Monday, May, 4. For The Lighthouse’s first featured artist, Jorah Kai sits down with an old friend, the eclectic and talented globe trotter, Dammien Alexander to discuss his new album, COVID, and 2020 vision.
Jorah Kai: Hey Dame, great to connect with you. I’ve been following your career with interest since I accidentally ended up in one of your music videos about a decade ago – what song was that called? I remember it being quite a creative song and video, we filmed it on Gottingen in Halifax, Canada, didn’t we?
Dammien Alexander: Yeah, it was actually a two-part video. The first song was called Homicide Hottie, the second Bang It Out. The concept was great, and I was so shocked as so many people I knew and didn’t know really pulled together to make it happen. The location was the Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen Street in Halifax, my, has that neighborhood changed.
JK: That brings back a lot of good memories for me. What’s it like in Antigua, Guatemala, these days?
DA:.Right now, the rainy season has started, So it’s very hot during the day and heavy cloud cover at points. Even with that being said, you can always count on the sun coming out. Antigua being such a heavy tourist town was greatly affected by the viral outbreak. It has been eerily empty. It is quite a vibrant place, usually.
JK: You can do a lot with your loop pedals and own samples, which seems lucky at a time a lot of bands are not able to work together. Can you tell me about making your new album, Don’t Forget To Live?
DA: Well, first off, I’d like to say I got a lot of help with it. I really didn’t set out to make a record. I can remember thinking I am just going to concentrate on putting out a single. Which was the song Pedestrian Superstar recorded in Toronto. It’s funny you mention the band crisis; I figured out years ago that a band might not be sustainable, especially with the shrinking Canadian market. The looper allowed me to arrange sounds by sections so I can write to them, much like having a band. I play a few instruments and usually hear the parts quite clearly. I have a lot of friends who are sound engineers. One, in particular, is Charles Wishart Austin (@OceanFloorhfx). He was gracious enough to give me reduced rates to come in and compose. We’d do late-night sessions and just create. The studio is literally below a music shop, so I have access to all the instruments I could possibly imagine. His right-hand man Francisco Lopez did the eq and mastering.
Man, he killed it. I’m very proud of the record because it’s formulated yes with a lot of determination, but most of it was being patient with the process. My other friend and longtime collaborator, Melissa Moffat (@melissamoffat), did the album art. She’s a collage artist from Toronto. I did manage to forge on of my favorite songs on the album with my former band (we never officially broke up, these are my brothers) Sin City. A funky rock tune that was recorded right off the floor. The album is a heavy fusion of Funk, Electro-Soul, R&B, Indie Rock, sprinkled with some elements of House music.
JK: So how are you planning to release this album?
DA: The digital release concert is actually happening Friday, May 8th, at 3 pm Guatemala time. I will be doing it at a place called the Tropicana Hostel. A local watering hole here in Antigua. Obviously, there is no audience. We are still under curfew and pretty specific quarantine measures, so we will work within those parameters.
JK: I hope we can tune in and enjoy this special moment with you. How is it being a musician in a pandemic?
DA: Honestly, at first, I had a sinking heart moment. I felt like damn, I could really just starve. Also, the thought of never being able to have an audience again really messed with me. I was already touring down here and just got started really, as I also hit Mexico and Costa Rica usually circle they Canada and then head to Europe. So for me, this really put a damper on things.
JK: I’d say. You handle it well, though, and I wish you the best. How do you feel about things, there, or on the global front?
Do you feel unsafe, or are you in a cool place? Is it easy to get food and supplies? Lots of people wearing masks, or is it pretty normal? What’s the vibe there like?
DA: I have mixed feelings about everything. Guatemala virus wise has been quite safe. To date, 640+ cases and 16 deaths with a total population of 17 million. I’d say my risk factor was pretty low. Food and what not has been very easy to access, and I’ve been at the Tropicana hostel Antigua around some pretty stellar folks from all over the world. It is mandatory you wear a mask on the streets. You must be in your respective home at 6 pm- failure to do so could incur heavy fines or imprisonment or both. No travel between municipalities, so movement is restricted. For me, the vibe got a bit intense for a while. There started to be some anti-foreigner energy, especially in border towns. Happily, the President during one of his national talks addressed that, so I definitely felt better. My overall feeling is a concern with global leadership and the relation to corporate science and finance. The vaccination talk also has me quite concerned. I don’t have a lot of confidence in global leadership at all. As an artist, I don’t understand how being wealthy qualifies a person to have an influence on my life. You may be great at business, but it doesn’t make you a scientist.
JK: I couldn’t agree more. How are you using this downtime?
DA: My downtime for the first month was really just heavy in thought. Filtering through emotions and truly facing my fears. A lot more internal work than anything else for quite some time. I simply could not pick up my guitar or compose anything even though it is my main source of income. Recently I have felt inspiration again. So that’s been wonderful, really. I worked out a bit, not as much as I could have, but I’m happy with the progress.
JK: Any progress is good progress when you’re fighting demons and working on ourselves, I think. Any thoughts on how long this will take to resolve or how bad it might get first?
DA: I have no idea. Speculation seems to lead to bad headspaces, so I just go with the flow.
JK: Any tips for keeping mental health and spirits up for people that are really struggling now?
DA: I do, actually. I really struggled for the first month. Being a generally deep thinker (Aquarian), my mind went to so many different places. With social media being a breeding ground for panic and negativity, you can feel like a tidal wave is hitting you. Before this happens, I took to studying the principles of Stoicism. Basically, taking things into account but not giving any one thing or thought total sway emotionally. Being ok to feel, but understanding it’s just a feeling, and it will pass. I meditated a lot and took a lot of time just being still. I have gotten a lot of help from friends and family. I think if you are struggling to reach out to someone, don’t try and be brave. The feeling of isolation is a powerful agent to bad spirals. Encourage your friends on social media to send you good things as well as informative pieces. Balance is something our modern world needs to work on.
JK: I’m a huge fan of Stoicism as well, and not sure I’d be in such a good place without it, some amazing words and practices from Marcus, Seneca, Epictetus, and of course, the RZA. Any final words or thoughts you want to share?
DA: Well, I’d like to thank you, Kai, for inviting me to do this, you are in fact an inspirational human and friend. I would like to encourage everyone to stay aware of what is going on. Don’t be afraid to consider wild possibilities, listen to each other even if you don’t agree. Try to find common ground with others. Put your phone down and let your mind rest. Love is everything and heals everything. Thank You!
Thank you, too!
Dammien Alexander blends his equal passion for Funk, Soul, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Blues with the pulsing energy of House music to inspire love vibrations. Welding live looping and instrumentation, and electronic production to create lush soundscapes that cross genres and support his deep soulful vocals. His most accomplished offering “Love Plus Infinity” (2017 Underground Sun, LA) swings in equal measure from funky Prince-indebted horn licks in songs like (Mind Body and |Soul, Be Your Man, Love With Our Souls) to minimalist electro-soul (Elevate) to the swampy blues of (Be Your Man) Although comparisons to Prince, Childish Gambino, Lenny Kravitz, and Gary Clark Jr have been made, It is his unique take on classic forms that give the audience an authentic feel for his artistry. With a modest 100,000 YouTube views, it seems the word is slowly getting out.
His new album, Don’t Forget to Live, is out on Bandcamp and his digital release concert, live at the Tropicana hostel in Antigua, Guatemala, will be broadcast on Facebook Friday, May 8, 3 p.m., local time.