Sense and the Captain of Sensibility: The Latest Chapter in the Book of The Damned

The Damned is one of the many bands that pioneered the punk rock movement. The English band formed in 1976 and are still actively touring and recording today. Innumerable underground rock and roll bands count The Damned among their main influences, and for good reason: They have remained true to punk rock ideals without sacrificing creativity or originality. Their sound has gone through evolution after evolution, yet they manage to maintain a loyal fan base. The band currently resides in Brighton, England and will be playing select cities in the United States in early January.

SLUG: What differences have you observed in punk rock in American culture vs. punk rock in European culture?
Captain Sensible: That’s a huge question. What is punk? Does it exist? Is it just a fashion? I often meet musicians who say they’re in punk groups, but it’s the trend, with three feet boots and kinda flares and stuff like that. And saying, “Yeah I’ve always been into it.” I don’t know. Back in 1977, it was quite dubious, quite dodgy being a punk rocker in London. You got chased down the road by blokes with beer bottles in their hands who found the whole thing quite intimidating. So, they decided to intimidate us. I always say I fought in the punk wars for the likes of Green Day. I made it possible for them to exist. Now they’re raking in the cash, you know.

SLUG: Yeah, I wonder if they appreciate that… The Damned were one of the very first punk rock bands. You’re probably more than likely the oldest punk rock band still touring. How do you feel about that?
CS: I do it ‘cause I enjoy it. It’s quite fun twanging a guitar for a living. But we’re no spring chickens now. I just look at the Rolling Stones and I think, they haven’t made a decent album since 1970. If you trust all the reviewers, we’ve made a great album. It’s called So, Who’s Paranoid?

SLUG: You guys were on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson two nights in a row over here. How was that experience?
CS: Well, it was remarkably painless. He came in the dressing room and said that we were to blame for him entering show business in the first place. Apparently, he saw us play a gig in Scotland many years ago and he decided to form a punk group. I think he’s a drummer. He said if it wasn’t for us, he’d probably be doing something else. He was a good bloke. He got the beers in.

SLUG: What type of music, or what bands in particular, do you personally draw influences from?
CS: If you ask me what my influences are, I’m gonna list a bunch of artists that you will never have heard of. Jimi Hendrix, you might have heard of. But, apart from that, it’s kind of obscure, 1970s prog-rock bands. I like The Pink Fairies. They kicked ass.

SLUG: What precipitated the change in sound between Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album?
CS: Well, we like to change our sound every album a little bit, so as to not repeat ourselves. It gets real boring doing the same thing over and over again. I know some of our friends in Britain, in punk groups, they’ve managed to rehash the same album time after time. And the audience might like that sort of thing. But, to be quite honest with you, it would get quite tedious, I think. So, we did, Machine Gun Etiquette, which I thought was a really nice mixture of punk rock and psychedelia. And then, we moved on and it just went darker. It became what is now known as goth. We were writing melancholy kind of material, and it just sounded great. And, we found ourselves at the front of another trend somehow.

SLUG: What Damned record are you most proud of?
CS: I like Etiquette. I think it’s good fun. I like the guitar sounds on it. I like the jam in “Anti- Pope.” It’s got like bags of energy, and yet, it takes you on a little mind trip as well.

SLUG: Yeah. I noticed on Bedtime for Democracy a couple political songs, and the title itself deals with politics. But the song “Politics” on Music for Pleasure is kind of contradictory to that. What happened? Why the change of heart?
CS: That’s ‘cause Brian James wrote most of the material on The Damned’s first albums. He had a totally different philosophy from the rest of us. His idea was that politics and music shouldn’t mix and politics is boring and everything’s just rock and roll, man. Might as well just get high and leave the politics to the wankers in suits. But, my philosophy is, politics is too important to leave to the wankers in suits, because it affects all of our lives. I mean, you just look at the things that happened in Iraq and what went on in New Orleans ‘cause of George W. Bush. People died. Politics is too important to leave to the politicians. You have to get involved. Otherwise, you just accept everything that comes. We write things that deal with those issues…and flippant stuff as well. There’s a fair mixture in So, Who’s Paranoid?

SLUG: What do you think about the new album?
CS: Well, we went into the studio for three or four weeks, armed with nothing but our musical instruments and six barrels of extremely strong beer. When we came out, we had an album recorded. Somehow, we got it together. Sort of cracking tunes. We made it ourselves. We didn’t have help at all from any record labels. No financiers or anything like that. We did a few gigs and paid for the studio ourselves. The punk D.I.Y. ethic that we believe in. We did everything ourselves. No one breathing over our shoulders telling us do this or that. We laid the album entirely, completely ourselves. It’s exactly what we wanted, which is why there’s a 14-minute song on there. A record label would have said, “Oh, you can’t put that on! It’s gonna piss people off!” You have to be kind of experimental and adventurous. Otherwise, you do what everyone else is doing.

As you read previously, The Damned have just recorded a new album called So Who’s Paranoid?. What you may not have read, is that it is discerning record stores now. Keep your fingers crossed that these punk rock legends roll through Salt Lake City sometime soon.

The Damned are a band that any self respecting fan of good music can safely stand behind. They have been doing it for over 30 years, though no two albums sound alike. The albums have run the gamut from straight up snotty punk rock to dark, hypnotic tunes. Their music is socially conscious, it’s intelligent and funny, there’s something for any mood you can think of and certainly not least of all, it’s just fun to listen to. That’s why The Damned have remained relevant and why they will remain so probably until the end of time.