By Kika Chatterjee

Just a few years ago, you could probably find Microwave frontman Nate Hardy at church. Hardy was still a man of God when he, Wesley Swanson, Tyler Hill and Timothy “Tito” Pittard came together in Atlanta to form the band. Within a year Microwave had their first EP; by the end of that year they had recorded two more.

Since 2014, when Microwave dropped their first album Stovall, they have signed to SideOneDummy (home of PUP and Jeff Rosenstock), released their much awaited follow-up Much Love, and announced a slot on Warped Tour for the summer – a logical next step for a group with this kind of upward trajectory. The band is headed to a show in Orlando when I hop on the phone with Hardy.

With the kind of recent history that most bands take a decade to amass, it’s especially hard to believe that he was raised in a strict Mormon upbringing that had him on track for a lifetime in the church.

“I was a missionary – I baptized 28 people in Washington and Oregon. There’s people that are in our church whose whole foundation for why they believe in Mormonism – and for some of them, God in general – is because I believed in Mormonism and God,” he says.

Not even a year later, Hardy was on the record (so to speak) decreeing his loss of faith.

“Even after I left the church, when we recorded the [2015 split with Head North], I hadn’t told anyone in my extended family that I had stopped going to church or that I didn’t believe in God. To not be religious to them is like not having any common ground to talk about anything. To them it would have been the same thing as saying I was gay – it was like having to come out of the closet as a nonbeliever.

“So when we started getting press for the split and it was so explicitly about that experience, I knew my parents were about to see it. Literally the day before things were being released I went to my parents’ house and told them I didn’t believe in God and it was really earth-shattering for them.”

So yes, Hardy is a completely different man than just a few years ago – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t carry pieces of his past with him. I ask him if he feels pigeonholed into a fallen-from-grace role by all the press surrounding his break from the church.

“I fear it getting to that point. I guess I think too much… I’ll have three or four people come up every night and be like ‘yeah, I was really religious too.’ When you go on tour and have that happen you’re like ‘damn, is this my life?’ Like I’m the ‘religion guy.’”

But it’s hard not to be the “religion guy” when it weaves itself through his life every day.

“I left the church four years ago and I don’t really sit around anymore and think about that. But my mom actually tried to come down to Atlanta and take me out to lunch yesterday and talk to me about coming back to church. It was really bad.”

For the legions of Warped Tour worshippers and the more indie-inclined (the ones that cry “SELLOUT!” at any modicum of success), Microwave’s slot might come as a surprise – after all, Warped is a much more corporate venture than the grassroots-grown band has experienced until now.

“We were hesitant to do Warped Tour because we didn’t want to be a ‘Warped Tour band’. But I think that was really stupid. Our manager Nick Holman was essentially like, ‘You guys are fucking stupid. You can turn down an offer for Warped Tour and then just be a cool band in a few years, and just like, not have any fans or make any money.’

“But you can’t choose who is a fan of your band, and a lot of the people who make it possible to have a career in music might like Twenty One Pilots and stuff. And now, since we’ve already had so many awesome opportunities come from the Warped Tour experience, I look back at our mentality before and I’m like ‘Yeah, we were really stupid.’”

Breaking from the church in which you grew up is one thing, but going from playing local shows to Warped Tour in just a few years makes coming home very different for Microwave.

“My friends back home that I’ve known for several years are into more heavy stuff, and we’re like this weird middle band. We haven’t been considered a Warped Tour band or a pop punk band and our friends, even though they don’t listen to bands that we would be affiliated with, they love and respect us and they’ll come out and see our shows.

“We were never the most hip, cool band or whatever. I guess it’s just like ‘oh, fuckin’ Microwave is the band that’s blowing up’ out of our little friend group scene in Atlanta,” he chuckles. “The music we play isn’t quite as subversive as the music a lot of our friends listen to.”

In harsher and perhaps more precise words: “All my friends think I’m a douche now/And they’re probably right,” as Hardy sings on Much Love track ‘Neighbors’.

“That song is about the time that me and Tito [Pittard, drummer] did acid and jumped the fence to my girlfriend’s pool and were swimming in their pool,” he tells me—a deceptively nonchalant story for a song that carries the pain of a waning self worth: “I am just a crooked joke with a stale punchline/That some old friends quote/The neighbor that you try to ignore/But you wave to so you won’t look like an asshole.”

It’s an ongoing theme in Much Love – an apathy that isn’t apathy at all, but rather a skin for the pain of lost love and faith that still sits heavy in the bones. Take, for example, the rattling standout ‘Vomit’, which begins as a familiar anecdote of a party dissolving into everyone puking, but coalesces into a screaming chorus that weighs like a ton of bricks on the chest of the listener: “There’s no such thing as love/We just felt vulnerable without a God/Without a crutch/There’s nowhere else/Nobody else/Nothing.”

“Without a God”. Even four years after leaving the church, it’s a sentiment that still delicately threads its way through Microwave’s music, threatening to unravel into breakdown at any moment. I tell Hardy that I’m also a writer, and I’ve always believed that we need to first write about the things that weigh on us the most before we can feasibly write about anything else.

“Yeah, it was something I had to get out of my system. It was like suddenly my life experiences over the last several years – a lot of my life experiences with Much Love, when I left the church, I really did a lot of drugs and drank a lot. And I mean, I couldn’t talk about that with my extended family, I don’t think they really looked up my music that much, but if they did I think if they saw some lyrics they would be like ‘whoa, what the fuck?’ So after that was out of the way, I didn’t have to speak in code or cater to them.”

And that’s the most raw, honest part of Much Love – it’s not catering to anyone.

Microwave are set to leave for Europe in support of Real Friends just days after Hardy and I speak on the phone. It will be the band’s very first time there. Our conversation veers around as I recommend different spots and give him tips:

You have to go to Nando’s. Their whole thing is chicken- “Oh, big, big fan of chicken. I think our interests section on Facebook says ‘fried chicken.’” (It does.)

Everyone there hates Donald Trump, just like everyone here hates Donald Trump, so just prepare to talk about it a lot. “Oh, I will. I have never been that political but if someone is a Trump supporter right now, I honestly think less of them.”

He tells me about how he saw that Trump told the Irish Prime Minister that he’s a “real big fan of Ireland” and “loves St. Patrick’s Day!” which sounds like an Onion headline to me. He laughs, and proceeds to bring it up twice more before the end of the interview.

Eventually though, we find a way back to the importance of carrying a piece of home with you; a predominant theme in their stunning video for ‘Vomit’, directed by Kyle Thrash (who’s also done videos for the likes of Real Friends and Modern Baseball).

Spliced between shots of the band on tour are simple but evocative visuals of the South: two friends smoking, rodeo cowboys, an impromptu bloody wrestling match that I assume is staged.

“No, that was real. That’s real blood. Those dudes were smashing lightbulbs on each other and the one skinnier dude dislocated his shoulder while we were there and just popped it back in. It was like every single dude there had at least three Insane Clown Posse tattoos.”

And there were less violent shots of real life too: “A lot of them were just my friends and friends of friends… They filmed so much shit that I want to almost send you all the stuff. We could almost make a music video of us just doing go-karts. [Thrash] definitely didn’t make any money on that. He may have even lost like 500 or 1000 dollars from all the shit he did. He had one thing where he paid for a keg for a house party at my friend’s house, and we literally didn’t use anything we shot there!”

Vacillating between images of the familiarity of the South versus life on the road shows that keeping a piece of home with you can be a delicate line to toe when it’s getting harder and harder to go home at all:  

“The air is thick as shit down here in Georgia/I know it’s Saturday but I’d rather stay inside/I gave up on love because I’m too apathetic to feel lost again/And attach some bullshit meaning to my life,” Hardy sings on ‘Homebody’.

The transition from Stovall to the 2015 split to Much Love feels like the search for that meaning—a search that’s made that much harder by a loss of faith; a story of losing everything and trying to find it all again.

“After the split, if I was working on any song that seemed like it was about [my faith] it seemed repetitive. It seems like the kind of thing that you can’t write several songs about or else – if there’s people that really don’t have any experience having to do with that, they just grew up in a completely non-religious environment and don’t really relate to that, which is a pretty big group of people – then they just kind of write it off.

“But I mean, also, other things happen. Life goes on.” It’s a long battle, and sometimes a losing one, to finding out who you are and which parts you need to leave behind. Microwave leave those little shards of past selves with us in each track – and then, as Hardy says, life goes on.