The NAMM Show 2020 Thursday Interviews with JESSE DAMON of SILENT RAGE, THE SWANSONS, and NIGHTMARER
The NAMM Show 2020 Thursday Interviews with JESSE DAMON of SILENT RAGE, THE SWANSONS, and NIGHTMARER
The NAMM Show 2020 took place at The Anaheim Convention Center on January 16th-19th. Feauturing music professionals, instrument deals both presitgious and new, as well as other movers and shakers within the industry, The NAMM Show is definitely the place to be when the first month of the year rolls around. This year, Highwire Daze Magazine was an exhibitor located at Hall E Booth 1351, which featured a good amount of band signing and interviews.
While Thursday was relatively quiet compared to the madness of the oncoming weekend, Highwire Daze caught up with three very different yet critically acclaimed acts. Jesse Damon of Silent Rage would be interviewed, celebrating the upcoming release of a new solo endeavor entitled Damon’s Rage on AOR Heaven. The Swansons are an alternative country collective, who are about to unveil their latest full length entitled BAM. And then closing out the day was a chat with Simon Hawemann, guitarist for the extreme metal collective Nightmarer!
Special thanks to The Swansons’ photographer Vic Mendoza of Vicscover Art for many of these candid pix we used in the article. And now, here are some of the conversations which commenced at the first day of The NAMM Show 2020. Read on…
JESSE DAMON of SILENT RAGE
What are you looking forward to the most about the NAMM Show this year?
I’m looking at different electric guitars as well as pedals and processing. I’m playing several pedals by Fulltone now, so I’d like to go and talk with them, so that’s what I’m interested in. Also if I could run into Michael Batio, I’m interested in getting one of his guitars – I think that’s right in line for Jesse Damon or Silent Rage playing.
Let’s talk about Damon’s Rage. How does Damon’s Rage compare to your last album Southern Highway?
Damon’s Rage came full circle. It’s kind of a continuation of Temptation In The Garden Of Eden, which I released in 2013. I would say when I go to write songs – when I’m writing the energetic faster demo; they’re going to be a little heavier. It’s just my style – my thing – and I had 3-4 of that style on this album – so you’re getting a little more heavier, hard rock with Damon’s Rage than you did with probably Temptation – which was my last rock album. As far as Southern Highway, that was a left turn I took just to give a nod to what I love in other genres – not only country but southern rock as well as blues rock. I grew up with all the blues rock legends from Hendrix to Johnny Winter to Rick Derringer – all the big players back then. That was my school – to go and listen and find out about them. But Damon’s Rage also still has what I’ve always been, which is the melodic hard rock side of me. I’m hoping that fans that like my solo work – and also the Silent Rage fans – will get off on some of this material. Because it’s pretty close to what I was doing with Silent Rage, although it’s just me – and Paul (Sabu)…
Let’s talk about noted producer Paul Sabu. How did he become involved with Damon’s Rage?
I’m always in contact with Paul. We’re friends and we stay in touch and we have other projects that sometimes we do. He might tell me about somebody who’s looking for a singer to help on a project. As far as my own material, when I’m ready to do a recording, I always talk to him about it. And if he is available, he usually produces it. So I told him what I had in mind, and he said “That’s great! Let’s do it! I’m ready. This is going to be the best album you’ve had. I really want to pull out the stops and push with it – make it a little bit heavier than your last one.”
Still, when you hear the ballads – like the mid-tempo Love Is The Answer – that’s not a metal song – that’s more of a melodic ballad song. It’s the same with Lonely Tonight – but the rest of them have their own personality – and it comes together and it has this kind of angst – and it’s got a lot of energy. Songs come to an artist – they come to me out of the blue – sometimes from the mood I’m in or sometimes from that something I’ve just watched or somewhere I just went – and you get influence. You take it as it comes. I still wanted to do melodic rock genre style. So you’ve got Shadows Of Love and Electric Magic and Tell Me Lili.
Tell Me Lili is a song about my wife Lili and I and when we met – and so that’s our story. Another thing about this album is I kind of wanted to give a nod to the classic legends that I learned from and that were my influences – such as Deep Purple, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, KISS, The Who – a lot of mainstream real big bands left an impression on me. In writing this, I kind of had in mind a little bit of that bombastic-ness mixed with who I am and how I write.
Actually the song Damon’s Rage was the last one I wrote for the album. It came to me, and I thought this is a great way for a bridge. The song itself is about a hero with a six-string shield. I take my music around the world and I try to help pull some people who are down in the doldrums who need to be lifted up with my music. There’s a lot of darkness and a lot of evil in the world – and if you can do that with what you do in life – and you can help people and lift them up – that’s what I always try to do. So the song is about that – but Damon’s Rage as a title is pretty much my take on the Rage. I was in a band called Rage for years and then we changed it to Silent Rage – and now my influence is Damon’s Rage.
You’ve come full circle. So back in the Silent Rage days, you worked with Gene Simmons of KISS. What was that experience like?
It was like a kid in a toy store or a candy factory so to speak. Basically when you get a chance to enact and to start a relationship and are able to learn from a legend – and somebody who I’ve watched my whole growing up – going to concerts when I was young. I’d be going to concerts when I was 13-14-15 years old, seeing KISS and standing on top of my chair. There were a lot of inside stories that were kind of ironic – that my destiny was going towards meeting him and meeting Paul and meeting KISS and being involved with that band. And also getting the opportunity – when he discovered us, there was a lot of footwork that we did to try and get it into his hands – and when it happened, we could hardly believe that it happened. But once the cycle started going, it was a roller coaster ride and you really had to hold on – you really had to tune in and listen to him. He had a lot of great information – a lot of teaching skill and good advice.
Everybody is their own individual, and he had his own ways of what he liked to do. He was a guy that listened very closely. As kind of a mentor, if he heard something you said and he didn’t understand it, he wanted you to repeat it – or he would correct you, or he would pat you on the back and say “way to go!” He was always the kind of guy trying to uplift other artists. He’d already been in the game. He knows the game. He knows how to talk and how to promote – so he always wanted to help.
He took us with him one time to the American Music Awards. We went to all of the after parties with him and Shannon – he introduced us and talked about us – and then he stepped back and would let us talk. It’s that kind of persona. He also called me a lot throughout those years and asked me to come down and sing on demos – things that we was doing in the studio. He asked me to co-write songs that he was demoing on future KISS material. I just knew at the point that “I’m in! When and where. I’m not going to get that many opportunities.”
During the time you toured with Black Sabbath. Which lineup was it, and what was that experience like?
It was Tony Martin on lead vocals. Tony is a strong and extremely gifted singer. He was little closer to the style of Ronnie James Dio – so any of that material they did cover he did well. But the Headless Cross tour that I went on – that was a great album and a great song. It had Cozy Powell on drums – it had Neil Murray on bass – and of course Tony Iommi.
And the first day we’re on tour – we’re outside – a beautiful sunny day in upstate New York – out on the grass my guitarist in Silent Rage Mark Hawkins and myself both kind of noodling and playing – and Tony Iommi comes out of the arena after his sound check – and comes and talks to us. He says “Hey, I heard you guys are opening up for us.” He was just a sweet guy that was very open – and that talk right there set us on a nice path and really made us comfortable. And of course we’re in awe- “Tony this is such a great opportunity. Thank you so much!” And that was Gene also pitching for us to get on that tour. It was a lot of fun – a lot of great dates. We played New York City – we played all up and down the East Coast. We started to head towards the Mid-West – we played Cleveland – we were starting to head towards Chicago but they pulled up stakes, and they went back home to England. But we did quite a few dates.
What’s up next for you this year?
Well I’ve been offered a couple of festivals in Europe. I’m talking to promoters and trying to get on bills that are still open right now. I’m going to put together my own new version of Damon’s Rage. And so we’ll go out and do some dates. We’re going to have some local dates too – we’ll probably play The Whisky and we’ll play Vamp’d in Vegas and play some other clubs. As far as down the road, hoping to get it together so that Silent Rage will do another album. We’re not done! And this time we’ll go back and also have Paul Sabu produce it. That’s a little further down the road, and I’m trying to promote Damon’s Rage right now. I’m getting a lot of good support and a lot of great feedback from it – so I’m happy about that.
Jesse Damon on Facebook
JOE and ANGIE FINLEY of THE SWANSONS
What are you both looking forward to the most about NAMM this year?
Joe Finley: Oh man, the whole experience is just so overwhelming. It’s hard to dial in on any one particular thing. We’re happy to be here with you Highwire Daze – that’s actually the main reason why we came here today – to spend some time with you. But we’re looking for the new digital video screens that they have – you know we do the video with our show. We’re looking at all the new technology there to see what we could do to improve the visuals on our shows. Hopefully we could do a demo here with somebody. We brought our IPAD with us so we could hook right in and go. And how about you Angie?
Angie Finley: I was going to say that’s it – we were going to see about the LED screens, because right now we use the projector, but I feel like the wall instead of the projector is more the way to go. So I want to check out that and then just walk around and take in the whole vibe.
Joe: We want to demo some stuff and have some fun too. Beat on some drums – play the xylophone – whatever we can get our hands on.
Angie: Just get lost and forget about the world for a minute. You can kind of go into this world of music.
You have a new full length album coming out entitled BAM. Tell us about the new album and what does the title BAM mean to you?
Joe: BAM is our entire relationship – from the beginning of our band to the beginning of our love – everything just exploded like BAM! And that’s just what the song’s about – our relationship and all that goes with it. We operate at a very fast pace to say the least. From the time we started, we were just off and running. We’re excited that the whole album is coming out on March 16th, so we’ll have that available on vinyl too.
Angie: We’re doing vinyl and CD only for the entire album. If you want digital copies, you’ll have to wait until each individual song comes out – which will be timed out through the year. Each song will eventually be out digitally by the end of the year. But if you want the whole thing, you have to buy the vinyl or the CD. Give the music lovers what they really want.
We just talked about the song BAM. Why don’t you both select one other song from the album BAM and what inspired the lyrics.
Joe: I’ll go with our next single. Our next single out is called Let It Go – and it’s a song about generally in life, we as human beings – and I’m drawing from personal experience – but we have a difficult time letting people go , letting things go, letting situations go. We have a hard time forgiving – we hold grudges – and this song is about getting rid of all that, just letting it go and dealing with it. Bad things happen to good people all of the time and we need to understand that that’s part of life and to not hold things against people – and just kind of let it go and live life happily.
Angie: And The Outsider is another single that is out from BAM. I feel we can all find a way to relate to this and Joe has personal experience on this of course – as he saw throughout his life going from State to another State. And I had that same experience and it’s like culture shock. And even though you think you know people – you can get into different situations and then all of a sudden you’re The Outsider – you’re different. And that’s okay – and that’s what the chorus screams out is that I can’t hide it. I am The Outsider. And that’s what it is.
Joe: Instead of trying to conform to fit into the situation, understand that I am unique and I look different and that’s okay! I’m fine! Once we get past all that, then we’re all good. So we’re all The Outsider at different points in our lives and in different situations. And just like the chorus says “its okay. Be proud of who you are and the way that God made you.” It’s a very inspiring song.
Angie: It’s a rocking song!
How did you two meet?
Joe: It’s a really very deep story. To try and simplify it, I lost my wife tragically. Angie was the neighbor and a friend of the family – and was concerned about our family and began to come over offering her condolences and helping with some food for us and being with my kids.
Angie: Especially one year after, because I was living in Newport Beach, but I moved back to Rancho Cucamonga right down the street from his house. It was one year later – and I had no clue or no intentions of falling in love or anything like that. I was just offering a friendship. He was suffering and heartbroken – and I was not moving into anything romantic. It was just a friendship thing and it evolved.
Joe: It really happened like magic. From a friendship to being really, really close. I could open up to her about things that I was struggling with. And then out of nowhere, just BAM! We tried to pinpoint the moment. What was it? Was it something that she said or I said or when she touched me or I touched her? What was it that caused that magic to happen from a friendship to looking at her differently? I know all of a sudden how I started feeling – and man, it felt great. I started feeling all of this sadness melting off of me.
Angie: Love can mend a broken heart.
Joe: Her love saved my life and it started The Swansons. I was writing a tragic album that ended up being called Writing Through The Pain to get through my grief – and that turned into The Swansons’ debut album with her coming into the studio with me one day and singing a line on one of my songs. And then that was it. I said, “Let’s start a band together.” So she’s my angel. She rescued me from the darkness of my days.
Angie: It was a life worth saving.
What’s up next for The Swansons?
Joe: We have a whole bunch of videos that we either have in the works or planned. We’re shooting our podcast Welcome To Swansonsville Season 2 – so we’re doing that on about a bi-weekly basis. We have our follow-up to BAM in Nashville halfway completed – it’s Untitled.
Angie: And for BAM, we’re going to spend the whole year releasing. March 16th is the hard copy release of the whole thing, but we only have (the songs) BAM and The Outsider so far (as of The NAMM Show) and that’s it. Let It Go will be on January 31st and then we’re going to do a song a month – with a video – until the end of the year.
Joe: We’re also in the publishing game, so we’re doing a lot of pitching with our material trying to land some songs in movies and television. We’ve got a few on hold right now but we’re praying that one lands – so that’s one avenue that we’re very interested in. And we’re dying to go on tour!
Angie: Once BAM is all out, I feel like we will be able to conquer the world!
Joe: We’re independent recording artists. We left a small independent label early on and started our own label and our own publishing. And we just decided to stay true to that, and to keep working hard – like you and your magazine. So we’re willing to put in that hard work because we believe in it, like you believe in your product. So that’s what we’re doing. And as far as a touring, we’re currently seeking out opportunities that would be advantageous to us. As soon as one comes along, we’re on it!
The Swansons on Facebook
SIMON HAWEMANN of NIGHTMARER
We’re here from Simon from Nightmarer at The NAMM Show. What are you looking forward to the most about The NAMM Show this year?
So I just started working with ESP Guitars last year after NAMM, and I was very excited about their lineup – they have some cool new stuff coming out that I’ll be playing. Also I designed a limited run with an ESP dealer that is coming out in about two months. So that’s kind of what I’m most excited for. It’s my fourth consecutive year here. I also work for Guitar Magazine, so I go and take photos – and everything that’s interesting to me I’ll go and check out. It’s always a blast!
The name of the latest Nightmarer album is entitled Cacophony Of Terror. What was the inspiration behind that title?
A cacophony is just a way to describe a cluster of unpleasant sounds – and since our music is very dissonant, it felt like a very appropriate term. It’s a way to describe very dissonant music anyway, so it just kind of lended itself to it. And calling it Cacophony Of Terror – the album is about a person that feels like they’re stuck in a nightmare, and they feel like they’re terrorized by an entity that they can’t really explain – and it ultimately kills the person at the end of the album. I think it’s a very apt title, and it’s also a very musical sounding title which is kind of cool at the same time. Kind of two birds with one stone there.
You toured with the legendary Dark Funeral last year. What was it like and what were they like?
They were very polite, nice people. As a matter of fact, I’ve kept in touch with one of the guitarists and he’s a very nice guy. But yeah, they were very professional basically. They got the job done – they killed it every night – and offstage they were reserved, friendly, polite people.
What were the highlights for you of that particular tour?
So for Nightmarer it was the first tour actually, so I would say the highlight for me was just to get back on the road and get playing live again. When I was still living in Europe, I was in a heavily touring band, but it’s been a couple of years for me. So yeah, just getting back on the road was exciting. We played to great crowds every night, even though we had an early set, it was always pretty well-packed already, and it was a great experience. We went to Canada – it was my first time in Canada. We saw a lot of exciting, cool things honestly. Yeah, we got along with everybody. Incantation were great and Belphegor were on the tour as well. It was a good time and a great tour – and I think for a band like us, it was a good mix of audience. To have black and death metal people, which I think we’re somewhere between those two genres – it was a good audience for us.
Where are you based out of?
Right now I live in Tampa, Florida – I’m originally from Berlin, Germany – and I’ve lived in Florida for five years now. I might relocate to the Pacific Northwest this year. We’ll see. I’m in Tampa, our vocalist is in New York, our new guitarist – his name is Keith Merrow – he’s based out of Portland (Oregon) – and our drummer is still in Germany. We do have an American live drummer whenever our German drummer can’t make it. He’s plays for another band that tours heavily – they’re called The Ocean and they’re on Metal Blade. He plays for The Ocean as well, and the schedules don’t always lineup. The tour we did with Dark Funeral we had an American drummer with us. But yeah, we’re all over the map, spread across the world.
Germany is famous for the beer. What is your favorite beer of choice and why?
It’s funny – before I moved here I hadn’t had any alcohol for ten years, so I wasn’t drinking. I wasn’t a beer drinker. I do drink non-alcoholic beer every now and then. There’s a wheat beer – it’s called Erdinger – which is a Bavarian brand. They make a great wheat beer – even the non-alcoholic wheat beer they make is great – it’s very refreshing. The wheat beer they make with alcohol is great too. But yeah, I only started slowly getting back into drinking beer when I moved over here. We have a couple of cool breweries down there in Tampa. I try stuff every now and then. There’s Coppertail which I think is pretty popular in Tampa. But I’m not a beer pro to be honest with you.
What’s up next for Nightmarer?
So our drummer was just in Tampa with me for two and a half weeks and we wrote about two-thirds of the new album. And I’m going up to Portland after NAMM to finish the rest with our guitarist. There’s going to be a new album, and we’re waiting to confirm a couple of tours. We’re planning to go to Europe, so I think it’s going to be a pretty busy year. The album will probably not come out before the fall, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be new music before that. People just need to follow us on our social media channel if they want to stay in the loop and hear new shit sooner…
Nightmarer on Facebook
(Interview and Some Photos by Ken Morton – All Other NAMM Photos by Vic Mendoza of Vicscover Art)
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