A decade removed from the release of If Only You Were Lonely, the second full-length album from Hawthorne Heights, it’s easy to forget just how big of a deal the band was at the time. In a scene that seemed to be thriving on conflict, Hawthorne Heights managed to become the poster boys for alienated alt music fans attempting to grapple with the unlikely screamo explosion. Everyone seemed to know about Hawthorne Heights – and everyone had an opinion.
The Dayton, Ohio, quintet came out of absolutely nowhere in 2004 with the release of their divisive debut, The Silence in Black in White – an album that went on to sell nearly a million copies and become the most successful debut in the history of Victory Records. For every screaming fan in an “Ohio is for Lovers” t-shirt, there stood a staunchly disgusted listener bemoaning the demise of punk music (again).
What became lost in the clamor surrounding the band at the time was something very basic and human – five young men learning how to be in a band and discover their sound. Sadly, it wasn’t until the tragic death of bassist Casey Calvert a year after the release of Lonely that the noise died down long enough for the conversation to shift to something much more nuanced.
Looking back on If Only You Were Lonely, it’s easy to immediately identify the elements that made Hawthorne Heights all the rage in the first place. All of the suspects from the band’s debut remain: crunchy breakdowns, poppy melodies from vocalist J.T. Woodruff, gloomy lyrics dripping in heartbreak, and Calvert’s signature gravelly screams. However, each piece of the puzzle is tightened and polished to a glossy finish, thanks in part to producer David Bendeth.
The album is filled with scene anthems, but the newly found luster shaped multiple songs for radio. The crisp delivery of lead single “Saying Sorry” starkly contrasts the rough production found on the band’s debut, even if lyrics like, “Saying goodbye this time / The same old story / Seeing you cry / Makes me feel like saying sorry” leave much to be desired.
For every perfectly placed melodic guitar riff, Lonely managed to stretch the band in unexpected ways. Tracks like “Dead in the Water” overshadow the band’s emo pop tendencies with much darker instrumentals and post-hardcore-esque passages. In some ways, Hawthorne Heights managed to find a heavier sound even as they scaled back on Calvert’s bellows. If Only You Were Lonely didn’t set any standards or break down any sonic walls, but it did take some mighty steps forward for a band needing to make a statement.
Yet for all of the venom that unfairly rained down on the young band, it’s important to remember just how well they handled adversity. At a time where every band in the world was suddenly able to read the unfiltered opinions of every detractor within reach of a keyboard, Hawthorne Heights seemed playfully unaffected. The song “Where Can I Stab Myself in the Ears” still remains the gold standard for comebacks, named after the hilariously mistyped heckle of a forum member at AbsolutePunk.
In light of the band’s spirit and character, the blow they would be dealt still seems cruel and unfair. The shocking news of Calvert’s passing sent waves of grief across the music scene, forever altering the conversation surrounding Hawthorne Heights. A community of music fans laid down their opinions and rallied around a band in need. For a brief moment, the beauty of that unity seemed to counteract the deep pain that still lingers to this day.
Hawthorne Heights are no strangers to hardship. That the band has continued to evolve and grow as musicians over the course of the past decade is a testament to their will. With five full-length albums and five EPs under their belt, there’s a conversation to be had about the band’s discography and where each era of the band’s sound stands in the minds of their fans.
If Only You Were Lonely served as the soundtrack to my final semester of college, providing a dose of poignancy and nostalgia each time I spin the record. It reminds me of Casey and it reminds me of a time when this sound seemed to blare from every dorm room and passing car. It’s not an album without its flaws, but it is an album chock full of heart.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.