"We wanted this to be a record of extremes," HURT frontman J. Loren says of the band's sixth album The Crux. "We wanted it to be its own musical world that the listener can step into, and then return to again and again, and find something new to discover every time."
Indeed, The Crux marks a vibrant creative rebirth for HURT, which has already earned a reputation as a band with a penchant for bold musical invention and unsparing lyrical insight. The new album finds the quartet—singer/lyricist/violinist Loren, guitarist Michael Roberts, bassist Rek Mohr and new drummer Victor Ribas—staking out exciting new musical territory to deliver a personally charged song cycle. The music's hard-rock punch is matched by Loren's carefully crafted, vividly introspective lyrics, which explore the darker margins of the human condition and tackle thorny issues of spirituality and self-knowledge.
The album, produced by Roberts and the band and mixed by John Kurzweg (Puddle of Mudd, Godsmack), offers 11 riveting examples of HURT's distinctive mix of sonic impact and subtle dynamics, as manifested in the songs' multi-layered instrumental settings as well as Loren's distinctive violin textures and expressive string arrangements. New songs "How We End Up Alone," "So When," "Eden," "Links and Waves," and "Numbers" (which gained significant pre-album airplay when a demo version was released to radio) incorporate soaring, anthemic choruses and spare, pensive passages and evocative widescreen soundscapes.
The Crux—HURT's first release on the Dallas based independent label Carved Records—decisively demonstrates how the band, after weathering personnel shifts and a split with a major label, has emerged intact as a dynamic, self-contained unit creating music on its own uncompromising terms.
"It was really important for us to get this right, so we took our time and put everything we had into it," Loren says. "I think it's the closest that we've ever come to capturing what we've been trying to capture since the band started."
The restless spirit that drives The Crux has been a constant throughout HURT's dozen-year career. Loren grew up steeped in classical music in rural Virginia, and was composing classical pieces by the age of 10. He was 15 when he formed the first lineup of HURT by cutting demos of his original songs and playing many of the instruments himself on the band's early recordings.
HURT's self-titled, self-released 2000 debut album and its 2003 followup The Consumation garnered considerable word-of-mouth attention, and the band's grass-roots success and growing reputation as a live act helped to win them a deal with Capitol Records. HURT's two Capitol albums, Vol. 1 (2006) and Vol. II (2007) plus the re-issue of The Re-Consumation (2008), a reworked, expanded edition of their earlier indie release—saw the band substantially expanding its national audience, spawning such rock radio anthems as "Rapture," "Falls Apart," "Ten Ton Brick," "Wars" and "Numbers." Tours with some of rock's biggest acts, including Staind, Three Days Grace, Alice in Chains, Seether and Breaking Benjamin, helped to further broaden HURT's uncommonly loyal and devoted fan base.
Despite their growing success, HURT's transition from D.I.Y. self-reliance to the mainstream music-industry machine proved to be an uncomfortable one in some respects, and by 2009, HURT was back in independent territory. True to form, the band chose to forge ahead and continue making music without corporate life support, and the band rose to the occasion to create the raw, unadorned Goodbye to the Machine, recorded quickly and with a minimum of production frills. That album helped to set the stage for the creative leap of The Crux.
"We put three years of work into The Crux," Loren notes. "We wrote and recorded Goodbye to the Machine really quickly. After that, I swore to myself that we wouldn't rush it the next time. So as Goodbye to the Machine was coming out, I began working on The Crux, and I decided that I would put my whole heart and soul and life into it.
"The first goal with this project was to return to the sound that people knew and loved about the band," he says of The Crux. "The next goal was to do a lot of self-exploration. There were a lot of ideas thrown around, and we stripped down every song idea and worked on those from scratch. It was a long process, but it was very satisfying. You really have to mess with things and experiment and push yourself. It was very much like working on a classical piece, fine-tuning it to make sure that it was as effective as it could be."
True to Loren's intention of putting his all into the project, the birth cycle of The Crux proved to be a personal challenge as much as a musical one. "What you're hearing on this record is definitely what I was feeling when I was making it, and what I was feeling is not the best place to be," he asserts. "I found myself displaced, to the point where I was unable to even talk to my family. I had broken just about every bond I could and I was at my lowest point, and there was nothing left for me to do but to work on this album. But sometimes that's where the best things come from. I think that everyone in the band actually delved into some form of insanity during the making of this album, and we had to pull together as a team and bring each other out of it. We were working on things in such depth that we all went a little crazy.
"This new iteration of the band is something that I'm very proud of," Loren continues. "These are the finest musicians I've ever worked with, and we've regained the sense of brotherhood that the band had in the beginning, with everyone united to achieve a common goal. That feeling is the best place to be, because I couldn't really open myself up if I didn't trust everybody in the group."
Prior to The Crux's release, HURT road-tested their new material and reinvented many of their older songs with their first all-acoustic tour, which allowed the band to reconnect with its fans in an intimate setting. The ability to pursue such projects is just one manifestation of the flexibility that comes with HURT's new independent status—a status that's much better suited to the band's iconoclastic nature.
"Being independent again has been incredibly liberating," Loren states. "I know that we're a hard band to classify or put into an easy genre, but I don't really care. If you're going to do something that's from the heart and from the soul, you can't betray it for the sake of convenience. You just have to do your best and be as honest as you can, and then hang up your hat for the night, try to get some sleep, and try to be even better the next day.