“So cut my wrists and black my eyes,” sings lead vocalist JT Woodruff on “Ohio Is for Lovers,” a song that has been described as “The Emo Anthem.” Hawthorne Heights was made famous by its screamed vocals and catchy, intense rock ‘n’ roll.
The band took a new direction after the accidental death of guitarist Casey Calvert, and this week, Woodruff talked with Diversions Assistant Editor Joseph Chapman about the band’s upcoming acoustic tour.
Diversions: So how did you land on the album name Skeletons?
JT Woodruff: I guess this is kind of a darker record for us. We’re going through a lot of brutal life issues and I guess it just kind of fit to strip everything back to its beginning. You have to start with a skeleton no matter what kind of idea you’re thinking about and you start piling stuff on top of that. We wanted the album to be basic and just write about where we’re coming from.
Dive: Looking at just the visual aesthetic of the album, it looks like you guys are paying homage to the art surrounding the Day of the Dead, a Mexican festival that is more of a celebration of the dead than a mourning. Did you guys have this in mind when you put together the album?
JW: No, it’s kind of a coincidence. We chose our album name when we were writing and everything and then our drummer Eron (Bucciarelli) was really into this artist from Pittsburgh named Mike Egan and that’s exactly what he draws and everything. So he painted our cover and it was just kind of a happy accident I guess.
As it turns out, that’s kind of what the album is about: it is about thinking back on good terms in a good way and having good memories of the dead.
Dive: Do you feel that Hawthorne Heights has been pigeonholed as a screamo band?
JW: I guess people could say that. I don’t really read too much into that stuff. I’m not a big fan of like ten different subgenres of rock and roll. If it’s loud, if it has distortion – it’s rock and roll. I don’t think anybody needs to come up with some sort of fancy name for it because then you start listening to stuff just because it has that tag on it or you don’t listen to stuff because it has that tag on it.
I think you just listen to stuff because it’s good and you like the way it sounds. Whether it’s opera or our band or whoever — I think if you like it, it doesn’t really need a name.
Dive: The acoustic tour comes as a surprise. What led you guys to strip down the instrumentation?
JW: I think that it just kind of came about. We’ve been a band for a while, we’ve got four records out, we’ve been touring for a couple of years now and we’ve never done anything like this.
We wanted to do something we’ve never done, we wanted to challenge ourselves and also challenge the listener. If someone is really into our band, we wanted to invite them to this show and say, “Here, listen to this music in a different way.” Maybe they’ll hear something totally different from the same exact songs. If you’re not challenging yourself, you better give up I guess.
Dive: How does it change your sound live?
JW: Well, for about the past month, we’ve been sitting in our rehearsal studio just rehearsing these songs, just rehearsing these different versions and reworking and rearranging these things.
And I tell you, it’s been a really cool experience because it makes you fall in love with the songs again. If you play a song over and over live, it tends to lose its luster to you, the songwriter, and then the performer. You’re just playing it.
So we’ve been having fun just digging in and playing these songs in a different way, it’s been really cool. You know, different live — we’re going to be sitting up there with acoustic guitars as opposed to standing with our electrics and the drums are kind of scaled back. We’ve got a lot of percussion-type instruments and Matt (Ridenour) is playing piano as well as bass. It’s going to definitely be a different vibe.
Dive: Where do you see your band going in the next few years?
JW: I don’t know man, it’s real tough. The music industry is crazy. These people have no idea what’s happening tomorrow. I can’t concentrate on what’s happening a year later or five years later because I have no idea if music is going to be around in five years.
I don’t know if it’s going to be a subscription service on your TV or just ringtones, so I think that we’ll continue making music as long as we’re totally happy doing it and as long as it can be under our terms.
We’ll continue to write together because we do get along together and we do have a good time. I hope they figure out something, because I think a lot of bands are not going to get to be heard. We’re fortunate — we got in before everything got really crazy, we’re just trying to stick around. Are we going to get to hear the next Nirvana? Is anybody going to listen?
Dive: Is it piracy? Do you think it’s killing the industry?
JW: Yeah, I really do. I really think that it is. I think it’s really tough. Back in the day, if you didn’t have money to buy something, you either waited until it came on the radio, came on MTV – you didn’t own it.
Now, there’s such a sense of entitlement. Somebody thinks that just because they want to hear it, they have to be able to hear it. I’m in a tough spot as a musician: I’d love for everybody to hear everything that I’ve ever written, but I don’t make those decisions at all.
I do this for a living. So imagine if somebody’s parents had to do what they do for a living for totally free – they couldn’t support their kids. I don’t know what everybody is supposed to do, but not everybody is an 18-year-old kid with no responsibilities. Writing a song, you used to be rewarded, but now it’s almost frowned upon.
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