Hot Cross interview

By Brett Roegiers
Gainesville.com

Billy Werner was driving through south Jersey with the last Joe Strummer record playing on the stereo. He was on the way to pick up some of his band members in Philly when I reached him on his cell phone.

Werner is vocalist of Hot Cross, a technical, melodic hardcore band that features members of such genre-defining bands as Saetia, You and I, Neil Perry and Joshua Fit For Battle.

Even though Werner and his bandmates have been involved in the music scene for a long time, the feeling of excitement is still there as they embark on their two-week tour with labelmates Transistor Transistor.

“It’s good to see a lot more people into this stuff whereas other bands that we’ve all been in would tour and play to like 20 people every day,” he said. “Now there’s a lot more people that are coming out.”

Billy Werner, Greg Drudy and Matt Smith were all in Saetia, a short-lived band whose shirts and records are highly marketable on eBay five years after the band’s last show.

At first, the legacy of the members’ previous bands caused some people to hold Hot Cross to higher expectations, but for the most part, that has subsided, Werner said.

“I think by now people have come to develop expectations based on what this band has been doing,” he said.

Hot Cross is currently writing songs for their second full-length album, which won’t released until early next fall, Werner speculates.

Meanwhile, the band is “still riding on the momentum” from its latest EP, Fair Trades and Farewells, which is a progression from previous releases in terms of the band’s songwriting, Werner said.

He also said that on this winter tour, Hot Cross will perform at least one of the three new songs they have written.

“The audiences that we’ve been being in front of have been really receptive to the newer materially and really, really surprisingly familiar with the older material,” Werner said.

He added that the live shows have been energetic and “a good workout” with “a lot of running around and jumping around.”

Josh Jakubowski, one of the band’s guitar players, attempted to capture that energy when he recorded the newest EP in his home recording studio. He also did the latest Lickgoldensky release and has been working with A Life Once Lost.

Drummer Greg Drudy runs the Level Plane record label, which has released all of the Hot Cross albums. Bassist Matt Smith has a background in graphic design and has done most of the band’s merchandise and album artwork.

You could say Hot Cross is a self-sufficient band, and its members come from a time when work ethic was necessary.

These days, information is more accessible and it is easier to be in an active band, Werner said.

“Now you can pretty much book a tour within two weeks just using the Internet whereas before it always ended up being on the phone all the time and having a lot of dead ends, and basically everything happened word-of-mouth,” he added.

Werner encourages kids who are just starting out to pay their dues, an effort that the members of Hot Cross have certainly made.

“Don’t be discouraged if a year and a half after you’ve been playing shows you’re still playing to like 12 people everywhere you go,” he said. “You have to stick with it and be willing to make sacrifices.”

Werner joined Hot Cross upon returning from studying English literature at a graduate school in Britain. He gave up a full-time job and a nice apartment in order to dedicate himself to the band, but the sacrifices have paid off, he said.

“I mean, essentially my life is a financial nightmare, but at the same time I’m getting to do something I really enjoy doing,” he explained. “I’ve never been in a band with more momentum and that was more productive than this.”

“With everyone in the band, everything they do is pretty much secondary to the band right now.”

Hot Cross will reach Gainesville Thursday and play at Common Grounds that night along with Transistor Transistor and True North.