Exclusive Interview: Insane Clown Posse's Violent J: "We Are the Most Hated Band in the World!"
Contributing writer Chris "Faygo" Krovatin is the author of two young adult novels, Heavy Metal & You and Venomous. He is currently working on multiple new writing projects, as well as new material with his New York metal band Flaming Tusk. If you click the picture of him to the left, it gets really big so you can blackmail him with it.
Confession time: I was a teenage Juggalo. Between the ages of 13 and 16, I loved the Insane Clown Posse. Their timeless rhymes regarding corpulent women, mythical jesters, and affordable soda pop instilled in me a sense of devil-may-care vulgarity that I cherish to this day. And though my tastes progressed towards Scandinavian melo-death and blistering blackened thrash later in life, the words of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope remain face-painted on my heart. I, friends, am down with the clown. So when Revolver offered me the chance to interview ICP regarding the band's 12th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos (this year's lineup including everyone from Charlie Sheen to CKY and Bobby Brown to metalhead comedian Brian Posehen and takes place in Cave-in-Rock, IL, from August 11 – August 14), I happily poured myself a Faygo Diet Root Beer and emailed their publicist. A few days later, I received the call. “My name is J,” chuckled the foul-mouthed harlequin on the other end, “and I’m violent.”
REVOLVER How are things at Psychopathic Records with the Gathering of the Juggalos coming up?
VIOLENT J It’s crazy. It’s our Super Bowl, it’s our Wrestlemania, it’s our New Year's. And we pull it off pretty well for some people who have no experience with festival promotion. We don’t have anyone here who used to work for Lollapalooza. We just decided to learn the ropes ourselves, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job.
As both an organizer and part of “the talent,” how much are you involved in the organizational process of the Gathering?
A lot. We get together every day around this giant round table at the office—you should see this table, man, it’s huge, it’s presidential—and we go around, and every person says what they’re working on at what time and place that day. Everyone hears what everyone else is doing, and can offer to help. It’s a huge family. There are no ties and suits here. People wonder how we came up with the groups for the Gathering—it’s ’cause we sat around wondering what would be cool as Hell! ‘Aw, you know who would be cool?’ ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we got such-and-such?’ We don’t look at who’s touring, who’s going to be in the area, who’s the cheapest—we pull guys up out of obscurity. We get guys who’ve been sitting at home for two years. We see the people we want to see. They know about the Gathering, and they want to play the Gathering.
The lineup is kind of a ragtag team of musicians and performers. There’s no real big mainstream headliner.
I think if you’re currently blowing up, if you’re the mainstream’s favorite, you could never play the Gathering. But if you’ve had it once, if the world is pointing its finger at you, judging you, criticizing you, then you’re OK by the Juggalos. But if you have hits on the radio, if you’re what everybody’s listening to, they’ll kill you at the Gathering. Not that Tila Tequila wasn’t bad [Ms. Tequila was battered with garbage to the point of physical injury at the 2010 Gathering], but I read in an article, and I think this is true, that she reminded everyone too much of the girl who wouldn’t date you in high school.
Who’s someone who you’re interested to see perform at the Gathering?
The rapper Paris. Super hardcore Black Panther rapper. He has a song called “Bush Killa” about killing George Bush. He got thrown off of Warner Brothers for having an album cover with a bunch of dead cops hanging out of a cop car. He’s so hardcore. And Bobby Brown! Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t think R&B could ever be played at the Gathering, but someone like him, who always has the finger pointed at him, might be able to make it.
How did Charlie Sheen get involved?
We were doing the Howard Stern Show, and somebody, maybe Howard, was talking about Bree Olson, one of Charlie’s goddesses. We got to talking about Charlie Sheen, and someone mentioned how cool it would be to have him at the Gathering. Well, our manager Billy tracked down his manager, and they started talking. What’s exciting is that Charlie Sheen isn’t doing this for the money. I don’t think Charlie Sheen needs the little amount of money we could give him. I think he just realizes it’s something different. Here’s a guy who’s seen it all, but he’s never seen anything like the Gathering.
Can you believe that ICP, a band who’s never received any mainstream radio attention, are now putting on one of the most well-known American music festivals around?
Times are changing. Back in the day, it was all about the record companies. They were like giants, like gods. They were gonna decide who got famous, who MTV were going to be playing heavily. But now, with the Internet and the invention of YouTube, people are finding things on their own. There’s no one on YouTube saying ‘No’ to anybody. There’s no publicist, no sales manager, it’s straight from the people, to the people. That’s why record companies are dying. The days of the giant record company moguls, “You’ll never work in this town again,” they’re gone. And I think ICP are shining examples of that. We’ve never had any help as far as the industry. Now, the downside of that is, nobody invites us to the Grammys. Nobody invites us to the American Music Awards, or the big Hollywood parties. We’re selling millions of records, and no one has any idea why, because we’re not part of that elite inner circle.
And you guys are stronger than ever now, what with the Gathering and the “Miracles” video blowing up.
Maybe this is just me being overly positive or conceited, but I still think we’re going to be even bigger than we are right now. That’s why Juggalos have always been so supportive and so passionate. Most people put on our record and hear a bunch of cursing from a couple of white guys in clown paint and think, What is this garbage? But the fans get into it, absorb it, and they find the treasures buried within. They see the real beauty of it. And I think the more attention ICP gets, the more people will see the beauty beneath the surface. And the real beauty of it is that ICP never had to change to do that. That’s a huge part of our success—we never sold out. We never changed anything about ourselves. This is who we are. It’s just that now, more people are hearing about it.
And yet even with an expanding fanbase, you’ve retained your really loyal diehards.
Of course. We love the Juggalos. We live and die and breathe Juggalo. Being a Juggalo is not an easy thing, walking around with an ICP shirt on or an ICP tattoo on your arm. We are the most hated band in the world, the most made-fun-of, the most disrespected—being a fan of that band is hard. That’s what’s so beautiful about the Gathering. When you come out and see 10,000 people who’ve also always felt like the underdog, it’s wonderful. The feeling of the Gathering is way more wonderful than who’s playing the Gathering. That love for one another is worth the admission a hundred times.
How do you strike a balance with the fans? Is there ever a moment where you say, ‘We need more rap, we need more rock?’
That’s the thing about Juggalos—no two Juggalos are exactly alike. I mean, what else out there in music is like ICP? There’s really nothing like us. We’ve never been able to fit into any genre of music. Some kids love rock, and metal, and ICP. Some kids love rap and R&B music, and ICP. So one thing we’ve learned is that the fans come from all walks of life, and the one thing they have in common is their love of the Dark Carnival. Hell, even we don’t see eye-to-eye with our own fans on things other than the Dark Carnival. I mean, they love Vanilla Ice at the Gathering! Would you say ICP is similar to Vanilla Ice? I wouldn’t say so, but they love him! And it’s always been that way. We’ve watched our own fans boo some of our favorite acts offstage when we brought them out on tour!
Funny you mention that—one of my clearest concert memories was watching Nashville Pussy and Suicidal Tendencies open for you guys in New York. The kids loved Suicidal, but they threw shoes and shit at Nashville Pussy until they left the stage.
See, and Nashville Pussy completed the tour with us, and in some cities, they did OK! It’s hard to say who the Juggalos are gonna like. They’re a group of different people with a strong common love.