is: Toby Morse
- Vocals, Rusty Pistachio
- Guitar/Vocals, Adam Blake
- Bass/Vocals, Todd TF Friend
H2O's origins remain the wishful lore of any young New York hardcore kid in the mid-1990s. As well-documented now by NYHC historians and beyond, Toby Morse was a roadie for Sick of It All in 1994, a band who were already veterans and road warriors by that point. Morse would join the band on vocals for encores, and at shows with no planned opener, he'd perform an original song called "My Love Is Real". Crowd response encouraged Morse to form and front his own band with guitarist/vocalist Rusty Pistachio. Though their initial rhythm section with drummer Max Capshaw and bassist Eric Rice was short-lived, the rest of the lineup would stabilize over the next year with bassist Adam Blake, drummer Todd Friend, and guitarist/vocalist Todd Morse, and remain an impressively solid bond for the next two decades.
Across those years, the band toured the world countless times and journeyed from small indie (local punk and hardcore label Blackout! Records, who issued the band's self-titled debut in 1996) to giant indie (Epitaph, who would release H2O's next two records and garner the band MTV airplay, video game soundtracks, and Warped Tour stages) to major label (MCA, who tried pushing 2001's GO to the holy grail of radio, landed them a late-night talk show television appearance, and released a followup EP the next year). Like so many of their peers and predecessors, however, H2O did not meet the mighty expectations of their corporate overseers.
"The major label experience was one that I'm really glad we did," Blake recalls, "because we got to see it from the inside. On a major label you think you're on top of the mountain, and then you make a record and nothing massive happens. So it was like, 'Huh. That was our shot, and it's done.' And you get some perspective on things. After GO, it was a changing of the times. Punk rock was everywhere and Warped Tour was still all about the kind of bands that we were, that kind of energy. Then all of a sudden, you start to feel like you're yesterday's news."
They continued to play shows all over, however, with bands of all stripes--Dropkick Murphys, Madball, Pennywise, Rancid, the Used--while taking some time off from the studio. "GO was very much the 'rock' record," Blake says of their sole major label LP. "There was stuff on there that was unusual for us. But as a musician, you want to explore different things. Sometimes all those explorations do is show you that you were in the right place in the first place."
By January 2008, they were ready to record again, and returned to the independent music landscape with Bridge Nine to release Nothing to Prove, which Blake says completely reinvigorated the band. "We took that break and there was a real desire to return to the roots of the band," he says. "That high-energy, very danceable, emphatic melodic hardcore. Nothing to Prove is the first record we really found our niche, where we were really like, 'This is H2O. This is what H2O should be. This is what the band should sound like. This is what the lyrics should be like. This is the spirt of the thing.' We felt like a brand new band. We felt excited.
"It's nice, seven years after Nothing to Prove," he adds, "that we can capture those feelings again with the new record."
Blake refers to Use Your Voice, H2O's brand new studio album and sixth overall, which indeed took seven years as he prophesies at the end of Nothing to Prove. During that time, "We were just about playing live," he says. "Getting out, playing live. There was never really any strong desire to make a new record, but after a while... I love 'What Happened?'. I love 'Nothing to Prove'. I love '1995'. But when you play it close to 10,000 times, you start wanting to play something else." Blake demoed out some new songs with Friend while on tour with Terror in early 2013, and suddenly, the foundation was laid for Use Your Voice.
Most importantly with this new material, a new dynamic had emerged in the songwriting with the departure of Todd Morse, who left the band in early 2015 after 20 years of service. Responsible for the majority of Nothing to Prove's music, Morse's exit left a void filled by long-time bassist Blake, who stepped up as the primary musical songwriter for Use Your Voice after writing three songs and parts of others for the previous album. Blake placed his own personal imprint on the music while retaining the band's energetic urgency, upbeat tone and melodic edge H2O have made their name on for so long, with the sort of multifaceted punk and hardcore influences they exposed on 2011's covers album Don't Forget Your Roots, which featured takes on some of their favorite acts like 7 Seconds, Dag Nasty, and Gorilla Biscuits. "The point was not to stray too far away," says Blake of his process while writing the songs, in which he also tried to imagine playing them live and how they would work in that environment. If he couldn't visualize an audience "dancing or going off or having a blast," he'd cut it from the record.
Frontman and lyricist Toby Morse continues to deliver his direct and personal manifestos on Use Your Voice, with subjects spanning fatherhood, romantic relationships, music fandom, social media philosophy and more. As the one primarily responsible for the musical foundation of Morse's words, Blake sees it as a great, personable biography of sorts. "It's really like somebody's identity in lyrical form," Blake says observingly. He points out one track in particular that may differ from Morse's widely acknowledged public persona, perhaps molded in part by Morse's One Life One Chance speaking tours and strong endorsement of the Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) lifestyle. "I really like 'LYD'," Blake says, "because lyrically, I think a lot of people think Toby is always up at 4 in the morning, frolicking through fields of daisies, but in reality, like any other human being he has shitty days. Like, 'Hey, I'm trying to be positive, but sometimes it doesn't work.' That song's a nice way to address that honestly."
With a fantastic brand new album in hand, H2O have a whole new slate of great and memorable songs to deliver to crowds around the world very soon, and time will only tell if it takes them another seven years to freshen up that set list again. "With Nothing to Prove coming out after so long," Blake says of Use Your Voice, "we kind of questioned, 'Wow, was that a fluke? Did we just get it right and can't reproduce it?' On Use Your Voice, we reproduced it, and now we have the model to move forward."