San Antonio’s young hard rock quartet, Nothing More, is finally hitting pay dirt with last year’s release The Stories We Tell Ourselves, the lads are achieving major chart success, earning the respect of their peers and idols, and are touring non-stop. The young band is no overnight success. They released their first full-length, “Shelter” way back in 2004 and have spent over a decade touring relentlessly (including providing support for Chevelle, Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, and Shinedown), recording new albums, struggling financially, losing and gaining members, being burned by shady characters, receiving three Grammy nominations, and being courted by major labels. After signing with indie label powerhouse, Eleven Seven Music in 2014, they finally found the right label, management, and other dedicated team members. Since then, they have climbed the Billboard charts with their 2017 album and first single “Go To War.” I caught up with their affable and articulate guitarist, Mark Vollelunga (one of two founding members from 2003), as he prepped for a big show in Boise, Idaho. 2018 has already been a huge year for the band, and it’s only getting bigger.
I read that you grew up in a musical household and that you had supportive parents. Was there ever a time that you considered doing something other than playing music?
No, actually not really. From an early age, I got involved in music around San Antonio. I was basically involved with the local theme park that eventually became a Six Flags, and I got a singing/acting job there. I fell in love with voice and singing and really enjoyed it. I did that through elementary and middle school, then my balls dropped, and so did my voice (laughs). I was no longer a lead vocalist.
Are you a voracious reader?
I don’t read a ton, but I do read. I just finished “Illusions” (“Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”) by Richard Bach. It was a bestseller like 30 years ago (published in 1977). I like spiritual books and philosophers.
Have you ever seen a Scorpion Tail (a giant, scrap metal contraption ridden by singer Jonny Hawkins in concert) equivalent with any other band? I’ve watched a video of that contraption, and it’s just wild.
Daniel (Oliver, Nothing More’s bassist, artist) is a mad scientist. We got the idea several years ago when Jonny (Hawkins) brought in this video game looking device and the midi controller. It was kind of a device to control the sounds and playing of a guitar or bass like a DJ would or whatever in real time. The only problem was it looked small, and it sure wasn’t cool. We were like: ‘That doesn’t look cool enough to go onstage with.’ He figured it needed to be bigger and more exaggerated to make big movements and so the audience would really notice it.
You’re enjoying massive chart success and Grammy nominations. Do you think that’s the norm for most hard rock or metal bands these days?
I don’t feel like it’s the norm right now. It was maybe 20 years ago when people were more excited about new rock bands. I’m surprised it even catches on anymore.
I don’t see a lot of new bands getting as much airplay as you do? You seem to have a good team behind you.
I think you’re totally right. You really need that support to fuel your mission and succeed. We have the right people helping us.
What bands or artists made you want to do what you do?
Honesty, mainly my older brother. He was a drummer that would play music from Metallica, Tool, Sevendust and all those 90’s greats. I fell in love with all that 90’s music. I love Incubus, and they’ve really influenced my guitar playing. There was also a period where I studied classical guitar at the local university, and that helped a lot. It made me appreciate music, theory, composition, and how it all comes together.
Randy Rhoads (legendary Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot guitarist) studied classical guitar, too. It seemed to give him a huge edge in terms of composition, soloing and arranging.
Oh, you’re absolutely right. All the voicings. I think that the best thing about learning music theory is it’s a shortcut that can get you to where you want to be a lot faster. At the end of the day, it’s about what sounds great, and you can break the rules, too. At the same time, why not learn from your predecessors.
Do you think that musicians need training or can it be an impediment?
Not necessarily. Some people are just talented.
How do you and the band use social media?
Just like any other band, it’s a means to an end. This is how you talk to your fans these days. It’s a bit saturated. I know for us, it sometimes gets too bogged down. At the same time, we try to be smart about it, incorporate our vision, and use it the way we think we should. We feed our audience in our own way.
Does it ever get in the way?
Yes, honestly, it does sometimes. It’s good that the fans can directly communicate with bands they love. I know that I personally read just about every Tweet that goes out and try to respond. We try to follow certain people. The downside is, it didn’t exist back in the days of the Beatles. You couldn’t ask John or Paul what they were doing this weekend. There was some mystery. Ringo wasn’t taking pictures of his food. I think that if social media had existed in the 60’s, it might have diminished their art.
Do you think so? The Beatles and the Stones both made videos and did live broadcasts back in the day. I wonder if they would have used social media in a creative way?
No, you’re right. The Beatles did do movies and broadcasts back then. You really do have to think of new ways to set your band apart and reach people.
Do you think some bands are becoming too obsessed with their image or how many followers or friends they have?
Let’s say you have 100,000 followers. The real question is: Can you sell 500 tickets?
Even if you have a small, but fierce following, that’s worth more in the long-run.
You should try to have both (mass popularity and dedicated fans), but quality over quantity.
You seem to receive a lot of accolades from other established artists like Disturbed and Shinedown. Do they also offer you career and life advice?
Absolutely. In fact, both of those bands are good friends and mentors.
I remember we played this small show in Joliet, Illinois, and Dan (Donegan), the guitarist from Disturbed, came up and bought one of our T-shirts, and I was talking to him. I didn’t really recognize him at first. He started to tell me what a fan he was, and he really liked what we were doing. Then, he reached out, and he gave me a wad of cash, and he gave it to me. I said, “What is this?” He said, “Go out, treat yourselves, have a great meal.” He said I know what it was like. He told me he wanted to give back now that he could. It was really heart-warming and a really cool thing to do. That’s the kind of person I want to be—giving back, being part of the community, and helping others.
What do you think the future of hard rock and metal music is? The charts seem to be dominated by hip-hop and pop acts.
I definitely think hard music or metal will always be around. It may be a bit oversaturated, and everything has kind of been done. I think you have to be more creative. For example, I like Ghost. I’m not head over heels about them, but I like them. They kind of came out of nowhere, and now they’re selling a ton of tickets and headlining festivals. Their music is familiar, but it kind of stands out. I have to give them props for the quality of their fans and their devotion.
How were you discovered?
Right, it’s hard to say that there was just one thing. There were a lot of factors. Building our team, playing a lot of shows, and then one guy tells another guy and so on. We’ve had different managers and Ponzi schemes where people have taken money from us over the years. Honestly, you keep doing that, you get smart, and you find people that help your vision. At the time, it didn’t seem like rock was selling and some labels weren’t into it. We met Danny Wimmer, a festival booker (owner of Danny Wimmer Presents), and he fell in love with us. He really wanted people to see us. He started putting us on a lot of festivals. That’s when I think it changed. We played the Aftershock Festival in 2013 and that show, in particular, seemed to be the turning point. Everyone and their mom from the label world were after us after appearing there. There were a lot of phone calls and meetings. It was cool. Now, all of a sudden, everyone wanted us. We took our time in trying to find the quality people that we would be working with and making sure all of our questions were answered. We ended up signing with a big indie. Eleven Seven Music, the owner gets what he wants and knows how to do it. If he’s on your team, he’s a huge asset. It also wasn’t a 360 deal which seems to be the norm right now. It’s shitty for labels to take merch money and show money from bands. You need that money just to survive.
Is touring fun for you and the band? Is it becoming a grind yet?
It’s a little of both for sure. We had a great rejuvenation period when we were writing this new record. Towards the end of the first record and non-stop touring, you start to hate the dudes. Having time away helped us each rebuild our personal life’s and go to therapy. It really strengthened me personally. I really appreciate my brothers and I’m so glad to be on the same team with these guys. I believe in this mission and vision we’ve created.
I think you are destined for a management gig someday if this band doesn’t work out.
That’s funny. (laughing)
Have you played St. Louis yet?
Oh, yeah, I think we were with Chevelle the first time. No, no wait, we played the Fubar the first time in St. Louis. I was behind the stage-right speakers (laughs). Then, we played a few more times. One of my favorite places was that 2,000-seater in the city. I’m trying to remember the name. The pavilion or something like that.
Yes, yes that’s it. I love that place. We opened for Chevelle. I think we played the Firebird, too. I took the AB tour, had some great food truck grub, and made some friends. I like your city. It’s got a kind of a city/suburb feel, and I really like it.
I’ll see you in St. Louis. I want to see the real St. Louis (laughs). Thanks. We’re looking forward to playing for you guys.–DOUG TULL
Nothing More will be playing with Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin, and Bad Wolves at The Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in St. Louis on August 7th.