It’s been seven years since Alex, David, Ted and Steven called it quits, busted and bruised by the major label machine and, truth be told, each other. But a few cross-country moves, grad school, marriage, divorce, fatherhood and a couple of corporate jobs later will change a band. And, occasionally, inspire a man.
“One day I was with [singer-songwriter and producer] Salim Nourallah at his studio and there was this photo all of us hanging out after show,” says Alex Dezen, founder, lead vocalist and principal songwriter. “We all looked so happy in it. I guess I just wanted to go back to that place. I wanted to reclaim who we were as a band and as a brotherhood.” And, as it turns out, something more.
The Damnwells’ eponymous fifth album reunites all four original founding members under a breathless, unapologetic, sonic rapidfire of 11 new tracks. Yes, there’s the quintessential Dezen harbingers (towel-snapping wit, unexpected bridges, surprise chorus changeups) and Chernis (“the Furnace”) Jazzmaster/Supro swaths. Terry barely flinches while knocking out the beat so hard you can’t help but feel it. Hudson’s P-bass reins everyone in. But smacked squarely alongside all this familiar is an undefined “aha,” the kind that makes you want to turn it up way past 10.
“The magic is the four of us,” states Dezen. “It really is. The songs are just words and music. Without Ted, Steve and Dave, it’s just not the same.” Although, having spent the past few years crafting words and music for a handful of well-knowns, it’s fair to say Dezen conjured up some pixie dust of his own (Justin Bieber, The Dixie Chicks, Dave Grohl, the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Jason Derulo, Christina Perri, and Company of Thieves’ Genevieve Schatz, to name a few).
Whether it’s the playful, horn-flecked jaunt of “Heavy Heart” or the sodden, anthemic ache of “Lost,” the magic of this new batch of Damnwells tunes elbows Dezen and company into wondrously uncharted — and decidedly cinematic — territory, all the way. Think “Wreck You”’s Petty-tinged stomp under Downey-Jr.-esque bad boy lyrics. Or “Too Old to Die Young”’s boy-as-“Girl, Interrupted” cloaked in “Being There”-era Wilco flounce. Even “She Goes Down” brushes ever so slightly up against Suzanne Vega (“Luka”) à la “Taxi Driver”’s Iris.
And the magic-touch goes on. “Money and Shiny Things,” “Kentexas,” “The Girl That’s Not in Love with You,” “Kill Me,” “This Ship of Ours,” “None of These Things.” Fun, straight-ahead, clever but not too… songs you can see yourself in, no matter how far-fetched. More importantly, songs the Damnwells see themselves in, together. “I tend to write ballad-esque songs,” says Dezen. “The guys give them a new perspective — they give them heat.” And that’s the difference: the Damnwellian dichotomy of sentiment and grit.
The Damnwells are Alex Dezen (vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar), David Chernis (guitar, lap steel), Ted Hudson (bass), and Steven Terry (drums, percussion, vocals). In addition to releasing five studio albums (two as the duo of Dezen and Hudson), the Damnwells have shared the stage with the Fray, the Dixie Chicks, Old 97s, Cheap Trick, and Bob Dylan, among others. They were also the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary, “Golden Days.” You should watch it.