Like most first generation punk bands, The Damned are in the midst of their 40th Anniversary tour. Front man Dave Vanian tells us about the music industry today and what’s next for The Damned.
I saw you a couple of weeks ago and noticed that your set today seemed very different. How do you keep your gigs so fresh?
We change it around all the time. That keeps us on our toes.
How do you manage to remember all the changes?
There has been times when I haven’t and I’ll be like “lalala” and no one will notice. But generally, I’m pretty good. I mean, it’s amazing, you write the lyrics yourself and you still forget. We did have some songs that we hadn’t played for years on auto-cues. Someone said, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll put the lyrics on auto-cue”. And I’m looking at them and they’re all wrong! I’m singing the right words and all these wrong bloody words are coming up. So, you just have to remember them.
Lets talk about your style…
Well, I do love clothes. They’re all clothes that I wear normally. For the last three months we’ve been on tour I’ve been wearing frock coats, my collars and scarves and stuff. But it’s too warm for that today.
Everyone in the band seems to have their own style too. Is it the same when it comes to musical inspiration?
Well, there’s a bunch of songwriters in the band. It’s not just one viewpoint but everybody in the band has different things they like and different music they listen to. I mean Captain comes from a Prog rock era… Marc Bolan- the glam era. Brian James and myself have some in common like The Stooges. I listen to ’60s music- anything that’s good basically. It’s quite eclectic. Recently I was looking at the CDs I have and I realised that three quarters of the CDs are all soundtracks with just music and no singing. Quite ironic that I’m a singer.
It is! Has it always been that way?
It changes. Obviously, I mean some things have changed. Feelings, emotions, love, hate… whatever, that’s all the same. The whole world’s changed since we first started. If you want to find out about something, some obscure film or something, you can just fire it up and there it is. We used to have to look for that stuff or even find somebody who is interested in the same things. It’s a lot easier now. I don’t know if it’s made it any better. I think something that grows organically is quite interesting. You know, give it some time.
So with today’s technology, do you think if The Damned began today, you’d be the same band?
I think we’d be the same band but we’d utilize all the things you can use. I mean, that would be the way that we would go. But now, if you are a band and 19/20 years old, it’s much easier to record, much easier to be seen by people. When we started, everything had to be paid for. You couldn’t record at home. It wasn’t possible. You might get one track or a stereo recording, that’s about it. And anywhere else you had to pay a fortune. Now you can put it on YouTube and people see it. It’s a difficult thing to get paid for. Because if you give it all away… Obviously, all the bands back then, from the beginning till now, will have had to go on some sort of pub circuit, rely on word of mouth and hopefully someone will write about it. Whereas now someone can write a song, record it in their bedroom then someone in Argentina, someone in New York, someone in Japan can see it. That was unheard of in those days. We would have utilised all of that.
I guess it would have came in handy when you had issues with labels back in the day.
It was the way you had to do it. We had quite a lot of bad luck with managers and record labels. Some of it in the beginning was our fault and other times it was not our fault at all. In those days, when you used to travel up and down the country, you used to meet other bands late at night. A lot of those bands came from the ’50s and ’60s still, back in the ’70s. I would talk to them, and they would say the exact same things that we’ve been through but 10 or 15 years earlier. So it hadn’t changed at all. I think bands are more business savvy now. They understand how they’re getting ripped off. Very careful. Back then we were all about music and a lot of people did the other jobs, you kind of trusted them. A lot of times you shouldn’t have done.
And how’s the music industry treating you now?
Surprisingly well! I think there’s a new perception of a band. There was a time where you didn’t see a band go beyond 30 years old. There’s now bands that have been around a really long time and are still doing really interesting things. They never stop being interesting because they’re making interesting music. Like Iggy Pop never stopped being interesting because he’s making interesting music. Same with David Bowie. That’s the secret- it’s what we do.
And I hear you’re working on interesting music?
Yeah, we’re working on a new album. We’re trying to get it released on the 1st of January. So that’s what we’re aiming for. We have to get it finished soon because we’ve only just started working on it. It’s challenging because we’re trying to push a few boundaries for ourselves and try to make it interesting. I’m really looking forward to it. A year has been taken off because this 40 years of punk thing. It’s great but you kind of want to move on.
If I didn’t want to make new music, I could just sit back and play the stuff we’ve been playing forever but that’s not what it’s about. I’d like to think that I can occasionally make a record and make people think “What the hell was that?”
And you have quite a lot of loyal fans that will back you all the way…
Yeah we do. They’ve come to expect that how we work will not be like how it was before. So it’s like “What’s The Damned coming up with now?” so that’s good. A lot of bands are kind of known for one thing. I mean they may get musically better but it’s still the same kind of music.
I’m not putting any bands down. For some bands that’s fantastic. I mean, it would have been weird if The Ramones went off and did some concept album. Naturally, we just want to try different things. I think because we all listen to different types of music.
Do you think another musical movement like punk might come around?
You always hope so. I hope for some new wave of music. I don’t know what it will be. I don’t think it will be guitar music.
Find more information about The Damned on tour here.