Shrinking Trio | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Shrinking Trio

Musicians have faced adversity on the road to success since time immemorial. Hell, the Polish hunted down and killed thousands of musicians called bandurists for four centuries before they got over that nasty habit. In other words, a lot of forces have always conspired to keep musicians from achieving their dreams.

Philadelphia blue-collar punk rockers the Loved Ones are no different. Sure, they were never persecuted like bandurists (who kind of sound like musical Jedi, by the way), but their three years together have nevertheless seen more than their fair share of ups and downs — something frontman Dave Hause addressed on the band's debut full-length, Keep Your Heart.

"It's a record about trying to find your way through desperate times and desperate situations," Hause explains from Philly, a week before the start of the Loved Ones' first headlining tour. "I would say lyrically that was just the theme I was dealing with most.

"My mom died as I was writing it," he continues. "There were a couple of other deaths around us and a lot of relationships disintegrating and fracturing. A war was going on too that still seems neverending. It was all kind of hopeless.

"But it's life. You just fight through it, I guess."

And indeed, they have. The Loved Ones have spent the past three years working their asses off to make sure you know who they are; punk to the bone, they've criss-crossed the U.S. and (more recently) Europe on a slew of tours and released an eponymous EP in 2005 and then Keep Your Heart last year. Chock full of a blend of hardcore and melody, loud choruses, and Hause's downtrodden-but-fuck-you-I'm-not-going-to-stay-down lyrics, it's pretty much what you'd expect out of punk. Well, if, say, punk hadn't been absconded with by a legion of emo brats whose makeup habits still keep Hot Topic in business (that's read: before Green Day could be found next to JoJo on Wal-Mart's CD racks).

The brainchild of longtime friends Hause, bassist Michael "Spider" Cotterman, and drummer Mike Sneeringer, the Loved Ones essentially grew out of the trio's previous bands, the Curse, Kid Dynamite, and Trial by Fire. Amazingly, all of them were virtually punk veterans before the age of 30. Hause, for example, had roadied for or managed in some way just about every punk act to come out of the East Coast in the past ten years, from Kid Dynamite and Sick of It All to the Explosion and the Bouncing Souls.

Unwilling to surrender to his misfortune, Hause found himself performing to larger and larger audiences as word got out about the Loved Ones. Then there was a European tour that reminded him why he started playing music in the first place.

"It helped put into perspective that we do this because we love it," Hause says, citing the devotion that fans across the Atlantic show to great American music that eschews glitz for substance. "We don't have to do this. Trying to make a buck is not the point. It's enjoying yourself and reaching people and being able to produce art."

But that was before Christmas. That was before Cotterman, a man nicknamed "Spider" because a friend thought he looked like a character from Goodfellas, unloaded a few ultimatums on Hause. The fallout saw Cotterman leave the band just weeks before the tour.

"Uh, that's probably a question more for Spider, honestly," Hause says when asked why Cotterman jumped ship. "I don't want to speak for him."

Of course, Hause says this very politely. Even after he offers his take on what happened, one has to wonder where the emotion is behind the words he's saying. You know, like when he says, "It was painful." This sounds so cool coming out of his mouth and yet not so cool as Cotterman when he picks up his phone during his lunch break at The Washington Post, where he currently works as a copy aide for the Style section.

As if he's worked out a press release in his head, Cotterman explains, "There were some things I thought were pretty unfair for me and Mike, and over time, it led to an unhappy situation [see editor's note below]. When we got back from Europe, I said these things had to change or I was going to leave. I gave [Dave] a couple of weeks to think about it. When we talked again, we were unable to reach an agreement, so we went our separate ways with a handshake."

Yet again, Hause and the Loved Ones (now a duo) find themselves facing more than they bargained for (albeit not music-hating armed Polacks... or Sith). Only 3 years old and it's beginning to seem like the gods have it in for them. Hause remains upbeat, though. With friends covering the bass and Dave Walsh of the Explosion along on second guitar, their headlining Keep Your Heart Tour kicks off 2007.

A new year, a new lineup, and hopefully some new (and much-needed) luck.

"It'll be different," Hause says of the Loved Ones sans Cotterman, "but more subtly than immediately recognizable. As a band, a collective, we wanted to move in a slightly different direction anyway. I don't think Spider leaving is going to make that any more poignant."

Editor's note: A check of the tape shows that a few words ("I thought were pretty unfair") were omitted from a statement by Michael Cotterman. We've put them back in.