Brent Loveday of Reno Divorce: "Originality is the evolution of influence"
Reno Divorce at Rock N Ink, Chemnitz, Germany
Karsten R. Schäfer
Reno Divorce (due tomorrow night at the Marquis Theater) began in the middle '90s when frontman and guitarist Brent Loveday founded the outfit while still living in Orlando, Florida. Some early, glowing press came the way of the band's 7-inch. But it wasn't until Loveday relocated to Denver and discovered a place he felt like he could live that things began rolling. Since then, the guys have been on a handful of tours and shared the stage with many of their heroes. The band's surprisingly earnest, but never pretentious, combination of melodic punk and roots rock, peppered with something a little more aggressive, has resonated with fans across a relatively broad spectrum of musical taste.
This fall, Reno Divorce will release Lover's Leap. If you've caught any of the outfit's recent performances, you already know that the songs going on that album have a rare emotional poignancy that is more than just honest -- it's poetic. We recently spoke with Loveday about the band's history, his run-ins with his heroes and the way Reno Divorce seems to transcend its obvious influences, not just in the music but in lyrics that go deeper than rock often does these days.
Westword: When did you start Reno Divorce?
Brent Loveday: I started Reno Divorce in Orlando, Florida in 1996. It went for a couple of years, and we had a seven inch on Skank & Skull Records. It just kind of fizzled out. Of course the band fizzled out right at the time this stellar review in Flipside came out. I couldn't believe it. I moved to California, and I'm sitting in this shitty apartment in Tustin, you know, and Maximum gave it a pretty good one. Compared it to Jason and the Scorchers, which is great. Tex and the Horseheads. So I was stoked about that, and thought, "Man, I can't believe the band is broken up." Then I opened up Flipside and...it's probably still on our website. It was the greatest review I've ever gotten.
When did you decide to come to Colorado?
In California, I couldn't get nothing going. My in-laws moved to Las Vegas, and my son moved with his mom to Colorado. So basically when we were in California, we were just going back and forth to Colorado. Vegas was closer. We tried that for a year, and finally, I went, "You know what? It's the same thing; we just keep going for birthdays, Halloween, every holiday. Let's move to Denver." It turned out to be the best decision of my entire life.
Our first apartment was Capitol Hill. Then we lived in Congress Park, then Mayfair and now Park Hill. We moved here in 2001. Two months into it, the original guitarist from Reno lived here, and then we found a drummer and a bass player, and it started rolling pretty quick. Maybe within six months our debut album, which was supposed to be a demo, Naysayers and Yesmen, ended up getting four "Ks" in Kerrang! It was a pretty wild ride in the beginning.
Speaking of that, you opened for Wire on September 6, 2002. How did that happen?
You remember the Wire show?! Yeah, I put in for that show, man. I love Wire. They came to the Bluebird. This was when we were starting to get a little momentum. Not much. We were still playing a lot of East Colfax bullshit. We got that gig, and we thought it would be huge. Sold out. We got there, and those guys were totally cool. But maybe a hundred people showed up. Go figure. You never what's going to be hot and what's not.
You had a different bass player at that time, right?
We had Seth Evans. He was this mastermind, phenomenal bass player. He was one of these dudes where you play with them and think, "Why is this dude playing in my band?" He's really good. We did a European tour with him and two U.S. tours, and finally, it was too much for him. He and his girlfriend had a kid and it was too exhausting.
How did you get hooked up with a European tour at that time as a relatively new band around here?
We were relatively new. You know All? I'm a huge All dork, right. And Scott Reynolds was in my favorite era of All. He had a new band called the Pavers. When I heard them, it was like Scott's All writing, but his band was AC/DC. It blew my mind, and I totally obsessed over that band. It was one of the few records I ordered from the record shop. A buddy of mine lived in Chicago, and he was a stock broker, but he still dabbled in music, and he said, "I'm going to get you on a tour. This record's too hot; you've got to get out there." Naysayers hadn't been properly released, and we were just burning CDs. So I said, "This is the band, the Pavers. If you can get me on a tour with Scott and those cats? It's all over."
Two months later, the guitar player from the Pavers' wife called -- my friend had emailed them or whatever -- and she said, "We need a support band. How about a U.S. tour?" We did the Midwest from Buffalo all the way through. The tour went well and both bands were great. So Scott had a record deal thing going on with Boss Tuneage Records in London, and he passed it on. The guy said, "Hey, Scott recommended you. I'll put this out."
He had so many releases, even big independent bands and obscure indie rock stuff, and Kerrang! gave us that review, and he said, "You guys have got to come out and support the record." The guy from Boss Tuneage, he kind of got out of the record businesses. He had too many releases and he only focused on a few bands and we weren't one of them. So we got the rights back to it, and Street Anthem wanted to put it out with bonus tracks.
Where did you go on that tour?
It was a lot of Germany, a lot of Belgium, some Holland. Our band was cut short a few dates because my dad had a stroke, and I had to cruise back to the States. But it was a good tour, and to this day, people who saw us on that rough tour still come and see us.
When you came to Denver, what were your impressions?
I tell you what, my geography, in general, is awful. I don't know what I thought of Denver. I thought it was fucking Cincinnati or something. Just a run down, steel mill town. Which is the opposite of what it was. The first impression my wife and I had was based on our staying with our guitar player in Aurora out in the sticks. So we thought it sucked. My son was staying in Arvada, so we would go there. It was like one end of the spectrum to the other.
Then I went down to get my haircut on 13th Street, and I thought it was a cool town then. It was a cool barbershop. Aces or something. Next to Cricket on the Hill. The chick had a cool spot with cool posters up, and she was spouting off about all these cool bands, and I thought, "It has potential. It wouldn't be the end of the world if we had to live here."
The first band I saw was The Volts. They blew my mind. I also saw Fast Action Revolver; they were great. Brian Hagman was in that band. I saw them at a warehouse punk show -- the kind that's always teetering on whether the cops would come or if a fight would break out. That nervous energy was in the air, which made it even cooler. I guess it was a legitimate venue, but it was kind of a dive, maybe the Raven or the Roxy. A lot of bands were playing but those were the ones that stuck out.
The first venue that Reno Divorce played was something like Herman's Hideaway on a Wednesday. Our drummer knew someone, but he didn't know about punkers, and we got there and we were playing to our wives and girlfriends. But the last time we played Herman's, we had an almost sold out gig, so that kind of felt validating. If you get the punkers to come and see you at Herman's, it means a lot.
Our CD release show for Naysayers was at the 15th St. Tavern. People trip on, "We'll never play the Gothic or the Bluebird." And you get in there and go, "Oh, it's cool; we're playing here." The Tavern, for me, was that caliber a stage. Even though it was a shitty place off 15th and it smells awful, it was so legit and so authentic. It was what I was aiming for, and to have our CD release show was incredible.
Did you ever play shows with King Rat?
Do you remember the Undead in Denver compilations? Our first gig with them was the CD release for that at the Bluebird. When that came out, punk was the hottest thing in Denver. It did a lot for Denver. Even when Undead II came out, it was still great. What was really cool, we would tour and we would take these compilations with us to sell as merch. People in Hanover, Germany, would hear these Denver bands and get turned on to them. On a national and even the international level, it was good for everybody.
Obviously you've had out releases since Naysayers.
Well, we had Naysayers and Yesmen, You're Only Making It Worse, we did an EP called Laugh Now, Cry Later -- those two ultimately got combined. Then we did our biggest release, Tears Before Breakfast, on Ice Cream Records, and now we have one in the can called Lover's Leap. It's just a matter of waiting on the business end of things. I can honestly say it's our best release to date. It was mixed and mastered at the Blasting Room, all done by Jason Livermore. It will probably be out in September. I think People Like You Records will put it out in Europe and maybe Rusty Knuckles in the States.
You just got back from Europe two days ago?
We were gone I think 31 days, and we played twenty-nine shows.
That's like Black Flag scheduling!
It was, dude. If you look at the routing on the map, it's like a pentagram, right?
Dukowski, did you book this tour?
For real. It was harrowing; there were a lot of long drives, a lot of Friday nights with forty people and Wednesday nights with four thousand. It was just weird. Extreme highs and extreme lows. That's the way it should be. We did a lot of Germany, which is, of course, where our market is. We did the Czech Republic, we did Budapest, then we went over to France, Belgium, Holland and Italy. We got as far as Rome to about ten people. Not a big punk scene in Rome. We also did Milan. We did Poland, Warsaw.
And Zlotow, which was probably one of the craziest gigs we've ever played. Just people crammed into a small, underground space. The guitar player was picked up second song and crowd surfed through an entire song, right? The ceilings weren't much taller than here in the basement. My best guitar solo, I was picked up, unplugged. But it was great, totally cool people. We stayed in a four-star hotel. Then you go to Berlin and play for four thousand people on a Tuesday and you stay in a hostel. It's rock and roll, man. You get what you get.
We supported 7 Seconds on a few shows and Lars Fredericksen's new band, the Old Firm Casuals. But most of the dates we headlined. The Berlin date was a festival that was the first of May festival. We headlined our stage in Kreuzberg. We're the last band to play and it's starting to get dark. We look at the street and we start playing and all these people come out.
Berlin seems good for lots of different kinds of music. Cindy Wonderful lives there now, and she's a hip-hop artist. And Alexander Hacke of Einsturzende Neubauten and his wife Danielle de Picciotto lived there for years.
What kind of music is that? Industrial? Our guitarist is a big fan of industrial music and all of that, and we always bust his balls. We played a gig in Budapest, and in the dressing room is a poster for Xymox, and they're looking so industrial, but Xymox had played the venue, you know? Did you ever get into Christian Death?
Before we left on this tour, we played a gig with Rikk Agnew in Sioux City, Iowa.
Was it with The Adolescents? Just kidding.
It's crazy, he got a band from Omaha, and they played mostly Adolescents tunes, and he played guitar and sang a little bit. But he was selling Christian Death shirts at the venue.
When you played with Stiff Little Fingers last August, you introduced at least one song by telling a story or something about being close to your friends and family. And it was honestly moving. Why do you feel compelled to open up like that to a general audience?
I think it's best, if you're going to hear a song for the first time, maybe you're gonna hear my lyrics, maybe not, but to kind of set it up for you. We kind of joke with, "Oh, here he goes with the VH1 Storytellers." But you preface the stories and maybe people will pick something up through the hooks and whatever.
We have this new song about the way Americans raise their kids. Like if they bring home a bad grade, the first thing they do is take them to the doctor and say, "My kid doesn't pay attention. Put him on something." That's so contrasted with even Europe or the rest of the world where you sit with your kid and do their homework with them. But we live at such a fast pace that we want that quick fix and we become highly medicated. So the song is called "You Created a Monster." It's about doing the opposite of Americans' first knee-jerk reaction.
Not to pry, but what inspired that song?
I had a friend who has ADD, and it's legitimate. He's really torn up about having to put his kid on the medication. But as an adult, I see friends asking doctors to put them on various drugs and just kind of work the system. It's kind of a commentary on the healthcare system, doctors, pharmaceutical companies giving samples and lazy parents that would rather fix things with a pill.
Seeing you talk about that at a rock show was refreshing.
I'm bad about that, man. It chews up a lot of set time. That's why I do it. To put you in the moment and let you know where I'm coming from.
It was a poignant moment. Everyone who has seen you for years and think they have you figured out should see that.
We've been hearing that a lot lately, man. Our new record is definitely not a crazy departure, but it is more aggressive, and it's one end of the spectrum to the other. There are no ballads, but our hearts are on our sleeves with this next one. I've always thought of us as storytellers. We're not like a KISS or Motley Crue. We're telling people in our walks of life that we come from, these are the situations that we deal with. It's not boasting or posturing; it's our day-to-day.
Why did you want to call the band Reno Divorce, and have you ever entertaining the idea of changing it to something else?
Never. I hate to name drop, but it's kind of cool. We went to see the Ataris the other night, and Kris Roe, the singer -- I introduced myself because we're kind of working with the same booking agent -- he said, "I just wanted to tell you that's the coolest band name I've ever heard." Most people want to know what it means, and it came from when I was watching an A&E documentary on jetsetters in the 30s and 40s and how they would marry each other and then two months later, they want to get a divorce.
The fastest place to get a divorce is Reno. Back then, you go to ranch, stay there four weeks to get residency and bam! -- the judge signs it, no qualms. So the adage came, "Vegas wedding, Reno divorce." I thought, "Man, that's it. That's the end of the rope. When the honeymoon's over, it's a Reno divorce." I thought it sounded cool as shit, to be honest. I didn't think I'd build a band around it. Rat Pack, hotrods...it worked for me.
How did you get into playing music?
I heard Black Flag, and that was it. I was like, "Man, someone made music just for me." Then I got a guitar and realized, "I can probably do this." I'd listened to Metallica too, and I can't do that, but stuff I like, I can do it. I can't play Black Flag note for note. Greg Ginn's stuff is still over my head. But more like The Ramones and Social Distortion.
I saw Social D at a very impressionable age, obviously. I saw them on the tour right before "Ball and Chain" came out. They were playing all this new stuff. They were doing "Ring of Fire" and "Sick Boys." We saw them at a sold out gig in Orlando, Florida. It was me and a couple of buddies. My mom dropped us off and pulled us out during "Lude Boy." It blew my mind. I'd never seen anything like it.
Social Distortion was always just my favorite band. The melodies, the songs and the way the records were made. That show was sold out to begin with. I don't think they'd come to Florida in years. His presence and his command of the audience -- here's this young guy who couldn't have been more than 26 or 27 at the time -- they were powerful.
Obviously many people have compared your band to Social Distortion.
Oh yeah. It's our biggest comparison. And what I tell people is that originality is the evolution of influence. You've got to start somewhere. To me there are a lot more influences than Social Distortion, but sure, you don't [expect] John Lee Hooker not to play the blues. Of course he plays the blues, but he plays it like John Lee Hooker, which sounds a little different from the rest of the blues players. I think I'm always just trying to make that record that Social D never made.
Naysayers is pretty much that record.
Ice Cream Records, their A&R dude, was interested at that time. Someone called him up and said, "I've got the new Social D record." This was before Sex, Love and Rock and Roll came out. He plays it for him and the guy says, "How the fuck did you get that?" And the other guy says, "It ain't Social D, it's this band Reno Divorce."
On this last tour we would have those off nights and people would say, "You played like there were three hundred people in here but there were just thirty of us." And I'd say, "I'm here. This is what I do. I'm expressing myself. If you're here to witness it, cool. But if there were five people in here, it would have been the same show." Don't leave it on the table, man.
Let's talk about how and when you met Bobby Adams.
I'm star struck. I played with Kevin Seconds with my solo stuff, and I met Kevin and Troy, the drummer, when I was fifteen and got my picture with them. But it's all out the window because I'm star struck talking to this dude. Don't even want to look him in the eye. I go, "Man, for real, you're one of my favorite bands of all time. I'm here playing with you in Europe, I gotta ask for a guitar lesson because there's a riff I've been struggling with for twenty fucking years and I've got you here and you could just show me. I could watch you and learn it. He goes, "That's cool. Go get the guitar."
So I grab my custom, white Les Paul and set the guitar in his hands. Soon as he gets it, he goes, "Whoa, set up perfect." He shows me the riff, and I take a picture of him playing. Then he hands me the guitar, and I go, "What about this other song?" I play it this way and he says, "Damn, I've never seen anyone play it like that." It was cool, man. It was cool as ice.
You met TV Smith from the Adverts in Europe, right?
We played the Rock n Ink festival in Chemnitz, Germany. We were rushed in there, and I don't even know who was playing. A cool friend of ours told us that he needed to see TV Smith play, because it was an acoustic set that was super political and badass. TV actually came up and met us before that, and he said he had heard about us through a mutual friend.
His set? This dude was as cold as ice; he had the crowd captivated. He breaks a string on stage and tells a punk rock poem as he's changing it. He's the real deal. Ain't no bullshit. When we played later, I look out in the audience and see him. Our bass player is a huge English punk fan and after the gig, dude comes up to our dressing room and says, "That was brilliant, mates."
At that first 7 Seconds tour, we played this huge venue in Fulda, Germany. We knew it was going to be packed. We went to catering and some guys are sitting there and I go, "I'm Brent with Reno Divorce. Who are you guys with?" And they went, "We're with DYS." I saw that on a sign going in, and I thought it was a joke. And I knew Dave Smalley is the singer for DYS, Dag Nasty, All, Down By Law. And I'm like, "Did you say DYS? Where are you from?" Because I'm thinking maybe it's a European DYS. They say, "Boston." I'm like, "Dave Smalley's your singer? Where is he?" They say, "Oh he just got in a fight with the bass player. He's walking around here somewhere."
Fucking Dave Smalley comes in and it's the first time I met him. He was a super badass dude, and he wore a Reno Divorce shirt during the set. Stuff like that makes it worth it. When you play to fifteen people and drive eight hours for it? That kind of drags you down, but then you have all this other stuff that kind of keeps you in the game.
You have a Black Flag tattoo. When did you become aware of them?
I think they were broken up by the time I got into them. I got into them in '88. I heard The First Four Years, so I'm always partial to that. Especially Chavo and Keith Morris, though Dez is cool. "Wasted" is the first song I heard. That was probably a turning point in my life, hearing that. For better or worse, OFF! is like the Black Flag basement tapes.
The closest I came to seeing them was the Warped Tour in '96. After The Descendents' set, Bill played guitar, Stephen went to bass, Karl went to drums and the singer for the Pink Lincolns came out to sing, and they did four Black Flag tunes. They did "Jealous Again" and all that stuff. I've never heard anyone play those Ginn riffs like Bill Stevenson would.
Let's talk about TSOL.
You know TSOL had that schism. They made Change Today, and they made Revenge. Change Today is a really weird record. The production isn't the greatest and the songs are kind of like the Doors, which is cool. I first heard it on a skate record. Joe Wood's voice is really like Morrison but in a punk band.
Then Revenge came out. That's a deserted island record for me. It's just so produced, strange and polished. I spent years trying to figure out riffs from that record. Then they made Hit and Run and they started doing the glam thing. They had a couple more after that that sucked. I saw them on the second kind of glammy record. It was just Joe, the drummer and the bass player. Jack Grisham and Ron Emory had left the band so it was really weird. They played some of the stuff from Revenge but also a lot of the garbage glam stuff.
The band broke up, and Jack and everyone else got back together and they made a couple of records. We played with them six or seven years ago at the Climax Lounge. We have a song called "World War Three." I met Ron before the gig, and I was star struck. On stage I said, "We're big fans of TSOL and we wrote a song called 'World War Three,' this is for them." They killed it. It was one of those things like the Wire show. It was a Friday night, TSOL; it was all-ages, and a lackluster turnout.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.