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The Damnations (no more TX) finally land

By Clarissa Sansone, May 2002

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Boone moved to Seattle to be a nanny, "but she didn't like it too much," Kelly says, so she eventually joined her sister in Texas.

Boone had taken piano lessons when she was younger, and Kelly had played the flute in high school (until it "got ripped off") as well as starting the guitar during adolescence, but forming a band wasn't foremost in the sisters' minds. In fact, The Damnations is their "first band," says Kelly. "We sang back-up vocals in other bands," she explains, but, "We just never really took music very seriously for a career before The Damnations."

Kelly's take on the emergence and subsequent success of The Damnations is equally downplayed. The band began playing live frequently because, "We just found it was really easy to get gigs in Austin," she says.

She partly attributes their success to a city so receptive to burgeoning bands, where people regularly go out to see live shows. "We've been able to survive as musicians," says Kelly, "because there's a lot of venues here." As Kelly tells it, the musical profession chose them: " can't really remember a conscious decision (to be a professional musician) until we signed on a label," she says.

That of course led to "Half Mad Moon," the band's first studio album, an earthy collection in which Motown-esque drum beats, catchy pop riffs, rollicking banjo and funky bass lines are the landmarks along a stretch of dusty country road that connects the back alley to the county fair.

In comparison to "Where It Lands," Kelly points to the proliferation of banjo accompaniment on "Half Mad Moon," describing the debut as "low-fi and "more countryish" than its successor.

The Damnations' sophomore release does inhabit a less rural musical space, and it definitely takes advantage of technological advancements, although these particular advancements reached their peak around the late '60s. With the Wurlitzer, harmonium and mellotron all making an appearance, the band seems to carve out a vaguely psychedelic space and time, when "groovy" meant more than the texture of an LP. Songs like "Quarter in the Couch," "Steeple Full of Swallows" and "Animal Children" all provide such a keyboard-driven ambience.

Which isn't to say that the record doesn't rock as well as roll. "New Hope Cemetery," for instance, is punkishly messy and loud. "All Night Special" inhabits a Doug Sahm-ish land between country and soul as does "Wanna Be Your Mama" (since it's a Doug Sahm song).

Kelly credits the renowned Texas musician as a major influence for the band. "We gravitate to Doug Sahm's music," she says, pointing to his incorporation of a variety of influences; "That's what we aspire to."

The majority of songs on both albums are co-penned by Kelly and Boone, with Bernard's original contributions jumping from one on the debut to three on the second.

"There's really no set way" that the sisters approach the writing process, Kelly says.

Some "songs seem to come out really easily and others take a lot of work." She says as a songwriter she "participated more on 'Half Mad Moon' - "'d do music and she (Boone) did the lyrics," Kelly explains - while Boone did most of the writing for "Where It Lands."

When asked whether it becomes problematic to work so closely with one's sister, Kelly responds, " can see it being problematic with my older sister" (Boone is the younger of the two). "We have a special thing together, " Kelly says of her musical relationship with Boone, and "not letting (their) egos ruin that" is of primary importance. In addition to great songs, what comes with such intense cooperation is identity crises. Their mother can't always tell their voices apart on the phone, and Kelly says she and Boone are known as a single entity in their family: "the girls."

Kelly says sometimes she feels that she and Boone lack independent identities, but, "We had forfeited that for the greater cause," she laughs.

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