“I couldn’t sleep at all while making this record,” admits HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS frontman JT Woodruff of his band’s eighth full-length, THE RAIN JUST FOLLOWS ME, due out September 10, 2021 via Pure Noise Records. “It was an 18-year breakdown in the making.”
Throughout their long and storied career as one of the most iconic emo acts of the new millennium, the quartet have overcome obstacles at every turn – but these roadblocks always seemed to come from external forces, from unscrupulous record labels and the shifting whims of fickle audiences to unimaginable personal tragedy threatening to derail them.
Despite the odds, Hawthorne Heights have overcome it all: earning two Gold albums (2004’s The Silence In Black And White and 2006’s If Only You Were Lonely), penning some of the genre’s most well-known songs (“Ohio Is For Lovers,” “Saying Sorry”), and remaining a hard-touring act nearly two decades after forming in Dayton, Ohio.
But in 2019, the band – Woodruff, Matt Ridenour (bass, backing vocals), Mark McMillon (guitar, unclean vocals) and Chris “Poppy” Popadak (drums) – found themselves staring down maybe their biggest foe yet: themselves.
2018’s Bad Frequencies, the group’s first album for Pure Noise, had re-established Hawthorne Heights in the scene after a series of self-released efforts, and they followed it by – what else? – heading out on tour with the likes of New Found Glory and Silverstein. The shows were epic, celebratory, and cathartic for the band as they refound their footing, but they also complicated things tremendously when it came time to start working on Bad Frequencies’ follow-up.
Eager to hit the studio again as soon as possible – and probably a bit naive about how much they could physically take – the writing sessions for LP8 took place in unusual places: in sound checks and dressing rooms, in far-flung rehearsal studios after marathon overnight drives. Hawthorne Heights weren’t just burning the candle at both ends; they were splitting it in two, then letting the flames engulf the smaller pieces completely
Almost immediately, the line between the end of the Bad Frequencies era and the beginning of a new one blurred to an unrecognizable Rorschach test. When it came time to decamp in Southern California with Grammy-winner Cameron Webb (Alkaline Trio, NOFX, Megadeth) behind the boards, things came to a head.
“I developed nightly panic attacks,” Woodruff says. “It was just exhaustion – from running out of gas and breaking down on the side of highways, from never being able to get the smell of diesel fuel out of your head. It was the first time in our career I had no vision of a record. That scared the hell out of me”
There was a lot pulling at the singer, not the least of which was the wife and daughter he once again was forced to leave back in Ohio while he was out living his dream. But Woodruff and his bandmates were also undergoing a bigger identity crisis: Just who were they this many albums into their career?
“Are we a heavy band with melodic vocals, or are we a pop-punk band with screaming?” he asks rhetorically. “What we realized was we were separating the songs more than we realized. On one side, we had killer pop-punk songs, on the other there were super-heavy songs. At its core, Hawthorne Heights is both of those things put together.”
It was this moment of realization that cements THE RAIN JUST FOLLOWS ME as an essential entry into the Hawthorne Heights discography, as the group adroitly swerve between soaring pop melodies and caustic breakdowns with little warning – keeping audiences, and even themselves, guessing.
They didn’t set out to replicate the sound of their early albums, but rather the spirit, eschewing overthinking and instead simply following their instincts: the riffy, frenetic (and aptly named) first single “Constant Dread” that finds Counterparts vocalist Brendan Murphy delivering a bone-rattling guest spot; the driving title track and reflective “Thunder In Our Hearts”; the album standout “Spray Paint It Black,” featuring Bayside’s Anthony Raneri.
The 11-track record stands as some of Woodruff’s most resonant writing to date, as he unravels themes of both physical and emotional distance as well as personal identity – anxieties so exacerbated by the last year that it’s incredible the album was completed before the pandemic hit. (“There’s so many undertones of what would happen over the next 16 months,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know if that makes us the emo Nostradamus or what.”)
Most of all, THE RAIN JUST FOLLOWS ME is quintessentially Hawthorne Heights. It’s who they’ve always been – they just needed to push down the heartache and strife long enough to rediscover those intangible characteristics.
“The biggest mistake bands made back in the day was trying to get on the radio,” Woodruff muses. “Why worry about whether we should double the chorus to make it more appealing, or whether doing that would make it too long for radio? Eighteen years in, why are we trying to make a big song?”
In reality, though, Hawthorne Heights have been making big songs their entire career – in the realm of popular music, sure, but even more importantly, in the hearts of those who still show up to the band’s shows, who’ve inked their bodies with lyric tattoos, who’ve used the songs to help them get through life’s challenges. Those are big songs in the life-changing sense, unmeasurable by Soundscan reports or radio spins.
“We want to create the best songs that are accurate depictions of our lives and connect to other people through our songs,” Woodruff says. “I hope this record helps people understand that others out there are thinking like them – and thinking about them. Everyone gets poured on in life; we just want to provide an umbrella.”
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