Hawthorne Heights & Armor For Sleep
From the venue:
Hawthorne Heights return with their eighth studio album ‘The Rain Just Follows Me’ (Released September 2021 via Pure Noise Records). The 11 tracks on this record stand as some of JT Woodruff’s most resonant writings to date, as he unravels themes of both physical and emotional distance from his wife and daughter in Ohio, as well as personal identity as the frontman of one of the most iconic emo acts of the new millennium.
Throughout their long and storied career, Hawthorne Heights have overcome obstacles at every turn - but these roadblocks always seemed to come from external forces, from unscrupulous record labels and the shifting whims of fickle audiences to unimaginable personal tragedy threatening to derail them.
Despite the odds, the quartet composed of JT Woodruff (Vocals, Guitar), Mark McMillon (Guitar, Backing Vocals), Matt Ridenour (Bass, Backing Vocals), and Chris Popadak (Drums), have overcome it all: earning two Gold albums (2004’s The Silence In Black And White and 2006’s If Only You Were Lonely), penning some of the genre’s most well-known songs (“Ohio Is For Lovers,” “Saying Sorry”), and remaining a hard-touring act nearly two decades after forming in Dayton, Ohio.
Ben Jorgensen has been waiting to make The Rain Museum for a very long time. Not just the 15 years
that separates it from Armor For Sleep’s previous full-length 2007 album, Smile For Them, but since right
after the release of 2005’s breakthrough album, What To Do When You Are Dead. After that record came
out, Jorgensen says, he wanted to “double down on the idea of making albums that were part of larger
stories.” He “loosely penned a short story called ‘The Rain Museum’ and fully intended to make our next
album a complimentary piece of the larger story that I was crafting in my head.” That never happened.
After What To Do When You Are Dead, the band followed what Jorgensen calls “bad advice” and signed
to a major label, who convinced the band to shelve the idea of making another concept record. Instead,
that led to the band “sputtering” before going on indefinite hiatus in 2009. Jorgensen never got to create
the album he’d been so excited to see materialize.
Fast-forward to 2020. When the pandemic hit, it occurred to Jorgensen that lockdown might be the
perfect opportunity to finally spend the time to revisit and realize his idea for this “lost” album.
“In its initial form,” explains Jorgensen, “The Rain Museum was going to be a concept album set in a postapocalyptic
world where there’s no more weather on planet Earth. In this world, in the middle of a desert,
there is a mysterious museum containing nostalgia from Earth’s past. It’s filled with exhibits of what the
world looked like before civilization crumbled. It’s this peaceful place where people from all over flock to
since they would rather spend time looking at this previous world than existing in their own. At the end of
the story, they all choose to drown inside this museum instead of facing the realities of their own world.”
It’s a bleak but also beautiful fable about ruminating too deeply in the past, about reliving memories of life
rather than actually living through the present moments of now.
Initially, Jorgensen set out to make the concept album as he’d originally conceived it some 17 years
earlier. But then something unexpected happened that would alter the course of his life and, in turn, his
path to completing the album that he had been waiting so long to create. His marriage of eight years fell
apart. As he was “living through hell,” Jorgensen started filtering those myriad emotions and narratives
over the story arc of the record that he was still determined to finish. It was unintentional at first, but the
reality of the present soon became inextricably woven into the fabric of this fictional concept until they
became the same thing, albeit with an extra layer of self-awareness. That’s because The Rain Museum,
as well as being an avenue for Jorgensen to explore his grief, also became a concept album about a
concept album that never was, a combination of the original idea that Jorgensen had had with what was
happening to him and his relationship.
“It occurred to me,” he says, “that that process of letting go that I was going through was exactly the same
process the main characters in my original story had to go through in their world. The characters drawn to
the museum that obsessed over the past ultimately chose to perish inside the museum. I knew then that
weaving my own personal story over the bones of my original idea actually would give rise to the album I
always truly wanted to make. So as my life took an unexpected turn, the album morphed with me into
something else entirely and became an outlet for what I was going through, which actually helped my
grieving process.” Funneling his emotions and experiences into what would become the album helped
Jorgensen cope with his strange new reality. He says, “In writing the album, I felt like I was sending a
message in a bottle out to the world. Obviously a breakup is hard no matter when you go through it, but
going through it in the midst of a global pandemic made the whole thing seem even bleaker. So I hoped if
I could send some kind of beacon out there, it might connect with someone else down the road who’s
making their way through their own dark tunnel.”
Both that isolation and hope-and the tension between them-are present in the 12 tracks that make up
this record. Recorded by Courtney Ballard (State Champs, I The Mighty, Good Charlotte, All Time Low) in
West Hollywood, it begins with the deliberately cinematic title track. A gorgeous instrumental dreamscape,
it seems to ebb and flow through centuries as its layers build and the melody blooms, expanding and
shrinking the same way a bruised, broken heart keeps beating, even when it feels like it can’t anymore.
Through the subtle use of a Middle Eastern musical scale that reappears at various points in the album, it
sets the scene in which the rest of the record takes place. Then there’s “How Far Apart,” a poignant
examination of an absence that can’t be measured whose melody builds into a soaring crescendo that’s
as epic as it is devastating, and the frenetic yet euphoric “World Burn Down,” which translates that
dystopian vision of Jorgensen’s short story into a desperate blast of minor chord urgency. Elsewhere,
there are glimpses of hope in the almost-blissful melancholy of “New Rainbows” and-despite its title-
the bleak emotional landscape of the atmospheric, synth-laden “Rather Drown,” while “Tomorrow Faded
Away” shimmers with defiance in the face of hopelessness. It all comes to an end with the darkly majestic
“Spinning Through Time,” an almost classical piano-led piece that dives deep into Jorgensen’s own
personal loss and trauma to bring the record to a haunting, moving close.
“I wanted the last track on the album to serve as a reflection of the first track,” he explains, “and I wanted
it to feel like the end of the journey and a summary of some of the emotions and musical ideas presented
throughout the album. At the core, a lot of this album is about my relationship that fell apart, and I wanted
to end things focused on that.”
Interestingly, while Armor For Sleep songs have always been emotional experiences, Jorgensen says this
is the first time he’s actually used music as a form of therapy. You can definitely hear that in these songs
-they bristle and ache with a raw passion that belies their sophisticated production, making them feel all
the more real, all the more anguished.
“I remember always hearing people say that writing songs was their therapy,” he says, “and I always kind
of thought it was bullshit. The songs that I wrote were always meaningful to me in a way, but I would
never say it was my own personal therapy-when I wrote about despair in the past, it was always from
the perspective of being in a healthy place. But this album was the first time that I felt like it was just me in
the trenches-no daylight anywhere. Some of it was literally difficult to finish writing because I was living
in such a dark period of my life. So this really was therapy for me.”
It did the trick. But equally important, being tied to the narrative concept of The Rain Museum put
everything into perspective for him. Jorgensen explains, “I knew as I was writing this that what I was
going through was only a small chapter in my life,” he says. “I knew I wouldn’t be there all the time. Time
eventually makes everything better, so I knew it was only a brief chapter in my life, but I also knew it was
important for me to document and find a creative outlet for what I was going through, as tough as it was.
I’m thankfully not in that place anymore, but this will always be there for me as a reminder of that little blip
in my life. And if it can be there for other people, too, then that’s great.”