Words + Interview by Kaysei Galea
Delivering a powerful and impactful follow-up to his 2021 full-length album ‘Girl,’ Ipswich’s prophet of prose DAMIEN bursts back onto the scene with ‘Wrong Age. Wrong Race. Wrong Gender’.
Over a beer at a local pub, we discussed sonic inspirations, the impact of mental health on our everyday, and the raw and eye-opening moment that inspired the name of the album.
*Warning: This interview makes reference to topics that some readers may find triggering*
DAMIEN! Thank you so much for joining me to chat about your new album Wrong Age. Wrong Race. Wrong Gender. It’s a bit of a tongue twister that one!
It is a tongue twister! Even I get it wrong all the time!
Are you looking forward to the release? What are you looking forward to the most?
At the moment, right now is probably the best moment I think as an artist when you’re just on the cusp of releasing it, because the excitement levels are at the maximum at the moment, it can be anything and everything. Like you sit there when you’re releasing something and you think, “What if this takes off?” “What if people love it?” “What if it’s great?” and it has all that potential, whereas I actually find that once it’s released, you suddenly have the reality that, the next day, only your Mum’s streamed the thing. You don’t have that illusion anymore. You suddenly wake up and go, okay, it’s out and, now what? So right now I’m in that position going, this is awesome! I’ve had another one come out. How exciting.
That’s so good! So on this album in particular, you’re delving deep on a societal level and a self level around, essentially, privilege, and where it seems to fall – was there a particular moment in time or an event that sparked this critical thinking of this societal preference?
That’s a great question. There’s probably been a couple of things. On one hand, I think it’s partly the family I grew up in and just personal wiring and I’ve always had a real social justice bend, and I’ve always just wanted to get to know and understand people that, you know, are in different situations to myself.
I’ve studied a lot of philosophy and psychology and have this awareness that most people, I think, are actually quite good people deep down inside, and then, for whatever circumstances and influences and whatever, might lead them to do bad things and so I’ve always found it interesting, you know, leading towards marginalised people, like what are the circumstances of everything else that’s kind of lead to this dynamic? In more recent years, I’ve just been connecting a lot with LGBTIQ communities, with transgender obviously included in that, and that’s been something that’s been quite in the forefront, various marginalised racial communities and all sorts of things.
Even in my job, I work a day job working in aged care, of which I had very little experience growing up with older people, and then suddenly realising too, there’s actually quite a marginalised group in our community that is almost left behind and dismissed. So all of that has had me thinking a lot more about some of the issues. There was this really strange, bizarre moment, and this is quite funny – I’m white, I’m very male presenting, I’m middle-aged, I have all the stuff that says I’m the most privileged that anyone could possibly be, and yet I had this weird experience a year ago in music, talking to an agent, saying, “Can you help me market myself?” and they literally said to me “You’re a really difficult demographic to market right now. You’re the wrong age, wrong race, wrong gender. The arts community want to hear from more fringe kinda groups.” And I thought to myself for the first time I’m experiencing what it’s like to have been on the other side. Obviously, I have no idea really of what it’s like to be a woman or a black person or a gay person, but having somebody specifically say that, you get that awareness. There’s been this social evil that others have had to tolerate for ages that most white people have not even noticed, and then suddenly had this sense of it being a problem.
So that’s a pretty pivotal moment in your career. How did you take that? What was the emotion that you felt when you were told that?
I mean, on one hand you sit there and go, You know what? That’s great. It’s a great thing in the scheme of the big picture that a white, privileged male should suddenly be told “You need to shut up for a bit,” and actually learn what that feels like and learn how to deal with it. So there was a part of me that goes, that’s okay. I’m okay with the fact that maybe no one wants to hear from me right now because they’ve been hearing from white middle-aged, middle-class people for ever. And that’s a good thing. And then there’s also the person that goes, ah but, I still feel like I have something to say. And there’s also a defensiveness. When somebody is effectively saying “Sorry, no one’s interested in what you have to say right now”. At that point, part of me goes I’m gonna get angry about that, I’m gonna do something about that, so it was mixed emotions. But ultimately I sit there and go, it’s kind of cool to be alive in this pivotal moment in history where we are seeing marginalised groups get a voice that they haven’t had because of people that have been in my position for ages, and that’s kinda cool.
And so, do you have a particular track on the album that makes you feel empowered or taught you things about yourself that you didn’t realise?
There’s a couple. I guess, most personally there’s two that really hit me. There’s a track called Love Myself which, for me, it’s fun because it’s got a groovy bassline and it is a bit tongue-in-cheek and narcissistic, and so it’s a playful song but at the same time there actually is a deeper message. I mean, I’m someone who’s dealt with depression and suicide and all sorts of things, had a number of really bad relationships, toxic relationships, so to actually reach a point where I think You know what? I like who I am, in fact, I love who I am and that has taken a lot to get there. So on one hand, it’s a little bit smug, but on the other hand, it’s deeply personal, saying “I like who I am now” and that’s a first for me, so that’s cool.
There’s also the very last track, which is called Dreamer. And it’s very different to anything else on there. It really just starts off quite stripped back, it’s just me and an electric guitar for most of the song, and it’s really raw and does talk about the sense that maybe everything I’m putting hope in is going to amount to nothing. I’m still wrestling with being okay with that.
Funnily enough they’re actually the two songs that I had flagged to ask further about! So I’m going to ask about Love Myself first, and that’s just generally, when you’re having a day full of self doubt, what are some of your Love Myself strategies that help you get through those days?
Depends on the day. So, we’ll take worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is that I wake up in a day, and physically I can feel in myself like a heavy weight in my stomach and it’s almost like a cavity in my chest. There’s something absorbing all the energy that I might have and just spitting it out into some void somewhere. And on those days, I honestly don’t want to live. I sit there and think, ‘Life is so much of a struggle,’ and it’s a case of doing one step at a time and that one step may begin by getting in the shower. If I can get in the shower, that’s a win. And I will get into the shower and I will sit on the floor in a ball and I will let the hot water just pour on me and usually the hot water is enough to give me that awareness. That’s what this is. It will pass. But this is a human experience. That means I’m human. And being human is a beautiful thing. This is beautiful. And giving myself permission to actually enjoy the experience of feeling really empty and hollow. I don’t think there’s any other animal that feels that. That’s a uniquely human thing. And even as I’m talking about it, that lifts my spirit so much, and so that’s something that for me, practically, gives me a sense of loving myself and loving the fact that I have dark emotions.
Just talking about the album as a whole, and really your body of work overall, it has a really industrial, heavy and dark sound about all of it. Where do you think this stems from? Who or what influences it?
Interestingly the biggest influences on my music are probably a lot of your nineties grunge. You know, so Nirvana, Sound Garden, Pearl Jam, Greenday, The Offspring and probably to an equal sense Metallica, which is funny because you weren’t supposed to like both those groups. Metal players like Metallica because they were good at their instruments, and they hated Nirvana because they were shit at their instruments. But I love that kinda angry, heavy music. It was explosive and I wanted to create explosive music myself but I’d been in bands in the past and it’s a lot of work and I wanted to feel the freedom to think that I can do this on my own, just putting myself into it and not relying on anybody else now to make this happen. And that’s when I asked, “What style of music can I create that allows me to be explosive and energetic and have all that stuff that those guitar-driven bands, who I loved growing up with, create?” And that’s what led me to actually getting into electronic stuff. I can make some big, heavy sounds electronically and do it myself. So that’s where it started. And then somebody said to me after they’d heard me a few times, “Ah you sound like Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode”, which weren’t bands that I’d gotten into that much previously but I really did love my guitar stuff, and then when I listen I’m like, “Oh yeah! I like this!” and now that’s been feeding what I do as well. I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic bass stuff, I’ve been listening to a lot of Rammstein lately, which is probably a mix between guitar and synth, because they’ve got a lot of that on there.
So some pretty heavy influences all round?
I mean, yeah! I mean, more recently too though, I just love music, so I listen to a lot of jazz, I listen to a lot of chill-hop, occasionally listen to country, but some of the stuff like SickBRain and Halsey have been producing stuff that’s on the heavier, darker side of pop and it’s starting to touch now onto the more industrial side as well, and I’m like “This is cool!” because it’s the sorta stuff that gets someone who’s always listened to pop to start, because you know, one of my criticisms of pop, I guess, is that it seems it’s quite shallow, seems too happy, and I don’t feel that way myself. So this music still has that pop stuff, it’s catchy, you can get a vibe, you can feel that, but it’s pushing you to think and feel a bit more. Yeah, I dig that.
And so is there a particular instrument, sound or sample that you kept returning to creating these big sounds when you were producing the album?
Yeah I definitely love, you know when you get a bass line, and then you run it through a squarewave-type synth, it gives it a really fat, slightly distorted sound. That, and using really low-end drones, you know, the stuff that you can’t do on an acoustic or even on and electric instrument, you can do on a synth. You can take a sample and you can drop it two octaves lower than what a bass guitar can go, crank it up, put a bit of distortion on it, and it suddenly creates a fat rumble that is just, heavy.
So just returning back to Dreamer, which I flagged as one of my favourites on the album, I just found it interesting that while artists tend to end an album on a hopeful or a high note, you’ve landed back in a feeling of existential dread, of that self-doubt. What influenced your decision to end the album in that way, as opposed to the high, lifted, happy feeling that most artists do?
There were probably two things. I mean, musically I kind of felt that the song didn’t belong anywhere else. If you were listening to the album from start to finish and all of a sudden in the middle, you’ve got this slow, melancholic song, it just breaks up the vibe. So it just felt out of place anywhere else on the album. But as I thought about the whole progression of the album, the first song on there is 2 Out Of 10 which is, again, it’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s a little bit playful, but it is touching on the real fact that, particularly younger DAMIEN, really thought himself to be worthless and ugly and useless, and just desperate for any kind of affection. And I still have times where I feel that way. So that was a nice start, it’s introducing you, kind of like a juxtaposition between the playful music and the big vibe but also the low self-esteem that characterises who I am. When you move through some of the other tracks, which talk with a bit more openness around feelings, like Body, for example, which is one that talks about love and romance and connection, and then you’ve got Human, which talks a lot more about the idea of all of us being a collective – the more that we can embrace our humanity, the more we can work together. And that’s kind of been the progression of my life’s journey and my own philosophy. And I kind of feel that in my own life, at some point, I’m going to reach a point where I die. This is a journey of me going from here to an end, and I did kind of think, what would be a fitting song to play at a funeral? And Dreamer was it. I always picture a film clip of a coffin being lowered into the ground at some point. And just feeling, “Yep, wherever my life was, I was a dreamer.” And that could be a blessing or a curse, and it was a curse, and that’s okay. But I wanted it to end as bookends of my life.
There you go! In a way I can also kind of see that it could be a cyclical album, so it could start at 2 Out Of 10, work its way through the songs, get back to a place of existential dread, and then start working your way back around.
Which is, yes, a beautiful reincarnation-type feel. And that, again, is the depressive cycle. You work yourself from okay, you know, personally I have highs where I can do anything, and life’s great, and I’m strong, and I love myself, to the lows of going “Yep, I just want to die. It’s all meaningless and I hate it all” and it’s a back and forth. And I think you’re right, the album probably reflects that.
But then I guess it also depends on what the listener sees in the album itself.
And that’s the beautiful thing about art, right?
Yeah, and when you were creating the album, did you have a particular feeling or message that you wanted the listener to take away?
Not particularly, I mean I do think, and again, in some ways it’s me throwing myself out there, and meeting me where I’m at, as much as meeting people where they’re at. I’d like to think that the person that’s really struggling to feel some sense of affection can listen to a song like Love Myself and they’re singing it and they go, this is kinda funny, that it starts reinforcing for themselves, “You know actually, I’m okay, life’s pretty good. I’ve got things that are good about me and that I like about me,” and that you can learn to love about yourself. So that’s great. But I would love to collectively for people to take away something like the message of human to go, “You know what? We are all the same” and one of the things we talked off-the-record about before was politics stuff, one of the things that’s really frustrated me from the conservative government leading up to now is all this fear about get invaded by China, or this and that, and I sit there and go, I’d like to think collectively as a species we are moving beyond the need for geographical expansion and needing to protect our borders, and actually stopping and going, you know what? We are all of the same ilk and we are all connected here and we are all on this one planet that we all share together, and we need to start actually, you know for me personally, going to war against China, if I’m killing someone because they’re from China, I’m killing myself. And vice-versa. We’re attacking each other here, there’s no winners or losers. And so I would love for somebody to walk away from this album and say “You know what, we are collectively human together.“
Beautiful. I love that. So just talking about your live shows now, so your live shows are quite passionate and high-energy, and you have your album launch coming up on Thursday June 9 at King Lear’s Throne which is very exciting. Which song on the album are you looking forward to replicating live the most?
Great question! I think I’m probably looking forward to, 2 Out Of 10 is going to be a lot of fun live. I think people will get into that, I think it’s got a great bassline, a great beat, it gets people moving. So I think that’s going to be a fun one to play live, and Love Myself is a good one. I’m sitting there working out my setlist already and I think I’ll probably start with something from the previous album that’s familiar and then move into 2 Out Of 10 and really set the vibe, and then finish possibly on Love Myself and the live set won’t be ending on existential dread, the live set will be leaving on “We’ve had a great time together, this is good.“
And feeling super empowered while doing so.
Alrighty, I have one more question for you – in a one sentence elevator pitch, I challenge you to tell our readers why they should give your new album Wrong Age. Wrong Race. Wrong Gender. a listen.
*Laughs* Because it’s only seven tracks, so it’s a short album and it’s only going to take half-an-hour of your time.
Nice! Anything else you wish to add?
No, not at all, I mean I just love the idea of exploring new music, and I’m hoping that other people will go “You know what? Let’s just try something new.” If you like it, great, if you don’t, that’s okay. It’s like tasting different flavours of ice cream, really. You might come back to vanilla, and that’s alright, but at least you had a go at Rum and Raisin along the way.
‘WRONG AGE. WRONG RACE. WRONG GENDER.’ IS OUT NOW
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