Framing Hanley: “If it wasn’t for our fans, our band wouldn’t exist."

Having already scored a viral hit with an infectious cover of Lil Wayne’s Lollipop, Framing Hanley’s 2010 album A Promise To Burn marked the Tennessee band out as ones to watch in the over-populated post-hardcore market, with frontman Kenneth Nixon’s bitter-sweet reflections on growing up striking a chord with young fans. Yet when it came time to record their third album the band found themselves without a label, forcing them to turn towards their fan-base and a Kickstarter campaign for assistance. Two years and three producers later, The Sum Of Who We Are is finally ready for release, and frontman Kenneth Nixon believes that every second of the stress and struggle was worth it.

As much as The Sum Of Who We Are is a labour of love, at times it must have felt like torture as you strived to complete it…

“Yeah, I mean for all the hard work we put into it and all the times we were beating our freaking heads against the world, we can finally look forward now. It just came out yesterday in the States and it seems surreal that it’s finally here, because we spent so long on it and at times we wondered whether we’d ever deem it finished. It feels like when we released our first album, it’s a really good feeling right now. And for all the hassles and struggles, knowing how the finished product turned out, I wouldn’t change any of it.”

In the UK in particular your band was on a real roll with A Promise To Burn, scoring great tours and lots of positive press attention, so where did the disconnect occur that you found yourselves without a label this time around?

“I think we were just at a crossroads in our career where us and our label thought it might be better to explore different options. And when that time came we decided to see about releasing the record independently actually originally, but we did not anticipate the process taking as long as it did. It’s funny that you say that, because I think in the UK it was noticeable that we went away at a really banging time for our band, more so than here in the US, because in the end it kinda felt like we’d toured into the ground on that album cycle and it was way past time to make a new record. But we certainly never planned on it taking two and a half years. That can be career suicide in this day and age for a band, but we know that it’s the strongest album of ours to date and we’re hoping that the time gap won’t matter.”

It seems like there’s an added bite to the album as a consequence of all you’ve gone through…

“Yeah, that’s a 100% accurate assessment. The title is intentional, of course, because this album really is the sum of our lives over the past three years with what we’ve gone through, and within that there’s going to be highs – like Unbreakable is sappier, because I wrote that about my wedding day, in fact three of us got married around the same time – but there’s inevitably darker moments too: a song like No Saving Me is a song from a time when we felt we were at our wits end, and we were wondering if maybe we’d already seen our last day on a stage. I always try to be honest in my writing, and I don’t want to say that the album is a dark album, but it’s certainly 100% honest.”

A lyric such as “Your crooked smiles have stripped this place of all integrity” [on Crooked Smiles] is presumably a direct comment on the music industry now?

“Yeah. That song was one of the first songs we wrote for the record, and yeah, it was written at a point when we were really having our eyes opened, like ‘Alright, well, this could be over.’ So it’s 100% our feeling at the time as to how the record industry operates. Record labels are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel now because it seems like nothing is working, and even though we’d had a decent level of success it was almost like we’d become a faceless name to some people, with the way things ended at our label and that downward spiral at the start of the writing process. So, yeah, that’s definitely what that song is about.”

The fact that the album is fan-funded must be humbling, knowing that all these people have faith in you, but equally I imagine there’s an additional pressure in trying to surpass expectations and pay back on that investment.

“Dude, I don’t even think that any band properly realises the weight that comes with that. At first the thought of asking our fans for money was something that we were not too happy with, but when I thought about it from the perspective of me personally being a fan of bands, it seemed okay. This is something that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, because we would not be having this conversation right now and Framing Hanley would not be a band right now if the Kickstarter campaign hadn’t happened. We didn’t realise the heaviness that was going to lie in our hands with the creation of this album: this is not funded by a label with deep pockets, it’s coming from people who’re working 9-5 jobs, or maybe working two or three jobs just to survive, and they helped our band continue. So with that, we knew this couldn’t be just another album. I guess if there’s parts of the record that are about us falling apart and mending ourselves back together the conclusion is positive, with our realisation that there are a group of people out there who’re taking something away from the music we create and that is the biggest reward in itself. There are people who really connect to our music, and as long as those people are there we’ll keep playing and go down with the ship. It feels so good seeing the reaction to the record already, that’s the biggest reward in all this.”

The Sum Of Who We Are is released through Imagen Records on May 12. The album’s first single, Criminal, is out on May 5.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.