Hawthorne Heights: Soaring at Rock City Studios
This was the concert that almost did not happen! But thanks to the persistence of Hawthorne Heights and the appreciation they have for their fans, a cancelled concert was suddenly on again – and those who made it out to Rock City Studios in the wilds of Camarillo were in for a real treat! The show was acoustic, and the room was filled with enthusiastic fans singing along and enjoying this rare and wonder glimpse of the Hawthorne Heights experience. Prior to Hawthorne Height’s memorable set, we had the chance to chat with vocalist JT Woodruff, guitarist Matt Ridenour, and drummer Chris Lee backstage. In this interview, we discuss past albums, future plans, playing the same songs every night for years and why they are very happy to do it, advice for bands looking to be signed, and a whole lot more! Read on…
Introduce yourself and tell me what you do in Hawthorne Heights.
Chris: I’m Chris. I play the drums
JT: My name is JT. I sing and look handsome.
Matt: I am Matt. I play guitar on this tour but I usually play bass. And, I watch him look handsome.
How has this current tour been going so far and what have been some of the highlights besides tonight?
JT: Yeah not tonight. It has been a lot of fun. We don’t ever get to do acoustic tours and it’s always an interesting night. The electric sets – we are so used to doing that it is like clockwork to us but these are a lot of fun. They keep us guessing a little bit more. We aren’t as used to playing the songs this way. So many songs we have been playing for years and years and years. It has been different. It has been cool. We really like it.
Matt: I really think that SXSW we were a little nervous because it was a lot to do in one day but it was fantastic, such a good day. A great day. We played three shows, well actually JT played four shows, we played three. It was great, it was one of those when it was all said and done we were exhausted but it was really good but I’m glad we got to do it.
Chris: And wet.
Matt: It was very wet.
Cool. What was it like to revisit The Silence in Black and White after ten years and to reinterpret all of these songs?
JT: You wake up one day and it is ten years later, you know? It is just interesting. Some of these songs we never got to play before live because we had been supporting bands playing a lot of half hour sets and stuff like that. Some of them we just had to move on from because we were coming out with new music and just ten years later the cycle keeps on-a truckin’. It was cool because some of these really haven’t been thought of in a long time. That is one thing that was just a great exercise for us, really.
Matt: There were some songs that I don’t even know if we have played since writing them. I don’t think we have ever played them. When you’re recording, you aren’t playing as a band, you are just recording one thing and on to the next one and then that’s it. Then you are playing your favorite ones, so there are tracks, 9, or something like that that we just never did before.
JT: They were just ones we didn’t get to.
Matt: Until ten years later and magically you have to play it live and hope people know it. Which they did.
Chris: It kind of becomes a new song, in a sense for the band. Like, ‘oh hey, this is a new song in the set’.
JT: Doing the tour of it though was great because you see the fan’s faces light up a little bit more because they have been seeing us for ten years and we have never played that song. They are like ‘holy shit, they are finally playing this song. Now I finally get to hear it’. It was great to see in that respect as well.
Do you guys still enjoy playing the bigger songs off that album, like Ohio is for Lovers and Niki FM, after all of this time?
JT: I think that it is hard not to enjoy playing any song that somebody really likes. You’ve got to take yourself out of the equation when you are the songwriter. You can’t be like ‘I’m tired of playing that song’ because you are so fortunate to be playing any of these songs to begin with, you know what I mean? It is all about perspective in that regard. We have always wanted to give the fans what they want. We have never been too good for our fans, because without our fans there is no band. We have understood that from a long, long time ago.
Matt: I think any time we play those songs, you see kids smile and start clapping. How could that ever not make you happy? And if you are ever so jaded that that doesn’t give you a little bit of joy and make you excited to play that. You’re doing it wrong. Get the fuck out.
JT: Yeah, you are doing it wrong.
Matt: Because that is – playing music is for yourself. You write songs that you like but when somebody really enjoys it, that should make you happy every time. It is like ‘Okay, this is it.’
Chris: 99.9% of the room doesn’t hear that song everyday. We do. But everybody else is like this is my one chance to hear this song.
Matt: Once or twice a year we are coming to their town and they want to hear it. They are coming probably to hear those couple of songs for the most part.
JT: Really you’ve got to take yourself out of the equation. It is pretty selfish to not view it in the point of view of the fans, you know.
If Only You Were Lonely is about the hit the ten year mark. What are your thoughts on that album and possibly doing an acoustic version or tour for that album?
JT: I think we will at least visit it because we had a really good time and we know the fans had a really good time. Like we said it’s all about a balanace of making us all happy. We are going to be working on new music now, so maybe that’s something that we can tie in with, or maybe we can just do one show, or maybe we do an acoustic album of it. We don’t know. We had a lot of fun with what we did with The Silence of Black and White reissue, and doing that tour and everything. I’d say everything is on the table and we haven’t ruled anything out.
How difficult was it to lost two Hawthorne Heights members and do you still keep in touch with them?
JT: Yeah, we keep in touch with them. I think that is just comes down to, that they wanted to be off the road for a bit, they both are kind of doing separate things right now. We still really enjoy playing as Hawthorne Heights. You never want somebody to do something that they are not 100% enjoying.
Matt: We wake up in the morning at 10AM, you drive to the show, you work all day, drive to the hotel. If you are never ready to put in twenty hours a day then you can’t really do it. It is really just all or nothing on this thing, so if you aren’t into it. Cool.
JT: You just have to enjoy being a musician and all of the ups and downs that it comes with, and all of the being gone. Sometimes you lose yourself a little bit.
Chris: We do still talk to them and hang out. Everybody is friends, nothing is weird.
JT: You can’t spend ten years with someone and not respect their decision. There wasn’t a blow out or blow up…
Matt: I would say that after Aaron the drummer left, we probably saw him off of tour for a period of time, more than we would ever see him if he was still in the band. We would see him, running into him like every day getting coffee because he was working really close to our rehearsal space, so we would just see him all the time.
JT: You can’t fault somebody for having different interests ten years later and wanting to try something else.
JT, your album Field Medicine what is the concept behind that title and do you have any other solo projects in the works?
JT: That album in general is just about traveling. It is about seeing the world from my eyes and through other people’s eyes. It was a lot of fun working on it. I haven’t thought about writing any new solo stuff yet because we are getting ready to get pretty deep in the Hawthorne Heights writing of our new EP. Finishing that out. Then, we are working on a new full-length as well. That is something I do in my spare time when these guys are like taking a break and everything is a little bit more relaxed. I like to treat it as a totally different thing. I don’t like to write that stuff when I am writing Hawthorne Heights stuff, because then you’ve got to kind of make a decision, and I don’t like to write acoustic songs and say ‘hey guys, I wrote another acoustic song. what do you guys think?”‘ I would rather focus on each thing separately.
What advice would you give a young musician seeking a record deal in this day and age?
JT: It’s tough. I think advice that we would give is totally different than the advice that we used. So it’s weird. But, I would say that labels are great at certain things but a little bit more unnecessary. You can make it without one, way more than you ever could before. But also, there are certain things that labels offer you that you can’t do yourself, so whatever you feel good about. It’s always good to gain perspective by sending your stuff away, and if people believe in it, then that’s a great thing. If they don’t, the good thing about just the business right now is that you don’t need a label – to survive or exist just to get your art out there. Before, there was zero distribution. Now Matt could record an album, in this room right now and it can be on iTunes in two days. So you can get it out there, it doesnt matter. Before it wasnt an option, you couldn’t get it out there. All you had to do was – you could maybe print some CDs yourself and then sell them at shows but now you literally can get them to the masses in every media outlet. People see it in reverse. They say without a label, I’m nothing. But the equal case can be made that, without a great artist, the label is gone. The band is writing the songs.
Do you have any messages for your fans out here in this area?
JT: California is one of our favorite places to be, we’re always going to be out here once or twice a year. The easiest way to keep up with us, because – it’s funny the internet has caused everything to be so accessible that it makes it inaccessible. People see so much stuff and I’ll say this for most bands, check their website. Sign up for their email list. Don’t treat what they’re sending you out as spam, they’re trying to let you know about tour dates.
***Just announced: Hawthorne Heights will be on tour this summer in direct support to From Autumn To Ashes! Check out their Facebook page for more details!!!***
(Interview by Ken Morton- Photos by Jack Lue)
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