Guitarist Dave Shouse hasn't graced a Memphis stage since October 2003. But this spring, the indie stalwart's latest band, Bloodthirsty Lovers, has three gigs planned for the Bluff City. Their first local appearance will be this Sunday, March 20th, at the Young Avenue Deli -- just after the Lovers travel to Austin, Texas, for the South By Southwest music festival.
"We have to go and strut our wares," Shouse says of the weeklong music showcase, which he's visited with his other bands, the Grifters and Those Bastard Souls, several times over the last decade. "Our goal this year is to get in and get out without getting pissed off in the process," he adds, chuckling.
Since the Grifters' break-up in the late 1990s, Shouse has grown wary of the corporate music machine. He says he's still trying to recover from a pact with the devil -- aka V2 Records -- that he made for Those Bastard Souls' 1999 release, Debt & Departure. "I couldn't get out of that deal quick enough," he reveals, explaining that he turned in a proposal for a $6 million project, which subsequently ended the contract.
"It's sad, but I've become so callous since the V2 stuff. It's like chasing something you think you've always wanted, and once you get it, it kicks your ass. My self-esteem got flushed, and I had to retool and start up again. This time around, I'm focusing on trying to be happy and realizing that if I enjoy making music, I should just make it.
"When I began Bloodthirsty Lovers, I didn't want to deal with anybody," Shouse says. "I recorded our first album myself on the computer and did the artwork myself."
A year after he self-released the album, French Kiss, a New York-based indie label expressed interest in the eponymous-titled CD. "I thought they could pick up distribution, and it seemed like a feasible deal because," he says, "it was a label run by musicians. No contracts or anything, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I ended up with a good label, a good publicist, and a great booking agent but just a phantom band."
Originally, Shouse saw himself as the sole creative force behind Bloodthirsty Lovers. Hired guns like drummer Paul Taylor and keyboard player Shelby Bryant occasionally fleshed out his musical ideas, but the name fronted a concept more than an actual band.
"I planned to have a trio and shift the focus away from guitars and toward electronics and samples," he says. "Then, after I'd made the record, I realized I had to go play these songs live.
"I've played with so many people since I left the Grifters," he adds, "and I learned that I really missed that stability -- having people to hang out with, commiserate with, and jubilate with. Ten years ago, with the Grifters, I was hanging out in a flower shop, drinking and playing music four nights a week. Sure, we'd write songs, but sometimes we'd play for hours and not come out with anything more concrete than a great time. I missed that impulsive approach to music."
So, Shouse recruited guitarist Steve Selvidge to collaborate on the Bloodthirsty Lovers' second album, 2004's The Delicate Seam.
The two recorded The Delicate Seam on a home computer, bringing drummer Kevin March (Those Bastard Souls, Guided By Voices), keyboardist Ross Rice, and a few other musicians into Easley-McCain Studio to finish the project.
"Kevin came through town, and we took him over to the studio to work on the album. He didn't know what he was doing, and we ended up rewriting a few songs to fit his mistakes. Having to do that made me happy," Shouse marvels. "I realized this was what I'd been missing. Getting people together and just making music is the important part.
"Now," he claims, "the band has progressed to a point where I'm ready to get a little more unhinged. My wife warns me against using this word, but I'm ready to 'Grifterize' things. Steve and I know we can write songs -- let's make music."
Since Guided By Voices broke up at the end of the year, March is able to devote more time to Bloodthirsty Lovers. Rounding out the group with bassist Kevin McGinnis, Shouse is pleased to take this project on the road. "We're doing 25 shows in 29 days," he says, "but beyond the tour, everything's still nebulous.
"We have to go on instinct, but I like that. We've got the potential to do some unusual things, veer off, and make some new music. I can't wait to see what happens."
Bloodthirsty Lovers will be playing Sunday, March 20th, at the Young Avenue Deli; Saturday, April 9th, at the Hi-Tone Café; and at Memphis In May's Beale Street Music Festival on Sunday, May 1st. For more information, go to BloodthirstyLovers.com.
by ANDRIA LISLE