Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Interview - Hit The Lights

Lima, Ohio's Hit The Lights have seen their fair share of turbulence in the past year. Despite the departure of their lead singer, the band have pushed through and are about to release a new album, Skip School, Start Fights. Read on to see what the HTL guys have cooked up for you this time around.

PPJ: First, please tell us who you are and what you do in the band.

Nick Thompson: My Name is Nick Thompson and I am the vocalist of Hit The Lights.

PPJ: Where are you on your tour right now? Which night has been the best so far?

Nick: We actually just made it home from a short headlining run with I Am the Avalanche, Jet Lag Gemini, and Thee Armada. The Chicago and Columbus shows were both pretty insane. The kids were awesome and even though it was incredibly hot, they still gave us everything they had. It was so much fun, a HUUUGE "fuck yeah" to both cities for making us feel welcome.

PPJ: What music did you listen to when you were growing up? Do you think any of it influenced the music you're writing today?

Nick: Growing up my dad and I listened to a lot of 38 special, I remember listening to a lot of 80's radio pop and always being into that. I grew up in a town in Ohio that was kind of cut off from any kind of "scene" so I started out listening to bands like Bush and Nirvana with the rest of my friends, but never really felt close to it. I think the first record that got me into punk was Blink 182's Dude Ranch. It was a total accidental find for me and when I did, I called it surfer rock because I didn't know what pop punk was. From there it kind of blew the door wide open so I could get into all the Fat Wreck Chords bands, all the drive thru bands, all of the Vagrant bands, and then started going to shows in Dayton, Ohio where there WAS a cool scene. Dayton opened me up to hardcore, then along came bands like New Found Glory who showed a hardcore meets pop punk type of music that I shit my pants for. All of those products have combined into how I write my music now.

PPJ: Probably the biggest question on everyone's minds is how things are going since Colin Ross left the band. Are the songwriting dynamics different now, or even just the dynamics of the group?

Nick: It's pretty insane how well things are going for us at this point. We left home in January to do a second record with me covering the vocals, doing it because we felt that we owed it to ourselves to keep pushing this band. We recorded a record that is by FAR the best thing this band has ever produced, went back on tour with a brand new guitar player (Kevin Mahoney) and it's honestly more fun than it has ever been before. It's not something we expected to happen, I think we all just decided to go for it because we knew that this is what we wanted to do. We are all very happy with the situation we are in, I think it shows on stage AND on our new record. This whole situation has really opened up our eyes to appreciating more things, such as friends, the road, and being in this band in general. We're stronger than ever, and I can honestly say that no one here expected things to be going as
well as it has.

PPJ: What has been the fans' response to the lineup change?

Nick: Kids have been amazing at the shows, and that helps me more than anything. It could be a really awkward thing to sing songs that used to have a different voice behind them, but every single night I have kids that have no problem going off and getting in my face to sing the words so I take that as a positive. I get a lot of fans coming up to us and telling us that they were super skeptical(which they should be) and didn't know how they were going to feel about a new voice, but telling us it's the best show of ours they've ever seen. When kids take time to find me, walk up, and tell me that, then I absolutely take it to heart. You don't have to read about it, come out and judge for yourself.

PPJ: Why did you decide to name the new record "Skip School, Start Fights?"

Nick: We had a really rough time deciding on the record name. It's a really important record for us, and one that we feel closest to I think, so we were kind of hoping a name would just fall into our laps at the right time. We were thinking about just keeping it self titled, and honestly, we love the record no matter what, so the name is just icing on the cake. A lot of time went by and we really weren't agreeing on anything that just popped and Omar had this bad advice idea that went "Skip School, Start Fights" that we were going to use, so we decided to go with it. We thought it was easy to remember and was funny but kind of edgy.

PPJ: What was is like working with Hidden In Plain View's Rob Freeman?

Nick: Rob has been our boy for a looooong time. We originally went in with him between some over seas tours to record a few demos for our label. Colin was still in the band then, it was about 2 years ago now. We did three tracks (which ended up leaking) in a matter of four days, and it was just a great experience. Rob and I worked well together with melodies, which is a huuuuge deal to me and the other dudes. He brought nothing but good ideas to the table, so when it came down to making this new record with a new vocalist, we all knew that we could trust Rob to help us create our vision. He's a young producer who gets great sounds, knows his melodies and harmonies, and ALWAYS is about what's good for the song. He kicked ass on our record, just like every project he's a part of. Rob's an untapped resource that I think a lot of people are going to flip out over once they hear the record.

PPJ: How do you think the new record differs from your older ones?

Nick: Even before our first record was officially released, we knew what we wanted out of a second record. Our main goal was to be a bigger, brighter, heavier version of what we were on "Stick Up". Of course the song writing is better but I feel the songs in general are a better representation of who we are. It captures the energy and feel of our band, it gives the vibe of our live show, which is something that I don't think "Stick Up" did a great job of. I'm not slamming our first record by any means, but we're a little older and a little wiser and we have a good grasp on what we want our music to be.

PPJ: What's your favorite song you've ever written, and why?

Nick: I've always loved Save Your Breath, just because there is so much energy in that song live, but in all honesty: there's too many songs that we love to name one. Our songs mean a lot to us, there are so many different reasons to like a particular one. The question is too hard, stop challenging me!

PPJ: A lot of people are talking about how pop-punk could make a comeback and rule the scene again. Do you think Hit The Lights can help do that with "Skip School, Start Fights?"

Nick: I know for a fact that we set the bar pretty high for ourselves when it comes to making our third record. We love pop-punk and we will always rep it hard, it's definitely popping up again so hopefully we can do our part to spread the love and bring the paaaaaaaain!

PPJ: What do you hope people will take away with them when they listen to your music?

Nick: I think the thing that we MOST hope for is that kids genuinely enjoy our music. We don't want them listening to us because we're a buzzy band, we don't want them listening because that's what they're friends are doing, we want them to love our music as much as we do. We could give a fuck if our shows are packed in or sold out, as long as the real fans who REALLY get it, are there to sing and rock out with us. We don't want kids coming to shows because all their friends are going, we want kids to be there on their own accord because they get us. We want the scene that we grew up in; where kids can see the bands face to face and look eye to eye at them and sing
their lyrics back and have that amazing connection that you will only know if it happens to you. We want to spread that experience and we want kids to go away feeling how we feel. That's what it's all about, that's what it SHOULD be about. Straight up.

PPJ: Lastly, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Nick: 1. Third Eye Blind
2. Pantera
3. I Am the Avalanche

Be sure to look for Skip School, Start Fights when it hits stores on July 8th. Until then, go see one of their action-packed live shows! Thanks again to Nick for taking time out of his day to answer these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for arranging the interview.

Interview - 2*Sweet

Chicago's 2*Sweet have been making waves in the quickly expanding pop-punk scene. They are currently Smartpunk's #1 selling unsigned band - a feat that is sure to capture the eyes and ears of labels across the country. Read this funny and insightful interview to learn a little more about these rising hometown heroes.

PPJ: To begin, please tell us who you are and what you do in the band.

Justin Pence: Hello, I am Justin Pence, I sing in 2*sweet.

PPJ: Can you tell us how your band got to be where it is today?

Justin: We started playing out in many different bands together and decided to form this group very unseriously, 40 demos later and alot of figuring out exactly what we enjoy in music, we started to take this band full time and have done things our own way, making it up as we go, we recorded a record and released it on our own, we book our own tours and that's where we are at!

PPJ: You've always been heavily promoted by "Hey Chris" Gutierrez. How much do you think that endorsement has influenced your fanbase? Has it brought you any negative attention?

Justin: Chris is an amazing dude, it has certainly influenced our fan base, he gave us a chance and has always helped us spread the word on all the new stuff we have going on. Everything about that dude is positive, he is an amazing friend and author, we plan on touring with him again in the near future.

PPJ: Your MySpace page lists your genre as "Chicago Doom Pop." What exactly does that mean?

Justin: We like riffs alot, we like heavy riffs, we try and incorporate as many heavy riffs as we can, we like to think of them as doomy. My vocal style has morphed into a more morbid operatic feel so thats where the first part comes from. In all we are a pop band, we write pop songs with choruses, doom pop!

PPJ: You guys are still unsigned, so you're putting out your debut alone. What has that been like?

Justin: It has been alot of hard work, we developed everything on our own, did all of our own marketing, all our own promotion, the last two months before the release were insanely difficult and busy especially for me, but to have a final product in our hands is an outstanding feeling.

PPJ: Is there promise of a signing announcement anytime soon?

Justin: There is no promise of that sorts, we made up our own label though, C. Walrus.

PPJ: 2*Sweet has a heavy presence on all kinds of social networking sites. How much time do you guys spend on those pages? Do you think it makes your fanbase tighter?

Justin: We spend a good deal of time promoting, networking and communicating on the internet, it's awesome to us that people want to reach out to us like that, we spend as much time as we need to, doing our own promotion has been a very personal process for us. I absolutely believe it helps to make the fanbase tighter, we are a very hands on, extremely accessible band, I believe that it is very important to do so. We have a brand new video upload feed on our myspace, we post and respond to messages daily, on tour it gets slow but we make it work.

PPJ: You've got a relentless touring schedule with The Appreciation Post this summer. What are you most looking forward to on this tour?

Justin: We are on tour with The Appreciation Post right now, we get along with these dudes so well, I am most looking forward to grilling as much as possible this summer, grilling and swimming, that is summer!

PPJ: Tell us one thing about each 2*Sweet band member that people probably don't know.

Justin: I am a vegan. Dave is straightedge. Pete is a shredlord. Andy is a beat maker. Dan is a wolf enthusiast.

PPJ: What are your plans after your summer tour is over?

Justin: More tours, demoing new songs, more tours, more tours, more songs, more tours, working on a dvd, working on a cartoon, more touring and repeat.

PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Justin: Three bands you should be listening to; two of which we are touring with this summer: Fireworks (from Michigan), This Time Next Year (from Cali), Debello (from Chicago). Also listen to Down.

Don't forget to pick up 2*Sweet's debut CD, Sleep Without Dreams, when you catch their tour with The Appreciation Post. Thanks again to Justin for answering these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for arranging the interview.