It's been more than four months since Hawthorne Heights guitarist Casey Calvert was found dead on his band's tour bus outside the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and in that time, his bandmates have struggled mightily to come to grips with the loss of their friend and musical compatriot.
After Calvert's shocking death from an accidental drug interaction, being in Hawthorne Heights didn't seem all that important anymore. The remaining members — frontman JT Woodruff, drummer Eron Bucciarelli, bassist Matt Ridenour and guitarist Micah Carli — returned home to Ohio and stopped speaking to one another, retreating instead into the arms of their families and loved ones. It took them months to even think of picking up their instruments again, and when they finally did, something just wasn't right. Things just seemed different without Calvert there, cracking jokes and making up insane riffs on the spot.
"There was a period of time [after Calvert's death] where we did nothing and tried to wrap our minds around everything that had been going on," Bucciarelli told MTV News. "Each one of us took it a different way. It affected each of us differently. I personally wanted to jump in and start practicing; some of the other guys wanted to take a little bit more time. Everybody deals with stress in a different manner. And it took us awhile before we were able to start moving forward."
But though they were struggling, the thought of ending Hawthorne Heights never entered their minds. They had promised Calvert's mother they would go on. So when they took the stage on Sunday at the Bamboozle Left festival in Irvine, California, for their first show without Calvert, they did so with mixed emotions: equal parts sadness, nervousness and — to be frank — relief.
"Over the past couple months, we've just been picking up the pieces and trying to become a band again," Woodruff said. "And we're obviously not going to be like we were, but we've gotten a lot stronger and closer. And finally, we decided that it was time to play again. Because we want to remember what this was like, and see our fans and a bunch of our friends, and see the positives of the music community, and not the negatives we've been dealing with for a while now."
Those "negatives" are the rumors that persist in the wake of the D.C. medical examiner's findings that Calvert — who was, by all accounts, never an abuser of drugs — died of the combined effects of prescription drugs, brought on by "substance abuse." HH said that the report didn't give them any closure, and its rather vague wording has helped perpetuate the myth that Calvert was a drug addict.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you lost your friend, your friend is gone," Bucciarelli sighed. "People have been super-supportive throughout this, and that's really encouraging. It was nice to see the Internet rumor mill sort of quiet down a bit, and people just sort of focusing on the fact that somebody was lost, and it's unfortunate."
Obviously, they carried all of those emotions onto the Bamboozle stage, which is why that 30-minute set was one of the most important, and difficult, they've ever played.
"We've never done this before as a four-piece, so there's a lot of anxiety right now," Woodruff said, minutes before going onstage, but they managed to power through. And, most noticeably, they began the process of being a band again, performing three new songs: "Come Back Home," "Declaratory Judgment Day" and, at set's end, "Five Becomes Four," which was written in Calvert's memory.
"The last song we played is a song we're calling 'Five Becomes Four,' though we'll probably change the title. And it represents us losing Casey and how hard it is and how much he meant to us," Woodruff said. "It was a really hard song to play. It was hard to sing the words ... but I'm happy we played it and I'm happy our fans got to hear it."
After the show was done, they stood backstage and began to talk about something they haven't been able to discuss for a while now: What's next. They've been confirmed to appear on this summer's Projekt Revolution tour alongside headliners Linkin Park, and they're hoping finally to resolve their long-running lawsuit with their former label, Victory Records, so they can hit the studio and record the long-awaited follow-up to If Only You Were Lonely.
"We're never going to forget [Casey]," Woodruff said. "We've got the tattoos and everything. His sister just had a baby, in January, and the baby's name is Casey Grace, so he's always going to be there. And if anything good has come out of this, it's that we all reconnected with one another. On tour, one day blends into the next, and a lot of stuff gets lost. But now, when we go back out, we'll be energized and ready. We've been sitting at home long enough."