American Dreamer

Dave Hause transforms his punk-rock past into a Springsteenesque heartland promise


Dave Hause looks like your prototypical 
 throwback rockabilly punk: tattoos 
 plastered across most of his body, a greased-back coiffure, Wayfarers, fitted plaid shirts. But this Philadelphia native — who shredded with punk acts Step Ahead, The Curse, Paint It Black and The Loved Ones in the 1990s and 2000s — isn't dwelling on the past. Especially now that the folksy solo career he first embarked upon in 2009 has built up a head of internationally acclaimed steam.

Most of that growth can be attributed to Hause's second full-length, 2013's Devour, on which the 36-year-old skewers America's recent history: its insatiable consumer appetite, its empty economic promises, its predilection for war, its deteriorating familial bonds. In short, the crumbling of the American Dream.

"Being raised in a working-class, religious, East Coast environment preps you for disappointment once you're in your 30s," Hause says. "I had a sort of adult crash when I started measuring the distance between what I thought life was going to be like versus what it was."

That fractured disconnect is evident in the heart-wrenching lyricism of songs like "We Could Be Kings," "The Great Depression" and "Autism Vaccine Blues." While they're rooted in stark blue-collar folk à la Billy Bragg, the arrangement of those tracks, expertly handled by Hause and an all-star cast of collaborators from bands like My Morning Jacket and Social Distortion, brings Bruce Springsteen's elaborate heartland rock to mind.

"The record is split into thirds," Hause explains. "The first third asks, ‘How did we get here?' The middle reflects where I was at emotionally trying to figure out how to have balanced friendships when a lot of things had caved in. And the final third asks, ‘How do I get out of this dark place to somewhere better?' It's a body of work. Maybe a little archaic to do it that way in this day and age, but I was raised on the album, so I'm still working in that paradigm for now."

Lumping Hause in with the current old-punkers-gone-acoustic paradigm is easy; he's toured repeatedly with Chuck Ragan's rootsy Revival Tour. But Hause's determination and ambition make that categorization feel 
derivative. After Devour came out, his professional management, booking and publicity teams secured exclusive video premieres and album streams on the websites of USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Esquire. His following in Europe has exploded exponentially. And one look at his behemoth 2014 tour schedule — club dates across North America, SXSW, all the major summer festivals across the pond — indicates that Hause, who worked construction for years to supplement his punk-rock income, is clearly striving for more stable mainstream success.

"Punk rock helped me figure out how to break things down to little encouragements and attainable goals," Hause says. "Finish a couple songs. Play a show at home. Press a 7-inch. Book a couple shows outside of town. It's like building a house: Lay the foundation, frame it and then put siding on it. When I went solo, there was no guarantee anyone was going to care. So I've worked hard, I'm thankful for what I have, but there are certain things I haven't gotten to, like late-night TV. It's good to be ambitious as long as you keep it in perspective."

Hause's upcoming Sunshine State shows will feature a variety of solo and duo performances with his brother, Tim, while certain West and East Coast tour dates feature Dave performing with many of the musicians who helped him record Devour. "Mixing things up gives me the freedom to stay excited and challenged," he says. "Also, the audience gets warmed up to the idea that they don't know what's in store."

Hause already has plans for two more full-length albums. "It's scary to have a critically acclaimed record that bumps you up everywhere," he says, "because it makes the stakes higher with the next record: Can I hit the ball again? Can I turn these nuggets of lyrics and melodies that I collect into something? But if you rely on your craft, your instinct and your creative family, hopefully in the end, it will be greater than the sum of its parts."

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