The Damnwells' Alex Dezen: The Culture Brats Interview

Last week, The Damnwells released The Damnwells, their kickass fifth album and first featuring the band's original lineup since 2006. Back in February, we had a chance to speak with singer Alex Dezen about the new album, reality television, the record industry, and more.

Your upcoming album is your first featuring the band's original lineup since 2006. What made you all decide to get back together and record an album now?
We had been talking about it for a while and I think that it was always just a matter of time before we got back into the studio again. Timing was also really important. Steve had two kids, Ted just had his first child, Dave had just moved into a new house upstate with his wife. So we were just waiting for the right time. The Damnwells have historically waited a long time between records sadly. It had been a couple years since we made a record so it just seemed like now or never.

Was the recording of the album awkward in any way since it had been so long?
No, not at all. It was like a homecoming. We all got to hang out again. I think when you've been in the business for a number of years you either start to really truly hate each other or really become like a brotherhood. We were always very much like brothers. It felt right. It felt really nice to be hanging out with them again and running over the same jokes again and reviving some old pictures to embarrass each other.

What's your favorite track off The Damnwells?
I try not to listen to it too much because I know I'm going to have to be listening to it forever. But in the process of making it, I think "Wreck You" was such a fun song to record because it was the first time that Dave and I really got to do the Angus and Malcolm rhythm guitar part together which we hadn't done in years. That was really fun to do. I love things that are minimal like that where you just don't need much, just a couple chords and a simple beat. That's one song I love to play for people. Their reaction's usually like, "Whoa. This is different."

The unhappy kid on the album's cover, is he any relation to any of you?
He's a very good friend of mine's son. We couldn't subject our own children to something so horrible.

Let's talk about "Kill Me." I assume you're not a fan of reality TV?
It's not that I'm a fan or not a fan, it's just that--sure, if I'm sitting in a hotel room and The Housewives Of Orange County Atlanta came on and there was going to be a fistfight on television, I would definitely watch it. It's like culturally rubbernecking. You can't look away it's so completely ridiculous. I'm not a fan of bullshit. Mostly I just think, as the song reflects, it's like, "Really? Just kill me. What is this this? Why are you concerned about Kim Kardashian's outfit?"

So there wasn't a particular show or event that prompted you to write that?
No. I remember being in a hotel room, being really hungover, and being by myself. I think we had just played a show somewhere. Just flipping around in bed, in a comatose hungover state, and I just had this melody. "Kill me. Kill me now." Originally, I thought it might be cool to make it a ballad but when we went into the studio, our producer was like, "Nah. We have to turn this around." I think I probably came across some show or something but I can't really remember if it was a particular incident. But I do remember being in that hotel, being hungover, and seeing some reality show for a second and contemplated either jumping out the window or writing a song about it.

You've had a record deal, given an album away for free, and done PledgeMusic several times. Does it sometimes feel like it's difficult getting your music to your fans?
It used to feel like it was difficult getting my music to fans, but now it's the opposite because of Pledge and things like that. When The Damnwells were on Epic, just trying to get the record out, it was like, "OK. Let's put it out this date. No, not this date. Let's put it out this date. Okay, that date but let's put it out through this other label. Let's rerecord this song. Let's not put it out yet." Mostly it's a nightmare because record labels, for the most part, have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of what to do with a band. They know what to do with a sixteen-year-old kid. They know how to make a pop star but they don't know what to do with a bunch of independently minded somewhat cognizant adults who play their own instruments. So now that we deliver our music through Pledge or give it away for free, there's no middle man. It's super easy. We've worked with several indie labels and the way it works for us is we make the record, we go knock on a few doors, and we're like, "Here's the record. Does anyone want to put it out?" So far we've been really lucky that a couple of these really cool indie labels that put the blinders on and say, "Ok. Ok. Go for it. We'll put it out."

You've written songs for lots of other artists. Has there ever been one that you wish you would've kept for yourself?
I think if there ever was, I just did. "Lost," the first single, we were writing it as an exercise. Steve said we could pitch it to someone. Maybe there was a country artist that could take it and make it more country. But t was never the intention that that song would be for me. As soon as I played it for my manager, he was like, "This is amazing. This has to be on The Damnwells' record."

Final question: You're in charge of a music festival. You can get any five artists, living or dead, to perform on the bill with you. Which five do you choose and what song do you all perform as the final jam?
Definitely Van Halen. Not Van Hagar, gotta be the original four. And I want it to be in 1984, right around the Diver Down era just because it would be so amazing to see. My mother got to see Janis Joplin when she was in her prime and said it was a life-changing experience, so definitely her. Another concert my mother was at was the Simon & Garfunkel Central Park concert in like '84. I would love that version to come play the festival. We've toured a bunch with Cheap Trick over the past ten years and they're just so good so I would love to have them play. They're like the quintessential American rock 'n' roll band. And then probably... I'd have to put Tom Petty on the bill.

What song do you all perform as the final jam?
We'd have to do something like "All Things Must Pass" by George Harrison. It would be amazing to see Alex Van Halen playing drums on that song.

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