On the Damn. cut “Yah,” Lamar rapped, “Fox News wanna use my name for percentage… Somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition,” a response to statements Rivera made on Fox News regarding the rapper following his controversial “Alright” performance at the 2015 BET Awards; Rivera’s comments are also sampled at the end of Damn. opener “Blood.”
Rivera responded to the Lamar lyric Friday afternoon in a 18-minute Facebook video, first complimenting the “great” rapper – “Aside from Drake, in my opinion, [Lamar is] probably the best hip-hop artist out there today” – before reiterating his stance that hip-hop music is “very destructive culturally,” as Rivera said in a 2015 Huffington Post interview where he also criticized rap.
“[Hip-hop is] the worst role model. It’s the worst example. It’s the most negative possible message,” Rivera said Friday. “And what’s the point of it? I mean, you sell records. I get that. You sell records. I get that this stuff is, you know, popular, but it avoids the central reality, just as Black Lives Matter avoids the central reality.”
Rivera continued, “I know that the real danger to real black men and real brown men now is that their role model will sing about cops being killers and the system being stacked and there’s no chance of advancement and all the rest of it.”
Rivera went on to add that the issue of police brutality “pales in comparison to the ghetto civil war that’s being waged” in cities like Chicago, and that the African-American community would be better off looking up to artists like Marvin Gaye than rappers like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.
“I have no beef with Kendrick Lamar, anyone else in the business, but if you don’t have a positive attitude, you’re dooming yourself to a life that you profess to despise,” Rivera said.
Fifty years after the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival laid the groundwork for music festivals, the fest will return to California’s Monterey County Fairgrounds this June.
The Monterey Pop 50 festival – which runs June 16th to 18th, exactly 50 years after the original fest’s dates – will feature Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Phil Lesh, who performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop with the Grateful Dead, among those who will play the fest.
Other artists lined up to play at the 50th anniversary celebration include Kurt Vile & the Violators, Father John Misty, Gary Clark Jr., the Head and the Heart, Langhorne Slim and more. The festival’s full lineup will be revealed at the Monterey Pop 50’s site.
San Francisco-area promoter Another Planet Entertainment teamed with Coachella organizers Goldenvoice to revive Monterey Pop on its half-century anniversary, with organizers intent on recreating the feel of the original festival as opposed to its modern counterparts.
In an interview with the New York Times, Another Planet’s Gregg Perloff said, “How do you put on a show that has the good aspects of 2017 with some of the sweetness and innocence of 1967? We’re going to have a great sound system, but we don’t want to have huge video screens and special effects and lasers.”
The original Monterey Pop festival – orchestrated by producer Lou Adler and the Mamas and the Papas’ John Phillips – featured legendary sets courtesy of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and Big Brother Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the Grateful Dead and more. The three-day festival, one of the first of its kind and the inspiration for mega fests like Woodstock, was the focus of an acclaimed documentary filmed by D.A. Pennebaker. Adler is also consulting on the 50th anniversary festival.
French Montana and Rae Sremmurd‘s Swae Lee party with the community of Kampala, Uganda in their celebratory video for “Unforgettable.”
French was inspired to film the “Unforgettable” video in Uganda after watching a dance clip of the country’s Triplets Ghetto Kids on YouTube. The rapper, who grew up in Morocco before moving to New York with his family at age 13, felt a deep African pride with the project. (His parents’ wedding day photograph from Morocco appears on the “Unforgettable” single cover art.)
The duo dance in the streets and shoot pool with the locals, until French is abruptly blindfolded by armed men. That scene fades out, triggering the intro to French’s Future collaboration, “No Pressure,” suggesting a potential clip for that track.
The rapper released his latest Future team-up, “No Pressure,” last week. Earlier this year, he partied on Diddy’s private plane in the latter’s wild “Can’t Feel My Face” clip.
Julian Lennon addresses the critical urgency of pollution in his new children’s book, Touch the Earth, out this week. The story focuses on a group of kids flying the globe on a plane named the White Feather Flier – a name inspired by Lennon’s dad, John – to learn about the planet’s desperate need for filtration, irrigation and ocean life protection, The Associated Press reports.
“We’ve failed miserably in looking after our environment. I think this is a great way to approach children into realizing what’s at stake, and to help educate and help them make decisions about the right things to do for the future,” Lennon told the AP. “It’s for those with inquiring minds who are asking, ‘Why’?”
Touch the Earth, co-written by Bart Davis and illustrated by Smiljana Coh, is the first of three children’s books Lennon is planning in conjunction with White Feather Foundation, the songwriter’s environmental and humanitarian organization.
Lennon told the AP that the foundation’s name was inspired by a “very odd” remark from his dad, John Lennon, during one of the rare occasion when they saw each other. “He mentioned once [that] should he ever pass, a way he would let me know that he was OK, or that we were all going to be OK, would be in the form of a white feather,” he said.
The singer said he learned of the White Feather story by an Aboriginal tribal elder from the Mirning tribe during a tour behind his fifth LP, 1998’s Photograph Smile. “[It] definitely took my breath away,” he wrote, adding, “The White Feather has always represented peace to me, as well as communication.”
“It was a freaky moment, but one I took to heart immediately,” Lennon told the AP. “I realized that this was about stepping up to the plate now and, you know, I can sing all I want about this stuff but am I actually going to do something about it? So I spent 10 years making a documentary [2006’s Whaledreamers] about the Mirning people.”
After that life-altering moment, the singer launched his foundation, which has worked with clean water initiatives and health clinics in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. A portion of proceeds from Touch the Earth will benefit the foundation.
Lennon added that his humanitarian work is carried out to honor his mother (and John Lennon’s first wife), Cynthia, who died in 2015. “That was all based around wanting to make her proud,” he said. “I try to continue all the work that I do in her name.”
Lil Yachty and Migos joined forces on the sleek new single “Peek a Boo.” Yachty also debuted a joyful second single “Harley.”
On “Peek a Boo,” Yachty adopts Migos’ flow and style, with clipped, staccato phrasing over the gritty, harrowing beat. The dark, Blade-like video has the rappers against a black background between images of wolves, snakes and gloomy looking models growling at the camera.
The more upbeat, playful “Harley” has Yachty repeating the song’s title above a whimsical, summer-y beat. “My new bitch a bot/ My new bitch a Barbie/ And I’m balling hard/ Can’t nobody guard me, no, no,” he gloats on the song’s infectious chorus.
The 19-year-old recently revealed that the name of his debut album will be Teenage Emotions. He released two mixtapes last year, including Summer Songs 2, and was nominated for a Grammy Award earlier this year for his D.R.A.M. collaboration “Broccoli.” He recently appeared on Kyle’s song “iSpy,” which hit Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100.
Last night, the world’s most vital, critically acclaimed rapper, Kendrick Lamar, dropped his fourth studio album, Damn. Initial reactions suggest that like all his work, the 14-track LP is both pointed and intimate, this time a mix of scathing treatises on the media mixed with Lamar’s celebrated knack for personal reflection. Here’s a guide to understanding the album’s producers, songwriters, guests and key themes.
1. “Blood” This short intro ends with an excerpt from Fox News personalities Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle dismissing Lamar the day after he performed at the 2016 Grammy awards. Additional vocals and production on “Blood” are credited to Bekon, a.k.a. Dr. Dre collaborator Daniel “Danny Keyz” Tannenbaum, who appears multiple times on the LP.
2. “DNA” The simple, vicious loop at the center of “DNA” sets the musical tone for Damn. – a marked contrast with the elaborate, shape-shifting instrumentals that were common on To Pimp a Butterfly. Fox News appears again as a punching bag. This time the track contains a snippet from another talking head, Geraldo Rivera, who condemned hip-hop during the same segment sampled in “Blood.” “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years,” Rivera says. Lamar responded to these comments during a conversation with TMZ. “Hip-hop is not the problem,” the rapper asserted. “Our reality is the problem of the situation.”
“DNA” is the first of three Damn. beats from Mike Will Made It, the producer behind Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” among other hits. He brings a touch to the album that’s both radio-ready and street-level booming. Lamar recently contributed to Mike Will’s recent Ransom 2 mixtape, appearing alongside Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane on “Perfect Pint.”
3. “Yah” Lamar continues to joust with Fox on “Yah,” calling out the network and Rivera by name. “Fox News wanna use my name for percentage,” the rapper asserts. “Somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition.”
Sounwave, an in-house producer for Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entainment, helped put together the “Yah” beat. In the past, he’s worked on some of Lamar’s most vigorous songs, including “King Kunta” and “Alright.” Sounwave had help on this one from DJ Dahi, a versatile producer who helped craft fizzy tracks like Drake’s “Worst Behavior” and Schoolboy Q’s “Hell of a Night.” With those credits, you might expect a Sounwave and Dahi collaboration to be searing and urgent, but the two ended up making a lax, understated beat.
In 2015, Dahi spoke with Rolling Stone about working in the studio with Lamar on music that ultimately ended up being shelved. “He was trying to describe his album – ‘I want this song to be this color,'” Dahi remembered. “It was like [the color of] fire, green leaves burning in the fire. It didn’t fit the album, but hopefully, people will hear it one day. I still listen to it and I’m like, ‘Man, we’ve got to do something with this. This shit is incredible.'”
4. “Element” “Element” milks a contrast between blistering drums and discordant shards of piano. James Blake, who specializes in a morose brand of soul, helped write and produce the track. He has quietly become a go-to collaborator for the stars – last year the English singer appeared as a featured vocalist on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and a producer on Frank Ocean’s Blonde.
Blake produced “Element” along with Sounwave and Ricci Riera. Riera has worked with Lamar before in an oblique manner: He is credited as a producer on “Collard Greens,” a Schoolboy Q song that features a guest verse from Lamar. Last year, Riera’s name also appeared on albums from Drake and Travis Scott. When Lamar shared the album artwork for Damn. this week, Riera announced his involvement with the LP on Twitter: “Proud to be a part of this,” he wrote. Kendrick is aided by an energetic intro from the famous DJ Kid Capri, who defined New York mixtapes in the early Nineties.
5. “Feel” With round, textured notes from the Grammy-winning bass virtuoso Thundercat and a rickety, rim-shot drum pulse, “Feel” nods to the live-musician inflections of To Pimp a Butterfly – or the sixth track from last year’s untitled unmastered. In a jarring shift after the chest-thumping “Element,” Lamar’s nerves are frayed here, and his patience is wearing thin: “The world is ending, I’m done pretendin’/And fuck you if you get offended/I feel like friends been overrated/I feel like the family been fakin’.” The song includes a mid-song energy shift where Lamar suddenly lunges forward like weary boxer finding a second wind.
Sounwave produced “Feel” and helped Lamar write it. “Kendrick really trusts my ear,” the producer explained in 2015. ” … When you’ve been around somebody so much, you kind of understand what they like.”
6. “Loyalty” feat. Rihanna Here, Lamarsurrounds himself with his most trusted collaborators – producers who have worked with him since his 2009 EP (Sounwave), his 2011 debut LP Section.80 (Terrace Martin) and his 2012 breakthrough Good Kid, m.A.A.d City (DJ Dahi). But, of course, it’s notable that this marks his first collaboration with Rihanna. While interpolating a Jay Z line from 2000’s Dynasty: The Roc Familia(“It’s a secret society, all we ask is trust”), they rap-sing meditations about how, despite a dollar bill reading “In God We Trust,” the rest of society chooses money first.
7. “Pride” “I know the walls, they can listen, I wish they could talk back,” Kendrick muses. It’s lyrical callback to To Pimp a Butterfly‘s “These Walls,” revisiting the same subject matter – how pride prevents us from finding world peace. The slow-building, psychedelic epic features ominous vocals by both newcomer Steve Lacy (The Internet’s Ego Death, J. Cole’s “Folding Clothes”) and hypnotic songwriter Anna Wise, who also appeared on “These Walls.”
8. “Humble” Lamar received a little bit of backlash for skewering Instagram beauty standards on this, the album’s first single. The track, produced by Mike Will Made It, is currently the Number Two song in the country.
9. “Lust” On “Lust,” Lamar toggles between different narrative threads. He’s overwhelmed by sexual desire during the chorus, describes banal day-to-day activities during the first verse and, by the second verse, turns his attention to the rise of President Trump. “Lookin’ for confirmation, hopin’ election wasn’t true,” Lamar raps. “All of us worried, all of us buried, and the feeling’s deep/None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap.”
“Lust” is produced in part by BadBadNotGood, an instrumental jazz-funk outfit from Toronto that frequently records with rappers like Ghostface Killah, Earl Sweatshirt and Freddie Gibbs. Kaytranada, an in-demand producer known for mixing house music with neo-soul, appears here in an unusual role – instead of crafting a beat, he’s a contributing vocalist. Kamasi Washington, the acclaimed jazz saxophonist who also played on To Pimp a Butterfly, assisted with string arrangements.
10. “Love” feat. Zacari “Love,” a spacious ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on a Rihanna album, is perhaps the most conventional moment on Damn. Lamar, a master of unusual, idiosyncratic flows, chooses to adopt a sing-song, pop-radio-friendly delivery to fit the gentle swells of the instrumental. The Top 40 appeal of this track is no accident: One of the producers and writers here is Greg Kurstin, who has helped Adele, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry storm the charts.
“Love” features additional vocals from Kid Capri, who punctures the track’s calm surface with another boisterous interjection – “another world premiere!” – and Zacari, who previously contributed to other projects on TDE from Isaiah Rashad and Ab-Soul. In an interview with Pitchfork, Zacari described “Love” as “a whole new genre.” “This song, this beat, the singing, the rapping – I don’t think it can really be compared to another song,” Zicari continued. “It’s a whole new wave.”
11. “XXX” feat. U2 When the iTunes credits revealed that rock icons U2 would appear on Damn, some wondered whether producer Mike Will Made It was sampling the band or if the rapper was actually working with them. It’s not a fake-out: Shortly after the midpoint of “XXX,” Larry Mullen Jr.’s familiar military-style drum rolls come in, we hear Bono’s voice, and the Edge lays out a mournful piano riff akin to the band’s classic “New Year’s Day.” “It’s not a place/To me this country is a sound,” Bono sings. The effect isn’t jarring, reminiscent of Rod Stewart’s appearance on A$AP Rocky’s 2015 single “Everyday.” Meanwhile, Lamar continues with a stinging criticism of America’s treatment of people of color. “It’s nasty when you roll the dice and set us up then batter’s up/You overnight the big rifles then tell Fox to be scared of us,” he raps.
12. Fear The career of “Fear” producer Alchemist dates back to the mid-Nineties and an unheralded stint in the Whooliganz (alongside future actor Scott Caan). Thanks to mentoring from Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs, he’s been cranking out sample-heavy bangers ever since, including Schoolboy Q’s 2014 hit “Break the Bank.” Kendrick’s opening words are spun backwards before he lets out a handful of “I’ll beat your ass” threats. By the third verse, he’s rapping, “When I was 27, I grew accustomed to more fear/Accumulated 10 times over throughout the years.” Whether it’s being scared of falling off and returning to Section 8 housing, or simply being judged by others, Lamar sounds haunted by the feeling: “Fear – what happens on Earth stays on Earth/And I can’t take these feelings with me so hopefully they disperse.”
13. God “This what God feels like,” sings Kendrick in a free, ecstatic voice. The glitchy, 8-bit laptop blasts come courtesy of Illinois producer Cardo, who has known Lamar since 2010; Manhattan Beach’s Ricci Riera, who worked on Lamar’s “m.A.A.d. City”; and TDE in-house producers Sounwave and DJ Dahi. By the second verse, Lamar has begun rapping again: “Seen it all, done it all, felt pain, more/For the cause, I done poured blood on sword.” Yung Exclusive, who co-produced Travis $cott and Lamar’s 2016 hit “Goosebumps,” and Mike Hector also claim that they worked on the track. But neither appears in the official credits.
14. “Duckworth” Earlier this month, 9th Wonder reminisced to djbooth.net about how a relatively unknown Kendrick tweeted at him in August 2010. He didn’t respond, but coincidentally met Lamar at Rock the Bells in San Bernardino the next day. The two eventually paired up (alongside Murs and Warren G) for “Enjoy (West Coastin’),” a track on 9th’s 2011 production showcase The Wonder Years. However, collaboration “Duckworth” is a more substantial outing. It kicks off with Kid Capri’s voice again, shouting, “Just remember what happens on Earth stays on Earth! We’re going to put it in reverse!” Then Lamar weaves an incredible story of how TDE co-founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, in an earlier life as a career criminal, nearly shot Lamar’s father during a robbery. If Kenny Duckworth had died and Top had been imprisoned, he would never had found and nurtured Kendrick into international fame as the best MC of his era. Paying homage is an appropriate way for Lamar to end an intimate, spiritually powerful album.
Kendrick Lamar Enlists Rihanna, U2 for New LP ‘Damn.’ Watch here.
Kendrick Lamar, Damn. Lyrical/musical/political vanguard Kendrick Lamar has just dropped what may stand as the most seismic hip-hop release of 2017. We haven’t had time to fully absorb it, but initial reactions suggestit’s both pointed and intimate, this time a mix of scathing treatises on themedia and personal reflections. Hear: Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Amazon Music Unlimited
Spoek Mathambo, Mzansi Beat Code Like Prince, to whom Johannesburg’s Spoek Mathambo been compared, this is a creative mind intent on leading, not following. Mzansi Beat Code, his best set yet and one of the year’s most thrilling pop rides by any measure, is less an avant-pop LP with club-music fixations than a killer DJ mix with a muscular song sense. “Want Ur Love” has Mathambo’s band stutter-strutting digital funk under the sister-duo Kajama, who deliver the year’s most resonant chant so far: “For fuck’s sake, love!” Read Our Feature: Brilliant, Genre-Blurred African Pop Artists Thrive in Age of Xenophobia Hear: Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Amazon Music Unlimited
Actress, AZD London’s Actress is already one of underground electronic music’s most acclaimed modern artists for his unique “R&B concrète“: monstrous, masterful, expressionist soundscapes made from familiar bass booms, harsh avant-noise prickles, nostalgic melodies and ASMR tickles. However, if you try to dance to it, you were usually out of luck. Fifth album AZD brings his hazy mush of the uncanny, the experimental and the half-remembered on to the dance floor – or at least to the general vicinity of the dance floor. Bathroom-mirroring the recent work of Actress fans like Lee Gamble, Actress says his album is “that moment in the club, in the side room which is less habituated where the music is more diffused from the main club, smoked out and disorientating.” That means this is a hard-pounding rave, but distant, nauseous and, at one point, drowned in overheard conversations. Christopher R. Weingarten Hear: Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Amazon Music Unlimited
Also of Note
John Mayer, The Search for Everything “This is the longest I’ve gone in the incubation process of a record,” says John Mayer, from the complex of rooms at Capitol Studios where he has spent hundreds of hours working on his new LP, The Search For Everything. Mayer tells Rolling Stone he knew from the outset that he wanted to make as ambitious an album as possible. “My starting point is, ‘I want to leave the Earth as a writer,'” he explains. “I wasn’t interested in doing anything I’ve done before, and I wanted to stoke the fire of abstraction and just start punching hard.” The singer, who has also spent the past couple years touring with former members of the Grateful Dead as Dead & Company, says he wanted The Search For Everything to be the kind of massive production you associate with classic Seventies albums like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Read Our Feature:John Mayer Details Origin, Inspiration Behind Four New Songs Hear: Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Amazon Music Unlimited
Various Artists, The Fate of the Furious: The Album This star-studded soundtrack is pretty much a past and future XXL Freshmen issue thrown into one of America’s biggest platforms, a who’s-who of rappers and rap-centric singers in various stages of moving from the cutting edge of mixtape fame to mainstream popularity. Just listing a few names is like getting a cheat sheet to the last six months (and the next six months) of mixapes: Travis Scott, Migos, Lil Yachty, Young Thug, Ty Dolla Sign, Kodak Black, PnB Rock, Lil Uzi Vert, G-Eazy, Kehlani, A Boogie With Da Hoodie, 21 Savage and Rico Nasty. Hear: Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Amazon Music Unlimited
Andre Cymone, 1969 Cymone was the bass player for Prince’s hard-churning pre-Revolution days and an underrated New Wave funk-rocker in his own right throughout the Eighties. The from his second album since re-emerging in 2012 chugs with the everyday-people crunch of Nineties Lenny Kravitz and the revolution-rock of Sixties Sly Stone. Hear: Spotify / Apple Music / Tidal / Amazon Music Unlimited
The one-night-only supergroup nails the funky guitar and synth strut from the original version, which appears on Talking Heads’ fifth LP, 1983’s Speaking in Tongues. Staples and Butler swap lead vocals over the layered groove, which builds toward a climax with soulful brass.
Butler and Chassagne joined a genre-spanning line-up for the 2014 concert, held in Staples hometown of Chicago. Other performers included Bonnie Raitt, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Emmylou Harris, Gregg Allman, Eric Church, Michael McDonald, Joan Osborne, Glen Hansard, Widespread Panic, Grace Potter, Taj Mahal, Buddy Miller, Otis Clay, Keb’ Mo’ and Patty Griffin.
The concert was documented for an upcoming TV special, which airs April 16th at 10 p.m. ET on AXS TV. The CD/DVD set is out June 2nd via Blackbird Presents Records. Among the highlights is a bombastic all-star version of the Band’s “The Weight.”
Staples previously teamed with Arcade Fire for the band’s disco-gospel hybrid “I Give You Power,” which benefited the ACLU. She also recently appeared alongside Pusha T on Gorillaz’ “Let Me Out” from their upcoming fifth LP, Humanz.
LOS ANGELES, April 14, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Legendary singer and guitarist Glen Campbell’s final studio album, Adiós, will be released June 9 on UMe, capping off an extraordinary career that has spanned more than five decades and 50 million albums sold. The album will be released on CD,…
“People envision some golden day of punk, where everyone in London was really successful, but it was absolutely scuzzy,” Captain Sensible, the guitarist for the Damned, says with a laugh. “There was no plan for world domination, despite what [Sex Pistols manager] Malcom McLaren said.”
“In the beginning, the punk scene was so full of promise,” offers the band’s vampiric-looking frontman, Dave Vanian. “All the bands were different, and all the sounds were different. The common denominator was that it was all very young kids doing it, and doing it on their terms. But then it became, ‘You should listen to this and you should wear this uniform, and you shouldn’t do this or that.’ It was supposed to be about not having rules, but every generation of music gets watered down.”
Vanian and Captain Sensible – who was born Raymond Burns – are authorities on such matters, since the Damned were the U.K.’s first punk band to put out a single (1976’s “New Rose”) and album (’77’s Damned Damned Damned), as well as the first to tour the U.S. With original guitarist Brian James and drummer Rat Scabies, and alongside the Sex Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks, they helped pioneer the cutting, manic sound that defined a cultural movement in the country four decades ago.
When James quit, Captain Sensible moved from bass to guitar and the band created a new sound that split the difference between the genre they helped create and the keyboard-saturated Nuggets comp for another classic LP, Machine Gun Etiquette, catapulting them into the U.K.’s Top 40 with “Love Song” and “Smash It Up.” Ever unpredictable, in 1986, at the height of their goth era, they scored a U.K. Number Three single with a cover of Barry Ryan’s majestic Sixties pop gem “Eloise.”
In the years since, as the group continued to put out surprising and creative albums, they’ve gotten their due from the likes of Elvis Costello, Spoon, the Offspring, My Chemical Romance and the Replacements, among countless others. Guns N’ Roses, who recorded “New Rose” for their “The Spaghetti Incident?” covers record, have been performing the song regularly on their reunion tour.
Now the Damned are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a North American tour. “It’s always been difficult to write a set list because we’re two bands in one – goth pioneers and the punk pioneers – so that material’s got to be in there,” Captain Sensible says with a laugh. Nevertheless, they’ve been playing career-spanning 20-song marathons each night.
Before the tour started, Vanian and Captain Sensible participated in extensive interviews with Rolling Stone to look back on just how they got here.
What do you remember about the Damned’s first gig, in July 1976? Dave Vanian: It was at an Irish pub with a small stage in Kilburn, where we supported a folk band called Salt. It was an incredibly bizarre place. They had a three-legged attack dog behind the bar. They pulled the curtains on the stage and tried to make us stop, and we didn’t stop. We played our whole set regardless. The folk audience didn’t understand what was going on.
Were you wearing your vampiric makeup then? Vanian: I looked like that before I was in the band. They asked me to audition because Brian told Rat, “He looks like a singer,” whatever that meant. I didn’t look like anybody else at the time. I was just drawn to the Victorian-gentleman scenario, so I dressed like that. Just wearing black was a major issue then – forget about anything else. People used to ask me, “Why are you wearing black? Are you going to a funeral?”
Were the Damned conceived as a “punk” group? Vanian: Our music didn’t have a label. We were just a band. Captain Sensible: There were no bands around that I could relate to. We were fighting against the mega-stadium bands like ELP, Genesis and Yes in 1976. They were all singing songs about pixies, wizards and King Arthur and the round table. What does that mean to a bloke who just left school? But we were only doing it for ourselves, to make the music we wanted to hear. Vanian: We considered ourselves a garage band. We were rehearsing in tunnels under the railway station, similar to the Sixties bands that rehearsed in their garages. Captain Sensible: We were into the Seeds, the Troggs, the Kinks and the Chocolate Watchband. And we were into the psychedelic music that came when everything changed in 1967. Vanian: It changed a few months later when the press dubbed it “punk.” That term probably came over from New York, because you had inklings of things over there like Television.
You came to the U.S. in ’76. What was that like? Vanian: I remember when we played CBGB in ’76, we had a telegram from the Rolling Stones of all people, and a load of cream pies. They all wished us lots of luck [laughs]. I thought it was quite bizarre at the time. I don’t know what the cream cakes were for, but you can imagine where they ended up.
The Damned were the first U.K. punk band to put out a single and an LP. How did that work out? Vanian: I think it as just purely luck. We were just hard working. When the Pistols first started, it was kind of a joke. They were great fun to watch, but there’d maybe be 20, 30 people there, most of whom you’d know. I never thought they would become a major band at the time; it was more about the spectacle than the music when they started. With the Damned, it was always about the music. Brian was a fantastic guitarist. The band members were actually good musicians.
Sure, but you had fun, too, like playing the Beatles’ “Help” at hyper speed. Captain Sensible: People would come to our gigs and say, “You said you were doing a Beatles cover.” And we’d say, we did play it, you just didn’t recognize it [laughs].
Did you cover “Help” because you hated the Beatles? Captain Sensible: No, but the thing was that the Beatles loomed so large over my generation. It was a fucking pain in the ass. Sure, they were great songwriters, and sure, they were geniuses, but they were always there. So our “Help” was a bit of revenge [laughs]. And I deliberately didn’t tune the bass guitar properly when we recorded it.
Brian James once said that he thought your producer, Nick Lowe, captured the spirit of the time on Damned Damned Damned better than Chris Thomas with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Do you agree? Vanian: Absolutely. Nick didn’t really produce the album so much as capture the performance of the band. Captain Sensible: Our label, Stiff Records, was one of the first indie labels. What the Pistols made sounded like quality, because they had a big label and top engineers and producers. But punk rock shouldn’t be quality; it should be fucking mania. It should be gnarled, a glorious lo-fi live sound. Nick just let the tape roll. Most of the time, he was running out and getting bottles of cider for us. Vanian: Even the quarter-inch tape they used was second hand. There were other people’s demos on it. We recorded one song and some other music came up after. We were like, “What the hell is that?” And the reply was, “Oh, don’t worry about it. That’s nothing.” Captain Sensible: If you listen to the guitars on Damned Damned Damned, it’s fuzzed out and epically distorted. That’s the way I see my punk rock. But having said that, I love the Pistols.
You recently played all of Damned Damned Damned live. What struck you about the songs? Vanian: Some of it was quite challenging. It’s deceptively simple. The guitar parts are a lot more challenging than they first appear. Captain Sensible: We used to call Brian the riff-meister. That’s why Jimmy Page was such a fan of the band at the time. There are photographs of him and Robert Plant backstage at our gig at the Roxy. Jimmy Page saw something special in Brian’s guitar style and writing, as did I, since I was a guitar player before the Damned and switched to bass to play with Brian.
Led Zeppelin came to one of your shows? Vanian: Yeah. John Bonham wanted to come up onstage and play drums. All the punks were throwing things at him, and he was very, very pissed. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to play very well and made a bit of a mess of things. But I was quite amazed at people’s reactions. I thought it was driven by the press, because punk was in its second year. It was a shame really. Punk very quickly degenerated into a different animal than it should have been.
Your second album, Music for Pleasure, did not get a warm reception. What do you think of that now? Captain Sensible: I don’t blame people being disappointed because it didn’t sound as epic as the first album. It didn’t have that heroic garage vibe, so I tend to agree. I don’t play it at all at home. I don’t think I even have a copy [laughs].
Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer, produced the record. How did that come about? Vanian: Our label, Stiff Records, had offices below the people who worked for Marc Bolan and Pink Floyd. We really wanted to have Syd Barrett produce the album, so we approached them about it. Captain Sensible: We wanted to make a punk album tinged with psychedelia. I think all the Floyd people were slightly embarrassed at how absolutely huge the band had become since the day they decided not to pick Syd up [for rehearsal, kicking him out of the band]. At the time, he was sitting at home in Cambridge, doing his paintings, but everyone wanted to get him back in music. So they said, “OK, look, you can have Britannia Row,” Pink Floyd’s own studio, “free of charge with Syd Barrett as your producer.” We were absolutely gobsmacked. When we got there, Nick walked in and said, “Syd’s really not up to doing this, and he sent me along in his place. I hope that’s OK.” [Laughs] We thought, “Well, we’re getting this incredibly expensive studio for free, and we have Nick Mason,” so we said OK. Vanian: Not to disrespect him as a producer, but it wasn’t the kind of album it might have been. I don’t know what it would have been like if Syd Barrett had produced it, but I think it would have been a much more interesting time. Captain Sensible: They imposed the Floyd recording technique on us. Everything is pristine and clinically recorded. It was so different from the first album. It needs a remix, really, but I don’t think the multi-track exists because of the way Stiff Records would recycle tapes.
Why did the band split up around when the album came out? Vanian: Brian was in a strange place. The songs seemed to suffer a bit. There was a little bit of unrest in the band, and he decided the band was to split up. But we met a week later and said, “Let’s just continue.” Captain had always been a guitarist.
There was a brief period between when you broke up and re-formed in which you were playing with Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead. What do you remember about that time? Captain Sensible: We knew Lemmy because he was a permanent feature in Dingwalls, a club in London. He was famous for propping up the [coin-slot] fruit machine all night. And he’d run out of money, the fruit machine had taken it all, and he’d go, “Lend-me a fiver,” so people called him Lemmy. You have to understand, before Motörhead made Ace of Spades and those albums that went stratospheric, they were a pub-rock band. Vanian: We didn’t have a bass player, because Captain had gone onto guitar. Someone said, “Why don’t we ask Lemmy?” It seemed like a crazy idea. And he accepted. Captain Sensible: We were pranksters at the time. I remember making a bet with Rat Scabies, “I’ll bet you can’t get Lemmy to play an Abba song.” So he said all right, “Twenty quid.” So at rehearsal, Rat says, “Lemmy, we’ve got a great idea to do a cover version of an Abba song, a real punk-rock version of ‘S.O.S.’ how about that?” Lemmy said, “Tell me the chords, gentlemen, and I’m there.” [Laughs] He fucking played it. He was game. There will never be another Lemmy. Vanian: We did a couple of shows together as the Doomed, and then obviously Lemmy went back off to Motörhead, because it was only just to fill in for a couple of shows until we got another bass player.
When you finally got around to doing Machine Gun Etiquette, the band had a poppier sound with keyboards, and “Love Song” and “Smash It Up” were both Top 40 singles in the U.K. Why did you sound different? Captain Sensible: When we played with Lemmy, it was just a few gigs because we were absolutely skint. Then someone said if we had a few tunes, we could get a record deal. So we decided to suddenly become songwriters. None of us had written a tune in our lives. Vanian: Every member of the band is very different from each other. Captain was coming from prog and glam rock, as well as the mods and the Who and Small Faces. I was influenced by movie soundtrack music and obviously Sixties stuff, and a bit more melodramatic music. Suddenly we were all putting it together. Somehow it clicked. Captain Sensible: I wanted to make records as good as the ones I my record collection – Pet Sounds, the Seeds, the Prunes, Sgt. Pepper’s … once again going back to the Beatles. The record label wanted a punk record and we were on this semi-psychedelic trip. And why not? “Psychedelic” is just another word for interesting for me.
What was Machine Gun Etiquette’s “Plan 9 Channel 7” about? Vanian: It was about a love affair that never happened between Maila Nurmi – who was Vampira, the TV host – and James Dean. There’s a backing vocal, “Come and join me now,” which was a postcard that she sent to James Dean with her sitting by an open grave with a sign saying, “Come and join me.” I did that before she became legendary in the whole goth movement.
What have you made of the goth scene, which sprang up after the Damned? Vanian: I really didn’t have anything to do with it, because I’d been living that way my whole life. In some ways, I suppose I felt a bit sad about it, because it was popularizing something that I and a few other people enjoyed, and suddenly it was this huge movement. It degenerated into a parody of itself. I remember Captain used to actively chase down [Bauhaus’] Peter Murphy and say, “You stole my singer!” Because they did a very obvious version of [goth] that I hadn’t done.
You titled your next record The Black Album, well before Spinal Tap, Prince, Metallica and Jay Z, I’m guessing to take the piss out of the Beatles. Who thought that up? Captain Sensible: Dave picked that title. He is the prince of darkness [laughs]. I am the light of happiness and spreading joy around the world. Vanian: Yeah, we thought it was taking the mickey out of the White Album. It was the opposite. It just seemed right when it came up. It’s surprising no one else did it before, really.
Captain, you left the band before the Damned put out Phantasmagoria. Why is that? Captain Sensible: I was doing my solo career. I had tried to do both for years, because I love the Damned, but I was driving myself into the ground. I chose the one that was making money. And it ended up being the Damned’s most successful period. That figures [laughs]. People thought there was animosity between Dave and me but when I got to Number One on the U.K. charts, Dave was the only one who sent me a telegram of congratulations. And I did the same when they had hit records. So it was good.
Earlier you talked about how each of the original punk bands were unique. Do you agonize over making something special with your recent albums? Vanian: I thought [2001’s] Grave Disorder was a fabulous Damned album that didn’t really fit in with the previous ones. I really loved it. Unfortunately, it got critical acclaim but we didn’t have the push that was needed. After a while, people couldn’t even get ahold of it. The last album, [2008’s] So, Who’s Paranoid, I think, sunk without a trace [laughs]. I think if we had been 19-year-olds, the albums would have been a massive success. But a lot of people are waking up and seeing that the Damned are still around, rather than knowing we’ve always been around. It’s kind of like people thought we died or we got fat and old. Well, we did get old, but we didn’t get fat, thank God.
Where do you stand with new music? Will you be recording soon? Vanian: We won’t get anything recorded until we get back from America. We’ve been doing lots of preproduction and sifting through tons of material. There’s a lot of stuff. It’s not just songs, it’s pieces of music. Captain came around, and I had 42 pieces of music, so … you know. Captain Sensible: It’ll be 12 songs with some extended stuff. With the current state of the world, the lyrics are virtually writing themselves. There are total assholes on the scene. It’s insane but it makes for great songwriting possibilities. Vanian: It’s exciting stuff. Expect the unexpected with this one.
What do you consider the best Damned album? Captain Sensible: I like Strawberries. We were listening to Lenny Kaye’s magnificent Nuggets album collection, and it had a huge influence on us. We were into that and Left Banke, with all the harpsichords. I still think Strawberries sounds fresh. Vanian: The first album is so great because it just sounds so good, whereas when you heard the Sex Pistols’ first album, I was disappointed because it sounded like a heavy-metal band with a weird singer on top of it. And obviously, for us, The Black Album, because it changed our history. Then I equally loved Phantasmagoria, though it’s a little Eighties sounding and self-indulgent at times. But it was still a lot of fun to do. And Grave Disorder is a favorite of mine, simply because it was the first album where Captain came back and it seemed to be going in the right direction. It had everything I thought was the Damned.
You’re currently on your 40th anniversary tour. Did you invite Brian? Vanian: No, but I see him occasionally. He lives in Brighton, not far from where Captain lives. He plays little bits here and there, but lately he’s been playing more. I’d like to see him more. We weren’t sure what to do with the tour, whether to have guests onstage. I thought, “Christ, how many people could we get?” There’s a million of them that were in the band. In the end, we decided not to do it. Captain Sensible: It’s difficult because for some reason there was a bit of bitterness [with Brian]. All bands have bust-ups, but it’s difficult. Brian is sort of the founder, but there are other really important people from back in the day. And I’m the current guitar player and I don’t want to invite somebody who might take my job away [laughs].
Finally, what is that has kept the two of you together? You’ve been the Damned’s sole original members for the last 20 years. Vanian: When we work together, it’s fun. Onstage, it’s great. We’re like a couple of giddy schoolboys running around the studio, and keeping the engineer going for too many hours. It’s just taken us a bit of time to get to that point [laughs]. Captain Sensible: On paper, we’re complete opposites. Everything he likes, I’m not interested in and vice versa. I like trains and urban transportation, and I’m absolutely bored to death by movies, which is his passion. He has style and if you put a suit on me, I just look like a fucking slob. But we dovetail together in some strange way. Of course, I see my role as trying to steal the spotlight from him onstage [laughs]. But we get on. The guy’s a gentleman.