Alex Dezen (The Damnwells)
It’s official. The Damnwells are done. “It was an amazing run,” says Alex Dezen. “But it’s time to move on.” 16 years, 5 albums, and countless miles later, Dezen is finally stepping out on his own with his second solo album in two years. Truth be told, the tenuous formation which has carried the Damnwells moniker over the last decade and a half has always featured Dezen’s voice and songs front and center. Both 2007’s One Last Century 2010’s No One Listens to the Band Anymore employed a wide net of musicians and friends, often without founding members Steven Terry, Ted Hudson, and David Chernis. So, in many ways, II, the second solo album from Damnwells frontman, is just a continuation of what Dezen has been doing his entire career. Only it isn’t that at all.
From the fuzzed-out refrains of “When You Give Up” to the lush harmonies of “Everything’s Great (Everything’s Terrible)” to the acoustic folkie life lessons of “The Boys of Bummer,” II showcases the creative spark of an artist coming into his prime — a songwriter who has been able to deftly thread the needle between his past, present, and future. II, which is being released on February 3, 2017 on Poor Man Records, remains undaunted, pushing artistic boundaries like never before.
“In many ways,” says Dezen, “the job of an artist is to re-examine what came before. That informs what we do next.” Taken as a whole, II displays a penchant for blending both retro and modern sounds to forge something new, yet still creating something catchy enough to hook the listener on the very first spin. “My intention when I made this record was not to make an ’80s record,” Dezen clarifies. “But as soon as I got the guitar in my hands and started messing around with chords and getting further along into the production and the writing, it just went that way — and it felt very natural to me.”
Songs like “Holding On to You (Holding On to Me)” builds on the Lindsey Buckingham-esq sonic palette made famous on Fleetwood Mac’s magnum studio opus, 1979’s Tusk, and brings it into the modern age. “That music has been in my mind and in my ears as long as I can remember,” Dezen admits. “The late-’70s was an interesting time. Disco was dying, so there’s this weird combination of disco and rock & roll happening together, which produced some really cool stuff.” Dezen is pleased with the ways this album bridges the gap between then and now, and doesn’t shy away from the obvious comparisons. “I’m well aware of it,” says Dezen. “I welcome it. I wish I had been in that band! This song is the closest I’m going to get.”
Dezen, who wrote, performed, produced, and mixed this record almost entirely on his own, thoroughly enjoyed the time he spent in a band. “The beauty of being in a band,” Dezen explains, “is you’ve got all these different influences coming in. But when you’re making a record by yourself and you’re producing it by yourself, you can chase down any and every idea to its most perfect conclusion. You can really explore all the things and ideas you want.”
Dezen knows what lane he’s in as an artist — and he’s totally cool with it. “I’m not trying
to rewrite the history of music. I’m not Radiohead, and I’m not trying to do something
that has never been heard before,” he says. “I do very much like familiarity in my
music. It’s whatever originality you bring to it that ultimately makes your music special.”
One song Dezen expects will push a few hot buttons with listeners is “I Am a Racist,”
which also features backing vocals from one of the album’s key collaborators, Amber
Bollinger. “I think the most dangerous form of racism,” says Dezen, “is the racist who
doesn’t even realize what they are, that their racism is so systematically engrained, they
don’t see what a huge part of the problem they are.” For Dezen, change is something
that has to start from within. “Saying that the problem is me,” Dezen explains, “as opposed to pointing a finger and saying that it’s something else, is a lot more powerful. I
guess I’m asking for a ‘Man in the Mirror’ moment. We need to look deeply at the way
we engage with each other. We need to start there.”
Though the first song on the album, “When You Give Up,” highlights the darker side
hope, Dezen himself has an internal drive that just won’t quit. “The only thing I feel
pretty confident about being able to do is write a song,” Dezen says. “Whether or not
that song is any good, who knows. But this is what I’ve been doing for so long. I do
know it brings me a tremendous amount of joy.”
That joy is what keeps him going. “Just when I thought everything had fallen apart,
something positive would appear in my life, inviting me to continue to do what I do,”
Dezen says. “I guess I just do it because I really, genuinely love it. It challenges me. It
keeps me sharp. I think that’s why the arts are so important. The arts ultimately make
you active, smart, and more aware and more empathetic towards the people in the
world around you.”
The overall takeaway from II is an artist forging ahead with an uncompromising, singular
vision. “You’ll get that I’m saying, ‘Here I am as me, and I’m now moving into this
phase.’ And you know what? That’s not a bad place to be.” It sure isn’t. If anything, II is
the clear sonic signpost for where the ever-searching singer/songwriter is headed next.
Come along for the ride.
For more information, please contact:
Krista Mettler, Skye Media, krista.mettler@skyemediaonline.