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Staying Humble: An Exclusive Interview With Johnny Hawkins Of NOTHING MORE

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Saturday, October 4, 2014 @ 9:43 AM

"Our whole goal was to make sure that it was going to be the best rock record of the year in some form or another."

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Interview And Live Photos By Cynthia Fields-Jalil/Jalil Photos Rock

Band Photo Credit - Jody Domingue

Johnny Hawkins is the front-man for the quartet NOTHING MORE that hails from San Antonio, Texas. Based in rock, alternative and heavy metal, they literally burst onto the metal scene with their explosive self-titled Nothing More CD and riveting power packed live performances! Consisting of Johnny Hawkins, (lead singer & auxiliary drums), Mark Vollelunga (guitar), Daniel Oliver (bass) and Paul O’Brien (drummer), NOTHING MORE is currently on tour with FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH, HELLYEAH and VOLBEAT as tour support and for self-promotion of their latest release. I had a chance to chat with Johnny right before soundcheck on one of their tour stops about all things NOTHING MORE. Enjoy!

KNAC.COM: So where and when was the band formed?

HAWKINS: Well, there wasn't like a specific place but the band that kinda evolved is kinda a combination of people, but the core of the band is Daniel, myself, two bass players, Mark the guitar player and I was on the drums when we first met. I first met them about eight years before we actually played together as a band. I played with Daniel in a band at church and I played with Mark in a band the would eventually become NOTHING MORE, just outside of school and what not so it wasn't until high school that Daniel joined forces with Mark after having come to Nashville pursing music, getting raised and then getting burned out on music and frustrated with the music industry and got his head straight, came back to Texas and had a revived sense of vision and came back and told us we should tour, that we should not go to college and so then we decided to get this whole thing jump started and so we got that rolling, we started touring and then it wasn't until a few years after that, that I started singing because all those years I was the drummer and so when I started singing we were on the hunt for a drummer and then we found Paul a few years after I started singing. Then when Paul joined the band he was kinda like the final piece of the puzzle and that is what NOTHING MORE is right now.

KNAC.COM: Who would you say were pretty much the founding members of the band?

HAWKINS: Hmmm, well we had the name NOTHING MORE, Mark & I, before Daniel actually joined. We had a different singer and another guitar player with Mark, a real good friend of mine, Josh, and we had two different singers throughout the years but when Daniel joined we decided to give it a shot and started touring. But, I guess Mark and I were kinda the first members as far as who is in the band right now.

KNAC.COM: How was the name of the band chosen after the band was complete or let me re-phrase that question by asking you instead, how was the name chosen before the band was complete?

HAWKINS: So, we were pretty young and we use to go to a lot of different shows where there were a lot of different artists who were idolized at the time and we noticed that there were those artists that had the reputation of being primadonnas or however you want to describe it but you know what I'm talking about as far as when it comes to the band. I mean there's just different artists out there and then there's the opposite of that which were the artists that were really humbled and down-to-earth and really showed to the fans that they were appreciative, ya know just showing a sense of recognizing that the band was appreciative to be doing what they're doing so we took notice of that and wanted to be more like a band who was more humbled and real, so we decided to name the band NOTHING MORE as kind of a reminder that no matter how far we ever go with the band or level of degree, or level of success, that we'd always be reminded by the name that really we were just people like anyone else, we just happen to be following our artistic passion.

KNAC.COM: Who are some of your musical influences and idols?

HAWKINS: Maynard James Keenan, the singer from TOOL, he also has a side project with A PERFECT CIRCLE and PUSCIFER, he has been a big influence for me and some of the other bands that have also influenced me are RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, SOUNDGARDEN, PANTERA and I remember listening to a lot of METALLICA growing up and learned all of the guitar parts from them that's kinda how we learned how to play. God, but there is such a wide range of artists out there, Hip Hop to Electronic Music to Folk to whatever. Oh, another band for me is THRICE, a band who really influenced our lyrical approach. They're one of those bands that stood out and you could tell that their lyrics have a deeper quality to them. They are really thoughtful, almost like a good writer, so we wanted to study a band that had meaningful lyrics and so we hold that as a gold standard for our writing.

KNAC.COM: How would you best describe the type of music that you play?

HAWKINS: Layered, emotionally charged and aggressive alternative rock (laughing), I don’t know!

KNAC.COM: So, are you all professionally trained musicians or are you all self-taught?

HAWKINS: It's kind of a combination! I know that growing up, I had different instructors on and off and I was a part of the drumline in high school which was very competitive at the time and we had really, really prestigious teachers so I had experienced that side of the education and Mark had the same thing where he was in and out of lessons with different instructors. Daniel, not so much, he was a little more learned like a street player, you know what I mean, through his family, his whole family is very musical so we all kind of have a combination of both, ya know?

KNAC.COM: So, for your fans that are out there reading this, would you care to share the name of the high school that you played in drumline at?

HAWKINS: Yeah, yeah! It was Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, Texas and they had a really, really awesome instructor! They actually had an instructor from the Las Vegas Show CIRQUE DU SOLEIL, he was a guy who would come down and write marching band routines and we ended up being like second in the nation by like point zero one points (.01.)! The year I went there we had a big competition where we went to Indianapolis and a lot of that was a result of them bringing in that instructor from CIRQUE DU SOLEIL who really brought that sense of show and things that I learned from that ended up kind of leading into what NOTHING MORE does on stage and what we created together.

KNAC.COM: Our household actually owns a couple of your releases, The Few Not Fleeting and Nothing More, which by the way has been actually re-released, right?

HAWKINS: Yeah it was, we released it at first, we weren't on a label then and then it wasn't but maybe, I don't know about the time, but maybe it was six months later or something like that we got signed and then we started releasing it globally.

KNAC.COM: There are actually a few other releases as well. Do you have any plans to re-master and re-release those?

HAWKINS: Yeah, like I was telling you earlier, when we first started we were very young and so we made a lot of records maybe about four total and I think one or two of those might be Christian Music, but we made those while we were in middle school and high school, maybe in high school actually, I think that's when we started recording. And so we kinda took those off of the shelf for two reasons, one was we wanted them to be kinda special for the people that did own them ‘cause there is probably only a 1000 copies of any one of those in circulation, which probably means you know after the ones that got lost or broken or people don't know where they put it, there's probably only two hundred out there. So, the people that knew us growing up and kinda had supported the band before anybody knew who we were we kinda like left it special for them and so on the other side of that we thought it would be cool to kinda leave it like an “Easter Egg Hunt” for people who do wanna find them so that people could do what they want with them on eBay or whatever, ya know? We thought it would be a little bit more fun that way and those records had different singers on all of them. On each one of them actually we had a different singer back when I was playing drums. Dan and Mark, actually Dan wasn't even on one of those records 'cause he joined the band after. It is just a winding road of history!

KNAC.COM: Your self-titled release, Nothing More has some pretty impressive Billboard ratings where it charted at #3 for Heavy Rock Album and remained there for like the last #7 weeks and the single "This Is The Time aka Ballast" charted at #2 for Mainstream Rock and remained there for the last 25 weeks! Were you surprised at how well the cd has been received by your fans, especially your new ones?

HAWKINS: I think even though it's a very simple and straightforward question, I think it's hard to know because as artists you're actually kind of a little bit volatile with your opinion and it is part of what makes the creativity work is that your kinda all over the place at times emotionally or psychologically and sometimes that works against your objective opinions on how things are being perceived or not because when you’re in the middle of a thought you could actually have the greatest song in the world and then later after you are done, you have these moments of doubt where you are not sure if it is good because you have been working on it for so long that you have lost sight of what it really is and then you come back and then you think it is great again. Ya know, you go through these waves of emotions and feelings about what you are working on and so I think there were times when we started the record that we really believed that it was gonna be something impactful. I mean our whole goal was to make sure that it was going to be the best rock record of the year in some form or another, that’s just a random way of describing it but we wanted it to be great and so I think along the way there were times when we felt like it was and there were times when we felt like it wasn’t. But, I think overall we’ve been kinda surprised by how well it has been received, in a good way.

KNAC.COM: What do you think is a contributing factor in securing all those ratings?

HAWKINS: It's a combination of things. We have a great team of people that we’re working with sharing support for not just the business side of music, but just for life in general. It's really about who you surround yourself with and that always contributes to where you end up - where you find yourself later down the road and when you have this huge factor of fewer people. I also think the time that we spent on it with greater minds than our own really weighing in on a lot of the ideas really like bouncing it off of different people, it really went through a refining process. I always think of it as like a slow cooked meal that always taste better then when you rush like a microwave oven and I think a lot of times the business side of music is always gonna to want things faster and cheaper, that’s the whole goal but on the creative side that's not always what produces the best results or the best record and I think our record was slow cooked because we didn’t have a label so we did take time with it and did exactly what we wanted to do with it and so it is what it is now.

KNAC.COM: So, once “The Octane” started heavy rotation of your cd initially airing it and then re-airing it and then you guys did the in-studio interview and acoustic set, how quickly were you able to notice the increase to your fan base, CD, Merch. sales, and YouTube hits?

HAWKINS: Yeah, ya know honestly that's been the biggest factor that cracked the nut open if you will is with Octane, once we did that on air thing and they really started spinning the whole record and playing "This Is The Time a lot it really just changed everything. We noticed there were people who were hitting us up online like right and left like we couldn’t respond to our messages fast enough! That’s when we knew – I can’t keep up with my inbox on any of my social medias now, and now I have to create a different page just for public stuff and one for private (laughing)! It has been really incredibly awesome and “The Octane” had a lot to do with it!

KNAC.COM: You guys sounded wonderful acoustically! So, are there any plans at the moment to sell that particular interview especially since it went so well and because I guess basically it was your first nationally aired acoustic set and interview?

HAWKINS: Yeah, yeah, it's funny that you say that because I had a few messages, I sent one today asking about that. We actually recorded a studio version of “This Is The Time aka Ballast” that we did acoustically. I don't have any idea of when yet, but I think there may be some plans to release a few kinds of special things like that all at once, maybe later but it may be soon, I don't know! Actually, it’s a good reminder though because I have been meaning to talk to the label and management about that. We’ve already recorded it and it’s ready to go so all we need to do is get it out there!

KNAC.COM: So, a fan favorite off the cd is “This Is The Time aka Ballast”, is it one of yours as well?

HAWKINS: I think it's one of all of our favorites and it’s hard to always pick a favorite - your songs are kinda like your children in a way, but I think it encompasses a lot of the emotions and just all the topics it covered and stories throughout the record. I think it's a good song to kinda be the first song to move forward with what the context is.

KNAC.COM: Can you give a little bit more insight into the song like who wrote it and what it means?

HAWKINS: Yeah, well when you listen to the record, there’s a bunch of different stories and just different things that we went through. This song is a little bit different than most of them in the fact that it was kinda about all the songs, you know? It was more about how we dealt with or how we deal with our struggles whereas as a lot of the other songs were specific to a particular struggle and so the reason we titled the song “Ballast”, originally “This Is The Time” was a modified name later because “Ballast” is such an obscure word but “Ballast” is actually what they use in submarines to make them sink. It was a metaphor that we played off of with kind of the concept of when we hold onto things in life whether it's bitterness or a sense of being wronged by someone else or really anything we kinda hold on to a big ballast and it ends up causing us to sink. The whole time we think we’re doing something good by holding onto it. We think we’re bettering ourselves but at the end of the day all we’re really doing is hurting ourselves and just sinking further into our own despair and self-pity. So, the song just touches on that and talks about learning how to let go which I think is something that is kinda foreign to our emotional muscles instinctively.

KNAC.COM: So, let’s than jump ahead to that thing that you guys play together on stage, I call it a contraption (laughing), it is pretty amazing! Do you guys have a name for it, who designed it, and what were some of the thought processes in developing it and designing it?

HAWKINS: Yeah, our bass player Daniel started learning how to weld because we just required a lot of fixes on the road for a lot of the things that we were doing very DIY and so he bought a cheap welder and started putting metal together and eventually I had asked him to build some type of stand and we talked about ideas and building something kind of unique. So, I was like ‘Hey man, can you build it to where I can stand on the drums without worrying about falling down?’ So, he built this monstrous what I would call tetanus strap compartment that my drums are in and then that kinda lead you know one step to another over time to this bass stand idea that he had. We did a bass ever since kinda the inception of the band it, was all of us on the bass doing different things but, we always had it in this real cockamamie kind of boring stand! So, Dan with his welding skills built this other one. He used to ride motorcycles so he had a lot of parts lying around and our landlord at the band house was a guy who worked on cars so there were gears and chains and scrap metal everywhere so he just put them all together and started creating it and that’s what came out of it!

KNAC.COM: So, then very quickly, how is the tour going?

HAWKINS: It’s going good, honestly really well, like the first night was rough because Paul and myself were both sick but we are much better, but the first night was just rough, we were just feeling really bad from just how sick we were so the second night which was last night was total redemption, we felt like our strength came back a little and we felt like we just kicked ass again! The other guys in the bands are so cool to us we, thought that maybe there would be some kind of pecking order or you know whatever but they have done nothing but treat us really great!

KNAC.COM: That’s awesome! So, once this tour ends, what are the plans for your guys? Are you guys going to go back into the studio and start working on new material or do you have material that has already been written?

HAWKINS: We just plan on taking care of little things like catching up on email and other things that we did not get a chance to do and then put them off until later. But, we haven’t written together in a group other than maybe like two songs so we are going to have to do that later whenever we get back off of the road.

KNAC.COM: Ok, just one other question. Do you have anything that you’d like to say to the fans before I let you go?

HAWKINS: Just a huge ‘thank you, and we look forward to seeing all of you out at a show sometime and we appreciate meeting such great people coming out and people supporting us!

KNAC.COM: Ok, well awesome! Thank you so very much and I look forward to seeing you the next time y’all are in Houston! Take care, enjoy the rest of your tour and I hope ya feel better!

HAWKINS: Thank you - bye!

Be sure to visit their official website to check out their tour schedule for venues, dates and times and for all of the latest news on NOTHING MORE!


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