Nothing More Singer Jonny Hawkins Talks Entheogens

By Charlie Tetiyevsky on February 26, 2019

In the last few years, Texas-based rock band Nothing More has come to define how industrious dedication and determination can pay off. The band, which formed when its founding members were in high school all the way back in 2003, put in time over the past couple of decades to become one of rock’s hardest working groups.

Nothing More has hardly slowed down since their 2014 breakout self-titled album reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and rocketed to the top of the Mediabase Active Rock chart. The band scored three Grammy nominations for its 2017 album, The Stories We Tell Ourselves, including nods for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song (for their single “Go to War”) and Best Rock Performance. The band, which has gone on the road with everyone from Killswitch Engage and Bad Wolves to Three Days Grace and Five Finger Death Punch, is getting ready to embark on a headlining  tour. Never particularly partial to breaks, Nothing More will follow up this American tour with a spring run alongside Of Mice & Men, Badflower and Palisades and a U.K. tour with Papa Roach.

PRØHBTD spoke with drummer-turned-vocalist Jonny Hawkins about the personal inspirations for the band’s Grammy-nominated album, how he and his band mates almost reached an emotional breaking point and the role that trippy entheogens played in inspiring their music.

Can you tell me about what inspired The Stories We Tell Ourselves?

This album was no different than our others in that most of the songs are a compilation of things we had been through or felt very strongly about over the course of the two years leading up to the record. Most of our music is based on life experiences. I was going through a divorce at the time. I never thought I’d be that person, but sure enough. (Laughs.) Quite a few songs were written out of that, and then quite a few others were experiences that we all shared as a band. Trying to make our way through, finding the right phrase, times where everything was very tight financially.

Time and energy were a very low resource because we were touring all the time and that was a tricky thing to balance with home life. We’d just kind of pushed ourselves really hard on the record before and had all reached a breaking point mentally. I mean, I’ve known the guys since I was 14 years old, and this is the first time in our entire [lives] where we were at each other’s throats, you know? Just because we were reaching a breaking point. So a lot of that got poured into the record and worked out.

What was it about working on this album in particular that made you guys feel like you’d reached an emotional breaking point?

I know for me personally, I was just starting a whole new chapter in life. I felt like I’d built something for eight years and was tearing it down and rebuilding a new life and self. So it was a lot of introspection for me, and it’s a very introspective record. It [was born out of] a lot of influence from people—every morning I remember listening to inspirational speakers on YouTube, as cheesy as that sounds. Every morning I would fill my brain with inspirational people, ideas from Les Brown, Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, Al Watts. Al Watts actually made it on this record. A lot of the inner emotional processes were laid out with some of his words on the record.

Did that emotionality inspire the video for “Let ‘Em Burn”?

“Let ‘Em Burn” was actually written during the election cycle, so at the time Trump and Hillary were emerging as the candidates, and we just had the feeling, “What the fuck is happening? These are our choices?” Our goal was not to take a side politically or point out any of the politicians—we were trying to point the meter back at the people to say, “Hey, look, this is all of us.” It’s real easy to just go, “Oh, that guy’s an idiot” or “This lady’s a liar,” you know what I mean? But at the end of the day, we’re the people who make up the country, and this kind of shit happens because of us.

When you watch the video, you see there’s a victim in everyone and a victor. As soon as the victor kills the villain, he turns out to be the villain in someone else’s plot, or a victim, however you want to word it. I think there’s such a popular narrative in the media right now, where they want to view everything in life as a victim and a victor—and when you start looking at life that way it never ends. You’re in this rat trap, or a maze. I think a lot of people are freaking out about that, and there’s a lot of anxiety because it’s just not a good way to look at the world.

Did you hope the video would change that?

Honestly, just like the title “Let ‘Em Burn,” there was no goal for the video to actually [change] anything. (Laughs.) Sometimes we write a song, and we’re like, “You know, this might have a positive impact on the world.” That one was really just what we feel about the current state. I don’t think the video is gonna change anything directly, but it was still our commentary on what was going on.

What were your musical influences on the record?

There’s an Australian band called Karnivool that we’ve been influenced by for many years. I have to give them a lot of credit. Also, for me personally, I remember listening to a band called Bear’s Dead, who have a really sad, slow kind of acoustic music. It really isn’t in our genre at all, but it was so heartfelt and warm even though it was sad. That got me thinking on a different emotional plane.

You’ve mentioned in the past that substances play a role in your work. Did any of that influence this album?

Ten years ago, my mom had a real rough battle with cancer and passed away. [The period she was sick was] a rough two years, and when she passed, it was a relief for the family because she was in so much pain that we just wanted her to stop hurting. But then, like anyone who’s experienced a loss, for the next few years there’s a long grief process where you go through the layers of the onion, like a lot of people say about grief.

As I was going through that, I became really interested in entheogens, which are basically hallucinogens that have been used by humans for hundreds or thousands of years. I don’t know how far back they go, but they have roots in primitive cultures. There are specific hallucinogens that [have been] used for religious or spiritual ceremonies, and that stuff always intrigued me.

When my mom was passing away, I actually convinced her to start smoking weed for pain because the painkillers were making her sick and weren’t fixing the pain anymore. At the time, it was very hard for me to have the guts to tell my mom and my dad because I come from a very conservative Christian household. I smoked a lot of weed at the time, and they didn’t know—or at least I thought they didn’t know. So I presented the idea one day, and it wasn’t until her doctor told her the same thing….

Weed wasn’t legal in Texas so I had to smuggle it from a friend. And so I was sitting there one day with her, and she had her bible study and—I shit you not—there were like all these 40-something, 50-something women from church, and I’m teaching them how to smoke a bong. (Laughs.) And I’m teaching my mom—she’s got a bag coming out of her side and tubes in her arms because of the cancer—and she’s crying laughing. And it’s this moment I never thought would happen in my life.

After the death, that whole experience with weed opened my eyes to other things, and that led me to DMT. I did a lot of research, and I just happened to come across it one day from a friend of our drummer at the time, Paul. It was his friend from college, and he was studying to be a shaman, which I thought was the weirdest thing. I mean, who does that, right? Still, it was really interesting to me the more I studied it. In our modern society we have firemen, policemen, doctors, we have all these people who fill those roles, but back in primitive society for the longest time, they had warriors, hunters, gatherers and a shaman, kind of like a spiritual guide and leader of the tribe. So they guided people through these shamanic hallucinatory religious experiences with entheogens. DMT was one I just happened to come across and that inspired a lot of what you hear on the song “The Great Divorce.”

And you’ve been supporting cannabis as it becomes more accessible?

Not officially right now, but we’re good friends with Clay [Busch] of [cannabis grower] Heavy Grass, and I’m personally a big supporter of anything moving forward in the weed department. Because that’s been a very good thing in my life, like with my mom when she was dealing with cancer. That’s coming from someone who has maybe smoked a handful of times in the last five or six years because it was a really good thing for me at the time, and then I think my brain kind of changed. Now it doesn’t really have the same effect for me. I think people can support marijuana and using it in our culture responsibly without having to be total potheads, you know?

Any thoughts on your upcoming tour?

My bass player Daniel brought to my mind something kind of interesting—we decided to name the tour the TRUTH Tour under the stipulation that “truth” always had to be upside down. [Daniel said] that naval ships fly their flag upside down when they’re in distress. We felt like the truth was in distress when we wrote the song “Let ‘Em Burn” during the election cycle. Again, that’s not aimed at any political figure or party. It’s more that we have so much information that you’d think we’d know more about what’s going on, but in some ways, it’s actually muddied the waters and a lot of people right now know less about what’s going on. Even in our culture, the truth is in distress at all times. If you dig deep enough, you can find a lot about yourself that we don’t understand. There’s a lot of room to grow there, so we decided to put a focus on it.

Charlie Tetiyevsky is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. Find them on Twitter @charlie_gfy. Band photo by Travis Shinn, Hawkins photos by Aaron Kudler @lastlightphotovideo.


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