After a decade of toiling, Nothing More are finally ready to hit the big time. But they’ve had to suffer some hardships along the way
The Texan foursome explain why they’ve fought for recognition, and how it feels to break out of the basements and bars.
etting a record deal isn’t the point that you’ve made it.
It’s when the work begins.”
That piece of advice has always stuck with Nothing More’s Jonny Hawkins. Eleven years of hard toil on the dive bar circuit and working all manner of odd jobs to keep a roof over his head finally paid off in 2014 when
Eleven Seven Music, home to Mötley Crüe, Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch, signed his band and set them up for great things. First came their self-titled fourth record, and now they’re building on their platform with the bombastic The Stories We Tell Ourselves. Jonny is reflective about their long quest for recognition.
“We made a commitment to each other when we were young,” he says. “We made a pact – you can actually see the scars on our arms. Some dude way back in the early 1900s went to Africa and in order to be accepted into this tribe, he had to have all these scars on his arms because in their culture they’d hurt themselves and then fill the open wound with ash or something. We kind of got that idea from there and ran with it. We did this burn on our arms with the back of a knife over a hot stove. We agreed that side jobs were fine, but we knew that if any of us got other jobs we were invested in… a real job where there was responsibility and commitment… it would threaten the amount of energy that we could pour into the band. So we agreed not to have any plan Bs in the background.”
This all-or-nothing dedication is typical of Jonny. His band’s live shows are more performance art than gig, with the centerpiece being bassist Dan Oliver’s invention, ‘The Bassinator’. Dan, Jonny explains, learned to weld on one of his side jobs, and built a contraption to hold the bass so he and guitarist Mark Vollelunga can play it together “like a piano”. Jonny, often shirtless and barefoot, then joins in on a drum. The music itself is impressive enough, with its seamless transitions from nu metal to alt-rock to anthemic pop choruses, but Jonny was determined that, before their record deal, Nothing More would never be just another band passing through small venues without demanding attention.
“The live performances really sprung up out of necessity because we didn’t have a label and we weren’t playing any shows with any kind of profile – it was dive bars or places where people weren’t there to see the music, they were just there to drink,” he explains.
The staging and performance ideas are taken from real-life experiences; Jonny’s spell in a marching band at school gave him the idea of playing the extra drum onstage, and
Dan and Mark got the idea for The Bassinator while working a nightshift at UPS loading boxes onto a plane.
The Eleven Seven deal, and release of their 2014 self-titled album, was when Nothing More began really making waves in our world. Tours with US rock radio giants such as Five Finger Death Punch, Halestorm and Shinedown followed, and the pressure to impress became more intense.
“Touring was pretty good for the most part. It was a huge step up from what we were doing before,” Jonny remembers. “We were nothing but grateful and thankful to all the bands. A lot of times, we had very short sets on tours like that, so we just had a moment to really grab people’s attention. It was a little more difficult than we thought, how quickly we had to soundcheck and set up and get ready for those large audiences.”
Then, suddenly, everything went quiet. When the high of touring ended, the band were thrust back into the real world, and Jonny’s personal life began falling apart.
“We were home getting our lives in order after having been gone for so long,” he says. “A lot of the songs on this record are about heartbreak and struggle. When I got home after three years of intense touring, I went through a divorce of an eight-year relationship. It was pretty tough; it’s for the best and we’re both in a much happier place, but I had to get everything in order and get my life back. It was a painful process but I came out a stronger happier and better person, so a lot of that went into this record.”
As well as channelling his emotions into the lyrics, Jonny was also determined to deliver the goods and build on the success of their last album.
“This record was a pretty challenging one; it’s our sophomore release in regards to the world hearing us and it being on a label, so there was a lot more pressure this time around,” he admits. “Most of that is self-created. I’m my own worst critic. I think that’ll create good results, but it’s also riddled with anxiety and panic attacks. You get huge moments of self-doubt where you’re like, ‘This is all shit!’. Then you get other moments like, ‘This is going to change the world!’”
Jonny’s tenacity and honesty as a songwriter emanates from every track. There’s the call-to-action of Do You Really Want It, whose grooves sit somewhere between Incubus and the Beastie Boys; the Deftones-recalling glitchy fuzz of Ripping Me Apart and The Great Divorce; the grieving howl of Still In Love; and even an acoustic ballad, Just Say When, which isn’t miles away from early Fall Out Boy. On paper, it sounds like a schizophrenic hop through opposing genres, but the finished result is so cohesive, it’s like Nothing More have created a genre all their own.
As for what’s next, Jonny is cagey. “I try not to give too many ideas away because I want it to be a surprise,” he says conspiratorially.
Right now, he’s revelling in the album’s critical success, and the band are back on the touring circuit, with European dates scheduled throughout November and December, and Japan and Australia on the cards after that. The young friends who spent a decade plying their craft and honouring their promise are finally proving that they were always better than tiny crowds and basement venues. It’s a good job they made that pact not to get ‘real jobs’ after all, because rock would have missed out on a truly exciting band.