This is a feature on up and coming Edinburgh band Damn Shames which I recently penned for The Skinny. It was cut down slightly for print, as there’s fierce competition for space in the magazine’s bursting musical pages don’t-cha-know, so here’s the definitive version…
Music journalism can be a strange, haphazard, frustrating affair, governed by tight deadlines and hectic schedules – what scientists might call ‘chaos theory’. So when I want to speak to Damn Shames, an Edinburgh band, and I’m furnished with a London phone number, it’s no real surprise. The surreal logic of the interview is heightened by the prospect of three sound-a-like band members sitting in a room at XL Recordings, all chatting away without announcing their names. On this occasion, Damn Shames will have to speak as one.
All aged 19, Matthew Deary (vocals/guitar), Simon Richardson (vocals/guitar) and Jacob Burns (bass) met at high school in Scotland’s capital. Although on the verge of leaving their teenage years behind, the band still ooze that unmistakable energy of youth (no acne jokes at the back). Their gigs are boisterous, their music kinetically charged, and they talk with a scant disregard for what has gone before. In reviews to date, their music is most often compared to the inescapable Klaxons or post-punk bands like fellow Edinburghers Fire Engines.
When asked if they agree with the post-punk angle:
– “I dunno.”
– “Post-punk was after punk.” (laughter)
– “I wouldn’t say that our main influences are post-punk bands.”
And what of the Klaxons comparisons?
– “I don’t really like Klaxons.”
– “I can see maybe where people are coming from. I think it’s easy for a journalist to make that comparison. A lot of the time journalism’s pretty lazy.”
– “It’s an easy comparison. We’ve had Klaxons, we’ve had Arctic Monkeys. Bands that we don’t sound anything like.”
In conversation Damn Shames adopt an attitude of self-conscious self-confidence. When asked what makes them different, for example, an unidentified voice proffers: “A willingness to embrace technology and techniques that other indie guitar bands perhaps wouldn’t.” Which is swiftly qualified by: “Bit of a lofty statement that.”
Despite their inexperience, their creative output so far – the two 7” singles Dancing in the Aisles and Fear of Assault – has been enough to earn them a record deal with Abeano, a subsidiary of XL (the home of such differing acts as Dizzee Rascal and The White Stripes). Like so many of their contemporaries, Damn Shames owe their break partly to a certain Rupert Murdoch-owned website. “Someone called Richard found us on MySpace and then he got a job working at XL and he played our demos in the office,” a Damn Shame says. “Then the A&R guy came up to see us play in Edinburgh. After that it took quite a while for a deal to come through. Our first single with them [Fear of Assault] was released in December.”
The MySpace tracks display simmering potential. Dancing in the Aisles is a ramshackle yet blistering number with angular (post-punk?) guitars and a programmed beat, while Fear of Assault expands their sound with a session drummer and glitchy studio electronics. It’s all rattled off at breakneck speed, and possesses the kind of inimitable buzz that advertisers and TV producers throw money at. Would they accept such an offer if it came their way?
– “It depends what it’s for. Probably not if it was Persil or tampons or something!”
– “I have no principle against getting money from it, there’s big bucks to be made.”
– “I wouldn’t mind having one of our songs on Top Gear when they’re driving a really fast car!”
– “Guys, as long as it wasn’t Jeremy Clarkson. Maybe Richard Hammond or James May, haha!
– “Yeah, we’re not right-wing blokes!”
An album from this anti-Clarksonian trio is in the pipeline, but it’s too early to set a date on its arrival. “We’re just writing it at the moment,” they say. “We’re working on a lot of new stuff and we hope to just see what happens. We don’t really know how long that sort of stuff takes because it’s new to us.”
The reason for the band’s physical inavailability is a week-long string of gigs and radio sessions in London. Are they satisfied with the Edinburgh scene, or will the draw of the Big Smoke prove too tempting to resist?
– “We want to move but we’ll probably stay in Scotland for now. I think we’re gonna move to Glasgow for a change of scenery.”
– “We’ve got loads of friends there ‘cos we went to uni there for a year.”
– “We dropped out to give the music a bash and then we got signed.”
– “But we’re still living with our parents so it’s not all going to plan!”
Which captures quite neatly where Damn Shames are at the present time: poised between youth and adulthood, parents and independence, a record deal and a first album. Not exactly a rock and a hard place though, that’s for sure.
Damn Shames play Glasgow School of Art on 13 Feb, support The Presets at Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on 8 March and play This is Music @ Henry’s, Edinburgh on 22 March. Busy lads.