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Nothing More Guitarist Mark Vollelunga Explains the ‘Spirit Test’ and Importance of Communication for Their Creativity

Nothing More guitarist Mark Vollelunga talks about the ‘Spirit Test’ and how good communication is important for their creativity.



Nothing More, photo by Dante Dellamore
Nothing More, photo by Dante Dellamore

Critically acclaimed, 3x Grammy-nominated rock quartet Nothing More recently dropped their cathartic new single “If It Doesn’t Hurt” ahead of their return to Europe and the UK.

Speaking about the single, frontman Jonny Hawkins explained:

“Gaslighting, manipulation, narcissistic deceit and betrayal…this song was written while trapped and is sung now while free. If you’re in a toxic relationship and are waiting for a sign to get out… this is it.”

The track follows the re-release of their hit album, Spirits, which came with six bonus tracks, including the first-ever live releases from the band, an updated version of “Best Times,” their hit single featuring Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm and their very own meta-personality test, ‘Spirits Test,’ designed by frontman Jonny Hawkins. Similar to tests such as Myers-Briggs, Big 5 and the Zodiac, the test’s results give each participant a “Spirit Type,” one of seven personality characters.

V13 caught up with guitarist Mark Vollelunga to find out more about the test, an album they described as featuring their most aggressive material to date, and what the future holds in store for the alt-rock quartet.

First of all, the new single is out. Lyrically, it sounds like it comes from a very personal place for Johnny. Is that an indication of the direction the new material is going to go?

Mark Vollelunga: “I’d say it’s a good mix, to be honest. Some songs are more personal and then some songs are more broader, introspective, more grandiose, sort of philosophical.”

You’re coming over to Europe in a couple of weeks touring the Spirits album. That album came out in 2022 and reading back over the whole process of writing and recording the album, it sounded like it was quite a challenging time. Could you just talk us through that?

“I think that time was challenging for everybody, COVID, nobody knew what to expect. It was crazy. It’s a great thing where we are at the point in our career where we can live wherever we want. I’m the only one left in San Antonio now. I have roots planted here. I’m married. I have a son. My son goes to school in our neighbourhood, so I’m staying here in San Antonio. Ben lives in Phoenix. Johnny is in Nashville and Dan just moved to Nashville. With COVID happening and everything, it was easy to file share.

“Like anything, as I’m sure you can understand, not being in the same room sharing ideas with somebody, you just don’t have that synergy, that sort of magic. I do think that that was lost with the Spirits record, and there was some frustration. However, because we all did our parts separately, I think we were all able to see our vision through every song and then portray it to everyone else.

“I think we got a little more creative individually, but I’m sure you can relate to this too. Sometimes, you spend six hours working on this little part and then you send it to the guys and then the response you get is they don’t like it. That can be terrible. It can be so frustrating and I’m guilty of that too. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the same as if you were in the same room and you could change it on the spot. That was frustrating with Spirits. However, I do think that it was a great record for us, a cool process, a different process for us to go through.”

“Not being in the same room sharing ideas with somebody, you just don’t have that synergy, that sort of magic. I do think that that was lost with the Spirits record, and there was some frustration.”

Johnny said something about the album, tying it with what you just said, he felt it was some of the heaviest songs you’d written and some of the most aggressive. Do you think that was affected by what you’ve just talked about, the frustration and not being able to be in the same room and work together? Do you think that affected that energy?

“Absolutely. I would say so. There was that turmoil, going on in the rest of the world and everywhere everyone had this pent-up aggression. I’d say that was a part of it. Sometimes we can all cut each other down, not see ideas to their full potential, like think something is too weird or it’s like we would never do that but if you just let me explore it, give me time with it then you realise that it is is sick. We did have longer soundscapes, with “Ships In The Night” and we got really heavy with “Valhalla” and other songs on the record too, it was a different journey for us.”

Now you live in different places, we’ve spoken to a lot of bands recently who said they’ve been together for a similar sort of period and who said that when they got back together for the first time it just felt like re-discovering each other. Is that something you can relate to?

“Absolutely. I would agree. It’s nice to have things go so quickly like you wrap up the song or the skeleton of the song, the bones in half an hour or an hour because the juices are just flowing. It was a good rejuvenation.”

You’ve reissued the album now and there is a deluxe version of it out now. What was the reason behind doing that?

“You know, we’ve never put out any live stuff before, we’re our own worst enemy in that regard, and we’re so critical. This is great, but I think we’re finally at the point in our career where we have a lot of our live sound dialled in, we have the right people in place. It was a perfect culmination for that especially with the Spirits album, taking as much time as we did on those soundscapes to this is us doing it live. They’re hearing songs like “Face It”, “Ships In The Night” and “Spirits”, we figured the super fans would appreciate that and enjoy it.”

Let’s talk about the Spirit Test. Where did the idea for that come from?

“That was a Johnny project, I’d say. He’s always into philosophy and spirituality. We all have our journeys and we think about things. He’d done this real basic sort of chart into like who we all were in the band and things like that and when he showed us we thought it was really neat.

“I have no idea what this has to do with the band but little by little through conversation we thought maybe we could make this cool. This is something we worked on with an artist called Micah who was doing some cool things. I do agree with everyone else in the band that we think our best artwork came from the Spirits record so working with him and getting these spirit types, then it became this cool thing instead of this lame personality test. It made it interesting and intriguing I’d say.

“It ended up with the characters doing this little graphic novel project developing into this Nothing More world and into everything that we’re into with spirituality and philosophy. For those people that want to dive down the rabbit hole and experience this stuff and get into it, they totally can, the same fashion as say Tool fans do or things like that.”

When Johnny approached you with the idea, you were a bit apprehensive about how it fitted in. When you saw how it worked, do you think it would make you look at recording songs differently or expand into something that is so out of the box that it works? To me, Nothing More is a band that is quite happy to step outside the comfort zone and try something different. Do you think it’ll change the way you approach writing future material?

“I think so, perhaps, just like you’re saying, we’ve found that limitation breeds creativity. Forcing yourself inside this different box, being uncomfortable and seeing what happens. It’s like, let’s write a song just from a simple beat. Nobody comes in with any preexisting ideas, let’s just all be here and see what happens. There are a couple of songs on the next record that started that way.

“On the Spirits record, I started “Best Times” because I had this little electric ukulele and I was like “I’m going to learn how to play the ukulele and do things with it.” I swear to them this won’t be like “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” Then you hear the intro and it sounds like electric guitar. I have it running through effects and everything but you probably wouldn’t be able to tell it’s ukulele. I wouldn’t have gotten there without this different starting point.”

Nothing More ‘Spirits’ Album Artwork

Nothing More ‘Spirits’ Album Artwork

In terms of the graphic novel, where did those ideas manifest from?

“We had a mutual friend that we’ve worked with in the past in the business, Josh Bernstein, and he had paired with Z2 Comics and, as you do, you check up on your friends and things like that. He told us about this idea. He’s working with some bands and we thought it was great as we’re starting to build this ‘Spirit World’. I’m probably the most into comics and things in the fantasy realm so I spearheaded that and worked on it. It just came about through a friend that started working there and it was great timing.”

You’ve talked about rabbit holes and in terms of what you could do with this and where you could go with it, are you going down the rabbit hole where can you go with this whole ‘Spirit World’ and especially the fantasy side of it? Is that something you see building into the band even more?

“Absolutely. I know that we’re building off a lot of the artwork that we’ve done with the Spirits album and we’ll continue to have that grow and have it be a thing. We’ve toyed with the idea, we haven’t put this out anywhere yet, but we’d love to have this sort of a masquerade or like a Spirits Ball or something.

“You know, bands do festivals and things like that. We thought it’d be really neat to do a Spirits festival, but everybody comes in garb, almost in costume and you identify with your spirit type and it’s sort of a special thing, a Comic Con, but like, in a serious, cool sense. Not that Comic Con’s not serious or cool. We’ll see yeah, how that develops as it grows and hopefully, we can actually get that into fruition and get some cool bands too that come from more I’d say the conceptual world.”

You touched on Tool earlier. Is that a band you could see Nothing More crossing over to their audience? You’re a band that, to me, doesn’t, I don’t want to use the word comfortably fit but doesn’t fit in a pigeonhole. Doing something like the Spirits ball, do you think that would expose you to a completely different audience? Maybe not even a rock audience at all?

“I think so and that would be part of the goal. A lot of the time it’s about trying to, from a business marketing sense, with so many people in the world, get what these people like, especially if they haven’t even heard of us before. They can discover it and bring new life and awareness to the group and, to them, connect with a whole different set of people. I think it’d be a very interesting project to observe and watch it unfold.”

You’ve mentioned new material earlier. What stage you’re at with the next record?

“We’re in the mixing stage right now. Mixes are flying back and forth with our producer and it’s sounding amazing. We’re really happy with If It Doesn’t Hurt being out right now…”

It’s a huge single so I’m hoping for plenty more of that…

“Hell yeah! There’s much more to come. I’d say sonically, this is probably our strongest sounding record. It’s a little more to the point, there are also definitely some rabbit holes and adventures we still go on like typical Nothing More. It will be a very broad album but I’d say, songwriting-wise, it’s real concise and to the point, which is fun and I think it’s some of our best work.”

“We thought it’d be really neat to do a Spirits festival, but everybody comes in garb, almost in costume and you identify with your spirit type…”

Do you think that links back to what we talked about where the last record was written during quite a frustrating period for the band? Do you think the freedom of being able to write at your own pace and in your settings, do you think that’s gonna shape the way this album sounds?

“Yeah, I would agree with that. I think it’s important for artists to ebb and flow, not to have the previous record sound the same or do the same thing. Spirits did what it needed to do and it was fun and, and interesting. It was the most progressive record we’ve done whereas, this time, we’re going in the other direction, just real forthright, you know which is fun.”

I’m looking forward to hearing it. if the single is an indication of what to expect. Going back to the single, the theme is about toxic relationships. Could that be applied to the music industry because that’s a very toxic, knives-in-the-back industry? It’s a very brutal industry. Earlier, you talked about your friendships and living close to each other and now moving apart. What do you think has kept the core of the lineup together? What’s kept those relationships so strong?

“Communication. I’d say that’s our strength and our weakness. If you look at our whole career, we are a very tight-knit group of people, a group of friends. I think living in a van early on, and having been covered in grease and having to rough it, figure it out, there’s sort of this almost trauma bond. You share things, breakups, different relationships, different life changes that happen and we’re honest with each other.

“I’d say through time, just like any relationship, you can grow apart or, certain life events happen and maybe you don’t talk about them and then you build up this wall and you’ve got to have boundaries, you just can’t go there with this person right now. I’ll be honest, we’ve experienced resentment and things like that and that’s been very tough, but within the past year, we have been going to a group therapy thing and it’s been really helpful

“If we want to think about the future, my wife says this to me all the time, we can’t have a future if we don’t take care of now. You can talk about these lofty plans and these cool things that you want to happen, or it’s like, we gotta buckle down and do this and we can’t enjoy this now because we got to save it for later. There won’t be a later if you don’t make sure that this is good and tend to everything like it needs to be. I think in a lot of ways with the band, that was our mentality, our mantra for it. Just making sure that this core is strong and that we do get back to this open communication and not be afraid to talk to each other.”

How difficult was it to maintain that during lockdown, and do you think that changed your relationships at all?

“Again, this goes back to how you can get real butthurt over somebody’s text or whatever about something and so you bottle it up. Then, if you just let it sit and fester and you just don’t talk about things where it’s like, actually, let’s communicate or let’s not text. Let’s get on the phone or get on Zoom or FaceTime or whatever it is. It helps to be in person. It’s easier to communicate your feelings and your ideas, tone of voice, all of those things that can be lost as we all know through text.”

Over 20 years as a band now what do you think the most important lesson you’ve learned is?

“I think I’ve been told this piece of advice before which is to just not take things too seriously. I can look back on the things that I’ve been upset about and, you know, for the most part, a lot of them I wonder why I care so much about this. I really shouldn’t have let it affect me and cause this stress, strife and frustration and then projected it onto everyone else by having a knee-jerk reaction. This goes for everyone in the world, for sure. Take it in, you know, process and then form your own thing – what did I make up about this and what is the fact here?

“Then just see people where they’re at, understand people, understand each other, validate each other, all of those things. I think that just really helps and makes for an easier, stronger future.”

Going back to the Spirit test, have you done it on yourself and what did you learn?

“I know that I’m an emotional guy. For the most part, I think my knee-jerk reactions are pretty logical, and it takes me a lot to be a volcano, but whenever I am a volcano, I don’t make any sense. We all can be our own Watcher, or whatever. You can just watch yourself and observe how you react to things.

“I think as more and more time goes on, you know, we all learn about each other and I’m learning more about myself and just how I react in certain situations and how I process things and how I can grow and be better. I guess how to direct that volcano when you turn that volcano on and when to shut it up.”

And finally, what about the future…?

“I feel like this is our time now especially in the UK and in Europe. I feel like the snowball is starting to roll. We have been going 10 years now and I do feel like there is this magical cosmic justice where whether it takes 10 years or 10, 000 hours to become an expert at anything, you put your time in and I think that this is the culmination of that…”

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.