Even though we’re first and foremost,a horror MOVIE themed website, we’ve decided to branch out into some other directions. One of the most natual places to go is horror themed music. The relationship between pop music and the horror genre goes back generations.
Kicking this off is an interview with underground nerdcore rapper Johnny Hacknslash. I first saw Johnny perform at the 2015 Nerd Cave showcase, an annual comic book convention and music showcase in Austin, Texas. Many of his songs leaned towards macabre themes, so naturally he won me over. I think he’ll win you over once you get to know him better.
First off, tell us about yourself and how you got into music?
Well, I’ve been in love with music since I was a kid. My dad played guitar in dive bars with friends, and I thought it wasthe coolest thing ever. I was in band and orchestra all throughout school, and everyone in my family has always had music involved in their lives somehow. In high school I was messing with midi software, doing cheesy beeping/booping versions of Marilyn Manson and NIN songs, and eventually I got MTV Music Generator, and Reason. I was hooked on the electronic version of music creation since then.
For those unfamiliar with it, please explain what Nerdcore Rap is and how it differs from other forms of hip hop?
Nerdcore Rap is this tiny little niche of rap and hip hop, where most creators are really passionate about typically “geeky” things. It was coined “nerdcore” by the legendary MC Frontalot, who still is one of my favorite artists I’ve have ever seen. The guy’s amazing. Anyway, there’s a huge variety in nerdcore! Some artists write only about their interests: technology, pop culture, comics, etc. Others write on their experience as a nerd, whether it’s as an outcast or sharing similar experiences with others. Some even go with their life experiences in general, drawing comparisons and wordplay from things like anime/comics/etc. There are so many styles and so many artists.
Now, your music follows a lot of typical nerdcore tropes with topics ranging from Marvel’s fictional terrorist group HYDRA to Game of Thrones. But you also have a lot of horror themed songs. Do you approach the horror-core stuff a little differently?
I can’t say they’re approached differently, but there’s always a little darker, just based on the subject matter of course. I can absolutely have fun with a horror-themed song, but it’s not going to go well in an all-ages show. I still try to either tell a story, make a catchy song, or similar goals to the non-horror music.
Horror fandom is kind of a weird splinter group of the larger nerd culture. Have you ever had anyone object to the horror movie themed songs?
I would say some songs weren’t as well received as others, and it could be because of that splinter. A lot of people watched Winter Soldier, so a lot of people enjoyed Hail Hydra, for example. I guarantee just on plays/stats/downloads, the horror pieces aren’t anywhere near as big as the more pop-culture ones. But when I do meet someone who’s got that passion for horror, and they hear those songs, I can see it in their eyes and smiles when we talk after the show.
The thing that first brought you to my attention was your Friday the 13th song “Crystal Lake.” So, are you a big Jason Voorhees fan?
Oh man. Yes. I played the crap out of the NES game when I was a kid, always died. I have prints of the game’s cover in my studio. At the last Comicpalooza (con in Houston), I had an artist do this sick drawing of Jason with black/red ink,framed it, and put it on my desk.
While writing the song, I had all the movies on my desktop. I watched them all, making notes about Jason’s “deaths” for the final verse about him coming back, saying “still ain’t dead.”
I could do this all day. Yes, big fan.
You also have an entire EP that’s devoted to American Horror Story. What’s your favorite season and why?
Season 1, Murder House. It’s hands down the best season. The underlying story is dark, there’s blood, twists and turns, and it plays out as one continuous story with no jarring “filler” episodes. Plus, everything that happens in the season is actually horror. It’s not light sci-fi, or a musical, or other complaints I could list about the other seasons (which I do like!). But Season 1 is the best season in terms of storytelling and horror. I love it.
I love how you interact with crowds at your shows. What’s the key to getting people involved with your performance?
Thank you! I actually owe that to Professor Shyguy, Crunk Witch, and Mega Ran (all are great artists and range from rock to pop to rap, all nerdy). The first two showed me moving around and giving a visual performance just leaves a more memorable experience. If people see you moving and running, it reminds them that we’re live! If you put that energy out,even if they have no idea about HYDRA or Crystal Lake or Game of Thrones, they know what energy and fun are, and they’ll respond. That’s the key. You have to have fun and feel the songs yourself, and crowds will pick up and return that.
Mega Ran also showed me how well people respond to call backs in rap songs, and any kind of freestyling or ad-libbing about the crowd/venue/night. It gets you involved as an audience, and leaves a great memory. They won’t remember all the words to the songs I do, but they’ll remember the cool part they got to scream/sing, especially if I run up and give them a microphone for a moment.
What’s your song writing process like?
It usually starts with an idea about one of my interests: maybe a phrase or moment that just struck me as a fan. Sometimes,it’s just a thought where “Hey, a song about x would be cool. I’ll write a song about x.” My favorite day is Friday the 13th,go figure, so I wrote a song about being superstitious on Friday The 13th. It just sounded fun.
From there, I’ll start a basic beat, and write notes about what I want to cover in the song. Is it a story? Is the singer angry? Am I a character, or just me? What major points do I want in the song? I never erase anything, even if I don’t usethe lyrics I write. Sometimes I’ll build up on something I didn’t like earlier, and turn it into a catchier phrase or aharder-hitting point. Once I’ve got a story, I work on the music itself. Then it’s to recording, but I’ve changed singular instruments or lyrics while recording all the time. I put the last touches on it, and put it online when I like it!
Where can we find you online?
Bandcamp has every track I’ve ever done, listed as pay what you want. So you can get a ton of music for free, but if you want to donate a buck or two, it all goes towards better equipment, to make better music.
I’m also on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and use them to talk about new music. I also love fan interactions, so drop a line! And of course, there’s always iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and the other big music sites.
Find more of Johnny at his social media below: