I’m pretty excited about this interview. Damian is the man behind the Mostly Harmless Podcast with Dammit Damian (if you love a drunk presenter, you’ll love this). Damian is another one of those fantastic people I met in Little Rock last September and is one of my favourite podcasters (not that I listen to many), interviewing musicians I’m a huge fan of like Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage and Frank Turner. On top of that, he’s introduced me to the wonderful Laura Stevenson and the Cans and Cheap Girls. I was inspired to start this blog after Damian posted the Chuck Ragan episode last year. We are both huge music fans (with a largely overlapping taste), someone I look up to and was the first person to properly like what I was doing with this back when I posted the Franz Nicolay interview. I knew Damian would give me good answers which is why I kind of bugged to do this.
What were your first musical experiences growing up?
I talk about this a lot in the show. I remember being a wee little lad and listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA over and over and over and over again. My parents for some reason mostly listened to Oldies stations and Soft Rock. Not sure why, because my Dad was a pretty big rocker in the late seventies before I was born, but somewhere along the way he gave that up for the smooth sounds of Lite Rock, Less Talk.
I remember on long road trips, our old station wagon that still had an 8-Track player. We would cruise the highways of America listening to Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond and Carly Simon. Those are the building blocks on which all my musical influences have grown from.
I went through the MC Hammer / Vanilla Ice phase, but when I was 12 years old, my mother bought me a CD player and Pearl Jam’s VS (I wanted Bryan Adam’s Meet The Neighbors!) and it was all downhill from there. First Grunge, then I got into Korn, Deftones and White Zombie.
My best friends and I were really into Freestyle BMX. We’d buy the Videos and Magazines. The Goldfinger Debut was my first “Punk” album, aside from Green Day, but it was seeing the ad for Punk-O-Rama II in Ride BMX magazine, advertising 21 songs for $3.99 that peaked my interest. That album was the greatest gateway in my descent to the underground world of Punk Rock in the late 90’s.
How did you end up moving to Colorado?
I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. There was an absolute lack of a music scene. We had found out there were punk rock shows going on all over the area, everywhere BUT Shreveport. I started a website called Shrevepunx that would list all the shows in the areas surrounding Shreveport. It had a mailing list and a Message board. After about a year, the website exploded, and the music scene in Shreveport steadily started to grow. I moved into the local “Punk” house, and shortly after a new band moved across the street. The band was Raised Under Reagan. I hated the guys at first, but soon we became the best of friends.
Slowly with the connections we were making with the website, Shrevepunx became more than just a website. We started booking shows in the basement of a DIY art studio, dubbed the Zebra Room. The owner of the building often highered the Shreveport Fire Department to police these shows and ensure we were not breaking fire code. Often these guys would just stand around outside and smoke cigarettes for $200 bucks a night. After a few months and some pretty great, small shows, the Fire Marshall told us we could NOT do shows in the building anymore. The Fire Department would not have even known about these shows if we had not brought them in to make sure we were doing things correctly, and that came and bit us in the ass. He shut us down, and we worked with the owner of the Building to move the shows to a last minute location.
I was fed up and I was done with Shreveport. The Raised Under Reagan guys wanted to move to Los Angeles to get signed to Fat Wreck or Epitaph. I had no desire to move to LA. The Bass Player, Chris Welch and Lead Songwriter, Tommy Welch of Raised Under Reagan’s mother lives in Colorado Springs. She wanted her sons to come and live closer to her, and offered to pay for our entire move to Colorado Springs. She paid the first two months rent in our apartment. Chris had gone to high school here with James Tanner, the other singer of the band. For two months there were six of us living in a small two bedroom apartment.
Two years later and after a few lineup changes, the band relocated to Los Angeles. Since then we’ve lost two of the people I moved to Colorado with, and the rest are scattered around the Country. Me, I stayed behind in Colorado Springs. I was working at Sam’s Club at the time and was promoted to Team Leader. My goals in those days were to become a Sam’s Club manager! I thought that’s what you did without a college degree… Needless to say those dreams did not last long.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself working at The Triple Nickel Tavern here in Colorado Springs. I was working for JJ NOBODY from Drag The River and NOBODYS, the porno punk band. It’s odd in that the show I went to, that inspired Shrevepunx was a NOBODYS show in a VFW hall in Longview, Texas. Full Circle!
How did you get involved with Drag the River?
I saw Drag The River for the first time at the now defunct, 32 Bleu in Colorado Springs. It was something of an Asian Man Records showcase. Mike Park was playing the show and if I remember correctly all the bands on the show were being “scouted” by Asian Man. I could be wrong about that… It’s been years. But Drag The River took the stage and I was BLOWN AWAY. I bought CLOSED that night and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. At the time I didn’t even know what their lineage was. I just knew they played some kick ass tunes.
A few years later, Drag broke up, but before completely breaking up, they played a few “Farewell” shows. Then those farewell shows more or less became a reunion and made way for the current incarnation of DTR.
At the Non-Farewell shows that I was standing next to this asshole bragging about how he had just talked JJ Nobody into booking shows at the bar. JJ is of course the Bass Player for Drag The River and also the Lead Singer/Bass player for NOBODYS. I listened intently to this guy talk, and he had a Hot Water Music tattoo so he couldn’t be that bad. At the time I was still pretty socially awkward, and I did not say hello to him. Eventually I became friends with Mr. Ryan Kinder on Myspace, and we became fast friends.
It was about 5 years ago now; I got a phone call from him asking to meet up. It turns out Ryan had applied and gotten highered to work for a prestigious management company that represented Boston, Stevie Nicks, Jimmy Buffet and SIR ELTON JOHN! He needed a replacement for the Triple Nickel and needed one fast. We barely knew each other, but he knew I was hungry and wanted more. He had already told the local newspaper I was taking over for him, before I even had a chance to talk to him. I agreed and hit the ground running. I was hungry and I busted my ass and turned that place from a dive no one wanted to play and molded it into a destination for bands from around the Country to flock to.
It was through booking shows at the Nickel that I and the Drag The River boys became pretty good friends. Fast forward to September of 2009, my baby sister died at the age of 19 of a ton of complications, but mostly her Lungs had collapsed. She passed away right in front of my eyes as they pulled the plug on her. Not an easy thing to deal with.
Watching someone die puts certain desperation into my life. It made me want to get out of my comfort zone and out into the world. I wanted to travel and I wanted to LIVE and do it right then and now. I still have this thing, and I still work hard to cram as much stuff into everyday as I can. I’m trying to work on slowing down and enjoying the day, but there is that ever growing fear you won’t be here tomorrow, so I’d better do it TODAY.
The very day I returned home from my sister’s funeral, Drag The River were practicing at the Triple Nickel, and staying at the house I was living at. We stayed up all night drinking and talking and I somehow conned Jon and Chad into letting me go out on the next full band Drag The River tour, planned for January of that year. That first Drag tour was with Cheap Girls and the rest was history. They’ve brought me out a few more times since. I’ve met and made hundreds of amazing friends because of The Triple Nickel and touring with Drag.
Tell us the history of the Mostly Harmless Podcast.
In high school I would read every single letter of every Flipside, Ben Is Dead, Maximum Rock N Roll, Under The Volcano, I could get my hands on. I would devour each and every issue. No one was around to start a band with, and I wanted to be a part of SOMETHING, and interviewing bands seemed like the easiest way to be a part of the music scene.
I met my best good buddies Joe Upton and Jason Gay who had already done one issue of a Hacker ‘Zine called KGB (Killer Green Bud.) When we met, they were working on a second issue. We joined forces and I started interviewing bands for their Hacker zine. Quickly it became a music zine. We spent many hours in all night Kinko’s making hundreds of copies of these zines.
When I moved to Colorado in 2001, I knew there was already a scene report website in the area that was very popular, and I couldn’t hope to compete with. I really LOVED interviewing bands, and the area was in serious need of a new Fanzine. I worked my magic and scored a number of awesome interviews. I did one of the earliest interviews with Rise Against; I had a hot shot comic book creator do the cover. I was going to pay for the first pressing myself, but being a 20 year old, thousands of miles away from my hometown, and not yet knowing how to deal with the deep dark depression, I freaked out. I didn’t put out the zine, even though it was laid out and completely complete. It was just waiting for me to send it out to the printers. I put the project aside and every few months or so I would try to resurrect the thing, but my heart was not into it.
Now in 2005, I found myself with newfound friends. Specifically my best buddy, Adam Wolozsyn. I hated my job at Sam’s Club and wanted to do something more, something BIGGER! A trend that still faces me today. I showed Adam the early copy of Mostly Harmless, and he LOVED it. He and the rest of my new friends encouraged and pushed me to restart MH. It was great having people actually supporting you and pushing you towards bigger and better things.
We put out two issues of MH. I had a third issue all ready to go, but after spending $1500 putting out the first two issues on my own, I could not afford to put out the third issue on my own. I’m GREAT at doing interviews, but terrible at selling advertising. I wanted to do a print zine in a time when all the zines where going digital. I did not want to do an internet blog.
I folded the zine, and we attempted to kick start the show as a Video Podcast in the vein of Dave Attell’s Insomniac on Comedy Central. We actually filmed three different Pilot episodes. Only one of them was worth a damn, but the tapes are locked away in a vault somewhere. Who knows if they will ever see the light of day. It was too complex and not simple enough. I needed others to help me film the show and at the time I did not have the equipment to edit. So that idea faded away…
Then I became the booking agent for the Triple Nickel, and my focus went into booking shows, making flyers and drinking waaay too much. Disillusionment set it. I hit my glass ceiling at the Nickel and left for a job assistant managing the larger local venue, The Black Sheep.
At The Black Sheep, I went from being in charge of EVERYTHING at the Nickel to doing a whole lot of nothing. I was bored. I was use to working 40 hours a week at my day job and then coming home and working another 10-20 hours a week on shows. I found a hole in my schedule and I needed something to fill that whole.
At my dead end warehouse job, I grew tired of listening to the music on my IPod, and started downloading Podcast. First WTF with Marc Maron, then The Nerdist and then the podcasting world opened up to me. I would listen to the masterful interviewing skills of Marc Maron and I would yearn for a time when I would interview bands. I imagine it’s like an alcoholic sitting at the bar drinking soda water… I was feigning for something more, and I knew I was damned good at doing interviews and I could do something in the vein of Marc Maron.
I had already posted Mp3s of some of my earlier interviews with A Wilhelm Scream and The Ergs onto the Mostly Harmless MySpace page. People loved them. There was not much in the way of long form interview podcasts out there. It took about a year for me to get my set up ready, but I interviewed Chuck Ragan, and then a few months later Micah from Two Cow Garage came to town. We got very, very intoxicated and we spoke about Micah’s newest album, I’m Dead Serious and how it saved him from the brink of death.
I was elated. I was addicted. I wanted more….
Why Mostly Harmless? (This is a sub-question Damian added in, I’m ok with this.)
I was a rather large Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fan when I was 14 years old. I blame the author, Douglas Adams, for much of my sense of humor. In the books a character writes an excessively long description of Earth, which is edited down to two words: Mostly Harmless. Mostly Harmless is also the name of the fifth book in the series.
People have a hard time believing this, but I have had in the past a rather bad temper. In my adolescence, I put many holes in walls I got into many knock down drag out fights and other bad situations thanks to my explosive temper. I was kind of like The Incredible Hulk in that I would bury everything deep down inside and then I’d hit the point of critical mass and would become someone else. Thankfully thanks to age, I’ve learned to deal with my temper in a healthier manner. To quote Bruce Banner in the new Avenger’s movie: “The secret is… I’m always angry.” It’s helped.
At the time I decided to do a zine called Mostly Harmless, I was still learning to deal with these emotions. Most people see me as a harmless nice guy, but deep inside is this terrible monster waiting to be unleashed. Hence… Mostly Harmless.
When I started the podcast, I thought about changing the name, but so many people were already aware of the zine. Mostly Harmless had been with me since I was 14 years old. It’s a catchy name and I already had a great logo, by Denver comic book artist Zak Kinsella. Why not resurrect the beast?
I call the podcast Mostly Harmless with Dammit Damian, to separate it from the Mostly Harmless Cut away podcast out of the UK that is an excellent Doctor Who podcast. Dammit Damian was my MySpace tag for a long time and it just rolls off the tongue!
Even though you are only 16 episodes in, who’s your favorite interviewee?
It would be easier for me to tell you who my least favorite interviewee was, but I won’t. I don’t think you’d expect it either…. Most of the interviews have been very personal for me. It’s hard to pick one person. I owe a great debt to Chuck Ragan for being my first, and for inspiring me to take chances.
I don’t know if this show would even exist if Micah Schnabel had not drunkenly agreed to talk to me about the suicidal thoughts and tendencies that went into his new album. He changed everything for me. Plus he’s one of my favorite people in the entire world. Had it not been for me traveling with Two Cow Garage last fall and listening to the endless late night hotel room conversations, I don’t know if I would have actually bought the gear to make this show happen.
I also have a great love for the Brendan Kelly episode and I wish we had more time to talk. That guy LOVES to ramble and will give you the goods. So far it’s the most downloaded episode I have.
I have great love for all the episodes, but those three are by far my favorites.
As someone involved with the scene, what do you think of the state of modern underground music?
This is one of those questions that have been asked since the dawn of time. The scene is an ever revolving, ever changing beast. It’s like a Spanish soap opera; you never know what is going to happen next.
I like the idea that music is no longer the cash cow it once was. Instead of a thousand bands trying to become famous and the next big thing, you have more and more bands that do it because their hearts are in it. They’re dedicated. They’re lifers. They do it because they have to. Not because they want to get rich and famous. It’s created something with more heart and honesty and I enjoy that oh so much more than the hundreds of people just trying to cash in.
What have you spinning a lot of recently?
I got the new Hot Water Music album, “EXISTER,” today. I’ve already listened to it four times and I can expect to listen to it about ten more times today. It’s FANTASTIC. It may be the album to knock The Menzingers’ new album off the top of my favorites of the year list. It’s pretty great.
I can’t get Arliss Nancy’s “Simple Machines” out of my head. Some other bands in constant rotation have been The Only Sons, Cheap Girls, Red City Radio, Micah Schnabel’s live album and “I’m Dead Serious.” The new Michael Dean Damron double album is fan fucking tastic as well. I have not heard the new Tin Horn Prayer yet, but I know it will go on this list. It’s going to be brilliant! I have an inbox full of music waiting for me to listen to and review, but those are the ones that have really GRABBED me and have not let me go thus far.
What’s next for MH/ yourself in the short/ medium term?
I have no clue. I just got laid off from my day job. I’m getting unemployment, or will once it kicks in. I’m still bartending once a week at the Black Sheep. After almost 11 years of living in Colorado Springs, I really, really want to get out and tour more and more. I want to live somewhere a little more receptive to music than Colorado Springs has been. I’ve been looking at Denver a lot, but I know some people in California that would love to take me in. Being in California would offer me a great deal more opportunities to work with… So we’ll see. My lease isn’t up till October. I’m half assed looking for jobs around the country.
I also battle depression pretty hardcore. It comes at the worst, most self destructive times. It’s actually harder for me to stay motivated with the show now that I’m unemployed, than it was when I had a job I hated and all I wanted to do was the show full time. It’s harder to get motivated when you don’t have to get out of bed. I’m trying to get my ass in gear and actually just push this bad boy harder, but when that deep dark presence of Depression starts rearing its ugly head, it’s hard to do anything…
I just want to grow the show to a place where it can actually make enough money to support me. I’ve talked with some people and companies about sponsorship, but I really need to get the listenership up before it’s a really viable option.
I’ve scored a writing gig for a couple of national magazines that will remain unnamed until I’m sure it will happen. I just know I don’t want to work a shitty day job ever again. I want to work for myself, but it’s hard to motivate myself to do good things for myself.
So who knows? I go day by day on this bad boy. I’m just going to work on more sponsorships and partnerships and take the show to the next level. I wouldn’t mind doing a YouTube show of some sorts in the next year. I’d like to work with some of the bigger punk rock internet websites. I just want MORE than a nine to five sucking the life out of me. I’ve got too much of it to give.
Thanks for listening and supporting what I do. You’ve been one of the biggest supporters and I couldn’t do this without you!
The most recent episode is available from http://mostlyharmlesspodcast.com/ along with all the others