Hurt frontman J. Loren bristles at the “alt-metal” label so often affixed to his band. Sure there are similarities between Hurt and the sound of Staind, Seether or Saliva and other top-of-the-charts acts that root their music in distorted guitars and growling vocals, but how many of them initially script their songs on a violin?
Besides, who needs a broader category when Loren nailed it the first time? When you listen to Loren's often-brooding, lament-laden compositions there aren't many words that cover his music better than the band's moniker of “Hurt.”
Between the wrenching notes and Loren's lyrics, Hurt's music summarizes the songwriter's often painful life. Languishing lines — “Because I've strangely become immune / to the thought of seeing you / and the smell of cheap perfume / and all the liquor I've consumed / … There's no more beauty in this world,” (“Alone With the Sea”) — are seldom few and far between on Loren's latest album, Vol. II. The Capitol Records-backed disc is the aptly titled sequel to Volume I and continues to illustrate the various slings and arrows that have beset the bard.
The struggles of the songwriting lifestyle are enough to torment most, but Loren has also lost many who are close to him. Less than a month ago one of his best — he says “remaining” — friends died from a drug overdose.
“You can't play with fire,” Loren says somberly, and declines to list any more of the dearly departed. “That's been the worst thing in my life. You never do get used to it, especially young people when they die.”
Fortunately for Loren, he's had an outlet for his grief. Composing songs has helped him compose his thoughts and given him, and his fans, an avenue of happiness — even if it is sometimes misconstrued by others.
“There's also this idea that I'm a hateful man. That I talk about how you should just off yourself from the planet earth. It's completely the opposite,” Loren says. “I understand how they get that impression, but in almost every song I'm trying to say how it was, how things are and the irony of the situation. I think that my music is very uplifting, I think it's a misconception that I mean to do damage with it … Life is beautiful. I write about whatever I see and whatever I feel like writing about. I don't intentionally focus on the morbid. But it kind of helps you when you write about it.”
His message has certainly come through crystal clear to some of his fans, many of whom regularly thank Loren for setting their thoughts to song.
“It has really touched my soul,” Loren says. “Almost every single night now, I've been told by fans how my music changed their lives for the better and it saved their lives, or helped them through hard times.”
The compliments mean so much to Loren in part because he takes his music so personally.
“The only thing I like about me is the music that I've made,” Loren says. “So when someone's talking about my music and complimenting my music, I can actually take that compliment. Now I when I hear those things every night, I feel like I haven't made a total waste of my life.”
Though the sadness of Loren's music apparently comes from his sense of self dissatisfaction, his skill as a songwriter comes from a lifetime of practice that began while growing up in Halifax, Va. Living without running water and electricity for several years, Loren was faced with a simple upbringing.
“Let's just say that when your grandfather tells you those stories about walking to school in the snow and going uphill both ways — I know what he's talking about,” Loren jokes.
With limited means to entertain himself, Loren had plenty of time to practice, playing violin for himself and others at “stews,” Appalachian-style musical gatherings. The bluegrass stylings of his youth emerge as undertones on Vol. II, particularly with the gently-plucked banjo on “Alone With the Sea.”
The sparse lifestyle also helped him deal with the meager meal plan he and his bandmates — Evan Johns, Josh Ansley and Paul Spatola — have had to deal with while recording their albums over a series of 18-20 hours days.
“We are [McDonald's] 'dollar menunaires,'” Loren says, noting that Ramen Noodles aren't an option after he developed an MSG allergy. “I see a lot of peanut butter in my future.”
Hopefully the back-stage spread at the State Theatre will be a little more robust on Thursday night (March 13) when Hurt performs live. Tickets are $10 and doors open at 7 p.m.
• For more on Hurt, visit www.hurtband.com.