US - Massachusetts - Full Moon 57 - 06/06/01
Damon & Naomi
- a wondrous talk with...
Ghostriders - A Conversation with D&N
It's difficult to decide if things are going well for Damon & Naomi. On the one hand, they
are not exactly making a fortune with their musical ventures, the still play the odd show with
only a handful of people attending and Rykodisc, who put out all of their previous albums in
Europe fired everybody but one person D&N used to work with, so the Massachusetts-based twosome
had to look for another deal. On the other hand D&N are still doing music more than ten years
after the sad demise of Galaxie 500, have the chance to work with great people like Tom Rapp or
Ghost, and just played their first ever tour of Spain where well-respected local label Elefant
released their current album, With Ghost. The record will be released in Korea (!) -
another first for the band - sometime soon as well. So a lot of things seem to happen in the
wondrous world of Damon & Naomi lately, but one thing still remains the same. They are still
just about the nicest people you are likely to meet in the music business. They are honest,
funny, intelligent and they remain great songwriters and performers as well. I had the chance
to meet up with them right before their recent show in Utrecht, Holland.
Carsten: Since we last meet you did several interesting collaborations, with Tom
Rapp and now with Ghost. Even though you obviously did similiar things in the past, you always
did your D&N records seperately before. This shift does not mean you lack the self-confidence
to do another record all on your own, does it?
Naomi: "No! The collaboration with Tom Rapp was really to help him out on his record. We
have always enjoyed collaborations, it's something we love about being in a band, more than
just wanting to be "the star", so we're very happy to do them. And working with Ghost was an
Carsten: So D&N (the band) and the collaborations are not seperate things in any
Naomi: "No, it's just a natural progression. We don't plan things out, we just do what
seems to be the right thing to do at the time. It's less theoretical than you might hope it to
be (laughs). It's more like: 'This could be fun, let's do it!'"
Carsten: So how did the album with Ghost came about then?
Naomi: "We had toured with them before in the US [two lovely live recordings from those
shows came out on a 7" single on Grimsey a while ago] and then we went to play with them in
Japan and after the show in Tokyo, where we played individual sets and then a set together, we
just said: 'Let's make the next record together'. It took us a while to figure out how to do
Carsten: Did that decision have anything to do with the fact that you may have been
(for a lack of a better word) bored with the sound you had on the first three albums, because to
me the new album seems to be a bit of a departure in sound.
Damon: "Well, after every new record some people have said it's a depature..."
Naomi: "... to me the first two are much more related because we worked with Kramer. We
also don't make a new one until we have a reason to make one, because it's too boring just to
do what you know how to do already. You just have to throw everything away and start anew."
Carsten: Having said that, was the possible collaboration with Ghost THE
reason to make a new album then?
Naomi: "I think you're thinking we're much more organized than we are!" (laughs)
Carsten: I'm probably too set in my way of thinking of a band with a record
contract and a new album every two years...
Damon: "Well, record conmpanies don't force bands to make records. It's the other way
round: Contracts enable bands to force the label to pay them for their next record or drop
them. It was different in the 60s, but that was about singles and Top Ten stuff. We make
records when we feel like making them."
Carsten: How did you approach the actual recording process with Ghost?
Naomi: "We had the songs to the point where we usually start recording them. Then we
made very rough versions of the songs and sent them to Japan with all the chords for them
[Ghost] to look at and they actually looked at it very carefully and made their own little
cassette with their reinterpretaions of what we had sent them - with suggestions and changes
in chords, sometimes even changes in lyrics (laughs), which we didn't accept, because it was
totally making our english incorrect, but they thought it was superior rhythmically. And we
just said: 'We're sorry, we can't sing that, we're native speakers'. So we listened to what
they had done which sometimes was very different to our idea of the song. After that they came
to our house and we recorded it all together."
Carsten: Do you think this method of working through the mail had a big impact on
the record, rather than working with all people in a room at once?
Naomi: "It would have been interesting to do it in the room, but it certainly had an
effect on the record because of their input. They are marvellous musicians and they thought
about the songs in a way we don't. The whole process was very different from the way they
usually record, because they don't spend like two weeks in a studio like most western bands
when they record their albums. They book like one day, take two months off and then book maybe
one more day..."
Damon: "We have spend about a week recording with Ghost in the studio, which is no more
or less than we have took for any of our other records, but they were shocked that you could a
record that quickly."
Carsten: It seems that nowadays a lot of bands spend less time recording, but a lot
more time mixing their records...
Damon: "We still mix in the old way, which is: You do the mix, you have it on tape, and
you either like it or not. You can't fiddle with it. A lot of bands are mixing endlessly these
days because they save everything. And then they go back and change just one little bit.You can
see how that would lead to taking more time. That is all set up by record companies too.
Computerized mixing allows you to change just little things. We never had a relationship with a
label where they could do that. We were always very comfortable with the fact that we gave them
a tape and that's done. It's an artefact in itself."
Carsten: I was kinda surprised when I saw you live (even as a two-piece) that it
still sounded so much like you, even though the records are obviously much more propduced and
the live arrangements are very different.
Damon: "Ultimately, it's just us on tape, we're not hiding behind anything."
Naomi: "It's like: 'What you see is what you get'!" (laughs)
Damon: "We don't process our recordings very much, we're not using ProTools, we're not
correcting our pitch..."
Naomi: "Yeah, there's this pitch-thing, you can put your singing through and it will fix
all the bad notes. When we first heard about that, it was like: 'I WANT THAT'!" (laughs)
Damon: "Yeah, but we don't have any of that stuff. We believe that when you're recording,
you're just recording a moment of yourself in the studio and we don't have the inclination or
the technology [to change it.] We start essentially with what we do live."
Carsten: Talking of the live shows, does it usually matter to you how many people
are attending the show? Last time I saw you there were very few people there, but it was a
great show nevertheless...
Damon: "It's not the number, it's the quality. We have played in front of big crowds
that we really disliked and small crowed that we loved. And vice versa. It really depends
whether we connect to them and what they are there for."
Naomi: "It's like: When you have a really small audience, you wish there were more
people there, and then the next time you have a really big audience, you notice a lot of people
only came because it was a show and it seemed like a good idea to go there and there are only
50 people listening and you think: I'd rather just play for these 50 people and have everybody
else just go home... the 300 people that are just drinking beer and 'having a good time'."
Carsten: How did the people react to Kurihara now that you perform as a
Noami: "In a way it has been frustrating, because Kurihara is such an amazing guitar
player , but you have to listen carefully."
Damon: "He is a very subtle player. He's not prancing around the stage showing what a
genius he is, he is just being a genius. But it still requires effort on the part of the
audience to recognize it."
Naomi: "We demand a lot from our audiences."
Damon: "... yeah, we demand attention, quiet..."
Naomi: "...and, you know, a minimal of intelligence... (laughs)"
Damon: "... I'd say a modicum of intelligence..."
Naomi: ".. an effort towards intelligence..."
Damon: "... a gesture towards intelligence! And maybe a little patience and indulgence.
We're asking for indulgence, is that too much? (laughs) Actually, we are very harsh and
judgemental...that's another of the indulgences we ask the audiences to allow us (laughs
again). We're awful to the audiences..."
Naomi: "I'm nice!"
Damon: "Yeah, that's right. Naomi's nice, but I'm learning to be nicer and she's learning to be
more horrible! (And after getting a confused/angry look from Naomi) Okay, I take it back!"
Carsten: Talking about the design of the album sleeves for a second: Did you ever
think about doing something really special, like the pillbox thing Spiritualized had for their
last album or even like the little book Pearl Jam had for Vitalogy?
Naomi: "No-one has ever offered me a large budget, but I would imagine I'd love to do something
special but if I was going to do something special it probably wouldn't look so obviously special,
I'd probably chose nice materials [to work with]."
Damon: "The Digi-Pak [for the latest album] we did was a big favor from Sub Pop, because
it's very expensive to do and it has silver ink and six colors...it's our version of
Naomi: "So it's actually very expensive, but it doesn't look that way. And even when I
have a budget, like [for] the box set, in the end I made this choices, where to me it was like
simply luxurys, but not something that is gonna be like: 'Oh my god, what's THAT'?"
Carsten: Do you do sleeves for a lot of other bands as well?
Naomi: "I do it for everyone who asks - and if they pay me, too."
Carsten: Does it actually make a difference if a record is released on CD or vinyl
as far as the design is concerned?
Naomi: "With the new album we didn't know that Drag City was going to do the LP version
until very close to the end and I hadn't thought about it at all. It was like: Oh my god, it's
so big, I almost had forgotten!"
Damon: "Sub Pop sold out the CD version in the Digi-Pak, so now they are going to
repress it with a regular jewel case."
Naomi: "Yeah, so before we left I had to re-design the whole thing for the jewel case.
It's almost the same size, but everything is a little different and it was like (big sigh).
'Oh, I thought I had finished this'!"
Carsten: Do you notice a difference in sound between the vinyl version and the
Naomi: "It sounds better [on vinyl], it sounds more like a record!"
Damon: "The CD sounds more like the mastertape and the LP sounds like..."
Naomi: "...in our minds... In a way we were thinking about this record as being something
that someone would pick up 15 years from now and be like: 'Oh, look what happened when these two
bands got together'. And that's an LP you'd find, you don't find an old CD, unless it's an
Carsten: Yeah, that fits in with what Damon wrote in the liner notes to the Galaxie
500 box set, about wanting to have a 7" in a bargain bin....
Damon: "Yeah, but CDs in bargain bins are not romantic, they are just junk!"
Photo © Stefan Claudius
Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld