Hot Cross

With news that the band's debut for Equal Vision has been delayed till 2007, it seemed like a good time to hit up Hot Cross frontman Billy Werner for some of his thoughts about the record, the hardcore scene and everything from Aiden to signing to Equal Vision,

What can we expect from this album? The new demos sound a little faster than the last EP so I'm very curious as to what you guys are aiming for.

We wrote "Risk Revival" the same way we've written records in the past, so whatever you might hear that sounds new or different is just the sound of us progressing in various ways. There's never really much of an aim or goal, per se. We kind of fly by the seat of our pants and see where it takes us.

This is also the first record we've written without Josh Jakubowski, so certain elements may be indicative of his absence. What we're all happy about is that the songs manage to sound really cohesive; they all have very obvious beginnings, middles and ends. Fortunately, they all still sound like Hot Cross songs without sounding too far out there or too repetitive. People might also notice a tiny bit more aggression and energy in the recording than the past. We spent a long time writing and revising, so hopefully the amount of hours spent on all this will show through in a positive way.

How did the partnership with EVR begin? Obviously Level Plane is a label you guys are very close to for many reasons (Drummer Greg Drudy runs Level Plane) was the album written before you signed?

Two summers ago, a group of EVR staff members came to ABC No Rio to see us play. They all paid to get in, apologized for being a little late and hung out afterwards to chat with us. We were all really impressed by how down to earth they were. They approached us as fans of the band with a genuine interest in what we do, not as an anonymous group of talking heads.

Aggressive music truly has the ear of mainstream culture and people that can do more than "preach to the choir" are throwing it away. It's both disgusting and fascinating. I'm not a fan of Anti-Flag, but they're a band that have taken their popularity and have done something with it. Why is Aiden a model for kids and Anti-Flag isn't? It's a lot easier to gel your hair than stand for something. It doesn't get more depressing than what you see happening right now.

After that, we interacted with EVR for quite some time before anything really went down. I don't think people realize how much time this all takes before anything is actually signed and finalized. I'd say we were chatting with the label for the better part of a year before we even discussed being a part of it. It also helped that we heard nothing but positive things about EVR from virtually anyone we spoke to who had any personal deaings with them.

Being on Level-Plane basically meant that we were releasing our own records. It was a long, hard decision to let someone else into the picture. Ultimately, we decided it was time to do something new. Greg is still releasing the vinyl version of the new record, but his level of involvement is about 1/100th of what it would have been otherwise.

We were already in the process of writing new material when the signing went down. It's not like we signed and then scrambled to write an album. The writing process didn't changed at all, and we were happy to have freshly written songs to record rather than presenting a year-old recording to the label and saying "go for it". We wanted the most accurate representation of the band to be on the album, and I think we got it.

I was wondering how you felt about the new prevelance of "Screamo-lite" or "nu-screamo"; bands that kind of take a watered down version of that sound and inject a lot more mainstream influences.

Kids are going to make music from the world around them. People don't realize that everything was a lot different 10 years ago. AFI was still playing basements and small venues. There were 20,000 less bands that actually practiced and wrote songs before they went on tour. You had to pick up a phone to book tours and mailorder records to hear bands. There was no Myspace. There was no real visibility unless you made yourself visible and played a ton of regional shows and ate a lot of shit. Bands didn't tour 8 months out of the year in a brand new van and trailer.

That's not to say that things were BETTER, just very, very different and a lot more difficult. There weren't all these small labels that were actually imprints of major labels, or "upstream deals" or anything like that. The point is that the music is ultimately going to reflect what's going on. People like immediate gratification and the digital age provides that for both bands and fans. Most of the bands and records you see getting really popular are a product of a mass produced junk-food obsessed culture. Immediacy means laziness and that's why you have a bunch of bands that are the aural equivalent of empty calories. Believe me, there were bad bands that had nothing to say since the beginning of time. But I'm more and more shocked that bands have a prime opportunity to say someting to 400 kids every single night of the week and they trade that opportunity for a "look" or accurate Soundscan sheets.

Aggressive music truly has the ear of mainstream culture and people that can do more than "preach to the choir" are throwing it away. It's both disgusting and fascinating. I'm not a fan of Anti-Flag, but they're a band that have taken their popularity and have done something with it. Why is Aiden a model for kids and Anti-Flag isn't? It's a lot easier to gel your hair than stand for something. It doesn't get more depressing than what you see happening right now.

You mentioned your disappointment with many of the bigger bands around today, so I'm curious what kind of bands you do like, and what you were listening to recently.

I'm totally in love with that Band of Horses record on Sub Pop. That might be the finest record released so far this year. I've been digging that Unearthly Trance record on Relapse as well. That band is all older Long Island hardcore kids I used to see around. Strange where people end up. Pissed Jeans is one of my favorite newer punk bands. I really like Career Suicide as well, but I think everyone does. The cream of the crop right now in terms of hardcore punk is Criminal Damage. At least I think so. The drummer of Tragedy is in the band. They play pure classic sounding street punk. They're named after a Blitz song and they should be.

Speaking of standing for things, what do you think Hot Cross represents or stands for? It might be weird to call it this, but do you guys have "mission statement" or something that convinces you to get into a van or a recording studio and record?

We don't have anything like a mission statement. We do this simply because we love to play music and we feel fortunate that people are listening to the music we make. We know that this isn't going to be a career and we are not kids anymore, obviously, so we are doing what we can while we can.

You've always had somewhat obtuse, and very poetic lyrics and your deliver is very unique. I'm wondering what inspires the lyrics and the sing/scream/sung style.

A lot of the new record was inspired by dealing with loss and how much of your life can be shaped by one specific event, particularly death. I carry a lot of personal baggage caused by not knowing whether or not I've mourned enough for people, or I've dealt with death "the right way". So, I guess this record is a bit darker and sadder than past ones. There are also a couple of songs that just came out of my surroundings. There's another song about "the scene". I hate that word, but what can you do? I guess it's part 3 of the "Lend Me Your Brain" / "Better a Corpse Than a Nun" series of songs. There's a song about the way health care is handled in our country, which is disgusting to me. Basically, I'm just writing about things that affect me. Every minute of the day that changes, so hopefully I've managed to capture some of those minutes.

The delivery is a bit different this time around… a bit more aggressive in some places, a bit more melodic in others. Writing choruses was a challenge. Writing for a more straight-forward song structure is a LOT harder than doing stream of consciousness, off-time type stuff. I hope I did OK. I wanted the vocals to be authoritative. Hopefully they are.

What are your plans for the upcoming year?

We are taking it slow this summer. We aren't going to be one of those bands that's on tour for a year after they release a record. We are old men with families and stuff. Hopefully Europe will happen, but whenever we try to do that it gets messed up.

It's cool. People are always going to romanticize what they weren't around to see. Saetia stories always seem a lot more interesting than they actually are. Sooner or later, kids will realize that.

There has been a bit of a gap between releases, and particularly between full lengths. From 2002-2004 you guys had a release every year, but it's been quiet for almost two years now. Any reason for the gap or conversely, any reason you guys felt motivated to write/record again? (I know you did a split last year, but it's been relatively quiet)

In 2004 we played 200+ shows and were on tour most of the time. 2005 was time to rest and write. We wanted to approach the record with fresh minds and ears, so we went MIA for a little while to get started on the right foot. It also meant that we were writing as a 4-piece for the first time, so that took a little adjusting as well. It's nice to have a full album done, rather than just another EP. I was starting to think we would become one of those EP-only type bands.

You mentioned the the songs may be a little more conventionally structured, and I'm curious as to what got you to do that.

There wasn't anything in particular pushing us in one direction or another. Our writing style is constantly changing, and I guess this record is no different. For whatever reason, the songs just came out this way. To people used to more formulaic stuff, it may still sound kind of 'out there'. To us, its a bit more straight-forward than other music we've written. I suppose it's all subjective based on what you're used to hearing. I will say that it definitely still sounds like Hot Cross. It's not like we are covering Story of the Year now, or something.

You're coming up on your sixth year together, are you sick of people talking to you about Saetia yet? In all seriousness though, Hot Cross has been together longer than any of your previous bands, and I'm wondering what keeps you together and motivated.

It's cool. People are always going to romanticize what they weren't around to see. Saetia stories always seem a lot more interesting than they actually are. Sooner or later, kids will realize that.

Hot Cross stays together because I don't think we know what else to do. This band manages to drive its members crazy, yet if it didn't exist I think we'd be a little crazier. We'd have more free time, but we'd definitely be bonkers. Plus, I've known Greg for almost 10 years now. I wouldn't ever see him if it wasn't for practice. Hot Cross is the glue that binds us all together.

It's not very common for a band to re-record an album at this point. What were you unhappy with?

When we were back at home after recording, we listened to the final mixes again and again. There were inconsistencies in overall sound and levels that jumped out at us that we didn't hear over the monitors at the studio. It can be hard to detect flaws when you've been listening to the same songs over and over for 14-20 hours per day over the course of 9 days. We decided that the album needed to be remixed and cleaned up a bit. We contacted Josh, and fortunately he was happy to help.

While he worked on the remix and started to listen to the tracks closer, he noticed other flaws on individual tracks; static in the guitars, random noises, small performance flaws that may not be noticed by the public at large, but would jump out at us… just a bunch of small things that made the remix job a bit more daunting than anyone had anticipated. He basically told us that there was no way he could have it sounding as it should by the mastering date we set. We also realized that even with a meticulous remix, we would still not be completely happy with the final product. When you work for months writing an album and people have been waiting years for you to produce a new full length, it needs to be the best and most accurate representation of your efforts. Unfortunately, we wouldn't have ended up with that and we decided that it was best to just start again.

Believe me, we didn't expect to have to do this or really want to, but our priority is delivering a record that will kick as much ass as possible. Not a record that leaves us thinking we could have done better.

Has EVR had any comments to you guys about the change of plans?

EVR was as disappointed as we were/are, but they also don't want to release a record that everyone involved isn't completely happy with. And just so everyone knows, this was the band's decision. We didn't hand a record to EVR, and get it back with an "F" on it, like a college paper. EVR has been really supportive throughout the whole process, and hasn't guided us in any specific direction other than the direction we felt was best for us. I'm sure at this point we have already driven them to alcoholism and insanity and we haven't even released a record or gone on a tour yet.

Sorry, EVR; you've been Crossed. All joking aside, though, we're lucky to have an understanding bunch of people in our corner. It definitely makes this sort of thing a bit less stressful than it could have been.