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DS Exclusive: Interview with Gina Volpe of Lunachicks and BANTAM

The first full-length solo album by Gina Volpe, of the seminal NYC punk band Lunachicks, is scheduled for release on February 23, 2024. Delete The World was produced by Barb Morrison, and will be available on all streaming platforms. The first single off the record – “Drink Me” – and its accompanying video dropped on […]

The first full-length solo album by Gina Volpe, of the seminal NYC punk band Lunachicks, is scheduled for release on February 23, 2024. Delete The World was produced by Barb Morrison, and will be available on all streaming platforms. The first single off the record – “Drink Me” – and its accompanying video dropped on November 3, 2023. A second single, “The Plan,” follows on December 1, 2023. I caught up with Volpe via email to discuss her new music, her legacy, and more.


DS: What inspired you to do this album at this time?

GV: I had always intended to record a full-length album. It just took a little while to find the time and come up with the funds. I started releasing my solo stuff in 2017 with a 5 song EP followed up by several singles over the past couple of years. An LP was a long time coming so I’m pumped that I’m now finally able to release a full body of work.

DS: How is this album different from the music in Lunachicks?

GV: My solo stuff is different in that it’s more diverse stylistically and not as easily categorized into one particular genre. Sometimes it’s pop, sometimes it’s punk, indie, retro, or rock. Sometimes it’s more singer-songwriter. I have the freedom to shape-shift and experiment. I use synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and samples – along with heavy guitars when called for, so I get to color outside the lines and be as messy as I wanna be.


DS: Will there be more to come from BANTAM?

GV: We got together last year and messed around in the studio for the first time in over a decade. We even released a single entitled “Yo-Yo.” I’m not sure what the future holds for us though. We’re kind of spread out across the country now but none of us would be opposed to playing some shows and putting out more new music. We left the door open so anything is possible.


DS: How did your work with Lunachicks inform you as a musician and prepare you for solo and other work?

GV: I received a hands-on education coming up in the ’90s with Lunachicks. We started very young so I was able to cut my teeth on writing, arranging and recording songs (as well as learn my instrument) throughout our career. Plus, just watching all of the amazing bands we got to play with over the years really brought so much insight and inspiration to me.


DS: The trippy and surreal video for “Drink Me” reminds me of some of the technicolor joy of the 1980’s MTV heyday. Was that intentional?

GV: I came across Stanzii‘s work on Instagram and was immediately drawn to it. It’s very much my same artistic sensibility with all of the bright colors, details, and surrealism she uses. I was so mesmerized by it that I sent her a DM not sure if she would get back to me being that I was a complete stranger. To my surprise, she did get back to me and was totally into making a video for the track. I feel like I hit the jackpot by getting to work with her.

DS: How did the idea come about? Did you approach Stanzii with your own ideas about it or did Stanzii come up with the concept wholecloth? How collaborative was it? 

GV: I trusted her to do whatever she wanted. It was important to me that she have the freedom to create in her style and employ the imagery she envisioned for the song. I would put my two cents in here and there but ultimately, I left it up to her to steer the ship. I helped with some of the editing and grunt work – like wiping the greenscreen from the clips and photos but the creative work was all her genius.

DS: Please describe what the video is trying to say, or the ideas being communicated.

GV: The song is about obsession, addiction, and escapism. It relates to the vices we use to check out. Maybe it’s the use of a substance or maybe it’s an addictive relationship with someone who is no good for you but you can’t let go of. I wanted the video to be a trip down the rabbit hole of self-destruction, then coming out through the other side only to go through the whole process all over again. The secondary reference is to Alice In Wonderland. “Drink Me” is labeled on the bottle she drinks in order to make her small enough to go through the door, which is clearly (to me at least) a metaphor for exiting the world and entering into another portal of being.


DS: What is it about NYC, especially at the time Lunachicks was formed, especially the part of NYC from which you hail, that sprouted so many punk legends?

 GV: I think what makes NYC so special is the pure infusion of ideas and cultures from all over the world. There is always so much happening here. So many creatives are drawn to this city and with them comes all of the contributions to music, art, performance, etc. that they make continually laying a foundation for the next wave of artists coming in to build upon. There seems to be an endless supply of inspiration due to the sheer number of artists packed into this one crowded city.


DS: Do you see the same spirit there now with newer musicians?

GV: I do and it’s always cool to see all the different generational influences the up-and-coming bands are drawing from. Sure, it may look different from an older generation’s perspective but really, the kids are alright.

DS: I first met you at Riot Fest 2022 . From what I heard around the park so many people agreed with me that Lunachicks were one of the highlights of the weekend [I agree. Plus, I found the band members to all be so nice and fun].

GV: Love to hear that. We had a blast playing Riot Fest. Although it was really hot if you remember [I do recall that it was an absolute scorcher all weekend long]. Chip. our drummer had heat stroke during the set and puked so stealthily in the middle of a song that none of us noticed what was happening lols.

DS: That must feel pretty damn good to know that decades on you are still making such an impact and garnering new fans.

GV: It really is an amazing feeling. We didn’t realize that we had so many younger fans that became aware of us well after we had stopped playing. So for a lot of the people in the audience it was the first time they had ever seen us live even though they had been listening to us for a decade or so.

DS: What was writing Fallopian Rhapsody like, and do you feel it was a comprehensive history of Lunachicks or is there still much to say? 

GV: Writing that book was such a great experience. It was hard though and it gave me a newfound respect for authors. It’s a long arduous process and a lesson in patience and grit. In the end though I feel like we got it all in, said what we wanted to say with the expert help of co-author Jeanne Fury and overall I’m super proud of it.

DS: How did you see the response to the book?

GV: We were happy with all of the positive responses we got. People really seemed to enjoy the book whether they knew the band or not. A lot of fans wrote in to say that they identified with a certain story, experience, or feeling and that it impacted them, inspired them, or simply gave them a new perspective to try on.

DS: What has it been like to create an identity outside of Lunachicks with the music you do as a solo artist and with other bands? Of course, even with these questions, there are a lot of references to Lunachicks

GV: Well most people know me because of Lunachicks which is fine because I’m super proud of our band and our history but it can be also tough to get away from that label and just be a solo artist without the qualifying “Gina from Lunachicks” tag. I do understand though that people need reference, they want to know “Who is this person?” and I totally get that. But, my solo music doesn’t always translate over to the Lunachicks’ fanbase, some of my fans don’t even know who the Lunachicks are (most do) but in a perfect world I’d just be able to be me -insert terrible Sammy Davis Jr. impression, “I gotta be me…!” sing-along folks!


DS: How is creating music for a film different from creating music for a more traditional record or band?

GV: It’s certainly a different exercise in that you’re not actually songwriting, there’s no lyrics or any kind of verse/chorus song structure necessarily. It’s also a practice in pairing down and being mindful of where and how you place certain textures and sounds so they don’t step on dialog or feel too intrusive in the scene. I lean towards less happening in a score than more. I’m not a fan of music scores that overdo it.

DS: You played most of the instruments for this record? How is that experience different from playing in a full band or having a full band contribute to an album?

GV: I usually record most of the guitar, bass, and synths in my home studio. Then I bring it all into a professional studio with my producer Barb Morrison and their engineer to finish the track. We do vocals, drums and adding all the cool layers and textures. It’s quite the opposite experience of recording live in the studio with a band. This way I have a lot of room to manipulate the track, try different arrangements etc. and change my mind a hundred times about it all–which is not always a good thing!


DS: Are there newer bands, up-and-coming bands, or artists that excite you at this moment? 

GV: I’m obsessing over the UK’s post-punk explosion that’s been happening in the past couple of years. I love Idles, Shame, and Dry Cleaning. I also love Viagra Boys, and FIDLAR, and Turnstile. This year I’ve been listening to Yves Tumor and Nilüfer Yanya.

DS: Can you see any influence you might have had on them?

GV: Hmmm, doubt any of the bands listed above would have known who we were!

DS: You came up as a musician when there were not as many female-fronted, or mostly female-comprised bands. How much of an improvement has there been in the way such bands are accepted? Is there still a struggle to be known less as a female-fronted punk band and just a punk band. Or is that label something you are ok with?

GV: I’m really glad to see so many more women in bands. It really doesn’t seem to be such a novelty anymore. When we played Riot Fest last year there were some women kicking ass both in mixed-gender bands and all-female bands. But as you mentioned that was one of the things that was the most maddening for us, no matter what music we were making we were always categorized by our gender instead of musical genre. “All girl band music” became the genre we were placed in, what the fuck does that mean?!

Sadly (that) element is present today when I listen to Spotify’s algorithm. If you were to put on a Lunachicks radio on Spotify, the algorithm will mainly stick to suggesting only other female-fronted bands, then conversely, if you were to start a Rancid radio station the algorithm won’t be offering any recommendations for bands with female singers therefore reinforcing this gender separation in rock/punk music.

I am proud to celebrate being a woman and if women and girls (and non-binary people) find inspiration in seeing people up onstage rockin’ out that look more like themselves (as I had when I went to see my she-ros play live) then I am all for it. But we need to do away with thinking that there are two different musical genres solely based on gender.

DS: There is still so much toxicity in the punk scene as we have seen with recent disbandings of decades-old groups. Anti-Flag situation, of course, being the most recent example. How have you tried to confront that? Is it something you have still encountered?

GV: Have to admit that I literally just heard about this, I don’t want to comment until I read more about it. But from what I’ve seen over the years things have gotten better – I mean we wouldn’t even be having this conversation back in the ’90s – or even the ’00’s. And I do believe it will continue to get better and that we will evolve. Sometimes that’s hard to see and there will certainly be setbacks and shitty humans messing it all up but I’m an optimist and I do think eventually we’ll get our shit together, may not be alive to see it, but we’ll get there.


Gina Volpe’s new record will be released in February. A documentary film “Pretty Ugly- The Story of The Lunachicks,” directed by Ilya Chaiken, had its world premiere in NYC in November and just finished an initial online run.

Many thanks and cheers to Gina Volpe!

Photo Credits: featured portrait by Barb Morrison; Dying Scene images at Riot Fest 2022 by Meredith Goldberg; and additional stage images by Hillery Teranzi.

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DS Interview: Caitlin Edwards on Punk The Burbs, Bumsy & The Moochers, and her debut solo record

Caitlin Edwards, the singer of suburban punk ska band, Bumsy & The Moochers, and founder of local music fest, Punk The Burbs, just released her debut solo record. We caught up with her to discuss how her new project and to reflect on past milestones, her creative process, and what’s coming up next. Caitlin Edwards […]

Caitlin Edwards, the singer of suburban punk ska band, Bumsy & The Moochers, and founder of local music fest, Punk The Burbs, just released her debut solo record. We caught up with her to discuss how her new project and to reflect on past milestones, her creative process, and what’s coming up next.


Caitlin Edwards is having a moment. Actually, it is just the latest moment she is having. As lead singer for the popular suburban Chicago ska band Bumsy & The Moochers (BATM), Edwards founded the area punk fest, Punk the Burbs, almost a decade ago. On February 25, 2023, Edwards introduced her tunes from debut solo record Pluto Party during her release show at Cobra Lounge in Chicago, IL. The first single off the independently released album is the infectiously fun “Unlucky Charm.” In addition to her vocals, Edwards played the guitar, bass, and violin. John Perrin, noted below as well, played the drums. For her live band, pictured below in this piece, it’s Tim Flynn (L) on bass, and drummer Andrew Cielo (R). Oh, and Bruce, her friend’s pup and also pictured below, is the musical mascot to them all.


MG: How did you get your start in music?

CE: “I started playing violin when I was ten. My dad always played guitar and of course I listened to a lot of rock bands then so I picked up the guitar at thirteen. I taught myself how to play guitar, but having that experience playing on the violin helped. Callous already on the fingers and all that.


MG: Who are some of your musical influences?

CE: “Most recently The Muffs, Beabadoobee, The Beths, Best Coast. Of course Green Day, Weezer, Oasis, and The Copyrights will always be bands that influence me throughout my life.”


MG: Did you have a writing partner for your solo work and is the songwriting with BATM collaborative?

CE:“Typically songs just come to me at random or just waking up from a dream. Sometimes when I’m walking around or in the shower. This goes for both projects. I could never just sit down and be like ok, gonna write a song. It just doesn’t work that way for me. Sometimes in BATM, other members will bring song ideas, chords, lyrics to the table and we’ll collaboratively write.”


MG: What’s the best show or tour you’ve ever played and why was it so special to you?

CE: “Probably Bumsy and the Moochers playing at FEST 20 last year. I’ve always wanted to play FEST. We put on our best set and the crowd was wild. So much love. For my solo project I had a ton of fun playing this recent album release show at Cobra Lounge. Once again, so much love and just having people come up to me saying they loved the album. Such an amazing feeling.


MG: Do you have any funny or interesting stories from being on the road that you can share with us?

CE: “One time Bumsy and the Moochers played in St. Louis. We stayed at the coolest Airbnb that was a loft. Had a ping-pong table, fancy showers and beds. Then we played at this tiny hole-in-the-wall bar where there was Street Fighter 2 that people could play. I must’ve played everyone in that bar and kicked their ass. Of course I was Blanka, that’s my guy. Lol. Then we played this show with mostly pop punk bands, but everyone dug us. Even one dude said, I hate ska, but I love you guys. Not really an interesting story, just a fun time on tour.”


MG: What are some of your favorite songs to play live?

CE: “In my solo project I love playing “No Kids” and “All That Fun.” They’re songs that aren’t the typical pop punk songs that I’m used to playing so I enjoy doing something different. But I also love playing “Guess Again.” Just love the energy that song brings.”


MG: How does your creative process differ from album to album?

CE: “For my solo band, I take a lot of time writing songs, adding new parts or lyrics, seeing which songs would fit in an album because it’s just me. No input from others encourages me to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure my songs sound good. With Bumsy and the Moochers, even when I just write a song, I’m still getting input from everyone else. At times it’s easier because you’re getting so many ideas, but at times it’s harder. Sometimes it’s hard for us to agree on something, too many cooks in the kitchen so to speak.


MG: How did you found Punk the Burbs and how has it been?

CE: “I created the Punk The Burbs Facebook group in 2014. Just wanted a Facebook for people to post shows, ads, events in the burbs since there was mostly groups for shows happening in the city. Doing Punk The Burbs every year is a lot of hard work, but I’m glad I’ve helped create more of a music community in the burbs. I’m also glad that we’ve introduced a lot of people to new bands they may have never heard before.”


MG: How much of the year is occupied organizing the fest each year? Do you have a team to help?

CE: “It really takes up most of the year to organize the fest. So much goes into it, even more when it’s Jason [Fein of The Run Around] and myself doing most of the work. We’ve had volunteers help at the fest before in the past, but that’s it. We’d love to have more help and actual employees next time around.


MG: How did you decide to do a solo record at this point?

CE: “I’ve actually been wanting to do a solo record since I was a teenager. Just never got around to it because other things were happening in life, school, other bands, you know how it goes. I finally started to get serious about a solo project in 2017. Up until 2019, I never had enough songs to do an album. With everything that happened to me from 2019-2022, I suddenly had a ton of material that would be perfect for an album.


MG: Tell us about the musicians who backed you on the record? Who produced it?

CE: “I played the guitar, violin, bass, and vocals on this record. My friend John Perrin did the drums. I knew he could do the drums exactly how I imagined them and he did! I did the production work as well. Dan Precision [Dan Wleklinski of 88 Fingers Louie and formerly of Rise Against] mixed and mastered the album. There was a few things he put in that weren’t there before. For example, the orchestral part in “Lip”, Dan came up with that. Definitely gave that song more emotion.


MG: How do you balance Bumsy, PTB and new solo work, along with your day job/life?

CE: “I actually balance it all pretty easy these days. I’ve been doing it for such a long time, it just comes naturally. If I wasn’t doing all that stuff, I’d probably get bored. Though a nice break from Punk The Burbs Fest I wouldn’t mind. I’d much rather be creating music than being on the business side of it.


MG: Along with that band release, do you have plans to our solo or will you play solo work on the same bill as BATM?

CE: ”I like to keep Bumsy and my solo project pretty separate. I’d get exhausted playing the same show together or doing a tour back-to-back. I am trying to piece together a solo weekender tour at the moment for 2023.”


MG: How did the song “Unlucky Charm” come about and was it about anything personally?

CE:  Like most people, I experience anxiety from time to time. When I was younger, it was a lot worse. I used to get panic attacks. Nowadays, I have my anxiety way more under control. Music, therapy, and loved ones helped me no doubt. That’s what “Unlucky Charm” is about. Having anxiety around you for a long time and finally not letting it hang around in your life anymore.


MG: Who directed the video for it and what was the inspiration for the video?

CE: “Justin Sostre directed the video. He’s also Bumsy and the Moochers trumpet player. Amazing musician and super cool dude. I came up with the idea. Anxiety is something that can feel like it’s always lurking, or sometimes sneaks up on you. I figured why don’t we have anxiety literally doing that, but as a creepy masked person? I always loved music videos with humor and a message. So that’s why if anything it’s meant to be a really funny video on something serious.


MG: What do you have upcoming, both as a solo artist, with the band and with Punk the Burbs?

CE: ”My solo project has two shows coming up. We’re playing at Programme Skate and sound in Fullerton, CA April 15th. [Spoke with Edwards prior to the Fullerton, CA date]. We’re also playing at the Village Theater in Davenport, IA April 28th.  


It’s a good time for Caitlin Edwards and she’s grabbing hold of the momentum via her talent, her work, and ability to have fun as well. Check out Pluto Party, as soon as you can and get yourself to a show when she hits your town, solo or leading Bumsy and the Moochers!

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DS Interview: Chris Estrada on growing up punk in South Central, “This Fool,” the Punk Rock Museum and more!

I’m not what you would call a “Big TV Guy.” If I’m being honest, I could count all of the combined episodes of cultural landmark shows like Game Of Thrones and The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and The Big Bang Theory and CSI that I’ve ever seen on one hand and […]

I’m not what you would call a “Big TV Guy.” If I’m being honest, I could count all of the combined episodes of cultural landmark shows like Game Of Thrones and The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and The Big Bang Theory and CSI that I’ve ever seen on one hand and still have a majority of my fingers left over. Sure I’ll watch baseball nightly and the occasional West Coast NHL or NBA game in the MLB offseason. But otherwise, aside from absurdist-but-grounded-in-reality comedies like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it takes a lot to get me to care about a TV show and so the remote is better served in someone else’s hands.

And so maybe a year-and-a-half ago, probably while waiting for yet another rewatching of Letterkenny, the Hulu default screen showed the trailer for an upcoming show called This Fool. There was a graffiti tag of something called “Hugs Not Thugs,” followed by a slow pan across a group of tough-looking, face-tatted Latino guys sitting in front of a wall sign that said the same. There was Michael Imperioli lecturing the group about regaining their lives over a breathy soundtrack that I think was Enya but might have been Sade, I’m not sure. There was yoga and there was a clean-cut counselor-type informing a mustachioed ex-con about legal counseling and rehabilitation and job development courses and dental insurance plans, and so of course this was the makings of yet another feel-good docuseries. And then the mustachioed fella asked the counselor fella why, if he had dental insurance, were his teeth still fucked up. From there, the true nature of the series was revealed. 

For the uninitiated, This Fool centers itself on the life of the aforementioned counselor-type – portrayed by comedian Chris Estrada – and his life in and around Los Angeles’ hardscrabble South Central neighborhood. Estrada’s character, Julio, works at the ex-offender rehabilitation program Hugs Not Thugs under the tutelage of flawed white savior Imperioli, where one of the “thugs” is none other than Julio’s cousin Luis (portrayed here in pitch-perfect fashion by Estrada’s friend and fellow comic Frankie Quinones), who was fresh out of an eight-year stint in prison. It’s brilliant and funny and it’s done with a sense of heart and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also somehow both absurd and super real, both of which I can attest to as someone who spent many years working in a correctional reentry-type program in an overwhelmingly Latino community, albeit with 100% less cupcake. 



Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? I did, right? Because it’s hilarious. In addition to occupying the starring role, Chris Estrada – a standup comic for the last decade – also serves as creator and writer, loosely inspiring the narrative arc after his own life and upbringing. Why am I telling you all of this on a punk rock website, you might ask? Astute observers of This Fool will notice that Estrada’s Julio character doesn’t seem to be a follower of the hip-hop culture that his neighborhood has so long symbolized. Instead, as evidenced by his wardrobe, it seems Julio is a bit of a punk. It’s evidenced not in cheesy, over-the-top, too-pristine-to-be-real placement of a Green Day or Good Charlotte poster. Instead it’s his wardrobe, with subtle nods to Strummer and Television and Love And Rockets and wait, was that a Channel 3 shirt? Yeah, that was a Channel 3 shirt. Holy cow.

And so it’s no surprise that Estrada himself is a punk rock fan. Like, a HUGE punk rock fan. While he’s never played an instrument or sang in a punk band or put on underground shows, Estrada has lived and breathed punk rock since his formative years. He’s a huge enough fan that next month, he’s hosting not only a weekend of tours at the critically-acclaimed Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas, but a comedy show (featuring Fat Mike!?!?) and a screening of a few episodes of This Fool. He’s a huge enough punk fan that visiting Ian MacKaye and the Dischord House on a trip to DC was as at least as monumental an experience as his first appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. Yes, really. 

I caught up with Estrada over Zoom last weekend for a lengthy and far-ranging conversation and almost immediately found in him a kindred spirit, inspired and informed by the very ethos and music and words that influenced my own upbringing, despite our growing up not only more than 3000 miles apart as the crow flies, but in cultures that, in some ways, could not be more polar opposite. Estrada was a first-generation immigrant from a non-native-English-speaking family, whereas…well let’s just say that the Stones departed England 388 years ago bound for the greater Boston area and, yeah, we’re still there. 

Photo of Chris Estrada in a Los Angeles-themed tee shirt. He's standing in front of a pink background. Photo taken by Mindy Tucker.

If you were alive and aware in the 1990s, you’re not doubt familiar with Estrada’s old stomping grounds of South Central and Inglewood not as synonymous with punk rock but with hip-hop and, unfortunately, of gang violence. The community was largely African-American and had been for generations, through was also seeing an influx of first-generation Mexican and Central American immigrants. And while the music and the rhythms sounded different, Estrada points out the similarities in the overlapping themes contained within punk rock and hip-hop. “For a lot of Latino kids growing up in LA, if they’re first-generation immigrants, I think there’s this weird thing of trying to find yourself, so you don’t want to love your parents’ music, because you’re trying to assimilate. And then, at the time, rap felt like something that was for and by black kids, and so you’re kinda looking for your own thing. For me, I found punk rock.” He adds “what’s funny is that the way that rap music and hip-hop spoke to them and their anger, I felt like punk rock did the same thing for me.”

Like many others who found entry to the punk rock community in the mid-90s was through the two-headed beast that was the “EpiFat” sound. “It was the tail end of the compilation era,” Estrada explains. “I remember Punk-O-Rama volumes 1 and 2 were really big for me.” It was also the days when FM radio A) still existed in a meaningful sense and B) still played punk and underground music, especially in Los Angeles. “The big radio station out here, KROQ, had Rodney On the ROQ on Saturday or Sunday nights, and he was a guy who broke the LA punk scene – The Germs, The Adolescents, The Screamers, he played the Ramones early on. And by the time I was listening to him, he would still play those bands and newer bands. That was definitely an entry point for me.


As you might imagine, Estrada was a bit of an outlier growing up a punk rock kid in South Central and, later, Inglewood. “I could be playing The Clash or whatever on my headphones, but if I took them off, I could hear people playing hip-hop or people playing Mexican music or Central American music. There was always a sense that all of that music was always around me informing me, you know?” Estrada explains. I’ve said a few times on these pages that at my high school, despite being one of the largest in New England at the time I was going there, there were only a handful of kids in each grade who were really “punk rock kids.” For Estrada, it was no different. “I went to high school in Inglewood, and I think if you lined us all up, there were maybe like 20 kids? Maybe?

Little-by-slow, however, the scene would grow, though in a metropolis as sprawling and diverse as the City Of Angels, this meant different scenes comprised of different cross-sections of participants. “There were two types of scenes, really,” states Estrada. “If you went to go see a show in Hollywood, where a bigger band was playing, there would be a few Latinos there, but not a lot. But if you saw a local show in South Central or in Inglewood or in Compton, it was mostly Latinos with a few black kids there. I remember going to see NOFX very early on. I was like fourteen. There were a couple Latino kids there, but it was mostly white. Maybe a few black kids or Asian kids sprinkled in. But it wasn’t really until a lot of garage punk bands started popping up that it started becoming a thing.

Even though he didn’t play in a band or contribute to the scene in that manner, Estrada carried the flag for punk rock in a meaningful way. “I really loved it and I was just a nerd about it,” he explains. “Getting into Japanese stuff and all that. I literally got a job pretty early on just to buy CDs, you know? I saved up and bought a record and started buying 12-inches and 7-inches.” That behavior carried through the years, even when regular show-going took a backseat to working two or three jobs in order to afford to eventually live on his own. “It was also tough though because as I was getting older, and as I was having to pay rent and have more stability, it seemed like the scene was flourishing more. I wasn’t necessarily a participant in it, but I was definitely an advocate of it. I felt so excited by it, and if I had a chance I would go see shows. Or I’d go buy a 7-inch or find the band on Bandcamp. So as I got older, I wasn’t there at every show, but I was just so excited that I could advocate for it.” 

As time progressed, Estrada felt stuck in the rut of working regular jobs – labor jobs and warehouse jobs and the like. “I was really vicariously living through musicians, seeing these men and women doing whatever they wanted and taking their lives into their own hands,” he states. “I was miserable that I couldn’t do that, and that I wasn’t doing that.” And so eventually that brought a dedication to trying something different; stand-up comedy. And while that didn’t involve punk rock in a musical sense, it certainly involved a punk rock ethos and work ethic. “I remember that I saw that Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo…and I was so inspired by that. I said ‘I’ve just gotta do what they did’.”

Estrada began his comedy career as many do; on the open mic circuit. “I remember my first open mic, I had a really good set, and then my second mic, I bombed my dick off. It was humiliating, but at the same time, I knew when I said ‘okay, I’ll try it again tomorrow,’ that I could get over it. That actually made me feel more like a comic than having a good set.” One set a night turned into two and three and four sets a night, sometimes spread out across the city. Again, the roots found themselves in punk rock. “Like, if you read Get In The Van, the (Henry) Rollins book, Black Flag would constantly practice. So I started viewing my practice as getting up at open mics two or three or four times a night if I could. It was really cool to apply that; that this was my version of it, so I would apply that Minutemen/We Jam Econo work ethic to it.”


The more he kept honing his craft, the more he realized he was part of his own version of a punk rock scene. “I remember when I started doing comedy,” he states, “there was a scene there, and I felt excited because I found my version of punk rock to actively participate in. So then I started going to shows and doing open mics and hosting open mics and throwing shows and really being part of the scene. It felt really exciting.

The story of how, after a decade or so of plying his wares in standup while working at least one day job, Estrada got the seemingly unlikely call that someone was interested in him writing and starring in a TV show based on his life has been told other places so we don’t have to rehash it here. It involves the guys that created the Comedy Central show Corporate and eventually fellow unsuspecting punk rock aficionado Fred Armisen and then eventually Hulu. And as I mentioned above, even though (or maybe because?) the show is loosely based on his life, Estrada made it a point to make nods to his punk rock roots. “I just wanted to casually put punk stuff in there without being try-hardy about it and not making it a big deal,” he explains. “My character in the show casually just wears punk rock shirts; not every episode, but you try to make it in a way that it counts when you do it…I think that sometimes you do those things and it feels forced, you know?” In addition to the visual nods, the show’s soundtrack pays constant homage to the more underground bands that inspired Estrada’s upbringing. “We got music from bands that I knew in LA. Latino punk rock bands, like this band called Generacion Suicida from South Central Los Angeles. This other band called Tozcos, we used some of their music. We also used like a D.O.A. song, so we try to mix it up.” 

I can’t find who made this, but I think it rules. The featured image above of Chris on a couch is by Jakob Layman. The image of Chris in the LA RESPECT shirt is by Mindy Tucker. The picture of Chris in the Love & Rockets shirt is by Mandee Johnson.

There’s no official word on a Season Three of This Fool yet; get your shit together, Hulu! If/when it does officially find its release, it’ll no doubt be as funny and pitch-perfect and full of punk rock Easter eggs as ever. Maybe we’ll even see a Dying Scene shirt. Wait…that’s actually a good idea…we should send Chris a Dying Scene shirt! In the meantime, you can check Chris out at the Punk Rock Museum next month (12/15 – 12/17) and you can especially keep scrolling and read our full chat, where we bond over mutual admiration for Ian MacKaye and Joe Strummer and Mike Watt and about how punk rock is about more than just fashion and so much more.


The conversation below has been edited and condensed for content and clarity. Yes, really.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I was just looking at my list. I’m closing in on 200 interviews that I’ve done over the years, and I’m pretty sure this is the first one I’ve done with someone known more for acting and comedy than for music. So this is pretty awesome!

Chris Estrada: Yeah, I’m not even a musician, I just love punk! (*both laugh*)

And you never were, huh? Never played in bands in high school or whatever?

Nope, nothing. I don’t know how to play a lick of an instrument. Never sang, never anything. I just loved it. When I started getting into punk, I had no inkling to want to play. I just loved watching it. I wanted to be an observer and to participate in whatever way I could, whether that was by going to shows and buying albums and things like that. I just loved it. Sometimes I think that I should have participated more. Maybe what I did was enough, I don’t know. I just love it. 

Yeah, but you carry the flag for it, and we need that. That’s ultimately what I do. I don’t play guitar outside my dining room most of the time – I think much to my wife’s chagrin because I probably have too many guitars for somebody who doesn’t play guitar – but we need people carrying the flag; taking pictures, telling stories, so that people know that the scene is more than just Green Day and The Offspring. Those bands were awesome, and they were a lot of people’s entry points to punk rock, but the scene is so much bigger and more diverse than that. 

Yeah! I have a show and in the show, I just wanted to casually put punk stuff in there without being try-hardy about it and not making it a big deal. My character in the show casually just wears punk rock shirts; not every episode, but you try to make it in a way that it counts when you do it. It’s not a thing that we make a big deal out of, we just kind of let it be. I think that sometimes you do those things and it feels forced, you know? But I also like to wear band shirts of bands that I like, and who I grew up loving, and contemporary bands. On the show, we got music from bands that I knew in LA. Latino punk rock bands, like this band called Generacion Suicida from South Central Los Angeles. This other band called Tozcos, we used some of their music. We also used like a D.O.A. song, so we try to mix it up. 

Let’s not gloss something over; you said you have “a show” – your show is amazing. 

Oh thank you, man!

I love This Fool. My wife and I binged both seasons when they came out.

That really means a lot, thank you!

It’s different, it’s honest, it’s funny. It’s done with heart, but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. You mentioned the ‘try-hard’ thing before; there are a lot of boxes in the show that you could check that could be try-hardy if you didn’t get them right. The fact that you base it in your neighborhood, South Central, there’s your culture, there’s the music tie-in…it could seem like it’s checking boxes, but it’s so real and it’s so authentic and relatable and I say that as somebody who is obviously from the complete opposite side of the country in every way you could be. 

Thanks so much, man. That really means a lot. I just try to make it feel really casual. In my mind, when I was growing up, it was a big deal to me but…I think when you grow up in certain areas and maybe a lot of people aren’t into what you’re into, you kinda learn how to just be friends with anybody.

Exactly!

So you might throw on a Clash t-shirt or a Spazz t-shirt or whatever and some of the people in your neighborhood are like “oh, that’s what he’s into” and you find other ways to relate to them, you know?

You grew up rather famously in South Central, and Inglewood, and you were doing so in a time – the 90s – where that neighborhood and that part of the world were in the midst of being memorialized in history through hip-hop. 

Yeah, totally!

It was sort of ground zero for “gangsta rap” as the media referred to it. But that area and that scene were right in the middle of this cultural moment. What was your experience growing up through that time? I grew up in New Hampshire listening to all of that music – in addition to punk rock – but what was your experience actually growing up there?

My experience is that it was very working class. There was a lot of gang violence in LA. I know there still is, but at that time, it felt very big. But it was definitely very working class. It’s kind of interesting to me because the world was very black and Latino to me. That part of the city is a historically black neighborhood, and then you started getting a bigger Latino population and at some point, it was more of a 50/50 split. My experience was knowing the world as a very black and Latino place, and sometimes there’s racial tension, sometimes there’s gang tension. Sometimes there’s not, though, you know? Sometimes it’s not that sensational, and it’s just as mundane as any other neighborhood. But then sometimes there’s a lot of shit going on, like NO other neighborhoods, you know? So it was interesting in that sense. I always used to say that I grew up liking hip-hop, but the thing I gravitated toward passionately was punk rock. I illustrate it like I could be playing The Clash or whatever on my headphones, but if I took them off, I could hear people playing hip-hop or people playing Mexican music or Central American music. There was always a sense that all of that music was always around me informing me, you know? And trying to be a square kid, you know? I wasn’t a cool kid, I wasn’t a nerdy kid, you know? I was more of a stoner kid. I liked smoking weed and listening to records. And listening to punk, there weren’t that many of us, you know? 

I was going to ask that…how big a punk rock community was there in South Central?

There was a handful at the time. I went to high school in Inglewood, and I think if you lined us all up, there were maybe like 20 kids? Maybe?

How big a high school are we talking about?

Maybe 2000? So there were always a handful of (punk rock) kids throughout the different grades. Some of us were friendly with each other. Some of us were tighter with each other. I remember there was this punk rock kid who got his ass kicked by some gang members because they didn’t like it. They didn’t like that he had piercings and he had green hair. It probably didn’t feel masculine to them or something, you know? And because there was racial tension, we had race riots sometimes at our high school. But what’s funny is that the way that rap music and hip-hop spoke to them and their anger, I felt like punk rock did the same thing for me. And I remember when I was in high school, I found out that there was a powerviolence band from Inglewood. 

Oh really?

Yeah, Despise You. It was a big deal to find out that they were from Inglewood. At the time, it was probably a little weird. Sometimes you might be mocked for liking that kind of music, people would call it “white boy music” or whatever. But you had to stand your ground, you know, and say like “Rage Against The Machine is diverse,” or “what about Bad Brains?!” or you’d find out that like Chavo from Black Flag was Puerto Rican. I think finding those people in the scene helped you realize, okay, this is for everyone. 

Of the twenty kids at your school who listened to punk rock, how diverse was that crew?

Majority Latino. I’m sure there’s a lot more black kids now who are into rock music and into punk, but back then it was a majority Latino. I think for a lot of Latino kids growing up in LA, if they’re first-generation immigrants, I think there’s this weird thing of trying to find yourself, so you don’t want to love your parents’ music, because you’re trying to assimilate. And then, at the time, rap felt like something that was for and by black kids, and so you’re kinda looking for your own thing. For me, I found punk rock, and even if I was listening to English bands, I don’t know that I necessarily thought about it as white (music), but it was the emotion of it that I really gravitated towards, you know?

Who was your entry point? Who was your first band that made you go “oh, this isn’t just cool music, this is who I am and what I am”? 

You know what? It was the tail end of the compilation era. I remember Punk-O-Rama volumes 1 and 2 were really big for me. That mid-to-late 90s Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords sound was an entry point for me. I was also listening to the big radio station out here, KROQ. They had Rodney On the ROQ on Saturday or Sunday nights, and he was a guy who broke the LA punk scene – The Germs, The Adolescents, The Screamers, he played the Ramones early on. And by the time I was listening to him, he would still play those bands and newer bands. That was definitely an entry point for me. But when I listened to that Punk-O-Rama, I remember the weirder stuff standing out to me. Like, I remember The Cramps were on one of those Punk-O-Rama comps, and I was really taken back by them. Even stuff that was like maybe not the traditional Epitaph sound, like DFL. They had a song on there, and they sounded like an 80s hardcore band. Things that sounded a little different, like “Coffee Mug” by the Descendents was on one of them, and that really informed me. And obviously things like Rancid and Social Distortion. And then I started digging deeper. And The Clash. They were a big deal for me, and still are. 

Oh for sure. I am a couple years older than you, I think, but I think for our generation, Joe Strummer has become almost a mythical person. I think he and The Clash are probably more important now than they were in 1983 or whatever. I certainly think they’re more important to me now than they ever have been. I never saw The Clash – I was six when they broke up or whatever, but they’re more important to me in my early 40s than they were even when I was in my 20s.

They really informed me so much. When I was 15, a buddy played an album for me, and I remember listening to “Janie Jones,” and “White Riot” and “Complete Control” and all that stuff and I was completely blown away. And I remember as I got more into them and bought albums, I would think “oh, I remember this song! This really cool song I used to hear on the radio is also them!” And then, like “oh ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ is them too!” But they also informed me so much because they knew how to take a photo! There was something iconic about looking at them. There was something so great about the imagery around them. About their album covers.

But it also seemed so authentic, too. 

Yeah! And by the time I was getting into London Calling and Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Sandinista! and seeing the cover art. Like opening the liner notes to Sandinista! and they had a map of Central America and realizing they named that album after a left-wing revolutionary party in Nicaragua, all that stuff really informed me a lot. I just loved them. That was another entry point, for sure. But also the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and then a lot of independent stuff that was going on in California. There was this label called Ebullition Records here in California – in Goleta – and they were putting out a lot of great records, like this band Los Crudos who I got into through them.

From Chicago, yeah? 

Yeah, from Chicago! They had a split with this Bay Area band called Spitboy, an all-female band. Getting into those independent hardcore 90s bands was super influential for me. I really loved it and I was just a nerd about it. Fucking getting into Japanese stuff and all that. I literally got a job pretty early on just to buy CDs, you know? I saved up and bought a record and started buying 12-inches and 7-inches. Getting into bands like PiL and even at the same time getting into mainstream stuff. Like, I loved At The Drive-In when they broke. I saw them early on at an independent venue out here called the PCH Club, and I would go see bands like The Locust and At The Drive-In and all these cool bands. 

At what point did people stop sorta teasing or making fun of you for being “the punk kid” because you just got so into it, so they were just like “well, that’s Chris…”

Nobody really made fun of me. Maybe my cousins – my older cousins – they were like gang members so they were like “What is this stuff?”. And you know what? When I was growing up, I didn’t really dress punk. Maybe I had a band t-shirt, but then I would just wear like a jacket and jeans, but it was like one of those windbreaker jackets. You could tell I was into something, but I didn’t look like I was in Rancid, you know? And also, very early on, I got into Minor Threat and Fugazi and all of that Washington DC stuff, and I saw that they didn’t have mohawks or dress like that, and I thought that was dope, like “oh cool, you can just be a regular dude, a regular fool, and just rock whatever you want to rock.” That really informed me a lot; that it didn’t have to be about fashion.

You mentioned Fugazi…I’ve tried to think about this a lot in recent years to figure out what the first band I really got into that was a punk band was, and it was either Bad Religion or Fugazi. And you’re right, neither of them dressed “punk rock.” Jay and Greg from Bad Religion had leather jackets for a while, but that was about it. And I got into both of them through Pearl Jam, oddly enough. I was a super big Pearl Jam fan right when they broke, and in those days you would read interviews and read liner notes and see who your favorite bands mentioned, and Eddie Vedder always talked about Fugazi and Ian Mackaye. So it became “well, if Eddie likes them, I must like them.” And then, I forget if I heard Repeater first or In On The Kill Taker, but thinking “holy shit, what is this music!?” It was unlike anything I’d really ever heard at that point. 

Yeah, for me it was kind of the same way. Songs like “Public Witness Program” or “Facet Squared.” I remember Rage Against The Machine’s first album, looking in the liner notes to see who they thanked, and I remember them thanking Joe Strummer and Ian Mackaye and wanting to learn more. Or then sometimes buying things based off a cover. I remember when I was a kid, I went to this record store and I saw a Reagan Youth CD where they were dressed like Klansmen. And I remember it taking a second for me to wrap my mind around it. The album was called A Collection Of Pop Classics, and when I looked at the back, the titles of the songs sounded kind of leftist. And so I went “okay, I think they’re playing with imagery and they’re being ironic on the cover. I think I could buy this.” (*both laugh*)

And that was really before you could Google it. I mean now if you go to the record store, you can Google it or you can just take a picture of the cover and search that and it pulls up everything you wanted to know. But back then, yeah, you had to kinda do a little research on your own. 

Yeah! Like, I would go to Tower Records or whatever record store I could take the bus to when I was a kid and buy like Punk Planet or of course Maximumrocknroll. Or even the popular magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone would cover punk bands sometimes. I would find other ‘zines, like there was this zine out here called HeartattaCK Zine that I would buy and find out about these independent bands and learn more about their scenes. 

So let’s fast forward to Punk Rock Museum opening up. I’ve not been yet; I’ve never set foot in Vegas, and honestly I haven’t really wanted to at many points over the years until Punk Rock Museum became a real thing. And not like a cheesy thing, but a real and cool and authentic thing. Where did your involvement with them come from?

I remember I was following them on Instagram when they put up their Instagram page and I was like “yo, this is cool!”  I wasn’t ever skeptical, but I was definitely like “how’s this going to be?” I was so curious. And when they opened up, I kept following them, and they had reached out to me and told me that they were fans of This Fool and whatnot. I was planning to go out there, and then what ended up happening was they invited me out to do a live podcast with Damian (Abraham) from Fucked Up. 

Oh I’ve heard it! It’s great!

Yeah! We did the live podcast. It was Damian from Fucked Up, and then Fred Armisen was going to be there doing tours and he did a cover set, where he played lots of punk rock covers in the bar that they have called the Triple Down Bar. That was really the start of my involvement when they asked me to come. I was really blown away. It’s such a real museum and at the same time, it’s interactive. It’s curated so well, and people that I’m a fan of helped curate it. People like Brian Ray Turcotte who did that book Punk Is Dead, Punk Is Everything, and he did Fucked Up + Photocopied. There was another guy who I follow on Instagram @AncientArtifax whose name is Brian too, he’s a really sweet guy. He and Bryan Ray Turcotte I think leant some of their collections of memorabilia. But also, a lot of musicians lend them their stuff. So I went there the first time and I had a blast. I had a great time. They asked me if I would be willing to do tours and maybe even a comedy show, and I said “yeah man, I’d love to!” I think it’s such a great place and I’m so happy it exists. And I’m not a Vegas fan. I grew up in California, and Vegas is only four hours from us. People often drive there for the weekend. So not being a real fan of Vegas, this gives me an excuse to go. I’m really excited to give tours there. They have a really impressive Clash and Joe Strummer collection.

Yeah, I saw that his family was just out there. 

Yeah! I’m really excited. I got to walk the museum when Fred Armisen was giving a tour…

What a brilliant musician, by the way. Wildly underrated as a musician, I think.

Yeah! Totally! 

His brain works on a different plain, I think.

Yeah, it’s crazy. He played in this great band called Trenchmouth who opened for Fugazi. 

Oh sure!

They put out a few great records. He brought punk to SNL. Those great sketches on SNL with Ian Rubbish and Crisis of Conformity. 

Yeah, and the wedding band!

Yeah! I’m really excited to give tours. I think I’m going to get there a day early, because I want to have a game plan.

I was going to ask, is that overwhelming or intimidating?

It is but in a good way.

Obviously you’re a fan of the music, but to know what you want to highlight and how to tell the story…

Yeah, that’s a big thing! I want to have an idea of what I want to highlight, and I want to make it fun and interactive. I want people to have some fun with it, and I’ll be funny if I can. I’m really excited because it’s such an amazing place. And then we’re going to do a comedy show. It’s going to be me, this comedian named Bryan Vokey who used to play in punk bands. He used to play in a band called Neon Piss. And then this other comedian whose name is Nicole Becannon. She’s really funny. She doesn’t come from the punk world, but I just think people would love seeing her. She’s going to be a part of it. And then Fat Mike’s going to be there. 

I heard that!

Yeah, it’s going to be pretty funny.

I heard your podcast with Damian and Fat Mike, especially the second part, where it was just over Zoom or whatever…and I have to say that you’re a phenomenal interviewer, for what that’s worth. 

Oh thank you!

And even the Pete Holmes podcast from last year, where the two of you are just sitting on his couch, where you weren’t necessarily the interviewer, I still think that you’re a phenomenal interviewer. The way that you ask questions and the thought that you give to how you process questions and how to follow up, you do a really really good job. 

Thank you! Yeah, I try to be thoughtful about it. When we did that podcast, me and Damian, it’s called Killed By Punk, and we just thought “let’s be a little more introspective and a little more critical, without being annoying.” Just the idea of having an introspective conversation on punk, it’s a thing I’m always thinking about. 

And Mike especially is an interesting to get your feet wet at interviewing. He can be tough to wrangle sometimes, having talked to him a few times. 

Yeah, he’s such a personality, and he’s not an asshole, but he’s an abrasive person in a sense. It’s in a joking way, but if you don’t know he’s joking than it can be a lot. But also, he has a lot of ethics and a strong belief system about what he’s doing. He’s a really interesting guy. 

I think in a lot of conversations he does, he’s always in charge. Mike steers the ship, even if he’s the subject and not the interviewer, and I think a lot of that is by design to still keep a little bit of a wall up. Like, he’ll be really forthcoming, almost uncomfortably so, and exposes so much of himself so that you don’t pull back the curtain of what’s behind that sometimes, but I think you did a great job of sort of disarming him and you could tell he was really thinking.

Yeah, yeah! He was so interesting. So he’s going to do the comedy show with us, and then I’m going to screen two episodes of This Fool and do like a Q&A. 

That’s awesome!

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s such an awesome place. It’s curated so well, and at the same time, it’s a work in progress. The way you see the museum is not the way it’s going to be forever. 

It’s a living thing, yeah.

Yeah! They are doing an exhibit now with James Spooner who did the AfroPunk Festival

Oh yeah, one of our contributors just did a little spotlight piece on him

I think that’s so cool! I heard him on NPR and he plugged the museum. He said the most brilliant thing – he wasn’t showing necessarily pictures of black punk bands, but they were showing photos of black punk audiences. And he was showing that it wasn’t just bands, there were black kids going to shows as audience members. I thought it was brilliant. Such a brilliant take on that.  

I want to go back to something you were talking about earlier, and that was the idea of racial tensions, particularly in South Central and Inglewood in the 90s when you were growing up. What was the scene like when you started going to shows? Was it mixed race or did you kinda stick out as being non-white?

There were two types of scenes, really. If you went to go see a show in Hollywood, where a bigger band was playing, there would be a few Latinos there, but not a lot. But if you saw a local show in South Central or in Inglewood or in Compton, it was mostly Latinos with a few black kids there. I remember going to see NOFX very early on. I was like fourteen. There were a couple Latino kids there, but it was mostly white. Maybe a few black kids or Asian kids sprinkled in. But it wasn’t really until a lot of garage punk bands started popping up that it started becoming a thing. When I got older, there was a band called Hit Me Back that was these young Latino kids from South Central Los Angeles playing really fast hardcore. That was really exciting! Or I’d find out about these bands from East LA, like Alice Bag and The Bags, and I found out about the Stains and other bands like that. And I’m not from East LA, but then you’d find out that there were other bands out there so you’d start going out there. It was a pretty majority Latino scene but you would have other kids mixed in. There was a big backyard scene, a big independent scene that felt like it was flourishing more as I was getting older and I was having to go to work so I had less time to go. But it made me happy to see it. I was so excited by it. I remember going to see Fugazi. There weren’t a lot of Latino kids, but there were a couple of us there. I went to the Palace to see Fugazi on the Argument tour, and I just loved it. 

What was your first show? 

My first punk show that I remember was …oh, man, I’m trying to think. I could be wrong, but I think it was either NOFX or The Vandals. One or the other. I saw them both around the same time. It was maybe like ‘99? ‘98 or ‘99, somewhere around there? Yeah, I think it was 1998. And then there was a band that I saw pretty early on that was a hardcore band that would mix hip-hop into it, and they were called Downset.

Oh yeah! I remember them. I feel like maybe I remember them playing with like Shootyz Groove or Primer 55 or something. 

Yeah! I think I saw them open for Sick Of It All. My buddy was a big Sick Of It All Fan, so we went to see them and they opened and then I think maybe Vision Of Disorder played too? (Downset) came out of the LA hardcore scene. There was a venue out here called the Macondo that they came out of. And they were pretty diverse. The singer, Rey, was from South Central Los Angeles, and some of the other members were from different parts of LA, but they all came from a graffiti background. They were in some pretty established graffiti crews out here. They had a hip-hop element to it, but they also came from hardcore. The singer would have like a Crass or an Agnostic Front patch on. 

And if that was late 90s, that was sort of when that crossover between hip-hop and rock and metal were all really flourishing. 

Yeah, and Downset. blew us away because they were pretty diverse. So yeah, it felt like if you went to see bands in Hollywood it was a little more white, but if you went in your neighborhood when there were a lot of backyard shows going on, those felt mostly Latino.

Would those shows be musically diverse as well? Like if the punk scene was smaller in Inglewood or Compton, would there be more variety of bands on one of those shows? 

Sometimes, they could be. Like, you would have a street punk-sounding band play with like a ska band. Or maybe a metal band would be on a show, or a more new wavy band. Yeah, I think you’re right. Not every show, but some shows definitely felt a little more diverse musically.

Did going to shows change what the music meant for you? Like did you have that moment where it went from just music you liked listening to to really feeling like it was a scene you were now a part of?

Yeah, it felt that way. It felt exciting. It was also tough though because as I was getting older, and as I was having to pay rent and have more stability, it seemed like the scene was flourishing more. I wasn’t necessarily a participant in it, but I was definitely an advocate of it. I felt so excited by it, and if I had a chance I would go see shows. Or I’d go buy a 7-inch or find the band on Bandcamp. So as I got older, I wasn’t there at every show, but I was just so excited that I could advocate for it. 

Yeah, because you do have to work, at some point. Or you have a kid. In my case, I knew pretty early on that I was going to be on the “go to college, get a real job” route versus trying to play in bands forever, so at least I can help run a website, you know? Or teach yourself concert photography so you can feel like you’re contributing. 

Yeah! Totally! And I think with punk sometimes, and with music in general, you can let it be a soundtrack to your life. That can be good or it can be bad. I think sometimes when I Was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, I was vicariously living through other people. But it wasn’t until I decided to do something that was “my thing,” because I didn’t want to just work at my job anymore. And there’s nothing wrong with just having a job, but I just wanted to do something else. I think when I started in comedy, that felt like part of a scene.   Through punk, I was more of an advocate because I was buying records and going to shows, but I wasn’t necessarily taking photos or throwing shows, and I didn’t play any instruments, so I was really more of an advocate of it. But I remember when I started doing comedy, there was a scene there, and I felt excited because I found my version of punk rock to actively participate in. So then I started going to shows and doing open mics and hosting open mics and throwing shows and really being part of the scene. It felt really exciting. 

Yeah, so then that was your way of doing the same thing that the punk rock kids were doing. 

Yeah, it felt that way! I also felt so frustrated; like I was really vicariously living through musicians, seeing these men and women doing whatever they wanted and taking their lives into their own hands. I was miserable that I couldn’t do that, and that I wasn’t doing that, so when I finally did, I remember that I saw that Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, and I was – and am – such a big Minutemen fan and a big Mike Watt fan, and I was so inspired by that. I said “I’ve just gotta do what they did. As much as I love it, I’m not a musician, so I’m not gonna go up and play music, but I always loved comedy and always wanted to try it, so I would go to open mics and just apply that approach. That documentary – and punk rock in general – were really influential to my approach because it helped to have a work ethic. To get up every night and go to two or three mics a night. Like, if you read Get In The Van, the (Henry) Rollins book, Black Flag would constantly practice. So I started viewing my practice as getting up at open mics two or three or four times a night if I could. It was really cool to apply that; that this was my version of it, so I would apply that Minutemen/We Jam Econo work ethic to it. 

I got to talk to Watt once for one of his projects – he’s got so many that I don’t even remember which one it was – and it was just such a touchstone moment for me. That band and Watt himself as a solo musician in the 90s were such a barometer of, like, the cool people – the cool music fans and the cool punk fans, they were Mike Watt fans. And so to get to pick his brain for an hour or so and meet him and shake his hand was just amazing. 

Yeah, that documentary was so instrumental to me. Around that time, I just remember being so bummed out, because I truly was just living vicariously through other people, and I was almost doing that thing that you shouldn’t do and looking at these people as idols. Because they’re telling you “look, anybody can do it!” 

Especially in punk rock, yeah!

Yeah! Like whether it was Martin Sorrendeguy of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist or Ian Mackaye or Mike Watt, or even like Patti Smith – I realized that I was living so vicariously through them that I was putting them on the idol pedestal and I was looking at them like “oh, I can’t do that…they’re special.” But the whole thing is they’re telling you anybody can do it! (*both laugh*) So I thought to myself that I always wanted to do standup, so let me just do it. And if I didn’t like it, or I didn’t like the feeling, that’s okay. At least I tried it. And then I started doing it and I liked the feeling. I mean, there were nights where I didn’t like the feeling, but I chopped it up to like “well, I’m sure these bands had bad nights, you know?” 

Did you get that feeling right off the bat? Like, that first open mic, especially after you said “okay, even if I’m still working at a warehouse, I’m a stand up comic”?

Yeah! Because with so much of comedy, you can be a comic and still have a regular job. I remember my first open mic, I had a really good set, and then my second mic, I bombed my dick off. It was humiliating, but at the same time, I knew when I said “okay, I’ll try it again tomorrow,” that I could get over it. That actually made me feel more like a comic than having a good set.

Oh sure! Part of the honesty in comedy is the struggle.

Yeah! So I just thought that if I could bomb my dick off and then wake up tomorrow and go alright, we’ll try it again” I think that’s really what comedy is. Good sets are amazing, but it’s when you can survive a bad set. 

When did you get to the point where you could be a full-time comic and leave the rest of it behind? Was that once This Fool started? 

There is something about having a profession that pays you to just keep doing that that makes you feel validated. But also, at the same time, the idea that I was working a regular job at a warehouse and I was getting up every night and doing open mics and getting booked at bar shows or produced shows at clubs – even though I wasn’t a professional comedian, I still felt like a comedian. I was living that lifestyle. I might have a real job, but that’s okay.

People in punk bands have real jobs too, right?

Yeah! Absolutely. Just because somebody is a math teacher when they’re not touring doesn’t mean they’re not a musician. And that’s what standup felt like. It consumed my life. I was getting up every night and going out every night. But I also wanted to make sure I worked with a purpose. The thing about comedy is that it can give you a Peter Pan syndrome, which I’m assuming music can too, in that if you don’t take it seriously and you’re just enjoying the hang, before you know it, ten years have passed and you’re still just hanging out. You’re not really working towards anything. So even early on, I said to myself “have fun, but make sure you’re working. Make sure you’re putting in the work and writing new jokes and asking to be on shows, and when you’re on those shows, make it count. Try your best to do good so you can get on the next show and you can build more time. It was validating once I got the show, because I considered myself a writer – I always wanted to be a writer – and I was inspired by movies and TV and I wanted to make things. So getting to make the show felt like that next level, where I got to start making things. 

Was standup a mechanism to get in the door of the writing world? Was writing more the long-term goal?

A little bit. It was funny because I was trying to become a writer but I didn’t know a way in. And so when I wanted to do standup, somebody said “well, if you want to try standup, just do standup, because if someone sees you out, you might be valuable to them, because you can write and also do jokes. But then my life became so consumed with standup that I was just always working on standup, and I felt like it was informing my writing. It also had an immediacy to it. When you write a script, sometimes before you are comfortable enough to show it to a friend to give you notes, it might be a month or two. As opposed to with standup, you write something and you go up that night and try it and it’s immediate, whether it’s funny or it bombs. That immediacy to it, so I got into writing, and the habit of writing made me write scripts more, because I was always thinking about jokes and stories. It definitely informed my writing. 

Do you find it easier to write a joke that’s going to work well in a standup set versus to write a situation that’s going to be funny on a TV show? Are they two different things?

It comes from the same brain, but it’s a different thing, yeah. A joke lives in the moment. With a script, you have to get notes passed, and then sometimes something might get lost in translation. But it’s still fun.

We talked about of your musical keystone people, but who were they in comedy for you? Who are the people you looked up to, especially once you became a comic?

Oh man. Even before I got into comedy, there were comedians that I enjoyed listening to. Like Maria Bamford. She was a big one. 

She’s a riot!

Yeah, she’s great. Dave Attell was somebody I really liked. Colin Quinn. This guy named Patrice O’Neal

Rest in peace.

Yeah, rest in peace! He was from Boston. There was another guy named Greg Giraldo that I really liked.

Rest in peace as well. He was a big Clash fan too, I think.

Yeah! Yeah he was! People like that, people like Patton Oswalt, Felipe Esparza. They’re all people I enjoyed. It’s funny because they never really inspired me to do standup, because they were so funny that it was intimidating. What was really inspiring to me was going to open mics and seeing people who were still trying to figure it out. Because I was like “well, if they’re still figuring it out, it’s okay for me to go up there and try to figure it out.” But now, I feel so inspired not just by comedians who are older than me, but I feel inspired by my friends. People who I started with and who are still doing it and starting to get careers. I feel inspired by them and their minds and how they view the world and how they view the world. Like my friend Ramsey Badawi, my friend Opie, Bryan Vokey, Paige Weldon. All these people that I started with and we’ve been in the trenches for like ten years now, they’re exciting to watch. 

I think Frankie Quinones from your show is a riot!

Yeah, yeah, Frankie! That’s my buddy! I love Frankie. 

He is so funny. And so, one of the things that is really I guess special to me about This Fool is that most of my professional career was spent working in like correctional reentry settings, working with people on probation and parole and getting out of prison. That’s what I did for fifteen years or so. So part of the Hugs Not Thugs thing is near and dear to my heart. And most of my time was spent in a community that was overwhelmingly Latino. Lawrence, Massachusetts, is an old mill city, so it’s always been an immigrant city; it was French Canadian and then Irish and then Italian and then starting in the 70s Puerto Rican and more recently it’s majority Dominican. That’s where I worked and who I worked with for a long time, and Frankie’s character and the way he plays it on that show is pitch-perfect. It’s so spot-on. I know it’s a different side of the country and different cultures, but there’s a lot of overlap.

Yeah, it resonates! Truly. And that character is based off of my cousins. But also, what he brought to it was his own upbringing. Even though he wasn’t a gang member himself, he had family just like I did who came from that world, so he brought a lot of that to the role. He’s a guy who took me on the road with him years before we had the show. He saw me and he was like “come open up for me!” so I would open for him a lot. He’s a great friend. He’s hilarious.

To bring things full circle to punk rock, obviously one of the big things that everybody holds in the highest regard in the punk rock community is authenticity, and the whole idea of “what is punk rock” and selling out and all of that. Now, I think a lot of it is bullshit, but there is some validity to part of it, and I think that a punk rock thing that your show gets is the authenticity of the experience. Not playing those people as caricatures. Not using the neighborhood or the people as “the joke,” but portraying them in such an authentic way that’s still fun. 

That was such the goal. Showing the world and letting the world and the characters be. Don’t glorify them and don’t dehumanize them, just let them be.

That’s a tough needle to thread, I imagine. 

Yeah! Yeah, it was tough. It’s a tough needle to thread sometimes because it’s tough to write. I come from that world and I know what it’s like to not glorify it and not demonize it, to just let it be. It’s tricky, but (Frankie) did a good job of humanizing that character. Even the fact that I’m bigger than him is funny. (*both laugh*) The idea is that not all these guys are over six feet with tattoos on their faces. We always joke around that he brought not just a vulnerability but like a Joe Pesci kind of bravado to it.

Oh totally!

That’s the idea. To humanize it, and to not be didactic either. We’re not trying to change anybody’s minds, and not trying to justify anybody’s humanity. Just show the world as it is and as I know it, and let people make up their minds. Give the show heart without being saccharine. Without being corny or too sentimental. 

Do you get feedback from people in the old community about that? About how well you got the tone? Or are there people who were critical of it?

Yeah! There are people who were critical until they watched it. And I get that. If I thought something was about my experience, or close to my experience, or about where I grew up, I would come in with a sense of skepticism. But most people have been really nice. I’ve had people give me compliments and say “man, you really nailed down not just the culture, but the idea of working-class people, of that specific part of LA.” I’ve had Latino people and black people from that neighborhood tell me that they liked it. I think the goal is I always try to write something that resonates with working-class people, but also might resonate with academics, and doesn’t pander to either/or. And that also puts funny first. There are a lot of shows now that are comedies but they ride the line of being “dramedies.”They skew a little more dramatic than funny. Our idea was to ride the line of being incredibly funny but also telling real stories. We can make a show as funny as Workaholics or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but we can ground it in reality. 

That rooster story has to be real, right? It’s so absurd that it had to be real.

Oh yeah! Yeah! 

That’s what I kept thinking in watching that whole narrative arc, that “oh man, this is obviously a thing that happened.”

Yeah, that was a real story that happened to me a number of times throughout the years in whatever neighborhood I lived in. My black neighbors would complain about the Latino neighbors having roosters. That was a real thing. I remember when I took my friends who I created the show with out and drove around the neighborhood – because they’re not from there – and we passed by a house that had roosters and chickens out. And we’re in the city, right? It was a thing that really cracked them up. I was put in those situations where a neighbor would be like “you gotta talk to Don Emilio … that thing has to go!” (*both laugh*) That was totally based off a lot of real situations that happened. 

Now that you’ve seen a modicum of success with the show and you’ve been opened to a wider audience and had new experiences like getting to do Jimmy Kimmel and things on that level, and getting to meet whoever you’ve met since having the show…do you get more star struck in situations like that, or did you get more star struck about things like going to the Dischord House

Oh man…(*pauses*) going to the Dischord House. I went there and I was pretty awestruck in the sense that it just meant so much to me. Fugazi is one of my favorite bands, and they just meant the world to me. And also that label, and growing up and reading about that scene as a kid, and being into bands like Nation Of Ulysses and Slant 6 and those types of bands. But at the same time, I do get it like…so Michael Imperioli is on the show, and when I first met him and he came to set – I had only met him over Zoom – but when he first came to set, it was intimidating not necessarily in the sense that I was starstruck by his sense of fame, but I was intimidated by his talent. Because I’m not a seasoned actor by any means and he is, and I’m going to have to act alongside him. That was incredibly intimidating. 

Also a musician, though!

Yeah, also a musician, right!

Our good pal Jared runs the record label that put out Zopa’s record.

It’s Mount Crushmore, right?

Yeah, Mount Crushmore! Jerry is a friend of my wife and I. We have a little crew down there in New Jersey that we try to go visit and go to shows with a couple times a year. And for him to put out that record, for what it meant to that little crew, was super rad. 

That was super exciting. I love his band. 

Totally. And you don’t expect it from Christopher Moltisanti.

Right!

Although I have to confess – I have seen one episode of The Sopranos in my life. I never had HBO, and I also have a thing about not wanting to start a show when I’m so far behind – eight or ten seasons or whatever. It seems like so much work to get into. 

I understand that. But you should watch it. It’s one that you’ll enjoy because it’s actually a very funny show. And it’s a show that you’ll enjoy because if you watch a season, you can kinda take that season in…it’s serialized, but it’s not as serialized as other shows. Sometimes it’s slightly episodic. But yeah, getting to work with him, and then we had Bill Pullman on an episode. I wasn’t necessarily star-struck with him either, but I was intimidated by his talent. It was like “wow…this guy is a very talented actor who has been on his game for decades…” I do remember one time I got star-struck, and that’s when I saw Joe Strummer before he passed away. I saw him three times; one at the Hootenanny, which was a festival out here in southern California. It was mostly roots and rockabilly-type music, but on this one, they had Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros and they had X there, and maybe Chuck Berry played? It was pretty exciting. So, I saw Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros there, and then I also went to go see them at the Roxy, and then at the Tower Records they did a signing. I’ll never forget the tie I saw him at that outdoor festival. I was up front, and I yelled out “Janie Jones” and they went into it. Now, I don’t necessarily think they went into it because I yelled it out, but because I had been yelling it out, he looked over at me and pointed at me and winked and then they went into the song. I was starstruck by that. The Clash were so important to me as a band. Just the way they progressed. You can listen to them playing the most raw punk, like “1977,” “Janie Jones,” “White Riot,” “Cheat,” “Hate & War,” and then you can listen to them play songs like “Safe European Home” and “Tommy Gun” and then you can listen to them playing these amazing songs off of Sandinista! that sound nothing like the rest of them. And then came songs like “Know Your Rights” and “Car Jamming” and “Sean Flynn” that sound like nothing else. I just love how they progressed and I love their story. I always tell people “even their worst album is better than most peoples’ best albums.” Even if you don’t love Sandinista!, you have to love the story of it. The idea that they would put out three records for the price of one, and then they said “we went far on London Calling, let’s go even farther. Let’s name this album after a left-wing revolutionary militia in Nicaragua.” 

Exactly. Like, “in case you still didn’t know where we stood…” 

Yeah! Exactly! You don’t have to love all the sides of that album. It has its imperfections, but even the imperfections on that album are phenomenal. As an art and as a story, I loved it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Hause press photo by Jesse DeFlorio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Yes, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, good question!

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

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

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

Ziggy Stardust! 

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

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

Oh definitely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the album just says “Hause” on the cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or two of them. (*both laugh*)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right!

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Masefield and Dave Hause probably talking about cricket lollipops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh it definitely might be. Absolutely. 

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

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

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

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

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

Bearing Down” was certainly something to discuss. 

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

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

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

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

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

I played the mix for her. 

That probably makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing Us Home Festival – Year One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a very good way to put it. 

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

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DS Interview: Getting precise with Dan Precision (Dan Wleklinski)

Dan Wleklinski, aka “Dan Precision,” is one of the Chicago area punk scene’s top-level multi-hyphenates. As a musician, Wleklinksi was a founding member of 88 Fingers Louie; Rise Against; Soulscape; Break the Silence, and now The Iron Spiders.  He is also a prolific record producer. I recently spent a few hours documenting his production work, […]


Dan Wleklinski, aka “Dan Precision,” is one of the Chicago area punk scene’s top-level multi-hyphenates. As a musician, Wleklinksi was a founding member of 88 Fingers Louie; Rise Against; Soulscape; Break the Silence, and now The Iron Spiders.  He is also a prolific record producer. I recently spent a few hours documenting his production work, on the upcoming Bumsy and the Moochers record, at The Bombshelter Recording Studio. He founded the studio in the basement of his suburban childhood home in 1999. Later, in a wide-ranging interview, in which we discussed his work as a musician and as a producer, he recalled some of his wildest experiences, his love of road trips on his motorcycle, and more.


MerGold (Dying Scene)How did you get into music to start with? 

Dan Wleklinksi:  My parents had a very slight musical background, and my dad started to teach me some basic piano playing when I was around 5 years old. I started taking actual piano lessons at the age of 10, but I really wanted to play guitar. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have enough money to buy a guitar for me and said that I couldn’t take guitar lessons. I told them that I would quit piano out of spite if I couldn’t take guitar lessons, and being the little a**hole kid that I was, I quit piano a few days later. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done that because I would have been a much better and learned musician at this age. Luckily I started learning guitar at the age of 13.


Were there any shows or events you find particularly memorable?  Good or bad? 

The memorable events and shows are beyond count…both good and bad…like having 13 cop cars called on us in 2004 [in Fresno, CA when a member of Break The Silence] after we threatened a venue owner for not paying up. We were on tour with A Wilhelm Scream and Much the Same. Or in 1999, [with 88 Fingers Louie], almost fighting some Germans in Hamburg for accusing us of trashing their van. The dudes in At The Drive-In were going to back us up if that fight ever happened, but we got out of that one.

One of my favorite times was the weekend in 2014 [again, with 88 Fingers Louie] where we played Rock Fest in Montebello, Canada. There were so many cool bands that we shared the stage with, including Blink-182, Primus, Motley Crue, Megadeth, Danzig, Weezer, Cypress Hill, and so many more. Most of the bands stayed in the same 5-story hotel on the site of the festival, so we got to hang out and talk with so many cool musicians. We also had a view of several stages from our hotel rooms, so if we didn’t feel like going down, we could watch the bands from the comfort of our own rooms.


Favorite venues and events in Chicago; the same question for other locations?

I have played quite a few great venues in Chicago, including the Fireside Bowl, Bottom Lounge, The Metro, Livewire, House of Blues, and The Vic, but I’ve always loved playing Reggies.

There are many events that have been a blast to play, including Riot Fest in Chicago (we also played the Denver dates), Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas (and we played the New Jersey version as well), both Groezrock and Brakrock in Belgium, Music 4 Cancer and Rockfest in Canada, Rebellion Fest in the United Kingdom, and Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia.


How do you decide which projects, bands, or musicians with whom to work?

As a musician, I really enjoy working with other players who share the same long-term vision and talent. I’ve been lucky to have started bands such as 88 Fingers Louie, Rise Against, Break the Silence, Soulscape, and now The Iron Spiders. At this point in my life, if I were going to consider being in a professional band, they would need to be a touring band. One of the most difficult things to deal with is the fact that I have the freedom to tour while several bands I’ve been a part of have lost that ability over time.


How did you then get into producing records? What was your first record?

My first real band, 88 Fingers Louie, recorded multiple times starting in 1993 with the esteemed producer, Mass Giorgini, at his studio, Sonic Iguana in Lafayette, Indiana. We recorded a bunch of EPs and 2 full albums there, including “Behind Bars” and “Back on the Streets.” During the “Back on the Streets” sessions, Mass commented that I had a very good ear for music and asked if I wanted to learn how to be an audio engineer. I agreed. I started by comping vocal tracks on “Back on the Streets” so that was technically the first record I ever worked on.

I opened my studio, The Bombshelter Recording Studio, in 1999, and the first band I recorded was The Poonanies. The singer, Tony, went on to form Chicago’s very own, Shot Baker.


How do you decide which musicians to work with?  Are there parameters for which you will turn down bands or projects?

Typically, bands ask to work with me from word-of-mouth of past clients, or seeing my name in the credits of albums I’ve recorded. I feel that with the rise in streaming over the last decade, the latter has been increasingly difficult to achieve visibility. I believe Spotify recently has started showing recording/producing/mixing credits if you click on the release, but the bands still need to input that information.

Most bands are great with sharing the recording credits to streaming platforms, and I feel it’s in their best interest to do so. Not only could it possibly open up other avenues of listeners, but it also helps the engineers and producers get their names out to other musicians who might like their production. 

I don’t really turn down bands or projects. I’ve worked with bands who were 13 and 14 years old who were eager to learn. I’ve also worked with seasoned musicians in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s…and everything in between.

I have suggested bands to possibly go to a different producer if I feel we wouldn’t be a good fit. For example, I feel that bands and producers need to take time in the studio to make their recording the best it can be. If a band wants to record 10 songs in 2 days, I let them know that I don’t work that quickly as I believe the process and the quality suffers. 


How collaborative is the process? Do you want the bands to come in with specific ideas, or do you take the lead?

The recording process can be very collaborative, and that’s one of my favorite parts in producing bands. I enjoy when bands have specific ideas and together, we can combine all of our musical experience and hone each song. However, there are many times when the band would like me to take the lead, and I am happy to do so.

That can be a little more difficult when I work with a band for the first time, but luckily, I have a lot of repeat clients, and each subsequent time, the collaboration becomes easier and more fruitful. It really is a beautiful thing to be creative with other musicians who may have different musical styles and backgrounds.


Have you worked on some musician’s debut albums? As in the musician has never been in a studio? What is that experience like?

Yes, I’ve worked with a few bands’ with it being their first time in the studio. Typically, those are teenaged bands looking to cut their first EP. I’ve also worked with guest musicians who are singing backing vocals or playing an accompanying part on an established band’s recording. Sometimes they are young…like a band member’s son or daughter. Other times they are talented mothers and fathers of the band currently in the studio. Either way, it’s always an enjoyable experience as they leave having learned something. I think I’m a bit like my father, who was a great teacher. It’s an awesome feeling to have bands return and to see the progress they have achieved since their last recording with me.


Related to being a producer, what are the best parts of owning your own studio? Are there challenges you were not fully aware of before owning your own studio?

As you may have gathered from my earlier answers, I love being in the studio, working with musicians, and also mixing and mastering on my own…basically, I love the audio portion of running the business. One of the more difficult parts for me is the advertising aspect. While I’m proud of the work I do, and I enjoy promoting bands’ releases, I don’t really like “talking myself up.” When I first started, I think I was lucky because people heard about the Bombshelter through the bands I was in. Over the years, word-of-mouth from happy clients has helped me continue to do what I love…for 25 years! I’m still slightly shocked that the month of September 2024 will be the 25th anniversary of The Bombshelter Recording Studio. “Thank you” to all of my past and especially return clients who have helped me do what I love for so long!


 Last year you left the studio and the stages for a really cool reason. You embarked on a solo motorcycle road trip across part of the country, and brought your friends and fans with you via photos and video. How and when did you start riding?  What does riding do for you?

Although I started riding 30 years ago, my first solo motorcycle tour was in 2022.  Riding is usually very relaxing for me, and I believe the joy I experience on longer tours are an extension of my time touring with bands. There are so many memorable moments I’ve experienced the last few years, like riding the “Million Dollar Highway” in Colorado and through the “Needles Eye Tunnel” in South Dakota.


What was the journey like? Were there any particularly memorable moments good or bad? Any hair-raising moments? 

I ask that last question recalling some of my own hair-raising moments riding in vans through Southeast Asia, and buses when I lived in Guatemala. Some of those steeply curved mountainsides were pretty scary. I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking it might be on a motorcycle. 

I try not to think back too much on the “bad” or “hair-raising” moments like when animals jump in front of you, or trying to stay awake during the last hour of your Saddlesore 1000 (traveling 1000 miles in under 24 hours).  However, I will always remember last year’s 10-hour ride from Fort Collins to Montrose, Colorado over Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. It was both hair-raising and memorable to cross the highest point of 12,183 feet in 34 degree (1 degree Celsius) weather with snow on the sides of the road. Luckily the roads were mostly clear of snow and ice due to the warmth of the rising sun.

One of the more difficult things when touring in a band is having the time to enjoy the cities, environments, and scenery along the way. I get to enjoy all of those things while on my motorcycle trips. It is a goal of mine to combine both touring in a band while riding a motorcycle. The late Neil Peart wrote about his time doing that exact thing on several Rush tours, and it sounds heavenly to me!


Wleklinski is one of the most genuine, humble, and all-around nicest people I’ve met, not just in the punk scene, but anywhere.  And of course, he has one of the best heads of hair in this scene as well.  His long silver mane makes for some amazing on-stage images as he rocks it all over the place.  

Those of us photographers who have had the pleasure to shoot him in concert will rue the day he ever decides to cut it off.  However, that’s one move I don’t see Wleklinski making. 

I do look forward to the future moves he makes in music, in record producing, as well as documenting further two-wheel adventures.

Thanks Dan, safe travels on your next road trip, and cheers!


Road trip images courtesy of Dan Wleklinski. All other photography by MGold for Dying Scene.

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DS Interview: Jason White on reissuing Pinhead Gunpowder’s catalog on 1-2-3-4 Go! Records…and what’s coming next!

In addition to continuing to make music and regularly tour all corners of the globe as one of the bands that helped propel punk rock into the stratosphere three decades ago, one of the more unique and, frankly, impressive things about the Green Day camp has been their simultaneous maintenance of a seemingly unlimited network […]

In addition to continuing to make music and regularly tour all corners of the globe as one of the bands that helped propel punk rock into the stratosphere three decades ago, one of the more unique and, frankly, impressive things about the Green Day camp has been their simultaneous maintenance of a seemingly unlimited network of side projects featuring some – if not all – of the band’s core members (Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, obviously) and a cast supporting cast of friends and musicians. A quick and probably incomplete synopsis of all of the band members’ projects reads as less of a Green Day “family tree” and more like a Green Day “family wreath”: Armstrong and Dirnt and Cool appear alongside longtime “fifth Beatle” guitarist and collaborator Jason White, longtime touring guitarist Kevin Preston and longtime jack-of-all-trades Jason Freese in Foxboro Hot Tubs. Armstrong and Dirnt and White and longtime Green Day crew member Bill Schnieder and American Idiot/21st Century Breakdown/Uno!/Dos!/Tre!/Revolution Radio/Father Of All... engineer/producer Chris Dugan in The Coverups. Armstrong and Preston are joined by Jeff Matika and David Field in The Longshot. Armstrong and Cool and Dirnt and White definitely do not appear together in The Network. White and Schnieder and Schnieder’s brother Greg and Johnnie Wentz and Willie Samuels had The Influents up and running for a bit there too.

Perhaps the oldest of these projects – and undoubtedly one of the coolest – is Pinhead Gunpowder, a band that traces its roots back to the early 90s. The Berkeley-based iteration of the band featured Armstrong and Schnieder and Sarah Kirsch teaming up with the creative force that was former Crimpshrine drummer (and occasional Green Day roadie) Aaron Cometbus. The band played sporadically and recorded a couple EPs and a handful of tracks for various compilations and they all got combined on a quasi-full-length called Jump Salty that became one of the coolest records of 1994. It was released a few months after Green Day’s genre-defining Dookie, and yet, because it came out on Lookout Records instead of a major label, ownership of Jump Salty in your collection felt like a ticket to an exclusive club. While the masses were listening to (and buying, because it was a different time) Dookie and Smash and a smaller but still substantial group of people went as far as listening to Stranger Than Fiction and Punk In Drublic and Let’s Go!, listening to albums like Jump Salty felt like you were part of the cool punk rock kids club, whatever that even means at this point. 

Kirsch would leave Pinhead Gunpowder during that ground-breaking year but the band wouldn’t have to look far to find a replacement. Enter the aforementioned Jason White. The Arkansas transplant had been friendly with the band’s members for years, having befriended Armstrong after an ill-fated Green Day tour stop in Memphis earlier in the decade. Upon relocating to the Bay Area, he also joined Schneider as a member of East Bay pop punk band Monsula until that act disbanded in 1993. The Pinhead quartet of Cometbus, Armstrong, Schneider and White would put out another handful of EPs and compilations and, in 1997, their first-and-only full-length, Goodbye Ellston Avenue, all in a sound that remained true to the band’s East Bay, “Gilman Street” style and sound. (White, as you probably know by now, joined the Green Day ranks on the Warning tour in 1999 to fill out the live sound, making this his twenty-fifth year at stage right.) The band put out their last new material, the West Side Highway EP in 2008 and played their last show to date at 924 Gilman Street in 2010. They never really officially disbanded as much as they just focused on other projects: White and Armstrong and Schneider on the Green Day Family Wreath and Cometbus primarily on his writing and his consortium of independent bookstores in New York City

There was an ill-fated attempt at reissuing all of the Pinhead Gunpowder material in 2010 under the same record label, Recess Records in this case. (Earlier versions of their works appeared on Recess and Lookout Records and Adeline Records and Too Many Records and maybe a couple of others whose names escape me.) After laying dormant for the better (worse?) part of a decade, the project found itself resurrected a couple years back. Beginning two years ago this week, the band announced plans to team with Oakland’s own Steve Stevenson and 1-2-3-4 Go! Records to reissue their entire catalog in five two-part installments. Like everyone, the team behind the reissues ran into supply chain issues and vinyl production delays (thanks Adele!?!) but the close of 2022 brought with it the rerelease of Compulsive Disclosure and West Side Highway, marking the completion of the project, and meaning that for the first time, the band’s entire discography lives under the same roof. 

Yours truly had the distinct honor and privilege of catching up with the one-and-only Jason White to look back on the process of revisiting and reissuing the Pinhead Gunpowder catalog. As per usual when we conduct an interview on these pages, the conversation tended to meander in a lot of the best possible ways, covering ground that includes but is not limited to: meeting Pete Townshend; revisiting early Pinhead material after Kirsch’s 2012 death; White’s personal place in the annals of punk history; the neverending changes in the musical spectrum; the Little Rock, Arkansas, music scene; going to high school with Ben Nichols; 1-2-3-4 Go!’s importance to the East Bay arts and cultural landscape; and so much more. Scroll down to keep reading!

Green Day at Fenway Photo Credit: Brittany Rose Queen

Surprisingly, the following Q&A has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): First and foremost, thanks for doing this. When I saw that the email came in saying “do you want to talk to Jason White from Pinhead Gunpowder and Green Day?” I thought it was a joke. (*both laugh*) Then I realized it was from Chris Hnat – shoutout to Chris – but I’ve been a fan of yours for a long long time, so this is a really cool thing, one of those bucket list items to check off. So thanks!

Jason White: Cool! Cool! Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. 

I was talking to a couple of the guys who help run Dying Scene the other night, and we talked A) about how good the reissues have come out. One of our guys – Dylan – is real big on tracking a lot of the vinyl reissues and different variants of things that come out, and he was super stoked about them. And we were also talking about B) how cool it is that, at least for me and where I grew up, Pinhead Gunpowder was kind of like a secret handshake band. Like, a few of us kids were listening to punk rock before ‘94, listening to Bad Religion and Fugazi and especially the Lookout Records bands. And then ‘94 happened and so everybody liked Green Day, and we did too, but Pinhead Gunpowder was like the “secret handshake, oh you don’t just listen to Green Day, you listen to punk rock” band. 

A little more under-the-radar, yeah, I hear you. It felt like it was a little more underground and you had to dig it up.

Yeah and you felt like you were part of something, and like you knew more. It felt like a special thing. Anyway, I know we’re sort of at the end of the reissue cycle for the Pinhead records, so it can be kind of tough to figure out where to sort of start and how the story will go, but I wanted to actually talk about 1-2-3-4 Go! Records for a little bit, because that seems like a really cool place. For people outside the Bay Area, and I’m certainly one of them, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records isn’t just a cool underground label, it’s a record store as well. 

Yeah, and it actually had two locations for a bit. (Owner Steve Stevenson) had one in San Francisco as well. But yeah, it started in Oakland, and I believe he’s had it over ten years now. It might even go back fifteen. He started off on 40th (Street), between Telegraph and Broadway in Oakland, which used to be a little bit of a dead zone. He wanted to start a store, so he rented what essentially was a closet of a place. I always said that if there were three people in the place, it was crowded. (*both laugh*) He just had a few racks of records and it was just him in the back. We were just excited to have this new store, and it was small, and we were used to the only stores that stuck around were of course Amoeba Records and then one called Rasputin. They’re both great; Amoeba I kind of prefer. But anyway, it was kind of the start of having a small record store again. Now there’s several around, but he started in that closet of a place, then he ended up moving next door because he was doing well enough and he needed the space, obviously. Then he ended up across the street, where he is now. Then he expanded into the room next door too, so he’s occupying two retail spaces. It’s great; it’s awesome, and before Covid, he was having shows in the back. There was a stage, and he was having art shows and events, and it’s kind of turned into a whole crazy thing in addition to the label that he started with. 

It seems like it’s sort of a hub, and a lot of scenes don’t really have that kind of space anymore. I live just north of Boston and so I’m tangentially tied to the Boston scene, which is much different than it used to be. But we don’t have a lot of those sorts of places in the immediate area anymore; everything has sort of been gentrified out, so it’s cool that that sort of thing exists and seems to be thriving. 

Yeah! I’m just shocked that he did as well as he did because when he started talking about opening a little store, I was like “well, he’s got little overhead in that space,” and I’d worked at record stores in the past so I kinda knew how it worked. But then the vinyl – I don’t know if I’d call it a resurgence, but it became a thing again, right? So he kinda rode that wave and it’s still a thing – I don’t know if it’s peaking or not, but it seems like it’s still a thing.

It seems like it’s been peaking every year for the last decade. 

Yeah, and it keeps climbing up, and with Record Store Day and all this craziness. It’s great. 

It’s almost turned in the other direction with Record Store Day now, but that’s probably a different conversation for a different time.

Right, that’s the one day to not go to the record store! (*both laugh*)

I used to love it, man. I used to love standing in line in front of the record store, but then it turned into having to stand in line in the mall, because the major record stores around here all moved into the mall, which is a weird thing because malls are dying around the country, yet that’s where our Newbury Comics moved to. 

I was going to say, yeah, I remember the Newbury Comics stores. 

They’re still alright, and the one on Newbury Street is next door to where it used to be – and smaller than it used to be – so I appreciate the 1 2 3 4 Go! Records has expanded a few times, and the original Newbury Comics is not only much smaller but most of it isn’t music anymore. It’s kitschy things and Pop dolls…

Yeah, t-shirts and posters. I went into that (Newbury Street) location within the last five years when we were on tour, and I peeked in and yeah, it didn’t seem like there were many records anymore, it was more paraphernalia. 

They had standalone locations in suburbia, where I am, but they’ve all moved into malls now. So to have to go into the mall to buy records now, it’s like things went full circle a second time… Anyway, so I know that Recess Records had reissued the Pinhead records years ago, and that’s a whole other thing, but when did the idea to reissue them for real under 1 2 3 4 Go! Records come about? Was that during Covid?

It was before that, because I think it had just been long enough where we felt like we could talk about it or address it again. The Recess thing kinda just didn’t work, and we were like “well, it seems like everything’s a little bit hard to find, a lot of it is out of print at this point, and we kind of need to do something besides just having the records that are already out there and then having everything on streaming services.” And it was really easy – a no-brainer, really – because Steve is local, he’s right down the street, he’s a friend, we see him all the time, and he said he’d love to do it. And he said we could do it in these phases, so that it wasn’t just ten records at one time and everything gets lost in the shuffle. 

I was going to ask where that idea came from, because that was really neat to do basically five two-episode installments. 

I think it became like a 7-inch and an LP at the same time, and then a shirt. And we had never done shirts, so I was kind of more excited about that than anything! (*both laugh*) I do think that financially, it would have been hard to pay for everything right away, so it became “put phase one out, and then as money starts coming in you can pay for phase two” and so on. And that way it would keep things on people’s radar, like “oh, a new Pinhead thing will be out every six months” or whatever it was. It seemed like an okay idea. We wanted to kind of do what we tried to do with Recess, which is to have one home for everything so we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s all under one rough and it’s easy to manage. That was the thought behind it really. 

And this is the first time it’s really been under one roof. I guess it sort of was for Recess, but that didn’t work out. 

Yeah, that’s true. Everything came out on different labels.

Did that mean buying rights back or anything? How involved was that process?

No, Pinhead always owned everything. That was not an issue, really. 

They’re not necessarily remastered or remixed or anything; was there talk of doing that as well?

For the Recess thing, I might be wrong, but when we were moving forward with it, we kinda did remaster everything, so everything was kinda done. This is actually kind of a funny story, but I think we had mastered it for CD maybe at that time, so everything had kinda been done, and we were like “well, let’s listen to it and if everything is fine we don’t have to do anything to it.” We ended up having to redo a few things for vinyl, and the mastering person we used – I worked at Adeline Records years ago when Pinhead did the records there, and this guy Ken Lee, who was in Oakland at the time, he’s still working and mastering stuff, but he had moved, and unbeknownst to me, he lives five houses down from me, on the same side of the street. 

(*both laugh*) That’s pretty wild!

Yeah, it’s really strange! Bill had to come to my house to pick something up, because I had some of the original source material maybe, and he was here and he was like “well, Ken Lee is actually in El Cerrito now” – which is where I live – “and he’s actually on this street” and I’m like “that’s my street” and we looked at the address and I was like “that’s that house right over there.” It ended up being an even smaller world than it already was. 

That’s really bizarre, yeah.

It made things really easy to get him materials. So I became in charge of that.

So you’re ultimately happy obviously with how everything came out? Like I said, our record radar guru, Dylan, was saying they came out awesome, and he’s pretty discerning about that stuff. 

In terms of sound quality, it was a little hard to approve the test pressings, because I kept A/B-ing stuff, and when we first started, I was like “I don’t know if it’s as good as the original.” And you had to consider how things used to be mastered twenty or thirty years ago versus how they’re mastered now, or how hot they make (the vinyl) now. Initially, I didn’t think it was hot enough, but then they sorta don’t do that anymore because you end up with records that skip and all kinds of things like that. And they sounded fine, I just had to maybe turn it up a little louder than the old version. But it didn’t distort or anything like that, so yeah, I was happy that it all came out great. And Aaron is very detailed. He does all the art, and everything I thought came out awesome. And Steve worked with him and other people and they got it done. They came out great. 

Did you run into any of the almost comically long vinyl production issues that people were running into during Covid? Because I feel like the originally-scheduled end of this project was like nine months ago or something like that?

Yeah, we did, all over the place. I think as early as Phase Two, we were like “well, it’s going to take a little longer.” (*both laugh*) Anybody who’s making records now knows that it takes forever. You’re on a waiting list and it’s just a mess. We definitely ran into some of that. He gets them pressed in England somewhere, so we didn’t run into a lot of the usual stuff for the US plants that I’ve heard about. United in Tennessee is very backed up, I think. And honestly, I don’t even know what’s left down in LA from when I used to work at labels and stuff.

I don’t know either, but there aren’t many in my very limited understanding of it.

There used to be a ton but they all pretty much went out of business. Now I think there’s a bunch of new ones, I’m just not familiar with them.

I don’t know of any new ones, truthfully, but then being tied to the punk rock world, I feel like so much stuff gets produced in the Czech Republic by Pirates Press.

I have heard that too. And I have friends with smaller labels that’ll press stuff at a small place in Chicago, and then there’s one in Australia that’ll do like one-offs of like 50 or something.

That’s gotta cost a fortune. 

It does, but if you’ve got somebody that has a record that’s not going to sell a ton, you’ve got a cool artifact. It might cost six bucks a 7-inch or whatever, but it seemed worth it, I guess. 

It didn’t really dawn on me before, but the last new Pinhead Gunpowder stuff is like fifteen years old now. I think West Side Highway was ‘08. 

Yeah, that sounds about right. Going back and listening to everything, the way we did it, since we did the phases, I started with the oldest stuff first and got to the most recent stuff at the end, so it was like riding the arc again. Listening to the first record, I was a fan of the band before I was in it. And (Sarah) Kirsch, who was in the band before, has passed on, so it was sentimental to hear that stuff, because I hadn’t listened to it in so long. But everything made me happy to listen to, still. Some stuff stuck out to me that used to not.

Did all four of you relisten to everything and, like you said, A/B stuff for the project? 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. And then some of it got a little confusing in the later stuff because we were like “wait, what record was that on? Or wait, we put out live versions of stuff? I don’t remember that…” We had some stuff from KALX, a radio station here in Berkeley, that I didn’t remember at all. I mean, I remembered doing it, but I didn’t remember it being released on anything. It was cool to listen to the different phases, and to listen to it as “a release.” I guess I always thought of it as “we got together and wrote some songs,” and we had bits and pieces we would either leave behind and then pick up later, or whatever. But it was cool to think about it as a release. So when I hear Shoot The Moon, I think “oh, this one’s a little more loose.” But then …Ellston Avenue was tight and well-recorded or whatever. And the other stuff had its own sort of personality. That was the most interesting part about going back to it. 

I know Aaron wrote a lot of the material for Pinhead, but when you guys came together to record, was it like banging it out in a couple days, or were there longer recording sessions? 

It kinda varied on each record, but most of the time it was “okay, we have this two weeks to put everything together, so let’s hammer out the songs, practice as much as we can, and then go record them.” Sometimes we’d change stuff, especially vocals. You hear clearer when you’re in the studio and you can make a few decisions there. So usually, it was like “this is the allotted time for the project,” and we’d hash it out in two weeks most of the time. Ellston Avenue took a little bit longer, because it was our only attempt at doing an LP’s worth of stuff at one time. Usually it was five or six songs or whatever.  

Ellston Avenue is a tight-sounding record, and a big-sounding record as Pinhead records go. Was there ever talk of making it more of a stand-alone thing, and taking it on the road more? I mean, it was always going to be at least number two to Green Day obviously, but the band never went out on the road an awful lot. Was there ever talk amongst you four about doing it as a bigger “thing,” or would that have been almost impossible given how big Green Day was?

Yeah, I think, in my mind, it was always going to be a project that we could do when everybody had time. Obviously, Green Day stayed busy all through the years, so most of the time we’d be like “we just wanna write some songs together, record some stuff, go play a few shows.” We’d done a couple of mini-tours here and there, like we went up to the Pacific Northwest, to Seattle and back years ago. We went to LA at one point and kinda played around there. It was never really “let’s put the push behind this one and tour it” and all that stuff. It was always just sort of a meeting of the minds or whatever.

But they’re such fun records! And I say this knowing that I live 3,000 miles away and would have never had the chance to see the band anyway, but I feel like that’s stuff that people would enjoy hearing live. Do you miss playing some of those songs live, even semi-regularly?

Oh yeah! I mean whenever we got together to play shows, which was more often than we recorded…I mean, Pinhead is super fun to play live with because it has its own feeling and setting and tempos and energy. It was great, I loved it and hopefully we will do it again soon. 

Well that was certainly going to be a question, but now that the revisit has wrapped up, does that stoke the fires amongst any of you to play some shows for the first time in ten or fifteen years or whatever it is?

Yeah, I think if all the stars align soon…we’ve been talking about it for the last couple years, even before we were doing the rereleases, like, if Aaron came into town – the rest of us all live here in the Bay Area – we would get together and just jam at the practice space and play these songs randomly, it was always super fun, but it would always be like “oh, we should play a show…but I’ve gotta leave by Tuesday” or whatever. So it didn’t end up working out, but hopefully we’re going to do it soon!

Where does Aaron live? I always just picture him in the Bay Area. 

He’s in New York! He’s been there for a while now, and he’s doing great out there. He’s the owner of a collective that has bookstores out there. They’re really cool. He’s doing great out there. 

Is that why the rest of you did other projects – The CoverUps, Foxboro Hot Tubs, The Longshot…not The Network, obviously…so with Aaron 3000 miles away, let’s work on some other projects?

Yeah, like “we’re around…what else can we do?”

I’ve always appreciated that about that whole Green Day crew. That it didn’t stay just Green Day, that you did all these other projects that were creative and under different names and done independently, and more traditional to what I think we envision the whole East Bay scene to represent.

That’s how Bill Schnieder and I ended up doing The Influents+, the band that we had for a little while. I’d come back to town – I was out of town for a couple years and I came back to do Shoot The Moon, and then once we finished that, I just stayed here. We were like “well, what should we do now?” That phase of Pinhead was done and everyone kinda went their own ways, and I was like “well, I’ve got a few songs” and he was like “well, my brother’s got a few songs, let’s start another band.” It was just kind of the natural progression of things.

Did you go back to Little Rock in between?

I did, I went home to Arkansas for a couple years, between ‘96 and ‘98. I went back to play with some friends in a band called The Big Cats, and we gave it a shot for a minute, and then my dad became ill and I stayed behind to help take care of him. Then I came back here and stayed. 

We talked earlier about the scene that is the Bay Area, and related to that, Little Rock had a pretty cool scene of its own. If people don’t know about Little Rock, Towncraft is such a great movie.

Oh you know of it!

Yeah, I’ve watched it a couple times! I think I stumbled upon it on Amazon one day, and I would watch almost exclusively either live sports or music documentaries, but this was so well done, and it throws back to that underground scene. I knew nothing of the Little Rock scene aside from that you’re from there and Ben Nichols is from there.

Right! Yeah, I went to high school with Ben. He’s great. We had art together; I think I was one year older than him…maybe we were in the same grade, it’s tough to remember. But I knew him. He was in bands obviously and so we were in the same scene. 

It’s such a great snapshot of a scene that I’m not sure exists in too many places anymore. That sort of real, underground, junior high and high school kids starting their own scene and then it becomes this beautiful, a little bit incestuous, sort of thing. I don’t know of many places where that sort of thing exists in this country anymore.

I know, it’s tough to tell. I think there probably are, I just don’t know about them. But not in the same way, especially because of the way we consume things or look things up or find out about them, that part has completely changed, so I don’t know if it is even possible. It was a special time, I think. That was my friend Richard Matson who made that documentary about that time. A lot of cool things came out of that scene. I was stoked to find those people when I did. 

I had known of Red 40 a little bit – posthumously, of course…I don’t think their influence really made it to New Hampshire where I grew up, necessarily. But I think it was through watching that documentary that I realized “oh wait, that’s Colin from Samiam!” I obviously knew him as playing drums for Samiam but he was the guitar player from Red 40…

It’s funny because Colin is the oldest friend that I have.

Amazing drummer too, by the way.

He’s the best. I’m so glad that he gets recognition through Samiam, because he’s incredible. We were in our earliest bands together. He was the first person I ever played music with. He co-wrote a couple of the Pinhead things that I did. But about the Red 40 thing…Colin was always known as a drummer, because he’s incredible. Everybody wanted him in their band. But Ben wanted to kinda do this new project, he wanted to start a new band, but it seemed like everyone was already in another band, and so in order not to pinch from other bands, he asked Colin to switch roles and play guitar, and then the guitar player in Colin’s band at the time, Substance, this guy Steve Kooms, switched roles and he played drums. Steve was a pretty good drummer, Colin was a pretty good guitar player, and Ben just wanted to do something different, you know? So he wrote these songs and they ended up recording them almost off-the-cuff. Now I think it’s one of the best-known things out of Little Rock, at least from that scene. 

I haven’t seen it happen at Lucero shows, but when you go see Ben solo, like, we drove down to New Jersey a couple weeks ago because he does a one-off every year in Jersey, of all places, at a place called Crossroads, and it’s awesome, and people always yell for Red 40 songs. They clearly only know them from the Lucero connection, the same way I do, but people always yell out Red 40 songs and it’s kind of a cool thing. It’s gotta be cool for him.

Does he ever end up playing some?

He does sometimes. He didn’t last time, but sometimes he’s got one worked up and it depends how the whiskey is flowing by the middle of the night. (*both laugh*) But yeah, I really dig that documentary and sort of like I was saying at the beginning, we had like six kids who listened to punk rock. In New Hampshire, we had little pockets of kids here and there around the state who were into the music, but not enough to probably qualify as a scene, necessarily, but I think we all looked at the Bay Area, the Easy Bay especially, as a special thing, because it wasn’t LA, it wasn’t New York and the hardcore scene – frankly, it wasn’t the Boston hardcore scene which was never really my thing anyway, we all kinda gravitated toward the Bay Area scene and that became the music that we listened to. But to know that there were other places where there were these people just a little older than us and putting these organic little scenes together, it was wonderful. People should watch it. I don’t even know where you can get it now. 

Yeah, I don’t know? I think it’s probably on Amazon.

Thanks for doing this. It’s been really cool to follow the Pinhead reissues and to have Pinhead Gunpowder sort of trending on a lot of the punk rock social media pages and record websites. To have that stuff trending again is pretty cool.

Yeah, I agree. I used to sort of be of the mindset of “oh, why reissue everything? Everyone that wants those records already has them, or they can get them if they look hard enough.” But I’m stupid and I forget that younger people might just be getting into it now and will be like “well, I want that, how do I get it?” I’m just dumb enough that I never considered that. But I’m very happy that it’s all out there and available and if anyone is getting hip to it now, that’s awesome. 

I forget who I heard talk about a similar thing…Jack White, maybe…but about how stuff shouldn’t be out of print. Obviously he’s got his own label and his own printing press and all that, but I think it was him saying that music should be accessible and available. That people are always finding out about music and they should be able to go out and buy it.

Yeah, there’s value in that. I see that now. I used to feel like “well, we made enough.” I figured nobody else was going to want it. I forget that I’m getting old (*both laugh*) and that younger generations might be interested. 

I’ve got a fifteen-year-old, and there are kids in high school that are starting to listen to that era of punk rock now, and that didn’t happen really through middle school. There are kids who listen to and love Green Day, and to me, that’s awesome, and it’s really awesome that they’re falling in love with the same band that we did thirty years ago. 

Yeah. Everyone has their own entry point, at whatever age they might be at whatever time, and it’s really neat to see how it all works out.  

Do you ever think about where you fit into that whole thing? And maybe that’s a weird thing to even think about, or a super ego-y thing to think about. 

Gosh, no, not really. A little bit as recently as last night. We played a Coverups show last night out in this suburb called Walnut Creek, and I said goodbye to my kids and I started driving to go play the show, and I was thinking “well, I’ve pretty much been doing this same thing for thirty plus years…is it weird? No, because it just seems normal. But I think of so many people that I’ve known over the years don’t do it anymore or whatever, so I’m like, well, this is what I set out to do. I just wanted to play music and be in bands and it worked out somehow, you know?” I still always look up to the people who came before me, probably way too much.

(*both laugh*) Yeah, I think we all do.

I think I’m still trying to maybe impress them, you know? That’s still on my mind.

Do you have a running list of people that you’ve looked up to and been able to meet that you check off? Like The Stones and people like that?

There’s a few, yeah. That list grows all the time. Sometimes I’m a little shy about it these days, because essentially I’m like “well, I’m just bothering this person.” I’ll say a quick thank you, I appreciate what you’re doing. 

I feel like as a guitar player, you can talk to guitar players …

Yeah, you can talk a little shop. There’s a guitar player that’s younger than me that I approached and just made a fool of myself. I was like “you’re my favorite guitar player on the planet” and he just sort of was really embarrassed for me, I think. It was Paul Maroon of The Walkmen. And I just think he’s incredible. But then it goes both ways. I got the opportunity to talk to Pete Townshend a couple months ago, because we played a charity event with them, and I just got like a quick 30 seconds to a minute to say “Hi Pete, how ya doing? Do you remember me?” I didn’t really want to bother him, he didn’t really want to be bothered, so it was a cool exchange and that was fine! 

And now I can say I talked to a guy who talked to Pete Townshend! I’ve actually talked to a couple and it’s wild to me that I have even that connection. 

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DS Interview: River Shook (Sarah Shook and the Disarmers) on their new genre-bending project Mightmare’s debut album, “Cruel Liars”

Remember back at the beginning of the pandemic when we all found ourselves with an overwhelming amount of unexpected free time and we told ourselves that we were going to be productive and work on ourselves and maybe pick up a new hobby? River Shook (who still performs as Sarah professionally and uses they/them pronouns) […]

Remember back at the beginning of the pandemic when we all found ourselves with an overwhelming amount of unexpected free time and we told ourselves that we were going to be productive and work on ourselves and maybe pick up a new hobby? River Shook (who still performs as Sarah professionally and uses they/them pronouns) is one of the small percentage of the population who actually made good on those vows. They had been fresh off yet another busy year of touring with their main project, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, when the world shut down for all intents and purposes. Instead of resting on their laurels or rearranging the pantry 37 times or whatever other mindless pursuits some of us undertook to pass the time, Shook stayed busy writing and recording. But this wasn’t their traditional writing and recording; Sarah Shook and the Disarmers’ most recent full-length, Nightroamer, was released in February of this year on Thirty Tigers but the recording process wrapped right before the world shut down.

Shook has been writing songs for a long time and while most of us are familiar with their work primarily with the Disarmers, there’s always been an “other” pile; songs that were solid and complete and yet didn’t quite fit the Disarmers’ rabble-rousing alt-country mold. A couple of those “other” songs found their way onto Nightroamer, albeit in reworked fashion. “When we went in for our last rehearsal before we went into the studio to record Nightroamer,” Shook explains, “we hammered out arrangements and got them record-ready, and we ended up putting two songs (“I Got This” and “Been Lovin’ You”) on the record that were not intended to be Disarmers songs.”

Initially, Shook’s plan was to turn some more of the “other” tracks into more polished songs. As Shook tells it, that plan changed…and for the better. “I had a few in the works and at some point, I realized that if I changed a couple things and improved my methods in a few different ways, I could hypothetically make an entire album.” In addition to their normal role as guitar player and vocalist, Shook took to programming drums and beats and samples on their new material, with the newfound goal of keeping the material for themselves. “I sort of changed my perspective as far as being a little bit more serious and treating it more like a job instead of just something to pass the time,” Shook explains. “I have a tendency to hyperfocus, so I would wake up in the morning, make coffee, and start working, start building tracks. One of the things that I had the most fun with on that project is how many layers there are on every song. And being able to orchestrate that myself and not being accountable to anyone else, it was just me and my brain and our relationship working together to make this record happen.”

The project quickly picked up steam as Shook realized the extent of their home recording capabilities. “Realizing that (recording quality-sounding audio from their North Carolina home) was an option and knowing that I had maybe $1200 for my entire budget for the album,” Shook expounds, “I told myself that if I did absolutely everything that I could possibly do on my own, and then use all of that money to hire Ian Schreier to mix it and Brent Lambert from Kitchen Mastering to master it.” The latter point meant reuniting with the team that put the finishing touches on the Disarmers’ first two studio albums, Sidelong and Years. It was sort of an ‘if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it’ decision, and one that they were empowered to make completely on their own. “One of the things that I love most about (this project) is that I’m not accountable to anybody. It’s all me. On one hand, it’s very liberating, and on the other hand, it’s intense, because I had to start a small business, and all of this stuff is new for me.”

The end result of those writing sessions was Mightmare. It’s a new project; stylistically, lyrically, all of the above. It’s elicited labels like “dark pop” or “sludge rock” or “brooding rock” and it’s most definitely loosely defined as ‘indie rock’ and it’s definitely a radical stylistic departure from the Disarmers and especially from River’s prior project, Sarah Shook and the Devil. And so when it came time to find a label to release the Mightmare project on, it meant looking outside the normal alt-country channels. “Kill Rock Stars was my number-one pick,” states Shook rather emphatically. If you’re going to release an indie rock album, there probably aren’t many better options, as the iconic has been home to some iconic records by the likes of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and The Decemberists and Mary Lou Lord.

Oh, and of course Elliott Smith, Shook’s own personal introduction to the label. “I was maybe seventeen or eighteen and a coworker at the Wegmans in Geneva, New York loaned me an Elliott Smith CD, and this was, mind you, probably the fourth or fifth CD I ever listened to that wasn’t Christian music,” she notes. Shook’s strict religious upbringing has been covered in depth in other sources (like our chat earlier this year surrounding the release of Nightroamer – check it out here), but suffice it to say that Smith’s voice and lyrics and the label’s logo served as keystone moments in the building of what became their musical foundation. “I remember seeing the Kill Rock Stars logo on the CD or on the back jacket, and that’s a name that just sticks with you. When I gave the CD back to my friend, I thanked him profusely and said “if you have any more material from this person…this is what I want to be listening to!’.”

After some initial back-and-forth, Kill Rock Stars was on board, and the album, entitled Cruel Liars, had a release date of October 14th. Next came the task of booking some record release shows. There’s one small caveat that should be fairly apparent: “I talked to my booking agent Chris Rusk, and I was just like “it’s coming out on October 14th, and we need to do like a two-week tour around it,” and Chris was like “who’s ‘we’…you don’t have a band?!?” It’s here that we remind you that save for a few bass tracks recorded by Aaron Oliva, Shook performed and recorded all of the music on Cruel Liars on their own…meaning there wasn’t exactly a “band” to take on the road. They continue: “I was like “you worry about booking the tour, I’ll worry about putting the band together. I’ve never let you down, I will have something, it’ll be awesome, I’ll make you proud!

The rounding out of the band that became Mightmare was done during small breaks between Disarmers tour runs. Real small breaks. The first call wasn’t exactly a long-distance one; it was to none other than newer Disarmers guitar player Blake Tallent. Shook’s longtime North Carolina scene veteran friend Ash Lopez joined on bass, and after auditioning some less-than-ideal candidates for drummer, along came Ethan Standard, who was previously unknown to Shook but had played with Tallent in previous projects from time to time. What followed was a crash-course in all things Mightmare as the band prepared to head out on a two-week tour that was not only its first headlining tour, but its first-ever shows. 

Basically, the Disarmers got home from a tour and we had four days of back-to-back rehearsals with Mightmare, and then Mightmare went out for two weeks,” explains Shook. “The four days that we all had rehearsing together, we made minute changes to the arrangements, took crazy notes, and committed stuff to memory. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the anticipation and excitement that I had playing that first Mightmare show…maybe that’s because I’m sober and more present.” Shook, as followers of theirs will know, got sober a few months before the pandemic kicked off, and has been an outspoken advocate of mental health resources like Open Path Collective, in addition to being a tireless champion of LGBTQIA+ causes. While we’ve used genre labels like “indie rock” and “alt-country” and “dark pop” to categorize both Sarah Shook and the Disarmers and Mightmare throughout the course of this story, we’ve got to say that being a queer, non-binary, sober singer/songwriter and champion of mental health causes is about as “punk rock” as it gets.

You can check out Mightmare’s debut, Cruel Liars, below, and keep scrolling to read our full Q&A!


(The following Q&A has been condensed for clarity and content purposes.)

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So thanks for chatting again! I was looking through my list a little bit ago, and it’s been roughly ten years that I’ve been doing artist interviews, and I think in the 160 or so that I’ve done (editor’s note: the actual number is 188. Yikes.) I think there is only one other time where I’ve interviewed the same person twice in the same calendar year (*both laugh*). And never for two different projects. (Editor’s note: bonus points awarded if you can guess who the other one was. It was in 2016, but that’s all you get for a hint.) So this is cool! We talked at the beginning of the year for the most recent Sarah Shook and the Disarmers album, and now we have Mightmare. I feel like I think I knew at the time that this was coming, but now that people everywhere have gotten to hear it, this is a really cool and different record!

River Shook: Thank you!

And so I have to assume that that was the goal; that stuff that ended up as Mightmare couldn’t be turned into Sarah Shook and the Disarmers songs, right?

Not necessarily. When we went in for our last rehearsal before we went into the studio to record Nightroamer, I think there were twelve songs that we had worked up, essentially. We had hammered out the arrangements for (them) and got them record-ready. We ended up putting two songs on the record that were not intended to be Disarmers songs – intended is not the right word, but they were two songs that kind of just went into the “other” pile, versus songs that are very clearly Disarmers. Those were “I Got This” and “Been Lovin’ You.” It’s interesting; I feel like I’m in this spot where writing songs that aren’t Disarmers songs is nothing new per se, but now that I have this outlet, I’m in a position where I’m learning to sort of assign songs to one project or the other. Which is interesting. 

Are there other songs that became Disarmers songs over the years that didn’t necessarily start out as Disarmers songs but that you had to sort of shoehorn into the Disarmers mold? Because I feel like one of the fun things about Mightmare is that you can totally forgo any sort of semblance of a mold, really. You’re not pigeonholed into a style because it’s a brand new thing entirely. 

The only song that I would say really fits into that category would be “Been Lovin’ You” and possibly “I Got This” but I guess that’s just an indication that while I was writing all of these songs that to me were very clearly falling under the Disarmers umbrella, I was also writing a ton of other songs that in the pre-Mightmare days, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with. But if I wrote a song that I felt was worth saving and worth hanging on to but that wasn’t a good fit for the Disarmers necessarily, I’d make a pretty rudimentary demo of it on my MacBook with Garageband and sort of catalog it that way in case I wanted to come back and reference it, or in case I wanted to try to make it fit within the Disarmers context. But I feel like there’s always been enough material being written to satisfy both projects, so at this point in time, it’s kind of like full circle and I have two outlets and everything has a place!

Do you write differently for them? Or have you started to write differently for them? What was your normal Disarmers writing process? Was it the sort of standard you and an acoustic guitar and see where it goes from there? 

No, I’ve never been a disciplined writer, and any time that I have taken up a pen and paper and an instrument with the intention of writing a song, nothing good ever comes out of it. (*both laugh*) Nothing worth keeping anyway. (*both laugh*)

That’s interesting!

Yeah, I don’t ever have, like, an agenda or a plan when I write a song. I’m kind of just going about my day and I have to be in the right place at the right time. Typically I have to be alone, although since we started touring heavily a few years back (before Covid) I can sort of get songs going even if there are other people around, I just have a different process. But yeah, I go about my day and if the stars align and I’m able to, I sit down with a notebook and a pen and a guitar and typically I’m done with a song within like thirty minutes. There might be some light touching up or changing one or two words, but it’s pretty much the whole thing all at once and it’s the lyrics, the melody, the chord progression and a loose arrangement, and that is what I either take to the Disarmers to start working collaboratively at that point. Everyone has a say and we work out “well let’s do this for the nitro or the outro, or let’s put the solo here instead of here…” All of that stuff is decided together. In Mightmare, I have sort of unlimited time to get all of that stuff together. It’s a different process in terms of the actual logistics of it; I don’t have to go anywhere, I just sit on my couch and do everything myself. 

The Mightmare stuff sort of started, if I have read correctly from other places, during Covid, right? Because Nightroamer was essentially finished right before the world shut down. So is Mightmare all stuff that came after you were done writing Nightroamer?

 Not necessarily. I had a lot of demos just kind of sitting around and when I actually started making the album, that isn’t even what I thought I was doing at the time. My plan was to sit down and make more polished versions of one or two of the demos I had to make them a little more in the neighborhood of what I was looking for. I had a few in the works and at some point, I realized that if I changed a couple things and improved my methods in a few different ways, I could hypothetically make an entire album. And again, this was in the Covid isolation at the beginning of the pandemic, so realizing that that was an option and knowing that I had maybe $1200 for my entire budget for the album – because I knew I was going to be out of work indefinitely – I told myself that if I did absolutely everything that I could possibly do on my own, and then use all of that money to hire Ian Schreier to mix it and Brent Lambert from Kitchen Mastering to master it…those were the guys that worked on Sidelong and on Years, and I had wanted to work with both of them again on Nightroamer, and it just kind of happened that Pete Anderson was interested (in the latter project) and this was kind of my way to say “I kinda want to get back to this other format, because I feel like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And I’m really happy with the work that these people do, so it was cool to be able to make that decision for myself, too. One of the things that I love most about Mightmare is that I’m not accountable to anybody. It’s all me. On one hand, it’s very liberating, and on the other hand, it’s intense, because I had to start a small business, and all of this stuff is new for me. 

That’s daunting, isn’t it. Because if it sinks or swims…but ESPECIALLY if it sinks…that’s all on you, right?

Yeah! Exactly. And it’s really hard, too, because I feel like most creative people really don’t have a business mindset, we don’t have a capitalist mindset. We’re not like “oh, I have to write this song so it appeals to the most people so I can make the most money.” That’s not what you’re thinking when you’re writing a song. You’re thinking “I need to express myself to kind of A) get something off my chest and B) hopefully be able to look at what I’ve written and be objective about my own situation. There’s so much more meaning in that than in making a quick buck.

Oh but there certainly are people who are in the business for those reasons and who do write music for commercial appeal…not that that music usually appeals to me.

Yeah! And their cars are much nicer than my car too! (*both laugh*)

How long into the process of realizing that you could record not just demos but essentially full songs did you realize that it was going to be a full record right out of the gate?

Once I had the realization that I could tweak a few things and make something that was a quality worthy of being a record, that instantly became the goal. I made the necessary adjustments; I sort of changed my perspective as far as being a little bit more serious and treating it more like a job instead of just something to pass the time, I have a tendency to hyperfocus, so I would wake up in the morning, make coffee, and start working, start building tracks. One of the things that I had the most fun with on that project is how many layers there are on every song. There are SO MANY LAYERS! And being able to orchestrate that myself and not being accountable to anyone else, it was just me and my brain and our relationship working together to make this record happen. It was snap decision after snap decision, and by the time I was done with it; by the time it was ready to take in to get mixed and mastered, I really thought it could actually be something. Kill Rock Stars was my number-one pick. My manager was talking to them but things weren’t really going anywhere. There were a couple other labels that expressed interest that I just didn’t feel were very good fits for the project. And then, at some point, Kill Rock Stars came back and they were like “hey, we know this is done, but if you can wait til next year to put this out, we can make it work.” 

I was going to ask how the Kill Rock Stars thing came about, because as a child of the 90s, Kill Rock Stars was HUGE obviously. So many legendary bands and legendary albums recorded like all of their work on that label, so I had wanted to hear it anyway obviously, but when I heard that Kill Rock Stars was involved, I went “ooh! This is going to be different (than Disarmers music).” 

Yeah! Absolutely! They provided the opportunity to release it the same year, but it wouldn’t have made as much sense to release it with only a couple months of lead time. It needed to have basically a year of preparation to get various ducks into various rows. 

Do you remember the first Kill Rock Stars album you had? I was looking back at their discography knowing that this interview was coming up and I was trying to remember where they first came onto my radar, and I think it was Bikini Kill. I know I have like every Sleater-Kinney album too, but I think the first was Bikini Kill. Do you remember what yours was?

Oh yeah it was Elliott Smith! 

I’m embarrassed to say but I got into Elliott Smith weirdly late. I don’t know how I sort of missed him when he was, uh, alive…I was definitely more Bikini Kill, Hovercraft, Mary Lou Lord…

I think I was also introduced to him posthumously. I was maybe 17 or 18 and a coworker at the Wegmans in Geneva, New York, he loaned me an Elliott Smith CD, and this was, mind you, probably like the fourth or the fifth CD I ever listened to that wasn’t Christian music, so I was very early into discovering what for everyone else was normal music. But I remember seeing the Kill Rock Stars logo on the CD or on the back jacket, and that’s a name that just sticks with you. When I gave the CD back to my friend, I thanked him profusely and said “if you have any more material from this person…this is what I want to be listening to!” I remember him giving me I think two burned CDs that had a big giant mix of Elliott’s songs, and with that, he gave me an actual newspaper clipping that covered his death, which I actually have to this day. Twenty years later or whatever I still have that. That was a very keystone moment for me. 

We have referenced CDs and newspapers in the last few minutes…that’s a sign of dating ourselves. (*both laugh*)

I prefer to think of it as nostalgia! (*both laugh*)

Fair enough! Getting back to the music a little bit, did you have different influences, not so much lyrically but sonically, when it came to writing the material that would end up on the Mightmare project, especially with all of the layering that you were talking about? Was that influenced by things you’d been listening to or was that more a product of just experimenting and seeing what you could do?

I really don’t have influences. From the press that I’ve seen likening Mightmare to other artists or bands or projects, I honestly haven’t recognized any of them.

That’s awesome, actually.

Yeah, I know that it’s very common – pretty much industry standard – to sort of have a reference list. I’ve made records in the past where the producer has asked for a list of reference songs and I’m just like “there is no reference! There’s no reference, this is its own thing entirely!” I don’t want it to sound like us. Especially with the Disarmers having their own distinct sound, we don’t need to try to sound like anybody else! (*both laugh*) I feel like Mightmare has that as well. It has a very distinct personality, and everything is done in service to the song. Every decision that I made for every single track, and every tiny, minute little portion of a melody line or a sample…all of that, the only goal is to make the best decision for what is going to make the song shine the most, for lack of a better way to say that. Everything is to illuminate and emphasize the lyrics and kind of bastion them.

Especially the layering thing…and thinking bigger picture than just your role as a guitar player or a vocalist, but when it came to adding all of those layers and textures and instrumentation yourself, does that stuff get addictive for a while, for lack of a better phrase? Once you learn all of the little tricks that you can do and things that you can add, does that become an addictive thing and make you think “ooh, what else can I do next?!?”

Absolutely!

Because I feel like it was a really fun record to make in that regard, especially to make by yourself. 

Yeah, absolutely. I think there were one or two songs I had to go back through and choose one or two tracks to omit, even though it fit with what was going on, it was crowding this other more important melody line, or it needed to be removed to give this other part more room to do its own thing. Yeah, if I could make my living sitting in my living room for eight hours a day and never have to talk to another human…(*both laugh*)…I would probably be okay with that!!

So how did the experience go with playing that stuff live. Because once you formulated the album, did you have “the band” in mind, or did you have to go through a list of people to fill out the sound, and then, how did that stuff to you translate into the live show? Getting all of those sounds to come out of a rock band…how did that process go?

Well let me tell you, bud…(*both laugh*)…when I started putting this together and it became clear that I was going to sign with Kill Rock Stars, I talked to my booking agent Chris Rusk, and I was just like “it’s coming out on October 14th, and we need to do like a two-week tour around it,” and Chris was like “who’s ‘we’…you don’t have a band?!? (*both laugh*) What exactly is the lineup? Is it you and one other person with laptops and a light show?”

Yeah, you could totally envision that. I could see that!

Yeah, but that was never what I had my heart set on. I was like “dude, it’s supposed to be indie rock, and it’s supposed to be even more indie rock than the album sounds, and the only reason the album sounds the way it does is that I had to program beats instead of using a live drummer. Otherwise it would have been a totally different animal.” I was like “you worry about booking the tour, I’ll worry about putting the band together. I’ve never let you down, I will have something, it’ll be awesome, I’ll make you proud.” 

That is awesome. Talk about punk rock, by the way. (*both laugh*)

And mind you, the Disarmers are incessantly touring this entire time, so I have these tiny, tiny little windows at home where I’m scrambling to find players and trying to audition people. There was one such window where I held some auditions at a local studio, and I had one drummer who was really just kind of weird and talking about God and church a lot. I think he was just trying to get me to be like “hey I’m queer, and if that’s not a good fit for you that’s fine. I’m non-binary, I do a lot of work in the LGBTQ community as far as activism goes,” and as soon as I said that, he was like “yeah, I don’t think this is going to be a good fit.” That was my first time being blatantly discriminated against (*laughs*) but it’s not going to be something that holds me down. I know it’s not like I’m doing anything wrong. But it was just something else in the pile of dead ends that lead up to Mightmare as the band that it is now. The Disarmers were actually on tour with a new-to-us guitarist, Black Tallent, and we’d been out a couple times and I remember talking to the Disarmers drummer Jack Foster and I was just like “dude, I think I’m going to ask Blake if he wants to be Mightmare’s guitar player and I’m so nervous.” He was like “why are you nervous, he’s going to say yes!” And I said “I don’t know why I’m nervous…maybe I’m nervous because he IS going to say yes!” And so I asked him and he said yes and he became the first official member.

Nervous because if he said yes, then it’s like a real official “thing”?

Yes! Yeah! Like, “now I’ve gone and done it!” And then the one good result of the auditions is that my friend Ash Lopez who I’ve known for years and we’ve run in the same circles here in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill area, he auditioned on bass, and I sent him the music and asked him to learn three songs and he showed up and we played the three songs and I was like “do you want to go over any of that again?” and he was like “do you want to go over anything else, I learned everything.” I was like “well, shit, cool!” And then the final audition was Ethan Standard, who I had never met and never played with, but he was a friend of Blake’s and Blake has worked with him on various musical projects. So, basically, the Disarmers got home from a tour, and we had four days of back-to-back rehearsals with Mightmare, and then Mightmare went out for two weeks, and then the Disarmers immediately went out for two weeks. I just got home from all that. We had these four rehearsals and because the Disarmers had been on the road so relentlessly, Blake and I had maybe one or two practices together, and there’s only so much you can do with two guitars and no drums or bass. We accomplished what we could in that respect. Then the four days that we all had rehearsing together, we made minute changes to the arrangements, took crazy notes and committed stuff to memory. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the anticipation and excitement that I had playing that first Mightmare show. I’ve never felt that with another band. And maybe that’s because I’m sober and more present…

I was just going to ask that!

Yeah! Sarah Shook and the Devil was an “I want to get drunk with my friends at a bar and get paid in beer” band. The Disarmers, I kinda got dragged into kicking and screaming. I was afraid of commercial success, I didn’t want any of that stuff. With Mightmare, I get to choose my own idea of success, which is not money. As long as I have enough to pay the bills and pay the people that work for me, Mightmare is what I think I referred to in another interview as my little rebellion from the Disarmers. And that tour was really, really special, and really fucking empowering, especially to go on a two-week run headlining, with no tour history, playing some pretty significant venues. Like, Empty Bottle is an institution. There were definitely some Disarmers fans there that were like “hey, I like this too!” And then there were some new faces who only know us as Mightmare, they don’t even know the Disarmers exist. 

That’s pretty amazing at this stage of a project. 

Yeah! The whole thing just feels like this continuing roller coaster of discovery and new things, and it’s a pretty great feeling. 

Does playing that stuff live influence how you may write going forward as a band, and knowing what the band can do, and do you think that for Mightmare things, you’ll still program things or do you think that it’ll turn into a full band recording thing? Or is that giving away too many secrets about what’s coming down the road? (*both laugh*)

I wish I could tell you. I will say that about a week into the Mightmare tour, I was already like “we have to record this. We have to at least run it through a board and mix it down later. We have to figure out how to capture this. Or, we just have to go into the studio for four days and cut Cruel Liars as it was meant to be.” But I’m not totally sure. I feel like moving forward, Mightmare is a band now, it’s not just me. Much as I do all the songwriting for the Disarmers, I’d probably do all the songwriting for Mightmare and then get into collaborating as the other instruments go. If that’s the case, there might be a point in the not-too-distant future where I have the Disarmers and Mightmare and those bands are live and recording as groups and I still need to do my own little thing over here.

A third project…why not?! (*both laugh*) I’m so used to seeing you in Disarmers mode playing full-body Guild or Loar guitars, but in Mightmare, did I see you playing a weird little Harmony?

Oh yeah! It’s like a 1980s Korean Harmony Rebel. I found it on Craigslist a couple years ago, and this guy was selling it for like 300 bucks, which is nothing! Somebody on this past run was just telling me that during the pandemic guitar nerds went crazy for 1980s Rebels. I don’t know why, but I love that guitar. And yeah, for Disarmers tours, I have two Loar guitars that I take out and for Mightmare I have smaller-body guitars that I can wear hire and sort of closer to my body. Another unexpected thing about Mightmare is I basically had four days to completely change the pedal setup I was using, and also every single song, every single chord is a barre chord in Mightmare. I was having a lot of pain in my hands, because in the Disarmers, there may be like one every couple songs, but it’s not an every single chord of every single song situation. So there are a lot of things that I had to relearn and tweak and figure out how to do better, and having smaller guitars that I can wear higher is a lot easier on my wrist and my hands. 

And it looks like an indie rock band! Like, seeing you with those smaller body guitars at first was jarring because you get so used to the big hollow bodies, but the “regular” and weird guitar was like “oh, this really is a totally different band!” 

Yup, lean and mean! 

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DS Interview: Sarchasm on Their Final Album, Future Plans and “Quaker Bouncing”?

Earlier this year, East Bay pop punks Sarchasm announced that after twelve years of releasing nothing but certified bangers, they were calling it quits and we felt personally attacked by this. In that same announcement, they also said that they would be releasing one final album, which we’d like to think they did in an […]

Earlier this year, East Bay pop punks Sarchasm announced that after twelve years of releasing nothing but certified bangers, they were calling it quits and we felt personally attacked by this. In that same announcement, they also said that they would be releasing one final album, which we’d like to think they did in an attempt to help soften the blow. Well, it worked….kinda. Conditional Love is out today and while we’re still not 100% healed from the near pain they’ve inflicted upon us, we do feel slightly better because it’s such an incredible album. We decided that the only thing that could provide the closure we needed to fully remedy our sorrow was to speak with the band themselves. So, we rang up the tremendous trio of Alex (bass/vocals), Stevie (drums/vocals) and Mateo (guitar/vocals) and had them talk us off the ledge.


Dying Scene: How did you decide that Conditional Love would be your final album? Was it an actual decision that you made as a group or was it more of an organic process (obligations to work, family, etc)?

Mateo: It was a mix of both. The decision to end the band and the decision to record one final album came about over a series of conversations in late 2021 and early 2022.

Stevie: Mateo was no longer in a place where he could tour and do as much stuff, and Alex and I wanted to continue actively touring, and it didn’t feel right to keep doing Sarchasm without Mateo.

Alex: I touched on this in a post, but I’ve admired bands like REM who were able to walk away cordially and in a way that felt meaningful. We reached that point, and I’m happy we were able to send it off with something we felt proud of.

DS: I know that you all have been playing since your mid-teens. Are you thinking it’s now time for a little break or will there be other projects you’re going to start either together or individually?

Stevie: Excuse me, I was a tween! (Stevie was 11). Nevertheless, I’m going to continue playing with my band Crush Material, and occasionally I have a solo project called Pool Jock that I’ve been recording an album with Mateo since 2020. One day it will come out I hope! Perhaps in 2023 but we shall see.

Alex: Stevie and I, along with Amy (our second guitarist) and Becket (Mateo’s summer tour stand-in) started a new band called STARTLE!, and Stevie and I are also continuing to be active with 924 Gilman.

Mateo: I plan to continue to make music, and I know this isn’t our last time playing onstage together, even if Sarchasm the band is not continuing. I’m also still active as a recording engineer, which I guess is also a scene-related jam.

DS: What are your biggest takeaways from the past decade+ playing with Sarchasm?

Alex: I think I used to worry I wasn’t doing the right things to make us popular or mesh with the East Bay scene, but the longer we did it the more it felt best to embrace your own oddities and how you operate musically. Make sure you’re doing it for yourself, above everything. Don’t just force yourself to do a thing just because it feels like that’s what you’re supposed to do or what’s expected of you.

DS: Conditional Love sounds like it was produced with a theme of closure in mind. Was that intentional or are we just being extra emo and reading too much into it?

All: It was absolutely intentional. We knew that Conditional Love was going to be a last album in some fashion – whether before a long break between releases or the band’s swansong. Once we made the decision to end the band in 2022, we decided to lean all the way into the album’s theme of endings and new beginnings. We also all graduated college and went through a lot of change since our previous album, so there was closure in a lot of life elements happening around us. But maybe writing an album centered around your band ending is the most emo move.

DS: In 2021 you released They Might Be Covers was a pretty awesome lil album, covering a bunch of fantastic They Might Be Giants tunes. Was that a side effect of ‘Pandemic Boredom’ or was it something you had thought of doing for awhile? How did that group discussion go?

Alex: Shannon from awakebutstillinbed and I were on tour together, and we both realized that we have a deep love and appreciation for the band They Might Be Giants. The original plan was to do a They Might Be Giants cover set with Shannon guesting at Fest 2020, but the pandemic obviously had other plans. It felt like a fun way to collaborate with another musician and friend from the scene. Plus, one of our favorite things as a band to do is play covers, so it was a no-brainer. They Might Be Giants has been one of my biggest musical influences, and I would encourage anyone when given the chance to attempt to do a cover set or something like this with one of your favorite bands. It really makes you appreciate their music on a totally different level. Nothing like the realization that TMBG songs are relentlessly complex to ground you in your abilities!

DS: You describe yourselves as “Anxious indie punk”. Was that the sound you were aiming for when starting the band or is that just how it turned out?

Stevie: We kinda just fell into the label anxious indie punk. For a while we didn’t really feel like we fit into any genre option we’d been provided, particularly pop punk which is what we’ve gotten labeled as most frequently over the years.

Alex: I think we all came from different musical backgrounds. I didn’t find bands like MCR or the Warped Tour acts that other 2010s East Bay groups would have been listening to and instead came into Sarchasm obsessed with new wave acts like Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. Stevie and Mateo each had their own separate tastes from me, and the blending never created something that felt typical to “pop punk” despite our collective Green Day love. Indie punk just made more sense to us with our sound and who we are as people.

DS: You’ve listed Talking Heads, the aforementioned Green Day and Rancid as bands who have influenced the band but what about lesser known/local bands. Any of those smaller bands provide inspiration through the years?

All: Smaller local bands have always provided just as much inspiration to us as the big heads (including the Talking ones), both in a community inspiration sense as well as a musical sense. There are too many to list; so a small sample is: Waterfly Spigot, Pseudo, Local Hero, CAMPY, Under 15 Seconds, The Matches, Jabber, Corrupt Vision, Polkadot, Worriers, Like Roses, Grumpster, the Lookout Records back catalog, the Asian Man Records back catalog…

DS: If you could change/improve one thing about the punk scene, what would it be?

Mateo: Less entitlement. More community focus and involvement.

Stevie: I’d love for punk scenes everywhere to be more welcoming to black and brown folks and marginalized groups more generally.

DS: Stevie, I was reading another interview where you said you had done some time as a “Quaker Bouncer” when you were in PA but there were nowhere near enough deets given in that article. Spill!!

Stevie: Oh wow, what a throwback! I went to a Quaker college in PA called Haverford College for two years, and they had a thing where people could host parties with alcohol on campus so long as they had a “Quaker bouncer” who basically made sure no one got too sick or hurt. I’m pretty sure I did one shift of being a Quaker bouncer and then never did it again, so that’s pretty funny that I had mentioned that in an interview…

DS: Now that you are hanging it up, give us a few bands we can listen to to get our ‘Sarchasm Fix’.

All: Teenage Halloween, Like Roses, Little Low, Grumpster, Sweet Gloom, can we say STARTLE? Is that allowed? Play Mountain Goats on one speaker and Green Day at the same time. That might do it.

DS: And now, the most important question – When will Conditional Love be available on vinyl?????

All: Right now! Go order it !!

That we will, comrades. That we will. And we suggest you buy the album as well, dear reader (even if not on vinyl) because it is definitely an AoTY contender. Still don’t believe us? Stream it below and try to tell us we’re wrong!

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DS Interview: Tim Hause opens up on his first solo record, his decade-long collaboration with big brother Dave, working with Will Hoge and MUCH more

The brothers Hause have been no strangers to the pages at Dying Scene over the course of the last decade. The bulk of that coverage has been dedicated to older brother Dave. After hitting the indefinite pause button on his beloved band The Loved Ones, Dave launched his own career as a solo artist a […]

The brothers Hause have been no strangers to the pages at Dying Scene over the course of the last decade. The bulk of that coverage has been dedicated to older brother Dave. After hitting the indefinite pause button on his beloved band The Loved Ones, Dave launched his own career as a solo artist a dozen or so years ago, right around the time this website launched, giving us essentially a front-row seat to his growth and maturity as an artist. One of the benefits of embarking on a solo career is that it’s given Dave the opportunity to spend more time with Tim, his kid brother.

If you’ve paid even the littlest bit of attention to the elder Hause’s career since the touring cycle for his second solo album, Devour, you’ve no doubt noticed that he’s been figuratively attached at the hip to his younger brother. Because of the fifteen-year age gap between them (Dave is the eldest of the five Hause siblings, Tim the youngest) Dave did the bulk of his growing up without having a little brother, while Tim did the bulk of his having an older brother who, when he wasn’t swinging hammers, was busy working as a touring member of the punk rock scene. 

Tim’s first real exposure to the world of being a professional musician started essentially as an experiment, joining Dave on that 70-date marathon Devour jaunt through the US and Canada, filling out the live sound with harmonies and guitar and helping to set up and tear down merch displays after the show. “The first two weeks of that tour, I hated,” Hause jokes. “I thought that anyone who would choose that life, was insane.” It’s important to point out that when that tour kicked off, Hause the Younger was the ripe old age of twenty, not able to legally drink at the vast majority of venues they stopped at. “Over the course of that tour, I started to really love it (though)!”

Tim Hause at Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, MA (Photo: Jay Stone)

As time progressed, Tim increased his role in what would eventually become the family business. While always a touring partner, he began contributing to the writing process on Bury Me In Philly, the 2017 follow-up to Dave’s Devour. “(BMIP) was kind of my intern, new kid record,” Hause jokes. “I think the first song that we wrote that ended up going on to a record was “The Flinch.”  I remember having the idea “I ain’t flinching anymore” as a line from my notebook. I loved it going onto the record; that was a huge deal for me.” Tim didn’t just influence a couple of songs on the album lyrically and musically, he had a role in shaping the album’s whole sonic vision. 

It’s part of the natural evolution of things for the big brother in this or any situation to pass influence down to the little brother. In the case of the Hause family, Dave was instrumental not only in the music Tim would grow up with – more on that in a minute – but in showing him the music industry ropes: how to exist on the road and structure a setlist and create dramatic tension with an audience and how to develop and stay in the pocket and on and on. Though sometimes big brothers are reluctant to admit it, however, sometimes the little brother’s influence and teachings can be just as potent.

When Dave and I connected for an interview in the press cycle for Bury Me In Philly, he spoke of how Tim’s lack of punk rock guilt and his well-beyond-his-years wisdom got Dave to punch through some periods of writer’s block and focus on working through what he was going through at the time. When I asked Tim about how he’d characterize his influence on his decade-and-a-half older brother, after an initial pause and attempted deflection, he answered in a way that was a pitch-perfect match for Dave’s answer six years ago. “I think that it broadened the sphere of what he thought he should do,” he explains. “He was like “what do I write about? What do I write about?” and I was like “the thing that you’re on about right now is the fact that you live in California now and have this strange relationship with the place that you’re from.” That kind of was a light bulb moment for him, and it’s one of the things that jump-started the whole process and that whole session.” Tim’s vision helped free his older brother from the constraints that can sometimes be placed on a songwriter who spent as much time as Dave did in the punk rock community. To paraphrase Craig Finn, we in the punk rock scene said there weren’t any rules, but goddamn there are so many rules. “I think the continued “hey this doesn’t have to be punk, this doesn’t have to fit in whatever box.” Having that person on your shoulder just going “do it! Go! Go! Do it!” I think is a huge help.

While he has remained a constant road partner, whether the brothers toured as a duo or as part of a larger band – Dave Hause and the Mermaid – that’s consisted of a rotating cast of incredibly talented musicians, Tim’s status as a writer and contributor increased to essentially 50/50 by the time of Dave’s 2019 release, Kick. Tim was writing so much by Kick, in fact, that it’s where the seeds of his wanting to someday put out his own record under his own moniker started to really establish their roots, due in no small part to that album’s inclusion of the song “The Ditch.” “That kernel was something I came up with and brought to the table,” he explains. “That was the first song that I wrote on that made me go “I don’t know if I can give this one up.” While Tim is ultimately happy at how the song turned out and that it was included – with ample and continued credit from Dave, he also points out that “that was the moment where I was like ‘yeah, I have to make my own record someday.”  

The brothers would go on to put out another album – 2021’s aptly-named Blood Harmony – under Dave’s name, an album that would also mark the first full-length release of their jointly-founded Blood Harmony Records, which will serve as their very own, in-house DIY record label for the future. And now, it’s Tim’s turn. January 13 marks the official release date of TIM, the younger Hause’s debut full-length record under his own name. While he’s been a part of a handful of releases at this point and while he and Dave co-wrote all the songs as they did on Kick and Blood Harmony, having his own name on the album jacket changes the stakes for Tim on multiple levels. “There’s a different level of ownership” for work released under his own name, he explains, adding that there is also “a different level of appreciation for everything Dave has done and that goes for the work he did prior to me jumping on board and the work that we’ve done since.”

TIM was a labor of love that, if we’re being honest, can find threads that extend back well before “The Ditch” made it onto Dave’s record. Tim astutely points out “they say that your first record took however many years you’ve been alive to make it, and I’d say that’s definitely the case with this.“ Tim’s musical ambitions began when he was still early in grade school. “I started playing guitar when I was probably seven or eight,” Tim explains. “When I was ten years old, (Bouncing Souls) played I think two or three nights at the Troc (editor’s note: The Trocadero in Philadelphia) and all of them were sold out. The Loved Ones played their first show I think ever opening up for them, and they brought me out to play “Manthem” and that was my intro to all of those people. They ended up putting that on their live record.” While Tim would shift his entertainment goals to concentrate more on theater throughout his high school years, good old-fashioned rock-and-roll was too far in the background. “You know in a perfect world,” Tim states, “I would have been old enough to be in The Loved Ones, and we would have called our thing The Loved Ones, and it would have been two brothers…but that’s not the world we live in. There’s a fifteen-year gap, I was busy being in high school!

Tim at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ. (Photo by Jay Stone)

By the age of twenty-two, however, Tim had a landmark moment that would ultimately solidify his decision to jump headlong into the waters of life as a professional musician. By that point, he’d graduated high school, dabbled with studies at Temple University, lost a very dear friend in a tragic accident, and he’d spent some time in that exploratory phase making and playing music with Dave. Then came a ground-breaking realization. “I was eleven when my mom died,” Tim explains. “When I turned 22, it was a watershed moment in the grief process and the life process, because it marked the moment that I had spent more time on earth without her than I had with her.” 

It’s perhaps at this point that I should back up a bit. If you’re familiar with the Hause family’s musical journey, you’re no doubt aware that Dave and Tim’s mom passed away back in 2004, succumbing to a fierce battle with cancer. Echoes of that time have popped up in Dave’s solo work (see “Autism Vaccine Blues”), and The Loved Ones’s debut album Keep Your Heart essentially served as Dave way of processing the incredible range of emotions prompted by his mom’s passing. As gut-wrenching as it is to lose a parent in your mid-twenties as Dave was when their mom passed away, it’s another level of heart-break to have it happen when you’re eleven and still have so many formative childhood years and experiences left in front of you.

And so the realization that, at 22, he had now spent more time on this planet without his mom’s physical presence than he had with it inspired what would become the song “4000 Days,” a song that serves as the emotional high-water mark on TIM, an album that is certainly full of its fair share of emotional moments. “That (realization) was the initial kernel of “4000 Days” as the first thing that I remember writing, and I know that for a fact because that was such a profound marker in my life.” Since the song’s debut as a single in the lead-up up to the official release of the album, it’s not the song that has garnered the most plays on the various streaming platforms – that honor belongs to the anthemic “High Hopes” – it’s a song that has warranted far-and-away the most overwhelming listener response. “4000 Days” blew every song before and every song after out of the water in terms of people reaching out through DMs and messages and email and everything, to be like “hey, I related to that so much.” People have been telling me their stories, thanking me for it. That has been far and away the most connecting part of the release process. It’s definitely affirming and validating and exciting. It was tough to make and I’m so glad we did it. I made sure to give my sisters trigger warnings when I sent them the song first. And my dad.”

Dave (L) and Tim (R) Hause, Crossroads – Garwood NJ (Photo: Jay Stone)

Tim’s older brother didn’t need trigger warnings, obviously, as he was there for the writing and pre-production process for “4000 Days” as well as for the rest of the songs on TIM. Just as Tim served as the “Go! Go! Do It!” voice on Dave’s shoulder, particularly during the BMIP sessions, Dave returned the favor for TIM. “Having him on my shoulder telling me to do all that stuff is I think the most valuable asset. Just “hey, feel free to just do you and be as fearlessly ferocious as you need to be with your own art.” But when it came time to put the album on wax, big brother took a step back. Were they to record Tim’s solo record in the same manner that they’d recorded Dave’s last few records, there’s the very real possibility that they could have fallen into similar patterns. “I didn’t want it to be “Dave Hause Light” you know? I didn’t want it to be “The Little Brother Record” or whatever. And I’m sure to some people it will be that. We’re inextricably linked in that way, but we tried to deviate as much as we could” he explains.

Instead, Tim returned to Nashville to team up again with the great Will Hoge, who manned the producer’s chair just as he did on Blood Harmony. Hoge has been a seamless fit into the Hause brother’s working process – they jokingly refer to him as their Southern brother. For this process, he assembled an Avengers-like cast of Nashville heavy hitters to lend their unique sonic textures to the Tim Hause musical landscape. “The guy who came up with a lot of the atmosphere on my record was Josh Grange. He was in Sheryl Crow’s band. Chris Griffiths who played bass on it is in Will’s band. He’s awesome. Dean Anshutz played drums on most of it, and he’s from Red Wanting Blue (and Jessey Dayton’s band). And the other drummer was Matt Billingslea, and he’s Taylor Swift’s drummer. He played on “Fit To Be Tied.”

The result is a record that is quintessentially Tim Hause. It’s very much a rock and roll record, drawing sonic influences from the various phases of Tim’s upbringing, influences that obviously range from the Beatles and Patty Griffin to The National and Gaslight Anthem. “But the overarching thing is, you know, some kind of mix of Tom Petty and Frightened Rabbit. I think the nuanced, idiosyncrasies of both of those while making evergreen, universal songs that are sorta simple…that’s the pinnacle for me.” Lyrically and thematically, it’s also an incredibly meaningful record. “I mean, calling the record TIM was a pretty clear indicator that this was a really personal record, that it was going to deal with many of the pillars in my life.” It’s an unflinching reflection on some of the watershed connections and relationships in his life. It’s very much centered on love (particularly for his wife Madeline) and on loss and on the complex emotional prism that the human condition creates. “The goal (for Dave and I) is to write from our own perspectives, and write (songs) to be universal and evergreen and applicable to somebody else,” Tim points out. “If we make something that we spill a lot of our hearts into, then somebody will identify with it as well, because we’re not as alone as humans as we sometimes think that we are.”

Check out Tim’s album below via Spotify, or pick it up wherever you get your music. Here’s the link to get it directly from the Hause crew. Keep scrolling to read our full Q&A. Lots of insight into Tim’s musical upbringing and his family and a series of heart-breaking losses he’s suffered. Full disclosure: I’ve obviously been pretty vocally in the Dave Hause cheering section for a decade now, and the two brothers are, and should be, inextricably linked, so we talk a lot about their wonderful personal and professional relationships and how they’ll continue to support and collaborate and bring out the best in each other going forward. We also spend quite a bit of time extolling the virtues of Will Hoge and Scott Hutchison. Tim is very much a wise and insightful and gracious human – well beyond what his twenty-nine years on this planet would indicate – and we’re lucky to have his voice added to the mix.

(**Believe it or not, the following Q&A has been condensed for content and clarity reasons.**)

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So I guess we’ll start with this: congratulations on the record. It’s the first record under your own name, which is a really cool thing. Obviously, you’ve been writing songs for a while now, but how does it feel like there are physical copies of it now and people can hear it for themselves? How does it feel now that it’s a real thing?

Tim Hause: It feels totally exciting and amazing, and then also it feels already normal.

Does it feel different now than it does for one of Dave’s albums or like how Kick just said Hause on the cover? 

For sure. For sure, absolutely. There’s a different level of ownership and there’s a different level of appreciation for everything Dave has done. And that goes for the work he did prior to me jumping on board and the work that we’ve done since. There’s a different level of artistic ferocity that you need to even get an album created, and he by nature is a more fierce person, and we have this push and pull between us that makes for a good team. But it definitely feels different and it feels like a monkey off my back. It was something that I always wanted to do, and I never really knew how to get it done. And then, not only did I get it done, but I got it done in Nashville, The Music City, with some of the premiere players in the world. And I haven’t spoken at all about the players on it – I’m not really good at smelling myself publicly – on Twitter and Instagram and social media, you have to pump up your own brand so to speak…I’m not good at that, and it’s probably a skill that I need to learn and get better at. But there were some serious heavy hitters that played on this. And so to get it made in Nashville, with a guy whose work I respect tremendously in Will Hoge, and to do it without Dave there. He didn’t come down to the session for a couple different reasons, and it was hard to not have him there, but also I’m so glad that he wasn’t in some ways…

Which is a weird thing to say (*both laugh*)

It is a weird thing to say, and I mean in the most non-disparaging way I could possibly mean it about my best friend and my partner and my brother. He’s my best buddy. But it just felt like it was something that I needed to take on on my own. 

And I think that the album probably benefits from that, from having it be just you. I forget exactly when you came into the writing process of Dave’s solo stuff, but there are probably three full albums that have been released of that material at this point, so I can see where you might need to draw a line in the sand where even if you are creating this stuff together, these are the songs that are his voice, and these are the songs that are your voice. So I think it does probably benefit from that.

Yeah, I think so. And I think we try to make decisions from a production standpoint and from a key standpoint, and a vocal register standpoint, that would reflect the differences between us two. It’s definitely something that we went into the process being cognizant of. I didn’t want it to be “Dave Hause Light” you know? I didn’t want it to be “The Little Brother Record” or whatever. And I’m sure to some people it will be that. We’re inextricably linked in that way, but we tried to deviate as much as we could.

You know, it’s interesting to do research for interviews and to find that because I’ve talked with Dave so many times, a lot of the research I did for this chat was just stuff that I’ve already written before. But he and I spoke on that first tour that you came out with him on, the Devour tour, which turned out to be a 70-day tour, and I’d forgotten how Herculean that tour was. And you were, what, twenty at that point?

Yeah, that was 2014, so I would have been twenty years old. I remember being under age, because there was a place in Salt Lake City where I was pouring whiskey into people’s mouths from the stage. And Dave…we were drunk. We spent a lot of those nights drunk, which was really fun and really wild and the complete polar opposite of what things are like now. Backstage now, we have Bob Ross on the TV, we have a candle going, we have La Croix in the fridge, and we have peace and quiet as much as we can. 

But you hadn’t really even been in bands at that point, right? Not even like dopey high school bands?

No, I played with my dad. So, the first time I was ever on stage was with the Bouncing Souls.

Whoa! Way to set the bar for yourself.

Yeah! So I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since! (*both laugh*) I was ten years old, and they played I think two or three nights at the Troc (editor’s note: The Trocadero in Philadelphia) and all of them were sold out. The Loved Ones played their first show I think ever opening up for them, and they brought me out to play “Manthem” and that was my intro to all of those people. I mean, I had known them before, as much as any adult would know a ten-year-old. It was like “oh, you’re Dave’s brother!” or “oh it’s so cool that you have Vans on!” or whatever the case was. (*both laugh*). So they brought me out, and it was so cool, and they ended up putting that on their live record.

Oh shit, yeah!

Yeah, that version of “Manthem” is the version that’s on the live record, and if you listen to the end of the song, you hear Greg say “The kid rocks!” and all this…and that was about me! (Editor’s note: Listen to it here!!)

Yes! That’s awesome! I had no idea, and I’ve heard that a hundred times!

That’s a pretty funny bit of Hause trivia.

When you say playing with them, were you playing guitar at that point or were you singing backup?

Yeah, I played guitar. I started playing guitar when I was probably seven or eight. I’d get really into it and then take my foot off the gas pedal and do something else for a while. In high school, my thing was I started acting in high school. I tried out for a play – a musical – and I got the lead, and that set off a series of okay I’m gonna do all of these productions that the high school does. So I wanted to be an actor. I always kinda knew I wanted to be in entertainment of some kind, then I went to (Temple University), kind of got disillusioned while I was there, didn’t know what exactly I was going for, didn’t exactly know how getting a degree would help with what I wanted to do, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Well, the fact is, I did know what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how to make it happen. That might sound crazy as the younger brother of someone who has been successfully doing it, but it was more of an experiment than anything, for me to go out on the road with him. We talk about that from time to time, like “how did it even happen?” The first two weeks of that tour, I hated. I thought that anyone who would choose that life, was insane. Over the course of that tour, I started to really love it. I definitely had an itch to leave the town in Philadelphia that we’re from. So, we live in an area that is technically within the city limit, but it doesn’t feel like Center City. It’s a little more suburban, there’s grass and trees and stuff. I spent my first twenty years waiting to get out, scratching the itch a little bit with travel…and then now, my wife and I own a house in that very town that I couldn’t wait to get out of. 

Of course you do! (*both laugh*)

I don’t have that itch anymore, it gets scratched by all of the touring that we do and the travel that we do. It’s a constant adventure, and it’s pretty awesome. 

What were your influences musically during that time. You mentioned the Bouncing Souls obviously, so there was that part obviously, but with fifteen years between you and Dave, that’s almost like three different generations there when it comes to musical trends and how we consume music. So what were your influences when it came to writing music or even just playing music in your bedroom?

From a playing standpoint, like any little brother, I was getting stuff from my big brother. I was a huge fan of the Souls, a huge fan of Alkaline Trio, and I would gravitate towards them more than any of the other punk bands. I think that has to do with their melodic sensibilities and their songwriting. The craft in both of those acts is top-notch and has been for a long time. That was kind of my first real love. Between that, and we were a huge Beatles family, and Tom Petty. Those are the first four or so. Then, me and my best buddy who grew up across the street from me and unfortunately died in a tragic accident. He and I got into Weezer’s blue album. We wore out that CD, we listened to it when we were together, when we were apart, all the time. That was an early one too. I got really into hip-hop and rap. Countercultural figures and artists were always there. I went through a huge Queen phase, and that felt like kind of my own thing. No one else in my family really got into Queen like I did.

Well, you were into theater, so that sorta lines up.

Yeah, exactly! I saw one video of Freddie Mercury and Queen in Montreal doing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and if you haven’t seen that video, you have to look it up. (*Editor’s note: I looked it up for you – find it here.)

I probably saw it twenty-five years ago.

Yeah, you probably did. That’s one of the finest pieces of live rock and roll that you can find. I watched that once and said “oh, I have to devour that.” (*both laugh*) I hate to say it now, but it’s always good to separate the art from the artist as much as you can: Kanye West was a huge filler of my ten-to-twenty-year-old listening phase.

College Dropout was a massive hit for a reason. That was unlike any other album that existed at that point.

Absolutely. And I always felt a sort of a kinship – not always –

Right, not the last half-decade or so.

Yeah, prior to him going really off the rails, which is really sad and unfortunate. But previously, I felt a kinship with him because he lost his mom too, and the loss of a parent, at any point but particularly with younger people … that’s a huge deal. So that kind of stood out for me. And then more recently, I got super into The National and Frightened Rabbit, in the last ten years or so. Those are some of my main touchstones, especially lyrically with Scott (Hutchison), I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better lyricist than Scott. 

Tragically so. I mean, some of his stuff was tough to listen to before, because of how real some of the emotions were. I’ve had conversations with your brother about things like that from his own catalog, where there are moments that are so real and you had to kind of pause for a minute after you heard them the first time because they were a little bit too heavy. And then in retrospect with Scott’s music, there are some songs I still can’t really listen to.

Yeah, it’s rough, because it’s one of those things that you hope that the person is able to exorcise those demons through their art, and you hope that that expression gives the person enough of a reprieve to keep what ended up happening to him from happening, but it doesn’t always work that way. That’s a really gnarly one. His lyrics and their music have been a huge, huge influence. And then, I got super into My Morning Jacket. That’s been another pillar in my musical life. But the overarching thing is, you know, some kind of mix of Tom Petty and Frightened Rabbit. I think the nuanced, idiosyncrasies of both of those while making evergreen, universal songs that are sorta simple…that’s the pinnacle for me. That’s the whole shooting match for me. 

Were they influences in the way that you liked their music, or were they the ones who made you go “I want to do that!” or “I want to do my version of what that guy is doing”? Because I mean you can like Pearl Jam or Bouncing Souls or Kanye West, but that doesn’t mean you want to do what they’re doing. But then, that Petty “thing”…

Yeah, for sure. For sure. And then there’s also closer to our circle, there are influences too. I’ve always loved Gaslight (Anthem) and I’m buddies with all those guys and I love Brian and his work. I have a pretty wide net of influence and interest as far as music goes, but yeah, those are like the Mount Rushmore. 

When did you start writing for yourself, rather than writing as a collaborator with your brother? 

Um…I would say it’s probably in the first two years of touring. I remember jotting down things as early as the European leg of the Devour tour, which would have been summer of ‘14. So it’s been almost ten years of doing it. And actually, it’s funny, because you asked earlier what was the impetus for making my own record and my own songs…I think the first song that we wrote that ended up going on to a record was “The Flinch.” I remember having the idea “I ain’t flinching anymore” as a line from my notebook. I loved it going onto the record; that was a huge deal for me. I wrote a couple of the other songs with him, but it wasn’t 50/50 yet. That was kind of my intern, new kid record (*both laugh*) like “okay, let’s see if this thing works.” And it did. “The Flinch” ended up being one of the staples of that record. By Kick, it was 50/50, and I think the real kicker for me was “The Ditch” going on Dave’s record. That was the moment where I was like “yeah, I have to make my own record someday.” Who knows, maybe I’ll re-record that song at some point and put it on one of my records. I’m so glad that we put it on Kick, but it wasn’t easy for me to let that one go. That was the first song that I wrote on that made me go “I don’t know…I don’t know if I can give this one up. Maybe I should save it for this future record that I hope to make someday.” The giving of it made me go “yeah, I really have to do this.” 

Does that create a certain amount of tension between you and Dave? And maybe tension is the wrong word to use, but at least a sort of creative tension where you have to bargain, like “okay, I’m going to keep this one for me, you take two of these for you…”

He’s super gracious about that, and he’s really, really the biggest ally I have outside of my wife. I think she and him are the two biggest preservers of my creative life force. So no, I wouldn’t say it created tensions between us. We’ve had talks, like when we started the sessions that ultimately led to Blood Harmony and TIM, he kind of was operating under the assumption that some of the songs that we were working on would be on his next record, and I quickly swatted that down and we got that sorted out and he was cool with it. It wasn’t without a little push, but he was willing to go “okay, if you insist that this one is going to be your thing, then go for it.” What I will say is not tension between us, but there was internal tension with the fact that I was writing for – so to speak – a guy whose name was THE name. You know in a perfect world, I would have been old enough to be in The Loved Ones, and we would have called our thing The Loved Ones, and it would have been two brothers…but that’s not the world we live in. There’s a fifteen-year gap, I was busy being in high school (*both laugh*). So the tension was that I’m writing songs and I’m really, really creatively involved. Like, “The Ditch,” that kernel was my own thing. It was something I came up with and brought it to the table and was kind of hesitant to do so and then when it ended up on the record, Dave was really good about giving me credit publicly as much as he could, but you can only go so far with that when ultimately people know that to be a Dave Hause song. When your name is on the ticket and the record and the whatever, that’s where people think it all comes from. And so, I think that created some tension within me in that I knew I had something to offer and I wanted to be recognized for what I was able to offer. 

It’s obvious from the conversation so far that there is obviously some of Dave’s influence in your writing and in what you were exposed to through his scene when you were growing up. But I’m curious about what you see as your influence on Dave’s either songwriting or approach or the music he listens to, as someone fifteen years younger than he is. 

That’s a good question. I would say…how do I answer this without sounding like a dick (*both laugh*)…I think that it broadened the sphere of what he thought he should do. And what I mean by that is there was some writer’s block that went into Bury Me In Philly. From my perspective, I was like “dude, you’ve got people coming out to your shows, I’ve been all over the country with you, I’ve been across the pond with you. People show up.” And he was like “what do I write about? What do I write about?” and I was like “the thing that you’re on about right now is the fact that you live in California now and have this strange relationship with the place that you’re from.” That kind of was a light bulb moment for him, and it’s one of the things that jump-started the whole process and that whole session. I think the continued “hey this doesn’t have to be punk, this doesn’t have to fit in whatever box.” Having that person on your shoulder just going “do it! Go! Go! Do it!” I think is a huge help. And now, knowing the experience I have from doing it on my own and having him on my shoulder telling me to do all that stuff is I think the most valuable asset. Just “hey, feel free to just do you and be as fearlessly ferocious as you need to be with your own art.” 

I think that’s important. Say what you will about the punk rock community – and I guess this website that I co-own and have been helping to run for a dozen years is pretty firmly embedded in that (*both laugh*) – but it can be tough to get the intestinal fortitude to go outside those parameters of three chords and a Marshall stack and a Les Paul and that whole thing, and to realize that you don’t have to do that all the time. 

And you know, there’s also the stage of “I’m a singer-songwriter but I’m a punk, let me play this acoustic guitar as if it were an electric and let me belt it out…” and yeah, you should do that, that can definitely be part of the thing. But you’re so capable of all these other things; incorporate as much of you and what you can do into this thing, and it’s going to be so much more multifaceted and deeper if you do that.” I think with this next Dave Hause record, it pushes even further into that realm, and what’s cool about it is that the fact that I did my own record I think gave Dave a little bit more creative freedom. And also, I took my hands off a little bit at least on the production side. we wrote all the songs together, just like on my record, they’re all 50/50, we finished all these songs together, he’s got fingerprints all over my record just like I have had on his records since Bury Me In Philly, but I think me doing my own thing enabled him on this last session to not have to say “what does Tim want to put on, I have to make room for Tim here…” and whatever the case was. I think it was cool to see him go into mad scientist mode, and it was awesome. I’m really excited about it. 

I was hoping to talk a little about the differences in writing between the two of you. You guys both wrote in what I assume from knowing you and being a listener from a very intensely personal perspective. There isn’t a lot of character-based stuff really on either of your records, you’re writing more from your own perspectives. When it comes to writing either for Dave’s records or what becomes your records, how conscious are you of writing in your own voice versus writing in Dave’s voice, if that makes sense?

I’m a fan of his first, before I started working with him. And also being his brother and sharing DNA and our relationship, I felt like I had a good window into what he did best and how he wanted to present himself. And also my own ideas about how I thought he should present himself as a green person who didn’t know anything about the industry. And so I think that being a fan first enabled me to jump into the river and not send it in a totally different direction. I’m definitely aware of the fact that we have our own perspectives. I mean, calling the record TIM was a pretty clear indicator that this was a really personal record, that it was going to deal with many of the pillars in my life. I would say that there are probably three pillars that it’s about. The goal is to write from our own perspectives and write it to be universal and evergreen and applicable to somebody else. I hope that’s what ends up happening. I guess the idea is that if we make something that we spill a lot of our hearts into, then somebody will identify with it as well, because we’re not as alone as humans as we sometimes think that we are. 

Do you find that that comes easier to you – writing music that is overtly personal. I mean, “4000 Days” is probably the most on-the-nose personal as you can get as a songwriter, but I think the remainder of the album is stuff that you were going through but that also translates in a universal way. Is that what feels best do you rather than trying to ‘creative write’ and build these sorts of characters?

It feels best…music, we use it as sort of our church in a lot of ways. It’s kind of the way that we tap into spirituality, it’s a therapeutic endeavor that also has a commercial bent to it, which can be really weird at times – negotiating that line – but yeah, it feels comfortable for the most part because it feels meaningful enough to sing when it’s a story about me. I would really like to get into more character-driven stuff in the future. I’d like to be able to branch out that way, but they say that your first record took however many years you’ve been alive to make it, and I’d say that’s definitely the case with this.

How far back to some of these seeds go?

The first line from “High Hopes” is the first line that I can think of. “Let’s go walking in the pouring rain/ before it turns to acid” must have been…I don’t even know how old I was. I remember exactly where I was when I was writing it. I was walking with my wife down to what was the first place we’d move into together. We weren’t married at that point…that would have been maybe when I was 22 or 23. That would have been the same year that Bury Me In Philly came out – I think that was ‘16. 

That sounds right.

So it goes back that far. Actually, come to think of it…the real answer I just discovered. Here’s the real answer. I was eleven when my mom died. I had just turned eleven. When I turned 22, it was a huge, watershed moment in the grief process and the life process, because it marked the moment that I had spent more time on earth without her than I had with her. That was the initial kernel of “4000 Days” as the first thing that I remember writing, and I know that for a fact because that was such a profound marker in my life. 

That sounds like it’s around the same time then as that line from “High Hopes,” so it seems like that’s when things really shifted into this direction. 

Yeah, that’s when things really started percolating, back when I was 22. So it goes back a while. 

Was it hard for you – and was it important for you – to put a song like “4000 Days” on the album, because it’s such an intensely personal and vulnerable song, and you’re writing about things that, if people are familiar with you and Dave, they’re familiar with the story – Dave essentially did an album based on his processing of that with The Loved Ones – but was it important for you and nerve-wracking for you to put that on the record?

For sure. I would say I’m more nervous to play it live than I was to put it on the record. 

I can’t imagine having to play it live, to be honest with you.

I don’t know what to think about that. I have the record release show coming up on February 10th at World Cafe, and I don’t know how to skin that cat. It feels like I have to do it for a record release show, but there’s a part of me that really doesn’t want to do it. I’ve been no stranger to tears on stage. I’m okay with that for whatever reason. I think it’s a genuine mark of courage to be able to be okay with that in a public way. I’m okay if it goes that way. The friend of ours who passed during that November tour with Will, we played a couple songs at her service. And that was just brutal. So I’ve got some experience when there’s a tremendous weight in the room and there’s real gravity holding it together and trying to steel yourself so that you can deliver this piece of work you’re trying to deliver and then after you can kind of ease up and process what that was. But yeah, I wasn’t nervous to put it on there. I knew it was a good idea. It was a good enough idea to tattoo on myself. It was 4074 days, technically, because that’s the first thing that I got tattooed on my chest, was a piece with a couple of swallows holding a banner with the number of days on it. That was the first tattoo I got, and 4000 days sounds a lot better than “4074 days” so I had to take a little liberty with it.

That’s a hard song to listen to, and I say that as somebody who’s got both of his parents still with us – but that’s a hard song to listen to nevermind perform, but I can also see it being a song that doesn’t just get the waterworks going for you but for everyone in the crowd, because everyone has lost someone and had to watch someone pass away – mom, dad, grandma, brothers, whatever. That could be a real cathartic thing for everybody, and I think that that’s a sign that you nailed the sentiment that you were going for. 

For sure. Lately, there’s been part of me that thinks that I might be some kind of angel of death. (*both laugh*) I lost my mom when I was eleven, I lost my best buddy (Shane) when I was twenty-two, and he went missing for thirty-six days. He was out with his friends the night before Thanksgiving…

Oh man, I remember this story, yeah.

Yeah, he got separated from his friends around closing time, and I think he went to take a leak by the river and got swept away. There was a bunch of rain that week and it got really cold, so the river was higher than it had ever been or whatever. He was found thirty-six days later. 

That is horrifying.

Yeah. And then my best buddy in high school overdosed in 2020. So I’ve had a bunch of really, really, really close losses. And then over the last two months…the dad of my best bud Shane, he just passed. I was a pallbearer at Shane’s funeral, and then I was a pallbearer at his dad’s funeral like two weeks ago. Two weeks before that was Lindsay’s memorial that we flew out to California for and played a song at. And it just so happened that…you know, Thanksgiving week is always rough, because Wednesday is the day that Shane went missing, Thursday around Thanksgiving dinner time his mom called me and I just kinda knew as soon as she asked me that something was really wrong. Oddly enough, we flew out to California (this year) for Lindsay’s service on Black Friday, and the service was on Saturday, and that just so happened to be on my mom’s birthday.

Good grief, man. Wow.

So the last two months have been really, really difficult, and I’m back in that same place that I know so well, of grief. This last loss with Kevin, Shane’s dad, was really rough because of them being the family across the street. My dad was in a really, really bad way after my mom died, understandably, and he was sort of unable to do a lot of the normal functions of a parent, and they were the stand-in family. That was like where I would go to eat a meal that wasn’t Quizno’s. I’d go over there to have a family meal, you know? That’s where I’d escape. My mom died in hospice so after that, I just needed to be out of the house and his dad and his mom were like my stand-in second family. That was a really crushing blow just over the last couple months. So yeah, it’s a really hard song to think about playing, but I don’t think that we deal with death enough in our culture. I think we try to put it off and pretend it doesn’t happen, but it’s maybe the most universal part of human existence…birth and death and water, I guess, are the three biggest things, right? So if I’m not a stranger to it in my own life, I don’t want to be a stranger to it in my art, because the art that we make, fortunately, is an expression of our lives and hopefully it does connect with other people. Like you said, everybody knows somebody and if they don’t know they will someday. That sucks to say, but it’s just a fact. It was tough to make and I’m so glad we did it. I made sure to give my sisters trigger warnings when I sent them the song first. And my dad. Dave didn’t need any warning because he and I made it together. 

Have you had feedback from people on the socials and whatnot about that song in particular and how you nailed it, and being told that you nailed a song like that, is that almost more validating than any other sort of feedback you can get about your art?

Absolutely! “High Hopes” was the first single we put out and that was sort of the leader in the clubhouse in terms of plays on different services and streams and whatever….so you would think the most-played song might get the most feedback online, and that’s just not the case at all. “4000 Days” blew every song before and every song after out of the water in terms of people reaching out though DMs and messages and email and everything, to be like “hey, I related to that so much.” People have been telling me their stories, thanking me for it. That has been far and away the most connecting part of the release process. It’s definitely affirming and validating and exciting.

It does open that door where people then put their thing on you, right? Because they know that you can relate to it, and it helps them through, but then it also means that you have to wear their thing now too, once they tell you their story. 

Sure, there’s some emotional exhaustion that can come along with it, especially being out on tour. By the end of the day, when you’re putting everything together, even just getting to the show is a lot, especially when we go out to the merch (area) and you end up talking to people, it’s so awesome. The reason that we do it is to connect, but it can be emotionally exhausting, for sure. You just have to mind the shop; you have to stay on top of your own mental health. That’s part of the game, keeping things as in-check as you can. That song has been awesome (for that). There is an element of people putting it on you, but I kinda like that, you know? It’s such a signifier of connection that I enjoy it.

And it comes from a genuine place. Like I said, I think it’s indicative of the fact that you really nailed the sentiment. If you didn’t, people wouldn’t be opening up to you that way. I’m glad that song is on the record, for what that’s worth. I’ve talked to Dave in the past about his own sort of versions of processing that time in your lives, but that’s a very different thing to go through when you’re twenty-six versus when you’re ten or eleven.

Thank you!

I wanted to talk a little about working with Will (Hoge) again. Dave’s last record that people have heard was your first time working with Will and then you went back to Nashville for TIM and him for his next record. It seems like a match that I hadn’t even considered previously, and yet once it came about, it made perfect sense right away. The way all three of you not only write music but approach things and view the world, it seems like a perfect sort of symmetry. How did that really come about? You seem to have become fast friends.

It actually came about the same way you and I are talking right now, on Zoom. It was during the tail end of whatever that first or second wave was – there was Covid, but then it was looking like there was a window where it was safe enough to get together and make a record. It was kind of everybody’s first foray back into the studios in Nashville. For all of those guys, one of their first projects back if not their actual first project back was Blood Harmony. Alex (Fang), our manager, manages Will too, so that is the boring answer. We share a manager. But we met him on a Zoom, and it only took five minutes to get a bead on who is this guy, what’s he going to do for the record, and is he the right guy…and all of those questions were answered within what felt like seconds. At max, it was five minutes. It was one of those things like “wait…are you our family?” We joke about that we’re Southern and Yankee cousins, and it’s so true. There was an instant connection and an instant (realization) that this guy gets it. He’s done it a few times for himself. He’s thoughtful enough and mindful – his wife is a therapist, you know, which is always a good sign (*both laugh*) – and he’s got the mindfulness to think outside of his own scope and say “okay, what does this project need from me?” Immediately, it was a match made in heaven. It’s going to be hard someday in the future to not make a record with Will.

Probably for both of you. I think that it’s become a thing for him too.

Yeah for sure. It’s tough to think about that now. The cast of characters he put together for Blood Harmony was amazing. And then the guy who came up with a lot of the atmosphere on my record was Josh Grange. He was in Sheryl Crow’s band. He was huge on it. Chris Griffiths who played bass on it is in Will’s band. He’s awesome. Dean Anshutz played drums on most of it, and he’s from Red Wanting Blue. And the other drummer was Matt Billingslea, and he’s Taylor Swift’s drummer. He played on “Fit To Be Tied.”

Oh just some guy who plays with some obscure footnote in American music history named Taylor Swift. (*both laugh*)

That’s Will Hoge kind of in a nutshell. He’s the belle of every ball. There’s not a person who meets him who doesn’t immediately fall in love with him. He has that magic and that magnetism where people just think he’s the best. And he has that kind of pull in Nashville where he’s buddies with everybody and it’s for good reason. He’s just the best dude and he’s immensely talented.

I feel like he’s also representative of the good part that’s left of Nashville. I know he did the punch in/punch out songwriter thing in the corporate Nashville world, and I think at some level if you live there you probably have to at some point. But I think he’s become representative of the good part of Nashville that isn’t just corporate songwriting and the corporatization of “country music,” and I of course use air quotes around country music for a reason. He is one of the guys that is a real artist.

Through and through. And I think having had commercial success, the blessing and curse of that speaks to who he is. He’s still an artist, and he could have really shifted there, and he could have easily changed up his whole MO and done things differently and he didn’t. He got a taste of this unbelievable success and if anything it’s made him a better person.

I was just going to say, it seems like he’s come out of that better than before.

Yeah! That speaks to his character. He’s awesome. 

I was painfully late in getting into Will Hoge, because I have this predisposition against modern Nashville country. The modern Music Row thing, I don’t like, so then if you know that someone has a song that’s on modern country radio, it’s like “well, skip that one.” I don’t even remember where I started paying attention but it was probably either through Social D or Lucero and I remember going “where the hell has this guy’s songwriting been my entire life??” Because, I’m not from there, and yet I feel like I get it. 

He’s the real deal…and if we weren’t close enough before, that tour really put the punctuation mark on it.

You guys were tested and then kept getting tested. And you talk about a certain heaviness being over a show when you’re performing, those first couple of shows I was at in (Shirley) and Rockport, those were heavy shows. Dave’s absence was heavy, but the emotion behind it, and then the connection between you and Will, and then Will having his family there to surprise him, those were shows that were really unlike anything that I’ve seen.

They were unlike anything that I’ve been a part of too. It was such a cool format. Obviously, the most tragic thing was losing Lindsay, but there was also a tragic sense – much, much less gravity-wise, but we were looking forward to that tour for so long. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to pull it together again and to bring it everywhere on however many legs we can, because it works so well. If you get bored of a guy’s voice or a guy’s song or a guy’s playing, there’s gonna be another guy in five minutes who’s doing something different. If you’re not a fan of mine or of Dave’s or of Will’s, you probably will be at the end of it, but if you’re not, you have this built-in respite every couple minutes. As a person whose attention is hard to grab and keep, I can relate. I grew up in the restaurant industry so I always think of things from the perspective of what’s it going to be like for the customer, what’s it going to be like for the diner? What kind of service should I give that I would want to get? So that’s kind of how I approach show-going too; what type of show am I going to go out and see? That’s one that was so cool. Will was just so good during that whole thing. He could have easily gone and been like “alright kid, this isn’t what I signed up for. I signed up to do this co-headline bill with Dave Hause, and Dave Hause is gone. You’re gonna get thirty minutes and then I’m going to take over the rest of it. I’m headlining and we’ll do it the (normal) way.” On night one, I actually lobbied for that because I kinda freaked out a little bit. I was like “dude, I don’t know if I can do this tonight.” It was a long day, and the physical duty of splitting up all the work that Dave and I usually do between the merch and the stage and my heart being elsewhere with him and his family and (Dave’s wife) Natasha and the family out there in Cailfornia, I kinda freaked out an hour before stage, or half an hour before stage. I was out in the van and I called my wife and called Dave just in tears, and I said “I don’t know if I can do this. This is so heavy and so gnarly.” I got that out of my system and I came in and kinda said the same to Will, like “I don’t know man, we should maybe do this the old fashioned way, where I’ll go up and play thirty minutes.” And he was like, in a perfect part Ted Lasso, part Jedi fashion, completely like “those aren’t the droids you’re looking for” – “he was like we could do that…(*waves hand Obi Wan style*) but I think we should keep the spirit of this tour alive…” I think part of that was that he wanted to be up there to be able to catch me if I fell. He wanted the camaraderie and the familiar thing to be together as brothers going through this difficult thing was awesome. My actual brother wasn’t there, but I had my Southern brother there to fill that void and it was a huge, huge blessing. There’s not a better person that could have been out there for the shit to hit the fan in that way with than Will.

Not that you’d want to, but you couldn’t recreate those shows and the way they happened organically and didn’t go the way that anyone was expecting or thought that they would, but I think the vast majority of people that were at those shows came away tremendously impressed with you and how they went. 

I’m hopeful that that’s how it came across.

It may not be reflected in snowglobe sales, but…

(*both laugh*) Yeah! It did feel at the end like a huge growth point for me, and I’ll be a better person and artist and all those things for having gone through it. It’s the hardest tour I’ve been on, and I’ve been on a ten-and-a-half weeker! (*both laugh*)

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DS Photo Gallery: Sessanta, Night Two – A Perfect Circle (w/Josh Freese!), Puscifer and Primus celebrate Maynard James Keenan’s 60th at Boston’s historic Wang Theatre

In what may be one of the more random and unique turns of events in the recent memory of at least one long-time DS staffer (read as: me), we had the opportunity to shoot night two of Sessanta at Boston’s Wang Theatre. What is Sessanta, you might ask? Valid question. Sessanta – the word – […]

In what may be one of the more random and unique turns of events in the recent memory of at least one long-time DS staffer (read as: me), we had the opportunity to shoot night two of Sessanta at Boston’s Wang Theatre. What is Sessanta, you might ask? Valid question. Sessanta – the word – translates from the original Italian to “sixty” and not, contrary to popular belief, to “sexy Santa.” But Sessanta in this case is so much more. Specifically, it’s a touring celebration in honor of noted oenophile and Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiast Maynard James Keenan turning – you guessed it – sixty years old, a fact that is at least as mind-blowing as the show itself that celebrated the momentous occasion. (Seriously…Elvis died at 42 and Wilford Brimley was like 49 when he started shooting Cocoon and Jerry Garcia died at 53 and Maynard still looks like has aged maybe two weeks since he was stalking the stage at Lollapalooza 1993 during the handful of Tool appearances on that iconic tour. Maybe there’s something to a life of wine and martial arts and not, in Elvis’ case, Demerol and tranquilizers and, well, and martial arts. But I digress. As usual.)

The Sessanta touring monster is a three-headed beast that features Primus and two of Maynard’s non-Tool-related musical projects, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. The tour marks the first A Perfect Circle dates since 2018 – and I think the first dates with Josh Freese on drums since like 2011. Each band is certainly more than capable of headlining a similarly-sized venue (now in its hundredth year, the historic Wang Theatre holds 3,500) in their own right, so having all three on the same bill creates the problem of “who is going to headline?” To tackle that, Keenan and company created an evening event with all three bands trading spots and hoping on and off each other’s sets over the course of three hours. The stage was set up with three drum kits on a shared riser that was bookended at stage right and stage left by staircases that lead to seating areas each adorned with dual couches for the rotating cast of characters to hang out on and watch the festivities when it wasn’t their respective turns to perform.

All told, the trio of rock heavyweights pounded out twenty-nine songs over the course of the evening, with none of the bands really taking much in the way of precedent over the others. After a series of video reminders about the consequences of violating the show’s cell phone/camera policy, the musical portion of the celebration kicked off with a trio of songs from A Perfect Circle – “The Package,” “Disillusioned” and “The Contrarian” who then gave way to Primus’ well-received run-throughs of “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweakers,” “Too Many Puppies,” and “American Life.” Then it was Puscifer’s turn to take center-stage, with commanding performances of “Galileo,” “Horizons” and “Indigo Children.” With each band’s initial three-song mini-set out of the proverbial way, the evening turned progressively more collaborative. Act 2 kicked off with Primus playing a trio of their biggest hits in succession: “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,” “My Name Is Mud,” and “Tommy The Cat,” the latter of which saw Keenan himself taking Tom Waits’ position in the titular role from atop the stage left staircase. Puscifer returned for what really was the heart of the set – a four-song collection of “Flippant,” “Momma Said,” “Bullet Train to Iowa” and “The Underwhelming.” A Perfect Circle returned for “The Hollow” with Primus’ Tim Alexander on drums. Astute observers will recall that Alexander was APC’s founding drummer and his drumming on the studio version of that song marks his only recorded appearance in the APC catalog. On this night, as he did in the band a quarter-century ago, Alexander then handed the reins back to Freese for “So Long, And Tanks For All The Fish,” “Weak And Powerless” and “The Outsider.”

Act 3 started with a Puscifer return, closing out their portion of the evening with “The Humbling River” and “The Remedy.” A Perfect Circle then played arguably their two biggest hits – “The Noose” and “Judith” before Primus closed out their portion of the main set with an extended “Southern Pachyderm,” which featured Freese and Olsen joining Alexander as a three-headed drum soloing monster. The set closed with each band performing their new tracks that appear on the tour-exclusive new EP; APC’s “Kindred” performed with Puscifer’s Carina Round, Puscifer’s “No Angel,” and finally Primus’ “Pablo’s Hippos,” performed with Keenan himself. Then it was time for the grand finale; the entire twelve-headed monster took to the stage simultaneously to bang out what I guess you would call a cover of Puscifer’s “Grand Canyon.” You really should watch the latter – it’s something to behold.


As I alluded to before, the show brought with it a strict “no cell phone/no photography” policy which was startlingly well adhered to. It sounds weird maybe to mention in a show review, but we’ve reached the day and age where it is truly noteworthy – and undoubtedly refreshing – to be at a show filled with people who are just reveling in the experience in real life and not through a screen…and I say that as someone who watches shows through a screen for a (pretend) living. The atmosphere made for a compelling watch. Certainly, it seemed most show-goers were most stoked to see A Perfect Circle, especially with the powerhouse that is Josh Freese supplying the drumming duties. I think Billy Howerdel is a tremendous writer of poignant, heavy yet atmospheric music, and it creates for a live performance that borders on haunting at times. Primus, though, had a large contingent of their own fans singing and dancing along as Les Claypool and crew frog stomped their way through their particular brand of psychedelic prog funk jam rock. Puscifer are a band that I think a lot of people traditionally sleep on, because maybe of the sort of juvenile band and song/album names sometimes, and because I think they’ve been mischaracterized as a catch-all for Maynard’s non-Tool/APC musings and, as such, not as “serious” a band, but let me tell you…that band rules. Hard. Especially live. The interplay between Maynard and the spell-binding Carina Round’s voices and personalities was captivating, and genuinely lent itself perfectly to the gothic, theatrical setting.


I was going to write a more thoughtful outro to this show review, but in my brain, I keep hearing Stefon, Bill Hader’s brilliant city correspondent/club promoter from SNL’s Weekend Update like 15 years ago. “This show had everything; a birthday cupcake for Maynard James Keenan, three drummers at the same time, Les Claypool in a pig mask playing standup bass with a bow, an Ameriglide stair lift, Josh Freese and Billy Howerdel playing ping-pong, not a single cell phone in sight for three full hours (minus a ten-minute interlude); a hundred-year-old theater where they filmed Witches Of Eastwick.” It really was a special sort of show, and for being only night two of a tour filled with a lot of chaotic moving parts, it seemed from where I was sitting to go off without a hitch. Check our more photos below, albeit only from the show’s finale because that’s all we could shoot. The greedy photographer part of my brain thought it was super unfair because the people deserve to see pics of such an amazing atmosphere…but the cranky old man show-goer part of my brain feels happy we got an uninterrupted treat all to ourselves!


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