Deconstructing the American dream with Philly’s Dave Hause (playing Free at Noon tomorrow)

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Photo by Jen Maler Photography
Photo by Jen Maler Photography

“I promised that this wouldn’t happen to me”

A bound and hooded Peregrine falcon perches atop its owner’s leather glove on the cover of Devour (Rise Records), Dave Hause’s second solo LP. The captor’s face, in a soft focus, gazes listlessly into the distance.

“They’re the fastest predators in the world,” Hause explains. “They can fly up to 240 miles per hour. It’s something you need to physically put a blindfold on and keep chained to your wrist. It has this endless, carnivorous intent that’s makes up a lot of the theme of the record.”

It’s also a pretty apt visual for what was originally intended as the third and long-awaited record from The Loved Ones, the Hause-fronted Philly punk band that has been keeping things quiet since he began cementing his solo career with his first full-length, 2011’s Resolutions (Paper + Plastick). About a third of the songs on Devour were written in between the release of the last Loved Ones record, Build & Burn (Fat Wreck Chords), and Resolutions. But before the Loved Ones were set to map out a grander, more concept-heavy record that would have been titled The Great Depression – and as Hause started to realize his potential as a solo artist – he had to stop and take some time to think for a second. “Everybody was a little ambivalent about touring, we had lost a little bit of momentum and I had gained a ton as a solo guy,” he says. “I wanted to be able to deliver the songs in various ways; live, recording them differently and not relying on a band format.” Smoldering, those songs eventually became Devour.

And what about those songs? The end result is, to be frank, a highly realized piece of songwriting, both musically and thematically, that nearly abandons Hause’s punk roots for dirt-caked, teeth-grinding heartland rock. Well-tested pop punk hooks still backbone tracks, like lead single “We Could Be Kings,” but classically American melodies, twinkling keys (played by My Morning Jacket’s Bo Koster) and Hause’s wounded vocal assure that this is something else entirely- less Loved Ones and more along the lines of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town or Wrecking Ball.

But above all, Devour is a record for lyric nerds. Through 12 tracks, Hause creates a loose narrative arc, bookended by opening and closing tracks that address the listener directly. And between those, motifs of financial asphyxiation, binge consumption, addiction and religious guilt compose a Recession-era, three-act study on the modern American condition that would make a college English professor proud. “What I wanted to examine was where I came from,” Hause says. “How did I grow up and how did we get into this situation? We realize that most of the promises we were made as kids didn’t quite work out.”

“I know that it ripped you apart
They told us we could be kings
When we were damned from the start”

Born and raised in Roxborough, Hause’s upbringing in a working class neighborhood with his dad and three sisters informed the bulk of Devour’s thesis of calculated disappointment. “The Great Depression” lays it all out: “We were the Reagan kids/ Our heroes didn’t work like our daddies did,” Hause, behind a lone guitar track, declares of playing all the games right as a child – earn good grades, go to church, etc. – that should secure financial and social stability, before later resigning, “If you wanted us safe why would you fuck with our heads?” Expectation loses sorely to reality as Hause wrestles with that frustration of being told, “No. What you we were taught as kids is all fantasy. Poor folks stay poor. Upward mobility isn’t real.”

So is the American Dream dead, then?

Hause sighs.

“You know, I really hope not,” he says, “but I do think that there’s a pretty big chasm between what was available to a working class family in the eighties and what actually came about in the late 2000’s.” Adulthood and entering his 30’s put things in greater perspective for him. “It’s really frustrating as an adult to come to grips with that, where you have to work two or three times as hard just to keep up and hope you’re in a decent enough neighborhood where the school system isn’t awful.” With all of this in mind, Hause still wouldn’t classify Devour as a strictly political record. “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, this is what you guys all promised us and this is what’s really happening.’ It’s more of a personal reflection of how politics affect regular people. It’s loaded. It’s in there.”

hause
The new record from Philly’s Dave Hause studies what happens when the American Dream doesn’t measure up to reality.

“I think she might’ve loved me ‘cause it made her sad
You can get pretty good at feeling pretty bad”

That “go to church” sentiment looms pretty heavy as well. While he’s not religious these days, Christian imagery is woven throughout Devour, which, according to Hause, which, according to Hause, again reminds us of broken promises. “You believe in this god, you’ll go to heaven. If you go to this school, you’ll become successful. If you abide by these morals and you get married, you’ll be happy. All of that, when you flash forward 20 years and see what it really looks like, it isn’t always true.”

Hause’s divine anxiety carries through as Devour narrows its focus from wide societal issues to his personal relationships. “I wanted to take a look at those things and get specific about how that affects the person that I am. The middle third of the record, songs like “Before,” “Father’s Son” and “Becoming Secular” apply to where I’m at now to the overall arc of the record,” he says. “I would kneel down low / under stained glass light / to taste your body, to taste your blood / then count the minute ‘til we’d reunite,” he croons on the disco ball lit, slow dance “Before”, carrying that theme of hunger and desire from a macro to micro level of physical want.

It cumulates into a larger cycle of American desire. Whether it’s an addiction to staring at cell phone screens, to a higher income, or to an ex-lover, Devour addresses this trapped way of life. But how do we break free from that? What’s the remedy?

“We don’t stutter when we sing
Our melodies grow little wings”

There’s uplift towards the last few tracks on the pretty damn bleak Devour. It begins bubbling toward the surface at the end of “Becoming Secular,” when Hause confesses: “I lost faith but I’m trying to believe.” That’s better than giving up. “That final third is the lift. That’s, “Where are we going to go from here?” The intention is to say, “Well, here’s where we’re going to go.” That’s the hope, the silver lining of the record.” It manifests most clearly on “The Shine,” a song Hause has been playing live for a few years now. A pretty ambiguous term, Hause explains:

“My friend Kate, who manages the Bouncing Souls, she’s always been saying, ‘Listen. You’ve got the Shine, so you need to go out and shine.’ It was this encouraging thing she would say whenever times were rough or my confidence was low so I was trying to use that thing she did for me and put it in a song to hopefully do the same for other people.”

It’s Hause’s way of saying that this voracious cycle of American hunger can be torn away from. A liberating notion, for sure, which he alludes back to the Peregrine falcon that represents this collection of songs and the story it tells. “There’s that little hint of the outside world in the cover too, behind the curtains,” he says.

“To put the falcon in a domestic setting, you can’t ever quite tame that.”

Dave Hause’s Devour will be released by Rise Records on Tuesday, October 8th. His back-to-back LP release shows in the Side Chapel of the First Unitarian Church are both sold out, but Hause performs tomorrow at WXPN’s Free at Noon concert; RSVP for tickets here. Check back tomorrow for part two of Marc Snitzer’s interview with Hause.

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  • josie.elister

    Saw him on the revival tour. Great guy