Dayton, Ohio's Hawthorne Heights have had a steady release of albums since their formation in 2001. Now on the brink of releasing their fourth album, Skeletons, which comes out on June 1, the band is toying with a few changes, including a new label, innovative artwork and an inexpensive summer tour (11 bucks gets you a ticket to a show AND a copy of the album.) I had the chance to chat with lead singer JT Woodruff earlier this month.
You have a lot of new stuff going on with Skeletons. You're with Wind-Up now, and you worked with different instruments to produce the record, which is awesome. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your whole creative process with this new album.
Kind of the most important factor in creating this record was the fact that we had more time than we ever had to make a record. We [were always] on tour, and then had a little bit of time off to write a little bit, then we'd go back on tour to try and write some more while being on tour, and then we'd have to go directly into the studio. This time, we had a specific amount of time to be off from touring to just sit back and write. [So] we had about 30 songs to choose from where we could be like, "Well, this one's kind of similar to that one, so let's put one on that sounds a little bit different." We just wanted to be a little bit more diverse.
You can definitely notice the diversity lyrically. I was reading in your press release that you get personal with some of the songs, you talk about your own past and the death of loved ones, but at the same time, some of the songs are more global, like "Picket Fences," which you said is about the economic recession. I was wondering if this experimentation with diversity is inspiring you to keep up the trend with future albums.
One of the things about Wind-Up is that they're not in a hurry. When they feel that we have the right songs and everything, that's when we'll start to make the record. Whereas we kind of just had a set time on Victory. Which is how a lot of labels work, that's not weird or anything. I just think we'll kind of be able to sit back and relax again, and craft the songs that we want to craft. That's one thing about being creative; sometimes it happens in a big storm, and sometimes it happens spread out over a lot period of time. You can certainly write five songs in a day if you wanted to, that doesn't mean you're going to write five good songs that you really care about.
How was it working with Howard Benson?
It was really cool. I really like working in Los Angeles in general just because you have great weather and a lot of really cool places to go, and a lot of inspirations you can draw from that and that was really fun. He's really good at getting an awesome vocal performance out of me. It was a very good experience.
At the beginning of "End of the Underground," there's a voice that's kind of different from your regular voice. Is that still you singing?
Yes. We definitely tried to, instead of [my vocals] being so pushed out and high like I've done in the past, we definitely tried to experiment with different registers and [try] singing kind of low. For a guy, I can sing kind of high. We just tried to make it sound a little bit different instead of being in the top of my range.
How has the reaction been from your fans live when you've introduced some of your new songs?
We've had a really good reaction. That's definitely reassuring, because sometimes when you play new songs, no matter how good they are, or you think they are, sometimes the first time hearing something people are just kind of like, "Uhh…" and [the fans] just kind of stare at you like a deer in headlights, because they haven't heard it before. But they've been bobbing their heads, and it's been cool.
When you hit the tour circuit this fall, it's going to be three years since you lost Casey. How has it been in those three years, does it seem like it's even been that long?
One thing that I've learned about life over the last couple of years is that it keeps going. No matter how much you want to stop and reflect, you just have to roll with the punches. It's definitely been tough. It's weird to play live and stuff like that without him for sure, but it's weird to me, because he was a really close friend of mine. The whole day long, we would text each other back and forth, just random little things about what we were doing. Little things like that is what you miss more. Just being friends and hanging out, that's what you miss as each day goes on.
A lot of bands, especially younger bands, they break up, or they switch members, or stuff happens between the members as time goes on, but you guys have been solid since the beginning, and you're on your fourth album now. I was just wondering if there was a trick that has prevented you as a band from having any major problems.
I really think [it's] the fact that we're all rational people, and that we all have the same goals, and that we really don't let ego play any factor in what our decisions are. A day on tour for us is not a day spent partying. A day on tour for us is a day spent hanging out with each other as friends and playing music that we've written together. I guess when we started the band, we were a little bit more focused and mature; we had certain goals and wishes for each other, and we always treated each other with respect. We all make decisions in the band, there isn't just one person. I really do think that you have to remain friends first before worrying about music. If you can't get along extremely well with the people that you're working with, you're not going to create music that means [a lot] to you personally, because you're always going to be worried about something else. We enjoy hanging out with each other. I often think about that, and we often talk about that. We don't have any demons against each other, we don't explode when something goes wrong. Probably because we're from such a small town and we had to build ourselves from the ground up, nothing was handed to us, we always had to go out and earn what we wanted; I think that probably plays a factor in it as well. I definitely do think it's weird, though. It's weird that we've been a band for so long and that the only way that we've lost a member is through a tragedy. It's definitely interesting, I read the same news stories that you do. It seems that everyday, somebody quits a band, or somebody gets kicked out of a band, or a band breaks up right when they're on the verge of some sort of greatness.
The artwork for your album is incredible. It seems like the most straight-up, "this is a painting" artistic style of artwork you've had so far. I was just wondering what led you to find the artist and go in this direction.
The artist, Mike Egan, is someone we came across awhile ago, and he seemed like someone who was really passionate about his art. So we were like, "Alright, let's make it happen." We had already titled the album, and [his artwork] seemed perfect for it. So we got in touch with Mike and he just did an awesome job. We wanted him to make art for our album specifically; we didn't want to just take one of his paintings. I guess this time around, we did want something a little bit more permanent. We wanted something that wasn't just a sign of the times. A lot of artwork these days is what's popular right now. "Neon colors? Let's put it on the album so people at least want to look at it." And there's nothing wrong with that; if that's your style, by all means, go for it. I keep talking about how people need to have individuality. I really think that you should be who are and what you're into and just be into it because you love it. But this time around we wanted something that was a standalone piece of art as well as something that described our music. For our last album, Fragile Future, Micah, our guitar player, did all the photography for that. We were in California and we just wanted to take a bunch of pictures that were beautiful. This time around, we thought we'd do something that was a little bit more artsy than we'd done in the past, and Mike did an incredible job, we're super happy with it, and we can't thank him enough for painting for us.
I know you have a couple tours coming up; do you have any solid plans after that?
We're starting this tour starting June 3rd with The Story Changes and The Audition. When you buy a ticket, you get a copy of our new album, Skeletons, and the whole package is only 11 dollars. So we're really focusing on that. We know times are tough for everybody, like the song "Picket Fences," shows. We're from the midwest, and we understand that. We just wanted to make sure that almost anybody could come and afford to watch us play. Because normally, our ticket prices would be more expensive. So we figured, 11 dollars, you could do a few chores, do whatever you would need to for 11 dollars and not have to try and come up with 50 bucks or anything like that. We're really focused on that, we just wanted to give everyone a chance to get a hold of our music and come see us live and to hang out at one of our shows, because that's always really fun for us. And then after that, we're doing a few free shows with Bayside, and we're really excited about that too. Pretty much all summer long you can come watch Hawthorne Heights for 11 dollars and get our new album, or for free with Bayside. And then after that, we're still just trying to figure it out.