Microwave Wear Their Influences Proudly On ‘LSD’


I’ll call Microwave’s fourth album by its actual name just once and honor frontman Nathan Hardy’s desire to have everyone else just use the acronym going forward. “We just love drugs,” he deadpans without irony or scandal, as to be expected from someone who slipped a fairly straightforward cover of “Santeria” onto Let’s Start Degeneracy as a hidden bonus track. But really, acid is notably one of the substances that didn’t go into the making of LSD – inspired by an ayahuasca retreat in Peru, written with the help of Adderall, nootropics, and opening the subconscious with a really, really good shit. “A good probiotic goes a long way,” drummer Timothy “Tito” Pittard jokes.

Besides, drugs are one of the few throughlines in the Atlanta band’s strange, slow trajectory towards the upper-middle class of…whatever we’re calling this overlap of emo, pop-punk, and alt-rock nowadays. The core trio of Hardy, Pittard, and bassist Tyler Hill initially toughed it out in the southern DIY circuit playing a sort of skramz/twinkle hybrid – “Cap’n Jazz to American Football to Saetia and Pg. 99-type stuff” Hardy explains. In other words, they were a quintessential, early-2010s emo revival band. By 2014’s Stovall, Hardy mostly dropped the screaming and Microwave took on a more robust, accessible sound that wed spiritual turmoil to occasional arena-emo grandeur; a promising prospect for Manchester Orchestra and Brand New fans who still sorta missed the way those bands sounded in 2009.

Stovall had some good hooks, none better than Hardy’s story of leaving Mormonism in his early 20s and making up for lost time. “These drugs will be the death of us/at least whatever’s left of us,” he sang on the title track, while two of the best songs on the follow-up Much Love were titled “Roaches” and “Vomit.” That alone should give you a sense of the subject matter, though “Wrong” is actually the one about chain-smoking blunts.

Microwave spent Much Love getting even deeper their vices while leveling up, part of a bumper SideOneDummy class of 2016 that included PUP, Jeff Rosenstock, AJJ, and Chris Farren. Even if they got to play Warped Tour and open for Jimmy Eat World, two straight years of running through songs like “Dull,” “Wrong,” “Whimper” and “Drown” every night still left Hardy nearly broke and totally broken – the medical bills were piling up, the drugs weren’t working, the sex wasn’t working, and Microwave’s once tightly-knit scene was turning on each other. It seems like the only thing Hardy could look forward to was the sweet release of the afterlife and all of that got channeled into 2019’s Death Is A Warm Blanket. “Hate TKO”? That’s a good song right there.

Hardy envisioned a follow-up that went in an even darker direction, but found himself too depressed by his own music to find inspiration for lyrics. “During the pandemic, we had played around with doing even heavier songs than the last record, and those songs weren’t really getting completed,” Hardy sighs. But in shifting their focus towards a more wavy, R&B-influenced tone equally by Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Foxing’s Blonde-indebted masterpiece Nearer My God, Microwave knocked out singles “Circling the Drain” and “Straw Hat” in short order – both of which quickly became live staples and fan favorites. “Everything felt like it was falling into place,” Hardy recalls. “Like, ‘‘I think this is what we’re meant to do at this time.’”

Nearly five years after Death Is A Warm Blanket, Microwave launched LSD with “Bored Of Being Sad” – though perhaps a bit shinier than their past work, it’s a sound and sentiment that could’ve fit on Much Love or Death Is A Warm Blanket. But on those albums, people who were bored of cursing the dark were more likely to spark a blunt than light the proverbial candle. Hardy had experimented with nearly all of the best-known narcotic acronyms, but never PMA. “People who are happy often just make a conscious choice to be happy,” Hardy muses. “And a lot of that is, ‘fake it till you make it,’ the things you say out loud just becomes your reality.”

Microwave had been releasing standalone singles for nearly two years before Let’s Start Degeneracy was announced, was there a point where you questioned whether you’d put out a full-length album again?

Nathan Hardy: We had actually talked about just releasing singles, but I think that people in this realm of music like albums and it gives an opportunity for a PR push and narrative surrounding a larger release. We had one album left on our deal with Pure Noise, plus we had also publicly implied that we were gonna be doing a whole record, so we were just like, “let’s hash it out.” But if “Circling The Drain” hadn’t done as well as it did – it became a crowd favorite live and it streamed really well – we may have been reconsidering whether we should just put out more singles. Instead, it was, “let this be the blueprint of a general direction.”

The general tone of Death Is A Warm Blanket also made me wonder if the band had discussed whether continuing at all would be possible, even before the pandemic.

Hardy: I think there was definitely an underlying sentiment of that, especially during the initial part of 2020. I feel like everyone was like, “will any band ever tour again?” We’re not an essential business. And we definitely gather people into groups for a living. Is this irresponsible at this point? I had started to rig at my work and then in 2022, I dislocated my shoulder, so I was on workers comp, which also fed into [working on the record]. I literally can’t work with my shoulder while I’m going to the doctors for the next six months, all I can do is sit at home. So I might as well hash this record out.

Tyler Hill: I definitely felt the sense of impending doom the whole time, it was hard to focus on music when I’m just worried about all my loved ones dying. We did eventually start getting back together – I don’t even want to say, “when it started to clear up” – but once vaccines started rolling out, we started jamming together and rehearsed Death Is A Warm Blanket all the way through. The first tour was mid-2021 and even then, tours were still getting shut down halfway through and bands were having to drop off stuff. Everyone’s trying, but it’s really, really challenging right now.

Despite not releasing much new music or touring all that much over the past five years, it seems like Microwave experienced a surge in popularity, Much Love became kind of a sleeper hit all over again.

Hill: Much Love seems to have gotten a third wind. When an album first comes out, it gets a little bit of attention and that trickles off. And then after Warped Tour [in 2017], it got a little second wind. And then right around the time we did the Story So Far tours [in 2022], it started getting attention again. Which is crazy, because at that time, the record was six years old. Maybe that has to do with the TikTok stuff and how old songs can blow up again, but I don’t know if we had anything on there.

Hardy: I don’t think we’ve ever had a viral TikTok or anything.

Timothy “Tito” Pittard: I think our most viewed TikTok is the one of all of us in the green room and we’re listening to JPEGMAFIA.
Hardy: I feel like we also benefited from bands in our scene like Hot Mulligan and Mom Jeans really taking off, that culminated around the time of that Story So Far tour. There was a lot of hype about that particular lineup and it became a thing where if someone listened to Mom Jeans or Hot Mulligan or something, people would be like, oh, “Hot Mulligan and Mom Jeans tour with Microwave, you ever listen to that band?” That gave Much Love a second wind also, because the first Mom Jeans record that really popped off was also from 2016 and that’s the era with Modern Baseball and Pinegrove, we’re adjacent to the bands that did well on TikTok.

Two days ago, I saw one of my brother’s friends post a reel where he and his daughter are at the Fall Out Boy/Jimmy Eat World show at Madison Square Garden and Hot Mulligan opened. It’s wild to think of them playing a venue like that. You guys also got to open for Jimmy Eat World back in 2018 with the Hotelier and I spoke to them recently about how a lot of bands in their wave would hit these career milestones and expect things to continue on an upward trajectory but it ends up being the peak.

Hardy: We had talked the other day about when we got dropped by [our booking agents] after the Jimmy Eat World tour. Or they said they were “restructuring.” I feel like when Much Love came out, there was the hype from the initial release and everyone was kind of expecting it to do a Modern Baseball or Pinegrove-type thing. We were able to get on that sick tour with the Hotelier and Jimmy Eat World, but it hadn’t really gained that much traction at that point. But we assumed that [our agents] were like, “I don’t know if this is happening for this band.” And that was right before we put out Death Is A Warm Blanket and then the pandemic. So somewhere in that 2018 to 2020 space, I would say, there was “how much bigger is this going to get?” Because it sure wasn’t providing income that was going to be sustainable without having a job.

It feels like Death Is A Warm Blanket really reflected that mindstate and even in the interviews from that time, a lot of the conversation was about the feeling of being in your late 20s without health insurance or any kind of monetary safety net. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a “positive” album, but there does seem to be a greater willingness to fight through the negativity.

Hardy: I would say that the theme of Death Is A Warm Blanket was the line, “it doesn’t really get better, that’s just something they say.” Everything just keeps getting worse and everything is awful and sucks and that’s life. But being in that headspace and continuing to work on the doomier songs, I just wasn’t completing lyrics. When you’re in that position of lacking optimism, some of your creative juices and dopamine get sucked out. I would have to take Adderall to work on music, I needed artificial dopamine to keep going. I’m definitely more hopeful than I was, but in 2022, I dislocated my shoulder, had another surgery, and then it just dislocated again last fucking November when we were on tour with Menzingers. A lot of the issues are still there, I was trying to find more hopeful, optimistic stances.

How do you find those optimistic stances?

Hardy: Honestly, a lot of the natural dopamine that went into this record came around when we did the Story So Far tour, and “Circling the Drain” was doing well. We did the headline tour at the end of 2021, which was one of our first things back, and there was some growth, but it wasn’t super substantial. Then after the Story So Far tour, it was like two times everything – two times the size in streaming and people at shows and selling merch and everything. And that really gave us a kick of “it’s working,” which fed into the optimism. When you have a sold-out headline show and everyone’s screaming your words and stuff, something’s going good.

It also appears that the ayahuasca ceremony you attended in Peru was a major factor. Was the intention “we need to do an ayahuasca trip” or “we went to South America and there just so happened to be an ayahuasca ceremony we could attend”?

Pittard: It was both, after we did the ayahuasca for 10 days, we had no cell phones and stuff. And then we went to Machu Picchu and Cusco. I do recommend if you’re doing ayahuasca, you go to Peru or somewhere in the rainforest because there’s just more of a connection when you’re listening to the wildlife and separate from the world. I went to Orlando to do ayahuasca at Soul Quest and it was bogus.

I can’t believe Orlando didn’t provide you with this authentic cultural experience.

Pittard: There was like 130 people there and you’re just hearing so much trauma in that room. It was just crazy.

I do empathize with people who are seeking alternatives to Western medicine, given the average experience with our healthcare system. And also, I get a sense that LSD is inspired by a greater mistrust of assumed societal truths, the lyrics that stand out to me are ones like “the sequel to politics” and “I love you because of the things you do for me” on “Straw Hat.”

Hardy: Yeah, that song is kind of a commentary – I’m polyamorous now, and I have spent a lot of time the last handful of years questioning the general incentives and the culture behind monogamy and questioning my own intentions in a reflective way. Do I love you or do I love you because of the things you provide me with, like the oxytocin and dopamine and the tangible benefits that come from relationships. [“Straw Hat”] was a cheeky sort of prodding at that. Because people have those notions of what love means, and a lot of it will be in a monogamous context where you can’t love more than one person. Ever since I left Mormonism, I’ve questioned a lot of the societal standards like, “if people don’t go to hell for having sex outside of marriage, why do people get married?” All these constructs got thrown out, I’d really internalized the fact that a lot of the basic foundational cultural habits or practices that we have are maybe not universally true.