Rebooting The System: How Hit The Lights avoided extinction

Hit The Lights

Hit The Lights have a busy year ahead of them. Considering the Lima, Ohio, pop-punk quintet almost called it quits at the end of 2012, they’re as shocked as anyone with how their schedule is lining up. Their touring schedule is as busy as it’s ever been and Pure Noise Records just released HTL’s fourth full-length, Summer Bones—something vocalist Nick Thompson didn’t even want to think about after touring in support of their previous album, Invicta.

Invicta was supposed to be a new direction for the band. An album filled with sounds that were fresh for Hit The Lights, it was going to be a step forward from the stagnant pop-punk scene, with more of a focus on atmospheric guitar rock. While Thompson says they were proud of the record, fans were less than enthused, and by the end of 2012, the members of HTL—Thompson, guitarists Omar Zehery and Kevin Mahoney, bassist Dave Bermosk and drummer Nate Van Damme—were ready to be done touring and to be out of the band entirely.

“We had been on the road touring on that record and just going off people’s reaction for the record, so by the end of the year we were just so fuckin over it,” Thompson says. “We had spent so much time building up to Invicta. We had label problems and all of that garbage. We were just emotionally drained. At that point, my heart was not in it. I could feel it from other people in the band, too. You can pick up on that when you tour with everyone for a while.”

During that time, Hit The Lights had their friend Kyle Thrash to come out with them on tour to document some of the feelings everyone seemed to have. Initially, the band were going to have Thrash film a farewell DVD, but after the tour ended, the band members reconsidered the finality of a breakup, instead deciding to take an extended break from touring, making music and even from each other. According to Thompson, it was something that needed to happen at the time for everyone.

“During that break we all took a lot of time off of music,” Thompson says. “A lot of us at the end didn’t even want to think about music for a while. Personally, I was just over it and I couldn’t write and didn’t feel like writing.”

After spending time working jobs just to get a boost financially, Hit The Lights decided to reconvene play a few shows in the U.K. and in Japan in 2013. Those shows served as a reminder to what they originally had and brought back passionate feelings into what it meant for them to be playing music together.

“We used to do this because it was a lot of fuckin’ fun,” Thompson says. “It was nice to get together and see friends and do it and the fun of it again and not having to worry about what bills are getting paid. It was just doing those shows again and missing each other that helped us get into the talks of doing another record.”

After support from their family and friends, Hit The Lights knew they wanted to make at least one more album. Pure Noise Records stepped in and things were starting to accelerate toward a new full-length. But they wanted to make a fun record. It needed to be something the band fully enjoyed making. It needed to be uplifting in every way possible.

“We were in the mindset of, ‘Fuck it, we’ll just do what we want to do. If we release a fun record and if that will be it, that will be it, but at least we won’t have to go out on this fucking low note of what Invicta turned out to be for our career,’” Thompson says. “That’s kind of what got it started, just talking and working it out. Things kept falling into place where it made sense and everyone was down to do it and just saying, ‘We’ll do another record and we’ll do it to have fun and know that we like doing it.’”

Unlike previous albums, most of the songs on Summer Bones were written in the studio, the same as how the band wrote songs earlier in their career. They wanted to record an album just like they used to where they would sit in a room and create music together. Thompson also wanted to write more upbeat, positive lyrics for the album, which he accomplished on Summer Bones.

A record intended to be listened to during warm weather, Summer Bones could’ve been released last fall, but the band wanted the record to be something where people could roll their windows down and just blast the album. “There’s a line in the title track that mentions summer bones and it’s just something that registered with us over and over,” Thompson says. “It just made sense and felt good. That song is one of the more emotional songs since a lot of us were going through some life-changing things during that time too. The album, as a whole, makes itself.”

After having their fair share of label struggles and even an ill-fated brush with a major label, Hit The Lights seem to be sitting comfortable with Pure Noise Records. Thompson says the label has that DIY mentality and it feels purer and cleaner to be on the label too, contributing entirely into the kind of album that Summer Bones is. The label allowed Hit The Lights to make the album exactly the way they wanted to without any interference.

“I had been a fan of Hit The Lights since before I even had a label,” says Pure Noise owner Jake Round. “I really liked their vibe as people and felt like Pure Noise could do a really good job for them. I couldn’t be more excited about how things have gone so far, the record speaks for itself and stands up well against any record in the genre right now.”

After finally releasing Summer Bones and conquering the slump all of the band members were in, Hit The Lights just want to play music and have fun doing it, just like the way they envisioned it when first starting the band. “I’m happy that it happened,” Thompson says. “None of us have any expectations. We’re just going to be doing stuff for fun and see where it goes from there.” S

A version of this story was published in Substream #45.