"It's all about Bon Scott and AC/DC, man. Everything he wrote about being in a band, that's the soundtrack to what we've gone through. 'Aint No Fun Waiting Around to be a Millionaire.' Now that's a song we totally get."
Damone bassist Vazquez
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Every rock band has a story, or maybe two, involving break-ups, fights, label battles, money issues, health problems, etc.... Fuck em.
Damone has had all of that and more.
Lets start with Vazquez, the bassist.
He died. Sort of.
"The thing about recording is that it seems like a walk in the park," says the bassist. "But for our new record, I got lost in the process. I wasnt sleeping or anything. So one day, I call up [vocalist] Noelle, and I say, Why dont we go to the gym and get fired up? A little while later, I get off the treadmill, and all of the sudden I feel this weird sensation blowing through my head."
Moments later, Vazquez is passed out and being rushed into an ambulance. "We didnt have insurance or money at this point, so when I woke up, all I could think about was how much it was going to cost. But then I noticed a priest was over me reading me my last rites."
Fortunately, the bassist recovered from his brain hemorrhage with only a two-day coma and a maddening stutter to show for it ("It's cool, man, I can still play spin the bottle and shit") But for Damone, this is just one of many obstacles they faced while making their latest record.
The craziness started two years ago, after the Boston, Massachusetts band was finishing up a year and a half of touring behind their debut record, 'From the Attic', a solid piece of punk-metal that was most notable for its lead singer, then 18-year old Noelle. It was good stuff, but also a little hard for the general masses to swallow after all, its not every group that can take their musical cues from the likes of Judas Preist, Boston, Ratt and Def Leppard, and then top it all off with a kick-ass female singer/guitarist.
"All we wanted to do was bring back the spirit of good rock music," says drummer Dustin Hengst. "We love stuff like the Crue, Queen and Thin Lizzy. Shit like that. What we do is a celebration of what we like about big radio rock. Even the hair-metal bands of the 80s we love em. Sure, they copped everything from Aerosmith and Zeppelin, but man, they were slaves to songwriting. They made some of the coolest songs. I think today a lot music has become really formulaic, or its that depressing, miserable wallowing, you know?"
Unfortunately, not everyone could tune in to the pure rock brilliance of Damone, or their charismatic lead singer. "It was hard for a lot of people to get, especially our old record label, admits Noelle. It wasnt poppy enough for them to market, and rock radio stations dont like playing females." Dustin still seethes about it. "Noelle's an amazing singer and guitarist. She's not like these other bullshit chick-rockers you see nowadays, with their army of songwriters, producers and personal trainers pulling the strings. I'd challenge anyone to compete with her. I'd take her any day over any singer..." He stops, and then laughs. "Well, except like, Axl Rose or somebody."
Faced with a small but dedicated fan base, little radio play, lukewarm label support and an uncertain future, the band could have gone a million different directions on their follow-up record. But then the best possible thing happened: Damone's entire support structure caved in.
First, their guitarist (and main songwriter) quit. Then, the label, while going through two mergers, stopped giving a damn. Finally, the money ran out. "In hindsight, it was beneficial for us to go through," says Dustin. "It created a lot of motivation, but there were a lot of headaches. But it really brought us together musically and emotionally."
With no support, the band convened in Noelle's apartment to record some new material. Problem ..1: no money. So they all pitched in. Good friend and engineer David Spreng, brought over a bunch of gear. Another friend allowed the band to do some drum and guitar work in his studio for free. Oh, and they all got jobs again. "Vazquez was a substitute teacher at Waltham High, Dustin went to work for a tow truck company, even I was watering plants at an office building." remembers Noelle.
Problem ..2: no songwriter. No sweat. Over the next two years, Damone started playing and writing with new guitarist (Mike Woods, who had played with Dustin in a prior band). They decided to pick up the songwriting and production reigns for themselves. Someone in the band would come up with a song concept, Woods would add in some riffs and melody, Dustin would arrange, and finally Noelle and Vazquez would figure out the lyrics. In the end, this unusual bedroom collaborative effort yielded 35 fully recorded songs of pure rock fury.
"I've done a ton of home recording, so it wasn't a problem for me," says Mike, who found himself acting as a mediator and emotional core as the band worked out their assorted issues. "And I think we only woke up Noelle's neighbors once: it was 3 a.m., and we were stomping on the ground and yelling, trying to get this one sound down."
"I think it was cooler this way," admits Noelle. "It was all under our control, and we really grew musically."
Unsurprisingly, their new album contains some not-so-uplifting lyrical jabs at the world, and life in general. "It's funny, because as much as we love bands like Poison and, you know, party rock stuff, a lot of the lyrics we wrote during this time were really personal and a little bitter," says Dustin. "I mean, I was coming off a pretty bad breakup and ended up homeless for six months right in the middle of recording, Vazquez was breaking up with his girl, our old guitarist had totally fucked us, we were totally broke financially, and we felt screwed by everyone. The band was basically questioning it's existence. So theres a mix of over-the-top rock and really deep emotions."
As their musical confidence grew, so did the buzz. Damone asked their old label to let them out of their contract. Island Records wanted a meeting, and in a bit of fortuitous timing, the band got their final walking papers the evening before their new audition. The good omens continued: before the audition in New York, the band ran into former Cars frontman, fellow Bostonian and recording legend Ric Ocasek.
"He basically stopped in, said 'sounds good' and left. We considered that a good sign." remembers Noelle. And he was right: the band was offered a deal that night.
Was it all worth it? Yep. Entirely written by the band, and produced and engineered by the band with the help of their buddy Mr. Spreng, this record shows off a strong love of 80s glam metal, Runaways-size girl rock, guitar solos and badass attitude. With the help of legendary mixing engineers Tom Lord-Alge (U2, Weezer, Marilyn Manson) and Mike Shipley (Def Leppard, Green Day, Andrew WK)putting the finishing touches on the record, Damone have created a timeless piece of rocknroll, one that would sound quite at home sandwiched in a rock block of Guns N Roses, Queen and AC/DC.
As for the new guy, lets let Mike have the final word on Damone. "For me, the story should go this way: it looked like it was going to end, quite literally for some of us, but it didn't, so we made a kick-ass record and took over the world."
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