It’s been a pretty typical couple of years between albums for Massachusetts rockers Damone: Some touring, some recording and a few minor bumps in the road … like the lead guitarist and creative engine bailing on them before their first major tour, being dropped by their label, almost losing their bass player to a brain hemorrhage, and having no money to record with.
But that was all no big deal, according to singer Noelle LeBlanc.
“We’ve all had quite an experience over the past year, but we remain positive,” said the deadpan 20-year-old singer, a Joan Jett for the MySpace generation who goes by her first name professionally. “It’s not like we’re saying, ’Being in a band is so hard,’ and whining about it. We’re like, ’F— it, let’s rock!’ ”
That’s a pretty positive attitude, given all that’s happened to Damone since they released their overlooked pop-metal debut, 2003’s From the Attic. When RCA was unenthused about the new songs the group was writing, the follow-up to Attic was shelved and Damone were let go, which was fine with them. They’d already learned to adjust since the departure of co-founder and primary songwriter Dave Pino, who split just as the Attic tour dates were kicking off because he didn’t want to go out on the road.
“[Getting dropped] was fine at the time because we weren’t ready as a band then,” said Noelle, who began playing in punk groups when she was 14. After six months of waiting around to finalize their release, on the day after the papers were signed, Damone played a show in New York that quickly resulted in a contract with Island and a sign of approval from a rock legend.
“We did this showcase and [former Cars leader] Ric Ocasek was in another room working with a band at the same time,” remembered Noelle. “He was hanging out in the lounge, and when [new guitarist] Mike Woods went outside to smoke a cigarette, he looked up and was like, ’It’s Ric Ocasek!’ Ric must have heard some of the showcase because he gave a nod of encouragement to [bassist] Vazquez.”
Before signing with Island, Damone had already recorded half the new album — Out Here All Night, due May 23 — on their own dime, mostly in a small studio and sometimes in Noelle’s apartment. During that period, Vazquez was running around so much and sleeping so little between sessions that he almost did himself in.
“He was really anxious during the whole recording process, and the day he f—ed himself up we had been out all night before and he hadn’t eaten,” Noelle said. “We went to the gym, and he fell flat on his back and hit his head really hard in the right spot and was in the hospital for a couple weeks.” At one point Vazquez was read his last rites, but he eventually emerged from a two-day coma and recovered from what turned out to be a brain hemorrhage.
The addition of “impeccable guitar player” Woods to the lineup, which also includes drummer Dustin Hengst (who played with Woods in a previous band), helped recharge Damone’s batteries and gave them a sound Noelle describes as “a force you cannot f— with.” You can hear it all over the album, which mixes the metal riffage and over-the-top solos of ’80s hair metal with a pop-punk edge and lyrics that take jabs at a host of unnamed liars, deceivers and backstabbers.
The Judas Priest-meets-Weezer title track and first single is a hair-flipping rock song on which Noelle spits, “People take what they need/ Then they tell you ’get lost’/ Kindly leading you on/ While they’re ripping you off.” Damone went the indie route while filming the clip for the song, hooking up with mtvU, which supplied them with some budding college film directors who lensed a low-budget homage to the “Friday the 13th” movies. “It turned out really cool,” Noelle said. “I had this idea of being in the woods running around being chased like in some campy ’70s horror movie, and we had so much fun doing it.”
Before getting shot with arrows and chased through the woods, though, the band shot another low-budget clip earlier this year that quickly became a YouTube sensation. The fake public-service announcement has Noelle earnestly staring at the camera and lamenting the plight of broke rock bands as her bandmates fish through a garbage can for scraps.
“Everyone is still talking about it,” said Noelle. “Whatever success we’ve gotten [recently] is because of that damn thing.”