Hollywood Undead's J-Dog Encourages New Musicians Not To Give Up

"If you don't love your job, try to find something else."

The Nu-Metal, Rap-Rock band Hollywood Undead released their sixth studio album, New Empire Vol. 1 on February 20th via Dove & Grenade Media/BMG. In it, they set out to break ground with a “new sound” and even a bit of reimagining the nature of the band itself now that it’s reached its twelfth year of existence. Our Whitney Moore spoke with one of the founding members, multi-instrumentalist and co-song-writer “J-Dog”, Jorel Decker, from quarantine, on his actual birthday of May 1st…

Jorel Decker has been hearing about “May Day” all his life, as a May 1st baby, but it’s also a day for workers’ solidarity. The film Midsommar fits Decker’s idea of May Day, including “weird shit with flowers”. He wasn’t sure that he liked the film, but he thought about it for four days afterwards, so it must have done its job, and though he liked Hereditary, Midsommar wins out.

Asked about his horror fandom, Decker showed fans a huge Black Phillip the goat model in his room from the film The VVitch. He got it from Erick Yaro of the Mystic Museum. Marilyn Manson was apparently supposed to get it, but didn’t come in on time, so Decker snatched it up.

Talking about Derek Mears, a friend of Decker’s from childhood, Moore mentioned that he just appeared in Swamp Thing, a horror-comics crossover. Decker described Mears as a giant, but also “the nicest guy I ever met”.

J-Dog didn’t really have birthday plans since he works a lot, and while working on his cannabis brand, plants don’t take a day off. Besides, he doesn’t really care about birthday presents, since guys tend to get “socks and shit” anyway. He’d love to go somewhere cool, like on a hike, more than he’d like presents on his birthday. 

Decker was out taking photos recently with a friend, and he goes outside for work a lot, visiting hardware shops for supplies, so he doesn’t feel that different now in quarantine. “I’m busier than I’ve ever been.”, he said, unlike a lot of people under these circumstances.

When celebrities go into cannabis growing, they are often assumed not to be growing the pot themselves, so Moore asked Decker about the process getting into growing. Initially, since Decker didn’t know what he was doing at all, he admitted, and he’d lose a lot of the tour money he invested in growing when just getting started in his garage.

But he finally reached a turning point after a while where he took in the steep learning curve enough for things to improve. Gradually, he became more educated about other types of gardening, and started planting lavender, milkweed, and more. He loved how they attracted butterflies. 

However, just because you like week and smoke weed doesn’t mean you should be selling it, in J-Dog’s opinion. Loving beer drinking doesn’t mean you should make beer. It’s a tough business with different skills. Similarly, Decker never felt that music came easy to him, it’s like “learning a language”, and it was the same with learning to grow things. He “forced himself to learn music” because he “loved it so much” and there’s definitely a parallel with the growing he’s doing.  “If you don’t love your job, try to find something [else]”, he encouraged, though of course it’s easier said than done, he acknowledged.

Moore asked if J-Dog feels intimidated when comparing himself to other musicians, and Decker said that’s definitely the case, but he’s also a Producer, and he often feels insecure in comparison to other producers. Recently, he’s had to realize that he can’t be the “best at everything” and that has brought more calm to his life. He just can’t spend all his time being a Producer, and he’s letting more people help out with their music in that regard. 

Asked if quarantine has made the demand for weed higher, Decker said that’s definitely true, and places are selling out. Previously people were in offices, and therefore not smoking at 10AM, but now they are. There’s a huge “drought” but he’s also concerned that people are going to run out of money, not only for weed, but for food, the way the economy is going.

Thinking of friends in the service industry, like those who are waiters or waitresses, he knows the stimulus checks don’t even cover rent.

Moore asked about the reception for their new album, New Empire Vol. I, and J-Dog shared that the live aspect of the new album is a lot of fun for him. Hollywood Undead had to cut their previous tour short, dropping five weeks from it. The way band touring works for them, it takes four weeks to break even, and the fifth week is where you make your money, but since they got sent home, they only broke even on the tour. He feels bad for fans probably trying to get their money back on tickets right now, though. He hates that impact. 

Speculating about how far in the future concert touring and events might resume, Decker made a comparison to sports events that are being called off. And even if a tour is booked for Fall by musicians, he doesn’t think fans will feel okay about show up. The many “schools of thought” right now about how soon things will reopen for events leaves everyone in a “weird” state trying to figure out what’s going on. Decker feels like things should “open up” because he knows people need to go back to work, but he knows a lot of his friends feels otherwise.

Hollywood Undead are connecting with fans during quarantine by selling tour merch, but Decker leaves it mostly to others to sort that out, and he’s not sure the fate of the European tour merch will be. He’d love to give that merch away and do a live show with a live set for fans. But it’s a question of how to coordinate it, since all the band members are “all over the place, like children” and it would be hard to get them together to plan, he laughed. 

Decker loves to see how music “adapts” right now and appreciates the use of Fortnite to stage live shows. Hollywood Undead is “lazy as fuck” when it comes to “that shit”, but hopefully they’ll catch up.

The “specific sound” of Hollywood Undead is one thing, but does it have a crossover with cannabis smoking at all given J-Dog's two jobs? Decker says they are pretty different things, and he doesn’t feel like people should feel pressured to smoke just because they are fans of the band. He doesn’t smoke weed much, either and if they have young fans, he doesn’t want to push them to do so. He keeps those worlds separate and doesn’t want to “push it on kids”, particularly. But if you’re 18, go buy his weed!! 

A lot of bands have been releasing COVID clothing and even COVID strains of weed, but J-Dog feels like in 10 years, “This is all going to be a meme about toilet paper”, like “Remember when the world shut down and there was no toilet paper?” No matter what you do, people make inappropriate jokes. People are bored in quarantine, and they are going to make clothes and memes. But he thinks a lot of memes “are funny as fuck”. They just are.

Decker hasn’t been watching much in lockdown since he’s so busy, but his music tastes range from Metal to Hip-Hop to Oldies. At the moment, he’s on a Hip-Hop kick for some reason. 

J-Dog goes out and gardens with his small team of workers, and really not that much has changed in his daily life. It’s kind of his “dream world” because there’s no traffic and he can get the supplies he needs easily. He really only goes out for work reasons. Once the world goes back to normal, then he’ll be in quarantine, he laughed. Since then traffic will be terrible, and that’ll be his “hell”.

Is quarantine somehow intrinsically a more creative time? Definitely. Obviously, there are fewer distractions, but if Decker mellows out too much, he gets lazy, so he finds that he needs to stay moving and busy. Most artists, he thinks, are people who are “empaths”, who feel what’s going on around them and “draw on that energy”. Like when an artist goes through a breakup and writes their best album ever. With this “crazy shit” going on, some artists will be able to sit there and write great stuff right now, J-Dog agreed. 

So what’s different about New Empire Vol. 1? Their Producer Matt Good’s tendencies are on the heavier side of music versus the Rock side, and that’s Decker has always wanted to pursue, too. They teamed up with Good and wrote the album from scratch in the studio. Unusually, they started with drums and guitars, which was not at all their previous approach. So, this New Empire Vol 1. album is very guitar-driven for the first time.

They all write their own lyrics in the band, and Decker and often others will write a verse each and then collectively write choruses together, he explained about Hollywood Undead. They’ve always written their own songs, and that’s “easy” because there are so many members, he added.

How big an influence was growing up in LA on Decker’s music? He said that he had friends whose backyard parties would feature Black Metal bands with spikes, cutting themselves, and stuff like that. But it would just be a bunch of local kids watching. You’d skate around town, tag some things, drink with a bunch of punks listening to a boom box, then end up at a show that night, either a Punk show or a Metal show, J-Dog explained. In LA, you were really “forced” to be around all this stuff.

Bringing Rap and Rock together comes down to seeing and listening to both growing up, though Decker can’t sing, he says. He’s surprised to hear people calling him a rapper. The first music he fell in love with was Dr. Dre, so it came naturally. He didn’t get into Punk and Metal until after age 16, but Rap was earlier. But he still doesn’t think he’s a rapper.

Decker thinks a lot of people who rap are “terrible” though. To get Rap out there, you can put in on the internet from your phone, and that’s a problem. It’s too easy. Guitar playing is harder, so people don’t put it up online, lest they sound bad. But rappers often don’t realize they “suck”, their egos seem to blind them to it, and they post it anyway. Hollywood Undead started off freestyling at parties, and that “built their chops”, but now people don’t really do that. Time to freestyle Wonderwall, folks! 

Right now, J-Dog likes playing the song “Enemy” from their new album and has “fun” playing heavy music. Another new song, “Time Bomb” is one he enjoys. He gets bored after playing his own songs hundreds of times, so the new ones are always his favorite.

The band were supposed to be releasing a new album any day now, Decker revealed, and are trying to decide what to do given the pandemic situation. Keep an eye out for announcements about New Empire, Vol. II. 

Decker feels bad for bands that don’t have a “plan B” after touring now that this pandemic has hit, whereas he can go do his growing and keep his career moving. Fan engagement is still high right now, but the business side is something he “tries not to pay attention to”, so he’s not sure it’s a good idea to release an album again soon. He finds the business stuff “dark and deep”, a job that managers deserve to make their money from, since it’s hard. It’s not for him. Seeing how the sausage is made can be traumatizing, like Snoop Dogg watching how hot dogs are made.

J-Dog’s been a vegetarian for several years, but has been a vegan now for about a year and a half. Through growing he became aware of his massive carbon footprint and started researching. He discovered that a vegan uses a lot less water by not feeding animals from plant life just to become food. He also appreciates animals a lot more than people, for sure. What about eating a person? Would it taste good? Maybe the world will find out soon! But he’s a vegan, so he wouldn’t do it. 

Decker doesn’t want to cause destruction to the planet, even if he’s not that fond of the human race. He’s amazed that many religions worship idols, but often still don’t want to support the planet, which sustains human life. On the brighter side, there’s some great vegan food out there, even Southern comfort food. He is not a good vegan cook, though, and will not do it. It takes too much time, for one thing.

How’s he staying alive? By eating a lot of Chipotle, since he has a friend who meal preps for him, and he picks food up once a week. “I’ve got a chef. No big deal.”, he laughed. Then there are strip clubs which are actually delivering food to peoples’ houses! Whatever is getting money moving and keeping people employed, more power to them, Moore and Decker agreed. 

Decker’s got cats! Lucifer, Tiger, Valentine, and Salem are a few, though they live with his ex right now, so he’s blanking on the rest. Decker found Lucifer in a warehouse in Long Beach where he was growing weed, at only 8 weeks old, and he came home withhim. J-Dog works with a local cat shelter, helping them trap and release.

He’d love to foster cats, but he travels too much. He’s even traveling to Oklahoma soon for his business. Decker doesn’t know how bands have dogs, since it’s like “having a fucking kid” and cats are a lot less work. He identifies with cats, Decker said, since he “just wants to be left alone”. 

Moore noticed that a lot of Russian fans were on Insta for the stream, and Decker added that Hollywood Undead seem big in Eastern Europe. They got big through a Facebook fan page or something of that kind, and some really dedicated fans have helped them reach wider communities, where they just “clicked”.

The first time he went to Eastern Europe, a hundred fans were waiting at the train station, then banging on the van, and he felt like Hollywood Undead were “the Beatles”. Decker never imagined they’d have fans like this, since he grew up playing backyard shows. 

It’s a “surreal” feeling, and he forgets sometimes that he’s in a band since he’s out growing and doing for his other job. When his manager called about putting him on Instagram with Tower Records, he didn’t realize at first what his manager was talking about and felt confused, then he remembered, “Oh, right, I’m in a band!”

J-Dog has come across a lot of musicians who are “pricks” even their own opening bands sometimes. However, his own band has a bad reputation for fights, so he just tries to “keep his mouth shut” and keep himself under watch. He’s kickboxing in the back yard to blow off steam right now, for instance. After that “You feel good”, so he recommends it. It might be “loud as shit”, though, so people don’t always understand the appeal.

Asked about his own view on record collecting, and the best way to listen to the new album, Decker said to use a good pair of headphones for New Empire Vol. 1, because of all the sound layers. He has Sony headphones that cost 60 dollars, and those have been the best for him. Wireless headphones don’t sound as good, he warns. 

As far as vinyl, Decker admires it, but doesn’t collect it right now. He’d love to collect cassettes again, though. He uses Spotify and Apple for listening, like a lot of people. “Something you love as much as music, why wouldn’t you want to collect it?”, he asked, including the artwork. The artwork had a big impact on him growing up. It’s kind of like a “ritual”, or at least an “experience” to sit down to listen to vinyl. You are committing to that music, and to that artist. Spotify is always on in his home, but the few vinyls that he puts on, those are the ones he’s really committing to listening to.

Having something physical is very nostalgic, even if you grew up after the age of vinyl, Decker mused. He’s against buying music or clothes on Amazon—it’s an unspoken rule for him. There are other places to get those things. He’s going to start collecting vinyl more, he’s determined. One of his band mates goes into every record shop in the world when they are on tour, picking up vinyl, then accidentally leaving them on the plane, and when getting off and has to run back yelling, “My vinyl!” every time. 

Collecting tapes is pure nostalgia, though, and Decker would record off the radio with his favorite DJ’s as a teen. The songs would never be in the order you’d want them to be, so you’d have to get a two-tape recorder and transfer it. Then the sound quality would go down as you mixed until it “sounded like shit” but you had it, finally. “There was a magic there that will never be recreated.”, Decker said, in trying to find the music you wanted in LA in the 90’s. Now you can get anything you want digitally, and that’s very different.

But it is the best of both worlds to discover bands online and then go buy their albums in physical form. Decker makes mixes with Rap, and Kayne Brown is someone he’s been into. Music from the 60s and 70s is also appealing to him right now. If he’s working out, it’s Rap or Metal, but around town driving, it’s oldies like Frank Sinatra. It confuses people getting into his car. 

“Music is like fucking food, so why would you only listen to one kind of music? You’re literally limiting your life. As a human, your emotions are all over the place, so your music should be too.”, Decker commented.

What about our Tower motto, “No Music No Life”? It means everything to him, he said, since he’s “listening all day every day”. If he had to choose between hearing and sight, he’d lose sight. Without music, Decker doesn’t know what he’d be doing. It calms him, gives him energy,  just “everything”. 

What is he hoping fans get out of the new album? He asks fans, “Don’t forget about it.”, despite a lack of touring right now. Other than that, he just hopes everyone stays safe and he’s worried for the fans. He hopes everyone will be okay.

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