Life After a Band Member's Death: Hawthorne Heights Presses On

The Dayton, Ohio five-piece, who lost guitarist Casey Calvert to a fatal cocktail of prescription medications, return with a new official lineup and the ambitious concept album, "Zero."

Hawthorne Heights don't care if you call them emo. The Dayton, Ohio five-piece, who just released their fifth album, Zero, saw their share of attention as one of the genre's up-and-comers during the mid- to late-2000’s, catching the tail end of MTV's music video days. Today, says drummer Eron Bucciarelli: pigeon-hole away.

“Some people like to call us that, and if that makes sense in their mind, so be it," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. Lead singer and guitarist JT Woodruff counters that thought, saying that, over the years, they have “become an aggressive rock band,” a title fitting for the more mature sound that this group -- which also includes lead guitarist Micah Carli, bassist Matt Ridenour and guitarist Mark McMillion -- has grown into.

Besides, the guys have learned that appreciating the evolution of a band -- even when it involves a member's death -- is not something you can boil down to a catch-all word. Zero, a concept album and the first of its kind for the band, proves this. The story spans 14 tracks that detail a time set not too far off into the future in the year 2015.

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“Essentially it’s about the deterioration of small town America," says Woodruff. "We wanted to do it because it is the ground that we have not tread on." Songs like "Anywhere But Here," with its punk-pop punch of a chorus that beckons the listener to "watch me as I fall," and title track "Zero," which howls, "you are the only number I know," illustrate this point by exploring dark and questioning themes. 

Those are well-mined emotions for the band, who have been together 12 years, especially in light of the Nov. 2007 death of guitarist Casey Calvert. Just before soundcheck for a show at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club, the band found Calvert, then 26 years old, dead on their tour bus. After years of going without a replacement, touring guitarist McMillon became the official fifth member of the band this March.

“It’s tough," says Bucciarelli of the constant reminder. "I think you have to look to your friends and your family, and in times of hardship, it’s certainly helpful that we had an outpouring of support from our fans. If they weren’t there and really encouraging us to continue on I don’t know that we would have made it through something like that."

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Calvert's death was attributed to an accidental mixture of a prescription pain reliever with Citalopram, an anti-depressant known by the brand name Celexa, and Clonazepam, also known by the brand names Klonopin and Rivotril, which is used to treat panic attacks and seizure disorders. Calvert was not abusing these medications and had passed away in his sleep, reports would show. He had been battling depression for years. 

Despite the tragic loss, the band presses on in an ever-changing musical landscape. But it's not about being famous or claiming glory. Says Bucciarelli: "That point of fame I think is unattainable by most artists these days, simply because those mediums don't exist anymore. Like MTV2 and Fuse barely plays videos, people don’t really buy CDs..."

The best way to connect with an audience, it seems, is the most direct way: impress them with your live show, which Hawthorne Heights hope to do for many more years and certainly this summer, when they play two months' worth of dates with the 2013 Warped Tour 2013.

Twitter: @THRMusic