As an artist, you either grow or die, and two years ago for former Hollywood Undead frontman Deuce, life within his old band had gotten all too zombie-like. As dramatic as the ensuing shakeup surrounding his departure was, becoming a solo artist has been nothing short of a resurrection for the singer/rapper/producer, now creatively back from the dead.
Armed with Nine Lives, his solo full-length debut via Five Seven Music, Deuce is out to show the world what he can do when the restraints are lifted and his destiny is his own. Instead of making creative decisions by committee, for the first time the singer has the luxury of shooting entirely from the hip. He doesn’t waste a second of the opportunity.
“What I like about being a solo artist is I can really twist things more, and cause a bigger effect. I can hit harder,” says Deuce. “There's not a bunch of other people getting worried, saying, 'people are going to think this.’ I don't have that; I have more freedom to go a little deeper. Even though I’m more picky, I feel like it's more fun, and there are no restrictions. I have so much shit I could say, and from so many ways melodically and musically at this point.”
Deuce (a.k.a. Aron Erlichman) got started with the rap-rock ensemble Hollywood Undead, which he cofounded in 2005 with “J-Dog” (Jorel Decker). Multiple members joined the fold thereafter, and the outfit released their full-length debut, Swan Songs, in 2008 on A&M/Octone Records, a wildfire hit now nearing the platinum mark. Fans got added treats in 2009 when HU released a Swan Songs B-Sides EP on iTunes that June, then the CD/DVD package Desperate Measures in November, featuring a CD with six previously unreleased tracks, a remix and six live recordings, as well as a full live performance on DVD. In December 2009, HU won “Best Crunk/Rock Rap Artist” at the Rock on Request Awards, but trouble was brewing among the ranks.
In early 2010, Hollywood Undead and Deuce parted ways. Determined to soldier on and focus on being a frontman and a singer, Deuce continued working on new material, based from his own Sickle & Hammer Studio in Hollywood. The end result is Nine Lives, his solo debut, which when not mired in the debauchery of the Sunset Strip, plays like the manifesto of a man driven. Since Deuce was so integral to HU’s Swan Songs record, he considers Nine Lives his sophomore outing, and fans of the first album will certainly appreciate the continuity, as well as the progression, of the new material in comparison.
“They're both made the same way, in the same place, by the same person, and you could play one song from this album and one song from [Swan Songs] and anybody will be like, ‘That sounds like the same creation; the same person,'” he says. “It has the same sound and the same qualities, but it's newer and it has some bigger songs on it. I would say it's my second record, for sure.”
The party vibe kicks into high gear from the start, with opening cut “Let’s Get Crackin’” setting an unmistakable tone. Centered on blush-inducing tales of intimate escapades, the song represents Erlichman at his rawest. “Those lyrics are so over the top that most chicks that come in here that I bump it for, I'm even embarrassed to show it to them. Sometimes I've actually turned it off,” he admits. “But that’s one I'm really proud of. If saying, 'rubbing on a girl's clit' sounds good, I'm going to keep it, and I don't care what people say. If that nasty shit's sounding good, I'm like, 'Keep that shit. We'll bleep it out if we need to.’”
Things get a different kind of nasty on the second track, “Help Me,” which addresses all the business and label drama that followed after Deuce’s exile from Hollywood Undead. The song is playfully irreverent and captures the headstrong vocalist answering detractors with patent humor and a sharp lyrical wit.
“I wrote that when I was in the middle of a lawsuit. I was trying to show the label and the band that you can't control me. It's just talking shit, but in such a funny way,” Deuce explains. “To me, the song's about pissing off industry people: I'm saying, 'Randy Jackson, kiss my black ass,' and stuff like that. I have a lot of supporters who have a ‘fuck shit up’ kind of attitude.”
One of the undeniable strengths of Nine Lives is its diversity, seamlessly shifting from rap to alternative rock to near-metal all in the same audio space. The darker, more frustrated moments of Erlichman’s trying recent history are given voice later in the album, when the alienated screams of “Nobody Like Me” flow into the almost militant self-determination of “Walk Alone.” The tracks provide a considerable counterweight to Nine Lives’ lighter moments, while hinting at personal demons suffered by the man behind the mic.
“[“Nobody Like Me”] was made during the time when I was parting ways with my old band. I was feeling frustrated, yet empowered to finally be on my own. That’s where the lyric came from…Then there’s, ‘Walk Alone,’ which is just me talking mad shit, basically, just trying to destroy people.”
That’s the kind of honesty and sheer emotion that will propel Nine Lives to the top of its class; it’s the work of an artist with something to say, and the creative freedom to finally being able to say it. Nine Lives is an album written from personal experience, which lately for Deuce, has been all about babes and MC battles. There’s no mistaking the message, and no punches are pulled: It’s full-on Deuce, unrestrained and uncensored.
“Whether it's a direct blow to someone or a party song, you don’t have to listen a bunch of times to get what I'm saying. In a weird way, that's how my life is: You have enemies, you've got hot bitches…it's a game. Whoever sounds better and looks better is going to pull the bigger crowd,” he says. “Looking back at Nine Lives, I know I’ve improved as a songwriter, producer and singer. I think anyone who listens to [Swan Songs] and this one will say, 'Damn, there's some next-level shit here.'”