Sign up for newsletter
 

The Damnations TX: the names changes, but the music remains the same

By Brian Baker, January 1999

Tom Petty said it, and the Damnations TX believe it. The waiting is the hardest part. And this is a band that is particularly unaccustomed to waiting.

Not that everything has happened so quickly for the band, a combo of alt.- country and more traditional sounds. Half sisters Amy Kelly and Deborah Boone had played together for years before forming The Damnations in 1994.

After a number of personnel rotations, the longest surviving member has been multi-instrumentalist Rob Bernard, who also claims membership in alt.-country rockers Prescott Curlywolf.

They didn't have to wait long before their reputation around Austin, Texas earned them a spot on a local live radio performance show, resulting in their self-released debut, the recorded document of the radio gig.

And they didn't have to wait long for the labels to sniff around with contracts in hand (they ultimately settled on Sire/Watermelon when it was time to ink a deal).

The waiting that the band is experiencing now is of the "high-profile-legal-mumbo-jumbo" variety, a result of their signing which alerted the label to another band called Damnation.

When threats of legal action were unholstered, The Damnations opted to add the Texas abbreviation to the end of their name, which got them out of the legal woods, but forced them to change everything on their official debut album, "Half Mad Moon."

The album was originally slated to hit the racks last September, but the name change necessitated a six-month delay. The unfortunate outcome of the situation is that the Damnations TX are already more than halfway into the new material that will comprise their sophomore release, and they have yet to hit the national trail to promote the songs on their major label debut. Although they're philosophical about the whole thing, this is clearly not the path they would have chosen for themselves.

"We've been waiting a long time for it to come out it's like being pregnant for 20 months," says Kelly from the band's Austin home base. "Amy and I had gone away for the holidays and did some writing, so we're trying to work those up. New songs always take awhile to evolve with us as a band. Hopefully by our record release party, we'll have a new batch of songs and it will be sort of full circle - out with the old and in with the new, although we'll have to keep playing those songs when we go out on tour to promote the record. It's been kind of hard to move forward when the record isn't out."

"The business aspect of our band is a little behind the creative aspect," Boone points out. "A lot of those things, if we'd done them ourselves, we would have just kept trucking. But we wouldn't have gotten the kind of exposure that being on a major label supposedly is going to do for us. We'll just see how that works out."

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the long gap between "Half Mad Moon's" original due date and its actual appearance is the fact that the band was ready to promote this set of songs six months ago.

Six of the songs originally appeared on the live disc and were re-recorded for "Half Mad Moon," meaning almost half of The Damnations TX's brand new album is nearly three years old. Luckily, the band has found a way to keep the songs fresh and interesting.

"We're not sick of the stuff," says Bernard. "We keep finding ways. We switch the set list around a lot, we play with how the songs are actually played live. It never gets boring."

Boone has a similar viewpoint, but from a slightly different perspective. "The thing about the stuff on the record is that there's a lot of slow stuff on there," she notes. "It sounds good on the record, but playing in a bar, some people might tune into that, but a lot of times they just want to hear some footstomping stuff. We already play some covers in our live show, so it won't be stranger to put some new stuff in there."

As for the album, the band is extremely happy with the finished product. Their revved-up and raw alt.-country sonics combined with their obvious love and respect for tradition have found near perfect expression on "Half Mad Moon."

Kelly, Boone and Bernard all have slightly different takes on what they like about the album and why, but all sing similar praises when the subject turns to producer John Croslin, himself an Austin fixture as the guitarist for The Reivers back in the '80's. It's clear that everyone in the band considers Croslin the fifth TXan.

One of the dangers of working with an established local producer is that the band on the other side of the glass will wind up following the producer's blueprint for achieving the scene sound, but The Damnations TX, and Croslin found their common ground pretty quickly.

"We're a very different band than what he's used to working with," says Kelly. "We had a lot of talks over beers before we went in and recorded with John to make sure that wasn't the case. We definitely wanted to be involved."

"I would really love to work with him again," says Bernard. "Actually, I'd always wanted to do a record with Prescott with him, but it just never happened. So for me, working with him finally was great."

For The Damnations TX, the long-term future is every bit as nebulous as the short-term. With their album in limbo for the past six months, the band doesn't take much for granted when it comes to career planning, recognizing just how much of this is out of their hands.

"I see us doing a lot of touring, supporting the record, getting a kind of grass roots following from playing live shows," says Kelly of the immediate future. "I don't see there being huge record sales. I'm hoping we can build slowly. I'm very proud of this record, whether it sells a lot or not. That's a good feeling. You never know what's going to happen with radio. So, basically it's a lot of touring. Did I mention touring?"