When Hawthorne Heights release their new CD, Skeletons, in early 2010, it figures to be a major event for the hard rocking alternative band.
For one thing, it’s the first Hawthorne Heights CD to arrive under a new deal with Wind-up Records (home to Evanescence and Creed), and it comes with the trappings of a major label release, especially compared to the group’s previous CD, 2008’s Fragile Future.
“We did Fragile Future with one of our friends [producing it] up in Chico, California,” says singer JT Woodruff. “This one was like hitting the big time. We were working with Howard Benson, who’s a huge-name producer, in Los Angeles, pretty much doing our record in Hollywood. It was just totally different no matter which way you look at it.”
The big-event nature of Skeletons, though, comes from much more than the way it was recorded. The album marks the re-emergence of Hawthorne Heights from a nearly three-year period filled with tragedy and turmoil.
The tragedy came in November 2007, when guitarist/screaming vocalist Casey Calvert was found dead on the band’s tour bus outside of the Washington, D.C., venue, the 9:30 Club. Calvert’s death was ruled the result of a drug interaction. Calvert had been taking medications for depression and anxiety problems, and members of Hawthorne Heights have emphasized that he never used illegal drugs.
At the time of Calvert’s death, Hawthorne Heights had done some early writing for Fragile Future, but ended up reworking those songs for the four-piece band format, as well as writing additional songs. The recording of Fragile Future also marked the end of a protracted feud with the band’s original record label, Victory Records.
The band’s early experiences with Victory had been positive. The Dayton, Ohio, band’s first CD, 2004’s The Silence In Black And White, went platinum with sales of more than one million copies — an impressive achievement for an indie-label album. The second album, 2006’s If Only You Were Lonely, debuted at number three on Billboard magazine’s album chart and went on to sell 500,000 copies.
But the band became angry over what it claimed were unpaid royalties — a charge Victory denied. Another sore point was a letter the label sent to members of the band’s street team that urged those fans to move copies of If Only You Were Lonely to more prominent display areas in stores on the day of its release. At the same time, they were asked to move CDs by singer Ne-Yo to less visible areas in an attempt to enhance sales of If Only You Were Lonely and push that album ahead of the Ne-Yo release for first-week sales.
After some two years of legal wrangling, the band and Victory Records worked out their differences, and Fragile Future ended up being released by Victory.
Looking back at the Victory saga now, Woodruff voiced some regrets over the course of action by the band, which also includes guitarist Micah Carli, bassist Matt Ridenour and drummer Eron Bucciarelli.
“I don’t think that filing a lawsuit was the best way to handle the situation,” Woodruff says. “I think that we should have just kind of talked out our differences and found a better medium ground. I don’t regret being signed to Victory. I don’t think that any of us do. I think we had a great time. I think they did a great job helping us in our career. I don’t really have anything negative to say.”
Nonetheless, with the Victory contract fulfilled by Fragile Future, Hawthorne Heights moved on to Wind-up, and will get a chance to regain its commercial momentum with Skeletons. Woodruff says the new album should please fans of the first two Hawthorne Heights albums.
“It definitely sounds like Hawthorne Heights,” Woodruff says. “We didn’t write 13 curveballs or whatever. There are a couple of things we’ve never done before, but it definitely sounds rock. There’s not a whole lot of polished pop sounds to it or whatever. The guitars are blazing. Everything’s loud. The drums pound pretty hard. As far as the actual songs, we wrote a whole lot of songs and then kind of whittled them down into a collection of songs that we thought sounded a little bit different from each other. We didn’t want to have the same types of songs.”
The band won’t use the fall tour, though, to debut many of the new songs live. Instead, the group plans to emphasize material that will be familiar to many fans and play perhaps only one or two of the new songs.
“We’re playing songs off of all of the records,” Woodruff says. “Of course, we’re playing some singles, but we’re playing some songs that we either have never played live or haven’t played in, like, four years. So we’re really looking forward to that. It keeps things fresh for us, too.”
On the Bill
Hawthorne Heights plays the Hi-Dive on Thursday, Dec. 3. Doors at 6 p.m. Nightbeast opens. Tickets are $15. 7 S. Broadway, Denver, 720-570-4500.