Music » Music Etc.

From a great Height

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Things can change quickly, an idea Hawthorne Heights explores on their new album, Fragile Future, after some unexpectedly trying experiences.

In fall 2005, the Dayton, Ohio, emo act was on top. Their 2004 debut, The Silence in Black & White, had gone platinum, and they’d just finished recording their follow-up, If Only You Were Lonely.

They were on the road with friends and labelmates Silverstein, Aiden, and Bayside on the oddly titled Never Sleep Again Tour, making their way through Wyoming, when they came upon Bayside’s overturned van by the side of the road. The accident killed Bayside drummer John “Beatz” Holohan and severely injured the band’s bassist and drum tech.

“We had just spoken to them a few hours before that, and we actually were probably 45 minutes behind them, and we came upon the accident,” recalls frontman JT Woodruff, from a tour stop in St. Petersburg. “It was really difficult. It wasn’t like we woke up one day and it was, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ We were there.”

In retrospect it seems foreboding. If Only debuted at number three in February 2006, but they decided six months later to sue Victory Records and its owner, Tony Brummel. Former labelmates Atreyu, Hatebreed, and Thursday had grumbled about unpaid royalties and Brummel’s business methods before moving on to major-label deals. Hawthorne says they had yet to see the first dollar of royalties despite more than a million in sales, and they ultimately determined litigation was the answer.

Without the label’s continued support, If Only’s sales dropped, going no further than gold. Meanwhile the legal case moved forward, draining their coffers until they dropped the suit. Then, in November of last year, guitarist Casey Calvert was found dead in the back of the tour bus. He died from a presumed inadvertent mix of painkillers, citalopram, and clonazepam, the latter two to treat depression and anxiety, the former for a recent root canal.

After Calvert’s death, the band settled its suit with Victory, and was soon in the studio cutting a new album to be released on the label. But the band was unwilling to replace Calvert, so lead guitarist Micah Carli assumed added responsibilities. Calvert also provided much of the screaming on the band’s tracks, and without him the band’s sound has changed.

“Micah has had to play some melodies and some solos, where he’s kind of had to switch stuff around, but it didn’t take him that long to adapt,” Woodruff says. “We didn’t want anyone else to do the screaming, so we kind of got rid of it. Micah does it every once in a while. It’s a different dynamic we just won’t have back in our band.”

Indeed, the new album tacks further in the pop direction, with a deeper size and scope in the arrangements. A fine example is swelling anthem “Somewhere in Between,” which finds Woodruff “screaming out in the rain,” with waves of manicured guitar fuzz breaking at his feet.

Woodruff credits the more crafted and coiffed feel to the additional time spent writing and demoing the songs, as well as greater confidence at recording time.

“We’re getting more mature as we go to the studio. You go a couple times and start going in more prepared and more comfortable with what you want to do. This is the most experimental we’ve got on all our records — just using different instruments and sounds,” he said.

While the track “Four Become One” directly addresses the tragedy, most obliquely hint at life’s insecurity: The disposability of rock acts is the subject of “321,” featuring one of the last riffs Calvert wrote, and an early album track cries “Rescue me from everything.”

Though Woodruff said he’s excited to support the album, the last few years have made touring more difficult. “Losing a band member and a best friend puts everything into perspective,” he said. “Man, we go out on tour so much and we don’t get to see our families. Now we just lost a friend. It just makes it that much harder to leave the ones you love
behind.”


LIVE MUSIC

Hawthorne Heights
7pm Sat, Nov 1
$18
The White Rabbit
2410 N. St. Mary’s
(210) 737-2221
sawhiterabbit.com


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