This talk had been in the works between Jeffrey and I for a couple of months before we finally settled on a day to conduct the interview. This interview was finally done in July, 2016 over Skype. Here's the first part of the over 90 minutes chat with Jeffrey Phillips, more known to Hollywood Undead fans as Shady Jeff.
- German Padilla
— So, what’s up? How are you?
Shady Jeff: Good! This has been a long time in the making. For a year?
— How’s LA? How’s the weather over there?
Shady Jeff: Very nice.
— You mentioned doing band management in the formative years of the band’s MySpace days. Can you go more into detail on what you achieved in that field, and how did it help to get the band exposure prior to signing a record deal?
Shady Jeff: Before Hollywood Undead, I was being apprenticed to do A&R, which is the people that go out to find new bands to sign to labels, and develop them into an actual recording artist and all that stuff. So, I was already pretty well in the music industry. I was already in there, so when HU happened, it was only natural that I became the manager because I was the only one in the band with any experience in the music industry, and I spoke the language. So, I was voted to be the manager pretty quick once things got serious.
— Have you been following them [Hollywood Undead] for the past few years?
Shady Jeff: No, haha. Not really, no. I have two kids and business and all kinds of other things that take up most of my time. I’ve heard a couple songs, like I heard one on the radio, so I haven’t sat down and listened to an album or anything like that.
— What’s been keeping you busy?
Shady Jeff: I am a bit of a liberty activist and a journalist, and so I write a lot. I’m doing a lot of stuff offline, not online. I also restore miniature motorcycles, and I’ve got two kids haha.
— How is the whole Honda [motorcycle] restoration business going for you?
Shady Jeff: It’s fine, it’s not a horrible job.
— Can you confirm that you and former member Deuce originally toyed with the idea of an additional verse in “My Black Dahlia” with you on vocals?
Shady Jeff: Well, [on] “Black Dahlia” I wrote... I made the beats for “My Black Dahlia”, that was when I went to Aron and said “Hey, let’s make a song together!”. That one came out, originally it was me and George and Jorel. I wish I would have held on to it, there is one person in the world that has it, but I don’t know where she is. I had a full verse on it, it wasn’t that bad, but it didn’t make the cut.
— The song “Turn Off the Lights” was marked as a critical point in the history of the band, with massive cross pollination of listeners of Jeffree Star, who was on the track, who already had a large fan base on MySpace. How calculated of a move was this from a manager’s point of view?
Shady Jeff: Calculated haha. I was pretty active in the Hollywood club scene back then, most of the song content, lyrical content was about that stuff. I knew Jeffree just from the Hollywood scene for probably a decade, and when HU started popping I was just like “Jeff, you got to do a song with us,” and asked him a bunch of times. He was kind of nervous, he was like “whatever”, but then when we blew up he was like “alright”. It was really hard, it took a while to get that done because Aron was like horrified of Jeffree because he was going “Oh that guy’s gay! Oh he’s a cross-dresser!”. Aron didn’t want Jeffree at the house because his parents were there. So, he didn’t want his mom and dad to see Jeffree. I literally had to be like “Jeff, can you, like, dress down? I’m sorry…”. So he came over in a hoodie and dickies and we had no clue what we were going to do on that track. It just happened, and it was really fun. It wasn’t just Jeffree, I was hanging out with Tila Tequila a bunch back then. I would be posting, she would leave the room, and I’d go on her computer and be like “Hollywood Undead!”. I was doing posts off of her Facebook, her MySpace, she had, I don’t know, several million. Between Jeffree doing the song, and definitely the cross pollination of that, it was Tila Tequila fans and also I was good buddies with Sonny from First to Last.
— Isn’t that that Skrillex guy?
Shady Jeff: Yeah, Skrillex. I went on tour with them and I was always at Sonny’s house, and again, same thing. Every time that any of those dudes put down a computer I would go on to MySpace and be like “check out my friends, Hollywood Undead!”. From First to Last was huge on MySpace, and Sonny was obviously huge. Those three factors really launched HU, and those were the things I did…-only- I did.
— So it was all you?
Shady Jeff: No, but- hahaha.
— Were you expecting such a huge spike of listeners following the collab [with Jeffree Star]?
Shady Jeff: No, it was a total joke. We were just like “Oh, let’s put these songs up and put up some pictures!”. We weren’t expecting anything like that.
— Were other popular MySpace artists considered as possible collaborators for a track?
Shady Jeff: I’m trying to remember, I don’t think so. Not that I remember, that was a long time ago.
— Have you considered returning to music?
Shady Jeff: I am actually. I’m working on some stuff right now, I’m doing some collaborations and stuff. It’s been a long time, and I was always kind of waiting for the right time and for some reason right now seems to be the right time.
— How’s it feel going back into all that?
Shady Jeff: I’m just doing all kinds of music with a bunch of people. I know so many talented people, I’ve known over the years living in Los Angeles and being in the music industry. I can’t die someday knowing that I never tried to even make a comeback. So, we’ll see about something soon? A lot of good music just came out. It was a long time that I’ve been like, not knowing any new music and a lot of new music just came out so I kind of got inspired recently, to get back into stuff. All of the stuff with my activism, I really think that I’ve been probably neglecting showing you guys stuff this whole time, or doing activism through music. Obviously I have my foot in the door for that, so I’ve been thinking more about that kind of stuff, and will definitely be putting some music out soon.
— In an old picture on your MySpace that’s no longer available, there was a caption, something along the lines of “Did you know, originally, there were four members in the band?” with you, Jorel, Aron, and Matt. The usual Internet urban legend is that it started with just Jorel and Aron. Were you and Matt also founding members, or did you join afterwards?
Shady Jeff: I was there the day- I mean I practically lived at Jorel’s, and I was there the day they started making “Kids”, and “No. 5”, and “Natives” and stuff like that. I was sitting there going “okay, we need to start a band, that’s kind of like a heavy metal Beastie Boys kind of hip-hop thing”. That was kind of just like “hey, let’s mess around with this!”. We made those couple of tracks, and I started the MySpace, and I was like “hey, let’s take some pictures” and I put a bandana on and then fucking Jorel had like a hockey mask. We were just like, picking up shit off the ground, you know, a fucking Del Taco bag, come on. We were just messing around. It was me, Jorel, and Aron. I mean, Matt might have stopped by a couple times, he wasn’t putting in a lot of ideas or anything like that at that time.
— It has been established that you were featured on some songs that made it to the actual master release of the album, for instance, the song called “Knife Called Lust”.
Shady Jeff: Yeah, actually I did notice that, that they did leave my vocal tracks on several songs. Well, here’s the thing, when I left, they took me off everything. I was on, of the 8 or like 9 songs when I left I think, maybe 12 songs when I left. The original 8 songs, you remember the original 8, you know I was a part of, the darker stuff, early stuff. Of those, I was on more tracks than anyone but Aron at one point, but when I left they wiped me. They tried to reduce that stuff but they couldn’t, they couldn’t make it sound right, cause once you write a song and record it once, you can’t ever just introduce it again. We tried that, we went into Universal, we tried to record the first 8 songs again and they ended up sounding like shit because we weren’t just fucking around drinking 40’s, smoking, fuck it. You know, we weren’t just messing around doing it, we were there and it was all serious and it just didn’t end up sounding right.
— Do you receive royalties from that, or?
Shady Jeff: I know that they put out, I guess, a B-Sides or some Rarities album, and someone played it somewhere I was and was like “no, this is the CD”, and I was like “that’s me on the track!”. No, I haven’t received a cent of anything like that. You know, there’s a lot of funny business like that attached to the story but whatever, it was a joke and we had fun, I had fun, and you know. Life’s good. It was interesting. They took me off most of the tracks, those original ones, or they just didn’t ever play them. I don’t think they played a lot of the songs that I had big parts on because they didn’t. I think that for several years they didn’t play “My Black Dahlia” or something like that, or “Knife Called Lust”, they just weren’t playing because I was in it so much. I was on a bunch of a tracks back then, but then they got rid of it. There was the original video too, with me in it. I’m in it a bunch, but there was the edited version, they like edited me out of the first lineup where we all jump out of the van. The original version with me in it and where its I jump out and it’s all “Shady Jeff!”, that was the best version of the video. Once they cut it up, they tried to cut me out of it, even though you can’t because I’m in the whole fucking video, but they tried to cut it up and put up another version that sucked. That was a funny video we made for zero dollars, and it was good times.
— What were the steps involved with you ending up joining/creating the band?
Shady Jeff: Aron and Jorel went to Full Sail Academy or something, some recording school and they had just finished it and they were just like recording some goofy shit. I was there, and I was in like dozens of bands growing up. I know most of those guys, like Jorel and George had a band, but I mean it wasn’t like we were all professional musicians or anything like that. So they just made those tracks and it just happened, put up the MySpace, put pictures up and immediately just exploded. The Tila and the Jeffree Star, and that whole stuff came way later. There was a natural explosion that that shit had when we put it in. Tom from MySpace called me, probably a month in, and was like “yeah we had to look at the software because we thought you guys had hacked MySpace and like, were cheating”, because it was on the fastest growing MySpace pages in the history of MySpace. We were the number one band on MySpace for years and years, and then like top 5 for years and years. That shit blew up. I come across people, when it comes up, you know, people in their 40’s are like “yeah, that’s funny, I remember that band!”, you know MySpace blew up. We got all of that stuff without rehearsing once, we didn’t play live, EVER. I ended up going to one of their first shows up in Ventura County. It was like somewhere, San Luis Obispo or something. It was their first show, oh my god it was bad, but then I saw them after they got a world tour. They were fucking pros. They were really good, I was very fucking surprised, very surprised how good they got, and THEN they got Danny, and then they got even better because Aron really was an embarrassment. He was holding the band back.
— So do you still speak to any of them, are you friends with them?
Shady Jeff: No, no no haha. Nuh uh.
— I was doing some looking online, and I found some old-ass photos of you guys at the, I think it was the MySpace Music Festival or something back in 2006.
Shady Jeff: Yeah, first time we were all on stage. First and last haha. First and last all seven members were ever on stage.
— Was that the first on-stage appearance?
Shady Jeff: Maybe, I guess in the music video we were kind of on stage. In Hollywood, on the street. I mean it was like a small stage. I got a crazy story about that. This was pretty close to the time I left, because this was a big mess that happened that really pissed me off. There was the MySpace event. We were headlining just to be there to release the “No. 5” video. It was, who was the other band, shit, I might have to look this up right now, oh, Dashboard Confessional, I don’t remember there were a couple other bands on it and we all had tents together. The boys all got, we all got like wasted that day. So we were like “Fuck. We’re about to go up in front of like fifty thousand people,”. So we got raging, and we got there and they had like booze for us in the tent, and we drank all of that, and then the event happened, and then I bounced. Then the other guys stuck around, and they went into the other tents of the artists and drank all their fucking booze. Someone from one of the bands, a roadie, caught them and was like “What the fuck are you guys doing, drinking our shit!?” and they were like “Fuck you!”. There was almost a massive brawl between Hollywood Undead, and I think it was Dashboard Confessional...they’re gonna be pissed if it’s not… I think it was, someone will have to look up who was at that thing, but there was this huge almost brawl where all these record executives, and managers, and producers, and tour promoters are there, and they’re like “You guys are a baby band, you know, you can’t do this shit yet, yeah it's cute and rock and roll and everything, but you can at least like, you know, be smart about it,”. It was not a good scene for us at the time, there was a reason why there was like a die off in Hollywood Undead for several years because there was this communication barrier, and it was hard to- I don’t know it’s weird. When they give you money, they’re like “Oh you’re gonna be in this band, you’re gonna be rich for the rest of your life, here’s a little bit of cash, spend it like you’re gonna be rich the rest of your life,”. Then you don’t have money, you run out of that money. We all ran out of that money within a week of each either. So then you’re broke and you’re all like “Do I have to get a job? I thought I was gonna be a fucking rockstar?”. So it's a rough life, but when you have seven dudes all with very intense personalities and shit just goes crazy it's hard, the life is hard sometimes, musician life and all that shit. They got bounced around labels and stuff. The album was up on a shelf for a while, and all kinds of mess because you piss people off and they won’t work with you anymore. It’s tough, but you know, they did good, I’m proud of them.
— What were your thoughts when they really actually got to release the album? Were you like “Oh, good for you!” or “Oh, fuck you!”?
Shady Jeff: I’ve never regretting not being in that band. I’ve had the fucking craziest life. I’ve had more fun than a billion other people, I’ve done all kinds of shit, and I’ve got my kids, and I’m cool, but I was never really pissed off about what happened there. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think it was gonna work out, and it looked like it wasn’t to for a long fucking time. It was really rough, and everyone was fighting with each other. You know, it's crazy, that kind of situation with money and with a band getting serious and all that causes lots of drama and craziness. It’s nuts man. Elementary school and reality tv shows give us really shitty communication skills, and it makes us really competitive, and it's crazy that bands stay together as long as they do.
— What did you do after you left the band, did you pursue a career?
Shady Jeff: I was thinking of doing music again, but I was really over it. Over the industry, just because we got fucked left and right, we signed everything they put in front of us. It's a predatory industry, the artist gets fucked more than anybody in the industry, the recording industry, when you do things wrong with a record label and all that. We did everything wrong, because we were broke, and they were like “we’ll give you money if you sign all this shit!”. So, I took what was left of my money and did the green car company that you already knew about. Before it was shut down by the state, messed up. The green car stuff I was doing was “illegal”, even though I had Arnold Schwarzenegger, I helped convert his Hummer to run off biofuels and vegetable oil and stuff, and he was taking it everywhere doing all these stories on the news. Meanwhile, he let all these laws get passed in California that stopped biodiesel from being able to be stored in underground storage tanks. We were actually getting shit done, and actually using cleaner fuels for cars, and trucks, and shipping, and shit like that. They changed the laws around so we couldn’t do it, and they eventually shut my shop down, which was gnarly. So, I did that for several years until that stopped, and then I got into doing the activism stuff and doing the bikes. Then...I had a kid, and I did more bikes, and had another kid. Kids kind of change stuff.
The second part of the interview will be available soon, stay tuned for updates.