Fans who scratched their heads when they saw Hollywood Undead and Butcher Babies were set to share an upcoming tour will more than likely leave the show wondering why they had not paired earlier.
Rap rock and thrash metal will join forces Sunday when the two bands bring their shared tour to Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern Ave. Oklahoma City-based rock quartet Atoms Heir is also on the bill. Admission is $22.50.
Oklahoma Gazette spoke with both Hollywood Undead and Butcher Babies to preview what will be one of December’s most surefire nights of moshing and head banging.
In the world of hip-hop, collaborating with outside artists is not only commonplace but actually expected by many. So it can be surprising to learn that Los Angeles rap-rock and nu metal five-piece Hollywood Undead had not previously featured a guest vocalist on a studio album in its four-album history.
Then again, when a group includes as many as five vocalists, it can be challenging to squeeze another into the mix. Still, Hollywood Undead — with a current lineup that includes Jorel “J-Dog” Decker, Dylan “Funny Man” Alvarez, George “Johnny 3 Tears” Ragan, Jordan “Charlie Scene” Terrell and Danny Murillo — made a goal to include at least one guest star on its fifth studio album, aptly named Five, released Oct. 27.
The group could not have found a more appropriate emcee as its first featured artist than Cypress Hill great B-Real, who contributes the last verse on the song “Black Cadillac.” Aside from shared California roots, B-Real (born Louis Freese) is at home with a hard rock backing, rapping with pitch over songs like “(Rock) Superstar” and recently in the supergroup Prophets of Rage with members of Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy vocalist Chuck D.
“It’s exciting; it’s a dream come true,” Ragan said in a recent Oklahoma Gazette interview. “I’m not a kid anymore, but it made me feel young again, which is nice.”
Ragan said his personal background in music was one that was one part hip-hop and one part classic rock. He loved groups like Wu-Tang Clan and N.W.A., but his dad’s obsession with Neil Young and Tom Petty also made a lasting impact on him.
Hollywood Undead was actually so moved by the death of Petty that they covered at least one of his songs each night on tour for a week straight.
“He’s a quintessential massive rock star that acted like he was any other Joe,” Ragan said.
Hollywood Undead’s albums are usually an emotional grab bag, with themes ranging from social justice and perseverance to sex and partying. Five is similarly varied, but the album definitely carries a more noticeable positive tone than some of its predecessors.
Songs like “Whatever It Takes,” “Nobody’s Watching” and “Your Life” carry messages of empowerment. Ragan said while he did notice Five has an overall uplifting message, that was not their intention when they were writing it. Instead, he thinks they were subconsciously responding to the chaotic state of the world around them.
Ragan said Hollywood Undead always strives to maintain a balance on its tracklist to stay true to its fans.
“You want to be honest and you want to tell the truth no matter what,” he said. “A lot of people, they work on melodies, they work on progressions, they work on all the technicalities in music, but none of those things matter when you’re not telling the truth.”
Contrary to what some might believe, a musician’s personal interests are often far more varied than the singular genre they have been assigned by either clever marketers or fan groupthink.
Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, dual vocalists fronting the Los Angeles metal quintet Butcher Babies, are known by many as vixens of thrash metal, but both have musical tastes that would likely surprise fans and critics.
“My very first concert was Backstreet Boys,” Shepherd said. “My mom took me to see Backstreet Boys, and I can recite every lyric from any Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls song.”
Harvey began playing violin at age 5 and has a deep appreciation for classical music. She also loves jazz, particularly Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.
“When you’re a musician, I think it’s important to listen to and take inspiration from all different kinds of music,” Harvey said, “and everyone in this band definitely does that.”
Make no mistake, metal has been at the forefront of both vocalists’ lives for a long time. Still, Butcher Babies’ newest album Lilith, released the same day as Hollywood Undead’s Five, is the band’s best example of its cumulative eclecticism.
Butcher Babies has existed for eight years, and while the new album keeps the band’s trademark heft and edge, Shepherd and Harvey wanted to use the opportunity to experiment and see where they could take themselves.
The album begins with “Burn the Straw Man,” which is possibly the heaviest and most aggressive thing Butcher Babies has ever done. It ends with “Underground and Overrated,” which carries a hard rock, Van Halen vibe.
“One thing that Carla and I wanted to do when we set out for it was kind of explore ’90s, sassy girl-type vocals,” Shepherd said. “I think we accomplished that in some of the songs.”
Lilith is also the first Butcher Babies album to openly tackle sexual themes. The band — specifically its two female vocalists — is routinely sexualized by metal novices and fans alike.
In the past, it has decided to avoid sex in its lyrics. Lilith’s third track “Headspin” is explicitly sensual, but it is also very heavy and maintains a trademark Butcher Babies sound. Harvey said if the band was going to release a song such as this to appeal to wider commercial audiences, it was going to make sure the song was done the Butcher Babies way.
The result? Harvey said fans love it and are actually opening up mosh pits to the song at live shows.
“It’s my mom’s favorite song on the album,” Shepherd said.
Harvey said a lot of Butcher Babies fans were at first surprised to hear they were touring with Hollywood Undead. While the fanbases of the two groups might not have a lot of overlap, they both offer hard-hitting live shows that have no problem turning witnessing fans into believers.
“That is a fun thing for us to do every night, which is to win over a bunch of people who, at first, are looking at us like we have three heads, but by the last song they’re smiling, starting pits, crowd surfing,” she said. “It’s really cool for us to do that every night.”
Hollywood Undead w/ Butcher Babies and Atoms Heir
7 p.m. Sunday
8001 S. Eastern Ave.
Print headline: Heavy duty, Hollywood Undead and Butcher Babies unite for a wild show at Diamond Ballroom.