After several years of performing certain types of material, sometimes a breath of fresh air is what one needs. Joe Trohman is one such musician who feels the need to flex his musical wings, having cut five studio full-lengths with Fall Out Boy over the course of one decade as well as having extensively toured in support of those records. Cue the formation of The Damned Things, a more rock-driven outfit which is a musical departure for the axeman, showcasing a side of the guitarist that hasn't had a chance to shine yet.
Named after a line in the 1977 Ram Jam cover interpretation of "Black Betty", The Damned Things came together following a Los Angeles dinner meeting at Californian Italian eatery Osteria Mozza between Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, all arranged through a mutual friend. Discussing their mutual love of Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin, the pair eventually jammed at Trohman's hotel room over acoustic material. Opting to record together, Trohman immediately recruited Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley. Several Chicago, Illinois jam sessions materialized, with the suggestion to recruit Every Time I Die vocalist Keith Buckley being made by Ian while travelling to a rehearsal. Following a New York Fall Out Boy concert, Ian and Trohman shared drinks at a bar with Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, the man becoming a member during these drunken conversations.
At the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York, The Damned Things made its live debut on June 1st, 2010. Debut full-length "Ironiclast" is due for issue on December 13th internationally via Island Records, its North American release occurring a day later. Cut in Chicago and Brooklyn, Caggiano and Trohman produced the album. Directed by Brendon Small, a music video for "We've Got A Situation Here" was filmed.
On November 4th at 17:15 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Joe Trohman to discuss The Damned Things.
Joe Trohman: Hello?
UG: Hello. Is this Joe?
This is Joe.
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com.
What's up, man? How are ya?
I'm doing well. How are you?
Doing good, man. Been eating a little food - not much else.
Would it be alright if I began the interview?
A mutual friend acquainted you with Scott Ian of Anthrax. From that dinner meeting, how did you two come to jam?
Yeah, we met through a mutual friend. I happened to be out in Los Angeles, and Scott lives out in Los Angeles. A friend of ours by the name of David basically said "Hey man, do you wanna go out for dinner with me and Scott Ian?", and he had mentioned before that I should meet Scott and that he's awesome. As an Anthrax fan, I said "Yeah, yeah - that's cool". In my head though, I've always felt it's a bad idea to meet people you've grown up admiring because you might have your image of them shattered if they're having a bad day. David said "When you're out here, do you wanna go out?". Apprehensively I said "Yeah, I'll break out of my shell". I went out thinking Scott might not like me, but maybe he will. If he didn't like me, then I'm an adult and I would've got over it (laughs). It would've been a bummer, but it would've been fine. All I really remember is getting there, and after a few drinks, Scott and I went from sitting on opposite sides of the table to sitting right next to each other. We talked about Thin Lizzy and Zeppelin and Sabbath, and just every awesome old, really influential rock band, and how badly we wanted to do our homage to that. I think being that we're both serious, determined people, we set up a jam session in the hotel room I was staying at a day or two later. It went really well, and from there, we kept in touch and kept working at it slowly.
Why did you and Scott decide to recruit Andy Hurley on drums? There were probably several other options for that position, but your bandmate in Fall Out Boy was chosen.
It seems like a pretty obvious place to go to. He's a great drummer, and I've been playing with him for years. I'm very close with him, and there's no problems between us. He's also a huge Anthrax fan, an old-school metalhead, and he's played in Slayer thrash-type metal bands before ever doing Fall Out Boy - that's where he comes from. I thought that he was the first person that should be asked over anybody else. Doing a band isn't just about finding the most proficient, insane musicians; you also have to find people that you gel very well with, and I knew that Andy was not just a great drummer but with his personality, Scott would like him a lot.
Every Time I Die vocalist Keith Buckley became involved in The Damned Things because Scott suggested he might be a suitable frontman. How did the situation develop from Scott suggesting Keith's name to him actually coming onboard?
Scott, Andy and I were just driving to rehearsals, and we were listening to Every Time I Die. I knew Scott liked Every Time I Die, so I said "Let's listen to Every Time I Die". We listened to whatever the most recent Every Time I Die record was at that time, which I think was maybe 'The Big Dirty' (2007) or something of that nature. On the songs we were listening to Keith was doing a little more singing, and based on what we were working on, Scott said "Man, this dude would be perfect for our band". I said "Yeah, he would be. I'll send him a text". I texted him, and he said he would do it and was very excited. I don't think Keith knew how serious it was though until days later we sent him live demos that we put together just to show him how serious we were, that it wasn't just a fleeting project, and wasn't me and Scott sitting around drunk in a bar hitting him up and him just going "Yeah, yeah. Cool. Whatever", and then it never happening.
You said that Keith gets approached quite a lot to collaborate.
He is the singer of an influential heavy band, so people approach him often to work on projects. That's the nature of being a musician though; I feel like you always get this creative spark, and that spark can come in really fast and strong, and then die out really quick. You get this notion "I wanna start this band", and you might start working on it, but then it fizzles out really quick because musicians are also very fickle. Some of them like drugs, like drinking, and just get more into that than they do with actually following projects through. I think that happens more often than not.
You and Scott were at a New York bar having a drink with Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, and Rob was hired during that drinking session.
(Laughs) Dude, that's a good segue-way, right? About drinking, and that - that's a good segue-way. Yeah man, that's pretty much the tale. I had just met Rob not long before we were drinking in that bar, and got along with him very easily. Scott said "Dude, we should ask Rob to be in the band", and I said "Yeah, sure". The next day, I think both Scott and I said "Did this just become a band with three guitarists?". It was a little weird at first, because I thought "Man, I don't know if this is a good idea". I hung out with Rob in Brooklyn, and I brought him some music I had written for The Damned Things. I brought him stuff that wasn't finished, and we sat there and we finished all of it together. That's when I said "We'll make the three guitarists thing work". Clearly, very necessary (laughs). I like writing with Rob, and he's a blast to work with. He's got a good creative head on his shoulders.
Considering you've not known each other that long, it comes across as though you and Rob have gelled quite well as friends and as musicians.
It was a very instant bond.
Is Every Time I Die bassist Josh Newton a touring member of The Damned Things, or an official member?
He's an official member, but also a touring member. He won't get credited on 'Ironiclast' because he didn't play on the record, but he is an official member of The Damned Things. We're treating him as an official member - we love him, he's great. He didn't come in until a week before; we left for our first run in June, so he got involved pretty late. He's a great bassist though and a great musician, so he picked up everything super-fast and his personality gelled very well. He was so great to have out on tour that we made him a member of the band. It's funny we never ended up trying out someone to play bass by the time we got to the recording end of things. We figured we'd find someone that would just come out on tour with us and then we could figure it out, but then we met Josh and everything else was pretty easy. He also writes a lot of cool stuff as well, so he's a good asset to the band.
So Josh Newton could add a different flavour to The Damned Things' future material?
Absolutely, and I would welcome that.
The Damned Things' name was inspired by the track "Black Betty". How did the group come to adopt its name from that song?
I think Keith was listening to Ram Jam's "Black Betty" cover. There's that "The damn thing" line in there and he thought "That's a cool name", so he brought it up. We thought it sounded really good, so we figured "Why not?". We're a very agreeable bunch.
How did things become serious? How did The Damned Things go from several guys jamming to a serious group making music?
We jammed for many years, sending files back and forth and just getting things together. As far as taking the band from being a cool project to something we really want to do, before Rob was in the band we went to a studio in Pasadena, California owned by Joe Barresi - he's a friend of ours. He just demoed some stuff for us three years ago, and that's the first time we heard Keith sing on the songs. When we heard those songs, which were "Ironiclast", "We've Got A Situation Here" and "Grave Robber", we knew that that was it, that we were gonna do this thing for real. It took years after that to really get it going though, taking about until late last year. A bunch of us got together and we demoed a few songs, sending them over to different record labels just to see what they would say. Island got the first look at it, and they were really into it. Once they were into giving us a deal, it put the fire underneath our asses to make 'Ironiclast'. Once January came right after the new year, Rob and I flew to Buffalo to do some vocal pre-production with Keith. I think in February or March we tracked the drums, but we had to record things in chunks just because throughout the year Anthrax and Every Time I Die were touring. We did the record over the course of two and a half months, but it felt like it took longer just because of all the breaks we had to take. I hate when that happens because it fucks up the momentum of the recording, but we were very good about it when we got back right into it and just picked up where we left off.
News of The Damned Things' existence leaked, which obviously mentioned that Anthrax members were collaborating with Fall Out Boy members. What are your thoughts on the feedback that news generated? Some people were a bit miffed that Fall Out Boy members would collaborate with Anthrax members, and didn't know what to make of it.
Before the music came out, you mean?
From all across the board, people were definitely weirded by it and I knew they would be. On paper it looked really fucked up, but I knew once the music got out there it would coalesce and make sense to people. When that information got leaked, it was another thing that actually... Because we were holding off on announcing that information to try to really record a lot of material, and then be able to simultaneously say we're doing the band and release some music. Once that information got out though, we weren't gonna deny it because we were already at a point where we were ready to start getting into it for real anyway. But yeah, I knew the reactions would be negative. Once the music came out though, as much as I always expect the worst and hope for the best, I actually feel like the reactions have been very positive overall. Obviously, yes, there's gonna be totally extreme metalheads that are going to hate it and not give it a chance because of Fall Out Boy. They've probably also never really heard Fall Out Boy before, but it's fine. Then there's Fall Out Boy fans that feel the same way about Anthrax, and then there's Every Time I Die fans that feel the same way. Eventually, hopefully they'll decide to actually give the music a chance, but I feel like there's a lot of sceptics out there that checked out the music and were pleasantly surprised, giving backhanded compliments like "I thought this would suck, but it's pretty good" and stuff like that. Music should speak for itself - that's what I say. I get it that on paper though, this band looks very ridiculous (laughs).
(Laughs) Talk me through how The Damned Things came to develop its sound.
I wrote a lot of the music for the band, and then Rob and I finished writing a lot of music, so I feel like we got influences from all over the place. At the end of the day, we're all varied musicians, so what Keith brings to the table with his lyrics and his vocal melodies helped to shape the music even more. Scott would have some arrangement ideas here and there too, and that would help more. Everyone brought something to the table. I know for myself, when approaching music I listen to so much different music that with whatever comes out, I ask "Does this sound cool?". "Yes, it sounds cool". I usually say run with it; if it ends up sounding bad, then there's always room to make something bad good hopefully (laughs). When we started, me and Scott really bonded over Thin Lizzy and Sabbath and classic rock and heavy music, so we wanted to do a heavy album. The band has classic rock roots and bluesy roots. I feel like that is in there, but I feel like 'Ironiclast' has a varied feel just because every time we'd write something that sounds very cool, we'd just go for it. We wouldn't put up a wall and say "Let's do this", "Let's do that", "It's not heavy enough" or "We need a breakdown here". It wasn't hardcore heavy metal 101; we approached 'Ironiclast' like a rock record. If you listen to 'Houses Of The Holy', that is one of the most varied rock records from that era; you have a funk sounding song, you have a reggae sounding song, and you have a total, straight-up, groovy song that you would think Zeppelin would write like "The Ocean". Why not have a record like that? I don't think it's exactly like that, but I think there's a few rock records that have a pretty insane amount of styles meshed into them. I'm just using that as an example.
Would you describe The Damned Things as a hard rock group?
If that's what you wanna call it. I hate genre-ification more than anything in the world; it's my biggest pet hate, because it turns people off. Definitely, sometimes there's... It depends. Have you been given a copy of 'Ironiclast'?
"I went out thinking Scott might not like me, but maybe he will. If he didn't like me, then I'm an adult and I would've got over it (laughs)."
No, I haven't.
So you haven't heard the whole record? It's really hard for me to explain to you without you having heard the whole record. I think some material is very old-school heavy metal, and definitely, there's a lot of melody on 'Ironiclast'. Yeah, hard rock's the way to look at it, for sure. It's not wrong. Like I said, I hate genre-ification because it turns people off. I think it pegs bands in the wrong way, and I also believe that you have to hear the whole record - most people have had literally thirty percent of 'Ironiclast' to listen to. If you listen to the whole record and still think we're a hard rock band though, then that's cool man. I like rock, both hard and soft.
You and Rob Caggiano produced 'Ironiclast', keeping production in-house.
Yeah, we did keep it in-house. I remember the people that were interested in producing, but we didn't put it out there that much. We had the idea that we wanted to produce 'Ironiclast' ourselves; I know I had a vision of what I wanted, and I feel like Rob shared that same vision. He has had a lot more experience producing than me, so I thought it'd be great to co-produce with him. I could learn a lot from him, and he could learn a lot from me. I think we definitely got a lot out of that. Sonically, the record came out exactly how I wanted it to. I know via management, we tried to put it out there a little bit that we were looking for a producer just to see who would come back to us. There was no-one out there who came back to us though who was really "Yes, we gotta work together", and I wasn't gonna put it out there to anyone crazy. When we were actually done making 'Ironiclast' we put it out there to a few people about mixing, but we were very adamant about getting Nick Raskulinecz to mix the record. We didn't even have to bother him; we gave the album to him, he loved it, and he did mix. We went down there with him, and we had a blast. Nick could've produced 'Ironiclast', and it would've been great. He would've been great producing the record, but we wanted to make it first ourselves and show people what we did, and that we didn't need somebody else to come in and help us with parts of it. We did this, and this is us, and people can take it for what it is.
The Damned Things is probably a great thing for you, because you can flex a different side of your creativity that you haven't possibly had an opportunity to before.
Absolutely, man. That is a hundred percent true.
Are the lyrical topics on 'Ironiclast' something Keith handled?
Yeah. I think ninety-nine percent of the lyrics are him, and him on his own. When Rob, Keith and I sat there and we were working on material just thinking of things that fit phonetically, more often than not, if any of us believed that something needed to be changed then Keith would be the one to sit down, change it and make it better. He always writes something awesome. There was a very minuscule amount of words on the record that someone else came up with, a very minute amount. That's his thing; he's a lyricist, and his words are fucking awesome.
Obviously, the album's title - 'Ironiclast' is a play on words. Having said that though, what does the album's title mean?
The word is almost a representation of The Damned Things. I thought this was really smart: you just said before about an iconoclastic image, and everyone in this band to a degree are iconoclasts. We're very representative of where our bands came from, and then it's really fucking ironic that we would all be in a band together (laughs). I think that right there is very representative of the band, but it's also very representative of 'Ironiclast' as a whole and the music.
'Ironiclast''s artwork features the one-dollar bill, but with a skull-like image of George Washington.
Yeah. Again, the artwork is also ironiclastic so to speak. We took a very iconoclastic person in history and an iconoclastic image, and we did something ironic with it. We devastated it a little bit, and made it funky and weird. I think it's definitely very representative in the sense that you can take it in a political way - you could really take it politically if you wanted to. I think it could represent so many things. That's one way I took it. This really makes me think about what's happening not just in America, but what's happening all over the world in the world economy and how it's affecting everybody, and how much shit is just getting fucking dug up because of that. I think it's very ironic for America to think it is the power-centre it is, and have all the problems it has at the same time again. It's not meant to be only political, and it's not meant to be political - it's just what I take from it. I think I really want people to interpret it as art as much as is possible, and so I want people to be able to take away from it what they want to take away from it.
A lot of album artwork is merely artwork, but with 'Ironiclast''s artwork, you can interpret it in many different ways. 'Ironiclast''s artwork is something you can have a discussion about.
Absolutely man. I feel the same way. I hope it does evoke a thought or discussion; even if people just look at it and go "Ugh, I don't like it", at least it evokes an emotion. It's a little artsy fartsy of me to say, but I wanted to make sure that. We had real artwork that really did evoke thought and just something other than "Oh, that looks cool". Everything we've done so far, including just starting this band, has been weird to people, so I want to continue doing weird things, things that people would find strange (laughs).
To confirm to anyone who might mistakenly believe that 'Ironiclast' is a one-off album, The Damned Things is a fully-fledged group which intends to tour and make several records?
Yeah, absolutely. In January, we're gonna go on tour for real. 'Ironiclast' comes out December 14th in the States, and I believe the 13th in the UK. We'll do a couple of shows at the end of the year, and then starting in January after the record comes out, we're gonna be on tour for a full year to a year and a half touring the fuck out of this record regardless of how it's received. We're gonna fucking scrape the bottom of the barrel, and just do it. Obviously, when that's done, Anthrax will get back in the game, Every Time I Die will get back in the game, and The Damned Things will hibernate for awhile until we have time to do another record, and we will. It'll be like Down or like A Perfect Circle, or whatever. It'll be just a band that exists, but we'll have to let it ebb and flow and just let it happen when there's time for it to happen. When we have the time like we do now though, we're gonna do it for real.
Would it be ok if we touched upon the status of Fall Out Boy?
There's not really much to say, but I'll answer the questions to the best of my ability for sure.
From your perspective, what is the status of Fall Out Boy?
I'm doing The Damned Things, and Fall Out Boy isn't existing at the moment. As of now, I have no plans to do Fall Out Boy because I'm doing The Damned Things, and everyone else has been out doing their own thing as well - Patrick has his own project, and Pete has his own project. So yeah, at least from my point of view - I won't say from anybody else's - I'm taking a much needed break from it. It's hard to say how long.
Are there any internal issues which Fall Out Boy need to resolve before ceasing its hiatus?
Oh man... I'm not gonna talk about any of the band's personal stuff. I won't talk about that. Sorry, man. I'll leave that. I keep personal stuff to myself. Everybody gets along.
Is that a yes, or a no? You don't have to delve into what any of these possible internal issues specifically are. Does Fall Out Boy need to sit down and have a discussion about certain issues you'd rather not discuss?
No, we don't. No. We're good. Like I said, everyone's very supportive of each other doing new ventures, and obviously Andy is in The Damned Things with me. Patrick is fucking stoked; he came out to see us the other day - his record's awesome - and Pete's busy doing his thing, and it seems like that's doing really well for him. Everyone's really happy. We did Fall Out Boy for probably nine to ten years give or take, and we did it very full-on for that nine to ten years. We made five records, and most of them were pretty great I think (laughs). Obviously, everyone has different opinions on that, but I love most of the albums that we made. I think we just didn't wanna beat it into the ground. I feel like people had their Fall Out Boy and they had a lot of it, and I realize that now that it's not there, when you take it away people get very sad and they take it very personally. It's not meant to be personal. Here's how I treat it, and it's not meant to sound dickish or anything, and I'm not trying to take anything for granted; it was a very important chapter of my life that's very representative of me through a big portion of my life, but I feel like it needed to stop happening for me at least so I can continue growing. I can continue doing other things; I can do something new and different, and I can play different music, and play with different people. I just feel like it's a very healthy thing to do.
"It wasn't just a fleeting project, and wasn't me and Scott sitting around drunk in a bar hitting Keith up and him just going "Yeah, yeah. Cool. Whatever", and then it never happening."
In an interview, you said that Fall Out Boy became "more representative of other personalities", which I interpreted as meaning you feel your creative contributions weren't being recognized or respected.
I'm not saying that Fall Out Boy became representative of others' personalities. Still, it is more representative of other people's personalities. That's innate - you don't even have to ask me to know that. That's just innate; everyone usually picks Patrick or Pete from Fall Out Boy and that's normal, but that's not what I mean. I just mean musically representative. Does that make sense?
Yeah. Is The Damned Things more musically representative of your personality then?
It is, definitely. I'm not saying Fall Out Boy isn't musically representative of me. Fall Out Boy represents a facet of my life that's now different; I'm moving forward in my life and getting older. I just don't feel like musically it's my biggest representation right now.
Just to clarify, will Fall Out Boy definitely, one hundred percent reunite, or is it possible the group may never reunite?
I don't know. That's like a question about an active volcano. Will it erupt again? When will it erupt again? I don't know (laughs). I just don't know. We may never get back together, or we may get back together. I'm not really even thinking that far ahead. I'm thinking that I'm gonna put out a new record with my new band, tour a lot with my new band, and that's a lot for me right now. The next two years of my life are pretty dedicated to this band, and then we'll see man. We'll just see what happens, and what everyone else is doing. Everyone else in Fall Out Boy has musical lives of their own, so we've gotta see where we are. It may not make sense in two years, it may not make sense in five, it may not make sense in ten, or it may. It has to make sense; it has to be something that everybody is very comfortable with, and that everybody feels good and ready to do. If there's one guy that isn't ready to do it or doesn't want to, it either happens with or without him or it doesn't happen. We'll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, we're being patient about these things but patience is really the only approach we can take in accordance with waiting on things like this.
So it's possible Fall Out Boy may reunite, but it's also possible Fall Out Boy may not reunite?
Yeah. Anything is possible.
What are The Damned Things' touring plans?
Touring plans? There isn't specific plans I can talk about, but starting in early January, we'll be doing a U.S. tour for a good month to a month and a half, and then straight to the U.K. after that.
Has there been any work on new material by The Damned Things?
I'm always writing music all the time, but after going through producing 'Ironiclast' with Rob and doing all these little things to get the record together, I'm definitely a little burnt out on writing new music for The Damned Things. I'm always writing little ideas though, and I have a lot of stuff that could work for a The Damned Things record. I have twenty to thirty songs lying around that could totally work for something else. I'm sure that stuff will probably be on a new The Damned Things record, but I look at it this way: put out the record, tour all next year, and then we'll stop touring. Anthrax and Every Time I Die will reform and do their things again, and then another time, when we decide we're ready to do it again, we'll have plenty of music for us to make a record again - probably more than enough.
What will you do during The Damned Things' downtime?
That's a good question, man. I've been thinking about that myself. I will either do another band, or I'll work on other people's records, or I'll just smoke pot and play video games all the time. One of those things. I'll definitely do the last thing a lot, regardless of what else I'll be doing - a lot of pot and video games, for sure man (laughs).
(Laughs) Sounds like a good plan. Thanks for the interview Joe, which is really appreciated.
It's been good talking to you too, and thanks for the interview. I appreciate it man.
All the best, and take care.
You too man, and take care.
Interview by Robert Gray
"I'm doing The Damned Things, and Fall Out Boy isn't existing at the moment."