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RBA Exclusive: Interview with Mike and Vasquez of Damone!
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RBA Exclusive: Interview with Mike and Vasquez of Damone!

“Damone rocks!” Not that there was ever a question about it, but bassist Vasquez wanted to make it perfectly clear.  Channeling some of the best rock music from the 80s, and combining it with infectious riffs and killer vocals reminiscent of female-fronted rock contemporaries Paramore and Halestorm, Damone makes sure their audience gets an earful of awesome at every performance.

If they sound familiar to you, it’s because they already have a track available in Rock Band.  Released in July of last year as DLC, Damone’s single “Out Here All Night” got Rock Band players up off the couch and jumping off of coffee tables.  Not only was the track featured in Rock Band, but also Madden NFL ’07 and Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam.  And coming soon, Damone will be putting three more tracks on the Rock Band Network with the help of Rock Gamer Studios:  “Roll the Dice,” “Serial Killer,” and “Conquer Me.”  I was able to ask Vasquez and Mike Woods of Damone some questions about the band, their history, and their involvement with Rock Band and the Rock Band Network…

RockBandAide: For some of those in the Rock Band community not familiar with you, tell us a little bit about Damone.

Mike Woods: Pop metal band with some 80’s flair? Good? Good.

Vasquez: We ARE a rock band. We don’t have angular hair cuts, we don’t wear skinny jeans. We plug in and play and give 100% every time. We are here to help people escape all the crappy music out there right now sh*tting in their ears. Damone rocks!

RBA: Is it true that your name is based off of the character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High?”

MW: Yep.

V: Yes. When were trying figure out a name we wanted something iconic that would sound cool and still sound cool 30 years from now. The Damone character in Fast Times was kind of a shady character and I think a part of each of us can relate to him.

RBA: What are some of your musical influences?

MW: As a guitarist everything from Eddie Van Halen, Hendrix, Randy Rhoades, to Wes Mongomery, George Harrison, or Les Paul.  As a band, Def Leppard, Motley, The Beatles, Joan Jett… stuff like that.

V: Guns n’ Roses, Van Halen but only the David Lee Roth era, Metallica, Johnny Cash, Hall and Oates; its kind of all over the place.

RBA: Where do you find inspiration for your songs? What has been the oddest source of inspiration?

MW: I’ve been writing music for as long as I can remember. And ever since grade school it’s been a form of a mental escape (if that makes sense). Like, while I was sitting in class, and just HATING school, I would stare off into space and compose music in my head. It was my way of removing myself from the classroom. I continued doing this for most of my life too. Like when I worked at crappy-ass jobs, or anything like that, off into music land I would go.

Years ago I had this brutal retail job selling high-end clothing to the city’s wealthy elite. Clients would come up in there, all sparkling in their bazillion dollar jewelry, talking to me like a child, and chewing me out over nothin’ at all… and all the while, I wasn’t hearing a word they were saying. It was as if I wasn’t even there at all.

In fact, most of the “Out Here All Night” record was written under those circumstances.

I will say this though, I DO regret missing out on so much of my education years though.

V: I saw the movie Crazy Heart and the main character Bad Blake was asked that same question and he says “Life unfortunately.” I’m going with that answer.

RBA: Do you have any specific tracks that you are particularly proud of?

MW: “When You Live” and “New Change of Heart” are two of my favorites from the old record, and “Bored To Death” and “Conquer Me” from “Roll The Dice.”

V: Well I know Wood was really proud of “Conquer Me” but for me it’s “Talk of the Town.”  It’s the one I get to sing, so obviously its my favorite and I had so much fun recording it. I remember trying to figure out the break down where I’m speaking and I didn’t even realize my friend’s 5 year old daughter was standing there totally confused watching on the mic. It was embarrassing and funny all at the same time.

RBA: Which one of your songs has the most meaning to you?

MW: “When You Live” is usually my answer to that question, but as the writer, all of the songs have equal meaning to me. They each represent about 2 years worth of distinct memories. So even though I hate it when other artists give lame answers like that… that’s how it is. Sorry.

V: I think for me it was “Dressed Up Like A Millionaire.”  It kind of makes me think of everything we had been going through on tour and in our personal lives. Being on the road pretty much had eroded my life at home. You can see it happening and you say to yourself “f*ck it.” You grow up wanting to do this so bad and everything else just goes by the wayside which is tragic and beautiful all at the same time.

RBA: I saw online that one of your tracks, “You’re the One,” got a special celebrity endorsement in Entertainment Weekly from the Jonas Brothers. When you found out, what was your reaction?

MW: Those kids have better taste in music then they get credit for!

V: I was really flattered. Those guys are pretty huge in the pop world and the common thread we have with them is song writing. When they came to Boston they invited us to see their show and meet them. At first I thought parents were going to stab us for the passes we had. Then we watched all these girls freaking out after meeting them. After the meet and greet we all met up and it was really cool. They were telling us a story about seeing us in Jersey a few years back and I was kinda shocked. I’ve met some big bands and you know the Jonas Brothers were super nice and deserve the success. So if any of you Jonas Bothers happen to be reading this please cast me in one of your shows or movies because im broke. Mike Woods will write songs with you if want for the next record as well. We are here to help.

MW: Hahaha!  Damn right Vaz!

RBA: What is your favorite song to perform live, either originals or covers?

MW: Always loved playing “New Change” and “Out Here All Night.”  Just fun songs to play as a guitarist.

V: For Damone songs its “What We Came Here For” because it just has a swing to it and its impossible to f*ck up. For covers it would be “Rocket Queen” because I get to sing it and I loved that song when I was a kid.

RBA: I also saw that you had a chance to travel to China and Japan to perform. What was that like, and how did that come about?

MW: Rad. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever have imagined that one day I’d be hanging out in Tokyo, on tour, and showing Marty Friedman (from Megadeth, among many other things) how my amp works so that he could play through it later in the set.

V:  Going overseas is such a blessing. I am so grateful we got to do that a few times. China was our first overseas tour and it was amazing. We obviously can’t speak the language but the people were very friendly and appreciative that we were playing for them. The kids there are trying to deal with living in a communist regime and I got the vibe that just our presence there was giving them a little escape from their lives. I guess that’s what it’s supposed to do right? We covered Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings” there and they knew every word. Some dude there explained to me that Nirvana is like the Beatles there. Crazy since we had no idea a song like that would mean so much to them.

Japan is truly living the dream. The first time i ever really felt like a rock star was there. The shows were insane and the fans were very enthusiastic. Being there also makes you feel like you can do whatever you want. The end of tour dinner there ended with all the bands and crew in a classy restaurant lighting our pubic hair on fire and screaming “jungle fire”. You can’t do that sh*t in a Burger King here but in Japan you can go all out. Not only is it OK but they just smile and have a laugh with you. Another fantastic thing in Japan is the toilets. I know it sounds crazy but we are talking heated seats with bidets built in. Nothing like warm water washing your ass after relieving yourself. I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on here.

RBA: Who were some of the bands you’ve toured with and who was your favorite?

MW: I don’t think we’ve toured with a band we didn’t get along with. There are so many great memories. I loved each tour we did with the All American Rejects, I love my pals in Less Than Jake, The 69 Eyes… There’s just too many to mention. Each time was a blast. For more stories and pics, go here: http://mwoodsmusic.com/index.php?page=stories

V: I would have to say The Pink Spiders, Buckcherry, and All American Rejects. Those are my top three.

RBA: It seems like the trend in music has been away from the “trashing hotel rooms” phase, and more into the “organic and ‘Think Green’” phase. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem more old school. Any good stories that can prove that point?

MW: Well……. hahaha. We are banned from the Holiday Inn in Los Angeles.

And I do remember some huge, bald, hotel-manager-guy pulling me out of bed somewhere in New Jersey (at 6:00 am) due to complaints and destruction. Let’s leave it at that.

V: You know trashing hotel rooms ended around the same time as “buying” music. I wouldn’t say we ever trashed a room but I have added some comedy to Noelle’s room. I remember she left her door open and she was dead asleep. So I snuck into her bathroom and took a huge sh*t and did NOT flush. She woke up a few hours later and her room smelled horrible. She wasn’t too happy but we all had a good laugh.

RBA: Where did the idea for the “Damone PSA” video come from?

MW: That was a record label idea if I remember correctly. Maybe Steve Penta or Paul Resta’s? I’m at least pretty sure that it was those two who met us in some NYC park at like 7 in the morning after a long-ass night of partying. It was FREEZING cold too.

I don’t think that scene of me sleeping on the park bench was even staged. I was actually probably napping.

V: We were actually shooting it for Best Buy and decided to mock “the broke musician” stereotype. We did it NYC one morning. I can’t really say whose idea it was but it ended being a viral video and somehow brought us more fans.

RBA: Is there any aspect of your musical history that you would change?  Any advice for aspiring artists?

MW: I didn’t plan for the financial “rape” as well as I should have. In retrospect, there’s not much I could have done differently though. I guess I just wish I was generally smarter. Maybe if I had been paying attention in school instead of daydreaming and writing music, then I would’ve known these things.

But there in lies the “catch” if you will. Had I NOT been daydreaming, there would be no record-deal in the first place. So you can see my dilemma here.

V: I wouldn’t change anything really. I have had an amazing experience and couldn’t be more thankful. It’s a gift to do this. My advice to aspiring musicians is learn to write songs and make sure you get everything in writing because people will f*ck you. Never wear shorts or sandals on stage. Be good to people and don’t take yourself too seriously.

RBA: The video for “Out Here All Night” was shot with the assistance of MTV and Brooklyn College. What was that like?

MW: Fun. Actually, I recently came across the ‘Breaking The Video’ that MTV made about it.

Here’s the thing – I’m a musician not an actor, and as a general rule, I don’t like being filmed… but it was still an awesome experience. Noelle and our friend/guitar-tech Blake conceptualized the idea themselves, so it must’ve been very rewarding for them to see it all come to light.

And although I haven’t been following his career, I’ll bet that Shachar (director) is still creating some amazing art. Everybody involved worked around the clock to get one done.

V: It was awesome. We shot it in Queens at an old military base that was built in case the Germans ever showed up here. The students were super hungry and pumped to make it work. I remember having tubes in my hair to squirt blood all over me while i was freezing my ass off in the January night. It gave me a whole new outlook on the making of horror movies. I didnt sleep for like 30 hours and i loved every minute of it.

RBA: You’ve already had one track featured in Rock Band. Tell us about the process that went in to making that track available for Rock Band.

MW: Honestly, I don’t know how that one was done. I just found out later that it was featured in the game, and thought that it was really cool.

As for the stuff on “Roll The Dice,” I went down to SOR Studio’s in CT, and worked along side my old friend/engineer Greg DiCrosta to make the stems (individual tracks necessary to make the song playable in the game) for it.

I was contacted by Rock Gamer Studios, and they’re getting it done for us! It’s gonna be great.

V: The record was basically recorded in Dustin’s apartment. We would record drums in a studio and then do everything else in the apartment. This worked well because it kept the recording cost to a minimum. We funded all our record ourselves.

RBA: Have you played it? If so, what’s it like “playing” your song in Rock Band?

MW: Ahhhhhh…. (embarrassed) No.

My friend Rachel got me to play Guitar Hero once but I got really frustrated… then I started writing songs in my head to escape the virtual frustration. Haha kidding. But I’d be stoked to try it out for sure.

What I wanna know is how I get my mug in the game like the Beatles or Aerosmith have. What? That’s stupid you say? So basically, you think they’re better than me? Is that what you’re saying? Cause they’re not. That virtual guy on the screen playing MY guitar parts looks nothing like me and it’s getting on last nerve. Lets make this happen folks. And lets get on it quick!

V: I have and I wasn’t very good at it but then again i never play right in real life either. Hahahaha! It was fun and I can see why people get so into it.

RBA: You’ve had “Out Here All Night” featured in three different video games now. How does that happen?

MW: Good question. You know what else is a good question? “How do I personally see a paycheck from these features?” The answer is the same – “I dunno”. See what I’m saying kids? Put down the Guitar Hero, pick up your “Introduction To Entertainment Law” books, read them all, and then come help me out over here. If you do so, then I’ll personally show you how to play the tune both virtually, and on the guitar itself.

V: Dude I don’t even know. How could it NOT happen. I mean its a great song.

RBA: Do you feel that games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero have an impact on a player’s interest in playing a real instrument at some point?

MW: Absolutely. I joke about it, but I think games like these are awesome.

For instance, I’ll never play professional football (well… we’ll see, but most likely not) and I love playing football games on PS3 or whatever. So why is this concept so different for music?

Just like in sporting games, there comes a point of limitation. It’ll never be the same as actually going out and doing it.

So as the player becomes more deeply involved, I think that they will start craving the real thing, and then… Well you can see where I’m going with this.

V: I feel like they are a blessing. There so much bad music and it gives kids a chance to hear some real rock songs. Am I alone to feel like kids today need to hear Skid Row and love them? In some way it reaches people much better than radio.

RBA: What led up to you pursuing putting more music in the Rock Band Network?

MW: You guys called me dude !^#%? Hahaha! But I’m grateful for it.

V: We want people to enjoy the music we work hard to make. We know radio won’t play it. The Rock Band Network is going to do more for artist than MTV and radio ever will. I’m just glad we have opportunity.

RBA: Is there anything that you would like the Rock Band community to know about you before your 2nd debut on the Rock Band Network?

MW: Nope. Just have fun and let me know it goes for ya.  And for any questions, comments, or info about me or my band, come find me at Mwoodsmusic.com

V: If you listen to Damone the terrorist will lose. Enjoy!

RBA: Thanks, guys!

For more info about Damone, check out their Myspace page.  Below is a video of their current track in Rock Band, “Out Here All Night,” as well as some samples from their album “Roll the Dice.”  And for all you Rock Band Network authors and play testers, check out Damone’s first RBN entry, “Roll the Dice.”

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