Bryan Reesman (writer),
Magdalena Wosinska (photographer)
The term supergroup conjures up all sorts of images, from the dazzling to the dreary. The benefit of such high-profile connotations is obviously a high profile, but great expectations can also be a curse if the players are not up to par. In the case of the hard-rocking The Damned Things, whose members hail from three very different bands, you get a happy, heavy medium somewhere between the thrashing antics of Anthrax (guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano), the fierce metalcore of Every Time I Die (vocalist Keith Buckley and touring bassist Josh Newton), and the hook-laden pop-rock of Fall Out Boy (guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley). But the thought of these disparate musicians tearing up stages together has raised more than a few eyebrows, which seems to have become a blessing in disguise.
When INKED caught up with guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Andy Hurley, separately, during a previous tour’s stop in Seattle, they were eager to chat about the origins of their Thin Lizzy–influenced band (the name comes from Lizzy’s “Black Betty”: Black Betty had a child, bam-ba-lam/The damn thing gone wild, bam-ba-lam). As Ian tells it, a social dinner and subsequent friendship between Ian and Trohman blossomed into something more months later when Trohman played Ian some guitar ideas he had that were not right for Fall Out Boy. It only took another three or four years to assemble the right troops, then record and release an album together as The Damned Things.
But now here they are with an album (Ironiclast), getting radio airplay, headlining INKED’s summer music tour, and loving it: “I’m totally stoked for the Inked Magazine Music Tour,” proclaims Hurley. “I think it’s a great magazine, so it’s cool you’re behind us. I’m looking forward to playing rock shows for children who like rock music. It’s fun to play a different style to a different crowd than [the one] that shows up for Fall Out Boy concerts,” says Hurley. “There are definitely fans of each band [on its own], but there are also new fans that none of us would have otherwise, and it’s cool that it seems like it crosses over pretty well between all the fans They’re all awesome.”
“I just really love the music,” declares Ian. “That’s why I’m doing it. I really love these songs, and I think we really did something different. We certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel, but for what’s out there these days, I just think we made something that sounds fresh and original. We don’t sound like anything else on the radio, yet we’re playing extremely valid rock music that touches on many different influences that we all brought to the table. … The bottom line is we all come from the same place musically. We all have the same loves and hates when it comes to music in this band, and that’s really what unites us—even though there’s obviously a huge difference in age between some of us.”
Trohman is the youngest, at 26 years old, and Ian the oldest, at 47, but that’s hardly something worth contemplating while cranking Ironiclast. The album’s blend of old- and new-school rock influences goes down some unexpected paths, from the up-tempo anthem “We’ve Got a Situation Here” (complete with metalcore-flavored bridge) to the snarling rocker “Little Darling” to the closing number “Blues Having the Blues,” complete with soulful female backing vocals and subtle slide guitar work. There’s a definite sonic stamp placed on the album that shows they spent time honing their sound, but there are no weepy ballads or tepid anthems pandering to mainstream rock radio. What you hear is what you get.
As they spent time massaging their material, The Damned Things really had to work through the half-finished “Little Darling” and “Blues Having the Blues” in the studio. But ultimately, it resulted in two of the best songs on the album. “It just is that way sometimes,” muses Ian. “Some songs come together in three minutes, and some songs take until the last minute. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just if it’s something you dig or not. Of course I prefer when something practically writes itself and you’re done in 45 minutes and it’s amazing.” That’s not always the case with his Anthrax work. “There’s a song currently on this new Anthrax record that we’ve been working on for almost three years called ‘Down Goes the Sun,’ and it’s going through its third revision right now. Charlie [Benante] is going back in and re-recording the drums and starting from the ground up again because we just rearranged it and came up with some new parts, and we think we’ve finally got it. It’s this thing we’ve been working on and love it so much, so that’s why we’ve given it all this attention.”
With so many cooks in The Damned Things kitchen, you’re bound to find different views of the world. Ian, who’s having a child, works on comics and plays professional poker in his spare time, while Hurley, also the magnate of the indie hardcore record label and Satanic-sport T-shirt purveyor Fuck City, cultivates an anarcho-primitivist view of the world.
“I just feel that all the big problems that we have are due to the advent of civilization, especially industrial civilization,” Hurley says. “The way a lot of different humans lived for hundreds of thousands of years was in band societies that were essentially anarchist—not that they called themselves anarchists,” he explains. “It’s more green anarchism, it’s just more anti-civilization. … Obviously nuclear energy is one of the only viable energy alternatives to coal and fossil fuels, but with what happened with Fukushima, it’s just so toxic. To keep industrial civilization going you need massive amounts of energy to fuel the electrical grid, and to do that there’s no real way that’s not harmful to the planet or to life on the planet. That’s essentially why I am anti-civilization.”