Christian pop punk outfit Hyland released their debut album, Weights And Measures, on Tooth & Nail Records in May. I got to talk to lead vocalist Jon Lewis about their record and what the future holds for one of Tooth & Nail’s up-and-coming stars.
MEB: How’s life been over the last few months?
JL: Life’s been really interesting. On one hand it’s been super, crazy busy, and really exciting and I’m newly-wed (I just got married in June), so being able to be with my wife has been awesome. Then on the other hand it’s been really difficult from the business side, band stuff has been hard and being away from my wife has been really difficult. There’s been some tough stuff. I’ve been going through some good things. It’s been really back and forth, like, one day it’ll be amazing and the next I’ll be really stressed out. I think overall, this summer’s been good; it’s been eye-opening and spiritually, I’ve grown a ton.
How did the band get its start?
I had all of my best friends in high school and once I went to college, I decided that I wanted to start a project, so I wanted an excuse to see my best friends in high school, because we all were going to different colleges. So we came together and it was basically our excuse to hang out. Just fun and games for the first few years. Then a couple guys got married and a lot of stuff was happening so we started swapping out band members and then I started finding members I liked in other bands and we ended up forming a local supergroup basically. We just started playing around and getting serious, and that’s the basic gist of how Hyland got started.
You guys recently released your debut, Weights & Measures, on Tooth & Nail Records. How did you end up getting signed by the label?
We’d been a band at that point for three to three and a half years. We’d been playing our brains out and we did an EP with Ben Kasica of Skillet, and Jason Vena of the band Acceptance. A buddy of mine actually worked as an intern in Aaron Sprinkle’s studio in Seattle. Aaron Sprinkle is kind of the producer phenom behind a lot of Tooth & Nail bands. So I’d sent him a bunch of mixes that we were working on and he ended up leaving that mix on the studio computer at night when he was doing intern work – mopping the floor and stuff. Aaron came in the next day and was like “Who is this band?” Because it was just a little G-Mail window; it didn’t have the band’s name or anything, it was just a demo. So he started asking around, trying to find out who it was and he gets our EP, listens to it, and flips out.
He calls me on a Friday, which is nutty, because Aaron Sprinkle is my favorite producer, period. He’s like, “Hey man, love your band. Do you think I can pitch you in to the label?” Yeah, that’d be horrible (laughs). So on Friday Aaron calls me and by the following Tuesday, we had a record deal in our inbox. Basically, over the weekend, Aaron got it to the label, they all listened to it, they all came back with thumbs-up, and they offered us a deal on that Tuesday. That was in March of last year. We signed in July. We were in the studio in August and September. Then our album came out in May.
What kind of message do you want people to get out of your debut?
I think that our debut is really, just finally getting to encompass all that we can do. We tend to do, like, more blatant Christian songs. We tend to do relationship songs. We tend to do rock and roll songs. I feel like overall, it’s just an opportunity to put our best foot forward and say, “Hey, this is what we’re all about.” Now, with that being said, what are we all about? It really has to do with writing music and playing music that we’re passionate about. The things that we’re passionate about in life are the things that I write about. The things that I’m most passionate about in life are God, relationships, and life experiences. So all of those things come out in the music. I want it to be as personal, as real, and as genuine as possible. I want to write about what I’m going through and what I’m seeing in my life. And that’s what I care about.
Is there a single song that best exemplifies that message?
Yeah, I think that the last song on the album, “Never,” gets really close. “Never” is just a song about hope and it’s a song about redemption, and God never giving up on us. I think that’s the easiest way to put it. We tend to have a more mainstream vibe to most of our rock songs, which is intentional. But I feel if you’re looking for a message, if you’re looking for something real out of us, that would be where it is. Definitely, “Never.”
How did you get Stephen Christian to do guest vocals on “The One That Got Away?”
I was supposed to go to Nashville to do co-writes for the label and our upcoming album, because we had about eight of the songs done. They were in the can and ready to go. We had to write about four more to finish the album. So Tooth & Nail was sending me to Nashville. We’ve got everything set up. I was supposed to work with Kutless. I was supposed to work with all of these guys. All of a sudden I looked at our schedule and it had a misprint, and suddenly I wasn’t able to actually go down to Nashville on these dates; it was only available on these other dates. They had to go back and find out who was available, and guess who was available? Stephen Christian (Anberlin) was available for a co-write. Actually, this worked out perfectly because all three guys that I wrote with I’m huge fans of writer-wise, and so it was just awesome to go write with all of these guys. So I got to go write with Stephen, and I actually went over to his house, and met his Great Danes, and hung out with them all day. It was pretty neat.
And so, when we were in the studio, because I felt like that song (even before Stephen worked on it) had kind of an Anberlin vibe to it in the first place, and I was like, “Now that I wrote with Stephen and this thing really sounds like Anberlin, so, let’s cover our butts and see if he wants to sing on it.” I contacted Aaron about it and he was like, “Well, let’s call him!” So Aaron asks him if he wants to sing on it and he’s like “Yeah bro, that’d be great.” So he sings on it in Nashville and sends it back. It was actually just one of those things where I was lucky enough to write with the guy, opened that door, and Aaron kind of filled in the gap. That’s how it happened.
What inspired the title of the album?
Weights & Measures. I was trying to think of something that I felt had a lot of meaning to it, and yet was so simple that it’s something we see every day. I was at a gas pump, pumping up, and all of a sudden I looked and I saw “Department of Commerce: This had been weighed and tested.” The Department of Weight and Measures. What the government does is this testing thing to make sure everything in the country is exactly the same across the area or else commerce can’t happen. So if you get gas here for this price, you can get gas in a different state, and they should all weigh out to be the same. Then I started thinking about peer pressure, and I started thinking about people. So, thinking about weights and measures, what are we comparing ourselves to? What are we finding that we’re comparing ourselves to? There’s this line that’s being drawn in society, but what are we actually measuring ourselves to? So Weights & Measures is just looking at that push and pull from a society standpoint and who we are as people. It’s just looking at a social example of what the bar is that we’re measuring ourselves to.
What bands inspired your sound the most?
Acceptance – my number one most influential band. Definitely Acceptance. I love how poppy they are. I love the rock. I think after that, from Acceptance, it’d have to be really a smattering of things, like, I’ve obviously been a huge Tooth & Nail fan for forever. I was definitely very influenced by Mae and Copeland, and things like that. I feel like, for me what happened was, when I turned 16, I got into my car and started listening to all the classic rock I couldn’t listen to. Because growing up I could only listen to old school Christian music, like Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith. That’s all I was able to listen to. So I had this rock influence when I turned 16 and then as I got older I found myself coming back to those roots where I ended up writing music that it had some similar things to. Like, that older Michael W. Smith stuff, as far as what I was writing about. So I think those two things influenced me a lot along with Acceptance, and that’s really where my basis of why I write and what style I write.
Are you guys planning on coming to Kansas City anytime soon?
Well, we’re here now, so that’s good. We are playing a couple Acquire the Fire dates further South, like in Texas and up in Colorado. So we are planning on trying to route through. We don’t have anything set in stone, but if you look at our itinerary for booking dates, KC would be something on the map that we’d try to get to.
Okay, sweet. Thanks for your time.
No problem man.