A bouncy bass line opens the album as, instrument by instrument, the band begins to join into the energetic opening track “Weird Time” for Reno pirate punks The Deadly Gallows. It’s been over a decade since their last full-length album was released but the mood is set with staccato plucks of a frenetic banjo over […]
A bouncy bass line opens the album as, instrument by instrument, the band begins to join into the energetic opening track “Weird Time” for Reno pirate punks The Deadly Gallows. It’s been over a decade since their last full-length album was released but the mood is set with staccato plucks of a frenetic banjo over melodious accordion that paints a landscape over steady yet corybantic drums and washboard, only parted momentarily by a wailing guitar. All these players make a mad musical melee that reaches its crescendo almost as quickly as it built.
On Ode II Gard the Reno, NV octet uses basically everything but the kitchen sink to set a jaunty yet haunted rip through an album of mad marauder music recorded at Pus Caverns by Joe Johnston. The naming of the album is an ode to their late drummer Niels Odegard who passed away unexpectedly over the summer. This album is not a somber remembrance though, it’s a pirate party, and though I was not personally close to Niels it seems like a proper send-off.
The 8-member ensemble grooves to the second track “Decisions” which goes from a dark dance feel with growled lyrics about life decisions and regret to a faster section of soloing over a modern punk/dub rhythm that stabs at you with the hook of the music.
“Dead Man’s Tale” is a lament from the grave of a man who has been wronged which has the entire gang of instrumentalists shouting along “dead men do tell tales.” The following track “Madness” keeps the energy of the last track, and, even through the hectic fiddle from violinist Alan Lyons, a gleam of optimism is shown in lines like “And all my friends, this is not the end, it’s just a one-way ride through hell and back again” which reframes the twisted world narrated by lead vocalist John Underwood.
We get more upbeat yet restless tracks like “Rise From the Depths” that serve the theatrical nature of this band, or songs like “Lockjaw”, which was first featured on their eponymous 2009 album, features some trombone work from Boss’ Daughter’s own Chris Fox, that add to the legend of this band. We get deeper subject matter about watching loved ones struggle with addiction in “Throw Your Life Away” which delivers gut punches rhythmically as well as lyrically in verses that bemoan the situation, “I find myself trying too hard to please you. I’ve had my fill of all of your evil treasons and all along, I still get dramatic scenes and we are all still wrong.”
As the album comes to a close we get two more rollicking tunes, “4AM” and “Seasick” the latter of which really shows off the cohesion of this crew. Call-and-answer vocals between Underwood and the gang he’s leading swagger around the song, and an ear-catching shared solo between violin and guitarist Hector Acevedo leads us back into the next verse before we are once again under the seasick supervision of Underwood in the chorus.
This is a fun album. Each individual member of this band brings depth through the chaos of it all. I’m a sucker for musical comedy and novelty songs, but The Deadly Gallows aren’t a one-off novelty, they’re weirdos and I love them. Call it what you want, pirate punk, guttergrass, antifolk, but if you like raucous gang vocal punk then this album has something for you.
There exists a small handful of bands that I feel like, in some ways, I’ve grown up alongside. I feel like if you’re an active music listener, once you get to about your mid-twenties, you reach a point where the current bands that you’re listening to have transitioned from being bands of your parents’ generation […]
There exists a small handful of bands that I feel like, in some ways, I’ve grown up alongside. I feel like if you’re an active music listener, once you get to about your mid-twenties, you reach a point where the current bands that you’re listening to have transitioned from being bands of your parents’ generation (or at least your cool uncle’s generation, although my parents were and are pretty cool so I’m lucky that way) to bands that are in that sort of in-between-but-still-older generation to, finally, bands that are basically your peers. People who are right in your same age bracket and same general socioeconomic bracket and with whom you shared a series of experiences, both personally and culturally, even if you never met and instead lived hundreds or thousands of miles apart. As a result, they resonate with you on a level that is just different and more personal than the music of your formative years. They become “your” bands, and you continue to grow and change and amass shared life experiences and go through different phases arm-in-arm (and maybe if you’re lucky you get to meet them along the way and share actual experiences that only serve to confirm their place in your life). So if you’ve read anything that I’ve written over the last dozen years here at Dying Scene, you’re probably aware that The Loved Ones/Dave Hause and Gaslight Anthem/Brian Fallon and Lucero/Ben Nichols comprise probably 3/4ths of my own personal Mt. Rushmore. The fourth and final spot undoubtedly belongs to The Hold Steady.
In many ways, The Hold Steady itself has grown up quite considerably along the way. In a literal sense, they’ve gone from a four-piece to a five-piece to a differently-assembled five-piece to a six-piece to a six-piece that sometimes has horns. Musically, the band has long-since moved on from being simply “America’s best bar band” to a band that has continued to level-up musically and push the sonic boundaries of what it means to be The Hold Steady. That is never more evident than on The Price Of Progress, the newest of the band’s nine studio full-lengths.
Due out today (happy new release day!), The Price Of Progress is a bit of a journey. I was lucky enough to receive a press copy long enough in advance that I decided to give the album a full couple of listens and then put it aside for a while and then revisit it before it came time to write the actual review. I’m glad I did, because The Price Of Progress is a bit of a journey. In many ways, it may be the “least Hold Steadyish” album of the nine in their ouevre. Few and far-between are the drunken, sweaty burners and the cathartic, sing-along-in-exultation choruses and the ripping guitar solos or even the extended keyboard jams. Those first couple of listens a few months ago left me with the vague impression that “well…that’s different.” And yet, in the time that’s ensued, I can’t help but shake the feeling that, in a lot of ways, maybe this is their “most Hold Steadyish” album to date. Let’s get into the weeds.
Were I to pick one word to best describe The Price Of Progress, that word would have to be ‘theatrical,’ and I mean that in the literal sense of the word in that the bulk of the album’s ten tracks create the impression that you’re watching a play unfold before you. Ten sets of different characters performing in front of a studio audience, all narrated at side-stage by frontman Craig Finn’s trademark sprechgesang vocal stylings. “Grand Junction” gets the festivities underway and the atypical time signature (6/8? I think? I’m not good at musical theory but I think it’s 6/8 and I asked my brother and he’s a music teacher and he said yes so we’ll go with that) is an immediate signal that we’re not in Kansas (or Brooklyn…or Minneapolis) anymore, Toto. Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge trade off some nifty guitar work in the bridge that’s as close as we’re getting to a solo. “Sideways Skull” comes next, and was an early single for a reason as it is probably the most “Hold Steady song on the record. It feels like it could be set in a universe that’s a continuation of Open Door Policy‘s “Family Farm.” There are big, swirling guitar sounds and a big, cathartic build-up with plenty of oozin’ aahs. Lyrically, it’s filled with the dark humor and oddly specific references (“the jacket held together by the rock band patches”) that somehow make the imagery instantly relatable, as does the referential nod to the home state shared by both THS multi-instrumental wizard Franz Nicolay and I. “Carlos Is Crying” has a super fun swing in the verse, complete with a spanky guitar groove and some layered harmonica and keys (from Nicolay, no doubt) providing the texture. Wonder if the dickhead in Denver is the same fella that cut his hair in the airport bathroom back on Thrashing Thru The Passion?
“Understudies” is a real unique and interesting song. There’s a slow-build organ-centered intro that provides the backbone until the Bobby Drake’s drums kick in about a minute later, then there’s a super theatrical Galen Polivka bass groove laid down over some dramatic strings. Lyrically it’s layer upon layer of metaphor and it’s tough to tell if you should take the story literally or figuratively or if it even matters which one you choose. “Sixers” is one of my favorites. There are a couple of big pseudo-starts that hint at a musical direction before the real mood is revealed as a mid-tempo rock song. There’s no real chorus per se, but there is at least what seems like a standard structure, but then we get to an interlude that just kind of takes over. It’s one of the REAL theatrical vignettes, and it’s followed by “The Birdwatchers,” a song that caught me off guard at first but has become a very strong favorite. There’s a real interesting musical bed/intro, and it like “Sixers,” it plays as a theatrical vignette. There are horns, but they largely serve as texture and not a lead instrument, though they do devolve into a bit of a free-jazz sound at times. There are also bells and chimes, and the curtain just kinda ends on the song and the story, the latter of which is also riddled with metaphor and double meaning.
“City At Eleven” has no real chorus. It may be the most “Craig Finn-ish” song on The Price Of Progress. “Perdido” which translates to “lost” and which has an almost hypnotic guitar melody, a evokes a sort of slowed-down version of the Ella Fitzgerald/Duke Ellington standard with which it shares a name. “Distortions Of Faith” is a smoky, blues waltz number. The guitars are drenched in reverb and the song has a long, descending outro. “Flyover Halftime” brings our procession to a close with what is maybe the second “Hold Steadiest” song on the album. The guitars growl but they don’t overpower. We’ve got a hornets reference! And we’ve also got a fan on the field…
Because of its focus on scope and texture and scenery rather than catchiness or bombast or catharsis, The Price Of Progress is more of a grower than a shower, but it’s also the kind of album, that once it does grow, it takes over and becomes probably The Hold Steady’s most instantly re-listenable album since at least Teeth Dreams (I know the fanboys will be in a tizzy over that statement, but that’s a great rock and roll album and you know it).
Oh shit, a new Dying Scene Band Spotlight! It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these and I can’t think of a better way to revive the feature than with an awesome skate punk band. Bogota, Colombia’s One Reason To Rise is the right band for the job. These guys have been cranking […]
Oh shit, a new Dying Scene Band Spotlight! It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these and I can’t think of a better way to revive the feature than with an awesome skate punk band. Bogota, Colombia’s One Reason To Rise is the right band for the job. These guys have been cranking out singles for the last few years, culminating in their new City Lights EP, complete with plenty of Strung Out-style guitar riffage and a “Somebody’s Watching Me” cover. These guys kick ass! Give ’em a shot.
Listen up, skate punk fans! Bogota, Colombia’s One Reason To Rise have a new EP called City Lights coming soon and we’re bringing you the exclusive premiere of their brand new single. The eponymous “One Reason To Rise” is an absolute banger that’s sure to please fans of fast, melodic punk – Satanic Surfers, Millencolin, Cigar, […]
Listen up, skate punk fans! Bogota, Colombia’s One Reason To Rise have a new EP called City Lights coming soon and we’re bringing you the exclusive premiere of their brand new single. The eponymous “One Reason To Rise” is an absolute banger that’s sure to please fans of fast, melodic punk – Satanic Surfers, Millencolin, Cigar, etc. Check it out below!
Catch up on One Reason To Rise’s back catalog on Bandcamp and stay tuned for their new EP City Lights, coming October 27th.
In 2001, I moved to the Northern English city of Leeds, in part because of the live music venue, The Cockpit. This small venue put on all my favourite bands of the time, and had a long history of putting on great live music. I worked in another venue in the city on weekends, so […]
In 2001, I moved to the Northern English city of Leeds, in part because of the live music venue, The Cockpit. This small venue put on all my favourite bands of the time, and had a long history of putting on great live music. I worked in another venue in the city on weekends, so Tuesday night was my big night out, and Tuesday nights were Slam Dunk at The Cockpit. A solid mix of ska punk, pop punk, emo, rock, metal and whatever else alternative kids were listening to in the early 2000’s.
So here I am, 21 years later. The Cockpit has long since shut down and whilst the Slam Dunk Club Night plays on at its new home, the Key Club, it’s the festival that I am at today. Now held across two cities with more than 50 bands, across five stages, things have really grown from that two room sweaty Tuesday night under a railway arch.
The lineup covers a wide range of punk and alternative music, but because I’m old and stuck in my ways, I’m mostly staying at the Dickies stage, which is the main stage this year, hosting The Suicide Machines, The Bronx, Hot Water Music, The Vandals, Streetlight Manifesto, Pennywise, The Interrupters, The Dropkick Murphy’s and headliners Sum 41.
I’d originally bought tickets on the basis that Rancid were headlining, but they pulled out for undisclosed reasons. Then support from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones collapsed along with the band. Things were looking bleak, and I actually looked into selling my ticket, only to have two of my close friends and original Slam Dunk allies to buy tickets, so it was to be a big day out for us old guys.
The venue for the festival is Temple Newsam House. For further personal historic links, this was the site of the first music festival I ever went to (V98), and a big part of my musical taste was formed in these park lands. The benefit of this location for me is that it is close to home, the downside is that it still takes an hour and a half to get in, as traffic is not well managed and everything is already getting expensive (£10 to park in a field, £10 for a bus), I’d planned to ride my bike to the event, but for three of us, that didn’t make much sense.
Inside the arena, the stages are far enough apart that there is little noise mix from bands and practicalities like bars, toilets and food concessions are plentiful, the addition of a separate “real ale” bar was a pleasant surprise, and I managed to spend an impressive amount in this tent after and before every band. The tent also provides some welcome shade from the unexpected sun that I was totally unprepared for!
So, on to the music…
Hot Water Music, a band that I’ve discovered backwards through Chuck Ragan’s solo work, come out impassioned and full of energy, although the crowd are a little flat with it being an early set. Despite this we get a solid effort from the band, though possibly things are held back a little by a lack of catchy hooks and sing along choruses in the songs performed. Finishing with “Trusty Chords” gets the crowd interested from hearing a song they know. Whether they know the song from Epitaph‘s Punk-o-Rama compilation, or it’s just a favourite is hard to say, but in a pre-internet world, compilations from Independent punk labels are how a lot of us discovered new bands, especially those that didn’t tour the small northern venues like the Cockpit!
A quick trip to the bar revealed the sound of Punk Rock Factory carrying on the wind from the Rock Sound Stage. I was familiar with the band from their Youtube videos of punked up, harmonized pop covers, and as a father of small children, I found myself singing along to “Let It Go”, whilst appropriately stood at a urinal. If I have to play Disney songs on long journeys, then at least they can have crushing guitars as well, and hopefully, like some kind of gateway drug, this leads my kids down the path of home made tattoos and living in a van (or some other punk cliché).
The Vandals took to the stage with a not too reassuring “We’ll do our best”, and whilst I appreciate their honesty and openness, first song “Café 405”, is out of time and out of tune.
Three songs in, things are starting to tighten up, “People That Are Going To Hell” gets people moving a little, but on the whole, the crowd remain static. “And Now We Dance” raises the energy, “The New You” keeps it going, but there’s just not enough there to hold the attention of the majority of the crowd. My friends desert me to hit the real ale bar, I hate myself for giving up on the mighty Vandals, but cold beer and the Cancer Bats on the Jagermeister stage lure me away. I’m not massively familiar with the Cancer Bats, but the wall of noise, that I could feel through the ground and see vibrating through my pint has led me to listen to more of their back catalogue.
I had a dream the night before Slam Dunk that I took all my family to see Streetlight Manifesto, but instead of their usual set list, they played a really challenging, four hour Jazz set, stopping only to enjoy a sit down meal, where they served soup from tea pots. I was trying desperately to convince my family that really, they’re a great band, whilst simultaneously enjoying the weird spectacle.
Fortunately, there’s no Jazz today as Streetlight Manifesto, a later addition to the bill, take to the stage. There’s a clear sense of excitement in the crowd as the eight piece tear through classic hits “We Will Fall Together” and “The Three Of Us” along with lesser known tracks with a level of energy normally reserved for headline shows. The crowd sings along, dances, moshes; it’s a perfect blend of everything you want on a summers day. The only slight letdown is Tomas Kalnoky shouting “this is the big finish!” and then promptly not playing “Keasbey Nights.” I get the reasons, and I support them in letting go of a song that doesn’t really represent the band, but for many in the crowd it’s the song they came to hear and there’s visible confusion as the band leave the stage, though encores aren’t really a thing at 16:30 on a festival stage are they?
I last saw Pennywise in 1999. So its been a while. Late last year I read Jim Lindberg’s book “Punk Rock Dad,” which renewed my interest in the band, so I’m excited to see this set, and if the number of Pennywise T-shirts I’m seeing are anything to go by, so are the crowd.
From the get go, the band are on full attack. There’s no sign of age in the band and the crowd are loving it. Covers of AC/DC’s “TNT” and “Breed” by Nirvana continues the energy. Early songs “Pennywise” and “Society” lead to Lindberg lamenting to having been “doing this for thirty years,” but it’s not slowing them down.
The crowd holds middle fingers aloft for “Fuck Authority,” and whilst it feels cheesy, a load of middle aged men swearing at the sky, its kind of cathartic, and hey, it’s a great song! Who doesn’t enjoy feeling like an angry teenager (teenagers maybe?).
A cover of “Stand By Me,” which closed 1992 album Wild Card/ A Word From The ‘Wise surprised me, as I was certain it was Lagwagon, so I learned something important today if nothing else.
Set closer “Bro-Hymn” has exactly the effect you’d expect. Huge “wooahs” from the crowd, that epic bass riff and impassioned singing along. Obviously it’s a great song, but I think it hits harder now, after the last few years and I think everyone can take some strength from this song and apply it to someone they’ve lost.
The Interrupters carry a strange position in my mind. I love their songs, they’re great live, but there’s just something not quite right. Something doesn’t sit right with me, and I hate myself for being so negative, but its all a bit too clean cut for me. Like it’s the soundtrack to Disney film where some hopelessly good looking, talented young people form a ska punk band and take over the world with a weird crusty mentor behind them (Called Tim?).
Opener “Take Back the Power” feels stronger than normal. Maybe its that they’re more established, or maybe my cynicism is fading? Either way I enjoy it for what it is, well polished, perfectly-performed ska pop-punk.
Ignoring a weird segue about how they all used to bathe together… “She got arrested” gets a great crowd sing along, and is probably my favourite of their songs, not least as it was my introduction to the band back in 2017 and a great example of the quality story telling in the lyrics of some of their songs.
A cover medley of “Keep ‘Em Separated”/ “Linoleum”/ “Ruby Soho” gets the crowd going before surprise high point for me, a cover of Bad Religion‘s “Sorrow,” which goes down well with the crowd (For reference Bad Religion played Slam Dunk in 2019, as did the Interrupters).
The band finishes with “She’s Kerosene,” keeping the party going, the crowd moving and generally capturing the moment nicely. People are drunk, its sunny, the people want to dance and the Interrupters deliver.
The Dropkick Murphys take to a stage with a full length riser, done out to look like a stone wall, but there is a notable absence. Al Barr, it is announced, has stayed home to care for his sick mother. Ken Casey steps up for lead vocal duties and the evening begins with the sound of bagpipes on the cool evening breeze.
“State of Massachusetts” gets the kind of crowd reaction you’d expect from a classic pop hit or a song about Yorkshire, such passion for such a challenging subject is strange, but hey, it’s a great song and the drunk, bouncy, dancey crowd are loving it.
“Barroom Hero” is introduced as the first song the band ever wrote, which is a bit of trivia I didn’t know, but I remember it from way back in the 90s, so I guess that makes sense. The crowd offer weak “Oi! Oi! Oi!” effort which is a disappointment, maybe the crowd aren’t as au fait with shouting Oi! as I’d like? Though I accept my drive to shout “Oi!” is probably higher than most.
The slip up begins with the instruction to sing along to the 1937 hit “I’ve Still Got Ninety-Nine” by the Monroe Brothers, which although an undeniably good song, probably isn’t too familiar to the crowd today. On the upside, we’re promised an acoustic album in September, which is one to look out for. Whether it’s new material or reimagined classics has not been confirmed, but hopefully there will be an associated tour.
“Rose Tattoo” brings the sing along from the crowd, but lacks the momentum to get the crowd moving. This is exacerbated by the big screen showing bored, static faces in the crowd for the first time. Fortunately, “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” brings the party back before the end of the set. I’ve never seen such passion for a missing wooden leg, as the crowd goes nuts, with crowd surfers from all directions riding above the waves of the crowd. All parties appear to have legs intact, so that’s good.
Headliners Sum-41 were a bit of a quandary for me. The first album was an important soundtrack to my late teens/ early 20s and I saw them play in Leeds twice in 2002, but I haven’t listened to their music since Does This Look Infected from the same year.
A bit of pre-show research suggested they have had seven further releases, including 2019s Order In Decline, but in the spirit of openness, I’ve not felt inspired to check these out.
The band come out to a stage with blood-soaked Marshall speaker cabinets, a giant skull, jets of fire and “Motivation” from the first album, All Killer, No Filler. More people than I expected are really into it, though competition with Deaf Havana and the Nova Twins is limited and the other stages have closed.
The stage is set for a night of big rock and I’d like to say I invested more effort into rediscovering Sum 41, but too much sun, too much beer and a designated driver who wanted to beat the traffic meant we made an early exit.
With the sheer quantity of shows I’m seeing these days, very seldom do I recognize mid-performance, or even after the fact, that what I’m witnessing ranks among the best shows I’ve been to. Sure, somewhat recent examples may include my first experience with Frank Turner, or photographing Daikaiju inducing utter mayhem in a wall-to-wall packed […]
With the sheer quantity of shows I’m seeing these days, very seldom do I recognize mid-performance, or even after the fact, that what I’m witnessing ranks among the best shows I’ve been to. Sure, somewhat recent examples may include my first experience with Frank Turner, or photographing Daikaiju inducing utter mayhem in a wall-to-wall packed club. But this Codefendants show may rank higher than both of those, holding a more significant spot than almost any show of my recent memory, and for a variety of reasons.
I’ll be the first to reveal that, initially, I wasn’t super fond of Codefendants, for no other reason than I didn’t give them the time of day. I’ve mentioned in the past that my musical preferences are extremely closed-minded and, for the most part, I’m very set in my ways. So when I first caught wind of the project featuring the trio of Fat Mike-Sam King-Ceschi Ramos, I didn’t have much interest in exploring the newly termed genre of “crime wave”. It wasn’t until close to three weeks after their full-length, This Is Crime Wave, hit streaming that I gave it a chance. And when I say this record may be a game-changer for me, I’ll be surprised if anything dethrones this thing from the top spot on my ongoing Records of the Year list. Even now, nearly a month after finally giving This Is Crime Wave a fair shot, I find myself listening to it on the daily.
With this record came a newfound respect for all the artists featured on the release. This release, more so than really any others in my recent recollection, showcases an insane amount of songwriting dynamic, displaying a kind of musicianship that appeals to fans of genres that have seemingly no similarities to punk rock. I found myself holding the songwriting of Sam King, Ceschi Ramos, Fat Mike, and even Stacey Dee, to a higher regard, as well as diving into the legendary career of the DOC and digging into what Onry Ozzborn’s extensive catalog has to offer. This is one of those records that I can cite as helping to expand my musical taste a little bit further outside the strict confines of punk, a feat that is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.
After recognizing the grasp that this release took on my airwaves, I was already looking forward to this show. Any chance to hang with the Zeta dudes is time well-spent, especially getting to see them back a band that’s gaining significant momentum. Additionally, this would be my first in-person run-in with both Ceschi and King, two guys whose prior projects I’ve followed pretty closely as well.
This show had it all, blowing every expectation I had out of the water. Codefendants, featuring their mesh of hip-hop, punk, and just straight-up lyrical-badassery, had two openers that fit right in with fans of hip-hop or punk rock.
Rap Ferreira leaned more towards hip-hop, but gave me major Chris Farren vibes with his one-man-band type of performance. Armed with only a microphone and what I can only assume was a small table full of electronics that do tons of cool stuff that I don’t know shit about, Ferreira achieved a stage presence and flair that rivals many full bands I’ve encountered.
I continue to enjoy Zeta‘s live show more each time I come out, even with this being my fifth show of theirs in the last year, with at least one more scheduled for June. They’re a killer bunch of dudes that have poured their life into playing music and I envy the hell out of their dedication and motivation. I was beyond pumped when the announcement came of them playing this tour, and I was even with Juanchi (featured right) when the announcement came through.
Their musical style is hard to pin down, but I’ll settle on the experimental-punk label. I mean it’s hard to pin a band down to one genre when all their shows end with each member playing different percussion within a drum circle. But I hope to not spoil too much as I’ve got an interview with 50% of Zeta due out very soon.
Holy shit were these guys good. Codefendants sounded as professional as anyone I’ve seen and I was in pure awe watching some true professionals go to work.
What stuck with me more was seeing their emotion shine through, reinforcing how much they had previously revealed that these songs meant to them (interview due out very soon as well). I found myself once again realizing that punk’s honesty and genuine nature are what I truly love about the world’s greatest fucking genre.
Having had the pleasure of catching Codefendants first ever tour was one for the books, and I’m still riding a high from this show as I’m doing this write-up. Both Zeta and Codefendants are absolute workhorses, so do yourself a huge favor and catch them live. Codefendants has been on all the Punk in Drublic dates and were recently announced as openers for Avenged Sevenfold as well, so catch a show and have a ball just like I did. Zeta has an upcoming full US tour with recently announced Festers Sparta, so go say what’s up to four of the nicest dudes I’ve ever met.
As always, thanks for checking out the site. Cheers!
American Thrills grabbed my attention about a year ago thanks to one of those pesky Instagram ads that everyone seems to despise. For once, I’m thankful one of those scrolled across my screen because it introduced me to another New England punk band to obsess over (and another possible candidate for my upper-arm collection of […]
American Thrills grabbed my attention about a year ago thanks to one of those pesky Instagram ads that everyone seems to despise. For once, I’m thankful one of those scrolled across my screen because it introduced me to another New England punk band to obsess over (and another possible candidate for my upper-arm collection of New England punk tattoos).
It was their Discount Casket EP that gave me a little taste of what these guys had to offer. The only problem was I was left craving more, something a full-length could only satisfy. Luckily, my cravings were satisfied after a relatively short wait, and when I say satisfied, I mean that these dudes released a fuckin’ ripper.
Their recent release Parted Ways hints at the familiar Northeast sounds of the Gaslight Anthem and the Menzingers (who coincidentally were competitors of the same time slot during Fest 20) that many have compared AT to, yet they play their own unique brand of punk rock that I was glad to see added to the always reputable Wiretap Records lineup, one I can always count on the turn out stellar under-the-radar artists.
It was truly a pleasure to shoot the shit with 50% of one of my recent favorite Limp Bizkit-loving bands. These dudes have put out two EPs and a full-length that are truly worth checking out. Parted Ways is linked below, followed by the awesome chat I had with Jamie and Jeff. Cheers!
(Editor’s note: The following has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sakebecause a good chunk of this interview was just three guys shooting the shit.)
Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): Hey, it’s great to talk with you guys. I’ve followed you guys for quite a bit, I think right before Discount Casket came out. So yeah, I wanted to get started and talk to you guys obviously about the new record. Starting off, was this just like a collection of songs that you guys kind of built up and you’re just like ‘okay now we’ve got enough for a record’ or did you sit down with the end goal of like ‘let’s write enough stuff to release a full-length’?
Jamie Otfinoski: You know we wanted to write a full-length, but we did it kind of segmentally, we would do like chunks of songs and it was just a process. We would have demos we’d start to work on, then we’d jump to something else, then like come back to it. But ultimately the end goal was like ‘let’s put out a fuckin’ full length’. Because from my perspective, a lot of bands today do like single after single after single, and I get that because there’s like a method to the madness with like Spotify and all that shit, but at the end of the day like the bands I’m really into, like I’m into a record. I want a whole fuckin’ record and listen to a band to really get the vibe of the band.
Right, I get that. With you guys, you kind of released a single at a time leading up to the record, right, then you put out the whole thing?
Jamie: Yeah we did like four or five singles then we dropped like the last four songs all at once. And once again, that’s the whole thing with the internet, like Spotify and trying to build buzz, they want you to do singles. But ultimately we wanted to roll them into some sort of full-length so people could like sit down and check out our band with a little more than just like one song here and there.
So that was kind of a different approach from these previous eps you released?
Jamie: Yeah, you know we really wanted to, like we did two EPs, we’re like ‘we really wanna go all in and do a full-length’. And the guys at Wiretap were down to work with us on it which was totally rad and it made it that much more awesome. But we wanted to do something full and cohesive where we could do vinyl and finally put out like our first full-length record.
So what was the songwriting approach on this? Do you guys have one main songwriter or is it more of a team effort, what’s that look like?
Jamie: So Kurt, our vocalist/ guitarist, he kind of like, I wanna say he takes some of the reins. We always have a group text going and Kurt will like come up with a chunk of a song and go like ‘hey, check out this chorus?’. And then what we’ll do is we’ll get together and practice and we’ll kind of just like start playing it and rolling until we’re like ‘oh, that’s cool, what’s a cool verse to follow’ or vice versa. It’s like a collective approach, but somebody’s always bringing stuff to the table. Same thing with Paul, the other guitarist, he’ll have like a cool riff, he’ll lay it down and then we’ll turn that riff into a song. So it’s collective, but the two guitarists are kind of bringing the big chunks to practices.
So is there kind of a theme with this new record?
Jamie: You know, we’re like a bunch of old salty dudes that kind of like hate our hometown…
Jeff Wielk: I wouldn’t say hate…
Jamie: We don’t hate it, but you know, we don’t love it either. You know the record’s about like getting older, losing friends, losing family, you know just being disheartened by the people we kind of grew up with who maybe ended up turning out to be maybe not who we thought they would be. It’s just a theme of like get the hell out of our hometown, you know we’re old and salty.
Are you guys born and raised up there [in Connecticut]?
Jamie: Born and raised, yeah.
Jeff: Yeah all of us, we’re from the same hometown originally.
Jamie: You know up here in the North, we talk crap about our community, but ultimately, Connecticut’s not a bad place to grow up, kind of expensive I guess. But outside of that, it’s good people, it’s what we’re used to.
Jeff: We definitely could’ve grown up somewhere worse. New England’s got some great music.
Jamie: That’s the one thing about Connecticut too is like, the tours they come and they play in New York and then they skip Connecticut and play Boston. So we’re like right in the middle, you gotta either drive to New York or Boston to see the shows, nobody wants to play Connecticut.
So yeah, I wanted to talk now about specific tracks here. My favorite track off the record was “Ivy League Swing,” and I wanted to talk about what the songwriting for that looked like, the meaning behind it, some of its background.
Jeff: Paul, uh, wrote that initial riff in the beginning after the song starts with singing. And that first riff, that was like the first thing to come out for that song.
Jamie: That was one that Paul brought to the table and was like ‘I have this really cool guitar riff, let’s make it into a song’. We heard it and we were jazzed up on it and just kind of melded its way into that tune.
So this is more of a ‘me’ question, something I’m always curious about. What’s your guys’ songwriting look like, like how does it work; do you guys come up with like riffs first and then lyrics later, or I know some guys start with lyrics and then kind of build the song around it. It’s something I’ve always struggled with, how to kind of progress through writing a song.
Jamie: It goes both ways; sometimes Kurt will come to the table with like some lyrics over a little riff or a chorus and then we’ll expand on it, where other times, like that song “Ivy League Swing,” Paul actually came with a riff. He’s the guitarist, he doesn’t put the vocals over it, so Kurt kind of took the riff, changed it a little bit, and was able to make it into a song, put lyrics over it. Yeah it actually goes both ways with us, but I’d say for the most part, like 75% of the time, Kurt will have like some part of the song that has some sort of vocal guitar part together and we’ll just build off of it.
Jeff: Yeah like the main hook or whatever…
Yeah like I said, I’ve kind of heard it both ways and I’m always curious with everybody I talk to, I like asking that.
Jeff: Yeah I think it’s mostly instrumental. I’m 90% sure that Kurt kind of comes up with the lyrics afterwards.
So yeah “Ivy League Swing,” that’s my favorite track off the record. What about you guys, you guys have a favorite?
Jeff: Yeah, “Interpretation.” It’s just so different from what we normally do you know. Little bit different of a time signature, I don’t know. I’m like a mid-2000s emo-core kind of guy you know *laughs*
Jamie: I like “Sinking,” when we play live, it just starts off like fast and it’s got an interesting beat to it. It’s a quick little ripper. I like those songs live, they’re just fun to play because there’s so much energy.
You guys had that album release show the other night, what, at Stonebridge? Yeah how was that?
Jamie: Yeah a good old place in our hometown.
Jeff: It’s like a towny bar…
Yeah how was the reception there?
Jamie: It was awesome. Yeah we sold the place out, maybe like 150, 170 people. It was a blast. Andy from Hot Rod Circuit came out and he did an acoustic set. Split Coils played, which is Jay also from Hot Rod Circuit, they’re incredible. And this newer Connecticut band called Shortwave was just fuckin’ awesome. I mean it was really a great time seeing you know all the friends and just having all our buddies come out to see us play our hometown, it was just an awesome thing to be a part of.
Awesome, yeah. So I wanted to talk about Fest 20 a little bit. I was down there and it was actually my first Fest, wasn’t a bad Fest to start out on for my first one I guess.
Jeff: Yeah probably the best one yet.
How was your guys’ show down there?
Jeff: It was awesome, yeah. Super sick.
Jamie: The only downside was our set was right when the Menzingers were playing, which is like tough competition there. But all our buddies came out, we had a good showing, I mean it was fun. I like the smaller venues at Fest. Like I go to the big venues, like I go to Bo Diddley and I watch these bands, but I love seeing bands at like these smaller venues, like Loosey’s, and, where’d we play this year…
Jeff: Palomino, it was awesome.
Jamie: You like pack it out with a hundred people in there and it’s just awesome.
Yeah I think my favorite show from the entire thing was the Dopamines over at the Wooly. That was insane. Do you guys have a favorite set from Fest?
Jeff: This Fest I made it a point, I never even went to Bo Diddley. I never made it there this year. I made it a point to see like not big bands you know. So yeah, my favorite set, there’s this band, I wanna say they’re from Atlanta, and they’re called Seagulls. Dude that band was literally insane. And another set, they’re called You Vandal, they’re from Gainesville, their set was sick. They also did an AFI cover set.
Yeah I kind of agree with what you guys were saying about the smaller venue vibe, it kind of got overwhelming. Like here in Nashville, any of the punk shows, they’re all real intimate, not a lot of people there usually, they’re never sold out. So going to like Bo Diddley it’s a little overwhelming, like I’m seeing Avail but I’m all the way in the fuckin’ back, you know. But seeing like Dopamines, that’s more of what I’m used to. It was cool seeing these bands in these smaller venues that I’ve kind of idolized forever.
So then circling back to Wiretap, how’d you guys get on there, can you walk me through that a little bit?
Jamie: So you know, I’ve always liked a lot of the bands on there, like I’ve had a vinyl from like Spanish Love Songs and all these bands that I’ve followed and looked up to. And some newer bands too are on the label, American Television, some like kind of local guys that are just awesome. So we hit up Rob, we sent him something, we sent him like “Discount Casket” and he was like ‘hey, this is really cool, I wanna put this on …’ he does like a bimonthly charity comp towards like a good cause. He put that on one of his comps. And we were like ‘ oh cool, we’ll keep in touch.’ So then as we started kind of sitting down and putting tracks together for the full-length, we just hit him up again and we’re like ‘hey, we’re thinking about putting out a record, we’re gonna put it out hopefully before Fest. Are you interested?’. But Rob was really like gung-ho and down for it and got us rolling really early on. He was just a great guy to work with, I mean Wiretap has put out so many great releases and he’s so involved with like the scene and a lot of great charity efforts; he’s just overall a great dude in so many ways. So we’re happy to work with him and we’re lucky that we get the chance to put out a record with him.
Yeah I can’t remember when I realized you guys were on Wiretap, but I was happy to see you guys on there because they always have a real solid lineup, everybody on Wiretap I always love.
Jamie: Yeah it’s great.
So you mentioned the Menzingers down at Fest and your guys’ set times clashing, and when I first started listening to you guys, I immediately started getting Gaslight Anthem and Menzingers vibes. I think it was with Punk Rock Theory that they talked about sounding like GA also. But coming from your point of view, what are your guys influences?
Jamie: We get a lot of the Gaslight Anthem, I don’t know, maybe Kurt’s vocals and kind of in that vein. You know, we were in like old school pop-punk bands in the early 2000s, you know we grew up on bands like Hot Rod Circuit, the Get-Up Kids, and kind of like that genre of bands. But more recently, I’ve personally listened to a lot of the Gaslight Anthem, the Menzingers, they all kind of fall into the mix too. So I like to think we’re somewhere in between like those bands and that original scene with all the like emo punky bands. Some sort of blend of the two, I hope, maybe.
So what about a tour, do you guys have anything planned coming up for promoting the record?
Jamie: We’re trying to get something together for the Spring. We have a show coming up, but we’re gonna kind of lay low for the Winter and the holidays. We have a show coming up in January with Teenage Halloween, one of the local bands up here. Awesome if you don’t know those guys, they’re from Jersey actually, incredible. And then we’re trying to get something together for the Spring, we’re talking to some of our buddies around here to do a few dates, but we’re just trying to get everything together, we don’t have anything set in stone quite yet.
So Jamie, you’re the surgeon right?
So how do you juggle that with playing shows like that; how do you juggle having enough time with your band and with work because when I hear ‘surgeon’ you kind of think like 80-hour work weeks, crazy work times, no time off.
Jamie: When I was in residency doing all my training stuff, I wouldn’t be able to do what we do now. But now that I’m in private practice, I’m in a good group, I’m on reasonable call schedule. And they’re all supportive of what I do, they think it’s cool. But it is a balancing act with like trying to book shows and playing out around the call schedule. You know all of us are in like our mid-30s to late-30s, so we’re all like career, kids, jobs. So we get out there when we can, just little tours and runs, try to get down to Fest every year. But you know, I don’t see us going out for like a month on the road. We’re kind of weekend warriors at this point.
So a little off-topic, but let’s talk Limp Bizkit here *laughs*.
Jeff: Oh yeah that’s why we’re here!
In your Fest bio, you were called a Limp Bizkit cover band. Give me some background on that.
Jamie: You know *laughs*, we listen to Limp Bizkit. We grew up in the 90s…
Jeff: My first band was a straight-up nu metal band…
Jamie: Dude he was straight up playing Korn covers. You know like people shit all over these bands, we grew up on this stuff and we love this stuff, we embrace this stuff. As much as I like the Gaslight Anthem, I’ll spin a Limp Bizkit record too.
Jeff: Think about this, how many hardcore kids in the late 90s hated Slipknot, but those same hardcore kids now love Slipknot. Yeah I don’t know…
Jamie: With Limp Biskit it’s kind of like a funny thing, but we really like Limp Bizkit and people are just joking around like shitting on it. We listen to Limp Bizkit and we want everyone to know, we’re just trying to put that out there *laughs*.
Right that’s confidence right there *laughs*. Most people are too proud to admit it.
Jeff: Their newest record is fire man.
I’ve heard bits and pieces and it’s not bad. Well that about covers everything I think, I really wanted to hit hard on the new record, hopefully this can help promote it a little bit. We’ve actually been steadily seeing reader numbers rise since the relaunch, especially with that blink-182 thing a while back.
Jamie: Yeah Dying Scene used to be the shit man. Yeah back in the day it was like Absolute Punk, and then Punknews was always there, and then Dying Scene. They were like the three big ones. At least outside of like AP and all that shit I don’t really care about. All the bands I liked were on those sites, that’s where I was checking to find the new stuff. Glad you guys are back.
Yeah I appreciate you guys sitting down with me.
Jamie: Yeah thanks for reaching out and talking with us man, we appreciate it.
2020 was going to be a big year for The Flatliners. After touring far and wide in support of their 2017 full-length Inviting Light, the band took most of 2019 off from playing live. Had things gone according to plan, 2020 would have found Canada’s finest foursome writing and recording a new record and touring […]
2020 was going to be a big year for The Flatliners. After touring far and wide in support of their 2017 full-length Inviting Light, the band took most of 2019 off from playing live. Had things gone according to plan, 2020 would have found Canada’s finest foursome writing and recording a new record and touring heavily in support of the 10th anniversary of their album Cavalcade, an album that made even jaded old punks like me change my opinion on the Flats from being “a pretty cool young band” to “Oh damn, this band rules!” Wouldn’t you know it, 2020 had other plans for the Flats – and for all of us, obviously. Their self-imposed downtime of 2019 obviously bled into the global pandemic-imposed downtime of 2020 (and 2021 if we’re being honest) and coincided with some of the most widespread times of social unrest in probably half a century.
And so was the environment in which the Flatliners, somewhat secretly, finally got to work on crafting a new full-length album. The resulting album, New Ruin, marked not only a return to Fat Wreck Chords as a label home after a one-album stay on Rise Records for InvitingLight, but a return to a more frantic and aggressive sound that was a calling card of some of the band’s earlier work. It is, quite simply, some of the best and most pointed and most vital music of their collective career.
Oh by the way, that aforementioned career just eclipsed the twenty-year mark. That fact is, frankly, mind-boggling not only because the band has consisted of the same foursome – Chris Cresswell on vocals and guitar, Scott Brigham on guitar, John Darbey on bass and Paul Ramirez on drums – for its entire duration, but also when you consider that the band’s members are all in their mid-thirties. I know, right?
We caught up with the Flatliners’ inimitable frontman Chris Cresswell just prior to his heading abroad for a few shows with his other band – a little project called Hot Water Music – to talk about the last couple of years in the Flats’ camp, the writing of what turned out to be some of their angriest work to date, and the ability to simultaneously celebrate both the new album and the comfortable, confident place that the band finds itself at two decades into their collective career. Coming off of the longest break of their career seems to have left the band recharged and laser-focused on what’s to come.
Read our full Q & A with the always affable Cresswell down below. Oh, and check out New Ruin if you haven’t already. Here’s our review of the album, which is out now on Fat Wreck Chords and Dine Alone!
(Believe it or not, the following has been condensed for content/clarity reasons.)
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how’s it going?
Chris Cresswell: Good man! Just actually enjoying ten days of home time between tours. It’s been a wild, wild year. I’ve barely been here, I feel like I’m more riff than person this year. (*both laugh*) But in a good way. It’s nice to be back to it. I’ve had a couple little chunks of time at home lately, which is good, man. Necessary. Fill the tank up, you know?
Congratulations on twenty years (of The Flatliners as a band)! It was officially twenty years, what, last week?
Yeah, (September) 14th.
That is wild.
It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, you know? It’s strange to think that it’s twenty officially now. Last year we were planning all the stuff we were doing this year, anticipating the 20th, and we were just like “how the fuck does this make sense?!”
When you can measure the span in multiple decades, it kinda does weird things to your brain.
I went to a show for the first time in a while this weekend. I saw Face To Face, and we were doing the math, Scott (Shiflett) and I, while we talking, and I realized it’s been 25 years since I’ve known those guys and that we’ve been friendly. Like…I have people in this scene that I’ve been friends with for a quarter of a century…
A few days before the band turned 20, Scott (Brigham) and I realized that we’ve been friends for thirty years. We met the first day of kindergarten, and in Ontario at least, the first day of school is always right after Labor Day. So, we were like “well, we met in ‘92,” so we looked up Labor Day of ‘92 and double-checked it with the school district calendar and we were like “damn, officially thirty years!” So it’s been a big year, for a lot of reasons. Those are two of the big reasons in my life anyway. It’s been a lot of reflection, but it’s good too, because it’s positive reflection that can propel us forward. As much as we’ve been celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Flats, it’s nice for us to also have a new record out to celebrate the present and take us into the future. It’s not all just pure nostalgia train. And that stuff is cool, I have no problem with that. It’s a powerful drug! But I’m just glad there’s both things happening.
You talked about reflection, and we’re coming out of a time where we were all sort of forced to stay home for however long any of us chose to stay home for…did this period of reflection on twenty years sneak up on you after not really being able to do anything but reflect for a while?
Certain elements of it did, for sure. As much planning and scheming as you can do as a band, everything still comes down to the wire. Everything needed to be done yesterday (*both laugh*) and that’s kind of the nature of the music business at large, as well. But to be honest, that downtime of those couple years, we were pretty well prepared and organized in terms of getting to work and making sure that things were ready for when they needed to be ready. Knowing when we wanted to put the record out – inevitably that got pushed to the summer, but we wanted it out earlier than that – but that kind of always happens anyway, pandemic or major vinyl delays aside – so that was okay. 2021 was pretty well organized and planned. The lamest way I could put it I guess is that we executed everything in a pretty timely manner, which was cool. Because we had 2020 to basically, like, forget we were in a band.
How much stuff did you guys have to cancel in 2020?
A lot, really. A lot! Because we had basically taken 2019 off.
Yeah, back in like spring of 2018, we were like, “well, by the end of this year, we will have gone everywhere we could go on Inviting Light, let’s do something we’ve never done before and take a break.” It was weird to talk about it at first, and then we were all behind the idea, because we all needed it. We had never done that, and it was just years and years and years of solid, heavy touring. 2019 we played two Flats shows, officially, and then we played like a private party with friends and family, and then we did like a Smashing Pumpkins cover set at a different show…which was cool! It was fun! So the idea was that we’d come back and do the Cavalcade 10th-anniversary tour pretty much everywhere, and then we would make a record at the end of 2020 and hit the road in 2021 with a new record, and we’d hit all those places again that we had just hit with the Cavalcade shows. And then all of that took a shit! (*both laugh*)
We canceled a lot. There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t announced. I think there were only two tours that were announced that we had to cancel – I think the UK and Europe one was in the spring of 2020, maybe late April? And then we had a West Coast run in May or June that was announced. But we had shit booked for the whole year. The first month was basically like, who knows what the hell is happening…at first it was postpone everything, then forget that, cancel everything and just figure out how we’re all going to survive and if there’s a way the band can help with that. I mean, we all have lives outside of the band too, which is why taking the break was nice in 2019 and onward. It ended up being I think what everyone needed. Because I know myself and I know that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would have been on tour that entire time. I needed that, and I needed for it to be that everyone was home from touring! (*both laugh*)
And I don’t mean that as a competitive thing, it’s just that knowing that this is what I do, and this is what makes me feel most like myself…especially after a year off from The Flats at least – Hot Water was busy but Flats had the year off… I was kinda ready to hit it pretty hard again. But in the end, I was very thankful to have that extra time off. The first few months, we were just chilling and not doing much and kind of enjoying some downtime as best you could. As strange as it was and as many horrifying things that were happening in the world, it was comforting to be home for the first time in forever. And then the writing really started late summer, early fall or 2020. Once that started, it was just like laser focus on that.
Was that the timeline anyway? If you wanted to put out an album in 2021, would you have been writing in the last part of 2020 anyway?
I think we probably would have tried to put a lot more ideas together in the first half of 2020 – or at least spring and early summer while we were touring. We don’t write a lot on the road, but at least if we had ideas we could share them that way and start to compile the list of ideas, and then finetune them when we got home from tour. The idea was to record a record like fall – end of the year in…I guess 2020.
It’s all a blur. (*both laugh*)
Yeah! And it doesn’t matter that it didn’t happen that way, because the way it went down for us is the only way that everyone else knows about. It was nice to have that extra time and to write a lot…
Did you write a lot more for New Ruin than for previous records?
A bit more. We always are in the habit of writing more than we need. For most records, we end up with about twenty songs kinda ready to go. Some of them are always inevitably not as strong as others. For this record, we wrote…I think the final count when I was sending the guys all these ideas I had was like twenty-five or -six. Something like that. Some were fully worked out, some were not, but then we just kinda whittled it down to what we put on the record.
Did you go into it with a direction, either sonically or lyrically, that you wanted to focus on this time?
I didn’t set out to do that, but very quickly with what I was writing about and how the songs kinda felt energy-wise, it seemed like there was a pretty clear vision. Well, there was a pretty clear thesis statement which was “People suck (*both laugh*)…and the world is fucking crumbling all around us.” From there, the benefit of having all this downtime is that I had a lot of time to think about how I personally wanted to bring these ideas even to the rest of the guys, and then us as a band, what we could do together to solidify that even further and go into the studio with a really clear vision sonically and thematically. I had a really clear vision at that point lyrically. And then even not just that stuff, but how we wanted to roll out the record, what we wanted to do with videos… Lucky for us we were working with Fat (Wreck Chords) again obviously, who we fucking love – there’s a reason we’ve gone back, because they’re just family. And with Dine Alone in Canada, it’s great. The whole team is strong.It was the strongest and clearest vision I think I’ve ever had and that the band’s ever had going into something. For sure.
Did it sorta snowball on you, the idea, especially thematically, start as the snowball at the top of the hill or whatever they say and then just pick up steam once you realized there was obviously plenty of subject matter to choose from…because it seems a little more focused than just saying that “people suck”…it seems like a really focused and direct record.
That’s true, that’s true. I’m trying to think of the first few songs I sent to the guys…oh man, I could probably tell you…(*pulls out phone*)…One of the first songs I sent to the guys was “Rat King,” and that was a song where I was like “racism sucks and white people are THE WORST! (*both laugh*) So I’m going to write a song about that.” Maybe that’s a shock to people that that’s what that song is about, but it is! (*laughs*) I never really know what a song’s about until the lyrics start coming. Sorry, I don’t mean to do this during the interview but I feel like it would be cool to know (continues scrolling through phone)
Do you hate actually talking about what the songs are about? Because I know some songwriters don’t want to spoil that thing where “once I write it, it’s not mine, it’s yours” – but sometimes I like to know how the sausage is made.
For sure. And I think with other records I’ve been like “Well, just listen to the song because it feels like it should be pretty obvious.” And that’s I think because on previous records, a lot of it was that I’m a product of my environment and I’m writing about what I know. During all those years of making most of those records, pretty much from The Great Awake up until Inviting Light, a lot of it was on the road, really heavy touring years, and I’m writing about that. I’m writing about what that does to me, what I’ve seen that do to other people, how that feels. And it’s not always negative stuff, but it’s that experience. But this one, having done a lot of the writing at home and seeing and reading and learning about how fucked pretty much everything was around all of us for so many reasons, but all of them really at the end of the day being at the hand of human beings, I don’t mind talking about it because I made a decision to write more about what was going on in the world around me rather than my view of the world.
So, here we go…the first three songs that I sent to the guys were “Rat King,” “It’ll Hurt” and another song that we didn’t record. “Rat King” was one of the first ones that was out there, and it’s a very angry and pointed song about a particular thing and particular people. I think from there – well, “It’ll Hurt” is maybe more like a bit of the older lyrical style that I’ve done over the years. So it was cool to have both of those things kind of running alongside each other, those themes of like how I feel in general and how the world is making me feel right now. At some point, I decided to go down that one path of “let’s just talk about the world and what’s happening right now.” And I’m no expert on any of these subjects, these are just my opinions, you know? (*both laugh*) But if someone out there is reading that “Rat King” is an antiracist song and they’re shocked by that, that’s kind of troubling. And if they don’t like that, we don’t want you to listen to that song. We don’t want you to listen to our band (*both laugh*) if you’re not an antiracist person, you know?
Seriously, it floors me every time that stuff like that comes up from whatever artist, from Woody Guthrie to Springsteen to Jason Isbell or whoever, when people are like “shut up and stick to playing music” it’s like…boy, you have REALLY not been paying attention at all, have you?
No, and like, my God, how many people have learned about how to use their voice through music, you know? It’s a cultural wave that hits people in different ways, but it hits people! It’s similarly confusing when I meet someone who, hen we’re talking and the topic of music comes up and I say “oh what kind of music do you like?” and they say “oh, I don’t really like music.” I think “oh, I don’t trust you at all!” (*both laugh*)
And I know that’s subjective because, I mean, music is my entire life, but really, you can’t even tell me like what music you like? And when you hear it, it makes you feel a certain way? I don’t know…
That’s weird. It’s like people who say they don’t like dogs or whatever. Or cats, I guess, although unlike you I’m an anticat guy.
See that’s the thing though, people have an opinion about which animals they prefer. But when people are like “oh, I don’t really like animals…”
That means you’re a sociopath.
“What, you don’t like joy?” (*both laugh*) But really, it was nice to have that time to sit and think about how much I hate the fucking world! (*both laugh*)
Right, but then, as a songwriter, I don’t want to say that’s an awesome responsibility because that’s probably overstating things, but does that seem like it’s a big responsibility, to say “I want to actually talk about this shit in a way that makes sense to me and hopefully to people who have been following and listening to me for twenty years? Because that’s a lot to take on. We had nothing but time to pay attention. It wasn’t just that things sucked for a long time – and probably stll do – but we had all the time in the world to focus on how much it sucked. We had to focus on how racist this little country to the south of yours is …
Hey man, mine too! Mine is no angel. People like to think it is, but we have got a dark history.
Well and some of that came out during the two years of hte pandemic, with all of the news about the indiginous kids at the Catholic boarding schools. It’s an overwhelming responsibility to be able to put some of that shit into words in a way that makes sense, no?
I think that there is definitely a responsibility there. It’s a choice I made to write about this kind of stuff. I’m no authority on the subject, but I know how it makes me feel. At the end of the day, that’s always what I’ve done, it was just different subject matter. Now having all this time to sit in those uncomfortable moments and let those pieces of information – those horrifying pieces of information – the thing you just mentioned about the residential schools in Canada, for instance, let that bounce around in your brain for a while and see how that makes you feel. It’s not going to make you feel good because it’s a terrible thing, to say the very least. It’s a horrifying thing that happened. It is an absolute privilege of mine, and I know that to be true, to just be able to be the guy to sit there and write a song about it instead of being somebody who lived through it, you know what I mean? I understand that there’s a difference, but I’m trying to put my opinion out there in a song in a way where maybe, like we said earlier, it can hit someone in a way that it allows them to think about an issue a little differently.
Or, really at my age now, I’m 35, and I’ve been able to write music for a long time and express the way I feel for a long time, but I feel like at this age – maybe for some people it’s a little earlier or a little later – I feel like I’m part of my community. I feel like I’m a responsible person adding to a community. I’m not trying to take anything away from it, I’m trying to add to it, but not trying to take up too much space or time or air either. That’s very tricky to do in music and in art and this type of thing, but at the same time, there are so many people with maybe a dwindling but a still-existing attention span to hear your ideas, you know what I mean? That’s how I started to think about it and feel about it as well. I’m just trying to add to my musical community with something positive. Essentially, having the conversation about these issues, or at least putting my side of the story out there – and my side of the story is that human beings are the fucking worst and we could do so much fucking better (*both laugh*) better to ourselves, to each other, to the planet, all these things. It was all hitting me so hard because I had time to sit around and think about it. Otherwise man, I’d be on tour, I’d be in a fucking bubble, I’d be living a tunnel vision life like I always was. Not every song on the record, but a lot of the songs on the record are about these particular issues…they’re not new issues, they’re things that I’ve now been able to try my best to compute this kind of information and put it out there. That’s why that record is so angry, because it was not an easy time for anyone!
Did that inspire the sound of the record too? It’s sort of interesting to listen to the last two records back-to-back. The first song on Inviting Light…”Mammals” starts with that sort of slow build. It becomes an uptempo song obviously, but to contrast that opening with “Performative Hours” which punches you in the face right from the beginning and the album doesn’t really let up from there. Was that a conscious choice too, with the heavy subject matter, to put that heavy music behind it as well?
Yeah. Some songs, the lyrics come first even in little fragments, sometimes it’s the music…well, it’s hard to say really which happens more than the other. But if the lyrics came first or at least I knew what I wanted to write about, I knew that the energy of the song had to match that, and vice versa. Because I was already in that mindset of being just pissed off, a lot of the music was very angry, so I knew that the lyrics had to match that. To be honest, once we had a good pile of songs to listen through – the ideas were still being worked on, but once we had a handful of songs where we were like “whoa, this is angry,”…the guys were like “whoa, you’re pretty angry.” (*both laugh*) Like “why not, of course I am, how could I not be?” (*laughs*) I think at that point we were like “well, let’s just make a record that’s going to punch people in the fucking face” like you said. Once the consensus was to open the record with “Performative Hours,” which was an idea that came up early on, we were like “oh yah, this is perfect!” We were able to build off that so well. Musically I think it takes twists and turns throughout the record, but once we chose the songs that we wanted to put on the record, we were like “damn, this is pretty relentless actually.” And that’s what we wanted to do, and I’m so happy with it. And it was the most fun that I’ve ever had making a Flats record, which is funny because it’s the angriest record we’ve ever made by far! (*both laugh*)
And it’s also really guitar-heavy! I mean obviously the Flats have been a guitar band, that’s always sort of been at the front and center, but it’s really riff-heavy this time. I think I texted you when I first heard it that, like, I had plans – my wife and my daughter went out of town for a weekend, and I think I got your album and Jerry sent me the new Mercy Union record on the same day, and they are both really good, guitar-heavy albums and there are so many riffs that I just like “fuck having plans, I just want to play guitar and figure out riffs tonight!” (*both laugh*)
I love that!
But that seems like a bit of a stylistic difference too. Does that come from sitting around the house for a couple years and just playing guitar, or did they come when you started writing with the guys?
A bit of both. It’s always a mixed bag. Each record turns out to be a response to the previous record. I think on Inviting Light, we were trying to build – it turns out – a bit of a different vibe and a different style. We were so close to it that we didn’t really realize what we were doing fully, but I can say that I knew when we were writing the record that we wanted to let a lot of those Inviting Light songs breathe. There were more subtleties, and we’d talk a lot about that it was just as important to know when not to play as it was to know when to play. With this record, we were just like “no, let’s just hit ‘em with everything!” (*both laugh*) Each record becomes an exercise in these things, which is really cool, and we’re lucky that the four of us in the band have gotten to do this together over all these years now. We discover more of ourselves each time we write a song together or make a record together. Part of what we discovered on this record is that we just wanted to fucking rock, dude! (*both laugh*) I know it’s so stupid to put it that way, but it’s real! The energy and the theme of the record and how angry the material ended up being, we’re like “well, we’re going to make this record sound as insane as we can, as powerful as we can.” Sonically that was the vision going into it, that we wanted to make it sound big. Not like something we couldn’t replicate live, because that’s always a bummer, but something that we could just hit people with. Because then when we play these songs live, we are going to feel the power of these songs and we’re going to bring it even harder. Especially after a couple years of not being able to play at all together, let alone go on tour, there’s this newfound excitement. Like, I’ve gotta relax a little bit on stage.
I was just going to ask that.
I’m ready to like kick a hole through the stage every night because I’m just like “I’m fucking back!!” It feels really good.
And then you get three songs in and you’ve got to take a knee. You’re in your mid-thirties now, man…
My first show back was a Hot Water show, and it was at Furnace Fest in Alabama in 2021. I was terrified before the show, I was nervous, I was anxious, I thought I was going to forget everything. And the first note we hit, I was like “ oh fuck yes!” and I was literally stomping so hard on the stage. I think Chuck sang the first three songs and I was like “I gotta chill! I’m like winded and I’ve gotta sing in nine minutes.” (*both laugh*) And it’s the same with the Flats now, man. When we got together to really dig through these ideas as a band after almost a year of sending ideas back and forth, this was now late Summer 2021…the four of us hadn’t been in the same room in almost two years! It was the longest it had ever been. It was amazing and it was emotional and I remember like a week after that when we went to go record, after doing like a week of (pre-production), we did like a “have a good show” thing before we were recording and we kinda all went “fuck, man, this feels powerful.” There was an energy to it, man, and it sounds kinda cheesy but it’s true. It had been so long at that point since we had done anything together, and we kinda knew what we had to. Not in an arrogant way, I hope it doesn’t come across that way because I hate that shit, but there was a confidence in what we were building together and what we wrote and were going into record. Knowing what we wanted to do helped us feel so confident that we were like “fuck, this is going to be awesome.” We’ve never really operated that way before, we’re kinda like “well, I hope people like it!” With this one, that’s still the case, but I think that all of those things – the time away from each other, the time away from this, the time away from the band and being able to do our quote-unquote thing – it just kinda solidified the love for it and the power in it to us, you know?
Well because that could go the other way, right? You could take two years off and just not really be in it anymore or just get to a place where you think you’ve done everything you wanted to do in music or with the band and then be on to the next thing.
And I respect that too, man. It totally depends on the person. I’ve got a lot of friends actually who made that decision since everything that’s happened the last few years, and I respect that. The four of us, like I said, each have lives outside of the band and things have changed. Touring nowadays, we can only operate in a certain way. That’s cool though, because it keeps it special and it keeps, maybe, that feeling that we’ve discovered when making this record and now celebrating twenty years and everything WITH the new record, it keeps that energy and that excitement alive, instead of “hey, let’s go on tour for ten months straight…” (*both laugh*) Fuck that, man, oh my god.
Is this the first time you’ve written a full album without playing any of the material out before? Like, would you workshop things on the road before?
We’d show each other ideas but we wouldn’t jam a lot on tour. We did that a little bit on Cavalcade, and we just felt like we were annoying the people that were working at the club. Because we were soundchecking, and in that era we weren’t headlining the show so if we were opening the show, we might get a thirty-minute soundcheck if we got one at all. The fucking bartender and the venue staff do not need to hear us working through the same 16 bars of an idea over and over again (*both laugh*). We started to do it offstage. Jamming and putting it together as a cohesive thing always happened at home.
Once the songs are fully fleshed out, though, are there songs that would actually make their way into the live set before anyone heard them? Because now everyone’s had a chance to get to know the album for a while before you can hit the road.
I think we’ve always been a little bit protective of playing new stuff before it’s out, and I don’t know why really.
I feel like that’s a YouTube thing.
Yeah, because people videotape shows and put the whole thing up on YouTube now, so if you have a song that you’re sort of woodshedding, why play it in front of people because then everyone knows what it is, and then maybe you don’t even like that song or maybe it takes a turn in the writing process, but now you’re sorta stuck with the way it sounded that one night in Detroit in June or whatever.
Totally. We actually did this very recently with “Rat King” for the music video, but that was the first time we had done that in, I don’t even remember. It was a long time. It could have been for Cavalcade or something, because we recorded a big chunk of Cavalcade one year, then we went on tour for like nine months or something, and we finished (recording) almost a year later. So I’m sure in that era of Cavalcade being like half done or three-quarters of the way done, we were probably playing a couple of those songs live. But, for “Rat King” we did a video shoot in Toronto and part of it was a show we played. We ended up doing this last-minute show at our friend’s bar, Hard Luck, and it was like a week’s notice. No one knew why we were doing it. We had a Midwest tour coming up and we were like “fuck it, let’s play a show in Toronto, and we can film it. We’ll let everyone know we’re making a video, so if you don’t want to be in the video, go to the back, if you want to be in the video come to the front! (*both laugh*) We’re just going to play this one song that you’ve never heard before, and that was kind of exciting. That was the first time we had done that in a while and it was cool. But aside from that…I think “Performative Hours” was already out at that point, maybe “Souvenir” was already out or was about to come out. People knew there was going to be a record, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to play a new song. I think that’s maybe why, because in the past we haven’t wanted to do that because it kinda spoils the surprise. We like to record records kind of in secret. We don’t typically post stuff from the studio
I was just thinking that, yeah. I was looking back at the Flats Instagram account and I did notice that you didn’t post teaser things or whatever from the studio, it was like, all of a sudden here’s the cover art and the first single!
It’s similar to the way that we wanted the record to sonically and musically be, that kind of relentless slap in the face. We wanted to just be like “WE’RE BACK! SURPRISE!” And also, you never know how long after you finish tracking a record, how long the entire process will take. Like for instance, we’re talking today, the 26th of September, and the last day of tracking in the studio for New Ruin was October 3rd of last year. So we finished almost exactly a year ago. Then our friend Dave did some piano tracks at his home studio after that, and then mixing we took our time with. Because we like to take our time with this stuff. That shouldn’t be a surprise to any Flats fan at this point (*both laugh*). So I think part of me and my approach to it which I think trickles down to the guys – only because I’m the most neurotic with this shit, more than Scott, Paul or John – is that, if we put it out that we’re in the studio, people get excited hopefully, and then like a year later the album comes out? I feel like you kinda lose the excitement. You’d lose it on me at least. If it’s a band I like pulling that move, I’ll have completely forgot that I saw that picture or watched that video by the time the record comes out. So we like to be a little secretive about it. It’s fun! There’s not a lot of mystery left in the world, so if we can create a little bit, it’s fun for us!
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.)
“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.”
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 Stolenhere 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.
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…
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.
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*)
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 ASMUCH 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*)
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?
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!”
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?”
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!
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.
Friday, May 5th, marks the release of what may be realistically referred to as the longest awaited release in the baker’s-dozen-year history of your favorite little online punk rock website. (This one, obviously.) The album is called Essential, and it’s the latest release from beloved Chicago punkers The Bollweevils. That’s the cover art up there. […]
Friday, May 5th, marks the release of what may be realistically referred to as the longest awaited release in the baker’s-dozen-year history of your favorite little online punk rock website. (This one, obviously.) The album is called Essential, and it’s the latest release from beloved Chicago punkers The Bollweevils.
That’s the cover art up there. Fun, right? The album is noteworthy for a variety of reasons. Not only is it the Bollweevils first full-length album in practically a generation (and definitely their first since Dying Scene has existed), it’s their first proper release on Red Scare Industries, and their first release mixed at the legendary Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Perhaps more importantly, however, it’s noteworthy in the way that it plants a battle flag that symbolizes that not only can some of the old guard, who have long-since moved past the days of trying to make a living solely from punk rock wages, can not only put out an album that’s super poignant and super energetic and super fun, they do so in a way that raises the bar for the younger bands that have been following in their collective wake.
Due to the way that both the music industry and the media technology sector have changed since the early days of the Bollweevils, we caught up with the band’s enigmatic frontman Daryl Wilson in the throes of what you can probably safely say is the first semblance of a press junket of his music career. When last Dr. Daryl and I spoke in the context of conducting an interview (watch it here if you missed it), it was that first summer of Covid and it was in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and it was through the lenses of Wilson’s roles not only as an emergency department physician but as a person of color living through probably the most public time of racial unrest that this country had seen since the 1960s. Thankfully, we’ve solved both coronavirus-related public health crises AND systemic racism in the almost three years since that conversation, so this time we could devote our energies to punk rock!
Check out our admittedly wide-ranging chat below. Plenty of insight on the recording of the album, the process of getting it mixed at the Blasting Room, the coolness of existing on Red Scare in the time of bands like No Trigger and Broadway Calls, the dynamite new material being put out by other long-time scene vets like Samiam and Bouncing Souls, avoiding the woulda, shoulda, couldas when looking at their legacy, and much more!
Surprisingly enough, the conversation below is condensed for content and clarity reasons.
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how are you? It’s good to chat with you again!
Daryl Wilson: It’s been a minute, man, hasn’t it? I’m doing pretty good! It’s been a pretty interesting past three or four years to say the least, but I’ve come out on the other end still kicking! Getting older and I think a little bit wiser and I have a better worldview of things. The priority list is more tailored to true priorities. It’s kind of good. It’s refreshing to not have anxiety about stuff! (*both laugh*)
Does it feel like we’re officially on the other side at least of the pandemic part? I know some of the other social and political stuff we probably won’t be on the other side of for a long time, but does it seem like at least pandemic-wise, we’re just back to “normal,” whatever that means nowadays?
Yeah, I mean, lessons learned, right? That’s the natural progression of the disease process. The virus becomes less and less apt to kill its host. It becomes easy to spread, but it’s not really good for a virus to kill off its hosts, because then it doesn’t propagate. Coronaviruses do that anyway. The long-term immunity versus coronaviruses is so minuscule. Since antiquity people would get coronaviruses and they’d mutate so rapidly that you’d have lower conveyed immunity. It would spike and then it would drop and you’d get the same coronavirus a few months later. You might get the same coronavirus nine times in a year. They weren’t novel viruses. This was a novel virus, so it was something that our immune systems had never seen before, so of course the response was “oh my god!” Now we’re at a different point where there’s individuals vaccinated, natural immunity that’s occurred over time, the virus changing…we don’t know if there are any other long-term residual things yet. Finding out that, you know, exposure to Epstein-Barr virus might have lead to individuals having a propensity for MS is kind of crazy. We’ve learned that over time, and we don’t know what the long-term stuff will be with this. We don’t know if it’s affecting our T-cells in some way where we have a different long-term immunity to things. I’m not saying this for certain, I haven’t done research or studies on this, but is there some rationale where this is why we had such a bad set of viral illnesses in children during this past winter? Most kids getting RSV don’t get THAT sick, historically, but we had a bunch that got sick, so is there some issue with the way our immune systems have been affected by these bouts of Covid? I don’t know. I’m not saying that to start some controversy or “oh my god, this physician said…” (*both laugh*). Anything I say is not representing my hospital, this is just me talking. But human beings throughout all of our history and existence have come out on the other end of things that have been as bad as what we’ve (just) walked through. We’re a pretty scrappy species in some sense. To sit back and worry about “is this the end?” I mean…you’ve had people preaching on corners of streets from the times of Rome up to today where they’ve said “The End Is Nigh” and guess what? We’re still here! (*both laugh*) So let’s not put too much of a doom spin on everything and we’ll keep on kicking.
There’s a guy in the Boston area who I first encountered I think when I was a freshman in college. You’d see him outside sporting events and I know I saw him in Salem, Massachusetts, for Halloween because that’s what you do…and I remember him having this big sandwich board on it saying like “The End Is Nigh” and “Repent” and it had like a burning cross on it…and he’s still out there doing it, twenty-five-plus years later. It’s like…how “nigh” is it? (*both laugh*)
One day he’ll be right! (*both laugh*) And he’ll be able to say “see I told you so!” (*both laugh*) Let’s just spend all our time with that sandwich board on and continue preaching that until it happens. Why not just live your life? You’re already walking around dead with a sandwich board on. You’re not “living.” Just go live! In all reality, every day is your first or last day, right? You have no idea when the ticker over your head is going to go “TIME’S UP!” That should spur you on into “maybe I should just live as best as I can for today because I’m not guaranteed any moment. I could talk to you today, Jason, and that could be it! It’s always good to talk to someone that is cool and that you can talk to and say ‘this is a great connection,” and if this is the last conversation I ever have, let’s make it good, right? Why make it horrible? Why start your day with that sort of a horrible situation? Listen, I’m no sage, and I know I make situations really uncomfortable for people (*both laugh*) and I can be just a retch of a human being, but the good thing is, I woke up and I have an opportunity today to make up for that. That’s a good thing. I can try and do better. And that’s all you can do, right?
Okay so there’s no real natural segue here, but let’s bulldog into talking about the new record! It feels like it’s time. It’s obviously been a LONG time since the last Bollweevils record…
Yeah, and I think Dying Scene is officially thirteen years old, so I think this is the first Bollweevils release of the Dying Scene era!
Wow! Yeah, it’s been a long time. Nothing’s good or bad, it just is…and it’s 14 years now, and for me right now and the guys in the band – we’ve talked about it – it’s something that feels like it’s full. It feels like it’s something that took the time and it was the proper time to make it come out. There are probably a lot of reasons as to why it took so long. A part of it is that the band had some changes in members and we were in flux. We’d written some of these songs and we’d been playing them and we recorded a couple of them for a 7-inch for Underground Communique that came out – the Attack Scene 7-inch – and they were going to be on our next LP, which we thought was going to be out in the next three years after that 7-inch was put out. But no, that didn’t happen. We had members change prior to us even recording that. Our original bass player Bob had quit the band. We didn’t know for a while if we were going to be a band. That was the biggest question, “do we want to keep doing this?” And I think when we finally had the addition of Pete Mittler to the band as our bass player, that kind of made us who we are. I think we gelled, and we became The Bollweevils as we envisioned ourselves to be. It made it easier for us to buckle down and say “we need to put these songs out. We need to record these things, we need to have the new songs put out.” So we did! We finally got our schedules together, which is always a logistical nightmare! It is a whiteboard with so many pins in the wall with red yarn coming from all of these connections and somehow in the middle John Wick is there somehow! (*both laugh*) So it is a culmination of this ripening. We finally got the seeds planted and the tree grew and then fruit finally came from it. We had the right soil mixture with everybody as members of the band. The pandemic in some ways helped to kind of foster us pushing forward and doing this because we knew we might never get a chance to do something like this, so let’s get it done. And as we got older, the maturity of the band kind of seeps into it. We took our time – we had the time and we took our time instead of just “here’s what it is, we’re all done, one shot, let it play.” And so I think that it took a long time, but I think that it was warranted and it shows in the record. The record itself is so full and it’s one of the best things I think that we’ve ever put out.
Yeah, it’s really good! And I don’t just say that. It’s really good.
Yes! And I think it’s good on so many different levels. Sonically – how it sounds – I’m getting chills just thinking about it, but it sounds really, really good! Then, it’s like, the songs themselves, you listen to them and you’re like “wow, that’s got a hook, that’s a catch!” and then you listen to the lyrics and you’re like “oh my god, these lyrics! Wow, you’re saying this right now?!?” It’s complex but simple, it says things in a concise manner, it’s not like you’re just gassing on forever. It’s really a good record! (*both laugh*) I don’t usually do that, I’m not one to talk it up and say “oh this is so great,” but it is! I think because we put in all the time, you can sense that when you listen to the record.
How long a process was the writing? It wasn’t written all in one batch, obviously. Like you said you had the 7-inch come out and other songs you’ve played live. But how regularly were you writing in the let’s say decade between the last album and the gears being in motion for this one to be finalized?
It’s funny, because there are songs that we didn’t record for this. We had ideas for songs that we were working on that didn’t make the cut, and I think that’s part of it. Sometimes you force it and try to make things work. Sometimes you can tell a band throws on a record just to put on there. We didn’t do that. We made sure we have quality instead of quantity. We could have a quantity of songs and riffs that Ken was writing that we would put something down for, but they just didn’t work. We were woking on them in rehearsal and we’d try to do them and they just didn’t feel right. These songs we did that felt right, we could work on them more and more. Even when we had them initially worked out, we kept working on them over the years before they were put out in this final iteration for the record. We were able to criticize each other and our performances, and that’s a thing that we couldn’t do in our early years.
Yeah, I was going to say, that’s a tough thing to do as a young band when there’s ego involved and whatever else.
Absolutely! Everything’s personal. “Oh, you don’t like the way I’m singing this? I’m the singer! I’m the guy that writes the lyrics! Screw you, this is what it’s going to be!” That’s not the way to do it. We are a unit. I could take the criticism that Ken could say to me, or Pete or Pete would say. Like “we know what you should sound like on this, and I don’t like what you’re doing right now. It doesn’t sound complete.” And I’d be like “well, this is how I heard the song in my head, this is how I’m writing…” and they’d say “no, you can do better. Maybe change the cadence on that or that word seems wrong…” Or Ken would play a riff and Pete or I would say “can you change that riff a little bit?” It was definitely all of us collaborating together. We all have our roles in the band of what we do, but we can take what somebody said and say “we can do this better.” Playing the song live, you get to say “hey, that sounded okay, but maybe we can work on it a little bit more and make it sound better” and then we’d find nuanced things with the songs in rehearsals as we played them more and more. The ability for us to use constructive criticism and not destructive criticism like it used to be is a part that helped to make the sound sound so good. The mixing of it too…we had it mixed by Chris Beeble at The Blasting Room. That was due to Joe Principe. I gave him some of the demos early on – and in fact, it goes back further than that – when we actually presented the record to Red Scare and Toby had heard it and Brendan had heard it, Brendan came back and he said “I want to do your record, it’s great, but you know what? You’ve got to get this mixed again.” And Ken was like “Whaaaaat?” And Brendan said “it doesn’t sound like you. I remember seeing you guys when I was a kid and you guys were Chicago punk rock how it’s supposed to be, but this doesn’t sound like you’re supposed to sound. You’ve got to get it remixed.” And we were like “ooookay…that was a hit.” And Joe had kinda hinted at sending it to The Blasting Room, and I said “what, get it mixed where Rise Against gets their stuff done? We can’t afford that. We’re the Bollweevils, we’re working every day.” He hinted at it, but didn’t say “do it.” So we took a chance, we ponied up the money for it, and the mix came back and it was like “BOOM!” Beeble worked so closely with us on it, he was like “here’s what I need on this, here’s what’s going on…” He made it sound awesome!
You didn’t re-record anything after the initial thing was done, right?
No! I swear, I’ve said this before and I will say it again every time, the only person that can mix our stuff now is Chris Beeble. That is it. He knows us, he set the bar, he is the gold standard. So as it was mixed. Jeff Dean, who we recorded with here at the Echo Mill in Chicago, he also was really instrumental in forcing us to do things more than once. We’ve prided ourselves on coming in, laying it down, getting it done and getting out, but it was like “replay that again, replay that again, resing that again, do the lyrics this way, change that…” while we’re recording. It’s like “you’re killing us, man, there’s no way that we’re going to redo this multiple times.” I’d be like “this take was really good!” And he’d say “yeah, it was good, but it wasn’t great, do it again.” It was making sure that everything that we did was done to the best of our ability. That comes out on the record. I mean, you’ve heard it. What’s your favorite song on the record?
You know what? I made notes when I listened to the album the first time, which is a thing I try to still do a lot. Obviously “Liniment and Tonic” is great because that’s a super fun song, especially as a person who’s now in his mid-forties. It seems very appropriate. I really like “Galt’s Gulch.” That’s a cool song and it’s a little bit of a different song. I kept coming back to that in my notes. I like that sort of acoustic intro that builds and becomes this BIG sound. I like “Theme Song.” (*both laugh*) I like that “we are the Bollweevils” chant. It’s so fun and goofy and it’s very honest and self-deprecating too. I really appreciate that. “Bottomless Pit” is pretty cool.
Which is a throwback, because we re-recorded that. It was on Stick Your Neck Out! and we initially thought that our masters for all of those records were gone. It turns out that they’re not, so we were thinking we could re-record some of those songs, because we want them to sound how we sound now. The iteration of who we are now is who we are as a band. This is the Bollweevils. This is who we’ve grown to be and this is our final form, or if you’re looking at a Dragon Ball Z our final Frieza or whatever. (*both laugh*) We definitely wanted to put these songs down as who we are now. We play our instruments better, I sing stronger than I did. It’s the old song, but it sounds new. We did that one and we did “Disrespected Peggy Sue.” We did them now because this is who we are. It’s not the old-school recordings. Sorry, I cut you off! I just think “Bottomless Pit” is a great song. Go on, I like hearing about your favorite songs from the record!
I really like the guitar riff from “Our Glass.” That’s a really cool song too. But I keep coming back to “Galt’s Gulch” if I had to pick. So let’s talk about that song a little more if we can. Where did that one come from? It’s a little bit of a different song from the rest of the album. I know you’ve played that live, but what is the origin of that song? How far back in the writing process?
That was one of the ones written back early in like post-2015. We’d been working on that one for a long time. Initially, that song was a song that Ken was persistent in bringing to rehearsal. We’d play it, and we wrote some stuff for it, and we were like “it’s okay…” and he was like “no, this song is great!” I just didn’t know what I was going to do for it, and what I was going to sing. I started thinking about some topics that I wanted to delve into. I read a bunch of stuff, I’d read a lot. In my days, I’ve read some Ayn Rand. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The funny thing about those books is that they are works of fiction. (*both laugh*) To try to adopt objectivist viewpoints in some sense to live by is kind of counter to what humans do. I understand the idea of groupthink and the fear of what collectivism would be, but I don’t think of collectivism in that sense. I’m talking about trying to take a community and break a community apart. I think, yes, the idea of individuals existing and being an individual is super important. Individuals have skills that they can offer to a community to allow that community to continue to thrive. My skills as a physician are necessary to make sure the community can thrive because not everybody can do what I do. If somebody has the skill to make sure that water is clean so we can drink it, I can’t do that. I’m glad that there’s clean water that will allow me to go on. I think we have to live together as human beings and lift each other up so that we all can strive to survive against the elements and a universe that doesn’t really care about us. So individualism and being an individual is super important. I agree with that 1000%. In The Fountainhead, Roark being who Roark was and the individual that he was standing up against the idea that we all have to do things this way, that this is the only way you build buildings and all that, that is kind of horseshit. You’re going to be who you are. To have Toohey and those folks say “we’re going to slow you down and break you up and you all have to think the same way,” that’s horseshit too. But to take that into life, and to philosophically say “I’m not going to follow your rules because I’m going to be such an individual that I’m going to hunt on my own and kill things on my own and you have to do it your own way too.” Like, sometimes you need to help people. Maybe helping that person means helping the person that’s going to be the physician that saves you later on, because he can’t cultivate food on his own. So that’s why, I think, the whole idea of “who’s John Galt?” and everyone shrugging their shoulders and walking away and creating your own society that’s outside of society because “we’re all individuals and you guys are all drones so screw you,” that’s not the way we function. So if you just shrug your shoulders and go “who’s John Galt?” the world actually falls apart around you. It really does. Oh and Ayn Rand took handouts, we all know that and let’s not forget that! (*both laugh*)
Yeah, I remember Atlas Shrugged sort of blowing my mind as a ninth grader reading it and you think “oh yes, this is brilliant! It’s perfect!” And then you hit, like, senior year in high school and realize “oh, wait a minute…”
Right! You realize “oh, you know, some people are dependent! Children are dependent people, it’s okay!”
So I wrote that as a perspective of the individual who’s like “I’m going to walk around and keep shrugging my shoulders and ignore everything and say “who’s John Galt?” That’s all I’m going to say to you! Understand what that means and walk away.” That’s just a horseshit excuse for not wanting to do anything, and not wanting to help.
Wasn’t that around the time, too, that there was like a hedgefund guy that tried to start a Galt’s Gulch community somewhere, like some unincorporated area somewhere?
Yes, there was! I remember that vaguely, yes! And where are they now? (*both laugh*)
Oh I’m pretty sure he got indicted and he’s in prison. It was essentially a Ponzi scheme and…honestly…like you couldn’t have seen that coming?
Haha, yeah! You know, I’m not trying to disparage if anyone has a belief that way, but I don’t think it is realistic to function that way in a community. In a society, it doesn’t work, and in a community, it doesn’t work. We have to work together to overcome things. Yeah, if somebody says “I want you to produce less in your company because I’m not doing really well so slow down to let me catch up,” you’re not going to do that. You’re going to say “no, I’m going to do this still, you had your opportunity…” and you help them understand how best practice works. But we live in a world of competition, right? That’s how we got about things. I mean, baking cakes is a competition for Christ’s sake. It gets really ridiculous. But, if it makes you strive to do better, sure! But if you’re just going to “give me all the answers to something!” I don’t believe that either. You can’t give everyone all the answers, but if someone doesn’t know for sure and I’m the expert, I’m going to say “yes, I’m here to help you out because you don’t know.”
How long ago did you actually record the album, and have you still been writing since it was all sent off to Red Scare?
So let’s see. The total time recording, if you took that in days is probably like six days. That was in two sessions, like three days in each session, and that doesn’t include mixing and things, that’s just the recording part. It took us probably two years to get it all completed. It was during the pandemic that we did it all. In the early part, we got together and laid down these songs. If you’re talking about the whole recording process beforehand, a lot of these songs have been worked on since 2015 and up. And after that, yes, we’ve been writing other songs. Ken brought riffs to practice the other day and actually, our stand-in bass player Joe Mizzi brought some riffs too.
The idea is that were all supposed to bring a song. Now, I can’t play an instrument (*both laugh*) but we are in the process of trying to write other songs. We can’t just sit on this and “we’ve got it, we’ve hit the pinnacle, we’re done.”
Well, you can. And bands do. There’s the very real thing of becoming a legacy band, particularly when it’s not everybody’s day job. Nobody’s making a living on The Bollweevils. Some bands do do that. You play a couple dozen shows a year in your best markets and be a legacy band. Sometimes you lose the drive to keep writing and coming up with no ideas, so to me it’s cool that not only is there a new album, but that you’re still writing more and those wheels are still turning.
Yeah, there’s always something that spurs on the want to write. Whether it’s something that I’m dealing with in healthcare, whether it’s something you see because of the state of politics or the general miasma of people existing. Or something philosophical that you see pertains to day-to-day life. Sometimes that spurs on that creative juice. I could write lyrics all day but I don’t have the tune in my head that it goes to. And that’s hard. We don’t usually write that way. I don’t usually write lyrics and say “Hey Ken, write a riff for this.” Usually Ken is playing a riff and I have this idea what I should be singing to the riff. I may have a theme based upon something I’ve written at some point and I might have to modify my lyrics because that’s not really going to be, but the theme still exists for the song. So, Ken sent some riffs to me the other day, and I’ve been listening to them, and it’s like “okay, I can see where this goes.” And then I have lyrics, but sometimes that isn’t what the song is going to be about or the theme is going to change, so now that’s in the process of being fleshed out, and having that creative fire. There’s days where I just don’t have it. I’m just exhausted from a day with the kids or my wife and I are doing something, so I don’t have that. But then, I might wake up in the middle of the night and have this idea and have to write it down, so I have a pad of paper next to the bed and I have to write them down, or I use my phone to record a melody for something. We still have some things to work on, so it won’t be fourteen years before the next record! (*both laugh*)
Everybody says that, but then life happens…
I know! We said that back in 2015, like “oh, we have a new record coming out!” “Oh yeah? When’s it coming out?” “Well, some day!” Just like “The End Is Nigh” sign, right? We told you it was coming out! (*both laugh*)
One of the first interviews that I did for Dying Scene back in 2011 was with Sergie from Samiam about what was then the new record, Trips. And then maybe five years later, it was the fifth anniversary of that record and they’d been doing an album every five years or whatever, so I think I messaged Sergie like “must be new album time, right?” and he was just like “uh, no.”
And finally, that new album is awesome!
It’s SO good.
It’s awesome. I was waiting for that to come out. I saw them at Fest, and they were playing the new songs and they sounded so good. Samiam is one of my favorite bands ever, and I just have that new record on repeat. I was just listening to it this morning again. I just love it.
I’ve asked a bunch of people similar things, but thirty-ish years since Stick Your Neck Out, do you still have that same feeling when you put an album out? Do you get that same sort of feeling when May 5th comes and it’s now available to the world?
I guess it’s been so long that I forgot what that feels like! (*both laugh*)
I guess it feels new to me. I’m excited about it because I can’t believe that I have this work of art that we put together and that’s going to be out in the world in less than a month. That’s crazy to me. It’s exciting. I guess the feeling I had previously was nervousness at some point when I was younger. Now, I don’t feel that anxiety. Listening to this and putting this record together and everything we did for it, it’s complete. It’s full, and I feel really proud of it. It’s really, really good. At least, I believe that, and the guys in the band believe that. Somebody else could think it’s complete garbage, and that’s their opinion, but I’m not worried about that. We put Stick Your Neck Out, and it was like “okay, this is us on Dr. Strange. We’re putting this record out and people will get it.” And they did. People still talk about it and say “oh that record’s awesome, you’re such an underrated band.”
How does that land when people say that?
That we’re underrated?
Yeah, because I feel like I’m guilty of doing the same thing, but then I worry that it’s a backhanded compliment when we say “oh, you guys were great, you were my favorite band, you should have been huge!”
I guess maybe? But it’s our own doing, right? I kind of limited us. We couldn’t do certain things. We had opportunities to, like, tour Japan, tour Europe, all these things, but I was in medical school. I was going to be a doctor. I limited our exposure. Could we have been bigger than that? Yeah, but it would be short-lived. We’re not paying the bills with punk rock. “Punk rock doesn’t pay the bills,” so says Milo. I mean, for them it does, but for the rest of us… (*both laugh*) I get to be a doc and play in a band. It’s still fulfilling in a visceral and spiritual way. Once again, it doesn’t pay the bills, but that’s not what this is about. I have a profession that does that, but I have these opportunities! I got to meet you and we became buddies through this world. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many people that I would have never believed as a kid that I’d get the chance to meet. I’ve met some of my heroes. To meet some of the guys from Descendents. To go on tour with Dead Kennedys for a short run. To play with Bad Brains during Riot Fest. If you told me as a teenageer that “hey, you’re going to play a show with Bad Brains,” like…I would have told you you’ve been smoking ganja! (*both laugh*) But that happens. Those experiences are what brings about this existence and these life experiences. No matter whatever money you have and whatever material things you have, they’re all going to break. That’s kind of what “Our Glass” is about. The material things you have are going to break, but the real important things that you have and establish and the relationships with people and the places that you’ve been and the experiences you have, that’s going to be the things you have on your deathbed. Your big-screen TV isn’t going be there when you die. Your iPhone or whatever is not going to be there. Nothing material is going to matter. So, going back to the whole thing of it being a backhanded compliment of “hey, you were underrated,” it’s maybe a backhanded compliment, but it’s also kind of cool that when people hear that stuff, they go “man, you guys shoulda been…coulda been.” Yeah, maybe, but I was limiting us because of my professional choices. So back to the original question does it feel different or does it feel like it did releasing records before? No, it feels brand new to me because we haven’t done this in such a long time.
That’s really cool! I feel like there’s some buzz about it, and that’s not always the case when bands put out albums nowadays. It can be easy to get lost in the sauce, but I feel like there’s buzz around the new Bollweevils record. I can say that as a fan, that’s pretty fulfilling. Like “hey, people still care about this band I like!” Because you never REALLY know…
Right, and for some people it’s going to be their brand-new introduction to us.
As I said, the first Bollweevils record of the Dying Scene era, so it’s the first one we get to cover!
Yeah, and since we were underrated, we were under the radar, so some people didn’t see us or hear us, so it’s like “oh, that’s who they were! Now I can explore some of the old stuff!” I remember we did a thing in California seven or eight years ago, something like that, and I remember being on a radio show, on the phone, and I remember being told that someone had heard “Bottomless Pit” and said “yeah that’s a great song!” and they’d never heard it before. They said “that’s such a great song, it sounds like you just recorded it recently” and I was like yeah, I don’t think we had a sound that was dated. We were a 90s punk band, obviously, but I think our sound translates to today and to yesteryear. That was the greatest compliment to hear, that somebody had heard that and was blown away by it. I was like “yeah, that was recorded way back when, we were sloppy…” (*both laugh*) Now, hearing this record today, using that song from thirty years ago that we rerecorded and reimagined the way that it is, we’re like a whole different band, even though we’re the same band. So people will get to experience this for the first time as we are, and people who have experienced us before will experience us again and go “oh my god, look at them, they’re still out there doing this!” I’m being so prideful right now, it’s horrible. But it is a new experience for me. Though I’ve had the experience before, it feels like a new experience for me, and it’s really exciting.
I think that one of the takeaways from the record, I feel like the older I’ve gotten and the greyer my beard has gotten, I’ve gotten away from some of the 90s punk rock thing. “Liniment and Tonic,” right? My back hurts, my knees hurt. (*both laugh*) I think that sometimes there can be a shelf life to a sound like that, but I think there are some moments on this record that eclipse all of that. It’s very much in the vein of a 90s punk rock record, but it sort of transcends that.
Thank you! And we were talking about that as a band. At our core, we are a punk rock band. Whatever we write is going to be a Bollweevils song. And that’s one of the things that would happen sometimes. A criticism would come out that members of the band would say “that song that you wrote is good, but that’s not a Bollweevils song.” Some of those songs never saw the light of day.
Is that because they’d be stylistically wrong?
It wasn’t true to ourselves. It was like “just write what we know. Write our stuff and just play it and be done with it and don’t try to do something that’s not us.” It’s ridiculous when you’re trying to be something that you’re not. At the core, we’re still just a punk rock band from Chicago, and that’s what we’re going to play. I think that part of it too is that I don’t think we know how to play anything slow. That could be a problem in and of itself, because as you get older it’s harder to keep up in some sense. We pride ourselves in trying to keep up with what we do. Like, I worked out this morning. This is my trying to fight against the inevitability of entropy! (*both laugh*) We only know how to play like we play, so even if there’s a song that sounds almost kitsch, like “Liniment and Tonic” or “Theme,” it’s still us. You’re like “that’s still punk, it’s still hard. It’s got a hook, but it’s still them!” We pride ourselves in saying “there’s no reason for a song to be over two minutes and thirty seconds. It doesn’t make any sense. Why not just say your peace and be done. Hit them in the face and be done. Knock them out and be done with the fight. You can’t go twelve rounds, knock them out in three! Come on, Tyson, take them down!
In looking at my notes, I think the songs that we talked about as my favorite…
Are the longest ones! (*both laugh*) Well, sometimes you gotta box a little bit. Sometimes you gotta box a little bit.
You gotta keep your arms down and let them tire themselves out, like Muhammed Ali, right?
It’s all good! Exactly!
Is there fear in songs like that that they risk not being “Bollweevils songs” because they aren’t ninety seconds of four-on-the-floor, punch-you-in-the-throat “punk rock”?
No, I think if you even go back out to Stick Your Neck Out, “Failure of Bill Dozer” is a longer song and that’s a great song. We’ve added that back into our sets. That’s one of the songs that we brought back. That song is one of my favorite songs too. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner and say every song has to be a minute and thirty seconds or two minutes. Songs evolve into what they need to be, but they still have to be “us.” All the songs that are on there, if they are more than two minutes, it’s because that’s what the song had to be. They are still us. You can listen to them and say “wow, this is different, but that’s still a Bollweevils song.” It’s not like you listen to “Galt’s Gulch” and think, “wow, that’s weird.”
Yeah, I mean, it’s not a Rush song.
Even “Our Glass” is different but it’s still us. It’s a Bollweevils song still. Somebody asked me once what I would say to younger me if I could go back in time, or to a younger band you’re playing with that asks what you do to have this longevity in punk rock, I say “just be yourself and do the things that you enjoy.” Play what you want to play. Don’t fall into some kind of trap where you have to trend it up or do something different. Play what you love. If you happen to write a record that’s some experimental noise thing and that’s who you want to be and that’s who you are, do that and be good with that. Make sure you’re good with it. With this record, with Essential, everything about it, we are so good with. That’s just the bottom line. No matter what anybody says about it, they can sit back and go “how do you feel about the record?” I think it’s great, and if you don’t, I wouldn’t do anything different. It would have been that way no matter what. It’s perfect for us.
Are there people for whom you get nervous about what their feedback is going to be? People that you look up to as pillars, like the Descendents guys or whoever?
Yeah, if they heard it and they said “that sounds great!” I’d think “well, I can die now!”
Do you get back to that sort of childhood fanboy thing?
Oh god yeah! A person that makes me overly giddy and ridiculous and the worst punisher over is J. Robbins. I told him that recently. Denis Buckley, my good friend Denis, always reminds me that “dude, you punished him so hard when they came to Chicago way back in the day.” I couldn’t talk, I was stumbling and fumbling and J. Robbins was like “is he okay?” I couldn’t talk to him. I saw him at Riot Fest recently and I told him that and I said “I’m just letting you know, I fall apart when I see you. I do. I’m just such a fanboy of yours.” And he was like “no, it’s good, let’s take a picture.” And then he Friended me on Facebook and I was like “AHH!” (*both laugh*) But like, if the guys in (Naked) Raygun heard this and they were like “well this is horrible,” it would hit me a bit, but I would still have to just accept that, but I’d still think it’s good. I would take it to heart in some sense. If my best friend Paul says something sounds bad, I’d listen to those words. He can criticize me all the time, he does all the time anyway (*both laugh*) and I take his word. He actually was critical about some things when I was working on songs for this. But he loves the record, so that makes me think that it’s going to be good. Our friend CJ is a good friend of ours, and he would tell us if this sucked, and we would take his word to heart. But he’s like “this record is great, man. This record is great.” That makes us feel confident as well, but again, real confidence comes from within. If we didn’t feel like it was good…it’s done, we can’t change that, and we feel good about it. We feel really good about it. I think that is kind of pervasive with the buzz. People are hearing it and going “wow, this is good!” I’m glad that that is being reaffirmed in some senses. But yeah, if someone I idolized since I was a kid said this was trash, it might sting for a bit, but then again, you can’t please everyone, you know? An 80% is a B, so if I can get 80% of people to like it, that’s a passing grade. I’m still in the mix. I’m confident in (the record), I feel great about it. We put out the best that we could do right now…until the next thing comes out!
It made me go “oh wow, I still like punk rock!”
See Jason, that makes me feel good!
I’m not going to try skateboarding, but I can still like punk rock!
Then I’d see you in the hospital!
Hey, thanks for chatting. This was fun. Instead of doing it podcast-style like the last time we talked, the site is back up and running so I get to go back to pretending to be a writer. It was hard to be away from for a while, because if you don’t do it enough, that muscle atrophies. I’m sure that if you had gone fourteen full years without writing a song and then tried to jump back into it, that would be even worse.
Oh it’s definitely atrophy. It’d be ridiculous. It is one of those things where…think about the past three years of things that have happened, and the proliferation of bands having records come out. You’ve got the OFF! record, you’ve got the Samiam record out there, Drug Church’s record is out there…bands are just writing stuff that’s so good, and older bands are writing stuff that’s so good. We’ve had this time to think and reflect and meditate on our existences and what’s going on around us, and a few summers ago, the tragedies that would happen with the violence inflicted upon individuals, the unrest in the world, the upheaval of things and the change, and election season, and all of this stuff that swirls around you, and then realizing once again that we as human beings are going to survive this like we survived anything else. Plagues have happened, there’s been social upheaval before. All of these things have happened, we’ve seen these things before, and we’ve survived. That anxiety that comes with that, you have to find an outlet, and a lot of that is sitting down and writing out how you feel and writing about these things and getting rid of that. A part of that with this record, by the way, was that everybody had tragedies that they were having and anxieties that they were having and we all got to have this catharsis and put it out there and it came together. Art is emotional, and there’s a lot of emotion put into it, and when it comes out, you go “oh, this expresses exactly what I was concerned about.” Other people probably have the same feeling, and when art hits, it invokes an emotional response and people latch on to it and it makes you feel comfortable. I think that’s what this record has. You listen to it and you go “there’s something that’s hitting me about it that’s good. It’s hitting me right here.”
And I think it does so in an interesting way. That’s a difficult needle to thread. Coming out of the last three years and being inspired by the last three years but without overtly talking about the last three years, and without making an album that’s overtly political and directly takes on the social upheaval and the political upheaval of the last three years. It’s an interesting needle to thread, to be able to do an album like that, that reinforces the good that came out of the last three years without being a constant, fist-shaking. There’s certainly a place for that…
That song “Resistance” is on there!
But the whole of the record is what it is…it’s a whole thing. Everything has a place and it all fits together. Not that it was written as a rock opera, but the songs do have almost a sense that they’re puzzle pieces that make up the whole as a piece of work.
I’m really excited for people to hear it. The fact that some of my favorite albums of this year are from people like Bollweevils, Samiam, Bouncing Souls…bands that have been staples for a long time and that are still putting out records that are so good. Sometimes, I try to step back from it and say “okay, do I like the new Souls record because it’s a new Souls record, or do I like it because it’s a really good record.” And it is a really good record. The new Samiam record, irrespective of if you’ve liked Samiam for years, is a really good record.
Yes, that new Bouncing Souls record is so good! It’s awesome to see bands like us putting this stuff out there that’s so good. The time is just right. … It’s fun, I’m doing this whole circuit, I guess, of talking to people…
Did you do that twenty, thirty years ago? I mean the internet wasn’t what it is now, but…
It was a little internet, but ‘zines would come around here and there. But it wasn’t like this. This is probably the biggest media tour (for the Bollweevils) ever, and it’s easier to do because fo the internet. It’s really easy to do this. Rather than set up a time to have somebody come out and sit down…now I can do a couple phone things, do this, it’s cool. There are a lot of things to organize and fit into the “so open” schedule that I have (*both laugh*). (But) this whole experience has been amazing. There’s something really new about it, and it just feels exciting. It feels like there’s some kind of electricity around it, and it’s amazing.
And I think with it coming out on Red Scare, Toby and Brendan have a pretty cool thing going on.
Yes! And Pouzza is coming up, and there are a bunch of Red Scare bands playing that. Like No Trigger…I’ve loved that band for the longest time. I love those guys. Broadway Calls is another one. They’ve got so many cool bands on there. We were the old school, OG guys on there now. It’s cool to be on a label with a lot of younger bands, some of whom had never seen us, some of us who had never heard of us, and we get to play with them and they’re like “how old are you guys again?” “Oh we’re in our fifties!” “What?! No way!” “Yeah, you young bucks better up your game, because we’re still coming for you!” (*both laugh*) It’s cool to be in this band and on this label. Toby and Brendan are really supportive and the bands on the label are just amazing.
Yes! That new No Trigger record is so good. And it’s so weird, but it’s so awesome that they just kind of went for it.
It’s so cool. It’s not another Canyoneer. I love Canyoneer as a record, but they definitely let you know on this one that they can write a song that you’re going to have to think about, I’m letting you know about these fascists and everything else, and you’re going to be singing along with it. Tom (Rheault) from that band is such a smart guy and John is a grat guitar player. I love them, I really do. I was fanboying out about them when they came on the label. Thinking about this youth movement of bands, and how good they are, it makes me feel rejuvenated sometimes. I’m proud that we still can play and keep up with them and sometimes surpass some of them. I’m like “god, I can’t believe I can still do this at 52,” but then I look over and see Keith Morris and seeing Circle Jerks play and seeing OFF! play, it’s like..that’s who I want to be. That’s what I want to grow up to be. That’s amazing. Seeing Descendents, too, it’s like…that’s what I want to have. The longevity that these guys show is way inspiring. Keith though is totally inspiring. The Circle Jerks are amazing. OFF! is just awesome. They just bring it every day, and I want to do that when I’m sixty. Will I be in my mid-sixties doing this? Of course I will.
Well, in fourteen years, for the next record…
(*both laugh*) Exactly!!
We’re not going to get the folk punk record next time, huh?
No, it’ll still be hard and fast. I won’t be able to jump as high, but it’ll still be a part of the whole schtick. My knee will be in a brace, but here we go!