December 28, 2014

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #33: Alex Dezen (of The Damnwells)

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I have always said that Alex Dezen, of the beloved Brooklyn band The Damnwells, has a romantic voice.

I don’t mean that in the way we picture Valentine’s Day cards or the airbrushed bodices on paperback romance novellas. By “romantic” I am alluding to the artistic movement that wished to remove us all back to nature, to crack through the dust on our Mannerist hearts. I hear the febrile brushstrokes of light and lightning in a Turner landscape, or the kind of voice that can carry one off to war, or the high plains, or to sea.

Strong words: yep. But this is an exceptionally strong and expressive voice. One listen to these chapel sessions will introduce you, perhaps, to a voice that does the same for you. After so many years of being a fan of his songs, it was a genuine delight to have his voice fill and echo in that chapel space.

He gave us two of his newer solo songs, an old (gorgeous) gospel-tinged Damnwells tune, and a cover from one of my favorite soul artists of all time. If you want to hear more, Alex has put out a series of four intimate (Bedhead) EPs this past year, and all are worth delving deeply into. The fifth Damnwells LP is due in April 2015 on Rock Ridge Music.

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ALEX DEZEN (of The Damnwells)
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
November 22, 2013

None Of These Things

I’m not sure if this is a song about divorce, but it sure sounds like one to me. What a bittersweetly beautiful song, so simple and conflicted:

I don’t expect you to and
I don’t need you to and
I don’t wish you would
I just wish you could
I just want to sleep
While the sorrow’s cheap
But I think I hear your keys


The cover art of Dezen’s four recent acoustic EPs show him sleeping peacefully under different bedspreads, face showing no discontent. But this song sounds like the complicated bad dreams that leave us tangled up in sheets, unsure how to find our way out.

Kung Fu Grip Kiss

God, I love this song.
I love the whole record it comes from, 2006′s Air Stereo. I tell you guys every now and then that this is a sleeper record you might have missed, but it is never too late. As fully-fleshed out as this song sounds even with just Alex’s voice and a guitar in a chapel, the album version has shimmering, resonant Memphis horns and backing vocals (that I add here every time I listen to this chapel version).

I was looking for Jesus, and I wound up with you.

These Arms Of Mine (Otis Redding)

I can’t think of a better song for a classically romantic voice to wail on than this one. This is the second time someone has said, “I was thinking of covering Otis Redding?” in my chapel, and the second time I have blissfully said “OKAY.”


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[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]

November 20, 2013

house shows & music summits in Colorado this weekend!


This weekend is a terrific one in Colorado music.

First up, on Friday night I am hosting a Fuel/Friends House Concert & Dinner with Alex Dezen of The Damnwells! The Damnwells are a band that I listen to a lot, over the last eight years or so, and I never get tired of them. I may not talk about them as often as they merit but every damn time I put their albums on, I marvel at the rich romanticism and melodic power in Alex Dezen’s voice and songs. “Forgive me baby, I’m so full of hearts / swelled up with sadness and broken in parts.”

Kung Fu Grip Kiss – The Damnwells

Originally the band was from Brooklyn and released my favorite album of theirs, Air Stereo, on Rounder/Epic Records in 2006, and many other tremendous songs that I have followed closely over the last decade – oh, and that great documentary about them that sprinted across the indie film circuit a few years back.

I’m thrilled that Alex is heading across country and stopping to do a special, intimate house show for Fuel/Friends readers on Friday night! For the house address and all the good details, check the FB invite, and I hope to see you there. The dinner part is full, but there is still room for folks at the show.


Then on Saturday & Sunday, you’ll find me at the Denver Music Summit again! This type of community-oriented musician education and creative vitality-infusion is one of the best things that our city has done in various iterations over the years, and I am happy to be a part of it once again.

I will be speaking on a panel for musicians Saturday morning with the luminous Storm “Hey Now” Gloor, professor of Arts & Media at University of Colorado Denver (and keeper of some of the best/nerdiest spreadsheets about music that you will ever see). We will be talking about branding yourself as an artist (AT TEN AM SORRY) and tips for reaching out to music blogs. You should preregister for the Saturday & Sunday workshops – it’s only ten bucks for all the sessions.

Saturday night I was thinking of telling a story again with The Narrators and friends like Will Johnson and Dave Bazan, but buckled because my brain is too addled lately. I do believe in the power of public storytelling (especially around music themes!), and there are some wonderful storytellers involved, so come on out for that!

The whole weekend of musical guests for the Denver Music Summit reads like a Fuel/Friends House Concerts hall of fame. If you’re reading this post, you’ll like it.

Some of the friends in town / playing the Summit include PHOX, The Changing Colors, Ark Life (the new endeavor of Jesse from These United States), Josiah Johnson of The Head and The Heart, Chimney Choir, Yonnas Abraham of Pirate Signal, Dave Bazan, Will Johnson (Centro-matic), Joe Pug, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Esme Patterson (Paper Bird) – and many more. Whew.

shows_ive_seenGIVEAWAY: I have two full all-access passes to give away for the Denver Music Summit weekend! Please email me with “Denver Music Summit” in the subject line and some good reasons about why you deserve it & how you’ll use it, and I will judiciously find good homes for them.

Full schedule details for the Summit here. See you all out there this weekend!

February 12, 2012

i don’t want love or conquered rome / just your voice and a sleeping pill

I was talking with a friend the other night about songwriting, and this is a great song: evocative, sad, plunging us right into the middle of the life on the road. That slide guitar feels like a train whistle in the dark, somehow, and the title of this post is a perfect lyric. I’ve been listening afresh to The Damnwells‘ 2006 album Air Stereo all day today, because there is never a Sunday afternoon that doesn’t sound better with that record reverberating off the walls.

Louisville – The Damnwells

Everyone should own this album.

[image via]

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February 10, 2009

New free Damnwells album! (somewhere between breaking and broke there’s a song to sing)


I fell hard for The Damnwells with their 2006 album Air Stereo, and I’ve been tiding myself over during the wait for a new album with little fantastic demos like “Bastard of Midnight” and alternate acoustic versions of their songs I love. Dezen’s voice has an air of hardy romanticism to it, brilliantly-colored exactly like this Turner painting. It slides and rasps to carry the literate lyrics and musical stories he constructs.

The Damnwells have shifted in formation and members, while lead Damnwell Alex Dezen has moved to Iowa to teach and study fiction and creative writing. But he hasn’t stopped writing songs.  And starting today, they are releasing their newest album One Last Century for free via Paste Magazine. There’s a full-band treatment of “Bastards of Midnight,” surprising bluesy gospel twists on cuts like “Jesus Could Be Right,” and songs that well up with a sadness like “Say.”

I’ve talked with Alex about this new album, and the beautifully freeing feeling they’ve discovered in giving their music away. He wrote a statement about it:

I suppose the hardest thing to explain to people is why I’m giving this record away. “You’re just going to give it away?” seems antithetical to the human brain. “Is this just a bunch of b-sides or something? Some ‘give away’ material you don’t mind releasing into the ether?” No. Quite the contrary. I have never worked so hard or put so much of myself into a collection of recorded songs. It is for just this reason that I want to give it away.

To me it makes perfect sense. I just want people to hear this music, and I don’t want them to have to enter into some kind of contractual agreement with a third party to do so. Download the record, copy it and give it to your friends, lovers, and enemies. Whatever. It’s so hard these days just to get the actual music into people’s houses and cars, let alone their ears. Besides, I know everyone’s broke, maybe I can supply the soundtrack.

So, I just want to give this music away because I want people to hear it. I should have done this years ago. I’m starting over.

Alex Dezen

DOWNLOAD: One Last Century

Everything – The Damnwells

Somewhere between darkness and wonder is every dream
Somewhere between breaking and broke, there’s a song to sing…

January 30, 2008

Gladly going down with the Damnwells ship

This song popped into my inbox recently from lead Damnwell Alex Dezen, and maybe it’s just the cold grey skies that are causing me to post two melancholy tunes in one day, but I’m feeling this one.

Alex makes it sound easy the way he crafts these humble aching love songs with his acoustic guitar, and puts his soul behind it. The Damnwells will be back in the studio come February, with Alex saying “it’s going to be the record we should have made long ago.” I don’t know what that sounds like, but I’m glad to hear that there’s more music forthcoming from this earnest, shining talent – the two years since Air Stereo already seem interminable ’round these parts.

Down With The Ship – The Damnwells

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November 6, 2007

New song from The Damnwells: The Bastard of Midnight

After listening to the Damnwells demo “She’s The New York City Skyline” about, oh, a thousand times on my recent sojourn out of Dodge, I was stoked to click onto their MySpace page from the kitchen table of my friend Jenn’s apartment in Queens and hear a brand new song streaming.

“Hey what’s your number Chicago?
What time is it in Japan?”

I first listened to this while watching the morning greyness outside her 6th floor window, half-contemplating what would happen if I climbed out onto the fire escape to feel the cool air. It’s a sweetly melancholy acoustic tune with a falsetto chorus of aching vulnerability, perfect for finding yourself in some strange, new city.

I was all set to post a ripped copy, but then The Damnwells were so kind as to send me this spiff mp3, so a thank you to them:

The Bastard of Midnight
- The Damnwells

No new tour news or album news from The Damnwells but for the love of all that’s good and holy, try to find a way to see their documentary Golden Days. Recommend it to your local film fest, or music channel, or whomever will listen. It’s a piercing story full of musical heart — a film that should be seen.

[top photo credit Heather Conley]

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August 17, 2007

Celebrate the Damnwells’ Air Stereo release anniversary with old demos & new album news!

I am deeply in love with the music of The Damnwells now more than ever. I’ve been on a kick lately, and as far as I reach in, they meet me there with their music. As my friend Scott wrote, “[Lead singer/songwriter Alex] Dezen uses the pen like a rapier to carve little bits out of your heart and soul.”

Yesterday marked one year since Air Stereo (2006, Rounder Records) was unleashed upon us unworthy masses, and if you don’t own it yet, why not? Why, oh why not. I discovered this in 2007, so it doesn’t get to go into my top list of the year that I’ll put out this Deccember, but that’s just a technicality. This is undoubtedly one of the best albums of my year, one I’ve listened to the most, sang my lungs out to in the car, and spent time alone with on my iPod.

The great news this week is that Alex has revealed some juicy details of work commencing on a new album. He writes, “The Damnwells will be going back into the studio before the end of this year to record a new record. I’m thinking a self titled affair. Really, when you consider all the pressure and nonsense—both existential and metaphoric—we always had to deal with every time we went into the studio, this will be the first Damnwells record we will ever be able to just make. ‘No pressure,’ Paul, our A&R guy at Rounder says. ‘Make the record you want to make.’ What a crazy idea! Not like we were ever making anyone else’s records, but there was always compromise.

Where art and commerce meet, there has to be. Your mixed-medium, six foot canvas doesn’t fit in the six by three inch display case at Wal-Mart, and no amount of dieting or exercise is ever gonna fit your square peg in that round hole. Compromise is a part of life—at least the kind that includes a roof over your head and food on the table. So now that we’re supposed to make this record, the one we want to make, without the pressure and nonsense, I think I may be feeling a little Stockholm syndrome coming on. How the hell am I supposed to do that?

Guess we’ll find out.”

In the spirit of Damnwells love, I’ve unearthed some more demos from their early days and they are heartbreaking, insanely good, wrenching, melodic — some of the best stuff I’ve heard in months. I love the ferocious romanticism of The Damnwells, and that’s a kind of romanticism that can be manly too (not talking like bubble bath romantic, more like bleeding out in the backcountry following your dream romantic).

Information about these is incredibly scant, and my normal methods of reconaissance are failing me. If you can confirm anything else about these demos, I’d love to hear it. Far as I can tell, these are mostly demos for the PMR (Poor Man’s Record) + 1 EP, which you can still buy over at CD Baby. There are two demos from the Heart Hazard EP which was a self-produced, hand-stamped job that I can’t find a trail on either.

PMR+1 and Heart Hazard EPs
Sweet Marie
Smile Guy
Stay (demo)
For My Own Good
Goodnight Tonite
Ballad of You (demo)
Have To Ask (demo)
Three Day Old Lover (blue version)
Three Day Old Lover (red version)
How Do I Say Nothing (demo)
Televised Telephone (demo)
The Only One Who Laughs (demo)
While You Can (demo)


Damnwells will be playing Bumbershoot in Seattle on Labor Day weekend. Wanna go?

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April 17, 2007

Damnwells do damn well

From their MySpace blog:

Monday, April 16, 2007

2007 Phoenix Film Festival. Best Documentary: Golden Days.
We won.
Fuck yeah.

Congrats, guys!

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April 13, 2007

New tour dates with The Damnwells

I am half-wishing I had a reason to be in Phoenix tonight for the premiere of The Damnwells new movie Golden Days, and also for their late night concert which is buzzed to be an hours-long, energetic affair in the works.

They’ve announced a string of tour dates (hurrah!), but not in Colorado yet (boo). We’ve established my budding love for them and I can’t wait to catch them live . . . someday.

May 10 – The Triple Door, Seattle, WA
May 11 – Berbatis Pan, Portland, OR
May 14 – Troubador, Los Angeles, CA
May 15 – The Casbah, San Diego, CA
May 16 – Plush, Tucson, AZ
May 18 – The Granada Theater, Dallas, TX
May 19 – The Parish, Austin, TX
May 22 – WorkPlay, Birmingham, AL
May 23 – Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN
May 24 – Smiths Olde Bar, Atlanta, GA
May 25 – The Map Room, Charleston, SC
May 26 – Tremont Music Hall, Charlotte, NC
May 27 – Outer Banks Brewing Station, Kill Devil Hills, NC
May 29 – The Jewish Mother, Virginia Beach, VA
May 30 – The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
May 31 – Gramercy Theatre, New York, NY
Jun 01 – Middle East (Downstairs), Cambridge, MA
Jun 02 – Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA
Jun 03 – Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA
Jun 05 – Rex Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Jun 06 – House of Blues – Cambridge Room, Cleveland, OH
Jun 08 – Phoenix Hill Tavern, Louisville, KY
Jun 09 – Abbey Pub, Chicago, IL

I Am A Leaver (alternate stripped version) – The Damnwells
This will absolutely give you chills at the 1:42 mark…

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March 30, 2007

Let’s go and get tangled in (acoustic) chains of golden days

Thanks to a warm and prompt response to an email plea to Mr. Damnwell himself, Alex Dezen, I wanted to share this acoustic version of the undisputably wonderful song “Golden Days” with you guys.

This is the incarnation of the song that’s used in the trailer for their movie of the same name (opening in a few short weeks at the Phoenix Film Festival). Alex writes, “I’ve always been kind of partial to this version too. P.S. Feel free burn, post and disseminate anyway you like. This music belongs to everyone.”

Now that’s a refreshing sentiment not heard nearly enough.

From the rich slowburn opening that takes its time easing in, this version stuns (but I still adore the original, in fact, the whole album):

Golden Days (acoustic) – The Damnwells

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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