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DS Interview: Catching up with Pueblo, Colorado punk vet Matt “Pickle” Hamilton

Dying Scene sat down with Matt Hamilton (aka Pickle) to discuss his long involvement in the punk rock scene. Matt has been playing drums for many years and many bands, including Produkt, S.O.S., the Coffin Boys, the Worms, the Sex Pickles, Trash Idols, Blanket of M, and Slash City Daggers. He’s also been a roadie for […]

Dying Scene sat down with Matt Hamilton (aka Pickle) to discuss his long involvement in the punk rock scene. Matt has been playing drums for many years and many bands, including Produkt, S.O.S., the Coffin Boys, the Worms, the Sex Pickles, Trash Idols, Blanket of M, and Slash City Daggers. He’s also been a roadie for Eleventh Hour and Total Chaos and currently plays drums for Diskount Vodka and the Dead End.

Dying Scene: So Matt, tell me about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? When did you get into punk rock? When did you decide to become a drummer and why? 

P: My name is Matt Hamilton. Everybody calls me Pickle. I play drums. I started playing…well, I got into punk rock when I was about 15 years old. I didn’t start playing drums ‘til I was 17 and I’ve been playing punk rock ever since, for 30 plus years. I’ve played in tons of different bands through the years but right now, I’m playing in Diskount Vodka and the Dead End in Pueblo, Colorado. But I’m originally from from East Texas.

DS: Why did you decide to become a drummer? 

P: Because I skateboarded from the summer of fifth grade all the way ‘til the beginning of 10th grade and I messed up my knee and I needed to do something so I didn’t lose my mind. So, I started playing drums and all my friends were musicians. So, I got a friend of mine named Kevin Fender (Eleventh Hour, Employer Employee, AUNTIE) to show me a little tempo and I built off of that. Here I am, to this day, it’s the only lesson than I ever had. I also played with tons of people through my lifetime but finally just got my life back together. So, now I’m actually making a dent in society, I think a little bit. So, that’s good.  

DS: So, what other bands were you in? 

P: Let’s see, way back in the day, I was in a band called The Coffin Boys. I was in band called Blanket of M, the Worms, and I was in a real big band in Arizona called The Slash City Daggers. We went worldwide with that. It was like a trashy, glammy, punk rock and roll band. It was fun. You could find that stuff online. I sat in and played drums with Jeff Dahl and Freddy Lynxx at a live show back in the mid or late 90s back in Arizona. That was pretty badass.

DS: That’s a lot to be proud of for sure. 

P: Yeah, definitely.

DS: So, what brought you to Pueblo, Colorado? 

P: I needed to get off of drugs and I had friends here and could smoke all the weed I wanted to. So, here I am and I got a little bit right-minded again and started craving drums. So, my old roommate used to talk about this guy at the plasma center who played guitar named Carlos. So, I went and found him and here I am playing music eight years later with him in the Dead End.

DS: You’re currently in Diskount Vodka and the Dead End. How would you describe your bands? And, how do you manage your time in both bands? 

P: Diskount Vodka is just straight up old school punk rock. Some of it kind of sounds like street punk, a little Oi-ish, kind of poppy…just a little bit all over the place. We have a split seven inch with Tv Tragedy coming out on January 13th on Split Personality Records out of Las Vegas. That’s a fun one and Diskount keeps releasing singles. February, we’ll release an album. Then as far as the Dead End goes, we are a psychobilly band with punk rock influences. I’m a punk rock drummer but I play a little bit of rock and roll in that band, too. So, a little bit all over the place also as well. Hopefully we have some new music coming out soon, too. 

Diskount Vodka (left to right) Cuauhtli, Pickle, and Ellie.

DS: Cool. So, what are you up to right now? 

P: Just getting ready to release more material with both bands, but Diskount Vodka for sure. We have new material coming. So, we also have a video that came out on December 1st, a little live video with a song that we’re about to release. 

DS: So, with your two bands, have you achieved what you sought out to do as a drummer? 

P: I’ve made goals and hit those goals but now I have new goals. So, I’m just going to keep moving up the ladder. Never stop. It takes forever to get anywhere being a musician, for some reason, but it’s worth it. 

The Dead End (left to right) Pickle, LJ, and Carlos.

DS: Who are your biggest influence and inspirations? Tell me about your patches on your jacket. 

P: As far as my biggest influences, of course the Ramones influenced me playing drums at a younger age. But here recently, Scott Churilla (Reverend Horton Heat, Supersuckers) who played with Three Bad Jacks, that dude was super inspiring to watch. So, I’d say that gave me a little bit of inspiration in my life to beef up my drums some. I like listening to a bunch of Oi bands. They’re pretty inspiring. Rancid always inspires me. I like all kinds of styles of music, so I listen to psychobilly music, too. I like The Meteors, The Peabrains, The Quaranteds, and Rezurex. There’s a bunch of good bands like that. I like everything from the New York Dolls to Johnny Thunders, all kinds of stuff. 

DS: So, you’ve been performing locally and touring regionally for years now. What is the biggest show you’ve played? And, what is the best show you’ve played? Tell me about the most memorable show you’ve played. 

P: The biggest show I’ve played is Hot Rod Rock & Rumble because there were hundreds of people in front of us and then thousands of people in the whole place that heard us. So, it was pretty wild. As far as memorable shows, I could go all the way back to when I lived in Arizona and played shows with David Gardner with the Trash Idols and those shows were very memorable. Playing with Jeff Dahl was something that was super crazy in my lifetime. Raymond Burton Estes (…And We All Die) told me to buy a Jeff Dahl tape at Camelot Music in the mall for a buck. So, I did and I fell in love with it. Years later, I got to play drums with him on stage and played his songs. I was super amazed. But he’s also recorded stuff for the Trash Idols and recorded stuff for Slash City Daggers also through the years for me. So that was pretty cool. I still keep in touch with the guy. He’s awesome. So, much inspiration comes from him, too. 

DS: So, what would you say your proudest moments are? 

P: My whole career. I like it all. It’s never been a dull moment, that’s for sure. Playing with the Fat Skins. They’re a really good Oi band and those guys are really good guys. So, I’ve played with a lot of good bands. 

DS: What advice do you have for young musicians who want to start a band? 

P: You don’t want to play music. Don’t ever play an instrument! No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know…just learn that instrument and feel it. If you don’t feel it, definitely don’t play it. Just keep moving forward. You’ve got to put in the work. You can’t just sit there and expect somebody to come give it to you. You’ve got to go do it. 

DS: So, what’s next for you? What are some of the goals you have for 2024? 

P: Just put out as much music as I possibly can and maybe tour some and who knows, shoot some videos for both bands. So, just do as much as I possibly can. I only live once. 

DS: What bands are you listening to this week? 

P: Rancid, Descendents, Conservative Military Image, and a little bit of the Hellbound Hitmen, too.

DS: So, do you have anything else you wanted say to Dying Scene’s readers? 

P: Check out all the bands. Check out Dying Scene and just keep this going. Keep an eye out for the latest releases. Thank you for doing this for us. 

DS: Thank you. Thanks for taking the time to sit with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Hause press photo by Jesse DeFlorio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Yes, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, good question!

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

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

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

Ziggy Stardust! 

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

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

Oh definitely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the album just says “Hause” on the cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or two of them. (*both laugh*)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right!

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Masefield and Dave Hause probably talking about cricket lollipops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh it definitely might be. Absolutely. 

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

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

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

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

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

Bearing Down” was certainly something to discuss. 

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

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

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

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

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

I played the mix for her. 

That probably makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing Us Home Festival – Year One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a very good way to put it. 

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

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DS Playlist: Jay Stone’s Favorite Things of 2022

Ahoy, comrades! It’s your friendly neighborhood punk rock website co-head honcho Jay Stone here! It’s been a big year for us here at Dying Scene headquarters, mostly because of the obvious fact that WE’RE BACK! The site obviously relaunched back in June after a prolonged absence. If this is your first time checking us out, […]

Ahoy, comrades! It’s your friendly neighborhood punk rock website co-head honcho Jay Stone here! It’s been a big year for us here at Dying Scene headquarters, mostly because of the obvious fact that WE’RE BACK! The site obviously relaunched back in June after a prolonged absence. If this is your first time checking us out, thanks for stopping by! If you’ve been with us since the beginning or since the relaunch or since any other point in between, thanks for keeping us on your radar. It means a lot and it’s why we do what we do. I suppose now is a good time to insert a shameless plug for our merch store, run by the amazing Gaby Kaos of Kaos Merch and, of course, of The Venomous Pinks (more on them later). Anything you pick up goes a long way toward helping us keep the lights on!

Okay, now on to the reason we’re all here – the music of 2022!! As with most years, there was plenty of exciting new music to choose from, and as with most years, my status as a child of the early 1990s alternative and punk scenes is readily apparent. I do appreciate how the blending of those genres has become more acceptable as time has marched on, because LET ME TELL YOU, you’d get some shit within the punk rock circles for saying you were a fan of Springsteen or Gin Blossoms or Wilco or Depeche Mode or whatever for a while there, but now more than ever I think those styles have bled into the punk rock scene and I, for one, am here for it.

So what do we find on the playlist below? Well, it’s 50 of my favorite tracks from 50 of my favorite artists of the year. All of these songs were released this year (some, like Lucero‘s “One Last Fuck You,” appear on albums that’ll be released in 2023 but the singles hit Spotify this year so it counts). No repeat artists (technically, because Sarah Shook And The Disarmers and Mightmare are different projects on different labels, even though they stem from the same creative mind). They’re essentially in a sonic order, not a numerical one – my actual year-end ranking write-up will follow toward the end of December.

Stylistically, it’s pretty good representation of the new music I listened to this year, though I didn’t include Kendrick Lamar or Czarface or T-Swift because…reasons. I like to think there’s a little something for everyone. You like alt-country songwriters? American Aquarium takes us for a ride right off the rip (before The Flatliners come in and punch us right in the collective throats), and they’re later joined by Lucero and Cory Branan and Tim Hause and Will Hoge and The Vandoliers. There’s of course the one-of-a-kind Tim Barry, and his fellow former Revival Tour veteran Kayleigh Goldsworthy. There’s Sammy Kay and Lydia Loveless teaming up for a Misfits cover. If you like bands that put the rock in punk rock, there’s Mercy Union and Thick and Celebration Summer and New Junk City and Dosser and Timeshares and Talk Show Host. If you like your punk rock a little more raw and wild and heavy, you’ll find Be Well and M.U.T.T. and Sweat and New Jersey’s School Drugs and Suzi Moon. You like some of the longtime scene vets? We’ve got them too: NOFX is in there, as is Dan Andriano and Samiam and The Interrupters and Hot Water Music and Eve 6 and Frank Turner‘s tearjerking ode to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison. Dropkick Murphys put out my favorite album of theirs in probably two decades (it’s chock full of Woody Guthrie songs, so that stands to reason). Speaking of the locals; it’s no surprise that I hail from the mean streets of the Boston suburbs, so the 617/781/978 area codes are well represented by Mint Green and Diablogato and Michael Kane and the Morning Afters and Cave In and No Trigger and obviously Lenny Lashley, who is one of my all-time favorites (plus the sweet power pop stylings of Donaher, who hail from my old southern New Hampshire stomping grounds). There’s plenty of music that sort of defies genre, from Bartees Strange to Escape From The Zoo to Proper. to Sweet Pill and Rip Room and The Pieces of Shit. There’s modern ska-infused punk from Flying Racoon Suit and Catbite and the inimitable Slackers.

Check it all out below! Maybe you’ll find a new favorite band, or maybe you’ll remind yourself of an album that you forgot came out this year! (Seriously, I almost forgot FTHC came out in 2022. Time is a social construct or whatever.) And stay tuned for your favorite Dying Scene staffers year-end countdowns over the next few weeks!


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Dying Scene Record Radar: New punk vinyl releases & reissues (NOFX, Danzig, Angry Samoans & more)

Hello, friends! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If you’re new here, thank you for joining us! This column provides a weekly round up of all things punk rock vinyl. We highlight the new releases, as well as those ultra limited reissues that get the collector nerds’ hearts racing. Open […]

Hello, friends! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If you’re new here, thank you for joining us! This column provides a weekly round up of all things punk rock vinyl. We highlight the new releases, as well as those ultra limited reissues that get the collector nerds’ hearts racing. Open up your wallets, fire up your Paypal account, and let’s get into it…

Danzig‘s 6:66 Satan’s Child is getting its first official pressing since 1999. Cleopatra Records is handling this reissue, and there’s a bunch of different variants (some with the uncensored version of the cover art) available on their webstore (sign up for their mailing list and save 10%). Pay up, people! Glenn needs to stock up on kitty litter.

Fat Wreck Chords has announced European festival exclusive variants of some of their classic releases, including Good Riddance‘s For God and Country, No Use For A Name‘s Making Friends, and Swingin’ UttersA Juvenile Product of the Working Class. The only place in the entire world these will be available is the label’s merch booth at SBAM Fest, Brackrock Festival, and Punk Rock Holiday. Think of it like an Easter egg hunt, but much more expensive! Follow Fat on Instagram for more info.

Keeping their recent hot streak alive, Epitaph Records is back at it with even more reissues! Up first is NOFX‘s White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean, which turns 30 this year. They’re pressing TEN new variants of the fuckin’ thing. Links to where you can purchase all of these can be found here.

Also from Epitaph: some new pressings of Dropkick MurphysDo Or Die and Blackout, both on white vinyl. These are limited to 500 copies each, and are only available on their European webstore.

And their third and final reissue this week is a 25th Anniversary edition of the Refused album Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, featuring bonus tracks and demos. This is available as a clear 2xLP on their webstore. There’s also an Indie Exclusive blue variant; hit up your local record store for that one.

Knock knock! Who’s there? Another god damn reissue, that’s who! This is a really good one though. It’s the Angry Samoans‘ classic Back From Samoa. You can grab this one on green vinyl from Puke ‘N’ Vomit Records, or from Garageland if you like you’d rather have an orange plastic disc.

Surprise! Here’s another new pressing of an old-ass record. The Vandals reissued 1988’s Slipper When Ill (also known as their country album) on red marble vinyl, available through their Bandcamp page. I’m not big on this one personally, but hey, maybe it’s your favorite Vandals record. If that’s the case, I urge you to seek professional help.

Okay, these are the last of the reissues… I promise. Psychobilly icons Reverend Horton Heat are repressing their first three LPs on colored wax. Due out on September 9th, this is the first time these records have been in print since their initial release in the early 90’s. Get ’em here.

Finally, some new music! MU330 frontman Dan Potthast has a new solo record out, and as the title suggests, it’s pretty good! Each LP has a unique outer sleeve, hand made by Dan P himself. You can give the album a listen below, and grab it on vinyl on his Bandcamp.

Next up we have another solo album, this time from former ALL frontman Scott Reynolds. Chihuahua in Buffalo is his first solo acoustic release, and it’s quite enjoyable! This came out on CD/digital last year, but Thousand Islands Records is now releasing it on vinyl. Listen below, and go here to get the wax.

Something To Do Records has announced a new After School Special LP titled Lost Episodes. For those who are unfamiliar, this was Enemy You frontman David Jones’ (RIP) original band. This release will be available to preorder on the label’s webstore starting Friday, July 15th.

And last but not least, Less Than Jake just released a new single titled “Fat Mike’s on Drugs (Again)”. The song is great, and it’s getting a physical release as a flexi disc. Watch the music video below, and preorder the flexi here.

Well, it’s getting late, so I’ll wrap things up. If you’re still reading this for some reason, thank you once again for tuning in to this week’s edition of the Dying Scene Record Radar! Is there a new record you think should be highlighted in next week’s column? Suggestions are always welcome – send us a message on Facebook or Instagram and we’ll look into it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Build” 

Crafting A Sophomore Album

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Gary Strack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Burn”

The Aftermath Of The Album

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lovecrimes

Slanging rock n’ roll out of Orange County, Lovecrimes mine the rich traditions of roots music and Americana with deep respect for the Delta Blues and a taste of punk-rock swagger.

Rock n’ roll at its core and versatile enough to summon everything from rockabilly to late ‘70s groove, the songs by singer/songwriter Julian James are confessional, intimate, and unapologetically honest.

Julian James Ness fell in love with music hearing Lucinda Williams at his mom’s house and pressing buttons on his dad’s vintage jukebox, pulling up country classics by the likes of Buck Owens and Johnny Cash. He took saxophone lessons from Jason Freese, a multi-instrumentalist session player whose resumé boasts Green Day, Jewel, and Goo Goo Dolls. Julian experimented with bass and drums until, at age 10, he got his first guitar from his dad, who showed him his first few chords.

Julian’s dad is the iconic leader of the trailblazing Social Distortion. “From the time I was four or five years old, people told me I had to carry the torch,” the younger Ness explains. “There’s been this lifelong pressure on me. I avoided it out of fear and insecurity, not feeling like I was good enough.”

A week after his 18th birthday, Julian started a year-long jail sentence, the result of teenage years spent battling alcohol and drug addiction. While a resident at a post-prison treatment center, he was allowed a fateful outing to see his father play a show, where they performed “Prison Bound” together.

“It was a high that no other drug could give me,” Julian remembers of those few minutes onstage. “It filled me with purpose. I told myself in the past that drugs and alcohol were contributing to my creativity, but they weren’t. I was going to the pawn shop and pawning my guitars. I wasn’t doing anything proactive. That show was a monumental moment in my life. I knew I wanted to do this.”

Not long after his release from rehab, Julian joined The Dead Relatives. After that, he played with Jade Jackson, a country singer signed to ANTI-. “I spent the next two and a half years touring with her. It was a huge challenge because I was used to playing the same couple of Chuck Berry riffs and punk rock bar chords. Suddenly I was learning all of these Greg Leisz guitar parts from Jade’s records.”

Armed with a handful of his own songs, Julian cut around eight demos at his dad’s studio, backed up by Mike’s band: guitarist Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham, drummer David Hidalgo Jr., and bassist Brent Harding. They recorded the songs old-school style, live in the room, with no elaborate multitracking.

While working a day job as a substance abuse counselor, Julian set about putting together a band.

“We have a couple of more punk songs, but my music is more rootsy, singer-songwriter stuff, so it was important to find people who could do both,” he points out. Enter drummer Josh Roosin. “He’s been playing since he was a little kid and had a jazz background. He’s very much a ‘feel’ player. He’d heard what I’d done with The Dead Relatives and was super stoked about the demos I played him.”

Next came Trevor Lucca, a guitarist with punk legends D.I. since 2018, and Dry Sockets, based on a recommendation from producer Davey Worsop (Matt Skiba, Dave Hause, Throwdown). “Since he played lead guitar for D.I., I knew he could play punk. Then I scrolled through his Instagram feed and saw him playing some Lucinda Williams and Justin Townes Earle. And I thought, ‘This is perfect.’”

Bassist Colin Schlesinger, a childhood friend, completed Lovecrimes’ line-up. “I feel so grateful and blessed that not only are all of them great at what they do, they are all really great people.”

Lovecrimes made their first few live appearances at The Pike Bar in Long Beach, Hotel Café in Los Angeles, and The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa. In December 2022, the band opened for Social Distortion on a few of their year-end dates at the House Of Blues in Anaheim, California.

Shortly after launching the band, Julian opened a substance abuse and mental health program called The California Treatment Collective, offering the care and resources needed by folks in crisis.

“It’s amazing to watch him,” Mike Ness told The Orange County Register. “He wanted to do his own thing. He was coming to me with some really, really good songs, and there were a couple that, in my opinion, were as good as anything I’ve ever written, so that’s how we bond now… I saw him play guitar in a band at the Tiki Bar in Costa Mesa, and I just couldn’t deny that he had presence up there.”

“Some people are just meant for it.”

School Drugs

Based on a steady diet of 80s hardcore and prescription pills, School Drugs exists somewhere between your initial high and impending purge.

School Drugs – “Disposition”

"Disposition" - School Drugs

Release Date: June 14, 2024 Record Label: Indecision Records Bandcamp Link: Listen on Bandcamp

One of the most interesting release collections of the last couple of years is scheduled for its final chapter next month.

Back in July of 2021, NJ hardcore band School Drugs released an EP called Visitation. Although, calling it an EP is a bit of an understatement, as it was really the first part of a four-EP arc. The plan was that the four releases would, when collectively assembled full Voltron style, result in a full LP called Funeral Arrangements. The second installment, Absolution, was released in August 2022, and was followed by September 2023’s Procession. June 14th of this year brings us to a close with Disposition. Here’s what the band’s dynamic vocalist Josh Jurk had to say about the title’s inspiration:

“I called a local funeral home to ask if the term “disposition” was commonly used in the industry. The director was a little surprised by the question. He said “yes” with some reservation. When I asked him why, he noted that it’s more of an insider term and derives its meaning from disposal, and the bereaved most likely wouldn’t be thrilled by the insinuation.”

Disposition is due out June 14th, and as is the case with the first three chapters, it’s due out on Indecision Records. Pre-orders are now up, and you can check out the lead single, “Feel Like Shit,” down below.