Slow down the tempo and strip away the staccato guitars, and the most ferocious anthems by rock and punk bands like Social Distortion, Gaslight Anthem and even Bad Religion reveal themselves to be as finely crafted and lyrically astute as the most honest of country and Americana songs. It's an approach with which Dave Hause, a Philadelphia punk-rocker-turned-troubadour, is keenly familiar.
On his third solo album Bury Me in Philly, out now, Hause puts the emphasis squarely on emotional, vulnerable lyrics, proving that – like the Clash's Joe Strummer, Social D's Mike Ness and X's John Doe before him – the most punk thing you can sometimes do is bare your soul.
"The amount of time a guy like Gaslight's Brian Fallon or Hot Water Music's Chuck Ragan invest in a lyric, when you break down their songs to the core, they're every bit as sturdy as any Jason Isbell or Ryan Adams song," says Hause, 38. "With Mohawks and leather jackets and the speed at which you're playing, the craft of songwriting can be lost in punk music. But today, punk is a bunch of guys in beards and flannels."
It's a tongue-in-cheek generalization, but one that becomes more apt as punk-leaning rock artists gravitate toward the Americana genre. Way back in 1999, Social Distortion's Ness explored country on Cheating at Solitaire; in 2002, New York hardcore fixture Jesse Malin released his introspective singer-songwriter debut The Fine Art of Self Destruction, produced by Ryan Adams; and last year Gaslight Anthem's Fallon explored heartland rock on his solo LP Painkillers. In March, Bad Religion's Greg Graffin will also dip his Doc Martens into country and Americana with the undeniably twangy solo record Millport.
The watershed moment, however, came onstage in 2005 when Ragan recruited colleagues like Avail's Tim Barry and Lucero's Ben Nichols to launch the guys-and-their-guitars Revival Tour.
Now, with Bury Me in Philly, Hause, the leader of on-again/off-again punk outfit the Loved Ones, sprints off with the baton. It's an exhilarating album, a collection of 11 songs that challenge the listener before providing cathartic, hard-won release. "Helluva Home" is a harmonica-driven folk-rocker about being away from Philadelphia; "The Ride," with its Lou Reed-like sing-speak delivery, is about rushing into romance; and "Wild Love" recalls the balladry of Cyndi Lauper.
Such Eighties touches anchor the album, produced by Eric Bazilian, the singer of Philly rock band the Hooters and the songwriter of Joan Osborne's mid-Nineties staple "One of Us." Hause cites Lauper and Bryan Adams' Reckless as key influences and sees their impact today in a range of artists.
"I wanted to make a more uplifting album and Reckless is a sturdy rock & roll record. Bryan Adams was pretty undeniable, and now Ryan Adams is mining that era and making great records. Taylor Swift is too in her own way," he says.
It's the defiant track "The Flinch," however, that stands as the album's high point, a salute to soldiering on, despite how many obstacles are in your way.
"'Maybe next year' – it's what my old man and all his friends would say at the end of every losing sports season, missed playoffs, failed shot at a title or heartbreak. As I got older it seemed like so many of us end up saying that about so many things we hope to get to, but we get so busy grinding out an existence that the goal seems out of reach," Hause explains. "'The Flinch' is me doing my damnedest to try to follow through."
Throughout Bury Me in Philly, Hause sees his lyrics-first approach through to the end, reinforcing the Americana bent of the project. But even though he gushes over Patty Griffin ("She's the Holy Grail of lyricists") and Jason Isbell ("He's got the gift"), and counts rootsy singer-songwriter Cory Branan as a close friend and collaborator, he maintains that he'll always be more punk than Americana – or country.
"There is a perceived credibility that comes with being in Americana. But for me to write an acoustic song and add fiddle and banjo is just absurd," he says. "It would be more appropriate to put hip-hop beats under my lyrics than to put a country tinge on it. I'm not country – I'm from Philly."