Lonesome Dove: On the Couch with James Hayes

Published  November 2012

James Hayes was groomed from infancy to be a singer-songwriter. He was babysat by ex-members of Eyehategod, was once picked up from school by Trent Reznor and attended (and booked) punk shows on Frenchmen Street as a 10 year-old. Surrounded by teens drinking 40s (while his father begged on the streets and battled drug addiction) basically sealed his fate. While James’ father did little to inspire him to pick up a guitar, he has certainly inspired what that guitar not so gently weeps. In his current incarnation as the Lovey Dovies, James is tirelessly devoted to his band, with several tours under his belt (including South America and Canada) and countless hours spent in the studio writing and demoing songs until they are perfect. At the end of this month, Lovey Dovies will release its second full-length album, Shive, followed by a split 7” with Little Gold.

Featuring tales of self-loathing and melodic confessions, Shive takes you back to a moment in time where you were holding your finger on the record button of your VCR, waiting for Matt Pinfield to stop talking so you could fit this alternative rock anthem right behind Belly’s “Feed the Tree” video. In fact, if “Hacksaw,” the first track on Shive actually had come out in ’94, we would all have been jealous of James for dating Winona Ryder or Kennedy. James and I sat down in the shop at the Living Room Studio (after a demo session) and discussed lineup shuffling, marriage, growing up too fast, the worst thing in the world, Catholic guilt, all kinds of torture and a very daring prison break.

There has been a lot of lineup shuffling throughout the history of Lovey Dovies, especially in this past year or so. Is Lovey Dovies less of a band and more of an ever-evolving organic kind of thing, where you find the right pieces for the time?

James Hayes: Obviously throughout the band there has been a lot of different people. It’s been like a rotating cast and that never bothered me until I started thinking about how great it is to have a set group of people playing music together. The reason the Lovey Dovies went through so many changes was that I was fucked up all the time. Basically, the first formation of Lovey Dovies ended because I had to go to fucking rehab. I think it is hard to have a set band; it’s hard to have a group of people that stay together… Shive was initially meant to be a solo Lovey Dovies record. This band really got its legs with [AG Editor] Dan Fox and Izzy Grisoli. We did a whole lot of shit with that band and that lineup; but it got to 2 years into it where I was feeling like everyone else could have been doing something better for themselves than following my ass around, playing in Lovey Dovies. That was the most productive formation of Lovey Dovies to date but at the same time, after 2 years, you don’t want to be around the people who have made you their best friends. Even though you have forged these relationships with people and everything has become a very much “you and me” kind of thing, where we both have each other’s backs, that shit gets fucking boring. You start looking around and you realize that these people are your weight and you are a weight upon them, holding them back from doing what they should be doing. It’s a total downer… So Shive was going to be a solo record. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but I just wanted to break away and do a record that was all my own. I was going to play everything but once I got in the studio I realized that these songs needed more than I could give them. Daniel [Majorie] suggested we bring in Eric Rogers to play drums. Then I just pulled Kevin Comarda and Travis Thompson from BlackBelt Band off of the couch at the studio to play bass and add backing vocals on a couple of tracks. That was pretty much the nail in the coffin for the Dan and Izzy line-up. Eric stayed on as the drummer for a while following the recording of Shive, but I’ve just started playing with Joshua Nee (of Thou and Des Ark) on drums; Chuck Dass  (who was an original member of Lovey Dovies) is back on bass and Dave Fera on guitar. So I think all of this mix helps me keep it as interesting as possible.

How did the duet with Dave Fera, on the late Colin Brown’s “Little Pills,” come about?

When you are too young to get into bars, there is always that place that you can get into and in New Orleans at the time it was Nick’s on Tulane. That place also had the Replacements and Sebadoh on the jukebox. Nick’s was just that place that all the underage kids would flock to because they would usually let you in. So from hanging out at Nick’s, I got to know this guy Colin Brown, who worked there, really well. It was just that place you would go after a shitty day of delivering pizza. Colin actually served me my first Long Island iced tea and introduced me to the Replacements. Then randomly one day he got a cough and went into the hospital. It turned out to be a viral chest infection from some disease that had lived inside of his body for his whole life. He had some trouble with it as a kid and it came back randomly as a fucking 39 year-old husband and father of two and he died. He was gone. Just like that. [snaps his fingers] It’s just a massively terrible, sad thing. It’s just one of those situations where you feel like there is just nothing. Colin had written so many good songs. So to help cope with a mutual friend dying, Dave and I recorded one of Colin’s songs. Dave had grown up with Colin in Virginia. They were really good friends so really, there was no one else to ask to play it with me. It wasn’t about what Dave had going on with his band; it was all about our connection and friendship with Colin and helping to spread some of his music. Once we did the song, Dave wanted to stick around and we’ve been playing together ever since.

Along with the lineup changes, there has been a clear shift in the way you write songs. On Shive and in the covers you have been performing lately, there seems to be a lot of acoustic songs that often have a western lean. Are you hanging up the fuzz petal?

I grew up in New Orleans going to shows on Frenchmen St. back when it was a hub of kids drinking 40s and not tourists drinking overpriced drinks. It was a lot different. So I’ve been groomed on aggressive guitar music at places like the Faubourg Center and Café Brazil when they still existed but it gets to a point when you need to start doing things differently. Also, I started to realize that punk was the thing that got me into so many different types of music. I lived in South America for 8 years, getting there when I was 13. So going from the New Orleans punk rock scene to Chile – where there is a whole different type of folkloric music, a whole different kind of punk, a whole different type of pop – that was the shit. I loved that kind of stuff. It made me realize that you grow up with something like punk but you don’t have to stagnate in it. What’s less punk than never progressing and changing? Then there’s also the thing where people who are close to you die and leave you all kinds of music you’ve never heard before. My grandfather left me with so many albums that it would be silly for me to continue to play music that is still so loud and in people’s faces, at this stage with all that I’ve heard and experienced. I don’t listen to a lot of aggressive music and I don’t want to play it.

I’ve always considered the word “Shive” to have originated on the Westbank and probably in the heart of Shaw High School’s cafeteria. How do you define it; where do you think its genealogy comes from and what is its attraction and connection to you?

Not to be cheesy, but I first heard shive on the streets. I went to McDonogh 15 and my mom worked at McDonogh 15, so every day I would take the streetcar or the bus and would hear it there. But actually, I like the way that shit rolls off your tongue and I really, really like the way a word looks when it’s written. When I was trying to name the record, I can’t remember who, but someone brought it up. Somebody said “Shive.” It just reminded me how I really liked the meaning of that word and the context of it that I had been confronted with on the streetcar and bus going to and from school. That word was never like a safe place. Every time I heard “shive” it was in a situation where my “shive” shoes were getting ripped from me. I liked the idea of it being a compliment, meaning your shoes or whatever are awesome but now I’m going to take them from you.

Your wife, Kara, has obviously been a great inspiration for a lot of the songs on this record. Do you worry that when you totally settle into that married lifestyle of dinner parties and watching Netflix on the couch you’ll run out of things to sing about?

[Laughs] No, that’s kind of like asking someone, “Did your life get more boring when you feel really good about yourself because the person that’s with you basically makes you?” I guess being a guy who’s 26 and in a rock band, I’m not supposed to be married or whatever. When I got married, a lot of people looked at me and went, “Okay, good luck with that.” Not that they didn’t want it to go well or anything but they know and I know I’m a lot to handle. I mean, I look at myself and ask, “Who the fuck wants to marry me?” These days, everyone is way more focused on doing things for themselves and are looking for individual accomplishments; and marriage is the exact opposite of that. It’s about doing things for another person and I think that’s why so many people get weird about it. But I love my wife. She writes the track listings for the records; she tells me when my shit sounds terrible… My wife fills that void of the permanent band member. Maybe that is why Lovey Dovies has been such a rotating, incestuous cast of dreamers, weirdos and assholes. We do have our Netflix days and I love that; but as long as you don’t end up stuck inside it will always be interesting.

“Good Mood,” the second song on this record, is a tale of proposing to Kara and “Betrayed,” the second-to-last song, is a country-fried tune warning her of what she is about to commit herself to. Did she hear “Betrayed” before she said yes? Also, how many of those tales are true?

I think she knew that song the whole time. I think everybody did. “Betrayed” is the song that I think gets most people right in the chest. It’s funny; I’ve seen so many reactions to that song. If you say to anyone “I left my only son. I quit right when you are about to cum. I lied to my grandma. I even had to put down the dog,” there’s going to be so many different reactions amongst the different demographics of people. I think ladies in their late 30s early 40s really get that song [and] people who don’t hang on your every word as if it was literal and have been through some shit themselves. Although, that song is completely literal: there is nothing in that song that is not true. I think Kara took it pretty well but that song is supposed to be about putting it out there and more importantly, getting rid of it. It’s a confessional type of a song. It’s a very Catholic song. I really like that song; it’s my favorite song that I’ve ever written because it’s nice to be really fucking crucially devastatingly sadly honest with yourself. But yes, that song is all true. Every line. There won’t be another one like that.

There seems to be a relationship forming between you and Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads); how did that come about?

Yeah, we are friends. I went up to visit my friend Christian [DeRoeck] from Little Gold (whose label the next record is coming out on) and we went to a Lemonheads show in Williamsburg. I went backstage and gave Evan a tape of “Betrayed.” A couple of months later he got us on the Lemonheads show at One Eyed Jack’s. I was really stoked because Evan was always someone I looked up to. I mean, they already had two opening bands so there was no reason for us to play that show, aside from him wanting us to do it. It turned out to be a really awesome time. I think there was probably something ingrained in me from being a kid and growing up with my mom, who is only 19 years older than me; so the people that I hung out with or that I got babysat by were like ex-members of Eyehategod. I never got like “child time.” It was always like rock’n’roll all the way, every day, just living in a house with massive amounts of people. Nobody paid rent; I learned about pot through High Times magazine because it was just sitting on the table. I think that Evan liked our shit because it wasn’t some garbage indie rock shit… I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for people to write music that isn’t a lie. I know that sounds tacky or whatever; but how could you write this tune and just leave everything and everyone behind?

I want to talk a bit more about you being around Frenchmen Street when you were 10 and being exposed to all that was going on there. Then moving to another country when you were 13 and experiencing things that the average kid your age had never seen or experienced. Do you think that you grew up too fast?

It was pretty horrible. I lost plenty of innocence at a very early age. As far as the people that I met and all of the relationships I forged now because of the time that I was a little kid fucking around in punk rock, that’s all great. But it was confusing to be that young and doing shows; and the only thing that came after that was basically just nothing. I mean, you book a show and that night happens and you are like “that was great!” But then it’s over and you aren’t really developing real relationships with people because you are too young for the people at the shows and too adult for the people your own age. I guess you shouldn’t be stoked on that kind of event at that age. When you have a really killer mom that allows you to go out at 10 or 11 years of age and start paying sound guys and organizing shows, at that point whose kid are you? You aren’t a kid anymore. You’re not anybody’s anything. But really, thank God that I had these sorts of experiences before I went to South America. If I would have gone out there as a child I wouldn’t have been able to handle it like I did.

Was there a big culture shock when you arrived in Chile?

Yeah, it was massive. For the first 6 months I just like jerked off and didn’t do anything. I was hiding out, I guess; but I quickly realized that there was this massive scene there… It was just my mom and I together in Chile. It was my mom and I forever, really. I only lived with my mom in New Orleans. My dad was a massive dope fiend. My dad was like a shitty crackhead, fucking heroin addict. I would ride around with my mom and see my emaciated, dying dad asking for money on the street next to the original Zara’s on Prytania. I remember leaving Jazz Fest in ’94 and being in a van full of people and seeing my dad. It was so fucked up because all the people in the van saw him and were basically trying to distract me and speed away so I wouldn’t see him. Multiple times I would see my dad cracked out, fucked up… I thought he was dying of AIDS because he would show up just looking horrible. 

you grow up with something like punk but you don’t have to stagnate in it. What’s less punk than never progressing and changing?

What’s that relationship like now?

I’ve paid for his rehab a couple of times. It’s basically like this game of guilt. This guy brought me here and now I have to deal with it. I mean, I’ve gone to rehab; I’ve fucked up a couple of times, you know. I’ve gotten really bad with alcohol and heroin and things like that; but I’m also not a 46 year-old man… I feel like Lovey Dovies has a lot to do with that. I would say that most of the shit that I sing about has a lot to do with me taking care of, feeling guilty for, always being there for some piece of shit that was never there for me. It’s so funny, too, because my dad is like one of those classic guys, like the person that someone comes up to at a bus stop or something and asks, “Do you model?” He was that guy. That happened to him. He went to Italy and modeled for forever. He was like a cutie for Ralph Lauren. He did all this modeling work but then he got into coke. Then he came home and got into crack and heroin and that was it. Since then, it’s been that dude showing up when he needed something or when he was fucked up.

So in a way, you have become your parent’s parent.

Oh God, yeah. That’s even worse when you start to think about my own drug problem. I mean, you start talking about why am I such a pothead or why has the lineup of Lovey Dovies not worked for multiple tries? Why did I get left behind by a lot of my friends? Why do a lot of my friends end up not being able to be in a band with me? Because I was fucked up and God, I mean, who wants to be that guy? That sucks, because those are your friends; and the shittiest part is that they all do it for your good. But if you are not ready for “your good” then all it’s going to do is make you feel even worse than you already feel.

One thing that I would say to sum up your band is that it is very honest. I didn’t know all of these stories that we talked about tonight; but you certainly aren’t hiding anything from anyone. You are showing who you are to the world, even though it can be a total mess.

How can you really? You can’t, or at least I can’t do that. If you do that, then who the fuck are you really even trying to hang out with or talk to? I’d rather have everything very much out in the open. [Laughs] Also, I have dual citizenship, so I can always escape to Chile.

Your mom did remarry in Chile. What’s your relationship like with your Chilean family?

I ended up falling into a very politically active family in Chile. My stepfather’s dad was the explosives expert for the Movimiento Izquierdista Revolucionario, around the time that Nixon was giving Pinochet money in 1973, the first September 11th in Chile. Basically they had democratically elected a Marxist president and the country started to go to shit. All of the truck drivers went on strike. This guy’s platform just didn’t work out but he was very much an ideologist and just a killer guy. He had his own army that was the Left Wing army and my step-grandfather was deeply ingrained in that whole scene. When he died, they had this massive funeral. Everybody went to it. It was like 300 people deep. In Chile, all the people from the Left Wing that had died or people that had “disappeared,” like the university students that were revolutionaries, are buried in the same place. Which all makes you think, “Jesus Christ! This place is just fucked. They even bury all of them together.” He was an explosives expert and he was once hung up by his balls in the national soccer stadium with piano wire. He was electrified and tortured. He showed me his cock one time and said “Now that you are in my family, I’ll show you what these motherfuckers did to me.” He pulled down his pants and showed me his cock and it looked like a burnt piece of fucking dark meat chicken. Just destroyed. That’s what he got. Then I talk to my stepfather and he tells me all about the crazy prison breaks that his father was a part of: using helicopters and shit to rescue political prisoners and his dad was the guy that set off the bomb in front of the prison. They would rig this truck to blow and then, when the guards would go to investigate that explosion, they would set off a second one. By that time, there would be a guy hanging onto a rope ladder from a helicopter leaving the prison. You can look all this shit up. He was involved in one of the highest profile prison escapes ever. That shit’s awesome. That dude was the shit. And I mean, when he showed me his destroyed penis there wasn’t an ounce of being bummed out. It wasn’t like a trophy; he wasn’t a proud, egomaniacal asshole. It takes a lot of strength to be like that, to not be terribly depressed. With some shit like that, why the fuck am I in a band?

Lovey Dovies will be playing a joint record release show with Heat Dust on Friday, November 30th at the Prytania Bar. Caddywhompus and Glish open. For more information, check out theloveydovies.net

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