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House of Heroes' Cold Hard Want
by Jon Fisher
Contributor on 2012-07-08 15:23:48
CMAddict contributor Jon Fisher talks with frontman Tim Skipper of House of Heroes about their new album "Cold Hard Want"

I listened to your new album, “Cold Hard Want”, several times and I think it might be your best. I read in the attached biography that you were trying for a more urgent sound and it definitely shows. Specifically, how did you approach the writing and recording that was different from past albums?

Well I think for the writing portion of everything we approached that very differently than we have in the past. Usually we just try to write enough to make a record and that’s about it, but this time around we said “OK, let’s set a goal of 40 songs and hopefully we’ll get to about 20 or 30”. And so I think we ended getting to about 30 songs so we had a lot choose from. And honestly when we started writing it we wanted to write more pop-structured and more pop-oriented kind of songs with huge hooks.

We’ve done the past few records with Mark Townsend and we figured we’ll just do that again and it just went really well. But we started meeting with some other people and really just fell in love with Paul Moak, and kinda decided, “Well, let’s give him a shot at this record”. He’s got just a ridiculously nice studio, and he only had fifteen days to track the album. So we said we can rehearse well enough and be ready to go, and his studio’s big enough that we could play live and leave everything set up all the time. We said “Let’s go for it”. So we rehearsed really well and got in there.

I remember the first day we recorded a song that we thought was going be fairly pop and it ended up just being super rock and roll, and we got the whole song done in one day. We just kinda looked at ourselves at the end of the day and said “This record is going to be a rock record and we just need to embrace that and go for it”. That’s kinda what we did and in fifteen days knocked out thirteen songs.

You kind of already answered my second question, because I wanted to ask you what it was like working with Paul Moak for this album?

It was really cool. He’s got a cool operation over there. The past two records we’ve done with Mark, you know each guy has his own thing, and I love it. There’s pros and cons to everyone of course.

The thing that we really enjoyed with Paul though was that he was so all about the vibe and the feel of what we were capturing. For instance I remember we did one song and played it together live and there’s a really frantic kind of part. I think it was “Remember the Empire” with a frantic kind of bridge part. We got done with it and Paul soloed up the drums with the click track and there was a part where the drums got fairly off the click track. Colin said “Man I’m going to have to play it again or something”, and Paul said “No, let me turn off the click track and see what the band did”. And we all did the exact same thing, we all sped up at the exact same time and ended at the exact same time. Paul said “That’s what a band sounds like.

So we’re not going to go in and mess this thing up with a bunch of computer tricks because you guys played it as a band and you stayed together. That’s what a live band sounds like and we’re leaving that, and that’s going to be the template for how we proceed from now on”.

I love the whole album, but there’s one song in particular that tears me up, and that’s “The Cop”. What is the inspiration for that song? Is there anybody you know that’s a cop?

You know that one we actually wrote for “Surburba” and it fit. The lyrics were a little bit different and it originally fit this linear story that we had where the main character in “Suburba” had an uncle who was sort of a father figure to him. His uncle was a cop and this kid gets into some trouble, some pretty substantial trouble. His uncle, the police officer, was faced with this dilemma of do I uphold justice in this fraternity of police officers or do I look out for my family? Because he’s the only one that knows the truth about what this kid did. So that’s where the line “Til you’ve been in dark” comes from.

Since that didn’t make the “Suburba” record we sort of adapted the lyrical theme and just kind of became about a guy who is a police officer and sees the ugly side on a daily basis and finds it hard to really believe in kindness, goodness and love. It almost cripples him. It almost cripples his way of life. At the end he has to make a choice to move on with hope.

What happened to “Dead” because it obviously didn’t make the album? Is there a plan to put it out on anything besides the “B” side?

You know, for now I think it’s just going to be the “B” side to the “Touch this Light” single. That was one of those songs that, like I said we wrote about 30 songs and ended recording thirteen of them. When we got done that was a tough one because we said “One of these we’re not going to put on the record. We just don’t know which one yet”. At the end of the day I think there was a vote with the label and Paul and the band, and I think it ended up losing 5-4.

I knew it had to be close because that is a good song.

Thank you man. That one’s just got this really raw energy. It’s pretty in your face.

Switching gears a little bit, there’s other bands out there like Switchfoot and even like Third Day having some of their songs end up in commercials or in promos for ESPN. If you had one of your songs that could be in a movie, which song would you choose and what movie would you choose?

I remember this story from the studio that’s really funny. When we were recording “We were Giants” Paul was just so geeked up about that song. He just loved it so much. He said “They need to remake ‘Varsity Blues’ or ‘Friday Night Lights’ or something like that and this song needs to be in that movie”. So the day that we were recording that song he brought in a copy of one of those two movies, either “Varsity Blues” or “Friday Night Lights” and put it on a loop on a TV right above the console in the control room of the studio. He said “Just so you get the right vibe, I’m playing this on a loop the whole all day”. So I’d say that “We were Giants” would be the one.

You kind of alluded to it when you were talking about “Suburba” and I know from your earlier albums like “The End is not the End” that you guys approach an album more from a concept. I mean it’s not just a collection of singles. Do you think things like Itunes and the availability of music on the internet has killed the concept album?

I think there can be an argument made for that very easily, and it’s kind of depressing because bands really work hard. At least a lot of bands really work hard to make an album that is cohesive, that runs together. I hear a lot of bands talking about “Well we didn’t want to put out a single because this album was meant to be listened to from front to back”. That might be a very old mentality. That might be very 70’s and 80’s mentality, but that’s the way I prefer to listen to records.

I started a vinyl collection about two years ago and I only buy albums that I can listen to front to back. It is a bummer that it gets lost in today’s kind of ADD society where you can have my attention for three minutes but after that I’m on to the next thing. So it is kind of a bummer, but that’s just the way we know how to do things and how we prefer to do things.

You guys have been together in some way shape or form for over ten years now. Is it getting harder to tour and manage the family?

It really is. It’s not quite getting impossible but it’s getting close to that, to be honest with you, because family always comes first. It has to. Our drummer Colin, he just had his third kid. To be completely honest with you we don’t make enough money to where we could maybe bring family out on the road with us or anything like that. Also we can’t make a compromise to where we are on the road for weeks and months at a time.

We have some rules that we won’t be on the road for longer than three weeks as a maximum. Even then we like to have a little break in the middle where either wives can fly out or we can fly home for a day and see our families. It’s a funny thing because as much as we love this band and as much as we love playing music together, we made a choice a long time ago that we just refuse to compromise for the sake of success, for better or for worse. Honestly I think that’s been the key to our longevity as well.

My all-time favorite House of Heroes song is “Ghost”. I’ve seen you guys live about five or six times and never seen it done live. Do you ever perform that song live?

Every once and a while, it’s very sparse that it gets performed live because when we do a full-on rock show we usually don’t bother bringing an acoustic guitar with us. But from time to time we’ll do an acoustic show and every time we do an acoustic show there’s somebody there asking. I’m always thinking I don’t want the vibe to get too far down. I’m not going to play that song, but every time we show up with an acoustic guitar somebody’s just dying to hear “Ghost”. Honestly, I’m all too eager to play it.

I seem to gravitate to the downer songs.

Nothing wrong with that. I was listening to a ton of Bruce Springsteen “Ghost of Tom Joad” record, so that very much influenced it.

The EP that you guys put out, “Meet the Beatles” was another one that I enjoyed. Do you have any plans to do any more cover EPs or anything like that?

We don’t necessarily have any plans. It would be a blast to do it. We talked about at one point doing kind of an oldies EP. The idea behind the Beatles EP was that we wanted it to be kind of Beatles’ songs meets the Weezer “Blue Album” production. So it we would be staying true to the songs but the production would be completely different so that it wouldn’t just be a carbon copy of the original. We got to thinking what else could we do that with? We wanted to do some oldies, just that real feel-good kind of Four Tops or Diana Ross and the Supremes, some of those just really good songs. Maybe we’ll get around to it. We’ll see.

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A number of the Christian festivals like Cornerstone, Spirit West Coast and Purple Door seem to be going through some tough times. Do you think this is a cycle, a symptom of the economy or something else?

That’s a great question. I think it’s a two-part thing. I was talking with my roommate about this and I think that one of the reasons Cornerstone is not doing as well as some other festivals is there are other festivals like one in South Dakota called Lifelight. It does great every year, huge numbers.

OK so why is that happening? Well it’s free, it’s underwritten by a lot of sponsors and stuff like that. So they’re able to put the festival on for free and they put on a great festival. So if there’s a kid in Wisconsin or Minnesota or Iowa that’s thinking “Should I go to Cornerstone or should I go to Lifelight?” It’s like should I spend $100 to go to Cornerstone or go to Lifelight for free? The obvious decision would be the free festival. That’s part of it.

The other part of it is when you look at the headliners at those festivals, and the bands that they really promote it’s Newsboys, Third Day, and TobyMac for that matter. These guys have all been around for so, so long, that there’s not really any fresh, new faces that are really there to take the torch, I guess. I think at some point people look at the lineup and they go “Well I’ve been there ten years in a row and I’ve seen this band every year play the same kind of slot”. And they say “I just don’t know if I have it in me to do this anymore”.

What is your favorite scripture?

I’ve kind of inherited my mom’s favorite scripture, in a lot of ways, Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “ That just really got me through a lot of tough times. She just always came back to that one.

Lately the one that has just really been rocking my world is the entirety of Psalm 73, just because the psalmist kind of talks about why do the wicked prosper and surely I’ve kept my purity in vain. He just kind of deals with all this stuff, and when he ponders it he says it troubles him deeply until he enters the sanctuary of God. What that speaks to me is no matter what we’re going through in life we must approach the throne of God and rely on Him and remember that His plans are not ours and that they’re bigger than ours. His will for our lives is bigger than that and therefore our only response to that is worship. So that’s what’s been speaking to me lately.

Any particular outreach that you’re involved right now or that you champion?

There’s a few that we’ve kind of partnered with in the past. There’s a thing called “Mocha Club” that does really cool things. There’s a clothing company called “Let God Work” that we’ve been really helping out and they’ve helped us out a lot. To be honest with you, that’s something that I’ve felt really convicted of in the past year, is to get involved with a certain company. I went to the Compassion dinner this year and I was just overwhelmed. The president of the company spoke and gave his testimony about the whole way that they approach things. I was just blown away, so that’s an organization that we’d really like to be involved with. They don’t shy away from the Gospel at all, and their heart for these kids is just amazing.

That’s about it. Just one more question, when are you guys coming back to Pennsylvania?

We might be out that way in September. We’re thinking about doing a “Cold Hard Want” tour where we play the whole album front to back and take some requests. So I think we’d like to come through Pennsylvania and do that.
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