Photo by Jody Domingue
An Interview with Guitarist Mark Vollelunga | By Charlie Steffens
“It can be a pain in the ass when there are four cooks in the kitchen. It takes forever to get that entrée finished but when we do, we’re really happy with the taste.”
Displaying a range of musical influences and boundless energy onstage, Nothing More is enjoying the fruits of good songwriting and a tireless work ethic. Their sonic palette embodies elements of prog rock, fist-pumping anthems, moody, synth-infused instrumentals, and catchy, Billboard-charting melodies.
Since its inception in 2003 up to last year, the San Antonio, Texas quartet has released five previous records on their own label. Nothing More, the band’s sixth album, was released in June 2014 on the Eleven Seven Music label. It is, undoubtedly, their strongest effort to date.
Vocalist Jonny Hawkins, guitarist Mark Vollelunga, bassist Daniel Oliver, and drummer Paul O’Brien have been touring relentlessly over the last year, and will continue until the end of April, playing dates in Tokyo, Australia, and Europe. The band runs at a frenetic pace and while keeping its collective head. Mark Vollelunga says that he and his band mates had taken a vow to stay together through fair weather or foul, and economic hardship: “To manage a relationship with your family and with your significant other is very, very hard. Just paying your bills and believing your band is going to have a future– believing what you’re saying and the music you’re playing is worth every inch of stress and suffering.
That can definitely take a toll on you. But we just poured all of that stress and suffering into the music and really pushed ourselves to make the best songs possible and connect as much as we can with others.” “The first two years we were touring (for) The Few Not Fleeting,” he explains of the five-year gap between albums. The writing for the Nothing More record took three years. “We just took our time with every element of every song, with lyrics and music and melody. We also self-produced it.”
A band’s self-titled album is usually its debut or a quintessential musical statement when released sometime later in the band’s career. Mark claims that there wasn’t a song that seemed fit for an album title, adding, “It was sort of a coming out for us to the world. Now, partnering with Eleven Seven, finally having a team backing us to make this possible. It really just felt right and it was a big statement to leave it self-titled.”
The four share equal input in the collaborative process. “Certain people will bring certain concepts and ideas to the table. But we all believe four minds are better than one. We believe in the band collaboration. It can be a pain in the ass when there are four cooks in the kitchen. It takes forever to get that entrée finished but when we do, we’re really happy with the taste.”
Within the three-year span of making the record, singer Jonny Hawkins’ mother died after a long bout with cancer. Hawkins’ grief was the impetus for the song “God Went North”. “It was sort of a shitstorm,” Mark recalling the period. “He (Jonny) had been in a five-year relationship as well, and that ended at around the same time. When it rains it pours. We all grew up in the church and when things like this happen, you really begin to question some things. That naturally happens in your own maturation process. You want to know why you believe what you believe.”
“We’re all truth seekers and we’re all learning. If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned we don’t know everything. Ten years ago I thought this was truth, and now I think this is truth. So, in the future I’m going to think something else is the truth, probably. We just kind of center ourselves around truth and love. And that’s it. I think everything else just falls in to line. It’s fun learning about all the religions and history and spirituality. We can kind of grow from all that. “If I Were”, according to Mark, is the most positive song on the record, asking the question: What would you do if you were God? “I think at the end of the day we all realize that we wouldn’t do anything, because if we could interfere with anyone’s choice it wouldn’t be worth it. That isn’t love. We’d leave them just the way they are. Which is cliché, perhaps, but that is the truth.”
“We try to pull influence from all sorts of angles and philosophers and spiritual teachers, apart from just music. And I’d really like to give credit to Ben Folds and Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace. They’re just great storytellers. You really get this character growth and character development from those guys. I wanna know who that person is that they’re talking about. Just like a good movie really draws you in and takes you all the way to getting to know the deepest darkest secrets of this person and seeing their hope too.” “A lot of people have a problem putting us in a box, saying ‘I’m not sure what you guys sound like.’ And that’s a good thing to know that we’re doing what we set out to do. We want to do our own thing. At the same time, we know everything’s been done under the sun. All we are is a mixture of our influences and what we think is awesome. And we just put our own spin on it, from electronica, like Imogen Heap stuff to Ben Folds, Led Zeppelin, Thrice—you name it. We just try to absorb the good—be sponges about it—and create our own product.”
Photos below by Charlie Steffens