Talent, Tenacity, and Touring Pay Off
By Bradley Weinholtz
Take a classic rock quartet silhouette resembling the Doors or Led Zeppelin, infuse it with everything new music technology has to offer and you you might have something like Nothing More. They might fall in hard rock meets alternative category —a genre that encompasses bands like Muse, Korn, Mars Volta, and Incubus. Superficially this approach might describe Nothing More, but dig a little deeper and it’s obvious that the band can’t be categorized so glibly—it deserves a more thoughtful appreciation.
Profound storytelling, philosophical lyrics, edgy guitar riffs, complex rhythms, robust and melodic bass lines are given diverse production techniques that produce Nothing More’s multifaceted shading and distinct identity. Fans of hard rock and alternative alike should resonate to the density and snarl of their soon to be released 15-song self-titled album Nothing More.
From left to right: Guitarist Mark Vollelunga, Drummer Paul O'Brien, Frontman Jonny Hawkins and Bassist Daniel Oliver.
Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, the band started when guitarist Mark Vollelunga and Jonny Hawkins, then a drummer and now frontman, met in the seventh grade. They soon recruited Daniel Oliver on bass. These blood brothers bonded in their commitment to making a mark in music. In high school it was Daniel that convinced his brothers to abandon any ideas of going to college and take the band on the road. They became a true working band with a van (actually a salvaged RV) and began hitting venues in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. They also played several Warped Tours. Being on the road and meeting dozens of other bands lead them to find drummer Paul OBrien.
It was by developing full-blooded, exciting performances that Nothing More reckoned they could carve out an identity. Driven to engage the audience, and drawing on Jonny’s drum corps background, the band came up with marching band-like percussion breakdowns that involve every band member playing a drum. From there they developed a four-man, one-bass solo bit they call The Bassinator. With the bass hand welded to a stand, the band executes eight-handed bass solos that get the crowd up and roaring.
Ambitious and focused, Nothing More has made it a priority to connect with fans via social media. Beginning in 2005 with a MySpace page, they’ve gone on to be highly active with Twitter feeds and their official Facebook page. The Nothing More website is graphically themed to match the look and feel of their new self-titled album and includes fan sign up, tour dates, lyric sheets, and band-related merch.
With one album under their belt, the new 15-song LP Nothing More has received pre-release praise for the emotionally charged single “This Is The Time (Ballast)” ahead of the album’s June 24 debut. True to their DIY ethic, the band was hands-on with the production, mix downs, and cover design of the LP, which was recorded in Austin, Los Angeles, and San Antonio.
The single “This Is The Time (Ballast)” off Nothing More’s new LP grabbed over 100,000 Youtube views within the first days of its release.
We had the chance to ask the band a few questions about their journey and their future in the midst of a busy tour schedule.
The HUB: Nothing More started about nine years ago and at that time MySpace was the main social platforms for band pages. When did you alter social strategy to include Facebook and other band-oriented social media platforms such as Reverb Nation?
NM: We began utilizing the promotional power of almost every social media platform right when we began pursuing our careers full force in 2005.
The HUB: How much time do you spend providing content for fans on these social platforms?
NM: It’s impossible to say exactly but fan connection and interaction is a huge focus of ours. Mark is especially good at keeping in touch with all the people we meet on the road. For our last record, The Few Not Fleeting, we even had a whole website dedicated to the stories and meanings behind the songs. This was an ambitious undertaking but it was static. Once we put it up, it didn’t have room for growth. For the new album we created a lyric page (like this one) for each song and forum where anyone (including the band) could share their thoughts on the songs and tell their own stories. Unlike Facebook and other social sites it has more focus on the music and is more permanent.
Driven to giving the audience the ultimate show, Nothing More creates an on stage percussive experience.
The HUB: Your live shows feature all band members on drums. How did the idea of adding this dimension to your shows come about? What is the audience's reaction?
NM: The performance aspects of our shows came about because we wanted the live show to be more than just playing the music. We want the shows to be memorable and something more than the albums. The drum solo in particular was inspired by marching band drum lines; and how adding movement and “choreography” to rhythm makes for quite the experience. Our singer (then drummer) Jonny had a background in high school drum line so he was able to teach us simple basics, then we all came together and wrote the piece.
The audience has always been stoked to see us perform. We like to think that our show elements, like the drum solo, help people experience music in a new and powerful way. It seems to tap into something really primal.
The HUB: The band auditioned for The Next American Band—the reality-based 2007 TV show. How did that come about and were you ready for primetime after only two years as a band?
NM: Oohh.. that was a long time ago! We were a very different band then. It was before Jonny was the singer. All we had to do was submit a video and if your video was selected then you were called in for a private audition. We were by no means ready for primetime then. In addition that show turned out to be a total joke and is a black mark on the recorded history of Rock and Roll…. hahaha.
The HUB: What is your songwriting process and are the songs written as a group or do you sequester yourselves individually and come back with a full song to present to the group?
NM: The songwriting process is different for every song. We all write both musically and lyrically, both in isolation and in “round table” discussions. For the most part it always begins musically then we search for the words to paint what the song needs to say. It’s our philosophy to be creatively open with each other and always encourage one another to share any idea that they have. One of the common themes for every song is the amount of revising each one goes through. We are constantly manipulating the songs and recordings all the way up to the very end, and it even continues when we bring them to the stage. We feel that you need to be fearless and ruthless in deciding what is good enough to remain in the song.
The HUB: Who are some of your influences and how have they shaped the sound of your band?
NM: We probably have some musical influences that are pretty easy to guess, some of the more hidden ones might be artists like Ben Folds, Cake, or Peter Gabriel. But really the things that tend to have more impact on the direction we take are authors, filmmakers, and philosophers. Alan Watts is a definitely a huge lyrical influence and his voice can be heard on Gyre, Pyre and often during the show. Others would be Eckharte Tolle, Carl Jung, filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick as well as podcasts like Radio Lab. Dustin Kensrue from Thrice is a huge influence as well.
The HUB: Who built the rig used for the four-man bass solo. How did that idea come to fruition?
NM: The “Bassinator” was built by our bass player Daniel Oliver. He’s a mechanical magician and can seemingly build anything. He has an amazing way of making something that functions in a unique and creative way and also looks like a master piece of metal art. He built my drums as well. They look amazing and are indestructible.
The idea started way back in 2005 in the belly of a UPS jet. As Mark and Dan worked a crummy job together in college loading airplanes they began brainstorming the idea for a “Four Man Bass Solo”. It involved Daniel playing a funk solo high on the neck while Mark and former guitar player Josh Kercheville switched off holding down the low end. To climax the piece (our then drummer, now singer) Jonny, came out from behind his drum set with sticks hammering out the rhythms while the three of us were all playing the bass.
From there it evolved into more of a tapping solo with the bass held in a moveable stand rather than held by Daniel.
The current version is based around the “Bassinator” platform we described. We’ve never stopped evolving it and I don’t think it will ever be finished. For us, its important that we focus on the journey and not the destination.
The HUB: The song "This is the Time (Ballast)" talks about how we easily lose our way in attempting to evolve as human beings. In the video, a shackled leg suggests how we get dragged down by our convictions. Can you talk more about the video's imagery and the song's lyrics?
NM: The song is about one’s own blindness to the effects of holding grudges and passing judgement on others. It’s an expression of how easy it is to justify to yourself the reasons to make yourself and others miserable. The longer you hold on to the anger the more you grow addicted to it the further down you sink until it is almost impossible to find yourself again. The weight (or Ballast) that’s holding you down was not bestowed unto you by others or by God or something like that but by your own decisions to hold on to and make it a part of you. The lyric in the bridge “We are the jail, we are the key” sums it up well.
The HUB: Your lyrics also seem to be preoccupied with driving your point of view on others. How does that dynamic work in settling band conflicts and differing artistic visions?
NM: In regards to driving our point of view on others, I see how one could get that impression, but I think what we’re really driving at is being fearless in challenging ideas and concepts that in our daily lives we tend to accept as “truth.” Society has a nasty habit of building tall towers of ideas, one on top of another while ignoring the shaky foundation at the bottom. Admitting what you don’t know is an often ignored virtue… doubt IS a virtue. This could be seen as an attack on any group or philosophy that places a lot of value on “certainty”.
Often our lyrics are placing value on continuing to ask tough questions rather than focusing on how individuals choose to answer. And as a band, we certainly don’t agree on all the answers to the difficult questions of life but we all share an appreciation for challenging ourselves and others to re-examine things. Once again we’re emphasizing the journey (questions) rather than the destination (answers).
The HUB: What's the significance of the characters that appear below your band's logotype?
NM: They’re all scientific and math symbols that we’ve formed into sentences and thoughts that encapsulate some of the most important concepts on the album. Some of them carry weight all on their own as well. For instance, the main symbol or logo is the symbol for the union or intersection of two logical concepts. Its a way of communicating that even when you have two totally separate points of view there is often an overlap or common ground where we can understand each other. Its like name of the band. “Nothing” and “More” can be seen as opposites but when put them together a third meaning is revealed.
The HUB: Do you feel that the do- it-yourself approach has helped the band stay together?
NM: The DIY approach has been a huge asset for this band. Like most bands we didn’t start out with other people pushing us, so we took on the task of pushing ourselves. When there were hurdles to jump, it was up to us to figure it out. Years of doing this led us to some pretty interesting conclusions; like self- producing our own records exactly how we want them, building our own custom metal pieces for the stage show, and converting our last van to run on vegetable oil. That being said, we have tons of people who have helped us along the way. The best thing about DIY is that the more you do for yourself, the more you attract help from others.
The HUB: Do different bandmates take care of different aspects of the Nothing More franchise?
NM: Definitely. We all do a bit of everything, but I’ll take the lead on production and technology things, Daniel is a real visionary when it comes to the performances and anything mechanical. Mark is the heart of the band and keeps us emotionally focused while bringing a lot of songwriting ideas to the table. Paul is relentless and has this amazing sense of immediacy to tackle anything thats in front of him.
The HUB: There is great complexity in your recordings like “Christ Copyright.” How do you approach them in performance to suggest the intensity and feel that your fans are familiar with from your recordings?
NM: In some ways we’ve brought some of the studio set up to the stage. We use Abelton Live running on a Mac Mini with Presonus interfaces. Everything but the drums runs through it. There’s the occasional pre-recorded loop but all of the cool stuff comes from the realtime effects that we use on the vocals, the guitar and the bass. Ableton give us the freedom to create pre-determined tonal changes from moment to moment as well as use MIDI pedals and other MIDI devices to make creative adjustments whenever we feel like it. Aside from all the technical computer stuff, Daniel and Mark have this amazing ability to choose exactly which parts to play to create a really dynamic sound.
The HUB: Your current touring status is far different from when the band first climbed into a salvaged RV and started to gig through the Southwest. What was it like for the band during these early days?
NM: Hot, sweaty, and smelly.
The HUB: What advice can you offer young bands just starting out?
NM: Look around at all the other bands in your area and make sure you are the hardest-working one. Don’t expect anyone else to do something you’re not willing to do for yourself. Question everything.
The HUB: The band has a full touring schedule for the months ahead, but what other milestones are you hoping to accomplish in 2014?
NM: We’re really excited to be traveling all over the world playing shows. We’re off to Europe in June and have no plans to stop touring for quite some time. Its an unbelievable opportunity to affect peoples lives, make memories together, and in turn allow ourselves to be changed by them. Onward!
Daniel Oliver - Bass Player
Ernie Ball Super Slinky 50-135 gauge
Line 6 G50 Wireless Guitar System
Gray Music Man Bongo 5 string single humbucker. No pick guard and all of the knobs are broken off
Blue Music Man Bongo 5 string double humbucker
Mark Bass R500 solid state bass amplifier with tube pre amp
Classic Ampeg SVT 8.10 Bass Cab
Apogee One Interface through Logic Main Stage on Macbook Pro
Paul OBrien - Drummer
Mark Vollelunga - Guitar Player
Marshall JCM 2000 DSL 50
Marshall 4x12 Cabinet
Line 6 G50 Wireless
Voodoo Lab Pedal Power
Voodoo Lab Pedal Switchers
2x Boss Supershifter
MXR Phase 90
TC Electronic Digital Delay
Boss CS-2 Compressor
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
LIne 6 Echo Park Delay
Boss TR-2 Tremelo
Ernie Ball Strings Medium Light Nickel Wound .012-.54
In Tune Guitar Picks Jumbo Jazz 2.0mm
For additional information on Nothing More and to see their upcoming tour schedule click here.
To hear Nothing More click here.
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Tags: Nothing More