Jenna Fournier had no idea that trying to sell her old band’s touring van would change her life. But her 2009 Craigslist ad attracted Clevelander Frankie Maraldo, a fellow guitarist who was also shopping for a singer for his new project.
While Fournier initially said no, she showed up to Maraldo’s New Year’s Day musical gathering with a few song sketches, starting 2010 with strangers who became creative partners.
“I was just looking to jam and do something fun,” she says, who grew up in Cleveland and Las Vegas. “I wasn’t really approaching it with serious intent.”
But the meet-up signaled the start of Niights, one of Cleveland’s most promising rock bands. The four-piece brews a surprising blend of chugging hard rock and ethereal dream-pop, with Fournier’s feather-light vocals buoying heavy guitar lines.
Since that fateful post, Niights has become a local fixture — gracing Happy Dog’s cozy confines, and lately, grander venues such as the Agora and House of Blues. Now comes Hellebores, the band’s first LP in almost four years, a dark, melodic two-part album that’s been featured in such national publications as Stereogum and The Fader. The group is currently gearing up for its biggest national tour to-date with buzzy alt-rock act Elvis Depressedly.
But what took them so long? Since 2015’s Whisper, Niights has seen some long ones. Recording obstacles marred the group’s follow-up plans, and then the band’s bassist and drummer moved to the West Coast, writing Hellebores rhythm section remotely. By the time Niights finally found a home for the project at Superior Sound Studio, it wasn’t really the same band any more.
“We flew [the rhythm section] in [to Cleveland] to come play their parts — instead of being a band that was practicing three times a day and then going and recording what you perfected in your practice space in the studio,” Fournier says.
As the songs came together locally, Fournier, Maraldo and Hellebores’ platinum-selling producer Jim Wirt all had strong opinions about the album’s darker sonic direction, though the production process remained good-natured.
“It was a three-headed monster trying to figure out what this album is going to sound like,” Fournier says.
The resulting LP has Niights’ shoegaze-y alt-pop, but feels heavier, more melancholy. It’s a sonic progression, especially in fierce moments such as the title track’s prickly, metallic riffs. Part-way through the recording process, new drummer Jeremy Dodge joined, adding electronic flourishes. Niights now also has new bassist, Jake Chandler.
Fournier’s lyrics on Hellebores are all over the emotional map, she says, encompassing romantic highs, bedroom musings, breakups and depression. Yet the title — a reference to a hardy flower that blooms in harsh conditions, like Ohio’s bitter cold — is decidedly about Hellebores’ genesis.
“The album name is less about the songs and more about the process of making the album,” Fournier says. “It really was like the long, stagnant process of recording and mixing, going through a breakup and losing two bandmates, and deciding to still fight through so we can finish this thing.”
Listen to Niights' latest release "Sylvia" below, and catch the band's Feb. 27 show at Mahall's opening for Elvis Depressedly.