When The Loved Ones released their debut full-length album, Keep Your Heart, in early 2006, it seemed at the time to be a welcome bit of fresh air in the punk scene. Here was a new band that, though its members were known entities in the punk rock scene, seemed to transcend any specific label; a bouncy, East Coast sound run through a West Coast, Fat Wreck Chords filter. The album was an opening salvo from a band that seemed destined for a lengthy and blindingly bright future. Inspired (for lack of a better word, because that honestly feels like the wrong word to use) by the death of frontman Dave Hause’s mother a few years prior, the baker’s dozen tracks on Keep Your Heart found the Philadelphia-based trio (Mike Sneeringer on drums, Michael “Spider” Cotterman on bass) nearly perfecting a high-octane, melodic punk rock sound that was all their own right out of the gate. The album was nearly universally well-received by critics, fans and fellow bands alike, and set a trajectory for the band that seemed, on paper, to trend infinitely upward.
On the surface, things seemed to be heading in a positive direction in the Loved Ones camp, but there was tension in the ranks. By the time they were ready to record a follow-up to Keep Your Heart, Spider had left the band and the relationship between Hause and Sneeringer was tenuous at best. Touring guitar player David Walsh was brought in as a permanent member, as was Chris Gonzalez, Walsh’s former bandmate in Boston-area punk band The Explosion after that band itself went belly up. The situation was unsteady, but the new lineup had displayed a great deal of chemistry on the road. With that and the momentum from Keep Your Heart still providing wind in their sails, the band teamed up with Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen to get to work on a new album that would find the band branching in different directions while trying to not abandon their punk rock roots.
The end product, Build & Burn, was released ten years ago today (February 5, 2008). Backed by a rock solid rhythm section, the album maintained many of the melody-rich, uptempo punk rock sounds that made its predecessor so beloved. But the album also stretched in a variety of musical directions that, at the time, didn’t immediately resonate with fans in the same coherent way that Keep Your Heart had. Layers of added texture and an increased desire to tap into some broader musical influences, from Foo Fighter-esque radio ready rockers to mid-90s radio alternative Lemonheads grooves to Oasis style stadium anthems made for an enjoyable and challenging listening experience to the punk rock ear. In retrospect, the album very much finds not only the band and its members – collectively and individually – at a crossroads, but came at a time in which the scene and the music industry and the nation were very much the same place.
The band aimed high, and while opinions may vary as to how successful they were (yours truly thinks its the superior, more relatable Loved Ones full-length), it’s undeniable that they built a bridge to what was to come for its members. To mark the album’s tenth birthday, Dying Scene caught up with its main players – Dave Hause, Mike Sneeringer, David Walsh, Chris Gonzalez, Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen – to dig deep into the closets and talk about the build up, and subsequent burn out, that produced this misunderstood gem. Check out our two-part story (The Build and The Burn) and track-by-track revisit below!
Crafting A Sophomore Album
The Loved Ones initially came together as a band in mid-2003. The three members that comprised the initial lineup – Dave Hause on guitar and vocals, Michael “Spider” Cotterman on bass and Mike Sneeringer on drums – were veterans of noted punk and hardcore bands like Paint It Black, Trial By Fire, The Curse and Kid Dynamite. The newly formed band ascended in relative short order; a self-released demo in 2004 and a self-titled EP released on Jade Tree Records in early 2005 helped bring them shows offering support for high-profile bands including The Bouncing souls and NOFX. This, in turn, led to the trio signing with Fat Wreck Chords for the release of their debut full-length. Entitled Keep Your Heart, the album hit the streets in February 2006 and set the bar high for the band right out of the gate. In large part, the album centered on first-time frontman Hause processing the death of his mother a few years prior. The album’s raw, punchy sound and deeply personal lyrics were instantly accessible to a wide audience, and remain an intensely visceral listening experience.
As is perhaps to be expected in a group of opinionated, headstrong late-20s males touring the world in a van, there was some level of tension within the ranks almost from the start. “Aspects of the band were tumultuous the entire time. It was a weird combination of personalities,” explains Sneeringer. “Dave (Hause) and I are both really stubborn, and that’s not a good trait to have when you’re trying to help operate a band at a level where the expectations are super high,” he elaborates, while acknowledging that it’s a story shared by countless other bands throughout the annals of music history. In spite of the personality differences, the band’s increase in popularity lead to increased opportunities to keep the show on the road. Though The Loved Ones initially toured as a three-piece, they would eventually recruit David Walsh, founding guitarist of Boston-area punk band The Explosion to play second guitar on the road. The Explosion were still technically a band at that point, but were in a period of inactivity, freeing Walsh up to help The Loved Ones beef up their live sound. This particular lineup would not last, however, as Spider Cotterman would officially relinquish his role as bass player before long.
Coincidentally, The Explosion’s hiatus would become an official parting of the ways around the time that Spider departed The Loved Ones. This led not only to Walsh joining the Loved Ones on a full-time basis, but to his recruiting one of his Explosion bandmates into the fold. “(Hause) told me Spider was leaving the band and we needed a bass player,” says Walsh. “I was telling Chris Gonzalez, who was the second guitar player in The Explosion. He wasn’t doing anything and he still wanted to tour, so I had him call Dave.” Though he had been a guitar player since the age of thirteen, Gonzalez had only recently begun to play the bass, primarily for purposes of recording some the the songwriting ideas that he’d been working on individually. That, coupled with a desire to continue touring as a musician, led to a fairly easy decision.
And so it was that The Loved Ones not only dodged the bullet that comes along anytime a founding member departs, but had reformed as an official four-piece, absorbing two members from a band that they considered family. “Talk about a brother band,” Sneeringer explains. “The Explosion had to be probably the ultimate in a sea of bands that we were really tight with – Strike Anywhere, Dead To Me. A lot of those bands we considered like brother bands, but The Explosion was something much deeper. To have the ability to have some of those guys be immediately available when we needed them was unbelievably exciting.”
The newly-minted foursome took a collaborative approach to songwriting when it came time to woodshed material for what would become Build & Burn. Walsh sheds some light on the process: “We started doing some demos; I was living in New York at the time and Chris (Gonzalez) and I would go down and hang out with Dave and we would bang around some ideas and we started writing that way.” The band had obviously achieved a modicum of success, and were mindful of the ever-present threat of the sophomore slump. “Keep Your Heart did pretty well,” says Sneeringer. “We had ascended, not to super-stardom like maybe we thought we were going to, but we had only climbed at that point. We had a lot of pressure and expectation, but at the same time, it’s very punk to feel that pressure and expectation and to go ‘fuck you guys, we’re going to make this weird record.’”
In addition to working on new music, the band stayed busy on the road. One of the early tours that the Hause-Sneeringer-Walsh-Gonzalez lineup embarked on was an extensive run across the length of the Great White North. “We did one full tour that was The Loved Ones, Strike Anywhere and Bouncing Souls through Canada,” explains Walsh. While on that tour, the foursome would be allowed the opportunity not only bounce ideas around with each other, but with the duo that would be charged with recording the follow up to Keep Your Heart: the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf and Bryan Kienlen.
Reading this article in 2018, you’re no-doubt aware of how highly regarded Steinkopf and Kienlen have become not only as musicians but for their parts in crafting great sounding albums. Both have been instrumental to the development of the Bouncing Souls’ sound, and Steinkopf has established a career as a well-respected producer who’s been at the helm of albums for artists like Lenny Lashley, The Menzingers, Plow United, Northcote and Brian Fallon. In 2007, however, the only music Steinkopf or Kienlen had had a part in producing was their own. “Pete and I were super hands-on with How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Anchors Aweigh, those two in particular,” explains Kienlen. “It was me, Pete and John Seymour, every detail, over-the-top anally on those records at that point. (Dave Hause) liked the sound of those records.”
This move would not only be a noteworthy departure from their previous music-making process. Brian McTernan had not only been the producer at the helm of Keep Your Heart, but had worked with various members of the bands at different points in their respective careers, producing material for both Trial By Fire and The Explosion. “It was a tumultuous time,” recalls Sneeringer. “We parted from our so-called normal mode of working with Brian McTernan. That had been our previous bands too, when I was in Trial By Fire, we had recorded with Brian McTernan, and we decided we wanted to do it a different way.”
Though the second full-length Loved Ones album would still technically be the first Loved Ones album for half the band, the two remaining founding members were consciously mindful of the aforementioned sophomore slump. “I remember us talking, jokingly, about a difficult second record before we made it,” explains Sneeringer. “We would study other bands and the trajectory of their careers very closely and pay a lot of attention. We were talking about the juxtaposition between the pressure of your second full-length when your first full-length has done well and how many bands that we could think of that had difficult second records. I think (Hause) and I respected that as part of a process, where you want to push it a little and see what you’re capable of, and then maybe after having gone and explored that new territory, return to what you know best with a different perspective. I think that was somewhat calculated.”
“I think what we were trying to do was something different overall. We were trying to push away from just doing the same thing,” says Sneeringer. “I think a lot of people wanted us to make Keep Your Heart 2, which of course I understand from a fan’s perspective, but from a band perspective, especially with the new blood of Chris Gonzalez and Dave Walsh, the idea of taking the known and seeing if we could push it a little bit farther and make some kind of weird songs and use some of our other influences. As much as we love punk and hardcore and that scene, especially Dave and I listened to a lot of country and folk and indie-rock songwriter kind of stuff.”
Pre-production for the new material largely took place at what is now known as Little Eden Studio in Asbury Park, New Jersey, but was really known at the time as Kate Hiltz’s basement. Hiltz, the Bouncing Souls longtime “manager/promoter/den mother,” owned a Victorian house that had become the Souls’ crash pad/practice spot/etc. As Sneeringer tells it, “we sort of camped in Asbury Park at Kate (Hiltz), the manager of Bouncing Souls’ house, which is now a studio called Little Eden – we basically built that basement into a studio which is still used with the money that we got from the advance. We bought a lot of gear, a computer, monitors. We did basically pre-production there.”
Once pre-production wrapped, the gang moved north to New York City to lay down rhythm tracks at The Wild Arctic Studio in Queens. This marked Gonzalez first time playing his new instrument on record, and he took his task seriously. “It was the first album I had recorded bass for,” he recalls. “I had so much respect for Spider and his playing and I really wanted to honor that. I wanted it to be something where people didn’t necessarily notice that he wasn’t there, but at the same time make it my own. That was an interesting puzzle to fit into.” Helping to ease Gonzalez into this new role was the fact that Sneeringer was a joy to play with. “Being able to play bass with Mike couldn’t get better,” says Gonzalez. “He’s such a good drummer, and to be able to play bass with someone like that was a perfect mix. It was so fun. I do actually miss that; listening to the album got me wishing I could play bass with Mike again. Getting to do that every night was such a great feeling.”
Sneeringer, for his part, made sure that his drum responsibilities were buttoned up heading into the studio. Perhaps too buttoned up. “I practiced SO much before the recording process that I actually hurt my wrist,” he recalls. “I remember the two days before we went into the studio, I became obsessed with being prepared. I played like six or eight hours straight two days in a row at full volume and tempo and basically hurt myself. I was taking four Advil every couple hours.”
Bum wrist aside, the Wild Arctic portion of the recording process went swimmingly by all accounts. “That was a great studio. I felt really positive about my drum tracking” explains Sneeringer. “When we got (to Wild Arctic) it was basically Chris Gonzalez and I and Bob Strakele getting sounds. Maybe Pete and Bryan were there, (but) Dave wasn’t there yet. And there are a couple songs on Build And Burn that I played literally with no accompaniment, and that was the track we used. And this is not meant to be braggadocio or anything, but there are at least three songs that are first take on that record. I had ultra-prepared to where I could play the songs with no help. It was whatever I tackled first, because Dave wasn’t even there, and I said ‘well just run the click and I’ll run through the song so we can hear how the drums sound,’ and that’s the take that we ended up using.”
In addition to rhythm tracks, the band also had a few influential friends stop by the studio to lend their respective talents to the album. Tad Kubler, lead guitar player for Minneapolis-turned-New York City rock band The Hold Steady, popped in and blistered through a breakneck solo that would appear on the song “Louisiana.” “Tad nailed a solo that I could never play live. I’m just not that kind of guitar player,” states Walsh. “I’m more of a rhythmic player, so when it came time for “Louisiana,” I could never play that solo. I kinda had to tell them – and they knew, too – that I wasn’t that kind of guitar player that could play like that, you know what I mean? It’s funny when you have something like that on the album, it’s funny to try to live up to it live.” The multi-instrumental virtuoso Franz Nicolay, himself also of The Hold Steady at the time, also hung out and added layer upon layer of sound to the mix, playing keys and organ and accordion and harmonica and various other percussive devices.
Once things were wrapped up in Queens, the crew moved back to Asbury for what was basically a month-long hanging and recording session at Little Eden. The vibe was pretty laid back, and that was at least partially by design. “(Little Eden) was the Bouncing Souls jam room, and Pete started buying gear to retro-fit a studio there,” says Kienlen. “(Pete and I) fine-tuned our ears and got a lot of experience in there and knew our way around. We had developed a specific aesthetic for guitars and sounds and levels and everything. And we’re family with Dave (Hause). We lived in the truck together for five years, give or take,” a specific nod to Hause’s time spent on the Souls’ road crew. Steinkopf adds: “It wasn’t really any different from being in a band. We were all sitting around playing guitars together and working on songs together. We had been friends with Dave for a long time, we had done a ton of touring with The Loved Ones, and half of that lineup used to be in The Explosion, and we had done a ton of touring with them too. We would have all been hanging out whether or not we were making a record.”
And while the vibe was as laid back as a large group of good buds hanging out and making music together could be, it wasn’t without its own very real undercurrent of potential stress for the artists and producers alike. The Loved Ones had to follow up their successful debut, and Kienlen and Steinkopf had to take seriously the idea of branching out and producing an album for another band in a studio that hadn’t quite come together yet. Steinkopf especially had been toying with the idea of building Kate’s basement out into a working studio; this process helped pull the proverbial Band-Aid off. “I was kind of planning on doing it but there was really no rush. This kind of put a little bit of a fire under my ass to get it set up enough to do something with,” explains Steinkopf. “Dave (Hause) was just like ‘let’s do it in there!’ and I’m like ‘well, we don’t really have any idea what we’re doing at all!’ Luckily our sound man, Bob Strakele, really ran the ship and made the whole thing happen. He was the hero of that record.”
It’s worth noting that the Asbury Park that Build & Burn was recorded in was a tough and gritty place, far different from the Asbury Park that you’ll find circa 2018 thanks in large part to the ongoing gentrification process that’s claimed the life of so many working class neighborhoods and divey music venues. Setting up shop at a venue like Little Eden provided the assembled crew with some of the creature comforts of home, and some rather hair-raising experiences to go along. “Kate’s house is right down the street from the Asbury Lanes – rest in peace,” explains Kienlen. “We would work in the basement all day, then we would walk up to the Lanes. Asbury Park was different back then, and I remember definitely getting fucked with.”
Perhaps chief among the more hair-raising incidents experienced during that month in Asbury was the night that engineer Bob Strakele got held up at gunpoint during one of the group’s nightly three-block walks to the Lanes. “He was only a few paces behind us,” says Kienlen. “Maybe half-a-block. And we got to the Lanes and we’re standing on the back steps and Bob’s getting held up right behind this mini school bus, ten or twenty yards behind us, only we couldn’t see him because he’s behind the bus!” Steinkopf offers his own take on the event: “We would record during the day, drink a bunch of booze at the studio, then slowly make our way to the Lanes. It was fall, so it was still nice out. One night Bob had to stay and I think backup some files. We were all already at the Lanes, carrying on outside in the smoking area, and we heard Bob kinda say “oh no!” and then he showed up and said “I got fucking mugged at gunpoint!” It was right within earshot of us, but he was behind a van. The guys got him at gunpoint and got his phone and his wallet and all his crap.”
Of course, no month-long Asbury Park music experience would be complete without a requisite Bruce Springsteen story. Not only had The Boss recently used Kienlen’s custom-built Harley Davidson for a photo shoot (see above) with legendary Asbury-based photographer Danny Clinch, but he and the E Street Band were in town for the month, rehearsing for an upcoming tour at the Asbury Park Convention Hall. Kienlen ran into Springsteen himself in the VIP area at a Dropkick Murphys, and took the chance to fulfill his producerly duties and try to reel in the biggest of big fish to sing on the album. “I had both a reason to talk to him and an opportunity to talk to him, “he explains. “I’m like “oh, hey, I’m the owner of the bike that you did the photo shoot on!” And he said “oh yeah, that’s great! How you doing, I know the Bouncing Souls!” And I’m like “that’s great!” and I’m having this cool moment. And I could have said anything I wanted, and I took my big opportunity to talk to the fucking Boss and I was like “I’m making a record with this band The Loved Ones and we have this kind of Gospel song and we would love if you would sing on it.” I could have said anything, I could have said something about the Bouncing Souls, and instead I punished the guy by asking him to sing on a record I was making!” (As an aside, here’s a video of various members of the Loved Ones recording crew trying to lay eyes on Springsteen during this time, affectionately known as “Stalking The Boss.”)
By the end of the recording session at Little Eden, there was the sense that the band and the crew who came together for the experience had crafted something different, and something special. “I remember being super excited about (the whole process),” Gonzalez notes. “I remember being super excited to finish it. I remember Pete and Bryan and Bob were all really excited. It felt like we had accomplished something.” “It was a good learning experience for everybody involved,” adds Kienlen. “They’re great songwriters. That record’s got Dave Walsh writing, it’s got everybody’s skill. It’s one of those perfect moments when a bunch of creative minds create something bigger than any one person. That’s how I think of that record. It was a really fun experience to play that role, and to kinda sit back and let those guys run the show.”
The band had set out to explore new musical territory, and unquestionable succeeded. “We had to do it. We had to make that record, or we would have just wondered,” opines Sneeringer. “We would have thought it would have been a Wilco-esque opus if we never made it. The way you think of things and the way they come out is not always the same, and that’s fine, that’s most of life. With the way we were feeling at the time, we had to make a record that was different than Keep Your Heart. That’s unequivocal.” The ten songs that would emerge in the form of Build & Burn were rooted in punk rock and collectively told a compelling story that, in some ways, is uniquely American. It’s a story of creation and destruction, of building things up on one side and burning them down on the other. It’s also a story that would prove to be steeped in foreshadowing.
Build & Burn – The Band Goes Track-by-Track
(Editor’s note: The song names double as links to the actual tracks. David Walsh and Mike Sneeringer provided commentary without having listened to the album in recent years. Hause and Gonzalez had both given the album recent spins when we spoke.)
“Pretty Good Year“
David Walsh: “Pretty Good Year” is a great one too. That’s a real “Loved Ones style” song. It’s real fast and dirty.
Mike Sneeringer: “Pretty Good Year” is probably my favorite (song from the album). And that has to do with some of the simplicity. To me, it was an extremely straight-forward song, very much like “Suture Self.” That’s why we started the album off with it, too, to ease people into the second record. The simplicity of it still sits well with me.
Chris Gonzalez: “Pretty Good Year” I think is great. Dave came to us with that song, and we thought “oh, yeah, this is a perfect song to start an album with. It’s got perfect energy. It’s a perfect transition (from Keep Your Heart) – here’s something new, but there’s a little bit of the old still there too.
Dave Hause: “Pretty Good Year” is a good song. I remember crafting it and being super proud of the lyric. I think the lyric is still really sturdy. In keeping with my favorite things that have happened with my writing, it’s up there with “Autism Vaccine Blues” or other songs that I think are successfully written. I don’t know if it’s delivered in a compelling way.
Walsh: I love “The Inquirer.” And that song in particular was a real collaborative song between Chris, Dave and I. I feel like the verse riff I wrote, the intro riff Chris wrote and Dave wrote the chorus, you know? I think Dave wrote all of the lyrics, but melody-wise we hashed that out together. That was definitely one of my favorites.
Sneeringer: I thought of it a very rock way, even though it’s a pretty punk song. The simplicity of the drum part, and I love Dave’s scream when he comes back in. It’s so from the depths. I remember him doing that, and I remember being in the studio when he tracked that, and thinking “how long is he going to scream? I can’t believe he’s able to do that!” That one, live, is soooo fun. No matter what was going on with a crowd, even for people that didn’t know it, you play that song and people just start moving around.
Gonzalez: My favorite songwriting process on the album was with “The Inquirer.” It was mostly Dave’s song, but the lyrics weren’t finished, and some of the parts weren’t fully arranged. Him and I really sat with that one and really carved it up. I really like the energy of that song. It’s really complete to me. “The Inquirer” is probably my favorite song from the album.
Hause: That song is a ripper. It’s kind of like our Foo Fighter-ode or something. We kept running into Fat Mike on that Keep Your Heart tour, and he kept saying “you need to experiment with weirder chords and weirder progressions. You guys and the Souls can write a hook, but you need more weird chords.” So with “The Inquirer,” that progression was from an Amy Winehouse chord progression; that descending thing in the verse was borne out of some weird motivation from Fat Mike and Amy Winehouse! That song is pretty cool; that scream in the middle of it is real. I always thought that people were going to assume that that was hacked together in ProTools, but that was weird. Some people hear it as cool, I hear it as a guy fucking melting down. That scream was my life at the time hitting a wall or something. That’s a good scream, but knowing what it was borne of is a little harder to wrap your head around!
Walsh: “The Bridge” was always a real fun song to play. That one has a vibe of a real bouncy, not cock-rock in particular, but a real almost hip hop beat to it, you know what I mean? That’s a good riff. I believe Dave wrote that. That video was so fun; that was the most fun video ever.
Sneeringer: “The Bridge” is the one we picked as the single, and I remember Dave and I both saying after the fact that maybe we should have done “The Inquirer.” But I like that we did “The Bridge.” It was intentional, for us being like “this is different, this is not what you’re used to.”
Gonzalez: At the time when we were making the album, I think we were all feeling really good about it. It was just a little bit different. We did some shows way after the record came out and we brought the tempo back up, and I think we all kinda wished we had done it that way instead. It’s so easy to look back and cut it up and think what we could have done and should have done differently. I remember that we were in Kate’s basement writing it and arranging it and we were stuck on it. We kinda came up with that sort of Jackson 5 style bass part and shaped it from there. That was really fun. We were all pretty excited; Kienlen and Steinkopf were stoked.
Hause: I still don’t like the arrangement, but I didn’t hate it as much as I thought. I thought it was fine, I just wish it would have been a little straighter. I think that all of that bouncing around makes it a little more distracting than it should be. It could have been better served as a Social Distortion sort of thing. The lyrics are a little on the nose. I guess I hear that ambition thing in that song, where we were kinda putting the cart before the horse. We were like “we’re gonna be huge, so let’s write a song where we can comfortably be huge!” There are some good bits in there. Fat were behind it (as the single) but at one point they were getting feedback from people at radio stations saying that it reminded people of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” song, and at that point they may have retreated a little.
Kienlen: I think (“The Bridge”) is my favorite song on there.The record version is so fucking good. Those spaces in that rhythm, and then when Gonzalez comes in with the sixteenths under it, it’s just beautiful, man.
Walsh: “Sarah’s Game” is a cool song. That’s a song about a friend of ours at the time. (*laughs*)
Gonzalez: At the time, I wasn’t 100% blown away by it, but I didn’t dislike it. I enjoy it more now listening back to it.
Hause: “Sarah’s Game” was sort of an attempt at a “Jane”-esque jam. It was “alright, well, what worked about “Jane”? Like, if we took the formula that we used for “Jane,” and that song was just an honest outpouring, where it was me sitting with just a guitar and coming up with a song. “Sarah’s Game” was trying to recapture that and intellectually going about it. “Jane” was a story song, so this was a story song. “Jane” is in C#, so “Sarah’s Game” is in C#. We have it about the same tempo. The problem with “Jane” is the chorus – it doesn’t have a big enough chorus, so we’ll put this “whoa-oh-oh-oh” Bouncing Souls-esque thing in there that will make the chorus more catchy, then we’ll have “Jane 2.0,” only better. I didn’t really know my head from a whole in the ground at that point, but the magic of whatever happened with the transfer of energy on “Jane” is that it was an honest thing, it wasn’t calculated. If you have an accidental beautiful date with someone, and it all works out, the night is a magical night, chances are a year or two later if you try to do the same thing, go to the same restaurant, order the same food only this time with more red sauce or a bigger steak – chances are the magic of that night had nothing to do with those controllable details. Typically it’s about something else, a certain chemical thing or an intangible, and I think for whatever reason, “Sarah’s Game” lacks that intangible. People liked it, but I wondered at the time why at the end of a show people weren’t asking for that song, they were still asking for “Jane.” I was like “what do you mean? This is a better song!” In reality, it just wasn’t borne of magic.”
Walsh: I wrote that song. That’s a good song. I feel like that song was inspired by The Hold Steady in a way. Maybe it’s the delivery of the vocals, it’s real storytelling like that. That’s about a friend of mine who went to jail. He’s out now, but it was a real hectic time for him and for me and for some people who were close to me. I think I pretty much wrote 90% of that one…I was going through a thing where my friend – he was actually my brother-in-law at the time, my ex-wife’s brother – was going to jail, and I was going through something with that. I came to the guys with it and said “this can be a Loved Ones song for the next album or I could just keep it for myself and do something solo with it.” But I remember them all being super into it, and because it had a different vibe. I think that Dave was looking for sort of cool little left field songs for this one.
Sneeringer: I really like that song. That’s a really cool song.
Gonzalez: I know that David Walsh was going through a lot of family stuff and it came out of that. I thought it was a good song (at the time), but it’s interesting – now I think it’s a great song. I’m really glad we did that. It definitely moves me more now. I can totally remember the lyrics and where he was coming from with it.
Hause: I like that song. David wrote that song about his brother-in-law. That’s a cool song, that sort of Lemonheads jangle. I think that we pulled that off. It sounds Gin Blossomy or something. It worked. It was a pretty fun jam and maybe should have been more of a focus. If we had arranged more of the record, I probably would enjoy it more. We chose to do him singing some and me singing some because it was more his song, so we did that volley as we wrote it. That song is looser and it doesn’t suffer from some of the same problems that I have with other songs.
Walsh: I feel like that’s a real grandiose number…
Gonzalez: I just remember feeling like that was a little cringe-worthy. I don’t remember what we were going for, really. I was always upset about it because I wasn’t honest about it at the time and that drove me crazy.
Hause: “Selfish Masquerade” is such a kooky song. It’s so weird. It’s a little bit of a similar ambition, like “let’s write an Oasis song, what would Oasis do?” And while I can appreciate that ambition, at the same time, who gives a shit what Oasis would do? What would you do? I think there are ways to deliver that but have it be less jarring for our fans. On our own, we were playing punk rock venues – the Church basement (in Philly), or the Middle East (in Cambridge). So to have this sort of Reading Festival style rock ballad in the middle (of the album) is jarring! I like the song, but we didn’t need to do it that way. It could have been much more effective just on a piano. It was maybe too much too soon – and that’s the problem with going backwards, you can mix in what the response was to the record with how you actually feel about it and you don’t know which one starts where. But it’s sturdy. It could use a lyrical rewrite. It seems a little too eager to cash the royalty check…it kinda jumped for Oasis and ended up in like that weird mid-period of Aerosmith, which I really like. The very end has this swirling almost string thing that gave me a shiver – it made me laugh, like, “what the fuck is this? What were these kids thinking?” And I hate to be too critical because there are people who do connect with this record in a way, and maybe that part doesn’t bum them out. For me, the spots where we were trying to jump higher than we could are what stick out. (*editor’s note: The chorus and the bridge of this song absolutely nail the ‘Reading Festival’ analogy, but in an awesome way. I find this song to be a cross of the good parts of the Foo Fighters if they were writing their own version of Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.” The sand castle reference is a perfect build/burn image. This the kookiness and grandiosity are why I dig it.)
Hause:“3rd Shift” – that song came together pretty well. The person who that’s about, that’s chapter one of the person “C’Mon Kid” is about. I wrote that song about a friend who was struggling with addiction for years and years. It was so uncertain as to whether or not he would survive, so when he was doing better a year or two letter, I felt some level of guilt and like I needed to write a positive song. That sort of reminds me of that Against Me! song “Americans Abroad.” It’s got that gallop. I like the writing on that song. That came from an inspired burst and I can hear that still. It’s a cool moment on the record.
Walsh: “Louisiana” is a real fun song to play. That was Dave’s song, he wrote that entirely. I think he had seen a documentary about (Hurricane Katrina) and how they were really fucked over, so he got really inspired.
Gonzalez: The concept was so great initially. We talked about going to Louisiana and doing a video for it where we actually helped fix someone’s house. Any money we made off it would have gone to charity. It was this whole elaborate concept that, because of the way things fizzled out, we never got to do. We also wanted to get a choir to sing on it. Bryan and I, I remember, went to this one church right up the street, and they weren’t feeling it. I think we thought it would be easy, but it didn’t work out. They kinda told us to kick rocks. We were naive and excited, and I’m glad we tried.
Hause: The Hold Steady elements were amazing. That guitar solo is fucking awesome. Tad (Kubler) came in and did two, one was better than the next. He was in and out in twenty minutes and just fucking ripped that thing. That’s really a highlight. And all the elements that Franz (Nicolay) brought to that are really exciting and really cool and made for this strange little soup that we were going for. I think we should maybe have made it a stand-alone song, a single, somewhere in that record cycle later. It would have maybe been cool to do that as a standalone release with all of the proceeds going to Hurricane Katrina victims and have it be its own statement. I was watching that Spike Lee “When The Levees Broke” documentary. Build & Burn is a sort of concept record – with one hand you build, with the other hand you burn, and it sort of meets that criteria. It’s a building song in the most obvious sense of the word. But it felt a little out of place on the record. Then again, there’s a lot of stepchildren on that album that in a weird way form this cool little family. It was a really fun song to play live. But there are moments that are super cool. The song builds into quite a crescendo.
Kienlen: That song “Louisiana” – we had all these big ideas. We wanted to have a huge Gospel choir in there, so we walked around Kate’s neighborhood, where there’s four or five churches. At least a few of them are Baptist. So we thought that was what we needed, and that we’d just walk to those churches, and find the first person we saw there and tell them we were looking for a Gospel choir to sing on our record! And we were so sure this was going to work. We spent days doing it, and it was some weird, awkward conversations. We learned that most of the churches don’t have such a choir. It’s not like the movies where there’s this amazing choir with two dozen females with wonderful voices!
Gonzalez: “Dear Laura” doesn’t really fit on there, thematically. I think it’s a cool song, but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of (the record).
Hause: “Dear Laura” sounds like a heavy metal song at this point. It sounds like us trying to do Strike Anywhere. It’s a cool song, the lyrics are interesting – it’s about Laura Bush. “Dear Laura” was a holdover from the Keep Your Heart sessions. It didn’t fit on Keep Your Heart and it probably doesn’t fit on Build & Burn either, but it was topical to the Bush Administration coming to an end that year. We were fed up with wars and family values being touted. You can kind of hear those guitar holdovers from Keep Your Heart, it’s riffier.
Walsh: I think, I’m almost positive, that Chris Gonzalez wrote most of that song.
Sneeringer: I remember “I Swear” being the most challenging song. I felt like that was the most of us pushing people’s expectations away. I think it was written quickly, but it took a lot of work to get it down. I remember it being kind of confounding, just to get the feel, and I don’t even know if I ever mastered it. That’s a song that I’d love to re-record with my current level of musicianship. I feel like I could do it way better.
Gonzalez: That started with me and then Dave Hause and I bounced it back and forth a little bit. I remember we sat at the picnic table or out on the back porch trying to figure out what the hell we were writing.
Hause: I like that song a lot. I think it’s really cool. You can kinda hear where seeds of “Resolutions” are in there, especially that transition to the final part. “I’ll love you til the end” – I think that lyric is clever and cool. To some degree, all you can offer in any relationship is “I’ll love you til the end.” You hope that that means til the end of time, but really it just means until you can’t anymore. There was so much in there that was going on…almost everyone in that band and in that recording session except for one guy was in a long-term relationship that was about to break or had broken. There were multiple divorces and multiple breakups that were taking place over the course of that record being written and recorded and put out and toured on. I remember us sitting around the picnic table at Kate Hiltz’s and I didn’t have all the lyrics for that song. It was the last thing we had to do, and I had to be at a family function in Philly, so I had let every conceivable amount of time slide away on getting that song done. We were under the gun. If we wanted it on the record, we had to go out in the yard, finish the lyric, and come back in and sing it. I think in about an hour-and-a-half, we did that. We pretty much wrote it all out in an inspired burst and I went into the basement and sang it and it’s surprising how sturdy that one is, and how often I’ve had people ask to play that live in solo situations.
That song was a little bit of a goodbye to someone you love. Sometimes you have to burn shit down. I thought that song was great. That was one of my favorite moments going back. That one seemed compelling and successful, much more so than some of the ones that I thought would be more of that. I thought “Sarah’s Game” was going to hold up better on a repeat listen, and in the end “I Swear” was more of where my heart was. The lesson there, as a songwriter, is to go with your heart over your head. I wish we had put a keyboard part over that, but that’s a minor detail. It’s a similar sort of outro or finale to “Resolutions,” and that occurred to me listening back to it. “Resolutions” was made just a year or two later, and I didn’t realize that I was repeating that, and that was a trip to hear. I said “holy shit, I walked right back through these footsteps a year or two later and nobody called me on it!”
If you look at that lyric and try to imprint that on your relationship with your family, your actual wife or your actual child, to say to someone “if it all burns down, if it all just blows away, I swear I’ll love you til the end” – that’s not what human relationships need! They’re not built on “I’ll have a fondness for you until the end.” You let it burn down and blow away! I knew then that at some degree, the relationship that I was in was not going to stand the test of time. “I’ll always love you” is good in a movie or in a song, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship isn’t over. There’s shit that has to be done in an adult relationship that mostly is where love happens. It’s an action and not just a feeling. I remember finishing up and having this magic session, and it’s only happened a few times – “Meet Me At The Lanes” was like that, there was a song on Keep Your Heart like that, where it’s the last thing you do and it almost doesn’t make the record and it becomes this special moment. I remember racing back to make this family obligation, and I was an hour-and -a-half late, as I was for shit that I shouldn’t have been late for. And I remember arriving and saying “you’ll never believe what happened! We made an amazing love song!” And it was like “yeah, I don’t need a love song, I need you to be on time.” It was wrought with irony and layers. That song is one of my favorite Loved Ones moments. It was really cool being in that backyard and the combined wave that the five or six people at that table were able get that song up on and ride the wave to shore was pretty magical. That doesn’t come along every session.
If you’re not cynical, (the idea of having “I’ll love you ‘til the end” as the last line on any Loved Ones album) is special. Me personally, how I feel about that band, how I feel about that record and those people – we may not play together, but I’ll always love those guys. We went through hell and high water together. Divorces, addiction, tons of fun, tons of screwy (things), living like mid-twenties guys in our early thirties and abandoning tons of responsibilities to keep this rock and roll dream alive. It was fun as hell. It’s a cool bookend if that’s all we get.
A Few Final Thoughts:
Hause (Upon listening to the album straight through for the first time in years): Overall, I think that that rhythm section was really good. I think that Mike’s drumming was great. I think that combined with Bryan Kienlen helping to produce and Chris Gonzalez being a guitar player that was playing bass made for a really cool rhythm section element to it that I had forgotten how much work they did and how cool that stuff was. David was really good in the studio; that kind of came back, a lot of the textures that he added and some of his ideas, more from a production standpoint.
The Aftermath Of The Album
The answer to the “what happened to The Loved Ones after Build & Burn?” question is a bit of a nuanced, multi-layered and largely unfair one. A changing fanbase, a changing musical landscape, continued interpersonal conflicts and the onset of medical issues each played a part in the story. Build & Burn officially reached shelves and download folders on February 5, 2008, and the band headed out on tour several days later with The Gaslight Anthem playing as direct support. They’d go on to play a bunch of headline shows throughout the year, in addition to supporting The Hold Steady on another run. They’d also switch roles with The Gaslight Anthem, offering support on a tour after the latter band’s breakthrough album, The ‘59 Sound, slingshotted them up the ranks of the rock and roll world. “With this record,” explains Walsh, “it opened us up to being with and touring with bands that were rock bands. It shed some of the punk thing, even though there are still some really punk songs on it.”
The broader soundscape that The Loved Ones were able to achieve in studio allowed the quartet to continue on an upward trajectory, albeit one that perhaps wasn’t as steep as it had been after Keep Your Heart. Their live show itself also continued to solidify the band as a force. “We had four real performers,” explains Hause. “We were picking the most compelling songs to play live from two records at that point, and we were a much more formidable live band.” They also continued their trend of attracting the admiration of bands that they were lucky enough to share the stage with. “When we started this band, every big band we play with would say things like “hey, remember us when you get huge!” remembers Sneeringer. “It’s great to believe in your band, but I think we started to believe everyone around us that they were right, that we were going to become big. That does a weird thing to your mind, and not a good thing when it comes to keeping your head on straight — especially partying the way we were.”
The Loved Ones would continue to play and continue to draw crowds as they had been after Keep Your Heart. But tension would still exist, and the band would eventually be forced to bail on an high profile direct support slot on a lengthy Dropkick Murphys tour (coincidentally, The Mahones had to bail on the same tour for visa-related reasons). The decision to cancel would be made only a month out from the start of the month-long run, and was prompted by some worsening medical issues that Mike Sneeringer had been experiencing for some time surrounding the use of his right leg. “I was having difficulty playing,” he explains, adding “I could play, but it was with extreme difficulty and drumming is supposed to be completely natural. I was really freaking out, and I decided I physically couldn’t do (the tour).”
Sneeringer would try altering his playing style and purchasing every make and model of kick pedal that he could find, assuming that those were related to his issues. Years later, he was diagnosed with a movement disorder known as focal dystonia, sometimes referred to as musicians dystonia or, in the sports world, the yips. “It’s a neurological pathway disorder where you’ve basically almost overused a neuro-pathway, and you’re starting to zone into neighboring neuro-pathways and your brain is getting confused. It’s like neurological carpal tunnel.” Sneeringer would eventually get back to the point that he was comfortable enough to try playing again, though his focal dystonia would remain a constant issue, even to this day in his post-Loved Ones projects. “We did a couple tours after that,” he recalls. “We did Australia, we did a tour with the Bouncing Souls and one tour with AFI, but after that, I had told them that hey, you should get another drummer.”
Instead of actively pursuing another drummer, the Loved Ones would instead take take a hiatus after the album tour ran its course. “I feel like toward the end of the Build & Burn cycle, everyone was kind of like ‘enough already!’” remembers Walsh, adding that the making the decision to continue plugging away on the road is difficult “especially if you don’t come back with a whole pile of money, and you can’t really pay your bills. Maybe it’s time to not do it as much as you had been.” Compounding the fact that money wasn’t exactly pouring in in spite of the band performing well and pushing their artistic boundaries was “the fact that we lived in a fucking box truck (on the road),” explains Gonzalez. The concept, reminiscent of the touring arrangements crafted by bands like Descendents and Bouncing Souls “was cute at first,” he points out, “but that shit wears out real quick. Dave and Mike built it out in the beginning and it was a cool way to save money and all that, but the tight quarters – and the wheels fell off at one point and we almost died. That didn’t help the situation.”
Perhaps there’s something tragically poetic, or at least eerily foreshadowing, about the wheels falling off the van while a band is on tour in support of what would become their last album, which was itself was given a harbinger of a title in Build & Burn. Perhaps that’s the benefit of hindsight, however. “We were on tour with The Hold Steady, and we left Minneapolis to drive to Fargo,” recalls Gonzales. “I had just put Guns ‘N’ Roses on, and I was laying down in the bunk, totally hungover from Minneapolis, and all of a sudden it felt like we were up on top of another car on one side. We all looked out of our bunks and saw the wheels shot out in front of us. Our tour manager and driver at the time was able to pull us over to safety and we didn’t even crash. That was a mind fuck. All the grey hair I have was probably from that drive.”
Sneeringer sums up the period perhaps the most eloquently: Build & Burn was the start of a new era, and it was new territory for us, and it was honestly kinda hard to navigate. When you start a new chapter like that, unless you’re masochists, you’re starting it with hope because you want to believe that the steps you’re making are an improvement, and I feel like they were. Where we ended up was a really, really good place, but I think we didn’t know where to go from there. I think a lot of the external stresses and the external expectations and our own expectations hadn’t been fulfilled yet.
Because of the hiatus that followed Build & Burn tour, the album was never provided a follow-up album that would have given it, and the band, the appropriate context by continuing to flesh out some of those stylistic differences that made them more than your average punk rock band. There was talk of a third album at times over the years, though opinions vary on how that would have looked. “It’s one of those classic second albums for a band, where some people are only going to ever have a mindset of liking a band’s first album and can’t get on board for the second,” opines Walsh, although not without pointing out that those people will many times come back for album number three, once they themselves have matured along with the band. “We weren’t twenty-two year-old kids anymore. I mean, I love punk. I identify myself as a punk, I always will be a punk. But I like that varied taste and I like varied songs, and I think we were kind of all at that state.”
If you want glimpses on what may have been from a third Loved Ones record, listen to Dave Hause’s solo albums that followed the band’s hiatus – 2011’s Resolutions, 2013’s Devour, and last year’s Bury Me In Philly. In fact, go one step further and listen to those albums and then put Build & Burn on next in the rotation. What should become immediately evident was that even though Build & Burn was written collaboratively and triumphs because of it, the album very much sets the listener — and the band — up for a period of moving on. “You can see a lineage,” Sneeringer points out. “There’s a guy that’s at a fork in the road. Build & Burn captures him right after he made that decision at the fork, and his solo career is further down that road. I think if he were to do another Loved Ones record, we would find him back at that fork and seeing what would have happened if he took a right instead. Amped up, burners.”
Hause, for his part, tends to echo some of those sentiments. “It’s a document of something that was in transition,” he explains. “I think that one of the regrets that I have is being able to see that transition through as a band. You do kind of get that transition if you follow the songs that I made after that, but with the band, a third record would have tied a bow on it, and that would have been kind of nice.”
So here we are in 2018, still without that bow which, for all intents and purposes, may never get tied. “When you have this much time that’s gone by,” Sneeringer explains, “the record after a hiatus, in my opinion, has to be so mind-blowing that it justifies the beak. My feeling is that it would have to be the kind of record where everyone that had ever heard us would say ‘have you heard this new Loved Ones record? It’s insane! You HAVE to hear it!’ Anything less that that, I wouldn’t even want to put it out.” Which is not to say, of course, that the five-piece (Spider has rejoined the band on bass, moving Chris Gonzalez back to his natural position and creating a three-headed guitar monster when the band plays live, as they did on their Keep Your Heart tenth anniversary shows a couple years ago) aren’t capable of crafting an album full of mind-blowing moments, especially now that any and all damaged fences appear to have been mended, many of them stronger than ever. “I’m proud that those relationships are all intact and that there’s not animosity; that would drive me crazy,” Hause reflects. “I wouldn’t be able to look back on something like this if there was bad blood. It would be too painful. When you go through those painful things and you almost die together, in many different ways, whether it’s getting into super dangerous situations or doing too many drugs, or a wheel falling off your truck at 75 miles an hour and almost dying – we did a lot together that was death-defying and you’d hate to have an animosity left over that would make all of that not beautiful.That would make it almost not worth it.”
For now, we’re left with Build & Burn as a fitting bookend to The Loved Ones career, at least from a musical output standpoint. It does not contain the same sort of primal, visceral energy that drew – and continues to draw – so many to its predecessor, Keep Your Heart. But it does find four musical companions who were just starting to experiment, to test their limits as craftsmen without being afraid of failing or falling. They built up, and they eventually burned down and they moved forward in that process. And at the end of it all, we the fanbase, loved them ’til the end.