San Antonio quartet Nothing More has gone from Texas’ hidden gem to the biggest diamond on the market when it comes to the music industry, of course. The rising experimental rock group continues to break their own boundaries when creating new music. Lyrically raw, musically ground-breaking, and personally down-to-earth, Nothing More continues to set themselves apart. Their latest record The Stories We Tell Ourselves, released September 15th, has already received critics acclaiming one of the best albums of the year.
Music Existence caught up with lead singer Jonny Hawkins on their second stop of the The Stories We Tell Ourselves tour in Springfield, MO to discuss the new album, his biggest reality check, and staying true to himself.
ME: You all are preparing for the release of your new album The Stories We Tell Ourselves. How did the album title come about, and what inspired the record?
Jonny: All of our songs are inspired by personal events, so each one is a different event or experience. The record is just a combination of all of those that have happened over the last two or three years. All of those songs kind of seem to relate in the same way that what I was going through at the time was constantly navigating through a labyrinth in my own mind of trying to figure out what was reality vs what were my thoughts and feelings about reality. Sometimes you have a story in your head, whether it be about your relationship or a situation with a job or your place in life in general. How you feel about yourself. Those are all these stories that you tell yourself, and I think in each one of those songs, that was a thing that was a common thread or anchor for me to hold onto that I could remind myself of what I was going through. Fearful times are very uncertain, anxious filled times. I would just say, “Okay, is this a story I’m telling myself or this what it really is?”
ME: If you could describe the album in three words, what would it be?
Jonny: Three words… introspective, passionate, and… free. Not money free. (laughs) Spiritually.
ME: Right, right. Normally when bands release new material, they kind of stick to the same songs live for that album cycle. With this album, do you plan to ever perform all of the songs at one point in time, or do you feel there are certain songs best left as the album version?
Jonny: Yeah, there are some songs that are best left on the album. Mainly, I think we’ll perform every song that’s on this record that’s an actual song, not a transitional track. On our last record, “God Went North” was the song that was better left on the record than playing live.
ME: After following you all’s career for over a decade, I’m proud to see how far that y’all have come from playing dive bars now to some of the biggest festivals in the world, such as Rock on the Range. Also, breaking records like having three songs simultaneously on Octane. That’s amazing. What was that like, first of all?
Jonny: Yeah, thank you. It’s always cool to have little… what do you call them. Landmarks. It’s always nice to look back and think about how far, how many nights spent sleeping on floors, how much Ramen you ate, how many times you didn’t have the money to do this and that. The last few years have been really good for us. We’ve been very busy, and it’s just been transitioning into a very different way of life. I’ve never been this busy before in my life, so. (laughs) Trying to figure out how to navigate it, but it’s good. I can’t wait for it.
ME: Have you had a moment where you’ve just sat back and reflected, and you have been like “Wow, this is it. We’ve made it.”?
Jonny: Oh, yeah. I have those moments here and there. A lot of times I’ll have them when I’m going to bed at night. Sometimes I’ll look up our stuff on YouTube just to see what people are saying, to be aware of the comments that are out there, how many views such and such video has gotten now, or what kind of growth is happening. Sometimes I’ll come across comments that will bring tears to my eyes, because I’ll think about everything since I was a kid. It all comes back to “whoa” at some of the things people will say. I can’t believe it. But day-to-day, I don’t think about that. I think there’s too much going on, but there are moments in my bunk that I’ll have them.
ME: What’s been the biggest reality check since growing success with the last album and transitioning into this album?
Jonny: Personally or as a band?
Jonny: Honestly, for me… So this is personal, but it relates to a lot of songs on the next record. I went through a divorce about a year ago, and I was with Jessie for about eight years. I met her the day my mom died, so it was a very difficult thing to let go of since there was a lot of history. Psychological, heartstrings, ya know, it was a little hard to navigate out of. I got married to her right before we had our [the band’s] break, and we started touring heavily. I always had the idea at the time that “Love can conquer all, and we’re both good people.” It really brought the truth to the surface, which was a truth I didn’t want it to be at the time. Of course when you look back in hindsight, you see where you end up in life later. Sometimes you’re thankful in that year, or those two years, I was like, “Oh God, it can’t be that. It just can’t be that. I don’t want to lose this person.” The more we toured, the more it became very clear that her and I had different life goals. It was not healthy for her. She wasn’t good with me on the road. When I started realizing that, coming back to the reality check, I was single for a little while. No plans to get back into anything serious with anybody, and then I met this girl Kristin whom actually was a Nothing More fan from way back. I didn’t know her, and we crossed paths. She’s been a huge reality check for me, because she’s so much more like me than my ex in certain ways. She’s very different… there are certain things I value in life or certain ways of going about that that’s just how she is that has put me in check in certain ways. In good ways. It make me stop and think there’s some kind of growth that’s happening and growing positive. That’s been my biggest reality check lately, her. I just learn a lot being with her, about life and about myself.
ME: Y’all seem happy, so congratulations.
Jonny: Yeah, thanks!
ME: The band has always been complex and dynamic band, being outspoken about politics, religion, spirituality, and so on. Do you ever feel pressure now that you’re more under the microscope?
Jonny: Yes. I’ve felt more pressure on this record than I’ve ever felt. But, yeah… ya know… just yes. (laughs)
ME: What do you all do to stay inspired and stay true to yourself rather than breaking under the pressure?
Jonny: For me, on this record, and this is tied in with going through the divorce… We were home for about a year. We did little travel things here and there, but yeah. We’ve been working on this record for about a year or more. In that time, I knew that working on the last record I drove myself crazy just working on it too much. On this record I set very healthy boundaries. I decided, “Okay, I’m going to start at this time and stop at that time.” Unless there’s a compelling reason for me to keep working, like feeling inspired, then I would break the rules. I would say, “At this time, I’m going to the gym. I’m going to go do something physical and not mental.” I’d be sitting in front of the computer just in my head all day, and that would drive me insane. The gears up here (pointing at the side of his head) wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. When I started going to the gym everyday, that kept me grounded. In that when I would be doing something primitively simple like lifting something off of the ground, it was painful while it’s happening, but I’d have music in my headphones from other bands that I was listening to. I’d just be thinking about life. All of these emotions for whatever reason come to the surface in that process, that always grounds me. Also, just listening to new music, watching movies, and always being open to new stuff that’s out there.
ME: So, what are you listening to right now?
Jonny: There’s a band called Black Foxes. They have a good record out. Let me pull up my iTunes (as he grabs his phone nearby and shuffles through.) I listen to this Monuments record all the time. It’s more of a workout record, because it’s like a pump-up kind of thing; it’s really heavy. And then… what else we got here. Hmm… I have so many bands in here. I actually listen to the band PVRIS.
ME: YES! They’re so good!
Jonny: Yeah, they have good melodies. I met her two or three years ago at an after-party for Alternative Press. I think I made a fool of myself. I was pretty drunk. (laughs) And I was like, “Heyyyy, I like your band!” She was like, “Okay.” (shrugs his shoulders and laughs) I was the fan in that moment.
ME: That’s awesome. I’ve got a question my brother wanted me to ask. He’s a drum fanatic. He does covers and is really inspired by you all. Do you and Ben both come up with major parts since you used to do drums for the band, or do you kind of let him do his own thing?
Jonny: I’ve let Ben do his thing more than I’ve let anyone go control of on any record ever, even with Paul. With Ben, when we’re in the rehearsal room, I’ll still be very opinionated of “Hey, try this groove like this,” or I’ll give direction. Most of the writing was done with just him on the drums. I didn’t really sit on the drums throughout the process, whereas with the last record (before we had Paul in the band) I was behind the drum kit and singing to recordings we made in the garage while I was on drums.
ME: You’re finally booked on Shiprocked next year. Are y’all excited to join the family that’s come to be with the artists and fans?
Jonny: Yeah! We’ve been getting a lot of… a lot of people over the years have told us we should do it. It’s good to finally do it, and everyone seems like they have a great time. I didn’t know how it would be as an artist, because as a fan, I’m sure it’s a great time. As an artist, I wonder if I’m going to be like in this weird middle zone where I’m kind of vacationing but kind of have to work as far as having to be aware, am I about to perform, etc. I’m about to find out. We’ll see. (laughs) I’m going to enjoy myself, though.
ME: It’s a phenomenal experience. I can’t wait and am happy for you guys. Are any of y’all nervous about the sea sickness thing?
Jonny: Hmm… I don’t know. Maybe the other guys, not me. I got sick on a cruise once, but it was from the night before. So the whole cruise I was sick like a dog. It was the worst cruise ever. My family and all these people were going, so I couldn’t cancel. I just sat in a room for three days. It was stupid. (laughs)
ME: Last two. Who’s the messiest and who’s the neat freak on the bus?
Jonny: I think I’m on the messier end of the spectrum. I feel like I’ve gotten better though, but historically I’m on the messier side. Uhh… I don’t know. Paul used to be the neat freak, but he’s not in the band anymore. I think we’re all about equally messy and clean. I think.
ME: Lastly, the answer we all want to know, and I want to know your thoughts on it. Is the Earth really flat?
Jonny: Haha! I don’t think it’s flat, but I think it’s interesting the fact that that’s even happening. I’m all for people challenging really held ideas. When you really think about it, if you sat me down and said, “Prove to me why the Earth is round…” I know I’ve heard the argument made and learned about it over the years, but I don’t think I could really communicate a strong case for the Earth being round. I could probably pull a few things out of my ass, but that’s what’s interesting to me. It’s something you can’t just with your own eyes straight on say, “Okay, this is why.” I’ve never walked around the Earth, but if you just walk in one direction long enough, surely it’s going to happen. Ya know. No one has done that! (laughs) I love when people challenge stuff, even when it’s probably pretty silly.
Nothing More can be seen across the U.S. this fall with Hell or Highwater, My Ticket Home, and Palisades. Tickets can be found here.