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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: The Lost Causes

The band The Lost Causes recently announced that they've broken up. Their music will not be available on all previous platforms.

The Lost Causes are a Pittsburgh band formed a decade and half ago by Set DiBello after picking some tunes on his back porch in Grove City. These days, things are a bit more fleshed out and the band describes their sound as a potluck with a low country boil, but one of your friends brought a Primanti’s sandwich to the party.

Set DiBello from The Lost Causes recently spoke with WYEP's Joey Spehar about back porch pickin', admiring Wilco, and taking some good advice from mom.

The Lost Causes are:
Set DiBello (banjo/guitar/vocals)
Dan Miller (bass/cello/vocals)
Britt Haefeli (vocals)
Jack Hill (mandolin/vocals)
David Powell (guitar/vocals

Several picture frames next to a table with flowers and a mug.

What’s your musical history up to this point?

You could say that the Lost Causes got started over 15 years ago with nights of back porch acoustic jams back in founding member Set DiBello’s (banjo/guitar/vocals) hometown of Grove City, Pa. Fast-forward to a cold April 1, 2022, a quickly thrown together set full of John Prine and Avett Brother covers was performed outside of Adda Coffeehouse in Garfield. In the next year, Dan Miller (bass/cello/vocals) and DiBello hopped around local venues while beginning to lock in on what would become the Lost Causes sound. Britt Haefeli (vocals), Jack Hill (mandolin/vocals), and David Powell (guitar/vocals) joined in the summer of 2023 and the group entered the studio to record their upcoming self-titled first album the following fall.

How do you describe your sound?

Our sound comes from old Appalachian string band music, mixed with southern rock, some bluegrass, and a glimmery pop overtone. We like to think of it as a potluck, with a low country boil, fried okra, and your one friend who brought a Primanti's sandwich.

Tell us more about the song "Own Way." What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?

Set: Ah, geez! “Own Way” comes from a lot of places, all pretty personal. Growing up, anytime life would hand something pretty rough my way, my mom had this mantra of sorts that I would often roll my eyes at. She’d look at me and say, “Hey, everything is working out in it’s own way.”

The past couple years while I was writing for the Lost Causes held some of the toughest surprises I’ve dealt with in my life up to this point - losing my job in a company-wide lay off, getting treated pretty badly by folks I thought were my friends, all of that good stuff. I was writing to cope. One day, I was with my partner, Madeline, and she made the quip “I know it’s folk music, but can you write a happy song?”. I laughed, then remembered what my mom would say, and went out into the backyard and wrote the song. It’s phrased like an open letter to Madeline saying “it’s gonna be alright, ya know?” But really, it’s apparent that I was also writing to myself. Since then, it’s really a song that’s meant to encourage anyone who gives it a listen.

Whatever you’ve going through, it’s gonna pass, and it’s okay just to be okay (or not okay) for now.

What was the first album that really changed your life?

Set: My uncle introduced me to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot when I was around 13. To this day I can never get enough of it, and it really pushed the boundaries of where a singer-songwriter such as Jeff Tweedy could explore themselves sonically. Lyrically, it’s beautiful and nonsense at the same time. Hearing them come from their alt-country background and blooming into something that I believe had never been done before continues to inspire me.

Jack: The Fool and The Magician by The Hills and The Rivers. This was a band that I was in with a few family members a while back, and it was the first time I was proud of something I took part in.

Britt: My Mom was sure to instill a backbone of good music in me from a young age. At the age of five she had me belting out “Mercedes Benz” and “Bobby McGee” on the way to kindergarten. By the age of 8, I was walking around the house wearing pink cowgirl boots with my frilliest clothing. When I was 16, my first car was named after Joplin, one of my biggest idols. To this day no album has affected me the way that Pearl, Janice Joplin's legacy album has shaped me. As a musician, person, and will forever hold a special space in my heart.

David: Nirvana's Greatest Hits was the first CD I became obsessed with. It was sort of a gateway drug to weird music. Before that, I was into Will Smith and Avril Lavigne.

Dan: Tough question, I think I will have to go with Brahms’ “Cello Sonata” performed by Yo-Yo Ma. My godparents got me it shortly after I began playing cello. I had no idea that the cello could make sounds like that! 27 years of playing and teaching, and I am still chasing that sound.

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?

Pittsburgh has such a unique sound, and we could shout out so many wonderful artists from the 412, but we would like to point out a few that have lifted us up and kept us going. First that comes to mind is our dear friend, Alan Getto, who has a lengthy and impressive discography with a range unlike any other.

Along with that, our most seemingly unlikely friendship comes from the punk girls with hearts of gold in the group Lylyth. Of course, we also would love to give a shoutout to Outside Eliza and Flock of Walri - two impressive bands that some of our members have worked hard to create and continue to expand our love of Pittsburgh-based music.

Any other super interesting things about you we should know?

Our first album will be officially available on January 12th, of this year! We are so lucky to have gotten to work with our producer, Jake Hanner, for the past few months on this. We have our album release show at Bottlerocket Social hall on January 13th. We have a great bill including our friends, Alan Getto, Colt-Winter Lepley, and Outside Eliza. This has taken years of hard work to make happen, and we are so excited to get to celebrate with those that matter the most to us, our supporters and fans.

Thank you to everyone for being just as much of a Lost Cause as we are!

Updated: February 5, 2024 at 12:59 PM EST
Updated to reflect that the band has broken up.
Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.