Tribulation and 'CHAOS': Hollywood Undead's Jorel 'J-Dog' Decker Talks New Album, Says Band Is 'Closer Now Than Ever' (Exclusive)

Hollywood Undead has been through their fair share of trials and tribulations over the band's 17-year career and they've just released an album full of "chaos," titled Hotel Kalifornia, which captures maybe the rawest and most concentrated version of the band ever recorded. Recently, PopCulture.com had a chance to speak with Hollywood Undead vocalist/guitarist Jorel "J-Dog" Decker to talk about the band's new album. During our conversation, Decker also spoke candidly about the band's journey over the past 15+ years, and shared how they've come through the fire "closer now than ever."

Hotel Kalifornia is an anomaly in some ways. It's not a "political" record by any means, which Decker clarified but it was heavily influenced by the growing class divide that the band grew up witnessing firsthand while living in Los Angeles, California. "It wasn't a political thing. We're not trying to get political," he explained, adding that a lot of voices around the band were not thrilled about songs such as "CHAOS" or "City of the Dead," wherein the band laments social tragedies like the evergrowing of the unhoused population. "It was like, 'Oh, it's so distasteful. You shouldn't talk about this, and you're exploiting stuff.' I'm like, motherf—er, I can't talk about what I see, what I'm experiencing?"

Decker then revealed that the album cover for Hotel Kalifornia was taken near his sister's apartment and that the person in the picture is his nephew. "All we did was walk out. Yeah, we just walked outside of her house and took the photo," he said. Decker then offered his response to those who were critical of the subject matter on Hotel Kalifornia, saying, "I'm like, 'Dude, I spend lots of time with homeless people. I grew up around them. I f—ing help them out. I talk to them, and I do whatever I can.' I'm not disconnected from the situation."

The very first track on Hotel Kalifornia is "CHAOS," a frenzied album opener that perfectly captures the aggressive confusion Decker and the band — rounded out by Dylan "Funny Man" Alvarez, George "Johnny 3 Tears" Ragan, Jordon "Charlie Scene" Terrell, and Daniel "Danny" Murillo — wanted to convey through the album. Part of the Hotel Kalifornia was recorded at a studio in Hollywood, with producer Drew Fulk (also known as WZRD BLD), and Decker says the facility was just "two blocks away" from where he lived as a kid. "It's just kind of crazy to see the area's really gentrified now. Just different. I lived there when I was a kid, I remember vividly roaches all over the walls and ceilings. If you turned the lights, it all scattered."

Reflecting on some of what he witnessed as a child living in the area, Decker shared, "My dad's best friend, he got shot out front holding his son. They shot through his son into my dad's friend. They both survived... And my best friend, [who] lived two blocks away, saw a dude get his head blown off with a shotgun, on the street." he then went on to say, "So the recording studio, I was two blocks from where we lived when we were kids. Like chill, LA was f—ing insane when we were kids. And it's kind of going back to that now. Which is weird because it's so expensive. That's what doesn't make sense because it's like, 'All right. So shit's getting crazy again.' It's a lawless feeling, but why is everything so expensive?"

All this fueled tracks like "Chaos," "Wild in These Streets," and Hotel Kalifornia's 12 other fist-pounding tracks. "You have gentrification and you have chaos. It's a very, very weird place," Decker said. "I feel like it's on the verge of some kind of collapse or some s—." These days, Decker is living in Oklahoma, which is wildly different from where he grew up. Commenting on his new perception of his hometown, Decker said, "Every time I go to LA I'm like, 'Why the f— did I leave?' The weather's so nice. And then f—ing gas is $7, and it's overcrowded. I'm like, 'All right. That's why I'm not here.'

It should be noted that not every track on Hotel Kalifornia is blatantly inspired by the social inequalities that Decker and the band are frustrated with. However, each song seems to convey a message of self-reflection, observation, and indignation at the widespread disparity, at betrayal, at greed, etc. Only Hollywood Undead can speak to the motivation behind the songs on Hotel Kalifornia, but it feels fair to surmise that brash and fuming sincerity is a theme.

Over the years, Hollywood Undead has been through a lot of changes and evolutions, some that could have broken them, Decker says, but today they've emerged on the other side of adversity as more than just bandmates. "There's been times that all of us wanted to quit," he said, going on to share his own past experience. "On the side, I've been growing weed for almost 10 years. And when I started doing better with that, I was like, 'I don't need this band. I don't need to fight with these dudes. I don't need the managers telling me what to do. I don't need to go play shows to make other people rich.'"

Decker later continued, "That was my personal thing. Other dudes have wanted to step back from drugs or rehab or, not wanting to get away from their families or just getting f—ed over 20 times by the music industry. You're like, 'Dude, I don't want to do this anymore. I could just not have the ups and downs and just go get a regular type job.'"

He added, "So there's so many things, but we're far closer now than ever, we're friends now more than ever, so we're lucky that we have it. A lot of bands don't like each other. And it's just when that's the case, I'd rather quit than be around people I don't like. Dude, the happiest I was is when I was broke and poor growing up. It's less money, less problems. So it's like you don't set your bar too high like, 'Oh, I want to be the biggest band in the world.' But so my expectations are set that high. When that doesn't happen then it's a huge letdown."

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Hotel Kalifornia is out now, through Dove & Grenade Media and BMG. Fans can check out the Hollywood Undead website here, to find out where the album is streaming. make sure to catch the band on tour right now with Papa Roach, Falling in Reverse, and Bad Wolves. Check it locked to PopCulture.com for more music news, reviews, and exclusive interviews!