We Talked to ICP's Violent J About Religion, Marriage, and Being in the World's Most Hated Band
The king of the Juggalos talks to us about God, out-of-body experiences, and Australian mating habits.
Violent J and his daughter Ruby. Photo by Ysa Perez for Spin.
Juggalos (the fanbase of OG horrorcore duo Insane Clown Posse) occupy a strange cultural territory in 2013. For better or worse, they're a viral phenomenon, and everyone's got an opinion: from the FBI's gang taskforce to anthropologists capturing Juggalo exploits in hi-def. ICP themselves seem to operate both within and above the hype, harnessing the derision of talk show hosts and spittle-flecked meme-slingers to anoint themselves champions of the misunderstood. The incredible bond between Juggalos reflects the strength of their branding strategy—I mean, how many Neon Indian or James Blake fans would call each other family, much less douse each other with Faygo at every show?
ICP have occasionally stoked controversy even among their own flock. Throughout the 90s they released the Joker's Cards, a series of six albums illustrating Juggalo mythology through a symbolic device known as the Dark Carnival. In 2003, many were shocked when the final album revealed the Carnival's underlying religious message. Until recently, ICP tended to downplay their beliefs—in March, though, they released "Where's God?" tackling the issue head on. I spoke to Violent J about the group's new direction, as well as out-of-body experiences and his perception of Australian mating habits.
Ezra Marcus: So, "Where's God?" is your first overtly religious video?
Violent J: Yea, the first time we've ever faced it. People have always wondered about our religious [intentions]…they've speculated things, that we're holy rollers, that we're super religious or whatever. This is the first time we've ever done a video to face that mystery about us head on, you know?
The way I understand it, the Dark Carnival is a religious metaphor?
Well, it's what we believe is God. You know, sometimes I sit down and I write a song and I feel like God is talking through me. I look back and I think, where in my life did I learn the wisdom or the knowledge to say that? I feel like I'm having help. I know someone who doesn't listen to ICP might think our shit sucks, and it probably just adds to the insanity of us. To other people, some of our music has cool stories and cool things behind it. If there's an ultimate message that I want to say to people playing our music—I want them to find the way to heaven. That's how we were raised, that there's a heaven or hell. We didn't go to church every Sunday or nothing like that, I'm not of any kind of religion expert, but we were raised to believe that there's a God, and right and wrong, you know?
How have your fans reacted to your explicitly religious themes?
Mixed. I think a lot of our fans understand it, whether or not they themselves are religious. We might be religious and they might not be, but I think they understand that we just care about them and they appreciate that. Even if they're not religious themselves, they hear us trying to help them find God, which is the Dark Carnival in our opinion, the bottom line to it all. They appreciate that we we don't just not give a shit about them. Our closest fans really appreciate it, and of course others hate it [laughs]…A mixed reaction.
How would you explain the Dark Carnival to someone unfamiliar with ICP mythology?
The generator to everything that is Juggalo, the magic behind it all. You know, if you're not part of the Juggalo world you might not realize that there's magic there. For those of us that are part of it, that enjoy ourselves at the gatherings and call ourselves Juggalos, man… this is sheer magic going on. Even when reporters come to the Gathering dressed as juggalos, they leave and say, "Man, there's a wonderful feeling there." They can't deny it. Even if they come just to slam it, they don't end up slamming it because it's something real going on. It feels really good to be a juggalo, the camaraderie, the friendship between you and ten thousand other people that are technically strangers. People find their wives and best friends through being a Juggalo. At the end of the day, the Dark Carnival is not in the form of any given religion that anybody has ever experienced, like the Ten Commandments and all that shit. It's just a feeling of an overpowering somebody that loves you. It aint' like you're gonna get in a fight with anybody else at our shows, man. People come early to chant shit and sing songs in the line because theres a very real magic that we all feel. When we came out and said that that magic was God, I think a lot of people were like, "Ahh, I don't believe in God," but they appreciate that we were trying to say something positive. Other people were like, "Fuck that." That was ten years ago when we said that, on the original Six Jokers card. Its not like our fanbase turned their back on us. It was a huge announcement, but we're still here, and we're kicking ass. The main style of our music is generated toward younger people, so as we grow older we think that our fans are growing older, so we make our music a little deeper.
Do you remember the first time in your life that you ever felt that sense of wonder or magic that you associate with the dark carnival?
Ahh man, I remember the first experiences I had. I remember writing a song called Amy's in the Attic, I remember writing it in the bedroom, and my boys were out in the living room. It was like an out-of-body experience, the first time I ever felt the Dark Carnival in me.
What did it feel like?
I was coming up with these lyrics that felt like they were not me saying them, like somebody was helping me write. I still feel it to this day. I remember writing and tripping out, and I had to go into the living room like, "Woah, man." It was like trying to shake the funk off me. I felt like I was in the room with somebody, and the words were coming out really cool and scary. This is years before I ever smoked weed, man. [laughs]
Yeah, I think that's how art works for some people, an inspiration that hits you out of nowhere.
You know, it's 2013 and a lot of people don't believe in religion anymore. It feels like the further life goes on, the further people accept science and modern findings and dont believe that there is heaven or hell. They accept what science tells them. I think its good to believe. I think it gives people hope, especially older people that don't have a lot going on. They hold on to that hope that there's a heaven or hell. Especially when you start losing loved ones, you hope they don't just evaporate into nothingness. You hope there's somewhere waiting for you. Its a positive structure, even if it ain't real man. There's a lot of wisdom in the Holy Q'uran, there's a lot of wisdom in the Bible. There's still a lot of good that comes out of believing in a higher power that gives people hope. That's more or less what we support. It's not so much any certain religion, its more or less just believing, man.
What do you think are some of the problems facing youth in 2013?
I don't think there are a lot of problems in kids these days, I see it the other way around. Shit, when I was a kid, people used to say "fag" on TV, you know what I'm saying? I feel like kids today are raised with not so much hate. Today is actually moving better towards prejudisms [sic] and racisms and things like that. When I was a kid it was different man, there was a lot of racism. Of course there's still racism, but not like it was in the 80's. I think kids today are moving in the right direction. They don't trip out if someone's openly gay, its just cooler that way. We have a black president, thats awesome. The only thing that sucks is that religion is going farther away, with the world changing. There will always be people like us who believe and keep spreading the word. The world is a great place, the world is an adventure, being given life is a wonderful thing. I really believe that.
What are some of the craziest places you've ever played an ICP show?
Shit, we don't get to play enough crazy places. Back in the day, people didn't know what to expect out of an ICP show, so the shows were crazier. Nowadays, everybody knows that when ICP's coming you need a big fat-ass barricade, you need 20,000 security guards, and there's gonna be stage diving. Back when we first were touring less people knew what to expect, and it was more wild style. I used to have dreadlocks, and I remember jumping in the crowd and actually having my dreadlocks yanked out of my head. People wanted it for a souvenir or something. Now we don't have nothing happening like that, because a lot of the mystery about us is gone. That's not necessarily our fault, its a Youtube world. Back in the day, the mystique was cooler. We used to wear wrestling masks in and out of the venues so nobody could see our faces. In today's world people got fuckin' telephones in their watches, theres no point to hiding your face. Back in the day, when we rolled into town there were surprises. We'd go somewhere down South where nobody goes to, and the whole town is out there to see you, ill-prepared with security and shit... [laughs] That was great, and every once in a while we do roll into a town like that, like Farmington New Mexico, the meth capital of the world [laughs]. We have utter chaos like the olden days maybe one show on every tour. The rest is organized chaos.
What might you see at that one crazy show?
Madness, anywhere where people can get up on stage and jump off. We put on a show, we put on theatrics, but some nights there's no point to having theatrics because everybody's stage diving. At any given time there's ten people up on stage diving into the crowd. Even though we put up little clowns and little skits on stage there's no point, because there's pure madness going on. Sometimes the show just ends when shit gets plugged out, or somebody climbs on the speaker stacks and a speaker falls, and next thing you know your shows over twenty five minutes early, but that's rock and roll, man. People are going home like, "That was fucking awesome."
What are your shows like outside of the U.S.?
Man, we had the greatest time of our life playing Australia. Holy shit man, Australia was so incredibly awesome because everything the Juggalos do here in the states they do there. The chants, the customs, the "whoop whoop," they do the same thing in Australia but with an accent, on the other side of the fucking planet. People over there are real touch-y feel-y, they'll come up to you and put their arm around your neck and say [wildly inaccurate Australian accent], "Hey mate, how are you doing, I saw you on TV mate!" You'll be like, "Get the fuck off me, man!" [laughs] I must have got into three fistfights over there because I didn't understand how people were grabbing me at bars. We had a blast. Also, they say that women are most promiscuous in Australia out of anywhere in the world. The thought of a one night stand is most accepted in Australia, that's what I heard. I was single when I went to Australia so I'll tell you, it was off the hook.
You confirmed that myth?
I confirmed it, definitely. It was off the hook. In the morning, I was like, "What are you doing today? Stay here, come out to the show!" They were like, "No, I gotta work, I'm outta here, goodbye." I was like, "But wait! [laughs] Can we exchange numbers or something?" They were like, "What's the fucking point, you live in the states." So yeah, I can actually say, I got used. [laughs] Only in Australia.
Do you guys get a lot of Juggalette groupies?
You know, Juggalettes know our whole story. My fiance Sugar Slam is a celebrity in the Juggalo world. Everyone knows she's the mother of my kids, so it's not like that.
How did you guys meet?
I met her because she was working at a restaurant in Minneapolis. I walked in there and she was the hostess at a Friday's, sitting people down, and I was just like, "Damn, man." She just blew my mind, you know. I went up and asked if she wanted to go see a concert that night. She was like, "I'm down," and she didn't know it was our concert until later, so that was cool.
I bet that blew her mind.
[Laughs] It's been all great since. I got two kids, so I'm glad I made that move that day.
Are you getting married soon?
Yeah, on Father's Day actually.
What's the wedding going to be be like? Crazy?
Naw, it's just going to be fresh, all family and friends. We're not getting married in clown paint or nothing. [laughs] The one cool thing is the invite—she's a singer, so the invite has a song that we made about our son and a song that we made about our daughter. The invites come with a cd, and you pop it in and you hear us singing, making music together. We think it's awesome.
Ok, one last question. If this was a Juggalo world, what it would look like?
You know man, we just don't have a lot of complaints. We definitely wouldn't want to be where Justin Bieber is, we still want to be the most hated band in the world. We'd still want to be the opposite of everything else, we want to be underground, we want to be the sewer dwellers, we want to be the tunnel runners. It would look a lot like it does today except there wouldn't be a lot of homeless people, somehow. We'd make the churches open up their fuckin' doors for the homeless that night.
Do you guys still feel like the most hated band in the world, or have things changed in the last few years?
Things have changed, but in the end they haven't changed. We still have trouble finding venues. We've gotten respect because people look and they say, "Wow, they're still here, so maybe they're doing something right," and the articles that come out aren't as negative as they used to be. But, at the bottom line, if we still weren't the most hated band in the world there wouldn't have been so much hoopla over the fact that we did a song with Jack White, you know? The only reason people freaked out is because Jack White is a respected musician, and because we did a song together everyone said he was crazy. [laughs] When push comes to shove, we're still the most hated band in the world, we still don't have hits, we don't have any songs on the radio, we don't have any videos anywhere. We may have more positive stories coming out, but when push comes to shove we're still as underground as we've always been, and we couldn't be happier.
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