Hawthorne Heights is a band that knows how to face challenges. During their time as a hard-working, talented, and successful rock band, the musicians have had to overcome their fair share of obstacles. The tragic death of beloved bass player Casey Calvert in 2007 could have ended the band altogether, but the artists knew that Calvert would have wanted them to keep on- so they did. A long, tumultuous relationship with their first record label, Victory Records, which ended in an expensive lawsuit, might have discouraged a different band from continuing to make music. Not the gentleman of Hawthorne Heights, however, who are now completely independent, making the best music yet, and finding themselves happier than ever.
Hawthorne Heights- JT Woodruff (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Eron Bucciarelli (drums), Matt Ridenour (bass guitar/backing vocals), and Micah Carli (lead guitar/unclean vocals)- is nearing the end of a US headlining tour, in support of their newest EP Hate. I got the chance to sit down with Bucciarelli and Ridenour shortly before their Denver show on November 16th and was overwhelmed by how kind, gracious, and well, normal, the guys were. In addition to the slew of interview questions I sent their way, the musicians asked me some questions of their own- What are the best bands in Denver right now? How is law school? Are you a fan of Tim Tebow? I felt like I was having a pleasant, casual conversation with friends and turned out to be one of the best interviews I’ve done.
Hawthorne Heights has graced the stages of Denver venues many times and almost every show has been awesome. “Denver’s great,” Bucciarelli shares. “I think the whole mountain region is great. There’s been one time that we played in Denver and it sucked. For some reason it was at a really weird club that didn’t seem like it got a lot of shows but every other time we’ve been there it’s been great. We played the Hi-Dive last time we and it was incredible. The crowd wasn’t very big, but they were into it and it was a lot of fun. There’s great food out there too. You can’t go wrong with Illegal Pete’s and my new obsession is that new place Garbanzo, which is sort of like the Chipotle version of Mediterranean food.”
The last time I saw Hawthorne Heights perform live was in London on the Anberlin tour- and it was a blast. In my opinion, the European fans were much more enthusiastic than American fans. “You’ll see that anywhere overseas because they’re not as used to having bands come through there every single day,” Bucciarelli agrees. “I think it just makes people more appreciative when they do get a band come over there. We’re getting ready to go back right after Thanksgiving and we’re doing a co-headlining tour with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.” “We’re going to revive the euro,” Ridenour chimes in finally form his spot on the couch, making us all laugh.
The name of Hawthorne Heights’ latest EP is Hate, but fans are feeling the exact opposite sentiment for the new music- people are loving it. “I don’t think there was a conscious effort to do something completely different,” Bucciarelli explains. “We wanted to get out a lot of the internal conversations that we were having, which were a lot angrier than any of our music had lead on up to that point. Just let it out once and for all, as opposed to putting on a happy face, which is what I felt like we did on Skeletons and, to a lesser extent, Fragile Future. With Fragile Future though, I think we were still reeling from the loss of Casey and I don’t think we were really fully prepared to make that record. We knew we had to make one because we wanted to continue on as a band, but I don’t think emotionally we were ready to let that out.” Bucciarelli trails off and looks away, but not before I see the hurt flash in his eyes- the pain that never fully goes away after the loss of a loved one. “But anyway, back to Hate,” he turns back with a charismatic smile on his face. “It was the culmination of a lot of anger and frustration in our dealings with everything in the music business just put out there for the world to see.”
As a result of all this exasperation and irritation with the turbulent music industry and greedy labels, Hawthorne Heights decided to create their own record label, Cardboard Empire, so they didn’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. The band couldn’t be happier with their newest venture, even though it is quite a bit of work. “There’s little logistic things that you don’t necessarily think about when you’re not the one in charge,” Bucciarelli shares. “There are things like getting your distribution, making sure you have your schedule lined up so the album comes out exactly when you want it to, and fulfilling merch orders, which Matt does while we’re out on the road. But we’ve always been very hands on so it hasn’t been a huge shock to the system for us.” “The benefits outweigh the bad,” Ridenour agrees. “We get to do whatever we want. When we got done recording our EP, we had a CD in our hands two and a half weeks later. We didn’t have to throw it up the corporate ladder and have it come back down with people telling us what we’re allowed to do.”
At this point Hawthorne Heights is the only band on the label but they may want to take on other outfits once they get the record label business down pat. “We’ve talked about that and in the future, we’ll absolutely leave that open,” Bucciarelli reveals. “I think we need to get the kinks out first with ourselves, as opposed to messing with somebody else’s livelihood and career before we’re ready. I don’t want to mishandle some other band like we’ve been mishandled in the past.”
For many bands these days, longevity is an unattainable feat. But for Hawthorne Heights, who have been around for a decade, it’s the name of the game. So how do they encourage each other to stay relevant and push themselves to new limits? “For this EP we motivated ourselves because we knew we were going to self-release it and that was motivation enough,” Ridenour says. “It was really fun making this record,” Bucciarelli concurs. “There are a lot of heavy issues that we deal with as far as lyrics and themes go, but even though it might not seem like it when you listen to it, it was a lot of fun. I don’t think we’ve had this much fun making an album since our first record.”
Fans of Hawthorne Heights, both new and old, are providing a lot of positive feedback for the new music, and for good reason- Hate is really, really fantastic. “The current tour has been good,” Bucciarelli tells me. “Some nights are way better than others and you’re always going to have that no matter what. But I think all in all the reception to the new music has been great. We haven’t really hammered it over people’s heads by any means. We’ll do two or three songs a night off the new EP, then play some fan favorites and stuff. It’s really refreshing to see fans sing along to Hate songs as much as they sing along to any of our other songs.”
As 2011 speeds to an end, Hawthorne Heights has no intention of slowing down. After this run, then the European tour, they have much more in store. “In January we’re planning to go back into the studio and record the next EP in this trilogy,” Bucciarelli unveils. “Then hopefully have it out sometime in early springtime. We just started talking about the routing for our acoustic tour. We actually did one last February where it was just two weeks’ worth of shows and it gave us a chance to reinvent a lot our songs that we’ve been playing for several years, so it was really refreshing. We liked it a lot and the fans really liked it, so we’re extending it this year and we’re going to try to hit a few more markets. That will hopefully happen in late winter or early spring time.”
With Hawthorne Heights fans all over the world, and growing by the day, the band certainly doesn’t need help generating support. But I have to ask who both Bucciarelli and Ridenour would like to see as their biggest fans. “For me, Greg Dulli from The Afghan Whigs,” Ridenour states after much deliberation, banter, and quite discussion between the guys. “Anything he touches I listen to.” As Bucciarelli continues to think about his answer, Ridenour pipes back in. “Tim Tebow,” he says and we all crack up. “He’d be a great one to have on your side. He’s got your whole city rallied around him right now- he’s got billboards!” “How hilarious would that be if when we roll up to Denver, there’s Tim Tebow just waiting out in front of the venue?” Bucciarelli asks laughing. “He’s got a Hawthorne Heights shirt on and everything. That’d be a good one.” He thinks a little more, then finally comes to a conclusion. “It would be cool to have a musical influence of mine, like Dave Grohl, watching us,” Bucciarelli shares.