As the lead vocalist and guitarist of the Philly-based punk band The Loved Ones, Dave Hause knows full well the many musical merits of high-octane rock. More recently, however, he’s also come to understand the genre’s limitations. So, when it became obvious to Hause that the batch of acoustic-guitar-and-piano-driven songs he was working on for the next Loved Ones record weren’t really Loved Ones songs at all, going the solo route seemed like a no-brainer—even if the switch came with a new set of creative challenges and obstacles. Prior to performing a pair of sold-out shows at First Unitarian Church this weekend, Hause spoke with The Key about his debut solo album, Resolutions (released in January on Paper + Plastick Records), as well as dealing with his audience’s expectations, overcoming his own sense of self doubt, and not knowing what the hell rock critics are talking about when they mention “punks gone folk.”
The Key: You said in a recent interview that, when writing the last Loved Ones’ album (2008’s Build & Burn), you “wanted to break out of the mold of being a punk band, so we took some risks on that record and did some things that were a little beyond the punk paradigm”—but that the results “didn’t necessarily translate to all of our fans.” Specifically, what elements of the album didn’t translate well?
Dave Hause: When you read a review or you talk to a fan, and they say they didn’t like one thing, you tend to fixate on that—more so than all the positive reviews and responses. It might just be perceived, I don’t know if it’s actually reality. We were just doing something—we were following our artistic muse or whatever—and…I don’t know. I think people did like the record. It was as successful as the one before it. But it was doing something different, and whenever you do that it’s polarizing for the fans of your previous release. And, when I was writing the songs on Resolutions, I felt like I was still going down that road. I was still writing within some sort of a singer-songwriter paradigm, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to dilute what The Loved Ones do. We’re at our best when we’re a loud, cranked up, Friday-night kind of band. Especially live. And I felt like the songs that I was writing that turned into Resolutions were a little bit more suited to something with different instrumentation.
TK: As a musician, when you’re writing the next batch of songs for a new record, you want to be challenging yourself. To grow as a musician. But, like you said, that kind of creative growth can be polarizing for your audience. How do you balance your personal creative needs with the needs of your fan base?
DH: I think it’s important to not react to the last batch of songs that you wrote. Or to be overly reactionary. Like, just recently I read interview with Bright Eyes where Conor Oberst said, “Well I’m not doing any of that country stuff on this record. I wanted to get away from that.” To me, that sounds like a reaction to the last thing that they were doing…I’ve learned not to respond to the last batch of songs I wrote, or to try to do something totally opposite. It’s much more important to write from a real, honest perspective—what you feel is the best material you can put out there. Put that out, instead of worrying about what the last thing was and how people responded to it and all that. With the Resolution songs, I just wrote whatever came out and it ended up naturally forming a record. I feel like, in that sense, it’s a lot more honest and straightforward.
TK: So the reception to Build & Burn didn’t have much of an influence over your decision to split your musical ideas into two distinctly separate categories?
DH: It had some bearing on it, but there were other factors, too. I mean, the band was kind of burned out on touring. We had toured quite a bit. And we played with some really exciting people. In that sense, if we hadn’t made the Build & Burn record, I don’t know if we would have been able to go on tour with Flogging Molly, get all of those great shows, play the XPN festival, and things like that. I think, to some degree, some of the steps we took on that record established us as more of a songwriting band. But it also took us a little bit out of that punk thing. So I don’t know. I think it influenced it somewhat. But it was also based on logistics. We needed to make a new record in order to continue touring, but I didn’t feel like we had the next batch of Loved Ones songs…I mean it’s a lot easier to hop in the car or on a plane and do a tour when it’s just one guy. It seemed like the right time. And, to be honest, it’s given me a lot more perspective. It’s really boiled things down in a way that’s a lot more simpler. And it’s also given me a new fire to do the next Loved Ones record.
TK: An album like Resolutions seems destined to get the whole “punk-gone-folk” treatment from rock critics. But it doesn’t seem like a very appropriate description. In your opinion, what is the obvious point that critics are missing when they pigeonhole Resolutions as a punk-gone-folk record?
DH: I don’t know what they’re up to. Thankfully, critics, reviewers, and the other people who have actually listened to the record have been really kind and excited about it. They’ve said, “This isn’t punks gone folk.” I don’t even know what that means, you know? People who have listened to it say that it’s a record of songs. And it’s not really a folk album in any way. It’s as much a folk record as it is a punk record. It’s just rock and roll to me…So I’m not sure what those people mean by that. I mean, I know it when I see it. I know when a guy who’s in a loud, screamy punk band straps on an acoustic guitar and tries to play those same songs in a folk manner. I’ve seen that. But I don’t think that’s what I’m up to. I know that’s not my intention.
TK: “Time Will Tell” is the first song that you wrote for Resolutions. Do you remember when and where you originally came up with the idea—be it a guitar part, a vocal harmony, or whatever—that would form the basis of the song?
DH: I ended up writing that song when The Loved Ones were on tour with The Hold Steady. My sister and I were downstairs in the back room, and there was a piano back there, and I started plinking around on the piano. I had an idea, so I asked her to play it with some kind of level of skill—because I couldn’t—and then I just started putting that idea together. It was going to be the first song on the next Loved Ones record but then it just became this whole other thing. The title track, “Resolutions”—which I wrote in my house when we got home from all that touring—was a similar thing. I thought that was going to be the second song of the new Loved Ones record. I figured it was just going to be some kind of high-octane rock and roll song…But with both of the songs, once my sister was playing the piano parts, it was like, “These are guitar and piano driven tunes.” At least, that’s the way they sounded in my head, and in the studio we gave them that treatment.
TK: When a song is that early in its infancy—when it’s just a single part that has countless musical possibilities—how long does it take you to determine whether it’s best suited as a solo song or a Loved Ones song?
DH: Once I had about three or four songs, I realized that I didn’t know if they were going to fly. When I demoed Resolutions, I just had a Rhodes piano in my house…I ended up recording the demo with that Rhodes and I thought, “Oh man that can’t be a guitar thing.” I mean, live I could probably pull it off. But it started to make sense to me that these were better suited to not be Loved Ones songs.
TK: So it’s a distinction that naturally reveals itself to you?
DH: For the most part, you know early on where they’re going to be most appropriate. Some times it might be as simple as, “Well, we need to fill this album out.” I think it remains to be seen which songs will go where as things move forward, you know? It could all change, but right now it seems like I have three columns: “definite Loved Ones,” “definite solo songs,” and then that “B” column in between, where it could go either way.
TK: Which songs on Resolutions came from the “B” column?
DH: Believe it or not, “Pray For Tucson.” And “Time Will Tell,” and “Resolutions.” “Pray For Tucson,” we actually played as a Loved Ones song—you know, a loud, full-on version on tour.
TK: How do you think “Pray For Tucson” works better as a solo song?
DH: The vibe is easier to translate with a simpler arrangement. The acoustic guitar, the lap steel, a little bit of B-3. I was trying to end up with more of a haunting quality, and sometimes it’s hard to get that with the drums pounding away and the guitars blaring. That song was intended to be a Loved Ones song. We played it on tour. But then at one point or another it was like, “Man I’m not feeling this arrangement. I want to strip it down and make it more simplistic.”
TK: In other interviews, you’ve said that, as a musician, the biggest obstacle you have to overcome is your own self-doubt. And, as you mentioned earlier, it can be easy to fixate on negative reactions. With this solo record, how have you dealt with that self-doubt?
DH: I think, when working toward the end of the project, focusing on coming out with a product that is what you want it to be. Finishing the project and saying, “OK I’m proud of this. This is what I wanted, it’s how I wanted it to sound.” I just feel like, make the music that you want to make and stand behind it. And if people don’t like it, that’s OK. So It’s totally fine if someone doesn’t like Resolutions. This is the third record I’ve made—well, the fourth, including that first Paint It Black record—and, with every one, it’s been a resoundingly positive response…[B]ut you’re better off leveling off your expectations, thinking that nobody is going to care; if you always just assume that everyone has moved on to the next thing, and doesn’t necessarily care, and then you do end up getting their attention again on a record, that’s the payoff. That’s exciting, you know? That’s the easiest way, because expecting people to like what you’re doing is a really slippery slope. That’s just my philosophy. I mean, I hang out with a lot of people with high bullshit detectors, you know? I have to go home to my wife, and she’s not going to put up with me thinking I’m God’s gift to songwriting. It’s just like, “Dude, take the trash out.”
Dave Hause performs with Mikey Erg and Ian Graham at 6 & 9 p.m. at First Unitarian Church; tickets to the all-ages shows are SOLD OUT. —Matthew Borlik