Brent Loveday had a moment of clarity on the road. It came one night in Oklahoma City, while he and his band, Reno Divorce, were on tour, and it happened somewhere in the midst of kicking out the side window of their new tour van, then horsing around and hanging his head out of it and cutting himself on the shards of glass left behind as he was throwing up.
"I felt like shit," Loveday recalls. "I felt like a total joke. And I kind of said to myself, 'This is the farthest you're ever going to go if you continue down this road.'"
Loveday's mother had passed away three years earlier, and when that happened, he sort of went off the deep end. "I didn't want to deal with her death," he confesses. "I've lost both parents now. So I just turned to drugs pretty hard-core, and for the last three years, what's kept us afloat is the years that I was sober — that reputation that I'd built, and the songs that I wrote when I was sober.
Reno Divorce, CD release, with Drag the River, Boldtype and DJ Kursed, 8 p.m. Monday, December 31, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, $10-$12, 303-487-0111.
"I just kind of reached the point where I was squandering everything that I ever did," he goes on. "Sooner or later, people are just going to be tired of my antics or whatever. Being in this line of work, all you see are people getting wasted. And I envy people that can go and just have a drink that doesn't turn into a bender. I got to accept that about myself, that I'm just not wired that way."
So about a month and a half ago, Loveday started rehab, and he says he's still getting his wings. But considering that he got sober once before and stayed that way for eight years, he knows what he's facing. "I just made a decision," he says. "I owe it to myself and friends and family, and I owe it to the fans I've made over the years to tackle that problem. So, I mean, it feels great. It's a really positive thing for me and my family, and, of course, everyone around me is pretty stoked on it."
The irony of pursuing sobriety for Loveday is that he now feels the substance and gravity of what he's written. Now that he's in rehab, for instance, songs like "Rep to Protect," the fiery opening cut of Reno Divorce's new album, Lover's Leap, take on a whole new meaning. "I got kind of a reputation as a party dude and not having my shit together," he notes. "So when I'd kind of act like a fuckup, I would jokingly say, 'I got a rep to protect.' Like this is my reputation. But ironically enough, I'm in rehab now. When I sing it now, it's got a different connotation to it. It was kind of a joke that spun out of control."
What's not a joke is Lover's Leap, issued on the Raleigh, North Carolina-based Rusty Knuckles imprint; the band will celebrate its release on New Year's Eve at the Marquis Theater. It's a thoroughly solid effort inspired by Orange County punk and country, and it's fueled by a band that now includes guitarist/vocalist Tye Battistella, bassist Nick Golding and drummer Ruben Patino, the strongest lineup in Reno's sixteen-year history.
Loveday admits that he went into making the record with low expectations, thinking it wouldn't be the band's best effort. He didn't feel prepared for it, and some of the songs weren't up to snuff, in his opinion. In fact, he didn't have a lot of lyrics written for it. But about halfway in, he realized that Lover's Leap, the followup to 2009's Tears Before Breakfast, might be the quintessential Reno Divorce album.
He credits a lot of its success to being able to record a lot of tracks either in his basement or at Patino's Green Door Recordings studio. There was more creative freedom that came with not having to look at the clock and think about the hours of recording time adding up. "You can kind of take your time, to an extent," Loveday points out. "Just some cool stuff unravels that way, when you're not under that financial pressure."
You can hear the results on tracks like "Always Be Your Slave," a song that Loveday says he wrote from the perspective of being in someone else's shoes and thinking how he would react to having to deal with himself. "It was like I was in this bad relationship where I was a total dick and selfish," he reveals. "The girl was like, 'I do everything for you. I never question your whereabouts, and all you do is just walk all over me.' It's about at the end of that relationship, where it just feels real hopeless. I kind of just reversed the roles and took a walk in her shoes, and that's what I came up with."
On a happier note, "GED Sweetheart" is Loveday's song to his wife, whom he's been married to for twenty years. While some people marry their high-school sweethearts, he married his GED sweetheart. (They got their GEDs within a week of one another, "and of course," says Loveday, "she scored better than me.")
"Sunsets and Corvettes" was partly written during the first incarnation of Reno Divorce, in Orlando, Florida, after a teenage Loveday saw Social Distortion for the first time. He says it was on par with someone seeing the Beatles or the Stones, or Elvis in the '50s. Even though he had listened to a cassette tape of the band and had seen the documentary Another State of Mind, which includes early tour footage of Social Distortion and Youth Brigade, he says nothing could have prepared him for seeing the group live and seeing how Mike Ness commanded the room.
"Mike Ness's stage presence back then — you couldn't compare it to anything," Loveday marvels. "He was probably 27 years old at the time, but he just commanded a room full of 600 people. You know, all eyes were on him, and they didn't avert for a second."
Social D has clearly had a big impact on Loveday, who ranks Prison Bound as one of his top three most influential albums. It gets top honors, he says, because it's essentially a punk band shedding its punk shell and making a country record. "To me," says Loveday, "I really admired the balls that it took them to release that." Second on that list is T.S.O.L.'s Revenge, whose riffs Loveday says he struggles with playing, and right behind that is Dag Nasty's Field Day, another record where the band departed somewhat from its original sound.
"I liked when a punk band, with their unique perspective of the world in songwriting, went and did something that sounded more like popular music, because it just had an edge to it and an approach that was different," he explains.
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While Loveday had been dabbling on guitar from the first time he saw Social D, he was fifteen when he had a breakthrough. He was messing around on the guitar one day and stumbled upon a T.S.O.L. riff, and that's when it all clicked. A few years later he formed Reno Divorce with his best friend, Tony Owens, in Orlando, and then Loveday and his wife moved to California to be closer to his son, who was living in Colorado with his mother. But once he got there, he couldn't find people to play with, and he was broke all the time, so he ended up moving to Denver in 2001.
"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he says of his move to the Mile High City. "I resigned myself. I was depressed about it. Then when I got here, I couldn't believe how backward my thinking was about what this place was about."
Nothing like new beginnings.