The Damnwells: Alex Dezen

“The Damnwells are a musical group revolving primarily around the songwriting efforts of Alex Dezen.” –

In a world of mediocre cover bands and auto-tuned popstars, Alex Dezen is a reliable source for great music. In short, Alex Dezen is a rockstar. Lead singer/guitarist of the Brooklyn-based rock band, The Damnwells, Dezen packs each song with poetry, cliche’less love, and intrigue. Fans of The Nadas will quickly identify with The Damnwells music as Mike Butterworth and Jason Walsmith have been covering the musical gems “Kiss Catastrophe” and “I Am A Leaver” for years.

In 2001, Dezen made the move from photo assistant to musician. Six flawless albums, one major record label deal, and an award-winning rock’umentary later, Dezen and The Damnwells continue to define what good music is. A total of twenty talented souls have lent their musical skills to the Damnwell family over the last decade but Dezen remains the constant leader of the pack, and we remain his loyal fans.

The Damnwells released their latest album, “No One Listens to the Band Anymore” on March 15, 2011. In the following weeks the album found a home on Billboard’s Top 200, climbed the iTunes Best Seller Charts, was deemed “buzzworthy” by MTV, and has appeared consistently on my personal Top 3 #LastFM Artist plays.

Recently Alex chatted with me on some of his tour downtime. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

Emma: When did you first start playing music?
Alex: I started playing music when I was probably like eight years old. I didn’t have a musical instrument yet but I did have the name of a song: DEFCON 4. See I thought DEFCON 4 meant “war is imminent” so it was a good rock song name. But DEFCON 4 actually means “we are at peace”– I just didn’t get it.

E: So DEFCON 4 was your first song, but you didn’t have an instrument?
A: I had a tennis racket for a guitar and then pots and pans and stuff for drums.

E: When did you get your first guitar?
A: I was in Scranton, Pennsylvania and I was living there for a brief period of time. I got a Stratacaster-type guitar and a little amplifier. That was when I was 9 or 10. And since I was in a play at the time, I bought the guitar and amp myself.

E: The Damnwells were born in 2001. What bands happened between Death Con Four and The Damnwells?
A: The first band I officially joined already had two guitar players but I really wanted to be in that band so I kind of pushed myself on them. I kept saying “we should probably have three guitar players”. That was a punk band called “57 Blankness” and we really had three guitar players. (laughs) I don’t even know what “57 Blankness” means.

The next band I was in was called “Liedke”. It was very conceptual, more of a progressive group. No body sang. I guess we just wanted to be like the bands that we really liked…(laughs) I keep wanting to say we were like Pearl Jam but we didn’t even like Pearl Jam so we definitely weren’t like Pearl Jam.

E: And then The Damnwells. How did that band come to be?
A: Ted Hudson and I met in college. We were living in the same dorm. We were two of four men on all of the northern part of campus so we spent a lot of time trying to impress girls. Then Steve and Dave, both original members who are no longer in the band– I met them when I was living in New York, trying to put a band together.

E: How would you describe The Damnwells to someone who hasn’t heard your band before?
A: Rock and roll. I try to not over explain it. That’s like trying to describe sex to someone, y’know?

E: So where do you get the songwriting inspiration for your rock and roll?
A: It comes from all over the place. I’m always just kind of writing about stuff that I think is interesting I guess. It’s usually about me in some capacity. I don’t write things very literal though– it’s all kind of what my friend calls “emotional landscaping.” Words that describe feelings and emotions and stuff– and I always try to avoid the cliche. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that falls around a cliche, stuff worth touching on. I guess I take that and I make a point to make the music interesting to me. As long as it’s interesting to me, then I think that I’ve done what my fans expect. I often hear from people, when I am talking about my songs with them, they’ll say “man, I love the lyrics in that song. I have no idea what they mean but I love them.” To that I kind of take a bow but I also wonder if maybe I should start explaining it better.

E: Before this album, you were signed to a record label. What can you tell me about that venture? Be as lengthy or brief as you like.
A: It was definitely very helpful to be on a major record label. People think they’re the devil. And they are the devil just as much as money is the devil. They’re just the messenger among many other messengers. They gave us a record budget, paid for a bunch of gear, and were incredible. The problem with major record labels is they tell you one thing and then they do the other. I imagine it’s like that in any business. But I’m not a business man. It’s pretty depressing to see them say “before we signed, we want to develop your band over many records,” but then they said, day before we went in to make Air Stereo, the guy was like “I want you to sell a million records. That’s what we do here.” So I kind of ignored him and after we turned the record in, we had to go back and recut two songs twice. But they just were trying to turn us into something that we weren’t. And the thing is, as soon as you guess what people want to hear, you start to ruin the nuances and what’s interesting about the music.

E: So you are on the road touring “No One Listens to the Band Anymore” — what is your favorite thing about the touring life?
A: My favorite thing is going home and my least favorite thing is touring.

E: That’s awesome. So I know what I take away from your music. What do you hope that your fans take away from listening to you?
A: It’s always the same thing. To be moved in some way that cannot be explained. To be affected. I try to affect people in some way because that’s what music always did to me.

The latest album from The Damnwells proclaims that “No One Listens to the Band Anymore.” With a successful Pledge Music campaign that empowered fans to raise 119% more than the initial goal established, it is clear that when it comes to The Damnwells– a strong, loyal fandom continues to support and appreciate what Dezen brings to the table. His dedication to songwriting and rock’n'roll style sets Dezen and The Damnwells far above the musical market offerings. It is his unique talent and ability to captivate since the turn of the century that keeps Alex Dezen and The Damnwells on our radar.

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Photo Credit: Unknown • Review Written By: Emma Peterson

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