What’s in a name?
A potential three-record contract, apparently.
Ricky Armellino was standing outside the Chameleon Club about four or five years ago when he took a phone call. It was his manager. A record label wanted to sign his band, This or the Apocalypse, for three albums, but the deal was contingent on a name change.
Within a few seconds, Armellino decided on HAWK. A contract was sent. A record was made.
But the deal fell through, and the new music was tabled. For the past few years, Armellino has largely focused on producing records for other artists. He also joined Boston-based metalcore band Ice Nine Kills.
But now, he’s ready to start the next chapter as HAWK, joined by fellow This or the Apocalypse founding member Jack Esbenshade, bassist Bernard Stabley and drummer Adam Reed. The band will perform Thursday night at Launch Music Conference and Festival. Armellino also will serve as a panelist during the conference, sharing his perspective as both a performer and a music engineer.
This or The Apocalypse formed in Lancaster in 2005, coming up in the scene around the same time as other prominent Lancaster metalcore acts August Burns Red and Texas in July. The band released four full-length albums, the final of which was “Dead Years” in 2012.
When that fateful phone call arrived, This or the Apocalypse already had been on three different record labels. Armellino says they all failed to turn a profit on the band despite its many other markers of success, such as an impassioned fan base, successful crowdfunding campaign and impressive merchandise sales.
The offer also came around the same time fellow founding member Rodney Phillips decided to leave the group. That left just Armellino and Esbenshade from the original lineup, and Armellino says it seemed like the natural time for a change.
This or the Apocalypse prided itself on outrageously complex instrumentals. While exciting, the complexities proved difficult during lineup changes.
“People had to spend a month or two learning the stuff, and we were in no position to really pay them an amount that seemed to justify this giant task of learning our set. … It just seemed like a labor of love that we weren’t even getting what we needed out of it,” Armellino says.
So, he prepared to move forward as HAWK. The band recorded an album, with which Armellino says the label wasn’t happy. Money issues arose. He stopped getting answers to emails.
“I ended up spending $10,000 of my own money going to different producers, getting everybody to write off on the CD so we could get it released just so I could get some of my money back,” Armellino says.
Still, he says there’s no bad blood, and plenty of good came out of the experience. It pushed Armellino to devote time to his craft as a recording engineer and producer.
“I think that’s when I finally said, I’m going to learn how to do this myself,” Armellino says. “This is stupid.”
So, he did. Working with other artists has elevated his own musicianship tenfold, from razor-sharp instrumentals to strengthening his skills as a vocalist, the latter of which is particularly evident on HAWK’s first single, “Mileage.”
The band announced its name change and single about a month ago. Almost immediately after the single dropped, HAWK embarked on a tour playing almost entirely new music.
“It’s interesting,” Armellino says. “HAWK has a slight element of almost brazenly not caring, the way things are normally done.”
Maybe the rules don’t matter, though. HAWK has sold out several shows in the past month.
“There’s something about it that’s so fun and so liberating,” Armellino says. “We really are just doing whatever we want.”
For example, the band didn’t deliberate for hours about the most strategic time to announce “Mileage.” A mere 20 minutes after it was mastered, HAWK sent it off to Spotify, and that was that. HAWK will take the same approach with its future releases, including the full-length album.
“It’s going to be whenever we feel like it,” Armellino says.
Armellino is a longtime friend of Launch founder and director Jeremy Weiss. He says he’s happy to support Launch.
“I don’t think people in Lancaster realize literally how good they have it,” Armellino says. “Launch is just another example of it. You have a conference where you can show up and talk to people that you wouldn’t meet anywhere else unless you were at the right place at the right time in LA.”