Bowie Feathers Presents
Rocky Votolato, Dave Hause
209 S. El Paso
(above Tricky Falls)
El Paso, TX, 79901
Seattle musician Rocky Votolato is a soft-spoken, very kind, very hard-working father of two, born in rural Texas and raised in the Pacific Northwest indie scene (where he fronted the acclaimed rock band Waxwing). In his decade-plus life as a songwriter and musician he has sought to articulate something essential about life, writing songs that seem to have been scratched into a boxcar wall by a worn-out and lonesome ghost. His gravelly, sandpaper smooth voice and introspective lyrics mark him as that most rare of punk-rocker-turned-acoustic-troubadours: Votolato writes graceful, understated, human, unpretentious songs, demonstrating that simplicity is still a viable option for accomplished songwriters.
His last two releases, Makers (2006, Barsuk) and The Brag & Cuss (2007, Barsuk), found him exploring and paying homage to the folk and country music that shaped his early life in Texas (Alternative Press described the former as "the disc Ryan Adams keeps threatening to make but never quite delivers," and Harp praised his "harmonies that would make Gram and Emmylou proud" on the latter). True Devotion, his new album, is a passionate, stripped down, and mostly acoustic reflection on moments from his current life; showing us where he is, where he has just come from, and where he's going.
Walking the line between autobiographical fact and fiction, True Devotion is deceptively simple, peppering impressionistic narratives with moments of lyrical wisdom that can knock the wind out of you. The first half of the album is full of dark psychology and social-critique themes that feel similar in approach to Votolato's 2003 release "Suicide Medicine".
"Sparklers" caps side A of the album by shifting away from darker themes as what seems like another bleak song of death reveals itself as a song of appreciation and acceptance of the transient nature of this existence
The rest of the record shifts toward new ground, exploring a sense of enlightenment and a hopeful search for innocence and eternal truths, unexpectedly reminiscent of early Cat Stevens. On "Sun Devil," Votolato sings, "True devotion and true virtue / Will hold you at the center / As the waves crash over," lines that point to a turning point for him and a recognition of new priorities and a focus on what matters most in his life. The Gandhi-referential album-closer "Where We Started" drives this point home again with a philosophical upshot echoed by the sonic space that ends the track and also open the album
"The way we learned to live is fading fast/I guess we never bargained for a crash."
For Dave Hause the American dream is a broken promise, a childhood ideal that has been shattered by the reality of the past two decades. On the musician's second solo album, Devour, Hause scours the foundation of that crumbled dream in an attempt to discover how everything we believed growing up could have turned out so differently. The album, initially written to become the third record from Hause's rock band The Loved Ones, follows his 2011 solo debut Resolutions, a disc that allowed the musician to understand his potential as his own artist.
As Hause, a Philadelphia native, began penning new music for a new album from The Loved Ones, it became clear that the group, who had taken a break after their second album, had stalled. These songs, however, which showcased a clear thematic journey, were meant to be vocalized by Hause and over the past few years he transformed them into Devour. Hause solidified the album's sequence before even going into the studio, aiming to craft a narrative arc that drove the album from its dark, heavy first half into a lighter, more hopeful tone. A thematic line of melody runs through the songs, reflecting the overarching ideas in the music itself. The disc explores the heartbreak of shattered childhood promises of a better world and concludes with optimistic hope.
"Devour is about that inherent American appetite," Hause says. "It's in all the songs in some degree. There's a reason why Tony Soprano became such a huge American icon – he's this guy with this insane appetite for women and food and power. I think for the American public to latch onto a figure like that says something. Some of the positive things about America come from that as well, but there's a real sense of reckoning that comes from devouring everything in front of you. Is it ever enough?"
The rock songs, tinged with folk and punk tones, are firmly rooted in Hause's own upbringing and the sensibility that comes from growing up in a blue collar neighborhood driven by the lingering anticipation of upward mobility. In the lyrics, the fulcrum around which the album revolves, Hause grapples with this working class ideal and the fact that America's recent shifts have caused it to no longer fit. From "The Great Depression," which centers on the unfulfilled promises laid out in the Reagan-era '80s, to the more specific-minded relationships of "Father's Son," Devour comes to terms with the loss of youthful innocence in a rapidly evolving world.
"I wanted to shine a light back on what was going on," Hause says. "It was a topic that was close to me and I wanted to write about it. In the end, it leaves you with the idea that if you have music and love you may be able to save yourself. It's going to be alright. That simple John Lennon concept of all you need is love. That's how I wrote myself out of the dark and the music begs the listener to come take that risk as well."
Once Hause had the track sequence and overall narrative in place he enlisted producer Andrew Alekel along with musician and co-producer Mitchell Townsend. The producers helped Hause collect the right musicians to build the songs in the best way possible, including My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster, Social Distortion drummer David Hidalgo Jr. and bassist Bob Thomson. Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison, Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba and The Watson Twins also appear on several tracks. Hause and his crew recorded the album over several weeks from mid-February to mid-March at Grandmaster Recorders LTD. in Hollywood, CA, focusing on giving each song the right tone while maintaining an overall musical aesthetic that helps tie the lyrical themes together.
"It was this group effort," Hause says. "A lot of trust went into letting Andrew and Mitch be the architects of the record. I trusted that we would get in there and they would know who was right for the music. They wanted to bring these people together in this great studio to get a record that was greater than the sum of its parts. I'm glad I trusted them because it was great to work with everyone there."
For the musician, who has toured with Social Distortion, The Gaslight Anthem, Bouncing Souls and Chuck Ragan since launching his solo career, Devour is a cathartic release, both sonically and lyrically. Hause recently relocated to California and is committed to pursing the music he feels best reflects him individually. The journey on the album, the search for the light at the end of the tunnel, mirrors his own trek. The record closes with the delicate introspection of "Benediction," a song that pulls lyrical lines from all the tracks that precede it. After all the ruined promises and the culminating disappointments of the world, Hause ends the album with the sentiment of possibility. "It's love my friend in the end that can save us tonight," he sings. "So are you in?"