Hawthorne Heights Discuss ‘Zero’ Concept Album, Warped Tour + More
Hawthorne Heights are showing that well into their career, they still have a few tricks up their respective members’ sleeves. In this case, we’re talking ‘Zero,’ the band’s first ever concept album.
We spoke with the band about the idea behind their new album, how it came together and also discussed their participation in the Vans Warped Tour this summer. Check out our talk with Hawthorne Heights below.
Congrats on a new album. A little different thing you’re doing this time. If you want to talk about how ‘Zero’ came together?
JT Woodruff: Sure, I guess we wanted to do something a little bit different. Not necessarily musically, I think we’re still kind of in the progressive rock realm, which is where we fall. This is more of a concept, more of a story line. A little bit different than just spitting out what we put out before. We also wanted to keep in mind that some people don’t really reach too far into things like that. We also wanted it to be a stand a lone album as well. So there’s elements there if you want to dig into it. There’ll be a lot of little secret treats along the way. For anyone who just wants a rock album, it’s there for them as well.
This has to be cool to put together. Can you talk about how much enjoyment you got out of tying everything together on this record?
Eron Bucciarelli: I think it was a lot more fun than we’ve had in a while, working on this album. I think the whole process of trying to get the songs to flow from one to the next, working with the new producer, it was re-invigorating for us. We’ve done the whole making albums thing numerous times and it gets a little redundant sometimes. But this time around it was a breath of fresh air.
JT Woodruff: Yeah, you can draw inspiration from a lot of different things and once you get an idea it kind of snowballs; it doesn’t just have to be musically. It can take you into different parts of a story you’re creating. It can drive you into different lyrics that you’re writing. When we’re recording sonically it led us in different areas as well.
Eron, you mentioned a new producer. Brian Virtue has done some great stuff over the past few years. What did he bring to the process?
Eron Bucciarelli: He approached recording the album in a way that we had never done in the past. Usually you get in there, pre production then OK, songs are set. Let’s record scratch guitar tracks. Then we do drums, bass, guitars and then vocals. They always come last. By the end of your particular part, you’re completely burnt out and have to sit around in the studio for the next two weeks waiting for everyone else to finish their part. It just sucks. This time we did pre-production and we were all in the live room working on the songs together, trying to figure out what flows and what works or doesn’t. When I was recording my drums in particular, all the guys were playing their guitars along with me and as we were performing and I was doing my drum tracks, Brian would tweak things and say ‘Alright, you guys kind of naturally speed up a little bit in the chorus, so I’ll plop that out with the metronome and get that little extra bit of energy for the song here and there.’ Then he had guitars first then bass, which is kind of backwards for us. Then finally JT would do the vocals, we’d do that for about 3-4 songs and repeat that process over and over. Ultimately we all weren’t just sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for the next guy to do their parts. JT’s voice would have been blown out because he was singing 2 weeks straight at the end of the process. We were able to tweak things still through out the process whenever we needed to. It was just a different approach.
Was there a song that kicked this album off?
JT Woodruff: I would say probably the second track on the record ‘Memories of Misery’ kind of set the tone pretty early. Then we re-visited a song we had been working on for a few years called ‘Golden Parachute,’ which also kind of fit this vibe. Then we had another song we had been working on called ‘Anywhere But Here.’ A couple of them, after we got one down, the main idea, ‘Memories of Misery.’ They really flowed together really well. It fit the concept and made it very easy to bounce off of things and then to start creating more pieces than we needed.
You mentioned ‘Anywhere But Here.’ How great was it to have a place for that song now after living with it for so long?
Eron Bucciarelli: It was cool because we hadn’t really thought about that song in forever. One of us brought it up, what do you think about this? It never really fit.
Micah Carli: There were parts of it that needed to be worked on. Which we did. We were never able to fully realize the song.
Eron Bucciarelli: Every time we were working on it in the past it didn’t fit what we were doing and we just shelved it and didn’t think about it. Then we tweaked it lyrically and it was pretty close to what we had been doing before. We needed a song that was kind of like that lyrically. It was cool to finally use it because we like the elements and just never put it together.
‘Golden Parachutes’ is my favorite. Great beat, kind of gives that triumphant feeling.
JT Woodruff: That’s a song we actually wrote, the majority of that song in a cabin in the woods — not the movie — in Ohio a few years back. We were changing so much of it for one of our sections to a different album but it was not the same song whatsoever. We always liked this version of it, when you’re working with labels and producers and stuff, things change. You have to make concessions. We always liked this song and pretty much as it is. We were happy to be able to use it. We added a key change to it, that’s about it.
Micah Carli: My guitar part is definitely different. It’s always been one of my favorites but we just never got to use it. It got whittled out of our process during one of the other sessions.
You’ve got some more melodic tracks on here, ‘Taken by the Dark,’ definitely got that screaming anthemic finale for this thing. How did that come to be the closer? Really seals it off.
JT Woodruff: I didn’t really like how it closes it out when we were first talking about it. You know you tend to go out on a more somber slower note in a finale. A lot of people put a slow song at the end and kind of catch a summary of everything. I did like how this one was the heaviest song and it ended very aggressively with the biggest breakdown on the record. Instead of ending triumphantly, it’s kind of abruptly. Maybe showed that everything is not over. It’s just over for the moment.
You’re playing some of this out on tour this summer. I haven’t been to Warped yet this year. How much of this is making its way into sets at this point?
Eron Bucciarelli: We’ve been playing 2-3 songs throughout Warped Tour. We change it up every day. We’ve been playing ‘Golden Parachutes’ ‘Memories of Misery’ and ‘Spark.’ Also several songs from our back catalog that fans want to hear.
JT Woodruff: We only get a half hour, maybe we’d like to do, on a typical tour maybe 3-4, you’re really trying to promote your new music as well as your older music, but with a half hour there’s only so much you can do. We’re trying to hit them with a couple of songs in-between our other songs that set the fire for them.
I saw the Zero 3D shirt and glasses. Nice merch tie in. Very cool. Do you see taking this concept to doing more things like this? Might we see a book at some point? Or is the record what we’re going to get in terms of the story.
JT Woodruff: We’ve definitely been throwing around some ideas that I think are cool and are outside the box of traditional music that we’re excited about. We’re still kind of — right now we’re promoting the record, we’re promoting the music. We’re just trying to figure out everything we can do to make it as special as we want it to be.
Since I have all of you, I’ll throw this around the room. What’s your favorite song off the new record and if you could talk about why it stands out to you?
Mark McMillion: I think ‘Spark’ because it was the first song we had a rough mix of. It’s the first song we finished vocals on and got me excited about finishing the record.
Matt Ridenour: Mine is probably ‘Taken by the Dark’ — I think that breakdown is cool.
Micah Carli: Mine is also ‘Taken By The Dark’ — I just love the vibe of that song.
Eron Bucciarelli: I like ‘Memories of Misery.’ It’s a lot of fun to play live and at Warped Tour. We get a circle pit going almost every day when we play that song. Kids are really receptive to it. I also like the third track; it’s called ‘Darkside.’ It’s got a really cool groove to it and a great riff. I can see that one being a big song for us, I hope it will be.
JT Woodruff: In a little more of an opposite direction, one of my favorites is ‘Hollow Hearts Unite’ because lyrically it’s a pretty special song because when we’re back at the merch table, a lot of people come up and talk about how our music has saved their lives and how people have severe depression and run into problems like that. That’s a portion of what that song is about and I just wanted to lyrically give them something back that they can have for a way of help. Maybe that song can continue to help someone out that’s suffering.
‘Hollow Hearts Unite’ maybe a different sound for you? You’ve done a little unplugged stuff but cool one to throw out there. Do you want to talk maybe throwing that curve ball into this record and how it fit in with the rest?
JT Woodruff: A couple of us write on the acoustic a lot and then we bring it to the table, electric. This one I was just sitting around kind of playing it one day and I was messing with the lyrics. It’s pretty emotionally powerful when someone comes up to me at the merch table and I can tell their trembling and just want to say your music has really affected me in a positive way. It’s because of you I’m still here. It’s because of you I’m no longer inflicting pain on myself. To me, that’s very powerful and I wanted to include that lyrically this time around. I actually included it as one of the characters in the story that we created.
I guess instrumentally or thematically, one of my favorite songs is ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman and that’s kind of where I got the inspiration of fitting something very simple with something that has a great message.
Can you talk about the Warped experience? About being a part of such a large collective, or variety of bands?
JT Woodruff: It’s a lot of fun. Long, hot days but there are so many different bands that we get to see. We never really get to watch music other than 3-4 bands that are on our tours usually. Obviously it has a built in fan base, so that’s always cool.
The fundraiser back in Phoenix, the bowling tournament…
Micah Carli: We won!
Who’s the expert bowler that put you over the top?
Micah Carli: It was definitely a team effort. Everybody did consistently well, except for uh…
Eron Bucciarelli: He was over 100 on the third time but got a little nervous in the final round. The pressure got to him, you could tell. He started to throw a little harder. Maybe had some arm fatigue. We all bowl consistently. All of our band shared the accomplishment. There were 30 bands on the Warped Tour that did it for charity, which was a lot of fun. Very satisfying.
Michael Carli: I think we have to give it up to Matt. He bowled over 200 the first round and sort of set the tone for the rest of the night. I think the key to our win was the fact that none of us were drinking that night. Everybody else was. So everyone was else was sloshed.
Matt Ridenour: We didn’t get better as the night went along, we just stayed the same and they all got worse.
Eron Bucciarelli: We might have gotten a little worse but they really got worse.
Micah Carli: They were rallying by doing chops and stuff like that. We got a three-foot tall trophy out of it.
What’s on the horizon after Warped?
JT Woodruff: More promotion for ‘Zero.’ We have a big fall tour that we’re really excited about which unfortunately we cannot divulge any details. All we can say is, we’ll be doing an awesome tour in the fall. Just promoting ‘Zero’ as much as we can, eventually going international with it. Having fun playing songs.
Our thanks to Hawthorne Heights for the interview. The band’s new album, ‘Zero,’ is currently available via iTunes.