Indie rock band The Damnwells came together 15 years ago in a downtown New York City storage unit hastily repurposed as a rehearsal room and imploded onstage at what should have been a career pinnacle: a live appearance to promote the release of a documentary about the band and its journey. Now, for the first time since 2006, the founding members have reconvened to release the band’s most definitive album, appropriately titled, The Damnwells. “This album represents us rummaging through the debris and reclaiming who we are as a band and as a brotherhood,” says primary songwriter, founder, and vocalist/guitarist Alex Dezen.
The Damnwells are Alex Dezen lead vocals, guitar, piano; David Chernis, lead guitar; Ted Hudson bass; and Steven Terry drums/percussion. The band has released five studio albums, been the subject of a documentary, Golden Days, had a top 20 Triple A charting song, and toured relentlessly, sharing stages with The Fray, the Dixie Chicks, Old 97s, Cheap Trick, and Bob Dylan, among others. At the core of the band is the bond of Alex Dezen and bassist Ted Hudson. The two met at Bard College in 1996 and have remained the band nucleus since its inception. The original lineup also includes drummer Steven Terry, who formerly played with Ryan Adams’ critically acclaimed band Whiskeytown, and seasoned vet lead guitarist David Chernis.
Steven and David left The Damnwells disillusioned with the music industry, and focused their post band life on starting families. Alex and Ted remained musically active, soldiering for two more Damnwells albums with varied accomplished musicians from their inner creative circle. Alex also released a highly personal solo project consisting of four EPs. Most significantly, in his time away from the band being a full-time entity, Alex emerged a formidable professional songwriter, working with such diverse artists as Justin Bieber, The Dixie Chicks, Dave Grohl, Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, Jason Derulo, Christina Perri, Genevieve Schatz of Company of Thieves, and Kelly Clarkson.
The Damnwells official final gig was in Phoenix at the band’s documentary release party. What was supposed to be a celebratory time was anything but—members of the band were weary of the road and the fickle and ever-changing music industry, and tired of each other. A smashed guitar and icy tensions remain stinging memories from that gig. “That last show felt like we were playing our funeral,” Alex recalls. After that final gig, the band members didn’t speak for years. It was album producer Salim Nourallah (Old 97s) who first suggested the reunion. “When we first played together, I was scared, but when we started going through old songs it was epiphanic,” Alex says.
The resulting self-titled album is the band’s most sharply focused collection of literate, heartfelt, and hook-laden Americana. The lead-off single, “Lost,” is blissful melancholia about trying to find your way in a post breakup landscape. The raucous and rootsy “Kentexas” ponders the mischievous wonders of being aimless after the demise of a relationship. On “Kill Me,” The Damnwells finally document the band’s wry sense of humor with witty pop culture commentary blasted within euphoric power-pop. The 11-song album concludes with the stately folk of the heartbreaking “None Of These Things.”
The album’s elegantly sparse production aesthetic was due to the producer Salim Nourallah’s sharply focused vision for the band. “Salim dismissed any extra flourish as ‘zip-a-dee-do shit,” Alex says cracking up. Tracking took place at intimate Tree Fort Studios in Austin, TX. Looking back Alex says: “I really missed having these guys in my life. Every moment together now feels like privileged time. Sometimes we’re playing together and it just feels like we were back in that old rehearsal room storage unit.”