published: 22 /
A producer on his girlfriend ex-Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser's new album, Damon Reece has also drummed with Echo and the Bunnymen, Spiritualized and helped to found Lupine Howl. He talks to Anthony Strutt about his interesting career.
Normally, here at Independent Underground Sound, we usually talk to guitarists and vocalists, but Damon Reece is neither. He is an interesting chap though. My first sighting of him was when he was drumming for Echo and the Bunnymen during the 'Reverberation' period. That was when Mac had left the band. He also in worked with Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant in another project, called B.O.M., who recorded an album for Ochre records. After this, he was also in Space Face who later became Electrafixion and he then became the drummer for Spiritualized. Since leaving that band, he has helped to found Lupine Howl and has also been working as a programmer and a producer on his girlfriend ex-Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser's new album. We spoke to Damon, pre gig at London Dingwalls before a Lupine Howl show.
AS : The first time that I became aware of you was when you were drumming for the Bunnymen and were in B.O.M. Did you do anything before that ?
DR : B.O.M. Bugs on Men.
AS : I thought that it was Bunnymen on Mars ?
DR : Bunnymen on Mushrooms. It actually stood for Bugs on Men because the stage show was so. We mimed basically. We never played a show. Did you see live ?
AS : No
DR : It was a show where we only played for 16 minutes and 45 seconds. We did some pretty big raves, because it was a stupid looking show. It looked like art theatre really because Jake (Brockman, the other main member and full time Bunnymen roadie and keyboard player) cane from the theatre world and Will Sergeant always liked the Residents. The stage show was basically this bi sheet over the stage on these three poles, totally mad with a big white ball like a giant marshmallow and we wore white costumes with surgical masks on our eyes with little L.E.D's flashing in them.
We had these two 4 track tape machines going around the side of the stage because we thought it looked good but it was all on DAT and on the first song a hand would come and then a head, and all three of us would come out from behind a stage. We built these instruments out of perspex. I had a cube. Will had a perspex ball and Jake jad a triangle, all with strobes in them and the grand finale was we had these tubes in the back of our heads and at one point I would push this button and smoke would come out from our heads. It was brilliant. People would think "What the fuck are these people doing, with a techno beat underneath it ?" But the show only lasted 16 minutes 45 second, so it wasn't long enough to get bored by it, but once you had seen it you knew what to expect.
AS : Did you do anything else before then ?
DR : Well, I moved to Liverpool when I was about eighteen or nineteen. Before that, I was brought up in Croydon. I was in various local groups.
AS : So what you made to move to Liverpool then ?
DR : I met this weird girl, who was a nurse, and it had a better music scene, and I went to Glastonbury in '86, met this guy called Jeff who said "You have to meet this guy called Mike Mooney (now with Lupine Howl) who is a great guitarist". At that point I was playing drums, and formed a band with Mike. We did some demos, some good gigs and stuff.
AS : What were you called ?
DR : We were called Nomad and were a three piece, but were joined sometimes by a guy called Charlie Griffins, who ended up playing for Simply Red, and who was a great guy and keyboard player, and who would add some things in the early days of sampling. I ended up living with Mike actually. We lived together in a flat for a couple of years, then Pete de Freitas (the original Bunnymen drummer) died. Mike introduced me to Jake who was playing keyboards for the Bunnymen. Jake didn't know I played drums. I moved into Jake's big flat, which was known as the Bunnymen house. It was the big one on the corner of Sefton Park. He lived there for ten years, but when I moved in, I moved in with my drum kit, so it was like "You play drums. Weird ! How fucking weird !" I was into motorbikes as well, which was even weirder, then Jake said "Ian McCulloch has just left. We've just got Noel Burke in to sing and we are writing some new tunes at the moment." They got Steven Morris from New Order to come down and to do some drums, but because of his New Order commitment, he couldn't commit to playing with the Bunnymen, so I was invited down to come and do some toms on one track. I went down, did some toms and it went from there really and we wrote some new songs together.
And Les (Patterson-Bunnymen bassist) was like " Can you play this one ?" and then he put on 'Over the Wall' and I was like "Yeah, I can manage that" and after a few days, I got in there. And everybody was like "This is weird. Not only are you a bit like Pete, you play drums like Pete, and you ride motorbikes." It was all very strange.
AS : I think you fitted in well. I know when Blair Cunningham sat in, when Pete did the Sex Gods project, he didn't sound right.
DR : Les didn't really like him. When we did all the Bunnymen stuff, one of the biggest objections from our our past was the record company, who said "If you keep the name the of 'Echo and the Bunnymen', here is a shit load of money. You can make an album. You can get a couple of singles. We don't care how much it costs. If you don't do it in that album, then we'll drop you", which is fair enough. They were true to their word, but they did say "If you don't keep the name 'Echo and the Bunnymen', then we're not interested at all." All of us sat down and we said "We would liked to be called just 'The Bunnymen', which meant we might have just got away with it, but people couldn't disassociate Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen. In America, they called him Echo. So in a way, they fucked it for us their eyes.
AS : To be honest, I think people were biased from the way go. It was like I was married then, and I got together with my ex because of the Bunnymen. I was mates with Benny Profane whom you supported at the launch gigs, at the Marsh Lane community centre gigs. I have tapes from all three nights, and my ex would not even listen to them because it wasn't Mac and I said "Just listen to them, then make your mind up "2 and then she did and she feel in love with Noel.
DR : That was it. Noel was the opposite of Mac. Mac is horrible to people, and without any disrespect to the fans they did like that side of the cheeky Mac. Noel was the opposite. He was the nicest bloke you could meet, an Irish beer drinking laugh and he was great fun.
AS : He was quite nervous, asn't he ?
DR : He didn't want to be a singer.
AS : I'd heard he used to drink a bottle of whisky to go on stage.
DR : No, he used to drink a few good pints of Guinness. He wasn't in it for the pretence of it. he loved the projection of singing. His lyrics were great, really intelligent lyrics. What he couldn't get head around was that you had to look good. You had to dance a bit, the way Mac did and in way Noel wasn't a natrual to that, so it was difficult for him and I know Jake, who comes from the theatre world would try to make Noel sort of undertsand. "You got to do the whole shit. You just can't be a good singer. You have to look good. You have to wear good clothes." He didn't give a fuck about clothes. He was a bit overweight.
AS : What struck me about Noel was that he was fronting this really psychedelic band, but he looked a bit like Paul McCartney and he sounded like McCartney too.
DR : And he was losing his hair as well.
AS : His hair was flat as well rather than a bush, but up to that stage I thought that those were the best shows that I have ever seen by the Bunnymen with o r without Mac.
DR : Wow ! I thought we were really hapening as a band. Jake played the meletron and the organ. I thought it did go. I thought with the album. We got Geoff Emerick to record it. He was....
AS : He was George Martin's assistant.
DR : Yeah ! He worked on everything from 'Revolver' onwards, so his stories were great, but the recording of this album was fantastic. It sounded great in the studio, but when we came to mix it, he wasn't good at mixing. I think it went a bit flat at that point. In hindsight, we should have got someone to record it, and someone fresh to mix it. I didn't know how to make albums at that point. We went to Ridge Farm to record it, spent about £700, a thousand to record. I did the drums in two weeks. If we had got someone else to mix it, it would have been really psychedelic, but I think it was a bit half way, when it should have been full on.
AS : It was more psychedelic than anything else that the Bunnies had done up to that point ?
DR : Yeah, but considering we were listening to the Elevators (The 13th Floor), Strawberry Alarm Clock, all those classic psychedelic 60's bands. It never hit that point.
AS : The thing is, if you sound too psychedelic, the only people who are going to listen to you, are the people who are into that whole 60's trip. Ity's got to be cool. If it's not cool...
DR : But I was into beats at that point like the Happy Mondays, techno and dub, all these things that had started to happen, and I remember fighting with Will a lot over the album, kept saying to him "You should get some beats on it" and he kept saying "No, dance music isn't going to last." Here we are, ten years later, it's still the biggest thing, but my concept was a little bit of that beat music but with a psychedelic overtone. It could have been unique, but I did argue a lot with him. Will did insist that it must sound a bit like Echo and the Bunnymen of the past and I'm thinking "Does it really ?" At that point I gave up.
After that, it got smaller and smaller. I suppose when we first started playing it was to one thousand capacity crowds and on the next tour it was five hundred capacity. It was the same in America. It even got to the point where people were taking banners to gigs saying "Mac who ?" and "Ian McCullocj, What a TWAT", which did make Noel feel better and when we got back, it was smaller. It wasn't happening, so Will said "Let's knock it on the head", which we did, and at that stage we did B.O.M. We did the B.O.M. album which Will had a little input into. But it was mostly me and Jake.
AS : Was that influenced by the new Madchester scene ?
DR : I guess so. It hust happened that a bunch of clubs opened and drugs arrived in a big way and in Liverpool they were £5 each and people were getting hammered and wanted to hear beats not rock music. We played the 0151, a new venue in Liverpool. After that, I didn't do much for a long time, got into motorbikes with Jake, then through Chris Sharrock I got a phone call from Ian Broudie and he said "Do you want to play drums for this new band that I have called the Lightning Seeds", so I said "Yeah ! Why not ?", went, had a few meetings, but, to be honest, Ian Broudie is a bit of whinger and then Chris Sharrock (then ex-Icicle Works drummer, now Robbie Williams drummer), became free and he knows Chris anyway. Anyhow, at the same time, Chris Sharrock had just just recorded a song called 'Lay Back in the Sun', a Spiritualized song from 'Pure Phase. Spiritualized didn't have a drummer at the time and Chris joined the Lightning Seeds. He said "I can't join Spitualized but I know someone who is looking for a job and he is just perfect, so I got a phone call from Jason and Jason asked "What are you really into ?" and I said Ill Communciation, and Jason said Oh My God, maybe he's not suitable", but our other flatmate Andy Eastwoord was a cameraman on a shoot for a Spiritulaised video and went up to Jason and said "You know our mate, Damon. He was going to play" and Jason said "What's he like ?" and he said "He is perfect for this group", so Jason bit his tongue and got me down. I met them. They did a gig at the London Forum and I thought they were fantastic and Jason said "You might as well join the group then. You're in, man." I didn't even have to play and it went from there.
AS : How did you find the whole Jason experience ? Was he easy to work for ?
DR : Yes and no. He was easy in the fact that you could do anything you wanted, but in the end me and Sean (Cook, then bassist with Spiitualized, now with Lupine Howl) were taking the piss. We were playing bits of Black Sabbath in amongst Spiritualized songs, which me and Sean thought were hilarious, but no one else really noticed. Jason was one of thse people who did take drugs on stage. He did get off his head. Spiritualized were a big cult band before we made 'Ladies and Gentlemen', which gave it a bigger status. We were involved with the recording. We played all the insturments, but it is Jason's group. The only bad thing about it was we said "If we are session musicians, surely we should be on more than £100 a week ?" We were selling out the Albert Hall and getting £100 a week. Eevery other musician we met was horrified by this, but Jason kept saying "No, you're all in the band. We're all in it together, man" and we kept saying "It's only your name on the contract." We got to the point where we were getting more and more pissed off with it and then Mike Mooney (joined the band, and we were feeling more and more "This is a fucking joke" and that we were being ripped off, so confronted Jason and he said to us "If you don't like it, you can fuck off" in a roundabout way. We wanted a contract to say we were in the band and what we were enitled to, and he wasn't having it. He sent us a contract that was shit basically. If we signed it, we got a few grand. We signed the contract, got our few grand and the next day a letter came through the post which said something like "According to Clause 1, Subsection D, Point 2 as regards your commitment to the group, your contract is now terminated from herewith signed J. Pierce". So there you go. It was brutal, but it was good to end it there really. A lot of people thought it wasa good live band. People were saying that it was the live band of the decade. I think that it's good to stop things when they are ar their peak because if we did another album it may not have been quite so good. So then it was the three of us, messing around. Sean and Mike were writing songs together, and I was turning up, every so often, to do bits of drums, but at the same time I was fed up playing the drums. I had done it for so long and then girlfriend Liz Fraser left the Cocteau Twins.
AS : I thought they just split up ?
DR : No, she left the band. They said they split up to make it look like a joint decision. They had started a new album and, to be honest, she wasn't impressed by the songs. And at this point, I had met her and we had got into Aphex Twin and early Underworld, just different music basically, out to clubs, partying, and the idea of going back and singing on old Cocteau Twins songs, I think just scared her, so she bit the bullet and quit. At that point, we decided to move to Bristol as she didn't want to move to Liverpool and I didn't want to move to London, so it was somewhere neutral. Sean had already moved there. I was asking myself at this point "Do I want to to plays in bands playing psychedelic rock ?" because I knew it would got back to this size level, and I didn't, so I decided not to sign the deal with Mike and Sean and didn't.
AS : You were on the first two singles by Lupine Howl ?
DR : Yeah, I was quite involved a lot with production. That's what got me going, and then I started visiting Massive Attack at Christchurch, got on really well with their producer and decided that I really wanted to get into production, got into the more local Bristol music scene. I guess you call it Trip Hop now, with slowed down beats,and big samples. I really like that, then Liz signed a solo album deal, so I became the producer and also the co-writer on that, and I had to make a decision whether to sign with Sean and Mike, or to put a stop to it there.Liz and I had a baby and she stopped singing for a bit, but we have started the album and have got eight or nine songs and are quite a way through it. It's sounding great.
AS : Are you going to take that out on the road ?
DR : Yeah, we have assembled a band. Sean is going to play the bass on the tour. We won't do a big tour because Liz isn't into that, but our catch is the guitarist. We have got Steve Hackett. After the Cocteau Twins, Liz said she didn't want any guitars on this record, and that was great, but then then got into 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' (Easly Genesis album featuring both Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel), really got into Peter Gabriel's lyrics and the melodies on the album , and she was saying "What's that sound there ?" and I said "That's thus guy called Steve Hackett, the guitarist" and she said "Can we get someone like that ?" Her manager said "Why don't we just fucking ring him up ?" and so we did. It was weird because he lived ten minutes from us. We went to his house> He played some fantastic guitar. It doesn't sound like guitar. It's so weird. You can't describe it, but it sounds really good and really diffferent, and he is 52 or something and looks just the same. Tim Lewis will plays some keyboards. I think he is still in Spirtualised, because we are using moogs and melletrons, and he has a working knowledge of that. There are a lot of vibes on this record, so I am going to be playing everything in this lve thing.
AS : Is she looking forward to coming back to the live arena after nearly ten years away ?
DR : The thing is that after 'Teardrop' by Massive Attack she is bigger than she has ever been. Massive Attack sold three quarters of a million albums which is more than the Bunnymen and Spirtiualized and the Cocteau Twins worldwide, so with the Octeau Twins which is an old band and fairly underground, a whole bunch of kids who got into Massive Attack are saying "Who is this Elizabeth Fraser", so I think it will be a good thing.
AS : Anything else you would like to add ?
DR : Don Mandarin, me and Mike have been doing some secret recording with Rich on our computers on our time off. Rich is fantastic, just comes in with a vocal and great story lines for lyrics and he sings on a click as well. That gives me and Mike an incredible scope. I love working with Mike. Mike isn't limited to rock music. Mike's favourite stuff is Eno and Fripp, 70's stsyle strange guitar music and my beat music, weshould be able to come up with something unique with Rich's strange vocal.
As : Thank you for your time.
DR : Cheers.
This article was originally published in Inde[pendent Underground Sound Issue 7.