My first introduction to Nothing More came in the form of an announcement in March of this year that Eleven Seven Music had signed the band to a five album guaranteed contract. Having known the type of bands that Eleven Seven rosters, my interest was immediately piqued. My curiosity further grew when I found out the quartet from Texas would be headed to my neck of the woods to perform at Fort Rock, but when I received an advance of their forthcoming album I was completely blown away! So when approached with the idea of interviewing the band, my answer was as obvious as Axl Rose‘s weight gain. Little did I know that I would not only be treated to a mind-blowing live show, but I would get to sit down and chat with two of the nicest guys in rock and have a rare interview that literally lived up to the old quote: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life.” So join me as we talk, laugh, and even cry (sort of) about everything from beating drugs-to-beating the drums-to-beating the meat. (Yes, you read that last one right)
AWAY-TEAM: First I’d like to start off by saying Congratulations on the upcoming release of your major label debut album! It’s definitely one of my favorites that I’ve heard in a while! You guys really killed it…
JONNY HAWKINS: Awesome! Thanks man!
AWAY-TEAM: Take us back to the beginning. How did Nothing More come to be?
JONNY HAWKINS: I originally met Daniel (Oliver, bass) and Mark (Vollelunga, guitar) when I was in 7th grade. We played in different projects, and school bands, and things like that for years; and then Daniel, by a stroke of fate, ended up living with Mark while they were in college. They were a little bit older than me at the time, but then at some point we convinced Dan to join our band, Mark and I were in Nothing More. Dan didn’t want to at the time because he thought we were way too committed, (laughs) and he was like “I don’t know if I wanna do it…”
DANIEL OLIVER: They spent the night at each other’s houses for band practices, and they were like full blown; I was like “I don’t know if I wanna do that” ya know. (both laugh) I lived with Mark though, and i just kinda lost my mind, I was 20 years old, I quit everything and moved to Colorado. I road 1,000 miles in a day on my motorcycle with just a tent and my coffee pot, just to kinda find myself again, and find a place where nobody knew me. That whole experience, I met these amazing people that just, that’s how they lived, they went out and did what they loved despite any adverse reactions from family, or anybody pressuring them to make money or settle down. This group that just did what they loved, they traveled, and rafted, or they were ski bums. I came back and, I was studying mechanical engineering, and I just felt like I had to come back. I lived with Mark and I saw what he was writing, and I was just like “Wow! This is awesome!” I vividly remember going to a show and Jonny was the drummer at the time before I was even in the band, and it was this epic show, and Jonny does this drum solo; I was like “I can write some grooves with that guy!” (laughs) After that, I was like “I’m in!” We kinda pulled it together and were like “Let’s go out and do it!” Noone’s gonna tell us to drop out of school and not get normal jobs, but there’s nothing stopping us from going out and doing it for ourselves.
JONNY HAWKINS: And we kind of adopted Daniel‘s philosophy on life. we each kind of learn from each other, and one of the biggest things we learned from him was “Fuck Plan B! Throw it out the window!” because if you wanna do something that requires a lot of risk, you just have to go at it 100% A lot of times when the going gets rough, it’s that “Plan B” that becomes your escape route. So for us we united around that philosophy, and that’s why we’ve got these scars on our arms. (lifts sleeve to reveal scars caused by the band branding themselves for each year they spent on the road) It represents our commitment to each other, and to the vision, and that we wouldn’t stop until we saw it through to it’s fruition. We were on our way, and then about three years ago the final piece of the puzzle, Paul O’Brien (drums), joined the band. We used to tour with his other band, Pandemic, they were from Louisiana and we were from Texas, so they were kind of our neighbor, brother band. They ended up calling it quits, and Paul still wanted to go. He always really respected what we did, and vice-versa we respected what he did in Pandemic, and it was just the obvious choice when we were looking for drummers. The rest is history!
AWAY-TEAM: I know you used to be the drummer…
JONNY HAWKINS: Yeah, when I started out with Dan and Mark I was the drummer for about maybe 5-8 years. At some point, the band kind of filtered down through a lot of going out there and touring, and it was just kind of a filtering process. We had Mark, Dan, and myself, even though we had other band members throughout the process; we were at this point where we were like “What are we gonna do? We don’t have a singer…”. I really felt this, I don’t know what the word is, but my gut, my subconscious; I had listened to it in the past in other really big life decisions, and in hindsight had seen that it would always lead me in the right direction. I started getting that really strong feeling about being the singer, even though I had nothing but fear and doubt at that time. Even my parents, who support me in everything, and people around me were all telling me it’s a bad idea because I was not a good singer. If you would’ve heard me then, it was atrocious, and you would’ve thought the same thing, and I even thought the same thing, but I’ve trusted my heart in the past and I don’t think now is any different. I really had that strong feeling, so I started learning how to sing over the next few years, and the guys supported me in that. And it really turned out to be the right decision, and I’m happy that I followed that instinct.
AWAY-TEAM: And I know you’ve got a lot of fans that are happy about that as well! So when I received your album advance, the first song that I heard was “Christ Copyright”. I immediately loved the sound. My first reaction was that you guys had this Escape The Fate-meets-Coheed & Cambria or My Chemical Romance type of sound, but there’s a lot more to your sound. For those who’ve never heard it before, how would you describe your sound?
JONNY HAWKINS: Umm, I would draw a symbol on the wall and say “It sounds like that.” (everyone laughs) But in all seriousness, it’s most definitely in the rock-progressive world. Sometimes we joke around and say we’re diet metal. Really we have a variety of influences, and I guess our vision for our music now and in the future, we really wanna extend beyond a particular genre and a title. So when people ask us who we are and what we sound like, I get real reluctant to answer that question too specifically. I really just wanna have a pair of headphones and go “We sound like this!”
DANIEL OLIVER: I think one really cool thing about this band is that as a unit we’re all writers, we all push each other to write. Ya know, there’s not only one guy writing songs and showing them to the band, it’s really this collective idea based on whatever our influences are. Like I know for me personally there aren’t a lot of good bass players in the rock world, I don’t think; or it’s not like a prominent instrument anymore. So to be able to play with a group of guys where I’ll do something, or write something just on bass, and to have it accepted and change how they were writing. It’s all about building off each others ideas, and I think that’s the only way to get somewhere different. It’s like the song started out sounding like a particular thing, and then each person threw in an idea that changed the writing of the other individuals to get it to where it’s complete and we’re happy.
JONNY HAWKINS: It really is, we sound like democracy.
DANIEL OLIVER: (laughs) Yeah, we sound like democracy! Democracy pushing it, moving it along.
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) There’s the answer I was looking for! (all laugh)… You mentioned having many different influences, who are some of your biggest influences?
JONNY HAWKINS: Very hard to narrow down…
DANIEL OLIVER: A huge one is Thrice for sure. Both musically and lyrically, even philosophically. That’s a band that really goes out and speaks their mind, they dig deep and they create interesting stuff. It’s heavy, but then they’ll release something like “The Alchemy Index”, which is all of their interests in a full EP release kind of thing.
JONNY HAWKINS: We’ve always found a lot of our strongest influences come from bands that, not necessarily musically are progressive, but conceptually are progressive. What I mean by that is people who really think in layers, and have a deep quality to their lyrics and the music. Ben Folds is an artist that does that with a lot of his songs. Tool is a big influence, a band called dredg, The Mars Volta. Even artists real outside of our genre like Alanis Morrisette, Imogen Heap, Jurassic 5.
DANIEL OLIVER: There’s a band Fair To Midland, out of Texas, that’s been a big influence of ours. We run across bands that really push the envelope sometimes, and to have it impact us, them doing something so crazy, I think that’s what really influences us the most.
AWAY-TEAM: You guys recently signed a five year guaranteed deal with Eleven Seven…
DANIEL OLIVER: Five albums.
AWAY-TEAM: Five albums. (laughs) Geez, five years, like your baseball players. We’re at the baseball park so I’m thinking baseball deals! (all laugh)
JONNY HAWKINS: It’s more like fifteen years! (all laugh)
AWAY-TEAM: A deal like that is nothing to sneeze at. How did that all come about? Was it through shopping demos? Was it through someone caught you out on tour? How did that come to be?
DANIEL OLIVER: Well honestly there was one other time, like a year and a half ago, before Eleven Seven found us, that Red Bull Records was hot on us. They ended up passing because they’re owned by an energy drink. (laughs) But, I don’t know, it was a cold call honestly. No shopping, no great effort to meet labels. We were playing L.A., en route to Sacramento to play the Aftershock Festival last September; we heard about them (Eleven Seven) about a week before, they said they were gonna send a deal proposal, they sent a couple scouts out to the show and that was kind of it with Eleven Seven. Then that festival out in Sacramento happened, we were the second band of the whole festival, first day, second band, Side Stage; we kinda went in there like “Oh man, you never know with festivals. We might be laying for nobody.” Our manager was with us and he’s like “Guys, there is industry here. Just go out there like you always do and slay it!” Turns out, one it was an epic show, the audience was great, and we got asked to play the second day on the Main Stage at 3 p.m. in front of 15,00 people. After that everything kinda blew wide open, but at the end of the day after different labels came to us and we talked with them, Eleven Seven was just so passionate about it. Ya know, there a smaller label, they have a lot of huge bands, and they just dug it, and they got it, and they wanted to push it, and that’s all that mattered. It doesn’t matter the name of the label, or how much money they have, it’s all about the people who are in charge caring and doing something for you.
AWAY-TEAM: I have heard that about Eleven Seven in the past. Ed (Sloan) from Crossfade had a lot of great things to say about them. Tremendous label to be with… and there goes Jonathan Davis (as the Korn singer walks by our table)
DANIEL OLIVER: (in a cartoonish voice) Hey Dude! (all laugh)
JONNY HAWKINS: On a deeper level though, it was really just a “Build it and they will come.” It was not really trying to fight to get on a label. We had kinda given up hope that we’d even be on a label. We thought we were gonna be DIY the rest of our lives. we jsut focused on building ourselves and our show, and it really just came to us. I think that was a huge lesson, not only about that, but about everything in life, ya know.
AWAY-TEAM: Now when you signed with them, I’m sure things changed a little bit, you’re still you, but what was the first thing you bought when you signed with them? I know Will (Tour Manager) mentioned you guys were driving a taco truck, so I know it wasn’t a new bus! (all laugh)
JONNY HAWKINS: A ton of cocaine, a Corvette, umm. I’m just kidding…
DANIEL OLIVER: No, we really just stuck to what we’ve always done, and that was just reinvesting in what we did. We spent the money on equipment, and pushing to be a national band, and to do these festivals. We kind of have a complicated stage set up, so to really do it how we wanted we had to reinvest in a bunch of equipment. we also took that opportunity to set it all up to where we can begin forwarding the next live show, which we’ve always been kinda known for. So we’re just reinvesting to reinvent for ourselves.
AWAY-TEAM: That’s probably the smartest answer I’ve ever heard to that question! (all laugh in agreement) I wanna get to some of the songs that are on the album, I’d love to talk about the entire album but we don’t have enough time! (joking in reference to the 15 song album which will be reviewed right here in the coming weeks) But, the aforementioned “Christ Copyright”, what was the inspiration behind that? It seems like Texas has kind of a strong Christian belief system, is that how you guys grew up? And is that kind of where this song came from? What was the inspiration?
JONNY HAWKINS: Totally. We most definitely grew up in the “Bible Belt”, and there’s usually one of two paths people typically take when they grow up in a very religious area. They either stay very religious, and they’re just as hardcore as their parents were, or they’re equally as rebellious and opposite of that. I think “Christ Copyright” was our intent to sort of find the middle ground between the two polar extremes, and try to find the root of these differences. America is very, very polarized, whether politically or religiously, and with “Christ Copyright” we were trying to put a spotlight on the real problem at hand, that everybody is trying to preach about, or sell to you, or fix. It’s not what’s appearing on the surface, it’s not what religion you are, or what political party you happen to subscribe to, it’s whether you’re dogmatic or not. And dogma, which sounds like a complicated philosophical word, is really about whether someone is humble or not, and open to the idea that they don’t know everything, and neither do you, and neither do I. So I think if we approach each other from this point of view that “Yes. I’ve lived my life, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons, and I do have beliefs and opinions; but I realize that at any moment I could learn something that changes all of that. Because there’s new information that I’d never considered before.” To be open in that way is the way of growth, and really the way of being a real man or a real woman, not a pawn. I think you become a pawn the second you buy into the idea that red team’s the winner, or blue team’s the winner, or I’m this religion, or that political party. Because it’s not really about that. That’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s really the heart of all of that. So “Christ Copyright” was trying to convey that, but also say that there’s so many talking heads and pastors who are trying to sell you on this idea of heaven. You can buy into it, and it may or may not be true, but at the end of the day what I do notice is that when you do buy into it usually somebody makes money!
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) So true!
DANIEL OLIVER: And I think even more pointedly, like for instance when I lived in Nashville for a year, and we all kind of grew up in the church, I got involved with this crazy charismatic group. They literally just used fear in the name of God, to try to change people to be what they felt was right. Just straight up fear. When you really look at that it’s like, if someone is coming into the presence of quote-unquote God and their first emotional feeling for him is that of fear, out of some unreasonable death sentence to hell that we were all born out of, that’s the same thing as a woman’s first experience with sex is her being molested. It’s just not right! It’s not right, and there are a lot of people that just fucking don’t see that! They don’t see that they’re using fear, and they’re manipulating people because of that out of their own penance to God, because of their own guilt. In the bridge it’s like “If they scream loud, they’ll muscle the crowd.”, and that’s all it is. It’s just that you’re screaming louder than I am, you’re no smarter, you’re no better. You happen to have a proclivity to not masturbate at night, so therefore you feel you’re a better Christian than I am? (all laugh as Tour Manager turns his head from a nearby table) You know, it’s like “Fuck You!” Anyway, if that makes any sense.
JONNY HAWKINS: Amen! (laughing)
AWAY-TEAM: I went to Catholic school up until my Senior year of High School, so I know what you’re talking about man!
JONNY HAWKINS: Oh Really? So you know. (laughing) That’s crazy.
DANIEL OLIVER: Will‘s like “Did I just hear masturbate in an interview?” (all laugh)
JONNY HAWKINS: And it ended with “Fuck You!” and “Amen!” (laughing)
AWAY-TEAM: (Management has given word that we only have another 2-3 minutes. Time flies when you’re having fun) So there’s a couple songs I wanna touch on, and I know they’re probably a little bit painful for you (Jonny), but “God Went North” and “Jenny”. I know they’re kind of straight forward and you get the message, but if it’s cool with you I’d like to know the back story behind them.
JONNY HAWKINS: Yeah, totally. My mom, whom I had a very great relationship with other than the normal annoyances of having a mom, was a painter. I learned my creative side, and everything that I do in music from her. She really instilled that in me. As I was in High School, I got the news that she had an extremely aggressive cancer that was a 99% death rate.
AWAY-TEAM: Wow! Man.
JONNY HAWKINS: There was no chemo, radiation, none of that did anything for people who had this type of cancer. So with that news, basically my family went a few different directions, as do most people when they’re given that kind of news. First we tried to fight it every way we could, through health food and healthy living, and it didn’t really change what was happening. Then the next thing, my mom had desperation to be here longer with her children who weren’t grown up yet all the way, she got more religious. As we went through that time, I was becoming an adult and I was in college, my sisters were younger so they really had it harder going through that process. One of my sisters is named Jenna, which is what the song “Jenny” was about. As my mom got more religious, in hopes of getting healed, she joined one of those faith-based healing churches as kind of a “Hail Mary”, if you will. The only way, those churches teach, that it works is that you really truly believe in it. So she bought in, and the weird thing about it was that she did have a spontaneous remission after one of the weird experiences in those healing services. It really did go away 100%, or I guess not 100%, but according to the doctors they could not find it anymore.
JONNY HAWKINS: So her life was extended another year or so more than it should have been. So that really caused her to further believe this faith-based healing stuff, and as time went on she started getting more and more hardcore, and I was getting less and less religious because I saw a different point of view than she did. I didn’t think that it was because of the beliefs that she had, as much as it was about this emotional state that she was in during that process that people of other religions have also had spontaneous remissions in. I had a different theory as to why it was happening, and so it was a struggle for us to be going different directions but to still hold on to her as my mother through that sickness. And at the end, I loved her and I didn’t want her to die, but she was suffering so much when the cancer came back a year later. She was down to skin and bones, and had tumors just protruding out of her stomach, her legs were bloated like someone who had been submerged in water for days. It was just heartbreaking to watch her live like that for us. So I really wanted her to die, because I didn’t want her to be feeling like that anyomore. That’s where the whole “If you won’t save her, please just take her” lyrics came from. And at the same time, the song “Jenny” was written about my sister who at that time was going through her own denial and grieving process. She got, unfortunately, involved with a lot of the wrong people, and she ran from the problem and got addicted to some hard drugs. She also had some mental, very clinical level bi-polar mixed in with that. When you mix a mental illness with hard drugs, that’s usually a cocktail for destruction. She went down this spiral, and it got so horrible, it was breaking my mom’s heart because she was holding on for dear life trying to hang in there to get my sister through it, as a mother. There’s a lot more to the story that I don’t have time to go into, but basically it just, those are the two most heartbreaking things I have ever been through in my life. The one thing my mom… (visibly getting choked up) Sorry. The one thing my mom taught me, bringing it back to why I started this story, she was a painter, and growing up as she’d teach me to paint and draw, she always taught me that there was no such thing as a mistake. To be a good painter, you never viewed any stroke of the brush as a mistake, you viewed it as an opportunity for a new purpose, and you went with it. She was an amazing painter because of that simple view. With her death, and my sister spiraling out of control, I learned from my mom to look at that as an opportunity, so we wrote those songs together. I felt like those things were just meaningless, purposeless, God-awful suffering; but I decided at the end of it that it could either be that, or I could make meaning out of it and give it purpose. With the guys’ help, together we wrote those songs and we gave it purpose. Now it’s touching other people who have gone through similar circumstances, and I feel healing through those songs.
AWAY-TEAM: It takes a lot to put that out there for the world, and I appreciate you telling me the story behind it. I hope everything works out well with you and your family. Thanks so much for your time! Best of luck with the album! I look forward to doing this again sometime soon. I feel like we could talk all day about your album, and I appreciate you giving me your time.
JONNY HAWKINS & DANIEL OLIVER: Thank you!
Nothing More is currently out doing a few dates with Killswitch Engage, and will be heading out this fall with Five Finger Death Punch, Volbeat, and Hellyeah. For more info including tour dates and to pre-order their killer debut album, which comes out June 23rd, click here.