Audio Up gave us a special treat in October with their Machine Gun Kelly-fronted musical comedy podcast, HALLOWEEN IN HELL. Now, the show has returned to set the mood for the season of love… Well, OK, it’s a mood but probably not the one you’d expect. Just go ahead and forget the cliche of heart-shaped chocolates and scented candles because this is Valentine’s Day In Hell.
The sequel plays like a reality show gone wrong, following a group of prominent artists as they descend into the depths of hell to rescue a satirical version of jxdn, who’s sold his soul to the devil. The rest of the cast includes HALLOWEEN IN HELL alumni iann dior and phem, as well as Oliver Tree, Carlie Hanson and Adam Carolla. Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf, Five North, PVMNTS) also joins the lineup with a musical contribution.
The sequel marks a new initiative for Audio Up, kicking off a continuous series of similarly culturally thematic iterations. The four-part season debuted this past Wednesday and released its final installment today, along with the complete soundtrack. However, two bonus episodes are set to drop on Saturday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 14. You can listen to them all here via Spotify or on whatever platform you use to stream podcasts.
Alternative Press caught up with Posey, phem, Hanson and jxdn to talk about their participation in the series. Read on for details behind their tracks and collaborations, the creation of their exaggerated characters and more.
How did you come to be involved with Valentine’s Day In Hell?
I [previously] met phem through my producer, John Feldmann. She was working with [Audio Up CEO Jared Gutstadt], and she hit me up saying, “Hey, I think that it would be cool if you came down and wrote a song with [us].” Jared had the song fleshed out with different verses. The hook was already written, so we didn’t touch that at all. It was so easy. We hit it off right away and just wrote these badass little verses. We hung out for a couple of hours, laughed and joked around. It was super-good vibes and collaborative. He’s basically just like, “You guys can do whatever the fuck you want.” I feel like good things come out of that attitude. If we’re put in a box, it’s hard to be creative. But since we were given the go ahead to do whatever we wanted, it came out really good.
As a seasoned actor and musician, what’s your perspective on the concept of a musical podcast, especially one boasting so many prominent artists?
It’s really cool. I started acting when I was like 6 years old and got into music right after that. Those have been my passions my entire life, so I’ve always tried to find a creative way to mix them. [For example], I came up with a music video for my band that was like 10 minutes long. It’s a mini-movie within the video. My involvement in [Valentine’s Day In Hell] was strictly on the music side. I wasn’t part of the cast because I got into it late, but I think it’s dope. Being a musician and an actor, I’m always looking for new creative outlets to mix the two, [and] this does it perfectly. It’s funny, and the music’s really good.
What specifically sets Valentine’s Day In Hell apart from other projects you’ve been involved with?
It’s a creative way to mix acting and music, and it’s the first time that I’ve been called to do something purely musical. I came in to help write “This Luv Sux.” And that was the first time I’ve been asked to write with somebody else. It was really fun. phem and I started writing music a couple of months ago, and other than my producer and band, she’s the first person I’ve co-written with. We just kept that going for this one. I love that stuff. I’m branching out, getting more into the music world, meeting new people and making cool relationships. I’m just happy that I got to be a part of the music side on this. I’ve been playing music forever, but doing this kind of stuff for a career is new.
What unique talents did you and phem each bring to “This Luv Sux”? What was your dynamic like, specifically?
The first time we wrote with each other, John Feldmann invited her to come write with me. It was so easy. We have similar writing styles, trying to be relatable but creative and poetic at the same time. We just write really well with each other. So, after the first song, we wrote like seven more. Each only took a couple of hours to fully flesh out, and I feel like that’s unique with two writers. “This Luv Sux” was the same thing. I came over, and we wrote our verses in like 10 minutes. We just have really strong chemistry [in that sense]. We both have colorful hair. It just works, and it’s really cool. She’s my favorite person to write with.
Do you anticipate releasing any more of those songs in the future?
Absolutely. I used to have a band, Five North, but I’m going to start releasing music under my name. I’ve got 14 songs recorded that I’m going to split into two seven-track EPs. My first single featuring phem and Travis Barker is coming out next month. It’s really cool. [blink-182]’s my favorite band.
Stylistically, the song is a notable divergence from your discography up until this point. Did you face any challenges in this respect?
I always love to be creative and pull from personal experiences, but this one was really cool because it’s satirical. There’s a line in it about masturbating. We just had a lot of fun. It’s a fine line between being creative and funny, not corny, but this one was easy because that’s my personality. I’m always talking about masturbating and making jokes like that. I’ve never lost my potty-mouth sense of humor, and this falls right in line with that.
If you could have featured on any other song on the soundtrack, which one would you have chosen?
I just met Carlie, and I know that phem helped write “I Hate Your Room” with her. I’d love to keep working with phem. We write really well with each other. So, I think I would have liked to feature in that song somehow. I scream a lot with my band, so maybe I’d scream in it.
Do you anticipate being involved in the series any further?
Yeah, I would love to. There’s another one that they have coming up soon, and I think I’m going to do a little voice on it. So, I’ll have a bigger part and hopefully write another song. This is a cool crew, and I’m super excited to be a part of it, expanding my musical vocabulary and filling my roster with people in the industry. I’m still new to that. It’s been me and John Feldmann, which is the coolest thing ever because he’s the king of pop punk. It’s just nice to meet new people in the music industry and be supported. This is a really fun group, too. We screw around. phem and I just recorded the live performance of “This Luv Sux,” and Jared was behind us, asleep on the couch. We just have a really funny dynamic between the three of us.
Part of the appeal of this is that everybody’s playing an exaggerated version of themselves, right? If you were to take on a character like that, which of your qualities would you like to see inflated?
People think that I’m stupid because I have this stoner SoCal cadence to my voice. But I’m not that dumb. So I think really playing to that would be really fun. Just like, “Wassuh dude? I’m fuckin’ Tyler Posey…” I like to make fun of myself in that way.
Both you and iann dior have been involved with the two iterations of this Audio Up series. How did your contributions to Valentine’s Day In Hell differ from HALLOWEEN IN HELL?
I definitely have more of a part in this one. I feel like they’re different characters. What’s cool about it is that they’re both [offering] commentary on the entertainment business and selling your soul.
In this series, your character in particular holds up a satirical mirror to social media culture. Is there a broad message you hope your performance conveys in that respect?
How cringe-y it is to actually care and try to be something for the internet, rather than just living. If you really break it down, my character isn’t that much different from most of the influencer-type people that I know. It’s interesting to see it done in a satirical way, but it’s so true at the same time.
How were you able to draw on those people to inform the character?
It’s not that hard. I feel like my whole life is [spent] around people with some shade of that. Maybe I’m even mixed up in it sometimes. It’s hard to know the difference between influencers and artists at times. I feel like they’re one and the same at this point. It made me think more than anything else.
Was there any point when you felt insecure about your character version in that respect?
I just thought it was really funny. I was like, “I’m down.” I totally understand this vibe, and I can rock it in a funny way.
Your signature song in the soundtrack, “This Luv Sux,” also features vocals by Tyler Posey. How do you feel this track showcased your distinct brands of musicality?
I thought it was cool because it has some pop-punk elements to it, which I like. Also, Tyler’s voice is very “pop punk,” and his music leans toward that. I have alt and pop-punk elements in my music [as well]. It’s just a really well-written song, and I think you can translate that into any genre. If it sounds good on an acoustic guitar, then it’s a good song.
What do your pop-punk foundations look like? What’s your influence in that regard?
I have an older brother who turned me onto [bands such as] blink-182, who were an influence growing up. They’re not really pop punk, but the Used is a huge one. Obviously, MGK’s new era is super influential to the entire music industry and culture right now. I also really like Green Day. There are a million different bands. I feel like pop punk is in my veins, whether or not I like it. I grew up going through my brother’s music collection and listening to it.
What was it about performing HALLOWEEN IN HELL that compelled you to take on a role in this second iteration?
I really think it’s so fun as a musical artist to be able to do other things like acting and telling a story. I really like working with Jared. I think he’s semi-brilliant in the fact that he’s created all these different platforms for people to jump on. It’s really fun. Even with quarantine, I get to hang out with my friends and make a fun project. I just don’t see what the downside is. Honestly, anything that Jared’s involved with is fun, different and unique. I just like making art and having fun. [Laughs.]
How do you feel like the different seasons stacked up against each other? What do you like about Valentine’s Day In Hell compared to HALLOWEEN IN HELL or vice versa?
I think with HALLOWEEN, you expect it to be already in hell. It’s a given. But with Valentine’s Day, [Jared] really pushed the envelope and got creative. My role with Jaden is so funny. The relationship dynamic there is hilarious and probably so accurate to a lot of influencers. Valentine’s Day In Hell just really mixes it up and makes it creative and cool.
Do you have any plans to participate again in this series going forward?
I would love to. Like I said, I love working with Jared. I think he’s so fun, interesting and creative. I’d be down to do everything.
Which holiday would you be most excited about doing?
I think a Christmas In Hell would be pretty gnarly. Or St. Patrick’s Day In Hell would be pretty cool. Honestly, they should do a Groundhog’s Day In Hell. [Laughs.] They should just do every holiday.
You’ve no doubt accomplished quite a lot in your so-far short career—enough to land you in Alternative Press’ “100 Artists You Need To Know” issue. How do you feel that this project in particular stands out against your other ventures and milestones?
This is so different because I’m acting a bit. I’ve only acted once, but it’s voice-acting, so it’s a little laid back. I worked with Jared, who put it all together with his team, and did a song with him and phem. He asked if my song could be a part of the podcast, and then he actually asked me to [join the cast]. I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But I read through it, and it was super fun and something I hadn’t done [yet]. It was a little out of my comfort zone, and they say you’ve got to push yourself to grow as a person and an artist. It was something different that I thought was really cool to be a part of with other really cool artists.
Were you written in after the fact?
Yeah, they just added me. I only have like 10 lines, but I was grateful. I had a chainsaw, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m killing shit in this podcast. It’s really dope.
What was it like playing a satirical version of yourself? Were there any aspects of the fictional Carlie that you inherently related to?
Oh, I related to everything. That wasn’t even an act. It was really me trying to fuck shit up. I related to me a lot. That was also why I found this so cool.
How do you think that your song, “I Hate Your Room,” shows off your specific talent and style?
For one, guitar. Guitar is something that will always be in my heart. I’m not an angry person at all, but I have a lot of pent-up emotion inside of me that I tend to let grow. It’s hard for me to just let it out like a normal person would. So I think this song really portrays how I deal with my feelings. The chorus is really painful, and I was going through some hard things at the time. It’s just me. It’s how I deal, and it’s my therapy. This song really shows my emotions in a deeper way.
You collaborated with iann dior last year on “Ego.” How did that joint creative process differ between these two projects?
“Ego” was on my last EP that I put out, and I heard a feature on it. I was listening iann at the time a lot, [specifically] his album Industry Plant. I just mentioned his name to somebody on my team, and I was like, “It would be really cool to work with him.” We sent a few songs, and “Ego” was the one that stuck out to him. So we connected and went to the studio together. He did his verse, and it was really organic and natural. It’s how things should be. You know, “Yes, I want to do this. I want to be a part of it.” And then you make it happen. That’s just how the music industry should be.
If you could have played any of the other fictional personas, which one would you have chosen?
Honestly, I would have loved to be the devil because… I feel that, you know? [Laughs.] Chainsaw energy…
Do you see yourself participating again in the series going forward?
I think so! It was really fun, and I just want to keep doing fun stuff. I’d love to have a bigger role, too, and really invest myself in it more. What’s the next holiday, Easter? [Laughs.]
You got your start on TikTok, which has a markedly different content format relative to a long-form, episodic podcast. How did this setup challenge you creatively as an artist?
That’s a question that people don’t really want to look at. They always want to ask, “What was the song like?” But there’s a lot more that goes into it. Personally, I know that people’s attention spans are already shortened. Not only that but, on a short-form platform, they’re going to be shorter than the live video. So, I had to make my music as authentic as possible—something that can jump out of the screen and grab people in five or 10 seconds. I try to think about that every time I’m posting and make it real for people so they can easily grab it.
How were you able to modify that approach for the purpose of the podcast and its soundtrack?
This is the first thing I’ve done with anybody in a big podcast situation. I didn’t really know what to expect. With the podcast came the interaction with people that I love. Getting to make film content on TikTok is super in the moment. But [with] stuff like this, it’s just so fun to see the beginning, middle and end of the creations that [we] make. [From] the songs that we put on the podcast to doing voice-overs, it all comes together into such a bigger project than what a TikTok can be. That just means so much more than anything.
You’ve collaborated in the past with iann dior and phem. How did that background influence your synergy on the series?
We were just talking in another interview [about] who our Valentine’s would be, and I was thinking iann. It’s just that he and I go together so well. phem helped me write “So What!” I just got to meet Carlie, but, off the bat, she’s already so fun. Keeping those relationships is really important in the music industry. A lot of people don’t see that, but having those people you can trust and getting to work with them is usually when you come out with the best product. [We] can look at legends from the past and hopefully get the legends now and see what we’re going to do with it.
One of the most unique aspects of this series is that every participant gets to show off his or her talents on an original track. Yours of course is “This Ain’t A Scene.” How do you think that this song represents you as an artist?
It was really cool because we’re recording on a podcast mic, and I’ve never done it before. I’m really familiar with Travis’ studio and working at Sound Factory in Hollywood. But other than that, I’ve never gone to a room and made music that’s going to be mass-produced. So, using the podcast mic with no Auto-Tune for the first four stretches, it was really fun to hear the progress in my voice. A lot of people like to question artists’ voices and stuff, and I’m just happy to see growth. I’m happy to see myself enjoying how I sound and everyone else enjoying it as well. That was the best part for me, getting to see myself in a natural place. And the song is a banger. It’s actually really fire. Jared did fantastic on that, so it’s gonna be awesome.
As a musician who’s only been publicly active for the better part of a year, what was it like collaborating in this type of media-transcending supergroup?
It’s hard to explain because I’m in the beginning stages of my career, and it started literally the week COVID began. So for me to suggest that I really know anything other than what’s been happening now is not true. Everyone tells me it’ll be different when COVID is over. The fact that they included me and saw the potential that I have. That’s all I could ever ask for. They’ve been such a family, and they really appreciate me as an artist. That’s a big question. When people are coming from a different scene, it’s hard to include them as your own or even give them support. So, the fact that they’ve done that for me is everything. We’re so grateful, and I can’t wait to do more. The best part about the music industry is you make long-lasting friends.
Going forward, do you expect more artists to take this direction in terms of delivering content?
One thing artistry has been influenced by is this sense of [having] to sell everything else and focus completely on one thing. That rubs me the wrong way. I always say that 90% of my music is made outside the studio. It comes from real-life lessons, relationships and circumstances. I don’t see how you can make authentic music that you can love and be proud of if you’re not doing other things as well.
You watch Diddy selling billion-dollar companies or Rihanna fucking with Fenty and making an actual culture change, and it’s so cool. That’s what we need to inspire artists to do. Show people that you’re not just singing and you have intelligence behind you. Show off your support for whatever group. I encourage everyone to do that. It just makes you a more complete person and artist. I’m not saying do everything, but definitely do stuff that makes you uncomfortable. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I bet every artist is here.
That’s a really good point. We’re really in the first-ever generation of music wherein artists are easily able to project their real selves and lives. How has that affected your approach?
There are always going to be the people that are fake and just here for whatever it may be. Who’s to say what’s right and wrong? I do know that this alt scene that’s been popping up with [Machine Gun Kelly’s] Tickets To My Downfall absolutely opened the waters for this new wave of artists to come in and establish themselves. For me, it’s the most exciting thing in the world. Not only getting to work with MGK but having him set up this pathway for people to be proud of who they are.
I found myself when I was the happiest with the music and clothes I was wearing. That may sound silly to some people, but punk music saved my life. I was going down a really gross path, and it [wasn’t] who I wanted to be. Punk music allowed me to get control of myself. It gave me the confidence to walk out and wear what I want, paint my nails and get tattoos because you’re beautiful how you’re made. No matter what or how it is, if you own it and you’re comfortable in it, then you’re beautiful. That’s what I want to tell everyone, and music is a perfect way to do that.
What were some of the punk bands that you latched onto?
I didn’t grow up on punk music at all, actually. I grew up listening to classic rock with my dad: Styx and the Beatles. And I loved Michael Jackson. When I got to middle school, I dove straight into hip-hop and trap because that’s what everyone listened to, and I didn’t want to feel left out. Getting to high school in the south of Tennessee, no one listened to this music. Obviously, I’d heard of classic bands like All Time Low and Taking Back Sunday, but I never had really understood them.
So, I came out to L.A., started making music and I instantly attached myself to rock music. This goes back to what I said before. I knew that it made me uncomfortable because I’d never been familiar with it. I went into the studio and was like, “Guys, I want to make a rock song.” My first single, “Comatose,” came out of that. Then that’s when [Travis Barker] came into the picture.
My girlfriend, Mads, who I love dearly, put me onto blink-182. When I first met her a year-and-a-half ago, she started playing their music, and I was like, “Who’s this?” Eight months later, I’ve become obsessed with [them], and Travis Barker calls me the day after I released my first single. People don’t really understand the depth of that sentence. We went and met with all the other labels, but I met with Travis and instantly I was like, “Bro, this is who I have to go with. Fuck a label. Fuck everything like that. Travis Barker is a real human who changed the culture. That’s who I need to be with.”
I wouldn’t have the fame I have now without him. That was a piece of the puzzle that I needed, and I didn’t even know it. I really had no idea until after I signed with him. Then we’re in the middle of making music, and he’s like, “This is so amazing. It’s, almost to a tee, a nostalgic feel of Taking Back Sunday or All Time Low, and then you’re adding your fresh perspective, which is new to the punk scene.”
It could make a lot of people mad, but I don’t try to come in here saying I know anything or deserve all of this. I just know that I love the music I make. I love rock music in general. Mötley Crüe are my favorite band. I’m just ready to make the best music I can every single day. That’s why Travis was the perfect fit. It’s also why everyone should do things that make them uncomfortable. Look at me now and where I’m sitting. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and it just took being open.
You play an exaggerated version of yourself in the series. What were the most striking similarities and differences you noticed between this character and yourself?
I love doing things like podcasts and acting because you get to play different characters. The part about [this one] that’s accurate for me is that my character’s ignorant to obvious things right in front of him. I’ve been there in my life a lot. I’ve been very ignorant to things that are blatant, but I’m growing. I’m 20 now, and I’m learning lessons every single day.
The difference is that this guy is very infatuated with selling his soul. Everyone knows I’m a firm follower of Christ, so I would never sell my soul. But we made it happen for the podcast. I had to go in there and be honest like, “Yo, this isn’t really what I’d normally do…” But they were very accepting and amazing about it. That’s why I love working with them. Best team ever.
Be sure to check out Valentine’s Day In Hell here and subscribe so as not to miss the weekend updates.