What happens when a punk kid grows up? That is the question posed by Hawthorne Heights’ massive 13-track record, Bad Frequencies. The first full-length the band have put out in five years ponders the ever troublesome dichotomy of rebellious youth and adult responsibility. Inspired by the end of Warped Tour as a full cross-country tour, JT Woodruff found himself reflecting on what happens when a wonderful period in your life comes to an end.
“Everything came together on our last day of Warped Tour last summer, 2017,” the vocalist says. “We closed out the entire tour in Pomona, California; we were the last band to play of the last day of the entire summer. We were surrounded by mountains and palm trees, and we got to see the sunset—this wonderful, bright orange California sun fading to pink—and then we took the stage the second that it went dark. It was a really powerful feeling.”
The imagery of a bright spot in the world finally fading out prompted Woodruff to take a road trip through his memories, both figuratively and literally, as the majority of the songs on Bad Frequencies are anchored in locations Hawthorne Heights found themselves in during their many years of touring. “For us as a band,” Woodruff says, “all of our great touring memories always take place in the summer. From all the Warped Tours we’ve done [to] a tour in 2008 called Projekt Revolution with Linkin Park and Chris Cornell—it was a wonderful time. Pretty much all the worst times we’ve ever had are during the winter, on all these terrible drives. Driving from Denver to Salt Lake—it never gets easier.”
The physical and emotional grind of growing up on the road and facing all of the mistakes you made while still being able to revel in the good times is a challenge that this record confronts head-on. “This album is about making amends with yourself,” Woodruff asserts.
Read what Woodruff has to say about each track on the album in full detail below.
It pretty much sets up the album, and it’s basically nervous energy. It’s fear that your life is passing you by; that life can be over unexpected and unfortunate. But also, you could live a long, long life, and you can still let it pass you by if you aren’t careful.
I wrote the lyrics of that song on Warped Tour. It was 6 a.m. and we were in the desert in Utah, and I woke up in the middle of the night because we were on this terrible drive going through the Colorado Rockies. It felt like we were driving sideways. We were wobbling in our bunks, [and] the whole world felt uneasy. So I did the worst thing I could possibly do, and I started to look at Google Maps to see where we were and why this was feeling so crazy, and I found out this section of the road was called Suicide Pass.
I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “Why am I still doing this after all these years?” I just woke up, and I am terrified. Eventually, I fall back asleep for about two hours, and [then] I look out the window and we’re in Moab, Utah, in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I get out and I put pen and paper together and immediately write the lyrics to “In Gloom.” It’s about trying to capture everything that’s happening in your life and slowing it all down. Life is dangerous, especially on the road.
It’s not just [about] love relationships; it’s [about] friendships and any sort of relationship you went through in your life. We all make mistakes. There’s one universal truth to everything we do: We all want to be younger or feel younger than we are. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There are no better friendships than the ones you make in your high school years and in your college years, right around that age. There’s just this volatile energy that comes with being that age, and you make a lot of mistakes then. You have a lot of things blow up in your face, because you don’t care as much, when you probably should.
There’s also a bit of when you’re young, you do dumb things to have fun. When I was younger, I grew up next to a river that had a train bridge that went across the water. We used to wait ‘til two in the morning during the summer, and we would jump off that train bridge into what looked like black water below us. We had no idea what was there. That’s so fucking dangerous. I would never do that as an adult, but during that time period, that unknown energy in jumping into darkness with eyes wide open, that’s a wonderfully invigorating feeling. Now that I’m older, I can think of better ways to get that invigorating feeling, but at that time you just live your life like you don’t care. Sometimes you’ve got to live your life like that. You just get in your car, crank up the music and drive into the unknown. “Pink Hearts” is about living life in wonder; finding that adventure and chasing that adventure.
This is a dark one. Every once in a while, I find my mind drifting to far off places, and in these places I question everything. On this particular night, I was wondering about what happens when you die. And that’s the worst thing you could ever worry about or wonder about. “Don’t question everything” is one thing I learned from having this conversation with myself.
I created this little story based on these tragedies that were happening at the time, some of the crazy natural disasters, and I wanted a portion of this song to be about the dark times that these first responders in these tragedies face. All the EMTs and the firemen and the police officers—everybody who’s first on the scene—how can they do this and just get up the next day and do it again? I wanted to honor them by having a few lines be told from that perspective, and I also wrote a few lines from a family’s point of view. It’s such a hopeless feeling not having any information that can give you comfort at a time like that, and you can only describe it as despair. Sometimes you have to just hope for the best, and you realize that hope can be a powerful thing. Most importantly, sometimes hope is all you have.
“The Perfect Way To Fall Apart”
A lot of arguments happen during times of tragedy or during times of struggle, and a lot of these arguments happen due to misunderstandings and how each person in the argument has perceived the information. Sometimes when you’re in a fight, it ends up being way worse than [it] started out, and you didn’t mean anything of what you just said. Sometimes it’s intentional and you’re trying to get a rise out of somebody, but most of the time, I bet it’s accidental. This song is about an argument gone wrong.
One of the characters in the song has said something that they can’t take back, but more importantly they won’t take it back due to ego, which dissolves the relationship. Pride can be a powerful thing when it comes to arguments. I wish level heads always prevailed in these times, but the truth is that relationships deteriorate all the time for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes you lose people who you’re close to because you’re afraid to say you’re sorry, and “The Perfect Way To Fall Apart” is about trying to find your way back from one of those arguments. You either have to get over yourself or you have to move on.
“Just Another Ghost”
It’s kind of a companion song for “The Perfect Way To Fall Apart.” It is the result of letting anger simmer and dwell. A lot can be said in those quiet moments in between the bitter parts of a conversation. In those really long pauses when you’re trying to collect your thoughts, sometimes you miss the moment. The silence—when you can’t find those right words—it can be really sad, and it can mean everything.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what happens when a relationship dissolves. Do you slowly fade on from the love? Does the love just turn into a memory, and everything is just a ghost? We’ve all been at that time in our lives when we’ve felt unappreciated, and we’ve needed someone to just take a few moments and remind us that we’re special. It hurts the most to feel typical.
Why do people focus on the two bad times they had out of a hundred good times? I don’t know if it’s just within our nature as human beings. It’s just like all this static comes in, and no matter how beautiful the radio sounds, you always focus on that one little tiny bit of static. You let the bad frequencies creep into your life when really you should just be focusing how good and golden everything is. Everybody goes through hard times, but you don’t focus on those hard times. You focus on the great times you had and the great times that you can have in the future.
My parents got divorced when I was in sixth grade, and we went to live with my mom. We moved from Georgia to West Virginia. We struggled financially for a year or two when my mom was just trying to get a job and trying to find her footing, and I always remember how hard she worked. The very first time that she was able to buy a brand new car by herself, it was a Buick Skylark. I just remember the joy. This was her first thing as an independent woman after a messy breakup. I remember the freedom that came along with that and she explained that to us, and I’ll never forget that. The first drive we took in it, we rolled the windows down—it was in the summer—and it was incredibly powerful.
I’ve never liked the feeling of uneasiness. I want to feel steady. I like to know what’s happening from one minute to the next. I don’t want to sound like a stiff, because I am full of adventure, but I want to know where I’m going and how I want to get there. I feel like outward turmoil turns to inward turmoil, and I’ve never really enjoyed that. It sucks to feel motionless, like you’re a ship without an ocean. You feel like you’re full of life and energy, but you just can’t get it going. “Skylark” is a song about trying to feel safe and happy in your relationships, but it’s that uneasy and unsteady feeling that causes the mind to wander. Wandering minds tend to cause wandering hearts. Some people are afraid of your heart being your anchor, but that’s what I love most in life. I would rather be a steady heart.
“Edge Of Town”
“Skylark” is searching for that steadiness, but “Edge Of Town” is [about] once you’ve found that steadiness, how can you destroy it? I feel like a lot of times we want to blow things up. When you’re younger, it’s like, “Everything’s going so well. How can I mess this up so I can create a little drama?” We all have memories that truly shine brighter than the sun. We also have moments that we aren’t proud of that were probably caused by a lapse in judgment. “Edge Of Town” is about reconciling these moments.
I’ve grown up going to Warped Tour and playing it for the last 20 years—it seems like forever. But what it really showed me is that life will really pass you by if you let it and that nothing lasts forever. Even the best parts of your life can become a total blur. So I wrote this song to myself as a wake-up call, that as you grow older and as you settle into the middle part of your life, you should constantly search for happiness. You need to keep your eyes open and always remember to shine a light. So basically, “Edge Of Town” is a thank-you letter to Warped Tour for existing and being a huge part of our development as human beings and as a band.
“Starlighter (Echo, Utah)”
This particular time in the winter of 2017, I was leaving Salt Lake City at about 11 p.m., and it was pouring rain. Rain I can deal with, but the funny thing about rain is when it gets colder, rain turns to snow. The roads got covered in a matter of moments. On this trip, I was playing solo, so it’s just me and a guitar, some friends in the band In Her Own Words and we were driving in their van. I remember we passed the exit for a town called Echo, Utah, and I thought, “This is where it all ends for me.” We are driving in a beat-up van with no heat, and we’re doing this just so we can play songs on our guitar. The funniest part is we made it through this entire awful drive, and then we got stuck in the parking lot [of a Holiday Inn]. Most importantly, we were alive and we felt alive. I actually set the lyrics to this song in the summer because I didn’t want to sing about the winter—because that’s how much of an awful time I had.
“Push Me Away”
I wrote the lyrics to “Push Me Away” during a really divisive time for the American political landscape in 2017. It seemed like no matter where I looked, people just wanted to yell at each other instead of quietly and clearly explaining their point of view. I feel like that’s still where we are right now. So this song was written from one heart to another just looking to unite one another. Really, what it boils down to is I think consenting adults should have the right to be married. I think loving one another, no matter who they are or where they live, [is something] we should all be able to get behind. It’s so much easier to love something than to hate it. I think we need to focus on that. We don’t have to understand everything about one another; our differences are what make us special. I just think we should be focusing on coming together as human beings and as a society and as a country, instead of just arguing and yelling at each other for being different on Facebook.
“The Suicide Mile”
I’ve always thought that being different was a good thing. I’ve never really wanted to fall in line. I guess that’s what attracted me to punk rock and to the independent music scene, going to rental hall shows, DIY, dyeing your hair, wearing piercings and having tattoos. I grew up in a really small town, and I think that was my way of being a little bit counterculture and rebelling against living that stiff life.
The lyrics to “The Suicide Mile” were written after some pretty heavy conversations with some very brave people who I didn’t know very well. We were all having an open conversation about anxiety and how it can make you feel like you’re living with a loaded gun. This song is about being open with your feelings and sharing your feelings when you feel at your worst. It’s OK to feel a little out of the ordinary and not feel like everyone else. We’ve all felt alone, we’ve all struggled and I think we can do a better job at reaching out to people.
“Straight Down The Line”
One of my least favorite parts of the music industry is that it moves so slow. That’s a big part of why Hawthorne Heights has been DIY [and] why we’ve been self-releasing for the past few years. We like flying by the seat of our pants, and we like being very spontaneous. In Hawthorne Heights, we’ve always wanted to create the opportunity and not wait for it.
Fortunately, we were able to have a couple great conversations with Pure Noise Records about putting this record out, and everything came together quickly. It ended up being a really great fit and a really great partnership for both of us. So this song is about not letting life pass you by and about not waiting for someone to give you the go-ahead. It’s about choosing your own adventure and driving all the miles and doing all the hard work and making it happen.
One of the things that truly breaks my heart is the opioid addiction in Ohio, and in our country in general. I’m straight edge—I have been ever since I was 15-years-old. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t like anything that’s mind-altering. I want to always keep a level head and know where I am. To see so many young people addicted to heroin and opioids in 2018 is just really disheartening. We’ve got to find a way out of this darkness that we’re in. You see people getting addicted and hiding these addictions from their loved ones, and when you find out, it’s way too late. I think we’re too good at making excuses or feeling this problem is too far gone, but really, there’s always hope. I hope this song can at least get one person moving in a better direction before it’s too late.