Hawthorne Heights never left the midwest, and that has made all the difference.
The bond shared between people from the midwest is one born from the understanding of what life is really like beyond the reach of city lights. They exist in a place the rest of the country depends on for practically everything, yet they feel isolated from the fast-paced lifestyle and much of the culture those on the coasts tend to enjoy. Still, ask any one of them, and they will tell you no other place makes sense to call home, including Hawthorne Heights vocalist J.T. Woodruff.
“We all still live in Ohio,” he explains, talking from his home in the suburbs of Dayton. It’s thirty-eight degrees outside, and the clouds are covering much of the afternoon sky. “We’re pretty much right where we started. We like it here, and we get to see a lot of pretty much everywhere else. When we can, we like to come home and see friends, and family, and everything. It never really made sense to move someplace expensive just to fly back to see our friends and family.”
The past few weeks have been busy for Woodruff and his bandmates. With the April 27th release of their sixth studio album, Bad Frequencies (the band’s first LP with Pure Noise Records), the group has been busy with promotional work. “Everything has been about press this month, “ Woodruff says, reiterating the album release date. We also have a tour starting shortly before that on April 18. This month is the cramming session before our final exam, so we’re lining up press and doing everything we can before we leave. We also just returned from Los Angeles where we were shooting our next video. Other than that, I print all our merch, so I’ve been preparing that in between practice for the tour. It’s just a lot of…I don’ know if I would call it rock and roll, but it is music industry stuff, which is cool. I wish we could be laying on a yacht and drinking jaeger bombs, but that’s not how we do it in the midwest or Hawthorne Heights. I don’t know what I would do if everyone were doing everything for me all the time.”
That video mentioned above, the one for the band’s new single “Just Another Ghost,” is the first to be released in promotion for Bad Frequencies. The clip follows a woman who is being shadowed by what Woodruff describes as a “sad ghost,” complete with a frown where one would expect to find the sheeted spirit’s mouth. The footage also features two performance sequences, including one shot at one of Woodruff’s favorite venues.
“When you see us playing in a club,” he begins, “ that is [a place in Fullerton] that is our favorite place to play. We really, really love that club. It’s just a tiny box of a room that sounds great, but most importantly it looks really cool. We love the vibe there. So we rented it and invited our fans down to hear the song for the first time and watch us play it.”
He continues, revealing an interesting detail about the performance sequence many might not otherwise catch. “We taped a bunch of fliers from what we consider to be life-changing shows for us, whether it was a show we played or one we attended, on the walls of the venue. Like, one from the first time we played a show. There were a lot of friends mentioned as well. It was a lot of hard work, finding the dates and bands and stuff, but we thought it was really cool to us.”
The conversation moves to the second-half of the video, which involves a performance and narrative sequence set in the Sonoran Desert. “Then we drove [out to] a place called Slab City. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Salvation Army or seen the film Into The Wild because it’s in that movie, but it’s a really cool place. This place is near it, and the cool thing about it as that it’s a community made up of people living off the grid. No electricity, no running water, nothing. You can just pull your car up, tie a tent to a tree, and live if you want. You can live there, for some reason, for free. We always thought that was cool, and it looks really cool. When you’re from the midwest, there isn’t a lot to look at out here, so I really thought Slab City looked cinematic. It also fit the isolated vibe of the video, which is about how at one point you can feel on top of the world, but then the next second you can feel totally alone. Now and then anxiety takes over and like — you have these strange experiences. Your heart beats out of your chest, and you feel like your alone in the world, or maybe you wish you were alone in the world. Out there in Slab City, it looks like we are nowhere near civilization, and sometimes life feels like that.”
Before being asked another question, Woodruff begins to compliment video director Benny Gagliardi, and once again brings the discussion back to the song at the center of it all. “We had a great time shooting with him. I don’t know if you have been on a set before, but they are long and tedious. You have to listen to the song a ton of times, but he was kind and had such a great attitude. I think that will take you furthest in life, and that’s kind of great because it goes with the song. The song is about how negativity creeps in and makes you feel bothered by everything because you’re not in the right mindset, you’re struggling. Benny smiled the whole time, and we loved him.”
Some viewers may think the sight of a silent ghost presented as a person in a sheet is a reference to David Lowery’s 2017 film A Ghost Story, but Woodruff insists any similarities are purely coincidental. “When we were working on a treatment for the video, and someone from the label said that it reminded them of a trailer they had seen for a movie. I had never heard of it, nor had the director, but the trailer immediately made me want to watch the movie because it felt like what I wanted to accomplish. It’s purely coincidental, but it’s also kind of great because we were getting ready to shoot just a few days later. It felt like two people having the same idea regarding a shared feeling. I love when little tiny things line up like that. I would feel bad if I was copying someone’s creativity because I knew it or had seen it or if it were a major blockbuster, but that’s not the case here.
Hawthorne Heights shared another song from Bad Frequencies titled “Pink Hearts” just a few weeks before releasing the video for “Just Another Ghost.” That track, which featured a callback to the band’s breakout single “Ohio Is For Lovers,” reintroduced the band to an industry that hadn’t received a full-length record from the group in half a decade. Woodruff hopes more videos will follow, potentially including a visual for “Pink Hearts,” but believes “Just Another Ghost” was the right song to release at this moment.
“[Just Another Ghost] has a bit of a throwback feel, like throwback Hawthorne Heights. There is a bit of a breakdown, so it’s a bit more of an aggressive song. Those lend themselves to being more fun videos to film for imagery and such, so really that was the determining factor. We wanted to release “Pink Hearts” first because it has a good time vibe to it, and it throws a bit of a curveball to people. It’s kind of bouncy and happy, but typically we’re kind of sad. I’m usually writing about the worst things in the world that could happen to me, but “Pink Hearts” was a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun for the fans. We wanted people to be like, ‘ah, this is cool. They’re ready to be back.’”
Woodruff also brings attention to “Edge Of Summer,” one of his favorite songs off Bad Frequencies. “We may release another song before the album is out or we may not, but if fans raise their heads for it, then we may give it a push. That song is a nod to spending your summer outdoors. I’ve been telling people about one of the things that solidified my ideas for the record was our last summer on Warped Tour. That was the moment things clicked into place, and we were really able to hone things. After that last show in Pomona, I was struck by thinking back on things people had told me were their favorite parts of summer, those things you wanted to last forever. Summers on Warped Tour were one of those things for us, one of those perfect things. I never went to a summer camp or anything like that, but I wrote the song from the perspective of writing back and forth to your parents about your experiences, then at the end returning home where things get worse from there. It’s about the moment of reaching the peak and everything that follows.”
One could argue Bad Frequencies plays like a sad version of Don Henley’s timeless hit, “Boys of Summer.” The record is bursting with bittersweet reflection on moments long passed, as well as a longing for escape that defies the understanding one cannot escape themselves. It speaks of the open road with cautious optimism, acknowledging that it is a gift and a not a permanent solution, all while still yearning for the freedom it promises. You can never go back, and even if you could, nothing would be the same as you remember it. Those moments are gone, and the best we can do now is to wake up each day with the determination to do something that makes the present a little bit better. Bad Frequencies is what Woodruff and crew have to offer, and it’s more than enough to remind us of the comfort and community to be found in saying how you feel, regardless of what comes next.
“So much of our life is attached to the road,” Woodruff says in conclusion. “I’ve always said that some of the best times you can have in life is spending time away from where you’re from, and some of the best times in life can also be coming back to where you’re from. So, my advice is always to get out there and RUN. Spin your wheels, make friends, go on a trip. Just see as many places as you can. I love to travel, even when it breaks you.”