More than 20 years and nearly three dozen releases into their career, Detroit's lightning rod horrorcore duo Insane Clown Posse soldiers on, indifferent to the slings and arrows of mainstream criticism, parody and marginalization. If anything, the group embraces its outsider status, intentionally segregating itself from the rest of the music world; as member Violent J notes, the only way to see the band or to hear its music is to intentionally seek it out.
In April, enough juggalos sought out the band's latest record, The Marvelous Missing Link (Lost) to send it to Number 2 on Billboard's rap album chart, and its follow-up, subtitled Found, will be released on July 31, just after ICP puts on their annual Gathering of the Juggalos festival. Lost and Found were recorded in two very different sessions, with the Lost album focusing on dark and gritty themes, while Found is its more upbeat, goofy sibling. In addition to discussing the sessions for the new albums, Violent J also talked to us about how he defines his music, how he doesn't remember writing or recording much of the group's material, and why he wouldn't trade his gig for anything in the world.
AllMusic: The Marvelous Missing Link is split into two albums, which themselves are part of the second set of "joker's cards" albums. Did you enjoy serialized things like comic books as a kid that led you to go in the direction of doing a multi-part saga throughout your career?
Violent J: Not really, I was never a fan of comic books, and neither was Shaggy. That’s just the way the Dark Carnival presents itself, six joker cards and a second deck of six joker cards. Each joker card is its own era of time. When I talk to juggalos, they say, “During the Riddle Box era,” or, “During the Milenko era,” like it’s its own period of time. The Missing Link is its own period of time, as well, and it just happens to be two different albums, but they’re both the Missing Link era.
That’s just the way it presented itself in my head, I guess. I don’t know where it comes from, it feels like it’s told to me, like it’s laid out for me. I’m not brilliant enough to come up with some of this shit. Some of the really cool shit we’ve come up with over the years, there’s something higher above that’s come up with it. Looking back at it, we’re like, “Damn, that was fresh,” and we’re just as impressed as the juggalos are sometimes, because we don’t feel we came up with it, it feels it’s presented to us by the Dark Carnival. It’s sort of like you black out for a second when you’re writing, and when you go back, mostly after you lay the vocals on everything, you’re driving in your car, listening to a rough version, that’s when you hear it for the first time, “This is dope,” and you listen to the way the words are put together, the rhymes, and you have no recollection of writing that, of doing that.
AllMusic: The two Missing Link albums have very different tones. Was the vibe in the studio different for the sessions for each?
Violent J: Yeah, completely, the whole vibe changes in the studio. The albums are called The Marvelous Missing Link, and the link is the link between the listener and his or her salvation, or their faith. It doesn’t have to be religion, it can be anything, it can be your husband or wife, your children, in throwing darts at the bar, maybe you’re the dart champion and you find faith in that. The first album is when your link is lost and you have no faith and no salvation, those are the people that are down and out, the people that are depressed, so when we’re making that album, the Lost album, we can’t help but feel that way when we’re creating that, like we’re lost, and it’s a very depressing thing sometimes.
It’s always great to make music, but when you’re making music, a whole album, about being lost, and having no salvation or faith in your life, you feel what you’re making. When we were making the Found record, there was a much more upbeat process, a much more exciting process, we’re making this music that’s all uplifting and fresh, and that’s an easier time in the studio. You’re not lost, so naturally that’s a better time.
AllMusic: Your voice has noticeably changed since the early days. Is that a choice or was it more natural?
Violent J: I know my voice has changed over the years, I attribute it to the years of touring and screaming at the top of my lungs. I never had a vocal coach teach me how to do it, I just scream when we’re in concert, and I always lose my voice, every fucking tour, and I continue on the tour with a lost voice, screaming hoarse as hell. I’m sure that has to do damage to my voice after all these years, but it’s cool, I still like my voice on record, I like what’s coming out, I like the way I sound.
AllMusic: Do you have a favorite part of the album cycle at this point, whether it's writing, recording or touring?
Violent J: I definitely like making the records, I like making the records from scratch and going home and writing and going to work every day, going to the studio. But then again, the flip side, I love when it’s time to go on the road and perform those songs. We’re super fortunate, and we know that ICP is a punchline to a lot of people, but I don’t think they’d be laughing if they knew how happy we are, how fortunate we are. We make a lot of money doing something we love, and we wouldn’t change it for anything. We love the way things are, we don’t even want to be bigger. We get to go on tour whenever we want, we work on a new album whenever we want, we get to control our career, we’re not on a major label that’s telling us what to do, we don’t have management laying laws and shit, we’re very fortunate. We’re insanely fortunate.
I’ve lived the American dream, I go home and I have an eight-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son and I can afford to raise them, I don’t have to worry about bills, and I’m crazy fortunate for that. Then I turn around and go to work and I have a career I love, I love doing this, I love hitting the road, I love rocking concerts, I love making music in the studio, all sides of it. So what’s funny about that, how are people laughing at ICP, I don’t get it. Our fans support us like crazy, juggalos are wonderful and amazing people that are full of love for each other and us, and we love them back. We have a relationship with them that’s unlike anything in the history of rock and roll. If people just stepped in our shoes they’d say, “These guys are having a great time.”
AllMusic: It's easier to make fun of something that makes you uncomfortable than it is to look at it more closely.
Violent J: People fear what they don’t understand, so most of the articles that come out about us are digging into us somehow, and we’re just doing our thing. We don’t shove what we do down anybody’s throat, we don’t open for other people on tour, where you’re waiting for your favorite band and you have to sit through our music and get Faygo sprayed all over you and shit, that’s not how it works. The only way you see us in concert is if you come see our concert and wait until we’re the last band of the night, so I don’t understand why people bitch about what we do, it’s not like they have to sit through it. Our music isn’t on the radio or MTV, you don’t have to sit through our videos while you’re waiting for Taylor Swift. To enjoy ICP, you have to look for it, you have to search for it and find it. We’re just in our own world doing what we love, everyone else can fuck off.
AllMusic: And if it's something you have to search for, chances are that makes it more special to you.
Violent J: Whatever you grow up loving, you’re going to love for the rest of your life. Those years are very impressionable, when you’re young and stepping out on your own and making your own decisions for the first time, picking what you love, that stuff has a place in your heart for the rest of your life. I meet a lot of juggalos who say they’ve been down 20 years, 17 years, and they say we got them through this, that, high school, college. It means a lot, it’s very important to us that our music can be there for so many people, and juggalos are human beings and are just as important as any other human being. A lot of juggalos say we saved their life, we got them through hard times. We hear it all, and it means a lot to us that our music can be there for people like that. I wouldn’t trade this job for anything. It’s too important, and we do it too well.
AllMusic: In a lot of early reviews of the band, critics referred to the band as "rap-metal," but there's not much metal in there and you've never toured with a backing band. Was it fun to watch people try to classify you?
Violent J: This may sound crazy, but if I had to describe the sound of ICP’s music, I would say it’s pop. It’s like acid pop, wicked pop, extreme pop, death pop. It’s pop but with super wicked lyrics and super wicked themes sometimes, but musically, we go everywhere, like pop. We have soft songs that make you want to cry, we have fast songs, we have songs about everything. Even though we’re known for cussing and this and that, we have a lot of songs that have no cuss words in them, we’re not barricaded in by anything, and that’s like pop music, that pretty much goes everywhere, sometimes it has guitars in it like crazy, sometimes it has no guitars in it, sometimes it’s a Pharrell beat or a Wu-Tang beat or a death metal beat, it has all types of things. That’s how I would describe ICP’s music. Pop without the bullshit, sugar pop lyrics. Death pop. You have metal and you have death metal, so I’d say you can have pop music and death pop. We’re a rap group first and foremost.
AllMusic: With the Gathering of the Juggalos you've been able to showcase a lot of your favorite artists. Who are some of the ones you've been especially proud to put in front of your crowd?
Violent J: Paris, being able to bring Paris into the Gathering was amazing, Above the Law, and Big Hutch. 2 Live Crew, being able to bring them on tour was amazing. We’ve always tried to get Sir Mix-a-Lot, but he won’t fly. He drives everywhere, and the Gathering’s always too far. He won’t come to the Gathering, but we’d love to get him. Ice Cube, he was everything to us, Ice Cube is just…wow.
We reunited the motherfucking Geto Boys, they hadn’t played together for years and we put them together, and after they played together on our show, they started playing together and going on tour, and they’re still on tour, after we reunited them. Bushwick Bill, Willie D and Scarface, we put them back together. They were one of the biggest influences on ICP, if not the biggest. “Mind of a Lunatic,” all their old stuff was crazy, it was like horrorcore, it was awesome. And they played with their faces painted, it was just too much, that was so awesome.
And Ol' Dirty Bastard, bringing him in before he died, the Gathering was one of his final shows. I read two books about Ol' Dirty Bastard, and both of them mentioned the Gathering as one of his final shows, it was the third before he died. He did two more after that and they were disasters, he broke his leg and performed sitting in a chair. ICP is so in its own class, how do you define what ICP is, what is it, we’re in so much our own class that when it comes to booking acts for the Gathering, we just book the acts we love, and that’s what we’ve done over the years.
The 2015 Gathering of the Juggalos is set for July 22-25 in Thornville, Ohio.