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December 2022 / January 2023

The Damned Things are back in business: "I don't want to go fifty percent of the way and give up"

Supergroup The Damned Things are back after nearly a decade away with a renewed passion for collaboration; Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman tells us what’s what.
Published: 5:39 pm, April 18, 2019Words: Jasleen Dhindsa.
The Damned Things are back in business: "I don't want to go fifty percent of the way and give up"

It’s been nearly ten years since supergroup The Damned Things’ debut album came out. Comprised of members of Fall Out Boy (Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley), Every Time I Die (Keith Buckley), Anthrax (Scott Ian), and Alkaline Trio (Dan Andriano), the band have returned with a second album that feels considerably more organic than their debut ‘Ironiclast’, as guitarist Joe confirms.

“When we originally did the band, Scott, Andy and I were jamming in a warehouse based in Chicago, and then we ended up doing some demos with [producer] Joe Barresi in Pasadena that we never ended up making an album out of. It was very raw and loose, and even though it wasn't the right thing, to a degree, we wanted to do it.

"Then we had compiled the full band with Rob [Caggiano, The Damned Things' former guitarist and Anthrax member], and we were forced to do it on a major label because of contractual reasons. All of these things started to happen, and it felt bigger, and I was thinking, 'Oh shit, we should make sure this production is very slick'.

"With all of our other bands and all of our other records, I should have felt more comfortable in the loose rawness, instead of the complete other direction. I’m proud of [‘Ironiclast’] don't get me wrong, but I look back, and a lot of people look back on records and think oh I’d change this, this and that, [but] I would start over from the beginning, with the same songs but just do it differently maybe.

"This time I was like, let's just shoot from the hip. Let's keep this record raw; let's not worry about meeting some type of specific rock and roll standard. Also, I wasn't listening to anything while writing it, so any influence that anyone hears, and people have mentioned some really cool stuff, that made me feel very humble, but it's completely stuff that I’ve just taken over the years, stuff that exists in my brain, filtered and written through me interpreting from a million miles away.”

The Damned Things have kicked off the album cycle for ‘High Crimes’ with lead single ‘Cells’. It’s energetic and ballsy hard rock, accompanied by a music video where comedic and gory freak accidents occur as the band are jamming in a studio.

“[The video for ‘Cells’] was inspired by a combination of things, definitely a love for horror movies. It's more in that regard a send off to everything we love about Grindhouse and B movie horror [like] Sleepaway Camp, Maniac... so I wanted to make a video that was comedy, but a comedy horror and lampooning something. The director Brendon Dermer and I came up with the idea of parodying the rock doc thing, so take Guns N Roses' 'Patience' video, which is them jamming in the studio being a rock band, and then turn it on its head genre-wise, at the halfway point so it completely shifts.”

“Our debut felt like standing naked in front of everyone”
Joe Trohman

A decade is a long time for a band to have not put any music out, so how did The Damned Things regroup after all that time?

“Jay Rustin, who is the producer of this Damned Things record, he got me to write a couple of songs for this artist, who then ended up not existing on our radar anymore,” Joe explains. The songs he had written sounded like they could be for The Damned Things, but he was unsure whether he wanted to do the band again. “I liked the songs a lot, so I went to Keith and Scott, and they were excited.

"I went back and wrote two or three more songs, and asked if they wanted to do an EP. As I got more excited about those songs, I thought maybe we should do an album, so we recorded [the album] as the four of us: Keith, Scott, Andy and I, and I was playing bass. Keith had suggested through a recommendation his wife made, to ask Dan maybe if he wanted to do it. I thought he was going to say no, and then he said yes.

"He happened to be coming to Southern California, so he came over to my studio and hung out. He's the best; he's a sick bass player. I can play bass, but he’s a bass player, so it's different sonically. He had tonnes of room to do whatever he wanted, and added some cool shit to it and made it a better record. It just kind of happened, which is how all the best stuff in a band happens; it all happens by not forcing anything to exist.”

As The Damned Things are a supergroup, comparisons to the members’ other bands often crop up.

“I think the first time around, on ‘Ironiclast’, it felt very much like let's take one third Every Time I Die, and one third Fall Out Boy, put it in a blender, and that's what it is. It felt a little more like that. [I’m not] disparaging that album, I want that to be very clear, I just felt that way. For a band's first album, I’m pretty proud of it, but it does have its flaws.

"With this album, there wasn't any of that. ‘Invincible’ and ‘Omen’ were the first two songs that had been written for this record, and they both sounded like The Damned Things, but in a way would reminisce of the last record, but be completely its own. I think the last time was finding the band’s sound, [and] this time I know what this band should sound like at this point, so I’m just going to write that and not worry so much about trying to appeal to anyone except ourselves.”

When the band first started, the only nerves Joe had about fans comparing The Damned Things to Fall Out Boy was about people comparing successes, because as he admits “there’s no way anything I'm ever going to do is going to be as successful as Fall Out Boy.”

“To me, putting out [‘Ironiclast’] was more like standing naked in front of everyone, and being like, 'Do you guys like my naked body?' That was what it was like to me. I don't feel it as much this time, I really feel very confident regardless of how much people will hate it or don't like it.

"It's not fun for people to not like a thing you make, but I really do like it. I am very proud of it; I think everyone else in the band is very proud of it. It would be nice for people to dig it and have success with this band to the point where we could do it more regularly. I don't want to take another ten years in between this record and the next one; I would like to do more of this, especially as we’ve cracked a code sort of. [I’m] not nervous, I’m hopeful [and] cautiously optimistic.”

Despite the atmosphere feeling more authentic this time around, Joe says that he always saw The Damned Things as a serious band, rather than simply a side project.

“I don't think we’re all on the same page, to be honest. I think we hit this point where we sold out Irving Plaza in New York, it's a nice sized theatre, and I was like, cool we can do that on our own, I know what this is now, we should keep doing this. Everyone else was like, 'Oh we’re going to go!' I’m like, don’t go! This isn't the time to go!

"When we started to do this again, I had a conversation with the guys. What happened last time, no love lost obviously because we’ve been friends despite not having done the band for ten years [and] that's in the past, but I can't put all this time in and have that happen again. So let's do this, unless people have zero response to it, then we don't do it. If people latch on to it and are excited, we have to do this. I don't want to go fifty percent of the way and give up when it's going well.

"I understand why. Why wouldn't you go back to your band that you put so much more time into that's more successful? It's a lot of work to build a thing, but I think everyone is ready to do it this time around, especially since we are much more open communicatively.”

Sonically and lyrically The Damned Things have created a more raw record with ‘High Crimes’. “Keith writes the lyrics, I wrote the majority of the music, so when it comes to lyrics, I can only interpret. I know from being close friends with him that he and I deal with similar types of issues, we both have little kids, travelling for a living and being away from our daughters and wives, it's very difficult, and causes emotional distress.

"We both deal with depression, severe depression, and both of us to different extents will deal with that through drinking. Not horribly, I haven't talked to a doctor about that [laughs], and I don't want to speak for Keith, but I know I do that. There are themes on this record that are reminiscent to me of trying to express isolation and express a longing, and how that isolation and longing can create some self-loathing.”

A stand-out moment on ‘High Crimes’ for both Joe and the listener, is the first few seconds of ‘Something Good’, which kicks off with a slightly sadistic, but hilarious cheerleader chant.

“I always wanted to do a cheerleader chant. I pitched those lyrics to Keith, and that was one of the few songs on the record where we were actually sitting in a room together. So I was like what about this: 'Y-E-L-L / All my friends are going to hell!'?"

He laughs, “I felt a bit creepy, and just went online and had to watch cheerleader chants. Oh my god, I’m in my mid-thirties... I’m just looking at this to get ideas! It's just inspiration because I’m not a cheerleader and never was, I can’t even think of any [chants] right now.

"So I heard one that said 'Y-E-L-L', and I was like, 'Oh what about all my friends are going to hell?' I mean they are, we’re all going to hell, we are in hell, you know? It wasn't intentionally meant to be a commentary on socio-political times, but I can interpret it that way, everything kind of feels that way a little bit.

"There’s going to be people reading this going, 'What do you mean? Your life is great'. Of course my life is great, I’m also depressed and also things aren’t great around us, so don't put this on me dickhead [laughs]. That’s one I feel close to.”

As for live dates for the band, Joe says he’s not hiding anything. “We only have the US tour booked. I've been so busy on like eight hundred things, and I’m definitely doing stuff to tee up the release of the album. It's slowly coming together. We want to [tour] the UK specifically, in Europe as well. Some of our first shows were in London, and they were great, so it makes sense that we should go back.”

“I don't want to take another ten years in between this record and the next one”
Joe Trohman

From an outside perspective, life in a supergroup sounds amazing. Creative freedom and an already achieved stratospheric platform at your disposal seems like a recipe for guaranteed success and happiness. However, the reality is that it’s not all perfect, and is a lot more complicated than you’d think.

“When you’re in a known band, it's really hard to start a new band. I just wanted to make this band and do this thing; there was nothing like - we’re going to be a supergroup, it's going to be super and cool, everything's going to be SUPER! I never recommend anyone do a band. It’s very hard; it can be very unfulfilling.

"If you love music, and want to play it, do it. If you want to start a band, go for it. If you’re already in a known band and you want to do another band with a bunch of other known people, go for it. The cards are going to be stacked up against you; there's a relatively low chance that you’re going to make something that people are going to be like, well that's good or as good as your other band. So just do it cause you want to do it, but just don't do it.”

Despite the potential adverse aspects of being in a supergroup, Joe couldn’t be prouder of his one.

“There are very few wasted moments on this record. I think we achieve sonically the sound and vibe and feel that we had intended. We said we were going to do it this way, and we did, and it came out right. I’m proud of the performances that everyone put into it, everyone's a pro, not that they weren't a pro before, but everyone somehow just keeps getting better. Everyone came in and just nailed it.

"It was quick and easy to make - people will make these statements that great art should be difficult. I don't know if it's great art, but it's satisfying art. I'm not ever going to say anything I do is great, in the grand scheme of greatness, but it's good art, and it's a good record, and I’m proud entirely that we set out with an idea of what we wanted to make and we made it, instead of pivoting. We had a vision, and we materialised it.”

If Joe could curate a new supergroup, who would feature? “I’ll be honest, I would never want to do it. You know who does a lot of supergroups? Jack White, he had like five going. [He’s] a good guy to ask because he does a lot of them. I'd like to get a group of disgraced, one time big rappers. Let’s get MC Hammer, let’s get Coolio, let’s get Kriss and Kross into the group too. Call it ‘Da Disgraced’, you could spell disgraced in a misspelled way. I need to sit down with a pen and paper to write it out, but that's my group.”

Taken from the May issue of Upset. The Damned Things' album 'High Crimes' is out 26th April.

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