Music: Such Great Heights

Hawthorne Heights remembers their local ties en route to the big time

Dec 7, 2005 at 2:06 pm
C. K. George

Hawthorne Heights have experienced great success with their certified-gold debut album, but insist they are "the same bunch of guys from Dayton, Ohio."

It's long been established that Cincinnati's sister scene to the north in Dayton has been every bit as diverse and surprising as our own over the years. The Breeders certainly made an impact, brief though it might have been, and Guided by Voices were the cult kings of the underground party for nearly two decades, attracting listeners from around the world.

For that reason, it's no surprise that Hawthorne Heights becomes the latest Dayton area band to find some measure of success on the national stage. The surprise comes when one realizes the level of success that the melodic post-Hardcore outfit has achieved in their relatively short four-year history. Their first album, the certified gold The Silence in Black and White, which has occupied a spot on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart for nearly a year straight, has inspired heavy rotation on radio and TV and led to Hawthorne Heights' headlining gig on the Vans Warped Tour this past summer.

The band originally formed four years ago as A Day in the Life with lead vocalist/guitarist J.T. Woodruff and a different quartet of supporting musicians. One by one, A Day in the Life's position players were shuffled until the current lineup — Woodruff, drummer Eron Bucciarelli, guitarists Casey Calvert and Micah Carli, bassist Matt Ridenour — was solidified.

"Once Matt joined, we had all these second generation members — Matt was our fourth bass player — so we decided to start fresh and change the name, write all new material and have a clean slate," says drummer Bucciarelli of the shift to Hawthorne Heights. "The name has no significant meaning. Matt came up with it, and we just thought it sounded good."

With the name change came a discernible shift in attitude. Hawthorne Heights quickly expanded out of the Dayton scene, playing a number of Cincinnati gigs and taking opening slots with the likes of Coheed and Cambria, From Autumn to Ashes and The Descendents, which garnered the band listeners across a diverse fan base. And like any new band playing in untapped markets, Hawthorne Heights experienced some memorable failures.

"We played this theater in Covington, and it was our first show after we got signed and we thought, 'This might be cool now, there's gonna be a lot of people coming out to see us,' and there were like six people there," says Bucciarelli. "All the bands had to chip in money to pay the sound guy because the club wasn't going to. The kid who promoted the show wasn't even old enough to get in; it was an 18-and-up show. Most of our fans weren't over 18 so they couldn't even get in."

Although Hawthorne Heights' signing to Chicago's Victory Records wasn't enough to save the Covington show, it paid dividends soon enough. The band had taken their time recording their new material in the summer of 2003 and then sent out their carefully considered demo to a variety of labels.

"Some were interested, some weren't, but Victory ultimately expressed interest in us and we played a showcase for them; the next day, they called us up and told us they loved us and wanted to sign us," says Bucciarelli. "A month later, we were officially signed."

The Heights' debut album was released in June 2004 and was a fairly immediate sensation based on the extensive touring they'd done. The Silence in Black and White enjoyed a long run on the sales charts, which the band supported with even more touring. This year, in a strategy that Victory has used to great advantage in the past, the label reissued Silence with bonus live tracks and enhanced video footage, which boosted combined sales to well over half a million units. Bucciarelli admits the band is more than a little surprised at the figures.

"If someone told me last year that our album was gonna sell 600,000 copies in a year and a half, I'd have told them they were smoking crack," he says with a laugh. "We never expected this."

2005 has been a whirlwind year for Hawthorne Heights. The band's Warped Tour appearance was a highlight of the festival, they made the cover of Alternative Press and they appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in August. Through it all, the Heights have tried to remain as grounded as possible.

"We're still the same bunch of guys from Dayton, Ohio," says Bucciarelli. "The only thing that's changed is the live show, because we figured we've sold a lot of records, and we're actually a headlining band so we should look like a headlining band. So now we have a light guy and a sound guy out with us. And that just changed on this tour."

In keeping with the Heights' desire to stay true to their local roots, the video for the second single from Silence, "Niki FM," was shot at Newport's Southgate House back in the summer. With a narrow window of time to film the video before embarking on the Warped Tour, the label wanted the band to fly out to Los Angeles for the shoot but the band knew they wouldn't be able to fit in the travel and the video so they asked the director to find someplace close, preferably near Cincinnati.

"They couldn't find a soundstage with a green screen that was large enough, so the director scouted places in Cincinnati and found the Southgate House and then brought in their own green screen," says Bucciarelli. "Then we just filmed a lot of the stuff in the bar."

Hawthorne Heights' full pack march of 2005 continues unabated as the band has just finished the sessions for their sophomore album, tentatively slated for release at the end of next February. Bucciarelli notes that the band learned a great deal from the experiences of the first album.

"I think we were way better prepared," says Bucciarelli. "We had most of our songs finished before we even got to the studio, where the last album we were still putting parts together when we got there. On this tour we're playing three new songs. Any time you play a new song and nobody's ever heard it, it's always a lull in the set because nobody knows what to sing along to. But we're playing some of the heavier songs so kids can at least mosh and do whatever they do."

HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS plays Bogart's on Saturday with Aiden and Silverstein.