Out of humble beginnings in small-town Lima, Ohio, in 2003, Hit The Lights slowly began to make a name for themselves. Known for the electric live performances, the band eventually found a devoted fanbase, even in a small market. After making appearances on Warped Tour, Bamboozle and touring along side some of the most notable artists of their genre, Hit The Lights’ second studio album, Skip School, Start Fights was highly successful.
After continuing touring in 2010, the band announced a new album along with a new record label. Hit The Lights will embark on one last 2010 tour before settling down to complete their album, set for an early 2011 release via Universal Records. I was able to speak with vocalist Nick Thompson about the latest tour and the new album.
Did you find that being from a small area in Ohio hindered the band’s progression at all, being away from major cities and venues?
I think in our case, it’s what pushed us. We wanted to get out and see the country. This band was one of the only ways we could do that. At the time, we were all in college and definitely weren’t traveling in anyway. We were stuck in Ohio. That’s what really fueled everything was getting the fuck out.
How did Colin’s departure affect the band, and how did you guys adapt to the change?
Well Colin initially had talked to us about quitting a few times while we were touring during This Is A Stick Up, and right around the time when we were back home from touring, after being on the road for about a year straight, and right around the time when we were writing the new record is when he approached us and said he couldn’t do it anymore.
So it wasn’t necessarily out of the blue, but it was still a big blow to us because we didn’t want Colin to quit. Obviously, we loved having him and stuff, but he just wasn’t happy. I think our initial reaction was that we thought it would be a lot easier than it ended up being to find a new singer because we had things like MySpace and different social-networking sites that we figured would help out. But it took us about nine months to go through people we had some prospect on, but they just didn’t work out.
A lot [of them] we were really excited about, but it just didn’t work out. I guess eventually we had talked about myself starting to sing for the band, but it wasn’t really something I was interested in. I like to play guitar and sing backup and be lazy! I never thought I’d be the frontman singing for the band. It took us discussing as a band.
They talked to me about it and said they had my back, and gave me the confidence to go out and try it. Eventually we just said, “let’s do it” and we wanted to make the record that we wanted to do. And if it works out that’s awesome, and if it doesn’t, then at least we know we made something we were proud of and really tried, and it worked out okay!
Did you personally find the transition to lead vocals difficult?
I had never been a person who likes to be in front of people and the main attraction, so it would have been a lot harder for me if the fans hadn’t stuck around and made it so much easier. I think the first show we did was in New Jersey, and we booked a show and all the kids came out. I was so nervous to sing, and we were all like, ‘this is crazy and weird.’ But, by the end of the show, it was all natural. All the kids were jumping around and grabbing me and singing along. It just kind of happened like that. If the fans weren’t that awesome and welcoming as much as they were, it wouldn’t have worked out.
Do you think the band chemistry was highly affected after these changes?
Not really. Omar, Dave and I had always written separately anyway. And Colin, of course, wrote with us when he was in the band. By the time he left though, we had already had a bunch of songs written for the record that didn’t involve Colin. It was mainly the fact that Colin was our friend and we didn’t want him to not be in the band. We thought he had an amazing voice and we really loved having him. But as far as the dynamic of song writing, not too much changed because we had all written before.
The band has stated that you’re working on your upcoming release for early 2011. How’s the process going?
It’s kind of a whole new process for us, because we decided to sign with Universal in March of this past year, and we kind of hit the roof with Triple Crown [who are] an amazing label, and backed us all the way. In a sense, we weren’t expecting to be around this long. We didn’t know how the second album would do, but it ended up doing great.
With this, it’s really our turn to swing for the fences, being on a major label. I think with this, we decided that by the time our third record comes out, we didn’t want a redo of any of the other records; we wanted to make a whole new record, and take our chances and kind of put all our eggs in one basket. This is kind of the major leap for us, and that includes songwriting. We wrote more songs than we ever had before on one record, really just trying to write the best we could, and add all the elements we wanted to, while not driving our old fans away. It’s been hard but I think it’s going to be worth it in the end.
You mentioned changing record labels. How was the transition between the two?
I think it was a lot easier for us than other bands have it. We were fortunate enough to have great people working for us that followed our career as a band from the start, so they knew what we were about and what we brought to the table, but also what could be added and what would be needed for us to make that next step into a major label record.
So I guess as far as now, we’re about to go and record the record, so it’s to be determined. So far it’s been all writing. In that aspect it’s positive because we have so many choices of songs. After we get a solid producer to help us get a hold of these songs and show us which way to go with them, I think it will be awesome.
You talked about the new sound of your album. Would your latest EP Coast To Coast be a good indicator of what fans could expect?
I wouldn’t expect anything really. I wouldn’t necessarily expect that at all. It’s going to be a rock record; I think we’re going more rock. People say we’re a little poppy and we’re still keeping that element, but I definitely wouldn’t associate it with the EP at all. That was songs that we wrote and love, but not necessarily a reflection of songs to come.
So what are you most excited for on your new release?
Basically, getting back on the road. We’ve been home and writing for long enough now that we really miss being on the road. I follow all my friends’ bands on Twitter now, and all the stuff they Tweet from the road makes me miss it a lot. So I’m getting excited to get back out and get in front of the fans again and sweat and spit and all that kind of stuff.
So would you say that traveling and touring is more enjoyable than writing and recording?
Traveling and touring is definitely more enjoyable. From a musicians stand point, it’s always an amazing thing to write songs and actually hear them come to life in the studio, but the way this band has always been is that we’re very live-oriented. There’s that energy that our songs kind of need that doesn’t always translate on the record until you come see us live and sing along. I think that’s really what Hit The Lights is about anyway. So I definitely say I like live performances most.
It’s been stated that you guys are working with talents like Ryan Key of Yellowcard on your new album. How is that working?
That’s one of the advantages of being with a major label now. They asked us if there were people that we’d like to play with, and we were able to work with artists, like you said Ryan Key and Andrew McMahon [Something Corporate], just a bunch of really awesome people that we respect and like their music, so we thought it would be a cool fit to go in the studio and write a song with them. And those songs might not come out on the record, but just to have the opportunity was sweet.
How did it come about? What were the major factors that lead you to choose these guys?
It was mainly our people at Universal had us come up with a list of people we’d be interested in writing with. A lot of the time on a label now, its single oriented, and they want to put you in with writers that don’t really know what your band is about, and they just try to write you a song. That wasn’t really our feel, and Universal tried to work out something that felt better for us.
What elements did you try to keep from Skip School, Start Fights, and what did you want to do differently?
I think with this album we’re really trying to expand our horizons as far as the dimensions of the band go. We really want every song on this record to be its own song, and for it to sound as a record as a whole. We want faster songs, slower songs, heavier songs and lighter songs. We wanted the chance to showcase our songwriters as well. We also kept in mind that we wanted to be a fun band, because that’s why people like us. That was easy for sure.
Did you feel like the other albums weren’t as distinguished?
I think it all comes down to it being a learning process. With our first albums, it was the first time we had a producer figure. We learned that there are things that you can stand up for. Producers aren’t there to make you miserable; they’re there to help. I think the same thing with Skip School, Start Fights. We came out with the record we wanted to, and now we see that there isn’t that much dimension to it. It sounds like a record, but there aren’t a whole lot of levels to it. And I think that’s what we learned and want to use towards our new record.
You guys are starting on your Holiday Tour soon, so what’s the plan for the tour?
Actually we just had a show added around New York on the 10th, and then we have about six dates, five of those we are headlining smaller shows on the East Coast to get back in the groove of things, and then on the 26th we have a show with The Starting Line in Jersey. It’s mainly just for fun and to get back out there and play some new stuff for the fans. That and so we aren’t bored to death in Ohio!
So what other bands are you featuring on the tour?
We’re featuring a lot of local bands along the tour. We play in a lot of 300 capacity rooms, so it’ll be nice, hot, packed and fun.
Do you like smaller venues better than the larger ones?
I think we always have. Bigger venues are fun because it sounds amazing on stage. You can actually hear yourself. But the small venues have a more intimate feel. There’s no barrier between you and the fans. That’s kind of what we grew up on, so I feel like that really where we tend to do well, in the smaller areas where everyone can feel the energy. It’s just fucking awesome.
Are you planning on playing any new songs during the tour?
We will be. I’m thinking that we’ll play about two new songs to switch it up. We don’t want to give too much away. I’m looking forward to hearing what the fans have to say about the new stuff. I think that they will enjoy it.
If you could pick, what bands would you want to tour with in the future?
Ah, that’s a good question. I would love to do a tour with Jimmy Eat World, Third Eye Blind. I’d love to go out with Cartel again, I miss those guys. All Time Low would be awesome, to be out with those guys again. Really, just any band. We’re ready to get out!
What are your plans for after the Holiday Tour?
Hopefully after the tour we can start the new record, and then we have some overseas dates coming up too.
The Holiday Tour makes stops in the New York area including the show on the Dec. 26 with The Starting Line. For more information check out their Myspace at myspace.com/hitthelights.