Interview: Kevin Mahoney (Hit The Lights)

While we watch the rest of the music industry struggle to stay alive and relevant, there’s this resurgence of punk bands that don’t care what label they’re on our what their sales are and just want to make good records and play for their friends.

For as long as I can remember, Kevin Mahoney has been a staple in the Rochester, NY punk music community. Kevin and I became acquaintances over the years, but finally became friends after Such Gold toured with Hit The Lights for a few shows in 2010, and when Kevin joined us on guitar for a few shows in May 2011. I figured Kevin would be the perfect guy to interview for the blog, and after a couple weeks of back-and-forth via e-mail, I’m proud to post the finished interview with Kevin. Here’s what he had to say about life on the road, head injuries, the next Hit The Lights record, and more.

Can you introduce yourself a bit?

My name is Kevin Mahoney, I’m 27, live in Rochester NY, and currently play guitar for Hit the Lights.

When did you start going to local shows? What was the scene in Rochester like then in comparison to now?

I started going to local shows when I was about 14. The scene in Rochester was way different back then. There were good shows to go to all weekend – every weekend it seemed. Mostly floor shows and lodge shows. There was a lot of respect and interest in the art – no fights, no crews, no kids just playing breakdowns and calling it a song. I miss those days.

How did music become such an important part of your life?

Music and art have always been in my family on both sides but I guess I wanted to play guitar because my dad did. I fell in love with the art of song writing and creating something that effects peoples lives that previously didn’t exist. A song can make you fall in love, feel on top of the world, talk you off a ledge, or be the soundtrack to the best time of your life. I think I really love that and just wanna give that to people.

Describe some of the bands you used to play in, and your first tour.

I’ve been in a few bands, but the two most well known are Polar Bear Club, and Hit the Lights. My first tour was with the hardcore band I was in during high school – I was 17 at the time and we booked our own 4 day tour. We decided we would do it in a car and just hold our equipment on our laps while we drove. It was full of all the first tour must-haves: sleeping on floors, getting super lost, wandering strange cities, hangouts with Municipal Waste, making out with a girl with no thumbs, playing a lesbian coffee shop…

What do you miss most about home, while on the road?

The hard part of being on tour is the long list of things you miss while on the road. Your family, friends, and dog are always big things. If you have a girlfriend though, that’s always the hardest. Keeping a relationship while you’re gone for most of the year is next to impossible. You miss all the little things the most though I think, the things others overlook, like sleeping in your own bed, your shower, TV with your puppy, or just going grocery shopping with your girl become huge things that sink your heart on the lonely night drives.

Do you feel that being a musician is something that you were meant to do? If so, when or how did you come to this realization?

Yes. But in the same way that I feel like everyone is meant to do something great. Everyone is meant to add something to this world. I was just lucky enough to find it and work hard at it. I don’t think its destiny. I think if you just love something that much, you work hard for it at all costs and hope the world recognizes that.

What is the worst moment or situation you’ve encountered while on tour? How were you able to overcome the situation?

There’s been some real bad moments over the years for sure. The worst was probably on this last tour we did. we were in the UK for some festivals and decided to head to the after party one night. The DJ was playing our songs and songs from all our friends so we’re all going nuts dancing and throwing beer everywhere. I ended up slipping on the wet floor and smashing my head on the ground – knocked out cold.

I woke up in a van on the way to the hospital with our drummer Nate covered in my blood holding my face together and Nick, our singer, playing Guns Up in my ear telling me to stay awake and “outlive” (nothing like a good concussion sing along). A few shots in the face and some stitches later, the doctor told me I landed right on my temple.

If I hadn’t hit my shoulder first I might not be here to do this interview. It’s been a few months and the scar is still pretty gnarly. The only thing keeping me awake that night (if you close your eyes during a concussion it can result in coma or death) was my friends in my ear, and thinking of how I couldn’t let down my family or my girl back home. This happened the day before we flew home.

The classic Mahoney Stomp. I definitely stole this move from him.

Is there a record or records that you feel are essential to listen to while on tour?

I love so many records its hard to really pick which ones are the best “tour records”. Anytime Black Flag, Minor Threat, or Descendants are played we get pretty rowdy and it makes you think back to how it must have been for those bands. Andrew WK is really good for early morning drives, and the Album Leaf is really good for late night drives.

Have your friends and family always been supportive of your lifestyle?

Yeah my mom and little brother always come out to shows and get excited about things for me. It’s really hard to keep in touch with friends but when I am lucky enough to see them, they always act really happy for me. Sometimes when things get rough

on the road you end up thinking about your friends and family, and you end up more doing it for them than anyone.

Describe one of your favorite or most memorable tour experiences. Last year though we got to go to Australia for the first time and it was as direct support for New Found Glory. It was pretty epic to see the other side of the world, something most people never get to do, and to play sold out shows with one of our favorite bands and biggest influences. Wasn’t something we took lightly.

What keeps you sane during a long tour?

It’s hard to find things to keep you sane on a long tour. I don’t really do the best job of it, but drinking helps. And being on tour with bands that you love. When you’re on tour with dudes you really love to hang out with, even the longest tour doesn’t feel long enough.

What is an item that you absolutely must bring on tour with you?

Cereal. I’m way happier on tour if I have cereal!

Where are some of your favorite places to eat while on the road?

The sad thing is I think we look forward to food more than the shows on tour. My favorite is probably Sombreros in San Diego. You gotta get the fish tacos, side of guacamole, and horchata to drink. Straight food porn.

What’s in store for Hit The Lights in the next few months?

We’re in the studio right now making a new album, finally. Then we’ll slowly start hitting the road again and try to rebuild and push this new record. Hopefully surprise some people.

Critics have lumped Hit The Lights into a number of genres, but how would you describe the music, personally?

Well I think the last record was a fun, catchy, but riffy record. At first listen it sounds really poppy (cause it is), and thats what makes it fun. But its also kinda riffy and heavy at times. We tried to keep the fun in making music. I think a song like “Say What You Wanna Say” is a great example of that. The new record is gonna wipe the slate clean for sure.

You’ve been working on your new record for a while now – how has the band’s sound evolved since your last release?

We spent the last year having to write songs for a major label that we have since parted ways with. It left us very bitter and just tired of the whole industry. I think that kind of molded our head space for making this album. The majority of songs were written right before we went into the studio and reflect our lack of care for what any other bands are doing or what labels want us to be doing. There’s songs that are bigger and heavier, there’s songs that are quiet and kinda spacey, and there’s songs that are both, all while keeping it catchy. It’s not gonna be a record anyone expects. It’s gonna be a new version of Hit the Lights for sure.

I know that many of the members listen to and identify with hardcore/punk music – ethically, do you consider the band to be a “hardcore” band?

I think we’ll always just be some punk kids that accidentally made music people like.

What are your feelings about the current state of the punk/hardcore scene, and the future of punk and hardcore in general?

While we watch the rest of the music industry struggle to stay alive and relevant, there’s this resurgence of punk bands that don’t care what label they’re on our what their sales are and just want to make good records and play for their friends. Hardcore right now for me seems to be more about the hype though. But i love that there’s all these new bands that aren’t afraid to push the lines and make something that sounds different. I just hope fans can keep supporting all the bands they love so that we can all keep doing it.

Thanks for sharing, Kevin.

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