It’s in a fancy parisian hotel that we’ve met the leader of The Damned, Dave Vanian, to speak about their new album. “Evil Spirits” will be released in a month in France, and we can’t wait to hear what he has to say about it. The man enters a small salon with all the smart and the elegance.
It has been a decade since you last album (“So, Who’s Paranoid” in 2008) and you have been on tour since for many years. How does it feel to be back with new material?
Dave Vanian (vocals): It’s like a return to how I remembered it, ’cause we’ve been in limbo for a little while I think. We should have done this six years ago, but due to laziness or whatever, it didn’t happen. So at least, we are here now. I forgot how much work it was! (laughs) But it has been great! When we made this album, we wanted to do the best album we could possibly make, just in case it might be the last one. You never know. It took a bit of time to set it all up, and it’s everything that we wanted to do. Luckily, it happened the right way. What I have been surprised about is the reception. People have really been forthcoming with the fact that they like the band. We always had a good following.
About the reception, was it good during the last UK tour?
Dave: Very good. We did about about three of the new songs in the set, you never know how it’s gonna go. “Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow” went down very well ’cause I think people already heard it a few times (ed: as as single). All the rest went down well. It’s good to be doing new material, even if we’re lucky enough that we’ve got this massive setlist of songs we can pick from. When you’re on a stage, you don’t want to circle around, to get stuck with the impression to go backward.
Even when the show are differents? Like the gigs you performed with Motörhead four years ago?
Dave: That’s a lot different, that was a short set. Fourty five minutes if I can recall. We probably picked all of our powerful stuff, hard enough for the Motörhead crowd. I think we did very well, the crowd seemed to appreciate to see a band who put their heart into it. I like supportive bands, it’s always nice to have edgy competition.
Which is also healty competition.
Dave: Exactly. It keeps you on your toes, ’cause you can easily take things for granded and you may not try this hard anymore. That’s why we like to have a little bit of chaos.
Speaking of Motörhead, Lemmy was a close friend and a long time collaborator. Did you think of him while composing the album?
Dave: Who doesn’t? It’s sad that he’s gone, I was really happy to do whatever we did with him since 1976. At least, he lived the life he wanted to. There is only one Lemmy.
We listened to “Evil Spirits” a few times and it’s an awesome album. How would you describe it to the audience?
Dave: I hope that there is something for everybody in this album. There is a touch of the past in there, the garage bands from the 60’s, and all the ingredients which came to life with The Damned all over the years. It’s almost like a marginalization of our best work I hope. I never know how an album it’s gonna turned out, it growns up naturally. We named it “Evil Spirits” before we wrote the songs. So, after a while, we just wondered if “Evil Spirits” works, if it was the right title. It now works.
The cover reminds us of the spirit of films noirs, especially “The Third Man” with Orson Welles.
Dave: One of the main things that I didn’t want “Evil Spirits” to inspire, it’s about Evil, ghosts, or whatever in that tone. I want people to keep their minds opened. The tracks in general says a lot more than that. It was intentionnaly about certains things like self-diffusion, which fits the lyrics perfectly into the Cold War and that kind of feel. Like you said, it’s like an old film poster. I don’t like when things are exactly what it is.
That’s very interesting that you mentionned ghosts. Nowadays, The Damned are considered to be the precursors of the gothic rock, followed by bands like Joy Division and Depeche Mode. We disagree because there is some kind of optimism in your music.
Dave: I think you’re right. That’s the difference, there is a very deppresive aspect to the gothic rock. How bad things go, this album has his own sens of optimism. What the point to give up now? And that should be there. Some songs are just the celebration of the fact that you can do things. I mean, we’ve got hell a lot of huge problems in the world, but if we’re clever enough, we’ll solve them all. Bit by bit. It’s not the first time things are going wrong.
At the beginning of the band, you were dressed all in black. That is maybe how you owned your title.
Dave: That was a different time. If you had a leather jacket, people crossed the road ’cause they thought you were a bad guy, or a fag or something. Now, everyone has a leather jacket. That’s a fashion accessory. Everything has been marchandized. It’s hard for people to realize how different the world was. It was a big thing just to wear black.
The world is different but you are more relevant than ever.
Dave: I think this album, in a weird way, is also like a walk through the history of the bands who inspired us. So inspiration for us is the early garage bands stuff, with Johnny Meeks and Gene Vincent. The sound is there. More on this album than on every album we’ve done before.
However, the sound is very modern.
Dave: That’s what I’m very happy about. It was done in an old fashionned way, the best conditions to record it. But I didn’t want to sound like a bunch of old guys doing old fashionned songs.
Glad you mentionned old fashion, how was your forty years anniversary?
Dave: Tiring. (laughs) I don’t want to talk about forty years, I wanna talk about now! But it’s relevant ’cause of the anniversary, it was an other missed occasion to record an album. We did that massive tour around the world with a two hours set, it was fantastic itself. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing, obviously it is.
The Royal Albert Hall gig seemed to be the time of your life.
Dave: That was a really special gig to me. It was the audience who amazed me. It is a theatrical venue. And there is a lot of irony in the fact that we played there, in this amazing gigantic place full of ghosts. We were originally banned for years. No punk music ever in the Royal Albert Hall. And they asked us back! (laughs) They said: “you were lovely, we’d love to have you back again!”. Except from our backstages antics, nothings changed. We drink a little more maybe. (laughs)
Back to “Evil Spirit”s. How was the recording with Tony Visconti?
Dave: It came very easily, he’s a very quiet man as a producer. He has this incredible knowledge of music and you can tell he loves everything about music. He’s 73, and he’s still doing a great job. I hearded what he did on Bowie’s track “Blackstar”, and I thought he will be a perfect producer for us. He will understand what we were trying to go for, the sixties garage band vibe. He worked the way we wanted to work. Not so many computers.
Why didn’t you work with him before?
Dave: It never came up before, and the irony that you said that is that when we first met, he said: “why did you not asked me?”. Time and the record industry often work against you, so we’re glad that it happened.
What do you like in his past work?
Dave: I just think that his productions has a lot to depth to it. There’s a lot of good producers, but Tony is at a level when you set everything up this loud, with every instruments at the same volume. And when you get that great loud sound coming out as a straight line in front of you, it sounds fantastic.
Do you have any favorite tracks on “Evil Spirits”?
Dave: Too quick to know for sure. (laughs) It was great to see theses pieces of music coming to life, ’cause there were demos never played live.
What are you listening nowadays?
Dave: It’s tricky ’cause I tend to be eclectic and I mainly listen to 30’s dance old band and stuff like that. Let me see… Glass harmonica, which is a weird instrument.
Scott Bradley’s Post-Modern Jukebox?
Dave: (laughs) I was listening to them the other night!
We’re surprised that they didn’t play one of your songs yet.
Dave: Oh, that would be cool! There’s one with a tap dancer, brilliant! Have you seen Puddles Pity Party?
Thanks to his blink-182 cover. He’s the amaziest!
Dave: What a voice, uh? He went down to one of our gigs in California. He came down to the show to say hello. He used to do an Elvis review before that, then he suddenly invented Puddles and it’s brilliant!
To be back with The Damned, the filmmaker Edgar Wright used the song “Neat Neat Neat” perfectly for his movie, “Baby Driver”.
Dave: I haven’t seen it yet. Heard a lot about it though. I saw an interview of some of the actors and they said that when they did the scenes, they played the tracks so the actors will move on the music rythm. So the editing should be great, I’d love to see it! I love films, and some of our tracks can really be good for the movies industry.
Do you have some inspiration from movies?
Dave: I’ve should have gone in the movie business! (laughs) Funny enough, on this album, it’s the first time that I haven’t write a song inspired by or directly from a film or an actor, like James Dean or some of the great horror actors. Probably a matter of time, we only had nine days to record it.
Our generation idealize the punk situation, especially 1976-1977. I think that your first album is a best testimony than “Nevermind The Bollocks”.
Dave: It doesn’t matter how big are the Sex Pistols, it was basically a one thing based around shocking people for the sake of it. It has his historical importance, but things have changed so much thses days, it’s pointless to try to recreate it.
To finish, we are “RockUrLife”. So what rocks your life?
Dave: The hope to take an other forty years round! (laughs) Seriously, I have reach a point in my life where there is still things I want to do. There’s always more to come.
Thank you Dave Vanian for this interview.