Damon & Naomi - Life is Live
Before they head off to Japan to tour with Ghost again (European dates may follow in the autumn) Damon & Naomi released "Song To The Siren" a nicely designed two-disc-package that contains a live album (culled from their apperance with Ghost's Kurihara in San Sebastian/Spain last summer) and a DVD tour documentary by Naomi that includes live footage, interview snippets and some of the usual on the road mayhem that the band experienced while travelling through Europe last year. Here's what they had to say about the live album and their other recent projects.
?: Why a live album (and the DVD)? Was that a long-term plan or did it just happen "by accident" because you ended up with some good live footage?
Naomi: We have always loved certain live albums, like Joy Division's "Still", or the Soft Machine "Turns On" or Tim Buckley's "Dream Letter". Live albums give you an entirely different insight into the performers, and even into the studio versions of the same songs, once you hear them stripped down. When we started touring with Kurihara as a trio and our songs were sounding so beautiful and different we immediately thought "this would make a great live album. As for the DVD, I have always taken photos on tour, and the mini-DV camera was a new toy for me. But, then when I got home, and started to put a movie together as a souvenir for ourselves, it seemed like it could be a nice thing to share with our fans. Like the live CD, another aspect of our live show -- all the craziness that goes on before we ever get on stage. So they seem to go together quite well.
?: Do you consider this to be an "inbetween albums" record, a "souvenir" for fans, or do you regard it as your regular fifth album, conidering that there are some new (covers) on there and some of the songs sound considerably different with Kurihara?
Naomi: I think of this release as definately a very personal souvenir of a particular moment in time -- some of the songs are new, many are older, but we are playing everything differently than on the studio versions of the songs, with the added bonus of Kuri's magnificent playing.
Damon: For me, it has all the things I felt we had learned about music, but that we hadn't yet gotten on tape -- so I think of it as our fifth album. That's pretty much how I've felt about each one, as we finished it.
?: I guess the "live album" is a by now classic rock n roll format. did you have any particular albums (or more importantly: tour films) in mind when you put together "Song To The Siren"?
Naomi: Well, I can watch pretty much any back stage documentary with interest -- even about an artist I am not that fond of. I must confess to having watched Spinal Tap far too many times than is probably healthy. And I love the melancholy of "Don't Look Back". But when I was filming, I certainly didn't have making a "real" movie in mind -- it was just a souvenir. It was only when I returned home and started editing the footage, that our travels seemed to take shape into a film.
Damon: We're pretty sure we'll never be the subject of a "Behind the Music" (not enough scandal, not to mention not enough success), so we had to do this instead!
?: When I saw the show in Utrecht last year, I had the feeling that the cover of Tim Buckley's "Song To The Siren" was indeed the centerpiece of the performance. at the time i thought that was odd, because it's a cover, but now that you named the album after the song, it seems to make sense? or what was the motivation behind that name?
Naomi: It's such a beautiful song, and we were very happy to develop our cover of it with Kurihara because he is a huge Tim Buckley fan -- it's something we share. I started calling my film "Song to the Siren" because I think of the rituals of touring sort of like the mythical siren's song: one that is seductive, that pulls you in, but then can also destroy you. Being on the road is like that for us: we are drawn to doing it over and over again, and yet it can be so emotionally draining sometimes you wonder why you are doing it at all.
Damon: We had never titled an album for a song before. I love all those conventions, I'm always happy to try another.
?: I suppose your next tour will take place in Japan. So is the collaboration with ghost still an on going concern? Do you have any plans to work with them on new songs/future albums again as well?
Naomi: We are going to Japan in July, and we will probably play most of the set with just Kurihara and then be joined by the rest of Ghost. We don't really have any specific plans with them past that, but we do love working with them so I guess you never know. A website has been set up in Japan with all the dates, it is at http://www.ne.jp/asahi/atelier/himawari/tour_info
?: You spend a lot of time setting up Musicians For Peace ("m4p"). How (for a lack of a better word) "satisfied" are you with how that's been shaping up?
Naomi: Well, we didn't manage to stop any wars, but it has been gratifying to feel that there is some, albeit small, public way that we can speak out against the violence in the world that has just seemed to be escalating recently. But it's frustrating how much indifference there is...especially here.
?: Looking back on the past eight months now - did you notice a difference in people's reactions to that "project"? Did certain events that followed September 11th did result in an increase or decrease in the interest of m4p's work?
Damon: There was quite a bit of hostility toward M4P when we started it in September -- hate mail, and the like. Since then, the world situation has only gotten worse, but Americans seem to be feeling a bit sheltered from it again, so emotions are a bit less extreme here and the hate mail has stopped. The truly positive development is that speaking out against the military build-up and unilateral military action of the U.S. no longer seems to be such an extreme position -- even some mainstream politicians are beginning to voice their differences with these policies. We have an important election here in November, and if there is enough of a popular reaction against Bush's policies, his party could lose control of both houses in Congress, which would prevent his administration from taking such a degree of unbridled action as we've seen in the months since September -- actually ever since his "election".
?: Do you think 9/11 will reflect on your songwriting as well, or is that something you really try to keep seperate? (Like you've done more or less in the past, I guess?!)
Naomi: Our songs always seem to spring from emotional experience -- even if we don't realize it at the time, often later we will be singing something and say "ah hah! that's what it was" -- so no doubt such a disturbing event will have some impact. But we rarely get so literal in our songs, they tend to be more elusive, so I doubt it will be "obvious" (unlike the new Cher video, which I just saw, where all the skyscrapers in New York come springing up out of the ground...)
?: Another question, i can't resist asking: You've seemed to keen on distancing yourself from the whole Galaxie 500 thing in the recent past - so would you think it's a curse rather than a blessing that the luna album was released on the same day as your album in the States?
Naomi: Well, for a long time all we got was the ex-Galaxie 500 thing, and that was difficult because we felt like we still had something to say -- we weren't interested in just talking about the past. But these days, we are pretty proud and secure of the work we have done as Damon & Naomi, and so it is easier to deal with the Galaxie 500 stuff. It was so long ago! That said, the simultaneous release dates was really neither a blessing nor a curse; just a coincidence.
?: Is there anything that you think is really important that has be be in print?
Naomi: Wow! Just that we feel lucky to have made this new record, we loved working with Kurihara and it is the recording of our dreams!
Interview by Carsten Wohlfeld (c) May 2002