On the other side of sobriety, Dave Hause builds a beautiful life

Dave Hause

They were standing on a bluff overlooking Southern California, singer-songwriter Dave Hause and his old man, taking in the view.

The Ties That Bind UsThe weather was undoubtedly ideal, as it usually is for those who seek respite from Philadelphia’s harsh winters. Hause (pronounced like "cause" or "pause") had become a permanent Golden State resident in 2013, and but his career hasn’t varied from the formula that’s endeared him to audiences stateside and abroad — that of a blue-collar rocker whose Philly roots continue to inform his music and his worldview.

Life in California, it seemed, agreed with Hause: a marriage, a renewed relationship with his younger brother, a burgeoning career as a solo artist all culminated in a decision to get sober in 2015, and in that moment, on that bluff, his father saw it all.

“And my dad, he jokingly said, ‘How did a Philly rat like you wind up out here?’” Hause told The Ties That Bind Us recently. “At the time, I just said, ‘songs, dad,’ but I realize now that my internal monologue is a lot like that. I struggle with Impostor Syndrome, because I am a Philly working class guy, and I wonder sometimes: How did I get the job I wanted, the beautiful wife, the beautiful twins?

“I’m delicate with the idea of even saying I’m sober, because there are big parts of me that don’t want to be. Sometimes I’ll think, ‘I could go to a Phillies game and have a couple of ballgame beers’ — and maybe I could. But when I start thinking that, I tell myself, ‘Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.’ There are some days where it’s brutal, but most days, that’s enough. And if it gets really bad, I’ll give it 15 minutes and say, ‘If you still want to 15 minutes from now, go ahead.’ Because that 15 minutes is a waiting period.

“And that gets me thinking: ‘What’s that gonna lead to? What will that mean for my wife and kids, for my brother?’” he added.

In recovery, they call that “playing the tape all the way through,” and so far, with almost five years of sobriety under his belt, that’s been enough. For years, the drugs and alcohol were a drain on his spirit, and while he’s still reticent to be “the sober guy,” he’s arrived at a point in his life and his career that he regards his decision to put down substances as a wise one, indeed.

Dave Hause: Straight outta Philly

Dave Hause

Courtesy of Ryan Bakerink

Like many people who grew up in the working class neighborhoods of the City of Brotherly Love, Hause has an unwavering allegiance to the town that gave him his start, both literally and musically. That section of the Eastern Seaboard has bred dozens of blue-collar musical champions over the years, from Bruce Springsteen to Hause’s peers in The Gaslight Anthem, and his own style borrows heavily from that template — soaring, anthemic choruses; driving melodies propelled by guitar; and an urgency that’s equal parts desperation and hope. Life among Hause’s people was often dawn-to-dusk labor with the promise of a better tomorrow just over the horizon, and the songs he crafts — most recently on the 2019 full-length “Kick” — is the soundtrack to lives lived between those two mile markers.

“My mom grew up in the projects, and my dad worked his whole life to be able to have retirements and benefits and all that jazz,” Hause said. “My mom and dad met and had me, my three sisters and my brother over the course of 15 years, and they loved rock ‘n’ roll — but not as much as Jesus.”

Evangelical Presbyterian Christianity, he added, was a lifeline for his mom’s ascendancy from her impoverished roots, and it informed his love of rock ‘n’ roll from an early age. His pops still likes to tell the story about how young Hause, at 2 or 3, was at a wedding with the family when he noticed a toy guitar on stage with the wedding band and inserted himself into the evening’s entertainment, to the delight of those in attendance. By 8, he added, he would sit in front of the family’s record player and immerse himself in the tactile experience of touching, seeing and hearing the music from those old vinyl jackets.

“I listened to my parents’ music — Bob Dylan and Dire Straits — and I loved ‘Nervous Night,’ by the Hooters, who were from Philly,” he said. “I loved ‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie, and in the same period, Bryan Adams’ ‘Reckless’ and Heart’s self-titled records came out, and those set my individual tastes on fire. That all kind of led me into harder and harder rock ‘n’ roll, and I got into Aerosmith and Iron Maiden.”

Mama Hause, however, kept a vigilant eye on her boy’s tastes, and when he picked up a record like "The Downward Spiral" by Nine Inch Nails, she put her foot down. All that did was fuel her son’s inquisitive desires, however.

“I think that maybe those transmissions to a young, inquisitive, sort of anti-establishment leaning kind of kid maybe put me on the path,” he said. “Mom was great, and she did her best, but if anything, what made it worse was the constantly pummeling of Christianity — the idea that ‘you’re bad,’ and therefore sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were bad. The best I could tell, that was where it was at! I was drawn to at least two of those things, and to my thinking, if you’re telling me they’re bad, maybe all three of them are good.

“It became attractive, in the same way that Aerosmith and Iron Maiden and all of that was attractive, because it looked like fun, and of course, somewhere in there, there was a self-esteem thing that must have been fouled up. So together, that was like peanut butter and jelly, and I started drinking — or at least I tried it — pretty young.”

Rebellion and rock 'n' roll

It started out innocuously enough — filched mini-bottles at neighborhood sleepovers while watching videos by Danzig, Pearl Jam or Nirvana, Hause added. That served as a two-pronged catalyst, however: Alcohol was inextricably linked to rock ‘n’ roll, and he found his social group — the rebels, the outsiders, the anti-establishment kids who eventually stumble their way into punk rock.

In the beginning, the on/off switch worked well. Alcoholism wasn’t a foreign concept to the Barbers, his mom’s side of the family — his grandfather and his uncles all struggled with it, and in the neighborhoods where bleakness was a way of life, booze offered a respite. His mom worked to shield him from those things, but the religious solution she encouraged became another system for Hause to rebel against.

“The idea that there’s something wrong with you, that you’re innately evil, that you need the grace of God to get into heaven kind of thing — that all seemed really fishy,” he said. “I remember hearing about hell at 6, and I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do with that. So that’s kind of how it developed. I had older friends, and they knew how to get beer and where to go in the woods to drink it.”

His first couple of years of high school, it was nothing for Hause to show up to class high, but the hardcore punk scene caused him to reevaluate drugs and alcohol. He spent the last year of high school as a straight-edge punk rocker, getting more and more involved in the scene until he was asked to go on tour as a roadie and stage tech for the hardcore band Sick Of It All.

“Suddenly, I was on a tour bus, I could easily do the job, and it was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “From there, I worked for the Bouncing Souls, so pretty early on, I had toured the world multiple times. And I had bands throughout all of that — I was able to keep it together and do shows, and by the time I put together The Loved Ones in 2004, I had some in’s.”

The Loved Ones came out of Philly’s bristling music scene, and by the following year, it had gained enough traction that Hause put his other projects — playing in Paint It Black and serving as roadie for other bands — on the shelf. The Loved Ones toured with the Bouncing Souls, and NOFX, whose frontman, “Fat” Mike Burkett, signed The Loved Ones to his label Fat Wreck Chords, which released “Keep Your Heart” in 2006. Success, however, didn’t equate to happiness.

“There’s an amazing amount of stuff that’s come out of Philly, and I was involved for most of it early on, but after that, I was a touring guy,” he said. “I had my luggage, I had my stripes, and I was really partying heavy by 2000 or 2001. When it really kicked up was when my mom died in 2004 of cancer. That made the bottle all that easier to grab. I had a band, I had a record deal, but I lost my mom. The easiest thing to do was to keep everything going and lube it up with alcohol and drugs.”

Dave Hause finds the solo path

Dave Hause

Courtesy of Kyle London Photography

In hindsight, he pointed out, the warning signs were there. One of his old bands withheld pay for “adult party favors” — “essentially cocaine,” he added— and a couple of years after his mother’s death, he had an epiphany at a venue in Norfolk, Virginia.

“It all caught up to me — the loss, the amount of booze and drugs I had been taking, and it drove me to my knees in the venue’s shower,” he said. “I just kept thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing? I’m going to die.’ I had had plenty of moments over the years — falling asleep at a venue and the bus leaving without me, all my money being gone — but the interesting thing about rock ‘n’ roll is that as long as you get to the next show, you’re succeeding.”

And it wasn’t like his life outside of rock ‘n’ roll, he added, was a Dumpster fire. He got married around the time his mother died, and he had parlayed his ability to do general contracting work into a construction company that he ran with a high school friend. Together, the two made inroads into the residential and commercial markets in Philly, and much of Hause’s earnings subsidized The Loved Ones, especially the band’s tours and international dates.

“Ultimately, all of that started to unravel,” he said. “It was all untenable, because it was lubed by booze and drugs. Having to order 2x4s for a balcony in Philly when you’re standing on a balcony in San Francisco, still up from partying all night, is just not reality. When the market crashed in 2008, the commercial work dried up, and people didn’t have the money for remodels, so the construction company caved.

“Around the same time, the band needed a break. We had worked so hard, but the numbers were light, because people couldn’t afford to go to shows. On top of that, my marriage was failing, because we had become two different people who wanted two different things out of life, and drinking and being gone would have taken its toll on any relationship.”

With The Loved Ones on the back burner and the construction business hit by the recession, Hause got an opportunity to tour Canada as a solo artist. Although he’d made his bones as part of rock ‘n’ roll bands, he decided to give it a try. Armed with just a guitar and his catalog of songs, he found that he could make a decent living. Back in Philly, he approached his bandmates about making another record and firing The Loved Ones back up. They loved the songs but didn’t want to tour; Hause couldn’t see a path forward for financial or musical success without touring to support a record, and so he made his first album as a solo artist.

“Resolutions” came out in January of 2011, and by the summer of the following year, he had found his niche as a solo rocker with a folk bent. He went to Europe, he toured with Alkaline Trio and The Gaslight Anthem, and he began carving out a fan base in markets around the world. Life in Philadelphia gradually faded to a distant mirage in his rearview, he said.

“Nothing was working there, so I said forget it. If there was booze on the rider and I knew a guy who could get blow, my attitude was, ‘Let’s just let it rip,’” he said.

Lighting out for the West Coast

Dave Hause (left), and his brother, Tim.

About a year and a half after his first record came out, he met the woman who’s now his wife, and he started taking frequent trips to Santa Barbara. In 2013, he released “Devour” on Rise Records, around the time that he moved to Southern California for good.

“I didn’t know Santa Barbara from Santa Claus, but I came out here, and it was sunny, and I thought, ‘This is great: Everybody here is partying and having so much fun, and I’m falling in love,’” he said. “I kind of gave up on everything tying me down in Philly, and that was when the wave started to crest. The second record charted, I was selling out shows all over Europe, and I was starting to do well on the coasts and in Chicago.”

He also started working on his next record, “Bury Me in Philly,” but his manager at the time put the brakes on, encouraging him to go back to the drawing board. In 2014, his younger brother came into the picture, and the two began writing and playing together, and suddenly Hause felt that he was under a very intense spotlight.

“Suddenly, he was with me, and my little brother is seeing me get wasted,” he said. “That was definitely another warning sign. He had his concerns, and I was starting to see patterns reemerge with Natasha (his wife). I felt like I had lost momentum, that I should have already put out another record. The whole time, I was allowing it to stall and not dealing head-on with the problems.

“I was drinking like crazy; doing any drug I could get, except for heroin and opiates, I’d take; and finally in the summer of 2015, I thought, ‘Why don’t I try this tour sober?’ And then I said, ‘Fuck doing the whole tour. Why don’t I just try the first week sober?’”

At the first show on the tour, up in Spokane, Washington, the guys loaded in and soundchecked, and at that point, Hause’s determination faltered. He was on his way to the bar, he said, when his brother, Tim, said, “Hey. Weren’t you going to at least try a week of this sober?”

“‘Yeah, but this is crazy,’” Hause remembers saying. “‘What are we gonna do, sit around until we play?’ And Tim was like, ‘Just cool it. Do what you said you were going to do.’ And that led to doing the whole tour sober. I went through what was essentially alcohol withdrawal, which was terrifying and totally bizarre. But that was the tipping point for me, that tour, and I haven’t had a drink since.”

He didn’t go to drug and alcohol rehab, and he only attended one 12 Step meeting — and that was when he had almost a year sober. By that point, he’d done well, but the energy at that particular meeting initiated a craving, and his wife pointed something out:

“She said, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work for you, because you’re very sensitive to these stories,’” Hause said. “She reminded me that what I’d been doing so far was working. And that didn’t mean I wasn’t doing some work. To be perfectly honest, I started digging into therapy, because you can stop drinking and stop using drugs, but there’s a lot of work to be done that you can choose to do or not do.”

Dave Hause finds his serenity

Dave Hause

Courtesy of Will Sherd

In early 2017, Hause released “Bury Me in Philly,” a high-water mark that anchors his newfound path as a soulful singer-songwriter with his punk roots. Rolling Stone described it as “an exhilarating album, a collection of 11 songs that challenge the listener before providing cathartic, hard-won release,” and Hause channeled everything about his early sobriety into that collection of songs: The struggle, the slowly dissipating insanity, the joy, the triumph. It’s the story of a guy whose roots lie almost 2,800 miles east of the place that’s now home, and all of the miles — literal and metaphorical — that have gone into such a journey.

If that record was the start of Dave Hause’s life in sobriety, then “Kick” is an extension of it. In a sense, “Bury Me” is the discovery of that bluff on which he now finds himself standing, and “Kick” is the staggering beauty and wonder he feels when he takes in the view.

Because, he pointed out, it’s such a lovely place to be. It’s taken him a while to appreciate the steps it took to get there, but looking out on a land and a life that has found such resonance in the hearts and minds of fans, he owes it to them, he believes, to document it true.

“On this amazing tour we just did, I was trying to get to more vulnerable place — telling self-deprecating jokes and trying to elevate the show a little bit, and I always played ‘Bearing Down’ (the final track on “Kick”) last, because it was important to me to talk to people in the audience who were struggling,” he said. “Essentially, I wanted to say, ‘Listen — I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel like jumping off the bridge. I get it. But if you just take a breath, then maybe you’ll see that life can get better.’

“Because that’s what happened to me. I had no idea life could be so beautiful. All these self-defeating thoughts were a part of my narrative, but I look a breath, I let love in, and I worked hard. And the universe’s grace, for whatever reason, was able to take that stumbling block, that diversion, out of my way, long enough for me to get some clarity.”

In that clarity has been deliverance — not just from the drugs and alcohol, but from the part of his soul that for so long subscribed to the belief that a “Philly rat” doesn’t deserve goodness.

“My life is filled with love and wonderful things,” he said. “I could have opted for that oblivion that was always so attractive. A lot of days, I don’t feel OK — especially if I watch the news for 20 minutes! But being OK with what you bring to the table is pretty wonderful: the limitations of it, and the positives of it.

“Hopefully now, with all these years passed and all of these lessons that I’ve had to learn and relearn and continue to learn, I can be of true service in the work that I do. I’m more comfortable with that now than I used to be. I used to be, ‘I’m just a song-maker! I’m not trying to be Eddie Van Halen!’ But really, that’s not true. What I aspire more to be is someone like Patty Griffin or Brandi Carlile, because I want to get to the heart of the matter and go all in.”