Hot Cross - Billy Werner
Interview Date: March 20, 2007
Associated band: Hot Cross
What is Hot Cross currently up to right now, except for walking around downtown Philly?
BILLY WERNER: *laugh* Well, we’re in the process of booking shows to and from SXSW. We’ll be there on the 17th of March. We’re just putting those together to get down there and get back up to the Midwest for shows. Unfortunately, we won’t be hitting the west coast this time around. Also, we’re planning a UK tour at the end of June which would be the last week of that month. Other than that, we’re just gearing up for this record. It’s finally coming out!
After a few years and two times recording, Hot Cross is finally releasing Risk Revival in February. How would you characterize the new CD to someone who has not been exposed to Hot Cross before?
It’s actually probably the heaviest record we’ve ever done. The recording is great. I guess how I would describe it is kind of like a modern take on hardcore. Some people are calling it “post-hardcore,” though I’m not really sure what that means. Those with a rock influence and experimental side may be interested in what we do.
How did you approach Risk Revival lyrically?
Originally this record was going to be about western death rituals and mourning and my ideas on those things. When I was originally fifteen or sixteen, I experienced a lot of family loss. After that, I had a friend who passed away in my early 20s. Those kind of issues really haunted me, and I never really decided if I had dealt with those losses the right way. With this record, I feel like I have dealt with it the right way. Western culture puts pressures to deal with death in a very specific way, and I don’t think those were really the best ways for me to deal with them. It’s not fair for people to handle those things in one way. The record was supposed to be all about that, but over time, I was writing about a whole bunch of things. You’ll see that theme in the record but will also see other elements come into it. I always write what is relevant to me at the time. Thankfully, that wasn’t the only thing I was thinking about over the course of writing this stuff. You’ll see that theme of feeling lost run through the record though.
Is there any story or theme behind your album art for Risk Revival?
We wanted our friend Miles to be involved and do the artwork. We told him what the title was and all the song titles. We didn’t tell him about what any of the songs were about or anything. We wanted to challenge him and see what came out. From the few things we told him, that’s what came out, and we were really blown away. They are amazing pieces of art and it worked out very well. The art is basically just an interpretation of a few words we gave him.
In what ways has Hot Cross improved the most since Chronics?
I think we finally found out what we want in a recording very specifically, being that we had to record the album a couple times. Over the process, it became clear what we were looking for. Something I found while making records is that it’s really difficult to translate how a band sounds to a recording well. It’s very important to get that transfer. You have to be on top of a lot of details. In the past, we weren’t concerned with that so much. Dealing with what we want is definitely a growth as a band. It shows that we know what our priorities are. I think this is the best recording we’ve ever had. The writing on all our records have improved, but I feel this record we know where our band has a specific sound that people can expect when they hear our record. We’re pretty excited. Wherever we improved, I know wherever I have improved has just been from experience and getting it right.
Album leaking online has been a huge controversy lately with bands like Fall Out Boy having thousands of copies downloaded online before their release. When Risk Revival got leaked, how did you react?
Yeah, it leaked on like the fifteenth of January, which is almost a month before release. We had a lot of conversations with the label about it. It was pretty inevitable that it was going to leak so it wasn’t really a surprise. Even if the CD has protection or whatever and goes out to the world, it’s pretty inevitable that it’s going to get ripped and leaked. We were expecting it to happen so it wasn’t that big of a deal. A band at our level... Well, I wouldn’t say that we directly benefit from leaking, but it does open doors to other opportunities and fans we wouldn’t have otherwise. They can check out the record for free. It’s really a double-edged sword. We’ve had conversations about it. We were bummed that it leaked, but it would have been even worse if it leaked and nobody cared. It seemed like people who have heard the record have been responding positively to it like 95% of the time. You have to pick it with a grain of salt. In our case, it seems to have generated a little bit of hype. People have been preordering the CD, and we do get emails about when the vinyl is coming out and stuff. I don’t think it is going to hurt our sales as much as a band like Fall Out Boy. Even then, that’s the difference between Fall Out Boy selling like a million 5 and a million 3 records. Does it really matter? In our level, if it introduces people to the band early and get excited for shows, we can’t be too upset about it. It would be nice to just have the record come out and have everyone stoked and go to the record store that set day for it, but it’s 2007 and release dates are arbitrary at this point.
Have you been considering any alternative ways of getting your music out there like music videos, since your label is a larger label with those options available?
The option is really open to us. The great thing about Equal Vision is that they leave the option up to us. It’s not like they said like before this record, you guys need to tour six months out of the year. It was never any situation like that. They were like, “We really like the band and want to be involved with this band. You can play 3 shows or 300 shows this year. Do what you want.” They’ve been like that in regards to everything, not just touring. They say that if we want to do a video, just let them know. It’s cool because they let us do our thing. All those things are available to us. We’re trying to figure out what’s going to be best for us as a band to put money into. We don’t want to do all these things and have none of them result in anything. We are just trying to take time and determine the best course of action for the stuff available to us. We just haven’t decided yet on what’s the best idea.
Is Hot Cross by any means involved in political or charitable organizations?
We’re not directly involved in any organizations, but there are definitely issues that we tackle on the record. There’s one song about health care in the United States. It’s an issue that I haven’t thought too much about but have been affected with recently. I was with someone who needs to be medicated daily and didn’t have health insurance for a long time. To use state-funded resources to fund their health care was a nightmare. That got me really interested in that, and I looked into the amount of people who don’t have health insurance. It’s startling! All these people who can’t afford health care for themselves or their children. I’m interested in seeing what kind of non-profit organizations are out there for that. Other than that, everyone in the band has their own ideas of what they support and such. Hot Cross is a kind of band that everyone can get something out of. We aren’t really a band that is extremely political or anything. This world is constantly full of people that are preaching constantly. We’re not one of these bands that needs to stand on a box and say, “You need to live your life this way.” We haven’t found the need to go out of our way and write the token anti-war song because of that. We play a ton of benefit shows while we’re on tour, and if we’re asked to play at a charity show, we usually will if it’s something we believe in. In terms of direct involvement, we’re not really about expressing something so blatantly through our music. We’re not apolitical, but we are more interested in being political individuals. If people are interested in talking about it, come talk to us. We don’t feel like we need to be one of those bands who speaks out against George Bush or whatever. Do we really need another one of those?
What have been some of your favorite newer albums to come out by other bands?
This is funny because this goes back right to your question about CDs leaking! I’m probably biting my own hand right now but I just recently acquired a copy of that new Arcade Fire CD. I can say that the CD is incredible! I was a person who thought their last record was incredibly boring and never understood that band, but that new album is really exciting. As of today, I can say that their new CD is kicking my ass in a good way. I really like the new The Shins record a lot. In terms of hardcore and punk records, I really liked that Criminal Damage record that came out last year. [inaudible] The Liars record last year was really good, and they’re a band that I wasn’t really into before. I really liked the last The Hope Conspiracy record too. I can’t stand when people say that there isn’t any good CDs coming out, because I feel that the last year and a half has been unreal. I’ve been very broke because I have been spending more on records than I have in the past few years. There’s a lot of good quality records coming out.
If you could play a show tonight with any bands, who would you want to be on the show?
That’s a good question! I guess I would love to play with The Hope Conspiracy. I’ve never seen them before. I would love to play with them just to get to see them. I would love to play with the Mars Volta too just to sit at the side of the stage and watch. Their last record was a little much for me though. I was a huge At The Drive-In fan too so I like to see those guys in action up close. One of the all-time great bands to play with is Fugazi, but whether or not they are done is debatable. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I think those three cover it.
Is it awkward at all that you have your own Wikipedia entry online with a small bio about you?
Yeah, yeah it’s weird. It’s funny because a bunch of friends screw with it all the time. If you’ve seen the entry more than once, it’s constantly changing. People keep writing ridiculous shit on it. It was a little weird. Wikipedia in itself is a little weird. Me being on it is definitely strange. *laugh*