Damon McMahon’s Amen Dunes project is more evidence that psychedelia has had a longer-lasting effect than the drugs that inspired it.
Recorded with members of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Iceage, Love (Sacred Bones), his latest album, is craftily considered and less improvisational in nature. Know him as he knows himself on Friday, November 28 at Monarch Bar.
You went through a break-up and then named your album Love.
Broadly speaking, on the surface it was about this relationship and then, on the second layer, it was about a different kind of love, more like a devotional love, which can take many forms.
Devotional towards what?
Like selflessness in what you do, I suppose, is devotional. So, something more than just me and my little world and my little intentions and stuff. And, I think, toward the people who are really amazing, especially kind of like popular musicians. Super obscure avant-garde music is not like this, but popular musicians who are really wonderful, they totally operate on that level. I mean, I don’t think Elvis was thinking about his little world. Or Marvin Gaye. Those people are very open and generous with their music and I kind of wanted to do the same thing. I was kind of burnt out on being insular with my music. I didn’t feel like it was fully doing me justice or anybody who likes the band.
Pop musicians, by definition, have to think outside of themselves if they’re going to craft music for mainstream audiences.
No, I don’t think it has anything to do with that. There are many pop musicians who are incredibly self-centred and just make shitty music to make money. I mean, almost every popular band these days, or forever – you know, the lukewarm ones – they just do it because they want to make money and get laid or whatever. But I think that the real special people who make real music who are also popular, they do it on a whole other level, man.
All the obvious people, like the fucking Beatles, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Elvis, Nina Simone. I grew up on weird music and I still listen to a lot of shit like that and that’s what has a lot of influence on Amen Dunes. But in my heart of hearts, spiritual pop music is the best shit, really.
Snobs limit themselves from an entire universe.
I think kids these days, they kind of miss this point: the only reason avant-garde music is good is because it’s a digression from a very straight origin. The only reason The Velvet Underground is at all interesting is because they made it in 1966, the first record, and it was, like, based on Bob Dylan and R’n’B and avant-garde jazz. It was coming from straight sources; that’s why it was so revolutionary. But if you’ve never heard the straight stuff before, you’re not going to understand what’s interesting about it, you know? It’s, like, subtly off. That’s what makes it really interesting to me.
Do you try to make “subtly off ” music?
Absolutely, yeah – my goal at all times. That’s why I make so much effort; it’s because I don’t want anything to be obviously off. I don’t want anything to be obvious, ever. If you’re not listening carefully, you’ll miss it and think it’s normal. I mean, people who aren’t careful can probably appreciate it, too. But Amen Dunes is for people who are very, very careful.
Amen Dunes w/ DJ Young and Lost, Fri, Nov 28, 20:00 | Monarch Bar, Skalitzer Str. 134, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Kottbusser Tor.
Originally published in issue #132, November 2014.