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Interview with Louse: Cincinnati's Gothic Tom Petty

The ‘1980s were a time for Heartland Rock stars to shine like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. Artists who identified with the American working class while still challenging the American ideology. At the same time, college radio stations were blasting artists like R.E.M. and the Replacements over the airwaves. Those bands told stories of the American experience but instead for the “slacker,” for the left behind and forgotten.

Across the pond, in places like Sussex and Manchester, bands like the Cure, the Chameleons, and labels such as Factory Records had taken the bleak industrial sounds of their home and made atmospheric, reverb-filled danceable tunes. These songs were filled with melancholy, dread, and love that created what we commonly know as Goth or synth-rock.

Each of these genres shares the internal conflict of the songwriter's love for their home and their desired escapism. Artists like Robert Smith, Micheal Stipe, and Bruce Springsteen all use their homes as their story setting within their music and songwriting. Yet, the theme always seemed to be to escape or to share their frustrations with their home, whether it was the American South, Sussex, UK, or Asbury Park, NJ.

Cincinnati’s newest Goth Rock act, Louse (Lows), shares that same inner conflict with these artists on their debut EP, Dressed In Skin. CincyMusic sat down with Louse at BAR BAR near Findlay Market to discuss how this project began and their new EP.

“Growing up on the Westside of Cincinnati, in a very conservative community, I had a weird relationship with that,” said Sam Souders (Vocals/Guitar/Keys). “I still bang the drum for the Westside and still live there, but there’s an ideology over there to me that is so foreign at times and so not what I’m about.”

Louse was a pandemic project started by longtime friends and collaborators Sam Souders and Brad Kennedy (Drums). Souders, a barber at G. Salzanos in OTR, found himself out of work when the pandemic began. At that point, he had taken a three-year break from playing and writing music.

“Being out of work is a great excuse to start writing,” said Souders. “It wasn’t until quarantine I began to write again. I bought a guitar from Mike’s Music out of pure impulse. I then wrote most of the songs on our EP on that guitar.”

Kennedy has been a staple in the local music scene, being part of bands like Crime of Passing most recently.

The two met nearly a decade ago in Athens, OH. At the time, both Souders and Kennedy were in local bands. When those two fizzled out, they started a band called Great Dane. Souders would then join an early iteration of Crime of Passing, and the two would continue to play together over the years. They say their chemistry on the record is due to those years of working together.

“We have a musical rapport and relationship,” said Souders. “We’ve known each other for the better part of ten years now, and our friendship entirely began around playing music together.”

“When you’re at that level of comfort, you don’t really have to talk to people,” said Kennedy. “You take out this frustrating growth phrase that sometimes happens and just jam.”

Once Souders had a list of songs he was ready to record, he had no one else in mind to play drums but Kennedy. So the two began recording with John Hoffman at the Lodge in Dayton, KY. The studio that was once a Masonic Church has become the premiere studio for all Cincinnati artists to record.

“As much as it’s the room and the environment of the lodge, it's also the sound it creates,” said Souders. “It’s so open. It’s like this old auditorium that was used for the Free Masons. But as much as it is all of that, it’s really about working with John (Hoffman).”

Those big rooms translate on their debut, with atmospheric and spacious soundscapes throughout. The sound also paired perfectly with Souders voice, a Robert Smith-ESC cathartic bellow. Reverb-filled guitars pair with the immediacy of Kennedy’s post-punk drums. What it creates is this Gothic Heartland Rock epic.

“There’s definitely a creepy aspect of recording at the Lodge,” said Kennedy. “All of the history in that place really adds to the sound and what we wanted to do.”

With the help of Producer John Hoffman, all of those pieces were able to be blended with the authenticity that was important to Souders and Kennedy.

“John is the biggest fan of getting a comfortable take over a perfect take,” said Souders. “Like John will say, “That sounded good, but I feel like your heart wasn’t in it.”’

While writing the lyrics, Souders had time to reflect upon his childhood, his community, and the resentment he may have held toward those as an adult. What comes from that is this purely cathartic blistering music that can truly translate to any listener without necessarily understanding the underlying meanings of the songs.

“I wanted this record to come across more honest and authentic than anything I had done before,” said Souders. “A lot of the record comes from some weird shit that happened to me as a kid. Stuff that you put into the back of your mind, but as I got older, I realized that these hypersexual situations were going on. And because of the community I was raised in, you’re taught to bury that down.”

The result is an album that confronts the issue of how to escape or learn to live with this place that raised you that you now resent? Resentment is the overarching theme on Louse’s record. However, it isn’t filled with hate. Instead, it's a cleansing journey of coping with childhood trauma and being different from those you grew up with while healing from that as an adult.

Now Louse is set to play their very first show together as a touring act. Adding Guitarist Connor Simpson, who is featured on the record as well, along with bassist Danny Lovell and Max Enslen on keys to their live set.

“We just want to get this first show underneath our belts,” said Kennedy.

The live experience is an aspect of Louse that has yet to be worked out. However, it is a crucial part of the band, says Souders.

“You can’t say too much about yourself until you figure out what your live experience is going to be like,” said Souders. “It’s probably the most important thing to us right now. As cool as the reception to the record has been, we want to get our live experience figured out.”

You can catch Louse at The Hub on Main Street tonight at 9 p.m., and you can purchase Dressed In Skin on Bandcamp now using the link below.