- Walter Novak
- Damone: A reconstituted boy band fronted by a girl.
Rock bands, as anyone who's been in one for more than a week will tell you, can be as contentious as an episode of Hardball. Boston's arena-rock quartet Damone is no exception, having divorced both its label and its main songwriter, Dave Pino, under circumstances ugly enough to be kept semiprivate.
Among the reconstituted quartet, guitarist Vazquez and singer Noelle Lamont can't seem to get the party line straight. Noelle offers thoughtful, polite responses to questions about the friction, while in a separate interview, the brash Vazquez can't keep from spitting flames.
Take the circumstances of Damone's departure from RCA, which had released From the Attic, the band's '03 debut: "I think they were kind of in a bad place," explains the soft-spoken Lamont, displaying unusual empathy for label big shots. "They were going through a merger."
In a parallel universe, Vazquez offers the following: "Clive Davis, who's the big head over there, just didn't believe in us, but he liked our songs. I think he wanted Alicia Keys on lead and all of us to look like Blink-182. And it was like, 'No, not happening.'"
On the subject of Pino's estrangement from the band, Lamont sounds like a good Buddhist: "He just decided to leave. He didn't like traveling, being on the road."
And once again, Vazquez is pricklier: "Yeah, we can't really get into that. My mom said if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all."
Pino's songs, which dominated From the Attic, were angst-ridden, heartbroken pop tunes that celebrated the past -- the Ramones, girl groups, and power-pop, in that order -- a buffet of fetishes for teen-culture purists. It was a good match for the band's stupid-clever band name, a nod to a character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Of course, this geekiness may have helped keep Damone from the airwaves. Though the Pino-led band joined the 2003 Warped Tour, it never found a spot in MTV2's rotation.
By comparison, Damone's new material is fast food, made of ingredients you're better off not knowing. The Go-Go's are out; Pat Benatar is in. Goodbye Ramones, hello Boston.
Boston? As in "More Than a Feeling"? Yep. Vazquez explains: "I mean come on, you listen to that first Boston record, and every song on it is good. I think, with those guys, what kind of messed them up a little bit was they kept making the same record over and over again."
"There's a lot more metal influence on the new stuff," adds Lamont, "and it's a lot more positive, fun, energetic. It's rock and roll."
While the new Damone is shamelessly influenced by some of the most shameless rock acts of the past three decades, the result is undeniably catchy -- sharp, hooky melodies delivered with layers of swaggering metal riffs, held together with the grandeur of '70s arena rock and a sleekness that keeps things close to current.
What makes it all work is Lamont. At 20, she's about seven years younger than the other band members, and her unadorned bell of a voice refuses to fit into the typical sex-kitten mold. She simply sings, with a generous, uncontrived tone. And she's the rare frontwoman who isn't girly. Her hair's a rock-and-roll mop, and pretty though she is, she's not selling herself as anything but a singer.
Arena-rock stance or not, Damone doesn't fit comfortably into pigeonholes. The post-metalcore chug of the guitars is far from the quaint retro of the Donnas. It's poppy and punky, yet not pop-punk.
"It does have loud, high-gain guitars," Lamont says, "but we all have long hair, and we don't wear beanies and khaki shorts onstage, and every song pretty much has a solo that's fast and furious."
The band's latest record, the Out Here All Night EP, serves as a preview of an upcoming full-length, due in May on Island Records. The material was recorded -- with drummer Dustin Hengst and Pino's lead-guitar replacement, Mike Woods -- on the band's own time and own dime.
"If we had taken money from RCA to record it, we probably would have lost the recording, and it never would have come out," says Vazquez. "I think it's better representative of who we are as people and what we like."
If the EP is any indication, fans of From the Attic won't be disappointed. New tunes like the thundering "What We Came Here For" and the near-ballad "Time and Time Again" are bigger and woollier, but still poppy, with lilting melodies and old-fashioned, teenage drive-in sentimentality.
Sentimental, yes. Angst-ridden, no. If Lamont and Vazquez agree on anything, it's that Damone Version 2.0 is a party band. "A lot of bands take themselves too seriously," says Lamont. "I mean, not that we're immature, but we like to have a good time -- find the good stuff and go after it."