By Ronnie

It's about time a new band put out a CD that doesn't sound like every other new band. I go through many CD's at the corporate EAR CANDY offices before I decide which reviewer gets what CD-so when one stands out, I really pay attention! Damone's CD stood head and shoulders among the rest, a modest masterpiece.

When I heard that Damone was playing locally, I jumped at the chance to interview them! The day before I saw them live I also glanced at the message board on their website only to find that their main songwriter/guitarist, Dave Pino, had quit prior to the tour. However, after seeing Damone live with their new temporary guitarist, I was reassured that their live sound is just as vital as the record. But, what would they do for those great songs now that their main writer had left? This was just one of the many questions I asked the band after their Atlanta show. Since they were the opening band of a show that included four other bands, we couldn't use their shared dressing room for the interview, instead retreating to their van. What followed was a discussion with a band that was really down to earth, yet steadfast in their passion for their music.

Noelle LeBlanc (vocals/guitar)
Mike Vazquez (bass/vocals)
Dustin Hengst (drums)

Right: Live it Atlanta 4-24-03 (photo by Alice Barkwell)

E.C.: On the Damone website I read that Dave is leaving the band, is that true? If so, what is the future of the band?

Dustin: We have to figure out a way to continue and at this point the easiest thing for us to do is to keep touring and to keep playing –playing the music that we recorded. As far as all that’s concerned, its actually gonna be better because its gonna give everybody an opportunity to contribute to the writing processes. As opposed to – basically what happened before is that Noelle and Mike are pretty prolific writers themselves, but this record was something that was based on some pre-existing demos that we put together in order to get something going quickly. We felt like they were really good songs and we enjoyed playing them, but I think we’re actually more excited now having multiple writers be collaborating in the band and being involved in that way of doing things. We can’t like just stop.

E.C.: Do all of you write?

Mike: Noelle and I write…

Noelle: Dustin writes, too…

Mike: I’m good at collaborating, I’m not the best at coming up with completely original ideas, but I do enjoy collaborating on arrangements and stuff.

Dustin: A lot of the stuff on the record, we all have our little ‘stamp’ whether it’s certain elements of the arrangements. We’re actually excited to go into that next process of demoing and recording. Because I think it’s going to be more diverse.

E.C.: Now that you are on tour, have you had a chance to write much?

Mike: We’re always kind of writing things down, ideas and shit like that. The plan right now is to get pro-tools set up on a laptop. That way instead of writing it down we can actually have something outlined, like rough sketches of songs.

Dustin: This is something that Dave had trouble getting used to, the idea of being a sort of creative compositional working person when you are on tour. I think a lot of great bands, whether its Led Zeppelin or AC/DC – they will write entire records while they are touring. Van Halen did it too; they would like demo shit at shows. You have to learn to do that. If you are going to do this for a living and you are going to do it right, you have to learn to write on the road. It’s a new thing for us, but I think we’re all excited about the prospect of doing that.

E.C.: When you do write new songs, do you have an idea…will it be a departure from your ‘sound’. But thematically, will the songs be pretty much the same? Relationships…or do you want to branch out?

Dustin: Well Mike, a lot of your writing is similar as far as thematic stuff, you tend to write about that same old crap! (laughs)

Mike: I don’t think we’ll have songs or anything like that, but I think the sound will be there. Anything that kinda goes through the filter – that is this band kinda sounds, like us doing it.

Dustin: I’m excited to see what happens and what we can do with it. When primary lyricists Bon Scott died from AC/DC, everyone was so concerned about what they were gonna go and they put like their strongest album out ever after that. They didn’t just come back ‘good enough’, they came back better than ever. To see that happen with bands makes you feel very hopeful that that sort of thing is feasible.

E.C.: I mean your debut album hasn’t even been officially released yet. Is there any schedule on a follow up? Did RCA put you on a schedule for a follow up?

Dustin: We haven’t heard anything about that, all I’m hearing about now is “get ready to go play.” And we’ve been so focused on playing and we’ve been out here half of this tour just the three of us because of the position we were put in. Now were trying to find this the right balance between all the players and instrumentation.

E.C.: Was Dave’s departure a real surprise, or did you kind of have an idea?

Mike: We found out the night before the tour started.

Dustin: I don’t think it was a total surprise because we knew he was having trouble with this side of things.

E.C.: Was it basically the touring that was getting to him?

Mike: Yeah…

Dustin: Its something that some people just aren’t cut out for. And you don’t even know until you start doing it.

Mike: You wanna run with the big dogs, you can’t piss like a puppy. (laughs)

E.C.: I was curious what relationship you still have with Dave, if he was going to write kinda like a Brian Wilson type character while the band tours?

Noelle: Yeah, we don’t know I mean maybe if we have time to go home and he can help us out a little bit. I mean we’re still friends. If he’s not doing anything and he wants to help us. You never know…

E.C.: How big of a hand did Dave have in production or was it a group effort?

Mike: Noelle did a lot of the production.

Noelle: The original drummer and I recorded…

Dustin: All of us had a – there was never a point where we brought in a producer to arrange or produce anything, it was all sort of the way we wanted to put things together. I would say that a lot of the arrangement and production – that was truly, completely collaborative among everyone involved.

E.C.: Will you be looking for a rhythm guitarist or a lead?

Noelle: Now that we’ve got this new guy we been sharing the leads.

Dustin: We don’t really have a ‘new’ guy…

E.C.: A ‘gun for hire’?

Dustin: Well, I wouldn’t even say that, for the most part Noelle completely covered all the bases on like 90% of the leads while we were doing this three-piece thing. So now, we’re gonna bring different guys out and see if we can find someone that we can jive with and feel good with and hopefully stick to that sort of formula where we are actually splitting leads. I think its better if we have two great guitarists than just one, you know?

E.C.: In other bands fronted by a female, all the attention is on her. Witness No Doubt and just Gwen of the band being featured on Rolling Stone. Do you think that will ever happen with Noelle?

Dustin: I haven’t really thought much about that…that seems like fantasizing! (laughs)

Mike: Like fantasyland…on the cover of Rolling Stone?

E.C.: Well, not so much the magazine, but the focus. How the focus changes. Automatically the focus on the band is the singer, but when she is also female…

Dustin: I think the focus will follow where the interest is and hopefully amongst three of us we’ll everyone equally interested.

E.C.: I know that the name “Damone” came from the character in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Who picked the name?

Noelle: Well we just like wrote pages and pages of names.

E.C.: Why not “Ferris Bueller”?

Noelle: (laughs)

Mike: My name was gonna be…

Noelle: Commando? Something commando…

Mike: Coldwar?

Noelle: (laughs) ‘Coldwar Commandos’!

Mike: And ‘Dynasty of Millions’…

Dustin: That’s the most power name that any band could EVER have!

Mike: (in rock announcer voice) “We’re Dynasty of Millions…thank you and good night”.

Dustin: Ridiculous you know, it’s like a Spinal Tap thing?

E.C.: Did you just write down ideas from ‘80s movies?

Noelle: No, that was the only one.

Dustin: We had shitloads of ideas, pages and pages and we would all write things down and cross things out and we ended up with that one because it seemed easy to remember. It was something that didn’t seem too gender specific. And we’re all big fans of that film.

E.C.: You’ve been described as “punk” or “pop-metal?. Rolling Stone even called you “Cheap Trick meets Josie and the Pussycats” – where the hell did that come from? I would say you sound more like ‘The Cars on speed’.

Noelle: YEAH!

Dustin: That’s actually the way that we would describe it to a lot of people.

Noelle: Our biggest influences have been the Cars and Weezer.

Dustin: I guess its just the term ‘punk’ has been so watered down now days, because I don’t even hear that in anything we’re doing at all. Besides the fact that we have really simple chord progressions…but I think AC/DC has easy chord progressions.

E.C.: Plus the comparisons to the arena rock of Cheap Trick…

Dustin: The only similarity I would see there is their songs are all so energetic and heavily melodic. Giant hooks that you can’t get out of your head.

E.C.: What would you say are your biggest influences? You mentioned the Cars…melodic Cheap Trick stuff…

Noelle: The Beatles…

E.C.: I mean what stuff do you listen to in your van between gigs?

Mike: We’ve been listening to the new White Stripes record.

Dustin: Motorhead…

E.C.: How did the deal with RCA come about? Especially for a virtually “unknown” band to have their debut on a major label? Did you ever consider an indie release?

Mike: I got at the crossroads at Waltham and made a deal with the devil…(laughs)

Dustin: They got their hands on some of these demos that were floating around out there. I have no idea why they would allow us, a new band, to self-produce their first record and put it out.

E.C.: How long had you been playing before you got signed?

Dustin: They [RCA] also went after the Strokes and they let them put out a really uniquely produced record. I have to say, because I have friends that are in indie-label bands, and RCA has been more hands-off with us that a lot of the independent labels are. They have never once really said “look this way” or…there are certain issues that they have suggestions.

E.C.: Did RCA set you up on a tour?

Mike: No, we got a booking agent.

E.C.: Well, it sounds like an ‘ordeal by fire’ starting out the tour with just three members…

Dustin: It was good for us, I think it really helped us a lot.

E.C.: Tell me about your tour of China…

Dustin: It was 10 days and only 3 shows…

E.C.: Was that before you were signed to RCA?

Dustin: No, that was after we were signed. They didn’t have anything to do with that. There’s an independent promoter out of Boston. China is like the final frontier of bands and western music. All RCA did really was sent over a film crew with us to sort of document the whole thing.

E.C.: So, can we expect a DVD?

Mike: That would be cool!

E.C.: I would really like to see that because it would be like going back in a time warp to the 1950’s when rock ‘n roll was new. Like seeing Jerry Lee Lewis for the first time and seeing how wild that was…

Dustin: It was, like those were the best shows that we had. They didn’t even understand what we were saying. Because a lot of American bands don’t go there. It’s difficult to make money in China because they don’t have a lot of regulation on bootlegging. It’s difficult to just go a sell a record there, and I think that’s why.

Mike: We beat the Stones there!

Dustin: It was a good experience for us and something that we could have a lot of positive press about. It was such a unique opportunity – a lot of bands don’t get to do that sort of thing. It wasn’t to make money really.

E.C.: If you had your pick of any band to play with live, what would be your ‘dream tour’?

Noelle: I’d say the Who.

E.C.: How important is image to the band?

Noelle: (deadpans) Look at us.

Dustin: Its not important in that anyone goes out of their way to do antyhing…but I think in a way that is an image. I think you can have an ‘image’ and it be like a ‘non image’.

E.C.: What is the ‘message’ of the band? Or does the band have a message?

Mike: We’re the underdogs!

Dustin: The only message that I’d say that I’ve ever had…when I was into bands or whatever…or stuff that got me into tying to do bands is band’s saying “you can do this-it’s really not that hard.”

Click here to visit the official Damone website