08th Feb2010

History Lesson: Damon & Naomi

by Todd

After completing a tour with the Cocteau Twins, seminal band Galaxie 500 spilt into two entities. One of those entities became Damon & Naomi and since their formation in 1991 they have continued to make brilliant music that charms the soul. From ‘More Sad Hit’ to their work with The Magic Hour, their sense of “the art” of making music sets them apart from their peers. The duo took some time off from writing music for a new record to discuss the past and the future.

TDOA: As we grow older, people’s musical taste changes and generally narrows as people take less chances and stick with the music they already know.  As musicians who are still creating challenging and entertaining music, how do you keep evolving musically?

D&N: That seems to just happen without thinking, through encounters with music we didn’t know before, through other musicians, and also through our instruments themselves, I think. After a tour or other intensive time of playing, I often put my guitar away for a couple weeks or more. And when I pick it back up, it always seems to sound slightly different than I remembered. I don’t know if it’s that my touch changes, or the interruption just clears my ears out a bit… or maybe the guitar itself moves on!

TDOA: Music is cyclical and we’re seeing genres like shoegaze (for example) experiencing a resurgence.  Some of these bands are making great music, but perhaps not breaking new ground.  Do you still seek out newer bands to listen to or do you find them to just be treading water?

D&N: We’ve always listened more intently to older music, so we’ve never really been very up-to-date with current bands. At the moment, for example, I’m listening to the Beatles (again), thanks to that amazing mono box set. But I have heard a lot of interesting new recordings recently by “indie” bands, even if only casually via friends or websites — there’s so much elaborate production right now, thanks to digital tools. It’s like the second coming of prog rock.

TDOA: I’d like to talk about how your songwriting process has evolved over the years.  To start, can you talk about how songs like Tugboat were created for Galaxie 500?  Did songs come out of “jamming” together in rehearsals or did one of you come in with a part and everyone worked together to add their own elements?

D&N: Galaxie 500 songs all started with a simple rhythm guitar pattern, either from me or from Dean. Then we would “jam”, though with our lack of chops it was more that we would simply play the pattern over and over, until something more developed; rhythmically, melodically, or structurally. I think you can hear that best in a song like “Tugboat”. In fact, there’s just that simple two-chord pattern, but we all play with it until something like a song emerges. Some of the songs, especially later, started as more complete ideas, but neither Dean nor we ever really brought a finished work into rehearsal, so far as I remember.

TDOA: As Damon & Naomi how did the songwriting process change and has it changed in recent years?

D&N: Our own process started more or less the same way as we wrote for Galaxie 500, but has evolved since with more and more attention paid to lyrics. Also we’ve learned a few more chords, over the years!

TDOA: At the point you were with Sub Pop, they were just coming out of their “grunge phase.  Did you feel like they understood your music and properly promoted it?  To what extent did their financial problems impact you?

D&N: I always felt they understood it, maybe even more than we did at times. Jonathan was incredibly supportive artistically, and so were so many of the staff over the years. As for promotion, we were never going to be a breadwinner for the label, so we were treated accordingly. I don’t think that was inappropriate, though. We’ve always been an art project, more or less.

TDOA: Do you enjoy making music videos and can you talk about your work with Cedrick Eymenier?

D&N: The only videos we’ve ever made for Damon & Naomi are the tour videos Naomi filmed, and the ones that Cedrick made for us recently, all of which are collected on the DVD that just came out, “1001 Nights”. Cedrick is an artist we know in Paris. He had some footage that made him think of one of our songs and he asked if he could try cutting to it. We all loved what happened, so he kept going! As for Naomi’s videos, they are not unrelated to her photography, which you can see on our record covers and also on the new website she just launched, http://www.naomivision.com .

TDOA: We just interviewed a band that’s getting ready to record with Kramer.  Can you talk about your experiences with him as a producer? Does he involve himself in the writing or arrangement of music or does he just concern himself with the sound of the record?

D&N: Kramer is a gifted arranger, as well as engineer and producer. All the Galaxie 500 records were essentially arranged by Kramer. We learned a ton from him. My advice: let him do whatever he wants. It will sound great, and everyone will have a better time. Compromise is not his strong suit, as I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you.

TDOA: Galaxie 500 did a tour with Cocteau Twins shortly before Dean left the band.  I fear that you didn’t enjoy the tour, but can you talk about your experiences with Cocteau’s and share any good stories about them?

D&N: They drank an impressive amount of champagne in those days. And they stayed in nice hotels. It was a version of the rock life we’d never seen before. But it wasn’t a happy one, as you say. Neither band lasted much past that tour, did they?

TDOA: This is a reach, but is Damon still in touch with Conan and do you have any feelings about the debacle with Leno, Conan and NBC? It gives us an opportunity to reference the story about using his drum kit (assuming that story is true) and would be fun for readers to hear about.

D&N: Sorry to disappoint, the story about borrowing Conan’s drumkit is true, but there’s a false internet rumor that we were roommates as well. I only knew Conan in the vaguest way, from when Dean and I would hustle the use of his drums for our punk-rock covers band. I did know another comedy writer at Harvard much better, Greg Daniels, who went on to work on the Simpsons, King of the Hill and the Office. He was my roommate’s best friend, so I heard every joke he thought of, before he got good at it.

TDOA: Obviously you’re still performing live, but when might we see a new record?  What are your plans for 2010?

D&N: We are working on new songs now, so we’ll see what develops. Meanwhile we continue to tour. Our next two shows are very special for us, they are in theaters and will combine a screening of Naomi’s tour diary films, with a live performance by our trio line-up with Michio Kurihara. Those are happening at the end of January, in New York at the 92Y Tribeca and at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, where we live.

To purchase the music of Damon & Naomi, click on the iTunes button and get crazy!
Damon & Naomi

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