The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Out of a Nightmare and into the morning sunshine

Members reunite after singer’s recovery, transfer

By Pablo Lastra

Contributing Writer

[email protected]

“I guess maybe we are dancey—we like to get people moving,” says Adam Hawkins, philosophy major at SMU, and drummer for the Denton five-piece band A Nightmare and the Morning Sunshine. It’s not that he can’t think of a better description, but the members of the band, including Adam’s older brother, Josh, a sociology major at SMU, have so many different influences in their music that genre classifications are out the window in favor of the more kinetically-descriptive “dancey.” Their Web site merely describes the music as “Existential Dance Music.”

Of course, some of the band’s main influences are impossible to pin down to any genre, either: David Bowie. XTC. Mono, the instrumental Japanese band. Maybe the best comparison is U2, a band whose sound has also evolved constantly.

But the real story of A Nightmare and the Morning Sunshine is the band members’ love of music. Collectively, they estimate they own more than 1,000 records. Yes, as in one-thousand—more than can be said of some “record stores.”

The short version of Morning Sunshine’s trajectory goes a little like a stock tip from a friend: “These guys were rising and rising, then they had some bad stuff happen and they plummeted and went off the radar for a while. Now they’re slowly gaining again and nobody knows about it yet.” The longer version might mention the hundreds of fans who followed them at one point, or how the band was touring regionally and attracting fans in Texas and Oklahoma. It would probably also mention the near-death accident of the front man and how the band sort of vanished after that, only to make a comeback.

A Nightmare and the Morning Sunshine traces its beginnings back to Flower Mound. It was there that the Hawkins brothers, Josh and Adam, first began to appreciate music in junior high. Their cool uncle played drums and inspired seventh-grader Adam to play. “It seemed like a fun instrument,” says Adam. “You got to hit things.”

Josh had a friend who played guitar. Josh, who had been in choir, wanted to sing and a couple of classmates joined on keyboards and bass. Before a week’s worth of practice, the band, then named Brian J, was playing local parties. “We had a Pearl Jam sound,” says Adam laughing. “It was the nineties.” Josh took a few guitar lessons and wrote songs, even though he only sang at shows. Their friends Aaron Mollet and Brandon Baca, both now students at UNT, played guitar at shows.

Before they had even started high school, Flower Mound seemed too small for the band, and they went on a self-marketing blitz, contacting all regional labels and clubs they could find, mailing demos and playing open-mic nights.

“We’d play anywhere,” says Josh. “One time our bassist got us booked at a sports bar the night of a World Series game. Everybody there hated us.”

By the time they were juniors in high school, the guys were headlining weekend shows in Deep Ellum and Denton clubs, and opening for progressively bigger bands on the road.

“It was great fun, but we were under the impression we could be rock stars—and it just doesn’t happen,” says Adam. “But we stopped caring about that very quickly. By senior year, we just wanted to play music.” Aaron, a history major at UNT, concurs. “All my stories are band stories,” he says. “Music is what is missing in my life, and hopefully others’, as well.”

Soon, Brian J was on the cusp of success, after playing anywhere that would take them—at one point the band played five shows in one week: Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Denton, and Oklahoma—drawing as many as 200 people to their shows and successfully selling an album they had recorded.

A Dallas Observer review in 2000 of a label sampler that included a few of the bands’ songs said that “Brian J…is the real winner here, its pedal-pushing dynamics and music-box melodies overcoming occasionally (well, usually) overwrought vocals and the almost uncomfortable earnestness that pervades the group’s songs.”

“We got a following in Wichita Falls,” says Josh. “After we played there a few times, kids would come up to us and ask us when we were coming back. Not a lot of bands stop by there, and I guess they appreciated that. It was cool—it kind of made you feel like we were an underground band, and it was all happening.”

As the band members started college at the University of North Texas, the keyboard player had a run-in with the law that, according to Adam, “put him out of commission for six months.” The band was looking to regroup when confronted by something even more serious.

Josh was driving home south on I-35 when he passed out at the wheel of his Nissan X-Terra. Unconscious, Josh’s foot pushed on the accelerator. The vehicle hit the highway median at a speed that police estimated was some 110 miles per hour, rolling over and landing on the roof. The momentum slid the car the length of three football fields down the highway before an oncoming car slammed into it at 70 miles per hour.

Rescue workers couldn’t believe that Josh survived the impact, but he was in critical condition. For a week after the accident, doctors weren’t sure Josh would survive as he lay in coma at the hospital. Even when he stabilized, they did not know what would be left of him if he ever came out of the coma. But three weeks later, Josh woke up, and surprised everyone by making a full recovery after six months of neuro rehabilitation at Baylor Regional Center. Perhaps most impressively, Josh, the singer of the band, has only the slightest occasional mumble to betray the fact that the part of his brain that controls speech was damaged in the accident.

To this day, Josh doesn’t remember what happened the day of the accident, or why he passed out behind the wheel. A toxicology report tested negative for any substances in his body.

Still, rehab was not a walk in the park for Josh, who missed a semester of school regaining control of his body. All the time he spent at home left him restless, and he picked up the guitar again to occupy himself, even as the band had all but disbanded.

“I was pretty much retarded and getting things mixed up because my brain had to rewire itself,” says Josh. “But I knew that I wanted to play music. I knew it was something that was always going to be with me.”

Josh started writing music again, this time at a furious pace. His brother Adam says music was “almost therapeutic for Josh.” For his part, Josh credits playing guitar with exercising his mind—teaching him to multitask again. He wrote around 12 songs, and Adam helped him by laying down the beats on their eight-track recorder.

Josh played a couple of acoustic shows—his solo project named “The Morning Sunshine,” after the rays of sun that he saw when he woke up from the coma. Adam was also enthusiastic about the songs, and the two brothers knew they were ready to play again.

Fast-forward to 2003: Josh and Adam transferred to SMU. They looked for other musicians to complete their new band and found themselves seeking people with the same style as Aaron and Brandon, who played in the band before it collapsed.

“We said, ‘You know, if we’re looking for people who play just like Aaron and Brandon, we might as well talk to them,’” says Josh.

Aaron and Brandon, still at UNT, agreed to come back and soon after, the band was completed when bassist Mike Shuster, also a student at UNT, joined. The new band, named “A Nightmare and The Morning Sunshine,” has a stronger chemistry according to Adam.

“We now have a real focus because J
osh made a complete recovery,” he says. “We wanted to be more compositional—not just hang out at the practice space and jam, but really sit down and work out the different layers, build the songs.”

They have played three shows since reforming, at The Door in Deep Ellum and at the Rubber Gloves in Denton, and are looking to play more shows in March, as well as record a new CD.

Aaron says the live show is an intense experience for him: “[It involves] blood, makeup, and a decent amount of sweat and facial expressions I never knew I could naturally conjure.”

Josh says his lyrics touch on his experiences, but even if they are about something negative he tries to put a happy spin on it. For example, the song Paleontologist, he says, occurred to him when he was recovering and was inspired by “thinking about death and how we learn about the history of people through bones at museums.”

And what about the name “A Nightmare and the Morning Sunshine”? “Band names are ridiculous,” says Josh. “People try to be clever or find deep meaning. Our name is just really about how Aaron and Brandon like really heavy music and Adam and I like more poppy stuff. We used the name from my solo project and it’s just our name now. We don’t want to think about it anymore.”

To hear songs by A Nightmare and the Morning Sunshine and for show information, visit www.myspace.com/anightmare

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