Hello and welcome to the ninth installment of Eric Morgan’s How To Kill Your Band. This column offers advice to up and coming artists from the perspective of a professional musician who has thrived with and without label support over the last decade. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email email@example.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.
I’ve been in the music industry as an artist for nearly 10 years now. In that decade I’ve achieved nearly all of my childhood music dreams, but I’ve also made just as many mistakes that run over my mind before I fall asleep each night. A wonderment of how a few different decisions, rerunning in hindsight, would work out in some alternate universe. This ever creeping determinism is a fallacy I’m quite aware of but one that I will never completely shake, though it’s these experiences I’ve learned the most valuable lessons. These are the things I’d like to share in a series of mini-blogs I call How To Kill Your Band.
Part 8 – A Conversation With Hopesfall’s Adam Morgan (Part 1)
This week on the HTKYB, I will be sharing part 1 of my interview with Hopesfall founding drummer Adam Morgan. Hopesfall was founded in 1998 and quickly developed from a regional favorite to a national force that blurred the lines between metal and hardcore with unconventional song structures and spacey melodic soundscapes. The group dealt with the entire spectrum of band troubles ranging from a multitude of member changes to publicized confrontations with their label all while their music continued to grow and become a pillar of the hardcore scene. Adam was kind enough to take part a series of back and forth emails over the past weeks where we discussed his experiences in the band and shed light on the lessons he had learned during his time in the industry.
E: For those who may not be familiar with you, let’s start by stating your name and position:
A: My name is Adam Morgan, and I played drums for Hopesfall from 1998-2003.
E: Hopesfall formed in 1998 and found success as one of the cornerstones of a budding hardcore scene. Can you tell me a bit about how the band came to be and what the local music scene was like as you were first getting involved?
A: Hopesfall started out as just a bunch of friends playing music together. We were always a tight-knit group of friends, in which music played a huge part in our lives. We were all at that point in our lives where we were discovering and sharing our newest musical findings. The further we got from the radio, the more we were learning about the underground punk, emo, and hardcore scene, and it was an exciting time. We were all so hungry for new, cool music. Eventually, we just kind of decided to make our own music.
At the time, I thought the local scene was great. There seemed to always be a good show going on at Tremont Music Hall [Charlotte, NC], and especially in Winston Salem and Chapel Hill.
Bands like Prayer For Cleansing, Undying, Learning, Aria, and Codeseven were amongst our good friends, and we were constantly playing incredible shows together.
E: That same year you recorded your debut album, The Frailty of Words. Can you tell me about the writing and recording process for that album? Was it your first time in the recording studio?
A: Well I was still in high school at the time, while everyone else was either in college or working.
As far as writing the album goes, I don’t think we ever had that in mind. We would all just get together every single chance we had. I think I can speak for everyone when I say, there was nothing more we’d rather be doing. We just wanted to play, write, and create music together.
Eventually, we had just written enough songs to make a record.
The studio where we recorded our first album was just a small building, behind someone’s house, in Columbia, SC. If I recall correctly, we would leave our gear down there and drive down on the weekends until it was finished. For the most part, it was our first time in a studio. We were young and severely limited with what we had to work with. I don’t think we realized that at the time, but looking back now, it was somewhat of a guerrilla approach at recording an album. Nonetheless, we were having the time of our lives.
E: That debut album was released in 1999, was it a situation where you guys started touring as soon as you graduated? Did the others have to chose to leave college to tour full time? What was the decision like for you between choosing to do music full time vs applying for college or starting a non-musical career?
A: We didn’t really start touring full time until later down the road. In 1999, up to around 2002, we were mainly playing weekends around Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and the Carolinas. During “summer break” we’d play longer stints and get further away from home. Mostly east coast and a little Midwest stuff. No one really had to compromise their schooling, or career at that time, but eventually, as we started entertaining the idea of taking on more shows and signing with a new label, we did end up losing our singer, due to choosing to pursue his non-musical career path.
For me, personally, I never really had college on mind. Even before I was involved with a band – which I regret.
I started working, right out of high school, which was when our first album came out. I ended up having to quit that job shortly after, due to tour scheduling conflicts, and ended up getting a new job that allowed me to take off whenever I needed to, for however long I needed to. After that, I never had to choose work or tour. I was lucky enough to have job security while hitting the road.
E: Musicians, even within the same band, seem to have drastically different personal feelings towards tour. What was being on the road like for you initially? How did it compare to your expectations?
A: Initially, I thought it was great. It was an incredible feeling of freedom, adventure, and sense of “living the dream”. I would often think about all my other friends and co-workers back at home, while riding around in the van, heading to a new city, and think to myself “This is incredible. Everyone back at home is heading to work right now, or making the same drive down I-77, toward school, and I am lucky enough to be on the road, playing music, meeting new people, seeing new skylines, all while hanging out with my best friends.”
It wasn’t by any means a feeling of superiority, just more so a feeling of gratefulness, and pride.
I’d say the only thing you really can’t prepare for though is learning how to live with four other guys in very close quarters. No matter how long you’ve been in a band, or have been friends with the people in your band, up until the point you all pile in the van together, you are use to doing things your way, on your schedule.
All of that changes immediately once you enter that van. That can be difficult to adjust to. So the more flexible you can be, the more easy going you can be, and the faster you can come to terms with not being in control, then touring will get easier.
E: I would have to agree that living in a van with even the best friends can redefine your relationship and really opens you up to vulnerabilities that are hard to hide in a 10’ by 5’ metal box. It’s hard to give up absolute control over your daily decisions, but like you said, the ability to be flexible makes things a whole lot easier for all parties.
It sounds like you were playing a lot of weekend and DIY type tours up until your EP No Wings to Speak Of was released in 2001. Takehold Records initially put that record out, what was the process like working with that label? How did they approach the band?
A: Prior to meeting Chad Johnson, (Takehold Records owner) we had played with a lot of the bands that were on his label. Bands like Underoath, Tantrum Of A Muse, Few Left Standing, Two Thirty-Eight, etc. So after our first album had been out for awhile, we had already met him a few times. Eventually, we were sitting on four new songs and Chad offered to send us to the studio and put out the EP for us. I don’t even remember signing anything. He was always such a great dude and the timing just kind of worked out. Other than just being friends with him, we never really had to deal with any “business” with him. We were never under any contract with him.
E: In 2002, Trustkill Records re-released the EP. Was that partly a consequence of Takehold being absorbed into Tooth & Nail Records? It looks like this lines up to when you said you guys started touring full time, was getting the Trustkill deal the catalyst that turned this into a full time band?
A: I’m not sure if that really had anything to do with Trustkill re-releasing the EP. That was all pretty much between Trustkill and Takehold. I guess it was just in Trustkill’s best interest to purchase the rights to that record.
Signing with Trustkill was definitely a time in the band’s career where we decided to start touring full time. Being on a label with Poison The Well and Eighteen Visions, and seeing how much they toured was sort of an eye-opening thing. It just clicked at that point. “This is what you need to do to market yourselves and get your name out there.” So that’s what we decided to do.
E: Around this time, things for Hopesfall started to spark and get national attention. At what point did you realize you were doing something incredibly special?
A: I think it really started to click when we went out to the west coast for the first time. At the time, a lot of our shows were sold out, and the kids were singing along to all our songs, and going crazy. Keep in mind, this was all before Facebook and Youtube. It was much harder to get a gauge on your fan base, other than weekly SoundScan reports.
E: That’s a great point, it’s probably impossible for today’s bands to think about developing at a time when there wasn’t Facebook, YouTube, or even MySpace – now these services let artist know instantly how far their music has spread and even how many people will be at a show weeks ahead of time. I imagine that it would of been a bit liberating to play music without having to worry about posting statuses everyday, maintaining twitter accounts, etc.
Would you have preferred to have this tools available when Hopesfall was born? Do you think it would of helped or hurt the band’s development? In your eyes, has this state of constant connectivity been positive or negative for the music scene in general?
A: Honestly, I could go both ways. I think if we had all the social networking tools that bands have now, it could have definitely helped us. Being able to broadcast new songs, tour schedules, links to ticket vendors, merch sites etc, would have helped tremendously.
Even now, if it wasn’t for Facebook, I might have easily missed out on an opportunity to catch my favorite band while they were in town. Even music streaming sites like bandcamp and SoundCloud have been great resources for helping me discover new bands.
The days of taking a blind chance at buying a band’s album, because you saw their name in your favorite band’s “thank you” list, in their CD liner notes, are over. I think the only problem I have with social networking within the music industry is that it makes it too easy to sell a bullshit image, and diverts the attention from the most important thing; the actual music.