If you’ve never heard of San Antonio, Texas rockers Nothing More, rest assured that someone out there definitely has. The band is poised to make a big splash Sunday (Jan. 28) at the 60th Grammy Awards, having scored nominations in the fields of Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, and Best Rock Album. That’s a clean sweep of the entire genre (minus only Best Metal Performance, which is an outlier in the category).
Keep in mind, this feat is something that wasn’t accomplished by bands you’ve most likely heard of — and who are Nothing More’s competition in the categories — such as the Foo Fighters and Metallica. Additionally, Nothing More attracted these accolades largely without the help of mainstream press or radio, making their journey one of those grassroots-Cinderella stories which are particularly rare in today’s climate of reality music shows and overnight success.
Nothing More, which formed in 2003 and released its fifth album, The Stories We Tell Ourselves, last September, is fronted by Jonny Hawkins — who has a cheerful, matter-of-fact demeanor about his band’s unusually low-key climb to the top. He sat down with Yahoo Entertainment to discuss his thoughts on the Recording Academy and the representative state of rock in general.
Yahoo: It doesn’t matter how far you are in your career, or how big of a fanbase you have — every artist is thrilled to get a Grammy nomination. How did you react when you realized you were up for three this year?
Jonny Hawkins: At first it was a little bit of shock. I was in Europe driving from Poland to Italy, and I think I was too tired at the time from the night before to really take it all in. It wasn’t until a day or two later when I heard my father’s voice over the phone — he’s backed me up since I was a little kid, with music–when I heard how excited he was I realized what a big deal it was.
Wow, you must have been really exhausted for that news not to jolt you awake!
(Laughs) I know! I was very tired. When it sank in, I got a little emotional about it.
A lot of people seem to be surprised that you are being recognized by the Grammys this year. Why do you think it took the organization so long to catch on to your music?
I think as a band we just have a little bit of a longer path. I feel like on the spectrum of “flashy” to “deep” we’ve always had a lot of depth to our music — we’ve been on the less flashy side. Just in general, when it comes to winning over fans or getting people turned on to our music, maybe we’re less exciting than some other bands off the bat. It takes a second to understand what’s going on. It’s always taken people a little bit longer with us, so it’s no surprise to me that it took a little longer to get here. We have been doing it for a while. That’s just a part of who we are.
There has been press — including, frankly, this interview — swirling around that you’re “the Grammy-nominated band that nobody ever heard of.” Do you think that’s a fair categorization?
I think it’s fair in the sense that a lot of people still haven’t heard of us, or if they have heard a song they haven’t connected the dots about who we are. It’s been a little more grassroots for us.
Do you find that tag to be sort of amusing, or does it annoy you?
I kind of like it! When we first started, I would imagine what it would be like to have that overnight success. And then i would imagine another situation, which is the one I find myself in years later, where we didn’t have the overnight success — and people found out about us after years of developing our craft and our art. And as much as the first way would have been more immediately gratifying, I feel this is way more powerful. For people to have that first “falling in love” experience with your music–after years of honing, crafting, and maturing.
What we’re singing has actual life experience behind it. It’s not just adolescent passing thoughts, it’s actual mature human emotions that have dealt with life, death, and struggle. I prefer this way, but if you asked me years ago, it would have been harder to say that.
It seems as if the Recording Academy has been making an effort to be more on the pulse of things in recent years. Many genres are being shaken up with nominations for newer or unexpected artists, and your nominations this year are putting a little jolt into the rock category — which is historically not exactly the fastest one to change.
This may sound biased, because we’re nominated this year — but I do think that in meeting some of the people who have worked with or been around the Grammy process, I do get the sense that they are reconnecting with the pulse. Especially with the rock world. There’s some people who’ve won Grammys in the rock genre that I was very….um…confused by. I was like, “this is the top thing, in their minds, in rock?” I just didn’t feel it represented what was going on the genre. And now I get the sense that they are reconnecting. And I know it sounds biased, but I think we are a band that is bringing a new feeling and a rejuvenation to the genre.
Have you been happy with the state of “rock” as a genre? It’s a difficult category to be in. There seems to be a limitless demand for pure rock, but not enough fresh output these days.
Over the last 10 years I’ve been disappointed as most people have with rock. It’s felt very uninspired, and I feel there was a lot of fear years ago, and a lot of bands reacted to that fear by clamping down and taking less risks, catering their music more to radio. They clamped down on creativity and became more and more homogenized so they fit in instead of stood out.
We’ve actually been very critical of our genre for a while now, and feel that it’s a personal goal to respond to that and do something about it. We’ve always loved rock, but it’s been in a weird place. We listen to a lot of stuff outside the genre, and I think there’s a lot to be learned there — creative inspiration to reinvent things with.
How do you feel about the separation of “rock” and “alternative rock” as categories? Now, more than ever, the two seem to bleed into each other.
I was always confused by that label, “alternative rock,” because when I was growing up that meant, like, Smashing Pumpkins and things like that. And today that’s not at all what it means. About five years ago, somewhere in that general timeframe, it really departed. It was a lot of bands that, to me, were like soft rock.
To me, rock ‘n’ roll was always the thing that was grabbing you by the shirt, pulling you in, slapping you in the face, throwing whiskey down your throat. Give me that jolt, that energy. And I feel alternative rock went in the opposite direction of that. Which is fine, because you need that music too, but a lot of times I didn’t feel like it really represented the spirit of rock.
Well, now that you are definitely representing the spirit of rock in big way at the Grammy Awards, do you have any crazy plans to celebrate if you take home one, two, or three awards that night?
We have a longstanding tradition in our band of celebrating like senior citzens–we all go to Cracker Barrel, and have a nice meal at Cracker Barrel. Then we sit in the rocking chairs (laughs). We’re definitely going to party it up while we’re in New York, but Cracker Barrel will probably be the official celebration will be Cracker Barrel.