If there was a Venn diagram of fans who follow pop-rock band Fall Out Boy, thrash titans Anthrax and Buffalo hardcore stalwarts Every Time I Die, the circles likely wouldn’t overlap much. However, members of all three bands formed in 2010 to release the album Ironicast as The Damned Things. After an unexpected hiatus, the group has re-formed years later to drop sophomore album High Crimes (April 26, Nuclear Blast). It’s somewhat of a surprise — even to singer Keith Buckley.
“After the last record and the touring cycle was done, we were in a very uncertain place as far as the future went,” he recalls.
Since Ironicast’s release, The Damned Things have been occupied with their primary bands. Fall Out Boy returned from a long break and put out three albums, while Anthrax’s 2010 reunion with singer Joey Belladonna resulted in a career renaissance. Every Time I Die’s profile has also increased, despite numerous lineup changes to its rhythm section. Between those priorities and some members’ dissatisfaction with certain aspects of Ironicast’s album cycle, The Damned Things slipped to the back burner.
Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman was the impetus for the reunion. While he and producer Jay Ruston (Steel Panther, Stone Sour) were writing songs for another artist, Ruston felt the material would fit The Damned Things, says Buckley. “Joe is just a prolific writer, and it dawned on him that it might make sense to put together a new Damned Things single or record or EP. So he sent me the stuff, and we started going back and forth with lyrics and vocals, and the ball started rolling.”
But before the group reformed, its members — which also had included Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, Volbeat guitarist Rob Caggiano (who was in Anthrax at the time), Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley and former Every Time I Die bassist Josh Newton — discussed how they wanted to move forward. “I knew that I was going to have to get a lot of things straight from the jump of, ‘This is what happened last time that I didn’t agree with,’ ” says Buckley. “And everything I said, Joe agreed with. When we brought everyone together and broached the subject of doing it again, Josh bowed out, and Rob was MIA. We started working anyway, and a lot of the problems and things we disagreed with the last time weren’t there.” (Alkaline Trio singer-bassist Dan Andriano has since joined the band.)
One thing that Buckley was previously disappointed with was that the group didn’t tour behind Ironicast as much as he would have liked. “There were so many expectations behind it when it started, and it was just one touring cycle,” he says. “Had I known that, I wouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. I never was in a position where I was like, ‘I’m never going to do that again.’ It was just a nebulous thing where somebody had to make a decision and nobody wanted to talk about it, so we just went on with our lives and hoped it would circle back one day.”
Buckley also observes that Ironicast “was so polished and laminated and precise that it lost a lot of the emotion.” Describing the recording process as “arduous,” he explains, “With me doing take after take after take, I lost any connection and emotional tie to the songs. The performance became so routine that I almost didn’t even like it.” He felt like he was “over the songs before we even got to the stage … Then you get to the stage and they take on a new life, and you learn that and you’re like, ‘Fuck, I wish I had done this before I’d recorded because I feel that part differently now.’ ”
Working with Ruston helped loosen up the process. “It almost didn’t feel like there was an adult in the room, and I mean that in a good way,” says Buckley of the producer. “He was just so open and encouraging about everything and trying what we wanted to do. There were times where we’d get so carried away doing different stuff and having fun. The energy that he brought to the room was very positive and playful, which is a completely different experience from the last [time], and I think that was good, because it brought our moods up. And when your mood is up, and you end up writing and recording a song like ‘Cells,’ it just feels fun.”
“Fun” is a great summation of High Crimes. Featuring elements of Fall Out Boy’s hooky pop, Anthrax’s chugging guitars and Buckley’s melodic yet impassioned vocals, the result is a high-energy hard rock collection. Cheerleader chants and cowbell are abundant on “Something Good,” and subtle keyboard flourishes decorate “Omen.” The intentionally exaggerated breathing and impassioned “Oh fuck” that Buckley lets out before coming in with a verse on “Cells” captures the frenetic joy of the band’s live show — and performing live is something that The Damned Things will indulge in more this time around.
“We all understand that we’ve got other stuff going on,” says Buckley. “Since the last time, [members have] gotten married and had kids and there’s other aspects to our lives where we can’t do it all the time, but this record needs a shot … The last album, people were asking [that we tour more], and we were saying, ‘No,’ and that was really stupid of us. I feel like it didn’t get the chance that it deserved. So as long as there’s people that are interested in it, we’re going to keep doing it.”
Buckley sees The Damned Things 2.0 lasting longer this time. “The legs are so much stronger beneath it,” he says. “We have so much more experience with each other; we have so much more experience writing songs even as individuals with our other bands. It feels like it’s our time, and we’ve finally hit our stride.” Touring Europe is a goal, as well as Southeast Asia. But Buckley has an even simpler ambition: “I want to see a Damned Things song in a movie. I want to be watching a shitty action movie in a theater, and I want there to be a Damned Things song in it — that’s my specific, ultimate goal for the band.”
The Damned Things tour dates:
May 1 Los Angeles@The Whiskey?
May 4 Jacksonville, Fla.@Welcome to Rockville?
May 6 Lancaster, Pa.@The Chameleon
May 7 Brooklyn@Brooklyn Bazaar?
May 8 Pittsburgh, Pa.@The Rex?
May 10 Nashville@The Cowan?
May 11 Rockingham, N.C.@Epicenter Fest?
May 12 Lexington, Ky.@Manchester Music Hall?
May 14 Grand Rapids, Mich.@Elevation@The Intersection?
May 16 Flint, Mich.@Machine Shop
May 17 Chicago@The Bottom Lounge?
May 18 Springfield, Mo.@Outland Ballroom?
May 19 Dallas@Gas Monkey
May 21 Denver@Oriental Theater?
May 22 Colorado Springs, Colo.@Black Sheep?
May 24 Tempe, Ariz.@Tempe Marketplace (KUPD Concert Series)
May 25 San Diego@Brick by Brick