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Rock bands, as anyone who's been in one for more than a week will tell you, can be as contentious as an episode of Hardball. Boston's arena-rock quartet Damone is no exception, having divorced both its label and its main songwriter, Dave Pino, under circumstances ugly enough to be kept semiprivate.
Among the reconstituted quartet, guitarist Vazquez and singer Noelle Lamont can't seem to get the party line straight. Noelle offers polite responses to questions about the friction, while in a separate interview, Vazquez spits a few flames.
Take the circumstances of Damone's departure from RCA, which had released From the Attic, the band's '03 debut: "I think they were kind of in a bad place," explains the soft-spoken Lamont, displaying unusual empathy for label big shots. "They were going through a merger."
In a parallel universe, Vazquez offers the following: "Clive Davis, who's the big head over there, just didn't believe in us, but he liked our songs. I think he wanted Alicia Keys on lead and all of us to look like Blink-182. And it was like, 'No, not happening.'"
On the subject of Pino's estrangement from the band, Lamont sounds like a good Buddhist: "He just decided to leave. He didn't like traveling, being on the road."
And once again, Vazquez is pricklier: "Yeah, we can't really get into that. My mom said if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all."
Well, this writer has a few nice things to say. Pino's songs, which dominated From the Attic, were angst-ridden, heartbroken tunes that celebrated the pop past -- The Ramones, girl groups, and power-pop, in that order -- a buffet of fetishes for teen-culture purists. It was a good match for the band's stupid-clever band name, a nod to a character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Of course, this geekiness may have helped keep Damone from the airwaves. Though the Pino-led band did join the 2003 Warped Tour, it never found a spot in an MTV2 parade just primed for anything loud and fun and distorted.
By comparison, Damone's new material is MSG-dusted good grub whose ingredients you're better off not knowing. Nevertheless, the Go-Go's are out, Pat Benatar is in. Goodbye Ramones, hello Aerosmith and Boston.
Boston? As in "More Than a Feeling"? Yep. Vazquez explains: "I mean, come on, you listen to that first Boston record, and every song on it is good. I think, with those guys, what kind of messed them up a little bit was they kept making the same record over and over again."
"There's a lot more metal influence on the new stuff," says Lamont, "and it's a lot more positive, fun, energetic. It's rock 'n' roll."
While the new Damone is shamelessly influenced by some of the most shamelessly mainstream rock of the past three decades, it's great stuff: sharp, undeniably hooky melodies delivered with layers of swaggering metal riffs, churned together with the silvery grandeur of '70s arena rock and a sleekness that keeps things close to current.
But its real ace, as on From the Attic, is Lamont. At 20, she's an average seven years younger than the other band members, and her unadorned bell of a voice refuses to conform to the whiny school, much less that of the sex kitten or the belter. She simply sings, with a generous, uncontrived tone that might just be too distinctive for not only Clive Davis, but also MTV. And she's the rare female rock front woman who just ain't girly.Her hair's a rock 'n' roll mop, and pretty though she is, she's not selling herself as anything but a singer in a rock band.
Arena rock stance or not, Damone remains just a shade off commercial, failing to fit pigeonholes. The post-metalcore chug of the guitars is far from quaint retro like The Donnas, but the hard candy hooks aren't metallic by any definition in widespread parlance since 1987.
It's poppy, it's punky, but, as Lamont observes, not pop-punk. "It does have loud, high-gain guitars," she says, "but we all have long hair and we don't wear beanies and khaki shorts onstage, and every song pretty much has a solo that's fast and furious."
The band's latest record, the Out Here All NightEP, is an arena-scale monster that will serve as the foundation of the band's upcoming full-length, due May 23 on Island Records. The EP's material was gradually recorded -- with drummer Dustin Hengst and Pino's lead-guitar replacement, Mike Woods -- on the band's own time and its own dime.
"If we had taken money from RCA to record it, we probably would have lost the recording and it never would have come out," says Vazquez. "I think it's better representative of who we are as people and what we like."
If the EP is any indication, fans of From the Attic won't be disappointed. New tunes like the thundering "What We Came Here For" and the near-ballad "Time and Time Again" are bigger and woollier, but they still pop with lilting melodies and old-fashioned, teenage drive-in sentimentality.
Sentimental, yes; angsty, no. If Vazquez and Lamont seem to agree on anything, it's that Damone is a party band. For example: To hear Vazquez tell it, it was the new label's willingness to chill that sealed the deal. "I think they're just fans of rock music, really," he says of the Manhattan-based Island staff. "I mean, it's just like a big party down there."