With members of Anthrax (Scott Ian, Rob Caggiano), Every Time I Die (Keith Buckley), and Fall Out Boy (Joe Trohman, Andy Hurley), The Damned Things are undoubtedly a musical force to be reckoned with.
While each individual in the band has experienced their own successes, The Damned Things' debut Island/Def Jam album, which combines their love of classic rock anthems and powerful melodies with a heavy metal intensity, turns out to be much more than the sum of the separate parts.
Once you hear songs like"We've Got a Situation Here" ("I've been waiting patiently/For the crowd to gather… I don't ask for much/But I want what I can't afford"),"Black Heart," a laid-back break beat rhythm with a prog-rock tinged bridge, and"A Great Reckoning," a song Ian says"reminds me everyday why I got into Rock music in the first place.", it's hard to believe The Damned Things haven't been playing together most of their lives.
"This is an amalgam of three very different bands," explains Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman, who was first introduced to Anthrax's Scott Ian three years ago, when the two became fast friends and immediately began writing together."It seemed unlikely, but it turned out we were on the same page musically. We were both interested in putting together a heavy/classic-rock, blues-oriented, riff-based band while trying to stay away from what makes that sound generic and overplayed."
Alumni of their own pre-Fall Out Boy metal groups, Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley began collaborating with Anthrax's Ian and, eventually, his bandmate, guitarist Rob Caggiano.
"We started out with no expectations," says Trohman."We never intended for this to be a side project. It just happened."
"We're trying not to over-think it," chimes in Ian."Nobody's arm is being twisted to be here. We're just doing it as we go along, and this is the natural progression. […] We're able to do things exactly how we want to do them by keeping it simple and comfortable for everyone."
The final piece of the puzzle was getting Every Time I Die vocalist Keith Buckley on board. Trohman, a big fan of the singer, had been friends with him for a couple of years. While he and Scott were listening to an Every Time I Die CD in the car, Ian urged him to contact Buckley and see if he would be interested in joining them.
"The opportunity came at the right time," says Buckley, who also contributes lyrics."I had a desire to do something a little different. To be able to come together to challenge, not only us, but also the fans of our bands, seemed too exciting to pass up. This allowed me to take some elements from Every Time I Die and expound on them. I've just sort of reversed the ratio of singing to screaming. But anyone who'd been listening to our last few albums had realized that this was a vocal style that I was interested in exploring."
With Trohman and Caggiano handling the production duties, the group began writing and recording songs mostly in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Buffalo (where Buckley resides). The template began to take shape, combining those elements of classic rock with the heavier aspects of Anthrax and Every Time I Die, and the hook-laden choruses of Fall Out Boy.
"We've Got a Situation Here" is probably the best example of The Damned Things' hybrid approach.
"Musically, it's a good representation of the band," says Trohman."It has the sludgy riffs, but there's a catchy chorus, a tempo change breakdown, and some leads/solos. There's a real bluesy feel to the verses. [It's] everything the group stands for."
"It represents what I love to do," nods Ian."I love playing guitar, writing songs and performing shows. This is just another outlet to do that. It didn't start out that way, but it's turned into something much bigger, which is really exciting, considering we created this out of thin air three years ago."
According to Buckley, The Damned Things name was inspired by the lyrics in Ram Jam's ‘70s version of Ledbelly's"Black Betty."
As for his own lyrics, Keith says he's concentrating on being less oblique, though he writes about the same conflicts: how to reconcile his home life with that of a touring musician."The words are a little less heady or ethereal, more personal, wide-reaching and straight-forward than Every Time I Die," he says."I'm expressing the same ideas, but more clearly and explicitly with a broader scope, less heavy and metaphorical. I'm surprising even myself. It's showing me a side of myself I honestly didn't know I had. I'm getting emotions out I wasn't even aware of. You can't dance around what you're trying to say when you're this personal."
While they've all experienced a degree of success, every member of The Damned Things acts like there's something still to prove, and part of the exhilaration of it is starting over, going back to the reasons they first started playing music.
"I feel like I'm giving birth," laughs Trohman."It's painful and necessary at the same time for me to get this record made. It's really coming together the way I envisioned it in my head."
"This is still all so new to us," says Scott."There's no baggage yet. We're still very much in the honeymoon period. I remember what it was like to be in Anthrax back in 1984. It's just really exciting to get to do that again. I'm in a new band again. It's a blast."
And now, The Damned Things get set to take their show on the road. After a debut show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn in June ("Right across the street from where we recorded most of the album," says Joe), the group will head over to Europe and hit the van for the Download Festival with Rage Against the Machine at Donington Park in the U.K. and more.
"It's all about playing these new songs for people," says Trohman."It doesn't matter that we're in Fall Out Boy, Anthrax or Every Time I Die. To most of the audience, this will be a new band. They might think they know what to expect, but when they hear it, they'll be surprised."
"I can't wait to find out what kind of band this is going to be live," says Keith."Once we get on-stage, there this aura, mood and energy."
"What these shows are going to be like, I have no idea," admits Scott."I don't think it will be hard for us to go on-stage and have it look and feel like a band. That's the last thing I'm worried about at this point."
Three years in the making, The Damned Things are ready to play for you.
"We're all really psyched about this," enthuses Joe."This is a refreshing change of pace for all of us. It definitely helps that we like each other. And maybe when we go back to our regular bands, it will be better for us as individuals and for the music."
"All of us came together as people and musicians incredibly smoothly," marvels Scott."If we had to force any of the parts, this wouldn't have happened. It was kind of like our dream scenario…but it actually worked. It's one of those few and far between situations that I've ever found myself in."
The Damned Things. It's not what you think.