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Nothing More vocalist/percussionist Jonny Hawkins
discusses striving as an independent band by turning
negative letdowns and personal struggles into positive
fuel before being signed, religious background, breaking
rules in songwriting, musical influences, future goals
Jonny Hawkins (Lead Vocals, Auxilary Drums)
Daniel Oliver (Bass, Backing Vocals)
Mark Vollelunga (Guitar, Backing Vocals)
Paul O'Brien (Drums)
Genre: Progressive Alternative Rock
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana
Shelter (2004, Independent), Madhatter's Bliss (2005, Independent)
Vandura (2007, Independent), Save You, Save Me (2007, Independent)
The Few Not Fleeting (2009, Independent), Nothing More (2014, Eleven Seven)
"Mr MTV" Watch Video
"This Is The Time (Ballast)" Watch Video
How did everything come together working with Eleven Seven Music on the new album and being signed with them in
March on a five record contract, considering your band’s initial records were released independently.
We started making records in high school. We basically took our first few records off the shelves so that they’d kind of
be special for the people that knew us growing up and they didn’t really represent who we are now. So, there was kind
of this combination of reasons for why we did that, but we’re now selling and have available the two records that I sang
on—the first one being The Few Not Fleeting and the second one being the one that we’re touring on now (self-titled
Nothing More record). So we were independent throughout the three or four records before those two. Where we’re at
now with the self-titled record, we moved into a house together and recorded the whole thing over the course of about
two years and our goal was to make a record that sounded as good as a major label release, but on an independent
budget. It was a challenge because we didn’t have all the money, but we had the time, so it took a good amount of time
to finish it, but once we did, it was only a few months after that where Eleven Seven reached out to us and was very
interested. We actually found out when we were in The Redwoods at Yosemite National Park in northern California.
It was the coolest moment to find out that there was a label actually interested in us, because we had been passed on
by multiple major labels the year before that. We got turned down, we were told “no” over the course of two years
multiple times. It was a little bit hard to keep the faith, but we kept moving forward and we said, “screw all those labels,
we’re just going to do it ourselves,” so we did. Eleven Seven got interested and it wasn’t but a week later that we
played a show at Aftershock ; we had an opportunity to play the main stage by a fluke series of events where a
main stage band had to cancel, the guy who ran the festival saw our show and invited us back the second day, we
played between 10-13,000 people. Long story short, that next day all these labels reached out to us and it was the
total opposite of what happened the year before and now we were this hot item on the market, where every rock label
was seemingly wanting to sign us and at the end of all of it, we went to New York and LA and met with all these
different suits and people and a lot of them were great people within these labels, but at the end of the day, Eleven
Seven, who was the first that reached out to us, was still the most passionate—we went with passion before money
and passion before a bigger name, because at the end of the day, that’s what we believe transcends all around.
What was it that made you persevere as a band and stay united after, as you mentioned, being turned down by
multiple labels before that Aftershock performance?
That’s a great question. I think all of us go through these letdowns day to day and there’s a variety of different reasons
each time as to what got us through it. And for us that was this really big version of these letdowns that we all go
through. For us as a band, sometimes when you’re struggling at whatever you’re trying to accomplish—whether you’re
trying to start a business or you’re raising kids or you’re a single parent or something along those lines—it’s the love of
whatever it is that you’re chasing that will prevail beyond all obstacles, if you really do love it. So, when we were told
“no,” we adopted a mindset based on heroes of ours and read their books—musicians, athletes—people that we
modeled our mindsets after, that taught us that when you’re confronted with failure or rejection, to not shy away
because of that, but actually lean in even more and fight even harder. So, we got some more fuel behind that mindset.
When I lost my mom to cancer and when I went through some struggles with relationships and I know the guys went
through some struggles before this record with heartbreak and other things, but you can use those things that were
negative in your life as positive fuel. You can use it and we channeled it in a way that was like, well when my mom
died, it was such a heartbreak and hard thing to go through, that I was like “fuck it, nothing is going to stop me after
this, I’m either going to do something or I’m going to die trying.” And that was it. It was almost like I had nothing to lose,
and that’s what got us through it, those struggles that we fueled off of.
Who were some of the heroes you mentioned that you personally looked up during those times to inspire you?
There was quite a few people, I’m trying to think of who to pick out of the hat because we would all kind of share books
and share music or movies or whatever it was to kind of inspire each other as we were on this journey. I remember our
bassist Daniel bought us all a book and surprisingly enough, it was called Pour Your Heart Into It and it was the book
about the guy who started Starbucks. Now that it’s such a huge corporation I think that people forget that it was just a
guy who was passionate at one time about coffee and coffee culture, it’s kind of funny because it has nothing to do
with music necessarily, but when you read the guy’s story about how much he, like the titled said “poured his heart into
it” and really cared, it’s no surprise to now flash forward ten, twenty years that it’s now this global corporation that has
really changed a lot of people’s lives. Whether you hate ‘em or love ‘em the guy who started it had a pure heart and his
story was a huge influence.
Within the self-titled record there’s some references and allusions to religion, how does that play into your album and
I grew up a very hardcore Christian. My parents were Christian, my family was. I played drums in the youth band in
church for many years, so did our bass player. I met our guitar player Mark at a church camp. So, we grew up with
church roots. When we started getting older, when we started cleaning the slate in our mind if you will and saying,
“okay, this is what we grew up believing and these are the ideas that we’ve adopted, but what do we actually believe?”
I remember watching the news one day and it was about a child somewhere on the Gaza Strip who was convinced to
put a bomb on his chest and run into this building and kill a bunch of people, and the thought crossed my mind at that
time: you know what, if I was born the way he was born, chances are I would be doing the exact same thing and I
would believe everything I was told because there’s no other information that’s challenging that—my family’s telling
me, society around me is telling me it, so to me it would be truth and I would think that would be the right thing to do.
I asked myself that question. I’m fortunate that the beliefs I was born into doesn’t require me or encourage me to strap
a bomb to myself to do what he thinks is right, but at the same time, what’s the difference as far as principle? I adopted
these beliefs just like that kid did, mine just happened to be less violent. I went through this journey, as did the guys as
we started touring, of self-discovery and reading people who didn’t agree with what we grew up believing. So, we kind
of ended up at this place where we came full circle. Now, we’re kind of in the middle. Not that we’re undecided on what
we believe, but that we see there’s truth in certain aspects of religious backgrounds and stories, but there’s also a lot
of truth that contradicts all of that and many times it’s just a different way of looking at things and each one serves a
different purpose. We even address our audience online to those on either side, because we have a lot of friends and
fans who are very religious and we also have a lot of friends and fans who are very nonreligious and secular and
atheist. We actually like the fact of trying to bring those two paradigms together rather than focusing on what divides
the two, even though we do that, we like to have the focus more on, “okay, what’s the common ground and what are
we all talking about?”
As far as the music goes, what are some of your influences that you bring to the band's sound?
Mike Portnoy is a huge drumming influence for me, he changed my world of drumming for me. I was also in drumline
for awhile, so the whole drum corps world was a huge influence on how I view putting on a show and the level of
accuracy as performers that we should be operating at. I also grew up listening to bands like Tool and Rage Against
The Machine, who are both very unique in their own right that offered a lot of substance and room to dig on those
bands. Also, a guy name Alan Watts, he’s a philosopher and he influences a lot of our thought processes which has
in turn influenced our writing and our song topics. He’s actually on the record, you hear a guy talking on a few of the
tracks and that’s Alan Watts.
With the band’s music having a lot of substance and layers, how do you make the transitions of varying approaches
you use flow together throughout the album with song construction? With so much depth in the different songs,
it would probably be hard to make the writing formula-based.
That’s a hard question to answer. The best answer I can give is: once you learn the rules, you can break the rules and
that’s with every instrument. You learn all the rules, you learn your scales, you learn song structure from good writers,
you learn how to sing properly and then when you have that foundation, a center point, then you explore on top of that
and start breaking certain rules in ways that are creative. Today we have shows like American Idol and it’s a singing
competition, it’s not who do I actually give a fuck about and who would I pay money to buy their record and absorb
something meaningful from what they’re saying into my life, it’s just a bunch of people who are really good at singing.
At the end of the day, it’s not the best singer, the best drummer or best musician, or even the best band that’s most
impacting to a person’s life, it’s the most meaningful and unique and a lot of times being unique is playing off your
flaws. For me as a singer, a lot of the things that I ended up doing that people say make me stand out from another
singer were a result of my weaknesses as a singer and for me figuring out a new way to play off of those and cover
them up, because I wasn’t as good of a singer as your traditional rock singer or pop singer. As in music as is in life,
your weaknesses can be a source of strength, so it’s learning how to perform that alchemy on yourself and
transforming those things into positive things.
What’s your favorite song on the self-titled record and how do you determine the singles to plug and promote?
That’s a good question. “This Is The Time” was a group decision. We never pick anything by ourselves, we always
consult with our management and the label because everybody always has a different point of view and it’s good to
get all of that in the mix. Each song on the record is very close to my heart in a different way. It’s kind of like asking
who’s your favorite child, so it’s hard to answer. But, the most meaningful song on the record for me is “God Went
North,” because it’s about my mom who was the person that loved me more than anyone on this Earth could love
someone, as most of our moms are like that. She had a long battle with cancer and of all the people who you don’t
want to see suffer, it’s your mom. That was very hard for me to deal with because there was no murderer or someone
who took her life that I could blame and fucking chop their head off and destroy them, you know, it was cancer. It’s like
this invisible thing, so the only way I could deal with it was trying to vent all this angst and sadness into music and so
I think “God Went North” was number one: a healing process and number two: it was making something for people
who would also be at that point inevitably in their life--whether it be their father, mother, brother, sister, wife or children,
we all lose people.
What are your goals and what does the future have in store for Nothing More?
This may sound pretentious, but all in honesty, our main goal as a band is to impact as many lives as possible and be
the biggest band in the world. Not being the biggest band in the world for the sake of being famous or having these
external things to the music like sex, drugs and rock and roll, it’s not about that, but to be the biggest in the sense of
meaningful to people’s lives in a way that changes the world. That’s our goal.
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