Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Interview: Mark Kennedy of DAMNATIONS DAY

Founded by brothers Mark and Dean Kennedy, Damnations Day have been playing music together since 2005. The Australian metallers are preparing to release A World Awakens on March 24 via Sensory Records, their follow-up to 2013’s Invisible, the Dead. The sophomore full-length is once again produced and recorded by their friend and fellow countryman, Dean Wells of Teramaze and Meshiaak. Antihero Magazine had the good fortune to speak to frontman Mark Kennedy about the upcoming album.

Damnations DayScott Martin: Can you tell me a little bit about how Damnations Day got started?

Mark Kennedy: So, obviously, my twin brother is the drummer. We grew up playing a lot of music together and our next-door neighbor was our original bassist. I went over to his house one day and said, “Hey. We should start a band” because we all played instruments and we all enjoyed music. And me and Dean were both drummers at that stage. So, the next thing you know, Dean was the drummer of the band. I picked up the guitar and started playing guitar and having to sing, and then we sort of started there – just a couple mates in the back room and then it all grew from there.

We pretty much were that back shed band, that garage band, but it consolidated through there. We played a lot of music, did a lot of shows and then we decided at around the age of 20-21 that we wanted to take it seriously. We put our heads down and we recorded Invisible, the Dead when we were about 22, I think, it was in 2013 I think, and we recorded that album and then everything picked up from there. We got a bit of exposure and we ended up on tour on a debut album. It has been a really good ride since then. So, we just went with the flow. We ended up picking up Johnny just after the recording of that album, our lead guitarist. Luke, unfortunately had to leave for personal reasons, so we’re a three-piece at the moment with a fill-in bassist. But we’re as strong as ever though as the musical line-up, that’s for sure.

Scott Martin: You mentioned that after the first album came out you went on tour. Where did you visit on tour? Was it just around Australia?

Mark Kennedy: We did a little bit of both before we got the opportunity to go overseas with Accept, and we played 28 shows in Scandinavia and Europe with Accept and pretty much all sold out, 2000-3000 people club shows. That was pretty insane.

Scott Martin: Wow. That’s good exposure.

Mark Kennedy: Yeah, and for a debut album, not a lot of people knew who we were, but the experience was invaluable. It was an absolutely unbelievable experience just to see a band that popular, really, and that professional – it gave us a lot of perspective and a lot more to aim towards, as well.

Damnations DayScott Martin: Where did you record A World Awakens and who produced it?

Mark Kennedy: We recorded it at Dean’s [Dean Wells] Wells Productions, at his home studio. That’s the fellow from Invisible, the Deadhe produced our first album as well. We’re all good mates with him anyway, so we’re very good friends, but our first album, our lead guitarist left us before we started recording the album, and he ended up playing lead on Invisible, the Dead. He joined the band just for that album to help us out and he played lead on that album. And then this album, he produced it and helped oversee as a producer (obviously, John played lead). He added the little touch to it, he put the strings in and I think, yeah, he added some bass tracks as well because our bassist left, and just to lighten the load. We worked together a long time so we’re happy working together. But you know what producers are like? They’re the unseen member of an album recording. So, it was awesome to work with him again. I feel like he really gets where I’m coming from when recording the music, and he’s able to be very harsh as well, so he gets the best out of us, that’s for sure.

Scott Martin: I guess you saw eye to eye with Dean? Obviously, your twin brother plays drums for Teramaze, Dean’s other band. He’s pretty good to work with?

Mark Kennedy: He’s great to work with. I think the only downfall is that we’re so close personally that getting sidetracked is a very easy thing. When recording albums with him, I don’t think I ever laughed so hard in my life, so it’s an extremely fun and just rewarding experience every time with him for sure.

Scott Martin: Did you use any new instrumentation that you’ve never used on prior recordings on the new album?

Mark Kennedy: No, it was a very basic album. I did use a couple of cool little things on my guitar, like I used an EBow, which is always fun, just to try and recreate an atmosphere and stuff, but other than that, just normal string samples and there was no real otherworldly instrument. We did layer a couple things to try and make sound a little bit different. But other than that, we also wanted to create an album that we could reproduce live. We didn’t want to go too crazy.

Scott Martin: Do the members of Damnations Day have any other bands that they are currently involved with? I know your brother is in Teramaze…

Mark Kennedy: No, no, not at this stage. For me, Damnations Day is a full-time thing. I have been in other bands previously. But, no, I cut all ties with any other band. Johnny does a few cover bands just to get some extra cash on the side, but his full-time original stuff is with us as well.

Scott Martin: Do you that think that you’ve matured as a band between when you released your debut album, Invisible, the Dead, and the upcoming album, A World Awakens?

Mark Kennedy: I think that’s what may took us so long, especially with the tour in between. It changed our perspective a lot, too. We definitely matured heaps. It’s one of those things. When you’re playing almost kind of thrashy, probably power hour in a stadium in the Czech Republic where you play almost at a thrash beat, 220 bpm or something like that, the people there in the back that know the song can hear it really good, but the people down the front that are just getting the swirl of noise, you realize that the reason why bands like Accept and AC/DC are so big and can play these stadiums because they’re honing on a tempo and a style of music that translates in those venues. For us, we’ve all been through a lot in the last few years so the music itself is reflective of that but also, we wanted to take in account that we want to be able create an atmosphere as something that can translate really, really well in a bigger stage. That was a natural progression anyway, but at the same time it was in the back of our minds. That’s why A World Awakens is, it’s still got fast things, but it’s almost a more simpler and more mature approach to the music.

Scott Martin: Where do you draw your influences from?

Mark Kennedy: That’s a hard question. We’re all, I know Johnny is straight up, he’s loved always, he’s sold a lot of guitars and stuff like that, he solos, he’s quite fluent with the solos. I know that Dean and I have a similar background but we also differ as well. We grew up listening to the classics, Metallica and stuff, but we also grew up listening to Queen, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, and then I was always a big fan of Crimson Glory and all those sort of bands, so it really, it’s a mix between that late 90s, or the late 80s, early 90s.

Scott Martin: Is it safe to assume that you’re more influenced by thrash metal than the progressive stuff?

Mark Kennedy: I don’t think so, because I think maybe in the first album we were a little bit younger, faster was better, but these days we’re definitely more influenced in that mid-paced almost late 80s, early 90s progressive stuff like Queen, Crimson Glory – that sort of stuff. At the same time, I don’t feel like our music exactly reflects that either. It’s kind of a hard thing to describe because we’ve definitely moved away from thrash, that’s for sure.

Scott Martin: And what are some of the biggest obstacles that you faced during the recording of A World Awakens?

Mark Kennedy: I think I always, when we have to work full-time. To be a musician in Australia, you have to work at least, well, you have to have a full-time job to pay. Almost every member in the band has to have a full-time job. You need that income behind you, but that takes a lot of time as well, so, honestly time restrictions. And then if you wait, sometimes you have to wait a week to touch the recording again. And then if you fall sick, then you have to wait another week because there’s no point in trying if you’re sick. But a lot of it is after work stuff, so it really comes down to time management, that’s the biggest restriction. A hundred percent. Unfortunately, you can’t take six months off and record an album here. It’s just not the way it is. I’d love to do it like the classic albums where you hire a studio for four weeks, record, write an album then you hire another studio for another four weeks then you record the album sort of thing. We can’t write it all at once, it’s an accumulative process now. Which is cool, but it does take time.

Scott Martin: What’s your favorite track on the album?

Mark Kennedy: I think for me “Cold of Darkness” is probably one of my favorite tracks. I really enjoy the build in it and where it moves to and the progression toward the end. I love where the song ends and how it builds to that, I guess you could say, peak. I really enjoy playing it, I really enjoy the feel of that song, but I also feel like that feel is throughout the whole album, so…

Scott Martin: What is the metal scene like in Australia? Are the fans, the people, are they supportive? Because I know a couple years back, a certain band that came out of Australia and came out here, there was a lot of hostility, a lot of people had negative things to say. How is it now?

Mark Kennedy: I think because we’re still very separated in our scene, which is very unfortunate, there’s still a thrash scene that is very isolated in Melbourne, and the probably leader of that scene is probably Harlott, if you’ve heard of that band, good mates of ours. They’re quite good, well, they’re really good, but they’re quite good at pulling a crowd and they got a really good rap down there, but that’s a very separated scene as well for the proggy side of music. The metal scene isn’t great. It’s weird. It’s sort of, there’s progressive rock, hard rock, which has got a pretty good following, but if you go slightly heavier to the progressive metal stuff, there’s just not that much demand, which is funny. There’s a lot of dudes supporting it, but they’re more scattered than they are isolated in one scene.

But when it comes to relationships between bands, everyone knows everyone so there’s only a degree of separation. All the musicians support each other, but they all know that Australia’s very difficult at the same time, so you’ll find a lot of Australian bands really focused and pushed out overseas, because at the end of the day, you play two or three shows and everyone at your shows you just met. So, it’s not something that can continuously give you new fans. Even like the metal genre, when we move toward more popular, mainstream stuff, there’s a little bit more of a thing that here, we all tend to gravitate and people with similar mindsets and stuff like that, they gravitate together and become good mates. But when we do pay shows it’s more, they’re great shows, but it’s, there’s been catch ups and there’s been get togethers. We celebrate with great music, whereas your fan base is really going to be based overseas. It’s tough, but at the same time, it’s what you make it as well.

Damnations DayScott Martin: It’s hard to be a working band and live and play in Australia because there’s not a lot places to play at?

Mark Kennedy: Yeah, true. And a lot of the places are closing for silly reasons. But it’ll be great if we were all close together. If we get a tour overseas and out, that life alone is expensive and I think that’s what deters a lot of companies from bringing bands over as well, just for tour logistics reasons, it’s insane. But we’re all willing to do it…The bands that I know, we’re all willing to get overseas and get our names out there because what else do we do it for? We love to play live.

Scott Martin: Can you tell me a little bit about the song writing process?

Mark Kennedy: For me personally, I probably contributed the majority of the music. I draw the music off personal feelings, my emotional states and stuff like that, that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration from. But it is basically, sit down, you put it down, you lay it down, you lay down the ideas and then you get the contribution of the other guys, where this should go, where that should go. Producer included, he helps with arrangements once we’re in the studio and stuff like that, pre-production. This album it was very much going to be a melody-based album. We wanted to make sure that it was clearly translated, the songs were well-written. They didn’t have to be structured traditionally, but make sure that they were clearly structured and they had a point. But we wanted to introduce a lot more atmosphere this time as well, so we had some room for a little bit of a jam here and there. It had a feel and I think that because of the way I was feeling and the way the boys were feeling, no matter what we wrote, it tended to take on that atmosphere which is really cool to see. So, we didn’t have to try to hide with creating that, which is good. But for the songs themselves, yeah, there wasn’t much playing here or there to get it right, but we did, I did re-write one song. We cut the music completely. I took the drum tracks home and then I re-wrote a song in a night. That was cool. That worked. But, that was the only time that happened.

Scott Martin: What dream tour would you love to be on with any past or present bands?

Mark Kennedy: I’d love to tour with the Transcendence album lineup of Crimson Glory. That’s me personally. I don’t know what the other boys would want to do. That would be, honestly, because that’s one of my favorite albums of all time and I just think that line-up would be amazing.

Scott Martin: What are you plans after the album is released? Do you have any tours or shows lined up?

Mark Kennedy: We’ve got a few shows lined up just around Australia. We’re waiting to see what comes up for Europe or U.S. But it’s always a plan to go overseas – that just depends what comes up and what’s possible. Sometimes we get a tour offer that’s out of our league financially. But we’re always gonna try.

Scott Martin: Are there any last comments you’d like to add.

Mark Kennedy: I hope that the fans of the first album enjoy this album and really see that it’s one I really feel is a true reflection of us and where we’re at and where we’re headed to be at over the last couple of years. We couldn’t be more honest on this album. It’s a better reflection of where we’re at and we’re really excited to hear how people think and how they feel about it. For us, music is like a work of art, it’s a reflection and I want to see how people have interpreted it as well. So, yeah, very excited.

The album is A World Awakens. It comes out on March 24th. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and DamnationsDay.com. You can pre-order the album on Amazon or on the DamnationsDay.com store on-line.

Scott Martin: I want to thank you very much for spending time with me and I hope to talk to you later. All the best.

Mark Kennedy: Thanks, I had a ball. Thanks very much for the chat, mate.

Damnations Day

About Scott Martin

Photographer - California - Bay area

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