Two Houses and Aging In A Punk Scene
Eventually, the party needs to end. The pains of an aging body begin to catch up with you. Downing beer after beer leads to aches in the morning. Maybe you make tweaks, only letting loose every once in a while, content to spend most of your nights in bed at a reasonable hour. For some that may not even be an option in the first place. Addiction works in a funny way, operating on an all-or-nothing mentality.
Pop-punk in general has always struggled with the question of aging, most of the time stuck in a perpetual “peter pan” syndrome. It leads to a destructive cycle for everybody and a culture that benefits no one. If bands do try to wrestle with aging it’s a bit too obvious, such as The Menzingers asking “what are we going to do now that our 20s” are over?” in “Telling Lies”. Finding that right balance between nuanced introspection becomes hard to find but is an important quality I crave from bands as I get older. Being able to find a band I can change along with is a special feeling, allowing me to revisit my own growth upon each album cycle.
The band that has been a shining example for me is Two Houses. While to many they were just another local Chicago band, they were the ones that taught me how to age out of my early 20s, which for me was a desperate time. Their debut record, I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself came at the exact right time in my life. In 2016, I was an undiagnosed bipolar II, unconsciously using substances as self-medication. My weekends were full of drunken debauchery and live music, going to Quenchers Saloon as much as possible. Sometimes I would take the imbibing too far, once blacking out and hitting the pavement. I only made it home with one percent battery left to spare.
The mornings would be filled with an intense hatred of self that would only dissipate once I had another drink that following night. I felt like I was living a double life where I only felt like myself when I was drinking or out partying. It led to a perpetual cycle that I wasn’t equipped to break on my own and I was still reluctant to take any kind of action. Even the idea of seeing a psychiatrist or therapist was out of the question.
Drummer/Singer Dave Satterwhite of Two Houses was my own guide and whose experience wasn’t too dissimilar from mine. Instead of AA, this record became my central text for imagining a life outside of substance abuse. The songs that composed the first LP were written before the clarity of sobriety. It was easy for me to latch onto the terrific opener “Thunder Road” and its plaintive lyrics (“On LSD, I saw my speed: a broken body by 23. I felt my features fading and I fixed a Bloody Mary”). And it doesn’t stop on that song, diving into more of the specifics of addiction on “My Back Is Broken”. This quote below lays it out pretty succinctly.
I quit drinking last winter, about a year after I wrote the lyrics to “My Back Is Broken.” There are no lurid, rock-bottom anecdotes or intervention censures to share. Let’s just say I was partied out all the time. Only somewhat to my surprise, friends still ask me why I quit or if it’s a “forever thing,” oblivious to how much I was self-medicating. I guess I got pretty good at hiding it. This song is about what we do to ourselves behind closed doors and the looming dread that someone might see our fetid, pizza box playground bedrooms in the light of day — ourselves included.
The process toward sobriety for me was by no means perfect. I knew from the time I turned 21 that I had a problem. My early twenties saw me in and out of substance abuse. But I was never able to make it past eight months. Eventually, my lizard brain would come roaring back and repeat the cycle all over again. These imperfections are part of the process and are shown all throughout the Two Houses LP. Their closing track, “One More For Dom” doesn’t end with a clean resolution. It’s mostly just a tribute to their friend but the record was never meant to be definitive. Instead, it’s half a snapshot of Satterwhite before sobriety and little vignettes of living in Chicago from the other vocalist Mike Boren.
The journey of Two Houses from infancy to today tells a similar story as mine and anybody else even if the details vary a bit from person to person. They are quintessentially Chicago in that the city is a town of transplants, coming from all over either to join the workforce or go to college. For Boren, Satterwhite, and Ryan Smith it was to go to college at Depaul University in Lincoln Park. They very quickly bonded, starting out playing shitty covers of Against! Me to start. Eventually, they would begin to write their own songs but that journey wasn’t without bumps. Early shows would find them playing to empty crowds at the notoriously disgusting bar The Mutiny. Eventually, they were able to find their people in those tiny crevices where the city allows art to exist in, playing at the DIY venue 86 Mets or Township, both of which are now defunct.
Mild Mannered, the band’s first EP was scrappy in the best way possible. All of the hallmarks of the band were there. Boren and Satterwhite trade back vocals. The lyrics are instantly relatable, especially for Boren whose malaise about a 9–5 job still resonates with me. I don’t return to this release often but it’s by no means bad. It serves the same purpose as a demo and we would ultimately get better versions of these songs later. The band would really begin to come into focus the following year with their next ep Disappointer. Satterwhite begins to take a more outsized role, singing on the title track and “Kanye West Doesn’t Care About Chicago”.
The band as I know them comes together with their debut record that I briefly mentioned earlier. All the work the band had put in the years before was building towards the first record. They were a different band, one that had become tighter as a unit. Where previous releases felt like a collection of songs, this was a record in a proper sense. There was a unifying theme even if it was unconscious with a thought-out sequencing. “The Fear”, “Never Come Down”, and “Penguins” were anthems meant for dive bars, channeling the best parts of Titus Andronicus and The Hold Steady. I Feel So Good I Can’t Stand Myself was truly the “going for it record” both in scope and ambition, working with Maryam Hassan of Punktastic to create a PR firm called Avondale Promotions. While the record didn’t make blast them to a new stratosphere, all the work put in made what is an instant classic in my own personal canon. I know many of the songs as well as any other record that came out in the 2010s.
The release of the record in 2016 also saw the band in a bit of a transition as well. Being a touring entity was never really going to happen. It’s a realization many have eventually sometime in your twenties whether you’re in a band or not. Being constantly on the road means something is sacrificed. Deciding to opt-out of that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Two Houses would still keep themselves busy, releasing an EP in 2017 called Unfriend. It was some of their best material yet and the closest to replicating their live experience. Some of their best songs are on it like “Ten Things I Hate About Youtube” and “Paradise By The Macbook Light”. Unlike the previous releases, this one would just be self-released, opting to release it digitally.
The following years would be filled with splits and playing around Chicago every once in a while. And if you went to see them you would begin to see them road testing what would comprise their next record. I was even lucky once to hear the entire record played front to back for a show at Burlington Bar in pre-pandemic times. Around 2020, they would begin the process of recording their second record. There would be speed bumps along the way, as they were taking their time with it. But eventually, the record would all come together even if it was later than anticipated.
On first listen to Can’t Fail I’m mostly struck by how self-assured it is. You can feel the passage of time in a good way. This could only be made by three people who have been making music together for a decade. And that tumult that characterized the early material is replaced with a clarity that I hope comes with your 30s. The lyrics from Satterwhite are much more plaintive, choosing to be direct instead of coy. Even the song titles are less cagey, opting for simple phrases.
For me personally, those difficulties that I described earlier in my early twenties have slowly dissipated. After a drunken fourth of July in 2018, I decided I was done drinking. While I’ve said this many times before this time it actually stuck. I very quickly found myself changing, gaining back bundles of energy I didn’t even know I had. Within a few months, I decided to start writing about music, filing my first review for Post Trash on the Gouge Away record. This would be the first of many changes for me. The swings between mania and depression were very acute, especially since I wasn’t self-medicating anymore. 2019 was probably the most miserable time of my life I can remember because of that. I would have what I would call low-level suicidal ideation, thinking about jumping over a bridge or onto the train tracks pretty consistently.
Thankfully this stage didn’t last too long and I finally started seeing a therapist that same year and then a psychiatrist the following year. There was still some resistance, leading me back to the psych ward in 2021 for the first time in almost 10 years. While I would have preferred to not be on the brink of insanity, I’m as leveled out as I can be in the present day. I’m more aware of the rise and fall in the mood that comes with being bipolar. I know the warning signs that come with my paranoia streak. And thankfully I’ve been able to channel my energy in a better way, using creative outlets instead of destroying my body.
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