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Interviews: Damone

Damone: Interview
May 2003
By: Lauren Jonik (

The high school years, however they are experienced, play a defining role in our lives. At the time, those few short years can alternate between feeling swiftly immediate and dramatically endless. The intense growth that comes from every new emotion and event is elevated to being simultaneously frivolous and significant--- and there in lies the beauty. The music of Damone captures the frenetic energy of this time with youthful exuberance, subtle sweetness and irresistible charm.

The process of a band discovering their collective sound is much like one discovering who she is as a person. Both are evolutions that can't be rushed and thrive in the spirit of being open to new things, having fun and simply relishing the experience of being alive. For the Waltham, Massachusetts based Damone enjoying what they do photo of Damone's lead singer Noelle. Copyright Lauren Jonikis an integral element to who they are. And, it is through the mutually supportive musical relationship of seventeen year old lead singer Noelle and her bandmates, bassist Vazquez and drummer Dustin Hengst that Damone is sharing their sound--- literally--- with the world. Several months ago, the band had the opportunity to travel to China. "It was like a whole different world and we got probably the best crowd reactions we have ever gotten," explained Noelle. "There is a lot of change going on there, so it was an honor to be a small part of that change and we could definitely get that vibe from the audience. They were appreciative of the fact that we were there," said Vazquez. Travelling to a land so far from home and from the familiar suburban Boston audiences they cut their musical teeth on had another unexpected benefit, deduced Dustin Hengst. "They didn't necessarily understand the lyrics or the material and to see them react so positively was amazing to us. Hopefully, that is a good standard to see if the music is working or not." And, by all accounts it is.

photo of Damone's Bryce, Noelle, and Vazquez. Copyright Lauren Jonik

The eleven tracks of Damone's RCA Records debut, From The Attic, which was released in May 2003, were written by guitarist Dave Pino (who has decided not to tour with the band) in the mid to late 1990s. It was an attempt to win back an ex-girlfriend, while coping with the confusion and pain of newly broken heart, but by fast forwarding a few years and changing a few pronouns, it has become a collection of songs perfectly matched to win over audiences. Both Frustrated, Unnoticed and Your Girlfriends have been crowd favorites, as the band has observed that people tend to respond to the high energy songs and those with guitar solos. "If audiences are giving us energy, it is easier for us to give it back," said Noelle with a pause, "but we have to give it to them first." While their personal favorites to play live vary within the band, the commitment to giving one hundred percent on stage remains unified. "I think about the show all day. I try to focus all energy on that half hour," enthused Vazquez. It is through that dedication that a certain kind of joy is evoked. "The actual act of performing is certainly something I would miss if I didn't do it. Even though there is a lot that goes with it that some would say is a pain, it is all worth it for that small amount you get to be completely loud and to hold everyone's attention," said Dustin. "The test is to see how long you can stop playing music for. If it is in your blood, you won't go that long without getting the itch again. At least for me, that was when I knew I had to keep trying to do it. . . Everything else just seems to be something I can do without. Music is something I can't let go of."

When collaborating, there are often benefits that transcend merely having a finished product. "If you can stand to let other people scrutinize what you do and if you have good relationships, it can be a really intimate photo of Damone's drummer Dustin Hengst. Copyright Lauren Jonikprocess that is really rewarding. You trust their taste," continued Dustin. Sometimes, that process of bouncing ideas off of each other yields even more unexpected results, as Mike explained in the example of how their CD gained its title. "It was a total accident. We were trying to come up with a track listing, so I emailed a possible list and put "from the attic" just to have a title in the place of where a title would be . . . and it just stuck." But, when it comes to creating, Noelle said that, "You can find inspiration in anything." Without hesitating, she added with a smirk, "Vazquez's main inspiration is girls." In his own defense, Vazquez protested, "It's not just girls, it is relationships. Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan is about relationships--- to get to that kind of depth in a pop song is my goal. I want it to be like this: I was laying in my room and I had a certain feeling. I made up a song and the band and I recorded and arranged it and then, somebody buys it and they listen to it in their room and have that same feeling."

Having an emotion come full circle between the artist and the listener is just one of the ways Damone, whose name was inspired by a character in the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High, views career fulfillment. "Success is how happy you are with the relationships you have, the people you're working with and who you are friends with in general. If you have good friends who you respect and who respect you and everybody's happy, that is success," said Dustin with a knowing succinctness. "Success," Vazquez said, "is when Weird Al covers one of your songs," as if to counterbalance Dustin's wisdom with wit. "He was just on The Simpsons," interjected Noelle. Dustin thought for a just a moment before adding with a laugh, "That's a better definition of success: having your band be on The Simpsons. That is the American measure of success."

photos by Lauren Jonik