» Jonny Hawkins - Nøthing Møre
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Interview conducted November 21 2015
Interview published November 29 2015

"It was just a different ball game when you have a team of people working to push you."

The American alternative rockers Nøthing Møre are currently out on a 2 week trek across Europe and Metal Covenant had a few words with lead singer Jonny Hawkins before the band's show in Stockholm, Sweden. When Nøthing Møre's last, and self titled, album came out I wasn't exactly overexcited or deeply impressed by the result as it was a little bit uneven quality-wise, but after having seen this record being played in a live environment, I believe that these guys actually have a chance to eventually get something bigger going.

"We have these burnmarks and that was a pact we made with each other."

Tobbe: You started your first headlining tour yesterday in Copenhagen, so what do you expect to come out of this tour?

Jonny: We've only done Europe twice, but the last tour was really our first extensive European tour. We had to play with Halestorm and open for them and we got, you know, kind of a foundation as far as people and a fanbase. So this time, we probably could have gone with another band again because we're still so fresh out here, but we wanted to do one tour on this record, before we start working on the next one, over here and start building our own thing. So we're gonna get to do a longer set, whereas if we'd play with another band we'd have to do another 30 minute kind of 'Wam-bam, thank you, Ma'am!"-kind of a set. So this time we get to play all the songs on the record, before we put it to bed.

Tobbe: Actually you're not so fresh, because you have made a couple of albums, or a lot of albums before [4 to be exact.], but people here in Europe kind of like think that this is your first album.

Jonny: Yeah. It's like it's our first album and not our first album, you know. It's both, in a way.

Tobbe: Well, it's a new start and the album's self titled, so I guess some people think it's your first one. As you're starting to build some momentum now, here in Europe too, hopefully, I guess you have some long-term plans as well, for future activities?

Jonny: Yeah. Really we're trying to build Europe up to be somewhere that we go to once or twice a year and in order to do that we gotta, you know, start building sooner than later and that's part of the reason we're doing this headlining tour. But we're gonna be finished with touring on this record right after this one, so this is the final tour on the record. We're gonna go home for Christmas and then in January we start working on the next record. It should take us about 6 months to a year.

Tobbe: Like we've said; you're very much at the doorstep of building a career and this is a quite tricky question, but how far do you think that you will go eventually?

Jonny: Honestly, I've always been taught, as a kid, to never speak highly of yourself. You know, because I don't like people who do that, so I don't want this to come across in that way, but our ambitions are very, very big. We have our eyes set on the world, in the sense of; we wanna be the biggest band in the world, of our generation. So that's literally what we want, and that's what we see. We wanna be the Queen, the Led Zeppelin, the Pink Floyd, you know. That's where we have our eyes set.

Tobbe: Well, I think it's better to have a high goal and maybe not reach all the way, than not having any goal at all. Since you're kind of fresh in Europe, how would you personally describe your type of music to people who haven't listened to it yet?

Jonny: Um, it's very hard for me to describe it, 'cause I feel like I'm too close to it, so it's hard for me to be objective. As far as genre, it's progressive, alternative rock, with a hint of metal. We call it diet metal. [Laughs] And I think, beyond just the sound of it and what I feel is more important, is what it feels like. It's very emotion driven, it's life experience driven, you know.

I think there's a lot of different genres of music, that I personally and the band listen to, but the artist that we pick out in each genre, the common thread, is that it feels genuine, real, passionate and they're saying something, and that's what we aspire to be within our genre.

Tobbe: In the end, to whom does your music address to? Like radio listeners, or…?

Jonny: This record is much more accessible to radio, so it works at radio and it's been working so far back in the States. But I've found that a lot of people, who get very attached to our music, are people who are attached to the meaning, more than just the genre or the sound. You know, the bands you typically tour with are bands that sound similar to you, but the people that end up liking our music are a lot of times people who listen to a variety of things.

They may not like rock bands that much and they say that, you know, we're the only band, that sounds like this, that they like, and that's a huge compliment. But really, I think it comes down to the lyrics, and the meaning, and the emotions.

Tobbe: So this is something you guys have that other bands don't?

Jonny: Um, I think it is a differentiating factor. You know, there's a lot of bands that sound a certain way and every once in a while, there are bands who come out and sound radically different. I think Rage Against The Machine was an example. When they came out, there wasn't really anything quite like them, and there's been other bands like that as well.

Nirvana, I think changed the way people listen to music. I think, like us, like we're not so much a distinct new sound, as much as we're a hodgepodge of a variety of influences, and to me it's more about the meaning and the feeling.

Tobbe: When you wrote the music for your last record, your self titled one, what were you looking for? Were you looking for, you know, hooks, melodies, or kind of a little bit of everything?

Jonny: You know, I read a quote the other day that said "Success is just pouring your heart into every inch of whatever you do." and I think that with this record, the whole process was falling in love with every little thing along the way, you know. And when you look at a record and you talk to songwriters, or artists, or producers, you're gonna get a lot of opinions about, you know, "It all comes down to the melodies, the most important thing." or "The lyrics are really important.". You know, they try to bring it down to this one thing that's more important than the rest, and I've heard that a lot.

But when we're making a record, like putting the strings on the guitar, changing the drumhead, or picking out the right microphone, or playing around with a new program that was gonna influence some of the electronic ideas, like every little thing, it's just like falling in love with it and being as excited about that thing as I was about singing the parts, or playing the drums, or recording Mark [Vollelunga] playing his guitar things.

That to me was the key and that's why it came out in a way that we're very, very happy with, because it was all the little details. Because the records that I like, years down the road, when you look back, and the ones that last, are the ones that you can hear things on that you didn't hear 10 years before. You know, that were nestled in there. And that's kind of what this one was for us.

Tobbe: How much have your new label, Eleven Seven Music, supported you, so you could start this thing up for real?

Jonny: They've helped a lot. Let me just start with that. They have helped a lot, but they came in after we did this record. We got passed on by pretty much every label. I don't know if Eleven Seven knew who we were at the time. They weren't one of them. But a lot of the major rock labels in the States watched us in New York, in L.A. and passed. So the label came in after we did this record on our own, because we just had to do it on our own, and we did a kickstarter at the time. But when they came onboard, within that year, I mean, we could all feel it.

It was just a different ball game when you have a team of people working to push you. Really, that's why we're over in Europe; when we were negotiating between labels, we were asking a very pointed question, like "Will you support us in going to Europe? You know, on your dime, so we can expand globally? And Japan, and Australia?". And a lot of the labels were very timid about that, but they were like "Yup. We're going international.". Like "We already have bands over there, and we're building.". And we were like "All right. We're going with Eleven Seven.".

Tobbe: So what's with the Ø's in the band name? What do they stand for?

Jonny: It's funny, because over here it's a character in you all's alphabet, right?

Tobbe: Yeah, in Norwegian and in Danish, for example.

Jonny: Oh, so not in Swedish. We did it because; if you look at our record, you see all the symbols. This was kind of a theme that pervaded many of the concepts, whether it's lyrically, musically or visually. We took things that were different and almost opposites and tried to cross them over. All those symbols are math symbols, and we made words with them. For example, one of them, like the upside-down A is a math symbol that means 'for all'.

There is one like the backwards E that means 'there exists'. And they use these in equations to refer to concepts, you know. So we made like a coded message with them, so the O's with the cross through is not the alphabet or the letter; it's the 'null set', the mathematical system, so it's kind of a crossover.

Tobbe: Let's talk about your coming record for a while. I reckon you have lots of material for it already, and is there something you will do differently with this album in comparison to your last one?

Jonny: Every record's been different, like completely different, leading up to this last one. I was doing a lot of learning over the 2 years that we were working on it, because I wasn't a professional engineer or a mixing person at the time. So I had a lot to learn very quickly, and so now, coming back around, there's a lot of things that I look at and go "Okay. I would do that differently." or "We could do this more efficiently.". But I think the most notable thing that we learned from this record, that we wanna continue doing, is that we opened ourselves up to collaborations much more.

We got together with a songwriter friend of ours, who was in a band that we used to tour with, but his band ended up breaking up, but we felt like "Man. This guy is such a great artist.". And he's a great friend of ours. He's almost like an invisible member of the band, because he's that close. Like "Let's do some writing together." after, as a band, we had written some stuff. "Let's get together with him and see what he adds to it.". And we did that with him, a guy named Paco Estrada, and if you look on the record you'll see a guy named Scott Stevens as well. So we're gonna do a little more like that. We just played with Breaking Benjamin the other day and the singer, Ben [Burnley], said he wanted to experiment with us on some song ideas. So it'd be cool to bring in new people and maybe some different singers from other bands, to have cameos, you know. So that's gonna be different.

Other than that, I think, we're gonna push the boundaries more vocally. I wanna get even more raw emotion coming through the speakers, and experiment. Much like Maynard [James Keenan] from Tool. He's a big influence of mine, in regards to; like when you listen to his side project stuff with A Perfect Circle and Puscifer and then you listen to Tool, he's one of the most experimental vocalists and you can see that he tries new things and pushes himself, and I think a lot of vocalists, most vocalists, they find what works and then they just stick with it and keep putting out records with that sound. And that's okay, but I like people like Maynard who keep challenging themselves and reinventing, you know, what it is.

Tobbe: So what release date are we looking at?

Jonny: Let's see. I think we're gonna be probably finishing up the record in August of 2016, 'cause we take a little bit longer than most band would for the records. I mean, we might even be pushing into the winter-time. So that means the record will be coming out probably early 2017, which I know is kind of disappointing. I hate that it's that far off, but I'd rather set the expectations longer and then come out sooner. Hopefully we won't be like Tool, where it's like 10 years and then our record comes out.

Tobbe: Has music always been a big part of your life?

Jonny: Definitely since I was 7 years old. My dad played music. You know, and Saturday mornings, I remember, was always like a day when we'd clean the house and go to the park or do things like that, and my dad, during the day, would always play music really loud in the living room. And he finally took me to a rock show, and I was 7 years old, and I remember getting chills and the feeling I still get as an adult. But as a kid you're very unguarded and you can't control the amount of feeling that's coming in.

You know, like when I watched a scary movie as a kid, it was so scary, but now as an adult it's like "I can't believe that was scary. It's so ridiculous.". But on the flipside it's that same principle that I couldn't control how amazing it was. As I got older I went through a lot of different phases. I wanted to be an athlete, or I wanted to be a scientist, or this or that, but the one thing that stuck through all these different phases was music. I always had it and it was always a thing that overpowered the rest of the things in my life. So yeah, it's always been there.

Tobbe: You're still fairly young, but I guess you have already realized how hard it is to break through the barriers and make this for a living?

Jonny: Yes. I'm learning every day. We came to a place about, you know, when we got signed. Getting signed by no means is a get home free card, you know. It is not any kind of guarantee. But it was something that turned, right around that time period. It's still difficult, but we're not in fear, or worry like we were at one time going "Is this gonna work? Can we make it work?". You know, those questions are not there anymore.

It's more like "How can we make it work better? How can we make this easier, or more efficient, or play more shows without running ourselves into the ground?". So it's those kind of questions now, which is a really great thing, because as a musician, it's a very insecure life, 'cause you don't know. There's no promise if it's gonna work out.

Tobbe: How much have you to fall back on, if things don't work out the way, I suppose, you're hoping for?

Jonny: Well, I don't have anything, me personally, and I know the guys as well. Let's say something horrible happened and we couldn't do music anymore, for whatever reason. Before that time period I was talking about, where we got signed, we had to figure out ways to make money to pay the bills. So we're no strangers to doing odd jobs and making things work, but we don't really have any one thing that we would fall back on.

But we do have good family, and friends, and support system in place. One of the big things that we set out on when we started touring, one of the big, I guess, like philosophical or belief systems, that we all subscribed to, was the idea that a fallback plan is a good idea for many pads in life, but when it comes to some of the things in life, like trying to make it in music, if you know that that's what you need to do, in order to be a happy person, or a fulfilled person, then having a fallback plan, and investing energy and time in that, will actually be the soft spot in the floor, that when the pressure's on you'll fall through.

And we've seen it with so many bands, that could have made it, but they got to this point that every band gets to, where pressures increase, from the label, from life back home, with relationships, with money, with health and, you know, all those things bleed into each other and somebody in the band, who had invested in a backup plan, ends up jumping ship, and then that starts this whole shaky process that 'then another guy leaves' and then it just crumbles.

So we solved that, first hand, and we're all like "None of us are doing a backup plan. We're all investing a 110 percent.". So we've held each other accountable to that. That's actually why we have these scars on our arm. We have these burnmarks and that was a pact we made with each other.

Tobbe: Like Mötley Crüe, with tattoos and stuff.

Jonny: Yeah. That was our version. It was just cheaper. [Laughs]

Tobbe: You guys are pretty much of a generation where downloading has always been around and physical record sales are still decreasing, so what is your opinion on illegal downloading, Spotify, and, whatever's out there?

Jonny: As a consumer myself, I love Spotify. I find so many bands through it and streaming music, like the whole model, the subscription base thing, that Spotify has, I think is the future, but as an artist, I think what they pay artists is horrible. It's awful. I think that something needs to change, like laws need to change to adjust to the new way. But I think that is the future. I think it's inevitable. But it's cool, at the same time, vinyls are coming back. Not full stream. Not everybody's buying vinyls, but there's a group of people, myself included, that are collecting them again, you know. So that's kind of cool.

Tobbe: What is your band's strongest, or biggest, asset?

Jonny: Basically I'll answer this question by telling you how we started out. We were playing bars where people were not there to see the music, so we were just an afterthought. In an environment like that, where people are drinking and if anything, you're more of an annoyance, unless you're playing cover songs, which we vowed to not do. We were like "We're not gonna turn into the band that just plays cover songs.", because you get caught in this money trap, where you make more money doing that and then you never get out and start writing your own originals.

So we played originals and nobody cared, so we were like "How do we keep writing originals and working on our music, but still make people care about us when they don't know it?". And so we started creating these show ideas, which you'll see in our live show. We do a bass solo, that's on this big metal stand that swings around, and then we have these big drum sectionals that are like Taiko Japanese style drumming mixed with metal based rhythms.

And those kind of things drew people in, even when they didn't knew our music, and bridged that gap where they might come up and buy a CD, and then when they came back the next time, they did know our music and we didn't have to play cover songs, you know. So I think that limitation at the time was, much like the song Here's To The Heartache, looking in hindsight. We hated that we had to play those venues, but we're thankful now. That created many of the things we do now, that people like.

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