Brent Loveday (vocals, guitar) and Jason LaBella (drums) of Reno Divorce lured me into the RD van in the parking lot behind Rockabillies to talk with me about NAMM, the band’s upcoming album, Brent’s solo album, and my propensity to read – and possibly write – smut, before letting me shoot their set (and unload their gear, those sneaky bastards). Brent, Jason, and Andy Brown (bass) were joined on stage by Brent’s youngest son, Brixton, who stole the show.
Brent is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his solo album, Hymns for the Hardened Heart, which ends March 3rd.
Go-Go: So, I guess I’ll start out with NAMM. You guys were just at NAMM; was this your first?
Brent Loveday: Viet Nam.
G: I never pronounce it right. I always call it “nom.”
G: Was that your hashtag?
BL: We made it up.
G: Did anybody else use it?
BL: Nobody got on that tip, man. They couldn’t put it together.
G: This was your first one?
BL: It was super exciting. Jason and I both have endorsements now, which is a recent development. Jase had his for almost two years now, isn’t it?
JL: Close to that, yeah.
BL: T-cymbals; it’s a cymbal maker from Turkey. And then this time last year I got a Gretsch endorsement. We got invited by those companies and we did the Gretsch after party gig. It was super, super fun.
G: How big was that?
BL: It wasn’t huge, or blown up or anything. It was just a really cool gig at a neat spot in Anaheim.
JL: At a cool local joint.
BL: It was all rockabilly people, punk rock people.
G: And you guys have an album coming out, with a TBA date?
G: It’s going to be called Fair Weather Friends, a six-song EP?
BL: Yes, Ma’am. It’ll be released in the next couple months, wouldn’t you say, J?
JL: We’re hoping so, yeah. We’re just getting the marketing in place to get it released properly. But I would say within the next, probably, three months.
G: Are you playing songs off FWF in your live sets?
BL: Yeah, we played five out of six at our last show. In the old days, we would just drop records, but that only really works if you’re Kanye. We’re trying to be more strategic now to get the word out. We’ve never really enjoyed a record label with a marketing budget or anything like that. It’s all been word of mouth our entire career, and it’s gotten us pretty far, but now we need to do it a little smarter.
G: Who will it be released through?
BL: If push comes to shove, we’ll put it out ourselves. Of course we have to do our due diligence and at least tell bigger punk labels that we have something. But we’re in that weird spot where you can’t go here unless you have this, and you can’t get this unless you have that.
G: Brent, you’re from Tennessee, right?
BL: Yes, Ma’am.
G: And you’ve been in Denver for almost seventeen years? Has it been that long?
BL: Yes, it’s incredible.
G: How did you guys end up in Denver? You started out in Florida.
BL: So, Florida was a very short amount of time; probably only about a year. We did release a 7” that was, I don’t want to say it was critically acclaimed, but it was well-reviewed in [magazines like] Maximum Rocknroll and Flipside. So we were like, “Now we’re the Rolling Stones.”
BL: And of course none of that happened. So, I moved to California. My wife was like, “You’re never going to go anywhere in central Florida.” Nobody breaks, right? You never really have a chance. And central Florida is actually really landlocked because you gotta go eight hours to go anywhere on tour, and you’re not even out of Florida. So, naturally, we’re like, “Let’s move to California. It’s the epicenter of the music that I play.” I just thought that I would take it by storm, and it didn’t happen that way when I moved there.
G: When did you guys move out to California?
BL: In ‘97. And I moved to California – and it’s very ironic because when I was out there, members of the band would just keep sending clippings of better reviews, like, “Oh fuck! It’s the next big thing!” So, I tried to make it out there, but California is such a hustle and really, that kind of music wasn’t enjoying a renaissance or anything. They had moved on, like Lit was the biggest thing, stuff that like that. And then – my baby’s mama of my oldest son lived in Colorado, and so, by chance Tony Owens, who was the original rhythm guitarist in Reno, lived in Colorado as well. His girlfriend had a baby and they moved there, just by chance. So, we slowly started making our way to Colorado. The whole time I was in California we were just making trips to Colorado for Christmas, birthdays, Easter. So finally, we bit the bullet and got here in 2001 and quickly found a bassist – his name was Seth Evans. He was an incredibly talented musician who thought on a different plane than I did – and Reno was really hindering him (laughs). But he stuck it out with us, and he was the coolest dude. And for our first record, it brought something to it that really – you know, we’ve always had a Social Distortion comparison – but if you really listen to it, those components – like, I was probably the biggest Social D influence – but those other guys were coming from totally different directions. I think that’s what set it apart. We found Andrew, probably after about six months after we had moved here. He initially didn’t want to be in the band; he kinda blew us off. We wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. We were like, “Dude, you’re fucking up. You need to be in this band. We know we’re good.” And he did, and those were some good years, those first ones.
BL: That was the first concert I ever saw.
G: And it totally changed your life. How does that affect you as a performer now? Do you want to change people’s lives?
BL: There could be a fucking case study written on my relationship with Social Distortion, at this point. (Everyone laughs.) It’s fucking insane. I must have been either twelve or thirteen. I really liked Social Distortion. They weren’t my favorite band at that point, but they were slowly becoming it. We saw them, and I can’t even express to you how good they were, back in their prime, in their hayday. The theater was about one thousand seat capacity, and this dude – this young guy – was just commanding the audience. That had a big impression on me. And as I was learning to play guitar, I was like, “I can do this. I could play songs like this.” But there are so many other influences as well. Visually, and in the beginning, musically, that was the epitome of “That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.” But as I got older and found my own voice, it changed from “I can do this” to “I can do this better.” And I don’t want to say that I was trying to be better than them – it just kind of naturally happened – but at some point, I thought, “I’m bringing something unique to this genre.” And that spurred me on.
G: How would you describe yourselves? A lot of people describe you as punk, but you don’t really fit that, you’re kind of genre-less.
BL: We’re fucked. [Everyone laughs.] Seriously. We’re fucked because we don’t have a home, we just float between things.
JL: I think, recently probably more so, we’re a little further away from punk rock. . . well, maybe not. They’re a couple tracks on the new EP that have that punk rock feel. But, I don’t know, there’s a different vibe to it now.
BL: It’s a totally different vibe. But really it comes down to what you define punk as. If you look at bands today, it’s mostly pop-punk bands that are the popular bands. Like, Green Day or something like that. So, we’re definitely not a pop-punk band, I don’t think. I don’t think people identify us as that. I think we’re closely related to the Smithereens, or a good rocknroll band, like the Heartbreakers. Stuff with hooks, not a lot of posturing for the sake of, like, “Let’s see how fucking fast we can play!” But there are times with the song dictates that you need to go balls out right here, and that’s what we do: we follow the song.
G: And you guys are self-managed, so you’re in charge of marketing yourselves. Does that make it difficult if you don’t really fit into a genre?
JL: I don’t know if it’s necessarily difficult. The music speaks for itself, so really, we just put it out there, and that’s kind of what we use as a tool to get around where we get around to. I guess it can be difficult, if you have to have a label to play at certain places, but I don’t know if we’ve really run into any issues there.
BL: We don’t really have a marketing plan or anything. We just know that we’re going to do what we’re gonna do. We have an expression that we say: Game finds game. So, people that are seeking out the shit that we like to do, will find us, but it will probably be when we’re dead, in like fifty fucking years. Hopefully my kids will get royalties; I can’t promise that will happen in my lifetime.
G: On your website it looks like you’ve done thirteen tours, but maybe not all of them are listed?
JL: European tours?
G: It looked like it was everything. All tours.
JL: I’m sure they’re more tours than that. I think with European tours, this will be the eighth or ninth. So, who knows how many tours?
BL: We’ve been around quite a bit. I’m the fucking worst historian. There was always someone else in the band that would keep track of that and then they’d leave and I’d be like, “I have no record that I even existed for the past ten years.”
G: You’ve done really well in Germany.
BL: That’s kind of our home away from home, for sure. In all of Europe we’ve enjoyed moderate success.
BL: We haven’t, and it’s very ironic because our 2010 record Tears Before Breakfast was released in Japan by the equivalent of Disney – a big, huge record label licensed it – and we never saw a penny, right? I don’t know why we’ve never been there.
G: I feel like people would go apeshit in Japan. I lived in Japan for a really long time, and the rockabilly vibe, when I was living there from 2006 to 2012 – you guys would have been perfect for Japan.
BL: That’s another thing as well: we’re so uncommitted to any style. I think people visually look at us and say, “Oh, it’s a rockabilly band“ just because of our hair and tattoos or whatever. And now, even more so now that I play a Gretsch, but it’s not overtly rockabilly.
G: The image is all they care about.
BL: It really is. That’s probably a good thing, then.
G: You should be in Japan. Do a week tour or something.
JL: We would love to go to Japan. We’ve talked about that for the last couple of years; it’s just logistically getting over there.
BL: Yeah. We’re really getting our ducks in a row lately. I’ve battled a drug addiction for years, and that’s really what will hinder your success. I think in music – I’m sure there are guys that were successful, that made that success back when you still could be a big band, and they could still be an addict and get by – I think the really professional people have their head in the game and they treat it like a business. So, I’m learning that now.
G: How has that affected the way you write music now that you’ve been sober for two years?
BL: I never wrote fucked up. Whenever I wrote a song, I was sober, so that hasn’t really been affected. I don’t know. I’m a pretty prolific songwriter. I write a lot of songs. These days I really want to focus on just finishing stuff that I had started.
G: In an interview I was watching, you said that creativity comes from experience. Now you’re sober, and you’re having a different experience. How does that affect your creativity?
BL: That’s a good question. I’m still kind of drawing on the fucked up shit that I did, that I’ve seen. But it is kind of time to move on. Jason and I wrote a song this weekend and it came so quickly and naturally, like in the old days. It wasn’t forced. Just a couple days ago – actually, most lyrics, the good ones, come to me in the shower. You know, when you’re half awake…
JL: . . . going to town on himself. . .
BL: So, I would be in the shower, and inspiration would hit me for whatever reason. Some lyrics for that tune hit me, and I really don’t write about politics that much, unless I’m moved, and I think this is going to kinda be a political-type tune. It will be kind of like – I’m totally not a Trump dude all, and I can’t believe the state of nation right now. . .
JL: . . . state of the State. . .
BL: The state of the State. It’s all fucked up. But I’ve been so focused on my sobriety – the band’s doing well and we’re traveling a lot, and I just bought a new house, life’s been in session for that – but I was thinking about it and everyone’s so polarized and everyone just hates Trump. But what’s the point of hating Trump? Hate your fellow Americans that fucking voted for him. This weird racist base that was like a sleeper cell in our country. It’s like the Fourth Reike, man, they got the call, and their letting their freak flag fly.
JL: Even though Brent’s been sober for the last two years, I think we still run into situations that we can draw inspiration lyrically from, just being involved in touring and all these different people that we meet everyday, you know? There are still things you draw from, wouldn’t you say?
BL: Some of the best songs aren’t even about me. I look at other people and just observe their situation and I’ll write it, and they’ll come to me and say, “Is that fucking song about me?” And I’m like, “Yes. I was just watching you fuck up.”
JL: That’s what I’m saying. I don’t think everything comes from just situations that maybe he had gotten into back in the day, during other parts of his life. Even still, the inspiration is there and he sees it in all these different situations.
BL: We’re really super excited about the solo record. I wish J had played on it, actually. But I started it in 2011. That’s when I made the initial tracks, the rough tracks. I hired this incredible drummer Mark Raynes and he came in and he sessioned it. And then Andy Bercaw from the Samples came in and played bass on it. So everything was lining up for those foundation tracks, but I went off the rails and it got pushed to the back of the line. But now that I’m in a better place, we’re going to finish it. There are a few more guest musicians that I’d like to have on it, but other than that, the bones are there. It’s just going to cost a little money to finish it.
G: How is your solo work different from what you do with Reno Divorce?
BL: I would say the sound is less of a punk influence, for sure. Sometimes we’ll have an upright bassist. But, again, it’s without a genre. It just floats in between. Sometimes we’re like a Motown band, sometimes we’re roots, straight country. And, really the thing that was so appealing about the solo stuff, initially, was how playful it was. The songs were really playful. I don’t want to say they were safe or anything, but they were clever, playful tunes. This record that we’re gonna release is definitely darker. I don’t want to say it’s a singer-songwriter thing because that makes it sound pretentious and trite. It’s just storytelling; it’s dark, fucked up stories, but they’re pretty cleverly done.
G: And the Kickstarter ends on the third of March?
BL: I think so.
G: So, people have to donate now.
G: And if you don’t reach your goal . . .
BL: It’s all or nothing . . . I’m not sure why we did that.
G: I was just about to ask you that.
BL: I don’t know. Maybe to scare the shit out of me.
JL: It provides this sense of urgency.
G: It’s going pretty well so far, right?
JL: So far, I think we’re almost halfway there.
BL: It’s tough. Reno Divorce did a Kickstarter for Lover’s Leap and we raised over ten thousand. But it was fresh. Kickstarter was a new thing. It wasn’t Go Fund Me so I can get braces.
JL: Go Fund Me because I don’t want to get a fucking job. . .
BL: When I first heard about Kickstarter, I thought, “This is amazing!” because you can tell a particular artist that you believe in them. So many great artists fall through the cracks, and that’s just a fucking unfortunate fact. It happened to us. We can’t tell you how many times people have told us, “Why aren’t you famous? Why aren’t you on Fat Records?” I don’t have an answer for them; bad fucking karma, I guess. But with Kickstarter, you can enable someone you believe in to realize their vision or their music, or whatever. But now, it’s been diluted.
JL: Absolutely, it’s been diluted. It’s a whole different ball game. It has this bad stigma to it now. When you think about Kickstarter or Go Fund Me, it’s like a begging for money thing, which it absolutely isn’t, at least in our situation.
BL: We are the exception to every rule.
JL: Essentially, it turns the people who enjoy our music, who support us and want to support us – friends, family, whatever you want to call them – it essentially turns them into the record label, you know what I mean? Nowadays, a record label is nonexistent almost, unless you’re way up here. So, to have your fans take over that part – and they’re going to get everything they wanted out it anyways – it’s an amazing thing when it works out the way that it’s supposed to work out.
BL: There was a time when a certain label would put something out, and you would go buy it. “These guys have discerning ears. They wouldn’t put out some shit.” And it’s flipped flopped. Now, Fat Records put this thing out, but it’s not necessarily a fucking good thing. It doesn’t have that weight that it used to. A lot of it, too, is that anyone can make a record now, you know what I mean? In the old days, there were hurdles. Studio time is still expensive. If we want to get a quality product, we have to go work with the best people we can. We can do a lot of this stuff on our own, like the EP we just recorded, J and I tracked it and played on everything. But you still have to go to a professional at some point to get a polished product. But even in the older days, that shit was really out of reach of everyone, which was kind of cool. It kind of filtered . . .
JL: . . . who was getting put out. . .
BL: And now there’s no filter. Anyone can do anything. Just look at hip-hop. The state of hip-hop – it’s incredible.
JL: It’s a fucking nightmare.
BL: It’s like aliens are making fucking music.
G: It’s like that, too, with books. Fifty Shades of Grey went as far as it did and it was really just fan fiction. . .
BL: Is it really that bad?
JL: It’s smut.
G: It’s so bad. It’s just so poorly written. I could have taken something I wrote in fourth grade, and the grammar would have been better. I didn’t have the smut in fourth grade, though, I hope. . .
BL: Maybe you did. You better go check your diary.
[And then the interview digressed. . .]
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