Tales of the Damned
An Interview with Dave Vanian
The following interview with members of The Damned was conducted live on KTRU on November 2, 2001, twelve hours following their Houston performance at the Engine Room. While we anxiously waited at the station, the band drove aimlessly around Houston in the lunch hour rush. Finally, around 1:00pm, singer Dave Vanian (unnervingly legendary, though grumpy and operating on little sleep) and two late additions to The Damned, Monty Oxy Moron and Patricia Morrison, appeared on the Rice University campus. Dave and Monty sat down in the KTRU studio to talk with Jeff Kerr.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: All right Houston, we've got The Damned with us today. They were just in town recently, for...
Dave/The Damned: (agitated) We played last night!
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: (laugh) Last night they played at the Engine Room and had an amazing show. This has been part of an extensive tour of the U.S. I believe this is one of the last of their 40 dates? Is that right?
Dave/The Damned: Around that, yeah. We've been on tour for about six weeks. We've got two more shows to do, then we're off to do some shows in Britain and Italy.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Well, great. If y'all don't mind introducing yourselves, we have Dave Vanian and...
Dave/The Damned: (indecipherable blabber) Monty Oxy Moron, our keyboard player extraordinaire.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Wonderful. And Dave is the singer.
Dave/The Damned: And he needs a coffee now!
"...here in the States you have all of these college stations
and you can play whatever you like really."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Well, how has the tour been going for y'all? Have you been having a good time?
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, it's been great. Really good crowds, a mixed crowd, you know, the old die-hards, new people and lots of young kids, as well. I don't know how they're getting to hear it, but they are, thank goodness.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: And, you all are touring in support of a new album. Is that right?
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, Grave Disorder. It's the Nitro album. It's quite weird being on an offspring sort of label. It's good.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Now this is the first time you've toured in a while in support of new material.
Dave/The Damned: Well, it's actually the first time there's been a new album in about 11 years.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: A while.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, you could say that (laughs), you know. It's been too long.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: And, it's the product of you recently getting together with Captain Sensible?
Dave/The Damned: It's the product of some very deranged minds. Yeah, uh, Captain and I got back together. And uh, it's like the old magic was still there and so, here we are.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: When was the last time you all had worked together?
Dave/The Damned: About 10 years ago.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Wow.
Dave/The Damned: He went off and did these "Happy Talking" things, South Pacific, and had some hits in Europe and stuff. And his band, Punk Floyd, which Monty used to be the keyboard player in, didn't you Monty?
Monty/The Damned: Yeah, that's right. Yep. We also played in a band called the Dr. Space Toad Experience.
Dave/The Damned: Space Toad. Now there's a character. I wonder if America will ever be graced by Dr. Space Toad? He's constantly... It's amazing, the first time I ever met him he was trying to chat with my girlfriend, saying (in sly sinister voice) "I'm an Aquarius, uh, we must have something in common, let's uh..." You know. Strange character, with all of these terrible lines, and the girls seem to fall for it.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Whatever works. Monty, how long have you been in the band?
Monty/The Damned: Um, it'll be six years in February. Quite a while now.
"...when a drummer says he writes songs,
you either shriek with laughter
or make an excuse to leave the room."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: So how did you get mixed up with these characters?
Monty/The Damned: Um, well, I was originally a fan. I had a lot of the albums and Captain came to live in Brighton, which is where I lived, and he came down to a club called the Zap Club, which used to be very good in those days. And, (he) was doing performances of all sorts there, with all kinds of performers, he was just checking out what was going on. (I) met him there and just got to know him gradually over the years, playing in various jam sessions and things like that, and then joined his Punk Floyd band and then The Damned reformed.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Great. Now what led to y'all getting back together? Um, you and Captain just, I don't know, deciding to...
Dave/The Damned: We hadn't actually spoken to each other. I know it sounds weird, but in those years he'd gone off and I'd moved several times. We'd lost touch with each other totally and it wasn't until we did this show in London, where he was in Punk Floyd and I was in my band, The Phantom Chords, and we were on the same bill, that we realized that there was no reason in the world why we shouldn't work together again. It was just one of those weird things, "Where have you been all this time?" "Well, yes. Why don't we do something?" "Yeah, okay." You know. We then proceeded to go on tour in Japan and Australia mainly, and we had a different drummer and things were good, but we had no new material at that point. We hadn't actually put it together. I think we were both sort of wondering was it going to work out for the first kind of six months and then um, once we started writing together, it all kind of came together. And it's a very strong lineup of the band. The band works extraordinarily well together. They lock in and it gives us a chance to... Any improvisation or jamming becomes even more special, because we know we're going to fall out of it together rather than end in a mess, which can often happen if you're not paying attention.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: And I've noticed that Monty's keyboard playing really adds a new dimension. Did you all have a keyboard player in the past?
Dave/The Damned: We've pretty much always had a keyboard player around. Captain used to play on some of the albums and things at the beginning, but we've always had keyboard players after the first two years, once you get into Machine Gun Etiquette and all that.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Right. When did y'all start writing the songs that are on this most recent album?
Dave/The Damned: Well, some were partial ideas that had been around for a while and others were complete songs. Quite a lot of it was written in the space of a month before. Monty's piece, that became "Beauty and the Beast", was part of an intro he was writing at the time.
Monty/The Damned: Yeah, I was playing that for a while.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, so we expanded on it and it worked out. And, Pinch, the drummer, actually wrote a couple of songs on this album, too, which is unusual. As Captain would tell you if he was here, usually when a drummer says he writes songs, you either shriek with laughter or make an excuse to leave the room. You know. But Pinch is actually very good. And the weird thing is he wrote the song "Thrill Kill" off a Play Station, a Play Station music program. It just shows what you can do.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Oh, wow. That song kind of reminds me of a video game actually.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, I could see that. Yeah. So there you go.
"...some of them were so bad, but they were
gloriously good because they were bad."
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Interesting. The new album covers so much ground, you've got topics on such a variety of subjects. I've really enjoyed the songs about Michael Jackson, John Lennon, and others. Was that a conscious decision, to sort of take aspects of the (music) business itself?
Dave/The Damned: I don't know. It's a weird thing. The tracks, the songs that, when we picked them for this album, were just picked purely because they were the cream of the songs that we had. Captain had a whole bunch of songs and I started saying, "Well, I really like this one, let's try this one." Because... One of the songs on this album was actually on one of his solo albums a long time ago, but I persuaded him that it would be good to do it. You know, so some were older songs and some were completely fresh. There was no sort of direction as such and yet the album's come together as being a lot of musical journey. Almost throughout, it's like our history, almost as well as anything else, and it is very varied. And that's what makes it, for us, interesting, you know. I hate getting an album where every other track you put on sounds like the one before, you know. After 10 of those you kind of...
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: I definitely know what you mean.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Another thing about the album (is) the sound clips that add to so many of the songs. Where did those come from?
Dave/The Damned: Ah, well they're from all sorts of (laughs) different places. I don't know, Captain is very secretive about his ones. I mean some of them, like the House of Commons part at the beginning of "Democracy" is... Um, I think it's from the 30s or 40s or something. It's from radio. But maybe, no it's not, it's from the 60s. A lot of things are from B-movies and stuff, and some are just, um, us doing it, as well.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Nice. Are you all into B-movies?
Dave/The Damned: I am. Yeah, I like a good B-movie, a thriller... A B-movie, something like, oh I don't know, Stranger on the Train or a Hitchcock film, or um, what was I trying to think of? A film... Charlton Heston and Orson Wells. Um, Touch of Evil. That's a good one and they've got some great music in it, too.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Yeah, and that seems to be such a nice influence on your aesthetic.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, well I guess personally I got into music more through film soundtracks and orchestral music first, rather than rock and roll, which is kind of weird. When people were buying that Beatles record I was kind of listening to... My father had brought back all of these 78s from Germany after the war and he had all of these tango records. And, we had falsetto singing, orchestral, orchestrated tango songs and all that, and Radio Four, and God knows what else and I gradually got into music. The weird thing is I had a transistor radio like kids did back then. You put it under your pillow and your parents don't know you're staying up all night listening to it. And I used to listen to pirate stations and there was this channel for the American forces stationed in Europe at the time, and Wolfman Jack used to do a midnight show where he would play like the old 60s garage American bands, you know, like The Seeds, The Shadows of Night and stuff. And, that really got me into that kind of frenetic energy sort of music, the weird experimentation and the psychadelia and the... The fact that some of them were so bad, but they were gloriously good because they were bad, you know?
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: That's great stuff.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah, real, real passion in their playing, you know. Yeah, so that's a smorgasbord... What about you, Monty, what did you...? 'Cause you were playing jazz, you were a jazz pianist, weren't you?
Monty/The Damned: Yeah, I was, but before that my earliest stuff (influence) would be my uncle, because he had his own pirate radio station in Cambridge. And, he used to play the early Pink Floyd, the Syd Barrett Pink Floyd stuff, and Hendrix and Beefheart and all kinds of things like that. And, I would have been about 6 years old then, so it just kind of stuck with me.
Dave/The Damned: Yeah.
Monty/The Damned: But, yeah, and since then I've gotten into other things as well, into jazz and experimental music, and all kinds of things. We've been listening to just about every kind of music imaginable on this tour in the van.
"...everyone expects us to be blasting down the road
listening to the new Exploited album."
Dave/The Damned: I think everyone expects us to be blasting down the road listening to the new Exploited album. Ar! Ar! Ar! (Vanian mocks the Exploited). And, in fact we've been listening to anything from Dean Martin to cowboys to Mississippi Blues to experimental German bands, anything you can imagine. Yeah, in six weeks you can listen to a lot of music.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: Do you all have any artists right now that are some of your favorites that are putting stuff out recently?
Dave/The Damned: Ah, that's kind of um... There are some things, but I have terrible trouble remembering new stuff that... I hear something and try and catch it, you know. I like some of the stuff, things like Mercury Rev, though. Let me think. I've been buying more old stuff these days. It's weird, seeking out stuff that I hadn't found years ago more than anything else. But, we haven't been going out buying the new Green Day record or anything like that.
Jeff/KTRU 91.7: I'm sure.
Monty/The Damned: Except, Goldfrapp we played. We brought that over. And Stereo Lab. Captain likes Stereo Lab very much.
After taking part in one of the biggest musical revolutions in the history of rock... CONTINUED
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