Reaching new Heights

June 22, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Gold and platinum records and sold-out shows - what rock band doesn't want those things? Fortunately for Hawthorne Heights, it didn't take long to reach that level. Melding elements of metal, emo and punk overlaid with a shiny pop finish, the Ohio-based quintet, in the past year or so, has become a mainstay on MTV and modern rock radio.

"Playing in front of a crowd of people who know your songs is such a rush," says drummer Eron Bucciarelli, the band's spokesman, who's calling from his Dayton, Ohio, home. "Some bands don't make an effort to get to know their fans, but we care a lot about our fans. We make it a point to meet them before or after a show, sometimes during."

Such likability surely hasn't hurt Hawthorne Heights' commercial success. The band (including bassist Matt Ridenour, vocalist-guitarist J.T. Woodruff and guitarists Casey Calvert and Micah Carli) toured relentlessly behind its 2004 debut, The Silence in Black and White, which spawned the hits "Ohio Is for Lovers" and "Life on Standby." The album eventually sold more than a million copies, the biggest-selling debut on Victory Records, the rock-oriented Chicago label that signed the group in 2003. Hawthorne Heights' sophomore album, If Only You Were Lonely, was released in February and has gone gold. The band plays Sonar Lounge on Saturday night.

"When we wrote the new record, we took into account some elements from the first album, like the catchy choruses," says Bucciarelli, 26. "It's different in that there's a little less screaming. We've grown as musicians and songwriters, and the album reflects that."

The guys haven't completely abandoned the formula that garnered them a platinum plaque the first time around. Self-deprecating, angst-laced heartbreak tunes abound. But given their fairly limited musical scope, the group still tries to mix things up a bit. On If Only, there are more slowed-down numbers, such as the hushed "Decembers" and the lilting "Saying Sorry." Toning down Calvert's cliched metal-rock barks and screams was a good idea. They marred "Ohio Is for Lovers," an otherwise amiable pop-punk tune.

"This time, we were smarter in our playing," says the New Jersey-born musician. "Every time we came home from the tour, we'd practice all day. It's tough to write and get your ideas together when you're on the road."

The band formed in the summer of 2001, building its reputation on a series of self-booked national tours. It took about two years before the guys settled on a pop-punk-emo hybrid. And their timing couldn't have been better: Bands such as Jimmy Eat World, Thursday, Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy were already garnering major label deals, solid airplay and strong sales with a similar sound.

"It's tough to stand out because there are so many bands out there who can record themselves and put themselves out there," Bucciarelli says. "But we're not afraid to bring in more of a pop element. Some bands are afraid of not being cool [by] writing catchy choruses. But, hey, we like pop songs."

That unabashed pop gloss suits "This Is Who We Are" and "Pens and Needles," two singles from the new album. Bucciarelli and the band plan to record new material after the summer tour.

"We love to tour, but we're more excited about working on new material," he says. "Creating music is still the main thrill."

See Hawthorne Heights at Sonar Lounge, 407 E. Saratoga St., Saturday night at 8. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 410-327-8333 or visit sonarlounge.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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