Last year was a busy one for The Damned — and perilous, too. The pioneering first-wave U.K. punk act spent a good part of 2017 touring in celebration of its fortieth anniversary. And during the North American leg, the act’s co-founders endured a few accidents.
Not long before the Damned stopped in Denver in April last year, frontman Dave Vanian tripped over some cables on a very dark stage and fell onto a corner of the drum riser.
“I thought, ‘This doesn’t feel right,’” Vanian says. “I couldn’t move my arm properly, and I finished a couple of the numbers, and I went into the dressing room. We were going to do the encore. I managed to get my shirt off, and then the band — I turned around and looked at them. Their faces went white. Everything was sticking out the wrong way. So they had to drag me off to the hospital and try and put the thing back in again. But for me, luckily, I could stick it in a sling and manage to continue on.”
About two weeks later, guitarist Captain Sensible fell off the stage in Toronto and broke a rib.
“He went right off the end of the stage," Vanian says. "What he did was he hit the metal part of the barrier with his ribs. He could have been a lot worse. He was lucky, because it was a particularly high stage that night as well. We had a layoff for a few days in Red Bank, Jersey, and tried to work out if we could do it. And then they built the toilet seat and platform for him, and then we continued on.”
A hilarious nod to the throne Axl Rose used on tour with Guns ’N Roses after breaking his foot, Sensible bought a $100 toilet, painted it and sat on it for the rest of the gigs.
“The great thing was the back of the toilet system, they had ice packed in there and all these beers in there, so he could have a nice cold one while he was sitting,” Vanian says. “I tell you something — I think he was really getting into it, sitting down on that thing. He was playing really well.”
After touring throughout Europe and the U.K., the band went into a Brooklyn studio with producer Tony Visconti last November to record the ambitious Evil Spirits, its first album in a decade and the first ever to be in the U.K. Top Ten in four decades. Vanian says Visconti, who worked with Davie Bowie, T. Rex and dozens of other artists, was a very quiet and methodical producer.
“Quite slow in some ways, but I like that about him,” Vanian says about Visconti. “He gets the job done well, with a minimum of fuss. To be honest, he was great for me, personally, because he’s a singer’s producers, really. He really spends time. He really wants to get those harmonies spot on, and we did a lot of singing together, which was nice. He was a real gentleman and very easy to work with, and perhaps we’ll work together again at some point, I’m hoping.”
While they didn’t have a lot of time to make Evil Spirits, which was mostly financed by a PledgeMusic crowdfunding campaign, Vanian says that capturing the essence of the performances is more important because of the magic that happens between musicians.
“Sure, you can spend more time and angst over things, but sometimes you end up coming back to the mix you did the first time, which was a first take or something,” Vanian says. “And you’ve wasted days and days on something. I’m not too precious about things. I like to get it right, but I think you can overwork things sometimes.”
Vanian and longtime guitarist Captain Sensible started writing material for Evil Spirits at a time when the band was changing management.
“We were spiraling down into a position that can happen when a band’s been around for a while, where you end up playing your own material to a smaller audience and not work on anything new,” Vanian says. “And it was basically a management problem and a band problem. And several things needed to be fixed. To be honest, I was lazy and I left it too long, and I should have tried harder earlier, but once we got the ball rolling, it was fantastic and things really fell into place. The timing was wonderful.”
Over the past four decades, the Damned has changed lineups — Vanian and Sensible are the longest constant members — while branching out from punk into gothic rock, pop and psychedelic rock, which is all evident on Evil Spirits, one of the band’s finest efforts of the last three decades.
“Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” and “Look Left” are expansive and cinematic, while “Devil in Disguise” recalls the vigorous fire of the Damned’s early days.
Even the way the band recorded Evil Spirits, which was done in nine days, harks back to the rapid-fire pace at which the Damned made its 1977 debut, Damned Damned Damned, the first full-length album to be released by a U.K. punk band.
“That was made in a week, basically,” frontman Dave Vanian says of Damned Damned Damned. “That was really put down in three days. That literally was like ‘play, record, play, record’ and overtrack some backing vocals. That’s it. Done.”
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Vanian say that Nick Lowe, who was credited as the producer, didn’t so much produce the album as turn up the faders as loud as he could, get the microphones in the right place and capture the performance, “which I think in retrospect was completely the right thing to do, because that’s what makes the album a classic album, because you hear everything just as you would if you’d come to a show. It really captures the raw essence of the band.”
Evil Spirits, which was recorded with the band all playing live in the same room, also captures the energy of the band’s live shows these days. And making albums fairly quickly is something the Damned has gotten used to over the years because, Vanian says, they’ve never had the luxury of time or finances to spend.
“Some bands spend six months getting the guitars right on something, whereas in six months we would make about five albums or something,” Vanian says. “All our albums have been done in three weeks, with another week for mixing and stuff. About a month or so for each album.”