DS Feature: Dave Hause Interview and “Devour America” Show Review (Cambridge, MA)

Since releasing his debut solo album, Resolutions, in January 2011, Dave Hause has been on the move. In addition to stints on the European and US Revival Tours where he’s appeared alongside artists like Chuck Ragan, Brian Fallon, Dan Andriano, Tim McIlrath, Rocky Votolato and more, he’s carved himself quite a niche as a sought-after opening artist. Though generally accompanied by a lone guitar, Hause’s intense performance has earned him support slots for an impressive list of heavy-hitters that includes Social Distortion, Hot Water Music, Alkaline Trio, Flogging Molly, The Gaslight Anthem, The Bouncing Souls.

 Northcote

The release of his second solo effort, October 2013’s Devour, prompted Hause to try his hand at headlining a full-scale North American tour. The incredibly ambitious seventy-date jaunt features support from Canadian singer-songwriter Northcote (playing his first US dates) and finds Hause backed only by his brother Tim on keyboard and guitar. It does not require the most quantum of leaps to understand that the tour is very much a Herculean baptism-by-fire for all parties involved. And yet, night three of the tour rolled into the Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge, MA,  and found the crew firing on most-if-not-all cylinders.

Northcote

Northcote (real name Matt Goud, formerly of post-hardcore band Means) may have been a rookie at performing in the States, but his intense, heartfelt singalongs quickly won over the sold-out crowd. If you’re reading this and find yourself thinking that the name Northcote sounds familiar but can’t quite place why, even money says that it’s from this cover of the track “Worry,” as performed by Dave Hause and the inimitable Chuck Ragan. Goud would join Hause during the encore portion of the evening for a particularly rousing cover of the track that featured added backing vocals by a surprisingly large portion of the crowd.

Hause book-ended his main set in perfect, albeit perhaps predictable, fashion opening and closing with “Damascus” and “Benediction” in occupying the same roles in this set that they occupy on Devour. The tracks serve as perfect stage-setter and story-closer to album and live show alike. The eleven tracks that came in between pulled from Hause’s two solo releases; no Loved Ones songs or covers (save for a few lines from perennial crowd-favorite “Trusty Chords”). This left Hause’s material to stand on its own merits. And stand on its merits it certainly did.

It’s no doubt cliche to refer to an artist as wearing his or her heart on their respective sleeve, yet the cliche seems to fit here. While both Resolutions and Devour find Hause performing with the backing of a full band, his years on the road as an opener and Revival comrade have forced him to strip down arrangements. While his sound has straddled the traditional singer-songwriter and American rock-and-roll worlds, Hause’s past as a punk rock frontman affords Hause the ability to feed on and draw from the crowd in true symbiotic fashion.

Dave Hause and little brother Tim. Good that they can “spend more time” together.

Joining Dave on tour this time out is his little brother Tim. Though fifteen years Dave’s junior and without the road-tested chops of his big brother, the younger Hause provided depth and texture, filling out the sound and providing some elements that would be tough for the elder Hause to replicate on his own (particularly on the Devour tracks). As is the case with the alternate versions of many of the Resolutions tracks that were re-recorded and re-issued as a series of 7-inches in 2012, the stripped down live versions of tracks like “Autism Vaccine Blues” and “Great Depression” do, in my opinion a more accurate job than their studio counterparts of portraying the raw aggression that the subject matter calls for.

Devour found Hause getting more explicitly personal, pulling back the curtain on loves had and loves lost, particularly as he made his way to his mid-thirties. When I reviewed the album for this very website, I commented on how Hause came across as needing a hand from the sort of sympathetic, optimistic friend that he presented as at times on Resolutions. What I didn’t take into account, however, was the intangible catharsis of the live performance. As is part and parcel with a Hause live performance, much energy was spent making sure that the audience felt as vital to the energy level of the show as he, himself did. Not that he necessarily had to work that hard to whip the Cantabrigian (look it up) crowd up, as the crowd at the show, which was sold out close to a month in advance, proved willing and able participants on this particular night. The encore was brought to a close with a move that was equal parts tip of the cap to the audience and to scene veteran Tim Barry as Hause stepped off the stage and performed the uplifting “C’Mon Kid” with more than a little help from the crowd.

A seventy-date tour may sound daunting to the faint of heart. And while the Cambridge show fell on the first Saturday of the nearly three-month run, the ability to pack a venue in a town that’s not your own (and to do so several weeks in advance) bodes well for what’s to come. If you’re able to make it to a show, and let’s face it, with seventy North American dates, there’s sure to be one near you, don’t hesitate. Hause has an all-too-rare ability to play to the people in the back and to sing to you, no matter where in the venue you are.

As a bonus for Hause fans, you can check out my pre-show sit-down with Hause below. As was the case in our first chat almost a year ago, we covered a lot of ground this time out. Of particular interest are how exactly one ramps oneself up for such a marathon headlining tour, the lyrical and stylistic turns found on Devour, what it’s like to have your twenty-year-old brother on the road with you, and drawing influences from outside the punk world. Oh, and recording with Chuck Ragan. Check it out. And thanks to my better half for taking the only usable pictures of the night!

On Headlining a 70-date US Tour

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I think the first time that you and I sat down was almost a year ago at the Flogging Molly show.

Dave Hause: Yup, at the House of Blues.

You talked about that tour at the time feeling like work. Now this tour is headlining 70 days by yourself. (DH laughs) I feel like this would be more work. How do you ramp yourself up for something like this?

I think that the inherent difference is when you’re headlining the people that you have in the building are already starting out on your side. So the actual time on the stage feels more like a pleasure and it’s a big encouragement. You know, a small show like this, to have it sold out so far in advance and to have that vote of confidence from a city that’s not yours and that you didn’t grow up in is less work, in that sense.

However, a lot of people have commented, especially people my age or who have been doing this in some capacity for a long time, ‘why are you doing a 70 day tour?’ And I have to remind them and anyone else that asks that question that I have two records out. So think about any band or artist after two records. What were they doing? They go to work. To me…this is my job, and I have to take it seriously and I have to play everywhere. The themes are inherently American. When we were planning this all out, the whole team that’s involved with booking a tour and stuff, the idea was to really do a proper North American tour. Play as many places as we could, cover as much ground as we could, and go out on my own two feet. Succeed or fail. So it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It is work, yeah, but it’s work that I really enjoy. A lot of times it just does feel like play. I guess my working-class background; you never quite get away from that. And anything that’s good and worth doing you’ve gotta work for.

On Writing and Recording Devour

Devour, at least to me, and you can obviously correct me if I’m wrong, but in listening to it, it sounds like it was written at least in halves if not in thirds.

In thirds, yeah.

The earlier songs on the album like “Great Depression,” “Autism Vaccine Blues,” those are sort of similar in theme (to Resolutions), maybe darker, but they are more similar thematically in how they look outward at society. Whereas, in the middle, there’s some heavy, personal shit…

Yeah!

Was there any hesitation about doing that, about switching that way?

There was. I didn’t know how I was going to stitch it all together, until it occurred to me that it was in thirds. I couldn’t finish the record. I was trying to figure it out right about this time last year.

Yeah, I remember you saying that you were having trouble finishing (the writing process while you were) on tour and that you were going to rent a car so that you could write on your own.

Yeah. It dawned on me at the end of the Flogging Molly tour that it was do or die. I had to go into the studio, and I’d been dealing with the material for so long, and it hit me that it is in thirds. Essentially, the first third of the record is looking at where I come from and what culture would produce a thirty-five year-old person who’s wired the way I am. And I found a lot of similarities to my friends and to people I didn’t know but were of our generation. The middle third is kinda how that personally has affected who I am and my ability to interact, in particular, with the opposite sex. And also, how to be a good brother and a good boyfriend or husband. How that wiring and that appetite that was hard-wired in effects me now.

And then the final third, which was the toughest part, is figuring out where you want to go. Like, alright, I get where I come from and I get where I am, but where do you want to go and how do you get there. When it gets to “Becoming Secular” on the record and it moves into “The Shine” and “Bricks” and “Benediction,” it’s kind of like, okay, we can’t stay here. If we’re gonna have a successful life, just in terms of feeling good about what you do, you’ve got to figure out a way to reframe it, or else you’ll stay in that despair and keep making the same mistakes.

On Recording and Performing Deeply Personal Lyrics

Knowing that the album’s been so well-received, and I don’t think that’s just by guys in their mid-thirties … But I’m thinking, from the perspective of the guy who wrote it, to be playing those songs night in and night out, is that scratching some of those wounds again and leaving them open? Is it tough to play when it’s still raw like that?

Yeah, it can be. I think that what happens is, I did a good amount of time preparing for the European tour in an effort to make sure muscle memory and performance could rise to the top, so that I wasn’t scratching that as much. It’s like anything else. There’s a triumph in getting the material written and then in performing it and having other people singing it back to you. You do kinda give it away. It can be raw at points. It’ll hit you in strange ways. A weird Monday night show somewhere that might not be well attended, you might decide to do one of those songs that has that weird itch to it. But no, a lot of it  I kinda rehearsed my way out of. I played a lot, I made sure that I was comfortable with the material, just so that my voice and my hands could work. That’s my job, too, to let the audience feel it, not for me to get wrapped up in it.

I guess, sort of as a follow up, does knowing that the album’s been well-received…is that sorta validating or more gratifying in a way? To know that you may have gone through some shit and put it all pen-to-paper and committed it to wax but to have it be well-received maybe makes it okay…

Yeah, I think that, for me, in this day and age, with the amount of music that comes out of the amount of fractured media there is, I don’t know how well-received it is. I have no idea. People who get it, love it. I know people that I respect as songwriters that have fallen in love with it or respected it and that’s great, but I don’t know how to gauge that, other than if people are still coming out to the shows. That’s why I’m so hung up on being a live performer. That’s what I do. And that’s where I kinda get that exchange. So to go into Europe first was probably somewhat of a self-preservation thing. The States is harder. Europe, I’ve had a lot of success there really fast, so to put out the record and go there and have it be so warm gave me a lot of courage to do a tour like this, where it’s not always going to be Boston on a Saturday night. It’s not always going to be Philly sold out for that date. Or Jersey or San Francisco or wherever. There’s going to be nights where it’ll be tough. But I think I take this quote of Leonard Cohen’s seriously. He’s always said that my friends who are lawyers or plumbers have hard jobs. Jobs get hard. Why shouldn’t mine be hard sometimes? Just because you decide to be a musician…

I guess that’s not quite an answer to your question. I’m not resting on…I would be a fool to think that “a bunch of people like Devour and these are the marks we hit so to speak, so now I’m good to go.” I’m already thinking about the next record and how that needs to play into it all. It’s partially anxiety and it’s partially surviving in this kind of crazy business.

Yeah, I guess I meant more in terms of, from a songwriting standpoint.

Ah!

When you’re writing about stuff that is that personal and that introspective, particularly the middle third of the album, to know that people get it and to know that it resonates with people, like, boy, I took what I think is a leap in putting this out here, but at least, you know, (the fact that albums don’t) go triple platinum anymore notwithstanding, the fact that the people that hear it and like it and that it resonates with them…

Yeah! To spend that much time on lyrics and to put your ass on the line like that… I did a lot of that work ahead of time. I played the record for key friends of mine who I respect their songwriting; and to have guys like Scott (Hutchison) from Frightened Rabbit or Matt Skiba or Chuck Ragan; I played him “Bricks” and he got, like, teary-eyed.

I can see that…

To have the guys that are on the record that are way out of my league do it for nothing or next to nothing because they believe in the lyrics or in the songs, that was another little catapult to go forward. And then to have people that aren’t in the music industry but are music fans or music lovers get it… I even got that feeling last night in Newburgh, New York. It was a small crowd, and an intimate thing, but the thing that was so inspiring about it was all the people knew all the words to the new songs. That means that some of that blood-letting really was worth it, you know?

On Influences From Outside the Punk Scene

It’s been an interesting thing, coming from a punk background, and I am friendly with guys like Scott Hutchison (from Frightened Rabbit) or Craig Finn (from The Hold Steady) or Jason Isbell. Those are the kind of records we all talk about, those are our talking points. Like, “hey, Finn, did you hear the new Frightened Rabbit?” So, for any of those guys to know about Devour and then hear in and say “wow, that’s great!” or want to be involved in any capacity is a big help and a big encouragement.

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of us now that grew up in the punk scene in the 90s that those guys’ (music) is sort of where we’re at now. The Jason Isbells and the Cory Branans…you know, I said to a friend, to not let Jason Isbell’s baby face or that slide guitar fool you, he’s punk as hell.

Yeah, he’s the real deal.

Yeah, that song “Super 8” on Southeastern

*laughs* I know!

I sent a video of it to a “punk” friend of mine, and I said “you tell me that’s not a punk rock song.”

What is the line, “the maid starts screaming and she starts screaming?”

Yeah, or the bass player’s screaming…

Yeah, he repeats that they’re screaming and it’s such a funny line, and you’re not supposed to do that in songs…

I love “it wasn’t quite morning and I wasn’t quite breathing.”

*laughs* I know, I love that song.

On Touring with His 20-Year-Old Brother, Tim

You brought your (twenty-year-old) little bro out on tour with you this time. How’s that going to go? 

It’s going to go well. He’s a really talented kid…and he’s a kid. So half of it’s showing him the ropes and having a hand to pack things up and to open things up and to show him…

Is this what he wants to do?

In some capacity, yeah. This will be his education. We’ll see at the end of seventy days. He’ll probably really want to do it. And it does help. The goal is to do this with as many musicians as possible in a band setting. So he’s doing some key work and some guitars and some harmonies. I’m easing him into it, for my sake and for his.

Has he played in bands and stuff before?

He’s never!

Really? Talk about trial by fire…

Jump in with both feet! And deal your crabby older brother!

Right, and trying to separate those two.

Exactly. It’s a challenge but I think his talent and his eagerness trump his green color. *both laugh*

I had a similar conversation with Rick Barton, who was the original guitar player for the Dropkicks.

Yeah!

His new band, Continental, features his son on bass with him. And so I asked him, you know how is that dynamic? Is it still father/son when you’re out on the road? And he was like “no, that died out a long time ago.” He says, you know, sometimes it’s great, but sometimes you don’t get to thinking “wow, that’s my kid playing bass in front of all these people” but you’re like “that’s the kid that woke up too late or packed in the van with.”

Oh yeah. And I want to preserve that brother relationship, hopefully just in the sheer act of bringing him out and showing him the ropes. You know, if he was just some twenty-year-old kid that I had hired, he’d already be at home (*both laugh*). Just because he has a limited knowledge of how this whole thing works. Hopefully giving that to him and spending that time with him…it teaches me to be patient. And you learn more when you teach, and teaching him what the pocket is on this particular song or teaching him ebb and flow is helpful to me, because I’ve gotta stay on my game. So it’s an interesting experiment. And not for nothing, it’s gambling. I’m gambling. He could fuck up or he could start drinking… but I think it’s going to be good, and I think it’s going to pay off.

Good luck! (*both laugh*) And good luck to him, as well! Because it’s one thing to be a twenty-year-old in a van with a bunch of twenty-year-olds going out and doing it, but to be doing it with your brother who’s in his mid-thirties, that’s a whole other thing. Especially when you haven’t done it before.

Well, he’s paying attention. He’s not a dumb kid, I’m excited to have him out.

A Question From Lenny Lashley; On The Importance of Playing Live

This question actually comes from Lenny Lashley. And I would read it in Lenny’s distinctly Boston accent but I can’t pull it off.

I can almost hear it!

And I just cut and pasted, verbatim, because it’s so perfectly “Lenny.” ‘So how’d you get so great at bringing you’re A game to every show you play, conveying sincerity and being an inspiration to guys like me and will you take me on tour with you?”

I will take him on tour!

But that was related to something I wanted to ask anyway. How do you…the crowd interplay thing is sorta, to me at least, one of the things that makes a ‘Dave Hause show’ different than a lot of other singer-songwriters. You seem to play to the back of the room every night.

Yeah!

How are you able I guess to tap into that every night? I mean, maybe it’s one thing if it’s Boston. You seem to have been well-received here the times that I’ve seen you, so it could be different in a place like Newburgh or a place like Des Moines, Iowa, but I get the sense that it’s not. That seems to be who you are.

I think what happened is I cut my teeth playing music in punk rock. The response that you’re going for at a punk show is kind of almost bedlam. Chaos, you know? But I was always a fan of all kinds of music. The one thing about a lot of singer-songwriter kinds of shows, is I would go see such-and-such pick up an acoustic guitar and it was boring. Even if it was just boring because of my age. I would love a record and then go see them and “eh, I don’t know.” Now it’s not boring. But I think that whole thing comes from punk rock. I owe that debt of gratitude. And I think it’s self-preservation or desperation in some weird way too. Like, you’ve gotta make sure people want to come see you, because if they don’t, you’re going to go back to swinging a hammer. So make it a show that they won’t forget and makes sure they want to come back.

I don’t know if it’s the “tree of Chuck Ragan,” but a lot of you guys that have done Revival Tour have a similar sort of way that you play to the crowd like that. Again, maybe that’s Chuck’s influence, but look at everyone that was on Revival Tour with you up here last year (Rocky Votolato, Toh Kay, Jenny Owen Youngs), it’s not really “singer-songwriter.” Yes they are singers, and yes they are songwriters, but it’s not what you think of as a traditional “folk” outfit. It’s people that are playing to the back of the room. It’s people that are cutting a vein open and leaving it all out there.

Right, yeah. The funny thing about the Revival Tour, and I’ve teased Chuck about this so I’m not talking out of school…I’m not a folk musician by any stretch. I’m barely a singer-songwriter. I’m a punk rocker in spirit and in approach. Now, what I would like to be is in American Songwriter at this point now.

That happened, didn’t it, though?

Not in the magazine, no. On the website, though.

I was thinking about that specifically when they premiered a track. I remember you talking saying when we talked last time that you wanted to be in with the Cory Branan, American Songwriter crowd. So when they did that premier I was like “Oh shit, he did it!”

Yeah, there were a couple really wild press debuts on this record, which were really exciting.

Wall Street Journal too, right?

Yeah, there was that, there was Esquire, Rolling Stone. But yeah, at the end of the day, I always tease Chuck when we’re out on Revival Tour: “Can we please, please burn these acoustic guitars and get some distortion pedals up here.” It’s more of a friendly joke. I think that if you play like your life depends on it, then your life can depend on it. You can actually cultivate something that, it might be small, but it’s yours. If you can work your way into peoples’ lives, they’ll stick with you. And that’s the hope, you know, to not really ever look at it like “I’ve arrived.” And we’ve all seen that show. We’ve all seen the show where our favorite guys had arrived and were probably a little less willing…I’ve probably played that show!

That’s funny, we were just talking about that show next door.

I don’t want to do that. I’ve done it. I’ve made that mistake. If you’re tired or sick or annoyed by some drunk asshole… I remember playing with The Loved Ones here at this very venue and my sister was playing keys with us. They got into it and a guy was being rude to her, and I smashed the guy in the head with a Les Paul. And he got thrown out. I should have been the one thrown out! The point is that sometimes you have an off night. But for me, it’s like, give people a reason to care and never feel like you’re owed anything. There’s a lot of people making a lot of great music who never even get to come up to Boston, you know?

(At their record release party for their FM359 project last week)…I was talking with (Mike McColgan and Rick Barton) and Johnny Rioux who’s in Street Dogs and is in this project, and at one point I was able to just put the recorder down, because Johnny and Rick were debating both sides of this very conversation. With Rick saying that there’s so many talented people out there who can’t make a living in music that it’s a crime, and then Johnny saying that, you know what, maybe they’re not that good, and that he thinks you can if you’re committed to doing it and to getting in the van for fifty days at a time and playing record release parties and in-stores and whatnot. If you’re committed to getting out there and doing it, you can make a living at it.

You might be able to rub two dimes together and call it a quarter. I do think that if Rick’s point is that it’s a crime…the only crime is that we’ve let culture get so, just, gross. We’ve supported it in our own habits. I think if you look at Europe and even Canada, their support for the arts is so great, their pride in the artists, they stick with them. That whole culture in America is not as prevalent. I think that’s the frustrating thing for some people. The commitment to the arts is different here. With the explosion of ‘celebrity for no reason,’ you know? It used to be that you were a celebrity because you can do something really well. Now you just need to be some kind of train wreck. In terms of the science of humanity, maybe that’s more interesting, I don’t know. But for me, I think if you’re going to do something…I don’t know. It’s a tough thing. I’m just doing what I’m doing. I fall somewhere in the middle on that argument. It’s almost like the downloading thing. I don’t have to really come up on one side or the other of it, I just have to do what I do.

(Switching gears after a few of Dave’s, including Kevin Schubert, longtime member of the punk scene and current proprietor of the kick-ass Taco Party food truck that roams the streets of Boston).

On Recording With Chuck Ragan

JS: You played on the new Chuck Ragan album, right?

DH: Yup! It was one of those typical Chuck things (in full Chuck Ragan voice which sounds not unlike full Macho Man Randy Savage voice) “Come on up, brother.” I was in LA doing an in-store when he was recording. So I went up to the studio to check it out and he said “why don’t you howl on a couple of these.” So I sang on one and then I sang on another, and I think it was three or four by the time I said “I gotta go, I gotta go!” We just got carried away laughing and talking and singing. I got the record the other day and listened to it twice. I knew one song that I sang on. I think another one got cut, I’m not exactly sure where I ended up on it.

JS: I listened to it two or three times on loop because I just got it the other day.

DH: It’s awesome!

JS: It’s so good. And I think some people are going to say it’s a departure, but it’s not. Because I think if you take a lot of the instrumentation away, it’s a Chuck Ragan record. But I think what makes this one great is all the instrumentation.

DH: Yeah! I was excited about the song that I recognized because it was one of my favorites! Like, “oh cool, he gave me the good one!”


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