The Damned Things: "We Commiserate About Being These Broken, Imperfect People"

The Damned Things are back with a new record, High Crimes! And the heavy metal supergroup – featuring Joe Trohman, Keith Buckley, Scott Ian and more – are raring to go…

The Damned Things: "We Commiserate About Being These Broken, Imperfect People"

Joe Trohman is a busy man. Only recently, the guitarist was spotted looking dapper with the rest of Fall Out Boy on the red carpet of this year’s GRAMMY Awards (the quartet sadly didn’t win anything; they lost out in the Best Rock Album category to Greta Van Fleet’s From The Fires).

Now, though, Joe has an altogether different proposition on his hands: the return of his supreme heavy metal supergroup, The Damned Things. Previously on ‘indefinite hiatus’, the band have not only arrived back with a refreshed line-up, but they also bring with them news of a brand-new record: High Crimes, due out on April 26 via Nuclear Blast.

It may have taken Joe and his Damned Things – Every Time I Die vocalist Keith Buckley, legendary Anthrax six-stringer Scott Ian, fellow Fall Out Boy bandmate and drummer Andy Hurley, and now Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano – almost a decade to follow up 2010 debut Ironiclast, but, as the shredder excitedly tells Kerrang!, it’s been totally worth the wait…

It’s been nearly 10 years since the release of Ironiclast, and you’re finally back with a second album, High Crimes. What made now the time?

“Well, I was working with a producer buddy of mine. We weren’t working on The Damned Things stuff – he was working with another artist, and he asked me if I wanted to write new music for this person. I’m not sure what happened to her, but she went somewhere… maybe she died or left or something (laughs). But then we did these songs and I was like, ‘Oh, this could be for Damned Things!’ I was ready to do it all again if the other guys were, and then I played them the songs and they were into it, too. It started out more as an EP, but then it got to the point where we just made a whole record. The more we put into it, the more we were like, ‘Okay, let’s just do this.’ I hate using the term ‘organically’ because it’s a pretty shitty buzzword, but it happened organically (laughs).”

What about the rest of the album – how did it all come together?

“I had written these songs, and Keith would send me some lyrics. When I was writing these songs for this artist, I hit up Keith and asked him to send me some lyrics to put over the songs. So he sent me the lyrics and then I wrote the song and that’s how we ended up doing the rest of the stuff: he would write some lyrics, I would write the music, and then he would come in and re-tweak the lyrics. We sent the songs to the other guys to see what they thought, and it was really simple. And the more that we wrote, the more pumped we got on it. We started with five songs, and then we ended up with 10. We did it at the studio at my house, between there and Jay’s [Ruston, producer] studio in the valley. It was really low-key, and we did it in the space of a year because everyone was bouncing between other things.”

You’ve had some line-up changes: Rob Caggiano and Josh Newton are no longer in the band, but you’ve acquired Dan Andriano from Alkaline Trio instead. How has he moulded into The Damned Things?

“Dan’s great! He brings monster bass playing, and if we do more Damned Things he’ll bring more songwriting. But he’s also such a good guy; he’s so calm and collected, funny and cool, and he fits in really well. Originally I was going to play bass on the whole record, but he came in and replayed what I had done but added things – because he’s a bass player! We did his stuff over the course of two days, and he nailed it. It sounded way better, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the thing we’re missing, we’re missing a real bass player.’ He’s an amazing musician and a great guy.”

Keith has spoken about how you took a different approach to this record. Could you elaborate on that?

“I think that this time around, what we discovered was I’d ask Keith to send me a ton of lyrics, I’d write music and poorly take his lyrics and place them into the song. Then I’d give them to him how I thought things should go, and then he’d take it back and do something better than I could do with his words – that’s how we approached writing it. There were times when Keith was in town doing some vocals, he would find a lyric and he would bounce it off me and he would run into the booth and we would hash it out there. But for the most part it was mostly me working on my own and sending stuff back and forth, then when Keith would come to LA, he would just fix it in the booth. I don’t come from a lyrical place; I’m 100 per cent melodic and all about it sounding good. Keith is the master of great lyrics and creating something in-depth. There was one song on the record where Scott sent me a bunch of riffs and I ended up taking all the parts and putting them into an entire song, which is called Something Good.”

Talking of Keith’s lyrics, what sort of vibe would you say he has gone for throughout this record?

“What I would take from his lyrics is that they make me think about my struggles with depression, loneliness and isolation. I wouldn’t say that they’re entirely about that, but one thing Keith and I do commiserate with each other about is how we’re these broken, imperfect people trying to do their best for their families. He touches upon being away, never being able to do enough and being hard on ourselves, which I think comes out in our work ethic. We’re always really hard on ourselves.”

High Crimes as a whole almost plays like a live set recorded into album form. Was that an intentional thing?

“That’s Scott, man… we left that up to Scott. He’s very attached to how the songs should flow. I had this really weird idea where I wanted to start the record off with one of the slower songs. I didn’t realise the song list mattered, but apparently it does!”

Tell us about your favourite new tracks…

“Probably earlier on when I came up with the tracklisting, I originally wanted to open the record with this song called Storm Charmer because it was really slow and ominous, which is probably a bad idea (laughs). I think I love Cells – that is one of my favourite songs on the record. Cells, Omen and Carry A Brick are some of my favourites. Honestly, I’ve been sitting with the demos for nearly two years and I still haven’t got sick of any of it. I don’t listen to it in a self-serving way, I’ll listen to them and think, ‘When am I going to hate them?’ And every time I listen to them, I really like all these songs. It’s the first time I’ve listened to a record and found there’s not a lot I would change. With making anything, I could tweak it forever, but I think with this one, my mentality was just: go in, write these songs and when they’re done, they’re done. Don’t overthink anything. Hopefully, by approaching it in a ‘Let’s make them sound really cool and not tweak them forever’ stance, then they would be the rawest possible version. I thought the last record was definitely a little flippant in production, and I just wanted to pull back on that.”

Would you say this has more of a self-produced feel?

“Well, Jay produced it – but he will say he and I produced it. I love the last record, but it was nice to have somebody not in the band to pass the case of what is best for the music. I think self-producing is a black hole. There were times I was sitting recording stuff by myself for this record. I would give it to the rest of the band to get their vibe and then I’d give it to Jay to see if it was good or not good, and it’s pretty clear that we were on the same page. There was not a lot of contention in this record, because no-one was sitting there going, ‘Ah, you can’t do this,’ or whatever. It was just a bunch of people who knew what they were doing. All I wanted from my end was somebody to give their opinion; I wanted everyone else’s opinion, and that’s what made it collaborative. There wasn’t any naysaying, so it was really pleasant (laughs).”

How do you feel about the second record being finished compared to the feelings you had after Ironiclast?

“I know with the first one I was so nervous to put it out because it was not Fall Out Boy and I didn’t know how people would react. I was so nervous because I felt like I was putting myself out there more personally. Also, I like this record a lot more than the last record, which is the hope when you continue to put out new records with a band. It’s not a massive worry, and I’m really proud of the record even if no-one cares, but we haven’t done this in 10 years, and you wonder whether people will care. The first record was received better than I expected, which now I’m super humble about, but things move so fast nowadays. The novelty of the supergroup thing has probably worn off, even though we have a new member from another band – maybe that’ll reinvigorate the supergroup novelty!”

Could we expect a third album, then?

“I’ll say this: the nice thing about the way things exist on the internet now is that you can dip your toes in the water and gauge people’s interest. If people really like this record and we have a really good time touring on it and it’s all fruitful, then I would say I would love to make another record as long as we enjoy it. I don’t see why we wouldn’t make another record. It took 10 years to do this, and it could be another 10 years – but I would like it to not take that long next time! We’re all really excited.”

Words: James Hingle

The Damned Things' new album High Crimes is due out on April 26 via Nuclear Blast Records.

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