My Heart Is In Ohio - How Hawthorne Heights Stays True
Music - Indie
+ Nov 28, 2006 at 10:01pm
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"And I can't make it on my own, because my heart is in Ohio!"
Come on, you remember that song from two summers ago. Maybe you weren't sure who it was, but there was no denying the anguish of that chorus simultaneously screamed and sung, with the word "Ohio" stretched into four syllables. And those ascending guitar lines underneath. Wait, just how many guitars are there? Three actually. Three you say? Certainly distinctive.
Yes. Hawthorne Heights, the emo Buckeye band in question, have a natural affinity for finding ways to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd. That's a notable feat considering just how crowded it is these days in Emo Town. Let's not get into what emo is or isn't. That could take forever and judging from the emotional rants of fans in the music forums, the definition appears to be subjective. Some bands want to distance themselves from the tag, while others embrace it, happy to keep popular company. A Google search of Hawthorne Heights will turn up an assortment of adjectives from emo to screamo to post hardcore. Truth is, Hawthorne Heights can't be easily labeled. And they are learning the hard way that being on a label isn't easy either.
Currently, the band is involved in a legal tussle with Victory Records head Tony Brummel, seeking to be released from their contract. Since releasing two albums, The Silence In Black & White (2004) and If Only You Were Lonely (2006), Hawthorne Heights have sold over a million records and they have yet to see any royalty checks. It took a good deal of courage for the band to stand up for themselves, but the outcome is still uncertain. Tony Brummel is no shrinking violet.
So what do you do during a public showdown of this magnitude with your musical future hanging in the balance? Hide? quit? Drink yourself into a stupor? None of the above if you're Hawthorne Heights. Instead of languishing in the throes of financial worry, they decided to go on tour. And not just any tour. The band was chosen for the headlining slot on the highly publicized and anticipated Nintendo Fusion Tour with Relient K, The Sleeping, Emery and The Plain White T's. Apparently these guys have as much a head for business as they do for music. They actually booked the tour just before the official announcement of their split from Victory. Call it a stroke of luck or perfect timing. Either way, smart move.
Ambitious from the start, Hawthorne Heights formed in 2001. Considering the current musical landscape of transient artists with a here today and gone by the time you Tivo trend, that the band has not only survived for five years but are still relevant is an accomplishment in itself. I caught up with Hawthorne Heights drummer Eron, just after the Seattle show of the Nintendo Tour. The band has gotten positive reviews for being the only act on the tour to actually "put on a show". Taking the stage in white suits, the lights go red and you hear the theme from Psycho and at another point in the show the sound of a beating heart. White suits? Psycho? Heartbeats? I'm sure the kids in the hall weren't expecting that. Which is precisely the point according to drummer Eron Bucciarelli, where he feels the band have really stepped up their game.
"With each performance, we consciously try to give our fans something new. We challenge ourselves to evolve in our individual look and style and also in the overall stage design."
The band members grew up listening to Gorilla Biscuit, Cro Mag and other New York hardcore bands that instilled an incredible work ethic. The music of those bands was message driven and often about making a difference, doing the best you can, making a change. This has been Hawthorne Height's unifying philosophy from the very beginning when they had day jobs. Eron worked at the cable company. Bass player Matt Reidenour worked at a music
store. Guitarist Casey Calvert was in school. Lead guitarist Micah Carli did temp work. And lead singer/guitarist J.T. Woodruff worked at a convenient store. Matt and Casey met in high school. The other members became friendls through the local music scene in their home town of Dayton, Ohio. They formed a band and initially called themselves A Day In The Life. They booked their own shows on weekends, with gigs eight hours away and would have to work their way back to Dayton to make it in time for work on Monday. Frustrated with how to attract fans, the guys came up with a stellar plan. They would rent out the local Knights of Columbus Hall and book a bigger well known band to play a show...and then book themselves as the opener. This was the method for building their fan base. Then the band decided to change their name. Matt came up with Hawthorne Heights, which Bucciarelli says has no actual meaning, but it fit and they began to send out demos to labels, one of which landed in the office of Victory Records.
Asked about the challenge of doing the biggest tour of their career without the support of a record label, Bucciarelli had this to say.
"We were nervous at first, but the experience has been liberating and validating. It has meant a lot to us to see the thousands of fans
each night and to know our tour is doing just as well and in some markets better than bands who are currently signed."
And while they normally keep their writing and recording process separate from being on the road, this time they have two tour buses, one of which houses a recording studio.
"We've written four or five new songs already and we're really looking forward to making our next album, although it is uncertain who will distribute it. Musically we want to challenge ourselves just as we have with our shows. We have big ideas for this record. This whole tumultuous experience with Victory is actually a great stimulus."
So in spite of (or maybe even because of) everything, the band remains focused and guided by the only true and sure thing they know: their music. Though they've achieved platinum status, there are no Hollywood mansions or New York penthouses in their names. They all still live in Dayton. Bucciarelli says he can't imagine ever leaving. Perhaps therein lies not only their charm, but also the secret to their success. There's a lot be said for roots in a business that changes like the weather. For Hawthorne Heights, they may travel all over the country with their gear and ambitions in tow, but their hearts are still in Ohio.