. The titular single then introduced the masses to the album in late 2014.
"Day of the Dead" rises from a delicate acoustic flamenco guitar into a needling riff encased in a synth howl. Johnny 3 Tears delivers poignant bars before one of the band's biggest hooks to date. Shortly after it dropped, the song amassed over 1.5 million YouTube/VEVO views, fueling fervor from the Undead masses.
"We wanted to get that one just right," recalls Charlie Scene. "The melody and chorus actually hit me when I was taking a piss in the studio—that's when all of my best ideas usually happen. I ran it by the fellas, and the song was finished within hours. It describes Hollywood Undead and our music. It's got the vibe, creepiness, and heaviness. It's an anthem for us and the fans."
"It's definitely a call-to-arms," agrees Johnny 3 Tears. "This is an aggressive track with a lot of depth. It encapsulates what we feel like being members of Hollywood Undead, and it communicates that feeling to fans so they can be more a part of it. Beauty often comes from ugliness, and we pull this anthem out of darkness. This is geared to everyone who lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes Hollywood Undead."
Meanwhile, Day of the Dead opens with the scorching cinematic verses of "Usual Suspects," an ode to some of the band's favorite pastimes.
"We were in the studio drinking as usual," grins J-Dog. "We got Big Gulp cups of Ice from 7/11 and filled them with champagne and orange juice. We ended up walking around Sunset Boulevard with mimosas that bystanders thought were orange juice. People think we're different now, but the band still acts the same way and does the exact same shit we've done since we started in 2005. So, we wrote a song about the moment."
Then, there's "Gravity." A propulsive electro-punk beat gives way to a soaring refrain from Danny that immediately hypnotizes. J-Dog continues, "We wanted to write a rock song, and there was this concept of gravity. It's something that holds you down. We talked about reminiscing on the past and how people can get stuck on that. That's what the song discusses."
"Everything flowed," affirms Charlie Scene. "No one was trying to overthink anything. It's one of those songs we knew we wanted to hear."
In the end, Day of the Dead signals the start of something for Hollywood Undead. It's their day.
Charlie Scene leaves off, "I'd love for this album to cover everything we do. I want people to use it to work out. I want people to put our records on when they're pre-partying. I want everyone to get a feeling—whether it's anger and aggression or the urge to open up a cold and party."
"We put everything into this," declares Johnny 3 Tears. "Of course, there's that element of having a great time. Still, there are real words and messages in here. It's our lives on tape again." – Rick Florino, February 2015