Nothing More and yet so many things to say

The kind of band that « sonically and lyrically shakes things up and cuts through the clutter » and that only appears “every 10 years or so” – if these extremely laudatory words are anything to go by, Seven Eleven Music’s CEO Allen Kovac thinks he’s found a real treasure with Nothing More. You’ll have to listen to the band’s self-titled fourth album to decide for yourself whether this is just commercial spiel, or the genuine words of someone who thinks they’ve discovered true talent. In any case, Nothing More have a lot of things to say, in their music (which offers a subtle mix of catchiness and sophistication) as well as on stage (their shows are filled with surprising ideas).

The band’s singer, Jonny Hawkins, did indeed have a lot of things to tell us – from his never-ending doubts to his desire to break new ground, from the band’s intellectual interests to his questioning of the religious beliefs that were instilled in him since childhood. There’s definitely something more, starting with the following interview.

« I think this whole industry and path and life is just one overcoming doubt. »

Radio Metal: Nothing More was apparently a project meant to be very serious from the start. Where was that confidence coming from?

Jonny Hawkins (vocals): Well, like you said we were pretty serious about it from a young age. I met Daniel (Oliver) and Mark (Vollelunga), the bass player and the guitar player, when I was in seventh grade and I think, ever since then we’ve kind of grown up together and have changed and evolved throughout the years but we’ve always been people to challenge one another, in how we think and ask questions and debate about life and everything. So I think it’s all the content that makes into our songs, just a combination of conversations that we’ve had and experiences that we’ve been through, basically, stuff like that.

Did you have any doubts at some points?

Oh yeah (chuckles)! This whole path that we’ve walked up until now, and I don’t see it changing, even in the future, is just riddled with doubts. When we started touring, there was all kind of doubts, like are we gonna be able to make it financially, are we gonna make it as a band musically? And even when I started singing: I was the drummer for years and when I started singing there was just a whole mountain of doubts about that because I wasn’t a good singer when I started and it took time for me to grow into that. And another great example is right before we signed to Eleven Seven, about a year or two before we got turned down by a bunch of labels and we just moved on thinking “well, we’re not gonna sign a deal, we’ll just do everything independently” and we did for a little while and then we released this latest record and Eleven Seven called us and slipped out about it, they didn’t know who we were or where we came from and was just beating down the door to sign us, all the rest is history. But yeah I think this whole industry and path and life is just one overcoming doubt.

You said that « Having a plan B is a recipe for failure », does this mean that you encourage all the young musicians to leave school and concentrate on music, if that’s what they want to do, just as you did?

(Laughs) Yeah, oh, it’s one of those things that… I would never give advice that was so important to a mass group of people because I don’t think it would apply to every single one of them. Depending on who I’m talking to and who I sense them to be, then I might give them that advice, to do the same that I did. But I think, for some people, having a plan B might be a good idea because they really don’t know what they want and music may not even be what they really want and so, for them to not have a plan B might actually be a bad idea (chuckles)! But I think, for all the people out there who just genuinely know themselves pretty well and know that they want to do this at all costs, then I think, whether it’s music or anything else in life, yeah throw the plan B out the window and just pursue it and do it. It’s really simple you know, it’s difficult to pull through but it’s simple on what you need to do, you just move forward.

You were quoted talking about your « period of growth [that] was a real struggle for us individually and collectively ». Can you tell us more about these struggles?

Yeah, this self-titled record that [we’ve been] releasing in June was basically a combination of all these experiences that we had and went through for the three to five years leading up to that record. The guys and I went through a lot of struggles in this time period, some of which include “God Went North”, that song was about my mum who had a long sluggish battle with a very aggressive cancer and at the same exact time, my sister, which the song “Jenny” is about, got addicted to hard drugs and also had some severe mental disease, we found a bipolar disorder and she was having these manic episodes mixed with hard drugs which is never a good combination, and my mum was trying to hang on and to help her through that time period because her motherly instinct wouldn’t let go. So that was going on, and at the same time, the guys and I were all in very long-term relationships, I, myself was in a 5 year relationship that ended, all during this time period. The band was at this very vulnerable point where we didn’t know where we were gonna go, we didn’t have a permanent drummer and I was in this period of doubt, I didn’t know if I was really meant to be a singer or if I would be good enough to even do it. All these things were going through our minds and lives at that time and it was the struggle to get through all that that honestly built a lot of amazing things within us and built confidence. And I think that’s, a lot of times, the only way that you can gain certain types of confidences by just having gone through a storm and weathered it and seen yourself get through it. So that’s how it was for us, this whole record is kind of a healing process and we used the songs to vent those emotions and also share them with other people.

So would you say that this new album is a direct result of these struggles?

Absolutely, it is. I’ve heard someone say that great tragedy brings great art, it’s unfortunate but I think it’s true a lot of times.

You guys list influences from the fields of neuroscience, astrophysics, philosophy, filmmaking, psychiatry, etc. How do these things inspire you musically?

Well, there’s an artist, a guy named Dustin Kensrue, who’s the lead singer of a band called Thrice, and we always found him to be a fascinating lyricist and artist because he would write all these songs inspired by all these novels that he read and even short stories and stuff like that. And we thought it was fascinating that he took things that were outside of music and channeled them back into a musical medium. So we started looking at things that way, I think he opened our eyes to that. Films have inspired a lot of our songwriting, obviously through the stories but also through how certain directors communicate emotions through visual mediums, and I think a lot of philosophers like Alan Watts for instance, who has been a big influence on our lyrics and how we view songwriting altogether which affects how we end up creating all of it. It’s almost like, I don’t know if you’ve heard the word synesthesia, it’s basically a phenomenon in the brain in which senses cross each other so you have a sensation where you hear colors or you taste sounds. That’s an experience that I’ve had personally but it’s also very similar to the experience that we’re talking about where if you allow yourself and if you open your mind up enough, I think a lot of experiences outside music can really create music in your creative process, in your mind.

« I think a lot of that sensibility to write something that is catchy or something that is very sugary is good as long as it’s backed up with something solid, something that has depths. »

Do you feel like inspiring yourselves from areas outside of music allows you to get fresher and more interesting musical ideas, than getting inspiration from other music?

Totally. We’re inspired by a lot of music as well, but I think, if you have musical preferences, which all of us do, you end up listening to a lot of the same stuff over and over because you like it, but it’s not necessarily the best thing for creativity as far as challenging your mind, thinking new, different ways. So I know one thing, for me individually and the guys as well, is watching lectures on TED, TED Talks is what they’re called, they’re basically these lectures from the greatest minds in our world all over, just giving 20 minute talks on whatever it is that they’re studying and it’s usually a mind-blowing 20 minute talk about the brain or some kind of new facet in psychology or some kind of new technology that we’re discovering as humans. There’s so many things within that, they share all these golden nuggets that are not just bits of knowledge, they’re actually sharing ways of thinking, and when you adapt new ways of thinking, it really does affect your creativity. Just like a martial arts fighter, there’s mixed martial arts nowadays that really try to adapt all the styles into one, and in the same way we’re doing that with other mediums of arts, and science and technology and whatnot.

These influences that I mentioned earlier are pretty intellectual. Would you consider yourselves an intellectual band?

Yeah, I would say so. A lot of the bands that we listen to and then that we have naturally gravitated towards have been some very progressive and, what I would call, cerebral bands where there’s a lot of intellect and layers to the music in how they arrange it and put it together. So I think we have naturally liked artists like that and as a result we end up doing many of the same, pursuing intellectual things as well. We just like to think and challenge each other, the world is an exciting place where you’re always thinking about new stuff.

Your music sounds catchy, modern and features a progressive approach at the same time. Was it what you were trying to achieve: reaching originality with challenging songs but that could actually be catchy and speak to people?

Yeah, that was really the intent. I mean, the intent, at the end of the day is just trying to make stuff that we’re happy with, because if we’re not happy with it, what’s the point of doing it (chuckles)!? We do it because we love it and at the same time, we’ve grown and acquired a taste to enjoy things that have, what I would call, the full spectrum of appeal, meaning like sometimes a tasteful meal that you would eat has like three different courses and then you have a great dessert and if you just ate any one of those items by itself for a very long period of time, you might end up feeling sickly or not feeling very good. If you just eat mashed potatoes or if you just ate meat all day every day and you never ate vegetables or whatever. And I think, in the same way, we’ve always wanted to have a lot of meat in our music, but it’s no fun and people aren’t gonna be attracted to really thick music unless you have that sugar and that kind of surface level taste. And like you were saying, I think a lot of that sensibility to write something that is catchy or something that is very sugary is good as long as it’s backed up with something solid, something that has depths. That was our goal.

Your music covers a variety of styles and textures, even electronic. Would you consider yourselves as jacks of all trades musically?

Oh, I wouldn’t say that we’re jack of all trades, necessarily, but I guess, kind of. I guess I would say that we try to play of a duality in all things, so, for example with the dynamics of the music, we like to have moments that are really soft and then moments that get really loud. Like with chaos, and order, we like to have very chaotic moments contrasted by very orderly things that come together in rhythm. And with the electronic and organic side, we like to oscillate between those two, have these electronic explorations and then go back to the organic stuff. I feel like, when I listen to music, a lot of times, I get a little tired if something is too organic all the time, it will be great for a time and then I’ll start listening to something more electronic and vice versa. So we’ve tried to maintain this balance, this duality between the two and dance between them.

Your music does remind a bit of bands like Coheed And Cambria or Fair To Midland. Do you know these bands?

Oh yeah, they’re both great bands. We’ve actually played some shows with Fair To Midland back in Texas because we’re both from Texas, they’re from Dallas and we’re from San Antonio.

And do you feel like you have a common ground with them?

Absolutely, I think the comparison is justified because we’ve definitely been influenced by them and we’ve also shared the stage with them a lot and we think very highly of them as a band, they’re very good.

You said that « We want to be a Church for people who don’t believe the things that Churches believe ». Are you one of those who went to the Church but didn’t recognize yourself in it?

That’s a good question. Yes, we actually all grew up in the Church and it was one of those things where when we started touring, the place that we were in life as individuals, we all went through our own process of creating a blank slate in our head to rediscover or find out what it is that we believed as thinking individuals instead of just inheriting all the beliefs that we were born into. I very vividly remembered watching a story on the news one day about some kids that were suicide bombers and they got blown up and in my mind, at that moment, I was thinking “man, those kids believed what they believed just as much as I believe what I believe, and it’s just because they were born into it and their parents think the way they do, just like I was born in this country with these particular beliefs.” So, I was like, even if their beliefs led to some crazier things, I’m really no different in my acceptance of mine, so we went to a kind of blank slate and rediscovered what it was that we learned growing up in Church that was true and shed all the beliefs that were not. Looking back, maybe I couldn’t verbalize it at the time, but in hindsight, it’s very obvious that there were all these moments where I didn’t recognize myself in the Church because many times, they were so focused on what I felt like bullshit that didn’t matter, like these particular fairy tales about a particular story at a particular time and place rather than the here and now and how we treat each other and how we live. So yeah, I would agree with you.

Let’s just call it Nothing More, let’s use it as a reminder that no matter what kind of success we have, no matter how far we go, it’s a reminder that we’re still just normal people. »

In the promotional biography of the band it is written « Four way drum battles? Three members playing one bass guitar? These guys push the limits in more than one way. » I’ve never seen you guys live, so can you develop what they mean?

Yeah, we try to approach our live show like we approach our music in the sense that… Like when people ask us what style of music we are, I like to say progressive because that definition is less about how the band sounds specifically and more about the fact that the band tries to push limits with things in ways that are progressive and different. I’d say that we’re progressive with the live show as well. For example, our bass-player Daniel, one day he just picked up welding and tried to start building all these metal objects, so he started building these stage items, one of which was a giant stand that he made out of metal that had like a wheel-type kind of bearing, I don’t know what it’s called exactly but you pull a lever on this thing and it spins around a few times and locks upside down up in the air and his bass guitar is strapped to this thing and we all end up getting on the bass guitar and playing it, I’m hitting it with sticks almost like a hammer and the bass-player and guitar-player, Mark and Daniel are fretting the strings almost like you’d play a piano with both hands. We wanted to create a bass solo that was actually cool because guitars always have the solos and the spotlight and bass solos are usually boring or sound bad (chuckles)! So we said “let’s try and do a bass solo that sounds good and is different” and so we just started with that idea and it evolved over time into what I was describing. So that’s one of a few things that we do live, we try to make it more of a show than just us playing through the songs because if you just want to hear the songs you can just go and listen in your car, you don’t need to pay extra money to come and see that. But if you want to come and see a show, I think that’s worthy of buying a ticket and coming out and experiencing. We really try to make it a show and the music together.

And do you think you will expand your art to other forms of art?

I think it could be really cool one day to do more video stuff, film concepts I think would be really neat. Outside of that, I mean, I think we might do something outside of music, maybe even some writing, authoring some books, I know Daniel might do something like that, I’m not really sure though, but we’re open to it (chuckles)!

Allen Kovac, from Eleven Seven Music, declared that « Every 10 years or so, there is a band that sonically and lyrically shakes things up and cuts through the clutter. For true rock fans that moment has arrived with NOTHING MORE. » What do you think of this statement, do you believe that you are the revolutionary band Allen Kovac is describing?

(Laughs) We’re flattered and it’s a very great thing to say, I don’t know, I think it’s hard to take a compliment sometimes. That’s what we’re aspiring to be, what we want to do is be that band and shake things up, so I think it’s just a matter of time and everything, to just keep growing and keep evolving but I don’t know. It’s hard for me to respond to that because I think I’m bad at taking compliments but I take it as a very great compliment and I hope we live up to that (chuckles)!

You guys seem to have a real « do it yourself » spirit. Do you intend to keep this spirit, even if you have now a deal with Eleven Seven Music, a very important label?

Yeah, one thing our manager Will told us years ago when weren’t signed and we were working on one of our records, he said something that really stuck with us that we still believe today, which is “the bigger the band gets and the more you move forward into the future, you don’t do less work, you just do work in different areas than you did before” and he said “don’t count on hanging up your hat and just thinking this thing’s gonna sail one day on its own, that you can put it in auto-pilot, that’s not gonna happen if you want to have a career and you want to be good”. And I don’t think we would ever be able to let go of it anyway because it really is our passion, it’s not a job, we do it because we love it, and we write music because we believe in it. So I think things are gonna change over the next few years, we may be doing things like more of our energy going into different areas of what we do every day, but I don’t think we’re ever going to stop having our hands in it and being a big part of what’s going on.

How does it feel to have a full crowd screaming « Nothing More » as if they wanted you to stop playing?

(Laughs) Whenever you have anybody yelling the band’s name, I think it’s pretty cool (chuckles)! You get nothing but a good feeling (chuckles)!

How did you actually come up with the band’s name?

When we were younger, I went to a lot of concerts with Daniel and Mark and we were very observant throughout the whole shows because we wanted to do the same thing, we wanted to travel and play music and be in a band, so we watched everything every musicians did, analyzed things and talked about them after the shows, we were just huge music fans and we would meet the bands if we could and get autographs and do all stuff that music fans do. But we noticed there was a big difference between some of the bands that we would watch, there were the bands that were really of the people, that would come down at your level and sign things and shake your hand and talk with you and really show that they cared, they were appreciative and humble and then there was the antithesis of those bands where there were certain artists that would think they were gods among men and they wouldn’t really engage the people that were supporting them and, you know, that’s fine that they do that but we decided that’s not who we wanted to be. We wanted to be the band that was humble and appreciative to the people who were allowing them to do what they do with their life by coming out and buying tickets and t-shirts and all that good stuff. So the thought popped into my mind one day when I was with Mark, because up until this point we had, like any bands, gone through a bunch of horrible names that we had (chuckles) and I was like “let’s just call it Nothing More, let’s use it as a reminder that no matter what kind of success we have, no matter how far we go, it’s a reminder that we’re still just normal people”, we’re no different than anyone we just happen to spend time and energy on our instruments, on our passion of music.

Interview conducted by phone on May, 6th 2014 by Spaceman.
Transcription : Judith.
Introduction : Spaceman.

Nothing More official website : www.nothingmore.net/

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