Shortly after punk came and went in England
in the late '70s, Elvis Costello looked back in appreciation.
"The Damned were the best punk group, because there
was no art behind them; they were just enjoying themselves,"
Costello told Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone
in 1982. "(The Sex Pistols, the Clash and the
other punk bands) weren't just wild. It was considered and
calculated. Very artÖThe Damned were just nasty." Dave
Vanian and Captain Sensible (a.k.a. Ray Burns)
are back at it again, leading a new version of the Damned
with Patricia Morrison, formerly of Sisters Of Mercy
and the Gun Club. Theyíre new album Grave Disorder
kicks ass. I recently got a chance to talk with Dave Vanian
very early in the morning.
Dan Epstein: What is your favorite
track on your new album, Grave Disorder?
Dave Vanian: Thatís difficult. Thereís
several, "Absinthe", "Thrill Kill". How
many do you want? Iíve got thirteen of them.
DE: The track "Democracy"
seems to take a skeptical look at current affairs. Is the
Dammed going political?
DV: We always have been. If you back
to things like "Antipope", right from the very beginning.
Nothing different than usual. Itís just that sometimes itís
a little bit more hidden. You dance around a bit you enjoy
the song then you realize "wait a minute this song is
telling me about something". We just donít preach. Thereís
no point in it. Weíre not politicians, weíre musicians. But
we do have a point of view.
DE: I know Dexter Holland
of The Offspring released the new album. How did you
first meet him?
DV: We met Dexter through some friends
of ours. It had been about twelve years since the Captain
and I had worked together. We were just about to make a new
album. Some friends of ours said, "We know this rich
kid whoís got a label of his own. You might know him, heís
in The Offspring". I said, "Who the hell is Offspring?
Oh yeah, the Batman thing [In 1997, The Offspring recorded
The Damnedís "Smash In Up" for the Batman Forever
film]. We basically met in a fifties diner over a hamburger.
He was shrewd enough to want to hear some demos first. He
was a Damned fan in his younger days but I think he was wondering
"I really like the early albums, have they gotten old
and lazy or is it going to be some weird concept album or
something". But other than that it went very smoothly.
DE: Why do you think it took you
so long to release an album?
DV: Itís a long story but The Damned
have hit every kind of a hurdle that a band can get from mismanagement,
people running off with money. At one point we were in a contract
where we couldnít resign for a while. All sorts of shit has
been thrown at us basically. The band fragmented for a short
time. The Captain had been off doing his Punk Floyd
thing. It kept going, but it was kind of limping along. We
couldnít get record company interest in England and it wasnít
until I got together with the Captain again that we found
that we had some great songs there. The two of us work very
well together. The whole band in fact works fantastic together.
Itís probably one of the best lineups itís ever been.
DE: What did you think of Captain
Sensibleís solo albums?
DV: They made me laugh. I enjoyed
them. I think the Captain has got some good music in there
itís just that he gets bogged down a bit in all his different
crusades. Iíve always been very supportive of the Captain.
I think whatever he does is fine by me. Heís still going to
pursue a solo career even though weíre doing this. Iíll still
stick with The Phantom Chords [Vanianís solo project].
DE: What inspired you to form your
solo project The Phantom Chords?
DV: The Phantom Chords has been right
on the go right from the early days, its just things I like
to do that wouldnít be suitable for The Damned. Itís not a
pressure type thing. Itís just something I like to sing. It
doesnít matter if itís uncool; itís just a good song. Iíve
always had a passion for film noir and soundtracks from really
cheesy, dodgy films. Usually crime or horror films. Putting
that into a musical context for a band is really interesting.
Soundtracks by Elmer Bernstein or Henry Mancini
and stuff like that. Its fun for me and I can pick old standards
by The Damned .
DE: What are some of your favorite
DV: Theyíre across the board. Films
like Touch Of Evil [directed by Orson Welles],
Morriseyís Blood For Dracula. [Roman]
Polanski films. Itís a bit early for me to remember
such things, I havenít even had me breakfast yet, gor blimey
guvner as the Captain would say. Also the Universal horror
films, I love the Bride Of Frankenstein because of
the expressionistic sets. I love the subtext in it although
there is this terrible British campiness about it because
of the league British actors in it and this fruity director.
Some of the visuals in that like the creation scene of the
bride has a wonderful score and has some theremin music. One
of my favorite science fiction films is The Day The
Earth Stood Still and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers,
[Kevin] McCarthy running through the streets "Theyíre
here, theyíre here already".
DE: Why do you dress up like a vampire?
DV: I donít dress up. This is why
they got me in band to begin with, it wasnít because I could
sing. Thatís a true story they never heard me sing a note.
[Original Damned guitarist] Brian Jamesí words were
"Well, he looks like a singer lets try him out".
It was lucky I learned to sing quickly. I actually lied that
I was in another band to get in with people back in the early
days. We actually did have a band with Rat [Scabies]
as the drummer, different bass players, Chrissie Hynde
on guitar and two singers, me and this other kid called Dave,
he was the total opposite of me with stark white hair and
very vamp. We didnít really have a name, we only did loads
of rehearsals then it fell apart and I ended up in The Damned.
DE: What do you think of the fact
youíve inspired a generation of Goth rockers?
DV: I think its gotten kind of bedded
down in something else and bizarre. As long as its inspiring
people to go off and do their own thing. Thatís a good thing.
DE: What was it like to work with
David Bianco [Grammy award winning producer of Tom
Petty, Rollins Band, Buffalo Tom, and Afghan
Whigs] on Grave Disorder?
DV: Very easy in fact. I had had
reservations slightly about it. Its always difficult going
off and working with someone youíve never even met before.
Then youíre walking into the studio to meet them. You never
know if itís going to be chemistry or not. Iíd like to work
with him again and we probably will. He comes from doing things
like Johnny Cash. So there was a lot of great stories
that he told me about people I admire. We could sit there
working while he told me stories. We worked quite a bit because
we were really cracking the whip on this album.
DE: Why was it a struggle to name
the new album?
DV: It was only a struggle because
there were so many things floating around. We didnít want
an album title that sounded pretentious. We just wanted something
that was apt.
DE: What was the first name that
came up, Mercury Retrograde?
DV: Ugh. That wasnít me. I didnít
think of that one. That was Pinch, he must have been
stoned one night. Well thatís not pretentious at all is it?
[Laughs] Mercury Retrograde yeah baby, Iím Aquarius.
There was another name that was bandied about which is our
merchandising company now, Curious Goods. Which I felt
kind of summed it up.
DE: Why did you first change your
name from Dave Letts to Dave Vanian?
DV: I donít know really. I didnít
really like the sound of it. It was too abrupt it wasnít for
any other reason. I could have been Dave Snot or something.
When I changed my name it was before the punk era about 2
or 3 years earlier. I found out recently that my family has
a colorful history of pirates and Civil War people.
DE: Where did you first meet your
future wife, Patricia Morrison?
DV: I met her about 17 or 18 years
ago. I nearly knocked her over the first time I was in Los
Angeles. I was coming out of a room with a mask on and she
has just been in a photograph with a friend, and Rat had groped
the two girls when the camera flashed and she ran out of there
screaming. I bumped into her and there was a big scuffle in
the hallway. She must have been about 16. We sort of eyed
each from afar. I loved the band she was in The Gun Club we
just gradually got together.
DE: Your wife, bassist Patricia Morrison,
plays with the Damned now. What is that like?
DV: Itís great because that side
of it is totally different than anything else. You go on stage
and the professional side of things is there. Sheís just a
good musician. I think she brings a whole new aspect to the
band. She was very worried when Captain asked her to join
because sheís always been a fan. I think with anyone else,
it wouldnít have worked but sheís such a strong individual.
She and a handful of others helped start the punk movement
in Los Angeles. I think other women look up to her. Captain
loves her because she gets all these beautiful young Goth
girls coming out to the shows. Our audience has taken to her
straight away. Her and Pinch really work well together. It
gives me, the Captain and Monty a chance to really to do,
like, improvisation. The jams have been really interesting.
I really look forward to them because I never know what is
going to happen.
DE: Why were you and Patricia wed
by an Elvis impersonator?
DV: There was a minister but Elvis
walked us down the aisle in a black jumpsuit. Which is just
my line. Then we went off to see Tom Jones at MGM.
He was great. Really cheesy and fantastic. But quite good,
the band was great. Heís a lot more raucous when you see him
live. We didnít get to meet him afterward, I wish I had.
DE: Are drugs still a big part of
DV: I donít know what youíre talking
about. I wonít say anything unless my lawyerís present.
DE: Why have you been the only person
from the Damned to stay with it through every incarnation?
DV: I could say it was stupidity
but the actual truth, itís love of the music. Obviously for
the new stuff, if I hadnít gotten together with the Captain
the band would have been no more. The new album has all the
energy we ever had together before. Weíve lost nothing. I
think itís because we havenít had a taste of the good life
yet. So weíre still angry. Weíre touring the country and I
still havenít paid my last mortgage payment. Theyíll probably
throw me in the pokey.
DE: Captain Sensible said that he
came back to the band in 1999 after you called him. What did
DV: That isnít actually true because
he lies a lot and so do I. We ended up on the same bill together.
I was doing The Phantom Chords and he was doing Punk Floyd.
It was the first time in many years. It was like "What
have you been doing? Why didnít you call me?" "I
havenít got your number, why didnít you call me?" "I
havenít got your number." "I thought you didnít
like me." "I thought you didnít like me." "Well
fuck it, lets write some stuff up." "YEAH."
We couldnít believe our stupidity for not getting in touch
earlier. Thereís never been any animosity but we just lost
touch. He actually lives about 100 miles away from me. So
we donít run into each other, with both of us floating around
different bands, also I moved twice. Itís amazing how you
could lose track of someone unless you make an effort. We
both thought there was some bad blood but there wasnít at
all. It was basically in someone elseís camp that will go
unmentioned. He with the bulbous nose, there Iíve said it,
DE: What should a fan expect from
the Damnedís live show now?
DV: The music will be better. Iíve
heard some of those old shows from the early 1970ís. I canít
tell what the hell is going on. Now we also play "Thirteenth
Floor Vendetta" which we never played live. Doing that
is really magical. Itís a strange song because Captain and
I made it in 24 hours. We wrote, played and mixed in 24 hours.
Rat walked out at one point and said it was never going to
happen, its crap. It turned out to be one of the best tracks
on the album. Its been going down amazing.
DE: I heard that with some of those
first gigs with the Sex Pistols, you didnít get along. Why
DV: It wasnít so much that we didnít
get along with them. The story from the Anarchy tour
is that we had been on tour already quite extensively and
we had a big following. The Sex Pistols would only to play
to about 30 or 40 people. They werenít that big then. Malcom
McLaren [Sex Pistols manager] had put us on the bill with
them in hopes of attracting more people. The day before we
were supposed to go on tour with them. The Pistols went on
the Bill Grundy show and the next morning they were
in on the front page every paper in the United Kingdom. Suddenly
they were massive. All the parents and the governments were
saying to get this filth away from the kids, and all the kids
were going we want it. Malcolm didnít need us anymore after
that so he tried to boot us off the tour. The venues themselves
said that they didnít want the Sex Pistols to play. So it
all kind of fell apart after a half-dozen gigs. Rat was always
real good friends with Johnny Rotten. I havenít seen
Johnny for a while. We werenít exactly friends but we werenít
enemies either. Captain shared a place with Sid Vicious
for a while. He taught him to play bass or not to play bass.
He taught him how to sneer probably.
DE: Why did the Dammed first collapse
DV: Brian split the band up. Once
we had done the first album and had toured Europe for a bit.
Rat went kind of weird, he freaked out. I donít know quite
what happened. We did the second album and it wasnít the glorious
rock sound we had expected. We brought in another guitarist
Lu Edmonds. We figured it was going to be a dueling
MC5 setup and be interesting. Instead Brian played
less and Lu played more. The songs were a bit weak, as though
Brian had used his best songs up on that first album. He wouldnít
let anyone else write any songs basically. We just finished
the album and we walked into a pub to have a drink after.
Brian said "Iím not going to do it anymore, Iím splitting
the band up." It was like a bombshell. We decided after
a few days to give it a go on our own and then we went on
from them. It was a whole new chapter in our history.
DE: What do you think of the new
wave of punk like Blink 182 and Green Day?
DV: Green Day are a bit folky. Iím
amazed by how much folk music there is in punk today. Good
luck to them. A lot of the punk music now is more of a trend
or fashion thing. Like bubblegum punk. Which isnít necessarily
bad as long as you have the other things as well. Iíd hardly
call that stuff punk music. Punk should always be no labels.
You can be punk playing Latin music or playing in an orchestra,
itís just an attitude. Thereís an awful lot of homogenized
bands out there now. All these boy bands, bloody Britney
this and bloody Britney that. I think weíve got to blame Michael
Jackson for that. Theyíve ripped him off.
DE: Thanks Dave
DV: Good luck mate. Iím going to
go have my breakfast now.
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