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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 films?

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 the group?

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 you say?

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, Rat Scabies!

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 not?

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 in 1978?

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.

Email Dan at danepstein75@hotmail.com

 

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