The Damnwells …setting a new path with new record, No One Listens to the Band Anymore

Every band that sets up in the basement or garage has the dream of getting that big shot: opening slots on bills with your heroes, rock stardom…a major label record deal.

The Damnwells have lived that dream, opening on tours for bands such as Cheap Trick, signing deals with Epic records and recording big budget albums. The lead singer of the band, Alex Dezen, also holds one of my favorite rock and roll moments- watching him sing “Surrender” with Cheap Trick , his face frozen in a grin like a child who has met Santa…

The Damnwells have also experienced the sometimes-devastating reality that follows achieving the rock and roll dream- being dropped by the label and left to their own means. Unlike so many bands that go through this experience alone and unnoticed, for the Damnwells, the rise and subsequent letdown was documented in the film, Golden Days. (now available on DVD)

“One of my best friends had an idea to document our rise to stardom, and was able to capture so much more,” said Alex Dezen , lead singer and songwriter of the band, by phone. “I am very glad that he was there, because it helped deal with all the stuff that was going on.

For many bands, the death of the major label dream is also the death of the band.  Not so for the Damnwells… Alex Dezen turned this experience into a rebirth.

After the drama of recording the album, Air Stereo, Dezen returned to school- earning his Masters in Creative Writing from Iowa. “Returning to school was what was needed to refresh after the experience documented in Golden Days,” said Dezen.

During this time, Dezen and band recorded an album called One Last Century, and in a strange twist, gave it away for free via Paste Magazine. This seemingly counterproductive decision turned out to be a shrewd move. Using the email addresses captured in the giveaway, the band began a fundraising campaign via the website pledgemusic.com. The initial goal of raising $20K was exceeded by more than 200%. These funds are allowing the Damnwells to release their new disc without going into debt. The fans have become the record label…

Utilizing this “new” method of fan-support is not that odd to Dezen, “For centuries, artists would be paid to produce art for a benefactor- supported in total by the recipient of the art, ” said Dezen. “This is really no different, just a return to those days before capitalism took over art.”

The result of this fan-funded project is No One Listens to the Band Anymore, a record that fully represents the lyrical and melodic mastery of Alex Dezen, and the concise mood-fitting music the band is known for. The release more than delivers on the expectations of those supporters who donated over $40,000 to make it happen, with highlights being the stunning, “The Great Unknown,” and “Let’s Be Civilized.”

The album was released on March 15, and is available on iTunes and through the band’s own webstore.

March 29 finds the band returning to North Carolina soil for the first time since 2006,  with a stop on their headlining tour dropping them at King’s in downtown Raleigh.

“During the fundraising on pledgemusic, we kept hearing people say, “Come to North Carolina”, and discovered we have a pocket of fans in the state, so we are happy to be able to play there on this tour,” said Dezen.

Every band begins with a dream, but not every band is adept at adapting those dreams to the reality of the musical landscape of the 2000’s.. The Damnwells are not only evolving, they are helping to set the new model.

Bleu- Namm Summer 2009.

Sometimes stories just write themselves.

I set out to write a review of Summer NAMM, which took place last weekend in Nashville. I thought, “what better to write about than a musician at one of the largest musical instrument trade shows?”But, like I said, some stories just write themselves.

I guess I should explain.

I do a lot of freelance design work, and one of my clients is a guitar company based in Nashville, TN named Waterstone Guitars. In fact, I am their “Director of Marketing,” or at least that is what my business card says. Since Summer NAMM was in Nashville this year, it was a no-brainer for us to have a booth. As we are also celebrating our 5th year of business, it was also fitting to hold a celebration, so we did just that. We booked three of the best independent artists out there- Bleu, Miles Nielsen and the Nines to play an Open House celebrating our five year anniversary. I will not bother you with descriptions of the artist’ music- do yourself a favor and look them up. You will not regret it.

The story begins with the NAMM show.

Saturday morning, not even 30 minutes after the doors open for NAMM, I was approached by a young blind guy named Kevin Reeves, probably 25 or 30 ( that’s right, I said young…) asking if we were holding an Open House with Bleu performing, and if he could attend. He explained that he had been waiting five years to see Bleu live (Bleu’s last official solo release was 2003’s REDHEAD.)  Kevin also told me how much of an inspiration Bleu’s music had been to him personally and as a musician.
Of course, I told him to come out and bring his friends with him, enjoy the trade show,  and said goodbye.

An hour or so later, Bleu and his manager stopped by the Waterstone booth to say hello. I mentioned that Bleu’s biggest fan had stopped by, in that smart ass “ Your biggest fan stopped by” kinda way.  We had a small laugh, and I forgot about it.

Nine hours later and we are in the midst of an Open House gone awry. Our PA had stopped working correctly in the midst of our second act- an excellent band, the Nines, from Toronto. Like the pros they are, they entertained in spite of the technical issues, but things were getting questionable for pulling off one more act- Bleu. The nines finished their set, and we scrambled to make something good come from the PA.

We got through two songs, and then Bleu, who plays guitar in a non-standard tuning, broke a string, and dropped a guitar. When it rains it pours…The monitors also quit working.
But rather than just call it a day, Bleu decided to play a true acoustic set- no amplification. He moved to a smaller riser in the room and we gathered our chairs closer to hear him.

About a third of the way through his second acoustic song- I heard the sound of two voices, Bleu and some incredibly great backing vocal. Guess who?

That’s right, Kevin Reeves, sitting at the front table, with a smile that I will see for years to come, and singing perfect 2 part harmony with his favorite recording artist.
At the end of the song, Bleu exclaimed, “ I don’t know who that guy is, but he knows my tunes and can sing his ass off.” And a truer statement has not been uttered.

As the show progressed, Kevin sang along with Bleu- no complaints from anyone.
Open House- salvaged.

It was my pleasure to introduce the two guys after the show, and it is now my understanding that Bleu is going to have Kevin sing some backing vocals at another show in Nashville later this month.

The NAMM show was a success- I saw a bunch of guitars, a bunch of people, and Waterstone made a bunch of contacts. But what I will remember about that trade show had nothing to do with the trade show at all.

What I will remember is that I was able to play a part in one guy getting to sing with one of his musical inspirations. What musician doesn’t dream of playing with the artist they admire the most?

What I will remember is the feeling that got me into music in the first place.
It was not guitars, meeting rock stars, or putting out cds.

It was the dream.

clay

www.myspace.com/bleutopia

www.myspace.com/milesnielsen

www.myspace.com/ninespop

Btw- It turns out that Kevin Reeves has a free cd available for download on his site at: www.kevinreeves.net

In a better world, this guy would be famous.