Interview: Hawthorne Heights

Words by Maddy Howell 

Everyone has their own unique soundtrack to growing up. However, there are a few pivotal songs that will creep out of the woodwork during nearly every reminiscent discussion on teenage anthems. Hawthorne Heights' 2004 track Ohio Is For Lovers is the greatest of these nostalgia hits, with its raucous singalong chorus and self-loathing lyrics still guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of every ex-emo kid.

However, now 14 years on from what many will see as their pièce de résistance, the Ohio quartet are back with a new label, a fresh start and a sixth album added to their back catalogue. We caught up with frontman JT Woodruff to talk growing up, the strain of tour life and looking back to the past.

Burn After Writing: Your latest album, 'Bad Frequencies', has just been released. This is your first release on Pure Noise Records, what sparked the decision to sign to them?

JT Woodruff: We really love their roster and the types of bands they sign. They seem to focus on music that they feel they can help in one way or another, and sign who they enjoy. After a couple of conversations with Jake, we felt like this is something that would be good for both of us. We were really realistic with each other, and that honest discussion can go a long way.

BAW: This is also your first full-length release in five years, what’s changed since then in the way you operate as a band?

JTW: Hawthorne Heights has always operated on the rule that we have to keep moving forward. As long as we aren't stuck in slow motion, or moving backward... we feel good. We really love where we are right now and are extremely excited about how 'Bad Frequencies' turned out. We do a lot of the work ourselves and are extremely hands-on and DIY. It's been nice to have a label partner to bounce ideas off of and to be in our corner.

BAW: This album sees you working with Nick Ingram, an incredible producer who you previously worked with on the 'Hurt' EP. What made you return to him for help on this record?

JTW: The main reason was location and familiarity. We spent a lot of time on the road last year, and we really wanted to stay close to home in Ohio. We didn't want a "destination" recording. We wanted the dead of winter to help us create the ultimate summer album. At times it was miserable, but it helped the process. We love Nick Ingram because he has a great personality, and works fast. He loves dogs though, so that's a bit of a negative for me. Other than that, he's cool.

BAW: You premiered the track Starlighter (Echo, Utah) before the album's release, giving everyone another little taste. What can you tell us about the story behind that song?

JTW: I wrote the main lyrics to that song after the scariest drive of my life, in Utah. Snow was pouring from the sky. The roads were covered with inches of ice and white death. There was no heat or defrost in the van. It was at that moment that I missed summer the most. So when we finally got to the hotel, I was relieved to be alive, and I wrote the lyrics while still shaking with fear. I set the song in the summer because I didn't want to think about that drive ever again.

BAW: The first track you released from the record, Pink Hearts, discusses the importance of eventually growing up and maturing, for the sake of those around you. As a band who have been on the scene for over 15 years now, have you found your own sound maturing along with yourselves?

JTW: I think we have been good about maturing, but not growing up too fast. We don't want to get too far away from what we do, we just want to constantly get better at being who we are. After all these years, we still love playing the old songs and moving forward with new ones. As we grow up, our fans do as well, and to still maintain that relationship is beautiful.

BAW: The track also features a little nod to 2004’s Ohio Is For Lovers in the opening line. What was the thought process behind that lyric, was it just a bit of fun or something more meaningful?

JTW: It was definitely intentional. It was a throwback to the first time someone heard our band and felt something. Everything we do is supposed to be positive and fun, built on dark times. It's those moments that help us carry on.

BAW: The writing process for the album took almost a year this time around, which you have stated is your longest ever as a band. Why did this record demand so much time?

JTW: We kept getting great offers for touring opportunities, so we didn't want to turn anything down. But it also gave us more time to connect the songs together and to develop stories. Inspiration comes at odd times, and sometimes you can't rush it. We wrote over 20 songs for this record and recorded 16, which is more than we have ever done. Once we sat down to finish the writing, it just kept coming. We felt like we were on fire with new ideas, so we didn't rush it. Ultimately, the record is about the best and worst part of where you are right now, where you’ve been and where you want to be.

BAW: As a band who have previously been notorious for their more “sad” material, is it important that you’re now focusing on the positives?

JTW: The funny part about this is that we are always focusing on positives, it just helps us to write about the negatives. We are all going through something, and it universally helps to talk about it. So our way of dealing with stress is to write it down, and scream it out. Everyone needs some conversation every once in awhile, and we hope this album can provide a little sunshine for them.

BAW: You recently embarked on an extensive US run with Listener, Hotel Books, Sienna Skies and Heavy Things. Is spending three consecutive months on tour and away from home something that gets easier with time?

JTW: No way [laughs]. It gets harder with time. We all have families and long-standing relationships. That is always going to make spending time on the road a challenge. Luckily, we have people in our lives that are supportive, and understand how important this is. They know that the road isn't easy for us, and that we miss them as much as they miss us. Sometimes a phone call can make a difference. Sometimes you need the comfort of your own bed. Sometimes you just need a hug. We are all human, and just like anyone else. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

BAW: 2017 saw you touring prolifically all around the globe. Are your 2018 touring plans any more relaxed?

JTW: There is no such thing as relaxing in the music industry. We don't sleep. We work tirelessly for the art that we love and create. This year will be as busy as last, because of the new album. We need to cover as many miles, and play for as many eyes and ears as we can. You can't sleep doing something you love.

BAW: What does Hawthorne Heights in 2018 mean to you, and how would you like this incarnation of your band to be remembered?

JTW: We hope that 2018 is a time of rejuvenation, invigoration, and reflection. We don't take anything for granted, and we don't want this moment to pass. So we will work on stockpiling all these cities and memories, and play until we can't play anymore. That is the spirit of 'Bad Frequencies'.