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Feature Story: The Damnwells

| April 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

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The lesson[s] here: You can go home again…Things are indeed better the second time around…Some people listen to the band after all.

Before there was a television show called The X Factor, it was a term used by those in the entertainment industry to describe an artist that had that “thing” – that special, noteworthy talent or spark of electricity that draws people to them. It’s nearly impossible to describe or quantify. The original Damnwells were one of those artists.

Anyone who may have heard, seen, or been a fan of the band from 2007 through the present hasn’t had the privilege of knowing the magic of the original foursome that formed in Brooklyn back in 2001. It’s “Americana” or “alt-country,” for sure. It’s a touch of Midwestern rock, haunting but playful, sincere but also cynical… but the “X” is so much easier. The story that unfolded for frontman Alex Dezen, bassist Ted Hudson, guitarist David Chernis, and drummer Steve Terry was one of discovering their collective magic, figuring out how to share it with fans, navigating the rough road of the music business, being tattered and broken by that journey, only to heal enough to recognize the lessons learned and come out the other side strong enough to try it again.

Regardless of when you may have hopped on the Damnwells bandwagon, you may have seen or at least heard about the award-winning documentary about the band called Golden Days, which was originally supposed to be about the band’s success. Instead it ended up revealing the band’s (and representatively many artists’) struggles, and foreshadowing its ultimate destruction under the weight of being signed to a major label, thinking you’re on your way to the rock and roll dream, only to discover your dreams have been slashed and you’ve spun your wheels and gone nowhere.

Dezen took some time out from shooting a video for “Lost,” the new single from the first LP the original band members have recorded since 2006’s excellent-but-ill-fated Air Stereo, to talk to IE. “We’re all really excited, he shares. “We all miss hanging out with each other. I think at the time there was so much pressure. Now we’re just doing it because we like it.”

There was definitely some tension at the end. Band members were upset about things that had gone down that were, for the most part, out of their control. “We didn’t speak for probably a couple of years,” Dezen admits. “But Steve and I always tried to remain in touch… Because he was the first to go, I tried to make sure that he didn’t feel we were angry with him, because I felt responsible in a large way for everything that happened. I felt somewhat responsible for our shortcomings and I felt guilty for some of the ways that I acted. So I just wanted to make sure that when he was exiting at the time, I kind of did myself a favor and was like, ‘Look, I know there was some fucked up shit, but let’s just not tarnish everything we had, and let’s keep in touch if we can, and maybe get back in the saddle again.’ And I think Steve was reluctantly like, ‘Yeah, O.K. Whatever.'”

Being the consummate compulsive songwriter/musician, Dezen, along with bassist Hudson, continued to record under The Damnwells name, with a host of revolving players. He recorded a couple of records that way, and also a few solo efforts. After moving to Iowa for a few years and completing the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop MFA degree in English, Dezen headed to L.A. where he has cultivated a successful songwriting career, writing for people like Justin Bieber, Matt Hires, Court Yard Hounds, Cody Simpson and more. “It turned into my day job,” he says. “I was like, O.K., this is paying the bills… It’s the greatest opportunity to write music for other people. But that’s a whole other world and whole other brain I use to do that.”

And in January of 2014, he got divorced. Cue the flood of breakup lyrics…

Terry, Hudson, and Chernis have all married since the original line up parted ways; Terry had two children, and Hudson had his first.

“As days went by Steve and I kept more in touch,” Dezen continued. “We had a really good relationship over email, and I thought that was something we never really had before because we were always just running around from one show to the next. We were just communicating without talking about the band, and I thought that was really cool.”

Any bad blood between he and Chernis had dissipated long ago, he explained. Chernis even played Dobro on another of Dezen’s more recent side projects, The Rebecca West.

The actual catalyst for the reunion came when Dezen was hanging out with his friend, musician/producer Salim Nourallah, in his Dallas, TX studio last spring. They were discussing some possible songs Dezen had written for the next Damnwells record. “I just got cold to the idea of doing another ‘Alex Dezen & Co. As The Damnwells’ record,” Dezen recalls. “I didn’t feel like doing it anymore in that way. I had been in touch with Steve actually, because I was going to be in Dallas and he was living outside Dallas. And so Salim was like, ‘Maybe you guys should make another record together!’ And I texted Steve and said, ‘Hey man, I’m going to be in Dallas. You wanna get together for a drink? I have a cool idea.’ And his response was, ‘I’d love to! I just got a llama off of Craigslist, so I just need to settle the llama into the horse pen…’ of course. Of course Steve Terry has a fucking llama!

“Anyway, we did have the conversation eventually, and Steve was like, ‘I think this is a beautiful idea. I’ve been waiting for us to get back to this spot where we could do this again.’ He was really excited about it, which made me excited about it. Then we called up Dave, and he was like, ‘Um, sure?’ He was excited but I think Dave is always a little more hesitant about jumping into things. But as soon as Dave’s wife, Kate, got wind of it, she was calling me saying, ‘this is the greatest idea of all time. Please, God, put Dave back in the studio!’ So with the help of our friends and loved ones, we were able to make it happen. But the impetus for it was Salim saying, ‘Why don’t you make a record with those guys again?’ So he was the right guy to take the helm and get us back in the studio.”

For the rest of the story pick up your free copy of IE at your local retailer or read the story on page 38 in our digital edition HERE

The Damnwells appear at Double Door on May 15th

– Penelope Biver

 

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