Nothing More’s Jonny Hawkins on New Music: ‘I’m Already In The Next Record Mentally’
Just before the end of 2018, Nothing More dropped one of the year's most eyebrow-raising videos with "Let 'Em Burn." The clip takes a closer look at the gun violence debate, analyzing the roles of villain and victim and putting a bigger spotlight on the mental health side of the discussion.
We had a chance to chat with Nothing More's Jonny Hawkins and got his insight on subjects such as gun violence, mental health, the media and politics' role in the debate and more. Hawkins also spoke about the band's upcoming "The Truth" tour with Of Mice & Men, Badflower and Palisades and the discussions expected to spark from the run. Hawkins also offers some thoughts on the band's next studio album, so check out the chat below for the interview.
"Let 'Em Burn" lyrically is about mistrust, calling out the media, politicians—but also kind of open to interpretation. At what point did you decide that the visual representation for this song would be addressing gun violence and the issues that come with it?
It was something that kind of evolved in the process of working on music video treatments. Really, I have to give credit to our director, Ben [Roberds] with Dominar Films. He did a fantastic job. He brought a lot of cool ideas to the table initially. He just brought the shooter idea to the table, and it lined up with a lot of hot topics that are going on right now that are connected to political discussions or what's happening in the United States. So we felt like it'd be a good medium to communicate what we had initially intended with the song.
I thought the symbolism throughout this whole thing was very interesting. You start out with the wholesome cheerleader and then it gets into the angry looking dude. You got a grandmother in there, you've got a priest in there. Did you have input in the symbolism and what you wanted to portray?
Yeah, again, I do have to give a lot of credit to Ben because he brought a lot of the concepts to the table initially. It was cool to see his interpretation of our lyrics. But we didn't talk a lot about those characters and who was the villain and who was the victim in each encounter. It really lined up with the lyrics, you know, when we repeat that word "everybody" over and over — just really emphasizing that I think a lot of times when we talk about political things, it's real easy to point the finger at politicians, or even the media, but rarely do people point the finger back at themselves. It's much easier to diffuse the responsibility of what's going on in the country to point to these things that are so much bigger than ourselves and out of our control. It's kind of like a righteous way to escape responsibility.
So that's what all those different characters were trying to portray. You know, there's a villain and a victim in every one of us if we're gonna play that game with pointing the finger at politicians and the media. So yeah, it may have corruption, but so do we. So, really all you can do is start with yourself and work from there.
One of the things that came up with this clip, and it is an interesting and often overlooked point, is the mental health side of this. People want to talk about guns and restricting gun rights, but the "why" of gun violence is just as important. Why do you think that's been overlooked a lot in this debate?
That's a great question. I like to look at any problem through a metaphorical lens of the human body, and whenever the body gets sick, people love to talk about the symptoms. They love to treat the symptoms, because it is in our nature to go for the fastest, quickest solution and symptoms are the quickest thing to treat. I think guns, not gun violence, is a symptom and when people focus debates on guns or weapons really of any kind, it is focused more on the symptom and a much more mediated effect. There is a time and a place to treat the symptoms, because if they get out of hand obviously you don't even have a chance to make yourself or the country healthy but going along with the metaphor, I think when you start posting on the root of where your problems are coming from, again with the human body, people don't like to talk about diet and exercise even though we have known for thousands of years that it's the root to almost every health problem and dysfunction, but people love to buy pills, quick fixes and new diet plans that are quick fixes and I think guns are the same way. I think mental health is that underlying root that is spiraling out into a ton of different problems and one of them is gun violence.
It was interesting toward the end of this video, you see the band members and other people in the clip, they're wearing what look like virtual reality masks. It got me thinking about the whole desensitization of violence. What are your thoughts about violence on TV, films and video games? Do you feel that as a society we are becoming desensitized to gun violence?
I think we are desensitized, but this is a tricky question. What most people mean by desensitized, I don't know if we necessarily are, meaning I have played tons of violent video games in my life and have seen incredibly violent movies but when I go to the doctor and just like the other day at a show I sliced my finger open and could see the bone and it gave me the heebie-jeebies like crazy but as much as I have seen gore and violence and things on TV and I have actually been in real fight situations or conflicts with people, I get a ton of emotions and hormones and all kinds of responses in my body that are just totally beyond anything I have ever gotten in a movie.
I guess what I am trying to say is I don't think that movies and violent video games and all those things take away a lot of those real feeling that we have in a real situations, and I think that is the way for the majority of people. But, I think there are these rare cases with people who, I wouldn't say that they are desensitized by video games, I think they are desensitized to life in general, which is more like nihilism. I think that the video games and the movies may be a piece of that puzzle, but I think anybody that is going to do something on that level, in reality, is already desensitized psychologically about everything, not just violence, they are desensitized about love. They are desensitized about empathy. I think a lot of people focus on the violence because it seems so parallel or connected to some of the acts that these people commit. When in reality, I think they are desensitized to all of the other emotions, as well, which leads to some of these outbursts.
On the last album you put a spotlight on mental health while promoting the song "Jenny." It's also at the front and center with the "Let 'Em Burn" campaign, and I know you're partnering with the To Write Love On Our Arms organization for the upcoming "Truth" tour. Why is this issue specifically personal to you?
It’s personal to me because I deal with it, myself. I’m not clearly diagnosed with any one thing, but I have had my struggles with depression and high levels of anxiety and some of the craziest, darkest thoughts you could imagine. All those things are connected to my mental health at any given moment. The choices I’ve made in my life, good and bad, all connect back to how mentally healthy I was in that moment.
Also, my sister, the song “Jenny” was about how she had dealt with mental health issues on a whole other degree and level than I ever had. She was named after my Aunt Jenny who has basically has been in a home for close to three years, completely checked out, as a very high-level schizophrenic. So, mental health has been something I’ve seen and dealt with in my own family.
Even if I hadn’t dealt with those things first-hand, I think that mental health, even in some of the more moderate cases, is the core root of every problem that we deal with in society and in our relationships. When it gets addressed and it gets attention and we remove our ignorance about [ourselves] and about others, our relationships get better. Our society gets better. We understand ourselves better. So, I just think it’s a root thing. That’s why we’re trying to focus as much as we can on it.
With the "Truth" tour coming up, the idea behind the tour was to "pay a nod to music's ability to spark conversation and inspire new ways of thinking." With bands like Of Mice and Men, Badflower, Palisades on this bill, how often do you discuss with other bands lyrical content and ways that they convey music and how you portray your message to the audience?
When we’re on the road with any band for a good amount of time, I mean, there’s inevitably nights where we have deep discussions, or we start talking about our stories from the road or the writing process. Even this last tour in Europe, with Bullet for My Valentine and Of Mice & Men, I talked with Aaron from Of Mice & Men a ton about approaching songwriting and vocal technique. He shared a lot of really amazing insights with me. So, yeah, those conversations are happening all the time. I, personally, like to play devil’s advocate in a lot of those conversations, just to get more juice out of the conversation and try to press people to challenge some of the things they’re saying. Even if I agree with them, I just think it’s more fun that way, but yeah, that happens a lot.
Three great bands going out with you on this bill. I wanted to give you a chance to talk about them. Obviously, you mentioned you've played with Of Mice & Men before ...
Yeah, I think my favorite bill to date, that we’ve had, as far as a headline tour. We have had some great ones in the past but we have gotten to tour with Palisades. This will be our first time with Badflower, which, I think they are one of the most interesting, cool sounding, young bands. A lot of times it is very hard to find new, young, fresh artists to bring on tour with us and so we were really excited when they started getting their break.
Of Mice and Men, we listened to them back when we were trying to make it as young guns. So it is like cool to have them on and be friends with all of them now because we used to jam their music all the time and then Palisades, we had tons of fun with them the last time. It's a good variety in the build musically. Close enough so that it doesn't fall apart at the seams.
You are partnering with HeadCount for this tour. We just passed the midterm election and saw this major spike in voting. How important is it to keep the momentum going in terms of keeping people politically active and aware of what's going on in the world?
It is something that my grandmother instilled in me because she is very, very politically active and something that I have noticed from her that is so different than the generations after her, is that she treats democracy as a gift. She really appreciates it. It's like someone who has never had chocolate before in their life because it just didn't exist where they are from and then they finally got it and realized how sweet it was. That is how she treats democracy and that is rare to find people that think like that in the U.S. because we have been born into it, so we don't really have a gauge or context on how great of a thing it can be, even though it has its downfalls or whatever.
When you really study human history, you really see how bloody it is and really see how fucked up everything is and how many power struggles there are.
Even if we are all super-informed and we know the answers, if we don't go out and vote and put the answers into motion, nothing is going to happen either. It is one side of a two-sided coin. The mental health and the action in voting and things like that. I think they go together.
I talked to you last year and at that time you were thinking maybe a little bit into the future, but nothing concrete. New album plans at this point, have you guys thought about music?
I am honestly already in the next record mentally. It is hard for me to even get that focused on the tours that are coming up, to be honest. I know I am supposed to be and I am really excited about them once they happen. It is going to be amazing, but right now, even as we speak, I am finishing building a new studio room that I have been working on every hour that I am home and have free time. It's kind of like when a dog goes to lay down in circles 10 times and pushes on the pillow with its paws, that is kind of what I am doing with my studio right now. I am just circling and circling and making adjustments because I know once we get into the process, it is almost like a coffin that you lock yourself in because you are stuck there until you come out with something that you are proud of. I am there mentally already and getting really excited about it. I just wish we were working on it sooner but we still have some touring to do.
Is there anything inspiring you—like world events? Are you reading anything that's got you excited—maybe in terms of something you might put towards the next record?
Honestly, most of where my head has been at is a lot of just personal. I've experienced a lot of emotions that I've never really experienced before in my life, and a lot of that is a result of moving to a different state that I've never lived in before. I'm leaving a lot of my family and friends eight hours away. It's being on a totally new terrain with my girlfriend, uncharted territory relationship wise, learning a lot about myself, so I've been experiencing a lot of emotions, positive and negative that I've been trying to dig into and navigate. I've also been doing counseling sessions with a counselor that I've trusted for the last few years who has been really insightful and sometimes a mystical mirror for me. He has brought a lot of interesting ideas to my mind when I open up and unload a lot of the thoughts that I'm having. That's been inspiring a lot of song ideas.
As far as out in the external world, I think the biggest thing I've been inspired by is Jordan Peterson who is a clinical psychologist who has got a lot of popularity on YouTube in the last few years. A lot of people know him for his more, I guess, controversial social issues but most of his really good stuff is his lectures in clinical psychology and his dealings with people of all different psychological backgrounds. He's super enlightening, insightful and deep. It's giving me a lot to chew on right now.
2019, the calendar has just turned. I know you're a huge Tool fan, and I think we are all expecting a Tool album out this year. But, what are you looking forward to in terms of 2019, be it with your own band or other bands that you want to check out this year?
I think you nailed it, Tool [laughs]. Like everyone else, I've been waiting forever for that. I heard it's coming out this year, I don’t know if you have any insight information and know it's actually going to happen or not, if anybody does, but that's what I'm looking forward to the most.
Thanks to Nothing More's Jonny Hawkins for the interview. Dates for the "Truth" tour can be found below and you can check into tickets here.
Nothing More 2019 "the ɥʇnɹʇ tour" Dates
Feb. 21 - Phoenix, Ariz. @ The Van Buren
Feb. 22 - Los Angeles, Calif. @ Belasco Theater*
Feb. 23 - Sacramento, Calif. @ Ace of Spades
Feb. 25 - Salt Lake City, Utah @ The Depot
Feb. 26 - Denver, Colo. @ Ogden Theatre
Feb. 28 - Oklahoma City, Okla. @ Diamond Ballroom
March 1 - Kansas City, Mo. @ The Truman
March 2 - Minneapolis, Minn. @ Skyway Theatre
March 3 - Chicago, Ill. @ House of Blues
March 6 - Grand Rapids, Mich. @ 20 Monroe Live
March 7 - Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Stage AE
March 8 - Philadelphia, Pa. @ The Fillmore
March 10 - New York, N.Y. @ Playstation Theatre
March 11 - Hartford, Ct. @ Webster Theater
March 12 - Boston, Mass. @ House of Blues
March 13 - Silver Spring, Md. @ The Fillmore
March 15 - Charlotte, N.C. @ The Fillmore
March 16 - Atlanta, Ga. @ Buckhead Theatre
March 17 - Tampa, Fla. @ The Ritz Ybor
March 19 - New Orleans, La. @ Fillmore New Orleans
March 20 - Houston, Texas @ House of Blues
March 22 - Dallas, Texas @ South Side Ballroom
March 23 - San Antonio, Texas @ Aztec Theatre
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