Revisiting Keep Your Heart with The Loved Ones’ Dave Hause
It’s striking how much time and distance can change our perspective on the past. Old relationships, weathered and worn like the spine of an old book, can take on different meanings, more nuanced interpretations, and a well-earned introspection not immediately present in those initial, sometimes fiery, but generally rarely fully-formed emotions. Especially as we age and reach a point where we might have more years behind us than ahead of us, the allure of reliving past successes, even in some small way, is undeniable. Hell, a healthy part of our entire economy is based on nostalgia, on preserving memories beyond just what can fit between our ears.
Music is no different, of course. In fact, to many it’s the largest vessel of those memories. Whether it’s an album that spoke to us as kids, or a band who we didn’t know we desperately needed until they unexpectedly came to us at a crucially impressionable time in our lives, or just a song with lyrics we may cringe at now but goddammit, these made sense back then, a longing nostalgia is inherent in nearly all of it. It’s no wonder we clamor for band reunions and anniversary reissues and albums performed live front-to-back; for better or worse, we’re all living in the past to some degree.
Even as The Loved Ones move to become somewhat complicit in this nostalgia-driven music economy, frontman Dave Hause is approaching it with an often unheard of degree of pragmatism. The band, formed in Philadelphia in 2003, will soon celebrate the tenth anniversary of their debut LP Keep Your Heart with a series of rare live performances, including a hometown show at Union Transfer on Feb. 20. As Hause puts it, his mantra is to “always move forward” and he has, with a successful solo career as a singer-songwriter most recently capped by a cross-country co-headlining tour with Rocky Votolato. As I reach him on the phone, he’s holed up in his home studio, working on songs for his next solo record; “always move forward.” Even though The Loved Ones never officially broke up and have shows booked now, the band still kind of exists in this weird limbo between past and present tense. “I think you just have to be really careful artistically,” says Hause. “My approach [to being an artist] is move forward, and that’s why we haven’t done anything, or very little. To me it’s fun for a night or two to go back and revisit. I love those guys and I love playing with those guys, but it can be very tricky.”
“It’s a weird dance, because I want to honor something cool that happened and I think it’s important [to do that] as I get older,” he continues. “I want to honor and celebrate those things with people who care, but in a very limited capacity. We are all friends, we do play really well together, we all have songs that could be Loved Ones songs, it’s just a matter of, do we want to set aside the time and effort to make another record? I think these shows will certainly indicate what the path will be. But I’m pretty content just being a singer-songwriter at this point and doing other things to augment that that are exciting, you know, I’ve got The All Brights and The Falcon and this other electro-pop thing that I’m doing with some friends on the east coast called Stranger Stations, so I’ve got a bunch of outlets but I’m pretty committed to making my own songs.”
Listening back to Keep Your Heart, years before his burgeoning solo career stripped away the louder elements, Hause’s gift as a songwriter is apparent. The earworm melodies are intact. The lyrics deal with grief and heartbreak in a strikingly affecting way. It’s not a record distinctly of its era in the way that so many punk records tend to be; even with that built-in nostalgia, there’s an element of timelessness to the songs that many of The Loved Ones’ contemporaries couldn’t muster. “I think I was surprised at how sturdy they [the songs] are,” Hause reveals. “I think I was acting a lot on instinct, there wasn’t much thought put into music theory or songwriting tricks, those things you pick up along the way as you write more. Those were my first sort of foray [where] there’s no hardcore involved, no screaming, I had kind of stripped away those elements and made it more about songs, and those are basically rock ‘n roll songs played really fast by guys who had been in hardcore bands. Going back, the structure and their fierceness, they’re pretty sturdy, the melodies are still catchy.”
“I think that the three guys who made that record, Michael [Cotterman] on bass from [Kid Dynamite], Mike [Sneeringer] from Trial By Fire and myself, we’d been the guys in our respective hardcore bands who were more into The Clash and more traditional rock ‘n roll songwriting and were trying to infuse that into what we were doing,” he continues. “I remember sitting in our terrible, shitty van and watching rock ‘n roll documentaries and marveling at James Brown and all these performers and that’s what we were trying to channel, through a punk rock prism, more soulful and traditional-type songwriting. It was cool to go back to see those instincts. It was all instinctual and not super thought out.
After a well-received demo and an EP on vaunted label Jade Tree, The Loved Ones joined Fat Wreck Chords for the release of KYH in 2006. “The challenge we had, deciding to be on the label we were, was that most of those bands do have a really specific sound,” Hause says. “We felt like we were being treated fairly, but we were also trying to make something a little less specific to a genre, just about songs. So touring on it, we were all so young in the mind, so little things and comments and comparisons would bug us, and we would say ‘No, you guys don’t get it, we’re going for this other thing’ like, we weren’t trying to be this band that goes out on Warped Tour, we were trying to go out on tour with the Hold Steady. And on the second record [2008’s Build & Burn] we moved toward doing more of that stuff. We were trying to make sturdy rock ‘n roll songs and just play them at a higher octane.”
It could be said that the overwhelming response to KYH put unneeded pressure on The Loved Ones, and although it’s a very good, demonstrably evolved record in its own right, Build & Burn didn’t garner the fervor its predecessor did. “The band started to sag a little bit from the weight from how much we were putting on it [at that time],” Hause admits. “We were a full-time band and in our early 30s by the time the second record came out, and a lot of us were married or owned properties or at least had nice apartments that we were trying to maintain on this little band but it became financially very difficult to maneuver.” By 2010, for all intents and purposes The Loved Ones were inactive, and by the following year Hause had released his first solo record, Resolutions. His second LP, Devour, followed in 2013, putting The Loved Ones even farther in the rear view mirror.
The band reconvened for a three-show “world tour” back in the spring: Asbury Park, NJ; Philadelphia at Johnny Brenda’s, which sold out in minutes; and an appearance at Groezrock in Belgium. Hause maintains that the band’s shows earlier this year were a somewhat impromptu opportunity and that they’ve been discussing and planning these KYH shows since before then. Don’t expect a by-now traditional front-to-back performance of the record, however.
“We were just texting about this, Chris [Gonzalez, guitarist/bassist] and I, Chris loves to think ahead, and he was the bass player on the second record but he’s actually the best guitar player in the band,” Hause says. “So when we played this past spring, I was like why don’t we get everybody, we’re all still friends, let’s get everybody that was in the band all at once. And so I play a little less guitar, Chris moves from bass to guitar, Michael on bass, Dave [Walsh] on guitar too, we’re a five-piece which makes for a lot more ferocity and a lot more tonal options, but anyway, because it’s a short record, I don’t think we’ll play it front-to-back. I think we’ll play every song from it, but the EP we put out on Jade Tree before KYH is certainly a companion piece to that record. There’s a song called ‘Massive’ that’s about hearing if someone’s gonna make it through a fight with cancer, and a couple songs that work really well in that same realm.”
“We’re doing these shows and we wanna give people as much as we can because it’s gonna be a minute before we do anything else, if we ever do anything else,” he continues. “I want to give people a show they won’t forget. We’re headlining to more people now than we ever did, so it’s interesting. Sometimes the universe makes you wait for the things you want, and maybe wanting them wasn’t as important as it seemed.”
The Loved Ones headline Union Transfer on Saturday, February 20th; tickets and more information on the all-ages show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.