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Dan Potthast

Dan P. is the songwriting force behind St. Louis ska-punk band MU330. He has released close to 25 full length albums of his own material, between MU330, The Stitch Up, Dan P. and The Bricks, Sharkanoid, and his solo material. He also tours in the Bruce Lee Band and the Jeff Rosenstock band.

DS Festival Review: Copenhell Day 2 – Deathbyromy, Mr. Bungle, Limp Bizkit, and many more!

Day 2, let’s go. That is what I told myself when I woke up at 6 am, after four hours of sleep. But screw it, you want to know why? Because it’s LIMP BIZKIT DAY!! For months on our Discord channel, I have been waiting and waiting for this day. I have zero shame if […]

Day 2, let’s go. That is what I told myself when I woke up at 6 am, after four hours of sleep. But screw it, you want to know why? Because it’s LIMP BIZKIT DAY!! For months on our Discord channel, I have been waiting and waiting for this day. I have zero shame if we need to dissect my music taste. I cherish Limp Bizkit and how silly they can be. But it wasn’t just Limp Bizkit that was showing up on the sunny and warm Thursday. Haha, no, no – Mr. Bungle found their way to Copenhagen, Thy Art Is Murder served up on hell of a pit, and The Hives proved they could play the main stage at Copenhell.

But let’s get into it!


DeathByRomy shows No Mercy.

DeathByRomy at Hades
Photo by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen

Usually, I’m good at time management; I know how long it takes me from my home in Lyngby to Refshaløen, where Copenhell takes place. However, I am not in control of public transport, so while my busses were delayed, our group chat was going off about how DeathByRomy was about to start. I think it’s an understatement when I say I was annoyed. Having missed a few songs, I arrived at the end of “Hellhound”. Romy Flores has brought a band with her, and wow, this was the perfect way to kick off Thursday. “This song is about crashing my car,” Flores tells us before kicking off the song “Crash.” on record, it’s already an intense song, but hearing it live had the hairs on my neck rise.

“No Mercy” got the energy flowing on stage and in the crowd. DeathByRomy usually is a one-piece, but seeing a band accompany her on stage, bringing a well-rehearsed ping pong between each member, just showed how this was one of the best bookings Copenhell gave us this year. And when it all ended with “Day I Die”, you are left wanting more; that high you are on from the set is a wholly different drug. Next up, I hit Helviti right next to the stage for Thy Art is Murder. [Karina Rae Selvig]


The audience at Thy Art Is Murder has the cure to deal with hangovers.

Thy Art Is Murder at Helviti
Photo by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen

Sometimes, I get tired of my friends going to shows in genres I have zero interest in because our group chats are constantly filled with praise or funny stories about what the bands did or said. Now Thy Art Is Murder is one of these bands that I have found to be highlighted constantly, followed by the phrase, “Karina, you need to see them.” And being as curious as I tend to find myself at festivals, I did indeed head over to Helviti with my trusty pal Sebastian to see what the hype with this band was about.
Finding ourselves in the pit, I was not mentally prepared for the hell that was about to be unleashed upon me. Advice: if you are going to see Thy Art Is Murder, do not go into an area where a pit might erupt. Because that’s what we did, and I need to admit, I felt very claustrophobic being pressed up against people, but at the same time… Oh, I wanted to be in the pit, but due to an unlucky episode a few weeks prior, my pit days are over until the dentist says so.


But let’s talk about Thy Art Is Murder; before hitting the stage, “We Like To Party” by Vengaboys was playing from the stage, and as soon as the band took the stage, we needed to prepare to step the hell back. Because as the first riff came out of the speakers, the pit was getting going. The band indeed ate up the energy that was coming from the crowd, but clearly not enough to get the band moving on stage. Maybe I’m too used to punk bands that go flying off the wall at shows; it was a bit of a disappointment. Did I maybe expect a lead singer to jump from speaker to speaker? Yeah, actually. They had the main stage, which proved to be too big for them in the end. Indeed, the audience was the highlight of this show. From a circle pit that was never-ending to people on the ground rowing, you would be amazed by how the audience lifted the band, while the interaction between the band and the audience felt limited. But honestly, I would see them again; it was cool, scary, and overwhelming. [Karina Rae Selvig]


The Baboon Show

Starting my day off with iced coffee and Swedish punk was a brilliant idea. The energy from four piece, The Baboon Show, was radiant. The songs were short, groovy, and filled with conviction. And the band celebrated oddballs that cursed out sexism, racism, and capitalism to joyful crowd surfing and compelled the crowd to join in a “middle fingers in the air-morning gymnastics”. Adding kazoo to the song “You Got a Problem Without Knowing It” really got the party going. As did the Pyro during “Playing with Fire”. The Baboon Show pretty much left everything on stage, confetti on the ground and hundreds of smiling faces ready to continue their day at Copenhell. [Sabina Hvass]


Mr. Bungle was here.

Mr. Bungle at Hades
Photo by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen

I actually don’t know how to review Mr. Bungle. My first time seeing Mr. Bungle, and I actually didn’t hate it. Mr. Bungle is an odd band; they are funny and have some titles that make you go “ok…” but overall, you cannot deny that the stage presence that they have is intoxicating. Because what the fuck did I witness.

Starting their set with “Grizzly Adams”, Mike Patton came dressed for the event, from the cool braids to the word “Neck” written on his neck. Nothing could divert my attention from what I had signed up for. I’d say that they sounded good; they played some of their popular songs, which we probably won’t write the titles to, but if you are a Mr. Bungle fan, you know which ones I’m talking about. And they did some covers, actually a lot of covers, to the point where I questioned why. They have such an impressive back catalog; it just got too much. But whatever, they sounded amazing, and judging by the crowd, I wasn’t the only one thinking that! Would I see them again? Fuck yes. [Karina Rae Selvig]


The Hives

The Hives at Helviti
Photo by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen

The Hives presented high kicks, high energy, and a friendly, neighborly feud between the Danes and the Swedes on the Helviti stage late this Thursday afternoon. With confidence reaching far back on the concrete floor, The Hives busted the myth that garage rock does not fit a vast Copenhell stage. With a surplus of humor and charm, the band delivered a tight set, with swinging fan favorites like “Walk, Idiot Walk”, “Hate to Say I Told You So,” and finale, “Tick Tick Boom”! [Sabina Hvass]


Tom Morello

Tom Morello at Helviti
Photo by Philip Onyx

Legendary guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, kicked off on the Helviti stage performing his songs like “Soldier in the Army of Love” and medleys of RATM tracks to scenes of people joyfully crying, jumping, and pleading for revolution. A touching version of Audioslaves “Like A Stone,” was beautifully placed mid-set. With the addition of Måneskin, MC5, and eventually a Bruce Springsteen cover, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, tension was clearly building. Morello and his band played an improvised track, “Copenhell Rocks,” leading up to the powerful release of energy during “Killing in the Name of”. To close the set, Morello guided an attempt to get the audience registered on the Richter scale as we jumped to John Lennon’s “Power to the People”. I’ll finish as I started: Legendary! [Sabina Hvass]


Now Zulu Are Through With Me


Back in 2019, I fell in love with an EP called “Our Day Will Come”, and that became a part of my hardcore journey. When they released “A New Tomorrow” last year, it came in as my number 21 best album of the year, which, in hindsight, I regret to this day today. However, once I saw that the hardcore/power violence band was making their appearance at Copenhell, it felt like a dream come true.

Once again, we head towards Gehenna, and I find myself a bit on edge since Wednesday’s continual failure to secure proper sound for the artists throughout the day. Zulu took the stage and five right into “For Sista Humphrey”, but not long after, they were forced to stop their performance since they were experiencing some technical difficulties, which wasn’t their fault. As the show went on, they managed to get the crowd going, playing some of their biggest bangers from the album “A New Tomorrow”, and managed to get me dancing and screaming along. While I may have had the time of my life, it was an unfulfilled experience, but you know what? That’s how it is sometimes. But I’m still fangirling over seeing Zulu kicking ass at Copenhell. [Karina Rae Selvig]


Lack

Lack at Gehenna
Photo by Philip Onyx

Wrapping up the day with Danish post-hardcore band Lack – the band that delivered the soundtrack to angsty train rides in my college years. Recently resurfaced from a long hiatus, their new songs were performed with precision, intensity, and emotive strength that I could only have dreamed of. The punchy drums placed some really powerful and dynamic details onto hard riffs that were handed back and forth. Bass, guitar, and vocals ripped through the chilly summer air with lyrics leaning into the accompanying genre-bending music – call it emo, screamo, noise rock, or hardcore – this band is still gallantly spreading out in punk territory with guts and heart spilled and spewed over the crowd. Lack dove into their back catalog with the biting “Hund”, bisexual anthem ” Deserters,” and swinging “5 p.m.” standing out as highlights as I moved further and further toward the stage. As lead singer and guitarist Thomas Burø bravely proclaimed that ‘The future is female” and called out the half-hearted crowd surfing in the front rows, some of my fellow female audience members were also motivated to take a surfer view over the show as it concluded. A beaming performance by this band on the big stage, they always deserved. [Sabina Hvass]


Get The Fuck Up, Limp Bizkit

Limp Bizkit at Helviti
Photo by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have waited for a chance to see Limp Bizkit. As a matter of fact, I know they’ve been to Denmark a few times, but I never really had anyone to go with. But at a festival, everyone is there. This was one of those that I call a mandatory meet-up gig. The one where you expect everyone you know to make an appearance and have the best time with you, even if they don’t like the band that much, or as much as me.

As the song “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing from the speakers, my friends and I were making our way through the sea of people there to see Limp Bizkit in action when we found our other friends and the band came on stage; they dove right into “Full Nelson”. From then on, it was every person for themselves. I had told my friends earlier that I wanted to go to the pit for Limp Bizkit, and those who weren’t feeling it could stay back and chill. So, into the pit I went with two friends, and that’s where I discovered what I liked about the band. See, they actually sound good live. There is no doubt that Fred Durst & Co. still has a lot to offer. In between their songs, they did give us some covers, and that gave us some minutes of downtime before they started playing their hits like “My Way”, “Break Stuff”, and so on. The moment I heard the first notes to “Boiler”, I think my mouth dropped. What a pleasant surprise that came from Helviti, I swear – The delivery, the atmosphere, and every moment felt terrific, actually, throughout their whole show, which flew by in a blink of an eye. They can come back anytime, and it’s fair if you don’t like Limp Bizkit, but don’t be shit and hate on others that do. [Karina Rae Selvig]


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DS Interview: Dave Hause on “Drive It Like It’s Stolen,” the Sing Us Home Festival, and much more in our lengthiest interview to date

I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but late April marked the official street release of Drive It Like It’s Stolen, Dave Hause’s sixth solo studio album. I say street release because anyone who ordered the physical album from him, whether in the States or abroad, got the album well in advance, meaning folks with […]

I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but late April marked the official street release of Drive It Like It’s Stolen, Dave Hause’s sixth solo studio album. I say street release because anyone who ordered the physical album from him, whether in the States or abroad, got the album well in advance, meaning folks with access to record players got to hear the album and fall in love with it well before their digital-only counterparts did the same. It’s not unlike how Pearl Jam released Vitalogy back in 1994, only that was a matter of the vinyl coming out maybe two weeks earlier not several months earlier, and that was also not a matter of Pearl Jam owning their own record label as Dave and his brother Tim do (Blood Harmony Records). But I digress…

I say “I’m not sure how it happened” because it seems like it wasn’t long ago that Dave and I caught up before a show at Boston’s House Of Blues, where he was slated to open for Flogging Molly later in the evening. It was the first real sit-down interview of my Dying Scene “career.” Back then, one of the topics of conversation was that he was about to rent a car and drive solo for the rest of that tour because he was experiencing a few stuck points in finishing the writing for the album that he was slated to record once that tour was over. It was an album – Devour – that would eventually cement Hause’s position as a bona fide solo artist and not just “Dave from The Loved Ones.”

And now here we are, more than a decade later. To say that Dave has grown and matured and progressed as both an artist and a human is to worldly understate things. Much of that growth and maturation has been laid bare over the course of the now half-dozen albums that form the Dave Hause solo oeuvre. Six albums is a long enough time into a career for an artist to have not only established themselves as a lasting artist but to have started to branch out and explore new stylistic and creative directions. Think 1372 Overton Park or Rubber Soul or Aladdin Sane or Nebraska or Highway 61 Revisited

If you’ve heard Drive It Like It’s Stolen at this point, you’re no doubt aware that Hause took the opportunity to lean into some new and different sounds and tones and textures, resulting in what is – at least musically – his most ambitious and artistic record to date. That is not only by design, we can probably expect more of it going forward. “There is a lot of new ground being covered, and there is a certain ferocity with which I’m trying to do that,” explains Hause. “I think going forward, I’m going to lean further into that. I’m not really looking to repeat myself.” While there were hints at newer musical directions on past records, some of the vigor that he applied to the writing process this time stemmed from a decision that his brother and longtime songwriting partner Tim made earlier in the year. While the brothers Hause had been a dynamic creative duo for closing in on a decade at that point – at least since parts of Dave’s 2017 release Bury Me In Philly – Tim decided it was time to put his own creative stamp under an album of his own. (Here’s our interview from back in January about that very release.)

Dave Hause press photo by Jesse DeFlorio

“Once he did that and made all of the creative decisions that needed to be made,” states the elder Hause, “he did that with a ferocity that didn’t so much have me in mind.” While they continued to remain co-writing partners, once the initial sting of not being involved in the studio when Tim went back to Nashville to work with Will Hoge on the album that would become TIM wore off – “I would never give myself the night off (like that)” Dave jokes – big brother was left with the realization that he, too, could exert a little more one-sided creative control over his own future projects.

It doesn’t take much more than one cursory listen through Drive It Like It’s Stolen to realize that while there are definitely some “Dave Hause songs” on it – that four-on-the-floor, punk-adjacent rock and roll thing that seems to be the core of his wheelhouse, there are more than a few curveballs (or sweepers or whatever we’re supposed to call off-speed pitches nowadays) in the mix. Perhaps the most jarring stylistic departure is the coda at the end of “lashingout.” The song deals with the uniquely American and primarily male phenomenon of creating physical chaos, escalating with the narrator expressing the school shooter-esque desire to play God and wreak havoc on those around you…set to a piece of music that transitions from finger-picked acoustic to distorted banjo to piano-driven Wild West saloon ragtime. “Everyone kind of looked at me like I was crazy” says Hause of the end of that song. “Everyone was like “What the fuck is he doing?” And then it worked. It clicked, and everyone was like “Oh this is so dark and so demented, and it adds a gravity to the song that wasn’t there before.”

At first listen, “lashingout” and its equally curiously-named “chainsaweyes” – the latter with its musical bed that consists of a synth loop and dark, haunting strings –  are two songs that are stylistically different enough that it would have been understandable to have left them to appear on a B-sides collection some Bandcamp Friday years from now. And there were a few other songs that, while not quite finished, certainly could have been rushed into completion once Hause arrived back at the studio in Nashville, and that may have resulted in an album that fits some preconceived notion of what a Dave Hause album sounds like. But Hause and Will Hoge – back for his third stint in the producer’s chair on a Hause family album –  decided that that which was not quite finished should remain that way, at least for now, as it probably pointed toward a different direction anyway, and it doesn’t makes sense to move on to what comes next if you haven’t yet finished what’s in front of you.

It’s a bit of an interesting needle to try to thread; leaning into whatever weirdness or different textures a song may need while being careful to not just be weird for the sake of being weird. “I don’t want to make reckless artistic decisions for the sake of recklessness, but I do want to be fearless in the way I go forward,” Hause explains, adding “I don’t want to do things in a self-destructive way, like “I’m going to make this super weird record to see if I can fool people!” It would be more “Hey, this is what I’m hearing in my head and I want to bring it to bear and surprise myself and surprise the people around me and give people what they didn’t know they needed.”

Those of us that exist in the center of the Venn diagram that has “pretend music critics” on one side and “actual music fans” on the other give artists like Hause props for making the music that he wants to create and not rolling out the same boilerplate album every couple of years. It’s an idea that’s not lost on Hause himself, albeit more than a tad self-depricatingly: “I may end up accidentally getting more credit than I deserve for that,” he jokes. “Like ‘Oh Dave just does whatever the fuck he wants‘ and that sort of thing. It’s like, no, I just don’t have any hits!” It’s a sentiment that’s also reflected in Drive It Like It’s Stolen’s penultimate track, “Tarnish”: “I found a golden goose here and I’m squeezing it for songs / I never got a golden record, I guess the melodies were wrong.” The song serves as a sort of love letter to his twin boys and the hope that as they grow and learn about some of their dad’s trials and tribulations, they don’t lose the glimmer and child-like adoration that kids should have for their old man.

“Tarnish” leads into Drive It Like Its Stolen‘s closing track “The Vulture,” combining for a brilliant – if incredibly heavy – one-two punch that closes out the album as a sort of micro-level companion to the macro-level post-apocalyptic openers of “Cheap Seats (New Years Day, NYC, 2042)” and “Pedal Down.” “The Vulture” deals with the harrowing realization that you may have passed on some of your own negative behaviors and conditions to your children and how best to help them succeed where you might not have. While Hause is a hopeful and positive type in person, he’s at his creative best when he’s grappling with some of the complex and pessimistic realities of American life circa present-day. “That’s the weird thing,” he explains. “I want joy in my music, I want celebration, I want those up moments to be represented, but that’s not what’s constantly on my mind as a person, so it’s a fight! It’s a fight to determine where you’re at, how stable you are, how steady you are, and that’s what comes out in the writing every now and again. In this instance, it’s really in there.” 

While the financial payout from having a bona fide hit or two in his arsenal would certainly help, what with a wife and four-year-old twin boys to consider, Hause seems more than happen to trade that financial windfall for an artistic one, particularly one that grapples with some weighty issues in a personal and yet fulfilling way. “I know friends of mine who are tempted (to continue chasing a particular sound after producing a hit). That’s not that appealing to me. The financial stability that would come along with having a couple of hits would be great. But what that does to an artistic career can be troublesome if you don’t handle it right.” 

The Brothers’ Hause started their own label, Blood Harmony Records, a handful of years ago. Not an offshoot or subsidiary of a larger, corporate behemoth; it’s their very own boutique if you will. As such, they’ve figured out a way to maximize the economic payout when someone buys an album or a t-shirt or a snowglobe bearing the family name. Hause is also quick to point out that the collection of fans he’s got in his corner – affectionately called the Rankers and/or the Rankers & Rotters in some corners of the interweb – make it not only possible, but play their own part in keeping the pedal down. “For whatever reason, maybe because it’s a smaller career, but I do think that the audience and I have been good to each other. I think everybody is kind of okay with going on the journey.” As a result, the Hauses have also figured out a way to maintain a fairly steady albeit intimate manner of touring that keeps the personal and professional lights on. “On the East Coast we can have a band, in Europe we can have a band, on the West Coast we can have a band, lots of other places we can just go Tim and I, or maybe Tim and me and Mark (Masefield) or something.” 

Hause and the Mermaid from Faces in Malden, MA, April 2023

That band, The Mermaid, has had a variety of interchangeable parts over the years, anchored by Dave and Tim Hause and generally longtime collaborator and fellow former East Coaster living in Southern California Kevin Conroy behind the drumkit. Hause emphatically calls the current iteration of The Mermaid, which features the multi-talented, multi-instrumental Mark Masefield on keys and sometimes accordion and whatever else the brothers throw into the mix, and bona fide songwriter in his own right Luke Preston on bass, “the best band I’ve ever played in,” and with them at his side, Dave and Tim decided this year would be the ideal time to bring idea that could very reasonably have been referred to as a pipe-dream-at-best into fruition: their very own music festival.

Taking its name from a song on Dave’s first solo record, 2011’s Resolutions, the first annual installment of the Sing Us Home Festival was held last month and marked a number of different milestones for the Hause brothers. After a successful Mermaid show at their hometown’s Union Transfer in April 2022, the brothers thought it would be a good idea to go bigger, in this case, to throw a two-day outdoor festival in their ancestral homeland, Philadelphia (Tim and his wife still live there, Dave moved to California a decade ago). But not in Center City or in the South Philly wasteland sporting complex area. Rather, they decided to have it in their old Lower Northwest neighborhood of Manayunk, a less-traveled, almost small town part of the big city on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

What could have been an admittedly hair-brained idea was taken seriously from the outset by the brothers’ manager, Alex Fang. “He was really excited about the idea and really saw the potential in it,” Hause explains, adding, “what that really means is you’re having meetings with the Manayunk Development Corporation and you’re meeting with the city and you’re filling out permits…the very unsexy stuff.” Unsexy, sure, but no doubt necessary if you’re trying to build an event from scratch in an area that isn’t used to having such events. “We wanted to put our stamp on the city, and we wanted to do it in our old neighborhood,” states Hause. “It takes over a year to make it happen, and if it rains, you’re fucked. If L & I (Department of Licensure and Inspections) shuts you down, you’re doomed. There’s just so much risk involved.” 

The risk paid off. By all accounts, the two-day festival which, in addition to Dave and Tim solo and with the Mermaid, featured appearances from Lydia Loveless, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Kathleen Edwards, Catbite, Drive-By Truckers, and more. “We had a successful one…I didn’t move in with my dad afterwards!” he jokes. “Everyone from 3 years old to 83 years old had a great time. People just had a blast, and that’s such a joyful thing to know that we had a hand in. If it never happens again – which it will, we’re going to do it again (hold the dates of May 3-5 open on your 2024 calendars, comrades) – but if that was it, I feel like those are two days that I’ll remember for the rest of my life as being just spectacular.”

You can head below to read our most sprawling Q&A with Dave Hause to date. Lots of info about the new album and about Tim’s record and about the newest additions to The Mermaid and about Sing Us Home and about therapy and sobriety and his always-evolving roles as a husband and a parent. Do yourself a favor and pick up Drive It Like It’s Stolen here or at least hit the ol’ play button on the Spotify thingy below while you read!


The following has been edited and condensed and reformatted from two separate conversations for content and clarity’s sake.

Yes, really.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I was looking at my list recently, and it’s ten years now that we’ve been doing this.

Dave Hause: Terrific, man! That’s awesome. 

Drive It Like It’s Stolen is album number six. First off, congratulations. Second off, I totally ripped this off, but do you listen to Craig Finn’s podcast (That’s How I Remember It)?

I have heard it. I haven’t made it to every one, but I have listened to some of them. 

I certainly haven’t listened to all of them either, but I’ve listened to a bunch, and he just did a live episode to finish the second season…

Yeah, the one with The Hold Steady. I did hear that one.

Yeah! Their new record, The Price Of Progress, is their ninth record, so he asked everyone in the band what their favorite ninth record of all time was – and he had a list. So I thought, out of curiosity, I wonder what exists in that realm for sixth records…

Oh, good question!

So there are certainly a bunch that were way outside my wheelhouse so I didn’t write them down, but these are a combination of some big ones and then some of both of our overlapping musical tastes. R.E.M. – Green, which the hipsters say is like their last “good album.” White Stripes – Icky Thump. The Doors – L.A. Woman. The Cure’s The Head On The Door, and The Beatles Rubber Soul, which to me is an interesting one. Pearl Jam’s Binaural, The Hold Steady’s Teeth Dreams, and the Bouncing Souls’ Anchors Aweigh. So that’s where Drive It Like It’s Stolen falls in terms of career arc. Are any of those things that you listen to regularly now?

I’m familiar with all of those records, but the only theme that is scary that has emerged as you named them all is they are all precipice records. Certainly Rubber Soul gave way to a lot of really cool music. I love that period. I think everybody kind of loves that Rubber Soul and Revolver period. Icky Thump, I love that record. But I do think that for all of those records, you have most of those at maybe their artistic high points? After that, there is obviously tons of greatness that came from every one of them. But you also named all bands, right? 

That’s true, you’re right. No solo artists. And I think that’s because I accidentally skipped David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. That was his sixth record and it was when he had killed off… 

Ziggy Stardust! 

Yes! And so also obviously a transition record for him. 

So maybe that’s the best theme from the ones you named is that they’re all transition records. Bands were sort of wrapping up a phase and moving into a new phase. But then, I’m not a band. And the way (Tim and I) create is peculiar. One thing for me is that I’ve embraced the peculiarities in my career. If you look at it more from the objective point of record-making, I made kind of five records – the Paint It Black record, two Loved Ones records and Resolutions and Devour – all in a ten-year period. And then I took a break. It was a three-and-a-half-year break. I moved to California and all that stuff, so there was a weird space in there. And then my record-making career resumed in 2017 and it hasn’t really stopped. It’s been between eighteen and twenty-four months ever since, and sometimes even less than that. There’s also a cover record in there. So I don’t know, those parallels to draw between other artists are fun, but I remember sitting down and doing this with Bury Me In Philly, and that’s part of what took me so long to finish it. I was looking at what other artists did with their third records. Those were big records for my heroes. That’s Damn The Torpedoes and Born To Run and all that kind of jazz. (But in some ways) that wasn’t my third record, it was my fifth because I had done the two Loved Ones records. So it’s all confusing. But I would say for those, the one thing that could be true is that this could be transitional. I think just in terms of bringing creative songs to bear, going from the germ of the idea, sussing it out, recording it, and then bringing it to people, I want to try significantly new things, and I think you can hear that on this record.

Oh definitely!

There is a lot of new ground being covered, and there is a certain ferocity with which I’m trying to do that. I think going forward, I’m going to lean further into that. I’m not really looking to repeat myself. I never really have, but I do think I’m just less and less concerned with like, okay, “do we have an up-tempo song? Do we have a quiet song?” Those little checklists that you sometimes find yourself making as you near the studio, I’m not making as many. I just don’t care as much. I’m more interested in what we’re going to etch onto the door, to mark where we are at that year. Because I plan to make a bunch more records. A lot of what’s going now is that I’ve made a bunch of records, depending on who you ask it’s six or eight or ten…and at that point, I kind of at least know how to get them done. I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing (*both laugh*), but I know how to get a record completed and then into people’s hands. Knowing that much is exciting and looking back and going “oh wow, we’ve done this much work!” – that emboldens me to do more work. If that’s any kind of suitable answer! (*both laugh*)

Dave and Tim from Faces in Malden, MA – 4/2023

Oh it definitely is, and I think it invites a bunch more questions! I think Tim tipped me off to you leaning into that new direction in the studio. I’m trying to remember the timeline, but it was either when he and I talked for his record or when he was here on that run with Will Hoge. He was like “Dave really went for it and embraced some weirdness in the studio this time.” He was super proud of you sort of trusting that instinct to go for it and to not worry about things so much. “Weird” is obviously oversimplifying things quite a bit, but did that come from the writing process in your home lab making music, or did that come from being in the studio and figuring out how to translate the songs as they started out into what ended up being on the record?

It’s interesting that you bring up Tim, because I think when he made his record, we hit another crossroads in our writing life, where he wanted to make a record of his own, and he went and did it without me to sort of avoid the shadow that I would cast on it. And then as he sort of rolled it out…

Not to interrupt, but was that a mutual idea or was that a Tim idea, and if it was a Tim idea, how did that land when he brought it up?

It was certainly his idea. I would never give myself the night off (*both laugh*). I would never opt to not be in the studio, but I did think it was wise. I thought it was an interesting choice. I mean, I wanted to go, but I also respected the decision and I thought “This will be interesting.” I think he was really just trying to distinguish himself, as you do when you make a record of your own. Once he did that and made all of the creative decisions that needed to be made from then on in, whether it was mixing or what it looks like, or deciding how it is going to come out, etc. etc., he did that with a ferocity that didn’t so much have me in mind, which I really liked. I found it a little bit peculiar because I felt like I had made a lot of room for Tim on Blood Harmony and Kick – not as much on Bury Me In Philly, but that was sort of his initial brush with record-making. Especially on Kick, it was really almost a duo presentation. We’re both in the pictures in the liner notes…

And the album just says “Hause” on the cover

Right! That was another thing we were toying with was a potential rebrand. Because he brought “The Ditch” to that record and that was a major song for it. And so, I was trying to make as much room for him as I could, and really at some points considering rebranding as a duo. And we did an interview with Benny (Horowitz) from Gaslight (Anthem) and he was sort of off-handedly suggesting “Why don’t you guys rebrand as a duo and only come out with the best ten songs that you guys write every time you want to make a record, and then you’ll have the strongest material?” I feel like that’s kind of what we were toying with in the first place, so to have him suggest it was a bit of a mirror. But, as he said it out loud, I thought “That’s a commercial decision.” That, again, is sort of not embracing what we actually have, and what we actually have is this strange, developing story. If people take a second and want to learn about it, it’s really cool and it’s enriching. It’s certainly enriched both of our lives. And we both like to write lots of songs, so why would we do less of that? I love Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan and people who make a lot of work. I don’t always follow all of it, but I like that they’re doing it. I like the act of creation, and I think for me, when (Tim) went and did (made his record), I thought “Well, that gives me license to do the same thing.” I don’t need to make AS MUCH room for him if we’re carving out a niche here for him on the record label and in terms of our presentation; there’s the Tim record, and there will be another Tim record.

So that was really an accidental giving tree. It was like, “Well, I’m not going to ask the question as much as I did before.” Like, when you’re singing a vocal and the producer says “Well, what is it that you want to say there? Are you sure about that?” I would often defer to Tim and ask what he thinks, or Tim would jump in with a syntax issue or an “I don’t really like that guitar tone.” It wasn’t always critical, but when it came to critical decisions, I would defer a lot. In this instance, I was like, “Well, you’ve got your record. (*both laugh*) I know what I’m doing and what I like to hear at least with my own songs, so I’m going to just make the call.” So I think in certain instances, like at the end of “lashingout” everyone kind of looked at me like I was crazy. When that saloon idea came about and that weird banjo, everyone was like “What the fuck is he doing?” And then it worked. It clicked, and everyone was like “Oh this is so dark and so demented, and it adds a gravity to the song that wasn’t there before.” So it was cool to take sort of full lead control again and then see it blossom into something new. Some of that is just recklessness from boredom (*both laugh*). I’ve made records where there was a simple, quiet song with finger-picked guitar. Lots of those. And it just wasn’t the reading that I wanted on that song, you know?

That’s a really interesting song, and we can talk about that more later. But man, that’s a really interesting song.

Thanks man! I think it wasn’t before it got that treatment and before it got that coda at the end, and I also was pretty reckless in terms of not being precious. Once you get six albums in, you’ve seen songs live and die, you’ve seen songs come back, you’ve seen songs that surprised you and that had lives of their own, that you didn’t think were going to be anything that would poke their head up. So I kind of was ready to delete certain songs or to rearrange the order, or just lean a little bit more into whatever the best artistic decision was. I was just looking for that, I wasn’t really looking for “what song is going to have the best commercial impact” or anything. I felt like a guy in a painting studio just painting whatever he wanted. 

Was that from the actual songwriting process before you went into the studio with Will, or was that like once you got in there and started playing around? Because you were only in the studio recording for what, a week or so? So I feel like a lot of that must have been hammered out ahead of time.

There was a lot, yeah. And there were a lot of songs. There are more songs that we didn’t even get into.

That’s always the case with you though, isn’t it? (*laughs*) I feel like every time we talk about a record you’re like “There’s this whole other EP that might never see the light of day…” 

It is, yeah! There was also this interesting thing that happened when I was showing Will the material. There were a couple of songs I hadn’t finished that I thought were really good starts, and I played I think two or three of them for him and I said “Well, I could finish these and they would maybe bump off these other ones I’m not sure about,” and he said, “well, you could, but those songs sound like whatever you’re going to do next.” Like, well, I could work hard over the next night or two and finish them up and he very wisely said that they have sort of a different disposition to them. Thematically, he thought “chainsaweyes” I had to do, and he thought “lashingout” was really good and I should put that on, and that the other ones were maybe really promising, but they weren’t done and that they were part of a different batch. When we had those ten or eleven that we initially recorded that each shared a theme and a vibe, then he thought I should run all the way down that road. Once I had that, I knew what the parameters were and we could just let each song have its own identity from a recording perspective.

There’s that thing in “lashingout” – yes, there’s sort of that saloon sound at the end, which is probably the biggest thing that catches peoples’ ears, but as much as I like to pretend I’m an audiophile sometimes, I usually tend to listen to music on my laptop while I’m at work. With the job I have now, I’m not in the car all the time, so I usually just throw it on when I’m at work. But I had headphones on the other day, and I hadn’t caught it probably the first hundred times I heard the song, but there’s that double-tracked vocal in the chorus, and one of them is almost whispered, and that changed the entire song when I finally heard it. It was really jarring A) because I felt dumb for not picking up on it the first hundred times, but B) it really changes the meaning and the tone of the song. That’s an evil sort of thing. The lead vocal is not sweet…that’s the wrong word…but it’s almost considerate. It’s almost like a therapist and you’re trying to talk to a child who might feel like lashing out…but then there’s this whisper voice inside your headphones going “do you feel like lashing out?” like it’s trying to talk you into it. That changed the entirety of the song for me.

That’s essentially the duality of how I view that statement. There’s a bit of a fear that those of us who are raising kids, are you going to raise the next school shooter? That’s a person that obviously at some point has something go really haywire, and I do think the adult urge at 40 to feel like lashing out is not where we want to be. When I’m around my European friends and I’m having dinner with them on tour, they don’t feel like lashing out. I think part of that is the way that their society is structured, and the values that have been cultivated. Whereas here in America, everyone has had their moments where they want to lash out. It’s a really frustrating place to live. That was a tweet of Laura Jane Grace’s, “I feel like lashing out.” And I texted her to see if I could write a song about that, because it was really the duality of it that I was tapped into. I wasn’t looking at it like “This would be a great chorus for a punk rock song.” I mean, partially, yeah, I feel that with her. I feel like lashing out. But I was also concerned about, like, why? Like, please don’t! I hope you don’t lash out and hurt someone or hurt someone else. As I age, there is that thing like “Well, we don’t want to be lashing out. Lashing out is how we got here, you know?” That’s what I’m working on in therapy, so yes I get that a person would be feeling that way, but also, hey, we need to work on that! We need to examine that! (*both laugh*) I think all of that is built into the song, because the song also didn’t have the coda. Once it had the coda on it, then I had a finished product, because I had “I want to be God for a day.” That’s further into the feeling of “I want to lash out.” It’s much more into that mentality, not only do I feel like lashing out, but I want to be God for a day. I want to reign down judgment and make things the way I want them to be. 

I think I’ve even heard you talk about it – I think you mentioned it when you were up here in Malden last month, about the sort of duality that exists in that song, but that was the first time I physically heard and felt it because of the way the two vocals are layered on top of each other. 

I’m surprised you didn’t hear it because I kept fighting to have it louder! (*both laugh*) I was like “Turn the whisper up so loud that it becomes a prominent thing!” 

Well and now it becomes a thing where every time I hear it I’m like “Oh my God, of course, it was right there the whole time.” Anyway, so you went back to Nashville and worked with Will again, but you worked with a whole different lineup this time. Was that by choice or by circumstance? You’ve got some cool people on this record too. That Jack Lawrence has been on some amazing records. 

Yeah, he has! It was by choice. We had more of a batch of songs based in American roots music on the last record, and we wanted to make an old-fashioned record where everyone plays together in a nice-sounding studio. It was incumbent upon him to put together that kind of a cast; a cast that would be able to knock it out. With this (record), I was less concerned with that because I was trying to make more of a layered statement. It wasn’t just “go in and cut in a really nice studio with the best players you can find.” It was, like, get what’s best for these songs by any means necessary. We compiled a lot of that on our own and then added people. It was also just me being more comfortable with how Nashville works and knowing that “I’m not worried about getting a trombone player, we’ll find one.” You can’t swing a cat without hitting some incredible musicians. So there’s a confidence in knowing that you can just make this be whatever it needs to be and you can find whoever the players that you need to do that based on the way that the songs are coming.

Whereas, I think for Blood Harmony, that was an exciting and fun way to do that record, based on how those songs felt. They felt more lush and family oriented so it made sense to cut them that way. For this, it was more that we left some stuff unfinished (going into the studio) and said well, we need some strings here, or we need 40 seconds of a band here, let’s find those people. We played the “live band” – in quotes – as almost another fader on the board. Some of that was by virtue of having built loops of my own and mapping things out, and then either rebuilding those loops in the studio or using some of those same loops in the songs you hear. It was just a different process, which, now that I’ve had this new chapter of Nashville recording – we’ve made three studio records and then we cut a bunch more songs there that may or may not see the light of day – but having worked that much there, you just get a feel for it and so it’ll be interesting to go forward from here just knowing more about how that process works. It’s good to have all these experiences and to allow them to kind of build on each other. 

You mentioned the sort of “live band” in quotes…sometimes on Blood Harmony, there were a lot of songs that could definitely be played either just you or you and Tim together, but there are some songs on this record that really sound like they were meant for the full band. The first two songs, “Cheap Seats” and “Pedal Down,” are not four-on-the-floor rock and roll songs, but they sound like they’re really built for a band. Does that become a thing you take into account when you are writing – what version of the Dave and Tim touring experience is going to be able to do the most justice to these songs? 

No, I just try to make whatever is most compelling and then worry about that stuff later. Hopefully, if we made a sturdy enough song, there’s a way to play it on an acoustic guitar or a piano that will translate. Sometimes we even beat those full-band rock versions. So, no I don’t really think about that. I may end up accidentally getting more credit than I deserve for that, like “Oh Dave just does whatever the fuck he wants” and that sort of thing. It’s like, “No, I just don’t have any hits.” (*both laugh*) If I had a couple hits, they would haunt me…

Because then you’d be trying to recreate them every time you make new music?

I would think that you’d naturally be tempted to, you know? I know friends of mine who are tempted. That’s not that appealing to me. I mean, the financial stability that would come along with having a couple of hits would be great. But what that does to an artistic career can be troublesome if you don’t handle it right. My mother-in-law paints. She just paints and paints and paints and paints. Some paintings sell and some sit on the shelf, and there’s not one that was clearly her best and that was selected by the Smithsonian or something and she has to beat that. It’s more like “Hey, I have a long life of painting.” That’s more of the artistic life that I’ve been given, so I think worrying about how to bring those songs to people is just not something I really worry about. Also, I think there are just too many songs now. So, like, if we’re pulling into a town to play, if we can’t play “Cheap Seats” that night because we don’t have a version ready or we don’t feel compelled by the version we have or we don’t have drums or a sampler or whatever would make the song work the way we did it, we’ll just play a different song. (*laughs*) So no, it’s not as much of a concern. 

Does having a wife and kids change that math a little bit? I mean, do you feel like you could go full Tom Waits’ Mule Variations when you have a wife and twins to think about? 

I think that’s the kind of thing that compels me! That’s the kind of inspiration that I’m drawing from as I move forward! That’s the bargain that you’re trying to strike up with the world. If there’s a record like that, a Mule Variations, and it doesn’t do what it did for him, where it got him a Grammy, and people don’t like it, I still feel like I’m going to be okay. I don’t think I’d be putting my kids or my wife at risk. Ultimately, I think that the conversation that I’m having with the audience would allow for that. Because I’m not playing that game, you know? I’m not doing that “am I on the radio” thing. I mean, we do that – we do push songs to radio, but it’s not what we live and die by. We own the record label, so people who take a shot on what we’re doing, we get the biggest economic impact from that, and then we tour in a way that is sustainable and smart for the places that we’re at. Like, on the East Coast we can have a band, in Europe we can have a band, on the West Coast we can have a band, lots of other places we can just go Tim and I, or maybe Tim and me and Mark (Masefield) or something. So I’m looking to push into those realms of pure creative inspiration, more than I am about worrying about my wife and kids, because I don’t think those things cancel each other out. 

So I guess the other side of that then is that if it doesn’t put your wife and kids at risk financially, maybe it puts dad at risk to not be doing the things he thinks are fulfilling creatively. Not to bridge into the therapy part of the conversation, but if dad is doing the things that he wants to be doing artistically, then maybe he’s less at risk of swan-diving off the Golden Gate Bridge, right? (*laughs*)

Yeah, I think so! I think it’s important to try to balance all of that. I mean, I don’t want to make reckless artistic decisions for the sake of recklessness, but I do want to be fearless in the way I go forward. That’s the needle I’m trying to thread. I don’t want to do things in a self-destructive way, like “I’m going to make this super weird record to see if I can fool people!” It wouldn’t be that. It would be more “Hey, this is what I’m hearing in my head and I want to bring it to bear and surprise myself and surprise the people around me and give people what they didn’t know they needed.”

So, I haven’t commented too much on the record yet because I wanted to wait until we talked, but even from the first listen on crappy laptop speakers, I thought that this was my favorite Dave Hause record since Devour, and you know the regard that I hold for that album. And I will tell you, that I’ve had a few conversations with friends who are also longtime fans of yours and they’ve sort of said that “it’s like a grown-up Devour.” And those weren’t people who know each other, necessarily. But I thought that was interesting. I think thematically the albums are worlds apart, except that there is a sort of processing thing that you’re doing on this record that you were also sort of doing with all that went into Devour. The stakes have changed now because you’ve got a wife and kids obviously, but some of that challenge and struggle is still there. Even though in the press for this album it talks about the sort of post-apocalyptic vibe to the album – and I understand that part of it – but it also seems like it’s really honest and personal. 

If you look at it now, there’s six (solo records). You can see that “well, Dave’s feeling pretty good on Resolutions” but then there’s Devour. (*both laugh*) And then “Oh, Dave moved to California for Bury Me In Philly and things are good!” and then “Oh, here comes Kick” That title is about the struggle of just trying to keep your head above water. The same thing happened with Blood Harmony and this one. They aren’t intended that way, I think there’s just a cycle of how I’m processing the world and sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m not, and on this one, I was not up! I was starting to feel kind of terrified about the world around me and what I was bringing my kids into, you know? The first couple years, I was just at home quiet with them, because we were all shut down. But in this eagerness to get back and keep the pedal down, all of a sudden we’re faced with a lot of those problems that have worsened since 2020. It’s definitely processing the world around. That’s the weird thing: I want joy in my music, I want celebration, I want those up moments to be represented, but that’s not what’s constantly on my mind as a person, so it’s a fight! It’s a fight to determine where you’re at, how stable you are, how steady you are, and that’s what comes out in the writing every now and again. In this instance, it’s really in there. 

“Pedal Down” specifically – first off, I love that song. I love the sonic build to that song. I think there’s something about that you can want joy and harmony and all those things and I think we should probably be striving for those things, but that last third of “Pedal Down” where’s the big full-band chorus…there’s something unifying about that. Even though the situation that’s laid out in the build-up to that is sort of bleak, I think there’s a collective thing that “it sucks for all of us right now, but we’re all doing it together.” 

Yeah, I think there’s an ambivalence to that. The “we can grieve it later, keep the pedal down” line isn’t just a negative thing, you know? It might seem that way and a lot of times I think that’s a terrible way to move forward. But there’s also a sort of “no way out but through” a lot of times, and maybe there is celebration in that. Like, we’ll grieve it later, keep the pedal down for now, let’s go. Let’s fucking go!

Exactly, it’s like keep your warpaint on, keep the pedal down, we’ll sort of get granular in looking back on it afterward but for now let’s keep fighting.

Right, yeah! That’s interesting. I think that definitely went into the subconscious of making a big mosh part at the end with trombones, you know? (*both laugh*) There’s something really big at the end and you have to at least have something in mind. I think in the previous song, “Cheap Seats,” there’s this nod to “American Girl,” when we’re off to the races with the rock band. There’s a celebration there too – “Take one last bite of this old rotten apple and ride off to the country with me.” That’s a little bit more deliberate of what you described, like “Alright, let’s start up the van and let’s get the fuck out of here!” I think that weaves its way in and out of the record and I guess a lot of my records if I’m forced to think about it. (*laugh*)

How often do you think about that, and is that a thing…I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase it…but you’ve talked pretty openly in the past about being in therapy and whatnot; how often do you think your songwriting works its way into therapy, whether it’s because you are talking to your therapist or therapists about what you’re working on or what themes you seem to be coming back or a rut that you might be in that producing a certain kind of material. 

I would say it’s the other way around. Realizations and conversations from therapy make their way into songs, because I kind of view therapy as a mirror, you know? If you were going to try to do your own facial, you would try to get the best mirror that you can in order to do that. I think that’s the goal of therapy; find the best mirror that you can find in order to then do the work yourself. You have to do the work yourself…

How many mirrors have you had to go through before you realized it was working? Did you find the right therapist or the right sort of style the first time you tried it?

Yes and no. I’ve got a good guy, but also, my expectations for that guy were different when I walked in versus where they are now. I had these lofty expectations for him that were totally unfair, and I was looking more for an advisor or someone to tell me what to do. That’s not what therapy really is. So I had to learn that it’s what you put into it that you might get out of it. It’s peculiar. And part of that is being married to a therapist. If one of her clients had the attitude that I did going into it, I certainly wouldn’t think that was a fair expectation to have of my wife. Part of that helped. Like “We’ve got an hour here and I’ve got a full day booked, I’m not going to solve all of your problems, and it’s really not my job to solve all your problems. It’s my job to help you see them and guide you.” So I think the work you do both inside therapy and outside it that ends up hopefully informing the songs. 

How old were you when you started going to therapy and, I suppose in hindsight, how old do you wish you were when you started going? Like, now that you know what you know, do you wish you had started earlier? 

Maybe? I would say that the main regret with sobriety would be that I didn’t go (to therapy) right away. But I try not to look at things that way because you kinda only know what you know when you know it. I’ve had a good life, so it’s not like I can cite this spot where “Man, if I had only gone to therapy then, things would have turned out differently.” Maybe you could do that but I’m not so sure I’d want it any differently. But how old was I…it was years ago, but it wasn’t right when I got sober, and I wish I would have done that. I think when those wounds are really exposed and those nerves are raw, that’s a good time to start working on them and I should have started working on them then. I think it took me two or three more years to go into proper therapy. I got sober in 2015.

Right, that was that big tour with Rocky Votolato and Chris Farren. I feel like maybe we’ve had this conversation even back then, but did you view it as “getting sober” in quotes back then, or was it more of “let me see if I can do this without imbibing”?

Yeah, the goal was to try to do a tour without boozing and drugging. That was my initial goal. And that was a long tour. That was an eight-week run, so there was something about the length of it that even subconsciously I was like “I wonder if I can do this…” Then, like with a lot of things in my life, I sort of fell backwards into things, you know? Like “Let me try being sober for eight weeks and then if it’s working for me, I’ll keep going.” “Let me roadie for a popular band and if I like that lifestyle, I’ll continue.” (*both laugh*) The thing with sobriety is that the one thing I wonder about is that had I gone in sooner, would I be as black and white about it? Would I be “sober guy” where I don’t drink at all or do drugs at all, or would I have a more balanced take on it, which I think in my objective brain, I do. I can sort of see the benefit of psilocybin or THC or having a ballgame beer. I can make those distinctions intellectually and the reason I don’t go back to it is, like, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze. I’ve got four-year-olds, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a career, I don’t want to fuck things up.

But I do think that in terms of being a more balanced human, it would be great to have some of that in my life. Like, I don’t bang the drum for sobriety as much as some people do. Once you’ve been sober for a while, people come to you and say “Can we talk about this?” I usually say “Don’t do it unless you feel like you have to.” Like, if you can have balance and drink a glass of wine with your significant other at a wedding or whatever, do that. Don’t cut it out completely if you can help it, which is often a weird thing to say. I think if you’re in the program, that’s kind of forbidden. So ultimately, that would be my only therapeutic wish, is that I would have gotten to the sobriety stuff sooner when it was more acutely presenting itself.

There are people who talk about artists who either got sober or got “sane” or started therapy and taking medications and all that, and that their songwriting changed. Do you subscribe to that idea, that your songwriting changes or is better or worse when you’re on meds and in therapy versus not, or sober versus not? 

No, I don’t buy that, because I think it’s a discipline. I think you can find plenty of other instances in other types of writing…for example, for you to write a novel, it takes work. It takes sitting down and working at it. Over the course of how long it would take you to write a novel, you do have good days and bad days, mentally. You’d have days where you were hungover and days where you weren’t. You’d have days where you had a hold on your anxiety and days where you didn’t. And all of that would seep its way into your work. I just think that that’s part of writing. That’s the beauty of it. And I want it to change! Maybe that’s because there’s no big hit, where it’s like “Oh, I’ve got to get back to that mountaintop!” I’m still climbing the mountain. I’m not in that position where a lot of my peers are in the position where you know what they’re going to play last at a show. For whatever reason, maybe because it’s a smaller career, but I do think that the audience and I have been good to each other. I think everybody is kind of okay with going on the journey. There are certainly going to be nights where we end on a weird song or we don’t play some of the favorites. In that sense, I want the writing to change. I want to see what’s next and to see what Tim and I are capable of. I’m not looking for a former high or a former mountaintop that I’m trying to get back on.

That’s an interesting way to look at it, really. If you haven’t been on the mountaintop, you end up – not to make an addiction reference, but if you get that first high, you end up chasing it forever. If you don’t feel like you’ve reached the mountaintop, then you’re not chasing “it,” you’re just chasing what feels right at the time.

Yeah, and I’ve got to say, my hat goes off to a band like The Killers. They haven’t reached the heights of their first record, and I think of (Brandon Flowers) as someone who is still writing amazing, really compelling work. I think that’s rare. I think sometimes people fold up the tent if they can’t get back to a certain height again. That doesn’t appeal to me. I really like the act of creating. It’s where I’m most engaged and where I feel the best. That’s the feeling I’m chasing. I mean, it’s great when you put something out and people respond to it. That’s terrific. But it’s the act of bringing it into the world that’s so spectacular. That feeling of “Oh man, I really want to get this to people! I really want to get this recorded!” That’s the high, if there is one, that I’m chasing. You can get that every time you write a song.

Is it a different high when it’s a different type of song? Meaning that if you write a song like “Hazard Lights,” which has – maybe not a ‘classic Dave Hause sound’ because I don’t necessarily know what that means, but it sounds like thing that you do really well. That feel and that tempo and that style of song. It also might be the kind of song that the bulk of the listeners gravitate towards. So when you write a song like that, is it a different sort of high than when you write a song like “Cheap Seats” or “lashingout,” where at the end it’s like “Wow, this is really cool and really different and I can’t wait for people to hear it”?

That’s a great question. I don’t know! Maybe? Maybe it’s a little different? To answer your question honestly, it’s not lost on me that a song like “Damn Personal” or “Hazard Lights” sound like they would fit nicely in a Mermaid set. A Friday night Mermaid set in London or Boston, you know? I know that, but they weren’t intended that way. No, I guess to answer your question, getting that all done and having it all rhyme and feel good, THAT’s the feeling. Not that “Oh, I know we got one that the tried and true fans are going to love.” I wonder if the tried and true fans are going to love “Pedal Down” more BECAUSE it’s something different. But maybe this far in, I’m less concerned with all that stuff? Like, no matter what’s on there, I’m going to be anxious about bringing it into the market and I’m going to be excited. And so, the purest part of it is long before any of that. It’s when it’s Tim and I, and I’m like “This is done, let me play it for you,” or where we could play it for the band, or I can show it to another songwriter and have them go “Oh cool!” That is the purest part of the whole endeavor to me and the part of it that I’m most seeking, which is part of what’s funny talking to you now, because I have so little of that in my life now! (*both laugh*) Like, we finished this one and it just came out and we’re touring on it, and I don’t have a ton of song irons in the fire right now. I mean, I could. I guess I could look at the whiteboard full of ideas that I could pick at…

Yeah, that actually sounds sort of surprising given what I know of how you work. Every time I feel like I talk to you or Tim, it seems like there’s always this other thing cooking. I think when we talked for your last record, Tim was going in to record his, and then when I talked to Tim he mentioned “Dave’s got his next record all done!” so it seems sort of surprising that there aren’t that many irons in the fire.

Yeah, I mean I’m looking at maybe 10…well no, I guess it’s 15 unfinished songs. Some of those are the ones I was describing before. But we’ve just been in a different mode with the festival and getting the record out and touring. I’ve been so busy with all of that that I just haven’t had the clarity. Then when I get home from those endeavors, I try to spend as much time with the kids as possible. That’s its own potentially full-time job. (*both laugh*)

Or two of them. (*both laugh*)

Luke Preston at the Dave Hause and the Mermaid Show at Faces in Malden, MA – 4/2023

So “Hazard Lights” is another song I wanted to talk about, specifically, because you wrote that with Luke (Preston), the idea of co-writing with somebody who doesn’t share your last name. Walking through that process and how it was sort of stepping out of the comfort zone you’ve got working either by yourself or just you and Tim, and is that a different sort of vulnerability? Does it feel different presenting a song or an idea to someone else versus your normal comfort zone with Tim?

It predates that, is the preamble answer. In the whole pandemic thing, I think a lot of songwriters were willing to do other stuff because we were so worried about never playing again. So, I wrote a song with Fallon, I wrote two songs with Brian Koppleman, Dan Andriano and I were working on material. Somewhere in there, the song “Surfboard” had been started. Heather Morgan, who’s an amazing songwriter, a really successful songwriter in Nashville though I think she lives in Austin now. She’s written big country hits. She and I worked on “Surfboard,” and Tim and I had written with her in Nashville. We had a song called “Sunshine Blues” that we sat down and wrote with her when we were in Nashville in like 2018 or 2019. I was really nervous, because I only knew our process. I didn’t know shit about Nashville, I didn’t know shit about the songwriting world and that whole country music bubble. She was amazing, because we sat down, and she just did it very similarly to the way we did. And by that, I mean in her own incredible, indelible way. And she turned to Tim and I and was like “Why are you writing with me, you guys know what you’re doing?” (*both laugh*) She was like “You don’t need me, you guys are firing.” Some comment like that. And we were like “No! So much of this comes from what’s happening right here in the room, and your ideas are awesome!” We ended up with this song, and I don’t even know what happened to it, it’s on a hard drive somewhere.

But then in the pandemic, I called her and said “Heather, I loved writing with you, do you want to write some more?” I had “Surfboard” pretty far along. She ended up sort of like a backboard on that song. I wouldn’t have gotten as many of the points as I got on that song so to speak without having her being the person to help me get the ball in the hoop. (When we were writing), I was like “Is ‘dear Lord, I need a surfboard’ any good?” And she said “Yeah, it’s fucking awesome!” I said “Yeah, but it sounds like a joke” and she said “Yeah, but that’s funny. That’s good.” She really helped love it to life. She had a couple more or less pointers. So that had happened and it was heartening. She was encouraging on the first session, and then on “Surfboard” she just helped me love the work that Tim and I had done on it to life. So, there was another person who had entered the (songwriting) fray. I mean, I had written with The Loved Ones guys, I had written with the Paint It Black guys, I had written songs with the Souls. I had done all kinds of collaboration, but not much of it in the early parts of the solo career.

So it wasn’t that foreign, but the vulnerability you tapped into, that part of the question is a really good one, because if it hadn’t been a vulnerable situation with Luke, I don’t think that we would have gotten “Hazard Lights.” And then, once we had “Hazard Lights,” I was more open to co-writing. He helped write on “lashingout” too. The vulnerability was key because he was pretty freshly sober, and he was familiar enough with us and what I do. Maybe he was a Loved Ones fan, I forget exactly. But he was like “Hey, so I’m newly sober,” and I just kind of delved into that. That’s a really vulnerable way to start a songwriting session, and then we were off to the races. But here’s the funny thing: I’m so into that vulnerability and that exchange, and that I think the problem that I have with the whole songwriting thing in Nashville is that I can’t just leave it at the write. Like, Luke’s in our band now! We wrote a couple songs with Heather and I’ll probably always be like “Should Heather open these shows?!” I really like a long conversation with people. That sort of hit-and-run songwriting style is tough because I’ll want more from that person, because you do get so vulnerable if you do it right. 

It does seem like a weird process. I’ve talked to Will (Hoge) a little about that and Sammy Kay did some songwriting in LA for a while and I’ve picked his brain about that, but that whole process is so, so foreign. That you can write songs and just leave them, and sometimes they get picked up or sold to someone and sometimes they don’t but you just keep writing them, and they aren’t for you. It seems so foreign and I don’t want to waive the “punk rock” flag, but it seems so different than the way that punk rock works. I can get why, if you find someone that if you really drive with, you’d want to keep them around.

Yeah, exactly. That’s the thing: if you really assess The Mermaid, Luke is the main songwriter in the band. He doesn’t write on many of the songs for the band, but that’s his job. He writes dozens and dozens and dozens of songs. Tim and I write dozens, you know? 

Right!

He writes more songs, and gets paid to do so. But I think one of the things that he helped delineate for me – you start to pick up on some of these terms when you spend enough time around those Nashville people – but he was like “You guys are on the artist path. You’re in artist careers. For me to bite that off at any point is going to be a massive undertaking, because it involves touring and an aesthetic, and a point of view that’s really specific.” Once he sort of put it that way, I was like “Oh right…” I only know what I know. I know there’s Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift and Beyonce and Rancid and Bad Religion – I have my limited scope of what music-making is. And he’s like “For artists, yeah, if you’ve chosen the artist path. But there are people who just play keyboards and there are people who just play drums and there are people who write songs.” And so, in some ways, it’s even more vulnerable to be a songwriter, because you never get the release of performing the song. You’re in these acutely vulnerable situations and then you’re done, so you’re kind of like an actor in a sense. Actors have to tap into this really big reservoir of emotion for a concentrated period of time, and then they move on. It has a little bit of that one-night-stand feel to it. To me, it’s like the artistic or aesthetic cousin to a one-night-stand, and I think in that realm, I’m like “Oh wow…this feels weird!” So yeah, I loved writing with Luke. I look forward to writing with him more. And for me, for lack of a better word, being on the “artist path” for this long, I’m always looking for whatever is next, and for whatever will inspire and help me sculpt and deliver my point of view. Right now, with me being in the best band that I’ve ever been in, I’m super into tapping all of those guys for their input and seeing where that steers the songs in the next batch of creativity. 

This is really probably a question for Luke, but I would have to imagine that for him, to work on a song like “Hazard Lights” and then actually be in the band that gets to play it every night must be a little different than the sort of normal songwriter “thing,” and so maybe gives him a little more satisfaction getting to see it sung back at you every night. That’s gotta be a cool feeling.

Yeah, he has said as much! He’s pretty measured in how much he talks about all of that. A lot of it is just we’re having fun, and we’re talking shit “Did you hear this song? What about that production? Oh, that lyric is terrible! Holy shit, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!” A lot of that is what we’re usually talking about. But in those moments of introspection or reflection, he’s definitely said what you just said. He’s also helped my perspective. He goes out and plays bass or guitar with country artists and does that circuit a bit. He writes songs, and he hustles most of the different aspects of the music industry to stay paid. And he was like, “Well, from where I’m standing as kind of a mercenary, you’re living the dream!” I was kind of startled, because there are bigger artists that he plays with. He’ll play bass for some country artist that plays to like 5,000 people on a weekend at some festival. And he filled in a lot of the blanks for me, because he was like “Look, it’s cool to play to that many people, but everybody on that stage including the artist knows it’s fleeting. They may not be able to do that the following summer. You pull into a town and there’s a given amount of people at every show. It’s not the biggest thing, but it’s certainly not the smallest, and then you have these hot zones where you can play for a couple nights in Boston, you can play a fairly big rock show in Boston, or you can go to Europe! None of these artists that I play with can go to Europe. You have a worldwide conversation with a small audience that keeps you afloat. That’s the dream. If I could do that, I wouldn’t to any of the other shit!” (*both laugh*) I assumed that this was something that helped him make his annual fee or whatever, but he was like “No, I love this. This is the dream. And I also get it – I’m the bass player in your band, you’ve built an artist’s career.” So his perspective is really interesting, as is Mark’s. Mark is a guy who, at different points, has struggled to get out on the road with the same act and have it click despite being uber-talented and super eager and professional. Also, he’s voiced some of the same thing, that this is the dream. Like, “You play in London and lots of people come! This is your living and you play me a proper wage to come play keyboards. This is fucking awesome!” So having those two guys there and having their professionalism and their passion and their perspective has been really helpful to me. And just their creativity. There are so many good ideas that come from those guys, which has been true of Kevin the whole time, but now we have two newer guys that bring that to the table.

Did Mark maybe not catch on with somebody else because he brings too many shirts when he goes on tour? That was a riot.

The only thing that Mark’s got going against him is that everything is too much! (*both laugh*) There are too many shirts, there are too many ideas, too many keyboard notes. You just have to remind him “No, no, no Mark…less! Less! Benmont Tench!” And then he’s like “Oh yeah, okay!” 

Mark Masefield and Dave Hause probably talking about cricket lollipops

Yeah, he seems like he has a good sense of humour about that stuff, which you have to, because the road will eat you alive. 

Yeah, he’s great. We always say he’s the zestiest member of the band. He’s the first one up and ready to go out and he’s the last one to bed. We try to ride that zest as much as we can. He’s the guy that’s like “We can rent these bikes and we can drive around and we can take an architecture tour in the middle of the Chicago River and we can still be back in time for load-in.” And sometimes you’re like “Are you fucking crazy? I”m going to sit here on my phone until load-in.” But then there are other times where you take him up on it and you’re like “Wow, I just had the most fun day on tour that I’ve had in years.” He’s such a great add in that regard.

One of the reasons that I think Drive It Like It’s Stolen is my favorite post-Devour record (of yours) is how pitch-perfect some of the sentiment on the album is. You know my thoughts on Devour, and that “Autism Vaccine Blues” is one of the very few songs that I can vividly remember the very first time I heard it because of the effect that it had, and then as years go on and life progresses, it actually became even more poignant to me. We’ve talked about the one-two punch at the beginning of this album with “Cheap Seats” and “Pedal Down,” but I think the one-two punch at the end – “Tarnish” into “The Vulture” is just about perfect. How they support each other thematically – “Tarnish” with that idea that you hope your kids never lose the glimmer they have in their eyes for their dad, and then “The Vulture” being that thing that happens when you start to see some of your own tendencies and idiosyncrasies passed down to your kids and how sobering that is…as the parent of a teenager (*both laugh*) I can attest to seeing your kid and think “oh, I know exactly why she’s doing this, because I did it or still do it.” I think really though, that idea of flipping the hourglass on its head and dancing on the sand takes what is a heavy song and still makes it hopeful. Sort of like the turn that comes in “Bearing Down,” on Kick, where there’s eventually some hope and optimism in it by the end. 

Yeah, there’s a Father John Misty lyric from a few years back (“Pure Comedy”) where he basically lists the ails of mankind in a really articulate way. He gets into all of it; he gives you every reason to believe that we’re doomed and he intelligently and artfully does so. But at the end, there’s a simple and heart-breaking resolve that “but this is all we have.” It’s always helpful when somebody comes along and helps calcify what you were sort of getting at. That song did it. That sentiment that “Yeah, this is fucked up, but it’s all we have, so what are you gonna do?” I mean, “Bearing Down” gets into that from a much more fatalistic standpoint. But “The Vulture” is struggling, at that point, with having a three-year-old and the idea that none of this went away when I had kids, at least not entirely. But, on some level, I’m kind of out of options when it comes to hope. I HAVE to have hope. There are seeds of this in “Pray For Tucson,” with “They’re unaware of modern science/They may be wrong but I don’t care.” There’s a lot of that where you go “This thing is probably doomed…

However, maybe that’s just the way everybody has thought about it forever. And maybe it is!? So then, if that’s true, what are you going to do with that? Are you going to walk out into the ocean and drown, or are you going to dance on the sand with the people that you do have? Because there is joy to be had. There is fun to be had. There is wonderment. There’s Sing Us Home, you know? Pure elation for me, and so many people who were there. It was like “Wow, we did a thing that’s bigger than us! We’re all here having a great time and it’s a beautiful day!” So if you tap out, whether that’s suicidal ideation or just the slow, suicidal thing of just throwing in the towel, then you miss out on so much joy. I was convinced “Oh, I’m not going to have kids…” but then I had them and my life is so much richer. It’s so much more complicated and so much more terrifying at points. Like, you’ve got a teenager, I’ve got four-year-old twins, you’re constantly worried about them. It’s just part of the equation, you know? That’s the whole thing of “The Vulture” and the line “I’ll stay worried / You’ll stay worried.” Like, that’s probably just the way it’s going to be. But there’s also the idea that “I’ll stay worried THAT you’ll stay worried…

I was just going to say, that line is a huge double meaning.

Right! “I’ll stay worried THAT you’ll stay worried,” or “We’re both just going to stay worried.” (*Both laugh*) But at the end of it all, “row your leaky boat, life is just a dream.” Like, it’s over quick. Not in the sense of “Let’s live it up without any responsibility.” It’s not a bacchanal or whatever. But think about your family life and how much joy is in that. I think that’s what is swirling around “Tarnish” and “The Vulture.” Maybe looking at it like we’re all just doomed is silly; yeah there’s climate change and there’s all this worry and there’s war and there are all kinds of reasons to believe that things are going south or the ship is going down or whatever, but that’s A perspective. There’s different ways to frame it. I hope that my kids can frame it a little bit more like their mom does and less like I do.

I think part of what “The Vulture” does especially well is that it is mindful of how you maybe processed the world at one point and then if you start to see things in your children, who better to help them through than someone who has navigated those waters already. 

Maybe so, yeah. Maybe so. And it’s funny…we talked about the ferocity of creativity once Tim made his record and how much more I was like “Look, this is how it’s gotta go” on this one. But there was a question with that one, and that was at the end, what are we going to repeat, “Life is but a dream” on the way out? Or what I kinda wanted which was to go back to the vulture being in the tree. “Row row row your leaky boat /The vulture is in the tree” and Tim was like “No…No…it’s ‘Life is but a dream’.” And so live, I volley back and forth because I do think that is kind of the difference between Tim and I…I’m likely to say “row the leaky boat, the vulture is in the tree…death is coming” and he’s more likely to say “row the leaky boat, life is but a dream.” They’re different existential principles. I’m glad we left it in, but I’m glad I sometimes get the opportunity to change it live. 

I wonder if part of that is parenthood versus non-parenthood. I mean, obviously, Tim’s got nephews and nieces and whatever and so he’s not totally oblivious to the responsibilities and the weight of parenthood, but I wonder if some of that is having kids versus not having kids of your own. 

I would tend to argue that his perspective is the more healthy one.

Oh it definitely might be. Absolutely. 

You know, like, to bring the listener back at the end of the record to the idea that “the vulture is in the tree! They’re coming for you! They’re coming for your carcass!” is pretty dark. It’s pretty bleak. It’s a pretty bleak thing to say to your kids. To me, it’s kind of funny. But I do think it’s a little more hopeful to end on “life is but a dream.” It’s over so quick. Trying to hover above some of it and think of it like this ethereal thing is healthy sometime, as opposed to thinking “Oh, when is this going to end.” It’s a weird thing. But I like that song. I like playing it. It’s a weird one.

It is, and I love that. I think I’ve said this about most of the album at this point through our conversations, but I think that’s part of what I love about this record. Not that there haven’t been artistic high points since Devour, obviously, but I think it’s pitch-perfect for where we are right now, and you went for it. 

I think I’m at a point now where I can hear that and not be worried. I mean, there’s been times when I’ve put out records, and even talking to you and knowing how much Devour meant to you and how large that record loomed, because we recorded it in a fancy studio with all these amazing players and it was such a big step up. I was able to start headlining shows around then, and so it does loom large. But there are different people over time who feel that way about the other records. And part of that lesson is to just keep making stuff, because there will be records that really resonate with Jay Stone in 2013 or 2023 and then, there might be another song on another record that does that for you, or half a record, but the point is that everyone’s going to be tapping in and tapping out at different points, as I have done with a lot of artists who have put out a lot of work, and that’s cool. That’s what makes for a richness in the setlist, and it’s what makes the conversation fun.

I try to look at it more that way, versus looking at it like “Oh shit, am I trying to beat my last work?” Alex (Fang, the Hause’s manager) is really helpful in that regard too, because he helps remind me that this is a job. Like, I’ll tell him I was talking to such-and-such and they’re writing songs and they aren’t sure if this batch of songs is as good as whatever their major record was, and he’s like “you know, no one in I.T. does that. No one in insurance sales does that. No one in therapy does that. They don’t go “Oh man, that session that I did with that person struggling with depression in 2014, I wonder if that was my peak.” No one thinks about shit like that in regular jobs, so he’s like “Why would you? You’re just responding to an ecosystem that has to do with critics and what is the best and all that. Who cares what the best is, because the best is all subjective anyway, so keep making stuff!” 

Those songs that are a little weightier, do you ever get moments where your therapist wife or your therapist therapist hear something and say “Hey, you alright there, bud?” 

Bearing Down” was certainly something to discuss. 

I could see that. Do you discuss that before a person you’d be discussing it with has heard it? Like, “Hey, so there’s going to be this song and it’s pretty heavy so we should probably talk about this?” Or do you wait til they hear it and respond?

In the case of “Bearing Down,” I played that for Natasha. I was struggling with that, because we were having mixing issues on that record. We were having a big struggle until it went to Andrew Alekel. He mixed it beautifully and got it where I needed it to be. But that meant that I had to listen to that song a lot; a lot more than I would ordinarily listen to it. So I was listening and listening and listening and I think it was just wearing me out. It was a snapshot of a place I’ve been, but it’s not a place that I’m in every day. It started to wear a groove in me and I said “Man, I should probably play this for Tasha and at least just make her aware.” Because she’s asked at certain points “Where are we at with suicidal ideations? How much of that is in your history?”

Well yeah, I mean there are multiple references to swan diving off the Golden Gate Bridge, so…

Yeah! So it was a tender moment to play that for her, and she was like “I feel for you. That sucks that that’s part of what you’re wrestling against.” 

Did you play an album version of it for her or did you sit down with a guitar and play it for her?

I played the mix for her. 

That probably makes sense.

I rarely do that acoustic guitar thing and play stuff for her that way. I don’t know why. 

I feel like you can maybe be a little more objective about it when you’re listening to it on the stereo or on an iPhone versus if you’re actually physically playing it. Maybe that would make it a little too raw in that moment.

Yeah. This is also a weird thing that I don’t really think I’ve ever said in an interview, but I have a weird thing about sharing the work with Natasha in general. I think it might just stem from … I don’t know what it is. Because I also, in the same breath, believe the more vulnerable you are, the more successful your relationship will be. But I think at different points, I don’t know what exactly I’m looking for when I share a song with her. And I don’t think she knows what I’m looking for. So if I don’t know, I certainly don’t think she would know. Am I looking for affirmation? Am I looking for a bigger conversation about my interior emotional life? Like…what’s my goal? So as we’ve gotten older and we’ve gotten busier with the children and she’s gotten busier with her practice and stuff, I kind of just do my work and she hears it whenever she wants to. She’s complimentary about it, but I don’t need compliments from my wife. My wife is my teammate in life, she’s rooting for me no matter what record I make. So it’s a weird thing. Whereas, with Tim, he’s much more willing to sit down with a half-baked idea and play it for his wife and they’ll talk about it and have a whole big exchange on it. That’s where they’re at in life though. I was like that with Devour; I was sharing those songs with Natasha, but we had just met. We didn’t have kids and we were free as birds, so it was like “Hey, check this out!” I guess over time, I’m like “This is the work, I hope you like it, but I’m not going to change it if you don’t.” (*both laugh*) I don’t know. It’s a very peculiar thing to even admit or to interface with and then to say in an interview…

Well I mean at some level, a lot of us don’t do that anyway with whatever our jobs are, right? Like, at some point, the longer that you’re married and the longer you successfully keep your kids alive, the more your job becomes your “job” and you start to compartmentalize things. Just that you guys who are in the creative fields, whether it’s songwriting or screenwriting or book writing, the “job” in quotes is different, so the result might weigh different on the spouse than a therapy session would for Natasha, or getting somebody’s taxes done successfully because you’re a CPA or whatever.

That’s all true! The only wrinkle to that is that these are deeply meaningful things, and they are deeply emotionally intertwined with who I am as a person. It is tricky business. Did you see that Isbell documentary?

I haven’t yet, because I don’t have HBO.

There’s a lot of exchange about the creative process between the two of them as spouses and as songwriters that is SO bizarre to me. That’s not a critique of them; do whatever makes you happy in life. But it was so foreign to me. Like, they were arguing over participle tenses and things in the movie…

Yeah, she’s got a Masters in poetry, so she KNOWS that stuff.

So there’s this whole creative thing that causes friction in the movie. That’s not spoiling anything, that’s one of the driving conflicts in the movie. But it just seemed about as far from how we roll as a married couple. I don’t do that with her therapy, either, you know? Like, we will talk about work, and she’ll tell me about what’s going on, but I wouldn’t say “Well, you should this with that client instead.” Although I don’t have a degree in therapy, but either way. We have what’s currently working for us, and that’s that I write batches of songs and I record them and I work really hard on them and I put a lot of myself into them, and we sort of have this careful truce about how to share them. I’m like “Whenever you want to hear them, you can hear them,” but I’m not the guy with the guitar going “Hey look what I just made up!” Because I guess I just don’t trust what my intention is. Do I want to have this really beautiful woman tell me that I’m cool? Because that’s not useful to either of us. 

One can see where it would have been useful ten years ago when you were showing her Devour songs…

Yes! Yes, exactly! But that’s not the nature of where we’re at now. We’re teammates, and sure you want to impress her, but I think what would really impress her is if I did the fucking dishes. (*both laugh*) Or if I kept my cool when the boys are tantruming. She knows I can rhyme and come up with emotionally compelling ways to sing songs. She knows that already. And that’s also kind of a weird part of the job, like how much did this all start off when you’re craving affirmation and you’re craving attention. And now, I just try to be dignified in that, and not make that the whole point, you know? The goalposts are different. Let me make something that’s compelling and useful to people who are going through a difficult life. That’s different than “Hey look at me!!” There’s a more dignified way of doing it than a booze-soaked ego trip.

I just go back to this analogy over and over that there’s pure water running through a creek and a stream. Then it goes out to brackish water, and then it goes out to the sea. And Tim’s goal and my goal when we’re writing songs is to get as fresh water as we can and not taint it. The sea is the music industry, where there’s sharks and sharp coral and you can get sucked down. The brackish water is where you’re deciding how much touring you’re going to do and are you going to pay for a radio guy, is “Hazard Lights” going to go to Adult Contemporary radio or Rock radio? But that sort of includes mastering and what order you’re going to put the songs in. You’re in brackish water there. It’s not fully the ocean, but you’re not in real pure water. I try to think about it from that perspective. The goal is to keep it as pure as possible to the last possible second, and have as little brackish water as possible. Once it’s out in the sea, who knows. It might just float out, it might come back at you, who knows. There’s so little control that you have at that point. But what I’m kind of yearning for the older I get is to stay as close to the river as possible. The rest of that process is the job. You put the newsletter out and get them out to the fans to let them know what’s going on and keep the conversation going, but there is an element of commercialism to that. You have to keep the lights on. But even in that, you want to stay as close to that pure, creative force as possible. The job comes with learning to navigate the rest of the water. 

Even the festival you put on, you did it down by the river, not on the waterfront!

(*both laugh*) That’s right! We could have done it on the ocean! We even did that on the river!

Sing Us Home Festival – Year One

So speaking of the festival…obviously people know at this point that you put on Sing Us Home in Philadelphia a couple weekends ago. Where did that idea come from, and how far back was the seed planted to do something like that in Philly?

The germ of that was well over a year old. We started to conceive of it I think before we played our last Philly headline show at Union Transfer, and that was last April. How did it come to be? That’s such a long time ago…

Well, it sounds like an idea that you could be tossing around after a big headline show, like “Oh, this was fun, we should do a festival!” but that it’s something you could just say in passing and then it never goes anywhere because it seems like…

It’s such a behemoth, yeah! That’s where our manager Alex (Fang) comes into play. I think he took it seriously and I think he was really excited about the idea and really saw the potential in it. He started chasing it, and what that really means is you’re having meetings with the Manayunk Development Corporation and you’re meeting with the city and you’re filling out permits. The very unsexy stuff. It’s certainly not picking the lineup! (*both laugh*) That’s almost the last thing you do. I mean I was bugging him about the lineup the whole time, and he was like “Hey man, if we don’t get permits, your lineup could be awesome and it just won’t happen.” There are a lot of logistics, and I thankfully we partnered up with Rising Sun Presents, which was a new partnership for me. I’ve been working with R5 Productions for most of my career in Philly and they’re kind of the punks, you know? It all started in a church basement for them, and now they pretty much run Union Transfer and they have their reach and they do their thing. In this instance, Rising Sun work a little bit more out in the suburbs and they have a lot of history of putting on like the folk festival at different points, the Concerts Under The Star series and things like that, so they knew what they were doing in a different way for this. Alex and they were super pivotal in basically making our dream idea into a reality. And, you know, friends of ours do festivals. Frank Turner has a festival that he does and that we’ve played at. It’s incredible. It’s a different kind of model.

For us, it was like “We want to put our stamp on the city, and we want to do it in our old neighborhood.” I didn’t want to do it downtown. I knew of a place that I thought was super cool and worked with my friend who runs the record store that I used to buy my records at as a teenager. He’s still down there on Main Street, so he’s tied in with the business bureau and all that, so he helped us out. But all of that is inside baseball and boring. Ultimately it was this great idea that was put into practice by an incredible team. It was funny, Alex was getting emails from other managers when we announced it saying “Hey, thanks a lot…five different artists of mine have emailed me saying ‘hey, why don’t we do something like this?” (*both laugh*) I think the reason people don’t do things like this is that it’s so cumbersome. It takes over a year to make it happen, and if it rains, you’re fucked. If L & I (Department of Licensing and Inspections) shuts you down, you’re doomed. There’s just so much risk involved. And we had a successful one. I didn’t move in with my dad afterwards (*laughs*). It worked. And still, I see what could have gone wrong and it’s got me even more nervous for year two. Like it was amazing. So now we have proof of concept and we can do it again, which is cool. We also have our eyes a lot wider about what could go wrong, and those risks do worry you. But it was amazing, man. It’s very rare at 45 years old to have a career high-water mark, and that’s what we had. It was incredible. 

The venue that you did it at – the outdoor space there – was that a place that they normally do events or whatever? I didn’t necessarily get that sense. It’s not like you were just putting your event in a place where they do events and yours was just the one that week…

No. They’ve been desperately been trying to get that place on the map for events like this, and our guy at the Manayunk Development Corporation, which is the neighborhood entity down there, he said “You guys did in 48 hours what we couldn’t do in eight years.” They did one other event I think, a blues festival I think, but I don’t know what it looked like or what went wrong. Some people tried to tell me about that and I just blocked it out, because it just felt like bad mojo. But this was not bad. This was a family event. Everyone from 3 years old to 83 years old had a great time. People just had a blast, and that’s such a joyful thing to know that we had a hand in. It was great, man. If it never happens again – which it will, we’re going to do it again – but if that was it, I feel like those are two days that I’ll remember for the rest of my life as being just spectacular. 

Obviously you’ve been involved in the business side of the industry, especially with owning your own label, but does it give you a newfound sort of respect for things like ticket pricing and booking of opening acts and merch cuts and all of that stuff? It’s the inside baseball stuff like you said, except that that’s the gears that make the whole scene turn.

Totally! Absolutely! It definitely makes me simultaneously more willing to play other peoples’ festivals so that I could help (*both laugh*) and at the same time, it also makes me understand why in certain instances we don’t get invited to play. You really key into this idea that there are headliners and then there are direct support bands to a bill, and then there’s everybody else. Now, I don’t think this way because I’m sort of an old-school, kumbaya kind of guy, but you can see where people go “Oh, it’s just mix-and-match, you just make it work.” I don’t want that, and I think that’s kind of what set us apart, that we want to cultivate a specific type of experience. I wanted to make a festival that I wanted to go to, and I don’t really like going to festivals.

That’s a very good way to put it. 

It occurred to me that when we were kids, we had this May Fair in our neighborhood, and people would sell little toys and there was pizza and cotton candy and all that, and I LOVED IT. I looked forward to the May Fair every year. It probably just raised money for our Christian school or whatever, but I was talking about this with my sister and I said “We just threw our own little May Fair” (*both laugh*) and she just laughed and was like “Yeah, I think it’s a little different.” (*laughs*) But I wanted it to feel just as much or more like a family reunion than I do like Reading or Leads. I want it to feel like you know that we care about you, that we want you to have a good time, and that there’s plenty to eat and that there’s not too much music or too much of this or too much taking your money just because you decided to have kids here, you know? (*both laugh*) We don’t want it to be this crass, commercial thing. We want it to feel good, and to know that it did feels great. Alex is just getting back from his honeymoon, and I’m so excited to start talking about next year. I mean a lot of the shit is out of the way, like we have the signs, we have the website, we have the protocol, we have the permits. So much of the logistic stuff has already been done so to know that we can start to jump into the planning and the lineup is exciting. 

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DS Interview: Ian MacDougall (Riverboat Gamblers, Band of Horses) on Broken Gold’s new music.

Ian MacDougall is best known as a member of Riverboat Gamblers and Band of Horses. However, another of his bands, Broken Gold will be releasing new music in 2024. Per the band’s press release: “The record is a real ATX affair, with Ian being backed by members of Alejandro Escovedo’s band, Black Books, and Del-Vipers, […]

Ian MacDougall is best known as a member of Riverboat Gamblers and Band of Horses. However, another of his bands, Broken Gold will be releasing new music in 2024.

Per the band’s press release:

“The record is a real ATX affair, with Ian being backed by members of Alejandro Escovedo’s band, Black Books, and Del-Vipers, while Stuart Sikes (A Giant Dog, Black Pumas) recorded and mixed it.

“Spiraling” highlights a more confessional approach to MacDougall’s songwriting; tackling the mental toll of a life stitched together between regular touring and the various hometown jobs taken on to make ends meet in between. 

In his words: “I’d always felt…changed or sort of crazier in a way, after being away so many times over the years. When you keep layering that on over and over. What is normalcy, what part of my life is the ‘real’ life?”

I interviewed MacDougall via text and email about Broken Gold’s origin, its present work and the future.

MerGold (Dying Scene): How did Broken Gold get started?  

Ian MacDougall: Broken Gold started shortly after I started working at a wonderful punk rock pizza place/bar called The Parlor here in Austin TX around 2010 or so.

Gamblers was in between tours and I needed a job that was cool with me taking off at a moment’s notice. I met my soon-to-be best friend Rich Cali while working there. He played drums and was from Asbury Park New Jersey, and was at the time married to one of the daughters in the family that owned the business. We bonded over our mutual love of Springsteen and the Clash as well as Fugazi and bands like Rites of Spring. We got along so much that they stopped scheduling us to work behind the bar at the same time because we would goof off so damn much. During this time original bass player of Riverboat Gamblers, Pat Lillard, had recently left Gamblers but still wanted to play in a band, but something…different.

Prior to playing guitar in RBG, I had a band I sang and was the principal songwriter in and Pat pushed me into starting something with me singing again. We wanted to do something melodic, simple, kind of like a punk rock American shoe gaze thing with elements of The Clash, Fugazi, Alejandro Escovedo, and Springsteen. Over time Rich moved, Pat got busy with starting a family and we had some members come and go. We’ve shared drummers and bass players with the Gamblers several times but now the lineup is: Myself singing and guitaring, Ben Lance on guitar, Bobby Daniel on bass, and Sam Rich on drums. I’ve been lucky to play with some huge talents over the years and this lineup of Broken Gold is no different. It sounds incredible lately.

How did you decide on the band name? 

At the time Austin was crawling with pawnshops, especially on the East Side where we spent most of our time. Every pawnshop and billboard said “WE BUY BROKEN GOLD” or “BROKEN GOLD? YES!” We thought that was a great name that related with some of the subject matter in the lyrics as well as being a bunch of free advertising around town. Something that was once valuable and then destroyed but still desired by people. 

How does Broken Gold differ from your other band or your other bands, past and present?  

It’s a whole different muscle, playing-wise and tonally. I have to play with my guitar strap higher than Gamblers. Haha. I have to say playing in BG and all the experimenting with different things for us as players like alternate tunings and the use of capos really set me up and had me prepared for a band like Band of Horses which I joined as lead guitarist eventually. A lot of the guitar techniques and tones were very similar.

As far as how it’s different from Gamblers? It’s me singing for one. I’m the primary songwriter as opposed to RBG which is a group of songwriters. Broken Gold is a bit more dynamic with tones/sounds, volumes, and speeds as opposed to the blitzkrieg powerhouse that is the Riverboat Gamblers. I’d say we’re a bit more on the ‘punk’ side of things than Band of Horses but similar in vibe…like it wouldn’t be that jarring hearing one of those songs and one of these bands come on shuffle or something. 

Why was now a good time for a follow-up release? 

I finally had some time to focus on it. I’ve always done Broken Gold when I could get to it. When Gamblers weren’t on tour, and we toured ALOT, I would focus on BG but then we’d go back on tour. Over the years I ventured into working in the production world of higher tier artists like Foo Fighters, tours with Blink 182, and Band of Horses, etc. I was usually the Assistant Tour Manager on these and at that level, you’re touring off and on for years on end for a record cycle. Those jobs suddenly become your whole life and leave little much for anything else. When I eventually moved from Asst TM for Band of Horses to Lead guitarist, I just started passing on the ideas I had for Broken Gold to them as it wasn’t that far out of the wheelhouse of what they were doing. After 5+ years in that band, we made a great record but eventually parted ways.

I had all of these songs I had written and I was home all the time all of a sudden. Not working production, not playing in someone else’s band. I finally had time to focus on my stuff, Broken Gold and Riverboat Gamblers. It became clear that I needed to invest in myself for once and continue writing on these songs and focusing on what meant the most to me, BG and RBG. I had a wellspring of things to write about and it resulted in what I think is a real thought-out, dense, cohesive piece of work. We worked our asses off on this making it as good as we could get it. 

Broken Gold members from left: Ian MacDougall, Bobby Daniel, Sam Rich, and Ben Lance. Photo by Ian MacDougall

Did you have a specific plan for what this new music would sound or look like? Thematically or otherwise?

I didn’t really have a theme in mind when I started writing this thing but it has become evident now that we’re done with it. It’s about touring and being a working musician. The reality of what this life looks like. It can be brutal on your mental health, on both sides of the stage. Whether you’re working for bands or in the band. I’ve been doing this at all levels for more than half my life and still do. Private jet to stadium show that takes 2 days to prepare to punk squat in a Sprinter laying on top of an Ampeg fridge bass cab wrapped in sleeping bags because the heat in the van doesn’t work. Most of the time it feels like this never-ending adventure, every day is a new set of problems to solve and I love it…but it also led to a pretty severe drinking problem and all the things like not having friends when you come home, watching everyone you knew move on with their lives and start traditional families, your whole town changes, etc. When you decide to do this you basically decide to live in a vacuum of whatever band you’re involved with’s world, it’s like time traveling. You leave for 2 months, come home and never leave your neighborhood for a week, and go back out for another 2 months.

When you finally need to drive around your city everything different, especially in Austin. People always expect that you’re gone so you don’t hear from anyone anymore all that much. That’s not even mentioning what it’s like trying to make a serious relationship work. There definitely are people I’ve met that are totally well-adjusted and can make all of that work so smoothly, but I grew up from being a kid to an adult touring. Everything I learned about people, relationships, and “adulting” I learned while being out traveling constantly. I have had many “father figures” haha. I joined Riverboat Gamblers when I was 17 right out of high school and have basically been on the road in some form or fashion ever since. You never really have time to sit and reflect, possibly to a therapist, about everything that’s happened over the years because you’ve never really stopped and had time to. That’s a little heavy or maybe sounds like I’m complaining but I can assure you, I’m not. I absolutely love and am so lucky to have done all of the things I’ve been a part of. I guess as some sort of therapy I decided to write a bunch of songs about the other side of the life out there in there in the world I’ve experienced.

As far as the sound. I knew I wanted to make like “the ultimate BG record” haha, like a total distillation of everything I love about the music I’m really into. I love bands like The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, and the Smiths just as much as I love bands like The Clash, Blitz, Bruce Springsteen, Guided by Voices, and The Alarm. That and I’m a total freak when it comes to guitars, amps, and pedals. It’s my only true obsession and I knew I wanted to make a record with great fucking guitar sounds. 

Broken Gold members Broken Gold members from left: Ben Lance, Ian MacDougall, Bobby Daniel, and Sam Rich. Photo by Ian MacDougall. Photo by Dave Creaney

How much of a collaborative project is this with the other members of Broken Gold? 

Very much so. I usually come in with a pretty thought-out idea but that morphs once we get everyone involved. Ben Lance is a guitar sorcerer. He is so unconventional in his playing and I LOVE LOVE what he does on top of what I do. I’d have to say I have a fairly traditional approach when it comes to playing for the most part, big chords, ripping solos, etc but Ben’s like a painter – he actually is a painter – but he adds textures and a lot of emotion to the solid foundation me and the rest of the guys lay down. I always run things by everybody in the band and share demos that we shoot back and forth. 

What does each member bring to the project?

The band is myself, Bobby Daniel, Ben Lance, and Sam Rich. These guys are so fucking great. I’m lucky to be playing with like, all my best friends. Bobby is someone I look up to just as a dude in general. He’s sober, an ultra-runner, a father, and has been playing in bands of all kinds for decades, has seen it all. We met when I used to go see him play in Alejandro Escovedo’s band every Tuesday at the Continental Club here in Austin. Watching and hearing Bobby play bass at all those shows was just radical. Calm, collected, looking cool af, solid af, and not overplaying or playing too little. He’s just a great human at what he does and I’m lucky to have such a sought-after bass player in this town in MY band.

Ben Lance, as mentioned above, adds so much texture and dynamics, “color” as people would say, to this music.

Last but not least is our drummer Sam Rich, what a sweetheart. We met playing a show together with his awesome band Stella and The Very Messed when BG was drummer-less, I was just stomping a kick drum and a foot tambourine thing at that gig. We talked at that show and immediately got on so well. Like where has this guy been all my life? Also, he’s a super-consistent powerhouse behind the kit. This dude isn’t someone who just plays drums on the weekends with his buds, he’s like a full-on drum freak. He builds drums for a living. He plays in a bajillion bands and is now our go-to guy in Gamblers when other Sam (Keir) can’t make it. It became clear very quick that we had to be good friends and work together. I also liked that he seemed genuinely interested in Broken Gold and loved the songs. Everybody in this band is a total oddball lifer musician and just kills it at their instrument. This rhythm section of Bobby and Sam is more than anyone could ask for. They nailed basics for this record in like 2 days total. That was insane. 

Broken Gold members from left: Ian MacDougall, Ben Lance, Bobby Daniel, and Sam Rich. Photo by Dave Creaney

How do you decide in which order to release the songs as singles?

Spiraling” was the first song I wrote for this record, it’s sort of the summation of what a lot of the record is about with its lyrical subject matter. It also kind of set the tone for what was to come in the process of writing the record and the vibe. I see it as a mash-up of my two true loves, the music of Manchester in the 80s and Dinosaur Jr. We’re not gonna name the other singles just yet…but they are catchy rock masterpieces.

What’s next for Broken Gold? Will there be shows this year for the group?  

That’s an exciting question, What is next? Hopefully, this record blows up and we can get on a tour playing 2nd of 4 with the Bouncing Souls or Gaslight Anthem or something. There will hopefully be a ton of shows this year. We’ve been so holed up in writing, recording, mixing, finishing this record mode. Now’s the time when we get to share it with everyone and re-learning what we did in the studio to recreate it live! 

Anything else you want to add or think we should know or might want to learn about you and Broken Gold?

I want to give a huge shout-out and mention other folks who worked on this record. Stuart Sikes is my recording mentor that I actually apprentice under, He has a friggin Grammy! It was so great working with him on this. He really let us stretch out and find what it was we were looking for. Sage Nizhoni played strings on this, she’s a fellow Navajo I met at the music school I work at right now and laid down some beautiful strings. Don Cento added a layer of synths to our first single here “Spiraling,” it wouldn’t be the same without that touch. Alejandro Escovedo came in and sang on a few of the songs, that was literally a dream come true. I never thought all those years ago, watching him play and listening to his records that one day we would be singing together on one of my songs. Couldn’t be more stoked.

Broken Gold members Ian MacDougall, left, and Bobby Daniel. Photo by Ian MacDougall

The icing on the cake was getting this mastered by Howie Weinberg, that dude mastered Nevermind, Disintegration, The Clash, Replacements, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy…just look at his discography on Wikipedia, it’s insane. Huge Huge shout out to John Kastner. He’s a musical hero of mine from his days fronting Doughboys, one of my absolute favorite records is their album Crush. I’m lucky to be managed by him and he really helped tie the room together on this one.

This thing will be out soon, it’s been on my mind 24 hours a day for some time now and I’m just glad finally someone other than my immediate friends and family are gonna hear it. Hope you enjoy.

Thanks to Ian MacDougall. Check out Broken Gold ASAP! Cheers!

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DS Interview: Sammy Kay on mental health, being a Jersey boy in Kentucky, his powerful new EP “Inanna” and more

When last we heard from Sammy Kay on the pages of Dying Scene, the world – both his and ours – looked very different. It was the back half of 2019. The original Dying Scene website hadn’t yet crashed, and Kay was releasing civil/WAR, his most recent full-length record. The record was funded primarily through […]

When last we heard from Sammy Kay on the pages of Dying Scene, the world – both his and ours – looked very different. It was the back half of 2019. The original Dying Scene website hadn’t yet crashed, and Kay was releasing civil/WAR, his most recent full-length record. The record was funded primarily through a Kickstarter campaign and, while it found him once-again recording with Pete Steinkopf at Little Eden Studio in his ancestral homeland of New Jersey as he had on 2017’s Untitled and 2014’s Fourth Street Singers, it represented a stylistic departure from the ska and roots-rock that had marked the earlier stages of his music career. Instead, civil/WAR found the gravelly-voiced Kay backed primarily by his own acoustic guitar, the subtle textures putting more emphasis on the weighty, at times heart-wrenching lyrical subject matter.

A fast-forward to the present day finds a Sammy Kay that is in very different places in both the literal and figurative senses. To wildly oversimplify things, there’s been a wedding and a move from Jersey to California and a divorce and a move to Raleigh and a move to Cincinnati and a global pandemic and a hiatus from and then return to sobriety and a better grip on some lifelong mental health concerns. Oh, and now, thankfully, there’s new music.

Kay signed with A-F Records for a full-length record that’s due out this fall. That’s a conversation for another day. In the very near future, however, there’s Inanna. It’s an EP that’s comprised of a few B-sides from the full-length sessions. There are reworked versions of a couple previously-revved up rock-and-roll songs from the earlier records. And then there’s a cover. But it’s not just any cover. It’s Kay’s funeral dirge-like take on The World/Inferno Friendship Society’s “My Ancestral Homeland, New Jersey,” a song that comes across both as an ode to that band’s recently-departed frontman Jack Terricloth, and a reflection on Kay’s own old stomping grounds. It’s haunting and forlorn and pitch-perfect enough that if you didn’t know it was a cover of a waltzy circus-punk tune, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a Sammy Kay original.

We caught up with Kay over Zoom a couple of Mondays ago, and in order to make the timeline work, Kay had to take an early exit from his normal Monday night online self-help meeting. (The writer in me was super appreciative; the friend and the person who’s worked in and around the recovery field for two decades in me said “NOOOO WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”) One of the more positive things to have come out of the pandemic has been the new and creative ways that people have come up with to stay engaged with and connected to their life preservers. Online self-help meetings, FaceTime counseling sessions. Dropbox file-sharing songwriting sessions. Back-to-basics Nebraska-style bedroom four-track recordings. DIY artwork. TikTok. They’ve all allowed people to help overcome some of the boredom and isolation and monotony and separation that the pandemic created, and they were all put to use in positive ways by Kay as he has navigated whatever we’re calling the ‘new normal.’ Okay, maybe not TikTok, but still.

Read out chat below. It’s open and honest and raw and funny and so, so Jersey…even if Kay has started to establish a bit of a foundation (dare I say roots?) 640 miles from home. It’s a revealing look at a pretty intense and at times chaotic journey that has resulted in Kay seemingly in a more peaceful spot than we’ve seen from him. Oh, and pre-order Inanna here before its April 28th release, and stay tuned for more about the full-length this fall.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So yeah, let’s talk about the new record. When’s the official release day?

Sammy Kay: The 28th of April. Yeah. Inanna.

Are you excited? Do you still get excited after however many official records under your belt at this point?

There’s six. There’s six Sammy LPs, plus all the other bands growing up. It feels different. It’s a little weirder. Press is more of a thing now. When I was a kid, it was more like ‘I just hope people listen to it.’ And I still hope people listen to it, but also I hope there’s a good write-up about it. Because the internet is real, and you have to look cool on the internet. 

That is a thing, isn’t it? 

Oh it is a THING!!

Because as much as some of us want it to not be a thing – and I realize I say that as somebody who owns a website – but it really is a thing. You do have to pay attention to that shit, don’t you?

Yeah, and it’s weird because post-Covid, (song) premieres aren’t really a thing, and video premieres aren’t really a thing, and write-ups are kinda gone. There’s only a couple things that’ll happen. Some places do like a song-a-day, and it’s real cool and it’s a good little write-up, but because so many publications and websites are scaling back, the people that have always done stuff with me just don’t have time because everybody is trying to get to them. So it’s a little weird.

Yeah, and I feel like production of videos, at least the traditional way of making them, sort of shut down for a long time too. Some people were obviously making their own DIY things, but there weren’t really even videos to premiere anymore.

Yeah, and it feels like a lot of people went and learned how to do that during Covid. I am currently trying to learn how to TikTok and I am not having fun. (*both laugh*)

I will never learn how to TikTok. I kinda drew a line in the sand there. And I have a 15-year-old, so I kinda should know, but I just can’t…

Yeah, Morgan can do it! Buy her ice cream and let her do your TikToks. She’ll do it for you!

I don’t know, man. It’s a whole other world. And I get that there are people who are good at it, I just can’t wrap my head around it. 

Yeah, it’s one of those things that…I don’t obsess, but I study the algorithm and see what works, and right now, if there’s any sort of text in your image, it gets shadowbanned. And if you use the word “premiere” or “new song,” it fucking gets shadowbanned. “Come to my show” is like a shadowban term. I’ll watch my visibility drop to like a quarter of whatever it is if I say, like, “hey, we’ve got a new record coming out.” Just like that. Done. So it’s weird, and it’s a lot of sending notes like “hey, we’ve got a new record out, hope all is well. Love for you to give it a listen.”

Do you just have to flood the market with reminders that shit is coming out to make up for the fact that if you put one thing out there, maybe nobody will see it? I feel like you have to just be on top of it all the time.

Yeah. My visibility right now is a fifth of my followers, since we announced the record. And it’s not a lot. I’ll get like 250 views on a post, whereas the week before I posted something dumb about a cannoli and I got like 30,000 views, you know? (*both laugh*) I’ll look at the Reels or the TikToks or whatever and I’ll be like “Glenn Danzig is okay, and here’s a song about a breakup” and it’ll get 80,000 views or 120,000 views. Then the next thing is a song I actually wrote and it’s like 2,000 views, 4,000 views. The internet is a weird thing.

Do you obsess over it? 

Jay Stone, you know me pretty well. I obsess over everything! (*both laugh*) There’s no not obsessing!

Is there a healthy way to obsess over it, is maybe a better question to ask? I mean, I do the same thing on the website end.

No. I mean, I sit and I refresh and it’s like “why is there only 17 people listening to the song right now?” and it’s like “well, it’s 12:45 in the morning and the song just came out, what’s the problem here?” (*both laugh*) The problem is me. I’m the problem. (*both laugh*) But I’m stoked. The songs are cool. Do you know the secret about Inanna

I don’t feel like I do, but even if I did…remind me!

It’s the B-sides. I wrote with a sort of algorithm in mind. I was writing these twelve-line kinda sonnets…12 to 16 lines depending on if there’s a repeated tag or not. No repeating chorus. But as we were doing it, they were full-length songs with a chorus that hits two or three times, and a second or a third verse. And we had this cool little tape setup, this little Tascam that we kinda rigged to run but also ran as a pre-amp in the same vein as Nebraska, with just a cheap mic and a plate reverb. And we just kinda did this thing. Our buddy John Calvin Abney was sending us parts, so we recorded maybe thirty-five (songs). About 7 or 8 never left the acoustic guitar and scratch-singing floor. They’re there. They’re rough. The weird thing about a tape machine and minimal microphones is if it was fucking raining that day, there was just a buzz. We couldn’t get the buzz out, and we just said “fuck it, that song’s kinda done.” But you get gems. Like one song there’s a line about walking down the highway, and a fucking car lays on the horn outside and that gets picked up, right? Or there’s a real quiet part on “Couple Cardinals” on the EP and you hear the kids at the school across the street coming out for recess, and you hear them laughing and hollering and playing. It’s the perfect ghost.

So this tape machine was kind of a fickle beast, and we recorded probably about 28 or 29 that were done. That Misfits EP, the Bad Religion thing, those were all on this Tascam tape machine, this cassette portastudio 4-track. We kinda figured out the record, and then there were these songs that didn’t fit that twelve-line sonnet thing. There were a couple songs that we revisited, like “You Ought To Know,” I always had in my head like this quiet, delicate song, and when we did it with Pete (Steinkopf) ten years ago, it became this big rocker, and it partially became a big rocker because I didn’t know what “soft” or “delicate” meant. And in fact, I still don’t, but we were able to do a quieter, ‘after dark’ take. I think “Reservoir” always had a Greenwich Village folk feel in my head, and it came out as this big heartland rocker, and I love it, but I wanted to revisit it and see if we could do a quiet take of it. So there’s two old songs, three new songs, and then…I grew up seeing The World/Inferno Friendship Society, and I’m a big believer in that band and the cult that it is – and I use the word “cult” lovingly – the inclusivity and the welcoming-ness of the Infirnites. I always heard “Ancestral Homeland” as a song to be played at a funeral versus this waltzy, polka, punk thing, and being out here in Kentucky, I started fucking around with flat-picking, bluegrass picking, and we kinda turned it into this quieter, graveside song. And like with the Misfits thing, or throughout the years we’ve always done covers…I like to just take the chords and the words and forget everything else. Just the skeleton of the song. I was able to deconstruct it and turn it into this letter to Jack as a thank you and, if I was at the funeral, that’s what I would have done to pay my respects. Those lines “When I die, they’re going to bury me in Jersey” fucking resonate strong! 

That is a song that you can tell resonates strongly with you, and that’s without hearing your version of it. Obviously I’ve heard your version of it a bunch, and I think you did an amazing job with it. That’s a song that sounds like it could have been a Sammy Kay song. 

Yeah, “never trust a man who don’t drink’ my papa told me” … “The sun was shining the day I drove out of New Jersey and the girls all flashed me a smile.” It’s such a well-written song, in the sense of those great little descriptive lines. It just flows. And being from New Jersey – you know this being in Boston, the Southie kids and the Jersey boys, we’re not too far apart – out here there’s the good old boys. We’re all kinda cut from the same cloth. That hometown pride is strong.

When did you realize that you had it, though? Because that’s a thing that I’ve sort of been looking at a little bit differently the older I get, and the longer that I live in Massachusetts versus New Hampshire, where I grew up…and now having a kid who is growing up differently but in this part of the world still. When did you realize that you weren’t just from Jersey, you were FROM Jersey, and did it take leaving to realize it?

When I left…I left to go on tour young, and I was like “yeah, I’m from New Jersey, whatever, fuck you.” But when I moved to New York, I started saying “oh, I live in New York.” And then “Oh I’m in LA, I’m hanging out living in California.” I did New York, I did LA, I came back to Jersey, I did Texas for a minute…I jumped around. I’ve always been pretty nomadic. But I think once I got a job, even within music, where I had to bust my ass like my old man did. Once I realized I was saying the same shit my dad would say about the fucking day. Like “how’s your day going?” “It was a fuckin’ day, man.” You know? And also, I talk pretty, pretty, pretty Jersey…

Yeah, but you personally don’t know that until you get outside of Jersey!

Right, I didn’t know that at all! And it’s funny, I’m in Kentucky right now, right on the Ohio border, just outside of Cincinnati, just across the river, and these fucking people tell me I have the worst accent ever, and I’m like “what are you tawkin’ about?” (*both laugh*) You say “crick…” (*both laugh*) But starting to live south-ish, south adjacent – even Bakersfield too. A lot of the Bakersfield accent and the way people talk, the dialect, they’re Okies. They’re Oklahoma folk or Texarkana folk. Because when the Dust Bowl happened, a lot them emigrated to the Kern River Valley because of the sooil there. A lot of those Okieisms are pretty strong, and Okieisms and Jerseyisms are the same but different. I didn’t let the concept of “Jersey” …we’ll use the word “define.” Being from New Jersey, the pride I have for my state definitely defines a lot of who I am, from the working hard, to the history of art and growth in all facets of life. Like, the things that were developed in that state, from shit like the lightbulb to Einstein figuring out nuclear physics post-Manhattan Project at Princeton. I’m pretty sure fucking peanut butter is from New Jersey, you know? (*both laugh*) It’s just a cool thing, and gentrification aside, I can count the things I don’t like on one hand about that state. I mean, I can’t afford to live in New Jersey. I can’t be an artist while living there. There’s no way to go on tour, there’s no way to create, so I left New York City. 

Yeah, we see that up here in Boston, especially with the art community. I don’t know that the stuff that made Jersey Jersey for so long, particularly in an artistic sense, I don’t know that it exists anymore, just like I don’t know that it exists about Boston either. 

Yeah! I think…there’s glimmers in Jersey as well as in Boston and even in New York…like, I’m playing a show next week, and I am fully going to talk shit right now and I don’t give a FUCK because it’s real dumb…but I’m playing a show next week in a city that rhymes with Shmos Shmangeles and they are charging every band like $200 for a sound fee. It’s just like the New York City rooms, but it’s a room that you go and play. It’s a notorious room. But the amount of shit…like, we asked if we could get in and do a rehearsal and they were like “yeah, we need to get paid.” And it’s more money than we’ll make for the night, to be able to go in there for an hour before soundcheck to just practice acoustic.

Wow…

Yeah. Like, fuck that. LA, New York…

Is that like the new version of pay-to-play, which maybe enough people have given places shit about that this kinda took over?

Yeah, it’s pretty prevalent in the folk/American world. Rockwood Music Hall is like that, all those Lower East Side rooms that used to be where alternative music bred, they’re like “you wanna play? It’s $200. We take the first $200, you get a portion of what’s left.” It’s pretty fucked that even those rooms that back in the day were rooms where a working musician could make a couple bucks don’t kinda exist anymore. With Jersey…god bless Mike Lawrence, who passed the torch down to Joe Polito (Asbury Lanes). House of Independents. Andy Diamond and Lee at Crossroads, which is great because it’s in the center of the state, but it’s not part of that Asbury Park community. Tina Kerekes and Danny Clinch are really the last of the holdouts. I heard The Saint closed. The (Stone) Pony isn’t booking locals. It happens once a year, that’s it. Bu the city of Asbury Park has been completely priced out of art. 

That’s sad. We really only started going there right at the beginning of all of that shit changing. We never saw the real old Asbury Park and we kinda missed most of the 90s/00s Asbury Park, and it’s different just since we started going down there maybe a decade ago.

Yeah, I went home in December and I did not know my city. But that’s how it goes. I left that city almost five years ago, and change is inevitable, especially in a gentrifying world. But yeah, even Allston by you…I would hang out there when I started touring with Westbound Train. Their practice space was there, and all the places that I used to go, almost 17-20 years ago, they’re gone. Like, the Sunset Grill is gone. That was a staple! I remember going there and seeing, like, a Bosstone at one table, and like Amy from Darkbuster at the bar, and it was just like “oh my god!” It was one of those places where you’d see all these people in bands and when those places start to go, that means the community is hurting. Same thing with the brewery in Asbury Park. That was a hub, especially in a post-Lanes world. 

Maybe that’s why there are pockets of places like Ohio, like Colorado, like maybe Chicago, places in Tennessee, where there are these pockets of people that maybe aren’t originally from there but they move there and then start another scene there because you can’t afford to do it on the coasts. 

Yeah! Like Ohio…I’m not trying to talk shit on Cincinnati because I genuinely love it here. The amount of phenomenal bands in this city that are gigging regularly, for the most part, and studios…DIY, home-built studios that are churning out amazing records. I’m a water guy, right? Everything good comes off the water. There’s definitely something beautiful here in the last ten years, from what I can tell. Like, we go see music five nights a week.

Is the scene made from locals or is it made from people like yourself who are transplants from other places?

90% of it are from Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Covington. There’s a couple Louisville kids, which is only 80 miles. Lexington’s only 80 miles. Indy is only 80 miles. There’s like one guy from England, this kid Jaime, who is in a bunch of bands that are really great. That band Vacation fucking rules. Anything Jerry (Westerkamp) touches is fucking amazing. Tweens. And then there’s DAAP, which is an art school, and there’s a bunch of kids. There’s a band called Willie And The Cigs that’s gigging a couple nights a week. And the hardcore scene, bands like Corker and Louise. Piss Flowers fucking rule. They’re one of those bands that, like Black Flag in ‘85, they start with their shirts on and then by the end of the gig the whole band is just shirts off. This guy John sings in it; he’s in a bunch of other bands. That’s the thing, everyone here is so fucking creative. John does folk stuff, he’s in a gnarly hardcore band, and he’s like a hell of a comedian too. Everybody is like…so and so is a hell of a painter, and this guy does photography as well as writing…the punks are fucking poets too. It’s fucking great. It seems like every other fucking person has a silk screen rig in their basement, or a dark room, and they’re creating. The fucking scene here is just beautiful.

Is that how you found it?

No, I just threw a dart at the map. I called Jonny Dopamine and told him I was looking for a job. I was supposed to move to Nashville, and the house I was supposed to move into got sold. And I was supposed to get a job some place, and the same thing happened. They announced they were closing like two days before I was supposed to leave, so I was like “I’m not going to go.” I called a friend of mine (in Cincinnati) who I knew had an apartment, and this is like twenty hours before I was supposed to move to Nashville. I called a buddy of mine and I was like “hey man, you still got that basement apartment? Can I crash there for a minute while I figure something out?” And he was like “yeah, yeah, yeah, you gotta find a job though.” I was like “hold on a second,” and I hung up the phone and I called Jonny because he owns the (Northside) Yacht Club too, which is like a rock and roll gastro pubby venue-ish, and I was like “yo man, let me get a job,” and he was like “you live here?” and I was like “if you give me a job I do!” (*both laugh*) And he said “when are you going to be here?” and I was like “tomorrow, I think, hold on a sec.” So I hung up the phone and I called my other buddy who I was going to stay with and I was like “yeah, I got a job, I’ll see you on Saturday!” and he was like “okay, cool, that was quick.” And then I called Jonny back and I was like “so I’ll start Tuesday yeah?” and here I am, eighteen months later in Cincinnati. 

That’s wild.

Yeah, but you know me, everything’s a little wild. Nothing’s easy. 

Through that whole time and in the lead-up to moving…it seems like you’ve been able to write a lot and produce a lot of music. Were you in a lull at all prior to moving there and did that sort of reignite you, or is it more of like ‘okay, now that I’m stable a little bit, I can start writing again’?

You know a little bit of my mental health. I have a really complicated brain that has some schizoaffective disorder in it, and some pretty extreme highs and lows and some pretty chronic anxiety and pretty chronic depression. At the time, post Civil/WAR, Covid happened and the world shut down. And I wasn’t doing well. I’m a social butterfly if I have the option, and so being trapped in a one-bedroom apartment is not my idea of a good time. I kinda lost it there for a little bit and I surrendered and said “I think it’s time to get some medicine and try this route.” The issue that we realized was that my personality and my creative side and everything that makes me me is the same part of my brain as the crazy, so the second we started medicating and trying to understand even the schizo thing, and the multiple personalities, we didn’t learn that until I was here.

So the second we started medicating, looking back, all the voices in my head, the chatter got really loud, and we just kept upping it and upping it, and this didn’t work so let’s try this, and up and up and up. I was just a fucking zombie. And that was the me side of life, the goofy, happy side. Like, I slept for four or five months straight. Through Covid. I just slept. I had to get up and work an hour on Zoom, and then I’d go back to bed. So when I lost my corporate, cushy job that I had, when I left California, I lost my insurance so I was just fucking raw-dogging life, and the second the meds left my system, I just vomited six songs. Everything I had been trying to say just came out. I was finishing stuff that I had as glimmers of ideas during Covid. I only really wrote four songs all of Covid. “Better/Worse,” “Methamphetamines,” “Waiting,” which just came out, and a song where I call the Proud Boys a bunch of assholes. That was it. Just four. I had glimmers of like a one-liner or like an idea for a chorus. At the time, we were working with Jon Graber and Reade Wolcott from We Are The Union. We were writing a lot together and working at Jon’s studio, and I didn’t have anything to present them. We never finished anything, because the lights were on but nobody was home. 

Or all the lights were on at the same time.

Haha, yes. We learned that I function better with all the lights on and everyone home. When I left California, I went to Raleigh, and the first song came out two days before I was leaving Raleigh, and it’s the last song on the full-length that’s coming out in the fall. And it was Cecillia’s voice, which was cool. She kind of came back and had this conversation with me again. I was kinda working on “no meds, therapy,” and we realized that Cecillia was actually one of the voices in my head. We went through all my songs, the whole catalog, and we realized that Cecillia shows up in “Secrets” on Untitled. That’s partially her voice and her story. That “I know your secrets…” that correlates to “Sweet Cecillia,” where it says “tell me about your life…” And she’s in the convenience store in “Silver Dollar” in the picture I painted in that world, because the character that “Silver Dollar” is about is another facet of my mind. I thought I wrote this record about characters but I really wrote it about all the unknowns in my head that are now still very unknown but we’re understanding them more. Then, “Better/Worse” I killed Cecillia off and that was the funeral in that song. But really, it was her sobering up in a nutshell. Her voice in my head is “it’s so damn hard to hide behind the scars/I just want a better way to breathe.” I was like “oh fuck!” It was cool, but it took twenty therapy sessions to realize that and understand it. 

When you say “we,” as in, “things that we’re working on…” and putting a name and a diagnosis to the things you were going through, the “we” refers to a therapist, yeah?

Multiple. Multiple therapists. (*both laugh*)

What got you to the point where you were ready to go to therapy? That’s obviously a big thing that especially guys – cis white males…

…with fuckin’ face tattoos!

Exactly! That’s not a thing that “we” do. So what got you into therapy and really diving into that piece?

It was just kinda time. I hate using a vague sentence like “it was time.” I was in therapy as a kid. My parents sent me because they didn’t know what was going on with me, and neither did I. So I went as a kid, and then I stopped and then I went back in high school because, you know, I lived the kind of life where a lot of my friends were dead by 15. Then as I got older, my mother still does not comprehend how many people that I know in my life are dead. At 33. So, childhood trauma, fucked up life, the road, a couple of really shitty toxic relationships. My ex-wife, when we talked about meds, she said “you should do therapy too.” At the time, I was also diving really heavy into Zoom AA because it was quarantine. Zoom AA is amazing. In fact, it’s what I was doing before this, my Monday group. It was like “alright, let’s find a guy, I’ve got good insurance.” I got a guy and we were talking and he was like “alright, this is what I think is wrong with you, and it is not my specialty, but this other guy can help.” 

Good for him for saying that, by the way.

Yeah! I still see him once a month. He’s just my general catch-up guy. I see him once a month and if I’m having a rough go of it, I go every other week. I have three therapists; I have the one that’s just a general catch-up guy, like if there’s anything I’m struggling with, we talk through it. I have one that I see about once a month that is an addiction specialist within the music industry. A buddy of mine in Nashville (connected me) and he sees people for free. He has his own practice and you get an hour a month. He’s real great and I bitch to him about the industry and the struggles that I have navigating it. And then I have one that’s for the heavier sides of my schizoaffective disorder and also disassociative identity disorder, which is essentially multiple personalities. That’s what they used to call it. So we work on that and the schizoaffective and the borderline personality disorder. It’s like bipolar disorder with the depression and the highs and lows and it’s very much a roller coaster. It’s like a light switch. 

Rapid cycling, yup.

Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for. I’ll be real stoked on life and then *finger snap* I’ll be in bed for two weeks or shut down, or I do reckless things like quit my job or yell at my boss. And then I have a therapist that I see that we kind of navigate the voices and the personalities in my head and figure out what their story within my mind is and how they correlate. Like, I turned to Sarah, my girlfriend, and I was like “what do you want for dinner?” and in my head I was like “I think we should have Chinese food? No, Thai food. Why do you want Thai food? Do you even like Thai food? Why are you saying Thai food, I don’t even like Thai food, leave me the fuck alone.” That’s what the voices in my head are saying. And then there’s one that says “why don’t you just go do heroin? You want junk food? I’ll give you junk…” So yeah, I have a therapist that I see for that. I haven’t seen him so much lately because we kinda said “alright, let’s give it a month and see how you do. We’ll do a check-in.” I think we’ve done two sessions in three months, compared to doing two a week. We kinda have it under control and I’ve been trying to eliminate as much stress as possible in my life. I’m very much a stress guy. Stress and Catholic guilt make me go crazy, so I kinda have this new rule where if I’m at work and you’re stressing me out more than you pay me hourly, I just leave. My boss gets it. I say “alright, I’m gonna split for the day.” I’ll go in early the next day and get the job done. I work at a print shop in the morning and I work at a bar at night. The bar is pretty easy, but the print shop…if they’re doing dumb shit, I’m like “I’m not getting paid enough to be here right now and to deal with this, so I will see you.”

It’s not an entitlement, I just can’t afford to have my mind go crazy and unleash over bullshit deadlines because you’re selling the company I work for. Like, yeah, sorry, you fired me. If you’re stressing me out, I’m out. I’ll roll with you to the end of the line, but I’m not going further with you. Don’t ask me to pick up a power tool, but I’ll print t-shirts for you. (*both laugh*) As long as I’m being creative, I’m getting better – and I hate saying this, but I’ve been cutting a lot of folks out of my life that I’ve known for a long time. It’s shitty. We’re having adult breakups, because they don’t understand or realize and do these things that like…”I love you, but that thing you do to me every time we talk about life sends me in a spiral for two weeks. I love you, I love your wife, I love your kid, but I’ll catch up with you in six months, bud.” You know? It’s been shitty but needed. I’m not saying that they were toxic or negative, it’s just like I love you but this isn’t healthy for me right now. Just like a relationship that isn’t going great or a band that’s breaking up. “I’ll talk to you in six months and we’ll figure it out. For right now…I’ll see you around.” It’s kind of taking inventory. I’m working on my Fourth and Fifth Step of the program now.

That’s a lot. 

Yeah, I told myself that when I finish the record, I need to do it again, so that’s real fun (*both laugh*)

The Fourth Step is a tough one. It’s not the First Step, but it’s a tough one and it’s one that people want to half-ass, or want to fast-forward to and then realize that they did a half-ass job on the first ones and then you set yourself back further.

Yeah. I’m in the process of a Fourth Step now, and it probably will end up back in heavier therapy to understand the conversations that need to be had but that at the end of the day will better myself and will better my relationships with my friends and my family and the people I love and we’ll grow. That’s it. We’re human beings. We need to grow and we need to become better people and work on what we need to work on. I’m seeing what my flaws are now for the last couple years and I’m trying to fix them. 

You seem like you’re in a good spot. Some of that comes from social media and obviously we’ve texted a bunch and stuff over the years, but you seem like you’re in a good spot. 

Yeah, who would have thought that Kentucky was the place where I’d thrive! (*both laugh*) Fucking Kentucky! I’m from New Jersey. It’s funny…it’s partially the money thing. It’s inexpensive to live here, whereas New York or LA or even Jersey, I was working a sixty-hour week. Like in New York, we were working sixty hours to be able to go drinking one night a week. We could afford like thirty dollars worth of PBRs, right? And we were working just to cover our asses to survive. LA was the same thing. We were working to be able to go out a couple nights a week if we wanted, or go to a show. Out here, it’s like…I’m not rich. I’m making the same money I was making, but the cost of living is so low. Even the cost of car insurance is a hundred dollars cheaper than New York or LA. Everything is substantially cheaper. What’s that Big D song…”will this check support this tour, or will this tour lose my job?” That “LAX” song is so great, that line or that bridge or whatever it is has always been in my head. 

Maybe when I don’t have a kid I have to steer through school. Once she graduates and we can go wherever, there’s been talk about where that wherever is.

She’s what, thirteen now?

Fifteen. So she’s in high school, and college is a-comin’. 

Yeah, you probably won’t be able to afford this part of the world then. I feel like I’ve got a year left before it’s like “fuck, okay, I didn’t buy a house…” Like, you can still buy a house in the hip neighborhoods for like $300,000. 

You can’t even buy a one-bedroom condo here for anything under $550,000. 

Yeah. I think Asbury Park, the going rate for a one-bedroom condo is like $800,000. Like, I could afford ot buy a house here as a fucking barback if I really figured it out. But I’m not. (*both laugh*) Roots don’t exist in my life. 

There was a thing I wanted to talk about, and I’m trying to think of how to even ask it.

Just dive in!

As you know, I tend to ramble, which is really just me processing the question as I’m asking it, but as we were talking before, you mentioned how Cecillia for sure and I’m sure it’s true of other characters too. I’ve always felt – and I think that I’ve told you this before – that you strike me as a very honest songwriter and a lot of your stuff sounds very personal. Except that when we’ve had conversations about this before, you’ve told me that some of the story, for example, of what Civil/WAR was about, and they sound like they could be your stories, but sometimes you’re just telling the stories of other people. Now that you have started to put a name to and work through some of the mental health stuff and created a better picture of what that is, does that change the way that you write and that even how you interpret some of your own songs?

It definitely has provided insight on songs. Civil/WAR also contained a bunch of weird foresight, deja vu shit. A lot of the themes that I was writing about, when I was writing and recording, with the massive changes and then more massive changes…that whole story of that record ended up happening over Covid. That chapter was very weird and amazing but terrible at the same time. Now, I wanted to write the new songs about myself, my thoughts on the world, and tell stories of my friends. So, by the time, this comes out, “Double Nicks” is going to be out. I took my friend Jen Cooley to see Jeff Rosenstock. That’s her band. She’d never seen them, but she loves Jeff and she loved Bomb (The Music Industry) and Antarctigo (Vespucci). And Catbite played. I call them family. I spent years in a van with them. They were playing. (Jen) Cooley drank a large Twisted Tea and she was like “I don’t know if I’m drunk, but this band” – referring to Catbite – “makes me feel like I’m an astronaut.” I was watching her disassociate in the moment. Her eyes went blank, and she was just taking this moment in, and she said “this band makes me feel like an astronaut” and I was like “what the fuck does that mean?” and she said “it means I’ve got the whole world in front of me.” That song is a revisit of something that me and Alex Levine and Tim (Brennan) from the Murphys did a long time ago. The only thing that stayed were the chords and the chorus. It’s the same concept – the chorus is just “let me go, you can find me by your memories.” And I was watching her in this moment and I couldn’t tell if she was disassociating or in love with this and taking it all in, and I started writing this song about that feeling, and relating it to when you’re sitting on your couch daydreaming with your wife or with your partner or whoever, and I was telling the story and that line kept resonating. This feeling that I have when I sit next to whoever I hold close at the time, and knowing they’re fully engulfed in TikTok. The verses are like “there’s bullet shells on the boulevard / I just called to say good night // Now you don’t play games with love no more / But I think about those nights.”

You think about those times when you’re daydreaming about your high school crushes or your Teen Beat, Tiger Beat crushes, whatever. “Those nights and days they seem like they’re impossible to breathe // Cuz she makes me feel like an astronaut with the world in front of me.” It rambles about the shit that goes through your head, and then it goes into “The secrets in these sidewalks…” that’s the bullshit of TikTok, right? And the internet, and disassociating ahead. “They say fear is just a false relief with hopes you just don’t know” that’s just me trying to sound cool. (*both laugh*) “You were tired of daydreaming and I was tired of letting you know,” that’s when you’re on the couch and you’re trying to watch The Last Of Us, don’t check out, right? “Just let me go / you can find me in your memories,” that’s like “alright, I’m gonna go do something else.”

A lot of that now is telling a story of that moment with Jen or…I got in a fight with a guy over the summer, and I’m not proud of it, but he was a racist piece of shit and I heard him running his mouth. I’m an anti-fascist pacifist that has no problem punching a Nazi in the face. Or a racist. Or a bigot. Whatever. We’ll use the blanket term “asshole.” Some dude was running his mouth and I smushed him and threw him to the ground. He was a 40-year-old man, it was his birthday. He said “I’m gonna call the cops” and I’m like “I ain’t afraid of going to jail. Fuck off.” And that turned into the line “I’m not afraid of dying.” I will stand up for my fellow human being. I would tell these stories. And some of them are dumb. Like there’s a line “I just want to get stoned and listen to “Love Song.” My boss was yelling about that he wanted to smoke a bong and listen to “Disintegration.” And he’s a sober guy! He’s like “I don’t know what to think, but I just want to get high and listen to The Cure.”

Some of them are bullshit. Some of them are always bullshit. But some of them, like “Couple Cardinals” on this record, a friend of mine, her grandparents passed, and she was telling me about this swing on their front porch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and she sent me this picture of it and I wrote what I saw. The second verse was her driving home from Tulsa to Kentucky. To Cincinnati. And the third verse is that she was telling me that at the funeral, two cardinals showed up. Some of them are just “this is the story. Thank you for telling me about your life, I want to tell the story with your permission.” That’s why the covers of the singles that are coming out are all photographs that I’ve taken of people who I know or moments that correlate to the songs, right? Like “Double Nicks” … I talked about Jamie before, he’s from England and he lives out here. I was on the corner trying to finish that song in my memos, and I was taking pictures to try to paint a picture without words, and I caught Jamie and his partner walking up the street. It all correlates because that was the same day that I really wrapped my head around that song. The imagery of him holding her close and that feeling – because I caught her at a moment where she was looking away – it was that feeling.

The next single is “The Reservoir” and I played at The Merc and there was this older woman sitting at the bar with her feet up drinking a Miller Lite with a straw, and there’s a flier on the wall that has something similar to a word in that song, and it fit. We’re just trying to tell the story of the last eighteen months and the people that I’ve met and the people that I’ve learned. They’re all these little hymns or sonnets and they’re short and sweet. The glory of these short songs is that you write a descriptive line. (*picks up guitar and it’s out of tune so he picks up a different guitar*) “I’ve seen it before a thousand times / the way you light the cigarette inside my mind.” That’s one line of this twelve-liner. “And I’m just hoping for this slim slim chance / that slim slim chance here that you’ll say yes.” Because they’re so short, you have to set it up and then fucking drop a line. There’s no filler. “Drinking coffee while the sun goes down / I said “black two sugars” you threw three dollars down.” “The hardest part about where you’re from / is trying to figure out how fast to run.” There’s no room to fuck around. It’s kind of like, I’m going to tell you this story and I would sit and elaborate and tell you, but the glory of being a folk singer, is only you know what’s real. Embellishing is like half the story. And I try not to embellish at all, to the extent that over the summer I went to a rodeo, just so I could straight up be honest when I said “this is not my first rodeo.” Like, I literally went and spent twenty dollars at the county rodeo just so I could not fucking lie when I said “this isn’t my first rodeo.” I’m a big believer in ‘say what you mean/mean what you say/don’t fuck around.” These songs, I wanted to tell the story of me and the shit going on in my life. Since the last record: marriage, divorce, three massive country moves, I completely wrecked my hand – cut the tendon and the muscle clean off my thumb – I started drinking again. I took a sabbatical, I went to therapy and I thought I was healed and I could have a beer. I am an alcoholic! I cannot have a beer. I went two weeks of ‘responsible drinking’ before I said “I am ready to start being a maniac again!” Went right back to the fucking program. All these things happened. I finally opened up my mind to starting to date again, and the second I started dating, boom, you’re going on tour, I’m done. Meeting people, closing doors, opening doors, it’s a lot.

There was a lot of life in the last eighteen months and I don’t want to write a song that had no meaning to me and that was just a story. That’s why this one is very much no holds. There’s no embellishments. If I mention a name on this record, that person is real. And I said “hey, I’m using your name in a song about something we did!” I finally got to write about my grandfather, which I’d been having trouble with for years. And my old man. I’m telling the story of my family, which I never really did. And where I came from and where I want to fucking go. I think I told you this about Civil/WAR, but I don’t know if there’s going to be another record! I might make one, I might not put it out, but at this point, I don’t fucking know. It’s expensive. It takes a lot of time. You have to go on tour to be able to pay for it and make record labels and everybody happy. I don’t know if I want to fucking do it again, so let’s do this one and see what happens! I write a song every other day, so if it works out, there’s songs! If it doesn’t, there’s going to be some one-minute TikToks with some cool dancing frogs and some light effects…

And that’s how you’ll make it! Twenty years of living in a van and you’ll get famous from TikTok after you quit music.

King Khan and BBQ Show, baby! I read something that he made more money off the one song that became a TikTok than he did his whole career playing music. 

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DS Staff Picks: Dylan’s Top 10 Albums Of 2022

Hello, friends! My name’s Dylan, but you might know me better as “Screeching Bottlerocket”. I write stuff for Dying Scene. I also write snide replies to your comments on our Facebook page. For some reason you’re supposed to care what my favorite albums released this year are (at least I think that’s why you clicked […]

Hello, friends! My name’s Dylan, but you might know me better as “Screeching Bottlerocket”. I write stuff for Dying Scene. I also write snide replies to your comments on our Facebook page. For some reason you’re supposed to care what my favorite albums released this year are (at least I think that’s why you clicked on the link). On the off chance that you do, in fact, care, here are my Top 10 Albums of 2022:

#10 Cigar – The Visitor

Remember how Duke Nukem Forever took like 20 fucking years to come out? This album’s kinda like that, except it doesn’t blow complete ass like Duke Nukem Forever. Cigar released their debut album Speed is Relative in 1999 and kinda just peaced out. Then they came back and released some demos of new songs… and kinda peaced out again. Then they signed to Fat, and we finally got this skate punk beast. They haven’t lost a step. This is a great record. For more eloquent analysis, read my full review here.

#9 No Quarter – Fear and Loathing on the Pacific Highway

One of my favorite things about the revival of Dying Scene has been seeking out lesser known bands and, in turn, discovering some great albums nobody’s talking about. No Quarter‘s Fear and Loathing on the Pacific Highway is one of those albums. These Australians don’t fuck around. If you’ve got a hankering for fast, melodic, no frills skate punk, listen to this. “Long Distance” is the best song.

#8 Friends With the Enemy – Divide & Conquer

Two Australian bands. Band to back. What’s going on down under? Those Aussies make some great music! I like this Friends With the Enemy album a lot. These guys (and girl) have been around a long time, but this is by far the best thing they’ve ever done. I’m a sucker for riffy melodic punk, and that’s exactly what Divide & Conquer delivers. I reviewed this album, too, so you can read that here if you’d like.

#7 OFF! – Free LSD

Look, it’s another album I reviewed! Are you seeing a pattern here? Anywho… OFF! makes their triumphant return after eight years without releasing a new album. Keith Morris is one of the best do ever do it, folks. Their new drummer Justin Brown is pretty fucking awesome, too. This is OFF!’s best record.

#6 The Flatliners – New Ruin

After years of being a hardass about not listening to The Flatliners‘ non-ska output, I finally decided to give them a shot with New Ruin. And you know what? It’s a great album! I also went back and listened to Inviting Light, and you know what? That’s a great album, too! I’m usually not a fan of slower shit, but I’ll make an exception here. And on an unrelated note, I think New Ruin‘s cover art is really cool. Kinda reminds me of Insomniac.

#5 Pulley – The Golden Life

Pulley has never released a bad album, and The Golden Life certainly doesn’t buck that trend. This is the veteran SoCal melodic punk band’s seventh LP, and their first with Sean Sellers of Good Riddance on drums. It’s not radically different from their previous output, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Pulley still kicks ass! (oh yeah, I reviewed this album by way).

#4 Screeching Weasel – The Awful Disclosures of Screeching Weasel

In case my username isn’t a dead giveaway, Screeching Weasel is one of my all-time favorite bands. The Awful Disclosures of Screeching Weasel sounds a lot like First World Manifesto and Some Freaks of Atavism. And that’s a very good thing, because I love those records. I enjoy this album a lot as well. That’s why it’s in my Top 5 (and also why I gave it quite the positive review).

#3 The Manges – Book of Hate for Good People

Alright, folks! We’re in the Top 3. No more fucking around. On the cusp of their 30th anniversary, Italian pop-punk mainstays The Manges released their best album ever. Book of Hate for Good People is a near perfect pop-punk record. “Lucky Tiger”, “Back to Bangkok”, “High On Stress”, “The Hate Parade”, “I’m Not A Sissy”, “Red Flags”… all bangers. If you have not listened to this, you’re a god damn idiot. Read my fuckin’ review, too, while you’re at it.

#2 The Windowsill – Focus

I thought I had my Top 10 list locked in about a month ago, then I found out The Windowsill had a new album coming out in December and I knew my list was about to be blown up. My fears were confirmed when I hit play on Focus for the first time. Dear lord, this album is incredible! I’ve listened to it at least once a day since it came out. This album deserves to be on a lot of Top 10 lists. Did I mention that I reviewed it? Because I did.

#1 No Fun At All – Seventh Wave

No Fun At All is one of the greatest skate punk bands of all time, in my opinion. Seventh Wave is the band’s seventh full-length album, and I think it’s one of their best. This is right up there with their 90’s output, rivaling classic records like Out of Bounds and The Big Knockover. NFAA never disappoints. Seventh Wave is easily my favorite album of 2022.

READ MY REVIEW!!!

Honorable Mentions

Rehasher – Open Roads (single)

In case you didn’t already know, Less Than Jake‘s Roger Lima has a killer side project called Rehasher. They came through with a new single in the 11th hour of 2022. “Open Roads” is excellent. Shit sounds like Motorhead gone skate punk. How bout a new ‘Hasher record in 2023, Roger?

Megadeth – The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!

I like Megadeth. This is a pretty good Megadeth album. I think Anthony Fantano gave it a bad review, but fuck that guy. Long live MegaDave!

Florida Men – Self-Titled

What’s that? You thought I was done plugging my album reviews? Think again, motherfucker! I thoroughly enjoyed Dutch pop-punk band Florida Men‘s self-titled debut album, and gave it a glowing review. Perhaps you, too, will enjoy it.

Handheld – A Canadian Tragedy

2022 saw Canadian skate punks Handheld making a triumphant return with their first new album in 14 years. I had actually never heard of these guys before, but when I saw they were on Thousand Islands Records, I knew A Canadian Tragedy would probably be a good record. I was right!

The Bruce Lee Band – One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.

Mike Park does it again! The latest album from the revived Bruce Lee Band also features Jeff Rosentstock, MU330‘s Dan Potthast, and former Chinkees drummer Kevin Higuchi. Best ska record of 2022 right here.

I REVIEWED THIS ALBUM 🙂

Thanks for reading all that bullshit. Here’s a neat little Spotify playlist with a song from each of these albums!

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Dying Scene Album Review: The Bruce Lee Band – “One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.”

When I think of ska, one of the first names that comes to mind is Mike Park. You might know him as the founder of an iconic label called Asian Man Records; a venture he has operated out of his mom’s garage for over 25 years, helping break bands like Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake, […]

When I think of ska, one of the first names that comes to mind is Mike Park. You might know him as the founder of an iconic label called Asian Man Records; a venture he has operated out of his mom’s garage for over 25 years, helping break bands like Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake, and The Lawrence Arms. You may also know of his work as a brilliant singer, songwriter, and performer who has played in bands like Skankin’ Pickle and The Chinkees.

As of late, Mike Park has returned to his role as frontman of The Bruce Lee Band, a project which had been mostly dormant since its 1995 self-titled debut LP. In 2014, Park revived the band seemingly out of thin air with Jeff Rosenstock‘s help, releasing a ska-punk masterpiece titled Everything Will Be Alright, My Friend. And while I’m sure following up an excellent album like that can be a daunting task, the Bruce Lee Band’s all star lineup passed the test with flying colors on 2022’s One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.

The band’s new record boasts a 12-song track list ranging in style from bouncy keyboard infused two-tone songs like “Did You Find the Money Farm”, “So Nice for Me and You”, and “Dance Dance Revolution”, to up-tempo anthems in “Lie Big and Do it Often”, “Putting Up With All My Crazy”, and “I’ll Feel Better”. This is a quintessential ska-punk album that will have you skanking from start to finish if your stamina permits. I loved the last Bruce Lee Band record, and I can say with confidence this one will be staying in my regular rotation for a while.

Mike Park’s soothing baritone voice sounds as great as ever, and after all these years, he still has quite the knack for writing great choruses. His All Star caliber backing band featuring Rosenstock on bass, keys and the saxaphone, MU330‘s Dan Potthast on guitar, and former Chinkees bandmate Kevin Higuchi on drums delivers the goods as well. There is not a skippable song to be found on this record. Keep an eye out for One Step Forward. Two Steps Back. on plenty of “Top 10 Albums of 2022” lists; it has definitely earned a spot on mine.

Listen to One Step Forward. Two Steps Back. below, and head over to Asian Man’s webstore to grab the LP.

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From The Dying Scene Vault #2: “I’ll Love You ‘Til The End” – The Loved Ones Look Back On Ten Years Since “Build + Burn”

Howdy comrades! As you know, we’re fired up to have turned the lights back on at Dying Scene Headquarters earlier this year. It’s been fun cleaning out the cobwebs and dusting off the bookshelves and trying to restore the place to its former glory. As you’ve probably noticed, a lot of the old content is […]

Howdy comrades! As you know, we’re fired up to have turned the lights back on at Dying Scene Headquarters earlier this year. It’s been fun cleaning out the cobwebs and dusting off the bookshelves and trying to restore the place to its former glory. As you’ve probably noticed, a lot of the old content is still in the Archive, but it doesn’t look right. Missing photos, outdated hyperlinks, etc. So, when we’re so inclined, we’re going to freshen up some of the old content that seems good enough to share. And with that, here’s the second installment of the From The Dying Scene Vault. It’s a story that originally ran 2/5/18, which was the tenth anniversary of the release date of The Loved Ones’ sophomore album, Build & Burn. The band did a pretty great 10th-anniversary tour for their debut album, Keep Your Heart, but this was about the extent of the coverage of the anniversary of Build & Burn, my personal favorite Loved Ones record. I’m really proud of how this came out, and I’m still super grateful I had the opportunity to do it.

When The Loved Ones released their debut full-length album, Keep Your Heart, in early 2006, it seemed at the time to be a welcome bit of fresh air in the punk scene. Here was a new band that, though its members were known entities in the punk rock scene, seemed to transcend any specific label; a bouncy, East Coast sound run through a West Coast, Fat Wreck Chords filter. The album was an opening salvo from a band that seemed destined for a lengthy and blindingly bright future. Inspired (for lack of a better word, because that honestly feels like the wrong word to use) by the death of frontman Dave Hause’s mother a few years prior, the baker’s dozen tracks on Keep Your Heart found the Philadelphia-based trio (Mike Sneeringer on drums, Michael “Spider” Cotterman on bass) nearly perfecting a high-octane, melodic punk rock sound that was all their own right out of the gate. The album was nearly universally well-received by critics, fans and fellow bands alike, and set a trajectory for the band that seemed, on paper, to trend infinitely upward.

On the surface, things seemed to be heading in a positive direction in the Loved Ones camp, but there was tension in the ranks. By the time they were ready to record a follow-up to Keep Your Heart, Spider had left the band and the relationship between Hause and Sneeringer was tenuous at best. Touring guitar player David Walsh was brought in as a permanent member, as was Chris Gonzalez, Walsh’s former bandmate in Boston-area punk band The Explosion after that band itself went belly up. The situation was unsteady, but the new lineup had displayed a great deal of chemistry on the road. With that and the momentum from Keep Your Heart still providing wind in their sails, the band teamed up with Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen to get to work on a new album that would find the band branching in different directions while trying to not abandon their punk rock roots.

The end product, Build & Burn, was released ten years ago today (February 5, 2008). Backed by a rock-solid rhythm section, the album maintained many of the melody-rich, uptempo punk rock sounds that made its predecessor so beloved. But the album also stretched in a variety of musical directions that, at the time, didn’t immediately resonate with fans in the same coherent way that Keep Your Heart had. Layers of added texture and an increased desire to tap into some broader musical influences, from Foo Fighter-esque radio-ready rockers to mid-90s radio alternative Lemonheads grooves to Oasis-style stadium anthems made for an enjoyable and challenging listening experience to the punk rock ear. In retrospect, the album very much finds not only the band and its members – collectively and individually – at a crossroads, but came at a time in which the scene and the music industry and the nation were very much the same place.

The band aimed high, and while opinions may vary as to how successful they were (yours truly thinks it’s the superior, more relatable Loved Ones full-length), it’s undeniable that they built a bridge to what was to come for its members. To mark the album’s tenth birthday, Dying Scene caught up with its main players – Dave Hause, Mike Sneeringer, David Walsh, Chris Gonzalez, Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen – to dig deep into the closets and talk about the build up, and subsequent burn out, that produced this misunderstood gem. Check out our two-part story (The Build and The Burn) and track-by-track revisit below!

“The Build” 

Crafting A Sophomore Album

The Loved Ones initially came together as a band in mid-2003. The three members that comprised the initial lineup – Dave Hause on guitar and vocals, Michael “Spider” Cotterman on bass and Mike Sneeringer on drums – were veterans of noted punk and hardcore bands like Paint It Black, Trial By Fire, The Curse and Kid Dynamite. The newly formed band ascended in relative short order; a self-released demo in 2004 and a self-titled EP released on Jade Tree Records in early 2005 helped bring them shows offering support for high-profile bands including The Bouncing souls and NOFX. This, in turn, led to the trio signing with Fat Wreck Chords for the release of their debut full-length. Entitled Keep Your Heart, the album hit the streets in February 2006 and set the bar high for the band right out of the gate. In large part, the album centered on first-time frontman Hause processing the death of his mother a few years prior. The album’s raw, punchy sound and deeply personal lyrics were instantly accessible to a wide audience, and remain an intensely visceral listening experience.

As is perhaps to be expected in a group of opinionated, headstrong late-20s males touring the world in a van, there was some level of tension within the ranks almost from the start. “Aspects of the band were tumultuous the entire time. It was a weird combination of personalities,” explains Sneeringer. “Dave (Hause) and I are both really stubborn, and that’s not a good trait to have when you’re trying to help operate a band at a level where the expectations are super high,” he elaborates, while acknowledging that it’s a story shared by countless other bands throughout the annals of music history. In spite of the personality differences, the band’s increase in popularity lead to increased opportunities to keep the show on the road. Though The Loved Ones initially toured as a three-piece, they would eventually recruit David Walsh, founding guitarist of Boston-area punk band The Explosion to play second guitar on the road. The Explosion were still technically a band at that point, but were in a period of inactivity, freeing Walsh up to help The Loved Ones beef up their live sound. This particular lineup would not last, however, as Spider Cotterman would officially relinquish his role as bass player before long.

Coincidentally, The Explosion’s hiatus would become an official parting of the ways around the time that Spider departed The Loved Ones. This led not only to Walsh joining the Loved Ones on a full-time basis, but to his recruiting one of his Explosion bandmates into the fold. “(Hause) told me Spider was leaving the band and we needed a bass player,” says Walsh. “I was telling Chris Gonzalez, who was the second guitar player in The Explosion. He wasn’t doing anything and he still wanted to tour, so I had him call Dave.” Though he had been a guitar player since the age of thirteen, Gonzalez had only recently begun to play the bass, primarily for purposes of recording some of the songwriting ideas that he’d been working on individually. That, coupled with a desire to continue touring as a musician, led to a fairly easy decision.

L-R: Walsh, Hause, Sneeringer, Gonzalez. Photo by Jason Messer

And so it was that The Loved Ones not only dodged the bullet that comes along anytime a founding member departs, but had reformed as an official four-piece, absorbing two members from a band that they considered family. “Talk about a brother band,” Sneeringer explains. “The Explosion had to be probably the ultimate in a sea of bands that we were really tight with – Strike Anywhere, Dead To Me. A lot of those bands we considered like brother bands, but The Explosion was something much deeper. To have the ability to have some of those guys be immediately available when we needed them was unbelievably exciting.”

The newly-minted foursome took a collaborative approach to songwriting when it came time to woodshed material for what would become Build & Burn. Walsh sheds some light on the process: “We started doing some demos; I was living in New York at the time and Chris (Gonzalez) and I would go down and hang out with Dave and we would bang around some ideas and we started writing that way.” The band had obviously achieved a modicum of success, and were mindful of the ever-present threat of the sophomore slump. “Keep Your Heart did pretty well,” says Sneeringer. “We had ascended, not to super-stardom like maybe we thought we were going to, but we had only climbed at that point. We had a lot of pressure and expectation, but at the same time, it’s very punk to feel that pressure and expectation and to go ‘fuck you guys, we’re going to make this weird record.’”

In addition to working on new music, the band stayed busy on the road. One of the early tours that the Hause-Sneeringer-Walsh-Gonzalez lineup embarked on was an extensive run across the length of the Great White North. “We did one full tour that was The Loved Ones, Strike Anywhere and Bouncing Souls through Canada,” explains Walsh. While on that tour, the foursome would be allowed the opportunity not only bounce ideas around with each other, but with the duo that would be charged with recording the follow up to Keep Your Heart: the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen.

Where’s Pete and Bryan? (pic stolen from Pete’s old Twitter)

Reading this article in 2018, you’re no-doubt aware of how highly regarded Steinkopf and Kienlen have become not only as musicians but for their parts in crafting great sounding albums. Both have been instrumental to the development of the Bouncing Souls’ sound, and Steinkopf has established a career as a well-respected producer who’s been at the helm of albums for artists like Lenny Lashley, The Menzingers, Plow United, Northcote and Brian Fallon. In 2007, however, the only music Steinkopf or Kienlen had had a part in producing was their own. “Pete and I were super hands-on with How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Anchors Aweigh, those two in particular,” explains Kienlen. “It was me, Pete and John Seymour, every detail, over-the-top anally on those records at that point. (Dave Hause) liked the sound of those records.”

This move would not only be a noteworthy departure from their previous music-making process. Brian McTernan had not only been the producer at the helm of Keep Your Heart, but had worked with various members of the bands at different points in their respective careers, producing material for both Trial By Fire and The Explosion. “It was a tumultuous time,” recalls Sneeringer. “We parted from our so-called normal mode of working with Brian McTernan. That had been our previous bands too, when I was in Trial By Fire, we had recorded with Brian McTernan, and we decided we wanted to do it a different way.

Though the second full-length Loved Ones album would still technically be the first Loved Ones album for half the band, the two remaining founding members were consciously mindful of the aforementioned sophomore slump. “I remember us talking, jokingly, about a difficult second record before we made it,” explains Sneeringer. “We would study other bands and the trajectory of their careers very closely and pay a lot of attention. We were talking about the juxtaposition between the pressure of your second full-length when your first full-length has done well and how many bands that we could think of that had difficult second records. I think (Hause) and I respected that as part of a process, where you want to push it a little and see what you’re capable of, and then maybe after having gone and explored that new territory, return to what you know best with a different perspective. I think that was somewhat calculated.”

I think what we were trying to do was something different overall. We were trying to push away from just doing the same thing,” says Sneeringer. “I think a lot of people wanted us to make Keep Your Heart 2, which of course I understand from a fan’s perspective, but from a band perspective, especially with the new blood of Chris Gonzalez and Dave Walsh, the idea of taking the known and seeing if we could push it a little bit farther and make some kind of weird songs and use some of our other influences. As much as we love punk and hardcore and that scene, especially Dave and I listened to a lot of country and folk and indie-rock songwriter kind of stuff.”

Pre-production for the new material largely took place at what is now known as Little Eden Studio in Asbury Park, New Jersey, but was really known at the time as Kate Hiltz’s basement. Hiltz, the Bouncing Souls longtime “manager/promoter/den mother,” owned a Victorian house that had become the Souls’ crash pad/practice spot/etc. As Sneeringer tells it, “we sort of camped in Asbury Park at Kate (Hiltz), the manager of Bouncing Souls’ house, which is now a studio called Little Eden – we basically built that basement into a studio which is still used with the money that we got from the advance. We bought a lot of gear, a computer, monitors. We did basically pre-production there.”

Once pre-production wrapped, the gang moved north to New York City to lay down rhythm tracks at The Wild Arctic Studio in Queens. This marked Gonzalez first time playing his new instrument on record, and he took his task seriously. “It was the first album I had recorded bass for,” he recalls. “I had so much respect for Spider and his playing and I really wanted to honor that. I wanted it to be something where people didn’t necessarily notice that he wasn’t there, but at the same time make it my own. That was an interesting puzzle to fit into.” Helping to ease Gonzalez into this new role was the fact that Sneeringer was a joy to play with. “Being able to play bass with Mike couldn’t get better,” says Gonzalez. “He’s such a good drummer, and to be able to play bass with someone like that was a perfect mix. It was so fun. I do actually miss that; listening to the album got me wishing I could play bass with Mike again. Getting to do that every night was such a great feeling.”

Sneeringer, for his part, made sure that his drum responsibilities were buttoned up heading into the studio. Perhaps too buttoned up. “I practiced SO much before the recording process that I actually hurt my wrist,” he recalls. “I remember the two days before we went into the studio, I became obsessed with being prepared. I played like six or eight hours straight two days in a row at full volume and tempo and basically hurt myself. I was taking four Advil every couple hours.

Bum wrist aside, the Wild Arctic portion of the recording process went swimmingly by all accounts. “That was a great studio. I felt really positive about my drum tracking” explains Sneeringer. “When we got (to Wild Arctic) it was basically Chris Gonzalez and I and Bob Strakele getting sounds. Maybe Pete and Bryan were there, (but) Dave wasn’t there yet. And there are a couple songs on Build And Burn that I played literally with no accompaniment, and that was the track we used. And this is not meant to be braggadocio or anything, but there are at least three songs that are first take on that record. I had ultra-prepared to where I could play the songs with no help. It was whatever I tackled first, because Dave wasn’t even there, and I said ‘well just run the click and I’ll run through the song so we can hear how the drums sound,’ and that’s the take that we ended up using.”

In addition to rhythm tracks, the band also had a few influential friends stop by the studio to lend their respective talents to the album. Tad Kubler, lead guitar player for Minneapolis-turned-New York City rock band The Hold Steady, popped in and blistered through a breakneck solo that would appear on the song “Louisiana.” “Tad nailed a solo that I could never play live. I’m just not that kind of guitar player,” states Walsh. “I’m more of a rhythmic player, so when it came time for “Louisiana,” I could never play that solo. I kinda had to tell them – and they knew, too – that I wasn’t that kind of guitar player that could play like that, you know what I mean? It’s funny when you have something like that on the album, it’s funny to try to live up to it live.” The multi-instrumental virtuoso Franz Nicolay, himself also of The Hold Steady at the time, also hung out and added layer upon layer of sound to the mix, playing keys and organ and accordion and harmonica and various other percussive devices.

Photo: Gary Strack

Once things were wrapped up in Queens, the crew moved back to Asbury for what was basically a month-long hanging and recording session at Little Eden. The vibe was pretty laid back, and that was at least partially by design. “(Little Eden) was the Bouncing Souls jam room, and Pete started buying gear to retro-fit a studio there,” says Kienlen. “(Pete and I) fine-tuned our ears and got a lot of experience in there and knew our way around. We had developed a specific aesthetic for guitars and sounds and levels and everything. And we’re family with Dave (Hause). We lived in the truck together for five years, give or take,” a specific nod to Hause’s time spent on the Souls’ road crew. Steinkopf adds: “It wasn’t really any different from being in a band. We were all sitting around playing guitars together and working on songs together. We had been friends with Dave for a long time, we had done a ton of touring with The Loved Ones, and half of that lineup used to be in The Explosion, and we had done a ton of touring with them too. We would have all been hanging out whether or not we were making a record.

And while the vibe was as laid back as a large group of good buds hanging out and making music together could be, it wasn’t without its own very real undercurrent of potential stress for the artists and producers alike. The Loved Ones had to follow up their successful debut, and Kienlen and Steinkopf had to take seriously the idea of branching out and producing an album for another band in a studio that hadn’t quite come together yet. Steinkopf especially had been toying with the idea of building Kate’s basement out into a working studio; this process helped pull the proverbial Band-Aid off. “I was kind of planning on doing it but there was really no rush. This kind of put a little bit of a fire under my ass to get it set up enough to do something with,” explains Steinkopf. “Dave (Hause) was just like ‘let’s do it in there!’ and I’m like ‘well, we don’t really have any idea what we’re doing at all!’ Luckily our sound man, Bob Strakele, really ran the ship and made the whole thing happen. He was the hero of that record.”

It’s worth noting that the Asbury Park that Build & Burn was recorded in was a tough and gritty place, far different from the Asbury Park that you’ll find circa 2018 thanks in large part to the ongoing gentrification process that’s claimed the life of so many working class neighborhoods and divey music venues. Setting up shop at a venue like Little Eden provided the assembled crew with some of the creature comforts of home, and some rather hair-raising experiences to go along. “Kate’s house is right down the street from the Asbury Lanes – rest in peace,” explains Kienlen. “We would work in the basement all day, then we would walk up to the Lanes. Asbury Park was different back then, and I remember definitely getting fucked with.”

Perhaps chief among the more hair-raising incidents experienced during that month in Asbury was the night that engineer Bob Strakele got held up at gunpoint during one of the group’s nightly three-block walks to the Lanes. “He was only a few paces behind us,” says Kienlen. “Maybe half-a-block. And we got to the Lanes and we’re standing on the back steps and Bob’s getting held up right behind this mini school bus, ten or twenty yards behind us, only we couldn’t see him because he’s behind the bus!” Steinkopf offers his own take on the event: “We would record during the day, drink a bunch of booze at the studio, then slowly make our way to the Lanes. It was fall, so it was still nice out. One night Bob had to stay and I think backup some files. We were all already at the Lanes, carrying on outside in the smoking area, and we heard Bob kinda say “oh no!” and then he showed up and said “I got fucking mugged at gunpoint!” It was right within earshot of us, but he was behind a van. The guys got him at gunpoint and got his phone and his wallet and all his crap.”

Of course, no month-long Asbury Park music experience would be complete without a requisite Bruce Springsteen story. Not only had The Boss recently used Kienlen’s custom-built Harley Davidson for a photo shoot (see above) with legendary Asbury-based photographer Danny Clinch, but he and the E Street Band were in town for the month, rehearsing for an upcoming tour at the Asbury Park Convention Hall. Kienlen ran into Springsteen himself in the VIP area at a Dropkick Murphys, and took the chance to fulfill his producerly duties and try to reel in the biggest of big fish to sing on the album. “I had both a reason to talk to him and an opportunity to talk to him, “he explains. “I’m like “oh, hey, I’m the owner of the bike that you did the photo shoot on!” And he said “oh yeah, that’s great! How you doing, I know the Bouncing Souls!” And I’m like “that’s great!” and I’m having this cool moment. And I could have said anything I wanted, and I took my big opportunity to talk to the fucking Boss and I was like “I’m making a record with this band The Loved Ones and we have this kind of Gospel song and we would love if you would sing on it.” I could have said anything, I could have said something about the Bouncing Souls, and instead I punished the guy by asking him to sing on a record I was making!” (As an aside, here’s a video of various members of the Loved Ones recording crew trying to lay eyes on Springsteen during this time, affectionately known as “Stalking The Boss.”)

By the end of the recording session at Little Eden, there was the sense that the band and the crew who came together for the experience had crafted something different, and something special. “I remember being super excited about (the whole process),” Gonzalez notes. “I remember being super excited to finish it. I remember Pete and Bryan and Bob were all really excited. It felt like we had accomplished something.” “It was a good learning experience for everybody involved,” adds Kienlen. “They’re great songwriters. That record’s got Dave Walsh writing, it’s got everybody’s skill. It’s one of those perfect moments when a bunch of creative minds create something bigger than any one person. That’s how I think of that record. It was a really fun experience to play that role, and to kinda sit back and let those guys run the show.

The band had set out to explore new musical territory, and unquestionably succeeded. “We had to do it. We had to make that record, or we would have just wondered,” opines Sneeringer. “We would have thought it would have been a Wilco-esque opus if we never made it. The way you think of things and the way they come out is not always the same, and that’s fine, that’s most of life. With the way we were feeling at the time, we had to make a record that was different than Keep Your Heart. That’s unequivocal.” The ten songs that would emerge in the form of Build & Burn were rooted in punk rock and collectively told a compelling story that, in some ways, is uniquely American. It’s a story of creation and destruction, of building things up on one side and burning them down on the other. It’s also a story that would prove to be steeped in foreshadowing.

Build & Burn – The Band Goes Track-by-Track
(Editor’s note: The song names double as links to the actual tracks. David Walsh and Mike Sneeringer provided commentary without having listened to the album in recent years. Hause and Gonzalez had both given the album recent spins when we spoke.)

Pretty Good Year
David Walsh: “Pretty Good Year” is a great one too. That’s a real “Loved Ones style” song. It’s real fast and dirty.

Mike Sneeringer: “Pretty Good Year” is probably my favorite (song from the album). And that has to do with some of the simplicity. To me, it was an extremely straight-forward song, very much like “Suture Self.” That’s why we started the album off with it, too, to ease people into the second record. The simplicity of it still sits well with me.

Chris Gonzalez: “Pretty Good Year” I think is great. Dave came to us with that song, and we thought “oh, yeah, this is a perfect song to start an album with. It’s got perfect energy. It’s a perfect transition (from Keep Your Heart) – here’s something new, but there’s a little bit of the old still there too.

Dave Hause: “Pretty Good Year” is a good song. I remember crafting it and being super proud of the lyric. I think the lyric is still really sturdy. In keeping with my favorite things that have happened with my writing, it’s up there with “Autism Vaccine Blues” or other songs that I think are successfully written. I don’t know if it’s delivered in a compelling way.

“The Inquirer”
Walsh: I love “The Inquirer.” And that song in particular was a real collaborative song between Chris, Dave and I. I feel like the verse riff I wrote, the intro riff Chris wrote and Dave wrote the chorus, you know? I think Dave wrote all of the lyrics, but melody-wise we hashed that out together. That was definitely one of my favorites.

Sneeringer: I thought of it a very rock way, even though it’s a pretty punk song. The simplicity of the drum part, and I love Dave’s scream when he comes back in. It’s so from the depths. I remember him doing that, and I remember being in the studio when he tracked that, and thinking “how long is he going to scream? I can’t believe he’s able to do that!” That one, live, is soooo fun. No matter what was going on with a crowd, even for people that didn’t know it, you play that song and people just start moving around.

Gonzalez: My favorite songwriting process on the album was with “The Inquirer.” It was mostly Dave’s song, but the lyrics weren’t finished, and some of the parts weren’t fully arranged. Him and I really sat with that one and really carved it up. I really like the energy of that song. It’s really complete to me. “The Inquirer” is probably my favorite song from the album.

Hause: That song is a ripper. It’s kind of like our Foo Fighter-ode or something. We kept running into Fat Mike on that Keep Your Heart tour, and he kept saying “you need to experiment with weirder chords and weirder progressions. You guys and the Souls can write a hook, but you need more weird chords.” So with “The Inquirer,” that progression was from an Amy Winehouse chord progression; that descending thing in the verse was borne out of some weird motivation from Fat Mike and Amy Winehouse! That song is pretty cool; that scream in the middle of it is real. I always thought that people were going to assume that that was hacked together in ProTools, but that was weird. Some people hear it as cool, I hear it as a guy fucking melting down. That scream was my life at the time hitting a wall or something. That’s a good scream, but knowing what it was borne of is a little harder to wrap your head around!

“The Bridge”
Walsh: “The Bridge” was always a real fun song to play. That one has a vibe of a real bouncy, not cock-rock in particular, but a real almost hip hop beat to it, you know what I mean? That’s a good riff. I believe Dave wrote that. That video was so fun; that was the most fun video ever.

Sneeringer: “The Bridge” is the one we picked as the single, and I remember Dave and I both saying after the fact that maybe we should have done “The Inquirer.” But I like that we did “The Bridge.” It was intentional, for us being like “this is different, this is not what you’re used to.”

Gonzalez: At the time when we were making the album, I think we were all feeling really good about it. It was just a little bit different. We did some shows way after the record came out and we brought the tempo back up, and I think we all kinda wished we had done it that way instead. It’s so easy to look back and cut it up and think what we could have done and should have done differently. I remember that we were in Kate’s basement writing it and arranging it and we were stuck on it. We kinda came up with that sort of Jackson 5 style bass part and shaped it from there. That was really fun. We were all pretty excited; Kienlen and Steinkopf were stoked.

Hause: I still don’t like the arrangement, but I didn’t hate it as much as I thought. I thought it was fine, I just wish it would have been a little straighter. I think that all of that bouncing around makes it a little more distracting than it should be. It could have been better served as a Social Distortion sort of thing. The lyrics are a little on the nose. I guess I hear that ambition thing in that song, where we were kinda putting the cart before the horse. We were like “we’re gonna be huge, so let’s write a song where we can comfortably be huge!” There are some good bits in there. Fat were behind it (as the single) but at one point they were getting feedback from people at radio stations saying that it reminded people of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” song, and at that point they may have retreated a little.

Kienlen: I think (“The Bridge”) is my favorite song on there.The record version is so fucking good. Those spaces in that rhythm, and then when Gonzalez comes in with the sixteenths under it, it’s just beautiful, man.

“Sarah’s Game
Walsh: “Sarah’s Game” is a cool song. That’s a song about a friend of ours at the time. (*laughs*)

Gonzalez: At the time, I wasn’t 100% blown away by it, but I didn’t dislike it. I enjoy it more now listening back to it.

Hause: “Sarah’s Game” was sort of an attempt at a “Jane”-esque jam. It was “alright, well, what worked about “Jane”? Like, if we took the formula that we used for “Jane,” and that song was just an honest outpouring, where it was me sitting with just a guitar and coming up with a song. “Sarah’s Game” was trying to recapture that and intellectually going about it. “Jane” was a story song, so this was a story song. “Jane” is in C#, so “Sarah’s Game” is in C#. We have it about the same tempo. The problem with “Jane” is the chorus – it doesn’t have a big enough chorus, so we’ll put this “whoa-oh-oh-oh” Bouncing Souls-esque thing in there that will make the chorus more catchy, then we’ll have “Jane 2.0,” only better. I didn’t really know my head from a whole in the ground at that point, but the magic of whatever happened with the transfer of energy on “Jane” is that it was an honest thing, it wasn’t calculated. If you have an accidental beautiful date with someone, and it all works out, the night is a magical night, chances are a year or two later if you try to do the same thing, go to the same restaurant, order the same food only this time with more red sauce or a bigger steak – chances are the magic of that night had nothing to do with those controllable details. Typically it’s about something else, a certain chemical thing or an intangible, and I think for whatever reason, “Sarah’s Game” lacks that intangible. People liked it, but I wondered at the time why at the end of a show people weren’t asking for that song, they were still asking for “Jane.” I was like “what do you mean? This is a better song!” In reality, it just wasn’t borne of magic.”

“Brittle Heart”
Walsh: I wrote that song. That’s a good song. I feel like that song was inspired by The Hold Steady in a way. Maybe it’s the delivery of the vocals, it’s real storytelling like that. That’s about a friend of mine who went to jail. He’s out now, but it was a real hectic time for him and for me and for some people who were close to me. I think I pretty much wrote 90% of that one…I was going through a thing where my friend – he was actually my brother-in-law at the time, my ex-wife’s brother – was going to jail, and I was going through something with that. I came to the guys with it and said “this can be a Loved Ones song for the next album or I could just keep it for myself and do something solo with it.” But I remember them all being super into it, and because it had a different vibe. I think that Dave was looking for sort of cool little left field songs for this one.

Sneeringer: I really like that song. That’s a really cool song.

Gonzalez: I know that David Walsh was going through a lot of family stuff and it came out of that. I thought it was a good song (at the time), but it’s interesting – now I think it’s a great song. I’m really glad we did that. It definitely moves me more now. I can totally remember the lyrics and where he was coming from with it.

Hause: I like that song. David wrote that song about his brother-in-law. That’s a cool song, that sort of Lemonheads jangle. I think that we pulled that off. It sounds Gin Blossomy or something. It worked. It was a pretty fun jam and maybe should have been more of a focus. If we had arranged more of the record, I probably would enjoy it more. We chose to do him singing some and me singing some because it was more his song, so we did that volley as we wrote it. That song is looser and it doesn’t suffer from some of the same problems that I have with other songs.

Selfish Masquerade
Walsh: I feel like that’s a real grandiose number…

Gonzalez: I just remember feeling like that was a little cringe-worthy. I don’t remember what we were going for, really. I was always upset about it because I wasn’t honest about it at the time and that drove me crazy.

Hause: “Selfish Masquerade” is such a kooky song. It’s so weird. It’s a little bit of a similar ambition, like “let’s write an Oasis song, what would Oasis do?” And while I can appreciate that ambition, at the same time, who gives a shit what Oasis would do? What would you do? I think there are ways to deliver that but have it be less jarring for our fans. On our own, we were playing punk rock venues – the Church basement (in Philly), or the Middle East (in Cambridge). So to have this sort of Reading Festival style rock ballad in the middle (of the album) is jarring! I like the song, but we didn’t need to do it that way. It could have been much more effective just on a piano. It was maybe too much too soon – and that’s the problem with going backwards, you can mix in what the response was to the record with how you actually feel about it and you don’t know which one starts where. But it’s sturdy. It could use a lyrical rewrite. It seems a little too eager to cash the royalty check…it kinda jumped for Oasis and ended up in like that weird mid-period of Aerosmith, which I really like. The very end has this swirling almost string thing that gave me a shiver – it made me laugh, like, “what the fuck is this? What were these kids thinking?” And I hate to be too critical because there are people who do connect with this record in a way, and maybe that part doesn’t bum them out. For me, the spots where we were trying to jump higher than we could are what stick out. (*editor’s note: The chorus and the bridge of this song absolutely nail the ‘Reading Festival’ analogy, but in an awesome way. I find this song to be a cross of the good parts of the Foo Fighters if they were writing their own version of Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.” The sand castle reference is a perfect build/burn image. This the kookiness and grandiosity are why I dig it.)

3rd Shift
Hause:“3rd Shift” – that song came together pretty well. The person who that’s about, that’s chapter one of the person “C’Mon Kid” is about. I wrote that song about a friend who was struggling with addiction for years and years. It was so uncertain as to whether or not he would survive, so when he was doing better a year or two letter, I felt some level of guilt and like I needed to write a positive song. That sort of reminds me of that Against Me! song “Americans Abroad.” It’s got that gallop. I like the writing on that song. That came from an inspired burst and I can hear that still. It’s a cool moment on the record.

Louisiana
Walsh: “Louisiana” is a real fun song to play. That was Dave’s song, he wrote that entirely. I think he had seen a documentary about (Hurricane Katrina) and how they were really fucked over, so he got really inspired.

Gonzalez: The concept was so great initially. We talked about going to Louisiana and doing a video for it where we actually helped fix someone’s house. Any money we made off it would have gone to charity. It was this whole elaborate concept that, because of the way things fizzled out, we never got to do. We also wanted to get a choir to sing on it. Bryan and I, I remember, went to this one church right up the street, and they weren’t feeling it. I think we thought it would be easy, but it didn’t work out. They kinda told us to kick rocks. We were naive and excited, and I’m glad we tried.

Hause: The Hold Steady elements were amazing. That guitar solo is fucking awesome. Tad (Kubler) came in and did two, one was better than the next. He was in and out in twenty minutes and just fucking ripped that thing. That’s really a highlight. And all the elements that Franz (Nicolay) brought to that are really exciting and really cool and made for this strange little soup that we were going for. I think we should maybe have made it a stand-alone song, a single, somewhere in that record cycle later. It would have maybe been cool to do that as a standalone release with all of the proceeds going to Hurricane Katrina victims and have it be its own statement. I was watching that Spike Lee “When The Levees Broke” documentary. Build & Burn is a sort of concept record – with one hand you build, with the other hand you burn, and it sort of meets that criteria. It’s a building song in the most obvious sense of the word. But it felt a little out of place on the record. Then again, there’s a lot of stepchildren on that album that in a weird way form this cool little family. It was a really fun song to play live. But there are moments that are super cool. The song builds into quite a crescendo.

Kienlen: That song “Louisiana” – we had all these big ideas. We wanted to have a huge Gospel choir in there, so we walked around Kate’s neighborhood, where there’s four or five churches. At least a few of them are Baptist. So we thought that was what we needed, and that we’d just walk to those churches, and find the first person we saw there and tell them we were looking for a Gospel choir to sing on our record! And we were so sure this was going to work. We spent days doing it, and it was some weird, awkward conversations. We learned that most of the churches don’t have such a choir. It’s not like the movies where there’s this amazing choir with two dozen females with wonderful voices!

Dear Laura
Gonzalez: “Dear Laura” doesn’t really fit on there, thematically. I think it’s a cool song, but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of (the record).

Hause: “Dear Laura” sounds like a heavy metal song at this point. It sounds like us trying to do Strike Anywhere. It’s a cool song, the lyrics are interesting – it’s about Laura Bush. “Dear Laura” was a holdover from the Keep Your Heart sessions. It didn’t fit on Keep Your Heart and it probably doesn’t fit on Build & Burn either, but it was topical to the Bush Administration coming to an end that year. We were fed up with wars and family values being touted. You can kind of hear those guitar holdovers from Keep Your Heart, it’s riffier.

I Swear
Walsh: I think, I’m almost positive, that Chris Gonzalez wrote most of that song.

Sneeringer: I remember “I Swear” being the most challenging song. I felt like that was the most of us pushing people’s expectations away. I think it was written quickly, but it took a lot of work to get it down. I remember it being kind of confounding, just to get the feel, and I don’t even know if I ever mastered it. That’s a song that I’d love to re-record with my current level of musicianship. I feel like I could do it way better.

Gonzalez: That started with me and then Dave Hause and I bounced it back and forth a little bit. I remember we sat at the picnic table or out on the back porch trying to figure out what the hell we were writing.

Hause: I like that song a lot. I think it’s really cool. You can kinda hear where seeds of “Resolutions” are in there, especially that transition to the final part. “I’ll love you til the end” – I think that lyric is clever and cool. To some degree, all you can offer in any relationship is “I’ll love you til the end.” You hope that that means til the end of time, but really it just means until you can’t anymore. There was so much in there that was going on…almost everyone in that band and in that recording session except for one guy was in a long-term relationship that was about to break or had broken. There were multiple divorces and multiple breakups that were taking place over the course of that record being written and recorded and put out and toured on. I remember us sitting around the picnic table at Kate Hiltz’s and I didn’t have all the lyrics for that song. It was the last thing we had to do, and I had to be at a family function in Philly, so I had let every conceivable amount of time slide away on getting that song done. We were under the gun. If we wanted it on the record, we had to go out in the yard, finish the lyric, and come back in and sing it. I think in about an hour-and-a-half, we did that. We pretty much wrote it all out in an inspired burst and I went into the basement and sang it and it’s surprising how sturdy that one is, and how often I’ve had people ask to play that live in solo situations.

That song was a little bit of a goodbye to someone you love. Sometimes you have to burn shit down. I thought that song was great. That was one of my favorite moments going back. That one seemed compelling and successful, much more so than some of the ones that I thought would be more of that. I thought “Sarah’s Game” was going to hold up better on a repeat listen, and in the end “I Swear” was more of where my heart was. The lesson there, as a songwriter, is to go with your heart over your head. I wish we had put a keyboard part over that, but that’s a minor detail. It’s a similar sort of outro or finale to “Resolutions,” and that occurred to me listening back to it. “Resolutions” was made just a year or two later, and I didn’t realize that I was repeating that, and that was a trip to hear. I said “holy shit, I walked right back through these footsteps a year or two later and nobody called me on it!”

If you look at that lyric and try to imprint that on your relationship with your family, your actual wife or your actual child, to say to someone “if it all burns down, if it all just blows away, I swear I’ll love you til the end” – that’s not what human relationships need! They’re not built on “I’ll have a fondness for you until the end.” You let it burn down and blow away! I knew then that at some degree, the relationship that I was in was not going to stand the test of time. “I’ll always love you” is good in a movie or in a song, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship isn’t over. There’s shit that has to be done in an adult relationship that mostly is where love happens. It’s an action and not just a feeling. I remember finishing up and having this magic session, and it’s only happened a few times – “Meet Me At The Lanes” was like that, there was a song on Keep Your Heart like that, where it’s the last thing you do and it almost doesn’t make the record and it becomes this special moment. I remember racing back to make this family obligation, and I was an hour-and-a-half late, as I was for shit that I shouldn’t have been late for. And I remember arriving and saying “you’ll never believe what happened! We made an amazing love song!” And it was like “yeah, I don’t need a love song, I need you to be on time.” It was wrought with irony and layers. That song is one of my favorite Loved Ones moments. It was really cool being in that backyard and the combined wave that the five or six people at that table were able get that song up on and ride the wave to shore was pretty magical. That doesn’t come along every session.

If you’re not cynical, (the idea of having “I’ll love you ‘til the end” as the last line on any Loved Ones album) is special. Me personally, how I feel about that band, how I feel about that record and those people – we may not play together, but I’ll always love those guys. We went through hell and high water together. Divorces, addiction, tons of fun, tons of screwy (things), living like mid-twenties guys in our early thirties and abandoning tons of responsibilities to keep this rock and roll dream alive. It was fun as hell. It’s a cool bookend if that’s all we get.

A Few Final Thoughts:
Hause (Upon listening to the album straight through for the first time in years): Overall, I think that that rhythm section was really good. I think that Mike’s drumming was great. I think that combined with Bryan Kienlen helping to produce and Chris Gonzalez being a guitar player that was playing bass made for a really cool rhythm section element to it that I had forgotten how much work they did and how cool that stuff was. David was really good in the studio; that kind of came back, a lot of the textures that he added and some of his ideas, more from a production standpoint.

“The Burn”

The Aftermath Of The Album

The answer to the “what happened to The Loved Ones after Build & Burn?” question is a bit of a nuanced, multi-layered and largely unfair one. A changing fanbase, a changing musical landscape, continued interpersonal conflicts and the onset of medical issues each played a part in the story. Build & Burn officially reached shelves and download folders on February 5, 2008, and the band headed out on tour several days later with The Gaslight Anthem playing as direct support. They’d go on to play a bunch of headline shows throughout the year, in addition to supporting The Hold Steady on another run. They’d also switch roles with The Gaslight Anthem, offering support on a tour after the latter band’s breakthrough album, The ‘59 Sound, slingshotted them up the ranks of the rock and roll world. “With this record,” explains Walsh, “it opened us up to being with and touring with bands that were rock bands. It shed some of the punk thing, even though there are still some really punk songs on it.

The broader soundscape that The Loved Ones were able to achieve in studio allowed the quartet to continue on an upward trajectory, albeit one that perhaps wasn’t as steep as it had been after Keep Your Heart. Their live show itself also continued to solidify the band as a force. “We had four real performers,” explains Hause. “We were picking the most compelling songs to play live from two records at that point, and we were a much more formidable live band.” They also continued their trend of attracting the admiration of bands that they were lucky enough to share the stage with. “When we started this band, every big band we play with would say things like “hey, remember us when you get huge!” remembers Sneeringer. “It’s great to believe in your band, but I think we started to believe everyone around us that they were right, that we were going to become big. That does a weird thing to your mind, and not a good thing when it comes to keeping your head on straight — especially partying the way we were.”

The Loved Ones would continue to play and continue to draw crowds as they had been after Keep Your Heart. But tension would still exist, and the band would eventually be forced to bail on a high profile direct support slot on a lengthy Dropkick Murphys tour (coincidentally, The Mahones had to bail on the same tour for visa-related reasons). The decision to cancel would be made only a month out from the start of the month-long run, and was prompted by some worsening medical issues that Mike Sneeringer had been experiencing for some time surrounding the use of his right leg. “I was having difficulty playing,” he explains, adding “I could play, but it was with extreme difficulty and drumming is supposed to be completely natural. I was really freaking out, and I decided I physically couldn’t do (the tour).”

Sneeringer would try altering his playing style and purchasing every make and model of kick pedal that he could find, assuming that those were related to his issues. Years later, he was diagnosed with a movement disorder known as focal dystonia, sometimes referred to as musicians dystonia or, in the sports world, the yips. “It’s a neurological pathway disorder where you’ve basically almost overused a neuro-pathway, and you’re starting to zone into neighboring neuro-pathways and your brain is getting confused. It’s like neurological carpal tunnel.” Sneeringer would eventually get back to the point that he was comfortable enough to try playing again, though his focal dystonia would remain a constant issue, even to this day in his post-Loved Ones projects. “We did a couple tours after that,” he recalls. “We did Australia, we did a tour with the Bouncing Souls and one tour with AFI, but after that, I had told them that hey, you should get another drummer.

Instead of actively pursuing another drummer, the Loved Ones would instead take a hiatus after the album tour ran its course. “I feel like toward the end of the Build & Burn cycle, everyone was kind of like ‘enough already!’” remembers Walsh, adding that making the decision to continue plugging away on the road is difficult “especially if you don’t come back with a whole pile of money, and you can’t really pay your bills. Maybe it’s time to not do it as much as you had been.” Compounding the fact that money wasn’t exactly pouring in in spite of the band performing well and pushing their artistic boundaries was “the fact that we lived in a fucking box truck (on the road),” explains Gonzalez. The concept, reminiscent of the touring arrangements crafted by bands like Descendents and Bouncing Souls “was cute at first,” he points out, “but that shit wears out real quick. Dave and Mike built it out in the beginning and it was a cool way to save money and all that, but the tight quarters – and the wheels fell off at one point and we almost died. That didn’t help the situation.”

Pic stolen from The Loved Ones’ MySpace page which was, somehow, still alive in 2018

Perhaps there’s something tragically poetic, or at least eerily foreshadowing, about the wheels falling off the van while a band is on tour in support of what would become their last album, which was itself given a harbinger of a title in Build & Burn. Perhaps that’s the benefit of hindsight, however. “We were on tour with The Hold Steady, and we left Minneapolis to drive to Fargo,” recalls Gonzales. “I had just put Guns ‘N’ Roses on, and I was laying down in the bunk, totally hungover from Minneapolis, and all of a sudden it felt like we were up on top of another car on one side. We all looked out of our bunks and saw the wheels shot out in front of us. Our tour manager and driver at the time was able to pull us over to safety and we didn’t even crash. That was a mind fuck. All the grey hair I have was probably from that drive.

Sneeringer sums up the period perhaps the most eloquently: Build & Burn was the start of a new era, and it was new territory for us, and it was honestly kinda hard to navigate. When you start a new chapter like that, unless you’re masochists, you’re starting it with hope because you want to believe that the steps you’re making are an improvement, and I feel like they were. Where we ended up was a really, really good place, but I think we didn’t know where to go from there. I think a lot of the external stresses and the external expectations and our own expectations hadn’t been fulfilled yet.

Because of the hiatus that followed Build & Burn tour, the album was never provided a follow-up album that would have given it, and the band, the appropriate context by continuing to flesh out some of those stylistic differences that made them more than your average punk rock band. There was talk of a third album at times over the years, though opinions vary on how that would have looked. “It’s one of those classic second albums for a band, where some people are only going to ever have a mindset of liking a band’s first album and can’t get on board for the second,” opines Walsh, although not without pointing out that those people will many times come back for album number three, once they themselves have matured along with the band. “We weren’t twenty-two year-old kids anymore. I mean, I love punk. I identify myself as a punk, I always will be a punk. But I like that varied taste and I like varied songs, and I think we were kind of all at that state.

If you want glimpses on what may have been from a third Loved Ones record, listen to Dave Hause’s solo albums that followed the band’s hiatus – 2011’s Resolutions, 2013’s Devour, and last year’s Bury Me In Philly. In fact, go one step further and listen to those albums and then put Build & Burn on next in the rotation. What should become immediately evident was that even though Build & Burn was written collaboratively and triumphs because of it, the album very much sets the listener — and the band — up for a period of moving on. “You can see a lineage,” Sneeringer points out. “There’s a guy that’s at a fork in the road. Build & Burn captures him right after he made that decision at the fork, and his solo career is further down that road. I think if he were to do another Loved Ones record, we would find him back at that fork and seeing what would have happened if he took a right instead. Amped up, burners.

Hause, for his part, tends to echo some of those sentiments. “It’s a document of something that was in transition,” he explains. “I think that one of the regrets that I have is being able to see that transition through as a band. You do kind of get that transition if you follow the songs that I made after that, but with the band, a third record would have tied a bow on it, and that would have been kind of nice.”

So here we are in 2018, still without that bow which, for all intents and purposes, may never get tied. “When you have this much time that’s gone by,” Sneeringer explains, “the record after a hiatus, in my opinion, has to be so mind-blowing that it justifies the beak. My feeling is that it would have to be the kind of record where everyone that had ever heard us would say ‘have you heard this new Loved Ones record? It’s insane! You HAVE to hear it!’ Anything less than that, I wouldn’t even want to put it out.” Which is not to say, of course, that the five-piece (Spider has rejoined the band on bass, moving Chris Gonzalez back to his natural position and creating a three-headed guitar monster when the band plays live, as they did on their Keep Your Heart tenth anniversary shows a couple years ago) aren’t capable of crafting an album full of mind-blowing moments, especially now that any and all damaged fences appear to have been mended, many of them stronger than ever. “I’m proud that those relationships are all intact and that there’s not animosity; that would drive me crazy,” Hause reflects. “I wouldn’t be able to look back on something like this if there was bad blood. It would be too painful. When you go through those painful things and you almost die together, in many different ways, whether it’s getting into super dangerous situations or doing too many drugs, or a wheel falling off your truck at 75 miles an hour and almost dying – we did a lot together that was death-defying and you’d hate to have an animosity left over that would make all of that not beautiful. That would make it almost not worth it.

For now, we’re left with Build & Burn as a fitting bookend to The Loved Ones career, at least from a musical output standpoint. It does not contain the same sort of primal, visceral energy that drew – and continues to draw – so many to its predecessor, Keep Your Heart. But it does find four musical companions who were just starting to experiment, to test their limits as craftsmen without being afraid of failing or falling. They built up, and they eventually burned down and they moved forward in that process. And at the end of it all, we the fanbase, loved them ’til the end.

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From The Dying Scene Vault #3: Lucero – Raising Hell for 25 years!

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it […]

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it would be cool to take a look back at some of the posts from our past.

The third installment dates back to 2016. It was initially written as the second-half of an article that was published a few months earlier in which we revisited Lucero’s self-titled debut album which was, at the time, turning 15 years old. Maybe we’ll dust that first half off when the time comes. But so this second half contained a few chats with some others of our favorites in the scene, namely Dave Hause and Frank Turner and Rebuilder’s Sal Medrano. They were all gracious enough to chat with us for a few minutes about Lucero and their legacy, and I think they offered three different and interesting perspectives on what that band has meant to people over the years. Fast forward to present day, and April 13th marks the 25th anniversary of Lucero’s first-ever live performance! We feel extremely lucky to have gotten to cover and more importantly know this crew over the years. Keep scrolling to check out the latest installment of From The DS Vault!

Toward the end of May, Dying Scene published a feature piece marking the fifteenth anniversary of Lucero‘s self-titled debut album. You can read it here if you haven’t done so already. In the course of digging around on the band’s history, however, it dawned on us pretty quickly that any sort of retrospective on Lucero was going to have to dive much deeper than just reexamining their first album. Because, to paraphrase the first couple of paragraphs of that last story, Lucero are, for a great number of people and due to an equally great number of reasons, one of those bands. A band that has a way of not only writing music and lyrics that strike you right in the emotional core, but fundamentally changing

When I started this project a few months ago, I had visions of turning it into a 5,000 word ode to Lucero in my own words. As you’ve probably established, they’re one of those bands for me. The mark of a good storyteller and songwriter is that you are able to paint a picture and strike a nerve that’s so poignant that you put the listener in your shoes, making them feel as though you’re not only singing to them but about them. For myself, like most Lucero fans, the list of songs penned in Ben Nichols’ trademark tone that were probably written precisely about me is at least a couple dozen deep, primarily because the band’s canon is part heartbreaking, part self-deprecating, part cathartic good-time anthem and filled with ever-evolving sonic differences. But let’s be honest; one part-time pseudo-music blogger’s opinion on what he thinks is one of the most important bands in the foundation of this scene isn’t, well…it isn’t that interesting. I mean who do I think I am, Dan Ozzi?

Anyway, with that latter sentiment in mind, we sent out feelers to a couple friends of the scene that we know share our admiration for the ever-changing band of misfits from Memphis, Tennessee. What follows below is, we think, a pretty compelling look at just what makes Lucero Lucero, and what it means to be a fan of the band and of Ben Nichols penchant for songwriting (never that good with words anyway my ass). There are stories of personal encounters (wrapping Christmas presents…drunken tour bus hijinks…etc), there are comparisons to bands like Slayer and NOFX…equal parts entertaining and enlightening and, thanks to the guys we talked to, an incredibly thoughtful read. Many thanks to Frank Turner, Dave Hause, and Rebuilder‘s Sal Medrano for the assists! You can head here to scope out Lucero’s upcoming run of US tour dates, which kicks off next weekend (September 24th) in Boston.

Lucero Q & A with Dave Hause

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): For a band like Lucero to have a home on punk websites or alt-country websites or Americana websites, and for them to feel right at home on all of them, I don’t think would have happened fifteen years ago when that album first came out. And I think that they’re one of the reasons why that sort of happened. There’s no real genre there, but there are a lot of people who dig them and their changing sounds and Ben’s songwriting.

Dave Hause: They certainly, for whatever reason, were regarded as a punk rock band. They made a home in the punk rock scene. I think you can make a good case to say that without them, there isn’t really like a Revival Tour…

 Yeah!

Or whatever that thing in our little world has become. At this point, it’s every swinging dick with a guitar. It’s like punk music thinks it can be Paul Simon… But anyway, I think that they did pave a lot of that road. And I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s the gravel in his tone and his sort of approach to songwriting. Maybe it’s the way they looked, so punk rockers could say “hey, this is our band.”

It’s interesting…Lucero is a band that I’ve played a bunch of one-offs with over the years. Like, many, many times. We’d play two shows in a row, or one here and one there. And I’ve been a fan. When the Loved Ones were out touring on the first record, for whatever reason, we ended up going out on a bunch of ska support tours. There were two or three in a row. We opened up for Catch-22 to get somewhere, like the routing was on the way somewhere. We did a run with The Mad Caddies, then we did a run with Less Than Jake. It really wasn’t a great fit, any of those tours. Maybe the Mad Caddies would be the closest thing, but even that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But, typically ska people are open to all kinds of music and they liked our band, so we ended up on some of those tours. But it didn’t necessarily translate to any new fans.

But oddly enough, on a bunch of those tours, Lucero was always in town on the same night. Many, many times we would go see them across town. There was a run at some point where we were in the same town for three or four days. And I would go either get on the guest list or go across town and buy a ticket and see Lucero play. It was really inspiring, because the shows were really small…this was probably in 2006, maybe? And the coolest thing about them then, which is also the coolest thing about them now, is that they always do exactly what it is that they want. They played for as long as they wanted. There wasn’t a lot of…you didn’t get the impression that they were “going for it.” You got the impression that they were fine with it being whatever it is. There were no big banner drops or intros, or all of the rock-and-roll “go for it” posturing, you know. All of that stuff I love, by the way. I think that stuff’s great, and I’m more than happy to involve that in anything I do.

But them, it was really just guys that were legitimately there to play. It seemed like Ben just wanted to play as many of his songs as he could. There’s a culture that seemed to grow and grow and grow. And now, they seem to be like the Slayer of that genre. You don’t really want to open for Lucero! When I first started playing solo, I didn’t have any records out or anything, it was maybe within the first ten shows I ever played. I opened for them in Philly, and it was not fun. It was not easy. There was definitely people who only wanted to see Lucero. But I think a lot of that is because they’ve built their own culture without really looking over their shoulders or involving themselves in things like Twitter…all of the things that you’re “supposed to do” to be successful in this business. They seem to shrug it off and just worry about getting to the show, playing the show, and writing the songs. I think that’s a huge reason why they have such a large, lasting culture.

I’m pretty sure that they didn’t even bring an opener out on the last tour. I think it they just did two full sets, basically. A full acoustic show and a full electric show, if I’m not mistaken.

Yeah, I mean, they’ve got so much material. It’s “A Night With Lucero” now. Even if they brought an opener, who would it be that would compliment the show? It doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense, you know? There’s certainly bands they could open for, I think they went out with Social Distortion and…oh, who was it…The Drive-By Truckers. That all makes sense.

I think they were out with the Dropkick Murphys a year or two ago? Or maybe that was just a one-off in Boston, I forget…

Yeah, that makes sense. But by and large, it’s just “An Evening with Lucero.” It’s a place where you can nestle in and have your whiskey and have a few beers and listen to well-made songs. The record that I love is That Much Further West…which number is that?

Oh god…that’s number three I think.

Yeah, that’s the third one. That’s the one where I think it all kind of came together. And I think they’ve obviously made awesome records since then. …  I’ve crossed paths with them many, many times and I know the guys. In fact, I had a really fun Christmas Eve with Brian a few years back. I was on tour with Cory Branan, and we were doing a co-bill solo tour. We ended up in Memphis on Christmas Eve, and we went over to Brian’s house. And he is the most Christmas guy ever.

Oh really?

Oh, he goes all out. Wrapping and buying tons and tons of gifts. He’s very into Christmas. That’s his thing. He makes no bones about it, he wants his kids to have the classic, movie-style Christmas. I actually helped him wrap presents with his lady and Cory and his fiance at the time, his wife now, on a Christmas Eve…

That’s awesome.

And I mean, my mom, when she was living, was the most Christmas person I’d ever met. She loved it. And he had her beat. He was like Santa himself. It was pretty awesome.

It’s funny to think of a couple hard-partying and hard-drinking rock-and-roll people…obviously Cory’s got his own history too…and the story that comes to mind is wrapping Christmas presents. I think that’s really, really awesome.

Yeah, it was really awesome, and that wasn’t lost on me. Cory, Brian from Lucero and I have all had that follow us; the bottle is certainly brought up pretty quickly in whatever press we’ve done. And maybe it was two days before Christmas, but here we were wrapping away, with bows and glitter, and they were doing Elf On A Shelf, which, I didn’t know what that even was…

Yeah, I’ve only learned about that recently myself.

They were all about it. It was pretty funny. But yeah, my experience with them has been in watching the culture grow and change, and how that whole thing works. I’ve opened for them at various festivals and one-offs over the years and not only watched it grow but gotten to know them and their crew and just watched it develop. It’s wild that it’s already been fifteen years. In some weird way, it doesn’t seem like it’s been fifteen years, but then in some other ways, it feels like they’ve been around for thirty years. I don’t remember them forming and roaring onto the scene ever, you know? They just were there, and everyone was aware of them and excited to go see them. But it wasn’t like “oh, there’s this new band called Lucero…” at any point.

I think it’s cool to talk to songwriters about other songwriters, and about songs in particular that they wish maybe that they had written, either something that sums up what you’ve gone through perfectly, or something that you hear once and it just makes you feel like you wish you could have said that that way. Are there songs from their catalog that are like that? Because I’ll tell you, there are songs of Ben’s that I wish I had written for god’s sake, because they’re pitch-perfect.

Oh yeah. I ended up covering “Joining The Army” for the seven-inch series I did after Resolutions came out. Most of that record, I wish I had written. The weird thing about it is that it’s so distinctly him that at this point, when one of those little jangly  songs comes to me, you really have to watch out to make sure it doesn’t sound like Ben.

Oh really? That’s a conscious thing?

He’s kinda cornered that whole thing. Obviously it’s all in the words and the delivery, that’s the magic. He’s really done that thing so well for so long that you’ve got to be careful that you don’t write a Lucero song. You almost have to leave anything regarding whiskey and women to bed. He’s gonna beat you! (*both laugh*) And it’s funny because there are certain lyrics and certain things that you kind of avoid. You’re like “well, you can’t really say ‘love’ that much in a song, and if you do, it’s got to really count.” And you get into this these weird, nerdy songwriter rules…as if there were rules, there aren’t really but you can kinda delude yourself into saying that…but I think that the odd thing is that he’s kinda like Ryan Adams, in that he’ll go for a riff or a line that is so perfect, and has such common language…there’s no trickery to it. Whereas a guy like Cory (Branan) is well-versed and kind of a Paul Simon-y wordsmith. Or even someone like (Matt) Skiba. They’re obviously really well-read, and that comes out in the lyrics. Isbell is another one like that.

Whereas Ben, I think he can do all that, but he really just knows what his thing is. He knows what people that are involved in the culture want to hear next. And I’m not trying to say that gets caught in a loop at all. But there’s things that Ryan Adams will do, where you think “he said that, and he’s getting away with it, and it’s so perfect.” He’ll do something that will make you think “I can’t get away with that,” but he does. Like, you can’t say “stay with me” over and over and over again. But then Ryan Adams will do it, or Ben will do something like it, and you think “oh, well, of course you can.” You have to sell it in the delivery of the vocal and have the whole song support that idea, even if it’s very simple. And I think that’s part of the magic of what is going on with their whole culture. He’s keeping it intentionally simple, and that really sticks to people’s ribs.

It doesn’t seem … you mention guys like Isbell and Cory I think those guys sing from the heart of course, but I think that they sing from their brains too. They pay very close attention to the way words are structured. And it seems like Ben sings from his gut most of the time.

He is. He and Chuck (Ragan) have that cornered. I think they probably get songs done faster that way. I’ve seen Chuck write, and I’ve seen how quickly it comes out, and how little he allows that inner critic to get involved. Which is great. That’s what allows him to be prolific and allows so much magic to come out. Whereas I think, for me personally, and I know a guy like Cory or maybe Isbell…there is more of like that Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits or Paul Simon thing. I think maybe it all comes more from Dylan, I’m not really sure how it all organizes. But it certainly has more of an intellectual bent to it. Dan Andriano kinda writes more like that too; he wants it to be interesting. I think that’s the difference between a guy like Ryan Adams and a guy like Jason Isbell.

But Ben seems to be more of a writer who’s willing to wear it on his sleeve and get it out. I’m not sure what his process is, but it seems very, very natural. And I think people respond to that. I think, by and large, that I went with that approach more. I wish I was more apt to not sand the table; to just get the table done and get it out, and if you can see a few nicks and hatchet marks in the table, that’s cool! I think Ben does that and Chuck does that, and Tim Barry has that sort of approach. I really admire that about him, and I think that’s where a lot of the magic lies with that band.

Do you think that’s something that they learn, or do you think that’s something that they just have and it is what it is? Like, do you think that guys like Ben or Chuck purposely spend time not trying to overthink things, or do you think it just works that way.

I don’t know. I think my armchair quarterbacking of it is that these guys started doing it really young, when nobody was paying attention. The industry, so to speak, had to come around to what they were doing later as they had developed a pretty sizeable fanbase. And so, by that point, your confidence is pretty high because you know that people are listening and excited about your approach. So you’re not trying to kick the door down, the door’s already kicked down and at that point you’ve already built a culture.

The Bouncing Souls are like that in another way. By the time they were drawing a thousand people, they weren’t a buzz band. They were a band that had been around for a while. And Lucero’s got that going. So I think that getting in his own way was not very natural ever, because by the time people had figured out what they were up to, they had already been doing it for many years. I don’t think one way is right or wrong, I just think that’s what really special about their thing. I certainly don’t want to give people the impression that I think one is better. I think it’s really cool and admirable for somebody to be like “here’s what it is, the song’s done.” Rather than sanding and polishing. You can still get amazing stuff both ways.

It seems like that would be a tough switch to make mid-stream? Like, for somebody like you or Isbell or Cory to put out an album where you almost don’t give a fuck (about the rough edges), that the songs you came up with are what they are with little polish. It seems like that would be a weird thing to do a few albums in.

Yeah, because I think…for me, it’s interesting because when I do tap into the energy where here’s what’s in my heart and it comes out…that’s what people respond to the most. So the cleverness is not necessarily all that celebrated, you know? I think with a guy like Isbell it is because he’s so solid all the way through. But it would be strange to just have a Stones-style record come out for some of those guys. Whereas, with Lucero, you can do that. I’m hoping to do that, actually (*both laugh*). I’ve got so many songs now that I’m less pressured, and I think that once I cultivate whatever this next thing is, there will be a lot more of that coming out. You kinda have to relearn that there is an element where you just get it done and get it out. It’s never going to be perfect. That’s what Noel Gallagher has always said about “Wonderwall”…that he woke up with a hangover and wrote that in like fifteen minutes. If he had known it would be sung in football stadiums for twenty or thirty years, he never would have finished the song.

And the band has really changed so much over the years that there’s almost like three different incarnations of the band, including the horn section more recently. The core four guys have been the same, but they’ve had as many different sounds and styles as anybody over the years. And I think in part it’s because Ben just doesn’t care. He’s going to put out whatever he wants, whether it’s a soul record or whatever.

Yeah, and there’s really not a whole lot of pomp and circumstance about it. They don’t go about getting press that way, like “oh, here’s the big change.” They haven’t done that weird Flaming Lips or Radiohead thing where it’s like “we have our thing, and now we’re shifting it.” Which isn’t to say they haven’t changed; like you said, they’ve added new elements. They’re legit, man. It’s hard to find a better band at that thing in America, or anywhere for that matter. They’re inherently a very American-type of band. That’s why they’re the Slayer. They’re in their own league and there’s really no comparison. They keep doing their own thing, and I don’t think they’ll stop. I can’t really see them going on a planned hiatus, you know? Somewhere in a bar…and at this point it’s much bigger than bars…but somewhere in America tonight, Lucero is playing a show, and that’s a nice thing to know in these ever-changing times.

Lucero Q & A with Frank Turner

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): …Your name has come up in a couple of interviews recently surrounding this project, and somebody even called you like the President of the Lucero Fan Club. (*both laugh*) So whether you know that’s the reputation that you have… How far back do you go with them, really? Do you remember a specific time?

Frank Turner: I go back with them to the Revival Tour in 2008. I first got exposed to them when Chuck Ragan asked me to do four shows on the Revival Tour in 2008. It was the first kind of decent American shows that I really did. They were … before that I’d done (audio cut out) shows, which were fun and great, but there weren’t really as many people there. So Chuck asked me to do these shows, and it’s Chuck, and it’s Tim Barry from Avail who obviously I knew…not personally, but by reputation, and then Ben Nichols from Lucero. I wasn’t really familiar with who Lucero was before that tour, so I showed up and he was kind of the wild card on the tour.

And there’s kind of a story which has become the stuff of legend, which is on that first night of the tour, Ben had broken his leg a couple of days beforehand. And when I’d arrived, Jimmy, the tour manager, had taken me on the bus and shown me where I’d be staying, and it was one of the bottom bunks. He’d forgotten that because Ben had broken his leg, he’d moved from top bunk to bottom bunk and that it was actually Ben’s bunk. So I got super shit-faced that night, and I got into Ben’s bunk before he did. And when Ben came to get into bed, I was in his bed and he was like “goddamn it, there’s a motherfucking Englishman in my bed!” And that was kind of the first bonding moment for me and Ben! (*both laugh*). So that was my introduction to the band. It’s interesting to me to be referred to as the president of the fan club. I can certainly think of people who are more into them than I am. And that’s not to say that I’m not into them. I adore them to death, they’re fucking great.

Have you…a lot of what’s come up is that Lucero obviously aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, what you’d consider a traditional punk band. And yet, they obviously have just as big a following probably of anybody within the punk circuit. They’re a tough band to classify anyway. What do you accredit that to; their ability to fit in in the punk world or the rock world or the Americana world or the folk world…

Well I think that, with all due respect, the whole thing of genre classification is very much more kind of word games for music journalists than actual musicians. And I think that often in life, for some of my favorite bands, that kind of stuff is completely irrelevant. Like, Lucero is just a band making music they want to make. Personally, I would probably describe them as a country punk band, but there’s more to it than that. There’s more earnestness to them than that, but I don’t think anybody in the band could give a fuck. And that’s part of why it’s effortless and why it sounds good. They’re not sitting there trying to triangulate things like a recipe…it’s gotta be two parts this and one part that…they’re just making music that they want to make and it sounds good.

As you listen to their music, do you have specific songs or specific albums that you look to as your favorite? One thing that I always like to songwriters about is other songwriters…are there songs in Ben’s catalog that make you say “fuck, I wish I had written that?”

Oh yeah, very much so. There are tons of Ben’s songs which I slabber over jealously. To sort of continue the story if you like, my next big exposure to Lucero was when we did a long tour in the States in 2010 where The Sleeping Souls and I were first on, Lucero was the main support and Social D were the headliners. That was when I really got to know them collectively as people and as a band. Having already gotten to know Ben and see Ben play every day, that was when I really kind of immersed myself in their work and their oeuvre. My favorite record of theirs, by some distance actually, is 1372 Overton Park, which, coincidentally, was the record they were touring on at that time. Although I sort of have to qualify that.

One of the things about Lucero is there a band whose sound has evolved over time but more to the point, their musicianship has evolved over time. There are songs that I got into hearing them in a live context from touring with them that I adore that I don’t enjoy the recorded versions of as much because they’re from back in the day. For example, “Tears Don’t Matter Much” is one of my favorite songs of theirs but the recorded version of it is nothing next to the live version that they were doing when we were touring with them. They had the horn section and they had Todd on pedal steel and everything. That’s the thing about making the distinction between arrangement and production and songwriting, which are all very different things. Certainly the album Tennessee, which everyone loses their minds over, I think is a good record, but I think Ben’s voice is so much stronger and they’re so much more together as a band now than they were when they made that record.

That’s one of the things that even inspired me to look back at the first album at all. I sort of missed it at the time, I think I knew somebody that had it, and I kinda thought that Ben, at the time, sounded too much like Cobain for my liking, particularly because there were a lot of people that sounded like Cobain at the time. So I just kinda looked past them. They certainly grew on me over time, but then you look at the live album they put out a couple of years ago, where they play a bunch of songs from the first album and they’re almost unidentifiable. They’re all the same songs, “My Best Girl” and “It Gets The Worst At Night” are on there and they’re obviously the same songs, but because of the way that the band has shifted, they’re almost unrecognizable from the original versions.

That’s the thing. This is a weird comparison to make, but they remind me in that sense of NOFX, who are a band who are very much more together musically now, and who have learned to play in the public eye. If you listen to Liberal Animation and S&M Airlines, those records kind of suck to be honest, but they’ve gone on to become one of the best punk bands in the whole world. I’m not sure that Lucero’s aptitude of their improvement is quite so extreme, but it’s definitely the case that they’ve grown up as a band and as musicians in the public eye.

That’s the second time that I’ve had NOFX come up as a comparison for Lucero, and Dave (Hause) called them the Slayer of the whatever their genre is, because they’re a band that you don’t want to have to open for, because of their crowd and that they’re going to blow you off the stage (*both laugh*).

Also, the other thing I would say about that is that Mike from NOFX, who’s a good friend of mine, has actually quite specifically said to me that I’m not going to ask you guys to open for us, because our fans wouldn’t take particularly kindly to you! (*both laugh*)

As you look at Lucero as a band, they’ve never really made major headlines, at least the way that I sort of interpret things. They’ve never really been a major buzz band, but they’ve continued to be one of the more consistently popular touring bands with a consistently growing fan population. Do you attribute that to anything in particular? Whether it’s Ben’s songwriting or their live show or the fact that they don’t really give a fuck about people’s opinions in a lot of ways?

Yeah, there’s also a weird logarithm in the music industry where you are a band who start making waves. And if you don’t if you don’t, then, kind of continue and break through into new areas, in the short term that’s kind of a bad thing because there’s very much a premium on constantly building things and constantly expanding. But in the long run, that kind of trajectory can engender respect and longevity, because you were never a hype band. You were a band who just did what they did, and if people were into it, they were into it, and if they weren’t, they weren’t, and that’s just kind of the end of it. I think that retrospectively, that kind of career trajectory can build respect, which is really kind of cool.

I think that they’ve also been the intro for a lot of people into different styles of music, if that makes sense. I know that coming at it from the punk and rock prisms, they’ve opened a lot of people’s minds to the folk world, to the Americana world, to the country world, and now on the last couple albums to the Memphis soul world.

Yeah, definitely. I feel quite strongly that they, as a band, the whole thing were the punk scene started opening up to country music and folk music, they’re ground zero for that in a way. They were the band that sort of opened an awful lot of people’s minds to that. To a degree, I would include myself into that. Certainly my interest in not so much folk but country…proper country…was piqued by them. They’re a gateway band like that for a lot of people. Having said that, one of the things that I’ll add to that is that one of the things I like about them as a band is that the country thing that they do is not…I think there are a lot of people in the punk scene for whom the country thing has been a bit of an affectation, you know what I mean? You wear a trucker hat and a Merle Haggard t-shirt and you become an alternative within the punk scene. I think that for those guys, especially with Ben, that’s not that at all. That’s genuinely the scene that they’re from that they give a fuck about, and I think that comes across.

I was looking back retrospectively into even the country scene or world or whatever you want to call it, particularly in this country back when Lucero came out and the country world back then was Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and early Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill…that was “country music,” like they say “all hat, no cattle.” That’s exactly what it was…pop music, but maybe with a steel guitar in the back and they wore boots and a big hat, so people called it country.

I think they definitely fit into the tradition of outlaw country in a way that not many people in the modern country world do, you know what I mean? That whole sort of Willie Nelson or even Townes Van Zandt kind of vibe, being outside of whatever Nashville has okayed. I think that that’s a very big part of their self-identity as a band.

Do you think that’s why they’ve carried over as well as they have into the punk world? Because of the outlaw, whiskey-drinking, hard-partying thing that comes along with their music, but that’s genuinely whiskey-drinking and hard-partying, not just written by a Nashville studio, you know what I mean?

Yeah, yeah, sure. And again, I don’t think they’ve done this in a calculated way, but they’re a very real and very accessible band. There’s not many people who are big Lucero fans who haven’t at some point shared a whiskey with Ben Nichols. They’re not “rock stars,’ and I think that reality in what they do certainly comes across.

Lucero Q & A with Sal Medrano (Rebuilder, ex-Dead Ellington)

Editor’s note: Caught up with Sal on fairly short notice after his band, Rebuilder, had played shows in Montreal, Quebec, and Burlington, Vermont, then drove all the way back to Boston in the same day. For time purposes, we just sorta dove right in to Sal’s stories. Enjoy.

Sal Medrano: Steve Theo was doing First Contact on (legendary, now-defunct Boston radio station) WFNX, and he asked me if I wanted to come in and like co-produce or whatever. He had Ben (Nichols) come in and play a few songs when Nobody’s Darlings came out, and they were cool, but I didn’t really know the band before that. But more than the songs, I remember thinking just how genuinely nice he was as a person. Fast-forward two years later, when Virgin (Megastore in Boston) was going out of business, and they had a huge CD sale….it might have been Tower Records, I don’t remember, but I think it was Virgin. Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers had come out, and it was on sale for like five bucks because they were just trying to get rid of everything. And I was like ‘I remember people talking about this band.’ So I bought it and listened to it and immediately gravitated towards it. I’m not really a country fan, but that’s not really country. There’s something else going on there. There’s so many bands that whine about dumb problems or dumb girls and stuff like that. But with Lucero, I believed it more, you know? There’s a genuine feeling of heartbrokenness and loss.

And it wasn’t until I was listening to it and looking through it that I was like “oh, this is that dude Ben that came and played!” And I remember how genuine he was, and I remember thinking “this is real shit, here…this is awesome!” I remember looking at their tour dates, and every time they came to Boston, I was on tour. I could have gotten into the band so long ago, and by then I had fallen in love with that band. I got the back catalog, and every record was that same feeling of, like, this is real. And I remember being on tour with Big D (& The Kids Table), and their tour was around the same time, and every single city we were in, Lucero were there either a day before or a day after. I kept looking to see if I could catch them on tour at all. And I remember listening to the CD in the van all the time, and the other guys weren’t really into it because they hadn’t really heard about them. And I was just like “fuck you guys, this is awesome.”

I remember us being in Texas, like deep in Texas, and we stopped at a restaurant and there was a Taco Bell, and we walked in and it was all cowboy boots and big hats, so we stuck out real bad, you know? So we were sitting there, and I see a bunch of other dudes with tattoos walk in, and they look equally as out of place. And I saw Ben, and I was like ‘that’s Lucero!’ So I walked over, and Ben looked at me really weird, and he was like ‘hey, aren’t you from Boston?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, dude, you guys played my radio show, like, years ago.’ He said ‘yeah, I knew I recognized you!’ So I met the guys, and I told them that I’d literally been listening to the new record every fucking day on tour. That I was on tour selling merch and trying to come out to a show if one would correspond in the same city. And Ben was, like, ‘let me know if you’re gonna come out at some point!’ We just kept missing each other for years, until I finally got to see Lucero play, I think at Middle East (in Cambridge, MA).

And every time I saw Ben, he always remembered me. He’ll say, like, ‘yeah, we ran into each other at the Taco Bell randomly on tour.’ Everyone in that band are just the nicest dudes. They’re just genuine guys. When you see them, they’re just a group of friends making music together. It’s evolved more…their merch girl Mary has become a good friend of mine, I help her with merch and stuff. They’ve met my brother before. It’s one of those things where I run into Ben or Mary, it’s like no time has passed since the last time we saw each other. We just pick up where we left off and stay friends forever. It’s one of those bands that, every record they put out, they’ve stayed in this pocket of not making the same record they’ve always done. A lot of bands, particularly alt-country bands, can kinda do that for a while. But they’ve evolved to where they can almost become a sort of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kind of thing, and still stay with the fact that what he’s singing is genuine and at the core of it is very believable and it’s not a bunch of bullshit. So that’s pretty much my history with Lucero!

That’s pretty awesome, particularly because you wouldn’t assume that he’d remember a chance encounter like that years later…to meet him at a radio station in Boston and then meet him at a Taco Bell in Texas…those two things, you wouldn’t think, would register to most people, let alone somebody who makes his living out on the road and meeting people.

Totally. And I’ve never seen Ben not meet people and hang out after a show. Like Frank Turner, they don’t consider themselves rock stars, you know? And they will get flocked by people and people will annoy the fuck out of them. It’s one of those things that’s good and bad. He’s so personable and their music is so relatable that people feel like the boundaries they have with normal people, people don’t pay attention to. And that sucks. People completely feel like they can just do whatever they want because they feel like they’re just your drinking buddies, because of how relatable Ben is and his music is and the other guys are. That’s the good and the bad. But you know, I’ve never seen them flip out on a fan. I’ve seen them get, like ‘alright dude, you gotta kinda calm down a bit,’ you know? But they’re just legitimate, genuine people. I think that’s what keeps that band around for a very long time, you know?

Yeah, you talk about them being relatable and that being at the core of why they’ve been around for a long time, at some level, fifteen years is kind of a weird time. At some level, it seems like they’ve been around forever, but it also feels like they never really arrived. Like Dave Hause said for this story the other day, there’s something comforting about knowing that somewhere in America on any given night over the last fifteen years, Lucero is probably playing a show. But they never really burst on the scene, they were never really a buzz band. They were never the next big thing, they just always feel like they’ve been around forever.

And I think it’s one of those things where Ben doesn’t write songs to try to be the buzz band or the next best thing. They want their music to be enjoyed by their fans…this is even why they do the Family Picnic all the time, it’s a gathering of friends. When Ben writes songs, it’s never, ever for “let’s write the biggest song ever.” It’s really more like he writes about his experiences, and unfortunately every guy and girl in the world can probably relate to heartbreak like that.

And yet, it doesn’t seem like he’s gone back to the well too many times, you know? Their on 8 or nine albums or whatever it is now, but it doesn’t seem like he’s gone back to the well of women and whiskey too many times, you know? He can still write songs about the same subject matter but still make it sound new. And maybe that’s the changing sound, but lyrically it still sounds new.

The way I look at it, Lucero’s never going to stop playing their old catalog. It’s just that these new songs are going to be sprinkled in throughout the set, so it’ll make the set change up a little bit from being the same thing over and over again.

Were they a gateway band for you, because I know they have been for me, for the alt-country thing or the folk-punk thing or whatever the hell we call it…even Frank Turner said as much the other day, that they were a gateway band for him in terms of the outlaw country thing until he heard them do it. And for a lot of people, that opened a lot of doors to everything else.

It’s one of those things where they really weren’t a gateway band for me to really dive into alt-country. It’s still not one of my favorite things. But, it was like…after that, it did get me into Drag The River. But more than anything what it did was, being in Dead Ellington and writing songs and not really feeling like a competent guitar player and feeling I should just sing…seeing people like Ben and Frank, they’re not the greatest guitar players in the world, but they’re easily able to lead a band. It really kinda made it easy for me to say “fuck it, I’m just going to pick up a guitar and if I’m not awesome at it, I’ll just keep learning, I don’t need to be the greatest guitar player.” Listening to Lucero and Ben and Frank Turner made me think that maybe I can do it.

Because you don’t have to be Jimi Hendrix or, in our world, Brian Baker or somebody. Ben’s been playing the same half-dozen chords (a specific reference to how Ben physically plays; check the tabs) the same way for fifteen years and it always sounds different and it always sounds awesome.

Exactly!

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